Apr 222016

Since Prince’s sudden passing yesterday, tributes have poured in from artists around the world. Some of those artists had concerts scheduled last night and took the opportunity to play Prince covers – in some cases covers they’d performed before, in other cases covers the put together last-minute to pay tribute to the legend. Either way, this first night of covers is raw and wonderful, a first-run at what will no doubt be thousands of new covers to come (Coachella is this weekend…)

We’ve rounded up a bunch that have either video or audio below. They’re mostly live from concerts last night, but in a couple cases they’re from artists who couldn’t wait for their next show and posted new covers themselves. We’ll keep adding more as they surface. We know The Damned covered “Manic Monday” and Christine and the Queens covered “I Feel For You” – anyone got full video for those? Continue reading »

Dec 172015

Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.


I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.

Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.

How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.

So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.

Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)


Mar 242015

Let’s get this out of the way first: Elliott Smith’s songs are not easy to cover. This isn’t necessarily related to virtuosity, but might even be related to the exact opposite. Smith’s voice (squeaky, usually double-tracked, always on the verge of slipping off key) was something that he used as a weapon, tearing right into the heart of his music. Pairing that voice with soul-baring lyrics and melodies that never strayed too far from the Beatles and Beach Boys school of pop music, Smith carved out a segment of the singer-songwriter genre that was all his own.

That being said, Seth Avett (of the Avett Brothers) and Jessica Lea Mayfield have a decent go at it on the informatively titled Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith. Upon first listen, the album’s most glaring problem (for Smith fans, at least) becomes apparent: most of the selections fall very close the originals. “Between the Bars,” probably the most covered song of Smith’s songs (over-covered, if you ask this reviewer), hits all of the original’s beats. “Angeles,” too, is played (albeit a little slower) like a straight transfer of the Either/Or cut. Though, this does raise a question: what’s the alternative? How do you rearrange “Angeles” (perhaps the best candidate for the most wholly representative song in the Elliott Smith catalogue) without losing what makes it special? I imagine these are the questions that Avett and Mayfield asked themselves, too – presumably without finding any satisfactory answers.
Continue reading »

Mar 052015

Brandi Carlile releases her fifth album The Firewatcher’s Daughter this week, and after 11 original tracks, she closes with a cover of The Avett Brothers‘ “Murder in the City.” She first performed the track live last October on the day the Supreme Court temporarily blocked several states’ same-sex marriage bans. Carlile, who identifies as a lesbian and has a wife and young daughter, made several key lyric changes. Where the original’s final verse mentions sisters and mothers, Carlile sings: Continue reading »

Jan 232012

The Avett Brothers are never ones to shy away from a cover or two. So it makes perfect sense that they’re contributing to the much-anticipated (and cumbersomely named) Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The collection of 75 (75!) Bob Dylan covers on four discs will be released tomorrow, so the Avetts stopped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last week to promote the collection with their contribution, a cover of “One Too Many Mornings.” Continue reading »

Aug 012011

Two weeks ago we looked at the Avett Brothers’ best covers. At the same time, guitarist Seth Avett was busy covering Elliott Smith live in Oakland. He did so before back in May with “Angeles,” but this time he teamed up with the tour’s opening act, Jessica Lea Mayfield, to turn Smith’s “Twilight” from a basement whisper into a countrified, though still melancholy, duet. Continue reading »