[Cover Me]: Arctic Monkeys, Mazzy Star and Johnny Cash

Arctic Monkeys – ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ (Originally by John Cooper Clarke)

Not exactly a cover, so much as a setting of words to music. The influence of John Cooper Clarke’s wordplay has long been evident in Alex Turner’s lyrics and since the Monkey’s last trio of albums has lead them to L.A. and back it seems fitting for their latest offering to come full circle and finish with Carke’s kitchen-sink poetry. Turner’s Sheffield brogue is a perfect foil for Clarke’s Salford drawl as he delivers lines like “Let me be your ‘leccy meter, And I’ll never run out”. Meanwhile, the shuffling beat and swirls of oscillating guitar hold a strong tie to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’s ‘Loverman’ (the band have also covered Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’, from the same album). Positioned at the end of the album, this song of longing proves to be the woozy hangover at the end of AM‘s long, heavy night.

Mazzy Star – ‘Five String Serenade’ (Originally by Arthur Lee)

Mazzy Star recently released their first album in seventeen years, Seasons of Your Day, and it reminded me of this little beauty from 1993’s So Tonight That I Might See. Originally penned by Arthur Lee of Love, the song choice really lays out the shared Californian genealogy between the two bands. Both bands have a knack for hazy and psychedelic melodies. However, while Arthur Lee’s psych-tinged original wallows amid waves of chorused guitar and shimmering strings, David Roback and Hope Sandoval’s take really accentuates the lullaby at the heart of the song. Roback slows the pace down to a slow dance, accentuating each note in the arpeggio, while the swathes of strings in the original are condensed to a sparse string section. Floating between these and the occasional tambourine shimmer is Sandoval’s sultry drawl, which complete’s the song’s soporific atmosphere. The song lies nestled at the centre of So Tonight That I Might See, and is a spellbinding moment of tender magic.

Johnny Cash – ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ (Originally by Gordon Lightfoot)

It has been ten years since the loss of Johnny Cash, whose American Recordings albums remain a tribute to his power as a performer and a songwriter even in his final years of deteriorating health. His output was so prolific at this stage that he left behind three album’s worth of recorded material that were released after his death. It seems that he was a man wanting to set the record straight before he checked out, and nowhere does this come across as strongly than in his versions of ‘Hurt’ and ‘If You Could Read My Mind’. The latter was penned by Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and is one of the most evocative and accurate account of a dissolving relationship I have ever come across. Lightfoot’s original was already pretty poignant, but in Cash’s hands the song takes on a whole new poignancy. As with all American Recordings covers, ‘If You Could My Mind’ is stripped down to its very essence, with barebones instrumentation. But, as ever, it is Cash’s entrancing vocals that really clinch it. His voice is recognisable but quavers, betraying his years and deteriorating health, forming cracks in the deep and confident voice which sang ‘I Walk the Line’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. It is the audible hesitation when singing “I’m just trying to understand” and “I just don’t get it” which cuts through to the core. It gets me every time. Rest in peace, Johnny.

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[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: