When an artist chooses to cover a song, the results are usually hit or miss. While on rare occasions, cover versions supercede the original, most of the time they fall into one of three categories:
- Decent enough
- F**KING BRILLIANT
In the UK, BBC Radio 1‘s Live Lounge segment is the undisputed KING/QUEEN of FKING BRILLIANT covers, evidenced by two FKING BRILLIANT performances on the show this past week. First up, 22 year-old British soul singer Sam Smith. While often times the songs being covered on Live Lounge are re-imagined versions of contemporary radio hits, Sam opted to go in a different direction, tackling “Fast Car,” American singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman‘s beloved 1988 debut single (released when Sam was only 4 years old).
Vocally, Smith’s performance is on-point; subtle and not over powering. He shows tremendous vocal control in this performance, really highlighting the emotion of this song, which was written about the cycle of poverty. His cover isn’t self-indulgent in the slightest, a problem we tend to see in many covers. While I’m not CRAZY about the reggae-lite arrangement, Sam Smith showcases his vocal prowess and shows us, once again, what all the fuss is about.
Speaking of Sam Smith, his stunning hit ballad “Stay With Me” could be called the song that launched a thousand covers. Plug “Stay With Me” into your YouTube search bar and you will find hundreds of different versions. Hell, the song has even been covered here on Radio 1‘s Live Lounge studio! Flame-haired Brit Ed Sheeran stopped by the studio back in June and delivered HIS rendition of the track. Other big names that have covered the song include Florence + The Machine, the most recent winner of The Voice (the U.S. version) Josh Kaufman and even actor Vin Diesel. For me, however, the most interesting interpretation I’ve heard to date has to be one by former backup dancer/current buzzy chanteuse FKA Twigs. Her “Stay With Me” cover was posted to YouTube earlier this afternoon and MAN is it stunning.
Her arrangement COMPLETELY flips the song on its head (in a good way!), turning it into something completely original and unique. FKA Twigs‘ version of “Stay With Me” could easily be a cut off her debut album, LP1, which came out earlier this month. The album, which features collaborations with Emile Haynie, Devonté Hynes (AKA Blood Orange), Paul Epworth and Sampha debuted at No. 16 on the UK Albums Chart and at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 chart following its release. While a lot of music media have FKA Twigs pegged as an “Alt-R&B” artist, she has been vocal about her dislike of that label. While speaking with The Guardian, Twigs had this to say about her signature sound:
“I love annoying sounds, beats, clicks…I don’t see anyone else doing that now. It’s got loud noises in there, the structures aren’t typical, it’s relentless. It’s like punk; fuck alternative R&B!”
She goes onto suggest that the “R&B” label was assigned to her once people realized she was mixed race. Makes perfect sense, unfortunately. Beats, clicks, abstract noises…FKA Twigs‘ “Stay With Me” cover incorporates all of these things and THEN SOME. She even creates her own vocal effects, (“Why-Am-I-Why-Am-I-Why-Am-I…so emotional“). Absolutely gorgeous. Talking about her decision to sing this particular song, Twigs sites a particular lyric in the song which inspired her, saying:
“There was one line which basically alludes to saying, ‘I’m not in love with you and maybe this isn’t a serious thing, but it’s perfect for right now,’…and maybe that’s just something that I have related to.”
Now my third and final cover song is the only one of the three that DIDN’T appear on Live Lounge. Music Is My King Size Bed favorite, Paloma Faith had the pleasure of performing on The BBC Proms on Friday evening. The Proms is an eight-week long summer concert series (usually) at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Dressed to the nines in a slinky, sparkly calf-length white dress and matching heels, her strawberry blond locks flowing down her back, Faith is joined on stage by American soul vocalist (and member of two bands; Vintage Trouble and Dakota Moon) and Broadway powerhouse (Songs For A New World, Pippin, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) Ty Taylor. The two tackle what has over the years become a soul and blues classic, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a song first recorded by Etta James in 1967.
Vocally speaking, Taylor is the true star of this performance, delivering some MAJOR riffs, but Paloma Faith holds her own. Her trademark brand of theatricality works perfectly in this performance. Faith’s Arms flail dramatically, she even drops down to her knees towards the end of the song, as if moved by the music. “I’d Rather Go Blind” is the perfect song for Paloma to sing, given her penchant for retro-infused, Motown-inspired soul and pop. She’s covered Etta James songs numerous times before, including “At Last,” “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” and yes even “I’d Rather Go Blind,” but never has she performed an Etta James song with a vocalist as supremely talented as Ty Taylor and backed by the sublime Guy Barker Orchestra. Master class performance right here folks. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Paloma Faith live, be sure and catch her on tour in the States this fall.