Covers better than the original – Discuss

There are lots of posts on here about cover versions.  Whether you are of the “it’s just bastardising a perfectly good piece of music” school or persuaded by the “all art is derivative and is there for others to build and improve on” argument, there’s no avoiding them.  Musicians are positively encouraged to perform their own versions of other artists songs.

There are the covers that have become so embedded in the listener psyche it has almost been forgotten they are covers (think Sinead O’Connor’s version of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U), there are those you hear and wonder why the band or artist thought it was a good idea to cover that track, they bring nothing new to the table, in fact they spoil the original (my opinion, but think Metallica’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar – why???).

There are the covers that are clever and polar opposite to the original and offer an alternative sound (try Daughter’s cover of Daft Punk’s Get Luck or Lissie’s version of Kid Cuddy’s Pursuit of Happiness).  There are the covers that are different enough and executed brilliantly in their own right to stand up to the original and be just as good (Tricky’s cover of Public Enemy).  And then, dear reader, there are those covers that raise the song to another level becoming better than the original.  I’m thinking of the Johnny Cash cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails or Jimi Hendrix’ version of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.  I love these two songs much more than their originals – in fact I never even listen to the originals because both these artists made these songs their own.

The other day I was listening to Bowie’s Station to Station.  The last track is the much covered Johnny Mathis song Wild is the Wind.   In fact I actually thought this was a Nina Simone track because she did a couple of versions of it; I stand corrected by Wiki.  In a step that may well annoy some of you jazz lovers out there I will admit to disliking every version I’ve heard of this song but Bowie’s.  I love it.  I mean, really adore it.  I love the guitars, I love the slightly bossa-nova beat.  His voice is so heartfelt and aching.  There’s a real honesty and desperation about his delivery.  So much better than the original.  It’s not the only Bowie cover I think is better than the original either…I’ll let you try to guess the other.

But this got me thinking, like these things always do – which other covers are better than the original?  Obviously, as is the case with most stuff related to music, this is an opinion thing, but I’d like to know your thoughts.

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge. What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?

 

Eurovision (not what you think) – Discuss

I was out of the country for The Eurovision Song contest.  This annual musical fiesta used to be a staple of my childhood, but it’s been years since I watched it all the way through.  I don’t have the attention span or patience for a programme of that length often offering mostly dodgy tunes.  When I did used to watch it regulalry, I was fascinated by the difference in musical styles and fashions; what I thought was dreadful would be amazing to a Belgian.  I also used to love cackling along as Terry Wogan giggled his way through the presentation.   It’s not been the same for me since he stopped doing it.  Baa humbug – what a miserablist I can be!

While Eurovision was going on, I was in Mallorca.  The bars played a mixture of music I recognised from my daughter’s chart playlist and Europop my ears had never heard before and wasn’t at all offensive.  On the plane home I flicked through SleazyJet’s in-flight magazine and came across an article titled “How To Be Bigger Than Björk” I wasn’t about to let that one pass without reading it.  The article is an interview with Icelandic musician, Ásgeir and describes his sound as a mix between Ben Howard and James Blake – so far so good.  I had a listen once I was home and over my cycling fatigue.  It’s really quite lovely; the journalist’s description is pretty accurate, I would also add a hint of Mumford and Sons too.  I can’t say he’ll be a permanent feature of my playlists yet it was an interesting discovery.

It made me realise there must be hundreds of artists doing well in their own nations and territories of Europe that are relatively unknown to listeners outside their homeland.  Don’t get me wrong, I know and love plenty of European bands and musicians – because they are played on UK radio.  I tend not to seek out musical gems unless it’s made known to me first or recommended by a friend.  Call it ignorance or laziness – I also don’t have the time.  That’s where you come in!  I want you to tell me about European gems you’ve come across that deserve a wider audience outside their homeland.

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge. What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?

