100 best covers: #63 Colin Meloy “Everyday is like sunday”

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Morrissey is quite the polarizing figure, perhaps one of the most polarizing in the modern rock era. Like many, I love the part he played leading The Smiths, much of his early solo work, and even some of the later music he released under his own name. However, with every comment and miscue and cancelled tour, it’s getting harder for me to separate the artist from his art. And knowing what I know of Colin Meloy, having an inkling on his political stances, and my general feeling that he is an excellent human being, I sometimes wonder what his own thoughts are on Morrissey, one of his heroes and huge influences on his own music. But perhaps that mental leap happened too quickly, so let me backtrack.

The year following the release of The Decemberists’ third album, “Picaresque”*, frontman Colin Meloy self-released his own first solo recording. It was a six-song EP of covers of songs, the first of a series of similar EPs, each shining a spotlight on one of his favourite artists, that Meloy would issue and sell only at his solo shows. These EPs were aptly called, in reverse order from the date of release: “Colin Meloy sings The Kinks”, “Colin Meloy sings Sam Cooke”, “Colin Meloy sings Shirley Collins”, and of course, “Colin Meloy sings Morrissey”.

The six songs on this last were made up mostly of B-sides or lesser known singles by the master of maudlin but the final track was a certain very well-known single. Indeed, “Every day is like sunday” was the second ever single released by Morrissey after the dissolution of The Smiths and appeared as the third track on his solo debut album. It is one of my own favourite tracks, out of all of his solo output, and yet I can’t seem to help but love Colin Meloy’s cover just that much more.

The original is quite polished, full band and sweet production, not that there’s anything wrong with that. On this song, however, where there is an inherent sadness and solitude and fear, I think Colin Meloy hammers the nail in further with his stripped down, solitary version. He starts the proceedings sounding lonely and forlorn, just strumming on the acoustic and instilling Morrissey’s lyrics with more passion and precision than his hero, and by the end, you can’t help but feel his angst and moral outrage at the situation hinted at in the lyrics.

Indeed, the lyrics feel almost prophetic now, given the current situation we all now find ourselves in, but really, they only ring true, and don’t feel touristic, if played through the lens of Colin Meloy’s cover.

Disagree with me, I dare you.

Cover:

The original:

*The now iconic album by the indie folk band is the one that would end up being their last as an honest-to-goodness indie band,

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

Best tunes of 2012: #24 John K. Samson “Heart of the continent”

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With apologies to my youngest brother Mike*, I didn’t really get into and start appreciating the songwriting of John K. Samson until somewhere between the time of The Weakerthans’ last record and when they went on the extended hiatus that continues to this day.

It’s not like I didn’t have my chances. I actually saw them live twice. The first time was in 2001, when I hadn’t yet heard of them at all. They were the opening act on a card supporting Billy Bragg and The Lowest of the Low in Toronto, the latter of whom I recall Samson claiming were a huge influence on his own songwriting. The second time I saw them was in 2008 and they played in the afternoon on the second day of Toronto Island’s Virgin Fest. I was much better prepared this time, having brushed up on pretty much all of their records, and even finding a few favourite tunes on these. Yet still, though I enjoyed their set quite a bit, I wasn’t quite as into it as was my friend Mark, though truth be told, his enjoyment might have been enhanced by the bit of cannabis he had partaken in just beforehand.

What really did it for me was a couple years after that second show when I happened to be in Winnipeg around the time of their renowned Folk Festival. One of the sets that I managed to catch there was an afternoon songwriting workshop that included members of Jon And Roy, Works Progress Administration, and Swell Season and which was led by a genial fellow that I thought looked familiar right from the beginning. It turned out that it was local legend and the unofficial poet laureate of Winnipeg, John K. Samson, and of course, the theme that afternoon was on writing about home.

