Dec 132013
 

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10. Various Artists
שירים משומשים: פרשנויות בעברית לשירי טום ווייטס

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Tom Waits reportedly hates thrown-together compilations like Used Songs 1973-1980. We suspect he’d prefer this album of the same name, translated as Used Songs: Hebrew Covers of Tom Waits. And that’s exactly what it is, songs from throughout his career translated into Hebrew and – more importantly – translated across genres. Far from being karaoke-in-another-country renditions, “God’s Away on Business” becomes an oompah dirge and “Lie To Me” a clap-along cabaret.

9. Kendra Morris
Mockingbird

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If you ever read Wax Poetics, you the über-hip magazine has its ear closer to the (under)ground on funk, soul, jazz, a dusty crate finds than most anyone out there. Their record label offshoot is equally fastidious, releasing nuggets by people you’ve never heard of. Kendra Morris’ covers album features what wounds like an ace group of studioheads going for the old-new soul sound, sort of Stax meets Rhye. It fits the carefully curated selection of offbeat covers – Metallica, the Proclaimers, Soundgarden – perfectly.

8. Bhi Bhiman
Substitute Preacher

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At a Carnegie Hall tribute to Prince earlier this year, Bhi Bhiman stole the show as one of the few musicians to decline the Roots to use as a backing band, instead performing a solo “When Doves Cry.” Though that song is sadly not on this EP, six others from the same general era are, like the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and Dire Straits “Walk of Life,” which he calls “my story.”

7. Scott Matthew
Unlearned

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Little we can say about this album will make it sound appealing. It’s a bearded singer-songwriter covering well-known songs on acoustic instruments. Yawn. You’ll just have to trust us, this is something special.

6. Various Artists
Beatles Reimagined

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You may know this tribute album as “the one with Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” since you probably haven’t heard of any of the other bands on it. Don’t let that dissuade you. Taking only songs from the early Fab Four catalog, the contributions span from a beautifully folky “All My Loving” by the Well Pennies to a ’70s disco version of “I Wanna Be Your Man” by Night Panther (it works better than you’d expect).

5. Thriftstore Masterpiece
Trouble Is a Lonesome Town

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When Lee Hazlewood recorded his debut album Trouble Is a Lonesome Town, he said his songs were really just demos for more professional singers to build on. Well it didn’t really work out that way – no one else played them. Now, 50 years later, producer Charles Normal recruited a band including Pixies’ Frank Black, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, and his now-late brother, Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman to remedy that. In the process, they realize Hazlewood’s vision by elaborating on it, creating a spaghetti western soundtrack to a movie not yet made.

4. Kenny Feinstein
Loveless: Hurts to Love

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The tag line for this one is simple: “My Bloody Valentine goes acoustic.” The defining characteristics of the original Loveless album – noise, distortion, feedback – are all out the window, replaced by acoustic guitar, violin, and…is that a harpsichord? What should be a novelty curio though becomes surprisingly affecting though, with deep care taken to arrange the songs in interesting, unexpected ways. It sounds like a gag, but you end up coming back to it again and again.

3. Various Artists
I’ll Scratch Yours

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The companion piece to Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back album – in which the artists he covered cover him back – was starting to look like the cover world’s Detox. Originally slated to come out in 2010, it was delayed repeatedly as artists dropped out or missed deadlines. And though it’s true we’ll now never know what Radiohead and Neil Young would sound like covering Peter Gabriel (they both bailed), the resulting album is still worth the wait. Bon Iver’s swirling “Come Talk to Me” and Randy Newman’s dripping-with-sarcasm “Big Time” round out one of the most ambitious cover projects of the past few years in grand fashion.

2. Shearwater
Fellow Travelers

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If you didn’t know the conceit behind Fellow Travelers, you might not know it was a covers album. The songs are mostly obscure and for good reason – these are all bands that Shearwater toured with at one point, from a few stadium-fillers (Coldplay) to the majority niche artists (Baptist Generals). The band’s Renaissance Faire-rock makes them all of a piece though, so that the one original song (“A Wake for the Minotaur”) seems a natural evolution from the varying influences.

1. Xiu Xiu
Nina

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Xiu Xiu’s Nina Simone tribute album isn’t an easy listen. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable one either. What it is though is riveting. Their art-student blurts and skronks draw your attention so closely you not only hear every word, but every tortured moan and strangled gasp. You feel as if you lose focus for a second this listing, unwieldy racecar of a record will throw you off and you’ll never make it back on. It sounds like Scott Walker singing over Marc Ribot and a trio more “nu” of nu jazz, covers of a soulful singer by a band that seems to have never heard of soul, or funk, or blues, or anything but Captain Beefheart and a ranting homeless man one time on the subway. Surely weirder records were released this year somewhere, but a weirder covers albums we have yet to hear – this year or any.

Check back Monday for Best Cover Songs of 2013

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