Oct 252014

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Were Ray Charles alive, he’d turn 84 today. Not a ridiculous conceit – Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, and Clint Eastwood all did the same earlier this year. Which only goes to show that it’s still hard sometimes to come to grips with a world without Ray. But it would be much, much harder to live in a world without his music.
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May 232014

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Tim Buckley first debuted “Song to the Siren” on the final episode of The Monkees, and as a folk song, it was lovely and approachable. Then he refused to record it for three years – the line “I’m as puzzled as the oyster” had drawn mocking, and Buckley felt the song too flawed to release, which meant Pat Boone, of all people, was the first to issue it on vinyl. When Buckley finally followed suit, on 1970’s Starsailor, he revealed a changed song (and not just the switch from “oyster” to “newborn child”). If the original take was a quiet den, here was a cavernous ballroom with crumbling pillars, as Buckley’s exotic, five-octave voice stretched through otherworldly echoes, with nothing to hold it up and nothing to hold it back.
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Nov 222011

This week, Cover Me celebrates Freddie Mercury 20 years after his passing. Read Part 1 here.

On April 20, 1992, one of the most impressive collections of musicians ever assembled for one show gathered together to pay tribute to Farrokh Bulsara, better known to the world as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who had passed away due to complications from AIDS some six months before. Today, as we approach the 20th anniversary of his passing, Cover Me looks back at this monumental concert event, a celebration of covers and of one of the most unique talents ever to grace the performing arts. Continue reading »

Wordless Hooks

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Oct 162008

Words are overrated. From Little Richard to Rihanna, sometimes a song can say more with random sounds than any coherent content. So to celebrate the inanity of catchy hooks that don’t mean a thing

Queen – Tutti Frutti (Little Richard)
Rocking out one of the most famous phrases in rock and roll, Freddie Mercury “wop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom”s his ass off with some crowd participation. And – big shock – Brian May is very good at guitar. [Buy]

Phish – Mmmbop (Hanson)
It says Hanson above, but Phish makes it clear that this is actually a James Brown cover. Listen up and hear what I mean. [Buy]

Los Chicros – Changes (David Bowie)
Much like “My Generation,” “Changes” wouldn’t be half as good without the “ch-ch-ch” stutter. [Buy]

The Vox Collective – Disturbia (Rihanna)
A modern classic for sure, and a song made for down-tempo acoustic covers (I already have three). Bum bum be dum… [Buy]

Chris Dunnett – Blue (Da Ba Dee Da Ba Di) (Eiffel 65)
Euro-dance music on flamenco guitar…now why didn’t I think of that? [Buy]

Elliott Smith – Jealous Guy (John Lennon)
Someone find me a song with a better whistling part. Come on, I dare you. The best part about this is how the Cambridge audience whistles along. [Buy]

Marmalade – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles)
In 1969 this song was the first by a Scottish band to top the UK charts. Such a big hit, so quickly forgotten. [Buy]

Matt Weddle – Hey Ya (Outkast)
Yeah, I guess “hey” is technically a word, but what the hell does “hey ya” mean? A lot, apparently, in Weddle’s beautifully fragile acoustic take. [Buy]

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Trampled Rose (Tom Waits)
Tom had a nice low moan on the original, but Krauss brings a whole new eeriness to the tune by jumping like eight octaves without breaking a sweat. [Buy]

The Big Wu – Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)
A perfect lead-in to my inevitable Halloween post here. This Minnesota jam band rocks Zevon’s biggest hit for seven minutes, with plenty of “ah-oooooo” excitement. [Buy]

The Everly Brothers

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May 122008

ANNOUNCEMENT: You may have noticed the new “Donate” button off to your right. I hate to ask for hand-outs, but my old free server cut off my access, so I have to use a paid one. It’s cheap, but I’m poor, so just a few bucks will go a long way! This is the last time I’ll advertise it though, promise. On the plus side, all links should last for much longer than they used to. They are all up to date.

With that out of the way, it’s been a tradition at this blog to have the first post each month be covers of a full album…but we’re going to push it back a week for an extra-special contribution to this month’s album. Don’t want to give away what it is, but here’s a clue: horse waits.

This week’s post, however, is no last-minute substitution. It’s a look at a group huge in its time, but obscured in history by bigger vocal groups like Simon and Garfunkel: The Everly Brothers. Sure, Paul Simon’s a hell of a songwriter, but in my book you can’t beat the harmonies of Don and Phil. They may hate each other, but I saw them perform a couple years ago, and they still got it.

The Ditty Bops – Bye Bye Love
A cutesy, folksy cover that keeps the original’s basic feel, but sounds a little more organic. If Don and Phil had been a couple of granola girls in Birkenstocks, they’d have sounded like this.

Bob Dylan – Take a Message to Mary
“What is this shit?” So opened Greil Marcus’ famous review of this album, Dylan’s 1970 Self Portrait. Mostly covers or crappy live versions of older hits, I can see why people were pissed. It sounds a lot better with the passage of time though, country bumpkin songs like this being trite but fun. Bet you didn’t know Bob’s voice ever sounded this good.

A-Ha – Crying in the Rain
It’s no “Take On Me,” but A-Ha still managed to pull of a minor hit with this harmony-filled builder. The 80’s production is atmospheric without being obnoxious and makes me think maybe there’s more to this band than the one big hit.

Pearl Jam with Beck – Sleepless Nights
A live one from ‘02, I cannot believe Eddie Vedder’s voice gets this melodic. It blends perfectly with Beck’s on a straight-forward acoustic cover that bring the pain to the fore.

Cat Power – Dream
An outtake from her indie hit The Greatest, she jazzes up the tune and rhythm so that it takes you a few bars to realize it’s the same song.

Elliott Murphy & Ernie Brooks – Cathy’s Clown
Regular readers of this blog will know that Murphy is one of my favorite cover artists, and his duet version of this one hints at why. The vocals on the verge of breaking down makes a sad song sound even sadder.

John Kincade – Till I Kissed You
Now we’re talking, an Everly cover with some balls. Fuzz guitar and thumping drums clash beautifully with the sugar-sweet lyrics.

Zoey Deschanel and Samantha Shelton – Walk Right Back
Thanks to Jamie over at Fong Songs for this one, it’s a little clap-along a cappella version, bouncy in a barbershop quartet sort of way.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Stick With Me Baby
The guys seem to like the Everlys, tackling two of their songs on their debut album Raising Sand. One became the single (see the surprisingly good video here), but that one rocks a little harder than the rest of the album. This is representative of everything this pair has to offer, beautifully understated harmonies, wavering guitars and laid-back swampy production. If Plant keeps churning out songs like this, I couldn’t care less about a Zeppelin reunion.

Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me
If this song doesn’t get it you, either the original or this cover, you’ve got a heart of stone.


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Feb 132008

Sorry this post is a couple days late, but hopefully there’s enough here to make up for it. It’s about a diverse a post as I’ve had, with the only theme being artists who are playing Bonnaroo 2008. It’s a great line-up so far, with more to be added, so check it out at bonnaroo.com. First up we’ll do covers of Roo artists.

Patricia O’Callaghan – Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Having an opera-trained soprano doing a grunge song is a shakey proposition, but it works pretty well here as she reins her voice in from unnecessary theatrics. Starts off with some nice piano that I wish it had stayed with the whole time.

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Orion (Metallica)
Why Metallica is headlining Bonnaroo is beyond me, as there are few bands I can stomach less, but at least there a few nice covers of their songs. This one shows the Mexican acoustic guitar duo (who, incidentally, played Roo last year) put their flamenco-metal spin on the Master of Puppets instrumental, transforming it into something that doesn’t make you want to rip your ears out. Well done.

The Automatic – Gold Digger (Kanye West)
I’m a big Kanye fan, but this is one of the worst singles he’s released. It’s much better as an ironic acoustic rock jam with some screeching backing vocals and flute riffs.

Kind of Like Spitting – Title Track (Death Cab for Cutie)
I need to get myself educated about this band before June, as all I have is a few covers they’ve done. From the one cover of a songs I have though, there’s potential.

And now Roo artists covering others, which gives you a better sense of the festival sound this year.

Jack Johnson – Mama, You Been On My Mind / Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie (Bob Dylan)
I really want to hate this laid-back guitar-strumming surfer dude, but the few covers I have by him are all pretty good. He keeps the momentum here in a song perfectly suited to his voice, before doing a rhythmic melodic version of Bob’s one spoken-word poem. The man knows his Dylan, as I’ve never even heard it covered before.

Phil Lesh and Friends – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)
Another Dylan one here, but a band it could be argued does only covers (depending on where you place songs by the Grateful Dead, a band Lesh was in). This has to be one of the most covered songs ever, but Lesh keeps it fresh (har har) here at an ’06 concert. Joan Osbourne has a beautiful gospel intro before some lively jamming and solos worthy of the song.

The Raconteurs – Bang Bang (Cher)
Jack White knows how to do a cover as well as anyone and with a little more exposure this could be the band’s Jolene. In almost ten minutes his wavering vocals interact with pounding instruments and waves of distortion in a live staple. They do it in about five parts, each one building on the last in an passive-aggressive tour de force that chills.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Killing the Blues (Rowland Salley)
These guys do almost exclusively covers, with a laid-back swing feel that suits the duo perfectly. Steel guitar and brushed drums give them space to explore vocally here, with T-Bone Burnett at his best production-wise.

Tegan and Sara – Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen)
You’ve probably heard their cover of Umbrella, but this one’s even better, taking Springsteen’s poppiest song and making it all shoegazer indie.

Willie Nelson – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
Lauper’s inane ramblings trying to deliver a Grammy the other day were pretty pathetic, but she used to be a pretty legit pop star, with some pretty fun songs. I’d think Nelson’s country warbling would be a terrible fit for this song, but the arrangement is perfect and he keeps the twang out his voice in a subdued take that isn’t afraid to mix up the chorus a bit.