Jan 262016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

LeadBellyNY

“In The Pines,” AKA “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” AKA “Black Girl,” is a traditional Appalachian folk song, nearly a century and a half old, that encompasses elements of searing heartbreak, perceived betrayal, death (by decapitation in many cases), and murder. Not to mention the fact the the song title is named after a location where “the sun don’t ever shine” and “we shiver when the cold wind blows.”

Not exactly “Kumbaya,” right? Which is fortunate, because if this song had been about the warm and fuzzies, it never would have lasted to become the haunting classic it remains today.

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Oct 142010
 

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

It was almost 17 years ago now that frontman Jay Farrar split ways with his alt-country group Uncle Tupelo due to differences with bassist Jeff Tweedy, leaving Tweedy and the rest of the band in the dust. Since that time, Farrar’s career has skyrocketed, and Tweedy and the boys haven’t done anything.

Wait. I’m wrong. They formed a band called Wilco, which continues to prosper as one of the most important and influential bands in indie music.

To conclude that Wilco’s longevity is due to some sort of a constant and timeless sound would be dead wrong, however, as our latest Live Collection shows. The covers below, which include romps through the works of David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, the Ramones, and even a few half-hearted attempts at tracks by one of Farrar’s subsequent projects, Son Volt, show just how much Wilco has changed through the years. The Wilco who covers “Organ Blues” in 2000 sounds little like the one who does Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart” in 1995. Sure, their 2002 cover of The Stooges’ “TV Eye” anticipates the pulsating pianos and dissonant guitars that would not truly define their albums until years later, but as a general rule, you can follow the arc of the band’s sound through the years pretty closely via the covers below. Continue reading »

Jun 292010
 

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!

Alejandro Escovedo has been recording great rock and roll for decades, but his profile has never been higher. This is largely the result of two things: Hepatitis C and Bruce Springsteen.

Say what? Let’s take them one at a time. Escovedo came down with a severe form of Hepatitis C a few years back. Like many musicians, he did not have insurance for his mounting medical bills. Unlike many musicians, he had friends and admirers in folks like Steve Earle, Los Lonely Boys, and Son Volt. They came together an all-star Americana tribute album, raising money for Escovedo and turning fans onto the Texas songwriter in the process. Thanks in part to that effort, Escovedo is now disease-free.

Then, in 2008 Bruce Springsteen brought him on stage for an Austin show. Springsteen’s guests usually help on “Thunder Road” or “Glory Days” or something, but the E Street Band played Escovedo’s own “Always a Friend,” then sold that performance on iTunes. Watching Escovedo’s excitement will give you a warm fuzzy feeling. Incidentally, the Boss appears on Escovedo’s latest album Street Songs of Love (in stores today) to duet on “Faith.”
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Dec 142009
 


There are few things in this world more hit-or-miss than cover albums. If it’s a tribute compilation for a particular songwriter, some artists “get it” more than others. If it’s one artist putting out their own cover album, listeners inevitably like the songs they know more than those they don’t. Such is life.

Compiling this list, one album after another had to be eliminated because of a single song, one Achilles’ heel that brought down the whole disc. Eventually only ten remained, ten cover albums exceptional from beginning to end. Enjoy, and check back next week for the Best Cover Songs of 2009!

10. Various Artists – Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm

Texas songwriter Doug Sahm never achieved fame outside the southwest, but to his peers in music he’s long been a legend. A prolific songwriter, he maintained three bands throughout his career alongside his solo work: the Sir Douglas Quartet (with whom he had his biggest hit “She’s About a Mover”), the Texas Tornados and the Bottle Rockets. On the tenth anniversary of Sahm’s death came Keep Your Soul, a group of peers and admirers like Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo rocking through his Tex-Mex jive.
Charlie Sexton – You’re Doing It Too Hard

9. Steve Earle – Townes

Townes is more than one artist paying tribute to another. It’s a letter from one friend to another, part homage, part eulogy and part thank-you note. Townes Van Zandt mentored Earle when he was just beginning and continued to watch over Earle’s life even as his own spiraled downward. Earle followed the same alcohol and drug-fueled path that ended in Van Zandt’s untimely demise, with one difference: Steve came out the other side. Here he pays tribute to a friend who wasn’t so lucky.
Steve Earle – Loretta (Townes Van Zandt)

