Category: Talking Heads

(Re)Covered, XV: More covers of and from
Talking Heads, Pat Wictor, Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli & Paul Simon!

March 6th, 2010 — 10:32 pm

Our music library may be vast, but we’ve never claimed to be completists here at Cover Lay Down. There’s always something missed or previously unheard, and always something new, too, released just in time to taunt us in the aftermath of a topical post.

Serendipitous addenda come from fellow bloggers, readers, labels, artists and library visits into our welcoming ears and hands. From there, they make their way back to you via our (Re)Covered features, wherein we share new and newly-rediscovered songs that dropped into our laps just a bit too late to make it into earlier features.

Our recent post covering the Talking Heads songbook has proved to be immensely popular, netting huge surges in traffic after receiving mention from both Metafilter and Very Short List. As is generally the case, with popularity comes an increase in suggested also-rans, and though many of the songs readers sent along were not folk at all – for example, I had already considered and rejected Guster’s uber-funky alt-jamband take on Nothing But Flowers and Moxy Fruvous’ slammin’ live cover of Psycho Killer as far too rock for our readership, and passed over Miles Fisher’s electrocover as fun but far too weird, when compiling our original post – this Jason Spooner track, recommended by fellow Star Maker Machine regular FiL, is a great slow-burn acoustic folk jam that fits the bill perfectly.

In an interesting email exchange with Pat Wictor after our recent feature on the NY-based singer-songwriter attempted to used his recent career path to exemplify the challenges artists face in moving from “emerging” to “established”, Pat humbly suggested that I had made the common mistake of confusing buzz with name-recognition and much more typical under-the-radar career growth – an error all the more frustrating because I myself have addressed this issue of bloggers mistaking buzz concentration as an indicator of popularity in previous posts, specifically in regards to the shortened buzz-and-fall cycle which has accompanied the rise of the rapid-fire blogging world. Mea culpa.

As Pat points out, his career continues to grow, albeit in more subtle ways out of the “new artist” limelight; recent developments include growing audience sizes, his first major tours of California, Texas, the Midwest, and the Carolinas, and a move from opening act slots to co-bills in much larger spaces. But that doesn’t mean he’s rich and famous yet, folks. Instead, says Pat, he’s engaged in “the long, slow work of building an audience, person by person,” and that’s where a blog can be a fine vehicle, indeed. Here’s a matched set of subtly different covers of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Got To Move from Pat’s work with frequent stage-sharer and fellow 2006 Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist Abbie Gardner (of similarly up-and-growing folk trio Red Molly) – one from his album, one from hers – to help keep these artists on your radar where they belong.

We’ve featured local singer-songwriters and frequent touring companions Mark Erelli and Lori McKenna here in fits and starts over the years: our first-year Mother’s Day post offered a pair of now long-gone coversongs from the housewife-turned-singing sensation; the release of Mark’s 2008 album Delivered occasioned a similar subfeature, including several covers which have suffered the same fate.

But their recently recorded cover of Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now, which came to me via Bottom of the Glass, is a full-bore delight, with driving beat, lightness, and harmonies that lend a bit more hope and perhaps a touch more steel to what seemed to be an untouchable original. And sending you off to purchase the recent 1% For The Planet benefit compilation from which it comes is a great way to support ecological causes, to boot. As a bonus, in lieu of reviving old posts ad infinitum, I’ve included a few favorite othercovers from those previous posts.


Finally, in other covernews, the new Peter Gabriel all-covers album Scratch My Back is, by most accounts, sappy, maudlin, emotionless and tame; it wasn’t even that hard to find a reviewer willing to call it “the worst cover album in the history of cover albums.” But the good news is that it’s part of a reciprocal project, which means upcoming Peter Gabriel covers from each of the artists whose work Gabriel mangles on his own release. And if Paul Simon’s cover of Biko, released in tandem with Gabriel’s cover of Boy in the Bubble as the second “Double A-side” single from the project, is any indication, we’re in for a great ride.

Our Paul Simon cover feature is yet another part of our long-dead archives, and we’re surely overdue to revisit his songbook, so expect another round of Simon covers to come sometime in 2010. In the meanwhile, stay tuned to the usual indieblogs for Peter Gabriel covers from Bon Iver, Regina Spektor, and more in the weeks ahead.

