The 1975 recently released a cover of “Now Is the Hour” for the upcoming show The New Look about designer Christian Dior in Nazi-occupied Paris. While many people attribute “Now Is the Hour” to Bing Crosby, the tune was actually first written in Australia in 1913. It was then redone again as a Maori version, so it is also known as The Maori farewell song (Aka Pō Atarau). With rich, gentle, and flowing backup vocals, Crosby’s famous version was charming and romantic with the oom-pah-pah guitars, magical celeste-like keys, and piano sealing the deal.
Peripatetic guitar legend John Scofield describes himself as a “Road Dog”, someone who spends his life on the road, figuratively playing concerts all over the world and metaphorically moving between genres. In the 2022 documentary Inside Scofield he noted that he loved being close to New York City, so a short trip from his home to record for the Stephen Colbert’s Late Show with Louis Cato’s house band would not be a chore. Their rendition of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is a testament to Scofield’s long love of Ray Charles’ music.
(hangs head) How did I not hear of this? How did Billy Valentine and the Universal Truth, a slice of prime r’n’b/jazz–acid jazz if you must–slip under the Cover Me radar last year? Alerted by the end-of-year lists of others, a quick shufti confirmed this demanded our attention. And it comes with quite an impressive back story to boot.
There are two Billy Valentines. There’s the 98-year-old blues and r’n’b man, William A. Valentine, and there’s 73-year-old who was one of the Valentine Brothers, r’n’b hitmakers of the 1970s into ’80s, best known for “Money Too Tight (To Mention),” to be later catapulted into ubiquity by Simply Red. (Their version is better…) This is the latter of the Valentines, however much I secretly hoped it the former.
After the brush with fame offered by “MTT(TM),” with their own version sinking under the lack of promotion capable of their then-tiny independent label, Valentine took on work with Bob Thiele Jr., as a writer for hire. Thiele Sr. was the boss of Impulse Records, when their roster covered acts such as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane; later her served as the boss of Flying Dutchman Records, which had championed Gil Scott-Heron. Valentine and Thiele Jr. sold songs all over, ahead of some later traction of soundtracks: Valentine was one of the featured singers for The Sons Of Anarchy series, with a number of featured cameos. Come 2020, with Thiele Sr. deceased, his son felt it as good a time as any to revive the Flying Dutchman imprint, as part of the Acid Jazz family. Valentine was his first signing.
Taking a while to gather together the right combination of material and musician, Billy Valentine and the the Universal Truth dropped last March. It features eight songs drawn from the more militant factions of black music, or at least songs that reflect on that. There is some Gil Scott-Heron, some Curtis Mayfield and Pharaoh Sanders, with Stevie Wonder and Prince in there for good measure. Musicians include the likes of Immanuel Wilkins, Alex Acuña, Jeff Parker and Pino Palladino, so the album is class personified. Let’s play it!
The End of the Road Festival is an annual festival at Larmer Tree Gardens in southern England. As part of the promotion for the festival, magazine Best Fit does “secret sessions.” For one of this year’s, Runnner, aka Noah Weinman performed a solo show. During the show he covered “Driver 8.”
“Driver 8” was REM‘s seventh single and second biggest hit when it was released in 1985. Very much a classic ’80s REM song, it’s about a train and fully embodies their jangly, folk-tinged college rock aesthetic from that period of their career.
Weinman plays the opening riff pretty much as written, though on a regular 6-string acoustic it sounds considerably less jangly. It sounds to me like he’s playing it slightly slower than the original. He otherwise sticks to the form and pace of the song. Stripped of all the original’s ornamentation though – including the harmonica that echoes a train whistle – the song sounds considerably more traditional. The original has a classic college rock sound and Weinman has stripped all of that away. His delivery feels more plaintive even if it may not be, just because it’s him and his guitar alone on stage.
It’s faithful and earnest and a nice version of the song. Check it out below.
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!
In 2023, the Feelies released Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground, a live album recorded one night in 2018. Listeners heard a band that had clearly absorbed the VU into their DNA long ago, making their recreations sound almost effortless. They even play the brief instrumental burbling at the start of “Sweet Jane.” The audience cheers heard between songs are loud and enthusiastic, and no matter which band’s music they’re there to hear, you can tell they love the other band too.
For this night, the Feelies were more about being Velvet Underground fans than Feelies. Because because? Well, their version of “What Goes On” sounds more like the VU and less like the Feelies’ own studio-released version, from 1988’s Only Life. Now there was a band who set out to make a song their own. Not to knock the modern day Feelies, not at all, but that VU night really was designed to be more commemoration than innovation. It’s those earlier covers we’re focusing on today, the ones that saw the band out to, as Lou Reed called his own live album in 1978, take no prisoners.
The Scratch hail from Ireland. Like so many Irish musicians, they were greatly affected by Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan’s death in November. The band had been playing around with a cover of “Sally MacLennane,” an upbeat celtic punk song that was the second single from The Pogues‘ second album. The song’s title is the name of a stout and the song is a celebration of the Irishmen who had to work outside of Ireland. Once The Scratch heard of MacGowan’s death, they decided to start performing the cover live and now they have released a video.