Thursday, April 9, 2009

Judging a CD by its covers

One of my favorite things about music is hearing how one song can be performed and interpreted in different ways by different artists. Even if its not one of my favorite songs, its almost always interesting to hear something familiar delivered in an unexpected way. Broadly speaking, cover versions can either be faithful and reverent towards the original, as is the case with the Dub Pistols' trip-hop update of Blondie's "Rapture", or go in a completely different direction, perhaps subverting the intent of the original, like Lou Barlow's folksy take on the hair-metal classic "Round-n-Round". Occasionally artists will stretch the art of the cover version to a whole new level, as exemplified by the following CDs.

Rebuild the Wall, by Luther Wright & the Wrongs
This is a cover of an entire album, Pink Floyd's The Wall, as performed by a Country and Western band from Ontario. It sounds crazy, but if you give it half a chance it starts to make beautiful sense. The banjo-fueled sing-a-long version of "Goodbye Blue Sky" is a personal favorite, although the pedal steel flourishes on "Comfortably Numb" are quite nice as well. For a full review from the All Music Guide, check here.

Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out
This is another album-length cover, but instead of doing The Who's 1967 album The Who Sell Out in a different musical style, Petra Haden performs the entire album a capella! The guitar parts, percussion, strange little interstitial bits and everything else are duplicated by her singing. Literally every sound on the album is one woman's voice, and that's pretty impressive. Her version of "Armenia City in the Sky" gives me chills. The Who's Pete Townsend is a big fan too, according to Entertainment Weekly. Check out both versions of this album, and prepare to be amazed.

Mixtape: Classical Piano Arrangements of Pop Hits, by Andrew Russo
The gimmick here is that classical pianist Andrew Russo approached a handful of leading composers of modern music and asked them to do an arrangement of their favorite popular song in their own idiosyncratic style. The result is a wide range of songs reinterpreted in an eclectic array of styles. Most of the songs, like the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" and Wild Cherry's "Play that Funky Music", are instrumentals, leaving you to pick out the vocal melody from amongst the surrounding clamor. Others, like Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" or "Search and Destroy" by Iggy Pop & the Stooges retain the vocals, but deliver them with a completely different spin than the originals. There are also some fun reworkings of songs originally by Gary Numan, Radiohead, the B-52s, and others.

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