Tess Parks: Blood Hot [Album Review]

If Spacemen 3 and Mazzy Star smoked an opium-laced hookah and conceived a flower child shod in pointy genie boots, it would be Tess Parks.

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Her album Blood Hot sounds like how this must feel:

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If heroin’s not your thing (and I hope it’s not), my friend Dan put it like this:

But seriously that guitar tho…cruising down the road in the summer going 85 with a sarsaparilla on the seat next to you…

Yeah, a cool glass-a sarsaparilla.

I wasn’t sure about the album right away, but it grew on me fast. The opening song, Somedays, is a catchy stomper with poppy percussion, a top-drawer guitar hook, and Hope Sandoval-y vocals. I like the way it builds, and though the cymbals get a little clattery, I think the drums really make it.

The second track, Gates of Broadway, is a sultry slow-burner with melodic vocals. The guitar tones evoke Spacemen 3, thick with doped-out bluesy psychedelia. The entire album is like that, and when you listen to it loud, it can seem droned-out and maybe monotonous for a sec, until you wake up and realize that you’re being moved by alluring rhythms and solid musicianship. I’m intrigued to learn more about her bandmates on this album: Thomas Paxton-Beesley, Anthony Nemet, and Andrew McGill.

I will say that Blood Hot gets me so good partly cuz it evokes for me so many of my favorites. (Spacemen 3, The Darkside, Mazzy Star, Opal, Brian Jonestown Massacre, even a bit of Bowery Electric.) I’ll admit that it doesn’t quite reach their heights, but I admire it for taking their sounds and those of their influences and making it into something different and delicious. I’ve read other reviews that say the album is “a bit pre-owned” and “formulaic and predictable,” which is 5% true, but largely I disagree.

I’d also like to point out that sometimes, when someone’s playing from their soul, they channel influences that they don’t even think of as influences. I remember reading, for example, that Wooden Shjips’ Ripley Johnson wasn’t even into Loop or Spacemen 3. When you hear their Loose Lips after Loop’s Be Here Now, it’s surprising, but then again, it’s not. Sometimes great minds think alike independently.

Similarly, Tess has her influences and predecessors, but her stuff stands on its own.

And most importantly, she knows how to rock ‘n roll.

Check out Blood Hot on iTunes or Amazon.

In the meantime, I’ll go see what she got up to with Anton Newcombe.

 

 

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5 Musicians Who Rock As Actors

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People who are primarily musicians sometimes show up in movies as actors.

I was reminded of this when I was just listening to Seven Nation Army, and it occurred to me that Jack White was in Cold Mountain, which, if I remember correctly, I think I liked. He and Meg were, of course, also in Coffee and Cigarettes.

Here are some of my favorites.

1. Tom Waits Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola)

When I think of musicians who rock as actors, the first thing that comes to my mind is Tom Waits as Renfield.

“Oh, yes, A KITTEN!!!!!!”

Tom Waits absolutely rules this scene with gripping groveling drama and hilarity.

2. Iggy Pop Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch)

I think Johnny Depp and Billy Bob are the funniest in this scene, but Iggy Pop makes a hell of a pot of beans, dressed up real perdy in a dress and bonnet.

3. Cher Mermaids (Richard Benjamin)

This is one of my favorite movies. I love it because I love coming-of-age stories of all kinds, and this one dives into the complex dynamics of mother-daughter relationships and unconventional lifestyles. Why have I never read the book?????

Well, I will.

This is definitely a two-way street: Winona Ryder is dynamite here too.

Another of my favorite movies is Moonstruck with Cher. This scene from Moonstruck has nothing to do with musicians, but it’s a hell of a performance.

(BTW, if you think Nicolas Cage is a piece of shit blockbuster hack with blinding white caps, you need to see Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Hooooooooooly shit is that a good fucking movie.)

4. Bob Dylan Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah)

This isn’t a Cher-level performance or anything, but it’s a helluva musician and a helluva director.

5. Jim James & Calexico I’m Not There (Todd Haynes)

Speaking of Bob Dylan, this isn’t acting, exactly. It’s a cameo. But this performance in the Dylan biopic is one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire film. Which is 135 minutes of beautiful scenes.

