May 032019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

Jan 252017
 
protest cover songs

Well, it has been quite a week in politics. President Trump got sworn in Friday, then on Saturday hundreds of thousands of protesters marched across the country. We don’t need to go into the many (many) controversies and debates the first few days of the Trump administration have already brought us. You know them, and that’s not really our beat anyway.

What is our beat is cover songs, and a whole lot of politically-minded covers came out in the past week. Some are explicitly covers of songs with political lyrics, like Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs covering Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and OK Go covering Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug” (opening lines: “There are some bad people on the rise / They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives”).

Other covers are only political in the sense that they were released to raise money for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. Barsuk Records put out a covers comp featuring Nada Surf, David Bazan, Mates of State, The Long Winters (wonderfully titled Sad!). Members of the Philadelphia punk scene came together for a 35-song set of covers by the likes of Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock, which range from the covers of political artists like Against Me! and Bikini Kill to a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which would be difficult to find a political take on. Continue reading »

Nov 252015
 

joyTo all reports, Ewan MacColl was a difficult man. It’s perhaps hard to believe that a man who could write as sensitive a song as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (for Peggy Seeger, Pete’s half-sister and MacColl’s third wife), the song made into a cross-genre standard by Roberta Flack in 1972, could be so uniformly feared and vilified, yet still admired. I guess it’s the usual case of ignoring the man and embracing the music, and this man, who arguably invented the UK folk boom of the late 1950s and early ’60s, had little interest in embracing any of the young acolytes drawn to his flame – he called Bob Dylan’s work “tenth-rate drivel.”

Born James Miller in Manchester, his life was a series of reinventions, as he became a communist rabble-rouser in his teens, then a George Bernard Shaw-admired  playwright and, in his mid-30’s, self-acclaimed champion of a fiercely curated folk idiom, wherein such modern anachronisms as make-up for women (and possibly women in general) were decried and denied, while Dylan, Paul Simon, and others of those young acolytes were freely liberating the repertoire into their own.
Continue reading »

Jun 152012
 

Easily recognized as something intended to be silly, let us all admit that we would listen to a full-length album of Wainwright singing chewing gum jingles. Rufus quickly summarizes his accomplishments at the beginning of the sketch, perhaps the funniest being “written an opera,” which he says with a slight head shake, implying his prowess as a musician is really that articulate and that literary and probably tantamount to genius. Continue reading »

Nov 212011
 

Back in September, we heard Scarlett Johansson’s contribution to the new Serge Gainsbourg tribute From Gainsbourg to Lulu. The full album is now out in Europe and you can stream some choice cuts below. Though Lulu himself takes about half the tracks, the guests he bring in range from the obvious (Rufus Wainwright) to the mildly startling (Shane MacGowan). Heck, there’s even a few more actors (Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) for those who loved the ScarJo vibe. Continue reading »

Oct 272011
 

Zuccotti Park has had its fair share of musical guests since Occupy Wall Street began, from Kanye West simply walking through to Pete Seeger performing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ On October 23rd, Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright joined that group with an acoustic rendition of Madonna‘s “Material Girl.” Continue reading »