It's too early to tell if Tamara Wellons' version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" will become as memorable as the version Kurt Kobain performed with the grunge band Nirvana. For one thing, Wellons has a lot of company - this song has been recorded by acts as diverse as Paul Anka, the Vitamin String Quartet and Patti Smith. However, this cover tune featured on Wellons' new album Life Is is arguably more distinctive than any of those other versions.
Wellons certainly put some thought into the song. Her soul-jazz version is definitely on the other side of the decibel spectrum from Nirvana's 1991 classic. Wellons version features her jazzy vocals and the kind of harmony from backup singers that sets this cover apart from the original. Wellons' version also includes a keyboard solo that sounds like something you might have heard on one of Norman Connors' classic 1970s records. Considering Wellons' history, this should not be surprising. She did hip-hop soul version of "Fly Me To the Moon" on an earlier recording.
However, "Teen Spirit" serves as the good setup for the rest of Life Is. The record features sweeping Latin tinged songs like "Your Face," pulsating disco/electronica influenced dance songs like "Oh Well" and the tight, neo-soul jam "Time's Ticking." One minute, Wellons is encouraging the listener to let go of dysfunction and embrace self-love on the anthem "Let Go." Then Wellons flips 180 degrees on the track "Caught Up," a bass heavy funky number in which she offers to immerse herself in the essence of the object of her desire. Listeners who like harmony and the interplay between lead singers and the backup singers will enjoy the song "Love You."
The remake marks Wellons as a creative and conscientious artist - a trait that is backed up by the balance of Life Is. Highly Recommended.