Cover Battle – “Never Tear Us Apart” April 11, 2014
The love I have for the group INXS is kind of boundless. Even if I may not be in the loop, or up on their current doings, I adore them. You might be saying, ‘INXS? Oh, yeah – Michael Hutchence‘. The late Michael Hutchence was the lead singer, and as leads tend to do, he garnered a majority of the focus. People tend to think of everyone else as “the backup band”. So wrong. I liked Michael but his friends and compatriots – brothers Jon, Tim and Andrew Farriss, Garry Gary Beers, and Kirk Pengilly (the original lineup) were all fantastic – together and separately. So talented, so vital, so badass and fantastically awesome.
Their song “Never Tear Us Apart” is simply amazing. It’s not something you might expect to hear from a rock, new wave, alternative, whatever you wanna call them band. This song, this piece of music is … everything. It is lush, it is beautiful, it is romantic, it is dramatic and magical. It is so lyrical and intoxicating.
So, yeah – I kinda like it. A lot. A lot a lot.
I don’t know why I never considered that there would be other versions out there, but apparently there are. I mean – the song is outstanding so why wouldn’t there be, right? But I had never heard one until this past Wednesday, on an episode of Law and Order: SVU.
Now, watching SVU already puts you in a heightened emotional state, but then to hear the opening notes of a song I adore, sung by someone else? I was just like ‘Wait, what? There’s a cover?’ I must admit I was torn between excitement (“Ooh, my song!”) and slight indignation (“Who the hell?!”). But it was in that moment that I decided to make it the Cover Battle for this week.
Silly me, I thought I would only come up with the original and the SVU version (if I could find it), and that would be it. But there are a few others out there. So, um … I will just say this upfront: to me, there is no other version that will ever, EVER, compare or even come close to the neighborhood of stupendous that is the original recording done by those fine lads from Australia. I will, however, attempt to be fair in my assessments. [End disclaimer]
The first cover I have is the one I heard on SVU. It’s from Paloma Faith, an artist that I’m going to have to look at. I first saw her on The Graham Norton Show a few months back. Very cool and interesting.
Paloma’s cover maintains the basic orchestration and drama of the song. She definitely does the song justice. This is one I would go back and listen to on a regular basis.
The next cover is done by Samantha Jade. Apparently there’s an INXS miniseries that happened in Australia this past February (Note to self: must find this!!!). Samantha played Kylie Minogue in the show. There’s no grand production with this one, no sweeping symphonic sound to it. It’s more of an overly, overdramatic, somewhat drawn out, pop-sounding track. It’s not bad, but I don’t really think it’s as good as what this song deserves.
Joe Cocker performs this live, with a good band and backup singers. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this, but it has a tie with the original opening arrangement, and that really draws me in. Joe brings his trademark intensity and passion. It’s different than Michael’s or even Paloma’s and it’s quite enjoyable to see and hear. This is another one that I would come back to willingly.
Beck’s version features Annie Clark, known as St. Vincent. Her voice starts off very small. You almost can’t hear her through the music. After a few moments her voice and the instruments seem to be on somewhat of the same sound level. The background singing brings in an almost ethereal element that I find interesting. The musical arrangement is kind of halting (and haunting) and also a bit classical sounding. It’s at times hypnotic (in part from the song, in part from all the other elements brought to play). I’m not sure how I feel about it, right now.
Ben Harper takes on the song with INXS drummer Jon Farriss. They experiment with different ideas and throw in some stuff to make it their own. I think he and the band are talented, but this just doesn’t work for me. It’s skirting on the edge of ruination.
Carrie Underwood. Country. Twang. Bombastic screeching. Nope.
Notice how all of these live performances were done in Australian venues? Is it a rite of passage? Is it required for all artists performing down under to throw in a bone for the country they’re in? Is it like the Australian National anthem or something? Does anyone perform this in their shows outside of Australia, I wonder. Things that make you go hmmm??
The last thing I have for you is a bit of a gem. Someone uploaded a rare acoustic recording of just Michael, without the band. Even stripped down, it’s quite captivating.
Cover Battle – “Throw It Away” January 24, 2014
The recording of “Throw It Away”, written by actress, activist, singer Abbey Lincoln sounds extremely dark and dramatic at first listen but that actually belies the hopeful, positive sentiment of the song. For some reason, when I hear it, I picture her strolling down the banks of the Seine, in a light rain. It just has that feel of something (I imagine) you’d hear while sitting in a Paris cafe.
Polish Jazz vocalist Aga Zaryan gives a truly wonderful tribute to Abbey on this number. Her voice is very fresh and lively and her particular arrangement is lighter than the original yet it still fits the song quite well. She’s actually released an album “Remembering Nina and Abbey”, in tribute to her influences Abbey and Nina Simone.
The live radio performance by the talented Esperanza Spalding is beautiful. Nothing fancy is needed here. It’s very pure and hypnotic.
Next I have, in a solo turn, pianist Marc Cary, who actually performed with Ms. Lincoln for over a decade. He, like Aga, has released a tribute album “For the Love of Abbey”. The man is a terrific musician: very soulful and passionate with a wonderful connection to his instrument.
I found a version by Cassandra Wilson. I know ya’ll are probably sick of seeing her show up in the cover battles but I’m giving it to you anyway. She has a similar style to Abbey, but this time her voice is not as low and slow as Abbey, or even as deep and mellow as she is on other tunes. She has more of a smooth, rich honeyed tone this time.
I enjoyed the way Aaron Pfeiffer does this song, on stage. He really gets into it and does it his own way. I like that. And the bass on this is nice, as well.
Monday in B-Flat January 9, 2014
Monday in B-Flat
by Amiri Baraka
I can pray
But if I call
in a minute!
Cover Battle – “No Scrubs” December 27, 2013
“No Scrubs” is a song that’s fun, smart and sassy, just like the group that originally recorded it, the Grammy award-winning TLC. It has a nice bouncy beat that gets me moving (in my desk chair, never vertical because that would be embarrassingly bad). It’s a great example of the wonderful songwriting and harmonic skills of the ladies. It also features a rap by the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Singer Kelly Clarkson does the song live, in the “Fan Request” part of her concert. We only get a portion of the song but you can still tell how well she does on it. The song actually doesn’t start until about 2:40. Before that it’s a lot of concert patter, but it’s very cute. Her “back up dancer” is too too funny, so I think you’ll still enjoy the non-singing segments of the video.
The Chipettes version sort of makes me want to stab my ears after listening to it for awhile. It’s a rendition that’s totally faithful to the original, just screechier. I know that’s what the Chipettes* are but it just sounds extra, super duper screechy, which can be hard to take.
The next version brings an all-male vocal to this song, by a group called Bastille. They do a live on-air performance, with a keyboard, guitar and drum machine. No big production and a nice little accent in the lead singer’s voice. It’s really well-done and they bring some tenderness to the song.
The last version is from the improbably named Scout Niblett. The music underneath the vocals almost makes it sound like “House of the Rising Sun“. It’s considerably slower and much more dramatic in tone, but it works.
*Interesting side note: Unlike their male counterparts the Chipmunks, the Chipettes have no body hair. But then why should they? They’re female. Can’t have anything natural on them like body hair, right? Heaven forbid they should look like anything other than the generally accepted norm, right? Okay, perhaps this is a rant for another time