We already counted down the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2018 but, inevitably, many of our staff’s personal favorites get left off. So, before we begin scouting for what might become the best cover of 2019, we share the best of the rest, an unranked hodgepodge of worthy covers that only just missed our year-end countdown.
Bluegrass is a genre big on covers, with any fiddler worth his strings able to whip out old mountain songs, folk traditionals, and anything Bill Monroe or John Hartford ever wrote. On their upcoming album Cover Story, though, Charlottesville bluegrass quintet Love Canon take on more novel source material: pop hits of the 1980s. In fact, they gravitated towards the least acoustic sounds around, pickin’ through electronic dance songs by the likes of Mr. Mister, Peter Gabriel, and the song we’re premiering below: Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” And we thought last year’s bluegrass Radiohead cover was inventive!
Mark Erelli seems one of the good guys: prolific in the often solitary and lonely furrow of singer-songwritery, under the radar of most observers, weaving his nuanced mix of country and folk that never fails to beguile my ears. Lord knows how he makes a living. Along with others like Jeffrey Foucoult (with whom he has collaborated) Damien Jurado and the Joshes Rouse and Ritter (another collaborator) he seems always there in the background, a reliable source of well-crafted songs, never troubling the mainstream nor stealing the show.
Although he has a healthy and extensive repertoire of his own songs, covers are very much also his stock in trade, as a visit to his website soon reveals, with a monthly free download of the month – often a cover – unavailable elsewhere. (As I write his excellent version of “Midnight Rider” is serenading me, the January freebie.) He also performs an annual series of shows entitled ‘Under the Covers’ – sadly in the wrong continent for this writer to ever catch.
In addition to being an acclaimed songwriter, Boston’s Mark Erelli knocks us out whenever he puts the pen aside to sing someone else’s songs. His murder ballads collaboration with Jeffrey Foucault, Seven Curses, is one of the best covers albums of the decade, and every time he speckles an album with a Tom Waits or R.E.M. tune, it’s invariably fantastic. So we were thrilled to learn he’s prepping a full-length covers albums called Mixtape, for which he’s currently raising funds on Kickstarter now.
Mixtape won’t come out until January, but he was kind enough to share a track with us now, his version of Don Henley’s classic “The Boys of Summer.” Erelli starts slow and subdued, but the track gradually builds to a high-lonesome holler that sounds like what I imagine Springsteen’s full-band version of Nebraska must be. A couple years ago, we ranked the best covers of “The Boys of Summer”, and this deserves to live in that company.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Yesterday we took a look at the early years of Neil Young, as represented on the first two sides of Decade (if you missed it, click here to get caught up). Today, it’s sides three and four’s turn; a dozen artists looking at a dozen classics a dozen different ways…