Monday, April 28, 2008

Bob Dylan Covers Aren't A Four Letter Word

Last week I wrote that in my younger days I hated it when other artists recorded cover versions of Beatles' songs. Ironically, the opposite holds true with Bob Dylan. I learned to appreciate his music mostly through other artists covering his work.

While I've always liked Dylan I could never be counted among his most ardent fans and that is because of one very obvious reason: his voice. Regardless of how easy it is to write the man off as a vocalist there is no denying this giant's talent as a songwriter. His tremendous contributions to both rock and folk music are undeniable.

The following list of Dylan covers is not as diverse as the one I compiled for The Beatles and that is because artists like The Byrds, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Austin's Jimmy Lafave (who Dave Marsh said is the best ever interpreter of Dylan songs) all have a special instinctive talent for performing his catalog. Those four appear here multiple times. One song, "All Along The Watchtower," is on the list twice. Here then are twenty-five impeccable cover versions of Bob Dylan's songs listed in alphabetical order by artist.

1. Simple Twist Of Fate - Joan Baez (Cate Blanchett wasn't the first woman to do a Dylan impression)
2. Love Is Just a Four Letter Word - Joan Baez
3. I Shall Be Released - The Band
4. From A Buick 6 - Gary US Bonds
5. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
6. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - The Byrds
7. The Times they Are-a Changin' - Brandi Carlile (recorded for a live radio broadcast on WXPN, Philadelphia, from World Cafe Live on February 20, 2007)
8. All I Really Want To Do - Cher (Don't laugh)
9. Lay Lady Lay - The Everly Brothers
10. If Not For You - George Harrison
11. All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix
12. Not Dark Yet - Jimmy Lafave
13. Positively 4th Street - Jimmy Lafave
14. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Jimmy Lafave
15. She Belongs To Me -Rick Nelson
16. Blowin' In The Wind - Peter, Paul, and Mary (the most beautiful version ever put on vinyl)
17. Don't Think Twice - Peter, Paul, and Mary
18. Too Much Of Nothing - Peter, Paul, and Mary
19. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go - Madeleine Peyroux
20. Man In The Long Black Coat - Joan Osborne
21. Let's Keep It Between Us - Bonnie Raitt
22. Just Like A Woman -Doug Sahm
23. Mama, You've Been On My Mind - Rod Stewart
24. It Ain't Me Babe - The Turtles
25. All Along The Watchtower - U2

Jimmy Lafave released the double CD, Trail, in 1999, with thirty-one songs, including a dozen Bob Dylan covers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

If your answer to the title question is "yes" keep reading because here is my secret. When I was young I loathed cover versions of songs originally done by The Beatles and I considered recording one to be blasphemy of the highest order. Because I've matured a lot over the years I've come to realize there are many nice renditions of their work so, just for fun, I decided to list some of my favorites here. The list is alphabetical by artist. I've added some comments where appropriate.

What are some of your favorites?

1. Yes It Is - Johnny A (Excellent and eclectic rock guitarist from Boston. You can check out his stuff on his website.)
2. It's Only Love - Gary US Bonds
3. Golden Slumbers - Jackson Browne with Jennifer Warnes
4. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party - Roseanne Cash
5. Magical Mystery Tour - Cheap Trick
6. Tomorrow Never Knows - Phil Collins
7. Blackbird - Crosby, Stills, and Nash (It's The first song they ever sang together. You can here it live on their 1983 album, Allies)
8. Got To Get You Into My Life - Earth, Wind, and Fire
9. Don't Pass Me By - The Georgia Satellites
10. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds - Hooters
11. I'll Cry Instead - Billy Joel (the flip side of the single "The Innocent Man")
12. I Saw Her Standing There - Elton John With John Lennon (It was Lennon's last public performance, the night he reconciled with Yoko)
13. I'll Be On My Way - Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas (The Beatles only version appears on Live At The BBC)
14. Bad To Me - Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas (The Beatles never recorded this song)
15. I Will - Allison Krauss
16. I Call Your Name - The Mamas & The Papas (My favorite cover of a Beatles song)
17. Taxman - Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (Live from the Concert For George)
18. I've Just Seen A Face - John Pizzarelli Trio (really nice piano jazz)
19. Come Together - Grace Potter and The Nocturnals (I don't believe they recorded a version of this but I saw them do it live at WXPN's All About The Music Festival on June 19, 2007 and they just just tore it up)
20. Get Back - Billy Preston
21. The Fool on the Hill - Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66
22. Hey Jude - Wilson Pickett
23. Helter Skelter - U2
24, Across The Universe - Rufus Wainwright
25. Every Little Thing - Yes

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dianne Reeves - Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Those of you interested in the more traditional forms of jazz from the 1940s and 1950s will find a lot to like about jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves and this superb movie soundtrack album, Good Night, and Good Luck. The accompanying band, featuring two excellent instrumentalists, saxophonist Matt Catingub and pianist Peter Martin, was born to play in the smoky jazz clubs the mood of this CD evokes. Reeves' voice, the band, and the arrangements, complement each other nicely.

