May 252018
 
bill murray bob dylan

Last night, tons of venues all over the world held Bob Dylan tribute concerts to celebrate his birthday. New York’s Town Hall was one of them, but with a twist: They had performers cover only the songs Bob himself played there in a famous 1963 concert. This led to some real deep cuts mixed in with the early Freewheelin’-era classics.

And that wasn’t the only thing unusual about the evening. Two of the biggest names were not, technically, singers. Bill Murray warbled “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and Steve Buscemi recited “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” (the song that got Dylan kicked off Ed Sullivan). Buscemi delivered a fantastically passionate reading of his deep cut, while Bill Murray – well, it was nice of him to show up, and we’ll leave it at that. Continue reading »

May 222018
 

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

stars cover songs

Last year, we said Stars’ version of “This Charming Man” was the best cover of the song ever. You know who agreed with us? Smiths drummer Mike Joyce (he called it the best Smiths cover period). You know who else? Prince.

Stars frontman Torquil Campbell (he’s on the right in that photo) tells the full story below in his Pick Five entry. And he’s a man who knows his covers. In 2016, Stars launched a monthly covers series, tackling everyone from Bob Dylan to a pre-MAGA Kanye West. Not only were the covers great individually, but the disparate source material fit together perfectly under the Canadian collective’s signature indie-pop umbrella. Here are some highlights: Continue reading »

May 222018
 

john wesley harding coversOn “Bastard Son,” one of the early recordings by John Wesley Harding, the singer, songwriter, novelist and overall renaissance man self-describes himself as the bastard son of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, a description that seems to be pretty much accurate. Whether you are listening to one of the albums released under his nom de plume or reading one of his novels under his given name Wesley Stace, the conclusion is the same. This is one talented guy. Continue reading »

Pick Five: Wussy

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May 172018
 

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

wussy cover songs

Next year marks the fiftieth birthday of Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” record reviews. His blurbs pioneered the idea of giving albums letter grades, and he’s graded thousands over the years. In the 2010s, though, he’s only awarded a coveted A+ four times. The recipients: A Tribe Called Quest, Laurie Anderson, Vampire Weekend, and… Wussy. As if that wasn’t high enough praise, in that Wussy review for 2014’s Attica! he dubs them “the best band in America.”

He’s not alone, either. This Ohio band, based around the duo of Chuck Cleaver (formerly of Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker – middle and left in that top photo, respectively – has become a critics’ darling in recent years. Their new album What Heaven Is Like should only continue that trend. Billboard’s already called it “a concise 10-song meditation on hope and fear,” and it doesn’t come out until tomorrow.

Two of those ten songs are covers, the first time the band’s included any on a proper album. Not that most listeners will probably realize that they’re covers; these music superfans dig deep into the vaults, covering cult favorite folkie Kath Bloom’s “Oblivion” and 1970s garage rockers The Twinkeyz’ “Aliens in Our Midst.” Listen to the latter: Continue reading »

May 152018
 
scary pockets

You probably haven’t heard of California funk duo Scary Pockets. We hadn’t either, until stumbling upon their amazing sax-jazz cover of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory highlight “Pure Imagination.” But we should have. Turns out their keyboard player, Jack Conte, was half of one of YouTube’s first viral covers groups: Pomplamoose. (Conte also founded popular crowdfunding platform Patreon – needless to say, Scary Pockets has a page).

That’s the resume, but what hooked me before I discovered any of that were their new cover videos. Like a ’70s funk version of Postmodern Jukebox, Conte and his guitarist partner Ryan Lerman bring in guest singers for vintage soul takes on pop hits across the genre map. Start where I did, with a smooth jazz take on “Pure Imagination” featuring saxophonist Sam Gendel. Continue reading »

May 142018
 
bill murray el paso

Originally recorded by Marty Robbins in 1959 on his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album, the song “El Paso” just might be the quintessential country and western ballad. Winning a Grammy for Best Country & Western song in 1961, there have been a lot of excellent cover versions over the years, including a relatively recent live version recorded at the Spotify studios by Shovels & Rope, an amped up rendition by The Old 97’s that was featured on a King of the Hill soundtrack, and Tom Russell, someone that has spent a lot of time in El Paso, lends a passionate voice to the song on his record Indians, Cowboys, Horses, Dogs. Continue reading »