Currently Listening to…

by Cate

Cowboy Junkies, Luna, Mazzy Star and more…

Covers are a tricky proposition because songwriting, by its very nature, is an intensely personal form of expression. Covering a song necessitates striking a balance between honoring the original version’s feel without descending into unintentional parody and providing a reinterpretation. As an enormous Lou Reed fan, I tend to instinctively dislike many covers of his songs because no one can replicate his all-knowing smirk or singular talk/sing phrasing. However, this version of “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies is pretty great. Rather than impersonate Reed’s delivery, singer Margo Timmins uses her soulful voice to infuse the song with a heavy dose of languid sexiness. Ironically, the band’s rather unique take on the song is Reed’s favorite and he’s publicly called it “the best and most authentic version [he has] ever heard.”

Mazzy Star recently reunited and played at Coachella to rave reviews. I never tire of Hope Sandoval’s smokey, ethereal vocals and while Mazzy Star did not produce the most varied music, their material is uniformly excellent. I strongly encourage everyone to purchase their three albums from the 1990s (She Hangs Brightly, 1990; So Tonight That I Might See, 1993; Among my Swan, 1996). This performance of “Blue Flower” from a Jools Holland appearance is especially good.

After Mazzy Star’s demise, Hope Sandoval formed her own project, Hope Sandoval and the Warm Intentions. Her output has been a bit spotty but as always, her voice is incredible. “Trouble” below.

The seventh installment in my Crate Digging series is about Serge Gainsbourg, which means that I have been trying to drink in as much of his oeuvre as possible over the past week or so. Much like his peers, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, Gainsbourg’s work has been covered innumberable times over the course of the past fifty years. Luna’s Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips covered “Bonnie and Clyde” (the original is sung by one-time couple Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot) for their band’s album, Penthouse. Britta’s Bardot impression is startlingly apt (which probably should not be all that surprising, given her background as a voiceover actress) but Wareham’s French accent bears a remarkably strong New Zealand accent. The quirkiness of Luna’s cover is well-suited to Gainsbourg’s material and pushes this version of the song ahead of countless others.

Yes, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds again. Truthfully, I am almost always listening to the Bad Seeds (or any other Nick Cave venture) and with fourteen studio albums, twenty-nine singles and three live records, there is no shortage of material to choose from. Perhaps the most admirable and fascinating trait about Nick’s bands is that the level of musicianship and musical literacy is so high that they can easily, fluidly move between genres and sounds while still retaining a core aesthetic. I strongly encourage people to seek out live videos of the Birthday Party, the Bad Seeds and Grinderman because it is awe-inspiring to watch Nick and the guys pour every ounce of blood and sweat they have into their music.