It's a Shame About Gemma Ray joins a notable lineage of quirky cover albums where singers and groups known for very original material tackle a surprising selection of the music that inspired them. This public acknowledgement of influences sometimes takes very strange forms (check out Duran Duran's reading of Grandmaster Flash's “White Lines,” from Thank You), but it can often lead to inspired departures. Here are some other interesting examples of this subgenre:
David Bowie — Pin Ups (1973): Bowie gives the Ziggy Stardust pantomime a break to unleash his inner Mod. Deep-cut covers of the Kinks, early Pink Floyd and Pretty Things.
Brian Ferry — These Foolish Things (1973): Released at the same time as Pin Ups, Ferry's first solo album processed Dylan, Spector, Lesley Gore, Motown and the Great American Songbook through the singer's neurotic lothario filter.
Elvis Costello — Kojak Variety (1995): Costello has always been a walking encyclopedia of influences (see also Almost Blue), but this oddly titled album is his crowning interpretive mixtape. From very late Screamin' Jay Hawkins, to beat rarity “Leave My Kitten Alone,” to a superb take on the Bacharach-David gem “Please Stay.”
Annie Lennox — Medusa (1995): Few people know Lennox's hit “No More 'I Love You's” is a cover (the original is by The Lover Speaks), part of this clever (how else?) melange of tributes to Al Green, the Temptations, Marley and Neil Young.
Tori Amos — Strange Little Girls (2001): Leave it to Tori to up the concept ante by tackling songs traditionally associated with male singers (that would be concept enough for most), but then creating different personae (outfits and all) to interpret them. Highlight: Slayer's “Raining Blood” given the menstrual treatment.
Erasure — Other People's Songs (2003): The dance duo had already tipped their spangly hats to ABBA (before that had become a cliché), but this set shows a surprising interest in glamming up early rock icons like Buddy Holly and Spector.
Mandy Moore — Coverage (2003): Wherein the wholesome songstress tried to prove herself a hip indie chick. The gambit didn't work out very well (unless this is what made husband Ryan Adams look at her in a new light?), but it was fun to see Moore coloring outside the constrictive pop box through XTC and John Hiatt tunes.
The Dirty Projectors — Rise Above (2007): Like Gemma Ray, head Projector Dave Longstreth attempted to re-create a bunch of songs from memory. The difference? This is not a selection, but a cover/reimagining of Black Flag's entire Damaged album.