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)

Aug 102021
 

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!

20th Century

People come up with crazy schemes all the time – what’s less common is when someone actually goes through with said crazy scheme. Americana legend Peter Stampfel, formerly of The Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs, is that someone. Continue reading »

Mar 012021
 
best cover songs february 2021
Black Country, New Road – Time to Pretend (MGMT cover)

If you’re expecting the “Time to Pretend” you knew and loved a decade ago, think again. UK post-punkers Black Country, New Road, one of the buzziest bands of the new year, deconstruct the song entirely. It starts pretty sane, then gradually veers off the tracks into chaos. By the end there’s a free-jazz sax solo leading a wall of noise only barely identifiable as this, or any, song. Continue reading »

Feb 222021
 

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!

Bill Frisell covers

We’ve highlighted several of guitarist Bill Frisell’s covers in the past—songs by Madonna, Lou Reed, John Lennon, and more. But it’s time Frisell gets a post of his own. He’s been abundantly prolific for several decades now, and in recent years his output rate has only accelerated. He turns 70 next month, and may get Grammied again, this time for last year’s Americana album, a collaboration with Grégoire Maret and Romain Collin, with its covers of Bon Iver, Jimmy Webb, and Mark Knopler. In this post we’ll survey the whole Frisell catalog, not just the recent achievements, with a focus on songs in the rock/pop/country genres.
Continue reading »

Aug 312020
 
best cover songs august 2020
Alex Kapranos & Clara Luciani – Summer Wine (Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra cover)

Clara Luciani is Nancy Sinatra and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos is Lee Hazlewood on this charming cover. Kapranos wrote, “When the lockdown started, we decided to record [‘Summer Wine’] — more for ourselves than anything else. We wanted to create the atmosphere of an imaginary world away from the confinement we were experiencing. Not that we were unhappy, but the imagination is the greatest medium for escape and adventure… After the lockdown eased off, we got together to film the video with our friends Adrien, Leo, Fiona and Hugo. I love the ideas they had, which suit the mood of the song and reflect our… well, our love of karaoke!” Continue reading »

Aug 192020
 

It isn’t any longer a surprise when avowed adherents of one tradition tackle another, and folk singers tackling the pop charts is one of the staples of current expectation. And it can be a mixed blessing.

Kate Rusby has one of the purest and most distinctive of voices that grace the UK folk circuit, and has been one of the most successful, her career stretching back over three-plus decades. Firmly associated with the trad. arr. firmament, her voice, with acoustic guitar, fiddles, and squeezeboxes reaping the songs of old England, she also writes material that can fit into that style seamlessly. An unmistakably Yorkshire presence, her accent unadorned by any need to adopt the faux-ploughboy (or -girl) many folkies seem to adopt, her whole persona seems inhabited by the tradition. There are no messages, she has no soapbox–just the singing. Continue reading »