Seuras Og

Seuras Og is an old enough to know better family Dr in Birmingham, UK, having taken the easy option of medicine upon failure to get work in a record store. By now drowning in recorded music, he has thought it about time to waste the time of others in his passion here, as well as a few other places dotted about the web.

Jan 142022
 

Cat PowerAt this stage of her career, Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, is as arguably well known for her cover versions as her own songs. Covers is her third dedicated album thereto (we’ve looked at the first two before), with a scattering more across the rest of her other output. When other artists reach their third such collection, whispers carry that this may be a sign of fading inspiration. If Marshall’s covers were just a stack of facsimile copies, cut’n’pasted from the usual culprits, possibly that worry could carry some weight for her as well. But Marshall has long since stopped having to defend her love of remorphing and remolding the songs of others, oft citing that being her approach, anyway and as well, to her own songs. It is only recordings that are ever frozen in time and space, and most performers with any lasting legacy are constantly rewriting and revising, a view we heartily here endorse. And, as if to underline that, one of the “covers” here is of one of her old songs, “Hate,” here newly named as “Unhate.”

So what do we get here? Twelve songs, from this century to just over halfway through the last, from artists some celebrated and some surprising, taking no heed of genre or expectation in the songs chosen. So Frank Ocean sits alongside Nick Cave, Shane McGowan with Lana del Rey, with Billie Holiday and Kitty Wells (Kitty Wells, fer chrissakes!) for good measure. Plus, as if deliberately to contradict my earlier comment, there is even a cover of Jackson Browne’s surely by now overly frequently presented “These Days.”
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Jan 072022
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

buffalo springfield covers

Retrospective saw Buffalo Springfield’s record company out to catch a final buck or two, their cash cow having imploded ahead of quite how much of a cash cow it could or should have been. The band had been on the decidedly no-frills ATCO label, an offshoot of Atlantic for acts that failed to fit their then template of blues, jazz, r’n’b and soul, along with other square pegs of the day, like Dr. John. I say no frills, as their cover art was always of the decidedly cheap and shoddy nature: Retrospective has a cover that cannot have taxed too many creative brains, the “rips” in the background paper, to allow inserts and a makeshift collage, are all clearly visible.

Retrospective, which is actually subtitled “The Best of Buffalo Springfield,” actually performed as well as their final album, Last Time Around, and surpassed the sales of both Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Again. It’s an artistic success, too; it contains many songs which have a greater quality, with the hindsight of time, than perhaps was fully appreciated at the time. Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” their biggest hit, has repaid itself time after time after time, becoming a soundtrack shorthand for setting a time and place during the US civil rights years. That has to appease him a little, surely, against his always apparent second pegging against his Canadian nemesis.

Judy Wexler – For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I rather like this, with the discordant chimes of piano, this, and the slightly off vocals adding to the sense of paranoia so apparent in Stills’ lyric. For a song with so many cover versions, this is one of very few that add much of anything new or different. The retro guitar and organ are also acutely apt, as Wexler’s vocal gradually take on more treatment. Judy Wexler is a jazz chantoozie with a back catalog that has usually strayed little from standards of that tradition, and that can become a bit supper club. This, however, comes from a 2021 LP entitled Back To the Garden (yes, that garden), celebrating the songs of the ’60s into ’70s. True, some are a bit anodyne, but by and large it pays a listen. Hell, she even makes “Big Yellow Taxi” bearable.

Nils Lofgren – Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Wanting mainly to avoid the progressively corrupted facsimile copies of this proto-metal-punk songs that prevail, who better than Nils to offer this rather more nuanced acoustic take? Lofgren, of course, the teen prodigy who, years ahead of gracing Bruce’s E Street Band, was adding his piano to Young’s After the Gold Rush, and who is now, again, a member of the mighty Crazy Horse. Perhaps Young’s simplest song, it is a righteous snarl on the BS version, offering few clues as to the songwriting the author was capable of, but still remains as one of the more likeable songs within his canon. Lofgren, arguably more a player than a singer, has just the right gruffness required, that not always so successful on the rest of the album from whence it comes, The Loner: Nils Sings Neil. (Whither Nils Sings the Boss?)

