The sun was out all day on Sunday as thousands of music fans gathered at Ocean Beach on San Francisco’s Great Highway to pay tribute to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival founder and local financier Warren Hellman. Hellman, who died Dec. 18 at age 77 after a long battle with leukemia, was an avid banjo player who gave the gift of the free, three-day music festival to millions over the last decade.
Last month, Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Old Crow Medicine Show channeled their old-weird-America roots by touring the South on an old train. Dubbed the Railroad Revival Tour, it featured the bands hitting six cities aboard a few old Amtrak cars. Joe Biden would approve.
This Week on Bandcamp rounds up our favorite covers to hit the site in the past seven days.
This week’s Bandcamp spotlight goes back to the basics on a set of (mostly) classic songwriter covers. I say mostly, because one of the five is an MGMT song, and another is only sort of a Bob Dylan cover. Still, it’s hard to argue with the revered status of the other three tackled: Neil Young, Nick Drake, Chris Bell.
Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.
Bob Dylan has long had a love-hate relationship with bootlegs. Ever since The Basement Tapes circulated underground for years, studio outtakes and alternative takes have found ways of leaking out. The Dylan team put a tighter and tighter lid on things for decades, but finally succumbed to pressure and began releasing studio and live recordings as The Bootleg Series. If they’re out anyway, the thinking likely went, you might as well make a few bucks.
One song that still hasn’t seen official release is “Rock Me Mama.” To be fair, “song” is putting it generously. This fragment comes from Dylan’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack sessions, but he never seems to have made it past the chorus, which he repeats endlessly on the scratchy recording.
Enter Old Crow Medicine Show to fill in the gaps. They took the snippet and fleshed it out with verses and a bluegrass-pop arrangement as “Wagon Wheel.” The song became one of their most well-known tracks, getting covered by everyone from Little Feat to Against Me! One more recent versions comes from Pat Buzzard. Featuring Marti Dodson on harmony, the song rocks and rolls with some terrific guitar solos to accompany the fiddle and banjo.
The amazing thing about this album is that it didn’t come sooner. An indie-Americana tribute to country/folk songwriter John Prine seems so inevitable. He may never have become a household name, but anyone who ever recorded a song with steel guitar or mandolin knows Prine. With bands like My Morning Jacket and the Avett Brothers spearheading an alt-country revival, Prine’s slyly sarcastic songs about love and life are due a second showing.
The artists who appear on Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine comprise a who’s-who of young folk/Americana bands, but these obvious admirers choose some very non-obvious tracks. The usual-suspect songs are largely missing in action. No “Paradise,” no “Sam Stone,” no “Illegal Smile.” The only no-duh selection is “Angel from Montgomery,” one of four songs from Prine’s self-titled debut. The rest span the gamut, dusting off tunes from the ‘80s and ‘90s alongside the canonical ‘70s material.