Being a coverfan means spending an awful lot of time scouring the universe for obscurities. Cover songs are often found outside of an artist's core output: tribute albums, radio or web exclusives, and live recordings are all rich sources for the sort of music any cover blogger counts as bread and butter. And notably, much of this material comes from labels, radio stations, and fans, rather than from the artists themselves.
So unless you're a madcap collector like myself, you've got a right to be suspicious of any artist who mines past product for pay or promotion. Greatest Hits compilations too often sacrifice hidden gems and broader sound to focus on the radioplay sameness which brought a band to power; self-tribute albums tend to come across as sappy. Rarities and B-Sides albums can go either way; though my recent feature on Cake over at Fong Songs celebrated their own release in this vein, in some cases, at least, and for many artists, there's plenty of good reasons why these songs were buried to begin with. And, as the poor recording quality of last-gasp posthumous releases from Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and Eva Cassidy can attest to, the very possibility of a second such album of such rarities practically screams "bottom of the barrel".
But it's been twelve years since Canadian pianopop songstress Sarah McLachlan released her first Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff, and she's done some fine, increasingly mature work since then, both on her own albums and in collaboration with numerous label compilations and other artists. And as a collector of the arcane and obscure, as well as a Sarah McLachlan fan since early adulthood, I've been gathering these songs in as I find them for over a decade.
As such, I already know most of the songs on Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff, Volume 2, which hit stores just a few weeks ago. And I am pleased to report that like McLachlan's first Rarities compilation, Rarities v. 2 contains very little scrap metal, and plenty of perfectly-tuned songs from the border of folk and pop, most of which lean towards the delicate sound of, say, her sweet take on the Randy Newman-penned When Somebody Loved Me from the Toy Story 2 soundtrack, rather than the pounding remixed radiopop of so many of her produced original albums. There's some great collaborative work here, with the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Emmylou Harris. And some wonderful covers, too -- of the Beatles' Blackbird, The Rainbow Connection, Joni Mitchell's River, and more -- most of which fall to the delicate, folkier side of her sonic spectrum.
Which is why I am especially excited to announce that today, in partnership with the fine folks at Filter and Artista, we are offering one lucky winner a prize package consisting of the following:
- One CD copy of Sarah McLachlan's Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff, Volume 2
- An autographed 11x14 high stock matte print featuring the album cover as depicted below
To be fair, though I am a long-time fan of Sarah McLachlan's work, I almost chose not to participate in today's contest offering. Sarah McLachlan prefers heavy, swirling, pulsing pop production in much of her performance; if this is folk, it is a form better suited to the Adult Alternative radio station and the large arena than the folk festival stage or coffeehouse where we spend the vast majority of our time here at Cover Lay Down.
But folk is a big umbrella, and in today's world, production alone does not make or break a folk designation. To deny Sarah even partial acceptance would require similar rejection of the produced popfolk sound of other female singer-songwriters, from Dar Williams and Shawn Colvin to Joan Osborne and Aimee Mann. And under all that production, this music is, at heart, built from the ground up, just one woman and a piano: listen to the delicate swing of Ice Cream, or the first few measures of her XTC cover Dear God, and you can hear the singer-songwriter heart coming through.
The point, of course, is moot. More than anything, genre designation is a tacit agreement between listener and artist, and I know more than enough folkfans who enjoy Sarah McLachlan's sweet alto range and soaring, powerful vocals to believe that ours is the right context for offering such an opportunity. So prove me right, folks: leave a comment below to enter the contest -- just a shout out and an email address is all it takes to qualify to win a great CD, and that special edition autographed poster.
I'd post an album teaser, but though by definition many of them have already been released elsewhere, the label has asked that we refrain from posting tracks which will be on Rarities, B-Sides, & Other Stuff Vol. II. Instead, here's a few well-tuned takes on songs from the folkworld from Sarah's "other" and earlier releases, plus a few bonus tracks to get you in the mood.
- Sarah McLachlan, Blue (orig. Joni Mitchell)
- Sarah McLachlan, Ol' 55 (orig. Tom Waits)
- Sarah McLachlan, Dear God (orig. XTC)
Contest will run for one week, so enter today to ensure your place in the proverbial hat full of scrap paper. Only one winner, folks, though if you act fast, you can double your bets by entering to win the album (no poster, though) over at Muruch. Of course you can also purchase the album now via Sarah's preferred source; if you win, you'll have an extra copy of the disk to pass along to a friend. And while you're there, I highly recommend picking up Sarah McLachlan's first Rarities and B-Sides album, as well.
Looking for a few rarities even the true fans may not have found? Today's bonus tracks are truly folk: a golden set of harmonies from the first Lilith Fair tour, and one of my favorite Canadian folkgroups with a cover of one of Sarah McLachlan's best known originals.
- Indigo Girls, Jewel, and Sarah McLachlan come together for a live version of tradfolk song The Water is Wide
- Celtic folkpop group Solas does a sweet version of Sarah's I Will Remember You
Remember, folks: to enter the contest, merely comment below with a shout-out and an email address. All entries received by midnight (EST) next Friday will be counted. Good luck to all!