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.
Tommy Emmanuel is a guitar player’s guitar player. Just ask the late Chet Atkins, who christened Emmanuel a C.G.P. (Certified Guitar Player) and named him one of the five most versatile guitar pickers in the world. Known mostly for his whirlwind fingerpicking style – think Roy Clark or early Glen Campbell – the Australian native recently transplanted to Nashville has just released Accomplice One, a record that features eclectic and cool cover songs performed with equally diverse duet partners including Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Rodney Crowell, Mark Knopfler and ukelele maestro Jake Shimabukuru.
“Watch out, you may get what you’re after,” David Byrne sang in 1983’s Talking Heads classic “Burning Down the House.” Byrne is not shy to collaborate with artists he admires across a vast array of genres and levels of fame, including St. Vincent, Selena (RIP), Fatboy Slim, Caetano Veloso, and more. It seems Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Canadian choir that went viral for their rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in 2016 – and a large crowd of fans – got what they were after last Saturday in New York when the choir performed with David Byrne.
Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Year-end lists are a time to look back. That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of this year.
See, we turned ten years old in 2017 – practically ancient in internet-blog terms – so we’ve indulged in what we feel is well-earned nostalgia. At the beginning of the year, each of our writers picked the ten most important covers in their life (see them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). We even listed the ten most important covers in Cover Me‘s life, from the song that inspired the site to our very first Best of the Year winner.
Then, to cap things off, in October we commissioned a 25-track tribute to the cover song itself – which you can still download for free. We love the covers everyone contributed so much, incidentally, that we didn’t consider them for this list. It’d be like picking favorite children – if you had 25 of ’em.
Oh, and have I mentioned I wrote a book? … What’s that you say? I mentioned that constantly? Well, I’m quite proud of it. It’s called Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time and it makes a great Christmas gift and – ok, ok, I’ll stop. You can find plenty more about it elsewhere.
Suffice to say, there’s been a lot of looking back this year. And we hope you’ll indulge us this one last glance rearward before we leap into 2018. Because if it’s been a hell of a year for us, it’s certainly also been a hell of a year for the cover song in general. Some of this year’s list ranks among the best covers we’ve ever heard, period. So dig in, and thanks for your support this past decade.
– Ray Padgett
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
“It’s an old expression,” Jesse Nolan explained in an interview with MTV. “Musicians used to say you caught a ghost if you gave a good performance. Like you were possessed.”
The spirit has certainly moved Caught a Ghost, the Los Angeles indie-electro-soul musical collective headed by Nolan. They give a 21st-century voice to the ghosts of Stax and Motown, welding them to ’90s hip-hop and electronica. Nolan, who plays most of the instruments in the studio and leads a whole stageful in Caught a Ghost’s highly-praised live shows (could be four, could be eight – “We just take whoever is available when we play”), describes himself as an “imperfectionist,” making sure the music is realer by not refining it to death.
Back in the late ’90s, there was a California band named Rodriguez that consisted of Matt Ward and Kyle Field. (They went through more drummers than Spinal Tap.) Rodriguez released only one album, but those two guys went on to create names for themselves. Matt Ward shortened his name to M. Ward, and – among other projects – is now the “him” in the duo She & Him. (The “she” is actress Zooey Deschanel.)