Category: The Smiths

(Re)Covered, vol. XXII: more covers of and from
Daniel Johnston, The Smiths, Stephen Foster, Chris Thile & more!

February 22nd, 2012 — 08:36 pm

It’s been a long haul these last couple of weeks, with new projects and courses to teach at work, and budget season fast approaching at the local school committee table. School vacation was cancelled, and the skies and ground remain dry as a bone despite the calendrical claim of New England February, leaving us grey and wan in the pale light of almost-winter above the equatorial line. And here at home, the stress is sky-high, thanks to an unfortunate incident at the beginning of the month that turned us into a single-car family struggling to make ends and family meet.

It’s times like these when the heart turns to echoes of the past to find evidence of meaning, lest we drown in the drudgery of the day-to-day. So join me as we attempt to spruce up our souls with yet another edition of our popular (Re)Covered series, featuring new and newly-discovered songs that revealed themselves just a little too late to make it into the original posts where they rightfully belonged.

We covered Hard Times Come Again No More in an end-of-year Single Song Sunday a few years ago, naming the mid-nineteenth century Stephen Foster tune – which admonishes the affluent to pause and remember the hard times, that they might be more inclined to support those whose lives are full of sorrow and pain, hunger and need – a perfect companion to the precarious blessing of a good year gone by.

Alas, the world is no less needy now than it was back in December 2009; indeed, since then, the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken up the cry, redefining the lines between those who would and those who can. And so, as with so many well-covered standards which resonate with the injustices of the ages, several strong contenders for the throne have emerged to add to our once-upon-a-time. Here’s two: an unusually rich and melodic Irish transformation from Voice of Ages, an incredible new album from The Chieftains which is notable for its amazing list of special guests (The Decemberists, Bon Iver, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Civil Wars, The Low Anthem, Punch Brothers, and more), and a dark, ragged stunner from the equally-amazing yet sadly overlooked 2011 tradcovers album Dark River, which finds Slaid Cleaves, Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson, and other familiar and new faces from the Austin, TX branch of the contemporary dustbowl folkworld taking on the Civil War-era songbook.

Speaking of Single Song Sundays: Last January’s feature on what is perhaps the best-known work from impish, self-destructive manic-depressive lo-fi genius Daniel Johnston was predominantly populated by covers which retained the fragile, destructive nature of the original performance even as they expanded the sonic potential of what is, ultimately, one of the best and last words in self-solace in the world of music. Not so with Seattle, WA indiefolk-slash-popsters Hey Marseilles, who turned the track into a drunken gypsy indiefolk waltz, high in energy and rich with muted mariachi rhythms and orchestral strings, for the 2010 Starbucks Sweetheart sampler, and then re-released it free on Valentine’s Day 2012. (Thanks to Adam, who previously brought us the Gundersen Family, for the pass-along.)

One of the things I love about being a blogger is that artists I never would have heard of otherwise send me stuff. Some of it is quite good, too. This month’s case in point comes via email from Marin of French slowcore duo The Missing Season, who sent along this vocally-layered indiefolk cover of The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out alongside notice of the band’s third homemade LP The Last Summer, a wonderfully haunting pay-what-you-will download which he describes as “a very slow album, both very synthetic and acoustic.” The phrases cover the cover, too, both aptly and in the best possible way; the cover, in turn, anticipates the studio work, which is winning me over all over again as I type this. And if you like their sound, too, know you’re not alone: the cover, which is available free on Bandcamp, was among the winning songs of a 2009 contest presided over by Geoff Travis, boss of Rough Trade Records, home of The Smiths themselves.

And speaking of The Smiths, whose covered-in-folk songbook we took on back in December of last year: I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to post another few covers from the short-lived UK band, ever since they came to me via various sources in the weeks just after our original post, and it looks like the time is nigh. Owen’s Girlfriend In A Coma is gently playful, and I’m not sure how I missed it the first time around; Sandy at Slowcoustic adeptly encapsulates Pickering Pick’s version of the song as “sombre aching alongside…ambient acoustics”; fans of Jeff Buckley’s dreamiest electrofolk will find Piers Faccini’s live, slow, solo electric guitar and vocal take right up their alley.

