Dec 082017
 

Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best covers albums 2017

Cover albums come and go from memory. It’s sort of inherent in the genre. When a major release comes out – a cover album by one prominent artist, or a tribute compilation by many – it tends to garner an avalanche of blog posts, then get forgotten within a year or two. Many deserve to, no doubt…but not all.

So, since we’ve been looking back a lot this year to celebrate our tenth birthday, I dug back into our previous year-end album lists. My original plan was to see which of our past #1s held up and which didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they were all still enjoyable. But many, even those that were big deals at the time, have been semi-forgotten.

So I thought, before we dive into this year’s crop, let’s remember what came before. We didn’t do a list the first couple years, but here’s every album we’ve named #1 so far, along with an excerpt of our reviews:

2009: The Lemonheads – ‘Varshons’
“Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos.”
See that year’s full list here.

2010: Peter Gabriel – ‘Scratch My Back’
“Against all odds, Gabriel builds an orchestra-filled, indie-fied, emotion-fueled masterpiece.”
See that year’s full list here.

2011: Baaba Kulka – ‘Baaba Kulka’
“It’s a boisterous Iron Maiden celebration by a collective that may not have a metal bone in its body, but invite big grins while you sing (and dance) along with the wildest crossover album this side of Warsaw.”
See that year’s full list here.

2012: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Americana’
“When you press play the first thing that strikes you is the fuzz of the power chords, the strained bellows, the cardboard-box bashing of the drums. Neil and the Horse’s ragged glory rages so hard the source material becomes secondary.”
See that year’s full list here.

2013: Xiu Xiu – ‘Nina’
“Xiu Xiu’s Nina Simone tribute album isn’t an easy listen. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable one either. What it is though is riveting.”
See that year’s full list here.

2014: Andrew Bird – ‘Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…’
“In Bird’s delivery, the Handsome Family’s songs of old, weird Americana kitsch will hopefully reach listeners who might find the originals too weird.”
See that year’s full list here.

2015: Bob Dylan – ‘Shadows in the Night’
“Him releasing an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra was no surprise at all; he’s been operating in the Ol’ Blues Eyes vein for decades now, just with a (very) different instrument.”
See that year’s full list here.

2016: Various Artists – ‘God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson’
“When it comes to preserving the depth and breadth of the contexts and traditions of American music that informed Blind Willie Johnson’s ecclesiastic but world-weary growl, it helps that the nine artists here…are able to handle the spiritual aspects of Johnson’s work.”
See that year’s full list here.

Okay, now that you’re all caught up – let’s see what this year holds!

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

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Aug 222017
 
joan osborne dylan

Judging by album sales, more people have probably heard Joan Osborne’s cover of “Man in the Long Black Coat” – on her 1995 triple-platinum debut Relish, aka the album with “One of Us” – than ever heard Bob Dylan’s original (Oh Mercy hasn’t even gone Gold after almost 30 years). And though she gets tarred with the one-hit-wonder brush due to plaintively wondering what if God was one of us (a song whose history we dug into recently), she’s always been a fine song interpreter even when flying farther under the industry radar. Now, after a strong soul-covers album in 2008’s Bring It On Home, she’s bringing it all back home with a full-length Dylan tribute: Songs of Bob Dylan.

Like “Man in the Long Black Coat,” deep cuts and newer songs make up a number of the albums songs (“Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” “High Water (For Charley Patton)”). But the first single is a classic, “Tangled Up in Blue.” Continue reading »

Jul 272017
 

A few years ago I attended a musical variety show with bunch of artists playing a few songs apiece. Eric Bazilian, frontman for ’80s new-wave band The Hooters, played a couple Hooters hits for his set before closing with a surprise cover: Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” (as in, “What if God was…”). His version was revelatory, loud and rocking and fun, a far cry from the self-serious lite-FM ballad that dominated airwaves in the mid-’90s. It totally reinvented the song, doing everything a great cover should.

I only learned later that it was not, in fact, a cover. Bazilian in fact wrote the song for Osborne, never properly releasing it himself. But his version made me reappraise a song I had grown to hate through overexposure (no knock on Joan, a talented song-interpreter on several terrific soul-covers albums who gets unfairly tarred by the “one-hit wonder” brush). Continue reading »

Jan 152016
 

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

bonniejohn

“Angel from Montgomery” is one of those songs that’s probably best known from a cover—Bonnie Raitt’s iconic 1974 version (and the many live recordings that have followed). In fact, this article was inspired by hearing Joan Osborne say that for years she was basically intimidated by the Raitt cover from ever performing it herself—until she heard Susan Tedeschi sing it, decided Raitt didn’t own the song, and started including it in her set.
Continue reading »

Apr 052013
 

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!

We’re going to take it down a notch today with an artist known more for her songs than her performances. While some would say this is a dream come true for songwriters who also perform, for Patty Griffin it’s been both a curse and a blessing. Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” and “Top of the World” are more known by their Dixie Chicks covers; “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” is known for being American Idol-ized – in fact, four performers on American Idol have sung “Up to the Mountain,” turning it almost into a karaoke contest. Miranda Lambert, Jessica Simpson, and a cast of thousands just can’t stop singing Patty Griffin songs, and their covers have become wildly popular. But Griffin herself is much less known, and even though she’s won Grammys, the public at large often thinks that her songs belong to someone else. Continue reading »

Dec 172012
 

This year’s cover albums offered ambition on a scale we’ve never seen before. Moving beyond the normal “cover a bunch of random songs we like” tossoff, 2012 offered deeply thought-out conceptual collections. One updated kiddie folk songs for raved-out rockers, others reworked complete albums to their own ends. Even the all-star tributes that pop up every year aimed higher – one of the year’s most high-profile had 70+ tracks! So today we count down the best of the bunch, the ones that swung for the fences and got there. With every passing year there seems to be less sigma attached to the phrase “cover album,” and these sets move that needle even farther forward. Continue reading »