Category Archives: Guest Blogging

Bill Fay featuring Jeff Tweedy – “This World”

Bill-Fay-Life-Is-PeopleFans of Wilco may know that Jeff Tweedy is a big fan of Bill Fay. His cover of Fay’s “Be Not So Fearful” appeared in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and Wilco has also played the song live on several occasions, with Fay joining them for a few of them.

Recently Tweedy got the chance to work with Fay in the studio, singing a verse on “This World.” This isn’t the first time that Tweedy has gotten to work with some of his musical heroes. He’s also collaborated with Nick Lowe and Mavis Staples. If this wasn’t enough of an honor, Fay also includes a cover of Wilco’s “Jesus Etc.”on his new album.

Musically, “This World” sounds like a more laid back Springsteen song, with guitar strums recalling some of the songs on The Rising, or a more straightforward Wilco song, especially when the keys come in.

As the title might suggest, “This World” features reflections on life and the world.  Fay has had plenty of time to reflect, as over 40 years had passed since he released his previous album.

Fay’s new album, Life is People, is available now via Dead Oceans. Check out “This World” and Fay’s cover of “Jesus Etc.” below.

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Video: Punch Brothers – “The Weight” (The Band cover)

Punch Brothers“The Weight” has to be one of the most frequently covered songs of the past half century. Shockingly, four versions of the song charted in both the U.S. and Canada: the original by The Band plus covers by Jackie DeShannon, Aretha Franklin, and Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations.

A number of other artists have played the song live. Wilco performed one of our favorite versions of the song with help from Mavis Staples and Nick Lowe, but they’re far from the only ones who have tackled it. The Wikipedia article for the song takes 20 lines to discuss all of the different artists who have covered it, ranging from older musicians, like Grateful Dead and Waylon Jennings, to younger bands such as Panic! at the Disco and Hanson.

Moreover, the endless stream of cover versions doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. In fact, a ton of covers of the song have been springing up recently in tribute to Levon Helm, who died this year. The Black Keys performed the song with John Fogerty at Coachella, the day after Helm passed away, and Bruce Springsteen played it after a fan requested it a few weeks later.

Punch Brothers recently added their own version to the mix during a Back Porch Session for Garden & Gun. It seems like it was only a matter of time before they covered this song, seeing as it’s covered so frequently, and Punch Brothers are masters of the cover song. They covered The Cars for AV Club’s Undercover, they included a fabulous cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” on their latest album, and you never know what covers are going to pop up in their set lists. At their show in Prospect Park they played four covers, including “Ophelia,” another song by The Band.

Check out the cover below, and let us know which cover of “The Weight” is your favorite.

Elliott Smith – “Ballad of Big Nothing (Alternate Version)”

Elliott Smith - Ballad of Big Nothing alternate versionAs promised, Kill Rock Stars has released another long-withheld Elliott Smith recording.  As has been the case every other week this month, they’ve delivered an unreleased cut from Smith’s seminal 1997 album, Either/Or. So far, we’ve heard different takes of “Alameda,” “Punch and Judy,” and “Angeles.” This week’s track is an alternate version of “Ballad of Big Nothing.”

At first glance, there are very few differences between this version and the one that made the album. A few lines have been slightly tweaked, but it does little to change the feel of the song. Even though this song does characteristically feature Smith’s gloomy lyrics, the music has a different feel from most of his other songs.

“Ballad of Big Nothing” is a rocker, with drums playing a more prominent role than they do in the majority of the other songs on Either/Or, or the rest of the Elliott Smith catalog for that matter. It also finds him dropping his hushed singing style and belting the lyrics a bit more. It may just be because we recently wrote about “The EMI Song (Smile for Me),” and Smith is a known Big Star fan, often covering their songs, but his vocals sound reminiscent of Alex Chilton’s.

Even though some of these tracks haven’t been much different from the ones on Either/Or, they’ve offered a revealing look at the recording process for one of the  most remarkable albums of the 1990s. Here’s hoping that there are more Elliott Smith recordings to be posthumously released.

The alternate version of “Ballad of Big Nothing” is available for sale on Kill Rock Star’s Bandcamp and for streaming below.

Alex Chilton – “The EMI Song (Smile For Me)”

Alex-Chilton-Free-Again-The-1970-SessionsThere is a lot to be amazed about with this Alex Chilton track, every second of which seems purely classic.

For starters, Chilton was only 18 when he recorded this song. While he sold millions of records and topped the charts at 16, as a member of the Box Tops, those hits weren’t written by the band. Chilton himself has said that the producers were in the driver’s seat. “The EMI Song (Smile For Me),” on the other hand, is all Chilton.

