When delivered with passion and a reverence for the record being covered, a track-for-track covers album reimagining an iconic album by someone’s musical heroes can result in an intoxicating listen. Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong mined this territory on 2013’s Foreverly, an album paying tribute to the Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The Walkmen took the format to the next level, inhabiting the very essence of the John Lennon-produced Harry Nilsson cult classic Pussycats with Pussycats Starring The Walkmen. And now, in 2018, the Austin-based Americana group The Band of Heathens have delivered A Message from the People Revisited, a timely tribute to the Ray Charles record A Message from the People, originally released in 1972.
Willie Nelson’s latest album My Way is billed is as a tribute to Frank Sinatra. But it’s really just another chapter in Nelson’s retelling of the Great American Songbook. It features Nelson’s signature dude ranch cabaret sound that he’s perfected over the course of the last four decades, starting with the 1978 classic Stardust.
Throughout My Way, whether he’s backed by a large orchestra or small jazz combo, Nelson has the uncanny ability to make the tracks his own. There’s his instantly recognizable voice, which still sounds impeccable. He infuses the lush arrangements with heavy amounts of harmonica. While Nelson does not break any new musical ground, listening to the record is a bit like hanging out with an old friend, or at the very least, with a familiar (red-headed) stranger.
William Elliott Whitmore is 40, but he has always sounded like a much older man, with a deep, soulful voice that gives everything he sings a certain gravitas. Think Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or late Dylan, or most of all, Johnny Cash at his most apocalyptic. If Whitmore sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” you’d still worry, and probably be unhappy. I first heard Whitmore in 2006, opening for Lucero, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and was immediately transfixed by his timeless voice, dark songs, austere banjo, guitar and foot stomping accompaniment, and intense performance.
Born and raised on a 150-acre farm in southeastern Iowa, which he inherited from his parents and still owns, Whitmore grew up singing and playing guitar and banjo, with musical influences that started with country and moved toward punk as he got older. At a certain point, though, Whitmore realized that he needed to focus on the folky, rustic, blues music that he grew up on–but with a punk edge.
So when Bloodshot Records released Kilonova, an album of covers of (mostly) lesser known songs from many musical eras, the question was, how would such a distinctive artist put his stamp on this block of diverse songs? “Diverse” barely begins to tell the story–artists range from Dock Boggs, to Johnny Cash, to the Magnetic Fields to Bad Religion.
In short, the answer is, remarkably well.
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!
Say the words “jazz flute” to a casual music fan, and two people are likely to come to mind: Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy. There’s one man they really need to add to that small category – or, to be more accurate, one Mann…
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
It’s been great writing and editing for Cover Me, not just because I like cover songs so much, but because it’s led me to discover so many great ones I never would have heard otherwise. My thanks to Ray for taking me on, and to all of you for reading what I have to say about my finds. Here are ten of them that I’ve made over the years, which all struck significant chords in my life for various reasons…
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Maybe it is too facile to say that Van Morrison’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, is respected, while its follow up, Moondance, is loved. We looked at Astral Weeks about a year ago, so there’s no reason to repeat that here, but it’s clear that Morrison took a very different approach with the two albums, both of which have entered the rock pantheon as classics (for example, both albums were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Astral Weeks is 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time; Moondance was ranked 66.) But while the older album is revered as a work of art, you actually heard (and still hear) songs from Moondance on the radio. Astral Weeks failed to chart, and no singles from the album were released, but Moondance reached 29 on the Billboard Pop Album chart, and had three singles released.
Astral Weeks is considered to be a unified song cycle or a concept album, filled with stream of consciousness lyrics. The musicians that were recruited mostly had jazz backgrounds, and Morrison encouraged them to improvise after hearing Morrison play the songs on an acoustic guitar. Despite critical acclaim, it received little commercial airplay and limited support from the label, Warner Bros.
After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison and his wife moved into a mountaintop house near Woodstock, in upstate New York. He began to write the songs for Moondance and recruited local musicians for the recording sessions. Although, like with his previous album, there were no formal written charts, Morrison focused this time on shorter, more upbeat and optimistic songs with accessible song structures, in part influenced by another group of Woodstock area residents, The Band. It also was greeted with great reviews, but garnered significantly more radio airplay and immediate sales than its predecessor. And, I would argue, few albums have a stronger first side (when that mattered) than Moondance (“And It Stoned Me”/”Moondance”/”Crazy Love”/”Caravan”/”Into The Mystic”), and side 2 isn’t shabby, either.