Category: The Corrs

Birthday Coverfolk: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
(Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, and other musicians born in 1973)

January 14th, 2009 — 12:17 am

I was born January 14, 1973, on the cusp of the disco age, and amidst the last true gasps of the sixties. Though my father’s music was primarily blues and folk — the authentic, soulful stuff which I would return to in my own adulthood — for me, growing up in the eighties meant a childhood exposure to late Bee Gees and the early Michael Jackson, followed by a middle school passion for Howard Jones synthpop and Depeche Mode electronica; later, in my adolescence, I would turn to the growing anti-grunge movement like a dork to water, with a minor in early hip hop.

Which is to say: like so many of us, I spent my formative years rejecting the past of my parents, instead looking outward to the larger culture for my musical self. And, because what was out there was the shifting, constantly prototypical product of a culture in high transition, so has my own musical path from there to here been broad and diverse.

My path is not so unique, surely. Inasmuch as we are all a product of our own time and experience, from our secret vices to our public tastes, much of our adult habits of listening can be traced to that which we lived through, and which of it we tried on for size. Music defines so much of who we are, the comfort and contentment which comes from finding our own sound is surely as much a recognition of the self, as played out in the folkways of the world. And if anything explains the itch towards coversong, it is perhaps the desire to own both the external culture and the household stereo, and in doing so, collapse the distance between the authentic prodigal self and the cultural reality that we watched for cues as we grew.

Because musicians are people too, it is unsurprising to find that the vast majority of popular musicians who were born in the same year as myself tend towards the sounds of our mutual adolescence, both in cover choices and in genre of play. A quick perusal of the list of notable musicians born in 1973 reveals an overwhelming preponderance of rap production from the likes of Nas, Pharrell, and Mos Def, and that curious post-grunge, neo-anthem rock that characterizes Creed, Slipknot, and Incubus, all of which have one or more members turning 36 this year.

But every generation has its diversity, and here at Cover Lay Down we appreciate folked up covers of rap and rock as much as we celebrate those performers who, like myself, have settled their selves towards a more intimate sense of self in song. Today, then, in honor of my birthday, we present songs recaptured by people just my age — a set of coverfolk of and from my “lost generation” contemporaries, mining their own experience for tribute, recapturing other histories in song from the lips and hands of their influences. Enjoy.

I’m especially pleased to find indie darling and concert whistler Andrew Bird (b. July 11) on my contemporaries list, as I’ve been looking for an excuse to do the research ever since I fell in love with his more genre-bending post-americana work via the blogworld. Bird has plenty of folkcred — he was an instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music — and he plays like a man with a keen sense of folk history even as he pushes the boundaries of what it means to use the fiddle as a solo performer.

I shared Andrew Bird’s cover of tradsong Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed (aka Trimmed and Burning) in the midst of Dylan covers week over at Star Maker Machine a few months back; the links are dead there, but the text is worth the visit. Here, he shows his true roots with a few more haunting takes on songs deeply rooted in the folk canon.

We featured Rufus Wainwright (b. July 22) here at Cover Lay Down over a year ago in our first Folk Family Friday, an ambitious attempt to consider the musical output of the entire Wainwright/McGarrigle clan. I remain ambivalent about Rufus as a performer, not least because his torch songs can get too sappy for my taste. But his more subtle work stands out as worthy of our generation, especially when tempered by strong collaboration, and his acoustic cover choices are generally well-suited for his languid, slippery vocal style and reedy tenor. Here’s three duets; the work with his sister martha on their father’s song is a lovely conceit, and anything with Teddy Thompson is always wonderful, but I’m especially fond of the co-bill Neil Young cover with Chris Stills, off the popular KCRW studio sessions compilation Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project.

Not all performers trend solo, of course. Though both Annabelle Chvostek (b. October 5) and, to a lesser extent, drummer Caroline Corr (b. March 17) have worked on their own, these lovely ladies of folk are much better known for their work with female-voiced folkgroups The Wailin’ Jennys and The Corrs, respectively. The Irish folk rock which The Coors have made their own isn’t as much my cup of tea as the acoustic singer-songwriter trio harmonies of The Wailin’ Jennys (or, for that matter, the recent solo disk from alto Chvostek, which is spare and lovely), but from the Celtic dancepop mix of Fleetwood Mac cover Dreams to the crooning lullaby that transforms Neil Young’s Barefoot Floors, these are all worth the listen, as song and coversong.

Finally, Grey DeLisle (b. August 24) is generally known as a voice actress more than a songstress; if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ve heard her on such animated programs as Kim Possible, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and Harvey Birdman. But DeLisle’s 2005 Sugar Hill release Iron Flowers is a masterpiece of otherwise-originals that kicks off in style with a delicate autoharp and slide take on Queen anthem Bohemian Rhapsody – I just couldn’t let it go overlooked.

Cover Lay Down posts new covercontent and folkfaves every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: New coverfolk from some up and coming inbox artists, including a few discoveries from this weekend’s Boston Celtic Music Festival…plus a very special look at several well-respected songbooks — stripped down, unplugged, and all folked up.

1,228 comments » | Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright, The Corrs, Wailin' Jennys

Covered in Folk: Jimi Hendrix (Rickie Lee Jones, Fiona Apple, The Corrs, Emmylou Harris, 6 more!)

April 9th, 2008 — 02:59 am

Big news in the folkworld yesterday as Bob Dylan received a Special Citation from the Pulitzer Prize folks for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In response, For the Sake of the Song turns up a set of stellar live Dylan rarities, and claims Dylan’s recognition as a big win for rock and roll, but we know better — that description has folk written all over it, doesn’t it? Kudos, Bob.

