Jan 222018
 
japanese breakfast california dreaming

In 2016, indie singer Michelle Zauner, who performs under the moniker Japanese Breakfast, opened for fellow Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski. “Being half-Asian and going on the Mitski tour, that was like, a big deal,” Zauner told Rolling Stone. She said fans would come up and thank them. “They feel like they see part of themselves in us in a way that they haven’t been able to before.”

Mitski should be no stranger to readers of Cover Me; her work has landed on our Top 50 lists in both 2015 and 2017. Japanese Breakfast recently took a page from Mitski’s playbook and expanded her electro-pop repertoire by releasing a cover of “California Dreamin’” on the SiriusXMU indie-rock radio channel. Continue reading »

Jan 192018
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

killing me softly covers

The Fugees’ massive hit “Killing Me Softly” is not an original. It’s actually a cover, of a Roberta Flack hit twenty years prior (we named the Fugees remake the Best Cover of 1996).

But you probably knew that. Pat yourself on the back, then try this bonus question: Did you know Roberta Flack’s hit was a cover too?

The original version was performed and co-written (though she didn’t get credit) by Lori Lieberman, who I interviewed for my recent book on cover songs. She said her experience at a Don McLean concert inspired the song. After he left the stage, she scribbled a poem with many of the lyrics on a cocktail napkin. Professional songwriters Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics) then fleshed out her words into a proper song. Continue reading »

Jan 192018
 
verite sufjan cover

After several years exploring electronic music, Sufjan Stevens’ 2015 album Carrie & Lowell was a return to form for fans who preferred his earlier folky fingerpicking. And people who liked the dancier direction? Well, now there’s something for them too: VÉRITÉ’s electropop cover of one of those Carrie & Lowell ballads. Continue reading »

Jan 182018
 

captain beefheart coversIt’s a safe bet that for many Captain Beefheart fans, the very idea of covering the late Don Van Vliet’s compositions (or aping his, shall we say, “raw” vocal stylings) is bloody sacrilege. Trout Mask Replica, certainly his best-known album – or at least the one most referenced, if not actually listened to all the way through – is a bewildering, nearly unmitigated stream-of-consciousness jazz/rock/skronk blast. It’s made all the more compelling by the fact that it was, in fact, carefully composed and then dictated by Van Vliet, who was barely competent on any instrument save harmonica and, perhaps, saxophone. Fascinating? Definitely. Coverable? Not so much.

Now, almost exactly seven years after Van Vliet’s passing from complications of multiple sclerosis, The World of Captain Beefheart takes a game stab at reimagining his oeuvre; it could perhaps be labeled a “semi-covers” project, in that one of the two principals, Gary Lucas, was Van Vliet’s last musical collaborator, as well as being his co-manager.

But it’s the choice of vocalist Nona Hendryx that takes what could have been a relatively safe retread—if any of Beefheart’s compositions could truly be called “safe”—and spins it into a revealing, largely successful reframing of Van Vliet’s imposing musical legacy. If the average pop fan knows her, it’s as one third of ’70s R&B act LaBelle. But the majority of her career has been spent on artier pursuits than one might expect from one of the singers of “Lady Marmalade.” After the group split in 1976, Hendryx would go on to perform with Talking Heads, Material, and other art-rock notables. Continue reading »

Jan 172018
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

steve earle covers

Steve Earle turns 63 today. He’s one of the all-time great Americana/roots-rock/alt-country/whatever-you-want-to-call-it songwriters, and one who has successfully stepped out of the Nashville hit machine grind he started in to one of those “distinguished statesman” careers many of his Guitar Town-era peers no doubt envy.

In addition to his own songwriting, he records fantastic covers. His tribute album to early mentor Townes Van Zandt was quite moving, and the early-rock covers on his album with Shawn Colvin in 2016 were terrific (check out “You Were On My Mind”). He gave The Wire a season’s theme song covering Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” while acting on the show too as a recovering addict (hardly a stretch). And, my personal two favorites, he delivers arguably the definitive versions of Warren Zevon’s “Reconsider Me” and Randy Newman’s “Rednecks.”

But it’s his birthday, so we’ll let him take a well-earned break. Instead, we’ve rounded up our favorite covers of other people doing his songs. His recordings make ideal cover sources in the same way Bob Dylan’s or Tom Waits’ do: brilliant songs delivered by limited-appeal voices. It’s no surprise that “better” (or at least less divisive) country singers cover Earle constantly; Emmylou Harris alone has covered a half dozen of his songs. So we’ll start there. Continue reading »

Jan 162018
 
cranberries covers

2017 was a particularly tough year with the loss of so many musicians, and 2018 is starting out with more sadness. Dolores O’ Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries and one of the most recognizable female vocalists in history, has passed away at the age of 46. Their influence, and specifically, O’Riordan’s leadership, can be felt in the generations of musicians who have followed them, as described beautifully by Hozier: “My first time hearing Dolores O’Riordan’s voice was unforgettable. It threw into question what a voice could sound like in that context of rock. I’d never heard somebody use their instrument in that way.”

The Cranberries released very few covers in their career: two for tribute albums, and a third, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto” on their album Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.

The first of two compilation covers, “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, can be found on If I Were a Carpenter, a tribute album to The Carpenters. O’Riordan’s voice is the immediate tip off that we have flashed forward almost 25 years from the original hit. With sparse instrumentals, the Irish lilt is especially pronounced, as is the slightly darker tone of O’Riordan’s voice from Karen’s sweetly sung rendition. It’s a lovely cover, and a standout on the album. Continue reading »