Mar 182016
 
TomWaits_wolynski

Back in 2006, Tom Waits released an outtakes and rarities compilation called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. At 56 tracks, it had a lot – but not nearly everything. So fans dutifully compiled a companion collection of everything left on the cutting room floor, cleverly titled Forgotten Orphans. In addition to more outtakes and b-sides, this fan bootleg included something the main set lacked: live performances. Many of those were super-rare covers, none of which have ever been officially released. But they are worth hearing. Tom Waits is widely regarded as an excellent songwriter, but these covers showcase Tom Waits’ power as a song interpreter. He’s never gone the Bob Dylan route of periodic forays into cover albums, but if he ever did, these songs show how great such an album could be. Continue reading »

Jan 272016
 

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!

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Rosanne Cash, daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, has been putting out solo albums since 1978. Her work was widely lauded in the ’80s, starting with the commercial success of her 1981 album Seven Year Ache. In 1985, she won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” and 1987 saw the release of her landmark album King’s Record Shop. The ’90s were a quieter time for Cash, but she came roaring back in the 2000s, eventually recording The List, a selection of covers taken from a list of great American and country songs given to her by her father. She followed that with 2014’s The River and the Thread, which earned her three more Grammys, including Best Americana Album.

It would have been easy for her to have just followed in her father’s footsteps, copying his musical style, but Rosanne Cash found her own voice. She helped make cowpunk popular early in her career, and her music has evolved organically ever since. Now she stands as one of the leading artists in Americana. She records songs that speak to Southern sensibilities without restricting themselves to the trappings of modern country music. She left Nashville a long time ago to live in New York, and letting that expanded worldview influence her music makes her one of the champions of her chosen field.
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Jan 232015
 

Will Oldham, whose part-time stage name is Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is full of surprises. He became Indie-famous as a soft, introspective folk singer; he’s been covered by and sang with Johnny Cash; he can surprise you with loud rockers; and he even had his video “cover” of Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” with Zach Galifianakis featured on West’s website. Frankly, it can be surprising to hear him return to his roots with a heartfelt, folksy guitar number, but he recently put together a three-song set for Fogged Clarity that did just that. Continue reading »

Mar 072014
 

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!

Dave Edmunds plays rock and roll in a particular style. It’s the version of rock and roll that existed in the late ’50s and early ’60s. And he’s been very true to it. But don’t be too quick to label him “retro” – he just continues to mine a vein of rock and roll that most musicians abandoned throughout the last third of the century. Those few others who have stuck with that early rock and roll blueprint (Brinsley Schwarz, Flamin’ Groovies, Ducks Deluxe) have probably worked with Edmunds. His sound is consistent, and being a good singer, guitarist and producer, that’s a fine thing to be. But he doesn’t discriminate when picking covers – he’s as likely to do something classic as he is something contemporary.

When looking at a career that is full of covers, it can be tough to figure out which ones best represent the artist. Many of Edmunds’ early singles are very precise covers of classic R&B. Maybe too precise. But once he shed a bit of his perfectionist tendencies (and started working with Nick Lowe), he provided the covers room to breathe and made many an old song into something fresh.
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Dec 192013
 

I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.

What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s. Continue reading »

Mar 292013
 

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

One day in 1949, Hank Williams passed a scrap of paper to fellow songwriter Jimmy Rule and asked, “Do you think people will understand what I’m trying to say when I say this?” Rule took one look at what was on the paper and told Williams not to worry. With good reason – he had just read a verse from “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” a song that Elvis Presley would later call “probably the saddest song I’ve ever heard.” Continue reading »