It’s also amazing that a song this good went decades without seeing a proper release. The song, written in 1969, and the other songs from Chilton’s post-Box Tops, pre-Big Star period remained unreleased until 1996. Now the song was released again by Omnivore Recordings as part of Free Again: The “1970” Sessions.

But backstories aside, this is just an amazing song. Like Big Star’s “Thirteen,” this is a simple love song. Unlike “Thirteen,” it’s carried by a piano rather than an acoustic guitar, and it features a rhythm section. It picks up a bit of a Sgt. Pepper’s feel, and it has that late ’60s/early ’70s production that makes all recordings from that time period feel magical and timeless.

It’s easy to see why Chilton is venerated in some circles as one of rock’s greatest artists. Listen to the song below, and watch Rep. Steve Cohen, (D) Tennessee, talk about how awesome Alex Chilton is.

Free Again: The “1970” Sessions is available from Omnivore Recordings. The first 500 orders come with a limited edition 7″, and the first 1500 come on clear vinyl!

Elliott Smith – “Angeles” (alternate version)

Elliott Smith - Angeles (Alternate Version)It’s time for this week’s unreleased Elliott Smith song. This month has already brought us different versions of “Alameda” and “Punch and Judy,” and this week Kill Rock Stars is continuing the trend with an alternate version of another Either/Or song, “Angeles.”

While last week’s unreleased version “Punch and Judy” completely reworked the song, this week’s “Angeles” is a more conventional alternate take, an acoustic version of an already acoustic song. It hasn’t strayed far from the album version. However, this take strips off some of the production effects and offers a completely bare rendition of an already gorgeous song.

Although this version hasn’t altered much, this is no cause for complaint. It’s hard to think of any changes that could have made this song any better.

It may not show us another side of Elliott Smith like last week’s track did, but it does serve as a reminder of just how good Smith was at making music in his sparsely beautiful style.

Elliott Smith – “Alameda” (alternate version)

By Mike Cauvel

Elliott Smith - Alameda alternate versionAugust 1st would’ve been Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday. We recently covered The Grateful Dead Movie Event, a movie shown across the country to celebrate his birthday and his memory. August 6th, just a few days after Garcia’s birthday is the birthday of another great musician who died too young, Elliott Smith.

Smith’s former label, Kill Rock Stars is doing a lot to celebrate. They’re reissuing Either/Or and Smith’s self titled album on vinyl, offering digital downloads of Smith’s entire Kill Rock Stars catalog for only $49, and making some previously unreleased material available.

This alternate version of “Alameda,” from 1997’s Either/Or, is the first unreleased track the label is sharing this month. It features altered lyrics and more sparse production. It may be because it’s difficult to separate his music from the tragedy of his death, but all of his songs are a bit haunting. This track is no exception.

Although it’s still heartbreaking to reflect on Smith’s death, it’s some comfort to know that we haven’t heard the last from him yet and his rich musical legacy is still expanding.

You can stream the track below and buy it for a dollar over at Kill Rock Star’s Bandcamp.

The Sea and Cake – “Harps”

By Mike Cauvel

The Sea and Cake - RunnerWhen most people think of summer songs, they jump to the anthems, full of yearning and adventure, or the catchy sing alongs that beg for an open window to drift out of.

Summer 2012 has provided bounties of both of these. If you’re looking for a song to echo your summer hunger and make you feel invincible, Japandroids, Tropical Punk, and the Gaslight Anthem have released albums full of them. If you’re in the mood for sing alongs, there’s Icona Pop’s “I Love It” along with new albums by Passion Pit and Best Coast.

But there’s also a third, often overlooked, genre of summer songs: the ones that match the carefree contentment of the lazy hours that (let’s face it) are more commonplace than the adventures.

Summer is winding down, but The Sea and Cake have finally provided the soundtrack for your summer reveries, the perfect song to listen to while taking a morning walk or sitting on your porch as the night sets in.

“Harps” begins with a minute of lightly dancing electronic instrumentation that would feel at home in the canon of the Postal Service before shifting into a light pop song reminiscent of the last album by recent tourmates Broken Social Scene.

Singer Sam Prekop nearly whispers the reflective lyrics as the music breezes by. Before you know it the song, much like summer itself, is over before you’re ready for it to end.

“Harps” is featured on The Sea and Cake’s tenth studio album, Runner, which is scheduled for a September 18 release on Thrill Jockey.