Aug 052022
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Respectfully Yours

At last, via Bandcamp, it is once again possible to get hold of Ian McNabb’s 2016 album Respectfully Yours. For a while it seemed well nigh untraceable, with neither McNabb nor his manager able to lay a hand on or a link for a copy as little as a year or so ago. The original release was in hard copy only, and only at live shows or direct from the artist’s website. No downloading malarkey in those days, which now threatens to become the only way for many releases to meet the light of day. I’ll pretend it was my request last year that had McNabb put this up for re-evaluation, but I suspect it was more the harsh economics of lockdown logistics, pumping all hands to deck in the pursuit of making ends meet. Be that as it may, Respectfully Yours is a welcome presence, virtual or otherwise.
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Jul 272022
 

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.

When it comes to instrumental covers of popular music, my go-to is the edgier jazz artists–you probably know the ones I mean. They are lovable troublemakers, but sometimes their jarring ways, all the virtuoso-signaling, is not what the mood calls for. More and more I appreciate instrumentalists who play the melody straight, who embrace the original arrangement of the song and work within its comforting confines.

The trick is that a more modest and direct approach can wash the color out of a song–it becomes the music you hear when the bank puts you on hold. A good cover has a proper edge to it: there’s embellishment and surprise in it, a searching quality, a point of view–all the things missing from the music that elevators listen to during their work hours. For me, the Michael Udelson Trio brings all the good aspects to their jazzy treatments, and leaves behind the undesirable bits.

The band has so far released two recordings, both of them cover albums: Irrational Numbers and Minor Infractions (2015 and 2016). (During the COVID lockdown period, the trio got together virtually to share some new material with fans–so maybe there’s more albums coming in the future.) This next part I find mystifying: these two albums and the songs on them have a vanishingly small number of views/plays. (Probably most of those plays are mine.) The trio’s most popular track on Spotify is their take on Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” It has 17,000 plays. For every other Udelson track, Spotify displays a blank instead a number in the “Plays” column–which why the phrase “vanishingly small” seems apt. It’s fair to ask how that 17,000 figure compares to any jazz piano version of “Paranoid Android.” Here’s a point of comparison: Brad Mehldau’s cover has nearly 5,000,000 plays.

Few seem to know or care about MUT–not even its own members, as we’ll see shortly. So who are these guys, and where their fans at?
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Nov 192021
 

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!

John Mellencamp

I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think.
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Jul 092021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Hollywood Vampire's self-titled album

We’ve seen a few different motivations for forming supergroups, but another one is to gather together to pay homage to others. One recent example: the Sylvain Sylvain tribute by Halloween Jack, made up of Gilby Clarke (formally of Guns N’ Roses), Eric Dover (of Jellyfish), Stephen Perkins (of Jane’s Addiction), Dan Shulman (formerly of Garbage), and Steve Stevens (guitarist for Billy Idol)).

Hollywood Vampires is made up of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp (super in a different way, but showing off his musical skills here), and Joe Perry (of Aerosmith). Although they have since worked on originals, their self-titled first album is (mostly) a cover album where the songs are chosen to pay tribute to rockers who “died from excess” in the 1970s. The irony of this is that the band is named after the drinking club for celebrities formed by Cooper in the ’70s.

Throughout their time playing together, the band has had guest features from other big stars, actors and musicians alike. They have postponed their European Tour twice now due to the pandemic, but hopefully fans will get a chance to rock out when the world settles down a bit more. Continue reading »

May 052021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Patti Smith Twelve

Up until her release of Twelve in 2007, Patti Smith had not been much of one for studio covers, give or take her fabled extended riff on “Gloria,” which remains a live staple. Sure, she had the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star” on her third album, and Dylan’s John Wesley Harding deep cut “Wicked Messenger” on her sixth, but she otherwise largely wrote her own, with her friends and band members. Twelve surprised fans and critics alike, not only by being all other people’s songs, but also by the twelve songs Smith had chosen. Continue reading »

Mar 052021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Siouxsie Through the Looking Glass

By 1987 the angular sounds of Siouxsie and the Banshees had mellowed enough for them to be regulars in the British charts and on the accompanying TV shows. The striking appearance of icy she-wolf Siouxsie had always contributed much to their success, her atonal approach to melody both idiosyncratic and chillingly effective, the only remnant from their first appearances, wherein the grasp of rudimentary technique was echoed by the lack of any instrumental prowess. Which only goes to prove the worth of their perseverance with the punk ethos: in any other time the band wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Fresh from touring Tinderbox, an album that had cemented their reputation, the band spent the downtime back in the studio, producing the covers album they had always wanted to do. No stopgap contractual filler, this; Through the Looking Glass was squeezed in ahead of any expectation. Of course, the band had already shown their cover capabilities, with the delightfully uber-psychedelic version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” a brave move in a time when admitting a Beatles affinity (in public, at least) might be considered poor form.

The initial choice of songs came largely from the early ’70s, a time when the old order was beginning to look pregnable, with new styles beginning to emerge, biting at the ankles of the towering giants of an increasingly bloated music industry. Bands such as Kraftwerk were showing how much (and how little) could be done with cheap electronic keyboards; Roxy Music were blurring and blending styles and genres into a sci-fi retrodelia; Television were proving outriders for the earlier and more cerebral NY take on punk. Add in the bizarre world of Sparks, quirky oddballs in their homeland, who were beginning to find acceptance in the UK. Then mix well with some of the more favored sons of the sixties: the Doors, Iggy from the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. Here were where Siouxsie and company went panning for gold. With a song from The Jungle Book thrown in for good measure. And perhaps the oddest version yet of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” for dessert.
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