Aug 212023

Given the links between the Wainwright dynasties and the Thompson equivalent, I always think of Rufus Wainwright and Teddy Thompson, lifelong friends and competitors, certainly the former, playing together as children whilst their parents made their musical footprints. Indeed, there seems often a Wainwright present whenever the Thompsons congregate for a collective show, and possibly vice versa. Last month Rufus W put out his recent Folkocracy, reviewed here, the North American honoring, by and large, the music from the other side of his pond. Now, with My Love of Country, Teddy is now doing the same in reverse, with this paean to American music. Kinda wish he called it Countrypolitan, but he didn’t. Anyway, this isn’t Thompson’s first set of Nashville covers; 2007’s Upfront and Down Low served as his first rodeo. Plus, as we wait impatiently for the 3rd EP of his Teddy and Jenni EPs, with Jenni Muldaur, each covering a different set of famous country duet artists, it may not be his last.

For years I’ve held the hope aflame that one day Richard might get routinely referred to as Teddy’s father, rather than for Teddy to be always Richard (and Linda)’s son. But, despite seven largely well-received albums, and another half-dozen plus as a producer, Teddy’s career has always seemed to be as a supporting act, and I fear that day may have passed. A pity, as he has a strong and emotive voice, a keening tenor that is perfect for picking up all the emotions and sadness that populate many of his songs. Not to mention that of the whole anguished canon of country music. A consummate interpreter of existential angst, you just know that when he approaches lyrical distress, tears are going to be well and truly jerked.
Continue reading »

Mar 082021

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

“Wichita Lineman” is a certified classic, a fixture in the great American songbook, full stop. But it is also a work in progress. In a way.

The truth is that Jimmy Webb had every intention of writing a middle section and another verse about his solitary lineman. But Glen Campbell got hold of an early draft, and then recorded his version before Webb even knew about it. Who knows if Webb might have ruined a good thing with further revision; what’s certain is that “Wichita Lineman” is a shining example of the Less is More principle, and we owe Campbell a lot for rushing it out.

Campbell also gets some credit for the song’s creation. A year before “Wichita Lineman” dropped, Campbell scored a major hit with another Jimmy Webb gem, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” So the singer suggested the writer come up with “another song about a place.” Webb resisted the idea initially, but his poetic imagination was more receptive. Inspired by a long drive through the arid flatness of Oklahoma and the sight of a worker on a telephone pole, Webb hatched the song idea, and presented a draft of “Wichita Lineman.” It moved the homesick Campbell to tears, and that was enough for him. It was enough for everyone else, too.

Campbell got his Wrecking Crew buddies together in the studio, and added a baritone guitar solo to create an instrumental section. That, and some string arrangements, added meat to the bones of the song, and off it went. Webb knew nothing about the recording, and assumed Campbell had lost interest. When Webb found out Campbell had cut the track, he told Campbell it wasn’t done yet. Campbell replied, “Well, it’s done now!”

The song launched into the upper reaches of the pop, country, and adult contemporary charts. Soon it was in the hands of a few hundred artists attempting their version, including some of the best vocalists and instrumentalists of its time and ours. The Glen Campbell version may remain the definitive one, but there’s quite a few musicians who nailed it too.
Continue reading »

Apr 292010

Cover Commissions is a monthly series in which a featured artist covers a reader-selected song for this blog. Any artists interested in participating, email me.

We Are the Willows first hit the Cover Me radar back in December.  Minnesota songwriter Peter Miller’s ethereal singing entranced us, sounding like the Beach Boys if you removed everything but the highest harmony.  We knew that voice would create some unique covers.

Readers selected from songs by Imogen Heap and the Shins, but perennial underdog Randy Newman took the crown with “Political Science.”  As everyone knows, a Cover Commissions victory makes up for an Oscar loss.  Miller describes his approach:

I fell in love with this song because it was covered by one of my favorite bands, Pedro the Lion.  I really love basically anything David Bazan does and when I heard his cover of Political Science I really wanted to play it as well.  Randy Newman’s version is of course, also awesome.  I play this song at almost every show when I play solo.

One of my favorite parts about how this song turned out is that at the end there are these background “oooh’s” that sound like sirens and they are under the last verse about bombing all these other countries.  I didn’t really plan on that.  I recorded this song in my basement in Minneapolis, MN.

We Are the Willows – Political Science (Randy Newman)

On a roll, Miller recorded one of the other nominees: “Make the World Go Away,” by country music pioneer Eddy Arnold.  There’s a morbid humor in pairing a song called “Make the World Go Away” with one that implores us to “drop the big one.”  Well played, Peter.

This was one of my Grandpa’s favorite songs.  He was a real romantic guy and a very tender soul.  I played this song at his funeral and ever since it’s really stuck with me.  I know that seems sorta masochistic, but there is something about playing that song that keeps my grandpa alive in some way.  This song features Karin Hasse who plays in We Are the Willows when we play live.  This song was recorded by Danny Wolf in Madrid, Iowa.

We Are the Willows – Make the World Go Away  (Eddy Arnold)

Check out more We Are the Willows at MySpace, iTunes and Minnesota Public Radio.

This mp3 may be freely shared with the artist’s blessing. Post it on your blog, send it to your friends, tweet it to the world. When you do though, please include a link to this site to promote future installments of Cover Commissions.