Massive Attack: Be Thankful For What You Got
From Blue Lines (Virgin, 1992)

Spearhead: The Joker
From Hempilation 2 (Volcano, 1998)

Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Ruler of My Heart
From Medicated Magic (Rope a Dope, 2002)

Someone out in Soul Sides land was very, very kind enough to send me a two-CD set of cover songs and in my frayed state of mind, I managed to misplace who this generous soul was (holla at me – there’s a mix-CD package waiting for you). The least I can do is share some of the best selections from them.

I was recently telling someone how William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You Got” is one of the most perfectly crafted soul songs I know – it has such an amazing, melancholy quality to it: a dose of instant nostalgia, a soundtrack for some endless summer filled with sunshine and the wafting smell of BBQ and where everything moves in slow motion just so you can capture the beauty of small moments. Massive Attack’s version of it is lovingly loyal – the production approach is obviously more contemporary but it keeps true to DeVaughn’s original composition (though it is, perhaps preferably, substantially shorter than DeVaughn’s 10+ minute original.)

Steve Miller’s “The Joker” is one of those signature songs that I think are extremely difficult to cover simply because no one can really make it sound better than the original and any attempt, short of something of parodic, just tends to fall short (note to all American Idol hopefuls: Etta James’ “At Last” should be similarly off-hands). That said, I have to give Michael Franti ’nuff credit for trying to field a hip-hop-ified version and he does a decent job with that.

“Ruler of My Heart” has a fascinating history – composed by Allen Toussaint for Irma Thomas, but under a Toussaint pseudonym (Naomi Neville). The song gained much bigger prominence when Otis Redding hijacked it, rewrote the lyrics and named it “Pain In My Heart” which went on to become a major hit for Stax. Apparently, Redding and Toussaint had to scuffle (legally speaking) over the song-writing credits (with Toussaint eventually winning). “Ruler of My Heart” returns to its Nola roots via The Dirty Dozen Brass Band who have singer Norah Jones guesting for the cut. I usually find Jones’ voice lukewarm but it seems to fit the song well here, giving it just a touch of sultriness.

I’m going to kick off Prestige Week soon and that Sharon Jones podcast is due up by Jan 25th, the day her album becomes available. More surprises on tap in the next week or so – stay tuned.