A few months back, Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium hosted two star-studded tribute concerts to Bob Dylan to celebrate his 75th birthday. Kesha performing “I Shall Be Released” was the big news-maker as her first high-profile performance during her ongoing legal battle, but many other members of country and Americana royalty also took the stage for an amazing couple nights. The full thing was webcast, but it hasn’t been archived anywhere, so if you missed that you were stuck with grainy YouTube videos – until now. We’ve got every song to stream below (except Kesha, which wasn’t webcast, presumably for legal reasons). For the first time since that night, you can hear pristine recordings of Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Kurt Vile, Emmylou Harris, Butch Walker, Wynonna Judd, Boz Scaggs, Langhorne Slim, John Paul Williams of the Civil Wars, Ann Wilson of Heart, and more covering their favorite Dylan songs, many for the first time ever.
This past weekend was the Northside Festival, sort of Brooklyn’s answer to SXSW and CMJ. In addition to hundreds of baby bands, they had a few big-name headliners, including the pairing of Kacey Musgraves and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. They guested during each others sets: Musgraves sang her own “Back to the Map” during his, then he returned during hers for a duet cover of Hank Williams‘ classic “Hey Good Lookin’.”
Kacey Musgraves, a traditionalist country star trying to drag her genre out of New Nashville Hell, is a fitting choice to pay tribute to a musical act that in the 2000s did the impossible and wrote a universal indie/rap/pop/whatever hit that was so good you didn’t roll your eyes when Rolling Stone named it the #1 song of the decade.
During her set at the 2016 Cayamo cruise Musgraves covered Gnarls Barkley‘s “Crazy” almost 10 years to the date of its release. She turned the fun, beat-driven groove into a dark meditation about losing your mind.
Before he turned to dance music, Las Vegas’s Shamir tried to become a country star. A local producer nixed the idea though, and while it helped him turn to the sound that is so buzzy right now, it was a definite loss for country. He’s shown that before, with a great cover of Linda Ortega and Miranda Lambert, and now he does it again covering Kacey Musgraves‘ “Merry ‘Go Round.”
Stepping outside of comfort zones is an interesting test for musicians. Do they only do one thing well or can they sound authentic when they move into other genres? CMT Crossroads recently paired Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry for a set of each other’s songs and a couple of covers. It may look like a battle of the lightweights, but Musgraves revealed a relaxed stage presence and effortless, clear vocals while Perry’s voice sounded forced, at times, and she seemed to be trying a little too hard, at least on the country tunes.
April was the best month for covers of the year so far. There’s no particular reason for that, I suspect. These things just ebb and flow. But the fact remains that it was a proverbial embarrassment of riches, as the length of the list below confirms.
As always, there’s no quality difference between the main picks and the honorable mentions; a cover’s categorization is only determined by how much I had to say about it.