As a part of a virtual benefit concert for Kentucky flood victims, local Kentucky country artists (and couple) Tyler Childers and Senora May performed a version of the Hank Williams track “Old Country Church.” Continue reading »
Well, the last thing anyone would ever accuse Van Morrison of is predictability, so seeing his name and his new album on this particular website shouldn’t surprise as much as it actually does. The famously taciturn Belfast crooner is known, after all, for his own compositions, and he has built up a vast legacy of work over his 60 years of prodigious activity. But every so often, usually to demonstrate his love for the songs he heard in his youth, good Sir Ivan will cobble together a set of standards, usually performed in his own idiosyncratic style, and leave everyone gasping. One such was Irish Heartbeat, a set of trad Irish folk that he made with the Chieftains in 1988; another, 2006’s Pay The Devil, looked (if less memorably) at the country and western songbook. Furthermore, he has dedicated an album to the music of Mose Allison (who appeared with him for that) and made collaborations with bluesman John Lee Hooker and, more recently, jazz organist Joey Francesco.
Indeed, neither is this the first time he has embraced skiffle, that delightfully do-it-yourself style of the late 1950s, wherein UK musicians played an amalgam of trad jazz, blues, folk, gospel and swing, often on homemade instruments. Arguably, it was the punk of its day, with Lonnie Donegan the king of the movement, and other players, like jazz trombonist, Chris Barber, drawn along and into its wake. Those two, along with Morrison, produced a terrific live set, The Skiffle Sessions–Live in Belfast, recorded in 1998 and released two years later. Could this be part two, one might wonder, this time without those elder statesmen, both since deceased? We’ll get to that.
It is true Morrison has been confounding his fan base of late; lockdown saw him never more prolific, with a flurry of albums, some doubles, indulging in a hitherto seldom seen angry commentary of the day. An ardent anti-vaxxer, anti-lockdown and seemingly anti-science, his lyrics chockful of diatribes against those who would restrict his freedoms, bitter polemics of bile, and many erstwhile followers were bemused and bedeviled. Some began to consider him out of touch and out of line, stuck in a rose-tinted past. I know. I was one, writing him off as someone I used to love. And now, fer chrissakes, this!
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Let’s start with a quick nod to the elephant in the room. Dr. John’s Things Happen That Way isn’t a cover album per se, given there are a number of Mac Rebennack originals on this posthumous release. But given the dude has released his 32nd studio album after having been gone these past two years, we’re of a mind to forgive that. Plus, with the otherwise wealth of covers included, heck, of course we had to review it. And for extra kudos, it is a splendid and unexpected joy, delving into the more country flavors of the N’Awlins voodoo meister.
It seems Mr. Mac was always a bit keen on classic country music. He talked about wanting to make this album long before he actually got to. Now, this here country music is none of your Americana or alt-country; this is the real deal, country that demands to be followed by “and Western.” Between 2017 and 2019, Rebennack and guitarist/producer Shane Theriot met up and made it happen. They enlisted several old buddies along the way, cutting tracks until Rebennack’s heart disease finally caught up with him.
However, with his demise, so too, it seemed, died the final say in what songs and which versions would be allowed to appear, this right now transferring to his estate. So what we get isn’t quite what Dr. John had concluded in his lifetime. Mastering took place later, with some of the versions tweaked to further fulfil, says his daughter, her father’s wishes. He re-recorded “I Walk On Guilded Splinters,” perhaps his best known song, with additional vocals from Rickie Lee Jones. They ditched this in favor of one with Lukas Nelson and his band. Which isn’t a bad thing, but both mayhap would have been better?
Anyhoo, with no further ado, what’s Things Happen That Way like?
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Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
On April 7, 1972, the Grateful Dead hit the stage at Wembley Empire Pool in London, kicking off a multi-city European tour. The 22-date outing would eventually be immortalized in the three-LP live album it spawned: Europe ‘72.
The tour has been chronicled heavily in band members’ memoirs, remembered for both its great musical output as well as its levels of unbridled debauchery, excessive even by the standards of the Dead. For the band at the time, the tour felt like a monumental undertaking that included both scores of people and mountains of gear. In A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally cataloged everything that came along for the journey, which included: “seven musicians, ten crew, five staff, seventeen assorted friends, wives, girlfriends and children … They brought themselves and fifteen tons of instruments, a sound system, and a sixteen-track recording system which they would install in a truck as a mobile studio. There was also lighting gear and their first traveling lighting designer.”
That spring, the band’s lineup was in a state of evolution. It was their last tour to include founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who would pass away in 1973. The husband and wife duo, pianist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna, were firmly entrenched in the band. Mickey Hart was on hiatus after his father had stolen money from the band, leaving Bill Kreutzmann as the band’s lone drummer. Given both this blend of musicians and the high quality of the recording equipment, the shows have a unique sound that differs from other eras of the band’s music.
While many bands use live albums as an easy way of fulfilling their contract or rehashing their greatest hits, Europe ‘72 is very much a complete work in its own right. The 17-track, three record set contained practically a full album’s worth of new material mixed in with older tracks. There are six new songs that were never even included on any studio records, three previously unreleased covers and two instrumental jams. Given the album and tour’s popularity among Deadheads, in 2011 the band released a more exhaustive collection, Europe ‘72: The Complete Recordings, a 73-CD box set.
As Deadhead nation marks the album and tour’s 50th anniversary, we decided to put together our own form of celebration. Here’s a breakdown of live covers of every single track on the album.
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I always look with interest when there’s a new Hank Williams cover released, as the brilliant simplicity of his songs means there’s plenty of room for an artist to add their spin on the track. William Lee Golden of The Oak Ridge Boys has released his version of Williams’ classic hit “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” for his upcoming album Country Roads: Vintage Country Classics. Continue reading »
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!
When I first saw the guitarist Charlie Hunter, it was accidental. I was only interested in seeing the sax player and the drummer—two legends—not the guitarist playing with them. If I’d never heard of him, how good could he be? Hunter was in mid-solo when I walked in. Within seconds I was sold—loved the scalding tone, the unhurried feel, the unexpected chords. Then the music shifted gears and the bass line grabbed my attention. I turned to check out the bassist–but no bassist stood on stage. It took some time to figure it out: the bass player was also Charlie Hunter.
On closer inspection, Hunter wasn’t playing a 6-string, but a 7- or 8-string beast—the “extras” were bass strings. The song’s latin-jazz groove pulsed from the bottom set of strings, the leads and melodies spidered out from the top few strings. On top of that Hunter was clearly improvising all of it, working out the bones of the song blow-by-blow with the drummer. The sax player I came to hear stepped up to solo, but by then I was mostly there to see Charlie Hunter.
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