Dec 172015
 

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

CoverMeBestSongs2015

I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.

Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.

How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.

So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.

Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.

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

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Mar 132015
 

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!

When you consider their longevity, the sheer number and variety of their live performances, and influences as diverse as bluegrass, country, soul, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, it is likely that the Grateful Dead may have recorded and/or performed more covers than any other band that is best known for its original songs. (There’s probably a wedding band out there that has a bigger songbook, but that’s not really the point.) Grateful Dead fans have been trading and cataloging their favorite band’s performances since long before the idea of digital music and the Internet even existed, and now there are numerous databases available online — one of which shows 343 separate covers performed by the band (and solo projects and offshoots), including soundchecks and performances with guests.

Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Cover Me has never turned its lovelight directly on the Grateful Dead. We have written numerous times about covers of Dead songs, but a quick review of the archives indicates that only three covers by the band have been featured—Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and “Mama Tried.” So, that leaves us a mere 340 to choose from today. To make this project (inspired in part by Phil Lesh’s 75th birthday this Sunday and by the recent announcement of the band’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago this summer) somewhat less insane, we will limit ourselves only to recordings or performances by the Grateful Dead, proper — no solo projects or anything from after the death of Jerry Garcia.
Continue reading »

Sep 062011
 

Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy is not only known as a man of many names, but also as an artist crossing many genres. Freak folk, Americana, indie rock, punk and roots are some of the labels put on his music. Out of the many sounds heard in his songs, alt-country and outlaw country may be some of the most influential. Oldham has often paid tribute to music he enjoys, but this time around he is honoring one of his major influences: American country music legend Merle Haggard. Continue reading »

Jul 152011
 

When reviewing covers, we generally talk in terms of a particular artist, song, or album being covered. A covers album taking a broader look at a theme or genre comes along relatively rarely. There’s a free new two-disc collection out there that does just that, though, hitting the mark spot on. OndaDrops Vol 4: Oneway Ticket to Nowhere is a collection of contemporary artists covering American country outlaw singer-songwriters from the ’70s. United by the same desire for sincerity, and impatience with the rules and conventions of glitzy Nashville, modern folk/country artists perform songs about alcohol abuse, sleeping around, and living a life on the edge of society. Continue reading »

May 102011
 

Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.

• Later this week, Detroit soul revivalist Mayer Hawthorne will be dropping a free covers EP on Twitter. The first glimpse is an official recording – finally – of a song he’s been covering live for months. Recorded with his band The County, it’s ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.”
MP3: Mayer Hawthorne – Mr. Blue Sky (ELO cover)

• Raleigh quintet The Young Sinclairs just dropped their new collection Don’t Believe In Demos Vol. 1 today, and the first track off side two is a particular treat. It’s a jingle-jangly Byrds-esque cover of Merle Haggard’s outlaw country classic “Running Kind.” You can practically hear Roger McGuinn on 12-string.
MP3: The Young Sinclairs – Running Kind (Merle Haggard cover)

• Atlanta prog-metal band From Exile just dropped a free Nine Inch Nails covers EP on their website. It trades out the glitchy synths for guitars on songs like “Ruiner,” but the most dramatic reinvention is instrumental “A Warm Place,” which positively aches with a slow-melting guitar line.
MP3: From Exile – A Warm Place (Nine Inch Nails cover)

• Electro-rock duo The City Music Project recently dropped this free dance jam on Pink Floyd’s The Wall classic. Would have fit right in with our Full Album Wall doublefeature.
MP3: The City Music Project – The Thin Ice (Pink Floyd cover)

• Chicago shoegazer Vehicle Blues create a swirling soundscape on “Sleeping with Tallboy.” Originally East River Pipe, one of the more obscure artists on the Merge Records roster, “Sleeping with Tallboy” now sounds more like “Sleeping with Shrooms.”
MP3: Vehicle Blues – Sleeping with Tallboy (East River Pipe cover)

Check out more Quickies here.

Apr 062011
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Thirty-eight number one country hits, numerous Academy of Country Music awards, three Grammy Awards and somewhere around 10 billion studio and live albums (give or take): Merle Haggard has accomplished a good deal in his 74 years on this planet. He has experienced his share of hardships as well – “hard living,” four marriages, heart problems and recent lung cancer – but he still continues to release albums and tour constantly. As an originator of both the Bakersfield sound and outlaw country, Haggard came upon the scene at a time when country music had drifted far from its roots, with overwrought, schmaltzy ballads dominating the charts. Along with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, he helped inject a much-needed dose of reality, likely rescuing the genre from a permanent descent into the adult contemporary wilderness. Continue reading »