Feb 022018
strombo show covers

As an avant-garde jazz-influenced album, David Bowie’s final record Blackstar would seem damn-near uncoverable (unless you’re an avante-garde jazz band). But the songs keep getting covered, and by some surprising artists. Sting covered “Lazarus.” Nine Inch Nails covered “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Amanda Palmber and Anna Calvi covered the title track. (So did Car Seat Headrest and Hiatus Kaiyote’s Nai Palm, blending it with Radiohead, no less).

The latest comes from indie-rock vets Spoon, who tackled “I Can’t Give Anything Away” on The Strombo Show, a radio program that is quickly become Canada’s answer to other international cover-shows BBC Live Lounge and Triple J “Like a Version.” Britt Daniel’s understated vocals deliver the quiet melody and bigger chorus perfectly, but the secret star of this stripped-down version might be pianist Alex Fischel. Needless to say, it sounds quite different than Nine Inch Nails’ take on the tune.

And, while we’re at it, here’s a bunch of other Strombo Show covers from recent episodes too. Continue reading »

Jan 172018

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

steve earle covers

Steve Earle turns 63 today. He’s one of the all-time great Americana/roots-rock/alt-country/whatever-you-want-to-call-it songwriters, and one who has successfully stepped out of the Nashville hit machine grind he started in to one of those “distinguished statesman” careers many of his Guitar Town-era peers no doubt envy.

In addition to his own songwriting, he records fantastic covers. His tribute album to early mentor Townes Van Zandt was quite moving, and the early-rock covers on his album with Shawn Colvin in 2016 were terrific (check out “You Were On My Mind”). He gave The Wire a season’s theme song covering Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” while acting on the show too as a recovering addict (hardly a stretch). And, my personal two favorites, he delivers arguably the definitive versions of Warren Zevon’s “Reconsider Me” and Randy Newman’s “Rednecks.”

But it’s his birthday, so we’ll let him take a well-earned break. Instead, we’ve rounded up our favorite covers of other people doing his songs. His recordings make ideal cover sources in the same way Bob Dylan’s or Tom Waits’ do: brilliant songs delivered by limited-appeal voices. It’s no surprise that “better” (or at least less divisive) country singers cover Earle constantly; Emmylou Harris alone has covered a half dozen of his songs. So we’ll start there. Continue reading »

Dec 062016
best cover songs

Over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work making our list of The Best Cover Songs of 2016. Narrowing it down to 50 caused some excruciating choices, that’s how many great covers there were this year.

We’ll be posting the full list next week (and “Best Cover Albums” this Thursday), but as a little appetizer, here are our Honorable Mentions, covers we loved and still wanted to spotlight as among the best 2016 had to offer. 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 »

Jul 172015

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.


Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
Continue reading »

Apr 192013

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

Fans of Gram Parsons are generally divided into three camps over 1999’s Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons. The first thinks it’s brilliant, a reverent homage to a great songwriter and a testament to the weight of his country rock influence. The second likes the raw sound of another tribute album better: 1993’s Conmemorativo: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, featuring the likes of Bob Mould and The Mekons. And the third camp feels that the only person that can sing Gram Parsons songs is Parsons himself.

If we took the philosophy of the last opinion to heart, this site wouldn’t even exist. While the so-called purists would deny any version other than the one by the original artist as being legitimate, it certainly would be a dull world if all musicians were content to color within the lines without recognizing that someone else before them drew those lines. While Conmemorativo does contain some gems, there are two reasons why Return of the Grievous Angel is better: great production values, and the guiding hand of Emmylou Harris, who worked so closely with Parsons and who served as executive producer of the compilation. So count us among the members of that first camp. Now let’s meet the man who inspired the album. Continue reading »