All of the songs were selected by the movie's producer, George Clooney, who wisely included many top notch jazz classics such as Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up And Fly Right," Frank Sinatra's "One For The Road," and Duke Ellington's "Solitude."

I'll leave it to the movie and jazz fans to determine how the music fits in with the plot line of this historically important film. After listening to it one will realize there is no need to even see the film to enjoy the music because the songs stand on their own merit.

Simply put "Good Night, and Good Luck" is one of the best vocal jazz albums I have ever heard.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Wendy Matthews - Lily (1992)

You know an artist is slated for the big time when T-Bone Burnett is their producer so it shocked me that I never heard of Wendy Matthews when I first listened to her second CD, Lily, several years after its 1992 release. Until a few days ago I didn't even know she had released a CD prior to Lily or that several more followed it. I wondered why Burnett, Booker T. Jones, and members of INXS were all playing in a band with a singer I naively thought had no career. As it turns out ignorance is not bliss! I was surprised to learn that Lily went double platinum and contained the big Australian hit single, "The Day You Went Away."

I liked the CD when I first heard it about a decade ago, and I like it even more today, so I must give a tip of the hat to Perplexio of The Review Revue for reminding me to pull it out for another listen. His latest post on the Australian music scene clued me in about Matthews extensive career. While we're handing out kudos, another tip of the hat goes to Bill of Music & More for introducing me to Lily and Matthews in the first place way back when.

Matthews is a native of Montreal who left home at seventeen to busker across America all the way to Los Angeles. She eventually ended up singing backup on Aussie Glenn Shorrock's tour after he left The Little River Band. When the tour was over she made the decision to stay in Australia and the singer quickly became a frequently sought after session vocalist for many of her adopted country's biggest rock stars. In late 1991 she toured with The Neville Brothers after recording her first album. By then she was well on her way to stardom and a career that has made her one of the most beloved singers in the land down under. You can get the full story on her website.

Lily is excellent from beginning to end. It shows Matthews to be a superb interpreter of other people's songs. The album is full of light rock, light R&B, and acoustic folk-pop all blended into diverse yet cohesive pop performances. While the rock and soul may be on the light side the songs and Matthews vocals are not. You can tell by some of the titles that the songwriting is intelligent. Highlights include "Quiet Art," "Homecoming Song By Suzannah Castaway," "Face Of Appalachia," the rocker "Walk Away," and a cover of the old Teddy Pendergrass hit "T.K.O." The album is rounded out by the superb band assembled by Burnett.

It's time America discovered Wendy Matthews. Australia and Europe already have a long time ago.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Amos Garrett, Doug Sahm, Gene Taylor Band - The Return Of The Formerly Brothers (1989)

The Return of The Formerly Brothers is the only CD ever recorded by Amos Garrett, Doug Sahm, and Gene Taylor together as a trio. The title of the CD is derived from the fact that all three were formerly in other bands. Canadian Garrett is best known for playing with folk legends Ian & Sylvia and with Maria Muldaur on "Midnight At The Oasis." He also worked with Jesse Winchester, Emmylou Harris, Paul Butterfield, and Stevie Wonder. Taylor played with The Blasters, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Canned Heat, and Rick Nelson. They teamed up with Sahm who is probably the best known of the three. He was the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet in the Sixties.

Garrett, Sahm, and Taylor first got together for a gig at the Edmonton Folk Festival in 1986 that was so well received they followed it with a tour of Canada. The tour then led to The Return of The Formerly Brothers recorded in 1988 and released in America the following year.

The album is an eclectic and hardy stew full of rock's influences: blues, zydeco, country, and more. All three take turns singing. On "Big Mamou" Sahm duets with Queen Ida, the first female accordionist to front her own zydeco band. He also stars on an effective cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman." Garrett's very deep baritone perfectly fits the moods of "Smack Dab In The Middle" and "Amarillo Highway." Taylor is a terrific boogie-woogie piano player who shows off on two original piano tunes.

It's a real shame the trio never collaborated on a followup. It would have been interesting to see what else they could have produced.