1 + 2 = Bonus: Pop and Waits Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch)

I love this scene because it’s so hard to stay quit. I’ve said this all: “Since I quit, I feel awesome” and “I feel sorry for those fools who still smoke” and “Now that I’ve quit, I can have one.” And what Iggy says at 4:22….

I’m both forgetting and unaware of a ton. What else? Please share your favorites in the comments.

Top image by Judy van der Velden

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Allah-Las Turned It On at Turner Hall

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In a previous life but during this lifetime, I once ended up at a Brian Jonestown Massacre show early enough to catch the opening act. We’d long felt that the opening bands we happened to catch the tail end of often sucked, so we were blown away by what we heard. It was the Flavor Crystals, and their set was one spectacular jam after another.

Soon after that we saw Sonic Boom/Spectrum, and I believe it was they who had Blank Dogs, who are interesting, opening for them.

So then I stopped assuming and started getting to shows in time to see the opening bands’ full performances.

Last night I was especially excited to see Allah-Las’ openers, The Babe Rainbow, because I love their Planet Junior song. Absolutely love it. That song is catchy and lovely with a mild, heavenly vibe. Live, their set was similar, though mildness reigned. The Babe Rainbow are good musicians and they brought love to their performance, but it wasn’t red-blooded. I think they’ll easily get there in time, though.

And they’re funny. At one point one dude told the audience, “Just so you know, this guy doesn’t have a girlfriend…” And the dude without a girlfriend said “So if you’re sick of doing yoga all by yourself…”

That’s my kind of humor.

After the perfect amount of time to admire the crumbling majesty of Turner Hall Ballroom and get a second round of drinks, the Allah-Las eased onstage with effortless cool. Nothing showy, no hipster shit, just chill talent showing up to bring some solid tunes.

For one second before they started I thought everything might go to hell cuz a bro rushed the stage doing an almost-heckling whoop, but the bro chilled just as the band got to work. Dunno where he went, cuz after that it was mostly bearded/glasses dudes in high risers swaying to sonic bliss.

Allah-Las played songs from all their albums, and everything was good. One thing that’s great about them is that every member sings and plays guitar. While each has their forte, no one monopolizes anything, and no one seems overcome by ego or ownership. On one song the bass player does lead guitar; on another he sings; on one of my absolute favorites the lead singer and the drummer swap roles.

And every time lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian did one of his brief sweet solos, Milwaukee said “Fuck yes.” Fans of under-the-radar bands are often intensely mellow (I think it’s U2 fans who save the screaming for the arenas), but last night the crowd was lively, into it, stomping the floor for the encore.

The band is touring with two support members: a second percussionist laying down extra rhythm, and a Clint Eastwood cat in a cowboy hat on keys and slide guitar. I liked the poncho he had covering his table.

One of the best songs of the show was “Tell Me What’s on Your Mind.” That’s the first Allah-Las song I ever heard, and as much as I liked it, it actually turned out to be my least favorite song on their first album, because that album is packed with fantastic feel-good songs that make you long for the coast, long for the past, and thank God for the present. Live, “Tell Me What’s on Your Mind” was less poppy and more badass. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with poppy, but badass is, well, badass.

They ended with “Long Journey,” which is really pretty much the song to end everything. It caps their first album, and it signed off a rapturous performance.

Top image courtesy of my phone

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Little Fox in the Forest [Book Review]

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Stephanie Graegin | Schwartz & Wade

This is one of the most wonderful picture books I’ve ever read.

But I didn’t actually READ it.

The story in this wordless picture book is told solely and seamlessly through its illustrations of remarkable tenderness.

On the first page, a girl of about 7 is cozy in bed with her favorite stuffed animal, a little fox. Though her room is very tidy, it reminds me of Eloise’s room at The Plazabecause it’s fun to pour over the page and look at all her stuff: two shelves of books, drawings of unicorns and leaves hanging on the walls, a fishing net drying at the foot of the bed, an easel with a painting of a fox carrying flowers.

