Jan 132017

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!

keith richards

Over the years, the perception of Keith Richards has changed from “He’ll die any day now” to “How has he not died yet?” to “He’s never going to die.” In 2016, a year that wiped out Bowie, Prince, and Abe Vigoda, not to mention Emerson, Lake, and (Arnold) Palmer, the soul of the Stones kept right on glimmering. A popular meme shows him reading the paper and saying, “Hey, Mick, look who I outlived this week.” In a way, it’s self-fulfilling prophecy; Keith is rock and roll, and rock and roll – especially in the form of the Rolling Stones’ songs – will never die.

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Apr 112016

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.


Merle Haggard died on April 6th, his 79th birthday. On another April 6th, eleven years earlier, he celebrated his birthday in Chicago, opening the spring run of Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour.”

I don’t know what he did for most of that 66th birthday, but I do know how five minutes or so was spent. He was standing outside his tour bus, listening to a handful of Dylan obsessives sing “Happy Birthday” to him. I was one of them. Continue reading »

Jun 132014

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!

There is very little that can be considered “new” in the world of popular music — everything builds on something that came before, and influences get combined in different ways. So the idea that you can declare the inventor of a musical genre is ridiculous. Uncle Tupelo didn’t invent alt-country, a mix of country, rock and punk (check out, say, Jason and the Scorchers, the Long Ryders, Rank and File, X, or the Blasters, for example, for proof that these strains were already well mixed when Uncle Tupelo emerged). But it cannot be denied that Uncle Tupelo’s debut album No Depression, which gave its name to the influential message board and magazine that spearheaded the movement, helped to kickstart the genre’s popularity and became one of its cornerstones.

And it all started with a bunch of high school kids.
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Dec 192013

I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.

What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s. Continue reading »

Apr 192011

Tribute albums often sound more like compilations than unified albums. The usual mold of gathering together an eclectic group of artists to either produce their own covers of an artist or play together can make for interesting listening, but results in a rather disjointed affair. Even with a single artist bringing in “special guests” – a standard practice for these sorts of endeavors – the preponderance of different voices can struggle to create a cohesive sound. Ben Waters manages to completely avoid this trap on his new album Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute To Ian Stewart.

Stewart, often referred to as the “Sixth Stone,” mastered boogie-woogie piano and helped to form The Rolling Stones in 1962. Unfortunately, he did not fit the image created for the band by early manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who demoted Stewart to road manager. Undeterred, he served the band faithfully until his  death in 1985, occasionally contributing piano at Stones sessions and playing with Howlin’ Wolf, Led Zeppelin and Pete Townshend on the side. For the present tribute, boogie-woogie piano maestro Waters assembled a group of Stewart’s friends to record an album of the music Stewart loved. Continue reading »