The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series produces too many great gems to keep track of. We’ve shared recent highlights like Grouplove’s bloody Andrew W.K. and Deer Tick’s rowdy Harvey Danger, but the series may be too much of a good thing and it’s hard to keep up. If you’ve fallen behind on these too, we’ve rounded up some of the recent highlights that we never got around to posting. A robed 24-person Neil Young, a mariachi Decemberists, and a pink-mohawked Violent Femmes await…
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Christine McVie is the Mona Lisa of ’70s rock music. She always seemed one cool remove away from the maelstrom of Fleetwood Mac, but there was a lot going on behind that sardonic gaze, and she let it out in her songs, where she specialized in first-person accounts of romances that could be right even when they felt so wrong – and, of course, vice versa. She turns 69 today, and we’re celebrating with five covers that give a whole different meaning to the phrase “one cool remove away.”
Celebrating their 50th anniversary The Chieftains will mark the occasion with the release of Voice of Ages on February 21. The album features the torch-bearers of traditional Irish music collaborating with stars from the worlds of indie-rock (Bon Iver, The Decemberists, The Low Anthem), country and Americana (The Civil Wars, Pistol Annies, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers), Irish and Scottish folk (Imelda May, Lisa Hannigan, Paolo Nutini) and more.
Last week, A.V. Undercover took a break from covers. Well, took a break from real covers anyway. Bob Mould performing a song he wrote for his band Sugar clearly does not count as a cover, despite his protestations to the contrary. His performance of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” was good, but we were a little bummed that the alt-rock classic wouldn’t see a genuine cover.
Live Collection brings together every live cover we can find from an artist. And we find a lot.
Over the past decade, Portland quintet the Decemberists have gone from indie darlings to indie darlings with a number-one album. This year’s The King is Dead took the band to new levels of commercial success, shining some national attention on a band whose name was once known only to the chamber pop-obsessed and English majors. It may not be too unfounded to compare this band’s story to that of R.E.M.’s in the ‘80s; in fact, given the unabashed fandom they display on The King is Dead, that’s a comparison they’d probably happily invite.
The collection of covers crooned by the Decemberists mostly betrays their too-cool-for-school nature. They seem to have hit all the requisites that prove you listened to hip music in the ’80s – the Velvet Underground, the Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, etc. However, there’s a few genuine surprises here. Embarrassing reading of the Outfield‘s “Your Love” notwithstanding, there’s some real pleasure to be had in the band’s delight at ripping into Heart‘s “Crazy on You,” or in their surprisingly earnest rendition of Bad Company‘s “Feel Like Making Love.” Band leader Colin Meloy also turns in an intimate, slowed-down version of Cheap Trick‘s “Summer Girls” to great effect. Even the band’s usual bombast makes itself known in the 16-minute epic of Pink Floyd‘s “Echoes.”
We’ll have a ton of new Record Store Day covers next week, but we get a second sneak peek (after LCD Soundsystem’s “Live Alone”). The Decemberists are releasing Live at Bull Music, a new live album recorded at the Bull Moose record store in Scarborough, Maine in January. In addition to six performances of The King Is Dead cuts, the set includes a new cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love.”
It wasn’t enough that The King is Dead, the chart-topping new record from the Decemberists, borrowed guitarist Peter Buck and producer Tucker Martine from R.E.M. It wasn’t even enough that they included at least two songs on the record that could’ve been recorded by the Athens, GA quartet. Seriously, if you replace Colin Meloy with Michael Stipe on “Calamity Song” and “This is Why We Fight,” you’d have an R.E.M. classic. No, the Decemberists have now slid from homage to out-and-out tribute with a cover of the group’s 1986 cut “Cuyahoga.”