Apr 152022
 

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!

Ukrainians

This post is not about the Ukrainians forced by circumstance onto the world’s stage. All our hearts bleed both for them and their country, subject to the cruelest and vilest of misjudgments, victims of Putin seeking to leave his mark. But it is closely related, being about the Ukrainians, the Leeds, UK-based band, who have been touting their postpunk take on the folk music of the mother country of founder/guitarist Pete Solowka for nigh on thirty years. And a whole lot more than just the folk music of Ukraine, as covers of their musical cohorts and influences, performed in a Cossack/Slavic style, all stentorian voices and balalaikas, also feature large in their repertoire.

Originally, and sometimes contemporaneously, Solowka has been a member of the Wedding Present, and it was that band that sparked the idea into ignition. When venerable and iconic DJ John Peel asked them to perform a session on his long running evening radio show, the Wedding Present decided to perform in the Solowka family language. They played “Hopa,” a traditional song the guitarist had been brought up listening to and singing along with.

Given the favorable reception, and with Solowka’s own grasp of the language not being up to it, they seconded in the presence of Len Liggins–or, to give him his full name, the legendary Len Liggins, a Russian (and Ukrainian) scholar, fluent in each language and a dab on the fiddle besides. This too went down well with the listeners, bar one Roman Romeynes, just possibly not his real name, a musician from another Leeds band, who jested they were taking the proverbial and bastardizing the tradition. So who better to then enroll, this offshoot now having a life of its own, spinning free from the Wedding Present. (The band had sacked Solowka; he said this was due to the greater acclaim given this experiment than the parent band.)

That groundbreaking 1989 Peel session, and the later sessions that followed, all eventually became available in recorded form, with 1991 seeing the debut release by the now-official band, with both band and release being named The Ukrainians. When Romeynes left shortly afterwards, the band consolidated as a more regular unit, leaving the Wedding Present linkage shattered behind them.

They initially found an appropriate home on the maverick and left field record label Cooking Vinyl, home also of Jackie Leven and Oysterband. After making a further pair or so of albums with that label, they started their own label Zirka, through Proper. They have been relatively prolific, with three further studio albums of (largely) original material, two live recordings, a covers compendium (which we reviewed here), and a glut of EP and singles. These have encompassed further covers, including of traditional Ukrainian folk songs, as well as all sorts of idiosyncratic songs drawn from sources as unlikely as varied. All transcribed into their well-worn mix of fiddle, accordion and balalaikas, accompanied by crashing bass, resounding guitars and pounding drums.

Perhaps classifiable as a niche taste at home, they have become superstars in the eastern European diaspora, not least Ukraine itself. Under the cataclysmic events of the the past six or so weeks, the band have decided they cannot stand idly by, and have launched a tour, all monies going in support of the refugee crisis.

Ukrainians Benefit

Let’s look at some of their covers….
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Jan 312022
 
best cover songs january 2022
Butcher Brown ft. Alex Isley – Best Friend (Brandy cover)

Virginia jazz collective Butcher Brown throws it back to ’90s R&B with this cover of Brandy’s 1994 slow jam “Best Friend.” Though it’s a little out of their usual wheelhouse – for one, it has a singer, Ernie Isley’s daughter no less – they ably blend their own leanings with the retro soul-pop feel. If you like this, don’t miss their rooftop NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Kate Clover – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra cover)

“If Suicide produced a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood song” is a hell of a tag line, and Kate Clover’s “These Boots” delivers on that premise. The menacing guitar seems pulled straight from “Frankie Teardrop,” while Clover’s vocals channel Sinatra’s swagger. Bonus points for the fun Twin Peaks-esque video. Continue reading »

Jan 202022
 
amythyst kiah love will tear us apart

For non-fans, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is the only Joy Division song. Released well after lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide, it was their first single to make the main UK chart and any US chart and so it is, for most people, Joy Division’s one hit. (Unless you live in New Zealand.) Fairly uncharacteristic of their sound (it sounds more like New Order), its success is the kind of thing that annoys fans of influential cult bands who have one mainstream hit. But it’s their hit and so it is Joy Division’s most-covered song many times over. Continue reading »

Mar 292021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Captain Tennille

If asked to pick a song that best encapsulates the swinging ’70s in all its shag-carpeted, Pet Rock’d, earth-shoed glory, you’d be hard pressed to find a better specimen than the Captain & Tennille’s 1975 #1 hit “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Infectious, bouncy, and supremely sticky, sounding like both a commercial jingle and the kind of thing a Disney World in-house performing arts ensemble would include in the love-themed portion of their act (see the legendarily tacky incredible-ness of “Up With People,” or even better, The Simpsons‘ reimagined take “Hooray For Everything“), it was POP with a capitol P and Proud of it. “Love Will Keep Us Together” was the musical embodiment of everything the Captain & Tennille seemed to be about, a mission statement if you will, a song so aligned with their whole persona, so custom fit to their sugary weirdness, that even 45+ years later it’s still hard to believe it was a freakin’ cover.
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Nov 182020
 
mgr exercise one

Mustard Gas and Roses, otherwise known as M.G.R, the side project of Michael Gallagher formerly of defunct post-metal band Isis, covered Joy Division’s “Exercise One” on their new EP We Are One. The cover leans on overdriven guitar twisting the song into a more metal framework. The heavy guitar pushes open the song like a large wall of sound, with each guitar part given a different voice, adding to the creeping melody. Continue reading »

Apr 302020
 
wino isolation cover

It seems like everyone is covering Joy Division’s “Isolation” these days. (That or John Lennon’s song of the same name.) The second track from Joy Division’s second and final album feels extremely appropriate to our times. Even if singer Ian Curtis’ lyrics don’t map directly onto our self-isolating/physical distancing world, it’s still easy to see why people find resonance in the song. And it’s not just the lyrics – the droning bass, the eery too-high synth melody and clicky electronic drums make it feel as though Curtis really is trapped somewhere unpleasant. Continue reading »