The next page shows the girl getting ready for school and then meeting up with her friend, a little boy with glasses. Though no names are given, I’m convinced that this nerdy, sweet, and cool boy’s name is Simon. I just feel it.

Cohesively the illustrations convey that the next day is show-and-tell day at school. The girl goes home and gets her fox ready. She looks through old pictures: Her fox has been her constant companion since she was a baby.

Show-and-tell goes well, and then the girl and her friend stop at the park to play after school. A real fox spies them from behind the bushes.

And then he absconds with the girl’s fox!

The drawings of the real red fox’s flight are a deep delight. All of the drawings are bliss to behold, but this little fox dashing away with his coveted prize is heart-lifting. The girl chases after the red fox, and as they race through the forest and down the hill, you can feel how happy he is to have his own stuffed animal, and how frantic the girl is with worry for her beloved playmate.

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The boy joins the girl in her pursuit. They meet a squirrel who has a little red door at the bottom of a tree, a mouse who lives beside a white-spotted red mushroom, and all kinds of creatures who evoke fairyland and magic.

They then enter “a wondrous and magical world,” and I won’t tell you the restexcept to say that when they find the furtive fox, there is, in his room, an intensely tender and beautiful portrayal of his emotion.

This book shows empathy through pictures. And how the young characters resolve their problemon their ownhas got to be enormously encouraging for young readers. What’s especially cool about the graphic novel format is that children and parents can narrate the story themselves, pointing to the pictures, figuring out what’s happening, strengthening their bond.

Stephanie Graegin’s Little Fox in the Forest is tactile and real, earth-grounding and soulful.

The best children’s books have deep emotional atmospheres where kids are safe to feel a range of emotions through the characters. And they have primal tones that immerse kids in coziness and warmth.

This book has all that.

And for some reason it smells fantastic, like Cray-Pas and art supplies. It smells like coloring when you were 6, and playing with toys, and reading books, and taking naps.

When I finished it I sat with it in silence for a while. Because the little fox’s forest is a place where words are not necessary.

LittleFoxForestJACKET

Images from Stephanie Graegin’s website and Amazon.com

PS. A cool thing about the little fox is that while I assume he’s a boy, it doesn’t matter. What he is is just a wonderful fox.

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Killer Creamy Broccoli Soup

broccoli

I saw this recipe 50 years ago on Hell’s Kitchen or some Gordon Ramsay show or another.

4 ingredients:

  • Broccoli
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Steam some broccoli, then blend it with the cooking water and salt and pepper.

Simple, and crazy good.

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Shen Yun: Not What I Expected

Last year a friend went to see Shen Yun, and she told me it was one of the most uplifting and life-affirming things she’d ever seen.

For years I’d seen the green poster of the woman doing the splits in the air, so this year I decided to go. I love dance and acrobatics and ancient cultures, so I was excited.

The show opened with some skilled dancing, but to my surprise it was underwhelming. The dancing was certainly deft, but the choreography was not particularly engaging. It was even a bit bland.

So was the music.

After a three-minute dance, a young Chinese-American host and hostess came on stage. The guy wore what looked like a cheap black suit with a royal blue tie, and he greeted the audience with a schmaltzy inflection. The girl wore a pretty green traditional dress and translated the guy’s speech into Chinese. Their role was to recount the dance for the audience, and their performance was like something from a game show, rife with the cheese of Pat and Vanna. They introduced the next dance in a stagey cadence, and then the dude led the chick offstage with an affected, grandiose gesture of “ladies first” that was supposed to evoke the charm of yesteryear.

The second dance was pretty cool. A troupe of female dancers moved with grace and beauty, their long sleeves flowing like ribbons.

And then after three minutes young Pat and Vanna came back on stage. They recounted the ribbons dance and introduced the next.

The third dance was also cool. A troupe of male dancers moved with grace and elegance to a story about ancient warriors. There were even some impressive jumps and tumbling, where one dancer would do three or four flips with astounding agility.

This is what I was hoping for, I thought.

And then after three minutes young Pat and Vanna came back on stage. They recounted the previous dance and introduced the next, profuse with their hammy intonations and har-har jokes that the audience seemed to enjoy.

They did this every three minutes, after every dance, until after about five times I started to recoil every time a dance was about to end.

