September 6, 2013
Covers are a common staple of music. It’s hard to find a band that hasn’t covered another artist’s work, whether it’s purely for live performance purposes, or typically as a bonus track on an album. Soul singer Kendra Morris has completely blown all stereotypes apart with the release of her second album, Mockingbird.
The entire album is covers, ranging from artists such as The Rolling Stones to Pink Floyd to Metallica and Lou Reed. It’s an ambitious venture for someone as fresh in the music world as Morris, but she pulls it off spectacularly.
It’s fascinating how Morris can take these songs and make them her own. A song may start and sound like just her, without a hint of the actual original in it. If you don’t know it’s a cover you may not realize it until you hear a line from the original that you recognize. When that realization hits though, it’s a wonderful moment.
The album opens with “Space Oddity,” one of David Bowie’s most easily recognizable tunes.
It’s a good start to a good album, very soulful. It’s not as ‘strange’ as Bowie’s rendition, and that’s almost a little refreshing in this case. Elements of the ‘space’ theme can still be felt in the sound of the instrumentation and Morris’ vocals, particularly in her harmony.
Her cover of “As Long As I’ve Got You” may be the one track on the album that strays the least from the original. It’s still a great tune and she does the song justice, but it’s not really all that interesting in comparison the some of the other work she’s done on the album.
The third track on Mockingbird, The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” is a good choice as far as her style goes. It’s got a great groove, and the Stones’ music translates really well into her genre. As the Stones’ biggest disco-era hit, “Miss You” has an obvious disco influence, which Morris uses to her advantage.
She does away with any notion of harmonica in the song and opting instead for a crunchy guitar with a ‘wa’ distortion. It’s a solid track, and compared to the Stones’ original, it gains some strength where they at times faltered.
Morris next covers Dionne Warwick’s hit “Walk On By.” It’s a big departure from the original, filled with sharp drumbeats and moaning guitars. It’s a good track, but a lot more interesting if you’re familiar with the original.
Morris’ talent is apparent through the album, but so too are the talents of her band members, and never more so in “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a cover of one of Pink Floyd’s most memorable and musically complex songs. Morris opens the song with a long period of vocalization, perhaps nodding to Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig In The Sky” from Dark Side of the Moon.
The cover itself doesn’t stretch any boundaries with the song, which would arguably be an impressive feat if Morris was able to, but that doesn’t detract at all from the quality of the song. It’s a refreshing modern take on the song, less filled with acid-y waves of sound and more focused on the wailing, flowing nature of the song.
Morris’ next great moment is the rather unexpected cover of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers. Most people know the song as a happy, peppy, somewhat comical song featuring some very intense Scottish accents. It’s a staple of the 1980’s. Morris’ take on the song is none of these things.
It’s lustful, passionate, and a little dark. It’s not the happy-sounding jam that anyone expects. It’s also the only track on the album to feature a male voice, in the form of someone whom the tracklist names as Godforbid. It’s a very different take on the song, but it makes you want to sway and dance in a way that The Proclaimers’ version never did.
Following her cover of The Proclaimers, Morris makes a turn in a different direction, taking on Radiohead’s “Karma Police.”
Morris has this incredibly capacity for taking songs that are a little ‘strange’ and using that strange influence to fuel her own style. It may not be the most exciting cover on the album, but “Karma Police” is an interesting take and it’ll catch your attention easily if you know any Radiohead.
Possibly the most surprising and definitely the biggest departure from the original is Morris cover of “Ride the Lightning” by Metallica.
It might be one of the greatest highlights of the album.
Her interpretation of the song is just incredible. What originally was a gritty powerhouse of mid 80’s Metallica, in Morris’ hands becomes jazzy, soulful, and a little theatrical. The emotion of the song is dark, like Metallica’s original, but also features a kind of punky flair in Morris’ voice. It’s overwhelming how good her cover is. Even as a standalone, it’s a great tune, but in the context of where the song comes from, it’s just amazing how anyone could get her style of song out of something so vastly different.
The album also features a cover of Julie London’s “Cry Me A River” and Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side,” both solid takes on the original songs, before diving into another surprise.
Her cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” begins with an Animals-esque synthesizer and then striking a warbling note on guitar and ushering in Morris’ vocals. It’s another track that translates well from the original into her style. Chris Cornell has a vocal quality and style that is already similar to Morris’ own. It’s obvious what song it is, but Morris does make it her own.
While Soundgarden made the song dark and depressing and a little bit trippy, Morris fills it with longing, making it almost a song about missing someone.
It’s still amazing how she can change the songs she covers in the album.