Devon over at Hearth Music unearthed this older tradfolk cover from Pharis & Jason Romero just yesterday via Facebook, and I couldn’t resist keeping it moving forward, both because the sound is utterly stunning, and because the setting is perfect for the flowing banjo and guitar which carry us through. You may recall the Horsefly, BC-based banjo-builders and old-timey aficionados from several sets here on these pages last year: first in March, when we celebrated several Jason & Pharis cover videos passed along by a fan, and subsequently via our feature on Hearth Music itself, who sent us their debut-as-a-duo album in August; we liked it enough to name it one of our top mostly-covers albums of 2011 in our year’s end best-of feature, and if this one track alone doesn’t show why, you’d better head back into the archives for a second look.

  • Pharis & Jason Romero: Wild Bill Jones (trad.)

Finally, though I know the bluegrass has been a bit thick on the ground for the past week or so here, thanks to our recent trip to the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival for the sixth year in a row, I just keep coming back to a triplet of powerful videos from Michael Daves and Chris Thile recorded last month in honor of Daves’ five year run at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC. Regular readers may remember our joy at discovering Daves’ high tenor yawp and high-energy guitar at last year’s festival; his 2011 album with Thile was a true joy to hear, easily making The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album in our end-of-year review, and I’m pleased as punch to be able to help spread the word about their ongoing collaboration.

And speaking of punch, and as a Chris Thile-related bonus, I’m also tacking on the Punch Brothers’ recording of Kid A, off the post-grass quintet’s brand new album Who’s Feeling Young Now? Paste magazine calls it an “eerily faithful interpretation of Radiohead’s electronic masterpiece”; I’m inclined to agree.

  • Michael Daves & Chris Thile: Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (trad.)

Hey, you! Looking for more coverfolk in your daily existence? Don’t forget to “like” our Facebook page for microblogged videos and streams from far and wide – this week’s posts include an Iron Maiden song transformed into a beautiful “traditional english ballad” with bouzouki and voice, a frenetic polkafolk take on Bon Jovi, a stripped down Stevie Wonder song, and a cover of The Swell Season’s Falling Slowly with tight harmonies and beautifully light instrumentation from Cover Lay Down faves Edie Carey and Girlyman taped live on tour just this week!

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Michael Daves, The Smiths

All Folked Up: The Smiths
(With an exclusive track from new tribute Please, Please, Please)

December 3rd, 2011 — 02:31 pm

Flashback, 1987: I’m a freshman in high school, just finding my way into the dark underbelly of underground music thanks to the burgeoning alternative college radio scene in and around the Boston area and a younger brother whose musical tastes blossomed early. I hadn’t really noticed UK band The Smiths during middle school, but when Girlfriend in a Coma hit the airwaves, it touched me deeply, and I purchased the album from which it came, hardly aware that it would be their last, that the band was already disintegrating from the stress between an exhausted and increasingly alcoholic Marr and a series of agressive acts from the dismissive, inflexible Morrissey. And then, as I noted in a single-song set and analysis posted elseblog way back in 2007, I played the song incessantly for weeks on end, finding it a perfect outlet for my own adolescent relationship angst.

Though they only released 4 full-length studio albums in a startlingly short six year career, British alt-rockers The Smiths are rightly recognized today as seminal, groundbreaking players in the evolution of both the independent music scene and modern music writ large, thanks to the sensitive post-punk sensibility of songwriting team Morrissey and Johnny Marr, and an unprecedented number of non-album singles, b-sides, and compilations. Their ability to channel the tensions of the age, and the trapped feelings of loneliness in a culture on the brink, spoke clearly and deeply to a generation; long after their break-up, their songs continued to do so on radio, and on my turntable.

