Covered in Bluegrass
I like bluegrass music. Take that as a disclaimer, or an opinion, or a sentence that can only mean that I must be at least part hillbilly, but I do. I can't help how you might take it, but it is a fact. I do like bluegrass, the more "out there", the better. Because, you see, I get bored easily, and I appreciate adventurous music. Specifically, I like music that when it fails, it fails epically. But, when it succeeds, it really grabs you and makes you say "Wow!"
And I like covers. And I'm only a little ashamed to say that there are covers that I like as much or more than the original. Don't get me wrong, I don't like copies of songs. But I like songs, that while they share notes and perhaps instruments in common with the original, are most certainly a horse of a different color from the original. A horse that you want to ride, feed apples to, and braid its hair, as much or more than the original.
I've been looking around, whenever I had a chance, for music crafted by brave, brave people, people who don't care if the majority of people who hear their versions want to beat the crap out of them for ruining their favorite songs. Don't care if people make faces upon listening to it, the kind of faces they usually reserve for situations such as stepping in a big piles of dog poo.
And I found some. (Not dog poo, but good bluegrass covers. But if you happened to have read and believed the reviews of some of the angry angry fans of the original artists, then you could say I found some dog poo. You could say that.)
First, let's start with the "Pickin' on... Series", which was, for me, hit or miss, but still full of gems for the finding. I passed on anything that was a tribute to an artist that is/was country or country-ish. To me, it is not a spectacular accomplishment that you can take the music of Rascal Flatts, George Straits, The Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Neil Young, The Eagles, or Sheryl Crow, and make it bluegrass. Maybe I passed up on some good music, I don't know. I may never know, because I'll probably never get around to listening to it.
If you look at the various reviews for the various (and frankly, almost alarmingly numerous) "Pickin' on... Series" albums, you'll soon see a pattern. Many people say things like "I don't even like bluegrass, but I love this!" And you'll see comments like this -- "I don't even like [insert name of band that's being covered], but I love this!" Well, you get the idea.
We'll go song by song, and by the album you can find them on.
Fade to Bluegrass: The Bluegrass Tribute to Metallica
The song in this series that I had to have was "Fade to Black". Rumor has it that the Metallica guys love it as well. The cool thing about music nowadays, and of course you can do that at Amazon, is that it only costs a $.99 a song to download just the songs you want. And when that's cheaper than buying the whole album, that's the thing that I would do.
Pickin' on Zeppelin
The song I have is "All My Love", and "Stairway to Heaven" is pick of the songs on this album. The rest of the album, to me, didn't translate wonderfully to bluegrass. Many of the songs, especially the slower songs, (minus "All My Love" and "Stairway to Heaven") sort of got transformed into bluegrass easy listening. Although "Rock and Roll" actually sounded a little bluesy, maybe even a little funky, and that sort of ruined it for me.
Pickin' on Hendrix
The song I had to have was "All Along the Watchtower", but most of this album is solid, good and flat-out entertaining. In cases such as this album, you don't have to feel that you're cheating on your favorite artist. I mean, bluegrass is really not similar to Jimi Hendrix at all. The music seems only vaguely familiar, it's only Jimi's blues style, rendered down to the basic melodies, that's managed to stick around, like the baby blue color of denim overalls after a hundred washings. But a well-crafted song is a delight, no matter how you slice it, in my opinion, as long as you slice it skillfully. And skillfully they sliced it. I have to say, though, that redoing Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was actually quite silly. If you didn't know it was a cover of Hendrix's cover of the national anthem, you would just think it's a bluegrass version of the national anthem, and, to me, that's a real head-scratcher.
Pickin' on U2
Sometimes you want more than a short preview in order to determine if an album or a song is something you want. But that's all I had. In the case of this album, though, all the songs sounded pretty good to me, but the song that stood out to me was "One". And that's the one I bought. (Ha! Get it?) But, I won't be the one to dissuade you from purchasing the whole album, or any other song on the album that tickles your fancy, because they're all pretty good. If you're feeling it, you go right ahead, darlin'.
