Archive for the ‘Coverage’ Category

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Coverage: Amanda Palmer, “Billie Jean”

July 6, 2009

Guest blogger Scott writes:

It’s always a little weird when famous people die. The level of emotional outpouring from people who have attached a piece of themselves to this person they’ve never met is somewhat foreign to me. But it’s different when I can see the specific ways in which someone benefited from the celebrity’s existence. Just as the death of a president hits me, even when I didn’t follow their politics or particularly like them, musicians have responded to the death of Michael Jackson in a way that I can understand, if not relate to. I’ve heard a lot of stirring tribute songs (in the truest sense of the term) over the past few days, including several from singers who had performed with Jackson, but the one I’ve liked best is this Amanda Palmer cover of Billie Jean, as much for the monologue that precedes it as for the song itself. It’s the raw form of what music means to people who music means something to.

[Scott also mentioned that he was really hoping for an Amanda Palmer cover of “Thriller,” with Neil Gaiman doing the Vincent Price monologue, and I’ll happily second that. And he also warns that there is a girl ‘hooting enthusiastically’ in the MP3; you may wish to watch the video, above, instead.]

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)

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Coverage: Commissions at Cover Me

March 23, 2009

yoshimiroboto

Guest blogger Scott writes:

Cover Me, a cover song blog, has begun commissioning covers from independent artists. In blogger Ray’s words:

Here’s the gist. Every month we will present to you an artist, one who’s probably showed up on the blog before, one whom I feel has a lot to offer cover-wise. Said artist has signed on to produce a special, never-before-heard cover for Cover Me. A commissioned work minus the money. What song will be covered? Well that depends on the artist, but as often as possible, the song choice is up to you!

The first commission has been completed and posted, a cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World.” I’m not a huge fan of the original, but this definitely an interesting sound. James Eric also submitted a cover of the third place finisher, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” which is more to my taste.

The second commission is to be performed by John Anealio. When the poll closed, the final tally of votes on the second commission showed a tie between The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” So clearly, whatever Anealio chooses, we win. But here’s hoping he goes with the commenter who suggested “Yoshimi Battles Mr. Roboto.”

MP3: James Eric – Time to Pretend (MGMT cover)

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Coverage: Nightmare Revisited

February 6, 2009


[extended trailer for Coraline on YouTube; if you can’t watch it, click here]

Guest blogger Scott writes:

Coraline opens today and, while debcha might be most excited about the production of a favored author’s work, I have multiple reasons to be excited. I like gothic spooky, but can’t stomach horror (at least until a Hollywood hack proposes the cheap vampire crossover Underworld vs. Twilight — I may actually already be in line for that movie), and Hollywood doesn’t usually make much of a distinction. I have a lifelong love of children’s entertainment that doesn’t take a dim view of children. And this movie will fill out my double feature of Animated Films Featuring the Voice Talent of Humorous Non-Fiction Authors Who I’m Secretly Stalking.

But mostly, I’m excited for another off-kilter, animated film by Henry Selick. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my ten favorite movies of all time, and while it’s thought of as a Tim Burton movie, Selick was able to give the same eerie look and feel to James and the Giant Peach. That’s not to take away from what Burton brought to Nightmare, but just to point out that Selick, given good source material, can perform the same artistry again. “But wait,” I hear you say, “Isn’t this a music blog? What are you rambling on about?” I’m getting there.

debcha has previously written about the changing business model of music, one piece of which is the increasing placement of songs in other media. For television, this has resulted in the “Music From” album. But in their ever-increasing effort to squeeze out every last drop of marketability from a product, we’re now starting to see things like this—albums of covers of music from TV shows or movies. Now, unlike those Amazon commenters, I don’t think this is inherently bad, but then, I like covers. And although the initial album is a different beast entirely, it’s that same premise that brings us to Nightmare Revisited.

