music

Reggae Covers: Pat Kelly – A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum)

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Kingston Jamaica’s Pat Kelly is a veteran vocalist from the rocksteady days, recording for Duke Reid when Treasure Isle Records was the king of the dancehalls. Kelly modeled his vocal style on US soul singer Sam Cooke, a crooner’s method that finds a likely number in Procol Harum’s 1967 hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale.’ Kelly doesn’t really try anything unusual or new with this 1984 recording, though a talented vocalist rendering a memorable song is worth a listen even under the worst of circumstances.

And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed

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Reggae Covers: The Cimarons – Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas)

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This 1995 cover doesn’t bring much to the memorable 1974 Carl Douglas original, though it’s worth mentioning that The Cimarons themselves –Franklyn Dunn, Carl Levy, Locksley Gichie, Maurice Ellis, and Winston Reid (aka Winston Reedy)– were class-act session musicians in Jamaica before emigrating to the UK.

Bonus FunFact: Carl Douglas himself is a native of Kingston, Jamaica.

Reggae Covers: Reggae Clinic 65 – Take Five (Dave Brubeck)

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Known for its challenging time signature Dave Brubeck’s 1959 jazz classic ‘Take Five’ is utterly transformed here into a track with noteworthy horn leads and a butt-solid rhythm section. Bonus version by the same artist here, which rapidly transforms itself into the bizarre universal language of dub.

Waylon Jennings – Waymore’s Blues

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You’ve got to hate country music or have a thing against Waylon to not find this song a sort of perfection.

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Waylon and his big ugly friend John, in 1974

Recorded in 1974 and released in 1975 at the height of Waylon’s popularity (and involvement with narcotics), Dreaming My Dreams was one of the first recordings over which Waylon had complete creative control. Outlaw Country had injected the sterile, formulaic Nashville country music industry with a greasy, redneck, pleasure-loving contagion: a mixture that resonated deeply with music fans who wanted their music to understand and console more of their lives than lost love, poverty, and God.

‘Waymore’s Blues’ has carved out a place for itself at the heart of Outlaw Country. Oft-covered by inheritors of Waylon’s bullshit-calling ways, it’s one of those touchstone songs: familiar like a church hymn, that speaks to the fundamental underlayment of a certain type of man. That second verse itself reads like a rhyme Waylon learned in Sunday school as a lad, only later to recur and be reinvented in his new aesthetic.

Well, I woke up this mornin’ it was drizzlin’ rain
Around the curve come a passenger train
Heard somebody yodel and a hobo moan
Jimmy he dead, he been a long time gone.
Been a long time gone…a long time gone.

If you want to get to heaven, gotta D-I-E
You gotta put on your coat and T-I-E
Want to get the rabbit out of the L-O-G
You gotta make a cold motion like a D-O-G
Like a D-O-G, like a D-O-G…yeah.

Well, I got a good woman, what’s the matter with me?
What makes me want to love every woman I see?
I was trifling when I met her now I’m trifling again
And every woman she sees looks like the place I came in.
Looks like the place I came in, the place I came in.

I got my name painted on my shirt
I ain’t no ordinary dude
I don’t have to work

As sinister and mesmerizing as the guitar lead is –as utterly noteworthy– it’s that “…” that makes me laugh. In context, in that last verse Waylon breaks the pattern of repetition that appears at the end of each previous verse. You expect him to repeat the line “I don’t have to work” but you see, Waylon ain’t no ordinary dude. He don’t have to live up to your expectations, see? He’s not just going to tell you he ain’t no ordinary dude, he’s damned well going to show you.

Knowing he was pissed off the whole time he was recording this take makes it all the more middle-finger-y. A little bit of music business lore around this song, recounted here at Wikipedia:

The sessions were halted because of miscommunication with Jennings and problems caused by his drug use. While recording “Waymore’s Blues”, Clement tried to eject Jennings’ wife and her sister from the control room. Confused by Clement’s gestures, Jennings assumed that the producer was distracted by talking to the women instead of following the session. The singer left the studio for two weeks and was persuaded to return after having dinner with Clement and his wife. When Jennings and Clement returned to redo “Waymore’s Blues,” they found that they could not reproduce the feel of the original track. They decided to use the original on the album, and this explains the abrupt fade at the end of the song – to cover up Jennings storming out of the studio.

So there’s real pissed-off working man in this song, not just the legend of it. This is what Outlaw Country was all about: bringing the sound & subject matter of country music into the relevant now.

Reggae Covers: Lloyd Charmers – Theme from ‘Shaft’ (Isaac Hayes)

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One of the most well-known, most culturally-pervasive movie themes of all time, Isaac Hayes‘ theme for the 1971 blaxploitation movie Shaft has received near-constant homage in other media from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Channel 4’s Father Ted. I mean, it’s up there in ‘Theme from Rocky (Gonna’ Fly Now)’ territory.

Here we have old-school rocksteady/ska singer (and sometime x-rated lyricist) Lloyd Charmers‘ 1971 almost immediate re-release of the film original and you know what? It’s pretty dope. The fast urban pace reflected in the original is kind of existentially at odds with the deliberate mogel-inducing rhythms of rocksteady yet Lloyd completes the transformation into a groovy thing of excellence. Definitely worth a listen.

Reggae Covers: John Holt – Just The Way You Are (Billy Joel)

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I’ve never been a big fan of Billy Joel’s music. You have to recognize the staying power and broad appeal of his music nonetheless so it’s unsurprising to find something of his in the covers-happy world of Jamaican popular music. Thankfully we find this classic hair-salon-muzak number in the capable hands of John Holt, who despite his inspired pedigree does little to interfere with the work of the original creative hand. Not even a horn chart, swelling strings, and a crew of ‘hoo-hoo’ background singers can make this a song you’d want to hear more than once. Alas. Can’t win ’em all.

Reggae Covers: UB40 – Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)

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Lyrics based on the poem by NYC’s own Abel Meeropol, Birmingham UK’s UB40 prepare a version of Billie Holiday‘s 1939 original that loses none of the shame and menace of the original. Heavy at times with synthesizers and inescapably colored by UB40’s skanking, horns-laden method the point, purpose, and aesthetic of the original reemerge.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.