Over the last decade or so, in recognition of their influence and their brooding way with the emotional core of the darkest side of the soul, the works of The Smiths, and of Morrissey’s solo career, have found their way into the hands of a number of luminaries, from Joshua Radin and Billy Bragg to Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. And now, with the 25th anniversaries of their most influential albums Strangeaways, Here We Come (1986) and The Queen is Dead (1987) looming large, their influence has been recognized with not one, but two separate tribute albums. The first of these, The Queen is 25, a free-to-download mixed Greek artist tribute from fellow coverblog The Cover Lovers, is a mixed bag: mostly electro/indie stuff, and not really my style. But the second, Please, Please, Please: A Tribute to The Smiths, is a two-CD set from American Laundromat Records, who have a strong reputation for great indiefolk coverage – and having just received my pre-release in the mail this morning, I’m thrilled to announce that it’s stunningly successful, a genuine miracle.

As a handful of previously-released Smiths-as-folk covers has already aptly demonstrated, transforming those mournful, angst-ridden vocals and the urgency of those synthbeats and bass into folkier, sparser, and/or acoustic numbers is less difficult than their placement in the canon would imply. At heart, Morrissey was a crooner and cultural critic, a predecessor of the dark emo camps, whose personal struggles with the world found life in deeply personal narrative performance. As such, though it focuses its attention on alienation, the Smiths songbook is chock full of open imagery, and couched in eminently singable melodies that are eminently open to flexible interpretation.

And here, on the newest collection, we find magic indeed: tiny, sweet, hushed takes on Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me from William Fitzsimmons and Canadian girl duo Dala, respectively; a soaringly slow alt-country ballad interpretation of There Is Light That Never Goes Out from Trespassers William; beautifully hollow, haunting piano balladry from Greg Laswell, Joy Zipper, and Sixpence None The Richer; gypsy folkpop coverage from the aptly-named Girl in a Coma; light grunge from Tanya Donelly and Dylan at the Movies, and much, much more. As with previous covers collections and tributes to the Neil Young, The Cure, lullabies, and more, American Laundromat has solicited a powerhouse set of artists from the indie and indiefolk worlds and given them license to find their own hearts in the music of their influences – and the resulting record is a tight diamond of consistency that elevates both performers and songwriters, a gem absolutely worth your time and patronage, whether you, too, were an early fan, a latecomer like me, or simply a culturally-aware radio listener who recognizes the majority of the songs from the low end of the dial.

So here’s an exclusive track from Sara Lov off the newest tribute to cross the desk – a wonderfully melodic, contemporary folk production posted with permission from the kind folks at American Laundromat – and a full set of Smiths covers from the last decade or so to match it. Like Please, Please, Please: A Tribute to The Smiths, our own collection ranges from angered to tender, revealing the broad range of the original songs, and of the universal emotion they express so adeptly. But taken as a set, they speak to the recesses of the soul in ways which remind us that, while bands come and go, we are privileged to live in an age where we can own the recording and reintepretation of song, the better to channel our emotion, and share the human condition – a folk conceit, to be sure, and one which keeps us coming back week after week. The Queen may be dead, but with tributes like these, the legacy of the Smiths is stronger than ever.

6 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Morrissey, The Smiths, Tribute Albums

Elseblog, New and (Re)Covered: Folk Covers of The Smiths Here, Pop Punk Covers of Folk Songs at Fong Songs

January 11th, 2008 — 10:46 am

I’m guest hosting over at Fong Songs again today, throwing down a feature on Pop Punk covers of folk songs while Fong heads off to Las Vegas for some culture. (I’d say more, but you know what they say about what happens in Vegas.) If your ears can take the hard stuff, join me at Fong Songs for the sweet non-folk sounds of The Lemonheads, Sonic Youth, P.J. Harvey, Dinosaur Jr., and a bunch of other 80s alt-punk rockers.

Before you go, here’s some earcandy, a half-pint (Re)Covered set of folk covers of songs by seminal 80s alt-pop band The Smiths and their lead singer Morrissey, collected on the blogosphere and unearthed while digging through the tracks for last week’s post on Billy Bragg. Regular readers will remember that my first guest post over at Fong Songs was a feature on Smiths coversongs, too. And so the world comes full-circle.

