Oct 052020
 
best tribute albums

Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now. Continue reading »

Sep 042020
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Zuma Crazy Horse Neil Young

Was Zuma the album that finally allowed Neil Young to ditch the encumbrance of being just the fourth name in a list of four?

Before the cloud fills with angry retorts, exhorting Shakey’s eternal place as King of the Gods, back down a little and let me explain.

For sure Young was huge before Zuma‘s 1975 release, that’s obvious, but he wasn’t, how you say, massive. Young made his name in Buffalo Springfield, alongside Stephen Stills; on that band’s implosion, their solo recordings each got notice and were garnished with praise. Stills arguably leapt ahead when he teamed up with Crosby and Nash, even if it then took Young joining to make the supergroup a superlative group. Fast forward past the post-Four Way Street wreckage: Manassas was giving Stills some huge credibility, and Young was in need of a band. Of course, he already had one, but they were arguably just background noise up until this point. Nerds (yes, that’s us) knew all about Crazy Horse and possibly had their separate records, but only with Zuma did Young bring them in the forefront and put them in sizable writing on the cover.

I would assert that this made the difference, catapulting Young ahead his onetime partner. Manassas may have had all the classy talent, but the Horse had pure, um, horsepower. Never again would Stills equal his rival, no matter how long he may run. Young didn’t even need the Horse to maintain his pole position, but, give or take the International Harvesters or Promise of the Real, Booker T’s MGs even, it seems only with these guys does Neil really fly. Unless, paradoxically, he is entirely alone.
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Aug 142020
 

The late great guitarist Roy Buchanan, who died on this day in 1988, liked to say he was the son of a preacher man. And that as a boy he attended church revivals with Black congregations, where he first heard blues music. He was the first white guy to absorb the blues, he liked to say, and to build a career around the form.

These claims may not be the gospel truth–Buchanan also insisted he was “half-wolf.” His own brother denies that their father did any preaching at all. The truth is that Roy Buchanan was a dark and complicated man and artist.

What is also unmistakably true is that few have mastered their instrument to the depth Roy did. Buchanan’s close listeners praise his array of astonishing techniques, and how he used them to express uniquely emotive statements. As with a good Hendrix solo, you catch your breath at the sheer intensity of sound and soulfulness that Buchanan summons up when he’s running hot. His Fender Telecaster screams and cries, whistles and whines in ways are piercing in one second and tender in the next—Roy could recreate the human voice in uncanny ways. But then he’d spin into machine-like rapid-fire notes that make your teeth hurt. He didn’t need effect pedals to achieve this sonic richness—he was a purist in his way, defiantly old-school in a period that expected progressive experimentation.
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Jul 242020
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

CSNY

Crosby, Stills and Nash had already staked their claim as a bona fide supergroup courtesy their first release, cemented by their appearance in the Woodstock documentary. Of course, Neil Young had already joined the band by the time they got there, if mysteriously missing from the film in its initial iteration. His second gig, he appeared for the electric second part of the set. To me he always seemed their secret weapon. Old compadre and sparring partner of Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, there was always the fear he could engineer the gig to being as big a draw in his own right as the trio he joined. Maybe he did; however much I loved the trio, they were always in a different league with Young’s fiery presence on board.

Deja Vu came out in 1970, after being put together in different studios and at different times, with only selections of the four featuring at any one time. All the vocals save “Woodstock” were recorded separately and then spliced together, amid much argument and revision. Young did everything on the half of the album he appears on all by himself, then took away the contributions of the others to mix as he saw fit. Completion took hours, days and weeks.

But it was all worth it. Somehow Deja Vu holds together cohesively, in no small part down to the rhythm section, the excellent Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves. Certified gold within a fortnight, partly on the back of $2 million presales, it spent nearly two years in the Billboard chart, despite largely grudging and lackluster reviews. It still seems the pinnacle of their collective career, the only real instance wherein the deceitful artifice of any group collective manages fully to convince, melding individual directions with a combined corporacy.

Like most of our Full Cover posts, we have near-endless options for some songs and had to go scrounging for others – no trouble finding covers of “Teach Your Children,” but how many versions of “Everybody I Love You” have you heard? See what you think of the ten songs we pulled together here…
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Jul 162020
 

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

Box of Birds

Is the Church’s A Box of Birds the stock contractual filler for a band bereft of ideas, or a vivid introduction to those influences that begat the inspiration to form in the first place? In truth, it’s a bit of both. At a first listen it even begs whether it deserves status as a Covers Classic. Bear with me, it does, if only saved by the bell of the closing track.

A Box of Birds is a curious mix of songs, from hit singles familiar to all to deeper cuts known but to the few. Gone, by and large, is the space and counterplay that had made the Church’s name, with very little demonstration of how dual guitars can sparkle off each other. Sure, it sounds fun, with an image of the band playing these songs on the hoof, in a garage, that picture added to by the slightly muddy mix and the contrived run of one track into the next. If they hadn’t fully decided what to play until they began, well, that too seems not unlikely. But it all becomes a little wearing, particularly in the build-up to the finale. If ever an album cries out for a grand finish, this is it. And, praise be, the Church deliver.

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Jun 192020
 

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!

While The Isley Brothers are commonly filed under Soul or R&B, that categorization only partially reflects what they have delivered soundwise since the release of their first album way back in 1959. We all know how this works: basically, whatever genre your biggest hits fall into will then by default define who you are to the world forevermore. And because their most popular songs are of the soul shouter-disco/funk-quiet storm variety, they have been conveniently stuffed into the singular genre of Soul/R&B. But in the case of the Isleys, this cut-and-dried categorization is exceptionally misleading. Which is to say, while their ’60s hits “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You) and “Shout Pts. & 2” remain their highest ranking tracks in terms of Spotify plays, they are hardly reflective of the true, signature Isley sound, a perfect melding of topical Rock & Soul that remains unmatched to this day. Make no mistake (and with all due respect to their former Motown label mates, The Temptations and The Four Tops), The Isley Brothers were a proper band. Like The Beatles or The Stones. A classic old school, turn the amp up to 11, self-contained, smokin’, genre-defying band.

This is just a roundabout way of saying  if you want to know what the Isleys are really about sonically and philosophically, it’s best to avoid the greatest hits playlists and head straight for the string of positively seminal studio albums the band released from 1971-1976. There were 6 in total over that time, beginning with Givin’ It Back and running on through to 1976’s Harvest For The World. It is there you will meet O’Kelly, Rudolph, Ronald, Ernie, Marvin and Chris Jasper, the real Isley Brothers.
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