A couple weeks ago Shearwater played an intimate release show for their new album Jet Plane and Oxbow at New York City’s Mercury Lounge. They mostly played tracks from the album, but for the finale the band debuted a cover of David Bowie‘s “Look Back in Anger” in tribute to the late legend. And now, thanks to the good folks at NYCTaper, there’s an excellent recording.
Fifty years ago, a covers album wasn’t called a “covers album.” It was called an album. Full stop.
Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Billie Holiday – most albums anyone bought were “covers albums” as we’d think of them today, but that’s not how folks thought of them then. Once the public began putting a premium on singers writing their own songs in the ’60s the concept of course shifted, so that an artist doing a covers album has to be like Michael Jordan playing baseball – an okay diversion but let’s get back to the main event please.
More so this year than ever before though, that pendulum seems to be swinging back in small but meaningful ways to what an album originally meant. More and more artists are releasing LPs saying, this is not my new quote-on-quote “covers album,” this is my new album (that happens to consist of covers). The attitude showcases a confidence and surety of purpose that shows they take performing other peoples songs every bit as seriously as they do their own.
That holds true for both of our top two covers albums this year, and plenty more sprinkled throughout. Which isn’t to knock anyone doing a covers album as a lark, novelty, tribute, or side project – you’ll see plenty of those here as well – but any blurred lines that put a “covers album” on the same level as a “normal” album have to be a good thing.
Start our countdown on Page 2…
In the second installment of their four-part “State Songs” series, A.V. Club and the state of Texas have Jonathan Meiburg (of Shearwater and Okkervil River) taking on Roy Orbison‘s classic “It’s Over.” Unlike our beloved A.V. Undercover, the series isn’t specifically a cover series; it’s just our incredible luck that a cover is what Meiburg chose to play.
In 2010 the A.V. Club introduced a new music video series called A.V. Undercover. The idea is simple: A.V. Club readers vote on songs to be covered, a list of 25 songs is selected, and then each song is covered live in a round room located in the A.V. Club offices. As one song is played, it is crossed off the list, so the first band has a pick of 25 songs, and the second band has a pick of 24, and so on. The exciting part of following this series is that readers know which songs are going to be played, but the band performing isn’t revealed until a video has been produced. That said, sometimes there are bonus tracks, as is the case with the first Undercover of 2012, which features Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater playing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
Indie-alternative artists Ryan Weber and Eric Osterman released their first record All Those I Know online on December 31st of last year, and have since then established a loyal online fan base under the stage name Eric & Magill. They offer a polished ambient sound that rings true with a lot of indie, electronic and alternative music lovers. This time around they have released another digital download for fans, to pay tribute to their listeners and the talented folks who helped make their first record happen.
So far, all of the A.V. Club’s Holiday Undercover songs have been secular holiday jams. Fair enough. These exclude no one and offer plenty of diversity anyway. Today, however, an artist finally gets spiritual. Yes, Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg chose to sing about God on his Christmas cover. Specifically, he sings about how much God hates us.