Aug 042010

Download This! scours the web’s dark corners for cool cover freebies. View past installments.

When you think of Tom Waits, the first thing that comes to your mind is probably his voice. One critic described it as “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.” An anonymous fan said it sounded like Tom “smoked a pack of cigarettes and swallowed a pack of razor blades…late at night. After not sleeping for three days.” Clearly this is an acquired taste.

Pascal Fricke’s Tom Waits tribute disc Bangin’ on the Table with an Old Tin Cup requires no such effort. Fricke (aka. “waitswatcher“) uses ukulele, guitar, mandolin, percussion and more to create instrumental masterpieces that excavate the haunting melodies buried deep underground. Each one’s more gorgeous than the last, evoking a fragile beauty that lifts you up then breaks your heart.

A hardcore fan, Fricke avoids the obvious choices. No “Tom Traubert’s Blues” here. No “Ol’ 55,” “Downtown Train,” or “Jersey Girl” either. A lot of the songs he chooses are from Tom’s recent catalog; if you know 2006’s Orphans collection, you’re in luck. If you don’t, you’re in luck too. These songs stand on their own regardless of your familiarity with the deep cuts. Continue reading »

Mar 012010

The first post of the month features covers of every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

My first experience with Tom Waits was listening to Rain Dogs my freshman year of college. I didn’t even make it through two songs. The voice grated on my nerves and the off-kilter rhythms made me feel seasick. Needless to say, I’ve come around since, even flying down to Phoenix for two concerts in ’08, but you never forget your first time.

Buck 65 – Singapore

Canadian rapper Buck 65 doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to cover Tom Waits, but his lazy snarl grinds its way through this sing/speak perfectly. [Buy]

The Veils – Clap Hands

When a song with this title appeared on Beck’s 2005 album Guerolito, I was hoping it was a Waits cover. Sadly, it was not (though terrific in its own right). Maybe he’ll do a Waits album in his Record Club series. [Buy]

Rubber Donut – Cemetery Polka

This song tends to get covered a lot because it’s so catchy. Except when Rubber Donut does it. Then it’s just confounding. [Buy]

The Blue Hawaiians – Jockey Full of Bourbon

According to the Tom Waits Library this is Tom’s most-covered song. More than “Ol’ 55”? More than “Downtown Train”? Apparently. [Buy]

Southside Johnny with La Bamba’s Big Band – Tango Till They’re Sore

A cover of this by Billy’s Band was our Shuffle Sundays pick a few weeks ago (more from them below), so this time we’ll can the Eastern-Bloc cabaret for some brass-fueled swing. La Bamba’s Band, for those who don’t know, are the folks who play with Max Weinberg every night on Conan (R.I.P.) [Buy]

John Hammond – Big Black Mariah

John Hammond is the son of John Hammond, Jr. which must have caused endless confusion around the Hammond home. A longtime friend, Waits produced Hammond’s Wicked Grin covers album, even giving Hammond an unreleased song or two to tackle. Fun fact: Hammond is the only person to ever have a band featuring both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. [Buy]

Firewater – Diamonds & Gold

Tom Waits would be about the last person you’d expect to have a thing for diamonds, but they sure crop up a lot in his songs (as metaphors at least). “Diamonds on My Windshield,” “Diamond in Your Mind” and this. Maybe one day we’ll see a “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” cover. [Buy]

Lucinda Williams – Hang Down Your Head

Tom’s wife says he writes two kinds of songs: grim reapers and grand weepers. This is the latter. [Buy]

Waitswatcher – Time

This is too, done in a typically gorgeous instrumental arrangement by Pascal Fricke. Poke around his Youtube channel for many, many more. [Buy]

Billy’s Band – Rain Dogs

The aforementioned Billy’s Band has done an entire album of Waits songs: Being Tom Waits. This song is not off it, but rather from their live album Открытка от. I’d love to know what he’s saying at the intro here. [Buy]

The Silver Hearts – Midtown (Instrumental)

The dealbreaker of many full-album candidates is just this: the short instrumental. Luckily, The Silver Hearts have covered the entire Rain Dogs album, so we turn the two brief instrumentals over to them. [Buy]

Max Seilhamer – 9th and Hennepin

A very unusual take on this spoken word piece. Seilhamer puts some grunge-goth guitar behind the scratchy vocals, stopping just short of giving them an actual tune. The source of one of Tom’s most-quoted lines: “All the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes.” [Buy]