From Sandie Shaw‘s solo acoustic punk folk to Scott Matthews‘s rich-toned atmospheric indiefolk, the below tracks are worth a second listen. Also included: Decemberist Colin Meloy‘s solo-with-harmonies cover of two Morrissey tunes, and Joshua Radin‘s amazing Girlfriend in a Coma, which hit the Fong Songs post late in the game.

Enjoy the music, both here and elseblog. And remember to click on artist names to learn more and purchase music if you like what you hear.

688 comments » | (Re)Covered, Colin Meloy, Elseblog, Joshua Radin, Morrissey, Sandie Shaw, Scott Matthews, The Smiths

Billy Bragg Covers: The Beatles, The Smiths, Seeger, Guthrie, etc.

January 4th, 2008 — 07:40 pm

The coversongs of Brit-folker Billy Bragg have been hovering on the edge of my consciousness for decades. His lovely, raw cover of She’s Leaving Home was the earworm on 1988’s alternative UK-band coveralbum Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father. His folk-pop work interpreting the lost works of Woody Guthrie in the late nineties reminded me of the genius of both Bragg and genre-defining alt-country musician Jeff Tweedy even as the albums brought the musicians themselves from fringe fandom to full-blown mass market appeal.

Then today, as I crested the mountain in the frigid New England winter air, our local early-morning folkshow played Bragg’s now-seminal, pained 2002 version of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ Tracks of My Tears. And I knew it was time to pay tribute to the collected covers of a man who’s made the journey from punk to folk, and come out smiling, without losing his radical political heart.

Ladies and gentlemen, Billy Bragg: folksinger, cover artist, and man of the people.

Billy Bragg’s bio describes his early work as that of a one-man Clash, an electrified punker with singer-songwriter style. More generally, he is often categorized as anti-folk, though his early work is punk folk, an umbrella that includes such smashingly loud, mosh-pit bands as Flogging Molly and The Pogues. His politically charged lyrics and angry street-broken voice are known for how they speak to the plight of the working class, while making explicit reference to a political arena which is both resonant with and alien to the American ear.

Perhaps because of this tendency to ground himself in the styles and politics of the United Kingdom, for most of his career, Bragg’s work didn’t show much on this side of the Atlantic. I first heard that Beatles cover, for example, on imported vinyl brought into our home by my younger brother, who was primarily in it for the much weirder stuff.

But while it’s true that Bragg still shares an anarchist’s sensibility with his fellow folk punk luminaries, in his later years, like fellow countryman Elvis Costello, Bragg has mellowed out musically, joining forces with Wilco to pay tribute to one of the seminal authors of the great American songbook, and turning his voice, already torn from the anger of his early punkfolk days, to an almost Americana sensibility.

The combination of new sound and old credibility, of socially aware soul and mellow mature interpreter, fits perfectly into the modern post-folk world of Grammy recognition and blog cred. It says what it needs to that when no less an authority than Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora was looking for someone to write music for two albums worth of unset Woody Guthrie lyrics, she considered Bragg enough of an inheritor of the Guthrie voice-of-the-people, politically and musically, to ask him to do it.

This is Bragg’s quieter work, to be sure, though I’ve planted some of Bragg’s harder stuff in the bonus section below. The lush fiddle and plainsong treatment of Pete Seeger is more churchmusic than mosh pit; his version of When the Roses Bloom Again falls towards the country ballad side of alt-country. But listen for the yearning, the core of that politicized soul, and you just can’t miss it. Today’s set even begins with that Beatles cover, a harbinger of the softer artist to come: beautiful, broken-voiced, and unequivocally Bragg.

