Wednesday, August 20, 2008

(Re)Covered VII: More covers of
Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Britney Spears



We're in an indiefolk mood today, thanks to an increasingly large pile of new material flowing in from fan recommendations, the labels, and the blogosphere at large. As such, there's nothing particularly rare here today, just a bunch of great web-scavenged covers, most of which had their coming out party long after we originally featured the songwriters that first made them famous -- making them a perfect fit for yet another long-awaited edition of our longstanding (Re)Covered series here on Cover Lay Down.



At the height of her popularity, Cyndi Lauper's strength was in powerful yet simply-stated melody and lyric; in simplicity, however, a song's flexibility is limited, so it was a nice surprise to find not one but two great new covers coming out over the past few months, especially after finding so many covers of so few different tunes for our May feature on the songs of Cyndi Lauper.

This cover from Canadian indiefolkers The Acorn has been making the blogrounds since at least June, most recently ending up on This Morning I Am Born Again, but it bears repeating for the way it transforms what was once a bouncy throw-away theme for the kid-friendly underground pirate adventure flick The Goonies, turning a cinematic bit of eighties cheese into something lo-fi and fragile, full of string undertones and indie half-tension, the post-millenium's high-culture equivalent of the exotic comfort of a warm goat-cheese brie.

Meanwhile, alt-folk trio Girlyman gives a chilling, harmony-rich rendition of Lauper ballad All Through the Night, proving once again that good songwriting will out, even through the worst sappiest power ballad production (see also: Supertramp covers). I posted Girlyman's wonderful version of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord last year as part of a megapost on the solo work of the post-Beatles Fab Four; I certainly would have shared this perfect live cut when we featured Cyndi Lauper songs last month if I had known about it, but the hype for their gigantic live album Somewhere Different Now, also released in May, seems to have gotten lost in the sea of late spring releases and a recent label change-over for the intrepid and outed members of Girlyman. Special thanks, then, to the anonymous tipster who prompted me to track this song down, which in turn led me to an album which perfectly captures the sweet harmonies and raw yet intimate presence that typifies a small-venue Girlyman show.



Our original exploration of the Paul Simon songbook was large enough to separate into two posts: one on his solo work, and one on his work with that Art guy. But, as I mentioned back then, Simon's influence on music is immense; as such, as musicians new and rising continue to mine the cultural jetsam for songs that have some personal resonance, coverage of Paul Simon's vast catalogue remains vast and evergrowing.

From the recently "released" Bedroom Covers album from The Morning Benders, with its wonderfully hushed and lo-fi versions of many favorite and respectable pop tunes, comes an echoey take on Mother and Child Reunion with shades of Iron and Wine, only played out at a tenor's 45 rpm; Bedroom Covers is a total freebie, and it rocks: we'll surely come back to it down the road for upcoming Covered in Folk features (we're way overdue for a Fleetwood Mac set). Plus two versions of what may well be my favorite Paul Simon composition of all time: a pensive yet hopeful bedroom cover from the recently-featured Mark Erelli, and -- for those who lean that way -- a great countrygrass cover from Darrell Scott's very promising all-covers "acoustic folk" album Modern Hymns, released just yesterday on the highly credible folklabel Appleseed Recordings, via blazing newcomer blog A Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz, who also offers up Scott's solid take on oft-covered Joni Mitchell favorite Urge for Going.



Finally: the "Britney Spears takes over culture" thing is pretty much over, but even after both an All Folked Up feature and a (Re)Covered revisit, her songs continue to crop up everywhere that indie hipsters crave irony. Today's evidence comes from The Portland Cello Project, which finally hit stores this week after months of slow-burning hype. I'm by no means the first to notice The Portland Cello Project, and technically, they're not folk, either -- critics are calling the guest-vocalist-with-multiple-cello sound chamber pop; their myspace page lists them as indie/classical/rock. Listen through their whole self-titled debut, though, and you may think you've discovered yet another new folk, akin to the experimentation of, say, Abigail Washburn's Sparrow Quartet project (which also features cellist Ben Sollee).