Luke Doucet – Gun Street Girl

Doucet’s gritty blues avoids predictability by bringing in a chanteuse to rise above the grime. [Buy]

The Yayhoos – Union Square

A few years back I did a five-part series of live Waits covers called Yesterday Is Here. You can get the first three volumes here and here. [Buy]

Dave Alvin – Blind Love

Bob Seger had a hit with this in 1991. It sounds like a Bob Seger song though, so we’re going to avoid it (sorry Detroit). Alvin’s reverb-drenched blues suits this song better. [Buy]

Toy Shop – Walking Spanish

Tom: “Walking Spanish is an expression they use when you don’t want to go somewhere. It’s 5:30 in the morning and the baby just woke you up screaming and you drag yourself out of bed, you’re walking Spanish. Somebody says, ‘Listen, buddy, give me all your money’ and your hand goes back around toward your wallet, you’re walking Spanish.” [Buy]

Hell Blues Choir – Downtown Train

If the word “choir” turns you off, hopefully the fact that the choir calls themselves “Hell Blues” will make you think again. Against all odds, this Norwegian chorus’ Greetings From Hell: The Tom Waits Song Book is a fantastic tribute, tackling some of Tom’s most difficult tunes (“God’s Away on Business,” “Swordfishtrombones”) with swagger and class. [Buy]

The Silver Hearts – Bride of Rain Dog (Instrumental)

This instrumental could make a great jam tune. My evidence of this is later instrumental “Russian Dance,” with Gogol Bordello and Les Claypool dragged out for fourteen minutes at the 2008 Bonnaroo “Superjam.” [Buy]

Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I Lay My Head

Much ink has been spilt on Johansson’s 2008 Tom Waits tribute album Anywhere I Lay My Head. Saying it received mixed reviews puts it mildly. With TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek behind the boards though, no one can fault it for lack of ambition. This track works better than some. [Buy]

Feb 102010

It’s a good week to be a florist. Valentine’s Day is around the corner and roses are selling like a product that actually has some practical value. No, I never quite saw the romance in a present that will make you bleed if you hold it the wrong way. I think this is why no one ever gives me roses. That and the fact that I’m a guy.

Sexton Blake – Rose Parade (Elliott Smith)
You don’t forget the first time you hear Elliott Smith. I remember hearing the first notes of “Speed Trials,” the first track off Either/Or, and realizing I had some catching up to do. Covers of Elliott Smith songs are unusual in one regard: they tend to be better the less they change. [Buy]

Cassandra Wilson – For the Roses (Joni Mitchell)
Joni called this song her “first farewell to show business,” taking a leave of absence after putting out her 1972 album of the same name. It’s hard to imagine any record executive extracted the intended message from the dense imagery though. [Buy]

The Twilight Singers – Roses (Outkast)
One of the strangest pop hits of the last decade. André 3000 and Big Boi goof on golden calculators, support bras and boo-boo, yet it all takes an uncomfortable turn with that disturbingly detailed death fantasy. “Just playin’,” huh? I’m not sure you are… [Buy]

Joan Baez – Rose of Sharon (Eliza Gilkyson)
For decades Baez’s voice was a love-it-or-hate-it-instrument, but in her latter years that glass-shattering soprano has softened to a point that anyone would be moved. Baez opened with this when I saw her live a few years back, a few months before the album came out. [Buy]

Waitswatcher – Trampled Rose (Tom Waits)
Last year Robert Plant and Alison Krauss brought this 2004 Tom Waits song to a vast audience on their Grammy-winning Raising Sand. This instrumental recording may be more obscure, but it’s no less haunting. [Buy]

The Persuasions – It Must Have Been the Roses (Grateful Dead)
The Persuasions record for the Frankly A Cappella label, but that genre designation does not do justice to the deep gospel and soul flowing through their rich vocal arrangements. You might think the music Grateful Dead would be a poor fit, but after listening to Might As Well…The Persuasions Sing the Grateful Dead you’ll never hear the songs the same away again. [Buy]

Maleficent – Where the Wild Roses Grow (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
Who knew a duet between a young girl and her killer could be so romantic? A little less so when shouted perhaps, but the bat-out-of-hell guitar in the background keeps the mantra “All beauty must die” as chilling as ever. [Buy]

