Dec 092016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

tribute records

We’ve done a Best Cover Albums list every year since 2009. That list usually ends up being a reasonably even mix of various-artist tributes and single-artist records. But in all those lists, our number-one pick has been, without fail, a single-artist album (for those keeping score at home, we’ve awarded The Lemonheads, Peter Gabriel, Baaba Kulka, Neil Young and Crazyhorse, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, and Bob Dylan – who didn’t turn up to accept our prize either).

This single-artist streak is no coincidence. It is naturally easier for one artist, if he/she/they are good enough, to maintain consistent quality control over 10 or 15 tracks. Whereas even the best mixed-artist tribute records usually have one or two dud tracks. Take the National-curated Day of the Dead, certainly this year’s highest-profile tribute album. Some of these Grateful Dead covers were so good they’ll appear on next week’s Best Cover Songs of 2016 list. Many others were dreck, filler, or superfluous. So we ranked the record – spoiler alert – at #20, sort of an honorable-mention position.

Even various-artist tributes comprised of uniformly good covers typically don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. For example, we ranked MOJO Magazine’s Blonde on Blonde tribute pretty high this year because we liked just about every one of the Bob Dylan covers on offer. But there’s little common ground between an aggressive electronic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and a tender folk “I Want You.” The record is more a bunch of great cover-song fodder for mixes and playlists than a truly great and unified album.

I sound like I’m being critical, but again, these are among the best cover albums of the year. This is usually the most a various-artist tribute album can aspire to: more good covers, few bad ones.

But this year, for the first time in our eight years making these lists, a various-artist tribute album rose so all the way to the top. This album was not only good top to bottom, but it felt like a real album, not just a collection of covers. It ably walked the finest of lines: showcasing diverse approaches to the source material while just remaining cohesive enough to stand together as a complete listen.

I don’t want to give away what that number-one album is just yet. We’ll get there, and there’s already enough of a tendency with year-end lists to skip straight to #1 and ignore the rest. I no doubt have not helped by hyping this magical album that broke our eight-year streak. But every one of the twenty albums we picked offers something worth hearing.

We’ve got jazz-sax forays through prog-rock and twee-pop covers of vintage punk tunes. There’s a ’60s New York icon honoring her then-competitors in the British Invasion, and a band from that same British Invasion honoring their American inspirations. There are tributes to great musicians who died this year, and tributes to long-dead musicians who there’s no news hook for honoring now, just great songs.

This list itself is as “various artists” as it can get, a whole array of genres and styles with one common thread: musicians honoring their inspirations and influences. Let’s dig in.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

NEXT PAGE →

Aug 192016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

sketch10

With Out of Time, R.E.M. completed their transition from college band to global stardom, and they wanted their next album to move away from Time‘s gentle lushness and move into harder-rocking territory, more suited to the grunge-y times. But when the band members reconvened, they found they were no longer of a mind to write loud ‘n’ angry. Result: Automatic for the People, a meditation on loss that’s downbeat without being depressing, from a band turning away from a world begging to be conquered so it could consider its disquiet. The record wasn’t what they originally promised, but it didn’t disappoint either – it went top-five worldwide, and today it’s considered the band’s masterpiece, the kind of album you put on and then you just lie down and you let it engulf you (or so it is said).

“Every one of its 12 songs is worthy of attention,” MOJO said, and in 2007 the website Stereogum proved it with their tribute album Drive XV: A Tribute to Automatic for the People. A celebration of Automatic‘s 15th anniversary, the tribute featured artists who grew up with R.E.M. as a constant in their lives, and hearing that familiar band speaking with a new voice clearly made an impression on these musicians who were still discovering their own voices and the ways they could be raised.
Continue reading »

Apr 302015
 
blitzentrapper

In 2008, Blitzen Trapper‘s album Furr generated a lot of buzz, as well as a standout track in the title song. Flash forward a few albums to 2013’s VII, and the experimental indie-folk group out of Portland sound as if they’ve left some of the wilder stuff behind and headed solidly into a southern-rock/jam band inspired direction. Last year their live cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in Me” with Dawes stuck to this blueprint, and now they continue in the same vein with their most recent cover of Neil Young. Continue reading »

