Like duct tape or Bisquick, the covers album can have many uses. They can serve as a tribute to musical heroes, a calling card of stylistic influences or a fun, lightweight celebration of treasured songs. Steve Ewing's Zodiac, featuring versions of rock, new-wave, punk and ska songs mostly from the '70s and '80s, is all of these things. The track selection emphasizes the steel-eyed ska sound he honed with the Urge. Ewing favors songs with a strong, punctuated backbeat, as demonstrated by faithful versions of the Police's plucky, syncopated, pop-reggae tune "Driven To Tears" and Elvis Costello's switchblade dub gem "Watching the Detectives." Likewise, the martial stomp of the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" rides on quick guitar upstrokes (Plus, it's nice to hear the song sung by someone with a sense of melody and tone. Sorry, Paul Simonon).
More adventurous is Peter Gabriel's ballad "Don't Give Up," which shows Ewing's nuance and skill at bringing pathos to the fore (and features Madahoochi's Shawn Hartung ably handling Kate Bush's parts). Ewing wisely gives props to border-erasing acts like Fishbone and UB40, but he also digs a little deeper into '60s rock with nods to Jimi Hendrix ("Wait Until Tomorrow") and the Beatles (the lovably loopy "Baby, You're a Rich Man"). Ewing doesn't alter these songs or leave any stylistic stamp on them, aside from his still strong, still distinct voice. Instead, Zodiac serves as a primer on some of the most vital, soulful and politically charged music of Ewing's youth while sketching out a roadmap of the singer's own patchwork musical development.— Christian Schaeffer
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