Category: Rolling Stones

Covered in Alt-Country: Paint It Black
…with TWO exclusive tracks from the impending Stones tribute!

April 23rd, 2011 — 11:11 am

It’s shaping up to be Tributes and Cover Compilations week here at Cover Lay Down, thanks to a wave of strong cover albums coming over the dam in the next few weeks. Today, we kick off our take on this delightful collection of new and impending coverage early with a look at the newest in Rolling Stones tributes – including two exclusive tracks never before heard outside the studio.

Tribute producer Jim Sampas, whose stellar indie covers collection Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute To Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home hit the ground running back in October, is at it again with Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute To The Rolling Stones, due to drop May 17th on his own Reimagine Music label. And though this time around we’re among the first to note its existence, this isn’t the last you’ll hear of it: the album features strong showings from some of our favorite acts on and around the folk/alt-country line – Cowboy Junkies, Hem, Over The Rhine, Great Lake Swimmers, The Handsome Family and more – and Jim’s reputation among both print press and in the blogosphere is top-notch, for good reason.

It’s daring to take on such a well-known canon – though there are surprisingly few tribute albums out there, as our June 2010 feature demonstrates aptly, the Rolling Stones have been covered almost as thoroughly in the last half century as Dylan himself. But as we noted previously, where too many cover albums drift aimlessly, trading off the strength of a few gems, Sampas – the guiding light behind two of the decade’s strongest album-centered tribute albums, turn-of-the-century alt-country-to-popfolk Springsteen tribute Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and 2005 indie Beatles tribute This Bird Has Flown – has made a name for himself curating genre-focused cover compilations which flow smoothly and successfully from one track to the next.

And Paint It Black is no exception – another great addition to the Sampas canon, chock full of slide guitars, harmonica, and brushed drumhead beats, its reinterpretations updated sparingly if at all with modern indiepop and country rock sensibilities. Each track is a gem, each transition another revelation: everything fits, and everything works. It’s like listening to your favorite late-night radio station when the DJ is in the perfect groove.

The song selection on Paint It Black is strong, too: the album contains a solid mix of popular hits and lesser known gems from the Stones’ catalog, in a sequence which neither features nor hides songs of either category.

But much of the success of this particular tribute is due to the collective efforts of the group of artists which appear on the album. Modern alt-country is a big tent, and Sampas’ hand-picked roster pushes against its boundaries by putting exceptional alt-country efforts from acts who generally self-identify as singer-songwriter, indie, and folk rock alongside pitch-perfect performances from more familiar members of the alt-country school.

The result is a broad, sprawling collection that works. Great Lake Swimmers kick things off with a gentle, summery indie breeze of Before They Make Me Run; from there, until Anders Parker’s scratchy, atmospheric Coming Down Again closes the record, the coverage bursts with diversity, running the gamut without skipping a beat.

Hem’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want is a triumphant ballad, sweet and honest, a sublime, well-orchestrated track reminiscent of the Band; Giant Sand’s Jumping Jack Flash, meanwhile, is sexy, dark and dirty, a low-key bass-and-piano barrelhouse with echoes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits. On the title cut, Brian Ritchey’s flowing strings and piano build majestically from aching gypsy balladry to classical seventies to guitar-smashing nineties rock and back again to rest. Boston-based Barbara Kessler’s lovely version of You Got The Silver swings smashing, slide-guitar-driven countryfolk. And the Handsome Family surprises us all with a true-blue half-spoken country tune, with a touch of modern cowboy punk that perfectly suits Faraway Eyes.

Elsewhere, Cowboy Junkies turn in a slow, sultry Moonlight Mile that takes a surprisingly grungy turn before pulling back towards sweetness. Over The Rhine’s piano, slide, and vocals drift etherial over Waiting On A Friend; Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos channel Dr. John, John Prine, David Gray and Gram Parsons in a pitch-perfect, surprisingly novel turn on Wild Horses. Newly reunited alt-country mainstays Blue Mountain smash through Torn And Frayed like the SXSW-veteran country-roots bar band they are. And on the other end of the alt-country spectrum, the driving beats, tinkly synth patterns, anthemic electric guitar, and echoey vocals of Matthew Ryan’s take on Streets of Love owe as much to top 40 hits from U2, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol, and Springsteen’s highest-concept radiopop Streets of Philadelphia, as it does to the original.

