Feb 102017
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Long after the image of Britney Spears as a spy disguised as the world’s randiest stewardess – excuse me: flight attendant – has faded from millennial memories, the song “Toxic” will remain just as powerful as it was on first release. Still the sole Grammy winner of Britney’s career (Best Dance Recording of 2004), “Toxic” found music critics in the unusual position of falling all over themselves praising one of her songs. Some dealt with that conundrum by saying it could have been just as irresistible in another singer’s hands. In fact, it very nearly was – it was offered to Kylie Minogue first, but she turned it down. Still, the fact is, Britney delivered the goods here in every respect, and it’s little wonder that she’s since said it’s her favorite of her songs.
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Mar 172016
 

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!

Dolly-Parton

 
Dolly Parton is one of the true legends of country & western music. Half a century after the release of her first true C&W album, 1966’s Hello, I’m Dolly, she’s announced a 60-city North American tour that will promote her upcoming 2-CD set Pure & Simple, containing both new material and greatest hits from throughout her career. For all her years in the musical industry, Dolly has never forgotten her roots, and she continues to perform at a high level at an age when most artists are tired of the road.

When looking back over her career, it’s clear that she’s an original, and her critical and commercial success as a songwriter reflects that. But like any true great, she knows the value of a good cover song. Millions and millions of dollars, in the case of Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You,” but the cover songs that Dolly herself records have worth that goes beyond the bank. She’s had huge success with covers in each of the last several decades. Here are some of her best.
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Jul 162015
 
watkins_family_hour2

For thirteen years, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins – best known as two-thirds of Nickel Creek – have been hosting a monthly “Watkins Family Hour” concert in L.A. Frequent collaborators include Fiona Apple and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, and they and more have finally recorded a debut album due out next week. It’s all covers, and the closing track is especially timely with the Grateful Dead just wrapping things up last week: the Dead’s American Beauty classic “Brokedown Palace.” Continue reading »

Feb 202015
 

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

Tusk‘s reputation as an infamous failure is pretty much cemented at this point. But it didn’t actually fail at all.
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Jan 282009
 

Don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier. The White Stripes have been one of my favorite bands ever since I saw a video of them performing “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” on MTV surrounded by inanely dancing candy cane “fans”(here it is). Since then I’ve seen them live four times, and hope they reunited this year for another go round. While we wait though, many others are keeping their tunes alive.

The Dynamics – Seven Nation Army
Turns out there’s a cover or two for this song – who knew? Hell, everyone from the Flaming Lips to Duran Duran has tried it on for size. None match the bossa-nova funk of this slow-groove though. [Buy]

Aluminium – Why Can’t You Be Nicer to Me?
Richard Russell, founder of XL Records, and Joey Talbot, British composer, came together in 2005 to record one of the greatest tribute albums I’ve ever heard, an all avant-garde orchestral series of mostly-obscure Stripes tunes. The String Quartet Tribute this ain’t. They touch all albums from their first to their most recent at the time, even taking on b-sides and soundtrack contributions along the way. Click this link and get this album now. [Buy]

Long Goners – Ball & Biscuit
Jack White’s blues-rock barnstormer brings it all back home with some indie slide-folk. Lead singer Bernadette Seacrest has clearly learned much from the Stripes, having the presence of mind not to change the genders in the song as is so common (see Joss Stone’s horrendous “Fell in Love with a Boy”). Would the Stripes’ “Jolene” have made sense with “please don’t take my…woman”? This one’s from a hit-or-miss tribute disc called Indie Translations of the White Stripes. [Buy]

Chris Thile – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
This ex-Nickel Creek man brings his mandolin bluegrass and yelping falsetto to this fiddle and harmony-filled ditty. With such a rockin’ woodsy sound, a tune about leaves and dirt makes perfect sense. [Buy]

Nikka Costa – The Denial Twist
It was their third single from 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan and, many would argue, the most enduring (“My Doorbell” eventually got irritating). Costa’s version sounds similar to the swamp guitar original until the horns blast away all memory of the White siblings (read: exes) and Nikka’s wail forces its way to the front of the sound. [Buy]

