We in the Muruch household were very excited to hear Sarah Simmon cover Brandi Carlile‘s “The Story” on NBC’s The Voice last night. It’s our favorite Brandi Carlile song and really should be the next “Hallelujah” cool song everyone loves to cover (hear that, Allison Crowe?!). Sarah didn’t quite capture the chill-producing emotion of Carlile’s extraordinary original, but it’s a formidable song for any singer to tackle.
Ever since Carrie Underwood broke out on season four of American Idol with her cover of Heart‘s “Alone,” the song has become a favorite on reality singing competitions. But it’s a great song by a great band, so that’s fine by me. Sasha Allen gave the femme monster ballad an emotive, acoustic soul makeover on The Voice last night. See her impressive cover and the unparalleled original by Heart below…
I don’t think I’ve posted about my affection for NBC’s The Voice before, but there ya go. Any show on which Alexis Marceaux was a contestant and that features the music of everyone from The Lumineers and Sarah McLachlan to Nina Simone and Bill Withers has got to be good. Michelle Chamuel’s cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” last night was especially fantastic, and somewhat emotional after judge Usher made her rehearse by singing the song to her own tearful mirror reflection. You can watch the videos of Michelle Chamuel’s stage performance of “True Colors” on The Voice as well as the original by Cyndi Lauper (for you uneducated youngsters) below…
Dayna Kurtz’ new album, Secret Canon Vol. 2, is a thing of beauty. The followup to last year’s Secret Canon 1, Secret Canon Vol. 2 is a collection of rare blues and jazz covers from the 1940-60s with a few originals in the same vein. Dayna calls the album her “New Orleans record.” It’s bluesy, it’s bold and so very, very classic.
I was shocked to discover that the opener “I Look Good in Bad” is a Dayna Kurtz original. The song structure, lyrics and instrumentation seem so classic it could easily be a Bessie Smith cover. It’s one of many songs on the album that showcase the rich and robust range of Dayna’s voice. M.C. Records was kind enough to allow me to share the song, which you can stream below.
Dayna also delivers a stunningly beautiful and emotive rendering of the vintage soul ballad “Reconsider Me” — originally recorded by Johnny Adams, but probably best known as a 1970s country hit by Narvel Felt. You can stream that song at MC Records.
Other highlights include “One More Kiss,” “Same Time, Same Place,” “All I Ask is Your Love” and “I’ll Be a Liar.”
I love, love, love this album. Fiercely, immensely, wholeheartedly. It reminds me of the first time I heard Dayna’s magnificent voice at Mountain Stage in 2002 (sadly my Muruch review of that concert was lost in the great archive disaster of 2005). I had never heard of Dayna before that concert, which I attended to see Natalie Merchant. Dayna walked out onto the stage, sat down in a wooden chair, and tuned her guitar for a few minutes without saying a word. Then she opened her mouth to sing “Love Gets in the Way” (from Postcards from Downtown) and her extraordinary, soaring voice commanded the attention of every single audience member. Like the classic songs she chose to cover on Secret Canon Vol. 2, Dayna’s voice just gets better with age.
SoundCloud stream uploaded w/ permission of M.C. Records
Way To Blue: The Songs Of Nick Drake will be released on April 16th. The tribute to the late, great Nick Drake was assembled by Drake’s original producer Joe Boyd. Recorded live in London and Melbourne with the various artists sharing harmonies and instrumentation throughout the album, Way to Blue features Lisa Hannigan, Vashti Bunyan, Shane Nicholson, Teddy Thompson, Robyn Hitchcock and many more.
Luluc’s opening rendition of “Things Behind the Sun” sounds like Nico covering Nick Drake, which I happen to like.
Scott Matthews’ “Place to Be” is as deliciously gritty as an Eddie Vedder song.
Shane Nicholson (a.k.a. Mr. Kasey Chambers) manages to infuse “Poor Boy” with just enough pep and twang to make it fresh without compromising the integrity of the original.
The standout track is Krystle Warren’s soulful rendering of “Time Has Told Me,” the video of which you can watch below.
Vashti Bunyan and Lisa Hannigan are a perfect fits for their respective covers of “Which Will” and “Black Eyed Dog.”
Teddy Thompson’s “River Man” is surprisingly effective. It’s my second favorite Nick Drake song (after “Northern Sky,” which is sadly absent here) so I was cynical going in. But the piano and string arrangement of this cover is beautiful. You can watch the video below.