The album came out in September and, though it caught my interest, I hadn’t gotten around to listening to it until just a couple of weeks ago. Now, if you read blogs devoted to cover music, they’ll pretty universally claim that what makes a cover worthwhile is the artist taking the material and making it their own in an interesting way. This album definitely does that. But it took a bit more thinking, first about the songs themselves and then about the theory of what makes a good cover, to figure out why the album was disappointing (not bad, just disappointing). The instrumentals were mostly enjoyable, and the instrumentation for the songs generally sounded better than the song turned out to be.

In making the covers their own, what was missing was the sense that the performers understood what made the songs good in the first place. In particular, I think the difference is that the singers (I’ve never before used that term to describe Korn, and God willing, I never will again) are just that—singers—rather than actors. They use their voices to convey a story, but not to convey a character. So in the original “What’s This?”, Danny Elfman both tells the story of Jack Skellington’s arrival in Christmastown and gets across the somewhat-crazed excitement he feels at being there. Lacey Mosley of Flyleaf, despite making some really interesting changes to the structure of the song and instrumentals, sounds wrong to me largely because she isn’t doing that kind of emoting. And that’s not to pick on her, as most of the songs have a similar problem—interesting and promising instrumentation choices marred by voice work that doesn’t make adequate sense of the words being sung.

MP3: Danny Elfman – What’s This?
MP3: Flyleaf – What’s This?

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Coverage: Buffetlibre’s Rewinded and Rewind2

January 12, 2009

rewind-v-0

Guest blogger Scott writes:

Buffetlibre has just released the second half of their epic compilation of new artists (many of whom I’ve never heard of) covering 70s, 80s, and 90s (but mostly 80s) songs. I had a few tracks from the first half, but hadn’t sat down and dug through it carefully. This release gave me the opportunity to really look at both parts. There’s the odd dance remix track and a lot of more tribute-y tracks that don’t distinguish themselves from the original to any great extent, but I’ve found a few real gems. I won’t offer too much commentary here, because part of the enjoyment for me was plowing through the list and stumbling across covers of songs I haven’t thought about in at least a decade. For those who might prefer a faster approach than song-by-song, there’s a single (large) downloadable archive with all the files in the right-hand sidebar on the front page. The sidebar claims that they have a similar downloadable archive for Part 1 on their MySpace page, but I couldn’t find it.

MP3: Freezepop – Only You (Yaz/Yazoo cover)

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Coverage: “Hallelujah” on the UK charts

December 22, 2008

leonardcohen

Last week guest blogger Scott posted about the Jeff Buckley cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” describing it as ‘insipid’ compared to the original.

Well, as he pointed out, apparently all of the UK is conspiring against him.

This week, the number one song on the British charts is a cover of “Hallelujah” by Alexandra Burke, the winner of the British analog of American IdolX-Factor. The number two song? Quoth the Guardian: “In second place…was the late Buckley’s interpretation of the song, which was propelled…by an internet campaign masterminded by music fans who feared that Burke would desecrate Cohen’s 1984 anthem.”

Sorry, Scott. The fact that Cohen’s own version also charted, at #36, makes me feel slightly better.

You can see the video of the Burke version here. Or do something better for your soul and download the original from Amazon here.

EDIT: In the comments, Mike Epstein recommended the John Cale version. It is indeed wonderful. Enjoy.

MP3: John Cale – Hallelujah (live)

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Coverage: The danger of lists

December 15, 2008

hold_on_now_youngster

Guest blogger Scott writes:

As the end of the year approaches, music blogs everywhere will be producing lists; best of ’08, most anticipated of ’09, biggest letdowns of ’08. And for every list, there is someone like me who has nothing better to do than to poke holes in it.

I was recently directed to nuTsie’s comprehensive page of lists with the instruction to call up the list from the year I turned 14 and sink into nostalgia. It didn’t succeed at this for very long; I was mostly just reminded of how bad music was the year I was 14. I suppose that’s a form of nostalgia. Those among you with strong feelings about the worst year in recent musical history should feel free to speculate regarding my age.

