Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Welshly Arms. Covers EP.

Welshly Arms.  Covers EP.
Self-produced.  2014. Welshly Arms:

Okay, so as a result of being lax about getting reviews done in a timely fashion, it’s a bit too late to review Welshly Arms’ first EP, Welcome, which featured original songs and was released in 2013.  They’ve got a newer one out, Covers, that has, well, covers.  But I’ll talk about both anyway.  The band has come up in the world on the strength of these two releases, a hit on YouTube (“Two Seconds too Late,” from the first EP), some airplay on TV shows such as The Touch and The Vampire Diaries, and a renegade song that doesn’t appear on either album but was chosen by Positively Cleveland as part of their marketing campaign to give the city some love.  They’re working on their first full-length album. Good start.

The band didn’t come out of nowhere, like a High School Rock-Off winner; they’ve been around a while in other bands.  Getz, Weaver, and Gould were in the power-pop band Cactus 12, and Getz had his own blues band.  Lindemann has toured with several artists, including Cleveland’s own Kate Voegele.  Some people have compared their sound to that of the Black Keys and the White Stripes, and they’ve been described So they’re bluesy and the singers use echo effects.  Everybody has a thing.  But let’s evaluate them on their own terms.

Their first EP, Welcome, was a nice blues-drenched rock album of five songs written by members of the band, and a good reinvention of this batch of musicians as a force to be reckoned with.  Echoey vocal harmonies, fuzzy guitars, and head-bopping beats are all good, but what makes the band is that they’re tight, instrumentally strong, and vocally expressive.  That makes for a good combination regardless of what style is being played.  Plus, they’re all good songs and that can’t hurt.  Covers consists of all good songs because they’ve been cherry-picked.  Tunes by Sam & Dave, the Chambers Brothers, Roy Orbison, Golden Earring, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Deep Purple are hard to criticize on their face.  But what they do with them is key, as it’s easy to screw up classic songs, they will inevitably be compared to the originals, and there’s always the possibility of falling into a sort of American Idol syndrome of just copying (how many Stevie Wonders are out there?).  Here’s the blow-by-blow.

“Hold on I’m Coming” is no attempt to copy. They’ve reinvented the song beyond the basic tune, lyrics, and background vocals. The rhythm is slower, less frenetic and more intense.  It reminds me of Creedence doing “I Put a Spell on You,” the old Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song (BTW, he’s from Cleveland), not in substance but in spirit.  Make it your own.  “Time Has Come Today” is a harder sell, because it was a rock song rather than a soul tune (and one of my favorite songs of all time).  They make the smart decision to go with the single version rather than the album track, which clocks at eleven minutes.  Here they borrow the inflections of the lead singer a bit too closely, but otherwise do a credible version, with appropriate cowbell (you have to have cowbell). The politics behind the song are pretty much erased.  With “You Got It,” they have the problem of confronting the matchless vocals of Orbison, which nobody does.  They work around this by focusing on the melody, and the result works pretty well.  Roy would probably approve.  Golden Earring had only two hits, and “Radar Love” was their best by a long shot, a true classic, that helped me get through college commuting in 1973.  They keep the basic song, but lose the histrionic vocals of the original, replacing them with a warmer, bluesier sound.  It does no violence to the original, and I’m good with it.  Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” was originally a soul song in 1974, covered shortly thereafter by Whitesnake and a couple dozen other artists, even Jay Z, so Welshy Arms can do what they want with it.  Their version is just fine.  Lastly, “Hush,” written by Billy Joe Royal and recorded as a pseudo-soul/bubblegum tune in 1967, became a hard rock/psychedelic hit in 1968 by Deep Purple.  I’m not sure which version is the reference point, since Welshy Arms seems to take a bit from each and ends up in the middle somewhere, heavier than Royal, but not quite as intense as Deep Purple (and no wolf howls).  It’s a good place to land.  

Analysis completed, the band has assembled a fine set of covers, either reinventing or repurposing each song to their own ends, and adapting them to their own style and sound.  Sadly, if you want this EP in physical form, it seems only to be available as a CD-R from Amazon, with their stripped-down booklets.  But however you ingest it, please do so.

Personnel:  Sam Getz (vocals, guitar), Brett Lindemann (keys, vocals), Jimmy Weaver (bass, vocals), Mikey Gould (drums).
Tracks:  Hold on I’m Coming, Time Has Come Today, You Got It, Radar Love, Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City, Hush.


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