Once again, the stable of performers that make up the New York-based True Groove Records are featured on monoblogue music. This time, it’s a 13-song compilation of cover songs that comes out at the end of this month; however, the lead single Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is already available.
The thirteen tracks selected run the gamut of nearly a half-century of popular music from a variety of artists and genres – it’s a set that includes songs from Nine Inch Nails (Hurt) and Glen Campbell (Wichita Lineman) as consecutive songs, for an extreme example. These songs are covered by a number of the artists in the True Groove family, which includes familiar names whose work I’ve reviewed such as Tomas Doncker, Lael Summer, and Marla Mase but others as well: Kevin Jenkins, Heather Powell, Charlie Funk, Touchy Feely, Samuel Claiborne, and James Chance are also featured artists.
While I was familiar with some of the tracks, I wanted to go back and hear some of them I wasn’t familiar with in order to help me review this release. So it was I listened to the aforementioned lead single Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – originally done by the late Ian Dury and the Blockheads and reworked by Marla Mase. It’s quite the unusual song, but Mase does this fairly faithfully to the original as the song is almost spoken rather than sung. Hearing the original made me realize the song works well for Mase as opposed to others in the True Groove lineup. It’s more like an order to hit her with the rhythm stick rather than a request, but I still think it was an odd selection to introduce the release.
Probably the better choice as a lead single would have been the newest song, Wires. Originally done by The Neighbourhood a few years ago, Lael Summer adds a little bit of smoky soul to a song which already had a good urban feel.
In fact, the tendency on many of these songs is one of adding a different element to them – a good example is the leadoff song originally composed by Elvis Costello, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding. That straight-ahead rock song gets a dose of blues from Tomas Doncker in his rendition. It also works well on both Heather Powell’s take of Relax, as she re-imagines Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a slow dance, and the similar treatment Touchy Feely gives to The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way.
Yet different elements and tempos aren’t always the answer. The “Jesus and Moses, Mohammed and Krishna” background chant utilized by Kevin Jenkins in his effort at Spirit In The Sky, the old familiar Norman Greenbaum tune, fell flat with me and did little to help a pedestrian remaking. Similarly, while Charlie Funk makes a slower run at the Tom Jones chestnut It’s Not Unusual, he doesn’t have the dynamic vocal Jones carries in his song.
And I couldn’t understand why Doncker and Josh David wanted to extend the opening of Why Me Black Brother Why when The Mighty Diamonds put together a fine message and reggae song in the first place. It came across as mere filler.
Some songs, though, stay rather true to the originals. Lael Summer added a previously-released rendition of Hall and Oates’ Do What You Want, Be What You Are from her debut album last year which maintains their style and tempo. And while he missed with redoing Spirit In The Sky, the version of Wichita Lineman Kevin Jenkins adds would do the middle-of-the-road styling of Glenn Campbell proud, with additional harmonies.
And there are those which fit right in with the True Groove vibe. such as James Chance evoking James Brown on the motivating I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothin’ or the closing song, We’re A Winner, made famous by Curtis Mayfield but shared in this case by Doncker, Jenkins, and Summer.
Lastly, though, I wanted to talk about a song which blew me away. Perhaps it’s my musical roots in heavier rock, but Samuel Claiborne’s rendition of Hurt (made famous by Nine Inch Nails and later by Johnny Cash) has a much more menacing feel in its guitar work. It may be one of the best songs I’ll hear this year.
Taken as a whole, the Fully Re-Covered compilation has more ups than downs, and that’s to be expected when so many influences and directions are involved. Once it comes out on March 31, it will be worth a listen.