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.

Jun 282022
 

Tonight We RideJason McNiff may not be the best known of names, but this hard-working singer and guitarist has hewn himself quite a place in the annals of that awkwardly entitled genre, UK Americana. McNiff earned a degree in French and Russian, but the lure of his first love proved too strong. He immersed himself in the fingerpicked guitar of folk and blues, in particular the work and style of the late Bert Jansch.

Ahead his premature death, Jansch had had a residency at London’s 12 Bar Club, playing to the faithful every Wednesday. McNiff made sure he was there, week after week, soaking up the excellence. No doubt Jansch came to recognize the tousle-headed youngster in the front row; it’s no coincidence that McNiff’s first record deal was with Jansch’s brother-in-law’s label, Snowstorm. A slew of releases have followed, garnishing him, along the way with an Americana UK (a webzine) album of the year and a nomination for alt country best of year in the US Independent Music Awards. So, no slouch.

Like many current releases, COVID and lockdown birthed Tonight We Ride. McNiff spent his enforced vacation hunkering down with weekly on-line gigs: the “Sundowner” sessions. Exhausting both his own repertoire of songs and those he already loved by others, he had to learn a whole new catalog of material. Tonight We Ride was the logical conclusion: eleven songs encompassing artists McNiff holds the most in reverence, with a couple of his own for good measure. Unsurprisingly, this encompasses both the accepted great and good–in this case, Dylan, Townes, and the Beatles–as well as a couple from the next generation down. And, of course, a couple from Jansch, his idol, and whose percussive picking style permeates this album.
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Jun 152022
 

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!

Hmmm–“In the Spotlight” could well be the giveaway, being exactly where at least half of this odd couple seems, more than anything else, to want to be. Odd couple? Well, back in the day, I daresay that the idea of Robert Fripp, the complex guitar wrangler of King Crimson fame, besuited and besitted always, having a lengthy and lasting marriage with Toyah Willcox, the punk-pop princess of Birmingham with the look-at-me dramatics, was not one of life’s great certainties.

I confess to being quite delighted by the couple’s first forays into Sunday Lunchtime COVID-19 entertainment, as much for the bizarre hoops Mrs. Fripp could put her permanently-bemused husband through, in the sake of raising the spirits of those who stumbled onto these little vignettes of, apparently, their life.

According to Willcox, the purpose of these weekly vids was primarily to lift Fripp out of the black dog that permeated him as lockdown locked down, depriving him of both an outlet for and an income for his art. So, on 5th April 2020, those idly browsing the net became party to the extraordinary image of the couple, dressed to the nines, having a bop to Bill Haley’s vintage hit, “Rock Around the Clock.” And looking to be having a whale of a time.
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Jun 072022
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Long Train Runnin

Just how good a song is the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin'”? No, I mean it–just how good is it? Yes, yes, I know the sun is shining and it feels like Spring At Last, but this song, y’know, isn’t it pure essence of get outside and dance? Unassailable on all fronts, it is the spirit of yeah, the unashamed shake yer head, shake yer hips of boogie, and from the casual shake of the wrist in the first few bars, it has defied its near-half-century age to infect me once again.

Tom Johnston should be revered for this song, rather than just being the bloke in the Doobies before Michael McDonald. Or, for that matter, the bloke in the Doobies after Michael McDonald. Or, indeed, with Michael McDonald, such has the revolving door of band membership been. But, however mighty was the McDonald-helmed version, and before his silver hair and tonsils became their calling card, the band had had a run of singles, all written and sung by Johnston, all instantly recognizable, if likewise all easily confused, being all cut from a similar cloth.
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May 302022
 

Jerry Jeff
Steve Earle’s getting good at these tributes to friends and mentors. Jerry Jeff is his third, following Townes and Guy. (Yes, of course there has also been J.T., but that paean to his prematurely deceased son was a force of necessity rather than choice, one which we reviewed here.) The latest tribute has more in common with the first two, and is maybe a bit of a surprise, not least as there is no recorded Bluebird Café gig to legitimize the link.

Indeed, those uncertain why Earle might be drawn to the works of Jerry Jeff Walker, seemingly less of a maverick, might need to think again. The outlaw-country icon is way more than just the “Mr. Bojangles” hitmaker, and that song, wonderful as it is, may not be the best marker of his styles, as he gravitated from Greenwich Village folkie to grizzled Austin veteran. (More about that song here.)

