Jul 302015
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

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It is easy to understand how someone could find a pre-school appropriate cover of “Big Pimpin” musically lacking. By stripping all lyrical content from hip-hop and infusing a heavy dose of xylophone, artistic value becomes shaky. While this style of cover might fit well in a high school talent show, superficially they offer little more than a tight chuckle and warrant slightly more than a participatory prize.

So, why are these covers being defended?
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Jul 292015
 
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This year the Newport Folk Festival featured a lot of two things: surprise sit-ins and covers. Roger Waters played with My Morning Jacket, and they covered John Prine. Iron and Wine and Band of Horse’s Ben Bridwell formed a band, and they covered Talking Heads. Most notably, Dawes, Hozier, First Aid Kit, Gillian Welch, Deer Tick, and many more all formed a supergroup to cover a bunch of Bob Dylan songs (for the 50th anniversary of his legendary going-electric performance there). Continue reading »

Jul 242015
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

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Sticky Fingers is the third of the Rolling Stones’ three records (the other two being Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed) that defined their transition from great singles band to “the greatest rock and roll band in the world,” which at the time seemed no mere hyperbole. Furthermore, the 44 years on re-issue set is just out, both uniting and dividing its critics, and the band have just revisited the album by way of a complete live concert performance, arguably their strongest work this century (and it’s now available on iTunes).
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Jul 172015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

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Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
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Jul 152015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

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Rosemary Clooney’s lengthy career, though it felt a tumultuous ebb and flow, was anchored by a voice so smooth Bing Crosby called her “the best in the business.” She used that tender yet powerful voice to breathe life into an unexpected, and hastily written, Italian-American hit. Allegedly, Bob Merrill wrote “Mambo Italiano” while at an Italian restaurant in New York City. He phoned in the song (humming melody and all) to meet his deadline. This ode to the essence of a culinary experience brings with it a force majeure that seems to keep the song from ever being laid to rest.
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Jul 102015
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

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It’s hard to believe, but Flood, the breakthrough third album by They Might Be Giants, was released over a quarter of a century ago. Even harder to believe: John Flansburgh and John Linnell, the founders of the band, were only just getting started. They’ve since released another three dozen albums (counting compilations and live albums), won two Grammys, performed the theme songs for both Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, released the very first all-MP3 album by a major-label band (1999’s Long Tall Weekend), seen three of their children’s albums go gold, and sold more than four million records. Oh, and we can’t forget their pioneering Dial-A-Song phone line.

Yes, the two Johns know their stuff – and it shouldn’t be surprising that they know their cover songs as well. One of their signature songs is “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” and it’s a good bet many of their fans don’t know that the Four Lads sang it first, in 1953. They’re not half bad on a few others, too…
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Jul 092015
 

For John Heart Jackie duo Peter Murray and Jennie Wayne, covers are by far unknown territory – the Portland pair first met when they collaborated on a number of Sam Cooke tunes, and with this take on the Stevie Nicks classic “Wild Heart,” they show their prowess on cover grounds.

John Heart Jackie’s “Wild Heart” revels in its thumping drums, nimble guitar plucking and Wayne’s honeyed vocals. The charming indie folk duo gracefully work their way through this ‘80s classic, showing off warm vibes in a delicious slow burn cover which starts  mellow before culminating in a gentle frenzy of chills-inducing harmony.

Listen to John Heart Jackie here.

Jul 072015
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

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Bob Dylan has been referred to as “the most important figure in pop-culture history,” and as such his songs hold a special place. It’s become de rigueur for artists to cover Dylan tunes, even full albums, and they’ve done so with varying degrees of success. Pop culture writer Kelsey McKinney once explained that “a good cover takes a song and transforms it to fit the new artist”; if that’s the case, then 2014’s Off the Grid – Doin’ It Dylan by the Charlie Daniels Band is one of the greatest Bob Dylan cover albums out there.
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