Dec 112015
 

Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

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Everywhere but here, the world of cover and tribute albums tends to be a sleepy one. Most years our “Best Cover Albums” list is composed of records that either flew totally under the radar or, at best, earned a few news posts on music blogs. There’s the “all star” tribute albums that make a brief mark before being largely forgotten. And there’s the big-name artists whose cover albums get seen as a side project before their next “real” albums. That’s just the lot you sign up for when you release an album of cover songs most years.

But most years don’t have Ryan Adams. Continue reading »

Oct 232015
 

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

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I was a big fan of Roxy Music, in both their spiky earlier incarnation and their smoother second phase, then lost a little faith as Bryan Ferry seemed to endlessly noodle around and around the same somewhat bland and anodyne motifs, solo recordings palling – apart from, I have to say, and appropriately on this site, his all-Bob cover album Dylanesque, which carried a bit more verve and spark than his own stuff. However, back and currently on the road, Ferry seems to have hit upon a bit of a stride – largely, in truth, by an extensive revisiting of his Roxy catalog, rarely playing material from this century. Be that as it may, “More Than This,” from 1982’s Avalon, and actually their last UK top ten hit (it barely bothered the US charts, peaking at 102), has always struck me as a bit of a throwaway, with the by-then Ferry formula padded out in what was becoming a somewhat repetitive set of chord progressions, later repeated ad nauseum in his subsequent solo career. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a bit meh. But, inexplicably, it has become a bit of a standard for covering, perhaps on account of one of the versions commented upon below.
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Jul 172015
 

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

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Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
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