VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Some Seriously Sexy Mixtape”
Even if I hated every one of Mara Hruby’s covers, one thing I wouldn’t be able to deny is the quality of the young lady’s record collection. Of the seven songs she chose to re-record, there was exactly one (one!) that wasn’t already in my iTunes, and that one was sitting down in my garage. (See the Covers post for the rest of that story.)
I’m about to give away my age now, because once I decided to post the seven originals along with Mara’s seven covers, I had to choose which category to put them in – Classic or Contemporary. As much as I love these records (and I really do love them…all seven are the real deal), I simply don’t consider them classics.* Not yet anyway. I suspect though, that Mara does.
So what we’ll do here is have it both ways. I’m going to list all seven originals and drop a quick comment about why the record in question has a secure place in my collection; I’ll also include Mara’s comments describing her own feelings about these modern-day classics. (How’s that for a compromise?)
1. The Roots’ “Stereolab” from Dilla Joints (Promo Only Mixtape, 2010)
The Roots are the first (only?) band ever to master the art of using analog instruments to perform a style of music that is inherently electronic. Hip-hop was born of and is still deeply tied to the concept of electronically reproduced sound – without turntables, drum machines, samplers, etc., the music simply couldn’t/wouldn’t exist. Except for the Roots.
“Stereolab” is a track from their Dilla Joints mixtape, one of the many tributes to the late hip-hop producer James ‘J Dilla’ Yancey. Each of the mixtape’s 14 selections is a recreation of a J Dilla-produced track.
The record in question, “Stereolab,” showcases both sides of the Roots. On the one hand, there’s the musicianship: that polyrhythmic bassline is being played live, it’s not a sample; and the hypnotic drum loop isn’t a loop at all. On the other hand, there’s the ‘hip-hop-ness’ of what they do: once they nail the groove, they simply let it ride. Hip-hop is all about that deep-in-the-pocket, 4/4 groove. The Roots are capable of deviating from the rhythm anytime they want to. They’re hip-hop enough to never even try.
The first track on my EP comes from The Roots. It’s originally entitled “Stereolab” and I renamed it “Lose Myself” and wrote original lyrics. “Stereolab” came from an album they did dedicated to none other than the great J Dilla, and the album is entitled “Dilla Joints.”
Technically, this isn’t a cover because Mara is singing over the actual Roots track. I’d call it a ‘version,’ a la the Jamaican dubplate/dancehall tradition.
* * *
2. Van Hunt’s “Character”
from On The Jungle Floor
Van saddled a lovely bassline and a seductive (in the non-romantic sense) set of lyrics with a rather ham-handed drum pattern and an overbearing string arrangement. “Character”
is a quality composition, but listening to Mara’s stripped-down version after Van’s more orchestral take is like rubbing shellac onto a painted-over floor and discovering delicate woodgrain patterns underneath.
It’s kinda cool to hear Van’s version after Mara’s (just like painting over that ‘boring’ wood floor might seem like a good idea while you’re standing there in Home Depot), but it’s startling to hear it the other way around. And not necessarily in a good way.
This second track is originally from the amazing Van Hunt. I have been a fan of his music since I was 16 years old. I released this cover for the public to listen to on September 3rd and the response has been amazing. This song is on Van Hunt’s album “On The Jungle Floor
” and has been a favorite of mine since the moment I first tuned my ears to it.
And if I’m reading the liner notes for Mara’s version correctly, that’s Van himself on acoustic guitar. Nice.
* * *
3. André 3000 & Norah Jones’ “Take Off Your Cool”
from The Love Below
For me, this was the most surprising track on an album full of surprises. (OK, maybe “Hey Ya” was more surprising, but by the time the album came out, I’d already gotten used to that one.)
By ’03, André 3000 was the de facto best MC in hip-hop. Who knew he would — or even could — team up with someone like pop-vocal superstar Norah Jones to create an evanescent, wisp-like gem like “Take Of Your Cool”
? The record wafts in to your consciousness like incense smoke from the next room over, and, when the two are done, it fades away the same way it came in…almost imperceptibly.
This third track, “Take Off Your Cool,”
is originally written by Andre Benjamin featuring Norah Jones on the album “The Love Below
.” Ever since I was little, I remember Outkast being a big part of my life. Andre 3000 always stood out to me, and I was always eager to listen to what he was coming out with next. I remember the day I bought “The Love Below
” and how I told myself that it would never get old, and it never did.
* * *
4. D’Angelo – “Send It On”
D’Angelo’s opulent, mystical Voodoo album remains one of my all-time favorite recordings for one simple reason: never have I heard anyone more wholly committed to the pure joy of the groove.
