Friday, June 24, 2011

Acoustic Versions: Double Shot of Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt: The Hole

Townes Van Zandt: Marie


This song is from 'No Deeper Blue', one of the post-Poppy Records albums of Townes Van Zandt's that shines very brightly.for me. There's a one-two punch here for me. 'The Hole' and 'Marie'.

'The Hole' is easily one of the scariest songs I've ever heard. ..not its SOUND (which IS kind of ominous on his Sugar Hill CD) but the words that do it for me. It's a harrowing archetypal parable that cuts right through flesh to the living bone.
Though I love the studio/band version to death, (Phillip Donnelly's guitar playing is terrifying in its dark majesty), it's hearing Townes solo and
unadorned playing & singing his words and music that opens up a different meaning to his words. I played this song in Drug Rehabs by myself for a couple of years when I was doing 'Special Population' shows. It was part of an hour presentation I did of songs and received wisdom. This was my peak; the next to last song in the set. The words have deep connection to anyone who has been a slave to an addiction of ANY kind.

'Marie' on the other hand, maybe one of the SADDEST songs I ever heard, a small cinematic portrait of a proud but beaten homeless man and his love. It gives us a list of situations not unknown to those of us who have been homeless, even briefly. If you've been lucky enough not to be so down that you got THERE, maybe this won't hit you at all. On the other hand, if you have even half a heart
you'll feel this one, deep.

Townes' legacy is dark, sad and scary sometimes.

Guest post by Duncan

Acoustic Versions: You Can All Join In

Traffic: You Can All Join In

[purchase original version, acoustic version unavailable]

Guest poster Duncan joins us again after a long absence, with not one but two posts. Please make him feel welcomed.

This was a total revelation to me, a live version of my favorite song on the second self-titled Traffic LP. This LP (as I first knew it) was my first Stevie Winwood album after scoring all the important four Spencer Davis singles (think you know them?). The LP was also my introduction to Dave Mason, who wrote this song.

This particular version has even more of an acoustic feel than the released version; it swings a little harder also. I know, I've listened to it about 50 times in the last two months because my band has been learning to play it. We were drums guitar, keys and me on bass and vocals (I never play bass, but worked hard on getting it right in sync with the drummer) and though it worked, something was missing until I heard this version two weeks ago, culled from BBC sessions. I realized, it was just drums, acoustic guitar & lead guitar with vocals. Once we got that rhythm, it all clicked on the acoustic guitar. It's also cool that you can just feel the joy of the band, deep into their second record and what a record it is, too. Not a duff song on there, though if you're gonna listen to it, make sure you listen to the original sequence of ten songs a couple of times.

Though Stevie had done more than okay with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic was where he started to fly and I place this LP as the main exhibit as to why Eric Clapton pursued him so hard to be in Blind Faith and why they've reunited over the past few years. It's also the start of my fondness for Dave Mason.. He outright wrote four of the songs on the LP including this one and the now standard 'Feelin' Alright'. He was barely visible on the first Traffic LP (sometimes known as “Dear Mr.
Fantasy'), TOTALLY a part of this one, gone for most of the remains on Last Exit and back for a second on 'Welcome to The Canteen'. His real moment in the sun was (I believe) predictable after this set and this tune in particular. I would have had no problem seeing this included on his masterpiece, 'Alone Together'.

Guest post by Duncan

Acoustic Versions: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Tori Amos: Smells Like Teen Spirit


I’m sure most of our readers know that Nirvana recorded an Unplugged album for MTV. However, Smells Like Teen Spirit was not on that album. Instead, Tori Amos was the one who remade the song as a solo piano ballad. The lyrics are all over the place, suggesting two or more teens who have gotten together to do… something. In Nirvana’s original version, the music suggests a rage that must soon boil over. But Amos finds the searching, and the fear that drives that rage. There is a lot of space in the music, and the narrator feels the urge to fill it with something. The listener is no closer to knowing how this will end, but we have more of an idea of how it started.

The image I have chosen for this post comes from a manga called Teen Spirit. The picture seemed perfect to me, but I have never read, (or even seen), the manga, so the picture might not be appropriate to the song at all. If Geoviki can’t fill us in, maybe a reader could tell us more in the comments. Thank you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Acoustic Versions: This Woman's Work

Maxwell: This Woman's Work (Kate Bush cover)


Remember how I told you last week that I love guys who sing in their highest ranges? Well, Maxwell, the NYC-based neo-soul artist, does that in spades in this Kate Bush cover, rivaling Smokey Robinson for his raw emotional falsetto. This is from the MTV series Unplugged (insert obligatory generic comment re: memories of MTV playing, yanno, actual music) and it stole the show in 1997, along with his unplugged version of Nine Inch Nail's Closer. It's definitely one of my all-time favorite acoustic versions of any song. Hope you enjoy.

