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 in his own blog, www.retropathology.blogspot.com

Feb 102021
 

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

When is a cover not a cover? If a song is written but never committed to any released format, what counts as the original version? Both questions that might raise askance of this set, a set that I believe can, and indeed should, pass muster for these august pages. After all, if it’s good enough for Woody Guthrie

Jeffrey Lee Pierce is a name known more by association, I guess, than in his own right, popping up in the alongside others plowing the same vein. Literally. Whilst his lifetime recorded output, predominantly under the Gun Club soubriquet, may have been prodigious, he left enough unfinished and discarded songs to provide the bulk of the material in these three (so far) recordings.
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Jan 302021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

There are few bands with such a way with covers as the Cowboy Junkies, that in no small part to the icy warmth of singer, Margo Timmins, an astonishing 60 this month. She was born in Montreal, 1/27/61, and I have long been a fan, maybe not from the very start, but certainly once ‘Trinity Sessions’ threw down the gauntlet, quietly and emphatically. Birmingham Town Hall, in the English midlands, used to be a dreadful venue, any sounds not completely muffled being left free to echo around the pillars, hopeless for any band with any degree of amplification. It has since had a refurb, and has lost, thankfully, that legacy, but the Junkies were perfection there then, every pin dropping with perfect clarity, the most important pin being that of Timmins, an ethereal shimmer filling the gap between the controlled calm of the instrumentation.

In the subsequent years the band, Timmins and her two brothers, Michael on guitar and Peter on drums, along with family friend Alan Anton playing bass, have strayed little from that template. Initially supplemented by the instrumentation of Jeff Bird and others, adding mandolin, harmonica, dobro, steel and fiddle, latterly it would become the core quartet, as blues became as much an influence as country had been before. The band had been started by Michael, a record-hungry youth who had been in bands since high school. Margo had never sung in public before he goaded her to add vocals, and she initially sang facing away from the stage, such was her crippling shyness, echoing the experiences of Michael Stipe and Jim Morrison, two other equally iconic vocalists.

Over a 35-plus-year career, the Cowboy Junkies have produced 18 studio albums, six live albums, and seven compilations, with innumerably more material courtesy their website. (Sadly it seems that much of that rare and archive material in currently unavailable.) Covers have always been a feature; most of their records containing one or two, and they’re staples on tribute projects, to artists as varied as Gram Parsons and Blind Willie Johnson. In 2009, Timmins also found the time to release an all-cover solo album, enticingly entitled Margo’s Corner: The Ty Tyrfu Sessions, Volume 1. She has also added her froideur to any number of other artists, as a backing or additional singer, usually to fellow Canadians.

Let’s drill down into some of the best examples of her transformative skills, starting with perhaps the best known and, arguably, the best example.
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Jan 262021
 

Pete YornPete Yorn is one of those names you know, if not always realizing or recognizing why. His debut album made him a Rolling Stone One To Watch for 2001, going gold to boot, thanks partly to the single “Life On A Chain.” (Aah, that Pete Yorn!) A further six albums have followed, as well as various other live albums and collaborations. He’s been the musical muscle behind some of Scarlett Johansson’s excursions into music, they making one LP and an EP together, another possibly on the way. He is also a regular on soundtracks and tributes, performing the songs of others as varied as The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen and New Order. We have featured him often.

Now comes album number seven, Pete Yorn Sings the Classics. Quite where the parallel galaxy is that considers this quirky set of songs classics, I don’t know, but it’s somewhere I could happily live. OK, many you will know, and some are fitting of that title, with others maybe vaguer memories, perhaps from childhood. But don’t dismiss this, the love here seeps thickly through the grooves and makes this just one great big grin of a project.
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Jan 222021
 

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

Let It Bleed covers

There are so many good reasons for returning yet again to the Rolling Stones discography for another Full Album offering, the foremost being that they have written and performed so many damn good songs and have had so many of these covered so broadly and widely, encompassing all genres. The choice, thus, is immense. I was actually surprised we hadn’t done Let It Bleed before, given it contains so many songs indelibly etched on my consciousness. OK, as a an older white male, that isn’t surprising, but most of these songs will be known to all generations, either through knowledge of the band, or from soundtracks and, even, if briefly, from advertising. I think the album’s one of their best, and an infinite number of online polls show I’m not alone.