Meanwhile, the sets were getting more and more distressing. From the beginning they had been disturbing, because instead of being enchanting like this . . .

. . . they were digitized like bad CGI, and almost all of them were artless.

There are video games from 1996 that look more high quality and less cheesy.

And video games are clearly what the producers of Shen Yun were going for, because everyone loves video games, and no one can sit still for longer than three minutes.

Right?

I don’t know. I don’t have strong feelings about video games, and I think I could watch a continuous performance for at least 11 minutes.

Then young Pat and Vanna came out again–again interrupting the act; again interrupting the little video-game figure that shot up into the clouds of some high-mountain palace that could have been cool had it been designed well . . .

And pandering Pat said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have traveled from the Han dynasty to other worlds to underwater lands to the outer reaches of Mongolia and much more. And now we travel . . . to the bathroom.”

Ba-dump-bump.

The audience roared.

Well they didn’t quite roar, but they laughed. They clapped. They liked it.

Outside for some air, I apologized to my friend for dragging him to see this. We’d spent $90 each, plus $15 on parking.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I had no idea it was going to be like this.”

He shrugged. Because, as he said, “It’s what I expected. I figured it would be kinda middlebrow, sort of like Riverdance.”

Riverdance. I had never seen it, and didn’t even have a clear idea of what it was, but something about the word evoked for me everything I needed to know about the reality of this production.

“Why didn’t you tell me!” I said. “Riverdance! That’s all you needed to say! You coulda saved 90 bucks!”

“I thought you knew,” he said.

My friend who has highfalutin highbrow taste and knows I have highfalutin highbrow taste too thought I knew that this was going to be like Riverdance, and agreed to pay $90 to come and see the Chinese equivalent of Riverdance.

He’s so nice!

Well the dancing was good enough that we were both OK with heading back in for the second half. We conducted ourselves past the languid ushers in their burgundy polyester blazers, treaded over the 80s plush carpeting that clashed with the 1909 interior, raced past a woman in a fur coat and a man in a toupee, and made it back to our $90 seats in time for Pat and Vanna to introduce the umbrella dance.

This one had turquoise dresses and yellow umbrellas, and I love that combination of colors.

The dance was cool too. Like many of the women’s dances, it reminded me of the synchronized swimming in Esther Williams films.

Of course, as Pat and Vanna explained, classical Chinese dance is similar to ballet and acrobatics and synchronized dances of all sorts, but predates them by thousands of years.

They also informed us that Shen Yun is a New-York-based company, which makes a lot of sense. I’d assumed it was a troupe of acrobats and dancers based in China. (Turns out they’re banned in China, and often accused in the West of propaganda.)

One of the highlights of the performance was when the music happened to get good. The Western orchestra was momentarily quiet, and Xiaochun Qi played the erhu. There was soul in her music, and beauty in her strings.

Then there were more neat dances with handkerchiefs, fans, and bowls.

As before, the dances were adept, but the CGI got even more bizarre. There was a point toward the end where something exploded and virtual boulders burst apart in a digital corniness, which we weren’t sure was a volcano erupting or a nuclear bomb exploding.

I laughed, and then there was a skilled dance, and then Pat and Vanna thanked us for coming, and the show was over.

All in all, the dancers themselves were good, but everything else was lacking.

There were not as many acrobatics as I expected. Sometimes the dances were too consciously whimsical. Often they seemed to underuse the performers’ abilities. The music was flat. And the CGI backdrops were third-rate.

I guess I expected maybe 6 seamless vignettes (or one continuous story) with cool sets like this:

And rhythmic music like this:

But Pat and Vanna said that Shen Yun puts on a different program every year. So maybe my friend who recommended it really did see a great show last year.

And maybe there will be an awesome production next year where every element truly matches the talent of the dancers.

But really I think I’ll have better luck seeing a different troupe sometime, like the one in the video above.

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Natural Pain Reliever: A Killer Remedy for Advanced Pain Management

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You know that OTC and prescription pain meds are toxic. And sometimes they don’t even really work anyway.

So you’ve tried all kinds of natural pain relievers.

