What makes a musician who primarily works in electronic music, dubstep, hip-hop, and trip-hop decide to cover one of the most iconic singer-songwriter ballads of the 1970s? I don’t know, but I’m glad James Blake sat down at his piano and recorded this stunning version of Don McLean’s “Vincent”.
Blake drops the ambient backgrounds in favor of longer phrases to fill space, highlighting his extensive musical training. His vocals come out raw, with a slight crack in his voice. It works well in this context, heightening the emotion of the words and melody, though I do miss the clarity in tone of McLean’s original.Continue reading »
Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed”, from his Blonde album, has been a popular song to cover, with a great recent take from Stormzy. But it’s even more special that James Blake would cover the song that samples his own “Always”.
Blake, who’s been a mastermind and contributor to a lot of other great artists, including Kendrick Lamar, produced, arranged and made keyboard contributions to Ocean’s original “Godspeed”. It is safe to assume the performance on May 14th in Arizona was not Blake’s first time playing the song. In a solo piano set, Blake performed an even mellower, more somber version of Ocean’s song.Continue reading »
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.
I’ve got to admit I came to this one quite cynical but as most cover junkies will admit cover versions are always so intriguing as we get to see how an artist has put their own spin on a song. This is one of my favourite Kanye songs, the production on it possibly his best work so I was intrigued to see how a Welsh singer-songwriter with a dream-pop and James Blake-esque sound could do it justice.Continue reading »