May 212024
 

Long Distance LoveWell, how about that! On the same day as a still-going Little Feat put out a blues cover album, Sam’s Place (review incoming), so too choose Sweet Relief to put out Long Distance Love, a star-studded charity tribute to their late founder and lynchpin, Lowell George. Star-studded? Well, let’s say the likes of Elvis Costello, Dave Alvin and Ben Harper are all present and accounted for, with George’s own daughter, Inara George, also putting in an appearance.

Lowell George was a slide guitar maestro, a singer/songwriter with a penchant for complex swampland boogie, polyrhythmic shuffles to delight both brain and bootheels. He formed Little Feat back in 1969, after a short spell with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. A set of well-received albums followed, until 1979, when George (a) dissolved the band, (b) released his solo album Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here, and (c) died of a massive heart attack at the age of 34. It took eight years before the relicts of what had assuredly been his band reconvened, and they remain a vital presence, with George’s songs still the ones the fans mainly come to hear. These are the songs that return to the spotlight on Long Distance Love, and the four and a half decades since Lowell’s voice was stilled have done nothing to dampen their vibe.
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Aug 042023
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Badlands

Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska confounded a lot of people when he released it in 1982. Probably still does, especially among recently converted followers. I mean, how do you explain it someone who’s yet to hear it? I tried in my book Heart of Darkness: Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, writing this:

Nebraska is raw, primitive, ancient, otherworldly, spiritual, nihilistic, heartbreaking, horrifying and a whole bunch of other things that come to you like apparitions whenever you enter its province (ideally under cover of darkness)….And like the great films and the great novels, it holds up well. It holds up well because it still has something to teach us about ourselves and the world we live in, and maybe even the world beyond this one.

Just as Springsteen was inspired by Woody Guthrie and Flannery O’Connor and Night of the Hunter and Suicide and Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese on Nebraska, so too has Nebraska become a touchstone for artists of myriad forms – Bruised Orange theatre company’s The Nebraska Project, Tennessee Jones’ short story collection Deliver Me from Nowhere, and Sean Penn’s directorial debut The Indian Runner, based on the song “Highway Patrolman.”

And then there is, of course, the tribute album, Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, helmed by producer and filmmaker Jim Sampas.
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Mar 082023
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Church With One Bell
By 1998, John Martyn had lost the teen-idol good looks and the equally angelic voice of his debut recordings. He’d been through a few bumps along the way as well, distressingly, walking proof of what happens when you don’t “just say no.” Let’s just say his appetite for a self-destructive intake was prodigious; when his website describes him as a “maverick,” often you can paraphrase that into “drunken bum.” The irony is, at the time of his demise in 2009, he was several months sober and about to embark on new work. I have difficulty when character is allowed to impact on appreciation, with individuals being disappeared on account their attitudes. After all, across the centuries of artistic endeavor, to paraphrase Ian Dury, “there ain’t half been some clever bastards,” with the emphasis on the latter word as other than a term of affection or illegitimacy. Sure, there is a line to be drawn, but, I ain’t drawing it here.

Most folk know only the early stuff, with “May You Never” the frontrunner amongst the songs known to civilians, even if only from the versions of others, like Eric Clapton or Rod Stewart. I freely confess it was only as he became more ragged and less reliable that I took to him, and to his later work. In fact, it wasn’t until the Glasgow Walker album that I plucked up enough interest to fully engage, any residual folk singer in him long since buried. Now he planted his feet very much more in a smoky jazz club dive ambience, where his superlatively slurred delivery matched the swirls of brass, often embracing elements of the then-new trip-hop movement.

It was around about this time that he put out The Church With One Bell, his only collection of covers, sourced across an enormous range of styles and influences. How often would Portishead and Billie Holiday find themselves as bedfellows? His 20th studio release, it was actually put together in 1998, so two years ahead Glasgow Walker, and was made with long term associates Spencer Cozens (keyboards), John Giblin (bass) and Arran Ahmun (percussion). Remarkably, or not, depending on your opinions as to whether the sometime murkiness of sound is deliberate or not, it took barely a week to conceive, choose and put together. And the church on the cover? Martyn’s. The deal was, apparently, that his fee was the purchase, for him, of the same church as pictured, along with its solitary bell, as he liked the look of it. Fair enough?! Whether the company recouped is left unsaid, the record only attaining a peak position of 51 on the chart of the day. Irrespective, it has remained a core favorite amongst his following and deserves a place in this ongoing series.
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Oct 052020
 
best tribute albums

Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now. Continue reading »

Jul 312020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs july 2020
The Band Of Heathens ft. Margo Price – Joy (Lucinda Williams cover)

Promoting her new album That’s How Rumors Get Started, Margo Price has been on a great covers kick. She recently tackled a political country classic at the Grand Ole Opry, Bob Dylan on CBS, and John Lennon from her house. Now she’s teamed up with Band of Heathens to cover a Lucinda Williams classic. To quote Lucinda on Instagram, “Get to Slidell, girl!!” Continue reading »

Nov 292019
 

MOSE-ALLISON-IF-YOURE-GOING-TO-THE-CITYMose Allison is possibly best known these days through his association with Van Morrison, who released Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison in 1996. Morrison probably gave Allison’s career a late boost, presenting him as a somewhat kindred spirit, albeit having a few more years on him, and hopefully a more benign presence than Van the Man, if even harder to classify.

I had always filed Allison under jazz, though blues was probably closer to his idiom, yet here we have If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison, which sees him being covered by a slew of largely rock music gentry from the past few decades. Listening to this selection, it becomes easier to see that blues is at least the template to Allison’s songs. Not necessarily a version familiar to the backstreet bars of Chicago, this is a more polished version of the blues, with echoes of both supper club and Tin Pan Alley – though in Allison’s hands and voice, they sound perhaps a shade less archaic. These are fine songs and, if these covers succeed in pointing attention back to the originals, then at least part of the work of this collection has been done.
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