You’ve tried Epsom salt baths. Magnesium oil. Essential oils like lavender, wintergreen, peppermint, and ginger. You’ve taken omega-3 fatty acids and proteolytic enzymes to digest proteins like kinin and fibrin. You’ve tried collagen, chondroitin, glucosamine, MSM. You’ve made bone broth. You’ve taken turmeric pills, St. John’s Wort, white willow bark, cramp bark, arnica, you name it. You’ve had massage, you’ve been to PT, you’ve tried chiropractic, you’ve had Reiki, and you’ve sprung for acupuncture.

These things help, but the pain always comes back.

So it seems like you’ve tried all the natural pain relievers out there.

And nothing really works.

Yet your head is throbbing. The pain in your back wakes you up. Or your child’s suffering with a broken arm is causing your entire family pain.

And it’s so bad that the person who’s in pain can’t even do the therapeutic stuff that everyone says is good for preventing pain, like yoga and PT exercises and swimming.

Your pain acts up when you run too, or when you lift weights, or when you do Pilates, or whatever forms of exercise you’ve always LOVED to do.

So where do you go from here?

I’ve tried all that stuff too, and struggled for three years with back pain that wouldn’t go away. And it only got worse when I tried to stretch or rebuild all the muscle I’d lost from not doing my favorite exercises anymore.

And I’d already addressed my diet. I’d been gluten free for 15 years. Dairy-free, caffeine-free, sugar-free. Mostly paleo for all that time.

So the next step I took is I eliminated nightshades. Particularly potatoes. Also tobacco.

And around that time I also started Muscle Activation Therapy (MAT).

That all helped a lot.

A LOT.

And then I read about turmeric essential oil. According to DrAxe.com, it’s awesome for reducing arthritis and joint issues.

And I found that it’s spectacular for muscle pain too.

As a topical treatment, it’s a natural pain reliever that works.

Mix two drops of turmeric essential oil with a carrier oil or lotion, slather it on the site of your pain, and feel that pain dissolve.

I’m not kidding. It also improves your mood. Probably because it relieves pain.

Because when you’re not in pain anymore, you can enjoy life again.

I love Advanced Bio-Curcumin by Life Extension. It helps a ton when you take the pills.

But there is something about applying turmeric oil topically that really does the trick.

Young Living and Doterra don’t sell turmeric oil. And my favorite essential oil provider, Veriditas, doesn’t sell it either.

So I use this 100% pure therapeutic grade essential oil by Healing Solutions.

A couple weeks ago my back got hurt again. For two days I had to work (remotely) in child’s pose. On the third day, the pain was starting to ease on its own, and it finally occurred to me to rub turmeric oil on the injured spot. The turmeric oil knocked the remaining pain out, and on the fourth day I was much better. I kept at it for several days afterwards, until I felt complete relief.

Now every body is different, so I’m not guaranteeing your results. I’m not a doctor either, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. I know my stuff about firsthand natural healing, but I’m in no position to be regarded as an expert for you.

But if you go the natural route and you’ve tried just about everything, give turmeric oil a shot!

What have you tried for natural pain relief? What works for you? Let me know–I’m always looking for solutions.

Top image by Flickr user Steven Jackson

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What’s at the End of Your Nose? [Book Review]

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Sidney Snail is sick of his boring surroundings. He can’t wait to leave Slipperyville behind.

In this delightful children’s book by Becky Benishek, a young snail is about to set off to see the world, until a sage friend advises him to take a look at what’s right before his eyes.

Reluctantly, Sidney considers Old Samuel Snail’s advice. “He found a thick leaf next to the shore and halfheartedly pushed himself out onto the river.”

It’s on this jaunt down the river that Sidney discovers more fun, adventure, and new friends than he ever imagined.

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His journey awakens his sense of delight. I won’t tell you all the fun things he does, but I will say that when he swings through the air on a cherry stem, I wished I was in his shell.

Kids will too. If you’re looking for a book that shows kids why life is never really boring, and how beautiful fruits, leaves, and droplets of dew are, this is it. Becky’s writing will fill kids not only with a passion for nature, but a love for language too. And as illustrations by Kelly Cline enchant the eye, kids can even enter the story more deeply by coloring the pictures in.

