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20. Petra Haden
Petra Goes to the Movies
Petra Haden was in the news a few years back when her a cappella version of “Don’t Stop Believing” was repurposed by Glee without credit. And if Glee ever does a Who tribute show, they should do the same thing – Petra’s full-album reimagining of The Who Sell Out is revelatory. After being relatively quiet the past few years though, she follows those up by stepping back even further to classic movie themes. More than ever though, Petra’s version of a cappella sounds nothing like you remember from college, blending in digital effects and layers to reinvent the themes of Taxi Driver, A Fistful of Dollars, Goldfinger, and many more.
19. Ben Sollee
The Hollow Sessions
Following the critical breakthroughs of his past two albums where he became an NPR and TED darling, Ben Sollee retreated to his Kentucky home to revisit the music that inspired him to in the first place. That includes a lot of folk, naturally, but Sollee is an unusual folk artist in one regard: he plays the cello. So his covers of Gillian Welch and Tom Waits focus largely on plucked and bowed cello runs, with few acoustic guitars or banjos in sight. Folk songs without folk instruments.
18. Olivier Libaux
Uncovered: Queens of the Stone Age
Olivier Libaux’s cover band Nouvelle Vague means “new wave” in French, which is the genre they generally cover. On his new solo album, he attacks something very different: the sludgy paleolithic-rock of Queens of the Stone Age. To offset the band’s testosterone rage, he recruits exclusively female singers atop a jazz cabaret background. It would be ridiculous if it didn’t sound do good.
17. Mark Kozelek
Thank god for Mark Kozelek. Whether recording pensive tribute albums to Modest Mouse or AC/DC, he has done more for cover songs in the past decade than most. His latest takes what, for him, is an unusually simple challenge: he covers songs he likes. That’s all. That means prog, punk, and…Bruno Mars. If you’ve ever heard any of his other albums, cover or otherwise, you know the formula – but it’s a formula we hope he keeps repeating forever.
16. Murder By Death
As You Wish: Kickstarter Covers
This is a covers album that couldn’t have existed five years ago: one made of up of songs chosen entirely by fans on Kickstarter (specifically the well-heeled fans who paid $1K for the privilege). Murder By Death turn this hodgepodge of unrelated requests into a cohesive whole, making a transition from Tom Waits to Kenny Rogers to Elliott Smith seem perfectly natural.
Lemniscate: Uncovered Volume 2
Unwoman aka San Francisco cellist Erica Mulkey regularly plays with Rasputina and Amanda Palmer, which gives you an idea of the arty/cabaret/goth-lite scene she finds herself in. Armed with only looped cello and voice, she pays tribute to inspirations from all eras, transitioning from obvious precursors like the Cure to more recent fare – though we’ve all heard a million covers of MGMT’s “Kids” already, this is one worth hearing.
14. Various Artists
This Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver
Three years ago, John Prine got a well-deserved injunction of coolness from folks like My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers on Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: The Songs of John Prine. It made Pitchfork readers the world over wake up to what a great songwriter he was and here’s hoping The Music Is You does the same for John Denver, a huge-selling but critically underappreciated songwriter too often lumped in with ’70s schlock.
13. Billie Joe + Norah
In 1958, at the height of their fame, the Everly Brothers made the unexpected and uncommercial decision to release a covers album. And they not only didn’t cover anything that might earn them musical cred, they went the opposite direction to pick songs they learned from Papa Everly (was this the first “dad rock” album?). Now 55 years later, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones make an equally unexpected play, covering that Everly covers album top-to-bottom. These may be songs they learned from their great grandfathers at this point, but they never went out of style.
Five Spanish Songs
“It was 2013. The English language seemed spent, despicable, not easily singable. It felt over for English; good for business transactions, but that’s about it. The only other language I know is Spanish, and the only Spanish songs I really know are those of Sr. Chinarro, led by Antonio Luque.” So Destroyer’s Dan Bejar wrote about the songs on the this EP – all in Spanish, all by a band you probably don’t know. Doesn’t matter. It still sounds like a Destroyer record, light and lilting and always a little off.
11. Various Artists
Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys
When Hal Wilner compiled 43 tracks of pirate hollers and sea shanties for Rogues Gallery, it was hard to believe there even were that many. Turns out there are so many that he found 36 more for the sequel. He and co-producer Johnny Depp pulled from their stunning rolodexes to get Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and the man more perfect for this than any other: the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan. And don’t miss New Orleans “sissy bounce” artists Big Freedia and Katey Red doing a version of “Sally Racket” that sounds like what Jack Sparrow would tweak to.
Read the Top Ten on Page 3…