Sep 142018
 

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!

Airborne Toxic Event covers

It’s been a while since the Airborne Toxic Event has raised its collective voice. They’ve made many hints about an upcoming album, but no soap radio. They’ve played just half a dozen gigs in the last two and a half years. Founder Mikel Jollett keeps up a steady stream on his Twitter page, but the band’s tweets have slowed to a trickle. Last month they did note the tenth anniversary of the release of their debut album, which prompted one reader to ask if they’d ever release any new music. “Yes,” came the response, but with no elaboration. It’s enough to give the heebie jeebie jitters to the band’s sizable cult, who want to know what they’re going to do next and when they’re going to do it… if at all.

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Sep 112018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

whitehorse cover songs

Two years ago, Whitehorse, the Canadian husband-and-wife duo made up of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, made our Best of 2016 list with their covers EP The Northern South, Vol. 1. Well, a volume one demands a volume two (someone remind Bob Dylan), and that finally arrives in January. On The Northern South, Vol. 2, the pair cover blues legends like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo, but not in the bar-band-choogler fashion you most often hear these songs performed. Get a taste with the first single, a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin'” that sounds like Chess Records via Muscle Shoals:

You have to wait until January to hear more – unless you’re in Nashville this week, where the duo have two shows at AmericanaFest on Thursday: 4pm @ The Local (WMOT) and 10pm @ The Basement (I’ve seen them live, and can confirm they are not to be missed). Doucet and McClelland took some time out from rehearsing their own covers to tell us about their favorite cover songs. Though their music often gets pegged as bluesy Americana, their tastes span the genre gamut. They also, consciously or not, seem drawn to other bands with “horse” in the name. Continue reading »

Sep 072018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Was 1966 the pivotal year in popular music? Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Imploded makes a strong case for it, pointing to epochal records by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, and many others. Fueled by tectonic changes in politics and culture—the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, LSD, the pill, the yawning abyss of the Vietnam War—popular music burst through a perceptual wall, in the process changing from being the soundtrack behind events to being the events themselves. Nothing of the sort had ever happened before, and it’s possible nothing like it will ever happen again.

A wealth of inspired rock songs bubbled up to seize the public’s attention that year: The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.”

Oh, and the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”
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Sep 072018
 

kilonovaWilliam Elliott Whitmore is 40, but he has always sounded like a much older man, with a deep, soulful voice that gives everything he sings a certain gravitas.  Think Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or late Dylan, or most of all, Johnny Cash at his most apocalyptic.  If Whitmore sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” you’d still worry, and probably be unhappy.  I first heard Whitmore in 2006, opening for Lucero, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and was immediately transfixed by his timeless voice, dark songs, austere banjo, guitar and foot stomping accompaniment, and intense performance.

Born and raised on a 150-acre farm in southeastern Iowa, which he inherited from his parents and still owns, Whitmore grew up singing and playing guitar and banjo, with musical influences that started with country and moved toward punk as he got older.  At a certain point, though, Whitmore realized that he needed to focus on the folky, rustic, blues music that he grew up on–but with a punk edge.

So when Bloodshot Records released Kilonova, an album of covers of (mostly) lesser known songs from many musical eras, the question was, how would such a distinctive artist put his stamp on this block of diverse songs? “Diverse” barely begins to tell the story–artists range from Dock Boggs, to Johnny Cash,  to the Magnetic Fields to Bad Religion.

In short, the answer is, remarkably well.
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Aug 312018
 

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

Cat Stevens

It feels a little strange saying “spoiler alert” about a movie that’s closing in on fifty years old and is a huge cult favorite besides, but if you’ve seen Harold and Maude, you know the importance the Cat Stevens song “Trouble” has in the movie. The sequence is unforgettable, and one viewing will forever tie the song to that series of images.

Of course, the song didn’t need Harold and Maude to stand out – it was a key track on Mona Bone Jakon, the album that reintroduced Stevens to the listening public as an introspective singer-songwriter over a year and a half before the movie’s release. No longer a chamber-popster, Stevens looked long and hard at himself and humbly reported what he’d found to listeners who could relate. They still do.
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Aug 282018
 

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

devo covers

Devo released their brilliantly-titled debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! forty years ago today. Though later albums would yield bigger hits (we’re still a few years from “Whip It”), their debut remains their most iconic record. Blending their poppiest hooks with their artiest quirks, it works wonderfully as a statement of purpose.

As Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale told me when I wrote about their “Satisfaction” cover for my book (you can still read an excerpt of that chapter at The New Yorker), even completing the album became a monumental pain. Having Brian Eno produce your debut record would seem a coup, but sessions quickly became fractious. Devo wanted to record the album with zero studio experimentation. They’d honed the songs over several years of concerts and rehearsals, and saw no reason to change them. Eno did not go for that approach, sneaking into the studio with his pal David Bowie after the band left and adding new instruments at least once. The next morning, Devo caught on and wiped them. Devo’s instincts have rarely led them astray, but boy I’d be curious to hear what Bowie was trying to add to the tracks. Continue reading »