Andrew Bird is not a man known for simplicity. Pushing the boundaries of songwriting and production seems to be his normal operating mode, with choices like recording an album standing in a river and writing and recording an entire film score all by himself. Amongst all that complexity, his recent cover of Neil Young’s iconic Harvest Moon is surprisingly simple.
Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
Many musicians cover Bob Dylan songs, but few pick “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It’s easy to see why. The song has one chord, very little melody, and a whole lot of dense lyrics (even by Dylan standards). As a result, most of the few covers out there tend to be a slog.
So all credit due to The Lumineers and Andrew Bird, who manage to make it their own on a new cover for Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary. The “Ho Hey” bass drum propels the track forward and Bird’s violin breaks give the tune a slight Middle Eastern feel.
It’s no secret at this point that in addition to being a comedian, actor, and confused scientist, John C. Reilly is a more than credible folksinger. He recently joined Andrew Bird and Tom Brosseau on Bird’s living room couch for just about the best use of Facebook Live we’ve seen. The trio performed a bunch of folk covers, songs you might know from the Carter Family, Delmore Brothers, and more. They also do a more recent tune, “Cathedrals” by the Handsome Family, a band Reilly has opened for.
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…
Back in March, it was announced that several indie acts were teaming up with Yellow Bird Project, an organization that works with musicians to raise money for charities. Yellow Bird Project has released a cover album, called Good People Rock, which is comprised of “friends covering friends and strangers covering strangers.” One of these covers is Andrew Bird‘s crisp take on The New Pornographers “Fake Headlines.”