Oct 042013

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.

Tara Jane O’Neil’s artistic work crosses multiple boundaries – she’s a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and a drawer and painter whose creations have been exhibited worldwide. She calls Portland, Oregon home, with additional residencies in the hearts of thousands. Her website states that “her work innately crosses genres and boundaries,” a point brought home by her collaborating on an album with Nikaido Kazumi, despite their not sharing a spoken language. Perhaps most important, her skills at karaoke are unparalleled – people are still talking about her performance of “Xanadu” at the Experimental Filmmaker Karaoke Throwdown in 2008.

When it comes to recorded covers, TJO’s catalog is small, but meaningful – she’s recorded limited editions of her live covers, releasing them with her own artwork. Here are four of them; we’re saving a fifth for this coming Monday…

Tara Jane O’Neil – They Don’t Know (Kirsty MacColl cover)

Kirsty MacColl wrote “They Don’t Know,” and Tracey Ullman’s version made it famous (it also featured MacColl reprising her “Bay-Bee!” moment). O’Neil turns down the sweet intensity a little, and if the song doesn’t blow you away, it does carry you away, and that’s just as good.

Tara Jane O’Neil – Ahn Fahr (Bruce Springsteen cover)

“I’m On Fire” has become one of Bruce Springsteen’s most covered songs. TJO found a way around adding her take to that list by naming her version “Ahn Fahr.” She makes a few other changes, too – the six-inch valley is in her skull instead of her soul; the extended fade-out makes her version over a minute longer than Bruce’s. The song not only survives these changes, it thrives.

Tara Jane O’Neil – Believe (Cher cover)

Here’s a live cover of Cher’s song “Believe,” which audience members insist on seeing as ironic and laughing at, until that tremolo and the gravity of O’Neil’s vocal swamp them and force them to listen to the song’s key question.

Tara Jane O’Neil – Rainbow Connection (Paul Williams / Kermit T. Frog cover)

We all know that helicopter shot that starts The Muppet Movie, and those few banjo chords that Kermit the Frog strums to open “The Rainbow Connection.” O’Neil’s cover takes out any hint of corn, leaving only the wonder to remain. When she sings, “We know that it’s probably magic,” any fool can hear that magic taking hold, and it’s a truly thrilling feeling.

Find out more about Tara Jane O’Neil at her website.

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