Even those acts I had never heard of – Everest, who channels the Rolling Stones’ rollicking, ragged, acoustic hollers; The Bittersweets, whose deliberate, soaring vocals and slow ringing waves of sound on Loving Cup remind one of Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin- don’t fail to impress. And though I would have loved to hear Mary Gauthier solo here, Dear Doctor, which features Lee Harvey Osmond and Gauthier in harmony throughout, turns out to be a slow duet with harmonica and acoustic guitar, with back-porch vocals that channel Emmylou and Graham’s recognizable alt-country approach quite well, indeed.

As with Subterranean Homesick Blues, thanks to Jim, I’ve been given permission to drop a pair of tracks on you early, in anticipation of what is sure to be a strong wave of appreciation from coverbloggers and alt-country watchers alike once Paint It Black starts picking up steam. And as before, picking just two is a challenge, both because the album works so well as a start-to-finish alt-country journey through the Stones catalog, and because practically all of these cuts are strong enough to cut through the fog.

To be fair, it was tempting to pick tracks from those artists who would net us the most hits on the aggregators. But we’re audiophiles, not populists, here at Cover Lay Down – our goal, as always, is to ply coverage as a tool to introduce you to musicians you may not yet have grown to love. In this case, then, though I highly recommend the entire album from start to finish, I’ve merely aimed for a nod towards our mandate, and selected two delightful tracks from artists I’m still discovering myself: Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos, whose dreamy Wild Horses is some of the best roots music I’ve heard in ages, and Hem, whose decision to turn The Rolling Stones’ sixties anthem You Can’t Always Get What You Want into a country waltz is a startlingly successful, absolutely irresistible proof of concept for the album itself. Enjoy.

Looking for some bonus tracks? It was tempting to close today’s feature with a smorgasbord of previous coverage of the Rolling Stones, but we’ve done it before. And as always, we’re here first and foremost to make the connection between folk artists and fan – and as with Jim Sampas’ previous project, this new tribute album is as much about the artists, and the producer and label-owner, who have come to the table with vision as it is about the songs themselves. So here’s an alt-country-and-beyond covers collection, featuring a few more artists featured on Paint It Black.

763 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Rolling Stones, Tribute Albums

Covered in Folk: The Rolling Stones
(on coverage beyond blues, ballads, and basic rock & roll)

June 1st, 2010 — 10:42 pm

There’s little a humble folkblogger could add to the cultural conversation about the Rolling Stones. Heck, without a quick glance at Wikipedia, I can’t even name all the players, though after three and a half decades of modern radio culture, I can certainly hum along with their radio hits.

There’s certainly no dearth of Stones covers out there, either. Yet interestingly, though the songs of Jagger and Richards seem to lend themselves to soul, heavy metal, and both mainstream and alt-country wonderfully, I find few covers from the folkworld in my collection. Oh, sure: Wild Horses strips down wonderfully; Angie, too, though both are more often covered as rock ballads, or plaintive pianopop. But for a band so steeped in the blues and gospel traditions, it seems like there should be much more to offer from the acoustic side of the music world.

It’s tempting to point to the predominantly adolescent bent of the lyrical content, or the jangly rock framework which the Stones adopt in so many of their greatest hits, in explaining why the Jagger/Richards compositions are less obvious a choice for folk coverage than, say, Townes Van Zandt or The Beatles, or even R.E.M. Personally, I think the vast majority of their songbook is so guitar riff and beat-driven, and their performance so driven by Jagger’s over-the-top delivery, that boiling out these essentials doesn’t always retain the essence of the songs. At least one failed experiment in this vein – the utterly bloodless, comprehensively boring New Licks: A Tribute To The Rolling Stones – lends credence to my theory.

Perhaps its time for a renaissance, regardless. In the meanwhile, there’s plenty of authentic emotion to be found in these choice covers from the folkworld and its fringes.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

  • Pianofolk chanteuse Allison Crowe covers The Rolling Stones’ Shine A Light, and Danny Barnes covers Willie Johnson’s Let Your Light Shine On Me, alongside 10 more folk covers of songs about light.

1,035 comments » | Covered in Folk, Rolling Stones