How to begin to explain the enigmatic giant that was Jackie Leven? Most reviews, in his life and beyond (he died in 2011), will comment on the mystery that he were not better known and better acclaimed. Uniformly lauded, somehow, possibly even deliberately, he remained so far under the radar as to be non-existent. Not that his talent, or he, were easy to hide, both being immense. If The Wanderer: A Tribute to Jackie Leven opens a few more ears to his music, it will have served a purpose, although I suspect it may more appeal to the already converted, a hard knit, hardcore bunch who talk in awe of his live performances. Please let me be wrong, and if, as you read this, you find yourself unfamiliar with the name, go seek him out. A retrospective collection also released recently, Straight Outta Caledonia, is as good a place to start as anywhere.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“The Scientist” is the one song that even the most ardent Coldplay phobes can grudgingly admit to, if not actually liking, agreeing that it’s a good song, with nine out of ten subconsciously singing along with it, sotto voce, should it ever appear of the radio. Which it does really quite often. Despite the near impossibility of recreating Chris Martin’s falsetto, you just can’t stop yourself from trying, hating yourself as you then have to.
No, that’s unfair, but the band do present an easy target, being so damn successful and so damn ubiquitous. In the time old time old of an unreconstructed music snob, I like to prefer their old stuff, always finding a tall poppy anathema to my enjoyment. From their second album, 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, “The Scientist” is the insanely catchy standout ballad in a record chock-full of earworm melodies. Catnip both to the lovelorn and those in love, it has become a favorite of slow dancers, although quite who or what the scientist was or is remains enigmatic. He sounds genuinely sorry enough.
One of the best things to come out of the coronavirus lockdown, should one be allowed to say such a thing, has been the run of homespun lockdown recordings, the artists stranded at their homes with neither the staples of touring or studio recording being much accessible to them. Sadly, this too has also been one of the worst things of the pandemic, with rather too many bedroom warblings of the same old, same old staples and standards of coverland. Thankfully, Aoife O’Donovan’s Aoife Plays “Nebraska” is one of the former type. The simplicity of this performance is the strength here, the songs already spare and sparse, with O’Donovan’s rich vocal poignancy being the only change from the gruffer original. Even her guitar is almost only just there, like curls of smoke from a background smoldering grate, there more to add texture and atmosphere than necessarily to accompany.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
“The Reflex” was Duran Duran’s first single to top the American charts, in 1984, and remains one of their most-streamed tracks on Spotify. Despite all that, though, it hasn’t generated as many covers as you’d think. Covers database SecondHandSongs lists almost three times as many covers of “Hungry Like the Wolf.” And “Ordinary World.” And “A View to a Kill.”
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
“Charlie’s good tonight, inn’ee?”
That classic line from Mick Jagger, as heard and lifted from the early Rolling Stones live opus Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, is a phrase that has always lasted and lingered, not least because it was unmistakably so true. Charlie was always good tonight, his sense of swing a failsafe metronome over the fifty-plus years of the band. A jazz man by preference, his kit dwarfed by the kits of most of his contemporaries, he was forever the lynchpin at the back, always making sure his band was the greatest rock and roll band in the world.
Unless you haven’t been paying attention, you will already know this is a follow-up, the second EP in a series of three, by the music royalty pair, each addressing and celebrating the works of great country duet pairings. We dealt with the first volume …Do Porter & Dolly here, then hedging a bet it would be followed. And is there a better known C&W pairing than that of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, almost as well-known for their life offstage as for the songs they made together?
George Jones was one of country music’s biggest stars, perhaps the biggest. Whenever Johnny Cash was asked who his favorite was, his response always began, “You mean, besides George Jones?” His tally of 160 singles in the country chart gives just some idea as to the hugeness of his appeal, dwarfing the attainment of other genre equivalents. His legacy that has lasted well beyond his 2013 death, unlike many of his contemporaries on the self-same rhinestoned stages of ’50s and ’60s Nashville. Present-day aficionados include Elvis Costello and Robert Plant, who once said, “I now have to listen to George Jones once a day. Amazing singer. What a singer.” All this despite never any lifetime crossover success, he was always strictly country.
Tammy Wynette was his wife between 1969 and 1975, and was already a star in her own right. The succession of joint album recordings they made continued long after they parted, six released during the marriage and three after the divorce, including their biggest seller, ironically, 1976’s Golden Ring. (Incidentally, Tammy’s two best known solo hits, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” and “Stand By Your Man” both came ahead of their marriage, so arguably each relate, in one way or another, to George’s effect upon her life.)
As with the last EP, David Mansfield is in charge, his magic hands on the production dials and much of the instrumentation. His love of the genre and of the period is obvious, managing to display the classicism of the songs and yet avoid most of the residual kitsch of the originals. A lower fat and less sugary re-envisioning that maintains all the goodness, but with a slightly more up-to-date taste. Some salt with the saccharine, then, tears with the honey, as befits the prevailing lyrical content.