Aug 142020
 

The late great guitarist Roy Buchanan, who died on this day in 1988, liked to say he was the son of a preacher man. And that as a boy he attended church revivals with Black congregations, where he first heard blues music. He was the first white guy to absorb the blues, he liked to say, and to build a career around the form.

These claims may not be the gospel truth–Buchanan also insisted he was “half-wolf.” His own brother denies that their father did any preaching at all. The truth is that Roy Buchanan was a dark and complicated man and artist.

What is also unmistakably true is that few have mastered their instrument to the depth Roy did. Buchanan’s close listeners praise his array of astonishing techniques, and how he used them to express uniquely emotive statements. As with a good Hendrix solo, you catch your breath at the sheer intensity of sound and soulfulness that Buchanan summons up when he’s running hot. His Fender Telecaster screams and cries, whistles and whines in ways are piercing in one second and tender in the next—Roy could recreate the human voice in uncanny ways. But then he’d spin into machine-like rapid-fire notes that make your teeth hurt. He didn’t need effect pedals to achieve this sonic richness—he was a purist in his way, defiantly old-school in a period that expected progressive experimentation.
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Aug 282018
 
robbie fulks linda gail lewis

Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis are a bit of an unlikely pair. Fulks is a singer/songwriter who plays an offbeat blend of country and folk songs. Lewis is the sister of rock n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis who has been recording her own brand of rock and roll since the ‘60s. Together Fulks and Lewis recorded and released a new album Wild! Wild! Wild!

The album features a number of originals and five covers. When listening to the record, it appears as though the duo is trying to upend many of the cliches that define the country music genre. In one particularly striking example, Lewis takes the lead on a Fulks-penned tune called “Till Death.” The song pays homage to Loretta Lynn’s feminist anthems such “The Pill” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” Only Lewis pushes the female empowerment narrative to the next level, promising her no-good, cheating husband: “We said till death do us part and that’s now … Cause I’m gonna kill you!”

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Jan 272016
 

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!

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Rosanne Cash, daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, has been putting out solo albums since 1978. Her work was widely lauded in the ’80s, starting with the commercial success of her 1981 album Seven Year Ache. In 1985, she won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” and 1987 saw the release of her landmark album King’s Record Shop. The ’90s were a quieter time for Cash, but she came roaring back in the 2000s, eventually recording The List, a selection of covers taken from a list of great American and country songs given to her by her father. She followed that with 2014’s The River and the Thread, which earned her three more Grammys, including Best Americana Album.

It would have been easy for her to have just followed in her father’s footsteps, copying his musical style, but Rosanne Cash found her own voice. She helped make cowpunk popular early in her career, and her music has evolved organically ever since. Now she stands as one of the leading artists in Americana. She records songs that speak to Southern sensibilities without restricting themselves to the trappings of modern country music. She left Nashville a long time ago to live in New York, and letting that expanded worldview influence her music makes her one of the champions of her chosen field.
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Feb 102011
 

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!

Engimatic, eclectic and unpredictable, Neil Young has laid the groundwork for all singer-songwriters over his 48-year career. Covering Young is almost a rite of passage for folk, roots and Americana artists, and we’ve featured quite a few here in the past. Despite ebbs and flows in the quality of his output (Trans, anyone?), many cite Young as an example of a fiercely independent artist, dedicated to fully exploring his craft, forgiving some of these bumps in the road.

Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that Young has not covered many songs himself. He started out, as all musicians do, as a cover artist. When he sang The Beatles’ “She Loves You” onstage in a church basement in Winnipeg, an audience member famously told him to “stick to instrumentals.” Since that time, however, he’s concentrated on developing as a songwriter (perhaps unwittingly participating in the marginalization of the song interpreter on the way). For this edition of In The Spotlight, we look at a few of the covers Young has attempted, either on album or in concert. Continue reading »