When delivered with passion and a reverence for the record being covered, a track-for-track covers album reimagining an iconic album by someone’s musical heroes can result in an intoxicating listen. Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong mined this territory on 2013’s Foreverly, an album paying tribute to the Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The Walkmen took the format to the next level, inhabiting the very essence of the John Lennon-produced Harry Nilsson cult classic Pussycats with Pussycats Starring The Walkmen. And now, in 2018, the Austin-based Americana group The Band of Heathens have delivered A Message from the People Revisited, a timely tribute to the Ray Charles record A Message from the People, originally released in 1972.
Rod Stewart, one of the most prolific cover song performers around, is also an underrated songwriter. While his first two solo albums after departing The Faces included several cover songs – sterling versions of Dylan’s “Only A Hobo” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” – his superior self-penned tunes including “Gasoline Alley” from his second proper release, and the beautiful “Mandolin Wind” from Every Picture Tells a Story are the songs that really cemented his legacy.
Unless you are a fan of his band Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies back in the day, you might not know the name, Mike Farris. A Grammy winner in the Gospel category for his 2014 album Shine For All The People, Farris takes a more secular approach on his latest record, Silver & Stone. Full of soulful songs in the mold of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ Paul Janeway, the album includes a couple of top-notch cover songs including a version of Sam Cooke’s “I’ll Be Coming Running Back To You.”
It feels good to think about Jim Croce. His short, mercurial career consisted of just three records, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, Life and Times, and the posthumously released I Got A Name, which was completed just a week before Croce’s death in a plane crash on September 20, 1973. At the time of his death, he was right up there with fellow singer-songwriters Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and his trajectory was clearly on the rise.
The original “I Got A Name” single was released the day after the plane crash and hit number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The song, along with being the theme for the movie The Last American Hero, was also featured prominently in the movies Django Unchained, The Ice Storm, and Invincible. Now, Jim’s son A.J. Croce has released his cover of “I Got a Name” to honor his father.
Having been working for a mind-boggling six decades, Cher is set to release an album of ABBA covers called Dancing Queen in September. The ear-worm classics “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and “Fernando” are all present and accounted for, along with some deeper cuts like “One of Us” and “Chiquitita.” It’s a quick and canny follow-up to her appearance in the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. In the movie, Cher appears as the mother of Donna, the matriarch played by Meryl Streep where she sings “Fernando” to Andy Garcia and pops up again with the entire ensemble on “Super Trouper.”
The Depeche Mode song “Personal Jesus” was originally recorded and released on their 1990 album Violator. Although it was a mid-level hit, reaching number 13 on the Billboard 200, the bluesy rhythm of the song was a bit of a departure for the die-hard fans. The Mona Lisa of cover versions of the song is, of course, the Johnny Cash rendition that appeared on the Rick Ruben produced American IV: The Man Comes Around, and Sammy Hagar then gave the tune some rock&soul on 2013’s Sammy Hagar and Friends. A personal favorite, the surf guitar version by Los Banditos could fit in quite nicely in any Quentin Tarantino movie.