Pickin' on the Beatles
Not a bad song in the mix, and (forgive me die-hard Beatle's fans) I like their version of "Norwegian Wood" better than the original. I actually never cared for the song, and never came across a cover I cared for, either, until this one. I still have to figure out whether I want this whole album or just a few songs. But the one I had to have was "We Can Work It Out".
Vol. 2, Pickin' on the Beatles
Some of these songs are so bluegrass as to not be recognizable as Beatles' songs. Not that that's a bad thing. I've played it for person after person, and it almost always takes them the whole song before they say, "Oh my god, that's a Beatles' song!" The one big exception was "Eleanor Rigby", as they did it, like the original, with cellos, and that to me, is not a bluegrass instrument. (And all the sudden I'm a purist?) I purchased "With a Little Help from My Friends", "We Can Work It Out", and "Penny Lane". Other songs on my wish list are "Hello, Goodbye" and "If I Fell", the latter which actually sounds more like western-swing to me. Also on the to buy list is, "Help" and "Let It Be". But, overall, a good album and very listenable. Especially for background music. And that's not a bad thing.
Green Day Bluegrass: Pickin on Green Day
Most of the "Pickin' on... Series" are instrumental, but not this one, and when it's good, it is a very good thing. (But it's not always a good thing, sometimes the vocals are lack-luster, to say the least.) I had to have "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", though, on first listen, it's even more haunting than the original. I have to say that the rest of the album is not that great. Although it's better than you'd think, punk to bluegrass should be much worse. It's just what I would call country or country-pop, but not bluegrass.
The Best of Pickin' on Eric Clapton: The Ultimate Bluegrass Tribute
The song I had to have was "Layla". You should listen, it is so different with banjos.
Pickin' on Elton John: A Bluegrass Tribute
The song I had to have was "Goodbye Yellowbrick Road". 'Cause it's so good.
Pickin' and Singin' - The Biggest Hits 1980's Vol. 1
Another one of the rare songs with singing. I had to have the song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (with a female singer. The original was done by Tears for Fears.) It's really good. I'd put it near the top if I already hadn't decided to put the list in the order that I added them to my music library.
Bluegrass Tribute to Barenaked Ladies
This one I like a lot, it's up near the top of the list. (Not literally, I guess.) Specifically, I'm talking about the song "Pinch Me". Yes, you could say that the original already has that kind of feel to it. The kind of sound that feels like traffic on the highway going west when you're going east, and everyone's going faster than the law says to go. That feeling. That speed that most bluegrass songs play at, anyway. And, the "Pinch Me" lyrics have that melancholy that some bluegrass hints at that also lends well to the whole atmosphere. You know, "dream that you try to remember but it's gone... you try to scream but it comes out as a yawn..." I think this one is a really good example of a good conversion of pop/rock to bluegrass.
Vol. 2-Pickin' on Led Zeppelin
Another bluegrass tribute to Led Zeppelin. Of the songs I thought was worth mentioning, was "Misty Mountain Hop". Give it a listen and see what you think.
Vol. 3-Pickin' on Today's Ultimate Hits
Two of the best songs on the album are "Young Folks" and "I Believe I Can Fly", which I am highly recommending. The rest, not so much.
Bluegrass Tribute to Air
Just the very idea, sounds like baking sweet potatoes with taco seasoning. Doesn't sound appetizing, doesn't sound like it'd be any good... but, in both cases, it is very good. I know that is an oddly specific comparison, but both are weird, but good. I know, I've tried both. My favorite was "Alpha Beta Gogo". Not all songs sound like bluegrass... or like Air, but when it works, it works.
Mike Auldridge - Dobro: Blues & Bluegrass
Leaving, for now, the "Pickin' on... Series" we come to Mike Auldridge. I read a review and had to give him a listen, and immediately purchased "House of the Rising Sun" and "Walk, Don't Run" (yeah, that last one was originally a surf rock, a la The Ventures, believe it or not.) I came across the album after purchasing the two songs, and every song is a gem, but these are the two I still highly recommend.
Cool Blue Rocks: Rock & Roll In The Blue Grass Tradition
You must listen to "3rd Stone from the Sun". It's really good. It says "Various Artists" so I don't know who's performing, though.