Ashley Daigneault Tag

My Favorite Cover Songs Are All By Ingrid Michaelson

The ball’s in my court, I suppose. A few weeks back, Ash shared some of her favorite cover songs and challenged the rest of the Roundtable to do the same. While I was hemming and hawing and trying to think of more than one cover that I truly loved, Adrienne beat me to the punch with a followup.

 

Why has it taken so long for me to do the same? Because I have rules for cover songs that are nearly impossible to abide by. For me, a good cover song absolutely must sound nothing like the original. It must force me to reinterpret my relationship with the original. It must be a product of its time, not just a nostalgic romp down memory lane. It must, in other words, be like Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

 

I realized a thing last night, though, as I put my iPhone on shuffle and let it play to drown out the memory of a pretty rough day. In constructing those rules, I forgot that my favorite cover songs absolutely violate them in the most blatant ways possible. But then again, in violating those rules, they uphold my Number One rule of music: Ingrid Michaelson can do no wrong.

Take Ingrid’s cover of “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver, for instance. She isn’t really doing anything inventive with the arrangement, aside from trading guitar for her trademark ukulele. She isn’t changing the intent of the song. She isn’t putting anything resembling her own spin on it. Instead, she’s holding church, worshiping a song she loves and asking the audience to worship along.

 

Much the same could be said of her take on “Over the Rainbow,” one of the most covered songs of all time. Yes, she plays with the tempo a little, as well as the cadence of the song. But if anything, Ingrid seems to be reacting to the numerous reinterpretations of the song throughout the decades. To me, she seems to be saying, Hey, cut the crap with your theatrics and your melismatic wankery. This is a song of mournful but hopeful longing, of being trapped in a dreary world and dreaming of a better place. It’s definitely the most vulnerable version of “Over the Rainbow” recorded since 1939, and that’s exactly as it should be.

You could argue the Ingrid’s riff on Radiohead’s “Creep” takes the song to new places, but with her quiet, stripped-down cover of the song, she gets right to the heart of the self-doubt and hesitation imbedded in its lyrics. There is, of course, the fact that having said lyrics delivered by a woman instead of a man drastically changes the gender-political implications of “Creep,” and yes, that does make it fascinating on one level. But I’m not sure that was the intent here. I get the sense that this is merely Ingrid’s honest and open interpretation of what the words mean to her and how she relates to them, gender be damned.

 

As for her cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” what can I say, really, that I haven’t said already? Before my momma died, she once opined that anyone with the temerity to cover Elvis should be beaten half to death with a wet piece of cardboard. I’d like this think this one would have changed her mind.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

My Favorite Cover Songs

OK, Ashley, you asked for it. In a recent post, you shared some of your favorite cover songs and asked the rest of us to do the same. Open the flood gates.

 

Like Ashley, I’m going to begin with a Tears for Fears cover. Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’s cover of “Mad World” might be my favorite cover song of all time, and that’s saying something. A stark and haunting combination of vocal and piano, their version drives home the song’s dark core for me in a way that the original’s ’80s synth-pop sound just can’t match.

I know some people will never forgive me for what I’m about to say, but I believe that Bob Dylan songs are always better when someone else sings them. Here are two examples from my own collection. First, I adore Cassandra Wilson’s version of “Shelter from the Storm,” one of my favorite Dylan tunes. If Wilson’s rich, silky alto doesn’t create a sense of shelter, I don’t know what will.

 

And then there’s this nice slow-jam cover of “Just Like a Woman” by Gov’t Mule, Gregg Allman & Friends. I could

listen to it all day. On a side note, I always thought the lyric was, “She tastes just like a woman” (hey, the next line is, “She makes love just like a woman,” so it made sense to me). Then I learned that the line is, “She takes just like a woman,” which changes the tone entirely. I sense a topic for a later post: Songs you loved until you learned the correct lyrics.

Next up is William Shatner’s cover of Pulp’s “Common People.” That’s right, I said William Shatner. You got a problem with that? Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been was produced by Ben Folds, and the best decision he made was to bring in Joe Jackson to provide the backing vocals on “Common People.” Jackson lends just the right amount of British contempt to complement Shatner’s American disdain. Pulp’s original song is really catchy and makes you want to bounce. Shatner’s version makes you want to punch someone in the face—but, you know, in a good way.

I know it’s April, but I can’t talk about my favorite covers without mentioning U2’s version of Greg Lakes’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” which the band released a few years ago to raise money for RED. The original is surely a classic, but there’s something about the quieter U2 version—The Edge’s classic weeping guitar sound combined with Bono’s characteristic wail in the “I wish you a hopeful Christmas” line—that makes me weepy every time I hear it.

Speaking of getting all weepy, my last pick is Peter Gabriel’s remake of “The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields. It appeared in the remake of the film Shall We Dance?, and Scrubs fans will mostly certainly remember it from the finale. Gabriel’s vocals and orchestration give the song a sweetness and sentimentality that pulls at the heart strings, but the almost Bowie-esque quality of the original is fantastic, too.

