Saturday, October 31, 2009

For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the Thriller

Have a great Hallowe'en everyone!

A couple treats from Imogen Heap who recorded a timely cover last week on the Dermot O'Leary show and another for the soundtrack to Just Like Heaven.
Imogen Heap - Thriller (Live on Dermot O'Leary) [originally by Michael Jackson]
Imogen Heap - Spooky [made famous by Classics IV]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ben Folds, The Very Best, and Bridge School Benefit

It's going to be a busy week of music and traveling. First, I'm off to Seattle to see Ben Folds perform tonight with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall! Then tomorrow morning I'm catching a flight to San Francisco to meet up with my dad. We're going to the Bridge School Benefit concerts in Mountain View on the weekend, a gift from my sister and I to celebrate his 60th birthday. He's a big Neil Young fan, though I'm pretty sure this will be the first time seeing him live. In between, I'll also be taking him to see The Very Best in San Francisco and see some sights including the new Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio. Busy, busy, busy.

With Someone Else's Money - You Don't Know Me [originally by Ben Folds featuring Regina Spektor]
You all know I'm a huge fan of Mr. Folds and this will be the third time I've seen him live, but the first time with a full orchestra backing him up! The music of Ben Folds (and Ben Folds Five) has long been fodder for college a cappella groups, so the only problem he had when assembling the album of covers released earlier this year as Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella! was whittling down the deluge of submissions. The tracklist spans his solo and BF5 works, but leans heavily on the slower ballads. Ben himself contributes a cappella arrangements of his own Boxing and Effington. I would've loved to hear a cappella arrangements of the more rock-based numbers, though I'm sure it's just a youtube search away. This cover of the single from Way to Normal was arranged and performed by With Someone Else's Money from the University of Georgia. By the way, a demo of Levi Johnston's Blues from the forthcoming Ben Folds/Nick Hornby album debuted just over a week ago on the Huffington Post.

The Very Best - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa [samples Vampire Weekend]
From last year's free mixtape, Esau Mwamwaya and producer team Radioclit completely reworked Vampire Weekend's Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa into a relentlessly upbeat but not cloying dance number. Delivering on the promise of that mixtape (which urged on the last track to "watch out" for the forthcoming album), The Very Best's Warm Heart of Africa was released earlier this month to universal critical acclaim. When I found out I'd be in San Francisco, I naturally scoped out the concert listings and was thrilled to discover one of The Very Best's few tour dates would coincide with my trip. Should be a blast!

It's an eclectic lineup this year with ska, hard rock, folk, and, uh, Adam Sandler on the bill. I'm curious to see how the different artists approach their setlists since past performers typically, as a tradition though not a rule, do acoustic sets. This will be my first Bridge School Benefit experience... but hopefully not my last!

Shannon Butcher - Just a Girl [originally by No Doubt]
Mississauga-born jazz singer Shannon Butcher's 2008 debut album Words We Both Could Say ranges from covers of Blondie, Tears for Fears, Glen Campbell, and this wonderful fast-paced rendition of No Doubt's Just a Girl that sounds completely natural as a modern jazz standard.

Pivot - Woman [originally by Wolfmother]
Wolfmother is expected to play an acoustic set at the Bridge School Benefit. We already got a taste of how this would sound when they played a 4-song set at the SPIN offices including a cover of Neil Young's Don't Let it Bring You Down (watch it here). Their upcoming sophomore album Cosmic Egg (guitarist/vocalist Andrew Stockdale is the only member of the original trio, now a foursome) is due to be released next week. Apparently a (studio?) recording of Don't Let It Bring You Down will be available on the Japanese edition of the album. This instrumental cover of their hit Woman by fellow Australian band Pivot is nearly unrecognizable, but a lot of fun.

