Minnesotan folksinger Mason Jennings has been known to cover songs that he particularly likes, whether they’re in his genre, like Bob Dylan and John Lennon classics, or they’re unexpected acoustic versions of Rage Against The Machine. In his recent video for The Voice Project, he adds one of rock’s best-known songs to his collection: Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.” Inspired by his Withers-fan parents and the unbelievable 2009 documentary Still Bill (which is available for streaming on Netflix if you haven’t seen it yet), Jennings pulled up a bar stool before his show with the Pines in Vancouver last week to record this gorgeous take on the ubiquitous song.
Last night, Brian Eno made his much-publicized appearance on The Colbert Report. As it turned out, though, he wasn’t the only musician in the building. Michael Stipe came out at the end to be permanently installed on Colbert’s new “Rock and Roll Shelf of Fame.” Without R.E.M. to front, he’s gonna have a lot of time on his hands. Eno soon popped back out for a “Lean on Me” sing-along.
When it comes to classic songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine,” finding fresh, unique covers can be almost impossible. Originally recorded back in 1971 by soul singer Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” has been covered by everyone from Sting to Michael Jackson to Eva Cassidy. But even a 40-year-old cover-prone song like “Ain’t No Sunshine” can be redone in an original way with a little bit of creativity and a lot of talent. Seattle-based neo-soul musician Anomie Belle happens to have both.
Though identical sisters The Watson Twins first broke through as backup for Jenny Lewis on Rabbit Fur Coat, they’ve stepped into the spotlight on their own with three albums of ethereal indie-folk. They follow up last year’s Talking to You, Talking to Me with the eclectic, literally-named EP Night Covers. The Kentucky-born duo revealed an intriguing range of artists in the tracklisting when they chatted with Cover Me last week. On Night Covers, they create a cohesive mini-album from diverse source material, staying true to the style established on their previous releases. The sisters told Cover Me that they “ha[d] a lot of fans asking for recordings of [live] covers” after playing the tracks on tour, which prompted them to take the pleasant, restrained, and occasionally quirky arrangements on Night Covers into the studio.
Yesterday we began our SXSW wrapup by introducing you to Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, Sondre Lerche, PS I Love You, Still Corners, and Candy Golde. Today we round things off with five more finds. These artists blew us away in Austin and, though they’ve never appeared on the site before, we’re sure they will again.
What Neil Diamond means to you depends on your frame of reference. It could mean The Jazz Singer film and soundtrack with the iconic hit “America.” It could mean singing “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning of Red Sox games. It could even mean Will Ferrell parodies on Saturday Night Live, but few don’t recognize the name. A prolific songwriter and performer, Neil Diamond sells out arenas and, unlike certain schmaltz-rock peers (read: Billy Joel), regularly releases new material. On his newest disc Dreams, Diamond interprets classic songs by Bill Withers, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, The Eagles and others. Johnny Cash‘s American series remains the most obvious point of comparison for any aging singer releasing back-to-roots covers, but unlike Cash, Diamond chose not to cover any current artists. He didn’t exactly unearth any buried treasures either. No, he chose to cover songs like “Hallelujah” (over 200 covers to date) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (144). Interpreting standards is a tricky business and albums turn out badly if the artist doesn’t choose the songs and arrangements with care. We’re looking at you, Rod.