I was all set to post a mini-concert of five Bowie covers by Mutz Music as “cover of the week” until I found this one, “Shadow Man,” covered by Swedishdame and Roose81. This has all the elements I like in a cover— it’s an obscure song, so the cover artist has a lot of latitude to interpret, and these two use that opportunity. The video elements show some thought and effort. And the performance itself is solid.
I don’t see much about Swedishdame beyond her YouTube site, but on that site she appears to have more than 500 posts. She not only has a good singing voice, but she has both a good sense of timing and editing. A conspicuous feature of this video is how much dialogue she left in between her and Roose81. This reminds me of the studio dialogue Bowie left in at the beginning of “Andy Warhol” or what the Beatles left in at the beginning of “Taxman,” but Swedishdame includes much more dialogue than that, both at the beginning of the song and throughout. It’s kind of a breaking of the fourth wall that for me, adds an intimacy to the performance and actually improves on the song itself.
“Shadow Man” is not one of my favorite Bowie songs. He originally recorded it around 1970, but didn’t include it on an album until he recorded again as part of the Toy sessions in 2000. I don’t much like either version. I don’t like the musical elements of Bowie’s versions, but also find the lyrics to be pretentious, derivative and kind of goofy. It’s almost like the song was a scratch pad for Bowie, who took some of the song’s concepts and reworked them into better songs. I see lyrical similarities to the far superior “The Width of a Circle” and “The Man Who Sold the World,” for instance. And, for that matter, the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” and Neil Young’s “The Loner”. But musically, “Shadow Man” has little in common with those songs, all of which I like much more.
All this is to say that the song doesn’t lend itself to be taken too seriously. Swedishdame doesn’t make a joke out of it, but her back and forth about the performance of the song with her musical partner takes the focus off the lyrics and places it onto the performance. She’s not trying to deliver the message of the song, she just thinks it’s pretty and wants to perform it. Amazingly, I found myself reacting to my first viewing of this video as liking it more than Bowie’s versions. So, well done.
As I mentioned, I was also taken by a posting from Mutz Music, which you can link to here. According to his YouTube page, Mutz’ real name is Dave and he describes himself as an intermediate guitar player with “dive bar” singing capability. Part of what I liked about his video is that, hey, he gave us five covers! Also, he doesn’t try to sound like Bowie, so he’s singing more familiar songs than “Shadow Man,” but nobody is going to confuse his versions with Bowie’s. Also, there’s an amateurish quality to both the video and the performances. I don’t mean this as a criticism but rather in the sense that he’s singing and playing guitar for the love of the activity. Part of the point of “cover of the week” is to highlight Bowie’s musical legacy, and a big part of that legacy is how much his music means to guys in their basements playing on their guitars.
I also liked a cover of “Moonage Daydream” from the Bowie cover band, dB- The Bowie Experience, which you can link to here. Of the three videos, this one is the best combination of a song I very much do like and an excellent musical performance. Ironically, part of the reason I didn’t select it for cover of the week is that it’s too similar to Bowie’s original. That makes it great to hear, but it’s not an especially original take. Nonethless, it’s worth hearing.