Category: KT Tunstall

KT Tunstall Covers: Radiohead, Beck, Missy Elliot, Bloc Party, Jackson 5 *now updated w/ US acoustic tour info*

March 5th, 2008 — 02:45 pm

You might be surprised to find radio popstar darling KT Tunstall on a blog devoted to exploring the boundaries and possibilities of folk. Thanks to our shufflesong culture, many people never truly explore the work of artists like Tunstall beyond chart-toppers like Hold On and Suddenly I See, to name but two beat-heavy guilty pleasures of mine which have infiltrated every inch of our sonic culture.

But I’ve long had this Grammy nominee’s sweet, simple Under The Weather, with its thick, mellow guitarstrum and longing, trapped in the part of my skull I use for folkmusic. In fact, if you go back to her albums, I think you’ll find that a vast majority of KT Tunstall’s work is comparable to the singer-songwriter fare of a post-production Kathleen Edwards, Paula Cole, or Aimee Mann.

Trying to reconcile the sweeter, folkier sounds of her less-heard album cuts with the funky modern edge of her more memorable singles led me to KT Tunstall’s Wikipedia entry, which — sure enough — reinforced my suspicions by claiming her legitimacy as a folk musician. Which brings us here, today, to explore the folkier side of KT Tunstall.

I am constantly confused by the relationship between pop and folk music; apparently, so is my local library, which files such staple folk musicians as Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams in the Pop section. But such placement is not arbitrary — near as I can tell, it’s the production of these albums which matters to them. And sure enough, the recorded output of Williams, Colvin, and a whole generation of modern singer-songwriters is produced as if for pop radioplay.

There’s a whole range of artists who genuinely do fall into this folkpop camp, and many of them, like Joan Osborne and Ani DiFranco, identified as folk artists first. But while I think self-definition matters, we here at Cover Lay Down think genre identification is in the sound as much as the sensibility. If this is folk — and I think it is — then we’d be remiss in not calling attention to the best of it when it passes by.

Luckily, it is no stretch to give KT Tunstall the folk treatment. Though her Top 40 work is produced with an eye towards a particularly modern, stomp-and-clap britpop sound, her background, her preference for acoustic guitarplay and balladry, and her live performance belie a sense of song as fundamentally happening between herself, her strings, and her audience. KT Tunstall has a singer-songwriter soul inside her popstar performer mentality, and I like that: it means tasty beats in hit-single production, but plenty of intimate folky cuts between the singles, and lots of stripped-down selections in her live performances.

The glee with which she reconstructs Missy Elliot’s Get Your Freak On – as seen in the video clip below – is ample evidence: though her penchant towards coversong choices is more rock and roll than anything else, with or without her everpresent foot pedal, Tunstall plays like a folkin’ busker. Even in her more upbeat moments. And that ain’t bad.

Tunstall’s had a big week in the popworld: a newly-released UK single, and a stunning new video for If Only, can only cement her reputation as one of this generation’s bright shining popstars. But if your folkbrain has already forgotten the softer folkpop of her first album, skipped past the moodier cuts on Drastic Fantastic, or missed entirely her sophomore fan release Acoustic Extravaganza, these deep tracks and live cuts that have been making the blogrounds may help you, too, reconsider KT Tunstall’s cred as the modern queen of Scottish folk. The first two cuts are b-sides on her new UK single for If Only, so I’m streaming them in the hopes that my UK readers will pick it up; the rest are already out there, so enjoy.

Bonus VIDEO CLIP: How KT Tunstall builds Get Your Freak On solo in the studio:

Samples of (and videos for) KT Tunstall’s three major releases are all over her website; links there go to UK Amazon, but our US readers can find her work almost everywhere with little difficulty. Folkfans might start with Acoustic Extravaganza, which is now widely available, but all three albums come with my highest recommendation. (And it’s not a cover, but like the video for Under The Weather, the new ski-themed video for If Only has an organic folk authenticity; if you missed the link above, check it out here.)

UPDATE: more evidence for KT Tunstall’s acoustic heart comes to us today via Glide Magazine, which announces that her first major US tour in May “will be a close up personal affair, with Tunstall on acoustic guitar duties while the rest of the band perform various other unplugged acoustic instruments, such as double bass, harmonium, and mandolin.”

Today’s bonus coversongs sample a few other well-produced female singer-songwriters covering songs at the intersection of folk and pop:

967 comments » | Beck, Bloc Party, KT Tunstall, Missy Elliot, Radiohead, The Bangles, White Stripes

Beck Covers: Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, The Flaming Lips, Nick Drake

November 12th, 2007 — 05:36 pm

I saw Beck from a great distance in the heyday of Odelay, sandwiched between Primus and Toad the Wet Sprocket: it was the early nineties, it was Horde, we were bopping on the throbbing lawn, and folk was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Fifteen years later I’m married to the girl I took to the concert, Beck’s still cranking out the pophits, my hard drive is stuffed with folk music, and I pick up every Beck album as it comes out.

Is Beck a folk musician? Not if measured by his hits, no. Technically, his most popular work is post-modern alt-rock, if anything. But there’s plenty of reasons why Wikipedia includes the artist formerly known as Bek David Campbell in its list of American folk singers, and uses the term “folk song” to describe a vast swath of his work (I swear, it said that even before I showed up). Beck spent his early days as a busker and coffeeshop player, which gives him the folk street cred; he even opened for Johnny Cash in 1995. He can play a slide guitar and twang his postadolescent voice like no one’s business; some of his songs from that period and before come across as almost alt-country.

Beck’s songwriting, too, lends itself well to the cadence of the folksinger, as both his less highly-produced projects and covers of his work demonstrate. Today’s bonus selections, by KT Tunstall, Tom Petty, and Marianne Faithful, provide some tasty versions from the folkier side of this versatile performer’s songbook, just to show how folk these songs really are. But Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change, especially, represents a stripped-down acoustic style that leans on his rough interpretation and a simple, indiefolk production style — even if the occasional synthpulse in the background belies his post-modern hip hop heritage.

And when Beck takes on the songs of others, he generally chooses to slow them down, letting his quavery voice and lo-fi, sparse acoustic instrumentation recreate tone and timbre until everything is wistful, hazy, and raw. Live or B-side, tribute album or hidden track, Beck’s penchant towards funereal alt-folk pieces, like Ryan Adams or Gillian Welch at their slow and melodramatic best, legitimizes his inclusion in a blog devoted to folk covers.

Want proof? Today we bring you a broad set of covers from Beck’s folksinger side: the dreamlike echoes and hawaiian guitar of Your Cheatin’ Heart, the strings and lo-fi drumkit pulse of James Warren’s Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes, the slow, ragged-harmonies of Beck and Emmylou Harris covering Gram Parson’s countryband ballad Sin City, an in-studio acoustic cover of the Flaming Lips, and the eerie, gorgeously dark Nick Drake covers Pink Moon, Which Will, and Parasite. Are they folk songs? Absolutely. Is Beck an unsung folkstar? Listen up, and decide for yourself:

Regardless of categorization, Beck’s work is available directly through his online store. Folkfans should probably start with Sea Change; if your ears can take the bouncier, harder stuff, I also highly recommend Odelay and Guero.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

886 comments » | Beck, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, KT Tunstall, Marianne Faithful, Nick Drake, The Flaming Lips, Tom Petty