The Housewives – Rose Tint My World (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
The Housewives sound like early Blondie squalling out with Ray Manzarek backing on organ. [Buy]

Everything But the Girl – English Rose (The Jam)
Whatever song Everything But the Girl touches turns to cover gold. They seem to have gone on indefinite hiatus, but their Covers EP should keep you in good hands until they return. [Buy]

Rex Hobart – Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison)
Brett Michaels was a sensitive soul long before Rock of Love. [Buy]

Dec 142009

There are few things in this world more hit-or-miss than cover albums. If it’s a tribute compilation for a particular songwriter, some artists “get it” more than others. If it’s one artist putting out their own cover album, listeners inevitably like the songs they know more than those they don’t. Such is life.

Compiling this list, one album after another had to be eliminated because of a single song, one Achilles’ heel that brought down the whole disc. Eventually only ten remained, ten cover albums exceptional from beginning to end. Enjoy, and check back next week for the Best Cover Songs of 2009!

10. Various Artists – Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm

Texas songwriter Doug Sahm never achieved fame outside the southwest, but to his peers in music he’s long been a legend. A prolific songwriter, he maintained three bands throughout his career alongside his solo work: the Sir Douglas Quartet (with whom he had his biggest hit “She’s About a Mover”), the Texas Tornados and the Bottle Rockets. On the tenth anniversary of Sahm’s death came Keep Your Soul, a group of peers and admirers like Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo rocking through his Tex-Mex jive.
Charlie Sexton – You’re Doing It Too Hard

9. Steve Earle – Townes

Townes is more than one artist paying tribute to another. It’s a letter from one friend to another, part homage, part eulogy and part thank-you note. Townes Van Zandt mentored Earle when he was just beginning and continued to watch over Earle’s life even as his own spiraled downward. Earle followed the same alcohol and drug-fueled path that ended in Van Zandt’s untimely demise, with one difference: Steve came out the other side. Here he pays tribute to a friend who wasn’t so lucky.
Steve Earle – Loretta (Townes Van Zandt)

8. Various Artists – Seven Year Itch: Paper Bag Records Covers Compilation

On their seventh birthday, Paper Bag Records invited the fans to the celebration, putting up a free covers compilation on their website (still available). Everyone from Beck to Bats for Lashes gets the Paper Bag treatment, with bizarre and fantastic results. If only every birthday was this much fun!
Winter Gloves – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

7. Pascal Fricke – Banging on the Table with an Old Tin Cup III

Another freebie here from Tom Waits superfan Pascal Fricke, it’s volume three of his Waits cover series. His usual all-instrumental formula gets a twist courtesy of YouTube pal Vamosbabe’s sultry singing to Fricke’s typically gorgeous ukulele, guitar, or mandolin. The pair may never have met in person but they sound like two long-time lovers sitting together at a Parisian café.
Pascal Fricke – Green Grass

6. Joan as Police Woman – Cover

When an album’s cover features a hefty pair of butt cheeks (view that NSFW cover here), you know something unusual awaits. Joan Wasser’s slow falsetto-funk version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” gets things started on an off-kilter note, but sounds downright pedestrian compared to the versions of Britney Spears, Adam Ant and Public Enemy that follow. What other album contains covers of both Nina Simone and T-Pain (without AutoTune!)?
Joan As Police Woman – Ringleader Man (T-Pain)

5. Various Artists – War Child: Heroes

What looks like a truly grab-bag line-up (Elbow, Duffy, Scissor Sisters) on this benefit is the result of a single brilliant idea: Get classic artists like Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop to pick a member of the next generation to cover their song. Dylan picked Beck and Iggy picked Peaches (ha!), but the most exciting tune has to be the Hold Steady’s bar-band blast through “Atlantic City,” finally recorded after debuting at an unrecorded Springsteen tribute concert three years ago.
TV on the Radio – Heroes (David Bowie)

4. The Rosewood Thieves – Heartaches By the Pound: The Rosewood Thieves Sing Solomon Burke

Soul man Solomon may seem a surprising choice from these back-porch boys (The Rosewood Thieves Sing The Band would be a more likely album), but the distance between their Americana thump and Burke’s gospel blues allows a whole new sound to emerge organically from these heartbroken cries. This EP only contains six songs, but each stomps and swings like Wilson Pickett fronting the Black Keys.
The Rosewood Thieves – Home In Your Heart (Solomon Burke)