Most of Billy Bragg’s work has been rereleased since his turn-of-the-century Grammy nominations; his back catalog is an incredible journey, if you’re up for the boxset collections and compilations. But no matter whether you choose his old work or his new, buy Billy Bragg’s work direct from the source, not the megastores. It just wouldn’t be cricket, otherwise.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

  • Kirsty MacColl covers Bragg’s folkpunk anthem A New England popstyle
  • Jonah Matranga and Frank Turner’s indiefolk approach to A New England.
  • Billy Bragg in full-on folk punk mode…
    • Covers psych-folkers Love’s Seven and Seven Is in style
    • Does an electrified version of The Smiths’ Jeane, live from The Peel Sessions

Previously on Cover Lay Down:
Billy Bragg and Wilco, My Flying Saucer (orig. Guthrie)

185 comments » | Billy Bragg, Kristy MacColl, Pete Seeger, The Smiths, Wilco, Woody Guthrie

Covered In Folk: the Down Under Edition: Kasey Chambers and others cover Tim and Neil Finn of Crowded House

October 13th, 2007 — 12:46 am

I saw Tim and Neil Finn open for 10,000 Maniacs way back in the hairspray eighties, before Natalie Merchant turned into a banjo-playing folk recluse. Though back then my tastes ran to the produced radioplay of Finn-led popgroup Crowded House, there was something arresting in the simple guitar interplay and close harmonies of the Brothers Finn, riding high on first big Crowded House single Don’t Dream It’s Over. Their songs revealed a surprising poignancy once the wall of sound came down — one that still comes through powerfully, despite the ravages of age in their voices, on their recent Finn Brothers release, and in the newly-reincarnated Crowded House that was all the rage at Coachella this year.

Since then, I’ve learned that Tim’s the new-waver and Neil’s the pop star. Tim’s solo work includes singles but no hits, which is a shame, really: he writes decent if simple melodies, and his more recent work is stark and fine, but he’s spent much of his career burying it under synthesizer and make-up. The rest of the record-buying public seems to appreciate Neil’s slightly softer songwriting more, if sales are an accurate indication. In my experience, though, when they write together, as they did for most of 1991 album Woodface, the end result is the best of both worlds.

Sixpence None the Richer does a sicklysweet girlpop cover of Don’t Dream It’s Over that you’ve heard a hundred times; their version is probably more true to the original recordings than anything else out there. But the best covers of Finn Brothers’ work strip it down to the bare essentials. Want proof? Here’s Aussie folk sensation Kasey Chambers with a version of Neil’s Better Be Home Soon from 2005 Tim and Neil tribute album She Will Have Her Way that will make you cry, and another simple cover of a song co-written by Tim and Neil, just for comparison’s sake:

  • Kasey Chambers covers Better Be Home Soon (orig. Crowded House)
  • New Buffalo covers Four Seasons in One Day (orig. Crowded House)

The above cuts plus other beautiful coverversions, all by female Australasian artists, can be yours with the purchase of She Will Have Her Way; I recommend that you buy the bonus version, which is cheaper and includes all the originals, too! Chambers’ solo work is not available through her website, but has acceptable prices. The acoustic intimacy of Finn Brothers release Everyone Is Here is gorgeous; I hear the new Crowded House album Time On Earth is good, too. Or there’s always 1991 popgem Woodface, available on the cheap at your local bargain bin.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

  • Jennifer Kimball’s lush cover of Crowded House hit Fall At Your Feet
  • Neil Finn’s live cover of the Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
  • Kasey Chambers’s amazing cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s Freight Train

Extra special bonus:

  • Richard and Teddy Thompson recover* Persuasion (orig. Thompson/Finn)

    *Originally, Persuasion was a Richard Thompson instrumental theme written in 1991 for the movie Sweet Talker; Tim Finn liked it so much that he added lyrics and re-recorded it. Richard and Teddy cut this version with Finn’s lyrics in 2000. Technically, that doesn’t make it a cover, but I think it qualifies as a “re-cover”, so I’m going to let it stand.

1,143 comments » | Covered in Folk, Crowded House, Finn Brothers, Freg Eaglesmith, Jennifer Kimball, Kasey Chambers, Neil Finn, New Buffalo, Richard Thompson, Teddy Thompson, The Smiths, Tim Finn