Author Archive

May 7, 2012

Run for Cover! — A Kenny Darling Mix

They say the greatest form of flattery is imitation. And to me there are a number of things that make for an interesting cover. Maybe the cover improved upon something for you. Maybe you like a song, but always wanted to hear a punk rock version of it, or a more stripped down version. Maybe you just always wanted to hear William Shatner sing a Pulp song. Right? Either way, for whatever reason, people love a good cover.

For a while now I’ve been wanting to make a mix of some of my favorite covers. So here it is! I don’t claim these are the most important covers of all time, or that they’re all better than the originals or anything like that. But these are a combination of songs I loved growing up, covers that I think do good justice to the original, and a few songs that just seem strange and wonderful to me. Yes, I know there’s way too much Leonard Cohen… but is there? Can there ever really be too much Cohen? Well, without further ado. Click the link below to hear the songs. Or if you don’t have Spotify, and refuse to get it, just read the track listing below and hunt the songs down on your favorite site. Cheers!

Run for Cover!

1. Red House Painters – All Mixed Up (The Cars)

2. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins – Handle With Care (The Traveling Wilburys)

3. She & Him – You Really Got A Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson)

4. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)

5. Calexico – Alone Again, Or – (Love)

6. The Get Up Kids – Close To Me (The Cure)

7. Talking Heads – Take Me To the River (Al Green)

8. Rufus Wainwright – Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (Leonard Cohen)

9. Fiona Apple – Across the Universe (The Beatles)

10. Jarvis Cocker – I Can’t Forget (Leonard Cohen)

11. William Shatner – Common People (Pulp)

12. NOFX – Vincent (Don McLean)

13. Cake – I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

14. Joe Cocker – Withe a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles)

May 2, 2012

Albums You Should Own By Now: Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’

Van Morrison has said that Astral Weeks was recorded in two eight-hour sessions, with a few hours of overdubs. For an album that has been heralded by every music publication you can name as one of the most influential albums of all time, that is pretty remarkable. As a musician, it’s nothing short of maddening.

In 1967 Morrison released his first solo album, Blowin’ Your Mind, on Bang Records. The album included the hit, “Brown Eyed Girl” and was originally to be released as a group of singles. Morrison later said that he wasn’t aware of the album’s existence until a friend of his called to say he’d purchased a copy. This is indicative of the relationship he and Bang Records had. At one point, Ilene Berns, wife of owner Bert Berns, used a clause in Morrison’s contract to try to have him deported. It’s said that after Bert’s untimely death in late ’67, Ilene blamed the tension between him and Morrison for his heart attack.

In early ’68 Morrison was being held out of the studio. Most club owners in New York wouldn’t book him for fear of retaliation from the record company. But after his girlfriend agreed to marry him, assuring he wouldn’t be deported, he moved to Massachusetts and began playing acoustic gigs in coffeehouses and bars. At first it was just Morrison on guitar and Tom Kielbania playing stand up bass (man I wish I could have seen that), and eventually he’d add a flautist. The down-scaled band freed Morrison to try a more improvised approach with his vocals.

In early ’68 Warner Bros. Records signed on to put out a Van Morrison record, likely imagining they’d be getting more pop hits like “Brown Eyed Girl.” But when a Warner Bros. producer went to one of the “coffeehouse” shows and heard Van playing what would later become the titular track from Astral Weeks, he said he literally broke down and cried. He completely identified with the direction Morrison was heading in and wanted very badly to record his next album.

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March 14, 2012

Albums You Should Own By Now: Pixies, ‘Doolittle’

In 1994 I was a thirteen-year-old kid so painfully shy and awkward that it must have been difficult for adults to look at me without showing their pity. In hindsight we all know that eighth grade is like that for most of us, but when you’re going through it, it is the single most isolating feeling ever. I’m not even sure why they force children to go to classes during the early teen years. We were all so focused on trying to find our social identity and figure out how we fit in that we really didn’t absorb much else. Most schools re-teach all of the same stuff in ninth grade that you were taught in seventh and eighth.

