Aug 072017
 
phish bakers dozen covers

For years, Phish superphans and the band’s many detractors – so far apart on so much else – have been able to agree on one thing: the band does some killer live covers. Phish long ago made a Halloween tradition out of covering another band’s album in full, tackling ambitious choices like the Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And “ambitious” was also the keyword for the band’s just-completed thirteen night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen,” each night featured a different donut theme and, more significantly, no song repeated the entire two weeks.

But back to the donuts. The band took the silly premise seriously, theming their sets each night around a donut flavor. This led to a number of surprise covers that they’ve never played before (or probably ever will again). Strawberry-donut night got “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” Chocolate-donut night got “Chocolate Rain” and “You Sexy Thing” – originally by Hot Chocolate. They even dug deep into lyrics, playing the one Radiohead song that talks about lemons.

Such first-time-ever covers tend to appeal even to non-fans because they tend to be short and –
let’s keep the donut theme going here – sweet. Unlike a jelly donut, on a song they’ve never play before they rarely jam. Instead, the fun and sheer rock chops to come forward in a way they may not on the heady stuff.

So I’ve ranked all the first-time covers from the past two weeks of Phish’s concerts, below. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan myself – I once wrote an article defending their home of Burlington, Vermont from its jam-band stereotype – but some of these are among the best performances I’ve heard by them. Others…are not. Continue reading »

Jun 032016
 

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

rotary_connection-songs

With the rise and, more importantly for the record companies, financial success of the pop music market in the mid-to-late-’60s, it should come as little surprise that this era served as one of the most prolific for cover songs. Some artists merely issued them as singles, while others saw fit to fill entire albums with pop hits of the day. And while the majority were given something of an easy listening makeover or subtle rewrite, there were a handful who saw fit to take this well-known, well-loved material and turn it on its ear. One of the best one-off examples of this is Smith’s smoldering reworking of Burt Bacharach’s song “Baby It’s You,” in which co-lead vocalist Gayle McCormick gives one of the best vocal performances of the era.

Taking a similar tack, psychedelic soul group Rotary Connection set their sights on the psych and pop hits of the day to create something wholly new and different with their 1969 album Songs. Where others who chose to take songs like the Band’s “The Weight,” “Respect” (either Otis Redding’s original or Aretha Franklin’s iconic version) and Cream’s riff-tastic “Sunshine of Your Love” stuck largely to the recognizable for understandable commercial reasons, Rotary Connection opted to take each song in an entirely new, often wildly experimental direction. By stripping the songs of their melodic and rhythmic familiarity, even the most played-out of these covers feels entirely new and different.
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Jul 312015
 
deltaspiritpromo002

The release of the deluxe edition of indie quintet Delta Spirit‘s Into The Wide (2014) last month came with a pleasant surprise: a cover of Cream‘s psychedelic rock staple “I Feel Free.”

The Californian five-piece seamlessly work their way through the tune, opting to step up the tempo with frantic drum lines, rowdy guitar phrases and pumping handclaps –  ultimately culminating in a raucous and adrenaline-inducing rendition of the ’60s classic. Continue reading »

Jun 092015
 

keepcalmI have long held it to be a covers truism that people who love covers are most compelled by musicians who can re-imagine a song in order to create something new. The whole point – I’ve said and written – of covering a song is to merge the acts of making and enjoying music in order to say something through song while also saying something about the song itself. Good covers discover or reveal. Good covers surprise.

The expectation that a cover should make something new, however, starts to feel unfair when one is attempting to evaluate covers of songs that have been covered as often as the sixteen Beatles songs on Keep Calm & Salute the Beatles. Covering the Beatles is a bit like taking a picture of THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA, an act that Don DeLillo describes not as capturing an image but maintaining one. What is there left to say, discover, or reveal about these songs beyond the tautological notion that they are good enough to be covered again and again?
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Apr 252014
 

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!

While too few outside of the metal community are familiar with Clutch, they are not struggling to make an impact. With live shows that are the stuff of legends, Clutch has been reliably rocking audiences for the past two decades. Rock, blues, funk, punk – it all fuses together, making for a band that is loved and vehemently defended as “more than just metal.”
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Jun 142012
 

The Black Keys have been around since 2001 despite being thrust into the spotlight just a couple years ago. All the same, calling them “veterans” would seem a bit lofty when compared to, say, Iggy Pop or drummer Ginger Baker (of Cream). So you’d think the Black Keys (accomplished cover artists themselves) would be covering those guys, but a new tribute album to the Keys, Black on Blues, has it the other way around. Continue reading »