A satisfying story, What’s at the End of Your Nose? leaves readers clamoring for more. Fortunately for us, Becky and Kelly have collaborated on a second title: Dr. Guinea Pig George.

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Today’s a Good Day for Art

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By some kind synchronicity, I started my work day today by running across three (so far) astounding works of art.

All this Twitter account does is tweet art, and today they shared this:

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Ron Hicks is a contemporary master.

Next, I went to Facebook, where my friend MJ shared this Rilke quote with this painting by Spanish artist Luis Ricardo Falero.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses who are waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that needs our love.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

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And then, knowing me possibly too well, YouTube suggested I listen to “In the Mood for Love” by Shigeru Umebayashi.

This is an hour-long loop that will fuel the next 60 minutes of my creative efforts. Unless I right-click the player and choose “Loop,” in which case this will enchant my ears until perhaps 5:00.

Top image: Lounging at the Louvre, 2010 EH

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12 Original Cover Songs

ambling

Original cover songs?

Yeah.

There are two kinds of cover songs.

In the summertime in the office plaza where I work, there’s a company that throws an annual bash for its staff.

It always looks pretty sweet. There’s beer and soda nestled in tubs of crushed ice under the hot beautiful sun, and there are two long rows of glorious food. You can smell the burgers, and almost taste the luscious salt of the potato chips, and everyone’s kind of lit. So it looks fun.

But it sounds like hell. There’s always some anemic cover band doing trite renditions of Beatles songs and hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Now I totally get nostalgia for classic hits.

But when you have some soulless interpretation done by dudes taking their staleness seriously seriously, I cringe. It embarrasses me. I hightail it past the bandstand, wishing it wasn’t horrifically shitty to cover my ears or throw tomatoes.

Those are bad cover songs.

Original cover songs are a different beast. They’re the ones that are played by talented musicians who take the songs in a new direction that’s super original.

Here are a few.

Cigarettes After Sex: Keep on Loving You (REO Speedwagon)

I never liked the original much. REO Speedwagon was always cheesy to me. (Though I have a fond memory of drinking an Oreo Speedwagon at TGI Friday’s once as a child. I think I liked it so much because a) it was a shake with cookies in it and b) I was proud that I recognized the name as a pun.)

What makes this an original cover is that it’s really nothing like the original-original. It’s moody and atmospheric. It sounds more like Low and Mazzy Star than REO Speedwagon. At the same time, the sound is completely unique to Cigarettes After Sex. For one, the vocalist sings like a chick. But he’s actually a dude, with a throaty voice like a sultry chanteuse. I find it fascinating to enjoy familiar lyrics and rhythms in this entirely new way. It’s like they took seeds from a spindly tree and grew an oak.

Here’s REO Speedwagon’s original.

The Black Angels: I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges)

This is where The Black Angels take a song that fucking rocks and fucking rock it. Like they do. What I find original here is the understatement. The restraint. It’s not constrained, but it’s kind of chilled out. While fucking rocking, as I mentioned.

One of the commenters on this video calls this restraint “hipster disinterest,” which is a phenomenon that I agree certainly exists. But not here. I think this is “we’re stoned, it’s the end of the night, but we’re fucking bringing it.” Christian Bland is milking the hell out of those screaming pedal sounds. And there are, I believe, at least four percussionists at work, including the kickass chick drummer. (See 5:15.) What a spirit of union and harmony. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Here’s The Stooges’ stupendous original.

The Concretes: Miss You (The Rolling Stones)

This one combines moodiness with understatement. It says “I drink alone,” but not in a George Thorogood way. In an aching lovesick way.

Here’s The Rolling Stones’ original. And my favorite special disco version. Plus this seductive edit.

Spacemen 3: Rollercoaster (13th Floor Elevators)

There are a million versions of this cover from S3’s studio albums and their live recordings. They are all spectacular. This one is especially thick with delicious distortion.

Here’s the 13th Floor Elevators’ original. The footage of exotic dancers Janik and Arnaut is also astounding.

