Thursday, June 16, 2005

nothin' like th' real thang

glisten: somethin' like th' real thang

Bilal - "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore"

D'Angelo - "She's Always In My Hair"

Here's a match up of two of my favorite things: Prince and cover songs. Unlike the estimable (and venerable, at least by OUR standards) copy, right?, th' Hut hasn't ever dropped a cover themed post, but I'm a sucker for a well-intentioned redux. These tracks are hardly reimaginings of the originals; in many ways, they're deeply true to form. What makes these songs noteworthy is their personality and the way that they bring out the performing artist's natural talent; they're excellent showcases. And did I mention they're by Prince?

'She's Always In My Hair' and 'How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore' are a pair of somewhat obscure flip sides to Prince singles (to 'Paisley Park' and '1999' respectively) that have gathered a real following amongst fans. Rightfully so; in many ways, they're amongst his most passionate and impressive singles and (the bane of the Prince apologist) he never even gave them due respect or any sort of real release. In this sense, they join other classics from Prince's beautiful bastard children, most notably the immortal 'Erotic City', which was only given a proper album release over a DECADE after showing up as a B-side for 'Let's Go Crazy'.

'How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore' had a fair revival a few years back when it was tapped as a springboard single for Alicia Keys. That version lacks any subtlety and, worse yet, replaces the original's muted anguish with a noisy, overwhelming aural avalanche; it's the equivalent of performing 'Ave Maria' with an electric guitar and a kickline. On the other hand, Bilal Oliver's take on 'How Come' feels like it's on a choke chain; Bilal's just on the edge of breaking down from note one. When he finally does let the pain wash over him, it is brief and dramatic and forces him into an uncomfortable voice and space then trails out into nothing. As a cover, it's memorable and informs the original considerably.

D'Angelo's riff on 'She's Always in My Hair' doesn't so much alter as it AMPLIFIES it. Prince's original is a winding, Hendrix-esque opportunity for him to splay out and show off his balladeering and excellent guitar chops; D opts instead to sing most of the song in a nasal sneer , as if he's yet to forgive the girl for leaving his memory. There's a lot of barely suppressed anger in there, but it's the soul that makes you stick around.

D'Angelo and Bilal both released simply amazing albums at the start of the century and both have hit sad fallow streaks since. There seems to be a sort of curse surrounding the nu-soul movement that flourished at the end of the nineties and start of the naughties; D'Angelo, Bilal, Badu, Maxwell, Jaguar Wright, Amel Larrieux, Saadiq, Lauryn, Angie Stone and Jill Scott have never quite caught on with the public at large in the way that they've deserved to. Whether this is indicative of the points that Mark Anthony Neal brings up in his extensive Rhythm and Bullshit essay at Popmatters (which I haven't read quite well enough to yet defend or refute), is due to the nature of the music industry and its audience, has something to do with the motivation that would make people sing the blues in the first place or is just a winding series of coincidences, I just don't know. I _DO_ hope that the root itself isn't poisoned; this particular collection has the potential to drastically alter not only r+b, but the very nature of pop music itself if they could just mobilize and overcome some initial hardships..

I got my fingers crossed.

Buy the Scream 2 Soundtrack with 'She's Always In My Hair' and...uh... well, not much else really. Assuming you don't have Let Love In by Nick Cave, there IS a copy of 'Red Right Hand' on board. Between those two, you'd be hard pressed to not pay four bucks, right? Right?

Okay, maybe not. Let's say you've got a slightly larger budget and some love for Diamond D. Why not buy D'Angelo: Live at the Jazz Cafe from Amazon? D is a jewel in concert; I've not yet been fortunate enough to see him live, but this disc has been a treasured glimpse into that hallowed hall.
Bilal's 'U Don't Call Me' is a B-side from his 'Fast Lane' single, now out of print. May I STRONGLY recommend that you indulge yourself with a copy of his astonishing debut album, 1st Born Second (via Amazon)?

Word has it that Bilal is in the studio getting the game together for a new release; New Yorkers can catch a concert, June 23rd at S.O.B.'s or, better yet, free at Prospect Park on July 1st; he's really something special live.
Prince's originals for both of these tracks are available on the amazing B-Sides compilation disc in the three album collection The Hits and the B Sides. The B-Sides are NOT available as a single disc, so you may have to pony up (via Amazon) for the whole sh'bang? It looks nice on your shelf.
Longtime Hut fans will recall that I posted a week of Prince rarities over a year ago, with dozens of links and thousands of words about the man. Go back and see how I used to post back before I had to work for a living:
read and recognize purple obsession.
Read D'Angelo's famously outdated official site.
The video and audio on Bilal's official page is missing; you can listen, read and watch Bilal Oliver music at his label's site.


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