For “Send It On,”
D’Angelo and the Soulquarians cooked up a stank-ass, slow-motion simmering sort of thing that comes oozing out of your speakers thicker than day-old pot grease. As the band plays on, D’Angelo croons falsetto nothings (“When ever you’re in need / Just call me, baby”), consecrating the jam with such single-minded intensity that you’d swear you we’re in church. Maybe we are.
If D’Angelo’s version is a roaring fire, Mara’s is a lit candle, and a flickering one at that. It holds together, but just barely. So far, I’ve found it most useful for finally showing me what D’Angelo’s been mumbling all these years. Or did she make up her own lyrics? I can’t really tell.
This song is on D’Angelo’s album entitled “Voodoo
” and is one of those songs that take you away from reality. I knew I wanted to sing a song from the “Voodoo
” album, but I had difficulty choosing. I realized that out of all the songs, this was the one I would sing very freely to every time it played. Once I began recording this song, I was confident in the way I chose to sing it, but nervous because… well… for goodness sake it’s a D’Angelo song! Not many people cover his music, let alone for a woman to do such a thing, so I had to go about this wisely.
Notice how she knew she was in trouble before she even started? But give her credit for trying the impossible.
* * *
5. Bob Marley – “Is This Love”
(Tuff Gong/Island, 1978)
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. If you think Mara was in deep with D’Angelo….
Obviously, this isn’t contemporary – it’s a stone-cold, lock-down classic. The original is one of the sweet slices of joy from my second-favorite Bob Marley album, Kaya
. I hear this one as a promise song from a young man who’s got nothing to give but himself, his faith, and his hope that what he’s feeling is the real deal. The sentiment is genuine, but more than a little precipitous. It says, “This is what I am and this little bit of nothing is what I have to share. Do you still want me?” In other words, it’s a great, great record.
I remember being three years old and my family listening to Bob Marley songs, and him naturally being a part of my upbringing and evolution as a person. Marley has many many songs, but this one stood out for me to do. I actually have a home video with the song playing in the background, I must have been five or six, and I’m dancing around singing “I wanna know, wanna know, wanna know now!” His music has a power and force to it that is undeniable.
You can’t win ‘em all.
* * *
6. Jamiroquai – “Alright”
from Traveling Without Moving
Back in the day, I used to groove to this one all the time. About this album, The Source commented, “Travelling
is essentially about the metaphysics of having a good time.” I think they got that right and although I did like other tracks from the album more (“Virtual Insanity” and “Everyday” come to mind right away), “Alright” always got people moving too.
In ’06, when Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black
first dropped, I remember a lot of people (myself included) making a big deal of the whole retro-R&B/British Invasion thing as if it was something new. Listening to this record for the first time in a long time, I’m reminded that Jay Kay and crew were only one of quite a few Brits doing this type of thing as far back at the early ‘90s. Remember Brand New Heavies?
The song “Alright”
is on Jamiroquai’s album “Traveling Without Moving
” and was written by Jamiroquai’s own Toby Smith and lead singer Jason Kay. I was in the 5th or 6th grade when I first learned about this amazing group from the U.K. and my life was changed in that moment. “Alright”
is one of my absolute favorite songs that they do and I knew this would be the song for me to cover.
* * *
7. Mos Def – “The Panties”
from The New Danger
Like his musical comrade and hero Gil Scott-Heron, Mos isn’t really a singer. But when he does choose to sing, he often manages to convey truth or beauty or whatever else he might be trying to get across as adroitly as the best vocalists out there.
As the title of his song suggests, “The Panties”
is a seduction number. But belying the title, it isn’t lascivious in the slightest…it’s barely even suggestive. The word in question never appears in the lyrics and the main refrain is ambiguous. “Take your time,” Mos sings. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”
is on Mos Def’s album “The New Danger
” and it was written by the man himself. To me, he is one of the few rappers that can release full songs where they sing and I enjoy it without blinking twice. In fact, I close my eyes. Mos Def has a powerful sound that is distinctly unique. What I aimed to do with this cover is communicate, through song the way that I take in his original. This is the last song on my cover album and it completes the story I’m telling, song by song, of music by men, “From Her Eyes
was my introduction to Mara’s music. For someone who already knew and loved Mos’ lush, Barry White-esque slow jam, the stark immediacy of this video was startling. I hope y’all dig it too.
—Mtume ya Salaam
* Bob’s record is the obvious exception.
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on Monday, August 22nd, 2011 at 9:12 pm and is filed under Contemporary.
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