Archive for August 2012

Covered In Folk: Madonna

August 29th, 2012 — 04:21 pm

Ah, Madonna. Icon of my childhood, tormenter of my taste; a woman who gets little respect from the iconoclasts for her increasingly dated output, though she merits no small stature for her role as the Lady Gaga of our generation, reinventing herself for every tour and album, offering a plethora of feminist pathways in the process.

To be fair, the original material girl is quite talented, in a multitude of arts and genres, and her ongoing insistence on both artistic and economic autonomy, which has made her the best-selling female recording artist of all time, makes her a powerful prototype for the modern post-indie success story. Still, though I respect those who respect her in turn, my own teenage flirtation with the woman was so fleeting, I can barely remember the sense in it. And as far as the folk crowd goes, this distancing has been well within in the mainstream until quite recently indeed.

When back in 2008, I wrote that …the wholesale reinvention which typifies Madonna, both as a musician and a cultural icon, is essentially anathema to the whole authenticity thing that practically defines the folkworld; as such, it’s especially hard to find earnest acoustic covers of Madonna songs, it was true: with the major exception of Through The Wilderness, a deliciously imperfect 2007 indiefolk-and-then-some tribute that scratched the edges of more broad and diverse potential in the songs of the chameleon-esque Ms. M., the coverage canon consisted of punk, electronica, pop, cheese, and a couple of previously-posted covers from male powerhouse popfolkies Ryan Adams (Like A Virgin) and Jack Johnson and G. Love (Holiday), both of whom can be heard laughing their way through their own performances. And the rest of the archive offered little better, either: from John Wesley Harding’s 2005 holiday release of Like A Prayer to Picturehouse’s angsty, whiny 2001 Papa Don’t Preach to the Meat Purveyor’s inevitably yodel-laden bluegrass Madonna medley to to Barenaked Ladies’ oft-bootlegged live cover of Material Girl, for acoustic takes, tongue-in-cheek, it seemed, was the inevitable output.

But time has a way of fuzzing the edges. Here it is 2012, and with Madonna off the charts, her cultural cachet transforms into that of an emeritus. Suddenly, though she has been relegated in real life to a Superbowl halftime nod and gossip page also-ran, she also becomes a revisited songstress worth re-envisioning, her songs ripe for sincerity – and if these relatively recent transformations are any indication, the songbook deserves its newfound respectful treatment. And through it is true that, through this lens, versions which lingered on the edge of validity before now seem fresher, and more real – see, for example, slightly older post-millennial cuts from both Asian uke-and-vox coverband Petty Booka and countryfolkers Texas Lightning below – even in this new context, only a few prove themselves harbingers.

So listen as the spectrum widens, and a broad set of artists transcend nostalgia to give their own earnest voices to the canon of our pop childhoods: from sharp to mellow, glum to gleeful, tender to tense, their bouquets as diverse as fine cheese and aged wines, their tunes and timbres transformed.

…and we’re back! Thanks to all for your patience as we struggled with work, family, personal injury, and the summertime blues over the last two months. Stay tuned for a preview tour of a several great local fall folk and bluegrass festivals and concerts later this weekend!

3 comments » | Madonna

Let It Be: Of Returning, and the Power of Tribute

August 13th, 2012 — 01:24 pm

It’s been a full month since I last appeared in these pages, and the usual battery of excuses hold: a busy life, a decent dollop of pain management, the classroom teacher’s summer modality that drags at the incentivist’s heart, technical difficulties (including an audio drive crash that has trapped my music archives in read-only form) and that excruciating, ever-widening, frozen gulf of that daunts those who have shirked their bi-weekly task.

As in previous lapses, being away has also reminded me of how deeply I need this outlet. Not a day has gone by where my heart does not long to write, to reach out and connect, to share with all of you the findings of a life in coverage, and the seeker’s life in turmoil that prompts me to continue. My decade-long conversion towards living a life of social justice and generosity finds me coming back to these pixelated pages more and more. And finally, the dam has burst, filling the chasm to the brim; finally, we are here, in yet another beginning.

But unlike previous returnings, today is not about me. Though the emotional power of coverage is often buried in the sheer and subjective joy of finding the familiar transformed, today’s toe-in-the-water is a full-bore exemplar of what a cover can really be, for audience and artist, on for which I am proud to serve as mere node and nudger.

The nut: on July 5th, cover artist and attorney Mike Masse‘s infant son Noah was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Two weeks later – on Noah’s first birthday, no less – Mike released a version of a song originally written by Paul McCartney both in tribute to his own mother’s cancer, and in an attempt to address and assuage the pain of process which was breaking up the Beatles partnership – and, not incidentally, the first Beatles single released after Paul announced his departure from the band.

Is it folk in sound and sensibility? No matter. Masse has always been a favorite in my YouTube collection – his pizza-palace take on Behind Blue Eyes is worthy of its own celebration – and sure enough, his pitch-perfect take on Let It Be is stunningly beautiful, enough to have topped the charts in the Netherlands in the weeks following its release. But coupled with its backstory, its implicit condemnation of the way American society treats families battling cancer, and its viability as a fundraiser for Noah’s support, it is also a genuine heartbreaker. The resulting video (and the mp3, which comes to anyone willing to donate to Noah’s cause) brings hope, acceptance, desperation more presently than I have heard in months, as we are simultaneously reminded of the song’s power, and granted access to the pain of the performance.

We’ll be back later this week with a more traditional entry, to be followed by several long-overdue posts on up-and-coming festivals, performances, and artists near and dear to our ears and heart. For now, though, we bring Masse’s tribute, solo and unadorned with bonus track distraction, as an opening into the heart that beats behind the blog, and the world it tries, in its better moments, to reveal. Expect shivers, and tears, throughout: for the song and its context, and then, finally, for the laughter that closes the video.

2 comments » | Uncategorized