ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD #4

There will be a globe-straddling spread of ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD posts, as promised. But right now, with the USA teetering on the brink of collapse into a terrifying Idiocracy, I’m thinking of my US friends. So Edition 4 of the series inspired by the WordPress Map Statistics (WorMS) is dedicated to anyone, anywhere, who needs a bit of cheering up, but particularly those sweating on an election.

It is easy to sneer at covers albums. Partly because they often appear to be the last resort of a washed-up creatively barren has-been. But not always. Sometimes they radiate love and admiration, not only providing a refresher about what made the music great in the first place, but also offering a freshly polished portal into an unfamiliar world.

So it is with Under The Covers, a series of albums recorded by Matthew Sweet and his good mate Susanna Hoffs. If you sniggered there, give yourself a sharp slap. These collections are superb. Respectful, re-energising, refreshing and just plain fun. The two voices blend beautifully, the arrangements are tight and punchy and the playing first class throughout.

Let’s have a closer look at the first of the three double albums (single CDs) in the series, the aptly named Volume 1 (2006).

The first thing you want from a covers compilation is good choices. Sweet and Hoffs — or Sid and  Susie as they call themselves in the informative but slightly twee notes — open with an absolute corker. Their version of the little known “I see the rain” by England’s The Marmalade shows off both the song and their sound so well you almost want to stop there and hit repeat a dozen or so times just for the thrill of Matthew’s guitar (supported by Richard Lloyd) and Susanna’s backing vocals. What a brilliant start!

Not all the songs are obscure, of course. Next we have that Liverpool band who did quite well in the 60s (“And your bird can sing”) followed by some fella called Bob Dylan (“It’s all over now, baby blue”). Then, another thrill. Ms Hoffs may not have the strongest, purest voice in the history of pop, but she knows what she’s got and how to use it. Her vocal on the Fairport Convention classic “Who knows where the time goes” is goosepimpley good. She gets Sandy Denny but doesn’t pretend to be anyone but herself; the mark of a mature interpreter.

Neil Young, Love, a sumptuous “Warmth of the sun” (Beach Boys), one of the peerless Linda Ronstadt’s early hits (“Different drum”)… the LP unfolds like two talented friends playing you a juke box of their favourite sixties (and early 70s) songs… which of course is exactly what it is.

“Run to me” carries Sweet’s bittersweet style (sorry!) effortlessly, “Monday Monday” is nice (if a bit by the book) and the left-bank choice of “She may call you up tonight” is delightful.

Those who know the album will realise I’ve only left out a couple of titles. I found Susie’s version of “Sunday morning” lacked that patina of weary sadness in the VU original (though the arrangement is outstanding; the backwards guitar is fab), while The Zombies “Care of cell #44” is just a but too chirpy. Still, these are minor quibbles and easily forgotten in the glory of “Run to me” (demonstrating how brilliant the early Bee Gees hits are) and early Who classic “The kids are all right” (a VC fave).

Being of a dedicated nature, I was forced to get the CD as well as the vinyl, as there is a bit of jiggery pokery at the end of the track list. The LPs add “Village Green Preservation Society” and “I can see for miles” (one of Pete Townshend’s best) but drops CD bonous (and downunder hit) “Sorry”, a song right up Sid’s alley. But whether you go out with The Easybeats or The Who, you’ll know you have had a very good time indeed and you’ll exit, stage left, smiling.

 

14 comments

  1. You and I are in furious agreement Bruce. I’ve always loved Susanna Hoff’s work, and have enjoyed much of Matthew Sweet’s alternatingly brilliant/frustrating career. I’m also a huge fan of covers records, and compulsively buy them, from both the famous (The Church, Ramones) and the obscure (MonaLisa Twins).

    Did you know that all the various bonus tracks from this series are available on 1 CD? It’s the bonus disc on the Completely Under the Covers box set. Susanna has also included covers on her solo albums (eg a lovely “To Sir With Love”).

