My 15 Favourite Song Covers

  1. Justin Vernon and Sean Carey – I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt

Recorded live at AIR Studios and released on YouTube in 2012. This song is one of my most favourite ever, in both original, and cover form. Listen, it doesn’t need explaining.

2. Angus Stone – River by Joni Mitchell

Recorded for the 2007 compilation album No Man’s Woman. A fresh, modern and emotional take on one of Mitchell’s most covered songs.

  1. John Mayer – Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty

Included in the 2007 live album Where The Light Is, Mayer turned one of the most iconic air-punching singalongs ever into a tender ballad, all without losing the spunk of the song.

  1. Eva Cassidy – Songbird by Fleetwood Mac

Released on her posthumous compilation album of the same name which reached number 1 in the UK in 2001. A slowed down, slightly country sounding take on Christine McVie’s famous hit. Had a real affect on me during that melt your heart dance scene between the co-workers in Love Actually.

  1. Muse – Feeling Good from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, the song was made famous by Nina Simone.

From 2001 album Origin of Symmetry, it was also released as a single. Only Muse could manage to take one of the most covered soul songs of all time and turn it into a rock number which just makes you “feel good”. Especially during Matt Ballamy’s spine-tingling falsettos.

  1. Adele – Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan

From her 2008 debut album 19. Dylan’s version was sweet, but Adele’s version is epic.

  1. Ryan Adams –Wonderwall by Oasis

You know it’s a good cover when the author of the song -Noel Gallagher (who’s notorious for ripping on other peoples work) – says this about it:

“I went to see Ryan Adams in Manchester… So he’s playing away and he just does ‘Wonderwall’ right in the middle of the set. The fucking place went silent. It was so beautiful. I was just like, ‘Fucking Jesus Christ what a fucking song!’ Afterwards, I told him, ‘You can have that song, man, because we could never quite get it right.’ 

  1. Sarah McLachlan – Blackbird by The Beatles

One of the many beautiful covers from the I Am Sam soundtrack, which was made up entirely of Beatles music.

  1. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

Always acknowledged as one of the best covers to ever exist, this take on Hallelujah is how I fell for this song and I know I’m not the only one. When do you ever hear Leonard Cohen’s original popping up on every radio station imaginable? Answer = never. Why? Because Jeff Buckley’s version is the go to.

  1. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton

She recorded the song for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. It spent 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. Is there anyone questioning why? I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love this song. 

  1. Alex and Sierra – Gravity by Sara Bareilles

The American X-Factor duo and real life couple were favourites in the 2013 season. When you listen to this song you’ll no why, their take on this song is emotion invoking in every way.

  1. Neil Young – A Day in the Life by The Beatles

This has become a staple on every Neil Young set list. I’ve seen him twice in concert and both times I’ve been completely blown away by this amazing cover. He takes one of the most iconic songs of all time and blows it out of the water with his grungy take.

  1. Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse – Valerie by The Zutons

Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse took what was a funky little indie track by English rock band The Zutons, and turned it into a super hit in 2007. It’s on the playlist of every bar DJ and gets everyone on the dance floor singing along with each play.

  1. Ben Howard – Call Me Maybe by Carley Rae Jepsen

Performed in the Radio 1 Live Lounge in 2012. Only Ben Howard could take the girliest pop song of the year and turn it into a slow, crooning masterpiece. My friend and I used to laugh that Jepsen’s version is for the hitting the dance floor while Howard’s cover is there to help you recover from your hangover the next day.

  1. Ed Sheeran – In My Life by The Beatles

Performed as part of the 2014 tribute show The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute. Sheeran takes a famous Beatles love song and puts his own delicate spin on it with this stripped back version that had Paul and Ringo nodding with pleasure in the audience.

