I think it was around 11:30 or so last night when I slumped into the comfy chair at home. Chores were done and the day was nearly over, but I needed something else before I could convince myself to shower and crawl up-stairs to bed. I had been listening to a new album earlier in the day and there was a track on it that deserved another listen.
I guess when it comes down to it I tend to like cover songs. Not all of them mind you, but in general I really like it when one artist I admire re-interprets a song (or songs) by another artist I admire. There are some super fantastic examples out there. I have a number of albums in my collection that are nothing but covers and many more that have a cover slipped in here or there. The track last night was one of the latter; Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” as interpreted by Robert Plant and Allison Krauss. The original is super-fantastic enough, but the Plant/Krauss version is even more hauntingly beautiful as they took it in a whole new direction.
Another great example is Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ version of Radiohead’s “Black Star”. Yet another is Nick Cave’s “I’m Your Man”, originally by Leonard Cohen. I could go on and on… Los Lobos doing “The Monkey Song” from Disney’s The Jungle Book (originally by Louis Prima), or Holly Cole’s “Trust in Me” from the same soundtrack (originally sung by Sterling Holloway, the voice actor for the python Kaa), or her whole album of Tom Waits covers for that matter. Then there are some that are great for nearly preposterous reasons. For example, Tiny Tim’s version of the Beatles’ “Girl” is one of the funniest things I have heard and then there is Neil Diamond’s outlandish attempt to recreate the quasi-reggae version of his song “Red Red Wine” as interpreted by UB40…there are SOOOO many weird elements to that one.
There is this incredible duo named Rodrigo e Gabriella who are ex garage band hard rockers from Mexico City that found their calling as dual acoustic guitarists. They pull off one of the most unlikely cover segues I can imagine in a live show where they transition, almost seamlessly, from Metallica’s “One” into Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”…freakin’ phenomenal. Then of course there is the band Phish. They took this business to a whole new level for a few years with their amazing and nearly infamous Halloween concerts. The shtick was that they would play three whole sets of music with a break in between. The middle set would be a special one where they would cover a whole album. Remain In Light by Talking Heads, The White Album by the Beatles (as I understand it the Beatles never even played that album live…), Tommy by the Who (I think…), and Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Those are not your old standbys… those are generally complex albums.
Anyway, what is all this about? Not a damn thing really. I was exhausted last night and sinking into the cushions of the chair in the not really dark ambient light of the living room, letting Allison Krauss’s eerie, aching voice singing Tom’s lyrics… “Sky’s the autumn grey of a lonely wren” was just what I needed at that moment. And really, that is the relationship I have with music. Kind of like a good cup of coffee; the right song at the right moment can make all the difference. That is why I love to make “mixes” and why I used to really love being a DJ. Knowing just the right song to follow the one before and lead into the next one… when it works right and keeps working through a whole set, can be magical. Like the Beastie Boys say, “a good mix tape can put you in the right mood.”