After laughter comes a laugh track
Gotta love Spotify, again and again… A couple of weeks ago, my fiancée — always her — put on a Spotify playlist that had been recommended to her. Since she’s got a) good taste, b) of the indie variety, these playlists tend to be highly listenable. This one didn’t disappoint: the second or third track in it was a genius cover of a sample-filled hip hop track by none other than the Wu-Tang Clan. Even the samples had been covered.
The band is El Michels Affair, a near-one man band headed by New York-based (of course) Leon Michels and a bunch of highly talented musicians he gathers for the occasions. I say plural because it’s nowhere near his first time: the man has actually been going at it for years, including specifically working on Wu-Tang covers for a decade. It apparently all started when Michels and Raekwon performed together in 2007, which sparked two entire albums of Michels-produced covers of the hip hop outfit’s cult debut — Enter the Wu-Tang (36 chambers). Logically, that first cover album was called Enter the 37th Chamber. Perhaps equally logically, the second one was Return to the 37th Chamber, and it came out in 2017, a full 2 years before I got to discover it. The point is I did, though.
The track that most caught my attention, even though it may not be the obvious one, is “Tearz”. The Wu-Tang “original”, based on the equally cult — we’re in all-around great music territory here — Wendy Rene-sung "After Laughter (Comes Tears)", is a massive hip hop track — and so is Rene’s incredibly soulful tune. Michels’ rendition is interestingly subdued: with the help of Soul great Lee Fields and The Shacks’ Shannon Wise, he managed to (re)create a mix of the 1964 song and the 1993 Wu-Tang beat, and then some stuff he added just for fun.
The result is a beautiful mash up of old and new, soft and strong, eerie and sharp sounds. Wise’s soft vocals take turns with the heavier Wu-Tang-inspired beat recreation, then back to a Wurlitzer-styled keyboard track that’s stuck somewhere between the 60’s and retro-produced 2010’s — let’s say 1979 — complete with Lee Fields’ smooth stylings, to finish off with resolutely 70’s sounding effects — also conceived circa 2017.
In short, listening to this will likely have you spend the next two hours of your life going back in (musical) time in either direction in search for the original gems that sparked this project. Time well spent, I’d say.