Cover Art


As a music journalist since 1982, I’ve been fortunate to speak to many of the greatest bassists of the last fifty years about the original works of art they created on their instruments and as composers. As a professional bassist since 1979, my path has been quite different, meaning I—like the majority of gainfully employed musicians the world over—have mainly played cover songs (and by extension, cover bass lines). Maybe that’s why I’ve been totally captivated over the past month by a collection of internet artists who are reimagining today’s Top 40 the way jazz musicians reinvented Broadway show tunes in the ’50s. It all started innocently at Bass Player LIVE!, when before his excellent effects clinic Tim Lefebvre handed me a CD he had guested on called Think Thoughts by Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi, an experimental duo he is also performing with live. I spun the disc on the long ride home from a gig in Boston and really enjoyed the pair’s highly musical approach to electronica, incorporating elements as disparate as Pat Metheny, Stravinsky, and dubstep—but that’s for another blog post (and an interview with Tim).

The CD predictably led me to the internet to find out more about these artists. It was only a matter of minutes on youtube before I discovered Louis and Genevieve also do killer covers of songs by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha. From there it was a few clicks to Pomplamoose (Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte), another California experimental duo and friends of Louis and Genevieve who in addition to their more-organically-derived originals have over a dozen cover songs on their channel. These include intriguing reharmonized and re-orchestrated versions of everything from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” (both with over eight million hits to date) to Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. A mere move of the mouse then took me half a world away, geographically and stylistically, to the Stockholm, Sweden trio Dirty Loops (keyboardist/vocalist Johah Nilsson, drummer Aaron Mellengardh, and bassist Henrik Linder). These young, chops-laden lads bring an ’80s funk/fusion approach to their exciting covers of Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” (redubbed “Prude Girl”), Britney Spears’ “Circus,” and Gaga’s “Just Dance.” Nilsson’s soaring blue-eyed-soul vocals are the focal point, and the trio’s take on Justin Beber’s “Baby,” literally just web-released as I write this, boasts a blistering solo by Linder on his MTD 6-string.

Again, it’s playing this music on the weekends (like so many New York City musicians) that gives me a particular appreciation for these artists. As a live musician having to recreate today’s sequenced Top 40 songs that repeat endlessly and often don’t even change chord progressions for the chorus (forget about a bridge, ain’t gonna happen), it’s impossible after a while to resist adding a different root note, trying a different chord quality, or quoting another song. So to see and hear very creative minds attempt and achieve this at a high level is a thrill and an inspiration. Playing other artists’ music for so long is probably why I’ve always had an affinity for those with the gift of “cover art”; like Marcus Miller, whose covers I look forward to as much as his fine originals; or John Mayer, who seems to be able to instantly and smoothly transition into a cover during one of his own songs in concert; or Esperanza Spalding, whose next CD due in March, I can report, has a rousingly recast version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It.” It’s why I’m kicking myself for having thus far missed Wayne Krantz’s series of “cover gigs” (exploring the songs of Joni Mitchell, Ice Cube, the Strokes, Thom Yorke, and more, with Owen Biddle or James Genus on bass). There are no doubt many more artists like Louis and Genevieve or Dirty Loops who are processing contemporary music and interpreting it in their own way, waiting for me to find them on the web—a comforting thought. Meanwhile, I’d enjoy hearing about your own cover discoveries, new or old. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just thought of a cool reharm for Rihanna’s “We Found Love”!


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Lee Rocker’s Cover Charge

SITTING TEN FEET IN FRONT OF Lee Rocker’s quartet at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall is like sitting on the hood of a ’59 Caddy revving its engine as it roars down Route 66.