Mar 282022
 

That the venerable Canadian band Cowboy Junkies should preface their new album, Songs of the Recollection, with a comment that, long before they were musicians, they were music fans, should be no great surprise. Anyone in the least bit familiar with their work will be already aware of their erudite taste in that department, such is the body of covers work they have built up over the years, on their own recordings and their myriad contributions to innumerable tribute albums. Unsurprisingly, we here are big fans and have featured them, or of them, more than the once.

Songs of the Recollection brings together some obscure oldies recorded for other projects (just over half the album’s tracks being previously available), plus a few newly minted ones; as ever, the band extends across genres and styles in their own idiosyncratic way, making it feel the songs were specially written for their spare minimalism, all spiky guitars in slo-mo, and Margo Timmins’ haunting voice, a glimpse of Canada’s icy north.
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Feb 182022
 

Musically speaking, Yoko Ono (“ocean child” in Japanese) is still predominantly recognized as a primal screamer, an avant-garde provocateur, and an agent of harsh, visceral noise as a kind of feminist weapon. She’s accepted, in such terms, as a key influence in the development of female-fronted alt-rock along the lines of grunge and the riot grrrl movement, with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Courtney Love of Hole, and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill having all spoken of her importance to them. Her shrieking, confrontational sound may, indeed, be considered her signature style. But it’s also a stereotype. One that’s been reinforced in Peter Jackson’s recent Get Back documentary, where Yoko’s to be seen, in footage from 10 January 1969, leading Beatles John, Paul, and Ringo in an impromptu freak-out session by wailing and howling into George Harrison’s recently vacated microphone.

Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard is all too aware of the blinkered perspective many people have of Yoko’s music, doubtless aggravated by the fact that her songs still never get played on the radio. It’s this that’s driven him to curate Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, a tribute album to coincide with the New York-based artist’s 89th birthday. He’s all about doing justice to her more underappreciated musical achievements here, contending that “the tallest hurdle to clear has always been the public’s ignorance as to the breadth of Yoko’s work.” He’s aware, at the same time, that the dust has long settled on previous collaborative efforts born of similar concerns, from the Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him tribute record of 1984 (for Yoko’s 50th birthday), to remix projects Yes, I’m a Witch and Open Your Box in 2007, and Yes, I’m a Witch Too in 2016. This is not to forget tribute album Mrs Lennon: Songs by Yoko Ono in 2010, consisting solely of female Brazilian artists.

Gibbard, then, resumes the good fight previously fought on albums that pitched Yoko as a versatile songwriter variously relevant to the genres of new wave, experimental pop, Brazilian pop, and dance music. Over 14 tracks, he aims to convince listeners of her particular skills in composing melodies “as memorable as those of [the] best pop writers,” as well as lyrics of “poignance, sophistication and deep introspection.”

And you know what? He makes you wonder.
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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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Nov 172021
 

Cult Classics Vol. 1: I Don’t Even Think of You That Often arrives 30 years after the original multi-artist Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. There have been other tributes since then – Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1995, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man in 2006, and The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered in 2012 – but Cult Classics Vol. 1 is notable for being the first to be recorded since Cohen’s death five years ago this month.

Drawing comparisons between this new album and the hugely influential I’m Your Fan is probably unfair: after all, the earlier record saved ‘Hallelujah’ from remaining an undiscovered gem in Leonard’s catalogue, and rescued his career by introducing his music to a new audience of young rock fans. Cult Classics arrives in a very different context (Cohen is now revered to the point of having a 10,000-foot mural in his honour on the side of a Montreal high-rise), and is more of an acknowledgement of the influence Leonard continues to have on the young singer-songwriters of today.
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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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Oct 182021
 

Georgia BlueWhen Joe Biden was bidding for POTUS, Jason Isbell declared his support by tweeting a promise. If the state of Georgia, his home state, went blue (Democrat), a possibility hitherto deemed impossible, he would record a cover album of Georgia-related songs for charity, “and damn is that gonna be fun.” As Isbell would later say, he had been looking for an excuse to record such a record for some time, but this now offered the ideal opportunity.

Well, Georgia went blue, against the odds and expectations, and with the release of Georgia Blue, three organizations are the better off for it, with all the album’s proceeds going toward Black Voters Matter, Georgia Stand-Up and Fair Fight.
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