Jul 012019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best elton john covers

The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.

Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.

And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.

Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.

May 012019
 
carl broemel gillian welch

There’s a great new interview on Joe Pug’s The Working Songwriter podcast with My Morning Jacket guitar god Carl Broemel. Among many other subjects, he talks about falling in love with David Rawlings’ guitar playing, and how what initially sounded like wrong notes at the beginning of “Time the Revelator” turned magical once his ears adjusted. Continue reading »

Dec 072017
 

Cripes, quite how do I put this with sufficient diplomacy?

Some of you may have been drawn to this record by their knowledge of Jim James’ main band My Morning Jacket. Some of you, like me, may be interested based on the strength and range of the titles covered by Jim James. For it is an eclectic selection. Broadway to the Beach Boys, Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Sonny and Cher. And, yes, of course some Dylan. Catnip for covers lovers from the mainman in a bonafide cool hipster band.

Realizing it is almost 15 years since I last bought an album by My Morning Jacket, 2003’s It Still Moves, I wonder whether there has been, um, a change of direction in the intervening years. I somehow assumed they had stuck fast in their Skynyrd/Shakey hybrid. Or maybe Jim James – or “Yim Yames”, as I recall with a shudder he briefly rechristened himself a decade ago – keeps this other side for solo stuff like this. I am uncertain whether these interpretations are weird or just wonky, largely played so straight and so simply as to reveal more his weaknesses than his strengths as a singer. Which is a pity, as he has a fine, if limited voice. Continue reading »

Nov 092017
 
jim james beach boys cover

My Morning Jacket has turned cover songs and tribute-album appearances into a cottage industry, playing tunes by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band. So it comes as no surprise that frontman Jim James will drop an album of covers on December 8 called Tribute to 2.   

James recently released the lead track from the album, a cover of the Beach Boys’ majestic “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from their 1966 magnum opus Pet Sounds. The tune was co-written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher and sung by Wilson. The moody song, with its dark, introspective lyrics, signalled a stark change for the band from its happy blend of Chuck Berry and doo-wop inspired surf-pop. James channels Wilson’s falsetto in such a way that he almost sounds like a lost Wilson brother. Continue reading »

Aug 312016
 
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Since Prince died, My Morning Jacket has worked a number of his songs into regular setlist rotation: “Raspberry Beret,” “Sign ‘O’ The Times,” “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” “Take Me With U,” and “Purple Rain.” But they have only covered David Bowie once, a “Young Americans” hometown encore in May. This weekend though, they made up for lost time with a knockout new cover of “Rebel Rebel” at Virginia’s Lockn’ festival. Watch it below.

They also debuted another new cover, of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic “What the World Needs Now.” It’s a song that can sound trite and cheesy in the wrong hands, but Jim James and co. brought the beauty back to it, complete with some fantastic guitar work by James. Watch that below too, as well as the other two covers they played: Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” (for only the second time ever) and, yes, “Purple Rain.” Continue reading »

Mar 222016
 
JimJames

My Morning Jacket frontman and angel of a singer Jim James has teamed up with Pakistan’s Sachal Ensemble to rework Stevie Wonder‘s “Love in Need of Love Today” into a joyous Eastern hymn. For a man who knows how to yell, James shows restraint in his spot-on Wonder impression, but his voice doesn’t lose any of the song’s emotion. It helps to have Sachal Ensemble at your side, an ensemble that’s famous for their classical reinterpretation of Western music (their Dave Brubeck cover is the best example). Continue reading »