Balearic sound – Discuss

I’m away this weekend.  This post comes to you via the mystery that is “scheduled posting”.   As it goes live I should have a beer in my hand at the end of my first ride of the weekend on one of the Balearic islands.  I’m not on the club loving island, but I am sufficiently close to inspire this week’s topic.

The Balearic sound is difficult to pin down as Ibiza has a long history of drawing clubbing crowds.  Even before super-DJs like Carl Cox started endless residencies at the island’s bigger clubs, there were DJs laying the foundation for sounds that would morph into what we all think of as classic Balearic – lyrically emotional, blissed out, sunset, piano and strings.   These foundations came in the form of Carly Simon, Roxy Music and Fleetwood Mac – anything with a danceable beat and groove.  Just listen to Big Love enough and you can hear the basis of later club tracks; up-tempo beat, breathy loved-up noises and soaring vocals.

To me the Balearic sound is about blissful club classics and chill out tunes – but you don’t have to be heading to the club at 1am or coming down at 5am to enjoy these tunes; I love tracks like Sebastian Tellier’s La Ritournelle, I find it calming to have on when driving home after a difficult day at work.  That one is relatively recent.  Other favs are these:

Richie Havens – Going Back to My Roots.  An older funk track rediscovered by the Ibiza massive and played everywhere in clubs favouring the Balearic sound.  Oh those pianos!

I have Sweet Harmony somewhere (not to be confused with the great house track by Liquid), however The Sun is Rising is a lovely end of the night/start of the morning chill out track.

I rediscovered Antena’s Camino del Sol only the other week when I was listening to stuff out at around the same time as Young Marble Giants.  This is such a sweet track with a samba sound to it.  Lovely.

Then there’s the Andrew Weatherall mix of The Grid – Flotation.  Perfect mix of heady chill-out room vibe and club favourite.

I realise I’ve gone for the tamer end of the scale with my choices here.  With summer fast approaching I thought it would be a nice idea to find some new tunes and get a Balearic playlist together.  I’m looking for songs that defined the roots of Balearic Beat, classic Ibiza club tunes and Cafe del Mar style chill out tracks. I won’t be around to read your discussion or comment until Monday, but trust you to get the night going and the chill out room relaxed.

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge. What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?

 

Anna Meredith – Discuss

Anna Meredith’s first full length album has been championed by DJ Mary-Anne Hobbs for a long time.  MAH was playing tracks from Varmints on BBC 6 Music back when it was first released last year.  I’d heard none of Meredith’s previous work – if it was ever played on national radio, I never heard it.  She is well known in hipper classical circles though: first and foremost she is a composer.

I’m not really sure how to categorise Varmints; I guess it’s electronica, but at the meaty end of the scale.  It’s energetic and almost demented in places.  She uses horns and synth drums to great affect, creating soaring atmospherics racing along at light speed.  Listen to the repetitive beat of  the track R-Type and imagine careering along at pace on a train.  Some of the tracks on the album have vocals and provide a calm respite to the manic feel of the tracks surrounding them.  I particularly like Nautilus and The Vapours on the Varmints album, although all of it is good.  Anna’s earlier releases are also captivating; there’s an interesting cover of an Erasure track on one of her EPs.

The other week Shane mentioned Emily Wells in the comments of another post – she is a pretty awesome new find.  They are sort of comparable and yet not similar at all – Emily sings on many of her tracks.  It got me wondering about who else is out there pushing the boundaries of classical music and electronica.  I know plenty already, but it would be good to hear of more.

I am also drawn to this album because “varmints” is a word my sister loves and has used it to describe all the children in the family at some point or other.

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge. What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?

Where are the women of New Country/Americana? – Discuss

A couple of years ago I read an article about the Country Music Awards which referred to an artist called Chris Stapleton – he stole the show with two duet performances with Justin Timberlake (I have a secret crush on Justin Timberlake btw).  I’d never heard of him.  As you’ve hopefully now learned from these posts, my next move was to check out the impressively bearded man.  He has a decent heritage as a successful songwriter for other artists and had recently released his own solo album called Traveller (new album due soon).  It is the most gorgeous collection of soul searching tunes about life and love.  Soon after my introduction to Stapleton, a friend with a huge music knowledge and much tidier beard than all the fellas in the pictures, suggested tracks by The White Buffalo and a group called Blackberry Smoke.

