If you are not hip to the Greta Van Fleet scene, these four young men from Frankenmuth, Michigan are the latest band to be duly designated as the saviors of Rock and Roll. With a sound that soars somewhere between Black Sabbath, Bad Company, and Led Zeppelin, these guys are masters of throwback ’70s heavy riffage rock and wear the crown quite proudly. The band announced themselves in 2017 with a couple of smokin’ EPs that came together with From the Fires, a set that featured the hit “Highway Tune,” a song that hit number one on the mainstream rock radio charts. For what that is worth. Currently touring the country in mostly sold-out House of Blues sized venues with the Robert Plant worthy wail of Josh Kiszka as frontman, these guys should be poised to be the next big thing. Unless of course, they aren’t.
At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close.
Mark Erelli seems one of the good guys: prolific in the often solitary and lonely furrow of singer-songwritery, under the radar of most observers, weaving his nuanced mix of country and folk that never fails to beguile my ears. Lord knows how he makes a living. Along with others like Jeffrey Foucoult (with whom he has collaborated) Damien Jurado and the Joshes Rouse and Ritter (another collaborator) he seems always there in the background, a reliable source of well-crafted songs, never troubling the mainstream nor stealing the show.
Although he has a healthy and extensive repertoire of his own songs, covers are very much also his stock in trade, as a visit to his website soon reveals, with a monthly free download of the month – often a cover – unavailable elsewhere. (As I write his excellent version of “Midnight Rider” is serenading me, the January freebie.) He also performs an annual series of shows entitled ‘Under the Covers’ – sadly in the wrong continent for this writer to ever catch.
Tommy Emmanuel is a guitar player’s guitar player. Just ask the late Chet Atkins, who christened Emmanuel a C.G.P. (Certified Guitar Player) and named him one of the five most versatile guitar pickers in the world. Known mostly for his whirlwind fingerpicking style – think Roy Clark or early Glen Campbell – the Australian native recently transplanted to Nashville has just released Accomplice One, a record that features eclectic and cool cover songs performed with equally diverse duet partners including Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Rodney Crowell, Mark Knopfler and ukelele maestro Jake Shimabukuru.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
When it comes to musical taste, there’s a million shortcuts to figuring out which side of the tracks you stand on. Here’s one of the fastest: Do you like The Fall?
If the answer is “no,” you’re in good company. Of course, there’s no definitive way to tell how many people aren’t Fall fans, but statistically speaking, almost nobody likes the band’s clattering, repetitive, willfully out-of-tune, misanthropic, oblique and downright perplexing music.
But if the answer is “yes,” you’re in even better company. The Fall may represent the apex of the cult band, an aggressively obtuse art project spinning out over 40 years and a stunning number of ex-band members, mainly disgruntled ones at that. The only constant was the dark, twisted figure at its center: Mark E. Smith, who died January 24th, at the age of 60.
There are no shortages of Jason Molina tributes worth a listen. Given that he died of complications of alcoholism, such tributes tend to either emphasize the apocalyptic content of his songs as a kind of in-process suicide note or go the other way and play up aspects of his songs that bear witness to a stubborn and against-the-odds act of survival.
The key to two new covers’ success, though, is that where other tributes have often stemmed from their creator’s personal relationship to Molina – relationships that tended to color the songs as an argument about their creator – Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield came to this project out of a shared love for the songs themselves. The result is two faithful but interpolated duets, sung in the style of something like “Islands in the Stream.”