Nov 292011
 

Back in 2007, Okkervil River released their free Golden Opportunities covers mixtape. It featured Will Sheff and co. paying homage to some of their favorite songs and songwriters. Four years later, that mixtape has a sequel, in the form of the Golden Opportunities 2 EP. The five tracks find the band digging even deeper than before, covering songs by Bill Fay, Ted Lucas, Jim Sullivan, and David McComb (via his band the Triffids). Continue reading »

Nov 072011
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Joni Mitchell turns 68 today and, in terms of influence, her star burns as bright as ever. As folk stages its umpteenth popular revival, a whole new generation of folkies, freak-folkies, neofolkies, and indie folkies have taken lessons from decades of her simple, heart-wrenching songs. Dozen of hip, Pitchfork-approved artists namecheck Mitchell in interviews and display an obvious debt in their songs. On Joni’s birthday, we pay tribute to her through some of their tributes. Continue reading »

Aug 252010
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Elvis Costello has achieved many things in his thirty-year career, but perhaps one tops them all. Thanks to Costello, when someone said the name “Elvis,” you have to ask “Which one?” That’s quite a feat, reclaiming that word from the guy who started rock and roll.*

From his (in)famous Saturday Night Live stunt in 1977 to his more pedestrian White House appearance last month, Costello has done it all. Punk rocker. Country crooner. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Talk show host. The man’s packed a lot into his 56 years, so on his birthday we’ll let him take it easy. Here’s five of our favorite covers. Continue reading »

Jan 142009
 

–Edit: Reposted, with the offending link removed.–

Didn’t best of 2008 lists get played out in, oh, 2008? Yes. I even already had a post on the best covers of the year. So what is this? Well, I get a kick out of year-end lists, so I really enjoyed seeing the Hype Machine compile hundreds of them into one master list of the fifty most highly-rated albums on the blogosphere. You can read it most easily here, though there aren’t too many surprises. Regardless, I though I’d throw up all the covers I had of songs from these albums. In true year-end list fashion, they’re in descending order.

Laura Barrett – Gamma Ray (Beck, Modern Guilt)
I’ll be honest: I like Beck, loathed this album. I only even made it throw once, it just seemed like experimental mush that took me nowhere. Luckily, Barrett heard something I didn’t, as her twee karimba (wikipedia it) cover gives it a fuzzy cuteness that the grunge-synth of the original obliterated. [Buy]

Friendly Fires – I’m Good I’m Gone (Lykke Li, Youth Novels)
Count me out of the Lykke Li obsession too. From the first time I saw her spastically gyrating on Conan, I knew this strange Swede was not for me. Friendly Fires strips away the irritating production enough to make it more tolerable, though it sneaks in towards the end. [Buy]

Holy Fuck – Balloons (Foals, Antidotes)
I haven’t actually heard the original here, but this unfortunately-named band’s electronica take slowly draws you in, taking it sweet time to add layer to layer. [Buy]

Mason Proper – Get Innocuous/Love Lockdown (LCD Soundsystem/Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak)
Brilliant. Mason Proper takes the bass line and lyrics from the Kanye hit and throws in some LCD production for a take that may just eclipse the slow-burn original. A point in Proper’s favor: no AutoTune. [Buy]

Ola Podrida – Calling and Not Calling My Ex (Okkervil River, The Stand Ins)
Having a go at another album that passed me by, Podrida brings out a sweet indie melody that stands on its own so well I’m having trouble imagining the original. [Buy]

Noah23 – Canadian Dollars (A Milli) (Lil’ Wayne, Tha Carter III)
Though not as blog-worthy as when ?uestlove held down the a milli’s with Jimmy-Fallon-houseband The Roots (video), Noah23 challenges Weezy by throwing down his own verses instead of Wayne’s. It’s a hip-hop cover of a hip-hop song, but one completely different. [Buy]

The Kooks – Violet Hill (Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends)
A live acoustic take for the BBC, this cover-loving indie group strips back the Brian Eno production to focus on the herky-jerky melody and falsetto-swoon chorus. A song everyone got sick of long ago gets some welcome new life. [Buy]

Roommate – Lights Out (Santogold, Santogold)
The slow pulse oozes sex on this come-on cover that makes you want to be more than just Roommates. [Buy]

Radiohead – The Rip (Portishead, Third)
Frankly, I didn’t see the hype about this album, but Thom Yorke’s plucking makes this one sound like an acoustic In Rainbows outtake. The original ‘Head gets good…head…from another ‘Head. Now if only Motörhead gets on board, the trinity will be complete. [Buy]

