Dec 082017

Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best covers albums 2017

Cover albums come and go from memory. It’s sort of inherent in the genre. When a major release comes out – a cover album by one prominent artist, or a tribute compilation by many – it tends to garner an avalanche of blog posts, then get forgotten within a year or two. Many deserve to, no doubt…but not all.

So, since we’ve been looking back a lot this year to celebrate our tenth birthday, I dug back into our previous year-end album lists. My original plan was to see which of our past #1s held up and which didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they were all still enjoyable. But many, even those that were big deals at the time, have been semi-forgotten.

So I thought, before we dive into this year’s crop, let’s remember what came before. We didn’t do a list the first couple years, but here’s every album we’ve named #1 so far, along with an excerpt of our reviews:

2009: The Lemonheads – ‘Varshons’
“Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos.”
See that year’s full list here.

2010: Peter Gabriel – ‘Scratch My Back’
“Against all odds, Gabriel builds an orchestra-filled, indie-fied, emotion-fueled masterpiece.”
See that year’s full list here.

2011: Baaba Kulka – ‘Baaba Kulka’
“It’s a boisterous Iron Maiden celebration by a collective that may not have a metal bone in its body, but invite big grins while you sing (and dance) along with the wildest crossover album this side of Warsaw.”
See that year’s full list here.

2012: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Americana’
“When you press play the first thing that strikes you is the fuzz of the power chords, the strained bellows, the cardboard-box bashing of the drums. Neil and the Horse’s ragged glory rages so hard the source material becomes secondary.”
See that year’s full list here.

2013: Xiu Xiu – ‘Nina’
“Xiu Xiu’s Nina Simone tribute album isn’t an easy listen. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable one either. What it is though is riveting.”
See that year’s full list here.

2014: Andrew Bird – ‘Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…’
“In Bird’s delivery, the Handsome Family’s songs of old, weird Americana kitsch will hopefully reach listeners who might find the originals too weird.”
See that year’s full list here.

2015: Bob Dylan – ‘Shadows in the Night’
“Him releasing an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra was no surprise at all; he’s been operating in the Ol’ Blues Eyes vein for decades now, just with a (very) different instrument.”
See that year’s full list here.

2016: Various Artists – ‘God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson’
“When it comes to preserving the depth and breadth of the contexts and traditions of American music that informed Blind Willie Johnson’s ecclesiastic but world-weary growl, it helps that the nine artists here…are able to handle the spiritual aspects of Johnson’s work.”
See that year’s full list here.

Okay, now that you’re all caught up – let’s see what this year holds!

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…


Aug 162017
ramonda hammer

Los Angeles quartet Ramonda Hammer gets compared to vintage 120 Minutes-era grunge a lot. Rolling Stone even said they sound “like an alternate Nineties where L7 was the biggest band in the world.” So it’s appropriate that their new David Bowie tribute comes by way of Kurt Cobain.

“We’re all Bowie fans, and when he passed we wanted to cover one of his songs as a tribute to him,” frontwoman Devin Davis says. “I think ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ was the obvious choice because 1) the lyrics are super powerful, and that has to resonate with me when singing a song, and 2) we’re also huge Nirvana fans, and their cover of that song for MTV Unplugged was mind-blowing. Since we’re a grunge band, we thought we’d try a heavy, fast-ish version of the song and make it our own, while paying homage to both David Bowie and Kurt Cobain.” Continue reading »

Feb 192017

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.


Raphael Camara was raised in the Philippines and is currently based in Leipzig, Germany. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2014. Of all his Cover Me pieces, he especially likes his pieces on Aurora covering Bowie and Dani Mari & Second Sky covering Radiohead.

On September 2, 2014, Ray gave the go on my first news article and published it to Cover Me (unbeknownst to him, it was also my birthday). It’s been nothing but great fun working with the crew here and this fall we celebrate our Aluminum Anniversary by asking our team to compile a list of covers they hold dear.

Down below, in no particular order of importance, are my picks. Enjoy!
Continue reading »

Feb 072017
Hula Hi-Fi

Many listeners’ knowledge of Hawaiian music begins and ends with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (which, to be fair, deserves every play it gets). But on a new album, a new trio aims to change that by adapting a dozen familiar songs across decades into a new genre they call “Hawaiian noir.” Like David Lynch in Maui, they reinvent songs by Nirvana (“In Bloom”), The Cars (“Drive”), Radiohead (“Bulletproof…I Wish I Was”), Chris Isaak (“Wicked Game”), and more with ukuleles, lap steel, and harmonies.

Known as Hula Hi-Fi, the band is new but the players – Josh Kaler, Annie Clements and Sarah Bandy – are seasoned, having worked with the likes of Sugarland, Amos Lee, Butch Walker, and more in their respective careers. Their abilities show; these are carefully constructed productions, not tossed-off ukulele strum-alongs. Continue reading »

Jan 242017

The final track from Nirvana’s breakthrough classic Nevermind doesn’t get as much cover love as the rest of outstanding tracks on that album. “Something in the Way” is almost a fragment of a song; you have to strain your ears to interpret Kurt Cobain’s whispered lyrics (second verse, same as the first) and in the end you are left with only a piece of a haunted tale. The refrain feels loud in comparison, but the most prominent contributor there is a cello. It’s a beautiful and chilling song, but tough to make it your own with so little content, already done so well. Continue reading »

Dec 162016

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs

2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.

Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.

Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”

The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.

We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!

Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.

Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…