Dec 242008
 

Last year’s Christmas post (here) was prefaced with an apology about jumping on the Christmas post bandwagon. No excuses this year though, I’ll come out and say it: I like Christmas music. Not the schlock you hear at Macy’s of course, but in better contexts those songs can really groove and, in a culture of indie emo, some holiday joy can never be a bad thing. So as my little present to you, here’s the 12 Covers of Christmas.

Yo La Tengo – Rock’ n’ Roll Santa (Jan Terri)
The Ramones with heavier distortion and singing ability. [Buy]

The Beach Boys – Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Coots/Gillespie)
Brian Wilson and the Boys combine their trademark harmonies with a lively beat, but the big surprise here is the blaring horn section that forces its way through. [Buy]

Joy Electric – What Child Is This? (Dix)
Like a slow-motion rave, this hymn works shockingly well as an electronic jam. [Buy]

The Raveonettes – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darlene Love)
One of my favorite bands of the year, The Raveonettes released a Christmas EP was a true holiday present, and their fifties fuzz brings a thumping urgency to this desperate plea. [Buy]

Pedro the Lion – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Longfellow/Marks)
Electronic organ is all Dan Bazan uses, and it’s all he needs. This meandering delivery is so slow you wonder if he’s dozing off, but are glad he doesn’t as he slowly draws you into his world. [Buy]

Sufjan Stevens – Angels We Have Heard On High (Chadwick/Barnes/Trad.)
Sufjan sent his eighth Christmas album (!) to friends only, but luckily one risked a place on his naughty list by leaking it for all to hear. Stevens’ trademark off-pop bliss is here, but with an extra shot of adrenaline that keeps it from being too cute. [Buy]

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – Jingle Bells (Pierpont)
It’s a song I couldn’t be more sick of, but Smokey sings it like it’s just the greatest thing he’s ever heard, and it’s hard not to get caught up in his joy. [Buy]

Patti Smith – We Three Kings (Hopkins)
It’s a well-known fact that I will smack anyone who says Patti Smith is not a genius, and this track is just further evidence of my conviction. Over a reverb background that sounds like quiet rage, she recited the scripture while sings the melody. Who else could make the Bible sound so badass? [Buy]

Bright Eyes – Oh Little Town of Bethlehem (Brooks/Redner)
Slow and ponderous, Coner Oberst’s take on Christmas would be depressing if it wasn’t so beautiful. Reverence and loneliness have never sounded so similar. [Buy]

Pilate – Fairytale of New York (The Pogues)
They don’t drastically reinvent the tune here, and to be honest it kind of makes me want to hear the original, but this song is so good I’ll take as many versions as I can. [Buy]

The Flaming Lips – White Christmas (Irving Berlin)
The Lips attempting covers is truly a hit or miss affair, as their quirky freak-orchestra sound is…unique. All bets would say that White Christmas would truly be a terrible choice for them, but their bizarrely sung interpretation works. I think. [Buy]

Weezer – O Holy Night (Adam/Cappeau)
Christmas With Weezer did not get a proper release, showcased only on an iPhone game. Luckily some clever fan figured out a way to snag the tracks, and this plucked power-pop pearl shows that, Red Album aside, Rivers has still got it. [Buy]

Merry Christmas.

Best of 2008

 Posted by at 7:07 pm  No Responses »
Dec 182008
 

In the spirit of the flurry of year-end lists, here are some of the best covers of the year. Needless to say, too many great covers came out this year

The Gaslight Anthem – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Johnny Cash)
Anchorless Records just released a set of quasi-punk Cash covers called All Aboard (get it on vinyl if you can) and, though some are generic, 2008 break-out artist The Gaslight Anthem takes Cash’s posthumous single and gives it a haunted vibe, like someone singing to you from far far away. [Buy]

Lily Allen – Womanizer (Britney Spears)
This one just came out a couple days ago, but it’s an instant ironic-pop classic. Britney’s first number one single since “Baby One More Time” (really) gets the strummed acoustic, soft piano treatment. Once you get past Mark Ronson’s obnoxious intro that is.

