Apr 122024

The Tompkins Square Records label is best known for their allegiance to folk, country, blues and gospel, usually through the application of acoustic guitar, with or without voice. As such, they have developed a name for promoting so-called American Primitive guitar styles. That’s always a misnomer, given the skills of the artist concerned. but the label has stuck and here we are. Amongst names grateful to get a Tompkins Square leg-up are Michael Chapman, Ryley Walker, James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg, classic and classy players all.

The Imaginational Anthems series has covered a lot of good ground lately. Volume XI was an exploration of modern pedal steel; Vol. XII included a tribute to Michael Chapman. Now we have Imaginational Anthem vol. XIII : Songs of Bruce Cockburn, a tribute to the work of a Canadian artist unduly overlooked in favor of his better known compatriots. A very lazy descriptor might be the Canadian Richard Thompson, given his agility with a six-string and teasingly lyrical wordplay, but Cockburn’s dreamy soundscapes pack an altogether different spiritual punch.

Here, a selection of Tompkins Square stalwarts offer their take on him and his songs. I guess it is his playing that gets the most attention, but there are vocal tracks as well. Curated by James Toth, who has recruited a squad of lesser known names, this works well as a primer for all, or most, those contributing, as much as it does an introduction, if unfamiliar, to Cockburn. And if you do know him, better still.
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Apr 122024
carlie hanson nutshell cover

Though not released as a single, “Nutshell” has probably become the best known song from Alice in Chains‘ second acoustic EP, Jar of Flies. (The first EP ever to debut on Billboard at #1, apparently.) Lead singer Layne Staley was writing more and more of his own lyrics and “Nutshell,” like many of his songs, concerns his struggles with addiction.

Carlie Hanson is a singer-songwriter from Wisconsin, who has put out a couple of albums and EPs over the last five years. She released her new cover of “Nutshell” on the 22nd anniversary of Staley’s death.

The song is famous for its extended acoustic guitar intro, just featuring guitarist Jerry Cantrell playing chords, with some bass accompaniment for nearly a minute before the drums and Staley’s vocals come in. Hanson begins her version with a loop and some prominent drums. But she wastes little in starting her vocal and once she starts singing the song much closer resembles the original. Though her pace is faster, her acoustic guitar moves forward in the mix and the loop fades.

For the wordless refrain, she piles on group vocals and drops the guitar fill, giving the vocals much more focus. These vocals feel a bit like a lament and the repeat as this version’s coda until they drop away and all we’re left with is a guitar repeating the main lick.

Though it starts out sounding very different, it’s actually a quite faithful rendition that manages to both recall the original but sound different enough. Check it out:

Apr 122024
ashley monroe i like trains cover

Fred Eaglesmith is an acclaimed and prolific Canadian alternative country singer-songwriter who is basically unknown in the United States. In Canada, his fans have their own name: Fredheads. But he has only 18 songs is covers database SecondHandSongs – despite releasing 17 studio albums over the last 40 years – and we’ve noted exactly one cover of a song of his, all the way back in 2010, by fellow alt country Canadians Cowboy Junkies. For whatever reason, he just hasn’t been discovered by Americans despite the heavy Americana of his lyrics.

Pistol Annies member Ashley Monroe wants to change that. She recently covered Eaglesmith’s “I like Trains” from his 7th album, 1996’s Drive-In Movie, a song which explicitly references the American South. (As well as, um, trains.) Continue reading »

Apr 082024
lorde take me to the river

It’s 40 years since a collaboration between Talking Heads and filmmaker Jonathan Demme led to the creation of one of the great concert movies, Stop Making Sense. High concepts, expert musicianship and a big suit cemented it in the minds of a generation. As part of a revival of the film in cinemas and, soon, at home, production owners A24 have curated a tribute album of the songs featured in the movie, to be released later in the year. Lorde has been bold enough to take on “Take Me to the River,” The Talking Heads’ take on the Al Green classic. Continue reading »

Apr 032024
drop nineteens white dress

Drop Nineteens is an American Shoegaze band from Boston. The 5-piece group started out in 1990. And while their initial stint was short-lived (with the group splitting after just five years, in 1995) the alt-indie groups’ fans were pleased to learn of a reunion. Twenty-sevel years after their hiatus they dropped the album Hard Light. And now? The quintet has released a muted and romantic shoegaze version of Lana Del Rey’s “White Dress”.  Continue reading »

Apr 022024
dollyrots a new england

Childhood sweethearts Kelly Ogden and Luis Cabezas are nearly a quarter of a century into their band The Dollyrots and even further into their relationship as a couple. They now bring their kids on tour when they take their infectious punk-pop on the road. They have a neat line in covers, as we have noted before. Clearly happy with each other, they are willing to tackle different types of scenarios (which might be unfamiliar with them), such as “A New England” which was a hit for Kirsty MacColl based on folk-punk-rocker Billy Bragg’s original. Continue reading »