Jul 022010

Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.

I’ll be reporting on the new Nateva festival this weekend (follow @rayfp for updates). Furthur, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s latest group, headlines the jam fest, so a Grateful Dead cover seemed appropriate. This here’s one of the best.

Levon Helm, the voice behind the Band‘s “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” has staged a remarkable comeback recently. After a decade battling throat cancer, he has released two terrific albums in the last couple years. His latest, Electric Dirt, kicks off with a swinging “Tennessee Jed.”
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Jun 302009
This Week’s News
The first news is a friendly reminder that you have less than 12 more hours to download from this blog!  All the archived mp3s will vanish as of Wednesday (sad I know), so use this guide to help you get started.  You don’t have long, so go nuts.
The second bit of news is to look for a unique tribute to a certain someone tomorrow night.
In a less self-centered vein, a cappella covers are hit or miss, but these two nail it.  First up we’ve got Perpetuum Jazzile conjuring up the sounds of a storm with Toto’s “Africa” and then there’s the Carleton Singing Knights (who came up with that moniker) trying to wrap their collegiate voices around Dirty Projectors’ “Cannibal Resource.”
Beck’s going on a cover rampage these days.  First came the news that he’d recorded more Sonic Youth covers to follow up the “Green Light” he released on Record Store Day.  In fact, he decided to go whole hog and just cover the Youth’s whole EVOL album for an upcoming box set.  The catch?  His version will be released on cassette only.  I understand vinyl nostalgia, but cassette?
He does understand new technology though, as he is demonstrating with his just-launched Record Club where he and a group of collaborators (including MGMT and Devandra Banhart) will cover classic albums one track at a time.  First up is The Velvet Underground & Nico, with videos of “Sunday Morning” and “I’m Waiting For the Man” already up at his website.  A new tune comes every week, then onto the next album.
If you read my other blog, you know I can’t get enough My Morning Jacket.  Jim James’ voice makes my soul melt, so hearing that he’s working up an EP of George Harrison covers (as “Yim Yames”) made me a happy fan indeed.
For those of you who prefer your pleasures a little guiltier, get secretly stoked for the upcoming Killers cover album.  They’re still working on the disc, but it’s looking like a real grab back with the potential for Genesis, Tom Waits, and Fleet Foxes tunes.  While you wait, revisit some of their old covers: Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits), Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (The First Edition) and Shadowplay (Joy Division).
Don’t know how I missed this back in April, but join me in catching up with Paste’s “50 Best Bob Dylan Covers of All Time.”  Debate away!
Even that list is too narrowly defined for Britain’s Telegraph though, which has come up with their own set of the 50 best covers ever period!  I’m sure you’ll agree with every one.
Pissed off by those lists?  Here’s a 50-best-covers list compiled by Guardian readers.
One more list, but a funnier one.  Humor video site Urlesque has come up with a group of “Bohemian Rhapsody” covers that range from the bizarre to the really bizarre.  Ukulele, ok.  Clarinet, pushing it but fine.  But a Queen cover by hand fart?  Must be seen to be believed.
I haven’t heard this yet myself, but this Headless Heroes cover album sounds like a winner.  Just FYI.
Cover lovers everywhere are in constant debt to Rick Rubin for producing Johnny Cash’s phenomenal American Recordings series, so much so that he can almost be forgiven for his recent work with Metallica and Weezer.  And if David Crosby is to be believed, the upcoming Crosby, Stills and Nash cover album he’s behind should be a winner as well.  Hear Crosby sound off.
I’ve never heard of the Monochrome Set, I’ve never heard of “He’s Frank,” but this cover by Fatboy Slim, Iggy Pop and the Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is all sorts of awesome.  They’ve got a Letterman take too, but it’s just not the same without Tuba Gooding, Jr.
This Week’s Submissions
May 052009

Plenty has already been said about Highway 61 Revisited. Rolling Stone named the album the fourth best of all time, while Mojo was a little more stingy, giving it fifth. The leadoff track is frequently given the purely objective label the “Best Song Ever,” though some would argue for the closer. It’s an album whose songs cannot be bettered, so I went looking for versions that didn’t try, artists not trying to improve the songs but letting the songs improve them. And where better to witness acts playing around with these classic tracks than straight from the stage. So this set of covers has a special hitch: they’re all live, many unreleased.

Jimi Hendrix – Like a Rolling Stone
Bruce Springsteen has described the opening to this tune as the “snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind.” Hendrix continues, explaining “It made me feel that I wasn’t the only one who’d ever felt so low.” It’s a song that resonates with many, so perfect in the original in lends itself to lame copycat cover versions. Hendrix hinted at the glory that would be his “All Along the Watchtower” in this live take from the legendary Monterey Festival (this performance presumably coming before he lit his guitar on fire). In Jimi’s voice it sounds like both diss and come-on, seductive in a way that belies that snarl. [Buy]

The Walkabouts – Tombstone Blues
Richie Havens country soul version was a highlight of I’m Not There (watch it here), but the Walkabouts go all cowboy country on this take, sneering and sashaying and the drums trample along. Then guitar solo’s a little low in the mix, but the outlaw rhythm is enjoyable enough you’ll forgive the sound guy. [Buy]

