When it comes to covers, The Secret Sisters have quite a track record. The Americana duo, comprised of sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers, have featured the songs of their forebears prominently alongside their own from the start of their career. The pair’s self-titled debut record saw them covering the likes of George Jones and Nancy Sinatra. And though their last proper feature here at Cover Me — a raucous take on Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” produced by Jack White — appeared around the time of their initial record’s release way back in 2010, The Secret Sisters have offered up a cavalcade of increasingly progressive covers since: among them, Simon & Garfunkel, Brandi Carlile and even PJ Harvey.
Andrew Bird – Andalucia (John Cale cover)
Props to any musician who chooses some non-obvious tunes for their Christmas album. Even Joni Mitchell’s “River” has so often been served as the “surprise” holiday song by now that it feels pretty played out. Andrew Bird covers a few standards on his upcoming Hark! – “Oh Holy Night,” “White Christmas” (though weirdly not the hymn that gave the album its name) – but makes room for some seasonally-appropriate fare John Prine, Handsome Family, and, on the first single, John Cale.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Ella Fitzgerald, “the First Lady of Song,” the “Queen of Jazz,” or simply “Lady Ella,” got her first big break at an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater, a place where many stars first got their start (Diana Ross & the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill, to name but a few). She went on to have an almost 30-year-long career, recording over 200 albums and collecting many awards, including 14 Grammys (making her the woman with the fifth most overall), the National Medal of Arts (given by President Ronald Reagan), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (given by President George H. W. Bush), and internationally, admission into France’s Order of Arts and Letters. She even got her own stamp and was featured in the Google Doodle.
Fitzgerald was a trailblazer. She was the first African American woman to win a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance and Best Jazz Performance and the first woman to be nominated for Album of the Year during the first-ever Grammy awards in 1959. Eight years later, she became the first woman to win the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
She collaborated with many others musicians throughout the course of her career (as we’ll see below), often making old songs her own. Despite her popularity and her status as a major jazz influencer, Fitzgerald still faced discrimination (she once was arrested backstage at her own show). Fitzgerald had powerful advocates though, including Marilyn Monroe, a big fan who used her popularity to advocate for Fitzgerald to perform at a popular club, Mocambo.
Today, on the anniversary of her death and in her memory, we listen to covers of some of her originals (for the cover sticklers) and covers of her own covers (although arguably she popularized these tunes). Before reading on, I encourage you to listen to Fitzgerald’s response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, a song called “It’s Up to Me and You.” Her message, “let’s not hate and let’s not wait,” rings true today.
Alt-J, Grouplove, more – Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan cover)
Mose 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.
It’s not often two exceptionally fine covers of the same song appear during the same week but clearly some pop loving spirit is feeling generous right now.
The Waterboys “The Whole Of The Moon”, originally released in 1985, has proven to be an enduring anthem of wonderment and longing. Yet the physical subject of the song, the actual person it’s inspired by, has been a source of debate for years. It was speculatively suggested that frontman Mike Scott was talking about Prince; he had mentioned him in interviews around that time and had spoken passionately about being blown away by “Purple Rain.”* It was then said to be about author C.S. Lewis, one of Scott’s admittedly eternal influences. And at some point later on cult singer Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps), a friend of Scott’s, alleged it was actually about him.