With his latest effort, "If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead", trending back toward the experimental tendencies that propelled James Blake
into the spotlight in the first place, I'm reminded of my own first dalliance with Blake's music. It came in the shape of a cover song, as Blake tackled Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You" with just his voice and a piano. This initial exposure may have given me a somewhat misguided perception of Blake's musical style, but that voice alone was enough to draw me in. With this memory in mind, I've compiled a list of James Blake's most striking covers in his career thus far.
1. Joni Mitchell - "A Case Of You"
Where else to start but at the beginning? I approached this cover with trepidation, feeling that it was utterly foolish for anyone to try and contend with the majesty of Joni Mitchell's original. Thankfully, I'd already had my fears allayed by the 40 second mark when Blake delivered the "Oh Canada" line in his now trademark falsetto.
2. Simon & Garfunkel - "The Sound of Silence"
If you got a focus group together to decide upon the perfect song for James Blake to cover, they'd probably end up picking "The Sound of Silence". Simon & Garfunkel's original is haunting enough as it is, but once you add Blake's ethereal voice into the mix, the melancholy is taken into overdrive. On top of this, his production choices strip the track bare, removing any of the original's more upbeat inclinations, just in case it wasn't already devastating enough.
3. Radiohead - "Videotape"
When Blake performed in San Francisco back in December of last year, not only did he treat fans to three new tracks, he also managed to slip a fleeting Radiohead cover into the mix. Coming at the end of "Black Lung", a new track that's yet to see an official release, the strains of "Videotape" steadily emerge before Blake segues fully into the In Rainbows
closer. This is more a brief interlude than a full-blown cover, but it's too perfect a combination to exclude.
4. Frank Ocean - "Godspeed"
Having contributed production, arrangements, and accompaniment to Frank Ocean's Blonde
it came as no surprise when James Blake indulged himself with a cover of "Godspeed" off that record. The original is a dreamy, sparse track that gives center stage to Frank Ocean's vocal and Blake pares it back even further with his cover. It's just him, his piano and Ocean's earnest, affecting lyrics.
5. Don McClean - "Vincent"
Blake closed out his 2017 with an elegant cover of Don McClean's "Vincent" on Christmas Eve. Performing the track from a dimly lit studio in LA, he delivers a restrained vocal performance, honoring the tone of McClean's mournful tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. For all the experimentation inherent in Blake's inventive production work, we're reminded of the idiosyncratic beauty of his voice when he sits down at the piano.