None of the tracks are weak, though many others blend into the background. There are so many other artists – Allison Crowe, Rufus Wainwright Shawn Colvin, The Low Anthem, Lost in the Trees, The Lumineers, Brandi Carlisle – that could’ve taken this tribute to another level of brilliance. So Way to Blue is a solid tribute to the legendary Nick Drake, but I can’t help feeling there was potential, lost, for magnificence.
Guest Review By: Brendan
From Bostridge/Drake to Bennett/Evans, some of my favorite music consists of one voice and one piano. I now have another pairing to add to the list. Pianist Dick Hyman and vocalist Heather Masse met at A Prairie Home Companion and have since made beautiful music together on their new album, Lock My Heart.
Featured on the first Joy Kills Sorrow album, Heather Masse is perhaps best known for her work as part of The Wailin’ Jennys. Having grown up listening to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, her roots are in jazz music and I am very glad she has rediscovered her love of the genre. Masse also sounds great on her 2008 jazz EP Many Moons, on which I especially like her take on “Secret Love.”
Dick Hyman has worked extensively as a jazz pianist since the 1950s and collaborated with Woody Allen on several soundtracks. You can hear some of his solo piano work on this recording from NPR’s Piano Jazz.
The songs selected for Lock My Heart represent some of the best of the Great American Songbook. Masse’s voice is smooth as the usual similes – silk, chocolate, melted butter – throughout until the final track when she playfully switches personalities.
Highlights of the collection include the wonderful opening tracks “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Lullaby of Birdland.” Her version of the oft-recorded Ellington classic “I’ve Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good” is, in my view, only surpassed by Nina Simone’s recording. Masse’s control of the lyric and the emotion she inflects are tremendous.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this album is the inclusion of two original tracks penned by Masse, “If I called You” and “Morning Drinker.” Both songs fit perfectly alongside the magnificent classics on the album and give me hope for the future of the torch song.
For a limited time, you can preview the collection here. I’d also like to commend Red House Records for delivering a beautifully packaged CD and thank West Virginia Public Radio’s Sidetracks for bringing this album to my attention.
Anaïs Mitchell‘s Child Ballads will be released on March 19th. The album finds my favorite female singer-songwriter collaborating with Jefferson Hamer on covers of traditional English and Scottish folk ballads famously collected by Francis James Child. As Anaïs herself says, “most of the heroines are pregnant and most of the heroes are named ‘Willie.’“
I could easily wax poetic about the lofty concept of the album (as many already), but I must admit disappointment with this collection. The fault lies entirely on the monotonous nature of the songs rather than Anaïs herself. Anaïs’ voice, arrangements and instrumentation are impeccable throughout, but the strength of her music has always lain as much in her brilliant songwriting as it has in her performance. So this material just isn’t quite up to par with her own compositions.
There are exceptions, though. Most notable are the opening track “Willie of Winsbury” and especially the epic fable “Tam Lin.” The latter has also been covered by The Decemberists and was the inspiration for their Hazards of Love concept album.
Child Ballads is worth a listen for Anaïs’ unusual voice and her cover of “Tam Lin” alone — even more so if you’re a fan of the other folk songs included on the album.
Child Ballads Tracklist
Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)
Willie’s Lady (Child 6)
Sir Patrick Spens (Child 58)
Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child 1)
Clyde Waters (Child 216)
Geordie (Child 209)
Tam Lin (Child 39)
Guest Post By: Brendan
I stumbled across Kiersten Holine after searching Bandcamp for covers. Her collection is notable for its variety – I haven’t heard the originals by some of the more obscure indie bands, but she also performs versions of songs by Feetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys and The Band. Like the best cover songs, each track is uniquely hers and different enough from the original to be a welcome new listening experience.
Guest Post By: Brendan
I think it’s safe to say that Jake Shimabukuro is the king of living ukulele players. His version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is justifiably legendary – you can hear it as part of this Coverville podcast. Jake’s most recent album is Grand Ukulele, an Alan Parsons project. The string arrangements work better on some songs than others, my favorite here being “Over The Rainbow.” I also loved his version of “Rolling in the Deep,” which you can stream below. My favorite original track on the album is “Missing Three,” written when Shimabukuro’s ukulele was missing its third string. The track was recorded with said three-string ukulele and backed by a twenty-nine piece orchestra.
Buy Mp3s @ Amazon (only $6.99!)
Guest Post By: Brendan
Alexander Street Press is offering a recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 as free, legal mp3 downloads this week only. The performance is by Orchestre National de Lille under the direction of Jean-Claude Casadesus and is usually a $9.99 album on iTunes, so grab the free version while you can. Muruch wrote about the WVSO performance of the work two years ago.
Mahler – Symphony No. 1 (mp3 download page)