Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
Every once and awhile, a musical project comes along that reminds us of the magnitude of talent and ingenuity many of our current musicians possess. The American Epic series by PBS is one such project. Directed by Bernard McMahon, American Epic re-imagines the music captured by record companies way back in the 1920’s. But not just any music. “Country singers in the Appalachians, blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians”. The record companies gave a musical voice to so many talented, undiscovered musicians at that time.
To make the project authentic, the American Epic team reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system which was used back in the 1920s. They then tasked executive producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett to create an album of recordings by twenty of today’s artists, all recorded on the only system of this kind in the world. The result is a fantastic throwback to long ago brought to us by some seriously talented and committed musicians.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Bob Dylan’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival concerts is one of the most famous – or infamous – performances of all time, subject to numerous books, documentaries, and debates over why Pete Seeger threatened to cut the power cable with an axe. But the fact is, by the time he stepped on that stage, Dylan had already gone electric, four months prior. The first half of his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home – which turns 52 today – is all electric. And not the sort of light electric augmentation other folk singers were experimenting with either. The first track “Subterranean Homesick Blues” may still be the loudest, hardest track of Dylan’s entire career. He’d already drawn his line in the sand; the folk-music crowd had just chosen to ignore it.
To celebrate this landmark album’s 52nd birthday, we’re giving it the full-album treatment. Our recent tributes to Dylan albums have covered underrated works like 1978’s Street Legal and 1985’s Empire Burlesque, but today we return to the classics. Such classics, in fact, that in addition to our main cover picks we list some honorable-mention bonus covers for each song.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Raphael Camara was raised in the Philippines and is currently based in Leipzig, Germany. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2014. Of all his Cover Me pieces, he especially likes his pieces on Aurora covering Bowie and Dani Mari & Second Sky covering Radiohead.
On September 2, 2014, Ray gave the go on my first news article and published it to Cover Me (unbeknownst to him, it was also my birthday). It’s been nothing but great fun working with the crew here and this fall we celebrate our Aluminum Anniversary by asking our team to compile a list of covers they hold dear.
Down below, in no particular order of importance, are my picks. Enjoy!
This past weekend, Chris Thile of Cover Me-favorites Nickel Creek hosted his first Prairie Home Companion after Garrison Keillor stepped down. There’s been a lot of speculation over whether fans of Lake Wobegon and “Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie” will stick around with Keillor gone, so Thile brought out the big guns for his debut, booking Jack White for his first-ever appearance. White sang solo material, Raconteurs, and White Stripes songs in new acoustic arrangements (one with his Third Man labelmate Margo Price) and even played a new cover, of Bobby Bare‘s 1969 country hit “(Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn.”
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.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)