Under the Covers: Kendra Morris’ ‘Mockingbird’

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.

MorrisHer 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