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.
August Greene (Common/Robert Glasper/Karriem Riggins) ft Brandy – Optimistic (Sounds of Blackness cover)
First formed to soundtrack Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary 13th, August Greene is a supergroup of rapper Common, jazz pianist Robert Glasper, and drummer Karriem Riggins, who has backed everyone from Paul McCartney to his mentor J Dilla. The star of their first release though is featured vocalist Brandy, who reinvents a song first performed by a 40-piece gospel choir in 1991, written and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Bettye LaVette – Things Have Changed (Bob Dylan cover)
Soul great Bettye LaVette releasing a full album of Dylan covers? Say no more, we’re already sold. Doubly so once we heard the gritty, groovy title track.
Dresage – Linger (The Cranberries cover)
It should be no surprise that the best Cranberries cover released after Dolores O’Riordan’s death was recorded before it. The covers that come out immediately following a tragedy can be many things: cathartic, moving, celebratory, sad. They also tend to be pretty similar to the original songs. After all, it takes time to work on a rearrangement, to really make a song one’s own. This one took four years apparently, recorded in 2015 and just released now.
Jimi Hendrix – Mannish Boy (Muddy Waters cover)
This song has circulated among collectors for some time, but it finally gets an official release on upcoming collection Both Sides of the Sky. The producers say this will be the final album collected from his outtakes, which – I’ll believe it when I see it. But if it is, this a strong note to go out on. Even near his end, Jimi sounds full of joy and light; just listen to him singing along with his guitar lines.
Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr – Ain’t That a Shame / Maybelline (Fats Domino / Chuck Berry cover)
— Al Kahn 💃🎤📷🔭👽🥁 (@idolxfactor1) January 29, 2018
The Grammys couldn’t have found anyone better suited to pay tribute to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry than pianist Jon Batiste and guitarist Gary Clark Jr. In a thrilling two minutes, they joyously celebrate what made both pioneers great. The two best covers of the night, back to back.
Liz Huett – You Don’t Know How It Feels (Tom Petty cover)
Chris Stapleton and Emmylou Harris got all the attention performing “Wildflowers” at the Grammys, but for my money the best Tom Petty cover to come out this month was Huett’s slow-pop reimagining of one of his biggest hits. As I mentioned with the Cranberries cover, it takes time to reinvent a song from scratch. Huett didn’t hustle something out in October to capitalize on the Petty mourning. She took her time, missing the news cycle perhaps, but more than paying off creatively.
Meshell Ndegeocello – Sometimes It Snows in April (Prince cover)
On upcoming covers album Ventriloquism, Meshell Ndegeocello (no apostrophe now) covers TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” and George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” But to announce the record, she released a gorgeous and subtle version of the song that became Prince’s eulogy when he died in April 2016.
Prep School – Freak on a Leash (Korn cover)
I assumed when I first heard it that this slow, ethereal cover sounded quite different than the Korn original. But, to be thorough, I re-listened to the original to double-check. I only made it about thirty seconds before I had to stop. Yes, this version is very different. Thank god.
The Tallest Man on Earth – When We Were Young (Adele cover)
I don’t know anything about the Swedish game show this was performed on, but it makes me think we need something like it in America. Wheel of Fortune would be vastly improved if every now and then Vanna White would say, “Please welcome The National covering Taylor Swift!”
Tommy Emmanuel ft. Amanda Shires – Borderline (Madonna cover)
Guitar great Tommy Emmanuel’s new version of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay)” is, as Walt Falconer wrote for us yesterday, revelatory. But I can’t stop spinning this other cover from his new album Accomplice One, a sprightly run through a Madonna hit with fiddle player Amanda Shires.
Amanda Palmer & Jherek Bischoff – No Need To Argue (The Cranberries cover)
Angel Olsen – Since You Broke My Heart (The Everly Brothers cover)
Bad Wolves – Zombie (The Cranberries cover)
Beth Ditto – I’m Alive (Johnny Thunder/Tommy James and the Shondells cover)
Japanese Breakfast – California Dreamin’ (The Mamas and the Papas cover)
Joan Baez – Whistle Down the Wind (Tom Waits cover)
Juliana Hatfield – A Little More Love (Olivia Newton-John cover)
MAST ft. Makaya McCraven and Jonah Levine – Let’s Cool One (Thelonious Monk cover)
Moon Duo – No Fun (The Stooges cover)
Ryan Kinder – Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
VÉRITÉ – John, My Beloved (Sufjan Stevens cover)