 

Advertisements

The Best of WOMAD 2016

pipwomad2.JPG

I’m finally starting to recover today from the most magic three days of listening to music from all over the world, eating enough delicious food to sink a ship and dancing till my feet hurt. WOMAD 2016 was once again epic in every way. The whole event gets a 10 out of 10 from me, but there were a few particularly special moments over the weekend so here are my musical highlights:

Calexico

The indie band from Tucson, Arizona were crowd favourites last time they came to WOMAD so people packed into the Bowl in huge numbers to catch their Friday night closing set. Their mixed sound was fresh and compelling with every track. At times we went from dancing to mariachi songs to swaying to slowed down brass-heavy ballads. A particularly special moment came when they got Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins on stage with them to sing a couple of songs. Her voice complemented their sound beautifully and everyone in the crowd was raving.

pip womad 1

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The South African male a cappella group were the much talked about headliners ahead of the festival, and seconds into their set it was obvious why. Their choral blend of male voices was spine tingling, the songs they sang were emotional and enchanting and their on stage energy was contagious. The Grammy award winners shone best during performances of the Nelson Mandella tribute Long Walk To Freedom and Homeless, the song from Paul Simon’s Graceland album which launched their international career. Oh and we can’t forget the impressive dance moves – the high kicks were echoed on dance floors across the rest of the festival.

Bic Runga and Tiny Ruins

pipwomad 4 bic.JPG

I want to shake anyone who tells me the New Zealand acts aren’t important at WOMAD. Our local musicians stand up against the international acts incredibly well and in many cases stole the show this weekend. A real highlight came in the shared set of Bic Runga and Tiny Ruins. Their contrasting voices complemented each other perfectly. They played a mix of each others music and pulled off one of the best covers I’ve ever heard of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. Show closer Sway went down an absolute treat with a huge crowd singalong. This was the favourite act of many people I spoke to.

De La Soul

Is there anything this American hip hop group can’t do? WOMAD probably isn’t the typical sort of festival they’d play but they nailed it. Front men, Pos and Dave, were true performers who got the crowd involved in every way possible. As I danced down by the lakes edge I loved looking up the natural amphitheatre of the Bowl of Brooklands and seeing the whole audience fully embracing their show. In fact, three people loved it so much they dived into the duck-poo infested water and swam across to the stage to have a boogie with the rappers. Their backing band was brilliant, their wordplay hilarious – it was such a fun way to finish the Saturday night.

Tulegar

This duo is pitched as Mongolian throat singers, Chinese folk music players and grunge musicians. Hell of a combo right? Well as bizarre as it sounded, it was a real highlight for me. These three genres came together magnificently to form an almost indie-country sound. The eerie throat whistles from Gangzi, who’s trained as an opera singer, were spine-tingling and the electric guitar playing from partner Zongcan was impressive. Add to the mix their hilarious banter in between songs calling each other Kiwi Boys and asking if we were “ready to rock”, and the crowd couldn’t have been a happier bunch watching Tulegar.

Pass The Gat

After their much hyped show in the Taranaki Arts Festival last year, Kiwi musicians Warren Maxwell, Thomas Oliver and Louis Baker, pulled in a huge crowd for their Sunday afternoon set. In this show they collaborate on each others songs in the most beautiful fashion. All three of their voices flow so smoothly together and it’s incredibly powerful, particularly on the slower tracks. Maxwell’s Trinity Roots and Little Bushman songs were particularly popular as they were best known by the audience, but Oliver’s and Baker’s songs really held their own and showcased what up and coming artists they are. A rousing cover of Take Me To the River started a great dance party before Home, Land and Sea had everyone mesmerised in a chilling finale. My only complaint was that the set was over too soon.

The Jerry Cans

This fantastic band hails from Iqualuit, Nunavut in Northern Canada, one of the most remote arctic places on earth. For that reason their songs are sung in a mixture of English and Inuktitu, an Eskimo language. Add to that, throat singing front-woman Nancy Mike, a fiddle-base to every song and the indie influence of front-man Andrew Morrison and it makes for quite a quirky sound. But this is a good kind of quirky, their set on Sunday evening was a captivating one. I went from dancing like I was in an Irish jig to having my mouth drop open as Mike made noises I didn’t know were possible. The crowd was lead in a throat singing battle, taught about Inuktitu culture, encouraged to dance up a storm and sing a long in Inukitutu. It was such an energetic and rewarding show, people walked away a little bit in love with the Jerry Cans and chanting “MAMAQTUQ” over and over.