I bring this up because that was the year that I began to find my social identity and figure out how I fit into it all. It was that year, just across the street from my junior high, that a pretty girl with pink hair gave me a cassette tape with a colored pencil drawing of a cheerleader with X’s over her eyes on the cover and one simple, beautiful word across the top: Pixies. That tape changed everything.

I had never heard of them, but Anna was really pretty and she smoked cigarettes. She had pink hair and she always looked like she’d just woken up … but in really hot way. So when she gave me the tape and said, “Check this out, this band always reminds me of you,” I pretty much fell in love with her and Pixies immediately.

For the longest time I thought the tape was a sort of “best of” that Anna had put together. It wasn’t until a year later when I started hanging out at punk shows that I found out the truth. The tape I’d been listening to non-stop. The album I’d nearly worn out in a year was in fact, in its correct order, the album Doolittle.

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February 20, 2012

Leonard Cohen’s new album filled with old ideas and new frontiers

From the first lyric of the album, “I love to speak with Leonard. He’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard, living in a suit,” Leonard Cohen welcomes you to his thoughts and reflections on being human. And yes, this sounds like the Leonard Cohen you’re hoping for.

The subject matter of his newest album, Old Ideas, is both familiar and new to fans of Cohen. We all recognize his incredibly defined voice.  His deep, comforting, almost monotone, vocals are as much a trademark of his music as his profound and often provocative words. Both feel right at home with songs about love and perversion, the balance — and at times, the battle — between the animal and the intellectual that live inside us all.

The soft piano and the gospel choir singing back up on “Show Me the Place” are contrasted by the dark, bluesy drive of the following song, “The Darkness.” And while this is one example, every song holds its own against the previous, almost as if the album flows in defiance of expectation, changing and shrugging at predictability.

The album’s constant twists keep you on your toes. Some of the songs feel like familiar territory for the road-worn poet, but it never feels like he’s rehashing something or treading shallow water. Cohen has always dealt with the human condition masterfully, and on Old Ideas he tackles everything head on. We may be used to some of the subject matter, but with age, Cohen’s ability to expose his thoughts on sex, death and love have only grown stronger and more lucid.

There’s an underlying tone to the album though — one that changes the way you listen to it — it is unsaid, but it is heavily explored within these songs.

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February 3, 2012

Bhi Bhiman, American Songwriter

There’s a famous Pablo Picasso quote to the effect of, “…Good artists borrow and great artists steal.” And while listening to, Bhi Bhiman’s newest album, Bhimanthis phrase kept creeping to the forefront of my mind. What did Picasso mean by that? And how does it change the way we reflect on new art?

While still a relatively new artist, Bhi has already drawn comparison to everyone from John Prine to Cat StevensYesI know those are two completely different musicians — barely comparable in their own right — but that gives you an idea of the broad range of comparisons he’s been shackled with. I use the term “shackled” because I rarely see these sorts of comparisons as accurate or fair, and usually they end up giving you a watered-down idea of the music.

Bhi’s songs are sometimes a little quirky and do have certain humor to them (which is where the John Prine comparison probably comes from), but besides the occasional accuracy in contrasting two artists, it’s just a lazy way to describe music.

I think there’s a ton of music out there that’s easily identifiable as derived, and sometimes it’s easy to connect the dots and see where the artist’s influences are rooted. So we then describe music as, “kind of sounding like this band,” or, “kind of like that, only harder,” and while maybe there’s nothing terrible about describing music via comparison, it’s certainly noteworthy that it’s a shortcut to using adjectives.

Sorry, getting a little off topic. The point being, there’s a difference between borrowing and stealing in music — and in all art.

What I take from the Picasso quote above is that it isn’t that difficult to mimic something you’ve seen or heard, but that it takes great skill and talent to understand the things that influence you and to use them to make something new. It takes an artist to really make the art their own and to do so thoughtfully.

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