Q-Music: Taking cover

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday July 12, 2022
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New albums from Colin Hay, Jennifer Nettles, Rebecca Angel and Los Lobos
New albums from Colin Hay, Jennifer Nettles, Rebecca Angel and Los Lobos

One of the great delights of listening to music is hearing the way a singer interprets a song written by someone else. How close they stick to the original version or how far they deviate is always a joy to behold. When a singer/songwriter performs a rendition of another songwriter's creation, that takes the listening experience to a new level.

Depending on how long you've been listening to music, Colin Hay may be better known to you as a solo performer than as the former frontman of the short-lived and Grammy Award-winning (the cursed Best New Artist award) Aussie band Men At Work ("Who Can It Be Now?" and, fittingly, "Down Under").

Men At Work had four full-length albums to its name. Hay, on the other hand, can boast more than a dozen albums, including his latest, "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" (Compass). If you couldn't guess from the title, a song made popular by the late lesbian diva Dusty Springfield, Hay's record consists of cover tunes.

In its acoustic setting, his cover of the title tune easily captures the dramatic impact of the original. His readings of The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" and Glen Campbell's Jimmy Webb-penned hit "Wichita Lineman" are equally respectful.

As you can tell from these song titles, the main focus of the album is 1960s pop, including a pair of Beatles numbers, as well as Gerry and the Pacemakers' "Don't Let The Sun (Catch You Crying)" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross." One exception is the underrated Del Amitri's "Driving With The Brakes On," which is a welcome addition to the line-up.

Like Colin Hay, Jennifer Nettles is perhaps best known as a member of a band; she's the lead vocalist of contemporary country act Sugarland. Since 2014, Nettles has been releasing solo albums of mostly original compositions and songs she co-wrote.

The utterly unexpected "Always Like New" (Concord) finds her moving in an entirely new direction; the 10 songs are Nettles' interpretations of Broadway show tunes. A first-rate belter, Nettles is more than up to the task, and the album is a pleasant surprise.

With arrangements by Grammy and Tony Award-winner Alex Lacamoire, Nettles digs deep into the stage musical songbook performing endearing renderings of "Anyone Can Whistle," "Almost Like Being in Love," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "Tomorrow."

Wisely, Nettles includes songs from modern musicals including "It All Fades Away" (from "The Bridges of Madison County"), presented as a stunning duet with Grammy-winning queer singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, and "You Will Be Found" (from "Dear Evan Hansen").

Even though Grammy-winning band Los Lobos has been releasing acclaimed albums of original songs for more than 40 years, it's probably going to be forever known for its cover of "La Bamba," from the Richie Valens biopic of the same name.

More than 20 albums into its lengthy career, Los Lobos returns with "Native Sons" (New West), an album of —you guessed it— cover songs. The band does a fantastic job of leaving its distinctive mark on the 13 tracks included here.

Standouts include the Stephen Stills/Buffalo Springfield medley "Bluebird/For What It's Worth," the brassy Percy Mayfield number "Never No More," Jackson Browne's "Jamaica Say You Will," War's "The World Is A Ghetto," and the Beach Boys' "Sail On, Sailor."

Rebecca Angel may not be as well-known as Los Lobos, Jennifer Nettles or Colin Hay, but she demonstrates her good musical taste by, like Los Lobos, covering Stephen Stills' timely "For What It's Worth" on her album "Love Life Choices" (Timeless Grooves).

For "Till Now," Angel supplied her own lyrics for her take on Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie No. 1." She shows off her bossa nova skills with covers of "Corcovado" and "Waters of March," and you can feel the island breeze blowing through her reading of Bob Marley's "Waiting In Vain."

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