Dec 082017
 

Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best covers albums 2017

Cover albums come and go from memory. It’s sort of inherent in the genre. When a major release comes out – a cover album by one prominent artist, or a tribute compilation by many – it tends to garner an avalanche of blog posts, then get forgotten within a year or two. Many deserve to, no doubt…but not all.

So, since we’ve been looking back a lot this year to celebrate our tenth birthday, I dug back into our previous year-end album lists. My original plan was to see which of our past #1s held up and which didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they were all still enjoyable. But many, even those that were big deals at the time, have been semi-forgotten.

So I thought, before we dive into this year’s crop, let’s remember what came before. We didn’t do a list the first couple years, but here’s every album we’ve named #1 so far, along with an excerpt of our reviews:

2009: The Lemonheads – ‘Varshons’
“Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos.”
See that year’s full list here.

2010: Peter Gabriel – ‘Scratch My Back’
“Against all odds, Gabriel builds an orchestra-filled, indie-fied, emotion-fueled masterpiece.”
See that year’s full list here.

2011: Baaba Kulka – ‘Baaba Kulka’
“It’s a boisterous Iron Maiden celebration by a collective that may not have a metal bone in its body, but invite big grins while you sing (and dance) along with the wildest crossover album this side of Warsaw.”
See that year’s full list here.

2012: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Americana’
“When you press play the first thing that strikes you is the fuzz of the power chords, the strained bellows, the cardboard-box bashing of the drums. Neil and the Horse’s ragged glory rages so hard the source material becomes secondary.”
See that year’s full list here.

2013: Xiu Xiu – ‘Nina’
“Xiu Xiu’s Nina Simone tribute album isn’t an easy listen. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable one either. What it is though is riveting.”
See that year’s full list here.

2014: Andrew Bird – ‘Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…’
“In Bird’s delivery, the Handsome Family’s songs of old, weird Americana kitsch will hopefully reach listeners who might find the originals too weird.”
See that year’s full list here.

2015: Bob Dylan – ‘Shadows in the Night’
“Him releasing an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra was no surprise at all; he’s been operating in the Ol’ Blues Eyes vein for decades now, just with a (very) different instrument.”
See that year’s full list here.

2016: Various Artists – ‘God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson’
“When it comes to preserving the depth and breadth of the contexts and traditions of American music that informed Blind Willie Johnson’s ecclesiastic but world-weary growl, it helps that the nine artists here…are able to handle the spiritual aspects of Johnson’s work.”
See that year’s full list here.

Okay, now that you’re all caught up – let’s see what this year holds!

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

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Mar 312017
 

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!

mavericks

Read any article about the Mavericks and you are almost guaranteed to see the word “eclectic.” And that is fair. Their music is a cocktail of country, rock, blues, folk, Cuban, Tex-Mex, swing, and probably other genres, that somehow all works together. It is surely a testament to the strong writing, tight playing, and maybe most of all, the rich vocals and riveting stage presence of singer Raul Malo, that the band is able to meld these influences into a coherent body of work.

Also, they are an amazing live act, which doesn’t hurt.
Continue reading »

Jan 042017
 
govt mule beacon

Warren Haynes’ band Gov’t Mule have made a tradition of epic New Years Eve shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Last year they did three full sets of covers of other artists (as “Grateful Mule”, “The AllMule Brothers,” and “The Mule” [The Band]). And for 2016, they paid tribute to the long list of musician who left us this year, covering Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Merle Haggard, The Eagles (for Glenn Frey), Parliament Funkadelic (Bernie Worrell), Earth, Wind & Fire (Maurice White), The Black Crowes (Eddie Harsch), and Emerson Lake and Palmer (Keith Emerson and Greg Lake). Whew! Continue reading »

Dec 162016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs

2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.

Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.

Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”

The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.

We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!

Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.

Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…

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May 272016
 

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

almostblue

Some of us were just a wee bit old for punk. Hell, yes, of course we said we liked it at the time. Probably actually did, in truth, but with a throw back crossed-fingers of restraint, without the hard-core readiness to burn all before ’74. (OK, year zero was ’75, but scans less well, and what’s a year in the 40 [forty!] years since?) So my generation, teens in the age of prog, took to Elvis C., knowing he was one of us really, outwith the bombast and wardrobe design. And we knew he had heard the records we held dear, and more. At times he seemed he knew more records than anyone, ever, given the sometime less than subtle steals from ’60s rock and soul, something he honestly admitted to in his largely entertaining autobiography, Unfaithful Music. At 15 I was a twin aficionado of folk-rock and country-rock, desperate to make sure the hyphen-rock was included, terrified of being mistaken for a finger-in-ear folkie, or rhinestoned “and western.” I’d had a whiff of Elvis’ love for the latter – he had name-checked my poster boy Gram Parsons in interviews, and a couple country weepers showed up on the odds ‘n’ sods cassette-only Ten Bloody Marys and Ten How’s Your Fathers (released as Taking Liberties in the US). So it was both delight and affirmation when, in 1981, he issued Almost Blue, both his first album of all covers and his first album produced by other than Nick Lowe. I was in heaven, knowing the nay-sayers to my arcane listening were wrong, and I play the record a lot to this day.
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Apr 282016
 
JohnFullbright

When folks have paid tribute to Merle Haggard recently, they’ve mostly picked the obvious songs: “Mama Tried” and “Okie From Muskogee.” But Grammy-nomined singer-songwriter John Fullbright – an actual Okie, unlike Merle – dug far deeper into the catalog, for the best Haggard cover yet. It’s an obscure song called “Sometimes I Dream,” from Haggard’s 1990 album Blue Jungle. How many people know Haggard albums from the ’90s? Continue reading »