[Cover Me]: Anna Calvi, Nirvana and Bhi Bhiman

Anna Calvi – ‘Joan of Arc’ (Originally by Leonard Cohen)

If, like me, you are champing at the bit to get your mitts on Anna Calvi’s upcoming album, One Breath, then hopefully this wee gem will help keep you tided over until October. Originally recorded for the Attic Sessions and subsequently released as the B-side to ‘Desire’, Anna’s instrumental reinvention of Leonard Cohen’s own reimagining of Joan of Arc’s death as the love between Joan and the fire that would consume her is a shimmering slice of guitar wizardry. Calvi explains of her version that ‘there are four parts to the instrumental, as there are four verses. After each verse Cohen returns to the same refrain, which he sings a beautiful tune just with “la’s”. After each verse I also return to this melody. I just wanted to capture the story which is so beautifully told, with music.’ As with everything I have heard of Calvi, ‘Joan of Arc’ is spell binding and the fact that she manages to effectively convey purely in notes the emotions that Cohen puts through in words is a testament to her tasteful virtuosity. Roll on 7th October.

Nirvana – ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sun Beam’ (Originally by The Vaselines)

Nirvana’s final album, and best in my opinion, In Utero, is twenty years old this September and is set for a deluxe rerelease, so it seems fitting to put in a cover from their MTV Unplugged show performed two months later. I fell out of love with Nirvana for a long time, but digging out the Unplugged album a couple of years ago reminded me how accomplished their songwriting and melodies were, really indebted to the Beatles as much as punk and alternative rock influences. In the midst of the media shit storm that surrounded Nirvana for the three years after Nevermind broke, it’s really lovely to see them revelling in some of their favourite songs at this performance. The tip of the cap to The Vaselines here is a beautiful moment, where the band all appear to be comfortable and content. From this performance you could be forgiven for imagining at the time of Nirvana’s end that Dave Grohl would go on to start a solo career as a one man band (he simultaneously sings, plays bass and hi-hat on this track), but it would seem he formed Foo Fighters instead. Ah well, I guess we shall never know now what could have been….

Bhi Bhiman – ‘Walk of Life’ (Originally by Dire Straits)

As promised last week, here is a track from Bhi Bhiman’s fantastic covers EP, Substitute Preacher.  In truth, all of the songs on Substitute Preacher are remarkably reimagined (check out ‘Highway to Hell’), holding the same quality as the covers on Johnny Cash’s American Recordings where you cease to have the original version in mind. However, I had to choose just one so I’ve gone with his take on Dire Straits’s ‘Walk of Life’. Never really a Dire Straits favourite of mine, but when I saw Bhiman perform it at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, complete with audience whistling and shouts of ‘Ooh yeah, the boy can play’, I was really taken with it. Bhiman says ‘I knew the song since being a kid, and I’ve always thought of it as Mark Knopfler’s nod to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. The song really rings true with me because, in a way, its my story too.’ The song is also perfectly complemented by the Buster Keaton compilation video that accompanies it:

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[Cheap and Cheerful]: Foy Vance

foy-vance-1-hi-resHope is a sword with both sides as sharp as the other / And it cuts you of course and it cuts to the heart”

Welcome to a feature I have much neglected, Cheap & Cheerful, where I throw songs and albums your way which artists have provided for free download, or pay-what-you-feel. Expect more of these in future because your pockets are probably nearly as empty as mine and, if you’re anything like me, free tunes brighten any gloomy day.

On a sunny bank holiday Monday (at least it is where I am), you need music to match the occasion. Into my playlist today dropped this wee gem from Bangor-born folk singer Foy Vance, which fit the bill perfectly. A product of his musical upbringing, listening to folk songs from home and travelling the American South and Midwest with his preacher father, Vance’s blend of Transatlantic influences has earned him tour spots with Bonnie Raitt (who offers backing vocals on You and I) and fellow  Communion label acolytes Michael Kiwanuka and Marcus Foster. His songs have also been featured on Grey’s Anatomy and Rom-Zom-Com Warm Bodies (interesting concept handled really well, definitely worth a watch).

Dark Horse, a B-side from Vance’s imminent second album, Joy of Nothing, is an understated and uplifting strummer which lilts and soars as you listen. Consisting only of Vance’s guitar and compelling vocals with some tasteful bass fills, Dark Horse‘s simplicity recalls the spare directness which characterised the songwriting of 60’s troubadours. Indeed, the song’s opening shows the unmistakable influence of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, seeming like it will jump into the line ‘If I ventured in the slipstream…’ at any moment while the slinky bass fills sound as if they came courtesy of Richard Davis himself. The easy-going strummer style of the track may be too simplistic for some, but there is no denying the catchy and moving honesty of the song which carries you along. Vance’s versatile voice floats with the music here, where on other tracks it can rattle and shake. The lyrics themselves are characterised by a melancholy which is tempered by pragmatic optimism: This is the way things are, we may as well make the most of it.  This in itself could be said to be the lyrical theme of Joy of Nothing as a whole, for Vance’s songs are heartbreakers, but there is hope in there to be sure. Hope, above all else.

Joy of Nothing is out today through Glassnote Records. Dark Horse is available to listen and download through NoiseTrade

[Artist Spotlight]: Bhi Bhiman

BhimanI’m just a vagabond, I live to see the light of dawn / The train beats a rhythm and I love to sing along”

 It’s nice to be back. During my European excursion with my old flatmate we managed to catch Josh Ritter’s magnificent show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. The Paradiso is a beautiful venue and Ritter delivered a killer set with the Royal CIty Band, bringing the songs of The Beast in its Tracks to full, brimming life. Old standards were also mixed in (including Ritter’s beautiful, solo take of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’) and throughout the gig Ritter grinned and bounded around like an excitable spaniel. I could easily fill this article with a note-by-note play of the show, but the reason I’m writing this is to share the music of one Bhi Bhiman (pronounced ‘Bee Bee-man’), who supported Ritter at the show.

 A former member of San Francisco’s Hippie Grenade, Bhi Bhiman’s folk-country singer-songwriter (and other double-barrel categorisations) leanings completely bely his early influences of AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, who Bhiman cites as a particular influence. Picking up the guitar as a teenager when a sporting injury temporarily put him out of action, Bhiman eventually decided to pursue a career in music and has honed his storytelling skills into something very special. On his second album, Bhiman (produced by Josh Ritter producer/band member, Sam Kassirer), his stories range from women and blood (the signatures of country ballads) to railroad drifters and North Korean prisoners. He is also capable of skillfully reinterpreting songs on his damn fine covers EP Substitute Preacher, songs from which I will share in an upcoming Cover Me.  His rocksteady rhythm guitar playing keeps the songs chugging along and is reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s sound, but on tracks such as ‘Mexican Wine’ and ‘Time Heals’ he also shows influences of World music, particularly South African melodies.

Other than his storytelling skills and his ear for a sublime melody Bhiman’s most outstanding quality, the one that caught my attention in Amsterdam, is his crisp and emotive vocals which cut right through the mix. His vocal delivery and timing are flawless, demanding attention and carrying the listener into the stories he spins. He is a truly remarkable performer and is sure to become a heavyweight figure of New Americana, concealed by a benign, welterweight appearance.

Bhiman  and Substitute Preacher are both available now on Tummy Touch Records. Bhi Bhiman will also be supporting Chris Cornell on his upcoming US tour.