It seems like such a limited premise: Bossa nova covers of hit songs from the ’80s, mainly of new wave and electronica of that period. But Nouvelle Vague have been going for 20 years. To have that longevity there has to be something more, and there is. When Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux started the project they brought immense ability in playing and arranging music. And they had exquisite taste in the artists they collaborated with. This has made them a regular feature of Cover Me lists, and they have inspired a small industry of other cover artists in the field. Unfortunately, Libaux passed in 2021, but Collin is preparing to release a new album to mark the 20th anniversary of their first release, and is working with some of his most successful collaborators. From that album comes “Only You,” with Melanie Pain on vocals.
Miley Cyrus covered Journey recently in a live performance at Chateau Marmont, a luxury celeb-filled hotel located in West Hollywood. During the performance, Cyrus did bare-bones versions of “Faithfully” as well as her own hit “Flowers.” Whereas the original Frontiers version of “Faithfully” is a slow-burn ballad that morphs into an epic song, this iteration of the song keeps things more calm and melancholy. As the silhouette of her gloved hand reaches out emotively, contrasted again with the yellow vintage-style light, the voice and piano cover begins to blossom.
The last time we featured Amos Lee on this site, about a year ago, he was subject to such a savage kicking that even I felt bad, so it is with utter delight to discover Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams. So often do we feature Lu here, given her prodigious thirst for covering the songs of others, it becomes especially good to see the compliment returned.
Lee and Williams have form; always a fan, Lee had a dream come true as she collaborated with him, for “Clear Blue Eyes,” on his 2011 break through album, 2011’s Mission Bell. Returning frequently to her songs in his concert settings, he says of her that “her vulnerability opened my heart,” citing how “she embraces sadness but is never enveloped by it.” I think that sentiment perfectly embraces the bittersweetness so often apparent in her songs, and Lee shares that quality in spades, a fragile strength that bears witness to his having maybe faced similar battles along the road.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
No matter how much longer than anyone’s expectations Shane MacGowan may have lived, the news that this polymath contradiction has died still manages to come as a body blow and a shock. Only last week there were sighs of relief, with his being discharged from his Dublin hospital bed, his home for most of the last year, with his wife Victoria citing he was being discharged for Christmas. Clearly it was to die, which he did, in his own bed.
Our job at Cover Me is not to replay all the tales of MacGowan’s excesses and exploits yet again; Lord knows, there will be plenty of that elsewhere. Here we come to celebrate his supreme gift of songwriting, through a prism of cover versions. MacGowan crafted songs that seemed drawn from the deepest well of Irish tradition, full of arcane and archaic imagery. He used a lexicon drawn from mythology, poetry and the gutter, yet imbued with a recognition of all the current ways and woes of the world. He thus confounded listeners, baffled by how all of this could emanate from his shambling and battered frame. How could someone who seemed barely able to speak manage to produce work of such beauty?
I caught the Pogues but once, early on in their career, mayhap 1986, in a dodgy venue in Birmingham, UK. It was, in turns, exhilarating and terrifying, the latter courtesy the howling, drunken mob of a pre-Christmas audience. Keeping a low profile, I was entranced, as the band rollicked through song after song after song. It was impossible to see the join between the traditional and the new, all soaked in a melee of whistle, accordion, banjo and guitars, the permaslurring frontman both totally out of it and totally in the moment. And this was well before they became TV favorites, on Top Of The Pops, first for their duet with the Dubliners, a version of “The Irish Rover,” and later with perennial Xmas favorite “Fairytale Of New York.” I was instantly hooked.
The first few albums have rightly become iconic–if anything, more so with the passage of time–as the quality of MacGowan’s lyricism has taken focus over the tunes. But, before losing sight of the tunes themselves, riddle me this: how many individuals and how many bands can lay claim to inventing a whole genre? That’s what MacGowan and the Pogues did, founding a genre that continues to have worldwide traction. In the same way as few places in the world fail now to have Irish pubs, so too there are Celtic punk bands from all four corners of the globe. But, returning to his lyrics, Bob Dylan apart, few writers have provoked such academic attention and praise as MacGowan, and there will be a whole lot more now.
So let’s have a look at some of those songs…
“Ladies of the Road” is the raunchiest, most sexist song in King Crimson‘s catalogue; an atypical celebration of groupies from their fourth album Islands. It’s atypical due to its sex-centric, innuendo-stuffed lyrics but it’s also somewhat atypical musically, with its bluesy saxophone solos and the backing vocals in the bridge and group vocals in the coda. The song is one of those relics of the ’70s that unabashedly celebrates the sex in “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
Former Solemn Novena lead singer Louise Patricia Crane knows her way around prog rock. Her 2020 solo debut was acclaimed by the prog music press (yes, that’s a thing) and even featured guest appearances by members of Jethro Tull and King Crimson (not an Islands-vintage member of Crimson, but rather the band’s final lead singer Jakko Jaksyk).
Blimey, but hasn’t George Ivan been busy. He’s churned out four albums in the past three years; Accentuate the Positive is the second one this year to catch our eye. If Moving On Skiffle was his skiffle album, Accentate the Positive is Van Morrison’s homage to rock and roll, or the roots thereof. A wedge of tunes largely from the late ’40s into ’60s, this is the the sort of stuff that must have caught his ear as he was starting off himself, as a fresh faced r’n’b shouter from Belfast. And once more, by making this a parade of idiosyncratically offered cover versions, he avoids the problem that his recent streak of original material had in spades, that of his bluntly critical lyrical bombast. Which I, for one, salute, as this is mostly a joyous set of songs.