Mar 142014

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!

In the early ’70s, two sets of brothers and their friends, art students at Kent State University, developed a theory. It began as a kind of joke based on a religious pamphlet that alluded to the D-evolution of the unenlightened man. As artists tend to do, they created some performance art and music around this theme for their own amusement. Then the terrible tragedy of the Kent State shootings happened. Four of their classmates were killed by those who were supposed to be protecting them. Suddenly the de-evolution of man and of society in general seemed more than just a joke. The band Devo was born.
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Oct 112012

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Yesterday we took a look at the early years of Neil Young, as represented on the first two sides of Decade (if you missed it, click here to get caught up). Today, it’s sides three and four’s turn; a dozen artists looking at a dozen classics a dozen different ways…
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Jul 012011

Anyone annoyed with Rolling Stone’s decades-long cover decline might take heart in their latest contest, in which eight obscure bands compete to land a spot on the front of an August issue. Only two artists remain – the Sheepdogs and Lelia Broussard – and readers vote for the winner.

For their last push, both bands covered a classic songwriter with multiple appearances on the Rolling Stone cover. The Sheepdogs took on Neil Young, giving a pleasant country-rock swing on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Ohio.” It’s not particularly novel, but they perform it well. Lelia Broussard’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” on the other hand, branches far afield of the original ‘80s pop sound. Sure, it’s the same approach that Tegan and Sara and Amy McDonald previously used with the cover, but Broussard’s percussive strumming adds a slightly harder undertone than those. Continue reading »

Apr 192011

Live Collection brings together every live cover we can find from an artist. And we find a lot.

Over the past decade, Portland quintet the Decemberists have gone from indie darlings to indie darlings with a number-one album. This year’s The King is Dead took the band to new levels of commercial success, shining some national attention on a band whose name was once known only to the chamber pop-obsessed and English majors. It may not be too unfounded to compare this band’s story to that of R.E.M.’s in the ‘80s; in fact, given the unabashed fandom they display on The King is Dead, that’s a comparison they’d probably happily invite.

The collection of covers crooned by the Decemberists mostly betrays their too-cool-for-school nature. They seem to have hit all the requisites that prove you listened to hip music in the ’80s – the Velvet Underground, the Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, etc. However, there’s a few genuine surprises here. Embarrassing reading of the Outfield‘s “Your Love” notwithstanding, there’s some real pleasure to be had in the band’s delight at ripping into Heart‘s “Crazy on You,” or in their surprisingly earnest rendition of Bad Company‘s “Feel Like Making Love.” Band leader Colin Meloy also turns in an intimate, slowed-down version of Cheap Trick‘s “Summer Girls” to great effect. Even the band’s usual bombast makes itself known in the 16-minute epic of Pink Floyd‘s “Echoes.” Continue reading »

Jan 042011

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.

Many people who know Tim Reynolds came to him via one man: Dave Matthews. The two toured together as an acoustic duo for years. He toured with Dave Matthews & Friends and finally became an official Dave Matthews Band member in 2008. Saying Reynolds would be nothing without Matthews gives him too little credit; prowess this impressive couldn’t go unheard forever. Without Dave though, Reynolds’ career trajectory would look very different.

Before you dismiss him as some leech riding Matthews’ coattails though, you need to hear his solo stuff. Whether you think Matthews is a modern prophet or self-important fratboy is irrelevant. Even the most ardent Dave-bashers can enjoy Reynolds’ guitar mastery. No mindless jamming here; when Reynolds sets out on an instrumental journey, he does so with purpose. Continue reading »


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Jan 152008

Today’s theme is…states! I was going to try to do every state over a series of posts, but quickly realized I have fifty songs about California and none about, say, Delaware. So, instead, here’s a choice sampling of songs about states. Mostly lesser-known songs, because at this point I can no longer find a cover of Georgia On My Mind or Sweet Home Alabama that excites me. Feel free to pass along any ideas though. And if anyone has a good cover of Private Idaho…

Mavis Staples – Down In Mississippi (J.B. Lenoir)
A standout track from Mavis’ phenomenal album of civil rights songs, We’ll Never Turn Back, Ry Cooder gives this one an industrial edge, grinding behind vocals that never soar, but instead just push forward. One of the best covers from ’07.

Martin Simpson – Louisiana (1927) (Randy Newman)
Newman’s 70’s song about a devastating Louisiana flood in the early part of the century took on new significance in the wake of Katrina. Simpson’s fantastic guitar picking substitutes nicely for the piano and strings of the original. His voice is better than Randy’s, but not so note-perfect he misses the irony and tension in the original.

Disposable Heroes of Hipophrisy – California Über Alles (The Dead Kennedys)
Originally about governor Jerry Brown, the Heroes update the lyrics to deal with 90’s governor Pete Wilson, taking out the punk and turning it into Run-DMC hip-hop. Not too much like the original at this point, but that can help make a cover great.

Johnny Cash – When It’s Springtime In Alaska, It’s Forty Below (Johnny Horton)
One of Cash’s demos just recently released in the Personal Files, it’s just Cash playing for himself, without any overambitious producers or overzealous backing musicians. Simple acoustic strumming is all he needs behind that voice, effortlessly powerful.

The Dandy Warhols – Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
Young’s venomous take on the Kent State shootings gets an electronic touch, with eerie harmonies and playing that, while slow, never lets up.

Kevin Davis – Alabama Song (Weil/Brecht)
Everyone knows The Doors’ version, and this is basically a cover of that cover. A couple guitars duel underneath the harmonies and harmonica.

Chrissie Hynde & Adam Seymour – Nebraska (Bruce Springsteen)
Originally written for the E Street Band, the whole Nebraska album seemed to work better in the acoustic guitar demos Springsteen made, so he just released those instead. The songs are bare-bone enough to have provided many great and very different versions, both reinventions by Bruce himself and covers by others. This one, a murderer’s lament, is slowed down even more with spare and wavy background guitar.

Sheryl Crow – Mississippi (Bob Dylan)
I generally hate Sheryl Crow, but she has plenty of famous friends, including Clapton and Bob, who sent her along this outtake from Time Out Of Mind for her to record (four years later he released his own version on Love & Theft). I’m still not quite sure what I think of it. It’s catchy and fun, which really don’t fit the lyrics too well, but…yeah. I’m still on the fence here. This one is solo acoustic, live in ’98.

Holly Cole – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits)
One of my least favorite Waits songs, the most famous cover is its overly earnest Springsteen version the royalties of which is probably still paying half Tom’s salary. Cole, however, is incredibly adept at smooth jazzy Waits covers, including this take from KCRW Morning Becomes Electric ’95.