Levon Helm Band – It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
I’ve never heard a compelling explanation for what the hell this title means, but Levon rocks so hard it doesn’t matter. Figures that one of Bob’s first drummer from The Hawks (later The Band) should take on this one last year, with full horn section and New Orleans boppin’ piano. [Buy]

Chuck Prophet – From a Buick 6
“All right Mr. Soundman, faders up.” A drum machine is all the background Prophet needs for his drawled baritone and funky blues guitar. He sings that his woman walks like Bo Diddley, but it sounds like Chuck’s mastered that strut himself. [Buy]

Elliott Smith – Ballad of a Thin Man
The original’s got one of the best organ parts of all time, so what does Smith do? Gets rid of it completely. It’s more of a slow-grunge sound, Smith smoothly running through the lyrics like they’re second-nature. His understated delivery emphasizes the tumbling cascade of images, perhaps lost on the perpetually screaming crowd. [Buy]

Mojave 3 – Queen Jane Approximately
The addition of a female voice adds a sensitivity to the pleading-boy aesthetic. Accompanied by softly tinkling piano, it evokes a pastoral feel for an actual queen. [Buy]

Johnny Winter – Highway 61 Revisited
Take your favorite guitar performance of all time. Now imagine how you would feel if it was bumped down to number two. Once you’ve mentally prepared yourself for that possibility, come back and listen to this. [Buy]

Neil Young – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Bob described his experience at his high-profile 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration as like attending your own funeral. Hell of a funeral if Uncle Neil makes the scene though, stomping his way through a characteristically ragged performance backed by Booker T. and the MG’s. Neil just soloed all over Booker’s recent Potato Hole incidentally, so you should check that cover-fest out too. [Buy]

The Grateful Dead – Desolation Row
Though “Desolation Row” is one of Bob’s most well-known songs, artists seem to think it too sacred to even try (or maybe they can’t learn all the words). Ignoring of My Chemical Romance’s embarrassing take from a few months back (youtube if you dare), the Dead’s version is the one to keep, bumping along pleasantly in this take from 1990 released on their Dylan covers comp Postcards of the Hanging. [Buy]

Old MacDonald

 Posted by at 12:21 am  No Responses »
Sep 242008

I had the pleasure of attending Farm Aid on Saturday, and in between great acts like Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and The Elms, there was a lot of talk about the plight of the family farmer. I hadn’t thought that much about the dirt since I went strawberry picking in elementary school and couldn’t find one clean enough for my standards. So for those of you who also forget about the hoe and plow-wielding among us, who are on hard times indeed, here’s a little reminder. And oh, check out my Farm Aid review, with some show downloads here.

Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer (Tracy Schwarz)
Last year’s critically acclaimed album Dirt Farmer could have been this set by himself. Here the ex-Band drummer rocks some Americana harmonies and down on the porch vibes. This Band tale of a farmer down on his luck sounds awfully similar to something though.

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers – King Harvest (Has Surely Come) (The Band)
Oh yeah, that’s it. Same story, different words. A similar feel to the original, but with the energy amped up.

Baby Loves Jazz Band – Old MacDonald (Trad.)
Making your infant listen to classical music is so 1990; for the hip, modern youngster, play them ready-made jazz interpretations of kiddie songs in the Baby Loves Jazz series. They change the title to “Old MacDonald Had a Band,” and you can guess where it goes from there.

Pumajaw – Piggies (The Beatles)
It wouldn’t be much of a farm without some piggies, though I’m not sure Harrison had actual pigs in mind here. This comes from Mojo magazine’s recent two-disc compilation of covers of the full White Album called, appropriately, The White Album Recovered. Worth tracking down.

The White Stripes – Boll Weevil (Leadbelly / Trad.)
Now here’s an animal you certainly don’t want on your farm. Jack White updates this dust bowl tale of a fierce pest with a verse about himself, creating a crowd favorite that the Stripes usually close their shows with.

Melissa McClelland – Factory (Bruce Springsteen)
This isn’t technically about farming, but so much breath was used Saturday bemoaning the evils of factory farms taking over from the local guy I thought the bad guys needed a nod. This is a little sympathetic, showing how the employees of said factories are probably getting screwed too. And as many of the factory farm employees could be ex-independent farmers themselves, it makes this especially appropriate.

Tim O’Brien – Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan)
One of the premier Dylan interpreters, O’Brien’s bluegrass covers are always thought-out and effective. This one actually sounds like how the farm employee would sound singing it.

Bob Dylan – Gospel Plow (Trad.)
From Bob’s first, covers-heavy album, it shows amazing harmonica talent not often seen again when he started focusing on lyrics.

Waitswatcher – Murder in the Red Barn (Tom Waits)
Pascal “Waitswatcher” Fricke has been featured here before, but each instrumental take on Tom Waits songs is an instant classic. This one’s slow building and dark, telling you everything you need to know without a single word.

Neil Young – A Day in the Life (The Beatles)
What does “A Day in the Life” have to do with farming, you might add? Nothing. But Neil Young covered this for his final song Saturday night, and here’s the recording. Gone is the orchestral finesse, replaced by distortion, wailing and a climactic finish where he banged his guitar around stage and finally ripped the strings out one by one. If you like what you hear, download the full show here.