David Porteous – Electric Feel (MGMT, Oracular Spectacular)
David makes a bold stance here, replacing the psych-techno throb of MGMT with some crunchy blues guitar. Crunchy solo blues guitar. There’s no way this should work, but it’s fantastic. [Buy]

Hot Chip and Peter Gabriel – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend)
It’s clear Gabriel hasn’t lost his sense of humor, choosing to be involved in this cover presumably for the sole reason that it name checks him. A lot. Sure, it’s an excellent cover in its own right, but nothing can top the moment where he sings, “And it feels so unnatural to sing your own name.” Tell that to Lil’ Wayne. [Buy]

First Aid Kit – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes)
The Kit accomplishes the shocking feat of stripping a Fleet Foxes song back even more than the original, leaving little more that a delicately strummed guitar to contend with the female duet that adds a vocal oomph to the proceedings. [Buy]

Oct 082008
 

I saw Randy Newman a few weeks back (review here) and it reminded me how underrated he is as a popular songwriter. Sure, the songs are all sung from the point of view racists, perverts, rich assholes and generally unlikeable people, but that just makes the more interesting than the “I love you, you don’t love me, boo hoo” school of tune creation. Luckily, musicians seem to share my reverence for the man more known for his Pixar ditties than serious compositions, and covers of his songs abound. So here’s his most famous album and, though there’s no “Short People” or “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” to be found, these tunes are all classics in their own right.

Kirsty MacColl – Sail Away
You probably know MacColl from her role as the potty-mouthed girlfriend on The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” She’s a lot less belligerent here. [Buy]

The Bobs – Lonely at the Top
I’d love to put a Frank Sinatra cover here, as the song was written for him, but unfortunately he turned it down on the grounds that his audience wouldn’t realize it was a joke. Sounds to me like he just needs a better audience. Anyway, in lieu of that, here’s some funky a capella, sounding like a brass swing band, without the band. [Buy]

Wanda Jackson – He Gives Us All His Love
Time for the religious material. Jackson took these lyrics to heart on a gospel album with the unsubtle title Praise the Lord. One wonders if she knew the original context of this song, on an album that all features “God’s Song” later where God sings, “Man means nothing, he means less to me than lowliest cactus flower.” I notice she didn’t cover that one. [Buy]

Fanny – Last Night I Had a Dream
Fanny isn’t the best choice to name your group, but there’s nothing awkward about his blasting soul, June Millington’s soul screams turning the quiet original up to eleven. [Buy]

Okkervil River – Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear
Newman has said this was his first off-beat song, written with a stranger character and a stranger plot. Its sing-song tune and animal circus narrative makes it a natural for kiddie albums and The Muppet Show (video), but there’s something a little darker under the surface I can’t quite put my finger on. [Buy]

Art Garfunkel – Old Man
Tough to find covers of this one with a far more popular Neil Young song of the same name. Garfunkel’s gorgeous take was worth the search, proving his voice was angelic with or without Paul by his side, and a master of tempo and pacing to boot. [Buy]

Wilco – Political Science
In New Year’s Eve ’04, Wilco played a late-night show at Madison Square Garden. After the ball dropped, they busted out a covers set that included some Judas Priest, Tom Petty, and this. The intro (not on the file, unfortunately) is priceless: “This next song is actually a foreign policy memo we found back stage. Must have been left here by the Republican National Convention. We took a little time tonight and we put it to music.” Some things haven’t changed. [Buy]

Bela Fleck – Burn On
From the Sail Away tribute album (available on iTunes), bluegrass master Béla Fleck lays down a guitar plucking instrumental that seems to sway in the breeze. [Buy]

Guster – Memo to My Son
Guster handles another obscurity on the aformentioned tribute album, giving it the old country-rock treatment. [Buy]

Michael Derning and Mia Arends – Dayton, Ohio – 1903
The folky Cover Art is the rare tribute disc to feature not one, but five Randy Newman covers (including “Simon Smith” and “Lonely at the Top” incidentally). A quiet acoustic duet changes the sound, but keeps the mood of the front-porch original. My question though, knowing Randy: Did something happen in Dayton in 1903, or is this a song to be taken at face value? [Buy]

Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule – You Can Leave Your Hat On
You know the Joe Cocker version, and probably the almost-the-same Tom Jones version too. But here’s acoustic blues, if Robert Johnson and Rosetta Tharpe did a stomping duet. [Buy]

Etta James – God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)
The other half of that religion two-pack mentioned early. James understated blues singing works far better than one would have good reason to expect on this little pessimistic, nihilistic ditty. [Buy]