Mar 122018
 

Tonight, when the Eagles take the stage in Indianapolis for the start of their 2018 tour, they will be joined by country crooner Vince Gill to fill the void left by the death of Glenn Frey. Those who have followed Gill’s career know that his journey to Eagles-dom began in 1993. That year, he recorded a cover of “I Can’t Tell You Why,” for the triple-platinum covers album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles. The album, which will mark its 25th anniversary this fall, was such a commercial success upon its release that it played a major role in reuniting the band.

In the early ‘90s, despite having not played live or recorded in over a decade, the Eagles were as popular as they had ever been. The band’s music dominated classic rock radio. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was on its way to becoming the best-selling album of the 20th century in the U.S. And most of the music coming out of Nashville sounded, well, a lot like the Eagles.

To capitalize on the group’s popularity amongst the boots-and-spurs set, Don Henley and Eagles’ manager Irving Azoff organized the tribute album as a fundraiser for Henley’s environmental charity The Walden Woods Project. To serve as executive producer, Azoff and Henley tapped James Stroud who assembled many of the hottest country stars of the era. “Everybody wanted in,” Stroud told Entertainment Weekly. “Once we started, the phones lit up.”

Common Thread was to Music Row in 1993 what Law & Order was to the New York branch of the Actors Equity Association: a full-fledged jobs program. The album featured 10 solo artists, two bands and one duo. More than 70 musicians and backup singers are directly credited as well as an orchestra called the Nashville String Machine. On the production side, 14 people were listed as producers or co-producers, including Stroud and two of the artists themselves: Suzy Bogguss, who produced her version of “Take It To the Limit;” and Billy Dean, who co-produced his rendition of “Saturday Night.” There were also 25 people listed as engineers, assistant engineers or mixers and seven production assistants. Continue reading »

Mar 022018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

tower of song songs of leonard cohen

Last week, I wrote about the hugely influential 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. How influential? Without it, the world – and Jeff Buckley – might never have heard “Hallelujah.”

The 1995 tribute album Tower of Song is not remotely influential. None of its covers have become classics, nor did they introduce any Cohen deep cuts to the popular cannon. Where I’m Your Fan picked the hippest artists of the time, the Tower of Song curators seem to have gone out of their way to pick the least hip. Billy Joel. Elton John. Don freakin’ Henley. Continue reading »

Jan 302018
 

mark erelli mixtapeMark Erelli seems one of the good guys: prolific in the often solitary and lonely furrow of singer-songwritery, under the radar of most observers, weaving his nuanced mix of country and folk that never fails to beguile my ears. Lord knows how he makes a living. Along with others like Jeffrey Foucoult (with whom he has collaborated) Damien Jurado and the Joshes Rouse and Ritter (another collaborator) he seems always there in the background, a reliable source of well-crafted songs, never troubling the mainstream nor stealing the show.

Although he has a healthy and extensive repertoire of his own songs, covers are very much also his stock in trade, as a visit to his website soon reveals, with a monthly free download of the month – often a cover – unavailable elsewhere. (As I write his excellent version of “Midnight Rider” is serenading me, the January freebie.) He also performs an annual series of shows entitled ‘Under the Covers’ – sadly in the wrong continent for this writer to ever catch. Continue reading »

Oct 042017
 
mark erelli cover

In addition to being an acclaimed songwriter, Boston’s Mark Erelli knocks us out whenever he puts the pen aside to sing someone else’s songs. His murder ballads collaboration with Jeffrey Foucault, Seven Curses, is one of the best covers albums of the decade, and every time he speckles an album with a Tom Waits or R.E.M. tune, it’s invariably fantastic. So we were thrilled to learn he’s prepping a full-length covers albums called Mixtape, for which he’s currently raising funds on Kickstarter now.

Mixtape won’t come out until January, but he was kind enough to share a track with us now, his version of Don Henley’s classic “The Boys of Summer.” Erelli starts slow and subdued, but the track gradually builds to a high-lonesome holler that sounds like what I imagine Springsteen’s full-band version of Nebraska must be. A couple years ago, we ranked the best covers of “The Boys of Summer”, and this deserves to live in that company. Continue reading »

Jul 222016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

donhenley

My love must be as free/As is the eagle’s wing,/Hovering o’er land and sea/And everything. – Henry David Thoreau

The name “Don Henley” conjures up images of the American West – dust swirling in canyons, expansive desert highways, the smell of colitas rising up through the air – but for me, Don Henley is damp, cold London afternoons spent tucked behind the couch in a small, cozy home. When I played Barbies, my dolls were raven-haired beauties, pretty mamas, and blondes dressed up in lace and lies, and it was Don Henley who sang the stories of their lives.
Continue reading »

Feb 072016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Garth Brooks was my first musical hero. Looking back now, it feels a little weird saying that. I didn’t have a great love for music as a young kid. The few albums I owned when I was 10 were Beach Boys cassettes. I think I only liked them because they reminded me of being on vacation when I was stuck in a winter fog. So why Garth?

It started slowly. The songs from his self-titled first album were always on the radio. I must have heard “The Dance” a thousand times. Things cranked up a little when No Fences came out in 1990. “Friends in Low Places” was everywhere.  Ropin’ the Wind took things to another level not too long after. All the kids at school in Bean Station, Tennessee were going crazy over Garth. Heck, everybody everywhere was going crazy over Garth. Rolling Stone put him on their cover; he was crossing over into the mainstream. This Is Garth Brooks played on TV, and I watched it with my dad. He was mad that Garth smashed a guitar. I was thrilled that Garth changed the words to “Friends in Low Places” and told some lady she could kiss his ass. I was in.
Continue reading »