Mockingbird is an ambitious move for Morris, and a little bit foolish. Die-hard fans of the bands she covers are very protective of the songs they claim, and likely to have criticisms to make. Even if that is the case, it’s certainly gaining attention, and she deserves it for the way she crafts her versions of the songs. - Jordan B. Frye, Assistant Editor @jordanbfrye
July 21, 2013
The Editors’ The Weight of Your Love is a bipolar roller-coaster of high-flying orchestral scenes and slow, meandering tracks. The album’s first track “The Weight” opens with a symphony sound and drums, rising up and up and up into crescendo where nothing happens. It just doesn’t go anywhere. This conflict between expectation and result is present in many moments of the album, right alongside tracks that actually deliver when you want them to.
Lyrically the album performs well enough across the board. Tom Smith’s words may appear melodramatic at times, but the album itself feels melodramatic so it at least fits. “Sugar” features lines such as ‘There’s sugar on your soul, you’re like no one I know, you’re the life of another world,” practically dripping with imagery reminiscent of high school poetry.
There’s so much that can be done with an album that sounds like The Weight. Some tracks do satisfy expectations. “A Ton of Love” pounds away with catchy guitar riffs, a fat bass groove, and energized drums. It’s a high point, sandwiched between songs that give it poor context.
“Formaldehyde” in the second half of the album delivers a Bowie-esque groove and energy unlike the previous half. In fact, the latter half of the album, a section typically reserved for lesser tracks that will never make it to radio, far outperforms the first. “Hyena” features some of the best vocals and lyrics from Smith, and “The Phone Book” throws the album’s typical sound away in favor of acoustic guitars and mild use of synthesizer.
It’s surprising, to say the least.
The Weight of Your Love is an album that borders between disappointing and beautiful. It’s a little confusing, to say the least. There are moments of true satisfaction, made better by the standard set by some of the previous tracks. The themes feel overused at a point, but that second half redeems what ever the first half failed to achieve. It’s worth a listen for the good moments. –Jordan B. Frye, Contributing Editor @jordanbfrye
July 7, 2013
Coming out of the French club music scene of the late 1990’s, Daft Punk have always set the standard for electronic music across the board. With the release of Random Access Memories, they have yet again proven just how versatile yet relevant their musical style can be. Blending past, modern and future sounds together is no easy task for any group, yet Daft Punk pulls the stunt off with ease.
It’s difficult to say whether Random Access Memories is the most quintessentially Daft Punk album so far or the most unusual. Their first album Homework, released in 1997, featured a lot of electronic, drum n’ bass sounds, mixed with rock guitar influences. Random Access Memories still makes use of their trademark synthesizer sounds and distorted voices, but this time around it’s so much funkier than previously heard.
As a matter of fact, a lot of the album sounds like a lot of the funk acts from the seventies.
Defining moments such as their single “Get Lucky,” a song that has so little of their original electronic sound apart from the hallmark distorted vocals, make it sound more like an album from the disco era in American music than a modern electronic album. Taking it in that context alone however, their use of funk guitar and drumbeats surpasses many of the seventies acts easily.
The sound as a whole is summed up easily in the third track “Giorgio by Morodor,” when contributing artist Giorgio Morodor says “I wanted to do an album with the sound of the fifties, the sound of the sixties, of the seventies, and then have a sound of the future.”
This combination of sounds blends together expertly. The album isn’t as exciting and energetic as some past works, but the sound is well-crafted and it’s all very easy on the ears.
Modern electronic music can be very purist, using little or no sound from stringed instruments or otherwise. With contemporary acts such Skrillex, Deadmau5 or Wolfgang Gartner ruling much of the stage with music that primarily uses mixing and sampling, Daft Punk’s move to rely increasingly on traditional musical instruments is a one bold.
Daft Punk’s album history has shown time and time again that their style is prone to constant change. Random Access Memories, while a drastic departure from their traditional sound, is a good addition to their discography and an interesting listen. – Jordan B. Frye, Contributing Editor @jordanbfrye
September 26, 2010
Reminiscent of times past, Harlem River Blues draws upon many influences creating an album that could easily capture a multitude of audiences. From the graceful whine of the steel guitar to soulful horns to walking bass lines, Harlem River Blues captures the essence of American music.
As the son of singer-songwriter Steve Earle and named for Townes Van Zandt, Justin Townes Earle was bound to musically shine at some point in his life. I think Harlem River Blues announces Earle’s arrival in the spotlight.
Though each song on the album would most likely fit in a different era, Earle’s songwriting allows his music to transcend decades. In fact, if it weren’t for the lack of vinyl static and his mention of things such as “satellite radio,” one might feel transported to country music’s golden history.
Each track seems to build upon the one before it creating smooth transitions of sounds that take the listener on a journey from Brooklyn to Tennessee and even Chicago. The album’s title track, “Harlem River Blues”, kicks off the record with familiar bluesy country riffs, and each consecutive track is a pleasure to the ears.
