Friday, October 16, 2009

A Reluctant Cover Lover

Being a self-proclaimed purist, it’s only but natural to ‘hate’ cover versions of songs, especially covers of those that figure on my favourite list. There's nothing like the real McCoy and many would agree with me, I believe.

This despise for cover versions intensified after Guns N’ Roses ‘killed’ Bob Dylan’s classic Knockin' on Heaven’s Door, perforating it with aye aye ayes after every verse. Well, the song did hit the charts, but I simply couldn’t get myself to listen to it. The Dylanist in me still laments – It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).  But what hit me hard is the musically ignoramus lot attributing the song to be a creation of Axl Rose & Co.

I cried hoarse over G n’ R’s attempt but do not refute the fact that the band is high on talent. The guys surely rock. They have sold an estimated 100 million albums worldwide. Boom! And in which other rock act can you find the guitarist doing his licks with a cigarette dangling from his mouth? At least, I don’t know of any. It’s ‘Slashing showmanship’ on stage!

Anyway, it’s rare that covers give full justice to their classic versions, if not score better. But, there are few that do so. Here’s a few in random sequence…

For those who came in late, guitar maestro Eric Clapton has also done a cover of His Bobness’ Knockin'  on...and his version with a reggae twist is fresh and groovy and you can’t just help but say, “Aye, aye Clapton!” Not a surprise coming from Him.

The term Southern rock is synonymous with Allman Brothers Band (ABB) and only someone with their kind of musical virtuosity can do justice doing Muddy Waters' classic Hoochie Coochie Man (the song was written by Willie Dixon), sprinkling it with a bit of Southern soul. This one's a winner all the way.

ABB was formed by brothers Duane Allman (slide and lead guitar) and Gregg Allman (vocals, organ) in Florida in 1969, has been awarded eleven Gold and five Platinum albums between 1971 and 2005. The band’s success paved the way for other Southern rock groups like the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie and Molly Hatchet. And Molly hit the right notes with a punchy rendition of ABB’s spacey number Dreams. The band’s version is perfect for a gig.

The cover of Beatles’ Oh Darling! by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones ranks high on my list. The band’s live version of the song with a jazzy twist is simply fantastic! Jimi Hendrix's landmark cover of Dylan's All Along The Watchtower; Manfred Mann's Earth Band’s rock-driven cover of Bruce Springsteen’s folksy Blinded by the Light; Joe Cocker's renditions of Traffic’s Feelin' Alright, Beatles’ Little Help From My Friends, and Dylan’s I Shall Be Released and Just Like a Woman,  are like the colours of the rainbow reflected by a snow-capped mountain crowned by the morning sun.

My list also includes Joan Baez’s beautiful interpretation of Jackson Browne’s Fountain of Sorrow; Phish’s perfectly fueled version of Hendrix’s Fire (Trey is an enlightening improvisionist); jazz empress Ella Fitzgerald’s elegant cover of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love; Sting’s swaggering version of the jazz classic It Ain't Necessarily So on Joe Henderson’s Porgy & Bess; Manfred Mann's Earth Band’s cover of Dylan’s (again) Father of Night;  and Jeff Healey Band’s (Jeff is a blind blues-rock vocalist and guitarist who attained popularity in the 1980s/90s) blues-on-the-rocks version of Beatles’ While my Guitar Gently Weeps. What’s common with these covers is the soul of the originals being kept alive with a refreshingly fresh feel.

To be continued…

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Happy, Swinging Hobos

What do you get when three “vagabond” musicians, with influences ranging from Louis Armstrong to Son House, Johnny Cash to Mississippi John Hurt and from hillbilly to folk to …, get together? Well, you get a band named Hobo Jazz.

The “fun music band” (as the Hobos describe themselves) is the baby of Hobo Matt "King" Coleman (vocals/guitar), who is also the primary songwriter; Hobo Joe Perez (drums/vocals) – a much sought after drummer in the scene; and the “wildest in this bunch of bananas” Marquis "M.W. Hobo" Howell, who plays the upright bass and also lends his voice.

The California-based band is a regular act in festivals, bars, coffee houses, theaters, street corners, burlesque shows and kids’ shows. Hobo Jazz’s debut album Old Lester's Speakeasy (released in 2006), which received much critical acclaim, is a testimony of the band’s interpretation of the free, raw and fun-filled music they believe in. The complex simplicity with deep roots and vibrant energy is the hallmark of the band’s music, which also tends to defy any genre branding.

And like the band says, “We play what we like, we don’t give much a damn about most things as long as we don’t have to compromise our jolliness,” their music is a refreshing feeling of happiness laced with vintage goodness.

Click here to preview or order a copy of Old Lester's Speakeasy. You can also checkout some cool Hobo Jazz videos on YouTube. Hobo Jazz is a must for anyone looking for clean, sweet, jolly and non-gadget driven music.