Acoustic Versions: Ever Fallen In Love

Thea Gilmore: Ever Fallen In Love


I am crazy about acoustic versions of songs that weren't originally acoustic. I'm also crazy about unconventional covers of songs, namely, ones that give a song a whole new perspective than the original gave it.

This cover of the Buzzcocks classic track "Ever Fallen In Love" gives it a whole new feeling, a feeling that almost feels more natural considering the subject matter. It is song about falling in love with someone inappropriate, whether it be because they're your friend, or they are married or in some way unavailable. It's an emotional and somber thought that many people have felt before. And yet the British punk band Buzzcocks made this rockin' song about the subject. Admittedly, I had known and enjoyed the song for a while, but hearing this emotional interpretation of it by British singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore gave me a whole new appreciation for it. I love it when that happens.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Acoustic Versions: I Need Love

Luka Bloom: I Need Love


Boyhowdy posted a track from this various-artists live CD, In Their Own Words, Vol. 1, last year, but it's one of those albums that always seems to pop up when I'm searching for songs for the weekly themes here. So I hope you don't mind me revisiting it, because just about the whole album is perfect for this week's theme.

For those of you who have never heard of this album before, it is a collection of highlights from a series of shows that NYC radio DJ Vin Scelsa hosted at the now-defunct Bottom Line nightclub back in the '90s.

The series was called "In Their Own Words: A Bunch of Songwriters Sittin' Around Singin'", and that pretty much tells you want it was, except that they would talk, too, about the craft of songwriting and their inspirations. Each evening featured four songwriters, and they would often play on each other's songs. (I wish I could have been there for the night Barrett String, Richard Thompson, Dave Alvin, and Shawn Colvin shared the stage!)

One night Luka Bloom was part of the roundtable, and during the portion of the show where each songwriter is asked to play a cover song, he pulled out his reinvention of LL Cool J's "I Need Love". He released a studio version of it on his Acoustic Motorbike album, but this live version is the one to have. It's a revelation. The dated synths and beats on LL Cool J's original don't do much for me, but Luka's version is timeless. It makes my heart melt, and there are very few male singers who can do that to me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Acoustic Versions: Mountain of Love

The Beach Boys: Mountain of Love


Twenty-two years before Jethro Tull performed "Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of A New Day)" unplugged on MTV, The Beach Boys recorded an obscure set of mostly acoustic covers for their third album of 1965, Party! The cover claims the album was "recorded 'live' at a Beach Boys' Party!" and we hear a lot of giggling women, handclaps and background chatter. Sounds like a fun spontaneous hootenanny! Only we've learned since then that Party! was actually recorded in a studio and the background noises were added later. Today Party! is mostly a curiosity, featuring three Beatle covers, Dylan's "the Times They Are a-Changin'," and the Top 5 international hit "Barbara Ann". One of the highlights--and by that I mean one of the performances you'd want to hear more than once-- is this cover of the Johnny Rivers Top 10 hit "Mountain of Love".

Guest post from 1001 Songs

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Acoustic Versions: Post Grunge hits

Dishwalla: Angels or Devils (acoustic)


Live: Lightning Crashes (MTV unplugged)


Pearl Jam: Black (live, acoustic)


Good things come in threes, right? So with this terrific theme of the week, I thought I'd do a little post-grunge triplet featuring three of rock's most melodic male vocalists: J. R. Richards of Dishwalla, Ed Kowalczyk of Live, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. I went through an intense year of oscillating between these three groups and hoovering up all of their music. There's something about all these guy's rich, powerful voices that sends chills up my spine, and I think that these acoustic versions of their 90's hits allows them to really belt 'em out of the park. My favorite, I think, is the Dishwalla number because I'm a real sap for piano.

The Night Sky => Acoustic Versions: Under the Milky Way

The Church: Under the Milky Way


I have to admit that I never got into the music of The Church. I must have heard the original version of Under the Milky Way in its year, 1988, but I can’t say that I remember it. Listening to the originally released version now, I can hear the tell-tale signs of 80s productions, although they were done about as tastefully as possible. But there is the standard 80s drum beat, and there are the synthesizer fills for emphasis.

This acoustic version comes from a recently reissued version of the album Starfish. I don’t know the background of how this reissue was done, but what had been a single disc of ten songs has swollen to a double-disc set with 22 songs in all. From the sound of this acoustic Milky Way, I’m guessing that it may have been a demo. Instead of that 80s drum part, we have hand percussion. You might mistake the chord fills towards the end for a synthesizer part, but listen more closely and you find that it is actually a melodica. The guitar parts here are looser. But what I like best in this acoustic Milky Way is the way the vocals are recorded. They have a wonderful immediate quality that is missing from the version that was originally released. The differences between the two versions of Milky Way are subtle, almost like finding the hidden pictures in Highlights For Children. But the cumulative effect is remarkable, in favor of the acoustic version.