“One More Night in Brooklyn,” has an infectious quality that causes automatic hip swaying as Earle sings, “One more night in Brooklyn. Baby, we’re getting lost.”
The third track on the album, a fast moving tune with an almost rockabilly inclination, “Move Over Mama,” is about a woman that has become too comfortable being alone.
“Slippin’ and Slidin’,” employs gritty guitar, wailing horns and poignant organ to lull the listener into a soulful, musical coma. As Earle sings, “Darling, I just need a little company. Ain’t seen the sunrise since I don’t know when,” emotion wells up in the listener inspiring empathy for the singer’s lonely journey.
The next track, “Christchurch Woman,” is noteworthy as well with a gently rolling rhythm and witty lyrics that one will be singing after a few listens. With quick guitar riffs and steady piano, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Harlem River Blues is a lovely, melancholy foray into the world of Americana. Justin Townes Earle is a truly gifted songwriter and musician that has learned how to harness the journey of life in music form. Though not his first musical accomplishment, Harlem River Blues possesses qualities bound to set it apart from Earle’s previous records.
“Lord, I’m goin’ uptown, to the Harlem River to drown,” opening line of “Harlem River Blues.” The only drowning involved in this album is the ability to drown out your surroundings while listening to it. –Amelia Tritico
Harlem River Blues was released on September 14. Justin Townes Earle is on tour.
September 1, 2010
Youth Is In Our Blood by The Dirty Guv’nahs amazes by its both simple and complex musical styling, lyrics, and composition.
It’s simple because somewhere in the deep recesses of my soul, I’ve heard it before—possibly in the melodies of The Rolling Stones or in the jams of The Allman brothers or more recently, the grit of The Black Crowes.
Youth Is In Our Blood is complex because it’s unlike anything I’ve heard being produced today. It’s a combination of all those soulful bands that are deeply loved and a new voice adding to Southern Rock’s glorious past and apparently bright future. The Dirty Guv’nahs bring back old memories, create new ones, and allow the listener to step into a marvelously happy musical existence for a total of 51 minutes and 55 seconds.
Started in Knoxville, Tennessee, The Dirty Guv’nahs formed on a whim when the bass player, Justin Hoskins, volunteered the Guvs to open for a band already slated to play at a local benefit. The only problem was that The Dirty Guv’nahs didn’t exist yet. They quickly joined together to play the benefit and decided to run with it.
Two albums, countless shows, and four years later, there are thousands of fans ecstatic that The Dirty Guv’nahs chose to follow their path of musical destiny. James Trimble, lead singer, and Michael Jenkins, guitarist, do most of the songwriting, and they seem to know which words will reach listeners in a way most songs don’t.
Youth Is In Our Blood was recorded at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, New York, in December of last year and has all the makings to be a modern rock masterpiece. The first track “Baby We Were Young,” embodies the whole theme of the album. “Love was the shape we made, love was the breath we drew, and youth was in our blood,” belts lead singer James Trimble.
Each track oozes lessons about love, life, and the measure of youth. “Walk With Me,” is the story of man accepting and loving a woman despite her problems. “We’ll Be the Light,” is a feel-good anthem epitomizing rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s talent truly shines in “New Salvation,” as lead guitarist, Cozmo Holloway, is given a chance to really shred, and “It’s Dangerous,” warns against the dangers of finding love in a bar. “Blue Rose Stroll” is the band’s longtime fan favorite, and it’s difficult to keep oneself from dancing or singing along when this tune starts playing.
I’ve heard some fans sound disappointed due to the abundance of ballads on Youth Is In Our Blood, but I personally think they make the album. “Courage,” speaks to listeners on a completely different level than other tracks. Trimble’s voice croons, “Courage moves within me, makes me shake. Looking for an ending without the wait.”
“The Country” is a beautiful, lilting melody dedicated to a failed relationship, something to which most of us can identify, and the addition of Jill Andrews voice singing harmony with Trimble’s is enough to send shivers through the spine. Written by keyboardist Chris Doody, “Seeds on the Rise” deals with the struggle of loss: loss of a relationship and a loss of faith. It allows the listener to believe there’s hope for those of us foolish enough to think we can control every aspect of our lives.
The Dirty Guv’nahs are a group of intelligent, passionate young men out to change the world, one rock show at a time. Fueled by conviction and talent, the group travels from city to city, spreading love, happiness, and a new form of rock reality certain to charm young rock fans and remind the old ones that youth is in the blood, not in a stage of life. –Amelia Tritico
Youth Is In Our Blood was released on July 20. The Dirty Guv’nahs are currently on tour.