Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ken Stringfellow -- The Sellout Cover Sessions, Vol. 1 (2008)

Ken Stringfellow -- The Sellout Cover Sessions, Vol. 1 (Sellout!)

This is a fun little EP, with Ken Stringfellow of The Posies having a bash at some eclectic cover material. Five songs, with more to come. Why else would it be Volume 1?

Stringfellow starts off with a version of Judee Sill’s “Crayon Angel”, from her debut album. Stringfellow wisely doesn’t mess around with the arrangement, as Sill’s unique compositional sense had to be kept intact. In fact, this version couldn’t be more faithful and respectful, with Stringfellow singing in his highest range, sounding pretty feminine, actually.

The recording is absolutely mid-fi, with some nice touches, like what sounds to me like a mandolin during one instrumental break. And there’s a melodica part that gives this a feel like it should be played in church. A lot of Sill’s music had a spiritual quality, so it’s appropriate. A very nice performance.

Even better is Stringfellow’s take on “Girls It Ain’t Easy”, which was originally waxed by Honey Cone in 1969. A trivia aside: Honey Cone had a big hit with “Want Ads” and recorded for a label run by the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland team, although “It Ain’t Easy” was not composed by HDH.

Anyway, Stringfellow has always had a soulful quality in his voice (I remember an inebriated Stringfellow and Jon Auer doing a bang up version of The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child” at a Nashville gig) and he totally gets into the track. The mid-fi production really helps here as this sounds like a distant AM radio feed.

Stringfellow sets his time machine for 2003, with a plaintive version of The Long Winters’ “It’ll Be a Breeze”. Stringfellow is self-deprecating when he states in the liner notes, “I’m at the point where I have to admit I could never write a song this good.” Well, Ken can think that, but I’ll say that this John Roderick composition sounds like something that Stringfellow could have whipped up himself. So it’s pretty darned good.

Next up, it’s a country duet. Ken teams up with wife Dominique Sassi on Loretta Lynn’s “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”, Ken singing Conway Twitty’s part and Sassi adding a French accent to the proceedings. This is the most C-sideish track on the disc, as they obviously had fun making it, but this makes it merely spirited, not special.

Finally, Stringfellow goes ultra-obscure, remaking “‘Til the Christ Come Back” by Bill Fay, a British ‘70s artist whom Scott (Young Fresh Fellows) McCaughey turned him onto. This is heavy psychedelic folk, with some strong lead guitar. Stringfellow establishes an ominous tone and it’s quite effective.

I enjoyed this enough that I’ll definitely plunk down another ten bucks for Volume 2. Hearing a great singer shine a light on some deserving songs is always worth hearing.

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