Coldplay & Buena Vista Social Club - Clocks
I actually like this Latin reworking of Clocks better than the original. It's from the Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba album. A follow-up was released fairly recently called Rhythms del Mundo: Classics, which is chockfull of covers featuring the likes of The Killers, Amy Winehouse, Kaiser Chiefs, and Rodrigo y Gabriela. For the most part, they are previously recorded covers with new backing orchestration from a group of all-star Afro-Cubano musicians including members of the Buena Vista Social Club. I haven't given the CD a real thorough listen yet, but I did enjoy the last album.

Jets Overhead - Mr. Soul [originally by Neil Young]
Victoria band Jets Overhead was late addition to the Bridge School Benefit. They contributed this cover to the Neil Young double tribute album Borrowed Tunes II.

M. Ward, Conor Oberst & Jim James - Girl from the North Country [originally by Bob Dylan]
Before they dubbed themselves Monsters of Folk (along with Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis), the trio of M. Ward, Conor Oberst, and Jim James all toured together, playing triple bills that would include solo sets then all three of them together. This live cover is from Mojo's Dylan Covered compilation.

Sheryl Crow - Mother Nature's Son [originally by The Beatles]
Sheryl Crow was not exactly on my concert bucket list, but I will inadvertently be seeing her for the second time in just over a month. Judging from her performance at Ambleside Park last month alongside Sarah McLachlan and Neil Young, I know more of her songs than I'd care to admit, though I do unabashedly love her cover of Mother Nature's Son from the all-Beatles cover soundtrack to I Am Sam.

Neil Young - Imagine [originally by John Lennon]
I'll admit I was slow getting into Neil Young. I mean, his back catalogue is daunting even for people I consider big Neil Young fans. As a covers enthusiast, I just couldn't help being exposed regularly to his songwriting since everyone seems to have recorded a Neil Young cover at some point, a fact that especially holds true for any Canadian artist. But it's probably my best friend's occasional playing of Harvest Moon on his guitar that really opened my ears after years of listening indifferently to the frequently repeated Neil Young tunes on the local classic rock station.

Well, that's it for blogging for the next week, though you can follow me on Twitter and I'm sure I'll be updating that. I may even live tweet the concerts on the weekend since Google provides free wireless internet for all of Mountain View... Anyway, it's 3:37am and I've got a train to catch in a few hours. I can never sleep before these big trips and last-minute blogging sure doesn't help!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Max Vernon update

It's been almost a year since I interviewed NY musician Max Vernon, a first and last for Fong Songs, ha ha. I get really stressed out over things like that and it makes my blogging feel like work when it shouldn't. In spite of all the PR e-mails in my inbox, the simple fact is I don't even really want to interview most artists, but Max was a rare exception and when the opportunity came up I jumped at it. Anyway, you can go back and read it here. Since then, my enthusiasm for his music has not diminished in the least. I've still been keeping tabs on the new music he's been releasing in the last year, which has included a cover of The Smiths' Headmaster Ritual (find it at The Music Slut). Max has been busy this past summer recording music in his "humble home studio setup" and the plan is to release the songs in multiple installments. The first installment of four songs is titled Manic Impression and these are my two faves:

Max Vernon - Around Your Finger
Max Vernon - Wait and See

EDIT: I should mention Max e-mailed me an update last month and I forgot to post about it. Whoops! Actually, I had already downloaded the individual songs earlier in the summer and given them plenty of spins before he passed along Manic Impression. Also, the other two tracks from this installment are Hunted and Your Girlfriend.

Listen to more Max Vernon at
You can follow him on Twitter too.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Gimme Gimme Gimme ABBA covers

A few months back, I promised a reader an all-ABBA cover post and I may have dragged my feet, but it's finally here! Said reader provided me with an insanely comprehensive spreadsheet of ABBA covers in their collection and I took that as a challenge to share some that they hadn't heard. However, a couple of my favourite all-time ABBA covers were on that list so I'll include them anyway.

Damhnait Doyle - Gimme Gimme [originally by ABBA]
I've posted tracks from Doyle's Lights Down Low cover album before and as I've said, it was woefully underrated, even by me at first. Producer Danny Michel's fingerprints are all over the album and it'll probably the closest you ever get to hearing him cover Foo Fighters and ABBA.

