In support of the release of their new album Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend is hot on the performance circuit. They recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to perform “Sunflower” from the new album, and also delivered a stunning cover of Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman.” This isn’t the first time Vampire Weekend have performed the Dylan classic. The band performed the song on GQ Live in Los Angeles back in December, though this current performance is far more nuanced.
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.
There was nothing that preceded it. I didn’t have those words. I didn’t have that melody. And I was playing chords and all of a sudden, I sang that. And I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbstruck…. I have no idea where that came from. It was far about the level I was writing at the time…. I was sort of conscious that it was a gift. And I was very emotionally moved by it.
Paul Simon knew he had something special when he wrote the first two verses of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Since Simon wrote the song in a higher key than he was used to singing, he also knew the song was meant for one man and one man only to sing. Art Garfunkel demurred at first (“You have a nice falsetto, Paul, why don’t you sing it?”), out of a giving spirit more than anything else; it didn’t take long for Simon to talk him into it. The song needed a third verse in order to properly build up (Simon whipped one up in the studio), and it took seventy-two takes to record, but “Bridge” came together beautifully. Simon may have felt that Garfunkel’s gospel touch was “more Methodist than Baptist,” but Clive Davis, head of Columbia, knew what they had immediately. Even at a longish (for a single) five minutes, he announced that it would be the first single, first track, and title song of their next record.
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Field Report frontman Christopher Porterfield got his musical start collaborating with fellow Wisconsinite Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) in the band DeYarmond Edison. Wikipedia claims they broke up in 2006, but if that band name sounds familiar more recently, it’s because they contributed one of the absolute best covers of 2016’s 59-track Day of the Dead Grateful Dead tribute, backing Bruce Hornsby on “Black Muddy River.” Hornsby’s vocals are amazing, of course, but listen to how Porterfield, Vernon, and co. give him such a lush bed to sing over for an eight-minute cover that feels as relaxed and winding as its name sake.
Suffice to say, Porterfield knows his way around a good cover song. And he knows his way around songwriting too. We first came across the band in 2014 with “Home (Leave the Lights On),” one of the absolute best songs of the entire year. And today Field Report releases their third album, Summertime Songs. The tone is darker than Beach Boys-esq title might imply, exploring Porterfield’s anxiety before the birth of his first child. That said, like the best of Bruce Springsteen (whom the album sometimes channels), these are anxious songs that would still sound great driving down the highway with the top down. Watch the band play single “Never Look Back” on CBS This Morning last month:
It has been uplifting hearing the response of many famous artists to the devastation Hurricane Harvey has wreaked upon Houston. Coldplay recently gave a one time performance dedicated to those affected by the hurricane, and Paul Simon and his wife Edie Brickell donated $1 million to Harvey relief efforts. Tying the two together is Simon’s ’80s classic “Graceland,” recorded at the BBC’s Live Lounge by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
If someone told you to sing “This Land Is Your Land,” how much could you do off the top of your head? Redwood forest, check. Ribbon of highway probably too. But do you know this verse?
Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
That side was made for you and me.
That rarely-sung verse, from Woody Guthrie’s original lyrics, helped inspire Anthony D’Amato’s shimmering new cover (which features background vocals from Josh Ritter). Though written in 1940, that line about walls dividing people holds increasing resonance today. And it’s a subject D’Amato cares a lot about; his last album included the Trump-inspired original “If You’re Gonna Build A Wall” and both tracks appear on new charity EP Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Until 2010’s Scratch My Back appeared, Peter Gabriel had been an artist more covered than covering – arguably a pity, given the cracked wistfulness of his croaky beauty. But I guess if you can write material of the quality and diversity that he has, why bother with someone else’s material? The problem was, Gabriel hadn’t been writing that kind of material – this was his first album in eight years.
So was Scratch My Back just, as covers projects can so often be, a stopgap sales pitch to keep his brand alive during a creative lull? Who knows? I think not and hope not, feeling this a deliberate if somewhat failed experiment on two levels. Flawed, maybe, rather than failed.