What I went to from there, of course, was the 100 Greatest Cover Songs list (105, as it turns out). Wow. Just, wow. Now, I understand that there’s going to be some component of radio play and chart toppers involved in this selection. So we aren’t going to get something like Jason Faulkner’s cover of Joni Mitchell”s “Both Sides Now” or Violent Femmes’ recent cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” But even accepting that, I have some complaints.

David Lee Roth’s cover of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” is, under no circumstances, one of the 100 best covers. It probably isn’t one of the 100 best covers with the word ‘California’ in the title. Similarly, “Red Red Wine” by UB40 is not a good song, and while I have a special place in my heart for The Bangles’ “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” it probably doesn’t belong here either. Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” is a quintessential 80s song, but that doesn’t mean that it’s worthwhile or important. And I know I’m in the minority on this, but Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” is just insipid. The Leonard Cohen original sounds as if some minor miracle has just walked him back from the edge of death and despair. Buckley’s, by comparison, sounds as if God just granted his request for a Mercedes-Benz. Sure, he’s impressed and happy and his faith has been strengthened, but there wasn’t anything of consequence on the line, so who the hell cares?

And there are obvious, as well as less-obvious but deserving, alternatives. nuTsie’s telling me that The Beatles recorded four of the top 100 covers and not one of them was “Twist and Shout”? I couldn’t tell you who originally sang three of the four listed (I did know that “Long Tall Sally” was by Little Richard), and couldn’t even call up a good recollection of the Beatles’ versions. Whereas with “Twist and Shout,” I can remember hearing both the Beatles’ and Isley Brothers’ versions on the radio and making the cover song connection, probably for the first time. Similarly, where is Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Respect”? Just because no one has ever heard the Otis Redding version doesn’t make Aretha’s not a cover. Ella Fitzgerald wasn’t the original performer of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” but it would have been considered a standard in her time, rather than a cover. By the time Mama Cass recorded it, though, it was unquestionably a cover (for most people, of the Ella version). Either version of the song could easily fit here. Lastly, another great cover that deserves inclusion is Frank Black’s cover of “Hang On To Your Ego,” but since The Beach Boys’ original ended up being retitled “I Know There’s An Answer,” it’s understandably missed.

That’s not to say that they got it all wrong. In addition to some of the required inclusions, like Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” and The Clash’s “I Fought the Law,” they included some lesser-known but deserving works. Steve Winwood’s original of “Back in the High Life” comes across as blithely unironic adult contemporary, but Warren Zevon sings it as if he doesn’t mean a word he says. He hadn’t yet been diagnosed with the cancer that killed him, but on an album called Life’ll Kill Ya, he sounds like he already knows. The two Johnny Cash songs, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” and “Hurt,” are the obvious choices and, while I might have chosen slightly differently, they’re obvious for a reason—they’re really good. And I’d have forgotten Deep Purple’s “Hush” if I were making this list, which would have left someone else something to complain about.

MP3: Los Campesinos! – My Year in Lists (not a cover) [amazon]

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Six degrees of cover versions

December 1, 2008

covertrekbanner

This is a pretty fun site for cover fiends like us. Cover Trek is kind of like ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ for music. You can enter the names of two bands, and it’ll try to find a pathway between them via cover songs. For example, Metallica and Kate Bush are connected in four steps, stepping through covers by Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Pat Boone (who covered Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”). It’s definitely still in beta, as I discovered it couldn’t get me from China Drum to Metallica, even though China Drum covered Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.” And I don’t believe that it includes live covers, like this highly improbably Belle and Sebastian cover of Irish hard-rockers Thin Lizzy. But it’s still a fun site to go and mess around with, and I’m sure the creators will appreciate feedback.

MP3: Belle and Sebastian – The Boys Are Back in Town (live)