I love cover versions. Or, to be accurate, I love two types of cover versions. There’s one – like when The Almighty did “Do Anything You Want To Do” and I didn’t know it – that makes you want to investigate the band (I must have seen the Hot Rods about ten times since over the years). Then there’s the other sort. The one where you hear a side to a song that you never knew existed.
There’s one where Rage Against The Machine do “Ghost Of Tom Joad” and it seethes (Springsteen himself sometimes does “Born In The USA” in a way where it begs for your mercy rather than sounding like it was a rally) – and there’s one here, on “Hellbound” that needs discussing. “Stayin’ Alive”, if I am honest, never really came across my radar since the days of school discos, but that’s because it has never been done like this.
See, when Lee Rogers sings that “I’ll live to see another day” it sounds like its an option, but not the only one. This is not a party. This is a confessional. It’s dark (forgive the obvious reference to the album title), and its claustrophobic.
In short, its perfect for “Dark Notions”.
The story of Lee himself is nearly as interesting. He was a hotly tipped singer/songwriter, writing distinctive stuff, gaining a lot of peer admiration. Then in 2008 he just quit, becoming a sought after Tattooist in the intervening decade, he decided to come back to music in 2020.
He’s got an album good to go, but these six aren’t on it. These are the outsiders. They – according to Rogers – don’t fit in, but were too good to “remain on hard drives”. He’s right too, these are magnificent little slices of unease.
“Hellbound” ushers itself in on a two-tone tinge, you kind of expect it to turn into “Ghost Train” at any moment, the near rap delivery includes vignettes like “Murphy drank himself to death, the boys got rid of what was left”. And this is a beguiling world that sucks you in. Think Tom Waits without the gravel.
“Further On Up The Road” dials up the blues even further. Americana done right, this is the work of a brilliant songwriter, nothing more and nothing less, but this is not “a blues” record, or “an Americana” one. It exists in the margins, somewhere of its own choosing. Back in the mid 2000s – around the time “Drawing Clocks” (that debut that I do have a copy of) came out – I was voraciously consuming music by the likes of Jacob Golden and Brendan Benson, and “Citizen General” is from the same stock, a pulsing thing with a dark kind of undercurrent.
“Blood In, Blood Out” is another with a sweeping sonic intent, but one which still manages to sound confessional, like its pouring its heart out: “here ends the first lesson, here started a new one” he sings on its hook, perhaps reminding himself that he’s back. Whatever, this is a million miles away from the conventional troubadour stuff.
“Ashes And Bones” perhaps is the most straight ahead of the lot of them. It feels lighter, less concerned. “Nothing ever changes, but nothing ever stays the same” he offers, and if you are of a certain disposition you understand.
There’s always fun to be had away from the limelight and the interesting characters are always the ones that aren’t the main star. There’s a bit of that here with “Dark Notions”, six marvellous songs that lurk in the shadows because out of necessity, almost, they need to.