As an added bonus, since we’re looking back that far today, here’s another stunning Peter Gabriel cover from an album featured in our very first post here at Cover Lay Down, way back in September of 2007.

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets every Wednesday and Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,100 comments » | (Re)Covered, Jason Spooner, Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads

Covered In Folk: Talking Heads
(featuring 6 covers of Naive Melody and 10 more!)

February 16th, 2010 — 03:17 pm

My brother was the Talking Heads fan in our household. As such, my strongest memories of the group are primarily visual: David Byrne in his trademark oversized suits; album cover images, most especially the stark black-and-tan cover of Stop Making Sense; the New Wave theatricality of the concert video espied in passing as I wandered through the living room looking for books.

By the time we were old enough to venture out to concerts on our own, the band, while technically still together, was primarily involved in solo projects, due in no small part to David Byrne’s tight hold on the musical output released under the Talking Heads moniker, and the resulting on-again off-again bad blood which lingered throughout much of their career as a foursome. Though we did spend a memorable evening in a basement dive bouncing around to Tom Tom Club, a spin-off from married musicians Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth which first formed in ’80, neither of us ever made it to a Talking Heads show, and now it’s two decades too late.

That’s not to say that I don’t recognize their songbook when I hear it, of course. Like so many of our Covered in Folk focal points, Talking Heads play a significant role in the radioplay of our culture. Though their entire reign produced but one American Top 10 hit (1983′s Burning Down the House), their songs are peripherally familiar, choruses heard in record shops while browsing, melodies locked in our heads from almost three decades of movie soundtrack placement and cultural cache.

Though their canon is oft-covered in the jamband world – Phish took on Remain in Light in its entirety for one of their infamous Halloween shows; Dave Matthews and Widespread Panic have recorded covers as well – there’s less Talking Heads coverage in the rest of the musical spectrum, leaving us pushing the definition of “folk” even more than usual in today’s top-heavy set. Yet there’s something about This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) that lends itself to folksong, as our broad set of covers of the song aptly demonstrate. And – as with any band so steeped in the popular consciousness – the songbook lingers, its neurosis-laden, experimental lyrics and easy-to-manage chord progressions available to all, leaving us with a few more gems from the folkworld.

    From the sparse and chilly drone-and-chant of The Old Believers to the fluid, pensive contemplation of Shawn Colvin’s cover, this paean to the feeling of home is the Talking Heads song that seems to offer the most flexible opportunities for coverage. Gunnar Madsen goes for the most delicate version, just guitar and faint jungle drums to match his strained voice; on the other end of the musical spectrum, Bloomington, Indiana rockers Mysteries of Life come in with an alt-country surf rock piece that, while not folk, has plenty of rootsy charm. Acoustic surf-rocker Trevor Green goes worldbeat with a laid-back jam. Even popular indierockers Arcade Fire come in for a turn on the tune, offering a folkrock take with a Jamaican touch, thanks to some well-placed steel drum.
    Yet another lo-fi bedroom cover from The Morning Benders. Though their new album reveals a band much more rock-oriented than their early covers release might have suggested, the raspy, unrehearsed band-around-the-campfire feeling serves the obscure selection quite well, I think.
    Originally recorded for an in-studio Paste session back in 2008, the rising stars of Irish folk rock strip it down to a singer-songwritery guitar-led indie folk ballad with just the right touch of banjo. Perhaps the most delicate cover in our short set, and – as such – a delicious treat from Bell X1.
    This Jim Bianco track comes from Robin Danar‘s mixed-bag all-covers Altered States collaborative collection – just one of many TV, film, and compilation appearances from one of indie music’s hardest-working singer-songwriters. A touch of Tom Waits’ vocal booziness and more than a hint of electro-americana blues make for an appropriately alien landscape of sound.
    Indie darlings The Editors go weary No Depression country rock in this live acoustic take, apocryphally from a 2008 BBC session.
    Okay, it verges on a track from one of those mass-produced “Pickin’ On” cover albums. But the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers are a true-blue bona fide newgrass jamband whose cover comes off like a bluegrass Led Zeppelin, and they get bonus points for demonstrating that there was a picker’s lazy delight hiding in here all along.
    A deliberately mellow, bossa-beat cover from Prozak for Lovers II, Bruce Lash‘s oft-maudlin yet oddly endearing attempt to transform popular songs of disenfranchisement and alienation into something soothing and warm. Lash’s virtual acoustic gigs in Second Life under the name Winston Ackland are well worth finding, if you’re into that sort of thing.
    Roadhouse bluesrock from the reigning queen of white-girl electric guitar blues, recorded live and released on mid-nineties double disc Road Tested.