This would be the perfect moment for a set of Dylan covers…if we hadn’t already featured singer-songwriter Angel Snow‘s deep thoughts on Dylan’s “profound impact” and “poetic power” this past Sunday, along with her great take on Meet Me in the Morning. Rather than try to top that admittedly premature but no less effective tribute, today, we offer a compromise: a feature on the musician who took a Dylan song and turned it into the seminal soundtrack of every Vietnam movie ever made. Ladies and Gentlemen: the songs of Jimi Hendrix.

Like so many of our Covered in Folk subjects, Jimi Hendrix isn’t folk, but he has a kind of folk credibility that makes him a natural choice for popular cover songs. Woodstock, the drug culture, the sixties — if that electric wail and trippy, funky, post-blues sensibility wasn’t at the very heart of his sound, we’d be remiss not to claim this cultural icon as one of our own.

But the challenge of covering Jimi Hendrix, of course, is that while plenty of Jimi Hendrix songs have lyrics, most don’t have that many words to play with. Take Voodoo Child, which uses a dozen words or so to proclaim repeatedly that the singer/narrator is standing next to a mountain, and is a voodoo child, and still manages to remain seared in our brains. Or the few short lines of hallucination poetics that is Little Wing, so trivial to the song’s success that while Sting’s cover is too maudlin to share here, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s instrumental cover comes across as masterful and complete. It’s telling, in fact, that many of the best Hendrix covers out there are by blues musicians, as in many ways, Hendrix lyrics are like the words in the blues — they might offer some context, but it’s not the words we look to when we struggle to find ourselves in the blues experience.

It’s not that Hendrix songs are meaningless. And it’s not that his lyrics are useless, really. It’s that with a few exceptions, Jimi speaks with his guitar, and uses his voice, even the lyrics themselves, as another instrument, a factor to set the stage, so that the technique and raw emotion of the strings might more effectively convey the subtleties of emotion that the song is intended to “mean”.

As such, a Hendrix song offers several avenues of ownership for a covering performer. It can, for example, be an opportunity to feature the production — to shape a sound that in toto compensates for the lack of a prodigy at the center. Many artists who perform on or just over the pop edge of the folkworld have done just that. The heavy worldbeat production makes Voodoo Child a pop song in the hands of Beninise singer Angelique Kidjo, but the bounce and cry of the vocals call to the original. Though Cassandra Wilson‘s cover of The Wind Cries Mary is languid by comparison, it, too, shares a jangly acoustic jazzpop sensibility and an honest delivery which make it authentic, as if played on a jazz bar stage after the audience had gone home, and the mics had been turned off.

Other related genre covers focus on the instrumentation itself, reminding us that Hendrix was a guitarist first, and a band member and singer only afterwards. The Corrs bring a more traditional folk rock sensibility to their live cover of Little Wing that could pass for a mellow version of the original, were it not for the pipes and fiddle. Bluegrass dobro wizard Jerry Douglas may sing the words to Hey Joe, but as with Hendrix himself, it’s the instrument who is the real star here. And if Memphis blues/rock prodigy (and sometimes rapper) Eric Gales sounds little like Hendrix when he sings through his guitar, it is only because here, too, the heavy drums and lyric only lend support to what is ultimately a guitarist’s song, played b a guitarist of extraordinary talent.

If few true “folk” musicians and singer-songwriters take on Hendrix, it is because so few of his songs leave room to build on lyrical meaning. Because of this, to me, the most daring and often the most interesting Jimi Hendrix covers are the ones where the emotional emphasis is shifted to the voice. Emmylou Harris covers everybody, but I think her cover of May This Be Loved is among her more successful attempts, and surprisingly so, in part because of how effective her aging yet still etherial voice applies itself to the sparse, repetitive lyrics — though the very heavy wash of sound in the production, which features what seems to be an electric guitar played back in reverse throughout, provides an effective, moody underscore.

Similarly, though Alison Brown‘s Angel is a true ensemble piece, with rich harmony vocals and a full acoustic band from banjo and guitar to bass and piano, Beth Nielsen Chapman‘s warbly, honest lead vocals beat Fiona Apple‘s earnest attempt to bring the blues to her voice, which almost works, if both voice and production didn’t teeter on the edge of channeling Cher and Aaron Neville. And most effective of all, the nuanced, impish delivery Rickie Lee Jones brings to Up From the Skies recenters the song on the lyric without losing a whit of the hopeful, playful emotional tone of the original.

A mixed bag today, then: a few stellar covers, and a couple of flawed gems worth celebrating nonetheless. Heavy on the fringes of the folkword, too, with worldpop, cool jazz, and plenty of blues and bluegrass to choose from. Perhaps, in the end, this is the more honest tribute to a man like Hendrix, who — for all his wizardry — was a musician for whom experiment and experience, not perfection, were the ultimate goal.

Though most tracks on today’s list came from compilation albums, the Hendrix estate doesn’t really need our cash. On the other hand, today’s artists really do deserve your support. As always, clicking on artist names in the post above takes you directly to artist websites for purchase and, in most cases, further tuneage.

Looking for today’s bonus tracks? How about a few versions of that Dylan cover? If you missed it a couple of weeks ago, head on over to last week’s Audiography guest post to hear a pair of covers of All Along the Watchtower from Canadian Celtic rockers The Paperboys and old-school American folk rockers Brewer & Shipley, who you may remember as the guys who originally recorded “One Toke Over The Line”.

666 comments » | Alison Brown, Angelique Kidjo, Cassandra Wilson, Fiona Apple, Jerry Douglas, Jimi Hendrix, Rickie Lee Jones, The Corrs