“Hey Mama, Rock Me” — Darius Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel” should make a True Believer out of any Hootie-loving holdouts

I’m already a huge fan of Darius Rucker, whether he’s performing with Hootie and the Blowfish or as a chart-topping country solo songwriter. And though I’m always more interested in originals, this cover he chose to record of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” should convert many who haven’t yet jumped onto his solo bandwagon. The song totally fits where Rucker comes from as a down home South Carolina boy born and bred, and should prime the pump for all the great songs we can expect to reside on True Believer when it comes out later this spring. Hell, Rucker sounds way more comfortable on songs like this than he had on any Hootie single of the last decade.

Even the way he stumbled on the song in the first place has a great feel to it (thanks to The Boot for the great quote!)

“Somebody had played ‘Wagon Wheel’ for me years ago,” Darius explains. “It was one of those things that I didn’t really get. So, I’m at my daughter’s high school talent show, and I’m sitting in the audience with my family. We were watching my daughter, and the faculty band gets up. It’s just the faculty from her school, and they play ‘Wagon Wheel.’ I’m sitting in the audience, and they get to the middle of the chorus, and I turned to my wife, and I go, ‘I’ve got to cut this song.’ I’m serious. This all happened in three-and-a-half minutes, four minutes, while they’re playing the song.

The singer-songwriter knows the tune, written by Bob Dylan, may be a bit of a gamble, but believes it’s worth the risk. “[I texted producer] Frank Rogers, ‘Do you know this ‘Wagon Wheel’ song?'” he recalls. “He’s like, ‘Yeah. It’s by Old Crow Medicine Show. A lot of people have cut it.’ I said, ‘I don’t care! I’m cutting it!’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, dude. We’ll try it. We’ll cut it.’ So I cut it, and it was great after we finished it.”

Anyone else out there excited to hear the rest of True Believer?

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“Get Ready Now,” as the Shilohs prepare to unleash the retro pop of So Wild February 5.

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All you need in music is a good song, and Vancouver’s the Shilohs showcase that in stunning 16-megapixel glory on their upcoming new album So Wild. From the opening ninety seconds of “This Is Vancouver Music,” a wonderous hunk of McCartney-esque horn-soaked glory, to “You Don’t Call Me Darling Anymore,” the album’s low-key closer, this album positively soaks up the bare-bones elements which made the Beatles into masters of their craft.

The Shilohs strip away all the hype usually associated with modern garage rock and contemporary pop, letting the songs do the talking. Whether you listen to So Wild as a master-class in how to create a true album-lover’s album in the era of iTunes, or as a Greatest Hits in the making, the result is the same. Listen to the chorus of “Get Ready Now” or the stripped-down Dylan-soaked melancholy of “The Place Where Nobody Knows I Go” and dare not to stop dead in your tracks, in pure awe of the sheer audacity of this band’s retro pop recreations. In an era where so many believe meaningful pop music is an oxymoron, So Wild is an album fully capable of changing minds, from a band you’ll want to rabidly follow from the ground floor.

Devlin’s “Watchtower” melds Dylan with hip-hop in bizarre fusion

I’m not sure what to make of this oddity, which brings British rapper Devlin and Ed Sheeran together to modernize Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Based on the mediocre rap melded onto the memorable original’s chorus, I’d have to say this is the cover that broke the camel’s back. Maybe it would sound better had producer Labrinth not elected to muddy Sheeran’s passable solo work underneath a crushing wall of Travis Barker-esque percussion. But based on the rest of Devlin’s singles catalog, perhaps this is one rapper who should forget about jumping the pond, especially if this is the best he can do.

Throwing deft lyrical punches, Jason Myles Goss is alternative music dynamite

Jason Myles Goss

Of bad nights and bruises, Jason Myles Goss’s songs show, rather than tell.

I was born in the gutter from a mother just seventeen
No father or a brother in a world so hard and mean
I learned to fight before I learned to read
I could could throw my hands with a devilish speed
And someday, Mama, you’ll see I’m gonna be somebody

For this 90s-music veteran, having cut my teeth on Counting Crows’ August and Everything After and whetted my appetite for roots-alternative via the Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse,  it’s refreshing to hear a songwriter with the honest songwriting ability of Jason Myles Goss. The Massachusetts songwriter who is equally indebted to similar influences, owes a great deal to the former Dylan’s ability to craft a memorable lyric, coupled with Joe Pug’s amazing modern folk delivery. Couple that with an amazing pop-rock hook which instantly reminds of Tonic’s Emerson Hart, and “Black Lights” is a stunning discovery which serves as a perfect introduction to the songwriter’s fourth album, Radio Dial, an album which works as hard as this song’s boxing protagonist to craft meaningful music which resonates like a brutal right-hook.

All I have are bad nights
Wrapping knuckles, taping hands tight
The calm after a fistfight is the hollowest sound I know …

Almost like the hollow sound you’ll briefly hear between your ears before you hit play and dig up a copy of this stellar album so you can hear a dozen more just as good.

http://soundcloud.com/mt-press/jason-myles-goss-black-lights

FEATURED SONG: Townes Van Zandt – “Colorado Girl / Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

It’s a sad sad world when more people aren’t all over the music of a guy like Townes Van Zandt. He got a burst of posthumous publicity when Steve Earle’s Townes album came out a few years ago, but he’s still way below the radar for most listeners who haven’t been lucky enough to take the plunge. I stumbled on this video this morning that seamlessly blends his own “Colorado Girl” with Bob Dylan’s oft-covered (but rarely successfully) “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” from an old 1985 NPR broadcast. It’s such a stunning combination, you won’t be able to resist.

As a bonus, here’s another successful version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” from the Handsome Family’s 2010 covers album Scattered. For those of you who haven’t heard the band, they’ve been recording since 1993, doing a pretty good job of picking up the mantle of guys like Van Zandt themselves. Here’s hoping 2011 will see a new album of originals from them!