“Grinnin’ in Your Face,” by Delta blues pioneer Son House is a sparse affair: House claps while he sings about the value of true friendship, and that pretty much sums it up. Powerful, catchy, and simple. The cover by L.A.-via-Oregon singer, ZZ Ward, keeps that simplicity while modernizing this classic.
Funkadelic is the slightly lesser known iteration of George Clinton‘s Parliament (who eventually toured under the name Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk), but their critically-acclaimed Maggot Brain is packed with, well, funky dance tracks (and one mind-blowing guitar solo). “Can You Get to That” highlights the ensemble, freestyle feel of the album, with multiple vocalists and plenty of impromptu shouts. Recently, former member of the Staples Singers, Mavis Staples, recorded her own soulful version.
The music of Mark Kozelek, whether made with his former band Red House Painters, under his own name, or as Sun Kil Moon, has been described many ways: dreamy, melancholic, and wistful come to mind. With the release of his newest covers album, Like Rats, you can add creepy to the list. The songs he’s picked to cover have lyrics that are alternately menacing and depressing, either overtly or because they’ve been stripped of their accompanying upbeat music. Kozelek has never shied away from darker themes in his music: the yearning loss in RHP’s “Michael,” death and loneliness (and maybe serial killers?) in SKM’s “Glenn Tipton,” regret and self-pity in his cover of John Denver’s “I’m Sorry.” Kozelek’s voice often soars over the intricate guitars, though, and its sweetness lends the songs a faint glimmer of hope. But on “Like Rats,” he sings a register lower than usual (more on that decision later) and piles dark song upon dark song until the listener is off-balance from the assault of negativity. The album is barely 30 minutes in length, and anything more might be too much.
A.V. Undercover from the A.V. Club has a very simple equation: 25 songs+25 artists= 25 unique covers. As each band enters the studio they choose from the remaining songs, covering them faithfully, or more often, creatively. The results speak for themselves over the years, from GWAR being stuck with Kansas‘ “Carry on My Wayward Son,” to Iron & Wine‘s version of George Michael‘s “One More Try,” to They Might Be Giants including the staff of the A.V. Club to join in on Chumbawamba‘s “Tubthumping.”
Frank Ocean‘s “Thinking Bout You” has a way of getting to you. Halfway through the track, as the cycle of verse-chorus-verse repeats yet again, the spacey song becomes something more than the sum of its parts. Ocean’s falsetto “I’ve been thinking bout forever” is brimming with emotional depth, giving the song a heaviness that rarely finds its way to today’s pop charts.
Mike Doughty, who first found fame in the mid-90′s with his alt-rock outfit Soul Coughing and has been a solo act since 2000, announced last week that his next album will be comprised of nothing but covers. The Flip is Another Honey, due out November 6th, has a tracklist covering commonplace songs (“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, “Southern Girls” by Cheap Trick) and lesser-known tracks (“Boy + Angel” by Doveman, “Ta Douleur” by Camille, “Mistress” by Red House Painters).
Country rockers Deer Tick are no strangers to covers, performing at times as the Nirvana cover band Deervana. Recently they headed to the AV Club’s Undercover project to take on the only Harvey Danger song anyone knows, “Flagpole Sitta.” Lead singer John McCauley admits right away that he chose the song because he “fucking loved that song” when he was a kid. Most of America’s youth agreed when it hit the airwaves back in 1998; the catchiness of the simple tune is undeniable. Deer Tick’s faithful cover doesn’t reveal anything new about the hit, but it’s a fun listen nonetheless.
The Black Keys‘ 2002 debut, The Big Come Up, was fuzzy, bluesy, and lo-fi. While much of the Keys’ blues attack has remained, one clear evolution is the soulfulness added to their repertoire over the years. Danger Mouse produced 2008′s Attack & Release and co-wrote 2011′s El Camino, and can be at least partially credited for the addition of choirs, organs, and some of the funkiness that has developed in the duo’s albums. 2010′s Brothers, though, produced some soulful pieces as well, without Danger Mouse’s input.