Cover Lover: “Rolling in the Deep”

Ryan Lerman 2
Photo credit: Ryan Lerman (http://ryanlerman.com/album/pinstripes-the-sky)

Covers serve an important purpose for emerging and established artists. If done well, a good cover can help emerging artists hone their craft and enable them to reach listeners that would otherwise not have peeked from underneath the cover of the mainstream fold. Bob Dylan’s first ablum included only two original songs while the rest were his interpretation of traditional folk standards, and First Aid Kit, now a viable indie presence, parlayed their cover of Fleet Foxes’s “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” into a recording deal. For estalbished artists, covers allow them to cross genres and perhaps take a break from the tempestuous process of writing music without foregoing their lifeblood, both philosophically and in actuality ($$). The artist that immediately springs to mind here is Cat Power, whose release of her celebrated The Covers Record seems to have come at a time when she was going through some “Ish.”

The best part about a cover is the opportunity it presents for artists to transcribe their unique sound onto a track that was not originally their own, allowing them to find commonalities while highlighting their own viewpoint. In deciding what to synthesize out of and into a cover, artists tip their hats as to what they believe are their strengths. Similar to the way a person highlights their best physical feature with an outfit, an artist can show you where they want to go, what they want to be, and what their current best is–all in a cover song. This is why I am a Cover Lover.

On offer for you today is Ryan Lerman’s cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Ryan Lerman is a Los Angeles singer-songwriter who has the look and the sound to be making waves on the “young Hollywood” scene. As a graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music, a former session musician for the likes of Joshua Radin and A Fine Frenzy, and a recent tour companion of the inimitable John Legend, he also has the pedigree to prove his worth. I love that he chose to cover one of Adele’s most popular tracks on his 2012 album Pinstripes, The Sky for many reasonsTo delve into them all here would be to make this post an unreadable bore, but chief among my reasoning is the disparity between the vocal abilities of Lerman and Adele. One is not better than the other, they’re just different.

In another life, Adele may have been an opera diva shattering glassware and endearing herself to the upper crust with the power of her immeasurable gift. By contrast, the timbre of Lerman’s voice is soothing, it is ripe with the well-learned cadences of jazz, it whiffs of the refined yet blue collar. Due to these differences, Lerman was forced to reframe the song in his own likeness–seen in the guitar riffs that accompany the track’s opening seconds, and also when he vocally doubles back at 0:39 in the cover. However, he chose to leave the song’s distinct identity intact and in doing so builds a bridge between both artists as the ghost of Adele is unhidden and ever present. Since he doesn’t hide Adele in his version of her song (or rather, the song that was written for her by Paul Epworth), the listener is able to better appreciate Lerman’s presence within it. This is an artistically bold choice that paid off for him, and speaks well of his musical intuition. This is Ryan Lerman learning at his best.

At the beginning of this post you’ll find Lerman’s version of “Rolling in the Deep”, and I encourage you to compare it with Adele’s video of the same (found below). As an added bonus, I’ve thrown in a few more Lerman tracks from the same 2012 album: his cover of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars”–perhaps one of my favorite artists/songs of all time–and another of his own composition, “Your Own Advice”. Enjoy!

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Cover Lover: “Young Hearts Run Free”

I think everyone loves a good cover song. Perhaps it’s the joy in knowing and citing the original, or the excitement of seeing something in a new light. Either way, when an artist covers a song well, he/she makes it his/her own, transforms it, and brings something fresh to the forefront. Waters is an artist who has found his voice, which is no small feat, and he uses it to transform a song that I first became familiar with courtesy of Baz Luhrmann and his soundtrack for Romeo + Juliet. Above you’ll find the Waters version of “Young Hearts Run Free” and below you will find Kym Mazelle’s version. You can also see Waters, along with Farallons and Mornings, at Brick & Mortar Music Hall tonight for a mere $6; highly recommended.

Current Obsession: Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff

I would argue Blues is the most important American contribution to the lexicography of music; it added a layer of complexity to Country, and beget Rock and Roll. Born from the hell of slavery and its aftermath, the Blues are weighted with the trauma of poverty and loss or, perhaps more accurately, never-having. It is true sadness seeking song for solace, and when you think of it that way the moniker of “Blues,” gives the music and its origins short shrift. I guess the “Tragic Despairs” or the “Depressions” didn’t have the same ring.

We are a nation of immigrants, a nation of blue blood mixing with the denim-coverall-DNA of the blue collar in a melting pot.* Such a mixed bag, pardon the metaphor swap, is bound to create tension, persecution, as the Haves battle the Have Nots because the beast of social democracy wills it so. This unequal distribution is why Blues came to be and why it remains relevant. The musicians who struggle somewhere in the middle (as so many of us do) and voice this in song continue to interpret this American genre in loving homage. Sometimes, for some people, the Blues just feel right; sometimes we all sing the blues in response to daily traumas, be them little or big.

Enter Hurray for the Riff Raff, the brainchild of a Alynda lee Segarra–a Puerto Rican living in New Orleans by way of the Bronx. This July, the Riff Raff signed to ATO Records which is the New York City label founded by Dave Matthews that was also smart enough to sign the Alabama Shakes. Their album My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, my current obsession, is a little bit country textualized by blues swaddled in a tradition of folky pop. It is as sumptuous as it is spare, and has the simple integrity of a Brumby rocking chair: comforting, sturdy, and American to its core. Two of my favorite tracks are actually covers that offer new perspective on classic songs, such as John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and the often-tackled traditional folk ballad “Cuckoo.”  For a 26-year-old lady to add soul to an icon, and a new angle on a tune that’s been part of the American fabric for over a century is impressive and utterly captivating. This is a woman of import, and a band worth following; here’s looking forward to more to come.

*Except that melting pot metaphor we were spoon fed in school doesn’t really fly because it implies we all simmer into a single identity, that of the American, when in actuality our demographics are more akin to a mixed salad, the collegiately preferred term, where each ethnicity adds to the flavor palette in a recognizably unique way. Cute, right? If only this were as harmonious of an existence as it sounds. The truth is that some ingredients inevitably fall to the bottom and drown in dressing never to be tasted, left behind for disposal. In an overly flippant way, that is what happens to the scores of tired, poor, and huddled masses (to borrow from Emma Lazarus and Lady Liberty) who understand Blues just by being alive.