Apr 142015
 

Listening to Wallflower, Diana Krall’s new covers record, a question comes to mind:

Who’s the intended audience for this?

It’s a strange beast of an album, in which the jazz star (is she even really a jazz artist these days?) takes some of the most obvious choices from the pop/rock cannon and goes full lounge singer on them.

A lot of the blame for this album can probably be tossed onto producer David Foster (whose daughters, weirdly enough, currently have a mockumentary-type show on VH1). The whole album is drenched in dreamy strings, gentle (or non-existent) percussion, and whimsical piano. Not that the production on any one song ruins the whole thing, but the arrangements all seem to be exactly the same. If these songs weren’t currently playing in every dentist office in the country at this exact moment, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
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Apr 182014
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Elektra label has a history of celebrating itself with various books and anthologies, but then, there’s a lot to celebrate. Started by a teenaged Jac Holzman in his dorm room in 1950, it grew into major label status while retaining an eclectic roster of musicians who were given the chance to spread their artistic wings, just as likely to reach pinnacles of cult fandom (Tim Buckley, Love) as pinnacles of worldwide success (the Doors, Queen). In 1990, Elektra celebrated its 40th anniversary by releasing Rubaiyat, a 4-LP/2-CD/2-cassette box set with a unique premise – the label’s current artists covering songs from the label’s prior artists. Rarely have such disparate musicians rubbed shoulders as they do on this release, whether on levels of dissimilarity (Tracy Chapman and Metallica – together again!) or familiarity (the Shaking Family was infinitesimally as well known as the Cure), but that was the point, and they all got together here for some fine and enlightening work.
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Jul 272012
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

I never liked conventional “children’s music,” which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated “cute.” They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness. – Hans Fenger

Hans Fenger was a musician who accepted a job teaching music in a western Canadian school district. He dismissed hi-ho-the-merry-O children’s music in favor of current pop favorites, and his pupils responded enthusiastically enough that he recorded two albums of their performing, pressing 300 copies. More than twenty years later, WFMU DJ and outsider music scholar Irwin Chusid heard the albums and set out to get them released to the world; the end result, Innocence & Despair: The Langley Schools Music Project, wound up on multiple best-of lists at year’s end. Continue reading »

Jan 112012
 

British DJ and singer-songwriter Yasmin might just be kicking off her musical career, but her cover of Frank Ocean’s “American Wedding” makes her sound like a seasoned veteran. She covers the song with a soft effortless charm that makes you almost angry that she’s been hiding such talent for so long. Her debut album’s set to be released this year, and her upcoming single “Light Up (The World),” featuring Ms. Dynamite, will be released on the 15th of January. It might seem like an easy choice for her, to cover an original song by another up and coming star Frank Ocean, but the song also features a sample from the classic Eagles song “Hotel California.” No pressure or anything… Continue reading »

Sep 302011
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should be. Catch up on past installments here.

A subset of cover artists specialize in taking the songs of the day and turning them into the songs of “back in the day.” Early practitioners included The Templeton Twins and Big Daddy; we’ve offered you the ’40s close-harmony stylings of The Puppini Sisters, the Djangoesque djazz of The Lost Fingers, and rockabilly heroes The Baseballs. Now we add Pink Turtle to that list, a Paris septet out to prove that it still don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Continue reading »

Nov 022010
 

What Neil Diamond means to you depends on your frame of reference. It could mean The Jazz Singer film and soundtrack with the iconic hit “America.” It could mean singing “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning of Red Sox games. It could even mean Will Ferrell parodies on Saturday Night Live, but few don’t recognize the name. A prolific songwriter and performer, Neil Diamond sells out arenas and, unlike certain schmaltz-rock peers (read: Billy Joel), regularly releases new material. On his newest disc Dreams, Diamond interprets classic songs by Bill WithersLeonard CohenRandy NewmanThe Eagles and others. Johnny Cash‘s American series remains the most obvious point of comparison for any aging singer releasing back-to-roots covers, but unlike Cash, Diamond chose not to cover any current artists. He didn’t exactly unearth any buried treasures either. No, he chose to cover songs like “Hallelujah” (over 200 covers to date) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (144). Interpreting standards is a tricky business and albums turn out badly if the artist doesn’t choose the songs and arrangements with care. We’re looking at you, Rod. Continue reading »