Category: Clem Snide

The Folkier Side of Eef Barzelay/Clem Snide:
covers of Journey, Daniel Johnston, Christina Aguilera, Lou Reed & more!

July 5th, 2011 — 02:47 pm

Eef Barzelay’s voice is whiny and pinched, more like Daniel Johnston than anyone else on the circuit, though without the atonality and lack of rhythmic sense which so characterizes the man he often covers in concert. His on-again off-again band, Clem Snide, which he reformed in 2009 after a pair of Barzelay-only solo records, lists themselves as a kind of alt-countrified indie rock, and tends to perform in a slightly nerdy, postmodern grunge vein, resulting in a sparse deadpan sensibility reminiscent of their namesake, a character who appears in several novels by William S. Burroughs.

And though they appeared alongside other darlings of the indie set on the retro-covers Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack, and their song Moment in the Sun was chosen as the theme song for the second season of the quirky anti-sitcom Ed – a fitting match, given the series’ deep exploration of social popularity and self-esteem – they’re hardly mainstream, and generally not considered folk.

And yet. There’s something of the post-revival folk singer in Barzelay’s songwriting, and in the tenderness the Israeli-born, New Jersey-bred singer-songwriter brings to his deeply confessional, often surprisingly hopeful lyrics. Barzelay’s folk credibility is there on paper, too, after spending a few years in the NY-based Sidewalk café anti-folk scene in the mid-nineties. Poignant and hilarious in equal measure, much of his work, both with and without his Clem Snide compatriots, features an indiefolk gentleness, and the delicacy that we associate with the popfolk crowd – indeed, like the Journey cover below, a number of the covers released under the Clem Snide moniker seem to actually be just Eef himself, in the studio or on stage.

His taste in coverage, and his tendency to reinvent the songs he takes on, are legendary: the Asia and Eddie Money covers below are totally transformed; his recent six-song EP, which takes on the songs of underground alt-country couple The Transmissionary Six, is a masterpiece. And even in their louder moments, such as their thrashing, smashing, anthemic Christina Aguilera cover, there’s something of the modern festival-bound folkrock band in the way Clem Snide takes on their craft, with equal nods to Oysterband and Fairport Convention, Neil Young and R.E.M. in the beat, the bass, and the beauty.

Recently, Clem Snide announced a new EP of Journey covers after a successful visit to the AV Club – as evidence of their fan base, their kickstarter campaign brought in four times the necessary cash; as a total bonus, a couple of dozen people paid 150 each to have the band record a cover of their choice, promising more coverage by far in the coming months and years. Even more fun: on their website, the band sells both three song “personal recordings” and the opportunity to write a song for you for 100 bucks. Now that’s new media leverage at its finest, well within the folkways of the 21st century.

As always, we’ll keep our ears to the ground on your behalf for that upcoming coverage. In the meanwhile, here’s some favorites from the archives.

43 comments » | Clem Snide, Eef Barzelay, The Folkier Side Of...

Covered In Folk: Lou Reed / The Velvet Underground (Of second generation anti-folk and modern indie kids)

October 19th, 2007 — 10:57 am

Alt-folk artist and producer Joe Henry and I are doing double duty today, folks: Henry’s amazing cover of Pale Blue Eyes appears below, but I’ve also guest-posted a write-up of his coverwork over at Disney cover blog Covering The Mouse for this month’s “When You Wish Upon A Star Week”. Thanks to CTM host Kurtis for inviting me over to play, and don’t forget to head on over for the bonus Joe Henry tuneage after you’re finished here!

It’s hard to mistake Lou Reed for a folk artist. As primary songwriter for pre-grunge, early lo-fi champions Velvet Underground, Reed wrote for a sound wailing with feedback and screaming with the heady rush of an early rock and drug culture. And though the simpler streetmajesty of his early solo work, most notably 1972 single Take a Walk on the Wild Side, comes across as not so far off in both voice and production from contemporaries Leonard Cohen (a true folkie) or Springsteen (who has always teetered on the folk-rock edge), his work over the last few decades has tended more towards the odd, the electronic, and the experimental.

But many of today’s singer-songwriters cut their teeth on their parent’s Velvet Underground records long before the colored girls sang “doot doo doot” on classic rock radio. And Reed’s songwriting, its vivid imagery grounded in the muted browns and grays of streetcorners and the seamy underbelly of urban life, still speaks to a generation growing up alienated from place, in part by the very medium that carries these words from me to you. Covers of Lou Reed’s work are everywhere, and more often than not, they sound like folk.

Today in celebration of the singer-songwriter as folk artist, we present a quintet of Lou Reed covers by a set of musicians from the periphery of folk. The cuts below mostly feature young and blog-popular indie musicians, though I’m allowing father figure Joe Henry into the fold because of his work producing such neo-folk musicians as Teddy Thompson and ani difranco. Though few of these folks self-identify as folk artists, their primarily acoustic, rough-voiced, low-production styles ground them in the genre nonetheless, even as these same qualities call to the original tone and temper of Reed’s beautifully brokenvoiced anthems of broken boulevards and counterculture dreams.

  • Martha Berner, Sunday Morning (orig. Reed/Cale)
  • Clem Snide, I’ll Be Your Mirror
  • Cat Power, I Found a Reason
  • Iron and Wine w/ Calexico, All Tomorrow’s Parties
  • Joe Henry, Pale Blue Eyes

If you’re old, like me, you’ve probably got your old Velvet Underground and Lou Reed albums packed away on their original vinyl format; you can upgrade for the digital age here, and get Lou Reed’s newer work via Hi Fidelity.

All other artists listed today sell their disks directly through their web pages or labels; just click on their names to buy and browse: Martha Berner, Clem Snide, Cat Power, Iron and Wine w/ Calexico, Joe Henry.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

302 comments » | Calexico, Cat Power, Clem Snide, Covered in Folk, Dan Zanes, Iron and Wine, Joe Henry, John Cale, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Martha Berner, Velvet Underground