Bonus points today for a pair of delicate covers from David Byrne’s prolific solo career, plus a surprisingly sensitive take on Richard Thompson from the man himself.

As always, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to promote the continuation of folk music; if you like what you hear, we encourage you to follow the links above to purchase and support the next generation of folk.

That said: our month-long “pay it forward” promotion ends tomorrow at the stroke of midnight, and our bandwidth bills are running sky-high these days. DONATE to Cover Lay Down today without delay, and we’ll regift 20% of your generous donation to Doctors without Borders, and another 20% to our local food bank.

As a very special thank you, all donors to Cover Lay Down will receive our Summer 09 Festival Coverfolk Bootleg, an exclusive 17 song compilation of coverfolk featuring Old Crow Medicine Show, Sarah Jarosz, Tim O’Brien, Crooked Still, Tracy Grammer, and more, recorded live by yours truly, and available nowhere else. Click here for more details, and to tender your gift. Thanks, as always, for supporting our collaborative mission.

1,958 comments » | Covered in Folk, Talking Heads

Shawn Colvin, Cover Girl:From Tom Waits to the Talking Heads (and then some)

October 5th, 2007 — 03:44 pm

The profitability of cover albums may be indirect for artists, but as a way to raise awareness, it’s a masterstroke. Way back when genres meant something, the internet hadn’t changed our music distribution models, and the Adult Alternative label hadn’t subsumed well-produced folk music, recording a cover album was a sneaky strategy for folk musicians to broaden the listener base and please the fans all at once.

Shawn Colvin‘s 1989 debut Steady On garnered her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and deservedly so: the combination of Colvin’s polished, slightly southern-twanged voice and co-writer and producer John Leventhal’s lush sound made for seminal work of modern folk, irresistible to those of us looking for the next Suzanne Vega. But Colvin’s sophomore Fat City was less well received — as with so many musicians who spend decades honing that first pressing, the gems were fewer for the second go-round. How to broaden and recover that fresh-faced folk appeal?

Enter Cover Girl, a 1994 album which primarily took covers from Colvin’s live recordings (a staple of the on-the-road folksinger) and added a few in-studio layers of bass and atmospheric noise. The end product required little studio time or rehearsal for Colvin; the strategy allowed her to remain in the public eye while she worked up her next album of original material, and it paid off in music and reputation, if not in actual sales.

Though one or two Cover Girl tracks suffer from overproduction — including, sadly, her cover of The Police’s Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic — the hit-to-miss ratio here is high. Colvin’s simple guitar and little-girl voice breathe new life into a wide swath of material, from bluesman Chris Smither’s Killing the Blues to Band b-side Twilight. Here, we hear her bring backroads innocence to one of two Tom Waits cuts, and her wistful, melodic take on a Talking Heads synthpop classic:

  • Shawn Colvin, This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) (orig. Talking Heads)
  • Shawn Colvin, Looking For The Heart of Saturday Night (orig. Tom Waits)

Colvin appears not to sell her CDs direct from her website, so instead of directing you to buy today’s featured album via the artist, I’ll note that you can, and should, get Cover Girl for $7.69 at CDUniverse.

Today’s bonus covertracks:

  • Colvin covers Simon and Garfunkel’s The Only Living Boy in New York (live)
  • folkcombo Salamander Crossing try Colvin’s Shotgun Down The Avalanche
  • Alison Krauss makes funky, fast bluegrass of Colvin’s I Don’t Know Why

1,098 comments » | Alison Krauss, Cover Girl, Salamander Crossing, Shawn Colvin, Simon and Garfunkel, Talking Heads, Tom Waits