Montefiori Cocktail - Hung Up [originally by Madonna]
This is not an ABBA cover per se... but Damhnait Doyle's cover of Gimme Gimme Gimme dropped the catchy instrumental riff of the original that was later sampled by Madonna in Hung Up, so I thought it'd be fun to include this cover by lounge duo Montefiori Cocktail who do a fine job reviving it here in an instrumental rendition that sounds like it escaped from a spaghetti western.

Regine Velasquez - Take a Chance on Me [originally by ABBA]
An a cappella cover from Filipino singer Regine Velasquez. She's unfamiliar to me, but judging by this extensive wiki article she's had an accomplished career in music, film, television, and more in a career spanning over 20 years. A long time ago, I remember reading about someone who thought they were chanting "Jackie-Chan, Jackie-Chan, Jackie-Chan" and I've never heard the song the same way again.

The Black Sweden - Mamma Mia [originally by ABBA]
Paying tribute to Sweden's biggest musical export, fellow countrymen The Black Sweden released an album Gold which paired ABBA's greatest hits with classic rock riffs. In this case, Mamma Mia gets mashed with Smoke on the Water. Other examples include Take a Chance on Me/Enter Sandman and Knowing Me, Knowing You/Heartbreaker.

Riff Raff - Mamma Mia [originally by ABBA]
A more focused continuation of that trend, Riff Raff is an AC/DC tribute band from Germany who recorded an entire album of ABBA covers in the style of AC/DC. I haven't listened to enough of the AC/DC catalogue to make any definite claim, but this reminds me of their (great) cover of Chuck Berry's School Days.

Moxy Früvous - Dancing Queen Medley (Live)
This live Dancing Queen cover starts off as Walk on the Wild Side, then throws in a couple unlikely song snippets from U2 and Hootie & The Blowfish. Full show is on the Live Music Archive.

The Dan Band - ABBA Medley
The Dan Band has cornered the market on covering mainly female-led pop songs with randomly inserted profanities. With appearances in Old School, Starsky & Hutch, and more recently The Hangover, they seem to have found a winning combo that works for audiences. I haven't seen it, but apparently they're also correspondents on Jay Leno's new non-late night show. It's a one-note joke, but part of the success (I think) is the thin line it walks between parody and sincerity. This ABBA medley is from their 2005 debut The Dan Band LIVE.

White Day - ABBA Medley
Let me hear those balalaikas ringing out!

Nation - Waterloo [originally by ABBA]
Glow - Dancing Queen [originally by ABBA]
These are probably my favourite ABBA covers and both come from the generically titled A Tribute to ABBA (alternatively released as ABBAmetal: A Metal Tribute to ABBA). If you had commissioned The Darkness to cover ABBA, I think the result would bear a strong resemblance to Nation's rocking rendition of Waterloo: campy and infectious. Glow obviously had fun revamping Dancing Queen, though I wouldn't even classify it as anything remotely metal... I might be completely off-base here, but it vaguely reminds me of a punkier Cake.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Very Best - Warm Heart of Africa

The Very Best's Warm Heart of Africa is out today! I've been eagerly awaiting this release since their (Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit) free mixtape from last year. By a stroke of luck, I'll be able to see The Very Best live in San Francisco in a couple weeks when I head down there for the Bridge School Benefit concerts (yeah, that too!).

Here are their tour dates:
October 21 New York, NY CMJ Showcase—Le Poisson Rouge
October 23 San Francisco, CA 103 Harriet
October 24 Los Angeles, CA Echoplex
October 29 Chicago, IL Bottom Lounge
October 30 Toronto, ON Wrongbar
November 1 Boston,MA Great Scott
November 2 Washington, D.C. DC9
November 3 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda’s

Tickets are under $20 and anyone in those cities should make an effort to be at the shows since I'm sure they'll be phenomenal. The album is available on Amazon, iTunes, and through the label Green Owl Records.