3. Various Artists – SPIN Presents Purplish Rain

SPIN magazine couldn’t get the notoriously press-shy Prince to comment for their Purple Rain 25th anniversary cover story, so they did him one better by soliciting new versions of every song on the legendary soundtrack. Lavendar Diamond slow-burns “Purple Rain,” Of Montreal electronically freaks out for “Computer Blue” and The Twilight Singers sound like the coolest church choir ever on “When Doves Cry.”
The Twilight Singers – When Doves Cry

2. Various Artists – Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute to Bruce Springsteen

This list is concerned with quality over quantity, but any tribute album that includes 38 brand-new covers deserves extra commendation. All obscure groups, all incredible readings of Bruce Springsteen classics, rarities and newer songs (including three tunes from Bruce’s 2002 The Rising). With 38 songs they can’t all be brilliant, but somehow even the album’s one miss – Travis Elborough’s spoken-word “My Hometown” – is so truly awful it becomes endearing, a moment of unintended hilarity lightening a tale of resilience tested and dreams crushed.
The Vatican Cellars – Darkness on the Edge of Town

1. The Lemonheads – Varshons

Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos. Their brilliantly drawled version of GG Allin’s “Layin’ Up with Linda” turns the best boredom-induced murder song since “Folsom Prison Blues” into a jaunty pub sing-along.
The Lemonheads – Layin’ Up with Linda (GG Allin)

And there you have it. Tune in next week for the Best Cover Songs of 2009!

NYC (and SOS)

 Posted by at 10:28 pm  No Responses »
Jun 182009

Edit: All files are back up for now.

It’s a time of transitions here at Cover Me. For one, is getting fed up with the bandwidth we’re using (though they advertised it as “unlimited), so I need to find another place to host the songs. Anyone with experience have any suggestions, either another hosting site or my own domain name? We’re going for cheap here, but with lots of bandwidth. If I could migrate everything over from that would be ideal; otherwise there will be a whole lot of dead links come July 1st. This thing’s not dead yet but readers, I need your help! Post a comment or email me at covers86{at}gmail{dot}com if you can offer assistance.

Also some personal transitions going on. For one, I graduated school on Sunday (hence my absence from here) and am headed to start interning for Spin music magazine in New York. To celebrate my new locale, here are some tunes about the city that swings.

Tea – Summer In the City (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
I guess there’s nothing in this song that makes it specifically about New York City, but could it really be anywhere else? One tune that never disappoints when it comes on oldies radio, Tea’s take amps up the funky swagger with plenty of horns and guitar-ing. [Buy]

Pete Yorn – New York City Serenade (Bruce Springsteen)
Pete Yorn is one of those musicians I’m not real familiar with, but about whom I just think “blech.” Associations with James Blunt or something. Which is probably unfair as this cover, the only thing I have by him, is excellent, breaking down one of Bruce’s most musically complex songs into a simple story. [Buy]

Gov’t Mule – Down and Out in New York City (James Brown)
A jam band for those who don’t like jam bands, Gov’t Mule grooves out on their excellent The Deep End Vol. 1. Screw Clapton; Warren Haynes is God. [Buy]

Kid Harpoon – First We Take Manhattan (Leonard Cohen)
I posted this one in my very first post here, so needless to say it’s been unavailable for quite a while. The Kid busts out one of my favorite Lenny covers in this frenetic attack of an acoustic jam. [Buy]

Nekked – The Boxer (Simon and Garfunkel)
A little bit of laptop-funk from this well-named crew, adding in blips and thumps that never threaten to obscure the pretty harmonies. Very different than the original, yet totally true to it. [Buy]

Tufts Beelzebubs – City of Blinding Lights (U2)
I recognize that a cappella’s a love-it-or-hate-it genre, but if you have any inclination towards that collegiate sound you should snatch 2008’s Pandaemonium, which won basically every a cappella award there is to win (including best album). [Buy]

Waitswatcher – Bronx Lullaby (Tom Waits)
Tom at his jazziest, Pascal Fricke adds a sweet female voice to his usual instrument, baring the song’s soul with some nylon-stringed plucking. To quote from another of Waits’ songs, “a little trip to heaven.” Enjoy this take, then watch Tom himself do it. [Buy]