Tami Neilson

As one of the closing acts on the Sunday night, Kiwi songstress Tami Neilson had a challenge on her hands. Would it be a good finish to an amazing weekend? That’s what my friends and family were asking. I insisted it would be and they were all so glad they stayed behind late to check her out. This woman is a powerhouse and her backing band are brilliant! She lead us through foot-stomping rockabilly dance tracks and made us all quiver with delight in slow country ballads like Lonely. She provided thoughtful and at times hilarious chatter in between tracks. My sister-in-law aptly named her New Zealand’s Adele. It was the best end we could have asked for.

Concert Review: D’Angelo

d'angelo

Headed along to D’Angelo last night I was excited to check out the musician touted as the “RnB Jesus” – how could someone with that reputation and three fantastic albums under his belt disappoint? Well unfortunately I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

When D’Angelo finally decided to show up on stage, 80 minutes after he was supposed to, the crowd was already bored. From there it was going to take a lot to amp them up and the Grammy winner gave it a good crack. He was contagious in his energy and despite feeling quite bitter by this stage as my feet were sore, I got sucked in by him and found myself grooving away with the rest of the bopping, hip-shaking audience to Devil’s Pie.

There’s no denying this guy can sing and play, his Marvin Gaye like falsetto is captivating and when the layers of music were stripped back his voice stood up alone. In fact, the problem for me was that often he and the fantastic backing singers voices were a little lost in a mess of sound which had me thinking it was more of a rock concert. Add to that the TSB Bank Arena’s echoing acoustics and it made it hard to decipher quite what was happening at times.

The highlights came in the more soul-style tracks like 1995 classic Brown Sugar and Really Love from the 2014 Black Messiah album. In these songs D’Angelo and his impressive band The Vanguard were slick, particularly guitarist Isaiah Sharkey who played a beautiful acoustic solo. During The Charade, a song written in the wake of the events in Ferguson, we were asked to raise our fists in the air to fight for equality. It felt a little rehearsed and awkward and I think that affected the performance of the song which got a little dull after a minute or so.

He finished with an energetic Chicken Grease which saw him grooving around the stage and flicking his microphone about like a true funk superstar. A captivating encore of Untitled (How Does It Feel) gave us the first spine tingle of the night as D’Angelo took to the piano solo and sang with a chilling quality. The song had a climactic finish as the band built the sound up underneath him and he belted out some impressive notes. Despite playing a short set of just an hour, he should have finished here, it was clear no song could top that.

D’Angelo is no doubt a talented musician and his style on stage is infectious, but my memories of last night’s show are unfortunately dominated by the low, instead of the high points.

Song of the Week – Somebody Else

Somebody Else – The 1975

The 1975 are back with a new album and it’s banging! I like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It is a more developed sound for the British band who hit the big time quickly with their 2013 self-titled debut album. The complicated name already hints they’ve taken on something a bit more complex than their earlier work and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

My favourite number off the new album is Somebody Else. It’s a punchy electro-pop hit. With heavy synths, 80s dance floor drumbeats and lead vocalist Matthew Healey’s signature falsetto voice it’s got all the elements to be a pop hit. But there’s more to this song than many of the tracks we tragically hear dominating the airwaves today. The 1975 know how to layer sound, they know the power of building to a crescendo in the chorus, they know how to write lyrics that everyone relates to and they know how to hook you in.

But most importantly, they know how to sound unique. There’s nothing else out there right now that sounds like The 1975. They are individual and that alone makes them a band worth listening to.

Concert Review: Both Sides Now by Julia Deans

BothSidesNow_NZFestival2016_Credi.2e16d0ba.fill-1600x800

Joni Mitchell is one of the most iconic song writers of all time, her voice is famous for its extensive range and her lyrics are poetry. This means the Canadian musician is a pretty hard act to imitate, yet a Kiwi musician is doing an incredible job of it.

As part of the NZ Festival Julia Deans has spent the last three nights performing her take on Mitchell’s songbook in three packed out shows at Shed 6 in Wellington. Both Sides Now was a compelling, emotion evoking and entertaining show which showcased Mitchell’s many hits in perfect fashion.