Hailing from an astonishing 1969, Let It Bleed saw the Stones at a turning point. They were gradually easing the increasingly addled Brian Jones out of the band, and were continuing down the row Beggar’s Banquet first hoed. They eschewed the sophisticated pop-rock tropes of their mid-to-late 60s run of singles in favor of the simpler and bluesier sound that had originally inspired them. Jones appears, in the backing instrumentation, on a couple of tracks; his replacement Mick Taylor, who joined after the original sessions were complete, showed up on a couple more tracks, thanks to post-production afterdubs.

So it is essentially a four-piece band, the bulk of guitar parts courtesy Keith Richards, augmented by the keyboard playing of regular sidemen Ian Stewart (the true sixth Stone) and, on most of the tracks, Nicky Hopkins. Cameo appearances come from other notables such as Al Kooper, Leon Russell, Ry Cooder, and Byron Berline. Bobby Keys, swiftly to ensconce himself as Richards’ main partner in narcotic hijinks, makes his debut on saxes, and producer Jimmy Miller gets himself well into the percussion.

Released in December, it must have been a delight for the Stones to see Let It Bleed topple the Beatles’ Abbey Road from the top of the UK chart, if only temporarily. Across the pond it peaked at number three. Whilst it didn’t contain many singles, many of the songs have remained concert staples to this day. Of course, if you consider “Country Honk” to be, essentially, the same song as “Honky Tonk Women,” it included their biggest and best-known song ever (save perhaps “Satisfaction”), if in a somewhat different setting. Touted as amongst their best, Let It Bleed has inestimable legs and lasts as the legacy that enabled them to assume the title of the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World. Continue reading »

Jan 042021
 

J.T. Steve EarleSo, where to start? Father buries son, the two both acclaimed artists, both arguably difficult to love as people and who seemingly found it hard to love each other, both riddled with demons and overly familiar with self-medication. Too much cliché there, I fear, the sort that leads to declarations of relief that the son’s OD was accidental. Like that helps anyone.

So let’s start with the barer facts. Justin Townes Earle was a mighty fine songwriter. His father, Steve, still is. Earle Sr. has only made three covers albums, this the third, all tributes. The first two, Townes (Van Zandt) and Guy (Clark), are dedicated to his two greatest influences, who both happened also to be friends and mentors of his and of each other. Check out their live joint benefit album Together at the Bluebird Cafe for proof of that. No coincidence in how he named his firstborn. My sort of clumsy point is that Earle doesn’t pay tribute lightly: you gotta be pretty damn good at your trade to get his nod. J.T. was pretty damn good, and J.T., Steve Earle’s tribute to him (released on what would have been his 39th birthday), is all the proof of that you need.
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Nov 302020
 

Dan Mangan is one busy guy. He’s a member of an increasingly large community north of the border, right at the front end of, if you will, Canadiana, a redoubtable second or third wave of artists following on from Cohen, Young and Mitchell. Hallowed company? Yes, but Mangan is worth the compliment. He’s put together a solid body of work, well worth checking out, since starting out in the mid-noughties. Whether his solo acoustica or his more experimental ensemble work, where he finds the join between avant-garde and electronica, he has also found time to write soundtrack music and to be a contributing arts editor to the Canadian version of UK newspaper the Guardian.

An accomplished songwriter himself, he has an interesting take on cover versions: “It’s a matter of sanity. I get sick of the same taste in my mouth and I need to sing someone else’s song to cleanse my palate.” And glad we are he does, as it means the release of Thief. This is a collection of palate cleansers he has slipped out over the past few years, together with some new.
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