Aug 162021
 

Colin HayFirst things first: don’t be so hard on yourself. Sure you know who Colin Hay is; he’s the chirpy singer from Men At Work, his slightly husky and agreeable tenor singing about a land where women glow and men plunder. A Scot, who found fame in Australia, he has lived and kept his career going in the US, a resident of Los Angeles for many a long year. Men At Work still exist, sporadically, with Hay the last man standing from the original line-up, but he also has a bevy of solo recordings, amiable and pleasant fare, with a great live show to boot. Now he’s got a new cover collection out, called I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.

Why a cover album? Well, his choice for the title track gives a clue–that’s right, it’s another quarantine album, where the artist is stuck at home and wants nothing to do with idle hands. It seems these are the songs that have inspired and uplifted Hay over the years. Unsurprisingly, most stem from his teens, with the Beatles, the Kinks, and even Gerry and the Pacemakers all represented. And nothing off-center in the song choices, they all being staples and standards.

Which is perhaps the problem. Songs as ubiquitous as this cry out for something a bit different from the the love and respect he clearly has for them. Individually, they are all polished and presentable. Thrown singly into a performance amidst his own or his band’s stuff, you’d sit up and take note. Together, not so much, it all becoming a little M.O.R. Inoffensive. Bland, even. Having said that, I dare say they would fly off the merch table at a gig, and maybe that is the target demographic.

The title track is a strong start, initially just strummed guitar and Hay’s straining but never strained voice. The piano and strings are then a bit Bacharach. As I guess they would be, he being the author and the originator of the original presentation. A bit too Bacharach, frankly, way more Dusty than the White Stripes. Likewise, when it’s just Hay’s unadorned vocal, “Waterloo Sunset” is fine, but then the strings and some sort of backing chorale gloop in and drench the beauty within this old chestnut.

Strangely, “Wichita Lineman” just about works within this production style, Hay’s vocal endearingly and plaintively sad. Whereas “Norwegian wood” really doesn’t. Here Hay sounds like a busker who has strayed into a an easy listening orchestral jam session. Ghastly.

“Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”? I had to catch myself here, trying to recall the original, before remembering this was peak Gerry and the Pacemakers at their cloying best. Which actually means that Hay here has, after all, done something surprising with it, excising no small amount of the sickliness that Gerry Marsden regularly injected into it during his later cabaret years. Similarly, I like his rendition of “Ooh La La,” a more “modern” song, sort of. His voice is closer to Ronnie Lane’s, who sang the original for the Faces in 1973, and thus infinitely preferable to Rod Stewart’s latter-day revamp of his old band’s song. I’ll go further, I like this a lot. And like even more the next song, Del Amitri’s “Driving With The Brakes On.” No extraneous strings, just voice, guitar, and piano. Well, most of the way through, the conductor unable to keep his hands of the baton, if with more restraint than earlier on this disc. Are things looking up?

Sadly not, as that busker is still here, this time mangling “Across The Universe,” aided and abetted by Mantovani-alike again. With that bloody wretched choir. Beam me up, Scotty, a fast forward just quick enough to find a not-bad “Can’t Find My Way Home.” As in not that good, just (that word again) inoffensive.

Final track is the Jimmy Cliff classic “Many Rivers To Cross.” Methinks he bases this telling on the Linda Ronstadt version, the piano and guitar broadly redolent thereof. Which is no bad thing, it’s OK, and as good a place as any to close the album.

I think this is a great shame: Hay still has the voice and this is for the most part a good sound song selection. But just who is he listening to on production? The PR says his “frequent collaborator/producer” Chad Fischer, who seems a big cheese on TV themes. Figures.

Heck, what do I know, but, if I did, Colin, I’d say “it’s a mistake”…….

I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself tracklist:
1. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (Dusty Springfield cover)
2. Waterloo Sunset(Kinks cover)
3. Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover)
4. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Beatles cover)
5. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying (Gerry & the Pacemakers cover)
6. Ooh La La (The Faces cover)
7. Driving With The Brakes On (Del Amitri cover)
8. Across the Universe (Beatles cover)
9. Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith cover)
10. Many Rivers to Cross (Jimmy Cliff cover)