Deans, who’s best known for her role as lead singer of Fur patrol and collaborator in The Adults, was superb. The control she has in her voice has she jumps from low to high notes is astonishing. Think back to the hook in the chorus to Fur Patrol’s biggest hit Lydia, remember how effortlessly she sang “my baby”? Well take that skill, apply it to Mitchell’s songs which jump around all over the show, and Deans is the perfect artist to tackle such a varied songbook.

I really appreciated that Deans was quick to tell us this wasn’t going to be one of those cheesy tribute shows, it was just her and band, performing the tunes they loved. No need for a false blonde wig or “chain smoking cigarettes”. Deans lets the music and her talent speak for itself and it works exceptionally well.

But that’s not to say Deans didn’t put her own twist on the songs, I loved her growly vocals in Woodstock, River was sped up and band heavy and her jolly take on Big Yellow Taxi made for the perfect show closer. She channelled Mitchell particularly well during the sadder, slower numbers from the Blue album. Last Time I Saw Richard, Little Green and Blue were clear highlights of the gig for me -just Deans singing soulfully accompanied by brilliant pianist Robin Kelly. The other band members – Paul McLaney on guitar, SJD on bass and Tom Broome on drums, are all quality musicians who helped to enhance the show.

Another stellar moment included a performance of The Fiddle And The Drum which Deans sang in a chilling fashion with no backing. She skillfully played Amelia on her rickenbacker electric guitar and nailed it vocally.

Both Sides Now by Julia Deans and band is an enthralling showcase of Joni Mitchell’s songbook. I’d highly recommend checking it out when it comes to a town near you.

 

Concert Review: Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens-philippa-ormrod.JPG

Sufjan Stevens takes you to another world of emotion.

Last night at the Michael Fowler Centre I was transported, I felt like I was part of the music as Stevens and his enigmatic band put on a faultless production. The concert was one of two halves and each was just as mesmerising.

First came a showcase of the stunning work that is Carrie and Lowell. The word death is mentioned in almost every song from this album which explores the difficult relationship he had with his mother, who was bipolar, schizophrenic and suffered from drug addiction. She died of cancer in 2012. But Stevens’ music, although it tells a depressing story, is uplifting in concert. Surprisingly, lines like: “Should I tear my eyes out now? Everything I see returns to you somehow. Should I tear my heart out now? Everything I feel returns to you somehow” didn’t make you feel like the world was ending. In fact, at the culmination of the show 4th of July, the audience happily sung along as the musicians chanted “we’re all gonna die” over and over with a mass of noise building underneath.

In this show Stevens almost played Carrie and Lowell track for track, this record has been widely acclaimed as his best yet so there were no complaints from me. Rolling out with Death With Dignity, Should Have Known Better, All of Me Wants All of You and The Only Thing all in the row at the beginning was a clever way to hook the many new fans in the crowd right in. These songs are great on record, but seem genius when performed live. They have many layers which were cleverly built up on stage and with such heavy use of synth they really reverberate through you.

Older songs popped up now and again, a real highlight being the slow and haunting piano ballad The Owl and the Tanager and an intense Vesuvius which had me feeling like I was onboard a rocket ship heading for outer space. Also, I have to thanks Stevens for making me feel better about my ‘actions to match words’ dance moves because he is the master of this. I loved his quirky hand movements which he busted out in a rehearsed routine during certain tracks. Not a word was breathed from Stevens throughout the entire first half, but the music spoke for itself. I didn’t need reassurance from him that he wanted us there, I knew he appreciated the crowd by the way he played, sang and moved. When he came out after the encore though, there was no quiet Sufjan Stevens, he shared funny quips and highly intelligent philosophical life messages which give you an insight into his spirituality.

Sufjan Stevens-2-philippa-ormrod.JPG

Big ups to his wonderful band, particularly Dawn Landes who provided haunting harmonies and also put on an opening show to be proud of. The many talents of these musicians was especially evident in the acoustic second half as they crowded around one microphone, and all managed to shine. After the intensity of the Carrie and Lowell half of the show, this stripped back series of songs was magic in a different way. Here Stevens explored his older works and songs like To Be Alone With You and Heirloom were chilling and the much-loved Chicago was the ultimate finale. I sang “all things go” over and over all the way home.

Sufjan Stevens plays Wellington again tonight before heading to Auckland on Tuesday at the Civic. Get your tickets now, this is a show not to be missed.