Jun 102016

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!

golden smog

Back in the late 1980s, as the alt-country/No Depression sound began to spread, a group of bands centered in the Minneapolis area often played in the same venues. Sometimes members of these bands would do cover shows for fun. Although even the members of the band remember the band’s fittingly murky origins differently, ultimately, some of these friends began to perform as “Golden Smog” (originally a Flintstones reference), mostly playing covers. The core membership coalesced as Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of the Jayhawks on bass, Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run (and later the Jayhawks) and Chris Mars of the Replacements (although the drum chair in the band has a near Spinal Tap-level rotating door), often augmented by guest musicians and singers. It was like seeing an incredibly talented bar band.
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May 252016

dylan fallen angelsThere’s something inherently ironic about a musician long criticized for his vocal abilities releasing an album of covers, each of whose success is predicated on the strength of the vocalist in question. While there have certainly been a handful of performers with admittedly “unique” voices covering this territory – Jimmy Durante and Willie Nelson immediately spring to mind – vocal-oriented pop derived from the so-called Great American Songbook has long been the purview of singers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and scores of others.

That none other than Bob Dylan should look to tackle the Great American Songbook is intriguing not just for his admitted vocal shortcomings, but also his early positioning as the polar opposite of everything the supper club set stood for. Perhaps it simply has something to do with the maturation process – something of a rite of passage for aging musicians – in that a certain level of nostalgia begins to creep in and an overwhelming urge to explore the music of their youth starts to take hold. That they would have largely scoffed at the idea of endeavoring such a feat during their formative proves all the more interesting now decades removed from the idealism of youth.

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Jan 082016

Were he still with us, Harry Nilsson would have turned 75 this year, so what better way to kick off 2016 than with a tribute EP to the legendary songwriter? The well-named Francis Schmancis comes from Nick Francis DiFonzo. DiFonzo is the frontman for the New York rock band the Majorleans, but from an echoy “One” to an ethereal “Early in the Morning” to a more straightforward “Everybody’s Talking” (not written by Nilsson, but owned by him), this EP is a much more stripped-down affair. Continue reading »

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…

Jul 102014

Covers albums are commonly filled with songs that have special meaning to the band and often had an impact on the members. “Break-Up album” usually refers to a collection of songs dedicated to the end of a recent, often painful, relationship. Brooklyn band Quiet Loudly missed both of those memos. Their album is filled with songs chosen at the whim of a few fans who pledged a certain amount on the previous album’s Kickstarter, and the “Break Up” referred to is the band itself. Continue reading »

Mar 282014

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

In honor of Eric Idle’s 71st birthday tomorrow, let’s pay tribute to his most famous song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Idle, of course, is best known as a comic actor and writer and a member of the Python troupe and not as a songwriter. However, this surprisingly happy tune, with deceptively dark lyrics, sung by Idle and a group of fellow crucifixion victims at the end of the film, has become remarkably popular. It was a parody of the peppy songs often featured in Disney movies, but over time its ironic underpinnings have been ignored in favor of its upbeat chorus and jaunty whistling (suggested by Neil Innes, who wrote most of the music associated with the Pythons).
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