Bob Dylan has many talents. Singing is not one of them. I’m not talking about his ability to convey emotion and make you feel the feels through the melodic pronunciation of words, because he does that better than anyone else. I’m talking about how Dylan’s voice literally sounds like a crying llama massaging a cactus with sandpaper. It’s not very good.
But last year, rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest troll released Shadows in the Night, and his voice sounded as smooth and clear as his better-than-expected Frank Sinatra covers. It helped that he had one of his tightest bands backing him up and setting him up in a moonlight atmosphere that would have made Ol’ Blue Eyes proud, even if he didn’t like Dylan’s music.Continue reading »
We’ve already finished the big year-end stories – Best Cover Songs and Best Cover Albums – but here’s a little postscript to take us into the new year. Maybe there’s something here you missed: covers of every song on a classic record in our “Full Albums” series, a deep dive into unusual reinterpretations of a particular hit in our “Five Good Covers” series, or just a bunch of MP3s of Dylan covering Sinatra over forty years.
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
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.
As you may remember, Bob Dylan kicked off his year with a weird – but terrific – tribute album to Frank Sinatra. Well we may see a second volume of Shadows in the Night before we see one of Chronicles, because on his new European tour he’s already started sprinkling three more Sinatra covers into his setlists: “All or Nothing At All,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Melancholy Mood”.
Fans of Shadows will find a lot to love in these new renditions. They’re all brisk versions sung from the heart, with emphasis on Donnie Heron’s beautiful pedal steel. He’s actually tried one of these before, recording “Come Rain or Come Shine” for his 1986 album Knocked Out Loaded before abandoning it. So he’s been living with these songs for a while now.Continue reading »
For the past couple years, Bob Dylan has stuck to a pretty standard setlist on tour – kind of a bummer from an artist famous for switching it up night to night. And when he kicked off his new European tour over the weekend, he finally did just that. He’s brought in more songs from his terrific new Frank Sinatra cover album, and in Germany he debuted a cover of Willie Nelson‘s 1973 classic “Sad Songs and Waltzes.”Continue reading »
One thing that diehard Dylanologists and he-can’t-sing haters can usually agree about Bob Dylan: his music videos are mostly lousy. From his terrible lip-syncing in “Jokerman” to Scarlett Johansson portraying an Instagram filter in “When the Deal Goes Down,” there’s not a lot to love. More recently, though, he’s been on a hot streak (or at least a reasonably warm one). “Must Be Santa” was goofy, bewigged fun, and he amps up the kitsch even more in his new video for Frank Sinatra cover “The Night We Called It A Day.”Continue reading »