Jan 302021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

There are few bands with such a way with covers as the Cowboy Junkies, that in no small part to the icy warmth of singer, Margo Timmins, an astonishing 60 this month. She was born in Montreal, 1/27/61, and I have long been a fan, maybe not from the very start, but certainly once ‘Trinity Sessions’ threw down the gauntlet, quietly and emphatically. Birmingham Town Hall, in the English midlands, used to be a dreadful venue, any sounds not completely muffled being left free to echo around the pillars, hopeless for any band with any degree of amplification. It has since had a refurb, and has lost, thankfully, that legacy, but the Junkies were perfection there then, every pin dropping with perfect clarity, the most important pin being that of Timmins, an ethereal shimmer filling the gap between the controlled calm of the instrumentation.

In the subsequent years the band, Timmins and her two brothers, Michael on guitar and Peter on drums, along with family friend Alan Anton playing bass, have strayed little from that template. Initially supplemented by the instrumentation of Jeff Bird and others, adding mandolin, harmonica, dobro, steel and fiddle, latterly it would become the core quartet, as blues became as much an influence as country had been before. The band had been started by Michael, a record-hungry youth who had been in bands since high school. Margo had never sung in public before he goaded her to add vocals, and she initially sang facing away from the stage, such was her crippling shyness, echoing the experiences of Michael Stipe and Jim Morrison, two other equally iconic vocalists.

Over a 35-plus-year career, the Cowboy Junkies have produced 18 studio albums, six live albums, and seven compilations, with innumerably more material courtesy their website. (Sadly it seems that much of that rare and archive material in currently unavailable.) Covers have always been a feature; most of their records containing one or two, and they’re staples on tribute projects, to artists as varied as Gram Parsons and Blind Willie Johnson. In 2009, Timmins also found the time to release an all-cover solo album, enticingly entitled Margo’s Corner: The Ty Tyrfu Sessions, Volume 1. She has also added her froideur to any number of other artists, as a backing or additional singer, usually to fellow Canadians.

Let’s drill down into some of the best examples of her transformative skills, starting with perhaps the best known and, arguably, the best example.
Continue reading »

May 272017
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Happy birthday to Bruce Cockburn, a curious and spiritual man who finds the wonder where you can’t and who sees the danger when you don’t. The Canadian singer-songwriter has released two dozen albums over the last 45 years, but isn’t too well known outside of the Great White North. Generally speaking, Bruce’s ’70s albums were acoustic, frequently religious, and grounded in nature; perfect Sunday brunch backgrounds. The ’80s recordings were more electric, angrier, yet always hopeful. Cockburn is perceptive, able to explain a complex tragedy by focusing on the victims it created. And regardless of the decade, Cockburn’s love songs were always in the mix. Bruce has won 13 Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy) and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Bruce turns 72 today and we celebrate by offering a selection of other artists covering his work.
Continue reading »

Mar 282014
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

In honor of Eric Idle’s 71st birthday tomorrow, let’s pay tribute to his most famous song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Idle, of course, is best known as a comic actor and writer and a member of the Python troupe and not as a songwriter. However, this surprisingly happy tune, with deceptively dark lyrics, sung by Idle and a group of fellow crucifixion victims at the end of the film, has become remarkably popular. It was a parody of the peppy songs often featured in Disney movies, but over time its ironic underpinnings have been ignored in favor of its upbeat chorus and jaunty whistling (suggested by Neil Innes, who wrote most of the music associated with the Pythons).
Continue reading »

Nov 172011
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

A happy 73rd birthday to Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian troubadour extraordinaire. From the age of five, when he made his performing debut in Sunday School with “I’m a Little Teapot,” he has spent his lifetime bringing music to the world, and the world has responded in kind with covers by the hundreds, from Elvis Presley on down. His songs are not generally happy songs  – “Talk about your party tunes!” Dave Barry once commented about “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – but they speak well to the human condition with a truly universal voice, and they led none other than Bob Dylan to say, “Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.” Continue reading »