I thought I’d mix it up a little today and chose two covers by different artists that are must-listens. I don’t usually like covers, actually. Too many of them are re-recordings (like Counting Crows’ “Big Yellow Taxi”) rather than re-imaginings. For a good cover to work, it doesn’t necessarily have to be better than the original but it definitely needs to be different in a way that makes a compelling case for it to have been made in the first place. In other words, the artist needs to approach the material from an entirely new perspective which, if we’re lucky, leads to a reinterpretation that transcends the original.
This cover of World Party’s “Is It Like Today” by Eliza Gilkyson definitely qualifies as track makes the case for itself. It is my favorite, perhaps with the exception of Johnny Cash’s brilliant cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” and one of my favorite songs overall. (I didn’t include Cash’s version of “Hurt” because, as extraordinary as it is, there are times when I absolutely am in no mood to listen to it).
I first heard “Is It Like Today” while watching a short-lived TV show called, “The Finder,” which only lasted one season. At the very end of the final episode, the song serves as the soundtrack for a montage that wraps up the show and the fates of its main characters.
I loved the song immediately. Gilkyson reveals a kind of existential pathos and seriousness that are entirely missing from the original. It is, I think, utterly transcendent.
I’d never heard of Alexander Wolfe before I stumbled across his cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” but I was immediately struck by his take on this classic—one of Young’s best songs and one that most people would find untouchable. Even Annie Lennox, whom I adore, didn’t succeed in covering it.
The arrangement is remarkable—urban and gritty—and Wolfe’s vocals sound a disconsolate note that never entirely resolves much like the dilemma caused by living in a world where the bad so often seems to outweigh the good.
But we can’t live in the crosshairs of that dilemma all the time so here is Walk off the Earth’s cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” This easily could have been one of the two I chose but the video has been viewed on YouTube over 193 million (!) times so I’m pretty sure many, if not most, of you have already seen it. (I’m equally sure very few of you have heard Wolfe’s cover.) Still, it’s worth watching again. The audio is great, too, but watching five people play the same guitar at the same time is pretty cool.
I recommend you check out the band’s other videos. They’re a lot of fun, especially when the ukuleles start flying around.
ONE MORE THING
If you’re into listening to a really smart musician talk with deep insight, unabashed passion, and unbridled enthusiasm about his craft, you’ve got to check out Rick Beato’s YouTube videos. I discovered them awhile ago but in the course of grabbing the embeds for this post I saw the following video in the sidebar. Recorded on the 30th anniversary of the release of Tori Amos’ 1992 debut album, Little Earthquakes, it’s essentially a deep dive into the sheer brilliance of Amos’ songwriting, her musicianship, and the album’s production values.
Rick also mentions Amos’ 5-song EP that was released at the same time. (To anybody not Gen-X or older, an EP is an extended play vinyl record that had more songs than a 45 and fewer than a full album) On it, Amos included covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” and a truly astounding version of The Rolling Stone’s, “Angie.”
Let me know what you think.
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Your absolutely the real thing Mary👀
I love "Walk Off The Earth" SO MUCH - yes, please, everyone dive into their archives, they are just magicians that use musical instruments instead of wands, rabbits and top hats.
(Alas, they've been through some stuff in recent years: in 2018, band member Mike "Beard Guy" Taylor died, kicking off a very rough year for them - but right now they're back performing, including on Jimmy Kimmel 2 months ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrKibIgywEY)
But also, re. "Someone That I Used To Know", how great a singer is Gotye when he's performing it live? THIS great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E87JdbqStx8 (which was unrehearsed!!).