100 best covers: #72 Cat Power “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again”

<< #73    |    #71 >>

Just over a couple of years ago, I participated in a collaborative blog posting extravaganza, for which a number of bloggers around the world all posted words on the same day on Bob Dylan, a theme decided upon in advance. It was a fun exercise, albeit somewhat outside of this particular blog’s normally scheduled programming, and it was interesting to see how all these different writer’s chose to treat the chosen theme. In my case, I opted to write about the 2007 film “I’m not there”, an unorthodox biopic on the iconic singer/songwriter that chose to portray him using four different actors and telling bits about his life using multiple story lines. Of course, given my blog’s music bent, I spoke at length about the soundtrack as well, which is a super long (perhaps too long) double LP made up of covers, rather than the originals, by various artists across the musical spectrum. And perhaps both of these, the film and soundtrack, were as contrarian and confounding as Bob Dylan can be himself.

One of the three tracks I pointed out as amongst my favourites on the soundtrack was this cover by Cat Power of “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again”. Though to be honest, it’s definitely less about the artist performing it than it is the song itself. I know next to nothing about the American singer/songwriter but she definitely stands up to the gauntlet laid down by Dylan on this track. Hers is just shy of the seven and half minute mark of Dylan’s original but her honey smooth vocals keep the energy and the feel true to the original. Both versions bounce and jive along and bring a smile to my face every time. I actually fell in love with Dylan’s original just shy a decade earlier when I heard it on another soundtrack, the one for the very excellent screen adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson classic, “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas”.

It’s just one of those songs that could go on for ever as far as I’m concerned, even if either singer just devolved into gibberish. And well, I can’t actually decide which version I like better on this one. Thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

100 best covers: #73 (a tie!) The Wonder Stuff / Morrissey “That’s entertainment”

<< #74    |    #72 >>

What’s this? A tie?

This is not something you’ll see too often in my lists because it feels like a bit of a cheat. If you’re going to rank things, do so with conviction is what I say. However, in the case of these two covers, they will be forever inextricably linked and it would be near impossible for me to place one over the other.

I’ve already mentioned somewhere in these pages that I was pretty heavily into The Wonder Stuff in the early 1990s, especially in grade 13 (or OAC, as we called it at the time in Ontario, Canada). In January 1992, the Stuffies released the single, “Welcome to the cheap seats”, as a double EP and I duly purchased it on cassette. One of the eight tracks was their cover of The Jam classic, “That’s entertainment”. I wasn’t super familiar with the original but I loved the tune, along with the rest of the cassette, so I decided to share it with my friend Andrew Rodriguez, whom I knew was a fan of The Jam*. I offered him my Walkman on the bus ride home from school one afternoon and I watched his face as he listened but I couldn’t tell by the rapidly changing dramatic expressions whether he liked it or not. At the end, he took off the earphones, pressed stopped, and handed it back to me with: “It’s quite good actually. Quite faithful to the original. Definitely better than Morrissey’s cover.”

Then, Rodriguez went off about the original, waxing poetical about how Paul Weller wrote the song in about 10 minutes, probably drunk, probably on a bar napkin, but my mind was way behind him, still processing his last comment. Morrissey also covered this track? Why yes, JP, he did. In fact, it was done just the year prior and released as a B side to the single, “Sing your life”. It took some time for me to track this one down, I think. Things weren’t so easy before the Internet, you see. It was probably my friend John who had a CD copy of the aforementioned single and from whom I recorded a copy of this second cover to blank cassette.

Upon listening to both these covers, it is obvious that my friend Andrew was right about the fact that The Wonder Stuff cover was definitely closer in spirit to the original but that doesn’t necessarily make it better than Morrissey’s version. Say what you will about him these days, there was always something about Moz’s delivery. His version is slowed down, which lengthens the song by a whole minute, allowing us time to thoroughly process Paul Weller’s words and reflections on the crazy world happening all around him. The Wonder Stuff take the song on as it is, adding their own folk-punk-influenced pop sound and Miles Hunt’s easy snarl.

Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking ’bout your holidays
That’s entertainment

Are either of these better than the original? Probably not. But I love them anyway.

Cover #1:

Cover #2:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

* I’ve since realized that Andrew Rodriguez is quite possibly the world’s biggest Paul Weller fan (or maybe just Canada’s biggest). He’s been promising a Top Five Tunes post about The Jam for a couple of years now. Maybe next year…

New release: One Great Tribute! A Love Letter To The Weakerthans

So here’s something I don’t make a habit of doing very often on these pages: a review (of sorts) of a newly-released album. I figured, given that it’s my younger brother that is behind this pretty extensive tribute album to one of Canada’s musical treasures, that I should give it a listen and share my thoughts.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the know but just in case you’re not… The Weakerthans were an indie rock quartet from Winnipeg, Manitoba that released a handful of excellent albums from the late 1990s and into the late 2000s. Their sound was a melodic blend of folk and punk and the songwriting was pure gold. Frontman John K Samson was a poet laureate of sorts, imparting honest and astute observations on life in Canada and otherwise.

“One great tribute!” is twenty-three tracks long, clocking in at just over an hour, and covers a good portion of The Weakerthans’ four LPs. With the exception of one blip of synths, its entirety dwells in either angsty punk or rootsy folk or a combination of the two. It is bookended by two versions of “Bigfoot!”, both featuring stripped-down piano to the original’s acoustic plucking. However, I think Frank Turner’s opener is the bigger star here to the Bry Webb closer, but more because it feels more aptly upbeat than due to his more well-known name.

The Lowest of the Low’s ska-tinged cover of “Pamphleteer” made smile quite a bit as well, given that the first time I ever heard The Weakerthans was when I saw them open for The Low in 2001. It’s also kind of fun because their current bassist is none other than Greg Smith, though he didn’t play on the original version of the tune.

Del Barber’s choice of song to contribute was pitch perfect. “One great city!”, from which the compilation draws its name, is the love/hate ode to Winnipeg, the hometown Barber shares with The Weakerthans.

Some of the other highlights for me include Skye Wallace’s take on “Without mythologies”, the Have Gun, Will Travel cover of “Psalm for the Elks Lodge last call” and the version of “Sun in an empty room” by Ben Rough with Peachykine.

If I had any complaints to make about this tribute, they would be that it does get a bit long near the end and that despite all the songs, no one managed to take on what is possibly my own favourite Weakerthans tune: “Tournament of hearts”. However, I don’t think this would take anything away from fans of the group enjoying all the love these songs are getting. I personally dug out my copies of all the Weakerthans’ albums to compare notes after giving the compilation a few spins yesterday. I highly recommend you all check it out.

“One great tribute” is available for digital purchase here as of today. If physical formats are more your thing, there are plans to also release the album on CD but a date for that has to be announced.