Archive

Archive for January, 2012
28 Jan

The Listen List

What’s slicin’ through my mental static….

Songs

1. “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye (featuring Kimba) – this chuggin’ little ditty got my attention the first time I heard it and I’ve been loving it since. Interesting video too.

 

2. “China Girl” by David Bowie – He’s getting some publicity because of his birthday, so of course I’ve been on the Bowie bandwagon for the past week. This song I will usual revisit many times.

3. “Afternoon Delight” by Bleu – One of my favorite artists covering one of my favorite awful songs of the 70s, and doing it brilliantly.

4. “Be Here Now” by Ray LaMontagne – Lead track from his second disc is beautifully haunting.

5. “I Believe” by Steve Perry – Got his debut solo disc finally after having the LP locked up in storage for years. I forgot this song which, in my opinion, should have been a single.

Albums

1. “Making Mirrors” by Gotye – Like the lead single (#1 above), this album has me hooked. It is like hearing Howard Jones and Steve Winwood having a musical make-out session with Wham!, Ultravox, and Tears for Fears watching. Drenched in 80s Euro influences but sounds fresh and new. The first album of 2012 I’m in love with.

2. “Lady Soul” by Aretha Franklin – Ever just have a bummer of a day? Of course you do. I did and tossed in this gem from the Queen of Soul. You just can’t feel bad listening to this masterwork.

3. “Madonna,” “Like a Virgin,” and “True Blue” by Madonna – Something got me in an early-Madge mood and I revisited her first 3 discs. Some brilliant tracks, some awful tracks, and some vocals that make you wonder how the hell she got a record contract in the first place (well, we all know why…wink/wink).

4. “4” by Foreigner – Picked this up with the aforementioned Steve Perry disc (and Yes’ “90210”). I had it going in the car and someone said “why are you listening to Foreigner?” I said, “I used to love this disc.” They said, “yeah, I did too – way back then. Not now.” Whatever, hater. I still like it.

5. “El Camino” by The Black Keys – Still gettin’ my groove on to this.

Categories: Music, The Listen List Tags:
11 Jan

Covering the Covers

Lately there have been a lot of artists covering songs and posting them on YouTube or making a full covers album for iTunes consumption. It got me thinking about what should go into making a great cover and what some of my favorites are. Back in the olden days (like pre-1970), multiple vocalists would do “versions” of songs. They were not necessarily covering a song but the same song would go to a couple of artists and be released around the same time. Then it was a battle to see which version radio and record buyers liked best. A song like “Mack the Knife” hit the Top 40 five times in 1956 by five different artists – and that was before Bobby Darrin took it to #1 in 1959! This doesn’t happen anymore. The most recent example I can think of is LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood battling it out on “How Do I Live” in 1997 (Rimes won on the pop charts, but Yearwood won on the country charts and got the Grammy.)

These days, artists now just cover songs that they like, whenever they like. Usually this was done for live shows but with digital media taking over, these covers are all over the place in videos and downloads. For the most part, these covers are fairly typical and boring and don’t do much for the artist or the song. Fans of the artist may enjoy them, but for fans of the actual song, if there is nothing new or interesting about the cover, it’s a snooze-fest. Plus, unlike the 80’s were cover songs were hitting the charts (” Groovy Kind of Love,” “Mony Mony,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” etc.), they are really nowhere to be found now – except if you count those “Glee” songs (which I don’t).

So what make a good cover? For me it is the artist bring something new and fresh to the material. Anyone can take a song and change the tempo or make an “acoustic” version, but it takes some guts, vision, and the love/respect of the material to shine through. When Rick Rubin married Johnny Cash with Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” it was moving and magical. It was like hearing the song for the first time and everything behind the song – Cash’s condition, life, experience, etc. – brought new depth and meaning to the lyrics.

One recent makeover I really like is a cover of the hideously wonderful “Afternoon Delight” originally done by the Grammy winning (!) Starland Vocal Band. I used to love this song as a kid (and still have the 45rpm record) and now one of my fave artist, Bleu – who rarely does covers – has created a lazy-day version that fits this song perfectly. Even though the song was about doin’ it in the afternoon, the original song was full of smiles, winks, and long flowery skirts swaying innocently. Bleu made the song much more intimate and really captures the sunny, wonderful feeling of what an afternoon delight should be – and it sounds like something created in the afterglow.

“Afternoon Delight” by Bleu

Here are some other covers where I think the artist got it right:

“Walk Away Renée” by Rickie Lee Jones – The Left Banke’s great pop hit gets transformed into a haunting dream full of emotion. I’ve always thought this was a stunning rendition and one of my favorite covers.

 

“Times Like These” by Glen Campbell – How in the world can you make a Foo Fighters song sound like a long-lost Jimmy Webb tune? Just like this. A perfect homage to Campbell’s past glory with a contemporary rock song.

 

“Thank You” by Tori Amos – She did a couple of other covers for her “Crucify” EP like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Angie,” but it is this Led Zeppelin classic that she takes to a whole other level.

 

“Shine” by Dolly Parton – During her bluegrass resurgence, Parton chose some interesting songs to cover and did them very well. I think the one that sounded most natural was this Collective Soul hit. She emphasizes the spiritual side of the song and got some class-A pickers to back her.

 

More to come…

 

Categories: Commentary, Essay, Music Tags:
03 Jan

A Blip of a Movie Review: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Alternative Title: “Un-Material Girl (Don’t F**k with Me)”

Short Plot: I dunno if there is a short plot for this one! But I’ll try. Investigative journalist Blomquist gets hired by an old wealthy corporate guy to track down what happened to his niece many years ago – and who killed her. On a side story, Lizbeth is a chick with attitude – and rightly so as she has been a ward of the state since she was 12 and not treated well. Some bad things happen to her, she seeks revenge, and then the paths of Blomquist and Lizbeth cross and they work to solve the decades old murder mystery. That is about as quick as I can state it.

Pros: It’s a David Fincher film, so you know it will have style and it will have awesome opening credits (which it does), it is more in-tune with the book than the original Swedish film, the leads (Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara) are oddly well cast, the pace is really good – especially for such and involved story, it flows better and is easier to understand over the choppy Swedish version, the plot changes from the book are slight, and it is the second really good Christopher Plummer film of the year (the first being “Beginners”).

Cons: For David Fincher, I thought certain scenes were rather tame in comparison to the Swedish film and that was disappointing as the scenes are extremely important for the Lisbeth character, Lisbeth was less anti-social than she should be, the relationship between her and Blomquist was made much more cozier/friendlier that the other film or book, Rooney Mara made a great Lisbeth but Noomi Rapace in the original had the right tone and attitude, and Daniel Craig looked pretty haggard (although he should for this part as that is what it calls for, but c’mon, it’s Daniel Craig for cripes sake!).

Verdict: I have talked to a couple of people who prefer the original Swedish film, however I like this version better. Mainly for the more coherent and more thorough storytelling. It hits a lot of points in the book that the original film either changed or ignored. I wasn’t sure if I really liked Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, but as the film went on, the more I dug her – however, the character needed to be more gruff and imposing as in the book. But I think that was more of a writer/director choice rather than from Mara. I was very impressed with Daniel Craig. Again, I was not happy about the casting but I think he really fit the bill of Blomquist. Overall, I thought this was a terrific film and I’m pleased to hear that the next film is already in the works for the trilogy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Blips ••••

Categories: Movies, Review Tags: