Jul 242015

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!


Sticky Fingers is the third of the Rolling Stones’ three records (the other two being Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed) that defined their transition from great singles band to “the greatest rock and roll band in the world,” which at the time seemed no mere hyperbole. Furthermore, the 44 years on re-issue set is just out, both uniting and dividing its critics, and the band have just revisited the album by way of a complete live concert performance, arguably their strongest work this century (and it’s now available on iTunes).
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Apr 052013

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!

We’re going to take it down a notch today with an artist known more for her songs than her performances. While some would say this is a dream come true for songwriters who also perform, for Patty Griffin it’s been both a curse and a blessing. Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” and “Top of the World” are more known by their Dixie Chicks covers; “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” is known for being American Idol-ized – in fact, four performers on American Idol have sung “Up to the Mountain,” turning it almost into a karaoke contest. Miranda Lambert, Jessica Simpson, and a cast of thousands just can’t stop singing Patty Griffin songs, and their covers have become wildly popular. But Griffin herself is much less known, and even though she’s won Grammys, the public at large often thinks that her songs belong to someone else. Continue reading »

Feb 142011

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Tunnel of Love may be the strangest record in Bruce Springsteen‘s catalog, and that’s saying a lot. Though he released it while still touring with the E Street Band, its sound signified a marked departure from the driving rock of his earlier albums. Indeed, although some E-Streeters dropped by to lend backing vocals or keyboard parts to certain tracks, Springsteen recorded Tunnel mostly by himself. In a sense, the album provided a sequel to Nebraska, except that sequel packed itself to the brim with synthesizers and 1980s production.

Lyrically, though, Tunnel of Love provided some of Springsteen’s sharpest writing to date. Though covers of the album’s songs flow as plentifully as those for Born in the USA or Darkness on the Edge of Town, these tunes prove especially attractive to musicians in the folk, country and singer-songwriter milieu. You won’t find any heavy metal covers of “Brilliant Disguise,” but you might be taken aback at the number of top-selling country artists who took a crack at “Tougher than the Rest.” Continue reading »

Feb 142011

As you probably heard, the Grammys happened last night. As you probably also heard, the Arcade Fire won Album of the Year. Surprising by itself, but even more surprising that this is the same group of voters who named Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” Song of the Year. Go figure. Continue reading »

Oct 112010

Legendary soul singer Solomon Burke passed away yesterday en route to a European concert. In his seventy years, the “King of Rock and Soul” dominated soul, gospel, and rhythm and blues music like no one else. On early hits like “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and latter-day classics like “Diamond in Your Mind” and “Make Do With What You Got,” his smooth baritone turned everything it touched to gold. With just a few syllables he could deliver you or seduce you, raise you up or bring you low. Unlike many of his peers, Burke continued performing and recording up through his last days; he released two records this year alone!

Though his commercial fortunes ebbed and flowed, the music community never forgot Burke. His 2002 album Don’t Give Up on Me featured song contributions from Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and Tom Waits. Pretty impressive Rolodex.

We’ve rounded up some live covers to remember the legend. Few can turn a phrase like Burke can, making his renditions of clichés like “Christmas Song” and Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come” revelatory. On the less somber side, the raucous onstage party on “Proud Mary” shows his love of the ladies. Anyone who has attended a Burke concert can attest to the unbridled joy filling the room. He will be missed. Continue reading »

Dec 142009

There are few things in this world more hit-or-miss than cover albums. If it’s a tribute compilation for a particular songwriter, some artists “get it” more than others. If it’s one artist putting out their own cover album, listeners inevitably like the songs they know more than those they don’t. Such is life.

Compiling this list, one album after another had to be eliminated because of a single song, one Achilles’ heel that brought down the whole disc. Eventually only ten remained, ten cover albums exceptional from beginning to end. Enjoy, and check back next week for the Best Cover Songs of 2009!

