Apr 202021
 

3 Imagined“Different” was one word applied to McCartney III upon its release in December 2020 (a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure). But other descriptors were, quite rightly, “fresh,” “adventurous,” “surprising,” and “chameleonic.” Never “dull.” The album was, accordingly, a UK #1 and US #2 success, elevated by its poppy first single, “Find My Way,” and its much-touted availability on a hierarchy of exclusive colored vinyl: yellow, blue, white, black, and numbered red, or, if you were ludicrously quick off the mark, yellow with black dots.

With or without the brightly hued grooves, it was impossible to resist the sheer versatility on display on McCartney III, with its plethora of highlights. Album-opener “Long Tailed Winter Bird” impressed as an inspired, near-instrumental slice of acoustic blues that built unpredictably from a stunning guitar riff. “Slidin'” hit home as a supremely dirty rocker, “Deep Down” a groovy, soulful joy, and “Women and Wives” a poignant ballad touching upon the questions of mortality and personal legacy. And they were all, of course, written and performed almost entirely by Paul McCartney of Liverpool, in the fine DIY tradition of 1970’s McCartney and 1980’s McCartney II, but with added Covid restrictions.

So now comes, well, what is it? A covers album? A remix album? A tribute album? Let’s just go with the catch-all term “album of reworkings,” particularly as some of its tracks feature the great man himself, and some don’t. It’s made up, according to the promo material, of “an A-List assortment of friends, fans and brand new acquaintances, each covering and/or reimagining their favorite ‘McCartney III’ moments in their own signature styles.” It also emanates puns galore in the aftermath of “recorded in Rockdown,” which serve to enhance its experimental, melting-pot vibe: “III-imagined,” “What’s Your Take On It?” etc. You see, the songs aren’t set in stone, man! They aren’t limited to one viewpoint, or subject to boundaries and rules. Roll the dice for different results!
Continue reading »

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!
Continue reading »

Mar 192021
 

A,A. WilliamsThe deliberately slow solo piano version of a peppy pop song is a covers cliché, especially with online covers. But in the right hands it can still have power. We’ve profiled A.A. Williams’ forays in this style throughout the pandemic. Now she’s collected all of these covers on an album, Songs from Isolation; a very appropriate title given the mood of the songs and her sole presence on the recordings.

Most of the songs here are indeed solo piano renditions of rock songs, at a slower tempo, and most of the songs are quite famous. So the album does at least flirt with the internet cliché. But both Williams’ performances and the context she recorded them in give weight to these versions in a way that some random YouTube piano cover usually doesn’t.
Continue reading »

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.
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.
Continue reading »

Dec 012020
 

Love Me Til My Heart Stops
Love Me Til My Heart Stops is Order of Operations’s reimagination of Talking Heads in the backdrop of 2020. In it, four Talking Heads tracks have been transitioned from rock ballads into electronic synth-pop tunes. Order of Operations is Brooklyn-based artist Alain Paradis’s solo project.  Paradis claims to have wanted to make Love Me Til My Heart Stops as “another pulse to place alongside your own—-and that will never stop making sense.”

The EP opens with its lead single, a cover of “Psycho Killer.” Sharp electronic synths transform the song, although the synth doesn’t quite capture the same essence of the original’s guitar solos or the idiosyncrasy of live drums. This leaves the door open to showcase Paradis’s vocals, which are brought forward against the instrumentals. Attention to detail in the production is obvious, with the subtle use of reverb and panning to create a fuller sound with a repetitive beat. The underlying beat may feel repetitive, but overall, the effect is a bright translation of the song into an electronic dance anthem. Continue reading »