The album tracks each feature collaboration from the Pacific Northwest indiefolk crowd, including star turns from Loch Lomond's Ritchie Young and indiefolk darling Laura Gibson; I especially like the delicate indietune Under Glass, and Stay, a wonderful, plucked-sting acoustic waltz with guest Anna Fritz. Captain Obvious gets cred for picking the Gibson and Under Glass for sampling. And PCP gets TOTAL bonus points here for a secret, hidden covertrack, which sets the Mario Brothers theme song to a classical ensemble sound, and then slowly buries it in a faux-military drumroll -- that no other blogger has mentioned that says what it needs to about how most critics listen to label freebies, sadly.

Whatever you call it, this is surprisingly solid, listenable music, covering a huge range of pleasurable soundscape; though it's among the more upbeat and fun songs on the album, their version of Toxic still comes across as authentic, not just some marching band cover. And since the Britney covers always bring a smile, and given the increasing prevalence of cello in folk music, I'll allow it just this once. With a few other recent Britney covers scavenged from the webs that fall on the edge of folk: Sia's delicate acoustic version of Gimmie More, and French-Israeli singer-songwriter Yael Naim's ubiquitous pop-folktronic Toxic, just in case you haven't heard it. And so the trend continues.

41 comments:

Anne said...

I swear, I think "Toxic" is the new "Hallelujah" as far as songs being covered by everybody and their grandmother! My favorite is the one by The Chapin Sisters, I think it's downloadable from their MySpace page.

boyhowdy said...

Maybe, Anne...though for a while, Umbrella was giving Toxic a run for its money.

The Chapin Sisters cover is great -- someone sent it to me after our first BS post, so I posted it in the first time we (Re)Covered Britney. But I think of all the versions out there, I still prefer the Stevie Ann cover live in-studio.

hemisphire said...

Nickel Creek does a good version of "Toxic" too.

And seconds on the Girlyman - I love that Nate's tuning songs were included on the CD, they're hilarious.

FiL said...

Agreed on Girlyman, though I do wish they had included their fine cover of Paul Simon's "The Obvious Child" on their live CD. I saw them do that twice, and both times it blew me away.

boyhowdy said...

Other than My Sweet Lord, the only song I've seen them cover live was Free Fallin', which was just silly. But then, that was a LONG time ago...

boyhowdy said...

On second thought -- Maybe I did hear them do "Obvious Child"...sounds familiar.

dean said...

In regard to Britney Spears, here's something that'll cause you to be glad she lip-synced - the old "isolated-mic-recording" trick: Britney Spears Live!

boyhowdy said...

Dean: Oooh, I saw that earlier...isn't it awful?

On the other hand, it's also a bit misleading. In the studio, Brit can hear herself; live, she can't, and she also knows that others can barely hear her int he swamp of sound. If someone isolated the recording mic of ANYONE live, especially someone singing in such a rich, pop-heavy sound, you'd get lost notes and tone wavering, though probably not to that extent. There's a reason I don't usually post live covers here...

Anonymous said...

Two posts of Britney Spears covers without the Richard Thompson version of "Oops, i Did It Again?" What, is that one too widely disseminated already? You can stream the live NPR version if the "100 Years of Popular Music" version is over-played:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1506843

Anonymous said...

I see it now. This is your third post of Spears covers. Your second post is at the link given above (mis-identified as your first post), and your first post was here:

http://coverlaydown.blogspot.com/2007/10/all-folked-up-britney-spears-stripped.html

Grace said...

Here's another cello-fired Spears cover in Vermont native (but Brooklyn transplant) Nick Ogawa. His take on "Toxic" is built on seriously layered cello with barely a hint of a smirk.

Nick Ogawa - Toxic (Britney Spears)

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