Jul 122018
 

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

jon cleary covers

Six years ago on a visit to New Orleans, I traveled to the legendary Tipitina’s club for a Professor Longhair tribute show. I know most of the headliners, at least loosely: Dr. John of course, plus Meters bassist George Porter Jr. and Marsalis clan patriarch Ellis. The one guy I’d never heard of, though, blew me away. His name was Jon Cleary, and I appeared to be the only person in the room ignorant of his work.

Cleary is a New Orleans icon, a boogie-woogie piano savant following in the Dr. John and Allen Toussaint tradition (he’s played with both). NPR has called him “pure New Orleans,” while Southern Living wrote that “the pianist’’s name is synonymous with his city.” He’s got a new album Dyna-Mite out this week, Crescent City funk at its finest. Here’s the title track:

To celebrate the new album, Jon Cleary told us about his five favorite cover songs. His selections travel the world, but keep coming back to New Orleans. Just like Cleary himself. Continue reading »

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 »

Jun 152018
 
best cover songs 1978

Welcome to the third installment in our Best Cover Songs of Yesteryear countdown, where we act like we were compiling our usual year-end list from a year before we – or the internet – existed. Compared to the first two, this one has significantly less grunge than 1996 and less post-punk than 1987. It’s hard to have post-punk, after all, before you have punk, a new genre starting to hit its peak in 1978. And don’t forget the other big late-’70s sound: disco. Both genres were relatively new, and super divisive among music fans. Lucky for us, both genres were also big on covers.

Disco, in particular, generated some hilariously ill-advised cover songs. We won’t list them all here – this is the Best 1978 covers, not the Most 1978 covers. If you want a taste (and think carefully about whether you really do), this bonkers take on a Yardbirds classic serves as a perfect example of what a good portion of the year’s cover songs looked and sounded like: Continue reading »

Oct 102016
 
rolling-stones-desert-trip

The Rolling Stones haven’t released an album since 2005, but in December they’ll finally return – and with their first-ever covers album to boot. Titled Blue & Lonesome, the album contains their versions of 12 classic blues songs by Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, and more. They’ve snuck a blues cover on LPs here and there in the past (“Love in Vain” on Let It Bleed, “You Gotta Move” on Sticky Fingers) but this is the first time they’ve filled a full album with them. They’ve already released the first track, Little Walter’s “Just Your Fool,” which you can hear below. And this weekend, they performed another album cut at Desert Trip festival (aka “Oldchella”): Eddie Taylor’s “Ride ‘Em On Down,” which they last performed in 1962! Continue reading »

Oct 092016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

john-lennon-rock-n-roll

By the time he recorded Rock ‘n’ Roll, John Lennon had been through quite a lot. From the dissolution of the Beatles to the fracturing of his marriage to the ever-present threat of deportation, he clearly had a great deal weighing on him. It was during this same time that he embarked on his legendary “lost weekend” in Los Angeles while estranged from Yoko Ono. Tearing through the city with drinking pal Harry Nilsson, Lennon seemed to fully embrace his chaotic path of self-destruction. While he would eventually come around enough to bring himself out of his increasingly fraught downward spiral, there was a clear spiritual line of demarcation between what came before and what was cut tragically short just a few years later.

It is within this self-reflective/post-self-destructive climate that Lennon embarked on the sessions that would produce Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not only would it represent a return to the music that inspired him in the first place, it also served as a swan song/love letter to fans, as he would, for all intents and purposes, retire from music and the public eye for the next half decade to concentrate on being a father to his son Sean. Because of this, there’s a heavy air of nostalgia at play. From the cover image (John in 1961 Hamburg, with a blurred Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe walking past him) down to the track listing, Rock ‘n’ Roll represents something of a mid-life reanalysis of self for the erstwhile Beatle. By returning to his roots, he was able to reassess his own position within and feelings toward the world of pop music.
Continue reading »

Jul 012016
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

imagine

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s first solo album, got many rave reviews and deserved them all, but there are people who aren’t comfortable witnessing someone baring his soul, and Lennon wanted to reach them too. So he made sure his next album, Imagine, sweetened his message, even as he kept it intact. “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating,” he later called it. By lightening his touch and assuring the songs landed in his fans’ hearts rather than crashing into them, Lennon was rewarded with a commercial success, not to mention the title track that came to be his signature song.
Continue reading »