The New York No Stars – The Big Three Killed My Baby
An appropriate song for this day and age, no doubt, as the big three are going down themselves. The original’s a classic Jack screecher, taken down here for some lounge-jazz that proves that the song does indeed have a melody. From yet another tribute album. [Buy]

Jack Johnson – My Doorbell
Johnson got a lot of blog attention for his twee cover of “We Are Going to Be Friends” on the Curious George soundtrack. It was bland and boring, sure, but not really objectionable; frankly, I would say the same is true for the original. A better tune, Johnson puts his laid-back pleasantness to, you know, chill use on this poppy confection, recorded for a radio show. [Buy]

Bree Sharp – We Are Going to be Friends
Like I said above, not a huge fan of this song. Many others are, however, and I can’t help remember with fondness its use in the opening of Napoleon Dynamite (video, in case you forgot). [Buy]

The Pistol Whippin’ Party Penguins – Hotel Yorba
It’s a live one, from the never-ending source of wonder that is archive.org. Sounds like a folk-bluegrass jam session, with lots of group singing and a fiddle solo! So, basically just like the original. [Buy]

Chan Marshall – I Want to Be the Boy
You probably know this little lady as Cat Power, and she’s been on a bit of a covers kick lately. She takes a break from her beloved vintage soul at a live show in ’03, interspersing it with typically self-effacing remarks about no one singing along. Only problem here: she does change the gender. And stops it early, which is a shame. Grr… [Buy]

Radiohead

 Posted by at 11:16 pm  No Responses »
Aug 112008
 

I’m seeing Radiohead on Wednesday night, and that seemed as good an excuse as any for this week’s theme.
EDIT: My review of the concert here.

Easy Star All-Stars – Let Down
From the people who brought you Dub Side of the Moon, it’s Radiodread! You can probably guess the musical genre, but they’re surprisingly adept at bringing the Jamaican flavor to the music, throwing in horns and a big chorus on top of the backbeat guitar.

Jorge Drexler – High and Dry
You may not know the name of this Latin guitar master, but Oscar does. In 2004 his song from The Motorcycle Diaries made him the first person from Uruguay to win an Academy Award. Throw this cover in a film, and I’d vote for a second.

Nickel Creek – Just
Fast-paced bluegrass is what Nickel Creek does, and they do it well.

John Mayer – Kid A
This is Mayer in his acoustic “Your Body Is a Wonderland” guise, not the blues guitar god, but don’t hold that against this simple power-chord ballad.

Northern Kings – Creep
Wikipedia calls them a “Finnish symphonic metal cover band,” following in the footsteps of Lordi but with less elaborate costumes. They do everyone from Lionel Ritchie to Jethro Tull on their album Reborn and here they bring their epic goth to Radiohead. You may well hate it, but for a song that’s been covered a billion times, at least it’s different.

Christopher O’Riley – Arpeggi
A classical pianist, O’Riley has a whole series of Yorke songs in his repertoire, many of which can be downloaded at his website. This is a cover of the early live version of a song that would be revised for In Rainbows as “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi.” O’Riley says he prefers the early version for “the more minimalist/tone generative aspects inherent in the song structure.” Okay.

John Vanderslice – Karma Police
A few years ago Stereogum commissioned covers of every song off OK Computer to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The whole thing is downloadable here (track-by-track notes here), but this off-beat drum machine take is a highlight, with some of the hardest-rocking acoustic guitar you’re likely to hear this side of the D coming in halfway through.

Gnarls Barkley – Reckoner
Cee-Lo’s voice is perfect for this song, which they’ve been doing in their sets as of late. A higher quality source (soundboard) than most others circulating.

KT Tunstall – Fake Plastic Trees
The introspective quiet-but-whiney female thing got real old after Vanessa Carlton and Alanis Morisette in the 90’s, but this song works well in the style.

Gillian Welch – Black Star
Country songwriter Welch makes brings sweet harmonies and guitar work to this one, avoiding any temptation to make it all Nashville honky-tonk.

Sa-Ra – In Limbo
From the electronic-ey tribute album Exit Music: Songs for Radioheads, Sa-Ra brings a funk element to all the synthesizers. More fun in one song than all of Kid A.

Calico Horse – Idioteque
I would have thought this song was uncoverable. I would have been wrong. It sounds perfectly natural in this quiet, drum machine free guise.