Dec 122014
 

Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

Back when we redesigned the site in 2010, we created basic star icons to represent the ratings we’d give an album when we reviewed it. 2 stars, 3.5 stars, etc. When we posted an album review, we’d find the corresponding icon where we last uploaded it. However, earlier this year we couldn’t find one of the icons we were looking for. Why? It turns out we’d never used it. We’d never before given an album a perfect five stars.

This year, for the first time, we did. Which should suffice to say it’s been an excellent year for cover albums. True, a few of the marquee tributes we most eagerly anticipated fell flat, either too formulaic (The Art of McCartney) or too out-there (that Flaming Lips’ Sgt. Peppers tribute we’ll never speak of again). But in the cracks and under the radar, cover and tribute albums thrived.

In our list of the twenty best, we’ve got everything from big names on major labels to DIY projects thrown up on Bandcamp. We’ve got New Orleans jazz, Parisian dub reggae, and songs that were popular when your great-great-great-great grandfather was calling town dances. Something for everyone, I guess. Something for all our fwends (sorry, that was the last time, promise).

Start the countdown on Page 2…

Dec 132013
 

Fifty years ago, a covers album wasn’t called a “covers album.” It was called an album. Full stop.

Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Billie Holiday – most albums anyone bought were “covers albums” as we’d think of them today, but that’s not how folks thought of them then. Once the public began putting a premium on singers writing their own songs in the ’60s the concept of course shifted, so that an artist doing a covers album has to be like Michael Jordan playing baseball – an okay diversion but let’s get back to the main event please.

More so this year than ever before though, that pendulum seems to be swinging back in small but meaningful ways to what an album originally meant. More and more artists are releasing LPs saying, this is not my new quote-on-quote “covers album,” this is my new album (that happens to consist of covers). The attitude showcases a confidence and surety of purpose that shows they take performing other peoples songs every bit as seriously as they do their own.

That holds true for both of our top two covers albums this year, and plenty more sprinkled throughout. Which isn’t to knock anyone doing a covers album as a lark, novelty, tribute, or side project – you’ll see plenty of those here as well – but any blurred lines that put a “covers album” on the same level as a “normal” album have to be a good thing.

Start our countdown on Page 2…

Sep 132013
 

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!

Gillian Welch is a yankee. There, it’s said. One would have a hard time discerning it from her mix of folk and bluegrass arrangements, but there’s a Big Apple right there on her birth certificate. So let it be noted that, when compared to some “legitimate” country music popularized and sung by those born and bred in the South, with their auto-tuned cartoonish absence of substance, an overabundance of shiny objects and pyrotechnics, and some ghastly redneck rap thrown in, it’s obvious that birthplace alone has little influence on how traditional or great country music is.
Continue reading »

Apr 192013
 

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

Fans of Gram Parsons are generally divided into three camps over 1999’s Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons. The first thinks it’s brilliant, a reverent homage to a great songwriter and a testament to the weight of his country rock influence. The second likes the raw sound of another tribute album better: 1993’s Conmemorativo: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, featuring the likes of Bob Mould and The Mekons. And the third camp feels that the only person that can sing Gram Parsons songs is Parsons himself.

If we took the philosophy of the last opinion to heart, this site wouldn’t even exist. While the so-called purists would deny any version other than the one by the original artist as being legitimate, it certainly would be a dull world if all musicians were content to color within the lines without recognizing that someone else before them drew those lines. While Conmemorativo does contain some gems, there are two reasons why Return of the Grievous Angel is better: great production values, and the guiding hand of Emmylou Harris, who worked so closely with Parsons and who served as executive producer of the compilation. So count us among the members of that first camp. Now let’s meet the man who inspired the album. Continue reading »

Feb 222012
 

The sun was out all day on Sunday as thousands of music fans gathered at Ocean Beach on San Francisco’s Great Highway to pay tribute to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival founder and local financier Warren Hellman. Hellman, who died Dec. 18 at age 77 after a long battle with leukemia, was an avid banjo player who gave the gift of the free, three-day music festival to millions over the last decade. Continue reading »

Sep 232011
 

This Week on Bandcamp rounds up our favorite covers to hit the site in the past seven days.

Maybe you’ve heard it mentioned once or twice, but tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. In honor of that (and the fact that ~20% of the new covers on Bandcamp this week were Nirvana), we bookend today’s set with two Nirvana covers. Every track’s a keeper today, so much so that we threw in three bonus tracks we just couldn’t leave out. Continue reading »