Razorlight – Englishman in New York (Sting)
Sting purportedly wrote this tune about gay icon Quentin Crisp. The rest of the story’s in the song. [Buy]

Dion – Spanish Harlem Incident (Bob Dylan)
You probably know this “…and the Belmonts” singer from ‘60s hits like “Runaround Sue” and “A Teenager in Love,” but this more obscure gem takes a simple Dylan acoustic number and really makes it feel like Spanish Harlem. Fun fact: on his 1999 co-headlining tour with Paul Simon, Dylan covered Dion’s “The Wanderer” eleven times with Paul. [Buy]

My Morning Jacket – Across 110th Street (Bobby Womack)
I missed Bonnaroo for the first time in a few years this past weekend (stupid graduation). Luckily I was there to catch this last year, busted out during the Jacket’s three-plus hour midnight set in the pouring rain. Epic. [Buy]

Brian Chartrand – New York State of Mind (Billy Joel)
Chartrand’s partial cover disc Sleeping With Giants proved tough to track down, but it was worth the wait. Instead of overly emoting this crooney number like so many schlock lounge singers do, he swings it along with some funky picking. And don’t say he’s not versatile; on this same album he also covers Justin Timberlake and Lauryn Hill. [Buy]

Old MacDonald

 Posted by at 12:21 am  No Responses »
Sep 242008

I had the pleasure of attending Farm Aid on Saturday, and in between great acts like Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and The Elms, there was a lot of talk about the plight of the family farmer. I hadn’t thought that much about the dirt since I went strawberry picking in elementary school and couldn’t find one clean enough for my standards. So for those of you who also forget about the hoe and plow-wielding among us, who are on hard times indeed, here’s a little reminder. And oh, check out my Farm Aid review, with some show downloads here.

Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer (Tracy Schwarz)
Last year’s critically acclaimed album Dirt Farmer could have been this set by himself. Here the ex-Band drummer rocks some Americana harmonies and down on the porch vibes. This Band tale of a farmer down on his luck sounds awfully similar to something though.

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers – King Harvest (Has Surely Come) (The Band)
Oh yeah, that’s it. Same story, different words. A similar feel to the original, but with the energy amped up.

Baby Loves Jazz Band – Old MacDonald (Trad.)
Making your infant listen to classical music is so 1990; for the hip, modern youngster, play them ready-made jazz interpretations of kiddie songs in the Baby Loves Jazz series. They change the title to “Old MacDonald Had a Band,” and you can guess where it goes from there.

Pumajaw – Piggies (The Beatles)
It wouldn’t be much of a farm without some piggies, though I’m not sure Harrison had actual pigs in mind here. This comes from Mojo magazine’s recent two-disc compilation of covers of the full White Album called, appropriately, The White Album Recovered. Worth tracking down.

The White Stripes – Boll Weevil (Leadbelly / Trad.)
Now here’s an animal you certainly don’t want on your farm. Jack White updates this dust bowl tale of a fierce pest with a verse about himself, creating a crowd favorite that the Stripes usually close their shows with.

Melissa McClelland – Factory (Bruce Springsteen)
This isn’t technically about farming, but so much breath was used Saturday bemoaning the evils of factory farms taking over from the local guy I thought the bad guys needed a nod. This is a little sympathetic, showing how the employees of said factories are probably getting screwed too. And as many of the factory farm employees could be ex-independent farmers themselves, it makes this especially appropriate.

Tim O’Brien – Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan)
One of the premier Dylan interpreters, O’Brien’s bluegrass covers are always thought-out and effective. This one actually sounds like how the farm employee would sound singing it.

Bob Dylan – Gospel Plow (Trad.)
From Bob’s first, covers-heavy album, it shows amazing harmonica talent not often seen again when he started focusing on lyrics.

Waitswatcher – Murder in the Red Barn (Tom Waits)
Pascal “Waitswatcher” Fricke has been featured here before, but each instrumental take on Tom Waits songs is an instant classic. This one’s slow building and dark, telling you everything you need to know without a single word.

Neil Young – A Day in the Life (The Beatles)
What does “A Day in the Life” have to do with farming, you might add? Nothing. But Neil Young covered this for his final song Saturday night, and here’s the recording. Gone is the orchestral finesse, replaced by distortion, wailing and a climactic finish where he banged his guitar around stage and finally ripped the strings out one by one. If you like what you hear, download the full show here.