8. Various Artists – Seven Year Itch: Paper Bag Records Covers Compilation

On their seventh birthday, Paper Bag Records invited the fans to the celebration, putting up a free covers compilation on their website (still available). Everyone from Beck to Bats for Lashes gets the Paper Bag treatment, with bizarre and fantastic results. If only every birthday was this much fun!
Winter Gloves – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

7. Pascal Fricke – Banging on the Table with an Old Tin Cup III

Another freebie here from Tom Waits superfan Pascal Fricke, it’s volume three of his Waits cover series. His usual all-instrumental formula gets a twist courtesy of YouTube pal Vamosbabe’s sultry singing to Fricke’s typically gorgeous ukulele, guitar, or mandolin. The pair may never have met in person but they sound like two long-time lovers sitting together at a Parisian café.
Pascal Fricke – Green Grass

6. Joan as Police Woman – Cover

When an album’s cover features a hefty pair of butt cheeks (view that NSFW cover here), you know something unusual awaits. Joan Wasser’s slow falsetto-funk version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” gets things started on an off-kilter note, but sounds downright pedestrian compared to the versions of Britney Spears, Adam Ant and Public Enemy that follow. What other album contains covers of both Nina Simone and T-Pain (without AutoTune!)?
Joan As Police Woman – Ringleader Man (T-Pain)

5. Various Artists – War Child: Heroes

What looks like a truly grab-bag line-up (Elbow, Duffy, Scissor Sisters) on this benefit is the result of a single brilliant idea: Get classic artists like Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop to pick a member of the next generation to cover their song. Dylan picked Beck and Iggy picked Peaches (ha!), but the most exciting tune has to be the Hold Steady’s bar-band blast through “Atlantic City,” finally recorded after debuting at an unrecorded Springsteen tribute concert three years ago.
TV on the Radio – Heroes (David Bowie)

4. The Rosewood Thieves – Heartaches By the Pound: The Rosewood Thieves Sing Solomon Burke

Soul man Solomon may seem a surprising choice from these back-porch boys (The Rosewood Thieves Sing The Band would be a more likely album), but the distance between their Americana thump and Burke’s gospel blues allows a whole new sound to emerge organically from these heartbroken cries. This EP only contains six songs, but each stomps and swings like Wilson Pickett fronting the Black Keys.
The Rosewood Thieves – Home In Your Heart (Solomon Burke)

3. Various Artists – SPIN Presents Purplish Rain

SPIN magazine couldn’t get the notoriously press-shy Prince to comment for their Purple Rain 25th anniversary cover story, so they did him one better by soliciting new versions of every song on the legendary soundtrack. Lavendar Diamond slow-burns “Purple Rain,” Of Montreal electronically freaks out for “Computer Blue” and The Twilight Singers sound like the coolest church choir ever on “When Doves Cry.”
The Twilight Singers – When Doves Cry

2. Various Artists – Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute to Bruce Springsteen

This list is concerned with quality over quantity, but any tribute album that includes 38 brand-new covers deserves extra commendation. All obscure groups, all incredible readings of Bruce Springsteen classics, rarities and newer songs (including three tunes from Bruce’s 2002 The Rising). With 38 songs they can’t all be brilliant, but somehow even the album’s one miss – Travis Elborough’s spoken-word “My Hometown” – is so truly awful it becomes endearing, a moment of unintended hilarity lightening a tale of resilience tested and dreams crushed.
The Vatican Cellars – Darkness on the Edge of Town

1. The Lemonheads – Varshons

Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos. Their brilliantly drawled version of GG Allin’s “Layin’ Up with Linda” turns the best boredom-induced murder song since “Folsom Prison Blues” into a jaunty pub sing-along.
The Lemonheads – Layin’ Up with Linda (GG Allin)

And there you have it. Tune in next week for the Best Cover Songs of 2009!