Donny Osmond – Sit Down, I Think I Love You (Buffalo Springfield cover)

WTAF!! Donny pejorative Osmond? I know, I know, it’s hard to believe but don’t go. Popping away any of the punch in this second Stills song, it is actually OK. Sure, it is sappy and mindless, as is much of the power of pop music, and should be. Making the Mojo Men version seem positively hardcore by comparison, it has a beguiling and simple charm, allied to the litest of reggae lite backbeats. I am not sure I could listen to the whole album, if indeed it comes from one, but, if hearing this, unknown, I could appreciate quite what he, or his producers, have done with the source material. (Should you need to know, it comes from the Don’s 1971 record, To You With Love, Donny.)

Percy Sledge – Kind Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Unexpected cover number two. I think Sledge absolutely nails this song, the sole Richie Furay song on the album. In the inimitable church organ style of the “When a Man Loves a Woman” hitmaker, with sympathetic brass and a choir in full collusion, it is as far removed from the tasseled buckskin jackets of Buffalo Springfield as I can imagine. Indeed, the idea of Neil, Stephen and Richie, all in tuxes and white silk scarves, sweating in the spotlight, becomes quite appealing, especially if all with appropriately short and brilliantined hair. Percy Sledge may have only ever done one song, but he did it so well that it warrants him doing it all over, even with different words and lyrics.

Sugarcane Jane – Bluebird (Buffalo Springfield cover)

You could say it takes forever for this live version of Stills’ second-finest BS song to get going. And that, don’t you feel, is part of the appeal. It certainly looks a lot of fun. The band are based around husband and wife Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee, who it is here, pregnant and playing the snare drum. Crawford has actually appeared as a sideman on many of Neil Young’s various recordings, as well as for Dwight Yoakam, Eddie Rabbitt, and Steve Winwood. They have a plethora of their own recordings as well, being a top draw in the Gulf Coast circuit.  I guess it is maybe unfair to judge them on a live barroom show alone, but even if you did, I bet you’d stay to the end. And, as support for Dwight’s forthcoming tour, I’d get in early to catch them.

Rainy Day – On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield cover)

It takes quite a bit to de-escalate one of Neil Youngs’s more wistful downbeat whimsies, but, by Jove, this lot manages it, turning this gentle and somber song into altogether a bit of an anticlimactic snooze fest. All the more so, as you realize who was, or may have been, on board. Rainy Day seems mainly to have been an all-star Paisley Underground collaborative, put together, perhaps, to fill such a rainy day in L.A., making it feel more like a week. However, Discogs tells me that this “On the Way Home” was largely a David Roback solo slot, the late Mazzy Star man, which goes some way to explain the narcoleptic presentation. Makes it better, in fact, but I would like to see how would have fared, had he enrolled other rainy Day alumni, such as Susannah Hoffs and Steve Wynn. Rainy Day’s sole product, self-titled, came out in 1984, and included one other Neil Young song, as well as covers by Dylan, the Who, and the Beach Boys.

Scott the Hoople – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I guess the album art is a give-away, this appearing on an all Shakey tribute album, that could actually manage the loss of the ‘e’ and still be accurate. Indeed, we covered the parent album here. Put together by Scott McCaughey, sometime multi-instrumental sideman for R.E.M. until a devastating stroke in 2017. This album was part his therapy, the deliberate Youngian shambles is a perfect fit for the songs, rather than, I hope, all his condition allows. Maxing the inherent psychedelia from the melody and infusing the meter with a lope-legged wobble, it perfectly captures how Neil might have tackled it himself, away from the rest of the band, not least the ham-fisted rhythmic cadences in the original. The organ and the phased guitars exude the atmosphere of a perma-stoned Haight to degree that way transcends the New Christy Minstrelisms in its first iteration. One question: who the hell was Clancy?