The White Buffalo, or Jake Smith to his mum, has a larger solo output than Stapleton. He drew a wider audience after some of his music featured in the popular biker-club TV series Sons of Anarchy.  His most recent album, Love and the Death of Damnation, came out at about the same time as Stapleton’s Traveller.  His versatile voice lends a mournful tone to his musical stories which feature a gritty reality at their core.  Again – beautiful.

And so to Blackberry Smoke; a loveable crew of southern rockers with real variety to their repertoire.  They can do heavyish rock, classic country sound and funkier soulful stuff.  There’s often a little glint of humour about their output.  Apparently they are great live and have a reputation for being a hard working band.

I love the music these artists offer up, but I know next to nothing else about Americana/Southern Rock/Country.  The other day I was listening to Chris Stapleton’s new single and wondered where all the women of this genre are.  I’m not talking the old style female country singers we all know.  I’m talking the new generation.  Where are they?  I could go and do my own homework, but where’s the fun in that, when I have you guys to help me out?  I know at least 2 of you will know something about this.

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge.  What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?

 

 

Mikey Dread World War III – Discuss

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I’m pushed this week and totally disorganised, so I’ve not really thought this through. I’ll apologise now for the shambling attempt to rush out this post…!

I have a pretty reasonable reggae collection; bigger than I realised actually, when I pulled 3 boxes of vinyl out of the loft at the weekend only to find the majority of it was reggae and rap (intermingled with some dodgy acid jazz which hasn’t really dated very well!).  Despite listening to a variety of reggae over the years, I’ve always associated Mikey Dread with The Clash or as a producer rather than performer.  I don’t remember how I stumbled across this record, called World War III, which he released in 1980.  I love the fact that he delivers his warning messages with such an upbeat sound.  There’s a lovely dub feel to the whole thing, yet it’s not full on, head-pounding dub and he uses his voice to good effect, changing his style across the tracks (there’s an almost Eek-a-Mouse moment on one track and an almost Screaming Target moment on another).  I really like it.  I know reggae isn’t for everyone – I know plenty of people who can’t get on with it at all, but this is accessible.  I’m glad I found it.

It’s interesting isn’t it, when you think you know a genre quite well but it still has the capacity to surprise you by throwing up unknowns?  Has this ever happened to you? There are probably hundreds more reggae artists you can recommend to me who I’ve never heard of (especially newer ones).

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge.  What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?

 

 

Livy Ekemezie, Ebo Taylor and Mulatu Astatke – Discuss

I’ve stumbled upon several artists from African nations over the past few weeks and wanted to share them with you and get your opinions about their music.  In our collection at home we have a few albums by musicians from Africa; they are probably the usual suspects – Fela and Femi Kuti, Bhundu Boys, a couple of great compilations, a band from Ivory Coast called Magic System, which my brother in law bought for me after a trip to see my father in law, who lives in Ghana and one of their songs was constantly on the radio.  The recent death of William Onyeabor introduced me to his music.  Other than that, my shelves are pretty blank when it comes to music from this continent.

From various sources the following three artists came onto my radar.  All different and all fantastic.

Livy Ekemezie – Friday Night.  I know almost nothing about this fella other than he comes from Nigeria and this is a re-release of a long lost EP.  It’s so funky and just makes me want to dance!

Ebo Taylor – Ene Nyame ‘A’ Mensuro.  I know this guy comes from Ghana and this seems to be a remix of a track on an album of his from 1977.  Again really funky.

Mulatu Astatke – Yegelle Tezeta.  An Ethiopian jazz musician.  This track was sampled by Damian Marley and Nas on As We Enter (I think, but happy to be corrected).

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge.  What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?