 

I could name a bunch more, but I think it’s time for someone else to grab the ball and run with it.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Confessions of a Shameless Cover Songs Lover

There are few subjects I feel as strongly about in music as I feel about cover songs. You know, the age-old tradition of artists taking a timeless classic and making it their own, keeping the basic melody and words but adding their own flavor and tone. Or totally butchering it, killing the original song’s spirit and the spirits of any listener.

 

You could say I have a pretty hot and cold relationship with cover songs. I either love them or hate them—but a good cover? It’s almost as good as discovering the original—sometimes even better. Not only does it give you a totally different perspective on the lyrics but it can transform the meaning and the feel of the original. It can turn an upbeat song somber or a serious topic lighter.

 

One of the best parts of streaming-music platforms like Spotify is the ability to find lesser-known covers. But no matter how good I am at finding killer cover songs from my favorite and lesser-known artists, I know there are many I’m missing.

 

How about I share my top list and you share yours?

 

Let’s start with an ‘80s classic that definitely played in your dentist-office waiting room on repeat. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was among Tears for Fears biggest hits (along with “Shout,” their dark rebellion anthem) and tackles similar themes of searching for power and the struggle it creates.

A trio of sisters from Portland who call themselves Joseph decided to tackle the TFF beat on their 2017 album Stay Awake, and it’s perfect in every way. Joseph is a folk band, so the tune is decidedly more mellow than the synth-pop original, but the cover’s quieter tone forces the lyrics forward, creating an tune that feels as relevant as ever.

 

(And if you like it, you’ll love all of their work. Thank me later.) 

There are several covers of the Leonard Cohen’s gorgeous, gutting “Hallelujah,” and it’s honestly hard to choose which one I love the most. Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright (the piano in his version is to die for)—they are all beautiful in their own way. But in 2010, k.d. lang took the stage at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony and belted out what is to this date the most beautiful rendition of any live song I’ve heard, anywhere.

There’s nothing more to say that will do it justice—but it’s worth a listen if you happen to be unfamiliar and it’s important (I think) to watch her sing it live:

 

This might be an unpopular opinion but I love Walk the Moon. They are a newer, pop rock band and they’ve had a few radio hits. I’m not generally one to fawn over pop music, but their music just makes me want to dance. I can’t help it. And their live shows are so much fun. In a world where everything feels so damn heavy all of the time, they are my escape. Some people have trashy TV—I have Walk the Moon.

Their last hit, “Shut Up and Dance” was overplayed on the radio, almost ruining its perfection as a great gym workout song. (I still love it.)

And it’s hard to see how it could feel like a ballad—and yet. Kina Grannis. A lovely human with an incredible voice and a penchant for turning popular tunes into art.

 

You can see where this is going. Her version of “Shut Up and Dance” stopped me in my tracks. “Felt it in my chest as she looked at me, ooh, we were born to be together” and you forget you’re listening to a song that made it to a 2015 Kidz Bop album. That is not a typo.

I could go on and on with cover recommendations—perhaps this deserves a Part 2? But it’s your turn: What’s on your top cover songs playlist and why? I’m itching to add some new tunes into rotation.

Ashley Daigneault

Ashley Daigneault knew she was a writer before she left kindergarten and has a particular
love for writing about tech, literature, music, and politics. She is currently the VP at Caster
Communications
, a full-service tech PR and social-media firm, and works with B2B and
B2C tech brands. She lives in New England with her family, which includes kids and dogs
who think they are kids.

Brandi Carlile: By the Way, I Forgive You

Brandi Carlile

There’s something profound that comes with following and listening to an artist for the majority of their career. It’s particularly poignant when that career runs parallel to your journey from your confused college years all the way into early parenthood.

 

Brandi Carlile was the first female artist whose music made me confront truths about myself and appreciate music’s ability to draw them out into the open. Brandi and her career-long bandmates, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, released their first album—Brandi Carlile—in 2005. 2005 was also my sophomore year of college and the year I first fell in love.

 

The summer before, I had come out to my parents and was still grappling with the general otherness I felt in the world. The track titled “Happy” sang openly about a lost love named Amber Lee, and I remember listening on repeat, shocked at the singer’s willingness to sing a love song about a girl.

 

Her subsequent albums, The Story and Give Up the Ghost, followed the trajectory of that first relationship from 2005, and songs from there would continue to haunt me with memories of the heartbreak I thought would break me.

 

It’s fitting that Carlile’s newest record—By the Way, I Forgive Youlooks deep at forgiveness, a theme many of us grapple with in adulthood. When looking back at the early part of our lives, we’re often confronted with the crimes committed against us and the ones we committed against others. And perhaps most of all, we’re hit over and over again with the injustices of the world. The record weaves the internal and external, and all the ways and people we might look to for forgiveness and also seek to forgive.

