A great cover version lives its own life. As a child of the original, it carries DNA forwards, but shines on its own terms. You recognise the mother’s eyes or the father’s nose, but the face itself is new.
“When we moved to our new house, for us kids it was a huge huge big deal to have trees in the back garden. Where we had lived in Selly Park, the back garden was more concrete than grass, so it felt like we were in a forest. Some of my happiest memories are of endless summer holidays where it seems like we spent most of the time in the garden, making up dance routines or having mammoth waterfights. The song is a celebration of that.” Laura Mvula, speaking to the Birmingham Post
Say the English word garden out loud. Two equal syllables, neat and tidy. Now listen to Laura Mvula unzip that first syllable and pack it full of happy memories, of sanctuary and joy:
If I asked you to identify the two most surprising words from James Brown’s Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine, one of your choices would be machine. Mr Brown knows that he’s invited an intriguing image into his song. He doesn’t want it to grow in his listeners’ minds before he has a chance to shape it to his will. He works hard and fast to make sure that sex machine becomes a powerful ally, not a powerful distraction. He avoids winking or giving a quick pelvic thrust as he sings sex machine. He keeps his audience with him by keeping the word sex neutral. He treats it no differently from get, on or up. Like a fax machine. Watch him and ask yourself: if he’d emphasised sex or sex machine, would he have intensified the power of the song? Or would he have stepped over the invisible but definite line into sleaziness? Continue reading Nectarine? Soup Tureen? Sex Machine?
When a white man sings about a brown girl, the word brown carries a complicated history. Think of Jagger’s Brown Sugar. Think of the Stranglers kneading and stretching the diphthong of plain old brown until it exhales into the exotic, sensuous ‘otherness‘ of Golden Brown.
Singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford has different plans for both brown and golden, as a home-made antidote to the bullying she experienced as a child. How does she warm up the words, making them personal and precious, not exotically ‘other’? She stretches the diphthong of brown beyond anything the Stranglers imagined. Then, like spun sugar, she twirls brown into a shape that’s light and warm: