For the second collaborative post, the collective came together and discussed their favorite unique/surprising artist collaborations. Some of these collabs are from albums, singles, or even one time live performances - but they all showcase what amazing things can happen when diverse minds come together.
Artists: Cypress Hill & Sonic Youth
Song: “I Love You, Mary Jane”
Even though Sonic Youth can be a little dischord for ideal chillin’ ‘n’ illin’ music, the California noise rock style smooths out the intense vocals in Cypress Hill, making for one groovin’ song. The dreamy and playful aspects of Sonic Youth serve as a slightly spooky complement to Cypress Hill’s driving beats, like a party boat floating through New Orleans at night. The beat alone might suffice to inspire your finger to mosey on over to the replay button. Plus, I always welcome a non-reggae, alternative cannabis anthem to my chill-out playlists.
Artists: Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid
Album: The Exchange Sessions
Channelling avant-garde jazz musicians Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe from three decades earlier (see: Duo Exchange), Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid unite on two volumes of Exchange Sessions (2006) to perform three lengthy, free-flowing improvisations that end up sounding much grander than the work of just two musicians. But that’s because Kieran (best known as IDM artist Four Tet) skillfully paints the atmosphere with his electric finesse while Steve (jazz drummer who has played with Miles Davis, James Brown, Fela Kuti, and Sun Ra) rips up the rhythms. Nothing is overdubbed, nothing is edited: it’s all good.
Artists: B.B. King & Co.
Album: Indianola Mississippi Seeds (1970)
One of my favorite albums. Listening to this album is like sinking into a bath or a beer after the hundredth consecutive shitty day at work. King’s guitar is gut-wrenching, issuing up as if from an underground cell. Accompanying him is another King, Carole, whose electric piano to open “Chains & Things” is supernaturally sad. Hippie long-hair Leon Russell embellishes a bunch of tracks with a bunch of different instruments as was his wont, and one such track is his own, “Hummingbird.” The album also features James Gang’s still-green guitarist Joe Walsh, who would go on to join the Eagles five years later. All together the album seems triumphant to me. Despite the album’s bigness it teeters playfully on the singular place it makes. What it conjures up for me is a sense of selflessness, as though everybody in the room humbled themselves to their music. That’s why this album stands out to me as a collective effort. It’s so fuckin’ heartbreakingly cool!
Artists: John Lee Hooker & Friends
Album: Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (1972)
A year after his well-received collaboration with Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker put out this record that I think is a little more dynamic and smooth. The back-up personnel list for this record reads like a legend of great white blues musicians. Elvin Bishop unloads his slide guitar talents on almost every track; Mark Naftalin, Elvin’s buddy from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, plays and plays and plays the piano; and a yet-to-be-really-renowned Steve Miller appears with his guitar here and there. But the album is most memorable for the work Van Morrison puts into it together with Hook. Although it comes across as a kind of 60s blues jamboree with an old icon--almost like the Paul Butterfield boys won a sweepstakes or something--the album feels more than anything like a collaboration between Hooker and Morrison. It’s perplexing to hear Morrison’s boyish Irish timbre invited onto the track by Hooker’s belly-deep and assured voice. Something about the unlikely friendship of these guys suggests a boundlessness about the blues that I like. From what I understand, John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison remained unlikely friends until Hooker’s death in 2001.
Artists: In Flames and Timo Räisänen
Quick, when’s the last time you remember a metal band performing at the Grammys? Yeah, I couldn’t think of one either. However, that’s not the case in Sweden. In 2009, melodic death metal kingpins In Flames gave a televised performance of their single “Alias” at the Swedish Grammis featuring indie rock singer and fellow Gothenburg native Timo Räisänen. Timo strips down the first verse and chorus into candlelit acoustic indie folk while turning the tortured screams of the original into bittersweet, melancholy strains reminiscent of Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell. From there, In Flames take over and break into the explosive stomp of the original while the audience… sit at their front-row dinner tables and take pictures? They seriously have nationally-broadcast death metal dinner galas over there? Wow, I hope this is what Bernie Sanders means by making America more like the Scandinavian countries. Anyways, the two versions somehow work together, and Timo seamlessly transitions back in to bring the performance to an end. Now let’s get a Lamb of God/Band of Horses collaboration in the US. We’re falling behind to the Swedes.
Artists: The Dillinger Escape Plan and Chuck D
Song: "Fight The Power" (Public Enemy cover)
I was thinking about covering The Dillinger Escape Plan’s EP with Mike Patton, Irony is a Dead Scene, but I decided to go with something a little less known and even weirder. A few years ago, Dillinger covered “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy for the soundtrack to the video game Homefront, and enlisted the help of PE’s very own Chuck D to pull it off. Together, they tore up the original and replaced it with one of Dillinger’s signature sonic tantrums, featuring frantic, dissonant guitar riffs and tempo shifts. The opening riff is a subtle nod to the original’s sampled beat, but the assault really takes off once the first verse hits. They do stick to a standard 4/4 time signature, which is unusual for a heavy Dillinger song, but I guess Chuck D needs a solid rhythm on which to rap. Speaking of Chuck, he firmly takes control of the song as the standout vocalist, which is impressive given the song’s volatile, stop-start dynamics. Meanwhile, Dillinger frontman Greg Puciato’s throat-shredding screams provide a bitter juxtaposing accent to Chuck D’s dominant bars. The Dillinger Escape Plan really thought outside the box for this cover, and it certainly proved to be the most memorable song on the Homefront soundtrack.
Artists: Kanye West and Paul McCartney
Song: “Only One”
Many people consider The Beatles to be the greatest rock group of all time. Kanye West considers himself to be the greatest rock star of all time. While I personally disagree with the Beatles’ fans, I was just as shocked as everyone else when this duo announced they were creating music together. I had initially read about the collab before it happened, and worried that Paul McCartney would take away from Kanye’s genius. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with each track they have put out together this year (Only One, FourFiveSeconds, and All Day which is McCartney inspired but not featuring him). “Only One” has actually made it into my list of favorite Kanye songs ever. Their collaboration has helped to re-affirm Kanye’s greatness and relevance, especially when Twitter was flooded with “Who is this Paul McCartney person featured on Kanye’s songs” tweets. I’m anxiously waiting to see if they come out with anything else awesome, if/when Kanye ever decides to release SWISH.
Artists: Wanda Jackson and The Cramps
Song: “Funnel of Love”
I was never a big country fan - that was until I heard Wanda Jackson’s 1961 single “Funnel of Love”. The song combines a unique blend of country, rock, blues, and even some doo-wop with the close background harmonies, but the most impressive aspect is Jackson’s vocal abilities. She sustains such a powerful voice throughout the song, from her raspiness emphasizing her struggle of running away from love down to the coy attitude that warns you “it’s bound to get you some day.” The song was a B-Side that didn’t get much attention until Jackson regained some popularity in the 90s, so she revisited the song on her 2003 album Heart Trouble with help from The Cramps (whose sound is influenced heavily by psychobilly pioneers such as Wanda Jackson). The revisited version stays true to the original, but adds that slinky creepiness from The Cramps’ garage/punk approach to the traditional country twang sound. Jackson’s voice has also aged a bit, not quite reaching the same notes as the original, but still maintains a grace that only she could pull off for such a powerful tune.