Apr 162021
 

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!

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum is a jazz artist with fluency in the crossover to pop. He has won and been nominated for jazz-specific and more general awards alike, collecting a Rising Star British Jazz Award and most recently a Radio Academy Award for his BBC Radio show. He also scored a nomination for a Best Original Song Golden Globe, for “Gran Torino.” Admittedly, 2005 was a bit of an awkward year when he won both the BBC Jazz Award for Artist of the Year and the Worst British Male award from the parody Naomi Awards. Showing perseverance, Cullum won the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Award for Best British Male two years later.

Many of Cullum’s covers come from two “Song Society” albums, where he challenges himself to create a new take on a song in an hour, allowing for a lot of creative improvisation to shape the end product. The songs chosen include new hits on the pop charts as well as some throwbacks and standards. Other covers are sprinkled throughout his original albums as well. Here we take a sonic journey through a handful of his covers that both show his range as an artist and span original genres and decades. This doesn’t even cover (ha) his whole jazz cover album Interlude, so if you are a jazz cat, check it out.

P.S. Fun fact: Cullum is married to Roald Dahl’s granddaughter. If you are a Matilda, BFG, Willy Wonka, or Witches fan, there is even more of a reason to read on.
Continue reading »

Mar 302021
 

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!

the bad plus covers

It’s a good time for a look back at The Bad Plus. The jazz trio recently announced a new chapter in their 20-year career: they are downsizing to a duo, as pianist Orrin Evans departs the band. (Evans joined in 2017 to replace the band’s original pianist Ethan Iverson.) The remaining musical chairs belong to bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King. The moment is an interesting one for a band that always rejected the “piano-led trio” descriptor, insisting instead on “leaderless collective.” While fans await the band’s next chapter, we have highlights from their previous chapters to dig into.
Continue reading »

Feb 222021
 

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!

Bill Frisell covers

We’ve highlighted several of guitarist Bill Frisell’s covers in the past—songs by Madonna, Lou Reed, John Lennon, and more. But it’s time Frisell gets a post of his own. He’s been abundantly prolific for several decades now, and in recent years his output rate has only accelerated. He turns 70 next month, and may get Grammied again, this time for last year’s Americana album, a collaboration with Grégoire Maret and Romain Collin, with its covers of Bon Iver, Jimmy Webb, and Mark Knopler. In this post we’ll survey the whole Frisell catalog, not just the recent achievements, with a focus on songs in the rock/pop/country genres.
Continue reading »

Feb 052021
 

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!

Taj Mahal covers

Like the centuries-old architectural marvel in India that he took as his stage name, musician and composer Taj Mahal seems to live beyond the reach of time. There’s been an “old soul” vibe about him, an ageless quality, since he debuted in the mid-sixties. Taj may not be the sole survivor of his generation, but you won’t find a more soulful survivor who is still in the game.

His artistic longevity is all the more impressive because Taj has never had the chart-topping hit, or a cultish following, or the other advantages that make it easier for a performer to sustain a career. Yet here he is, almost 80, still throwing down, resonating with a new crop of musicians.
Continue reading »

Jan 082021
 

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!

LA’s Grant Lee Buffalo was formed in the early ’90s out of a regrouped Shiva Burlesque. A folk band juiced up with fuzz boxes, the trio could go from folk to grunge and back in a matter of moments. Lead singer and guitarist Grant-Lee Phillips has an impressive vocal range, which features an impressive falsetto that YouTube bedroom coverers dare not attempt, and makes finding covers of some songs near impossible. Although critical darlings, the band struggled to find success in what was then a radio-dominated music industry, despite great production values and lyrics about the militarization of law enforcement and voter apathy that still hold up today.

A brief reunion tour in 2013 did yield the excellent Live at the Royal Festival Hall, an authentic plugged-in affair that I highly recommend. Since breaking up, Phillips has gone solo under his own name, while bassist Paul Kimble has formed Pistol Star, and drummer Joey Peters has been a member of Rusty Truck and the country revival band Stash.

We’ve talked about the covers Grant Lee Buffalo recorded before; now it’s time to see others covering GLB originals. Let’s go down the rabbit hole.
Continue reading »

Nov 052020
 

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!

Marc Bolan T.Rex

Armed with a seemingly bottomless well of self-belief, in possession of both off-the-charts charisma and head-turning beauty, Marc Bolan was a pop star like no other. He was the very definition of “transcendent,” which is to say the combination of his lovably ludicrous lyrics and infectiously crunchy Chuck Berry riffs appealed not only to screaming teenage girls but to the cool outsider kids as well. By 1976 he was being openly acknowledged as an inspiration to many of the early prognosticators of punk, including The Damned and Siouxsie. He loved the association and latterly referred to himself as “the Godfather of Punk if you like.” He would no doubt have accepted his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a humility befitting his persona (perhaps mentioning all of the above and then asking why it took them so long) and fully embraced the praise to be rightfully heaped upon him, all of which is ridiculously fun to imagine.

He is yet another artist whom despite inspiring a mountainous number of covers has been somewhat underserved. Alas, for every beauteous version of “Cosmic Dancer,” there are dozens of not-so-great takes of “Children of the Revolution.” To throw additional salt in the wound, there are loads of exquisitely fun and fine deep cuts that have yet to be tackled with the same eagerness as the hits (classic ballad “Broken-Hearted Blues” still hasn’t enjoyed a seminal reading, nor has the eternally groovy “The Wizard“). Thankfully, 2020 saw a superb effort to begin righting the ship, courtesy of the legendary Hal Willner, who organized the star studded tribute album AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex (read our review here). It features all the hits, yes, but shines the brightest when it gets into the deep stuff (check out BØRNS’ version of 1976’s “Dawn Storm,” it’s gorgeous).  Here’s hoping the album serves as a clarion call for future excavation of the solid gold deep cuts within the Bolan and T.Rex catalog (there are a ton!).

In honor of Marc’s HOF induction, we’re going to offer up a few of the straight up craziest, sexiest and coolest amongst the thousands of existing covers out there. Get it on…
Continue reading »