Kate Rogers – Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Perhaps Neil Young’s most ambitious song ever, this meandering epic of a song is never going to be open much to covering. Possibly not unwisely, Rogers here is covering more the song in its demo version, “Down Down Down,” as revealed in the (Young curated) BS boxset of 2001. However, she brings in some slight flavors from the wide ranging original that is enough to remind the eccentricity of the song, her delivery sufficient to recall the inherent beauty. Rogers is a Canadian singer who has paddled in only the shallower waters of fame, rather than gaining any full immersion, perhaps coming up against unfair comparisons with the likes of Dido. In covers land we know her best for her 3rd record, Seconds, which is where this song comes from, along with creditable versions of songs by as varied a cast as the Pixies and the Smiths, throwing in Blink-182 and Radiohead for good measure. Worth a listen.

The Beach Boys – Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

The other, I guess, 2nd best known Stills BS song, I was as excited as you to think Burbank’s finest may have done a full-blown vocal cover version of this, wondering quite how it would sound. Sadly that wonder remains untapped, as not a vocal cord is strained in this rendition. Indeed, beyond the guitar motif that introduces the song, lifted verbatim from Stills, that is all you get. Buoyed by the anticipation that Carl and the boys might chime in at any moment, I listened to the end, getting the feel that Carl too had been hoping that, perhaps setting it up as a click track for that very purpose. (I keep saying Carl, as this comes from 2018’s Friends sessions boxset, a time when Brian was, although nominally in control, beginning to retreat a little into the sandbox.) I’d still love to hear the harmonies as or if the Boys joined in.

The Meat Puppets – I Am a Child (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Well, that was a bit different, wasn’t it?! And, whilst other opinions may be available, or even reflex, it has, um, something. Whether it is sufficient that the something is to totally deconstruct and destroy perhaps the most delightful and childlike of Neil Young’s songs is uncertain, but that they certainly achieve. Compared, actually, to the wishy-washy would be copycat performances out there, I prefer it, as I can never see anyone but Neil getting away with the lyrics or the general ambience. Or at least to make it as believable as only he can do. Whether I like it, per se, is another story, which is a shame, as I want to like both the version and the idea of the Meat Puppets. With a name so gross, surely some goodness must arise? The brainchild of the brothers, Curt and Cris Kirkwood, and the initial drummer Derek Bostrom, he now back in the band after a 24 year hiatus, they have had an astonishing 41 year career, nominally still going, and with fans touting for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (unsuccessful) last year. This comes from the expanded version of their 1980 eponymous debut. I especially like that Meat Puppets II contains a song called “I Am a Mindless Idiot.”

Buddy Woodward – Go and Say Goodbye (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Am I surprised or disappointed it has taken so long to get to a bluegrass cover, this and so many of the Springfield songs so open to such interpretation? Be that as it may, this has just the right mix of hokum and sawdust to have feets a’tapping. A Stills song, this, even in his band’s own rendition, forewarns of the country leanings he later explored deeper, if better, in Manassas. Buddy Woodward seems to have been operating a largely off-grid career in bluegrass and Americana, operating out of New York City, and has performed with many a performer of higher repute, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle for two. He has also been a voice artist for the Pokémon series and appeared in the long running TV series of Nashville.

Jakob Dylan feat. Regina Spektor – Expecting To Fly (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Along with “Broken Arrow,” this is the other song that has Young demonstrating his inability to fully engage in any concept of being a team player. Whilst the former has some backing vocals from Furay, this is Young and Young alone, the others possibly even unaware of the stuff he was cutting whilst they were away. I think it ideal that is should be Bob’s boy, Jakob, offering this tribute, as this operates at a level above that of a mere cover, and Jakob’s daddy is perhaps the only artist with a catalog that surpasses even Young’s. Regina Spektor adds a glorious second verse vocal, ahead of the pair coming together for the swooping chorus, or parts of it. It comes from a documentary soundtrack curated by Dylan, the documentary, Echo In the Valley, made by Andrew Slater, and being about the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of the 60s, that proved so elemental in the development of folk into rock of that moment in time. Dylan was instructed to produce the accompanying music, reprising and recalibrating the music made there at that time. Featuring a panoply of other guests, Cat Power, Beck, Fiona Apple, the author of this song also pops up, on a cover of the Byrds’ David Crosby song “What’s Happening.”