Walker, who died back in 2020, did cross paths with Earle a number of times. Once Walker invited him down to play a song for Neil. Not knowing who Neil was, Earle complied, and was delighted to find himself about to play a song for Neil Young. He was then appalled that Walker insisted he play a David Olney song, rather than one of his own. Ouch! But it goes further, Earle telling Vulture that “Mr. Bojangles” had been a (very) early stage favorite of his, it being performed at the specific request of his high school teacher for a school show.

Earle is older and mellower now, and arguably this set of Walker songs suits him a little better than his reputation(s) would predict. Plus, for those champing at the bit for some new Earle compositions, there is a promise that this is his last in his run of tributes. For them, good; for us here at Cover Me, maybe less so.
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May 272022
 

Dirt Does DylanProving there is nothing like a Dylan covers project to pep up flagging inspiration, and proving also you just cannot have too many of such a thing, Dirt Does Dylan is a worthy addition to the shelves of similar, proving the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, almost as aged an act as is the Bard of Hibbing, have still got legs. Legs and, indeed, arms and voices, the better as to play this collection of, largely, older Dylan standards.

Since kicking off, back in 1966, the band have actually been quite shy of Dylan covers, a glance of their early album credits suggesting they were putting more eggs in the Jackson Browne basket, and I struggled, wading through their myriad releases to find much beyond their version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume Two, and that potentially only down to the presence of Messrs. McGuinn and Hillman as guests.

That said, founding member Jeff Hanna claims he first found his muse upon hearing Bob Dylan, then locking himself away in his bedroom, working on the chord structures of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” sharing that passion with Jimmie Fadden, who would be his longtime partner in the band they together formed. Fast forward five and a half decades, and Hanna and Fadden are still in the fold, with longtime stalwart Bob Carpenter and three new players, including Hanna’s son, Jaime. And is “Don’t Think Twice” still on the menu? You bet it it is!
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Apr 152022
 

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!

Ukrainians

This post is not about the Ukrainians forced by circumstance onto the world’s stage. All our hearts bleed both for them and their country, subject to the cruelest and vilest of misjudgments, victims of Putin seeking to leave his mark. But it is closely related, being about the Ukrainians, the Leeds, UK-based band, who have been touting their postpunk take on the folk music of the mother country of founder/guitarist Pete Solowka for nigh on thirty years. And a whole lot more than just the folk music of Ukraine, as covers of their musical cohorts and influences, performed in a Cossack/Slavic style, all stentorian voices and balalaikas, also feature large in their repertoire.

Originally, and sometimes contemporaneously, Solowka has been a member of the Wedding Present, and it was that band that sparked the idea into ignition. When venerable and iconic DJ John Peel asked them to perform a session on his long running evening radio show, the Wedding Present decided to perform in the Solowka family language. They played “Hopa,” a traditional song the guitarist had been brought up listening to and singing along with.

Given the favorable reception, and with Solowka’s own grasp of the language not being up to it, they seconded in the presence of Len Liggins–or, to give him his full name, the legendary Len Liggins, a Russian (and Ukrainian) scholar, fluent in each language and a dab on the fiddle besides. This too went down well with the listeners, bar one Roman Romeynes, just possibly not his real name, a musician from another Leeds band, who jested they were taking the proverbial and bastardizing the tradition. So who better to then enroll, this offshoot now having a life of its own, spinning free from the Wedding Present. (The band had sacked Solowka; he said this was due to the greater acclaim given this experiment than the parent band.)

That groundbreaking 1989 Peel session, and the later sessions that followed, all eventually became available in recorded form, with 1991 seeing the debut release by the now-official band, with both band and release being named The Ukrainians. When Romeynes left shortly afterwards, the band consolidated as a more regular unit, leaving the Wedding Present linkage shattered behind them.

They initially found an appropriate home on the maverick and left field record label Cooking Vinyl, home also of Jackie Leven and Oysterband. After making a further pair or so of albums with that label, they started their own label Zirka, through Proper. They have been relatively prolific, with three further studio albums of (largely) original material, two live recordings, a covers compendium (which we reviewed here), and a glut of EP and singles. These have encompassed further covers, including of traditional Ukrainian folk songs, as well as all sorts of idiosyncratic songs drawn from sources as unlikely as varied. All transcribed into their well-worn mix of fiddle, accordion and balalaikas, accompanied by crashing bass, resounding guitars and pounding drums.

Perhaps classifiable as a niche taste at home, they have become superstars in the eastern European diaspora, not least Ukraine itself. Under the cataclysmic events of the the past six or so weeks, the band have decided they cannot stand idly by, and have launched a tour, all monies going in support of the refugee crisis.

Ukrainians Benefit

Let’s look at some of their covers….
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