May 182020
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Alex Skolnick routinely straddles the line between two different musical universes. He is known to legions of metalheads as the lead guitarist for the thrash band Testament. Yet, for nearly two decades, he has had a side hustle as a jazz guitarist for the Alex Skolnick Trio, playing an eclectic blend of fusion jazz.

He credits this genre-fluid existence to a moment in the late ‘80s when he was in Ithaca, NY recording Testament’s sophomore album The New Order. According to his memoir, he and a bandmate were flipping through the channels in a hotel when he came across a PBS concert film featuring Miles Davis performing with one of his electric fusion bands. (Given the date and Skolnick’s description it was likely Miles Davis – That’s What Happened: Live in Germany 1987.) “I had to find out more about this music. It had spoken to me, in an almost mysterious way, as though it were reaching out and calling for me to come closer. … I’d soon own more Miles Davis albums than any other artist (even Kiss),” he wrote.

Already an accomplished guitarist, having studied under the legendary instructor Joe Satriani (whose former students include Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai), Skolnick wanted to expand his horizons beyond metal. So, when the recording sessions ended, he tapped several music instructors at his hometown college, the University of California, Berkeley, to help him expand his skills.

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May 062020
 
quarantine covers
Alt-J, Grouplove, more – Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan cover)

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Jul 162019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Pat Boone

Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.

It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.

Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history.
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Apr 012019
 
best cover songs march
Amaara – House of Cards (Radiohead cover)

We just posted the 45 best Radiohead covers ever, but there’s already a 46th. Unsurprising, really, considering how much this band gets covered. The musical project of actor Kaelen Amara Ohm, Amaara took on the In Rainbows gem “House of Cards.” Her cover carries echoes of the haunting original, but with a smoother electro-ambient sheen.

Chris Anderson – Eh-Hee / Digging in the Dirt (Dave Matthews / Peter Gabriel cover)

Composer Chris Anderson draws from some pretty deep wells of music knowledge on his new Song Cycle. He covers Laurie Anderson and John Cage and Tom Waits – twice. He covers Peter Gabriel twice too, on a beautiful “Mercy Street” and more subtly here, working bits of “Digging in the Dirt” into – of all things – a gospel Dave Matthews cover. “The addition of a choir was important to me to create the feeling of a ground-swell of support,” he writes in an email. “The fact that the song is about ‘knocking the devil to his knees’ made the gospel choir a natural choice.” Continue reading »

Jan 252019
 

As anyone who checked Twitter yesterday is well aware, Weezer shocked the internet with a surprise covers album, dubbed the Teal Album for its absurd yacht-rock cover. The album precedes the band’s long-promised Black Album, set to release March 1st.

Weezer spent 2018 stoking the social media flames with their famous covers bout with Toto, and I think we all just expected “Africa” to be the end of it. But Weezer clearly saw an opportunity to generate some buzz for their new album and upcoming tour with The Pixies. Twitter flames aside, how do the covers on the album actually stack up? Let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad, and The (Really) Ugly. Continue reading »

Mar 242017
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

emm gryner

In Canada, and among elite musicians, it seems foolish to claim that the work of Emm Gryner flies under the radar. She has a dozen and a half releases to her name, not counting the ones with the folk trio Trent Severn (where she sings and plays bass) and the hard rockers Trapper. She’s played with David Bowie’s band and opened for Def Leppard. Nelly Furtado named her album Science Fair as a desert island disc. Bono was once asked what songs of the previous 20 years he wished he’d written; Gryner’s “Almighty Love” was one of the half-dozen or so he named.
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