Aug 162021
 

Colin HayFirst things first: don’t be so hard on yourself. Sure you know who Colin Hay is; he’s the chirpy singer from Men At Work, his slightly husky and agreeable tenor singing about a land where women glow and men plunder. A Scot, who found fame in Australia, he has lived and kept his career going in the US, a resident of Los Angeles for many a long year. Men At Work still exist, sporadically, with Hay the last man standing from the original line-up, but he also has a bevy of solo recordings, amiable and pleasant fare, with a great live show to boot. Now he’s got a new cover collection out, called I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.

Why a cover album? Well, his choice for the title track gives a clue–that’s right, it’s another quarantine album, where the artist is stuck at home and wants nothing to do with idle hands. It seems these are the songs that have inspired and uplifted Hay over the years. Unsurprisingly, most stem from his teens, with the Beatles, the Kinks, and even Gerry and the Pacemakers all represented. And nothing off-center in the song choices, they all being staples and standards.

Which is perhaps the problem. Songs as ubiquitous as this cry out for something a bit different from the the love and respect he clearly has for them. Individually, they are all polished and presentable. Thrown singly into a performance amidst his own or his band’s stuff, you’d sit up and take note. Together, not so much, it all becoming a little M.O.R. Inoffensive. Bland, even. Having said that, I dare say they would fly off the merch table at a gig, and maybe that is the target demographic.

The title track is a strong start, initially just strummed guitar and Hay’s straining but never strained voice. The piano and strings are then a bit Bacharach. As I guess they would be, he being the author and the originator of the original presentation. A bit too Bacharach, frankly, way more Dusty than the White Stripes. Likewise, when it’s just Hay’s unadorned vocal, “Waterloo Sunset” is fine, but then the strings and some sort of backing chorale gloop in and drench the beauty within this old chestnut.

Strangely, “Wichita Lineman” just about works within this production style, Hay’s vocal endearingly and plaintively sad. Whereas “Norwegian wood” really doesn’t. Here Hay sounds like a busker who has strayed into a an easy listening orchestral jam session. Ghastly.

“Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”? I had to catch myself here, trying to recall the original, before remembering this was peak Gerry and the Pacemakers at their cloying best. Which actually means that Hay here has, after all, done something surprising with it, excising no small amount of the sickliness that Gerry Marsden regularly injected into it during his later cabaret years. Similarly, I like his rendition of “Ooh La La,” a more “modern” song, sort of. His voice is closer to Ronnie Lane’s, who sang the original for the Faces in 1973, and thus infinitely preferable to Rod Stewart’s latter-day revamp of his old band’s song. I’ll go further, I like this a lot. And like even more the next song, Del Amitri’s “Driving With The Brakes On.” No extraneous strings, just voice, guitar, and piano. Well, most of the way through, the conductor unable to keep his hands of the baton, if with more restraint than earlier on this disc. Are things looking up?

Sadly not, as that busker is still here, this time mangling “Across The Universe,” aided and abetted by Mantovani-alike again. With that bloody wretched choir. Beam me up, Scotty, a fast forward just quick enough to find a not-bad “Can’t Find My Way Home.” As in not that good, just (that word again) inoffensive.

Final track is the Jimmy Cliff classic “Many Rivers To Cross.” Methinks he bases this telling on the Linda Ronstadt version, the piano and guitar broadly redolent thereof. Which is no bad thing, it’s OK, and as good a place as any to close the album.

I think this is a great shame: Hay still has the voice and this is for the most part a good sound song selection. But just who is he listening to on production? The PR says his “frequent collaborator/producer” Chad Fischer, who seems a big cheese on TV themes. Figures.

Heck, what do I know, but, if I did, Colin, I’d say “it’s a mistake”…….

I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself tracklist:
1. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (Dusty Springfield cover)
2. Waterloo Sunset(Kinks cover)
3. Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover)
4. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Beatles cover)
5. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying (Gerry & the Pacemakers cover)
6. Ooh La La (The Faces cover)
7. Driving With The Brakes On (Del Amitri cover)
8. Across the Universe (Beatles cover)
9. Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith cover)
10. Many Rivers to Cross (Jimmy Cliff cover)

Jun 212021
 

Dylan LeBlanc PastimesLike many a performer, Dylan LeBlanc spent the pandemic lockdown to good intent, producing Pastimes. This six-song EP consists entirely of covers, songs that have “inspired him musically and spiritually,” drawing back, as they do, on his childhood and the music he was exposed to by his father, a jobbing Nashville songwriter. Father and son spent Dylan’s teenaged years in the Nashville clubs, where LeBlanc senior was plying his trade as a writer and session man. And one, I might say, with a mighty fine taste in music.

Self-produced in Muscle Shoals, the performances on Pastimes are all live in the studio, with sympathetic backing from a mix of musicians, guitars, keyboards, steel and, gloriously, a string quartet. Strings can often over egg the work of sensitive singer-songwriters, the label most often attached to LeBlanc, but here they complement and complete the arrangements delightfully. These are not dramatic reframings of largely well-known songs; rather, these fall more into loving recreations, the respect for the songs–and, by default, the authors–hugely evident.
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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.
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Nov 302020
 
best cover songs november
Ashley McBryde – You’re Lookin’ at Country (Loretta Lynn cover)

The Country Music Hall of Fame recently presented a video series called Big Night at the Museum, getting modern country and Americana artists to cover Hall of Famers. Lucinda Williams did Johnny Cash, Miranda Lambert did John Prine, and a bunch more. Best by a blonde-streaked hair was Ashley McBryde, a performer who skirts the line between country, Americana, and brawny rock, proving her bona fides on Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Lookin’ at Country.” Continue reading »

Mar 252020
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

aretha franklin cover songs

August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.” Continue reading »

Mar 232020
 
rachelle garniez

The era in German history known as the Weimar Republic lasted just a few years from 1918 to 1933, but it’s impact on world history and culture is still felt today. The unstable political situation, combined with rapid inflation, contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Amidst the political chaos, the arts flourished. The period saw the establishment of the Bauhaus and Dada artistic movements. Novelist Christopher Isherwood captured the underground nightlife scene in his famed The Berlin Stories, which would serve as the basis for the Cabaret musical and film. On the theater front, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill penned The Threepenny Opera. The musical introduced the standard “Mack the Knife” as well as “Pirate Jenny,” a song Bob Dylan cited in his memoir as an inspiration for his songwriting. Continue reading »