Nov 172011
 

“The Man in Me” was originally recorded and released by Bob Dylan on his 1970 album New Mornin. The track has earned a place in our cultural lexicon as the theme from the 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski. The star of the cult classic, Jeff Bridges has recently been performing the song as part of his post-Crazy Heart music career. Continue reading »

Apr 202011
 

Guided by Voices are a truly influential band in the indie music sphere. Their 20+ year run provided the sonic groundwork for the lo-fi, DIY aesthetic so prevalent in today’s indie music scene. So it comes as no surprise that so many artists would be willing to provide covers from all eras of Guided by Voices work for the tribute album, Sing For Your Meat. Ranging from veterans such as The Flaming LipsThurston Moore (of Sonic Youth fame), and Lou Barlow, to artists more recently making names for themselves like La Sera and Blitzen Trapper, the bands on this 23-track tribute pay loving homage to a band without whom they might not exist.

Things kick off with a slightly sped up, straight forward rock cover of “Scalding Creek” by Kelly Deal and Buffalo Killers. The vocals keep the simple two part harmony. When they take a break, the lead guitar comes wailing through for a simple, yet effective solo, until the song pulls back on the reigns a little and comes to an abrupt halt. Things keep moving along quite swiftly, since, keeping true to the spirit of Guided by Voices, most songs clock in around two minutes or so, and indie star power like Thurston Moore and Lou Barlow is nicely mixed in with lesser known artists like Western Civ. Continue reading »

Oct 132009
 

Halloween is still three weeks away, but everyone has already had it up to the neck with vampires (har!). Hopefully after the Twilight/Jennifer’s Body/True Blood fervor runs its course Dracula and his nocturnal ilk will slink off for a long sleep. When that happens, it’s the werewolf’s time to rise.


The Pluto Tapes – Wolf Like Me (TV on the Radio)
TV on the Radio pulled off the rare feat of scoring a mainstream hit with this one without selling their souls. Andy Hicks of the Pluto Tapes strips back the jagged funk of the original for some slow-burn harmonies and crunchy crooning. [Buy]

Adam Sandler – Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)
Adam Sander’s music career is as bipolar as it is bizarre. He’s covered Bruce Springsteen, with predictably terrible results (watch the video and laugh), but then again he’s covered Neil Young with shocking decent results (watch the video and be surprised). Happily, this Zevon cover falls into the latter category. [Buy]

Jordan Galland – Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran)
This may be the most popular result from our monthly Cover Commissions, and it was only a bonus track! Still, it’s a killer. Which reminds me, October’s Cover Commissions coming soon! [Buy]

By a Girl – Furr (Blitzen Trapper)
The best wolf-song of the bunch. It’s the same old story: A guy wanders into the woods, spontaneously turns into a wolf, runs around for years that way, then sees a girl and becomes a man again. You know, the usual. [Buy]

Yann Gallice – A Wolf at the Door (Radiohead)
Hail to the Thief gets its share of ire from Radiohead fans. For goodness sakes, Pitchfork only gave it a 9.3! This gorgeous hum-happy cover may make you rethink. [Buy]

Joel Martin – Wolf Among Wolves (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy)
I’m not quite sure what Will Oldham did to deserve the thirty-track tribute album I Am a Cold Rock, I Am Dull Grass, but fellow freak-folkniks like Iron and Wine and Calexico understand. Joel Martin delivers a high point of an already soaring album. [Buy]

Chester French – She-Wolf (Shakira)
Shakira on writing this 2009 hit: “The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting.” No comment. [Buy]

The Meteors – Little Red Riding Hood (Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs)
As a kid I always adored this tune on the rare occasions it graced oldies radio, but the Meteors amp it up another notch with a singer who actually sounds like the (sexually aggressive) wolf. [Buy]

Stiff Dead Cat – Dire Wolf (Grateful Dead)
First discovered this bluegrass cover when researching our Workingman’s Dead album post. This lesser gem deserves another look. [Buy]

Ellie Goulding – The Wolves (Act I and II) (Bon Iver)
Covering Bon Iver is like covering heaven. That explains why this is so angelic. [Buy]