The Peptides – Major Tom (Peter Schilling)
When the band first sent this cover my way, I assumed it was a mislabeled “Space Oddity.” For those equally clueless, Schilling wrote a response to the classic David Bowie song (that I once had to lip-sync for five minutes in middle school in a poorly conceived outer space version of The Hobbit). Luckily The Peptides knew more than I did, as they tell the bizarre story with folksy harmonies and propelling rhythms. [Buy]

Mystery Jets – Bleeding Love (Leona Lewis)
God knows how many times I’ve listened to this one this year, but their beautiful Americana take on this admittedly catchy-as-hell pop hit never loses its charm. This comes from the always cover-friendly Radio 1 Live Lounge on the BBC. [Buy]

Southside Johnny and Labamba’s Big Band – Walk Away (Tom Waits)
Two big Tom Waits tribute discs came out this year. One, by Scarlet Johannson, induced spontaneous nausea in anyone who heard it. The other, Southside Johnny’s big band take on some Waits chestnuts achieved the shocking feat of making Tom danceable. It’s called Grapefruit Moon, and this cut is the best for a simple reason: it features Tom himself on guest vocals. [Buy]

Max Vernon – I Kissed a Girl (Katy Perry)
Vernon sent this one my way long ago and I’m embarrassed to say I never got a chance to post it before. Luckily others did, as it quickly made the blog rounds and even earned him a s lot on the Guilt By Association Vol. 2 comp alongside Kaki King and My Brightest Diamond. Dude’s even got a music video! [Buy]

Pat Buzzard – Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show)
This one hit the old inbox a couple weeks ago, and is an instantly catchy update on the OCMS/Bob Dylan (he wrote the chorus) semi-hit “Wagon Wheel.” It’s made for a campfire sing-along far cooler than any you had as a kid. [Buy]

Lowry – Africa (Toto)
This one comes off that same comp Vernon’s on. It’s a song you’ve forgotten how much you liked, made new in an electro-lounge duet. [Buy]

Denison Witmer – Is There a Ghost (Band of Horses)
I posted this one in the Halloween entry a few months back, but as that post got taken down, here it is again. Witmer’s had the ingenious idea of releasing a bunch of free covers to promote his upcoming full-length Carry the Weight, and while they’re all worth tracking down, I keep coming back to this one. [Buy]

Bob Dylan – Miss the Mississippi (Jimmie Rodgers)
Bob recorded this in ’92, but it got its first official release a few months ago on the top-notch Tell Tale Signs outtake collection. People criticize Bob’s voice, but this song wouldn’t work without the lived-in grizzle age provides. [Buy]

Dec 102008
 

Regular readers will notice the appearance of ads in the past few days. I had hoped to avoid shilling out our space here, but though my expenses are small, they do add up. As you navigate the new look, I’d love some feedback in the comments. Are these ads a necessary evil, or are they annoying enough that you will visit the blog less? If you find them annoying though, you’ll note in the sidebar that if you sponsor the blog for a month, the ads go bye-bye.

The business out of the way, it’s time for December’s album! I’ll admit I was somewhat disappointed to see in the recent poll that this was the least popular feature we do here, but in my mind it is also what gives this blog a unique character among the litany of cover blogs you see on your right. So it’s not going anywhere. Who knows, it may just introduce you to a new favorite. This month’s is the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. A blues-rock classic, with several well-known songs and a classic album cover.