The track “The Joke” has been compared to her title track on The Story, a love song with a symphonic and majestic tune that brings you to your knees. But in many ways, “The Joke” is a love song to those the world mistreats, leaves behind, forgets, abandons. It’s a plea for forgiveness, an apology letter from us all and a reassurance that goodness wins in the end.

 

“Hold Out Your Hand” at first reminded me of Ani DiFranco’s unapologetic “God’s Country,” except instead of giving the middle finger to everyone, Carlile’s hymn is an anthem in service of togetherness, of sticking together. “The devil don’t take a break . . .” felt like a reminder for everyone that the fight for humanity, for equality, for the underrepresented and the forgotten, and for basic human rights—those fights are never-ending in some ways.

 

The album takes a deeply personal turn, touching on the pain of love gone wrong and the ways we bury that pain to find peace. In “Harder to Forgive,” every line could be followed by “amen,” with its gospel-like prose in service of what is true. “Yes, my life has seen some wasted time. I have suffered for the peace inside my mind. And some things are better left unsaid, while some things work out different when they’re in your head.”

 

As I think about the place I am today, looking at ways I parent my child and forgiving myself for my shortcomings, and looking at habits that are hard to break and forgiving reasons for that too—I see myself in every track. I want peace, and I know I have a long way to go in life and many more mistakes to make. By the Way, I Forgive You—start to finish—is an anthem, a self-help, a #metoo, and “I’m sorry” all in one. It’s a journey that doesn’t have a hard lesson at the end, except that forgiveness is hard and something we have to keep working at. Over, and over again.

Ashley Daigneault

Ashley Daigneault knew she was a writer before she left kindergarten and has a particular
love for writing about tech, literature, music, and politics. She is currently the VP at Caster
Communications
, a full-service tech PR and social-media firm, and works with B2B and
B2C tech brands. She lives in New England with her family, which includes kids and dogs
who think they are kids.

What Streaming Music Algorithms Really Measure

streaming music algorithms

photo by Kaboompics / Karolina from Pexels

It’s no secret that streaming music services are collecting data about us and using it to serve up other music we might like. I’m a diehard Spotify user, and they offer this feature in a few ways—there’s the Release Radar playlist, which curates new releases from artists you listen to often or might like, and Discover Weekly, which pulls in artists you may or may not know but are similar to ones in your universe. Then there’s the “radio station” option, originally pioneered by Pandora.

 

I left Pandora a long, long time ago because I found its suggestions vapid, poorly curated, and lazy. But there’s an even bigger debate happening among music lovers about the validity and quality of algorithms in any service and their ability to truly pinpoint our musical tastes.

 

A recent (informal) survey of several friends who are avid users of streaming services all pointed to a similar sentiment: Algorithms are crap. As one friend described, “It wants to pigeonhole me as either a get-off-my-lawn Freedom Rocker or a 19-year-old young woman.” The problem with algorithms is the same problem with generalizations—even 19-year-old women don’t all listen to the same kind of thing. And yet nuance is hard for a machine to learn.

 

My experience is similar to theirs—out of every curated playlist I pour over, there are maybe two or three songs that resonate. But I keep going back to those playlists because it’s kind of like eating trail mix that has dark chocolate bits inside. Sure, most handfuls are going to deliver raisins and sunflower seeds and little chunks of dried fruit—but once in a while, you’re going to find a few pieces of delicious, creamy chocolate. So you keep plunging your hand in the bag.

streaming-music algorithms

Streaming-music platforms may give us access to a plethora of choices and options in mere seconds, but why is it so hard to pinpoint our musical tastes? I went back and listened to my Discover Weekly playlist and tried to analyze each piece. They were all mostly about being strong and overcoming hard things—probably because I’ve been listening to a lot of what some might call motivational material lately, trying to psych myself into being strong enough to deal with a big life event that’s in the works.

 

And then it hit me. Algorithms aren’t measuring our musical likes and dislikes so much as they are mapping our emotional states at any given point. They’re trying to capture the mood, melody, tone, and overall feel of each piece we listen to and then spit similar songs back at us, mirroring what they think we’re feeling.

 

The problem with this is that we’re humans. Our moods change, all the damn time. Most of us have very diversified music tastes, and we listen based on how we feel. On a foggy early-spring New England day, I have a strong penchant for Andrew Bird. But don’t play me a song off Noble Beast on a hot July day for the love of god.

 

With all the buzz about robots and their impending takeover of all the jobs, we can rest assured that predicting human moods and therefore musical tastes is probably best left to us humans. Machine-generated melodies just don’t quite get it right.

—Ashley Daigneault

Ashley Daigneault knew she was a writer before she left kindergarten and has a particular
love for writing about tech, literature, music, and politics. She is currently the VP at Caster
Communications
, a full-service tech PR and social-media firm, and works with B2B and
B2C tech brands. She lives in New England with her family, which includes kids and dogs
who think they are kids.