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REVIEW: Maiysha – ‘Undercover’

20/07/2010

Take an artist you admire … now imagine that they were going to release a live covers album … and then imagine that on top of that they would be covering songs by Madonna, The Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Kelly Clarkson and Jimi Hendrix. On paper it shouldn’t work.

Cover albums, at their best, are hit and miss yet, especially in soul music, they seem an extremely popular avenue for artists. From those i’ve heard i’d say most are pointless excercises, often churned out quickly to fulfill label contracts, that add little to the original songs. Actually, off the top of my head, I can only think of Maysa Leak who has consistently delivered on such a project (oh and Calvin Richardson’s Bobby Womack tribute was also great). Thankfully, we can now add Maiysha to that list with her latest release Undercover.

After releasing her debut album, This Much is True, in 2008 and gaining rave reviews and a Grammy nomination (for the song ‘Wanna Be’), it was hard to see how Maiysha could top this with her follow up. Instead of going the traditional route and releasing a carbon-copy follow up she instead chose to tread the much trickier, but potentially more rewarding path (ask Erykah Badu and Jill Scott) of releasing a live album. Live albums can make (or break) an artist, depending on their vocal skills, but often fans enjoy hearing live, alternative versions of their favourites. Maiysha decided to go a step further though and, rather than doing live interpretations of her own original material, decicided to cover some of THE biggest names in music, interestingly, outside of the traditional soul/RnB field. To people familiar with her debut this genre-blurring should not come as a surprise, but still it was a risky step. Well I’m pleased to inform you that, in my opinion at least, Maiysha has succeeded where many an artist would have failed.

Album opener, a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ (brought to the attention of a new generation via Tarantino’s Kill Bill) sets the scene for the rest of the album. Maintaining enough of the original so that it is still instantly recognisable, Maiysha seems to do the impossible and take a (well known) cover and make it 110% her own. Adding a double shot of soul brings the song to life and adds a warmth and emotion that is somewhat lacking in the original. Her cover of Hendrix’s ‘If 6 Was 9’ is faithful to the blues/rock of the original, but again sounds like it could have been written just for Maiysha.

The cover of The Beatles ‘I’m So Tired’ (which, being a Beatles non-fan I prefer to the original) is expertly integrated into Madonna’s ‘Hung Up’ and needs to be heard to be believed, especially the latter – ‘Hung Up’ – half. Taking Madonna’s upbeat, club-friendly pop song Maiysha transforms it into a hearfelt, soulful ballad that sounds simply stunning live.

Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ is taken down a notch or two, and sounds all the better for it, and Chris Isaaks’ ‘Wicked Game‘ gives you one of those ‘I swear I know this … but what is it?’ moments that add interest to a cover version. The cover of Nat King Cole’s ‘That’s All’ is a definite standout. with Maiysha’s vocal and an unbelievably fantastic backing band in perfect harmony, breathing new life into an all time classic.

The final two tracks, another Beatles cover (‘And I Love Him’ – originally ‘Her’) and Bad Company’s ‘Feel Like Makin Love’ just confirm that Mayisha is indeed an expert song interpretor/stylist. In fact it’s hard to think of a song she couldn’t cover. I have a feeling that the Grammy nomination was just the start of a very long, and hopefully successful career that i’m sure will include more inspired covers aswell as truly fantastic original material. Do yourself a favour and go buy this album now.

iTunes: UK / US

Twitter: @Maiysha

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