Tom McDonald

I grew up and got schooled in New England, hitch-hiked on a whim to pre-Grunge-era Seattle, never left. Took to designing software for authors and publishers. Raised two kids and quite a few chickens on a island in Puget Sound. Taught myself guitar and banjo and formed a covers band. I help run a map store; here’s an issue of our newsletter. I favor British tv comedies and novels by Cormac McCarthy.

Oct 022021
 
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
gillian welch covers

Happy Birthday to Gillian Welch! She deserves an extra slice of cake this year, her 54th, because the past twelve months have been so surprisingly busy.

For one thing, she won a Grammy in the Best Folk Album category this year, for her all-covers collection All the Good Timesmade with her ever-present partner David Rawlings. (We reviewed the album here.) The couple also collaborated with Barry Gibb, the Bee Gee with a taste for the kind of Americana and country music that Welch and Rawlings have helped to popularize. But most importantly, the duo spent the year releasing the 48-song, three volume Lost Songs project, rare bits of good news in those hard and uncertain times. Continue reading »

Aug 142021
 

Layla RevisitedWhen Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs turned 50 last year, a box set anniversary reissue materialized. The classic album by Derek & the Dominos (aka Eric Clapton and band, plus Duane Allman) was given its due with state-of-the-art remixes and other assorted love tokens—a 12-by-12-inch book, certificates of authentication, discs full of outtakes (Clapton and Allman action figures sold separately, I guess). This summer Layla enjoys another, more vivid celebration: Layla Revisited, a live concert recording by the formidable Tedeschi Trucks Band, with guests Trey Anastasio and Doyle Bramhall II. It’s a lively and focused performance, as the soulful and high-powered ensemble romp through the full Layla album in original song order, in a single live show (with one small exception recorded in studio).

These releases are all pretty impressive for an album that was initially met with mixed reviews, tepid sales, and some measure of confusion about the artist, this mysterious Derek. The label execs wanted an “Eric Clapton” album, of course, but by then he’d had it with the spotlight. (After a short tour in support of the album, he dissolved the band and withdrew into a long, dark seclusion.) No one knew the Dominos, either, though the band had formed the core of All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s first post-Beatles effort. Harrison’s project came out the same month as Layla and attracted all the attention and praise that Layla missed out on.

A feeling of fate surrounds Layla Revisited. Derek Trucks is named after Clapton after all (or after his pseudonym, anyway), and is the nephew of Butch Trucks, founding drummer of the Allman Brothers Band. Derek quickly emerged as an exceptional guitarist in the Duane Allman mold, and eventually led the Allman Brothers Band in its final decade. He has also shared the stage a number of times with Clapton (they played “Layla” together, naturally). One more simple twist of fate: the stellar singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi–Trucks’ life partner–was born on the very day the original Layla came out. So, yes, there’s a lot to celebrate here, and a lot of history to revisit.
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Aug 062021
 

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

Wish You Were Here covers

Few bands have lost their star and their leader, the writer and singer of their songs, and only then rocketed to stratospheric levels of success. But that’s the main thrust of the Pink Floyd saga. Those two themes—of tragic loss and outsized stardom, absence and success—are at the heart of their 1975 Wish You Were Here album. The “You” in the title refers to Syd Barrett, who led the band until his disintegration in the late ’60s. At the same time, “You” refers to anyone you ever loved and lost, which is part of why the album and its title track are so enduring.

Wish You Were Here had the thankless task of following The Dark Side of the Moon, the success of which is hard to overstate. In its wake, Floyd guitarist David Gilmour called Dark Side “a benevolent noose hanging behind us.” Many a Floyd aficionado loves Wish You Were Here more than its predecessor (even some Pink Floyd members count it as their best), but among the general populace nothing eclipses Dark Side. Just glance at the landscape of cover versions: Dark Side has sprouted all manner of tributes and reinterpretations—some of which have taken on lives of their own, with anniversary reissues and the like—while Wish You Were Here remains practically virgin territory for other musicians to explore.
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Jun 182021
 

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!

Shawn Colvin covers

We shine the spotlight on an artist who has won acclaim for her own songwriting—including a song of the year and record of the year Grammy—but who has been overlooked as an interpretive artist. Cover Me readers, let’s show Shawn Colvin some love. She has released not one but four albums of covers (if you count the Holiday song collection and the collection of children’s lullabies). And those are just the start: we can also look at covers she has inserted onto albums otherwise devoted to her own material, and listen to her guest appearances on other artists’ cover projects.
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Jun 112021
 
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Howlin' Wolf covers

Born 111 years ago this week, Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin’ Wolf, was a blues musician who possessed one of the most distinctive voices in 20th century popular music, and who wrote some of his genre’s most enduring hits. With his rival Muddy Waters, Wolf defined the electric blues style that reverberated out of Chicago in the 1950s. This sound in turn altered the course of the nascent rock music genre, as youngsters like Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton absorbed Chicago blues, and brought their own trippy flavor of it to new and wider audiences. Wolf was among the first black musicians to capitalize on white youths’ love for the blues form.
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Apr 012021
 

Buffalo SpringsteenEven the hardcore connoisseurs of cover music may not know the name Billy Bud Frank. Some may know Frank’s stage and recording name, Buffalo Springsteen, whose dizzying run was cut short in 1980 just when BS was poised for stardom. If Frank has been left out of the musical conversation for decades now, it’s not just because his music was ahead of its time. It is more because Frank ended up on the wrong side of what we now call Cancel Culture. But the situation may be about to change, and Frank’s period of exile may be over.

First, the good news: Counter/Fit Records is re-issuing both of the Buffalo Springsteen studio albums, Fool Me Once and Fool Me Once II. The albums have long been out-of-print. Existing copies were literally confiscated from record stores and radio stations, and uploads on digital platforms get copyright takedown orders almost immediately. Each album has become that rarest of things: a rarity. With the re-issues, the censorship finally ends. (Full disclosure: the writer is an employee of Counter/Fit Records and/or one of its subsidiaries.)

But on to the better news, and the whole point of this post: the indie label has also releasing a star-studded tribute album, BS! A Tribute to Buffalo Springsteen. And that’s no BS!
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