Jan 212020
 

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

Return In Kind

This being the time of year when we are reminded of those we have lost, the retrospective review of deaths within the last year, I have found myself returning often to the works of Neal Casal, who tragically took his own life last August. A quintessential journeyman performer, hired guitar for many a singer/band seeking some additional gravitas, he had also a productive solo career, with about a dozen albums to his name. If he is best known for his lead guitar for Ryan Adams in the Cardinals, the band that also backed Willie Nelson on 2007’s Songbird, that is understandable. From there he became right hand man to Chris Robinson, in his eponymous Brotherhood, squeezing in the same role for Todd Snider in Hard Working Americans at the same time. The title of that band was surely meant for Casal, his ongoing list of sessions inspiring awe and respect, both in the quality of those who chose him, and the added value he provided to each. In the final years of his life, he was also increasingly absorbed into the diaspora of the Grateful Dead legacy, working both with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, as well as being commissioned to write the incidental music for the run of shows celebrating the 50 years of the Dead, the Fare Thee Well gigs of 2015. This he then toured as Circles Around the Sun, finding time as well to form and play alongside members of Beachwood Sparks as the Skiffle Players.

Prolific or what?
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Mar 252019
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Roxy Music

I know, I know, cheating with a compilation album, but believe me, I tried, hell, I tried. I wanted to cover the 1972 debut, Roxy Music/Roxy Music, not least as it is “their best,” but also to celebrate this year’s inauguration of the band (or brand) into the R&R Hall of Fame. But let’s face it — however good (most of) the songs are, the cover versions, give or take, are decidedly not. And so few anyway, most being limp copies and ersatz imitations. (And I’m talking about you, Velvet Goldmine, with your Thom Yorke and your faux recreations.) Indeed, it seems, as I researched, that the only person regularly covering Roxy was Bryan Ferry himself, either in solo mode or, now and gloriously, in a jazz age great Gatsby style, both ruled out automatically by default. But they are good….. So I have had to resort to this 2nd best, even if it misses out the sole reason I wanted to take this on in the first place, the superb Tin Machine/Bowie take on “If There is Something,” my favorite-ever Roxy track.

I loved the Roxy, being just the right age as they emerged, in my mid-teens, looking for the hit of new to fertilize my hungry ears. I recall listening to the debut in a Brighton record shop. There was a wiring disconnect in the headphones, giving a buzz in the left ear. I didn’t realize this wasn’t part of the sound for some time (years, actually), thinking it part of the process, and it added to the band’s mystique. The succession of records continued to enthrall, arguably better put together songs as more of the experimental gradually fell by the wayside, not that I could allow myself to admit it. As Eno and every bassist in turn left, so the musicianship upped, the Eddie Jobson years an especial highlight. A few years silence and back they bounced, now a smoother beast altogether, a trio of Ferry, Mackay and Manzanera with the pick of sessiondom’s finest, still great, if mellower. Did they ever really officially fold? There was always the promise of some new undertaking, inevitably subsumed into more Ferry solo projects, his live shows increasingly and ever more Roxy-based. I don’t suppose it will ever happen now, but maybe the memories are stronger.

Have some hits…
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Jun 182018
 
the wild feathers neon moon

For a lot of us, a good cover song starts and stops with the careful curation of the song itself. And when done right, when the artist covering the song puts their entire body and soul into the delivery, it’s almost as if you have entered into a way-back machine taking you back to another time, another place, another band. With The Wild Feathers version of “Neon Moon,” they have hit the cover song sweet spot. Continue reading »

Feb 282014
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Some articles are written because of a great love for the subject. Some are written because they are timely. Some are written because there is a need. This article is being written because of fate. When you write about music, sometimes the world conspires to suggest a topic. “Ooh La La,” by the Faces, is one of those songs in the classic rock canon that pretty much anyone of a certain age knows. Its bouncy, wistful chorus makes it memorable and recognizable, even if it might be hard to immediately place the unfamiliar voice or recall the actual title. And when, in the period of a week, the song appears first on the radio, then on satellite radio, then on TV, and finally on a list of potential article topics circulated by the Cover Me editorial staff, it was clearly time for me to take a look at this song, through its covers.
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Jan 312014
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

The oft-covered Chuck Berry gem “Memphis, Tennessee” was never meant for stardom, taking a back seat to Berry’s “Back In The U.S.A,” which was the A to “Memphis”’s B on the 1959 single they shared. Chart success would eventually happen in England, where it was released as a double A-side with “Let It Rock” and climbed to #6 on the UK charts. With this history, it’s no surprise that a who’s-who of the British invasion has covered it – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, and The Hollies have all taken a stab, turning the trip through “Memphis” into a rite of passage.
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