music

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.

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Reggae Covers: Jackie Mittoo – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream)

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In a song with an all-time unforgettable signature riff there’s little room for improvisation, or so it would seem. Inexorably following in the melodic tracks of the original by Cream Jackie Mittoo (of Brown’s Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica) yet manages to turn the almost menacingly lustful original into a bit of cheerful shopping music.

Reggae Covers: Jimmy Lindsay – Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers)

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Starts kind of respectful, even mechanical, but quickly assumes its own character and style. Jimmy Lindsay’s recording of the Bill Withers original brings hints of African drums, rock & roll (that sax solo!), and his nascent rasta consciousness.

Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad

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Bruce Springsteen has acquired a certain Dylan-level ability to reflect on and reimagine his own work. His time with the E-Street Band prepared him perfectly for this moment, just as Dylan’s endless tour affords his evolving musical and lyrical ideas regular venue in front of gatherings worldwide of his most devoted fans.

This 2014 reimagining of the song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad” –the opening track on Springsteen’s 1995 solo release of the same name– is as much Tom Morello’s as Springsteen’s. It takes the dark, finely-honed menace of the original recording and plugs it into Morello’s amp head, allowing it to transcend the limitations of solo performance in hard-fighting guitar leads and the biting harmonies he and Springsteen find around the vocal mic together (especially the chorus “Well the highway is alive tonight…”). Springsteen’s insane vocal range and power features throughout. I honestly can’t say enough good about this recording.

Listening to this and knowing what a music geek Morello is I had to smile in the realization that this project must’ve given him the biggest contact high of all time.

Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass

Culture – Mr. Sluggard

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Kingston, Jamaica’s Culture with a tune at once very chill in its riddims and un-chill in the light it shines on Mr. Sluggard.

Tell me where you get your bread, Mr. Sluggard.
Tell me where you get your bread, each time.
Tell me where you get your bread, Mr. Sluggard.
Tell me where you get your bread, each time.

Did you ever push a hand cart, full of farmers goods?
Crossing the street between truck and cars,
Blowing four inches across death’s face.

The Tannahill Weavers – The Yew Tree

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Paisley, Scotland’s Tannahill Weavers, here with an independence-minded, history-filled choon written from a curious rhetorical stance: a series of questions and assumptions as spoken to and asked of a thousand-year old yew tree. After all the tales of war, hunger, and strife the tree is suggested to have witnessed, the singer finally says to the tree…

And I thought as I stood and laid hands on your wood
That it might be a kindness to fell you
One kiss o’ the axe and you’re freed frae th’ likes
O’ the sad bloody tales that men tell you
But a wee bird flew out from your branches
And sang out as never before
And the words o’ the song were a thousand years long
And to learn them’s a long thousand more.

Jonah Moyo and Devera Ngwena – Fundisa Umlomo Wakho

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Jonah Moyo and Devera Ngwena –this last meaning ‘follow the crocodile’ in the Xitsonga language native to southeast Africa– are a Zimbabwean rhumba act that blends native mbira rhythms with a modern, Chimurenga-style social sensibility.

This track from 1987 has catchy, birdsong guitars taking the mbira (thumb piano) part and a sort of droned vocal harmony that at once invigorates the lower-half of the body while soothing the upper half.