    You may have already covered this (boom tish!) but a superb recent covers album is Emma Swift’s Blonde on the Tracks.

    Cheers Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Super additions to the conversation, Dave.
      I “only” have the 3 x 2LP vinyl box, but will be keeping an eye out for the CDs I think.

      “Blonde on the Tracks” is hard to beat as a Dylan cover-title. Unless an inebriated Harry Nilsson had done “Blind on the Tracks”, of course. 🙂
      Cheers, Bruce

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  2. Should have included the bonus CD track list Bruce:
    Village Green Preservation Society [The Kinks]
    I Can See For Miles [The Who]
    Dreaming [Blondie]
    Marquee Moon [Television]
    I Wanna Be Sedated [Ramones]
    Baby Blue [Badfinger]
    You Say You Don’t Love Me [Buzzcocks]
    (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding [Brinsley Schwarz]
    You Can Close Your Eyes [James Taylor]
    Melissa [Allman Brothers Band]
    Killer Queen [Queen]
    A Song For You [Gram Parsons]
    Train In Vain [The Clash]
    You’re My Favorite Waste of Time [Marshall Crenshaw]
    I Would Die 4 U [Prince]

    “Marquee Moon” to these ears is a bit of a disappointing drag, but there are some essential performances here.

    Cheers again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dave. You’ve just save me (and perhaps a few others) some dosh. All those tracks are included on the fourth side of Volumes 2 and 3.
      Thank heavens CD listeners netted the Marshall Crenshaw!

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  3. I’ve got the first two CDs, and have really enjoyed the Sweet/Hoffs partnership, I think more for Sweet’s contribution than Hoff’s. Her voice is clear and pleasant, and a real pleasure, and just like chocolates, I find a half-dozen tunes is great, and more than that can be too much of a good thing, the sweetness becomes almost cloying. But for people my age, who might never have run across a great tune like “I See the Rain,” and only remember The Left Banke for “Walk Away Renee,” it’s great to have two skilled musicians bringing this stuff back, and seeing what they can do with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Precisely, Robert. With you on both points: the citrus Matthew brings offsets the essential sweetness of Susanna’s voice. I think that’s why these work as well as they do. And their taste is impeccable.
      Cheers
      – Bruce

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  4. I hadn’t been aware of these collections, Bruce; thanks for the introduction. I’ve just added the full playlist of Volumes 1-3 to my Spotify library. ( I agree with Sid and Susie’s liner notes for Run To Me: the Bee Gees *don’t* get enough respect. They’ve gotten lots of airplay on my quarantine walks these last months.) Love the album art as well…very much in line with the era of the tunes they’re covering. And, as you’re aware, I’m one of the many Americans praying that our Idiocracy will soon come to an end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad the piece helped augment your Walk Soundtrack JDB. And yes, thanks for drawing attention to that lovely 60s retro design – something they retained for the 70s and 80s volumes as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think these — and my positive inclination towards them — came up in a conversation related to Matthew Sweet piece you posted. I’ve heard some and like the idea of Susanna Hoffs’ voice singing these songs but still haven’t undertaken the dedicated listen I have intended at discrete points over many years. I’m afraid that not being too taken with Matthew may be the thing holding me back. Noticed one thing in your post that may push me over the line though; is Richard Lloyd accompanying throughout or just on the one track?

    I see what you did there with your left-bank choice…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Richard Lloyd is on only three tracks, I’m afraid. One of them is Cinnamon Girl, however, where he plays lead.
      I’m sure I’ve tried this gambit before, Vic, but have you listened to “Altered Beast”?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “””Some of the album’s guest musicians include: …guitarists Richard Lloyd, Robert Quine, and Ivan Julian””” !!!!

        Gonna stream it now…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re the second person in the last couple weeks who has brought this to my attention. It must be a sign.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beware. It will make you smile.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. […] There have been three further posts in the series. These featured artists/albums from Germany, Australia and another from the US. […]

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