Nov 262021
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Harvest covers

Harvest is the one Neil Young album that everybody knows of. The reason? Almost undoubtedly “Heart of Gold,” that era-defining song of the early ’70s, all acoustic whimsy, swaying on a stool. Of course it is a terrific song, if a little diminished by ubiquity, but not hugely typical of, at least, Young’s latter-day work, especially when he saddles up with Crazy Horse.

But, by golly, that sweet acoustic ditty has done ol’ Shakey well. At last count there were over a hundred “Heart of Gold” covers, some of them good enough to warrant a yearly check of no small size passing through his mail slot. It did pretty well in its author’s iteration too, mind, hitting the coveted number one spot in the US singles chart (Young’s only sojourn there) and top ten in many other territories. Considering Young had only started dabbling with acoustic songs in response to a back injury, necessitating his sitting to play, how serendipitous must that fall have been? Mind you, his own comments as to where it took him were less than generous: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On the back of the single, so too did Harvest flourish, likewise becoming a chart topper with Young’s biggest LP sales to date. Characteristically, given the sheer cussedness of the man, it contains a number of styles, some harking back to previous album After the Gold Rush, some more akin to future more country-inflected excursions. This reflected the musicians recruited, largely country session men making their first outing as the Stray Gators. Pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, and drummer Kenny Buttrey helped shape Harvest‘s sound. So did Jack Nitzsche, the producer and pianist who also played a part with Crazy Horse. Nitzsche decided to orchestrate a couple of the songs as well, an odd move at the time for an artist in other than easy-listening territory. And then there was the stark and bleak beauty of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” gaunt in its unadorned voice and guitar, a song as chilling as Bert Jansch’s clearly influential “Needle of Death.”

A year shy of its half century, how, then, has Harvest fared? How well have the songs lasted? How do they fit into the differing tastes of this century? These more recent interpretations help reveal the answer: better than expected. The original Harvest is an album I listen to for a wallow in nostalgia; these ten covers stand on wholly different ground.
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Nov 192021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

John Mellencamp

I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think.
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Nov 162021
 

Soulsavers is, or was, the nom de guerre for the initially electronica production team Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who have increasingly developed into the providers of a lush neo-gospel soundscape, incorporating element of country, soul, and blues, into which a variety of singers have embedded (usually) rich and evocative vocals. Dave Gahan is, of course, the front man for Depeche Mode, as famous for his medical history as his work in those early adopters of electronica/pop. His tones are perfect for the Soulsavers brand, and he first came aboard in 2012, singing and writing much the material for The Light the Dead See. This prove a bigger draw than earlier material and the collaboration continued, with the next album, Angels and Ghosts, perhaps ominously now under the Dave Gahan and Soulsavers soubriquet. The duo then made an instrumental album, Kubrick, Gahan returning to Depeche Mode duties.

Last year Gahan began to drop hints as to a further collaboration, and that it would be a covers collection: “When I listen to other people’s voices and songs—more importantly the way they sing them and interpret the words—I feel at home. I identify with it. It comforts me more than anything else.” A taster, the Cat Power song “Metal Heart,” dropped a month or so back and all seemed to be auguring well. Now we have Imposter, the full basket of fruits of their labors. And we have a problem.
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Nov 092021
 

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

West of the West

“We dreamed of all the crazy places we never been. Like California.” So sings/speaks Bill Kirchen in the classic Commander Cody song “Mama Hated Diesels,” aptly summing up the lure of the Golden State. And, with due hats tipped to Tennessee and to New York State, is there any other that has drawn in so many songwriter acolytes to the flame it has provided, and for so long? Which, by way of introduction, is where Dave Alvin headed with West of the West, a glorious potpourri of songs from the 5th largest economy in the world, pulled together, chosen and sung by the erstwhile Blaster and X man.
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