Nov 092021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

West of the West

“We dreamed of all the crazy places we never been. Like California.” So sings/speaks Bill Kirchen in the classic Commander Cody song “Mama Hated Diesels,” aptly summing up the lure of the Golden State. And, with due hats tipped to Tennessee and to New York State, is there any other that has drawn in so many songwriter acolytes to the flame it has provided, and for so long? Which, by way of introduction, is where Dave Alvin headed with West of the West, a glorious potpourri of songs from the 5th largest economy in the world, pulled together, chosen and sung by the erstwhile Blaster and X man.
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Jul 162021
 

Dave McMurrayCovering the Dead means a whole lot more than just playing the tunes; to give their songs credibility, there also needs to be a recreation of their spirit. That Dave McMurray has it in spades is immediately apparent from the first few bars of “Fire on the Mountain,” the opening track on his new album Grateful Deadication. That faithful dancing-bear swagger, halfway between a lope and a canter, is indubitably present, correct and reporting for duty. Few bands have such an unmistakable footprint, and to reproduce that–and with your own voice, yet–is little short of remarkable.

McMurray’s “voice” is his saxophone, predominately tenor, and a thing of beauty it is, as is Grateful Deadication as a whole. McMurray is the real deal, a dyed in the wool jazzman with a long and parallel career in sessions; it is his sax on records as diverse as the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge and Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.

Remarkably, he had never really heard the Dead and their music until a chance encounter with Bob Weir, leading to his playing alongside him and the Wolf Bros at 2019’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Intrigued by the odd chord structures and quirky time signatures that litter the songs of the Dead, McMurray immersed himself in their back catalog. He found he was able to fully get into their music, and to appreciate its closeness to the jazz of artists he had greater awareness of–Miles Davis, Weather Report, even Soft Machine.

This, in turn, led to Grateful Deadication, which features his own regular sidemen as well as cameos from Bettye LaVette and Weir, and is his second album for acclaimed jazz label Blue Note. (His first, Music Is Life, featured a cover of the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army.”)
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May 192021
 
bob dylan comments about cover songs

Bob Dylan has never exactly been a loquacious interviewee. From the ’60s, when he would spend interviews mocking the press, to the ’10s, where he rarely bothers giving interviews at all, comments from Bob on any given subject are usually relatively few and far between. But I was curious, as we prepare to launch our 100 Best Bob Dylan Covers Ever list on Monday, what Dylan covers has the man himself remarked upon? Continue reading »

Aug 012020
 

Let there be songs to fill the air: It’s the birthday of Jerome John “Jerry” Garcia. The Grateful Dead leader would be celebrating his 78th trip around the sun today. Although a quarter of a century has passed since Garcia passed away (on August 8th), there’s no need to revive his work: his music did not fade away in the first place. In fact, Garcia’s songs and his approach to improvisation seem as relevant and contemporary as ever.

A small number of his songs (co-writes with lyricist Robert Hunter) are fixtures in the American songbook, just as surely as those of Stephen Foster, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams. That alone is a pretty big deal. But in terms of covers, you’d be hard pressed to name any musician who gave more life to other people’s music than Jerry Garcia. He attracted millions of listeners with his own original songs and his trippy way with a guitar solo, but Garcia then guided that listenership toward a much wider world of music beyond the songs of his own.
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Jul 222020
 
full moonalice bird song

The origin story behind Full Moonalice reads like a cross between a Bay Area-rock n’ roll odyssey and a business profile in The Wall Street Journal, complete with name changes and mergers.

The band started in the late ‘90s when it was founded by Silicon Valley investor and guitarist Roger McNamee as the Flying Other Brothers. The band retooled in 2007 as Moonalice. It performed and recorded for more than a decade with an ever-shifting lineup of well-regarded jamband musicians. Somewhere in the middle, McNamee was an early investor in a plucky little startup called Facebook. In late 2019, Moonalice announced it was teaming up with the T Sisters, a folk-singing sister act and the soul group the New Chambers Brothers to form Full Moonalice. Continue reading »

Apr 242020
 

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

I Shall Be Released covers

In accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Dylan spoke of how a single song, “Cottonfields” by Leadbelly, changed his life and transported him into a world he had never known. He likened that transformation to a sudden illumination after a long walk in darkness.

At the time of this writing, the world is in the midst of COVID-19, a viral pandemic that has both literally and figuratively changed the way we live our lives, transporting us into a world we’ve never known. Our transformation, however, has been the opposite of Dylan’s: we’ve been plunged from light into darkness. The severity of the illness and its extreme communicability has led to the imposition and enforcement of mandated quarantine and physical distancing. Common themes expressed through news reports, social media, and even entertainment is confinement and isolation, even to the degree of people feeling imprisoned in their homes. How appropriate is it, then, to turn to our Nobel Laureate for hope?

Written by Bob Dylan in 1967, “I Shall Be Released” made its first official appearance on record courtesy of The Band’s seminal debut LP, Music from Big Pink. The version Dylan recorded with these same musicians made an initial appearance on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 some 24 years later. (Alternate Dylan versions exist as well.) With its themes of pending physical, emotional and spiritual freedom, the song speaks equally well literally, as a narrative for a long-term inmate in an actual prison, and metaphorically, for those of us in the “lonely crowd,” imprisoned figuratively by circumstance. May we all find some degree of comfort in Dylan’s words as we listen to them in five different interpretations, and begin to believe in our hearts that, any day now, any day now, we shall be released.
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