Apr 032020
 

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

Joe Pernice

If Joe Pernice flies below the radar, it’s seemingly with a bit of pride, or blithe indifference. Consider the title of his live concert DVD: “Nobody’s Watching/Nobody’s Listening.” That didn’t come from a branding consultant.

He’s released 17 recordings over the years, but all under different monikers. The Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice Brothers, Chappaquiddick Skyline, Roger Lion, and The New Mendicants, to name a few. He’s even recorded and performed as Joe Pernice on occasion. A restless artist unconcerned with continuity, he’ll disband a band only to reform it decades later. He’s been known to ditch a completed album at the final mixing phase. And now and then Pernice falls into radio silence: during those stretches he is writing poetry, fiction, and (to pay bills) tv cop show scripts. However an artist gets on the radar in the music biz, this is not the recommended flight path.

Nothing changes the fact that Pernice is a top-notch singer and composer. When it comes to covers, his choices are inspired. They appear quirky at first, or even jokey in some cases. But then you listen, getting drawn in by Pernice’s plaintive voice. You then get stirred, you find new admiration for a song that you had condescended to or shrugged off. The song needed the Pernice treatment to get through.

See for yourself. Here’s a half-dozen choice covers from a quarter-century worth of Joe Pernice output. Add them to a playlist and name it “Somebody’s Watching/Somebody’s Listening.” Continue reading »

Jan 232018
 

review dr demento covered in punkLet’s be blunt: No one needs novelty songs.

Loosely defined as “a satirical or comedic parody of popular music,” most people instinctively leave the room – or the house – at the first whiff.

Or do they? What, then, explains the enduring popularity of Dr. Demento, querulous-voiced prankster and legitimate, if puzzling, cultural icon? A rock ’n roll writer, label A&R man, and sometime roadie, he began broadcasting a rock and oldies show at Pasadena station KPPC in 1970. He quickly found that the novelty songs he slipped in – notably Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion,” a truly demented tale about reckless driving, and a precursor to the Cramps’ psychobilly – were what his listeners really wanted to hear.

Now 76, Dr. Demento – a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen – ceased terrestrial radio broadcast in 2010, though his program persists online. And now we’re treated to Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, by some counts his 15th official album release. If you’re already hooked on the good doctor’s offbeat charms, you’re likely not in need of encouragement to purchase this collection of supposedly “punk” covers (more on that later) interspersed with the Doctor’s commentary. But can we rightfully recommend this 2+ hour compilation to the rest of the record-buying public? The answer, surprisingly, is: “Yes!” Sort of.

Continue reading »

Oct 182016
 
jack-white-acoustic-approved-press-photo-3-by-jo-mccaughey

This past weekend, Chris Thile of Cover Me-favorites Nickel Creek hosted his first Prairie Home Companion after Garrison Keillor stepped down. There’s been a lot of speculation over whether fans of Lake Wobegon and “Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie” will stick around with Keillor gone, so Thile brought out the big guns for his debut, booking Jack White for his first-ever appearance. White sang solo material, Raconteurs, and White Stripes songs in new acoustic arrangements (one with his Third Man labelmate Margo Price) and even played a new cover, of Bobby Bare‘s 1969 country hit “(Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn.” Continue reading »

Jul 222011
 

Riding high on the wave of folk popularity, The Avett Brothers have taken the music world by storm with a combination of genuine talent, relentless touring, and prodigious album releases over the past few years. Though the quality of original work like their most recent LP, the Grammy-nominated I and Love and You, would be enough to keep attracting new fans, the Avetts have also produced a remarkable number of high-quality covers in recent years. There was a massive field to choose from, including this month’s Roger Miller cover, but we’ve narrowed it down to the five finest covers from the North Carolina siblings and their bandmates. Continue reading »