Dec 092016
 

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

tribute records

We’ve done a Best Cover Albums list every year since 2009. That list usually ends up being a reasonably even mix of various-artist tributes and single-artist records. But in all those lists, our number-one pick has been, without fail, a single-artist album (for those keeping score at home, we’ve awarded The Lemonheads, Peter Gabriel, Baaba Kulka, Neil Young and Crazyhorse, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, and Bob Dylan – who didn’t turn up to accept our prize either).

This single-artist streak is no coincidence. It is naturally easier for one artist, if he/she/they are good enough, to maintain consistent quality control over 10 or 15 tracks. Whereas even the best mixed-artist tribute records usually have one or two dud tracks. Take the National-curated Day of the Dead, certainly this year’s highest-profile tribute album. Some of these Grateful Dead covers were so good they’ll appear on next week’s Best Cover Songs of 2016 list. Many others were dreck, filler, or superfluous. So we ranked the record – spoiler alert – at #20, sort of an honorable-mention position.

Even various-artist tributes comprised of uniformly good covers typically don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. For example, we ranked MOJO Magazine’s Blonde on Blonde tribute pretty high this year because we liked just about every one of the Bob Dylan covers on offer. But there’s little common ground between an aggressive electronic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and a tender folk “I Want You.” The record is more a bunch of great cover-song fodder for mixes and playlists than a truly great and unified album.

I sound like I’m being critical, but again, these are among the best cover albums of the year. This is usually the most a various-artist tribute album can aspire to: more good covers, few bad ones.

But this year, for the first time in our eight years making these lists, a various-artist tribute album rose so all the way to the top. This album was not only good top to bottom, but it felt like a real album, not just a collection of covers. It ably walked the finest of lines: showcasing diverse approaches to the source material while just remaining cohesive enough to stand together as a complete listen.

I don’t want to give away what that number-one album is just yet. We’ll get there, and there’s already enough of a tendency with year-end lists to skip straight to #1 and ignore the rest. I no doubt have not helped by hyping this magical album that broke our eight-year streak. But every one of the twenty albums we picked offers something worth hearing.

We’ve got jazz-sax forays through prog-rock and twee-pop covers of vintage punk tunes. There’s a ’60s New York icon honoring her then-competitors in the British Invasion, and a band from that same British Invasion honoring their American inspirations. There are tributes to great musicians who died this year, and tributes to long-dead musicians who there’s no news hook for honoring now, just great songs.

This list itself is as “various artists” as it can get, a whole array of genres and styles with one common thread: musicians honoring their inspirations and influences. Let’s dig in.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

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Aug 152016
 
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Preparing for this past weekend’s “Day of the Dead” concert – the all-star band rendition of The National-lead Grateful Dead tribute album of the same name at Bon Iver’s Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin – I interviewed a handful of involved artists and kept asking a question that no one knew exactly what to do with. My question: “Given the legacy of the Dead as a live band, what is going to be different about playing these covers live, as opposed to recording them for a tribute album?”

After a thoughtful silence that may have been tinged with a little bit of puzzlement, everyone said something about it being a terrific opportunity to harness the additional energy of having a live crowd.

“No [it’s not going to be harder],” Megafaun’s Phil Cook told me, “mostly because people are just stoked as shit to hear a Dead cover. Whenever people in the audience recognize it, they just lose their shit. They’re so happy that you’re doing it. It’s a completely welcome enterprise.” Continue reading »

May 242016
 
1966-6FB The Saturday Evening Post-Bob Dylan: 1966-6FB-005 July 30, USA 1966

Today is Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday and, if you follow us on social media (or just about any other music site), you know last week was the 50th birthday of his iconic album Blonde on Blonde. To celebrate, Mojo magazine’s new issue contains a tribute CD with covers of every song. Hear a selection of highlights below. Continue reading »

Apr 282016
 
national-feature

The Grateful Dead – the iconic (nay, legendary) Palo Alto ensemble whose longevity, sheer number of live performances, eclectic and improvisational musical styles, as well as religious fanbase cemented them as one of the most influential and groundbreaking groups of rock and roll history – will be honored this May in an upcoming epic homage titled Day of the Dead.

As one of our own feature writers, Jordan Becker, so elegantly put in his In the Spotlight segment: “The Dead were not only a band; they typified a lifestyle that extended the hippie culture of the 1960s decades after most of the world turned it into a punchline.” Dubbed the “pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world,” their legacy lingers on, and with contributions from an overwhelming number of some of the music industry’s most respected names today, their music will be celebrated. Continue reading »

Apr 112016
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

MerleHaggard

Merle Haggard died on April 6th, his 79th birthday. On another April 6th, eleven years earlier, he celebrated his birthday in Chicago, opening the spring run of Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour.”

I don’t know what he did for most of that 66th birthday, but I do know how five minutes or so was spent. He was standing outside his tour bus, listening to a handful of Dylan obsessives sing “Happy Birthday” to him. I was one of them. Continue reading »

Dec 192013
 

I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.

What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s. Continue reading »