Nov 142017
shinyribs cover

Kevin Russell knows his way around a cross-genre cover. Probably his best-known song is just that: The Gourds’ bluegrass version of “Gin and Juice.” In the early days of Napster, the tune went viral under another band’s name and…well, you’ll have read that chapter in my book to find out the rest. The Snoop Dogg cover gave the band a lot, but played a small role in their demise too.

Russell’s latest cover flips the “Gin and Juice” script in two ways: it hasn’t gone viral – or even been widely released – but he actually earned some money from it. It’s a solo ukulele take on Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” recorded under his new performing name Shinyribs. He taped it last year to celebrate New Belgium Brewery’s 25th anniversary, but director Mike Woolf says it was rarely seen because the brewery never put the films online. Continue reading »

Nov 032017

In October, I held the first release event for the Cover Me book at Paste Magazine’s New York studios, featuring performances by Eli Paperboy Reed, Emel Mathlouthi, and Anthony D’Amato (watch them all here!). And this week I held the second, at Phoenix Books in my old hometown of Burlington, Vermont. The concept was similar: rather than a dry book talk, I would combine some conversation with live covers of songs from the book.

Two of my favorite local bands, Swale and Madaila – both of which I’ve posted about here before – stepped up with some amazing performances. And luckily, like at Paste, we’ve got footage. (More amateur-quality footage, admittedly – iPhones at a bookstore rather than multi-cam at Paste’s recording studio – but the performances are every bit as stunning.)

Swale kicked things off with a tender trio take on “Unchained Melody,” the Righteous Brothers hit first recorded as the theme for the now-forgotten 1955 prison move Unchained. Bobby Hatfield left a pretty high bar for a vocalist to hit, but Swale’s Amanda Gustafson easily cleared it while Eric Olsen (guitar) and Tyler Bolles (bass) gave her a stripped-down acoustic backing. Continue reading »

Oct 032017
cover me playlist

Today is the day! At long last, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time is in stores and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and many other places (including, hopefully, your local independent bookstore!).

A lot has happened since I first announced the book back in May. The New Yorker published an excerpt about Devo’s meeting with Mick Jagger. I was interviewed on SiriusXM about the Hendrix, Cash, Aretha, Pet Shop Boys, Elvis, and Creedence Clearwater Revival chapters. And most importantly for you reading this, I put together an exclusive bonus mix that blog fans can get when they buy the book (it says “pre-order,” but we’ll say “week-of-release order” counts too).

And I wanted to share one more thing, another blog exclusive: An audio companion to the book. Continue reading »

Aug 282017
cover me book

—November update: The book is now out, but if you review it on Amazon or elsewhere, the mixtape can still be yours! Just send proof of review to the email below.—

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs Of All Time comes out October 3. It dives deep into twenty iconic covers, from Elvis’s “Hound Dog” through Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love.” I interviewed artists like David Byrne and Roger Daltrey to get the untold stories behind their greatest covers. You can read all about it here.

Now we’ve got a special bonus for anyone who preorders: a free digital album of other covers of those same songs.

What’s the greatest “Take Me to the River” that’s not by Al Green or the Talking Heads? My favorite “Hurt” untouched by either of those men in black? An “I Will Always Love You” that sounds like the artist has never heard either Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston’s versions? This mix answers all those questions. Continue reading »

May 192017
Cover Me

As we’ve noted already, 2017 marks Cover Me’s tenth birthday. We’ll have some more celebratory posts leading up to the actual date this fall, but I’m thrilled to announce one thing that’s on deck for October: the release of my first book, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time!

Ever since I started this site, friends and readers have suggested that I should write a book about cover songs (surprisingly, a comprehensive book doesn’t really exist). For years, I resisted. “That’s like saying ‘I’m going to write a book about original songs’,” I’d snarkily reply – i.e., that’s a stupid idea. Cover songs seemed too broad a category. There’s no grand unifying theory of cover songs to fit tidily between two book covers; it’s too big and messy and wonderful a tent for that.

Aretha FranklinAfter years of saying no, I finally came up with the solution. I wouldn’t write a book about cover songs – instead, I would write a book about twenty specific cover songs, and through those twenty covers, a broader narrative would emerge.

The story of covers as traced in Cover Me involves artistic triumphs and music-industry shenanigans. It touches on trends in record-making, music videos, and the internet’s impact on music (did you know the first viral song was a cover?). There are beautiful moments of unlikely artists coming together, and some uglier instances of exploitation and racism. Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs. Continue reading »

Mar 282016

desperate timesIs it bad form to promote your own tribute? It almost makes you think about the crass sort of person who, say, slaps his last name on every building, golf course, airline, casino, steak, or bottle of wine or water that he has anything to do with. Now, what about if it is an employee who instigates a tribute to his employer? That seems pretty cool, especially since so many employees would probably be more likely to spit on something that glorifies their bosses than to work, unpaid, to create a monument to them.

So, let’s give kudos to Jeff “Jefe” Neely, the “website guy” for Old 97’s, who decided that it would be a good idea to get other musicians to cover Old 97’s songs and to use the project as a fundraiser for charity: water, whose mission is to “bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.” The charity was founded in 2006 by Scott Harrison, a former nightclub and fashion promoter after a life changing trip to Liberia.

The band got behind the project, which became known as Desperate Times, and helped to get artists to contribute covers to the project, which was funded through a Pledge Music campaign. In fact, many of the artists had toured with Old 97’s at some point in the band’s two-decade-plus career, and a significant number are from Texas, where Old 97’s formed. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of them inhabit a similar Americana/country/rock space as the band they are covering. The contributors, all well-respected artists if not chart-toppers, seem to have embraced the challenge. For the most part, although the covers don’t generally stray too far from the originals, each is distinctive and all are of exceptional quality.
Continue reading »