Dec 192013

I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.

What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s. Continue reading »

Dec 132013

Fifty years ago, a covers album wasn’t called a “covers album.” It was called an album. Full stop.

Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Billie Holiday – most albums anyone bought were “covers albums” as we’d think of them today, but that’s not how folks thought of them then. Once the public began putting a premium on singers writing their own songs in the ’60s the concept of course shifted, so that an artist doing a covers album has to be like Michael Jordan playing baseball – an okay diversion but let’s get back to the main event please.

More so this year than ever before though, that pendulum seems to be swinging back in small but meaningful ways to what an album originally meant. More and more artists are releasing LPs saying, this is not my new quote-on-quote “covers album,” this is my new album (that happens to consist of covers). The attitude showcases a confidence and surety of purpose that shows they take performing other peoples songs every bit as seriously as they do their own.

That holds true for both of our top two covers albums this year, and plenty more sprinkled throughout. Which isn’t to knock anyone doing a covers album as a lark, novelty, tribute, or side project – you’ll see plenty of those here as well – but any blurred lines that put a “covers album” on the same level as a “normal” album have to be a good thing.

Start our countdown on Page 2…

Nov 042013

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Not much can be said about Lou Reed that hasn’t already been said. When he died on October 27 at age 71, Reed left behind an indisputable legacy of influence that dwarfs some of the biggest names in rock and roll. You can ignore him, hate his music or his voice, dislike his politics or his openness with drugs and sexuality, or downplay his role in rock and roll history — but none of that matters. If you chopped down the tree of influence that grew from the roots of Reed and the Velvet Underground, what would come crashing down would take out most of the house of rock and roll as we know it. The leaf you listen to seems to be all its own, but the branches that hold it up are massive.
Continue reading »

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Where I come from, Shel Silverstein was a demigod. —David Mamet

Shel Silverstein was the unofficial poet laureate of everyone’s childhood. His books — The Giving Tree, A Light In the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends — were instrumental in showing that kids could handle some of the adult themes in life without becoming degenerates, or maybe even that it was okay to be a degenerate. That’s not to say the bluenoses didn’t try to stop him: A Light in the Attic placed midway in the top 100 books banned from the 1990′s. Some bristled at Silverstein’s adult side, even though he saved his more salacious material for songs and adult poems that weren’t meant for children. That material is definitely a product of the sixties and seventies, detailing everything from every sexual fetish imaginable (“Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball”) to every drug available (“The Perfect High”). Some of it we’ll feature today, the 14th anniversary of his death (or at least of the day they found his body).  Read on. Continue reading »

On April 2, ATO Records will release The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver. Artists such as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Dave Matthews, and Amos Lee all contributed to the homage to the great singer, songwriter, activist, and humanitarian John Denver. NPR gives us a sneak peak of the record with My Morning Jacket‘s rendition of “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” Continue reading »

The song “Wonderful(The Way I Feel)” was originally written by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem to perform in the last released Muppets film and tour, but was left unused. James said: “So now, twice, Muppet glory has been within my grasp…it’s pretty heartbreaking, but it did propel us just to kick into high gear and finish our own record.”  The record Circuital was released last May as MMJ’s sixth album. Continue reading »

Though Bob Dylan moved away from his role as a ‘protest singer’ long ago — we saw Another Side by his fourth album — his name will forever be associated with social activism. The international human rights organization Amnesty International rose out of the same turbulent era as Dylan, forming in 1961, the year Dylan recorded his first album. Fitting, then, that in celebration of their 50th birthday, Amnesty would call on artists to contribute their Dylan covers to the massive four disc set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. Continue reading »

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International doesn’t come out for another month, but the massive four-disc tribute is available to stream below. We’re just making our way through it ourselves, but the Gaslight Anthem’s “Changing of the Guards” and Queens of the Stone Age‘s “Outlaw Blues” are early highlights. On the flip side, Ke$ha‘s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is truly atrocious (though Miley Cyrus‘ “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” isn’t bad at all). For whatever reason, you can stream 60-second excerpts of the first two discs and the full songs for the second two. At 2+ hours of music, though, we think you’ll survive. Stream the album below, then tell us what the best/worst songs are in the comments. (via Facebook) Continue reading »

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