Jun 182018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

fantastic negrito cover songs

In the year 2000, the musician known as Fantastic Negrito almost died. A car accident put him in a three-week coma before requiring months of brutal physical therapy. When he finally got out of the hospital, permanent damage to his guitar-playing hand forced him to retire from music. He eventually moved to Oakland and became an urban farmer growing vegetables and, as his new bio artfully puts it, “other, more profitable, green matter.”

A lot has happened since then. He eventually returned to music, and quickly achieved the sort of milestones he never did the first time around. He won the first-ever NPR Tiny Desk Contest in 2015, earned a longtime champion and mentor in Chris Cornell, and, just last year, won his first Grammy award, for Best Contemporary Blues Album. But the accident’s after-effects linger in his mind on new album Please Don’t Be Dead, which features a real photo from his hospital stay as its cover. Watch the music video for single “The Duffler”: Continue reading »

Jan 312018
 
best cover songs january

At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close. Continue reading »

Oct 032017
 
cover me playlist

Today is the day! At long last, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time is in stores and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and many other places (including, hopefully, your local independent bookstore!).

A lot has happened since I first announced the book back in May. The New Yorker published an excerpt about Devo’s meeting with Mick Jagger. I was interviewed on SiriusXM about the Hendrix, Cash, Aretha, Pet Shop Boys, Elvis, and Creedence Clearwater Revival chapters. And most importantly for you reading this, I put together an exclusive bonus mix that blog fans can get when they buy the book (it says “pre-order,” but we’ll say “week-of-release order” counts too).

And I wanted to share one more thing, another blog exclusive: An audio companion to the book. Continue reading »

Aug 282017
 
cover me book

—November update: The book is now out, but if you review it on Amazon or elsewhere, the mixtape can still be yours! Just send proof of review to the email below.—

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs Of All Time comes out October 3. It dives deep into twenty iconic covers, from Elvis’s “Hound Dog” through Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love.” I interviewed artists like David Byrne and Roger Daltrey to get the untold stories behind their greatest covers. You can read all about it here.

Now we’ve got a special bonus for anyone who preorders: a free digital album of other covers of those same songs.

What’s the greatest “Take Me to the River” that’s not by Al Green or the Talking Heads? My favorite “Hurt” untouched by either of those men in black? An “I Will Always Love You” that sounds like the artist has never heard either Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston’s versions? This mix answers all those questions. Continue reading »

Aug 072017
 
phish bakers dozen covers

For years, Phish superphans and the band’s many detractors – so far apart on so much else – have been able to agree on one thing: the band does some killer live covers. Phish long ago made a Halloween tradition out of covering another band’s album in full, tackling ambitious choices like the Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And “ambitious” was also the keyword for the band’s just-completed thirteen night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen,” each night featured a different donut theme and, more significantly, no song repeated the entire two weeks.

But back to the donuts. The band took the silly premise seriously, theming their sets each night around a donut flavor. This led to a number of surprise covers that they’ve never played before (or probably ever will again). Strawberry-donut night got “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” Chocolate-donut night got “Chocolate Rain” and “You Sexy Thing” – originally by Hot Chocolate. They even dug deep into lyrics, playing the one Radiohead song that talks about lemons.

Such first-time-ever covers tend to appeal even to non-fans because they tend to be short and –
let’s keep the donut theme going here – sweet. Unlike a jelly donut, on a song they’ve never play before they rarely jam. Instead, the fun and sheer rock chops to come forward in a way they may not on the heady stuff.

So I’ve ranked all the first-time covers from the past two weeks of Phish’s concerts, below. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan myself – I once wrote an article defending their home of Burlington, Vermont from its jam-band stereotype – but some of these are among the best performances I’ve heard by them. Others…are not. Continue reading »

Jun 132017
 
northside fest

For decades, there have been two dominant names in the music-discovery festival game: SXSW in Austin and CMJ in NYC. While the typical festival books the biggest acts they can afford, these two deliberately focus on a plethora of new and obscure artists looking for their big break. Last year, though, one of those twin pillars collapsed with CMJ’s mysterious disappearance) amidst all manner of controversy and turmoil).

Brooklyn’s more recent Northside Festival was already positioning itself as a CMJ Jr. when we went last June, focusing on showcasing hundreds of up-and-comers on rather than a few big names. Well, there’s no “Jr.” any more. With CMJ gone, Northside became New York’s default replacement.

It’s ready to fill the role though, bringing a wide array of artists from across the country to Williamsburg for one weekend. As we did last year, we picked our five favorite discoveries we’ve never written about here before, with a cover from each. Continue reading »