This is something Samson does often. His hometown of Winnipeg and other bits of Canadiana often entered the conversational tone of the lyrics of The Weakerthans’ songs. And there is no good reason why he would change his thinking when he released his debut solo album, “Provincial”, in 2012, which is the host of today’s song, “Heart of the continent”. Indeed, the title of today’s song is Winnipeg’s slogan, which is why many consider it like a sequel of sorts to The Weakerthans’ “One great city”, which was, of course, Winnipeg’s old slogan.

“There’s a billboard by the highway
That says welcome to
(Bienvenue à)
But no sign to show you when you go away“

It’s a lovely tune. Samson’s lyrics take the front seat, his now recognizable voice all soft and wistful, while his fingers brush and pluck away at the strings of an acoustic guitar. It’s like he’s busking on his favourite street corner (perhaps on Memorial), complete with his foot stomping on the kick pedal drum. Little by little, the people passing to and fro join him in the chorus, perhaps there’s another guitar and snare that make their way out from the abandoned building in front of which Samson sings, his hat still empty in front of him.

Yep. With this tune and this album, I became a full fledged Samson fan.

*My youngest brother Mike is a pretty big Weakerthans fan and was behind “One great tribute”, a tribute album to the band that was released last year.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #3 Jenny Lewis – Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Jenny Lewis and her band and a sea of umbrellas at Bluesfest 2014

Artist: Jenny Lewis
When: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Where: River Stage at 7:00pm
Context: Another of the pitfalls of outdoor music festivals is inclement weather. Of course, Ottawa in July is particularly fun for the wild weather and it just seems to get more unsettled as the years roll on. I’ve weathered more than a couple storms in the middle of concert crowds, whether during sets or waiting for them to begin. It’s gotten so that dollar store ponchos have become a regular fixture in my pack whenever I head out to a festival. Others bring umbrellas and to them I say: “Leave them at home!” They often blow open and break in strong winds and they block the views of anyone unfortunate enough to be behind you.

But enough of that.

Back on the Tuesday night of the 2014 edition of Bluesfest, the skies opened up, exactly as forecast, and drenched the diehards awaiting the arrival of indie singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis. The rain was such that they delayed of the start of her 7pm set and it just seemed to get worse and worse, until the rain seemed endless and we started to think that the River stage would be washed away, along with our hopes of seeing Jenny Lewis live. She finally did go on at 7:40, leaving only twenty minutes remaining of her originally scheduled set. I stuck it out because I’d been following her since her days with Rilo Kiley and had enjoyed quite a bit of her solo work. And who knew if she’d ever make it back to Ottawa?

Jenny Lewis and her band only performed a total of six songs: a couple of Rilo Kiley tracks, a couple of tracks from her album with the Watson Twins, and the brand new single off her upcoming album, “Just one of the guys” (see full list below). She came out wearing a colourful outfit (similar to that shown on the aforementioned new album cover), playing a rainbow coloured acoustic guitar, and projecting a like mannered disposition. For the final song, “Acid tongue”, her backing band, dressed in whites and blacks, gathered behind her, choir-style to sing backup, while she serenaded us quietly on her acoustic guitar. It was a lovely set and I’m grateful that we got the chance to see her, even though it was only a short performance, but one can’t help wonder what else she would have played had the rain not altered the schedule.

Afterwards, wandering away from the stage, I overheard Lawrence Gowan (!) on one of the main stages cracking a lame joke about double rainbows. I looked up and sure enough, there was a magnificent rainbow that again matched Lewis’s garb and guitar and that seemed to end at the foot of the River Stage on which she had just performed. Coincidence?

Rain parkas and umbrellas
Jenny Lewis
Natalie Prass and Megan McCormick
Jenny Lewis, Macey Taylor, and Joshua Adams
Jenny Lewis and her rainbow guitar
The rainbow ends at the River Stage

Setlist:
Just One of the Guys
Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley song)
Rise Up With Fists!!
You Are What You Love
A Man/Me/Then Jim (Rilo Kiley song)
Acid Tongue