There are few better storytellers in music than the late Townes Van Zandt, and few more overlooked, which is why it’s exciting to see more contemporary artists celebrate his timeless music as on the 2012 tribute album, Songs of Townes Van Zandt, featuring Steve Von Vill and Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Scott “Wino” Weinrich of Saint Vitus. Though all the covers contained on the album are exceptional, Von Till’s “Black Crow Blues” might just be the hardest-hitting. The supremely smokey voice that many have come to love from the post-metal titans breathes new life into the simplistic, lament-filled hymn of one of country music’s greatest and most tragic figures.
As influential as early sludge was on a young Kurt Cobain, it seems fitting that Nirvana’s somber acoustic number from the seminal Nevermind was given the down-tuned treatment from modern day sludge masters Thou. Their rendition begins pretty straightforward and true to the original before erupting into something seething and relentlessly heavy, conveying just as much emotion as the original—even if that emotion happens to be crushing hatred rather than depression. If their really was “something in the way,” that’s no longer a problem, because Thou’s cover smashed it into tiny bits.
James Blake – “A Case of You”
When young dubstep prodigy James Blake stows the electronics and takes a seat at the piano, the results always seem to be astounding—like the soulful “DLM” from his most recent album, Overgrown. But his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” on 2011 EP Enough Thunder takes the cake for Blake’s balladeering. Simple as it is, his hurried vocals exude such sincerity and vulnerability that it perfectly illustrates how powerful music can be when it’s just a man and his piano. Or a woman and her guitar.
Van Halen – “Ice Cream Man”
Electing to cover a somewhat obscure blues tune would seem extremely odd for a band like Van Halen, were brothers Eddie and Alex not raised by an accomplished jazz saxophonist and clarinet player. And the suggestive lyrical content that kept the song from being released until 1969 made it a perfect fit for David Lee Roth, who opens the number dedicating it to the ladies. Diamond Dave gets things started off slow and sultry over some acoustic guitar before everything erupts into a typical Van Halen rock epic. Eddie absolutely dazzles with his acrobatic shredding and whammy bar assaults. The tribute to the Chicago bluesman is often overshadowed by the also excellent cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” on the same record, but “Ice Cream
You recently wrapped up your first ever acoustic tour. How did playing those shows compare to playing with your full band?
It was a much more intimate experience and in some ways a greater challenge, but I enjoyed the connection with people at the shows.
How was being on the road without the rest of the band?
Well each tour is a little different. I missed the bandmates who didn’t come this time but I enjoyed being with King Dude on this tour – they’re like family.
Best meal on tour?
Great American Music Hall takes great care of bands.
You have a pretty sizable European and Russian tour coming up in April that will feature a mix of electric and acoustic material. Have you gotten the chance to play any of these countries before?
We’ve been to some of them, yes, but never Russia.
Back in November was the Leave Them All Behind festival in Tokyo, featuring three of the best live acts on the planet, sequentially: Sunn O))), Boris, and yourself. How was that experience?
Playing with bands that good is overwhelming sometimes but also really inspiring and motivating. Tadashi who puts together the festival is really great.
Stoked to play with Swans in June?
Any albums or artists that have been on heavy rotation for you lately?
Wardruna, Abner Jay, The Knife…
Ian Fleming’s fictional MI6 operative James Bond has helped the Western World through a cold war, civil and technological breakthroughs, and a rapidly globalizing culture. As the film franchise celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, it’s time to take a look back at some of the memorable and quality music at the forefront of those films.
Dr. No (1962)
Monty Norman & John Barry – “James Bond Theme”
Byon Lee and the Dragonaires – “Kingston Calypso”
Monty Norman was recruited by Albert Broccoli after backing one of his musicals, Belle or The Ballad of Dr. Crippen, written by Wolf Mankowitz who would also go on to be involved in the screenwriting of Dr. No. The theme is arranged by John Barry and performed by his own orchestra, though the arrangement goes uncredited in the film. It has been speculated (and even argued in court) that Barry, in fact, composed the theme rather than Norman, though it contains reworked portions of music previously composed by Norman. At any rate, the theme’s big horns and buzzing guitar line are now instantly recognizable and entirely synonymous with the British agent.
The latter portion of the original Bond film’s opening contains a rather jaunty calypso number performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, who also make an appearance in the film performing their song “Jump Up.” And after all these years, it would seem odd for Ursula Andress to run around Jamaica in a two-piece to anything else.