Category: The Bird and The Bee

Popfolk Thursday: The Living Sisters
cover Nancy Wilson, Bessie Smith, ABBA, Little Feat, Tom Waits & more
…plus new recordings from Harper Simon and Brandi Carlile

February 11th, 2010 — 06:46 pm

In trio form, the sweet-voiced ladies of The Living Sisters – LA-based songstresses Eleni Mandell, Inara George of The Bird and the Bee, and Lavender Diamond frontwoman Becky Stark – come off as something akin to a modern version of The Roches, with the production and harmony dynamics of a particularly delicate, indie-fied country girl group. In case you’re new here, from our perspective, this combination is a very good thing indeed.

Love to Live, the upcoming debut from the new femmepop supergroup, is already moving through the bloggiverse like a tsunami, garnering good reviews on the strength of the three performers’ history and new original single Double Knots, which is available all over the place. But both coverlovers and fans of the particularly smooth, production-driven indie popfolk sound which the performers share in common would be well served by putting Love To Live‘s March 30th release date on their calendars on the merits of both the delicate covers streamed with permission below, and the previous work of all three ladies.

  • The Living Sisters: How Glad I Am (orig. Nancy Wilson)
  • The Living Sisters: Good Ole Wagon (orig. Bessie Smith)

Bonus points: it’s not folk, but with the Greyboy All-Stars behind them, The Living Sisters get funky on a totally different version of How Glad I Am originally posted in December over at Rollo & Grady. The setting, a year-end mega-feature in which 60 artists picked their favorite releases of 2009, is worth visiting on its own merits, of course.

In other cover news on the radar, Brandi Carlile‘s new iTunes-only Valentine’s Day EP XOBC has three great originals and two covers: a rendition of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love which is so blandly interchangeable with the original it’s hardly worth the cost, and an utterly redemptive, heartbreakingly delicate indie-acoustic version of Bryan Adams’ 80s pop hit Heaven which shows that Brandi at her best is truly something very, very special. Out of respect for the small-scale release, I’ll not post the new stuff, but her older Ray Lamontagne cover and this more recent Willie Nelson cover are well worth reviving in honor of the occasion.

Finally, Harper Simon‘s recent NPR studio visit reveals a penchant for ragged singer-songwriter folk with a hint of No Depression Americana, at least in solo morning-after mode. Not bad for a guy older than I am, who cut his chops as a back-up guitarist on tour with his famous father before heading out to Berklee College to emerge as an indie musician.

Harper has taken his sweet time finding fame, but seems perfectly grateful just to be forging ahead on his own time, polishing an on-album sound that ranges from alt-country to indie twee; the result is surprisingly good, and worth sharing. His recent self-titled debut sports guest spots from both Eleni Mandell and fellow second-generation artist Inara George, making it a fitting addition to today’s post, as well. Here’s his Cure cover from the NPR session; you can hear more there, and order up at Harper Simon’s MySpace page.

1,065 comments » | Brandi Carlile, Eleni Mandell, Harper Simon, indiefolk, Lavender Diamond, The Bird and The Bee

Covered in Folk: The Bee Gees (Feist, Kathryn Williams, Moxy Fruvous, Ray LaMontagne +6 more!)

June 29th, 2008 — 10:07 am

Bee Gees Gold was the first record I ever bought.

It was a used copy, already ragged; I remember the frayed cardboard at the edges when I opened up the album. I picked it up from some older kid at our elementary school swap meet. It cost a quarter, I think.

And to be honest, I have no memory of listening to it.

What I remember is the thrill of ownership. I grew up in a house full of grown-up records, but they weren’t mine, and I wasn’t really ready for folk and blues, country and soul. Like any suburban child of post-hippie parents, I had been given a small collection of great, authentic kidsong albums, but those were my parent’s choices, and already behind me. The Bee Gees greatest hits were the first music I could hear on the radio, and then play again as many times as I wanted. Whether I played it or not wasn’t the point. Buying it, taking it home, pulling against the slight vacuum that held it inside its sleeve, making a place for it on the shelf: it was a revelation, like discovering the key that unlocked the universe.

The experience of buying Bee Gees Gold, plus the rapid-fire acquisition of a used copy of AC/DC’s Back in Black, and a few records released that year — Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, Toto IV, Michael Jackson’s Thriller — would spark a lifetime of collecting and audiophilia. A quarter century later, my closets are full of long-dormant vinyl; the attic is stuffed with milk crate collections, and archived jewel cases. I download far more than I should, and digitize everything I can. My digital collection passed the 25000 song mark just this morning.

My students have always been amazed at the sheer amount of music on my iPod. But true audiophiles know that there’s an awful lot of great music out there, and what if you have a hankering for something and you don’t have it, ready to call up in the database? I live in a world of shuffle and playlists, theme and artist retrospectives, and new albums and discoveries. I cannot drive without a soundtrack; I look forward to mowing the lawn, in part, because it means an hour of meditative activity with headphones on. I build my summer around folk festivals. I spend almost every evening writing about music in one way or another, here and at collaborative blog Star Maker Machine. Listening, collecting, owning, sharing and enjoying music have become fully intertwined.

But though my tastes have turned towards the acoustic and the authentic over the years, you never forget your first.

In tribute to the record that started it all, today we present some of my favorite folk and folk-tinged Bee Gees covers. Most are recent indie-folk — as we’ve mentioned previously in our Covered in Folk series, the tendency for artists to bring the songs of their childhood cultures into their own repertoires means that a whole new set of indiefolks in my age group have recently begun adding Bee Gees songs to their performance canon. And a few are tongue-in-cheek; it’s hard to be earnest about something which will forever be associated with sequined bell-bottoms and high-pitched discopop harmony.

But under the glitz and glitter, there’s a surprising power here. Turns out the Brothers Gibb actually knew how to write songs with meaning, after all. Not a bad choice, for a nine year old kid suddenly opened to a world of possibility.

Like what you hear? Eschew the big anti-artist commercial megastores; click on links above to purchase small circular plastic carriers of audible joy direct from artist and label websites.

Or, if you prefer downloads, and are interested in an equally artist-centric solution, why not join up at Amie Street, where artists receive 70% of all profits, and retain all rights to their work…and where, thanks to a sliding-scale pricing model, tracks generally cost less than almost anywhere else? As an added incentive to Cover Lay Down readers, the folks at Amie Street are offering you $3.00 FREE towards your purchase; to get it, all you have to do is enter the code “coverlaydown” when you sign up. Totally worth it, dude.

PS: If anyone knows of a produced version of Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans doing Islands in the Stream, please pass it along — I love Sarah Harmer, but the CBC recording that’s been making the blogrounds is a little too heavy on the crowd noise and tape crackle for my taste…

429 comments » | Bee Gees, Constantines, Damien Rice, Eagle Eye Cherry, Feist, James William Hindle, Kathryn Williams, Keller Williams, Leah Kunkel, Moxy Fruvous, Ray Lamontagne, The Bird and The Bee