Sep 152016
 
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Reviews of Son Little’s music tend to note all the genres he covers. He’s been compared to Marvin Gaye and to Tom Waits – in the same article. Though he certainly has a soulful voice, there’s a lot more to this former Roots collaborator than the limiting label “neo-soul” might encompass. And his wide tastes is showcased in the songs he’s picked to cover recently, from Drake to Led Zeppelin to, most recently, Bruce Springsteen. Continue reading »

Jul 262016
 
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Suicide singer Alan Vega died last week at age 78, and since then a whole host of artists have paid tribute by covering his songs. As was the case with “Purple Rain” when Prince died, one song has become the go-to tribute song for the occasion: the uplifting “Dream Baby Dream.”

Bruce Springsteen, who has regularly covered the song solo on piano over the past decade, delivered a full-band version to open his Denmark show. Pearl Jam did the same at a festival show in Canada, while Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler who tweeted a very laptop-dj take on the tune. Continue reading »

Feb 232016
 

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!

ben-harper

Ben Harper is the kind of artist who’s all too easy to miss. He’s not particularly flashy. He doesn’t make headlines for terrible behavior. In fact, he does the opposite: he’s involved in several charities supporting conservation, scholarship, and feeding the hungry. These are wonderful qualities for a human being and an artist to have, but they don’t necessarily help that artist stay in the public eye. What Harper also does, however, is bring his own brand of American music to fans around the world. During his career, he’s experimented with rock, folk, gospel, blues, country, reggae, and jazz, and proved himself equally adept at them all. He’s consistently delivered quality music for over two decades. It may be easy to miss him, but once discovered, he’s impossible to forget.

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Feb 102016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

sons of bill

Sons of Bill hails from Charlottesville, Virginia. The band was formed by brothers James, Sam, and Abe Wilson, whose father Bill is a professor of theology and Southern literature at the University of Virginia. The lineup, filled out by Seth Green and Todd Wellons, has honed their sound across four albums. Their latest, Love and Logic, is a huge step forward in the band’s literary and thoughtful brand of Southern rock. Ken Coomer, of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, produced the record, saying it “takes [him] back to some of the creative heights” he found with the latter band. That’s high praise indeed, but Sons of Bill deserves it. They’ve toured the States and Europe relentlessly, working hard to win fans over one at a time both with their original music and with a selection of covers. The songs they choose reflect their wide range of influences. Here’s some of their best cover work.

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Jan 272016
 

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!

rc1

Rosanne Cash, daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, has been putting out solo albums since 1978. Her work was widely lauded in the ’80s, starting with the commercial success of her 1981 album Seven Year Ache. In 1985, she won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” and 1987 saw the release of her landmark album King’s Record Shop. The ’90s were a quieter time for Cash, but she came roaring back in the 2000s, eventually recording The List, a selection of covers taken from a list of great American and country songs given to her by her father. She followed that with 2014’s The River and the Thread, which earned her three more Grammys, including Best Americana Album.

It would have been easy for her to have just followed in her father’s footsteps, copying his musical style, but Rosanne Cash found her own voice. She helped make cowpunk popular early in her career, and her music has evolved organically ever since. Now she stands as one of the leading artists in Americana. She records songs that speak to Southern sensibilities without restricting themselves to the trappings of modern country music. She left Nashville a long time ago to live in New York, and letting that expanded worldview influence her music makes her one of the champions of her chosen field.
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Dec 172015
 

Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

CoverMeBestSongs2015

I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.

Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.

How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.

So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.

Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

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