‘Tis the season, as the saying goes… not for the holidays but for hearing from old friends. I staggered out to the mail box recently to find a Christmas card from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time. It came as quite a surprise. It’s not that there had been a rift between my old friend and I or anything melodramatic had happened…like I’m typically prone to. It’s just day to day life has a way of getting in the way of relationships. You mean to call or email or reach out but then another work crisis arises and you put it off. In the old days I knew a few people who would send out those “family newsletters” in their Xmas cards. Let’s call those what they are, brag rags. “This year our family traveled to Mexico and Colorado… little Johnny won a spelling bee.” Please, you went to Cabo and went skiing and the trophy was probably a participation prize. I guess that sort of braggadocio is reserved for Facebook these days… I wouldn’t know I’ve never been on Facebook.
I had a similar feeling of surprise when I found out yesterday Chris Cornell’s widow Vicky had posthumously released an entire album of cover songs that Chris had put together and sequenced prior to his death. What a holiday gift! As longtime readers know I was a huge fan of Chris Cornell and was quite shaken by his passing (I Awoke To The Devastating News: Chris Cornell Has Passed Away, RIP). In my defense, I had seen Soundgarden in concert merely a few nights prior to Cornell’s death (Concert Review: Soundgarden, Kansas City May 14, 2017). The surprise new album is called No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol 1 and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title. That voice…
As I sat up late last night listening to this album repeatedly into the wee hours with a tumbler of good bourbon, I tried to reach back through the misty memories in my mind to the first time I heard Cornell’s voice. I remember seeing a video of Soundgarden circa Louder Than Love. I think it was on that MTV Sunday night (?) show ‘120 Minutes.’ I have a vague memory of muttering to myself, these guys are the grunge Black Sabbath. They had that heavy, sludgy sound and the operatic vocals of a man I knew simply as, the handsome guy with really long black hair. Having fled Arkansas and moved back to Kansas City in 1990 I may or may not have been aware of a couple of Soundgarden tracks from Badmotorfinger that got some airplay in KC, “Rusty Cage” and the glorious track “Outshined.”
If I’m being honest, I probably first became aware of Cornell when I heard the Temple of the Dog album. I was particularly enamored with “Hunger Strike” but I think that track drew me more to Eddie Vedder who duetted with Cornell on the song. When I heard “Say Hello To Heaven” was probably the moment I jumped on the Chris Cornell bandwagon. That is a great song, perfectly sung. A few months later, Soundgarden released their landmark album Superunknown. “Spoonman” and the psychedelic tinged “Black Hole Sun” were favorites but it wasn’t until I heard “Fell On Black Days” that I bought the album. My god, I love that song. It’s one of my all time favorites. “Whatsoever I feared has come to life, whatsoever I fought off became my life.” That line pretty summed up my existence in 1991.
From there I followed Cornell through the end of Soundgarden (and through their reunions) to Audioslave and even into his solo career. I’ll admit to being disappointed by his debut solo record, Euphoria Mourning. There were a couple of tracks on that album that I still listen to today but overall it left me cold. I loved all three Audioslave LPs and am proud to say I saw them live. Cornell paced the stage like a panther. It was at Lollapalooza and I left after Audioslave played, they were why I was there. In retrospect I should have stuck around for the headliners… Jane’s Addiction. I get tunnel vision sometimes. Never leave a gig early.
Cornell’s solo career was a bit of a mixed bag. I loved his final proper solo record, Higher Truth and reviewed it on B&V, Review: Chris Cornell’s “Higher Truth” – Finally He Comes Through. To me, it was his solo breakthrough. But lets admit, his solo stuff was highly eclectic. He did a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that was excoriated by the critics (and probably fans too) but I really liked it. I included it on my Cornell playlist I put together in the wake of his tragic loss, B&V iPod Playlist: Chris Cornell. I will say, that same eclectic approach can be heard in the songs that Cornell selected for this wonderful new album, No One Sings Like You Anymore. And in fact, that eclecticism is what makes this so great.
I’ll admit again, this album was a complete surprise to me. Even though, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, they’d released a single a number of weeks ago, “Patience,” a GnR cover with no explanation and I bought it. I thought it was a one-off and didn’t dig into why it had been released. I actually forgot I purchased it. In my defense, there has been a shit ton of music that has come out this year. When I found No One Sings had been released yesterday, it was like that day I staggered to the mailbox and found that Christmas card from my long absent friend. I put this album on with that same delighted surprise I’d felt standing at the mailbox. It is indeed nice to hear from our old friend Chris.
Cover songs are an interesting thing in popular music. It’s like two-for-one night down at the bar. A song you already know, that possibly was a hit for someone else, sung by an artist you like… what’s not to love? If you pair the right cover song with the right artist you might just have a sure-thing hit. Aretha Franklin owns Otis Redding’s “Respect.” Jimi Hendrix owns “Hey Joe.” I can’t even tell you who did the original on that one. Doing an entire album of covers is an even more rare animal. We shared our favorite “cover albums” on B&V a while ago, B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs. I reread that post and I stand behind every record on that list. Covers can be done very reverently, no messing with the formula or the artist can completely reinterpret the song in a new way. I think Cornell does a little of both on this new album.
I love that he chose such a diverse group of artists to cover. The album opens with a cover of a track that Janis Joplin made famous, “Get It While You Can.” Cornell totally reinterprets the track. I had to go back and listen to the Joplin track to make sure it was the same song. The track sets the tone for the musical journey ahead. Wisely, Cornell’s vocals are the star here. Later on the album he does a couple different obscure soul tracks, “Stay With Me Baby” originally done by Lorraine Ellison and “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” by Carl Hall. I love both those tracks. They were such a pleasant surprise. I was amazed at how soulful a delivery Cornell has on “Stay With Me Baby.” He feels that soulful heartache baby. There’s even an organ on that song.
“Patience,” one of my favorite GnR ballads is very well served here in Cornell’s hands. I saw that his cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a Prince track that I had purchased from a “best of” package earlier is on here as well. I love his version of the song – he really lays out the vocal – but I’m starting to wonder how many times I’m going to have to buy that song, heh heh. I was surprised and utterly delighted to see Cornell cover Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire.” The space-age version Cornell does is a great update. He also, and again this was a surprise choice, covers Nilsson’s drinking buddy John Lennon’s song “Watching the Wheels” from Lennon’s final record Double Fantasy. Its a nice laid back acoustic strummer here and just wonderful. My favorite track on the album is a song called “Sad Sad City” originally done by a band I’d never heard of, Ghostland Observatory. “Sad Sad City” could have easily been nestled onto Higher Truth and I’d have thought it was a Cornell original. I love the insistent, driving drum, the acoustic riff and the great backing vocals. Cornell sings that one like he owns it. I also love his total reinterpretation of ELO’s “Showdown.” Nothing will touch the original on that one (even though I find ELO terribly derivative of the Beatles, they had their moments) but Cornell’s version keeps my interest. It doesn’t create quite the tension of ELO’s original but its a cool cover.
The album is entitled Vol 1 which to me implies there is more in the vault that he did. I know that Cornell and Soundgarden were working on a new album. I hear that, much like Petty, there is a dispute between the band and Vicky Cornell about the future of those tracks. So I guess we wait for the lawyers to sort that one out. Regardless this is a nice addition to the Cornell canon and highly recommend this for his fans. I do really hope there is more out there. This man’s vocals were so special, I have to hope we hear more in the coming years.
It’s the holidays folks and for some of us that’s a darker time… With people staying at home this year and keeping distance it may be a dark time for a whole lot more of us this year. Reach out, stay in touch with your loved ones. Take care of each other out there folks. Be safe.