Nov 282015

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!


The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 saw New Orleans receiving 15 inches of rain in 18 hours, with parts of it under four feet of water. Forty-seven years later, Randy Newman released “Louisiana 1927,” a lament about the devastation the disaster caused and the government’s callous response. Thirty-one years after that, Hurricane Katrina struck, and the song took on a new life. It takes a remarkable writer to compose a song about the long-ago past that can be relevant in the far-ahead future, and that’s just what Randy Newman is.

As he celebrates his 72nd birthday today, Newman can look back on a career of critically praised albums, memorable film scores, a couple of fluke hits, twenty Oscar nominations and two wins. He’s the absolute master of the unreliable narrator, which allows him to explore the uncomfortable side of humanity with dark humor. Journalist Paul Zollo writes, “There is no other songwriter who has shown us bigotry, ignorance, and human weakness as convincingly as Randy Newman.” People who only know him as the guy who writes for Pixar movies and gets mocked by Family Guy need to take a closer look; fortunately, many cover artists have been all too happy to take that closer look for us.
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Mar 032015

Randy Newman, two-time Academy Award winner, has a distinct voice that triggers memories of the movies, given his widely popular film scores over the years. His song “Sail Away” had previously been covered by Ray Charles, whom Randy called his biggest musical influence growing up. Matthew E. White covered the song for the French video series, La Blogotheque, which follows artists making live music in different locales around Paris. Continue reading »

Jan 162014

In the world of alt-country, Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson has more cover song credibility than most. In their four decade career, the nine-time Grammy winners have recorded not one but two Bob Wills tribute albums with guests like Willie Nelson and the Dixie Chicks, which were so successful that they turned into a touring musical (which Ray starred in). He’s covered W.C. Handy with Willie Nelson and Red Foley with Brad Paisley. And on his new solo album A Little Piece, out next week, he takes on Randy Newman‘s “Marie”. Continue reading »

Oct 252013

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

You kids today, with your Now That’s What I Call Music compilations – you don’t know how different it was back in the day. When K-Tel was in their ’70s prime, their ubiquitous commercials made them the “As Seen On TV” company and served to get the words and music on the street. They fit twenty or so songs on one album, making for tinny sound and many songs edited for single length. Not all the songs on them were hits; you bought them for the big names and sat through the one-hit wonders, novelties, and other filler. But for only $5.99 (8-track or cassette only $7.99!), you could get a wide-ranging look at a year in music, complete with packaging ugly as a burnt-orange couch, and somehow the experience wouldn’t have been the same if the treasures hadn’t been mixed in with the trash.
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Dec 072012

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Harry Nilsson’s two best-known songs, both of which won Grammys, were cover songs – “Everybody’s Talkin'” came from Fred Neil, and “Without You” was originally Badfinger’s. Meanwhile, his peers knew that as talented a singer as he was, he was an even greater songwriter. For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson, released a year after his 1994 passing, shone a light on nearly two dozen of his compositions and showed the esteem two generations of musicians held him in. Continue reading »

Nov 132012

Who is Mike Doughty? The ex-frontman of Soul Coughing? An acoustic singer/songwriter? An acclaimed poet and writer? The latest offering from Mr. Doughty, whoever he may be, is The Flip Is Another Honey, a smattering of cover tunes ranging from John Denver to Cheap Trick to Guys and Dolls. And, as you may expect, Doughty will break some rules. Continue reading »