“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?
So I picked up my copy of Rolling Stone this afternoon from the mailbox, and I see a two star review of Birdy’s self-titled debut, and it was surprisingly scathing considering in the end they seem to merely be accusing her of having taste too refined for her age:
The songs stick to a formula: tolling piano chords, an “atmospheric” beat and Birdy’ s mewling. The result is the most boring music ever recorded bya teenager. No one so young should have such flawless taste in Quality Indie Rock, or sound this bummed out.
Her taste, whatever you think of her choice in covers, is impeccable. Birdy is an album which sticks to a theme, and the choices she makes in the arrangments of others’ songs are definitely interesting. Take her version of The Naked and Famous’s “Young Blood,” which she slows down from its originally dense synth arrangment (a la the likes of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”), accentuating the melody of the song and making room for her exeptional vocals. When she sings “I’ll fall back in love eventually,” it’s hard not to melt between the headphones. She may only be 15 years old and still finding her own voice, but what we find here on her debut bodes well for the future. I’d put her high on the list of artists worthy to follow in Adele’s footsteps in the coming years.
I’ve written before on this blog about how awesome Don Ryan is. But this cover of Queens of the Stone Age’s “This Lullaby” is definitely worth a listen. Then, once you’ve basked in the melodic glory that is Don Ryan meets QOTSA, you can go re-read my feature on his magnificent “This Town,” and run out to buy a copy of Tangle Town, the best album of 2011 that no one’s gotten to hear:
Don Ryan knows he has to win listeners from the very first moments … which makes “This Town” even more impressive, since the smothering sense of doom is present instantly, yet manages to build as the song progresses. “This town is burning down,” he sings, his vocals providing hits of desperate hope even as all the music around him floats like flotsam upon the oily black bilge water below.
This isn’t your dad’s Neil Young, but if this teaser is a true hint of what’s to come with Gitar’s Seen As Unclean later this year, the results should be impressive. Toronto’s Gitar exists to bring eclectic beats into the world of rock and roll, which is certainly a worthy endeavor. On “Hippie Dream” we’re hit immediately by fuzzed out bass and popping synth percussion, as Mikhail Galkin layers his off-kilter vocals into the mix, the entire affair sounding as though it takes place in a world where we’re about half a minute away from succumbing to drowning — though that’s certainly not a terrible effect, once you’ve heard the whole thing and hit repeat a few times.
Hell, it’s a step up in pace from the lugubrious original by Young, which features slowed-down bass oppressive enough to fully suggest the death of the hippie aesthetic. According to the band’s press materials, this is the first time they’ve dared to take on the music of a Canadian legend. The finished product showcases their ability to live up to the challenge, and one hopes this won’t be the last time they throw caution to the wind and reach for something legendary. At the very least they don’t lack for balls.
California singer-songwriter Danny Hamilton isn’t a household name yet, but he’s already had success in CMT’s Music City Madness competition (he finished second) and with various YouTube videos, including a bluegrass jam version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and a few of his own originals (this one here is my favorite, a song which means a little more when you hear “I’ve been knocked down but I’m still here” while knowing he was almost killed by a truck at age 14.) But his recently posted cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic “Sounds of Silence” is the most impressive of his many YouTube covers, an arrangement which manages to be faithful to the original while melding in a few Native-American flourishes which make this cover a particularly memorable one
Like the song? You can buy a download of it from ITunes!
There’s something overtly ballsy about covering “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears, but Hannah Peel takes it to new levels of indie folk awesomeness by bringing the Pin-Barrel Harp (Sharpsichord) one step closer to mainstream acceptance, creating a haunting, original cover in the process. It’s positively mindblowing that fewer than 2,000 people have to date seen this video on YouTube, because Peel is an artist with theatrical vision and a willingness to push the folk-pop envelope in ways music fans in 2012 would be smart to quickly and vehemently embrace. The cover is a great way to get your feet wet, but her original songs are just as ready for global consumption. Just try “Song For The Sea” on for size and tell me there’s nothing here worth shouting from the rooftops.
Sometimes the most emotional, raw covers come from the artists we least suspect are capable of wringing such truth from between the notes. But Ke$ha’s wrenching version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is one of those rare covers which will stick with you and demand you repeat them until you’ve let every note soak into your consciousness.
“I didn’t want this to sound like a pop version of a Bob Dylan song,” Ke$ha tells Rolling Stone. “That’s the last thing I wanted this to sound like.” And it doesn’t sound like pop in the least, as she strips the song bare in the opening verse, just her voice as she lets the words tell the story through her cracked vocals, seeming on the verge of a complete breakdown through the entire four minutes. “It seemed like a suicide note to the love of my life and to my former life,” she says. “I’m so lucky and blessed, but there are moments that are just so incredibly lonely that it’s indescribable. And I’ve never written a song that’s admitted that. Singing Bob Dylan’s words and feeling my own emotion through it – it was a very intense moment for me.”
The result may be the finest thing she’s had the opportunity to record, torched and tragically beautiful as she showcases a voice which certainly deserves to have finer material to sing than she’s had to this point in her career. You can hear the song below via a YouTube clip, though it will also soon be commercially available via a 4 CD box set of Bob Dylan tribute songs, Chimes of Freedom, which has been commissioned by Amnesty International. The set releases on January 24, 2012 in honor of the charity’s 50th anniversary, and it can be streamed now via their Facebook page.
If you think there aren’t guys out there who can handle Adele’s powerful “Rolling In The Deep” with equal aplomb, I submit for your consideration this cover by New York rockers The All Ways. This isn’t a dramatic reworking of the song, by any means, but the band definitely has put their stamp on it. And Austin Massirman has some serious pipes, and the vocal control to handle this mighty song.
The band’s got a number of solid covers up on YouTube, but the jury’s still out on whether they’ve got enough material of their own to be more than just a solid cover band. With a voice like that, Massirman and company need to find material worthy of the voice, and they could go places.
Ray LaMontagne seems to be the kind of singer who can take anyone’ s songs and do them complete and total justice. Take this astounding cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” which may just be the coolest thing I’ve ever stumbled on at 2:45 in the morning. It definitely puts the song in a new light, more mournful than, say, the absolute crazy inclinations of the Cee Lo vocals on the original hit single. LaMontagne makes the song less literal and more an exploration of a deep, painful loss, and the undertones make it sound more like a love song than you might ever have imagined.
Check it out for yourself if you think I’m crazy! (Okay, I couldn’t resist.)