10. Various Artists – Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm

Texas songwriter Doug Sahm never achieved fame outside the southwest, but to his peers in music he’s long been a legend. A prolific songwriter, he maintained three bands throughout his career alongside his solo work: the Sir Douglas Quartet (with whom he had his biggest hit “She’s About a Mover”), the Texas Tornados and the Bottle Rockets. On the tenth anniversary of Sahm’s death came Keep Your Soul, a group of peers and admirers like Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo rocking through his Tex-Mex jive.
Charlie Sexton – You’re Doing It Too Hard

9. Steve Earle – Townes

Townes is more than one artist paying tribute to another. It’s a letter from one friend to another, part homage, part eulogy and part thank-you note. Townes Van Zandt mentored Earle when he was just beginning and continued to watch over Earle’s life even as his own spiraled downward. Earle followed the same alcohol and drug-fueled path that ended in Van Zandt’s untimely demise, with one difference: Steve came out the other side. Here he pays tribute to a friend who wasn’t so lucky.
Steve Earle – Loretta (Townes Van Zandt)

8. Various Artists – Seven Year Itch: Paper Bag Records Covers Compilation

On their seventh birthday, Paper Bag Records invited the fans to the celebration, putting up a free covers compilation on their website (still available). Everyone from Beck to Bats for Lashes gets the Paper Bag treatment, with bizarre and fantastic results. If only every birthday was this much fun!
Winter Gloves – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

7. Pascal Fricke – Banging on the Table with an Old Tin Cup III

Another freebie here from Tom Waits superfan Pascal Fricke, it’s volume three of his Waits cover series. His usual all-instrumental formula gets a twist courtesy of YouTube pal Vamosbabe’s sultry singing to Fricke’s typically gorgeous ukulele, guitar, or mandolin. The pair may never have met in person but they sound like two long-time lovers sitting together at a Parisian café.
Pascal Fricke – Green Grass

6. Joan as Police Woman – Cover

When an album’s cover features a hefty pair of butt cheeks (view that NSFW cover here), you know something unusual awaits. Joan Wasser’s slow falsetto-funk version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” gets things started on an off-kilter note, but sounds downright pedestrian compared to the versions of Britney Spears, Adam Ant and Public Enemy that follow. What other album contains covers of both Nina Simone and T-Pain (without AutoTune!)?
Joan As Police Woman – Ringleader Man (T-Pain)

5. Various Artists – War Child: Heroes

What looks like a truly grab-bag line-up (Elbow, Duffy, Scissor Sisters) on this benefit is the result of a single brilliant idea: Get classic artists like Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop to pick a member of the next generation to cover their song. Dylan picked Beck and Iggy picked Peaches (ha!), but the most exciting tune has to be the Hold Steady’s bar-band blast through “Atlantic City,” finally recorded after debuting at an unrecorded Springsteen tribute concert three years ago.
TV on the Radio – Heroes (David Bowie)

4. The Rosewood Thieves – Heartaches By the Pound: The Rosewood Thieves Sing Solomon Burke

Soul man Solomon may seem a surprising choice from these back-porch boys (The Rosewood Thieves Sing The Band would be a more likely album), but the distance between their Americana thump and Burke’s gospel blues allows a whole new sound to emerge organically from these heartbroken cries. This EP only contains six songs, but each stomps and swings like Wilson Pickett fronting the Black Keys.
The Rosewood Thieves – Home In Your Heart (Solomon Burke)

3. Various Artists – SPIN Presents Purplish Rain

SPIN magazine couldn’t get the notoriously press-shy Prince to comment for their Purple Rain 25th anniversary cover story, so they did him one better by soliciting new versions of every song on the legendary soundtrack. Lavendar Diamond slow-burns “Purple Rain,” Of Montreal electronically freaks out for “Computer Blue” and The Twilight Singers sound like the coolest church choir ever on “When Doves Cry.”
The Twilight Singers – When Doves Cry

2. Various Artists – Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute to Bruce Springsteen

This list is concerned with quality over quantity, but any tribute album that includes 38 brand-new covers deserves extra commendation. All obscure groups, all incredible readings of Bruce Springsteen classics, rarities and newer songs (including three tunes from Bruce’s 2002 The Rising). With 38 songs they can’t all be brilliant, but somehow even the album’s one miss – Travis Elborough’s spoken-word “My Hometown” – is so truly awful it becomes endearing, a moment of unintended hilarity lightening a tale of resilience tested and dreams crushed.
The Vatican Cellars – Darkness on the Edge of Town

1. The Lemonheads – Varshons

Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos. Their brilliantly drawled version of GG Allin’s “Layin’ Up with Linda” turns the best boredom-induced murder song since “Folsom Prison Blues” into a jaunty pub sing-along.
The Lemonheads – Layin’ Up with Linda (GG Allin)

And there you have it. Tune in next week for the Best Cover Songs of 2009!