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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Apr 302015
 
blitzentrapper

In 2008, Blitzen Trapper‘s album Furr generated a lot of buzz, as well as a standout track in the title song. Flash forward a few albums to 2013’s VII, and the experimental indie-folk group out of Portland sound as if they’ve left some of the wilder stuff behind and headed solidly into a southern-rock/jam band inspired direction. Last year their live cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in Me” with Dawes stuck to this blueprint, and now they continue in the same vein with their most recent cover of Neil Young. Continue reading »

Feb 162015
 

Sweet Judy “Blue Eyes” Collins is still majestic at 75.  Judy’s new release, Both Sides Now- The Very Best Of includes 28 beautiful original songs and interpretations of legendary songs. Her first single, “Helpless”, is a Neil Young cover, and a duet with Rachael Sage. Judy has called Neil Young a master songwriter. She has been connected to Neil and the rest of Crosby, Stills, and Nash for many years.  It’s her on-again off-again romance with Stephen Stills that inspired Stills to pen the lyrics “change my life, make it right, be my lady…” on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.  This was a failed attempt to get Judy back in the late ’60s. But the song was a hit in 1969 and made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. You can hear a Collins-Stills duet on the song “Last Thing on My Mind” (2010) on Both Sides Now.

Judy’s been an inspiration to musicians and politicians alike. Bill and Hillary Clinton named their daughter Chelsea after Judy’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Hotel.

Judy has had her share of struggles; depression, alcoholism, bulimia, and the suicide of her son to name a few battles. She’s triumphed beautifully and is not at all helpless like the title of her first single.  Judy’s graceful collaboration with a very young, virtually unknown artist, Rachael Sage, on her first duet is a testament to her humble and true devotion to music.

 

To read more about Judy, click here.

Jun 132014
 

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!

There is very little that can be considered “new” in the world of popular music — everything builds on something that came before, and influences get combined in different ways. So the idea that you can declare the inventor of a musical genre is ridiculous. Uncle Tupelo didn’t invent alt-country, a mix of country, rock and punk (check out, say, Jason and the Scorchers, the Long Ryders, Rank and File, X, or the Blasters, for example, for proof that these strains were already well mixed when Uncle Tupelo emerged). But it cannot be denied that Uncle Tupelo’s debut album No Depression, which gave its name to the influential message board and magazine that spearheaded the movement, helped to kickstart the genre’s popularity and became one of its cornerstones.

And it all started with a bunch of high school kids.
Continue reading »

Jun 102014
 

Neil Young may be guilty of inspiring too many bad rock and roll bands. If you weren’t already in a band in 1969, hearing “Down By The River” convinced you that anyone could play rock and roll. With an extended two chord jam and deceptively simple, awkwardly phrased guitar solos, the song was immediately accessible. Thousands of garage bands were formed with what seemed like the sole purpose of butchering this tune. Continue reading »

Jan 282014
 

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!

In their, yes, 40 years as a band, Los Lobos have demonstrated that not only can they play pretty much any style of music, they can play it very well. They have excelled with albums that have included blues, rock, R&B, experimental sounds, numerous styles of Mexican folk music, American folk music, Americana, and Tex-Mex, all performed and played brilliantly. They play acoustically and electrically. Their songs can be simple rockers, sinuous jams, complex sound collages, or heartbreaking stories of life on the margins. They tour regularly, with different sets each night. The core members of the band – David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Louie Pérez and Conrad Lozano – have been together from the start. Sax player Steve Berlin joined in the early 1980s, and they have had a few different drummers (though not quite to Spinal Tap levels of turnover), with the excellent Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez currently occupying the stool. Considering their longevity, the breadth of their output, and the quality of their songwriting and musicianship, they should be in contention for the mythical title of Greatest American Band, and it’s sinful that they’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Continue reading »