Gail Swanson – Sympathy for the Devil
The hellfire apocalypse of this Stones classic is stripped down to an acoustic grove, with plenty of Swanson’s soulful riffing. And is that a Jethro Tull-esq flute solo? Sweet. [Buy]

Odetta – No Expectations
A lot of good covers of this one, but we’ll feature a blues legend who just passed away last week. An inspiration from everyone from Bob Dylan to Rosa Parks, she found her voice in songs of hope and freedom during the 50’s and 60’s and kept growing strong through the 90’s, when she received a National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton. Listening to this song, you can see why. [Buy]

Dr. Sin – Dear Doctor
This South American metal group released a whole album of songs about doctors, yelling about everyone from Dr. Robert to Dr. Feelgood. They show a surprising adeptness at a bluesy folk sound here though, even (gasp) harmonizing. [Buy]

Barry Goldberg – Parachute Woman
Straight up electric blues that sounds straight outta Chicago, the crunchy guitar chugs along with some nice organ solos. Who needs words when you can say it all in the music? [Buy]

Gerald Collier – Jigsaw Puzzle
Slide guitar doesn’t just need to be for sappy country. It whirls and wails behind every line here, embellishing the driving rhythm. [Buy]

Rage Against the Machine – Street Fighting Man
Hard distortion and aggressive drumming, it’s all one would expect from the Rage. [Buy]

Rude Dog – Prodigal Son (Rev. Robert Wilkins)
It’s not a Stones original, but Mr. Dog gives it as good a treatment as Mick and Keith did, hopping along while making heavy use of that little scraper instrument everyone used in kindergarten. I miss that thing. [Buy]

Johnny Winter – Stray Cat Blues
Guitar god Johnny Winter never leaves anything out when he’s rocking, and he goes all out here in this cut from his ’74 classic Saints & Sinners full of pedophilia goodness. Blues rock at its most badass. [Buy]

The Radiators – Factory Girl
Some New Orleans funk here from a classic bayou jam band. True to jam tradition, it’s a live one, and go here to hear it in the context of a longer medley that includes “Quinn the Eskimo,” “Lonesome Whistle Blow” and “Mountain Jam.” [Buy]

Dandy Livingstone – Salt of the Earth
Reggae straight out of Kingston, Dandy’s not afraid to let the strings and steel drum shine, serving the vocals (both his and the chorus’) instead of distracting from them. I’m surprised McCain didn’t use this one to introduce Joe the Plumber. One of the best of the bunch. [Buy]

Dec 022008
 

I’ve got a confession: I think Justin Timberlake has talent. Lots of it. That isn’t to say I actually listen to him very much, but he seems to be able to make popular culture work for him, rather than just being swept along like so many other hitmakers. The guy’s got charisma to spare, and with the inevitable Dick in a Box spin-off season coming up soon, why not celebrate his many hits?

Shawn Lee’s Ping-Pong Orchestra – Rock Your Body
Bossa nova horn disco reggae lounge funk…it’s an interesting mix, and mostly instrumental. [Buy]

David Porteous – My Love
He’s got six covers up for free on his site, and they’re all great! [Buy]

Maximo Park – Like I Love You
Bouncy and fun, this comes from the great Radio 1 compilation, celebrating the BBC show’s 40th anniversary with forty covers, one song from each year. Well worth snagging. [Buy]

Glen Hansard – Cry Me a River
A radio broadcast with an obnoxious host, this one takes a while to really get going, but once that violin comes in to join the Once singer’s voices it’s smooth sailing. [Buy]
Update: Version without the host added. Thanks Ayla!

Boyce Avenue – Lovestoned
These guys are masters of the pop cover, having dozens of great acoustic ones ready for download. Some nice rhythmic plucking pushes along powerful vocals that, just like JT, aren’t afraid of a little falsetto. [Buy]

Kaki King – I Think She Knows
Originally an interlude of “Lovestoned,” King extracts it and makes it its own song on the just-released Guilt By Association Vol. 2 comp. [Buy]

James Eric – Sexyback
Some more sensitive acoustic guy. It just seems to work with Justin songs; not sure why. [Buy]

Tobias Froberg – What Goes Around Comes Around
Is that accordion in a JT cover? I think I’m in love. [Buy]

Umphrey’s McGee – Dick in a Box
The jam masters rocked this one out for eight minutes in Portland ’07. It’s smooth, jazzy, and sexy as it wants to be. [Buy]