Jan 232015

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!

The sun must have been approximately eight inches from my forehead as I wound my way through a crush of warm bodies – all of them panting and glistening in the fierce Texas heat. Perspiration beaded and trickled down the damp necks of an expectant crowd; condensation beaded and trickled down their cans of Lagunitas.

With the first loud and clear ring of an electric guitar, a roar arose from the crowd, and Paolo Nutini strutted onto stage at Austin City Limits – shirt unbuttoned like a golden god of 70s rock, tight pants that might have been painted onto his lithe frame, and a tousled mane that exemplified the definition of “sex hair.”

And then, the man proceeded to take us to church.
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They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

This shouldn’t be as difficult as it turned out to be. A cover song birthday tribute to someone as talented as Jill Sobule, someone who has one of those songs that everybody seems to know, one that, in the benighted era of 1995, was considered a milestone in the mainstreaming of same-sex relationships (predating the famous Ellen kiss by a couple of years), should be a piece of (birthday) cake. Someone like that, with nearly a dozen studio releases and multiple soundtracks and compilation album appearances, should be pretty widely covered, making our job easier. Because that’s what we do here to commemorate artists’ birthdays — we write about cover versions of their songs. And yet, covers of Jill Sobule songs are surprisingly difficult to come by. I thought about asking for a dispensation from the Cover Me Powers That Be to write instead about Sobule’s covers of others, which are plentiful and interesting. But my pride refused to let me cave in, so after some hard work mining the Internet and wading through way too many YouTube videos of (mostly) young women sitting in their bedrooms strumming ukuleles or acoustic guitars into webcams (and an unfortunate number of covers of Katy Perry’s inferior copycat girl kissing song), I was fortunate to discover a few worthy covers for this piece.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

“Hey Joe” ranks right up there with “Stagolee” in the list of deathless murder ballads, and we have Billy Roberts to thank for its existence.

Billy Roberts? Who he, you ask, as did I, long believing the tale that Tim Rose spun about it being trad.arr. It certainly should be, call and refrain being common features within the traditional canon, but there isn’t enough evidence to nail that theory, so Billy Roberts, a ’60s coffeehouse folkie, has the official rights thereto. (Never mind the theory that he “gave” the song to Dino Valente, author of the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” in order to give Valente some royalty income while he was in prison.)
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Dec 122014

Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

Back when we redesigned the site in 2010, we created basic star icons to represent the ratings we’d give an album when we reviewed it. 2 stars, 3.5 stars, etc. When we posted an album review, we’d find the corresponding icon where we last uploaded it. However, earlier this year we couldn’t find one of the icons we were looking for. Why? It turns out we’d never used it. We’d never before given an album a perfect five stars.

This year, for the first time, we did. Which should suffice to say it’s been an excellent year for cover albums. True, a few of the marquee tributes we most eagerly anticipated fell flat, either too formulaic (The Art of McCartney) or too out-there (that Flaming Lips’ Sgt. Peppers tribute we’ll never speak of again). But in the cracks and under the radar, cover and tribute albums thrived.

In our list of the twenty best, we’ve got everything from big names on major labels to DIY projects thrown up on Bandcamp. We’ve got New Orleans jazz, Parisian dub reggae, and songs that were popular when your great-great-great-great grandfather was calling town dances. Something for everyone, I guess. Something for all our fwends (sorry, that was the last time, promise).

Start the countdown on Page 2…


Why?

That’s the first question that comes to mind when listening to A Little Help From My Fwends, the Flaming Lips’ album that covers all of the Beatles’ seminal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This isn’t an inherently bad question to ask, though, especially with this band. From making a 4-disc album meant to be played simultaneously (or in any combination) to releasing a USB drive of love songs inside a chocolate, anatomically correct heart, the Lips have always had a degree of quirky, unbridled (and seemingly unchecked) compulsion guiding their career. This seeming inability to reign in their impulse to do whatever idea comes to mind has resulted in a ton of great music and a feverish cult following.
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They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

The American Dream is to be self-made. To carve out an identity wholly one’s own and to succeed beyond one’s wildest imagination.

The life and times of Shawn Carter are a blueprint of the American Dream and bear striking resemblance to one of modern American fiction’s greatest protagonists, Jay Gatsby.

Both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous parvenu and the Brooklyn-born MC sprung from conceptions of themselves – impoverished Midwestern teenager James Gatz morphed into the infamous Jay Gatsby while Shawn Carter took on the nom de rappeur Jay-Z.

Both knew the excesses and trappings of extraordinary wealth as young men and both fell in love with golden girl goddesses with voices full of money.

One noteworthy difference between Gatsby and Jay-Z?

Gatsby was a man, a mere mortal, damned and doomed from the onset, whereas Jay-Z is also Jay-Hova, and gods are not as easily felled.
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Dec 022014

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

Defense? I never knew Linda Ronstadt was under attack. OK, not true, I’ve known she tends to get many a sneery put-down from “real” musos, dissing both her voice and her choices of material, citing that “real” artists have way more credibility (and way fewer sales.) Beautiful but soulless, they call her and her voice, short on originality and innovation. A famous early putdown was around her being merely a competent backing singer, the irony being that ability potentially defines far greater technique than the relative ease of a solo performance, as those who have sung with her (Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and legions more) have been more than happy to testify. I guess it stems down to generalizations around any successful artist, particularly if blessed also with photogenicity and famous boyfriends.
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Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

 
“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody),” which first appeared on their 1983 album Speaking in Tongues (as well as on their incredible 1984 live album / soundtrack Stop Making Sense), is one of the few songs in the Talking Heads catalogue that could be considered a “love song.” In interviews, the band’s singer/lyricist David Byrne says that he made a conscious choice to make it a “real love” song, but sought to avoid making it too corny or simplistic (the “naïve melody” parenthetical shows the kind of self-awareness that made Byrne such a strong and strange creative force). The result is a song that, while lacking any kind of narrative, is brimming with poignant single lines that makes up for an emotional experience.
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