Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Covered in Folk: Cyndi Lauper
(Greg Laswell, Kasey Chambers, Eva Cassidy, Willie Nelson, etc.)



As an unabashed child of the 80s, I grew up with a particular image of Cyndi Lauper in my head, and it wasn't pretty: hanks of bright-colored hair, that highpitched little-girl voice, the theme song to Goonies, that weird staged event with beer-bellied wrestler Lou Albano that years later comes across as even more creepy than it was back then.

But something was in the air, even then -- something which didn't gell with that synth-heavy dance-pop production and bouncy airhead persona. It turned out other songwriters really respected Cyndi Lauper. When, in the late nineties, Cyndi began to pull away from the charts and the public eye, she remained in the industry, taking stage roles, working behind the scenes as a vocal coach. You'd still see her every once in a while, passing through the red carpet crowd at the usual run of awards shows, and the people who stepped aside for her were people whose opinion we respected.

Some of the reasons people loved Cyndi had to do with who she was as a person -- a scrappy kid who had to kick-start her career several times to get heard, only to garner a record-breaking number of singles from mid-eighties release She's So Unusual. Some had to do with sheer admiration of talent -- love it or hate it, but that unique voice has a four octave range and a flexibility that many other megastars would die for. But though Cyndi continued to tour, outside the industry, with the exception of a few VH1 appearances, and a brief flash of misty-eyed memory when a few select somebodies like Phil Collins hit the charts with a cover, most of us forgot about Cyndi.

Then, in 2005, Cyndi partnered with several contemporary artists from Shaggy to Sarah McLachlan to release The Body Acoustic, a series of gorgeous, slow interpretations of her older songs that showed just what we had missed behind the synthesizer pop. The album charted on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts, where her earliest fans, their ears mellowed with age, were ready to welcome her back. And, simultaneously, a generation that had grown up like I did, eyes glued to the early stages of MTV, began mining their own past, finding surprising sentiment in the songs of their hairspray childhood.

It turns out when you strip those songs down, and recast them as folk, they speak to the heart. And though some of today's coversongs wobble on the edge of oversentiment, it takes but a short survey - let's say, a few choice covers of just three of Cyndi Lauper's most famous songs -- to recast Cyndi once and for all as a songwriter and song interpreter who may not have been in full control of her image, but sure as folk had the chops.

So here's those mid-career covers from Willie Nelson and long-gone bluesfolk songstress Eva Cassidy, plus some choice contemporary covers of Cyndi Lauper's work from a wide variety of folk artists. From the rich, majestic pianofolk of Greg Laswell to the more atmospheric indie guitar style of Norman Palm, from Benjamin Costello's delicate pianopop to Allison Crowe's heartfelt guitarfolk to the rough live stylings of indie band Wakey! Wakey!, from Kasey Chambers' stunning acoustic folkpop to the mystical jangly jazz stylings of Cassandra Wilson, they go a long way towards explaining why Cyndi Lauper merits her success, and her praise.



Remember, kids: instead of supporting faceless megacorporations which ask artists to take the least share of their due for the greatest part of the work, all artist and album links here on Cover Lay Down go direct to label homepages and artist preferred source for purchase - the most effective way to help keep music in the hands of musicians. If you like what you hear, head over to the sites and purchase an album or three. I especially recommend Greg Laswell's new EP How The Day Sounds, the collected posthumous works of Eva Cassidy, and anything by Kasey Chambers. And cover lovers will be especially tickled by the loads of free downloads available from Wakey! Wakey!, Allison Crowe, and Benjamin Costello.


Cover Lay Down publishes regularly on Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional Friday. Coming up: a return to our exploration of folk subgenres, and a feature on a favorite young singer-songwriter and cover artist in recognition of her newest collaborative album.

25 comments:

Missy k said...

Those are really lovely -- do you have Time After Time by Everything But the Girl? They have lots of great covers on their old Acoustic album.

Robbie said...

Always loved Cyndi Lauper, even before I really knew why. I have distinct memory of watching 'Goonies' and seeing her on the TV screen in the movie. And then, later on, watching the video to 'Hole In My Heart (All The Way To China)' on MTV (perhaps the only time it ever aired). Years later, I found a 3" import single for the song. She's an extremely talented lady and a great performer.

Again, an awesome post and a great selection of posts.

Rollerpimp said...

Time after Time has been covered by enumerable artists but my favorite that is close to the americana sound is Tuck & Patti. They are a husband and wife acoustic jazz duo that put a beautiful twist of a great song. I highly recommend it if you have never heard it.

Anonymous said...

how about girlyman's version of "all through the night"?

boyhowdy said...

Seems like I should have saved Time after Time for a "single song sunday", eh? Thanks to all who mentioned other covers worth pursuing ; keep those suggestions rolling in, folks!

And whoah, anon. -- is the Girlyman cover on an album? because I would LOVE to hear that...

Bruce said...

On the flip side, there's this video of Cyndi singing Joni Mitchell.

Kelly said...

Ah! Yes, I love the Greg Laswell cover. It's one of those, when I first heard him do it live, it took a little while to figure out what it was. His live shows are so great! Can't wait to see him again since he's touring for his new album coming out in July - "Three Flights from Alto Nido"

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