Cat Power: Werewolf (Michael Hurley)

Back to moody. The first time I heard this sultry tune was in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces. It was like a siren song.

Here’s Michael Hurley’s splendid original.

Espers: Black Is the Color (Nina Simone)

I got super into Michael Hurley after hearing that Cat Power cover. From there, I ran into Espers, who covered Michael Hurley’s Blue Mountain [Espers | Hurley] on The Weed Tree, their album of mostly covers.

On that album is a glorious version of Blue Oyster Cult’s Flaming Telepaths, as well as this stunning rendition of Nina Simone’s Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair. Meg Baird’s voice is glorious, and they seriously play this violin as if it were my heart. I used to sing this song to my cat The Captain, who had black hair.

Here’s Nina Simone’s original (which the Espers cover sounds nothing like).

Darkside: Planet Caravan (Black Sabbath)

I’m a big fan of the Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington duo. They do these understated tunes of sweet, teasing funk with awesome beats like Heart, A1, and Paper Trails, and then they tuck in this Black Sabbath cover. Instrumentally it’s vastly different from the source material, but it evokes a similar mood.

Here’s the Black Sabbath …. I think I’m gonna call it a masterpiece.

His Name Is Alive: Man on the Silver Mountain (Rainbow)

Speaking of Black Sabbath, I remember playing this song early one morning in the prep kitchen at the Big Boy I worked at, and this awesome metalhead named Tom was like “What’s this church music? This is a Dio song!”

It’s one of those covers that essentially just borrows the lyrics of an existing song, and almost completely rearranges the music.

The HNIA album this is from, Home Is in Your Head, isn’t to everyone’s taste. It’s ethereal, sure, and it is weird as fuck. I later had a friend who saw it in a record shop filed under Christian music. But to me there are few albums more gothy. This album was strange, wonderful, and one of the most formative in my adolescence.

Note: If you’re interested in the album as I knew it in 1992, you need the Home Is in Your Head LP as well as The Dirt Eaters EP. They were released together in the US, and flow as a pair like a river.

Here’s the Rainbow original.

Radiohead and Sparklehorse: Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)

I’m not a huge Radiohead fan. I like some of the songs of theirs that I’ve heard. Most of the others I think are wanky. But this cover of Wish You Were Here I think is lovely. It’s different, especially with the piano, but it captures the melancholy of one of my favorite songs.

Here’s the Pink Floyd original. I’ve always loved how it builds.

Galaxie 500: Ceremony (Joy Division/New Order)

A lot of YouTube comments are either trollish or stupid, but I think there’s something to this one:

“I like this version. It sounds exactly like being some kids from some lame American town that listen to Joy Division. It is an emotional snapshot of those kids just fucking around, living, and not being very depressed right now because the sun is shining and it’s summer.”

I don’t think Galaxie 500 were from a lame town, but I know what the guy means, and I agree with the emotional snapshot.

Plus the musicianship in this is solid.

Here’s the Joy Division original and the glorious New Order version.

Debussy: Gymnopedie No. 3 (Satie)

Eight years after Erik Satie published his trio of bittersweet Gymnopedies for the piano, Debussy covered Nos. 1 and 3 with full orchestrations of astounding beauty. According to Wikipedia, “By the end of 1896, Satie’s popularity and financial situation were ebbing. Claude Debussy, whose popularity was rising at the time, helped draw public attention to the work of his friend.”

That’s so nice!

I love both versions, but the wind instrument in this one draws you in like warm water. And the strings are a heart-rich melancholy.

Here’s Daniel Varsano playing Satie’s soothing, strange, pensive piano original.

Also I just came across this clarinet and harp rendition of Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1. I also like this extra peaceful version of No. 1 from the Kompakt label.

Slowdive: Some Velvet Morning (Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra)

Such a sumptuous bassline to this version. The approach is the same as the Lee and Nancy psychedelic duet: call and response. But Slowdive bring their shoegaze wall of sound.

Here’s the Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra original.

In searching for the Slowdive cover, I came across this, which is an interesting site: SecondHandSongs.

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What are your favorite covers?

Image: Abbey Road, found here. I superimposed the dudes from this fine video onto it.

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