Jul 272020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Dolly Parton – the fourth of twelve children, a philanthropist, actor, and musician with 50+ studio albums to date – has been releasing and writing music since she was ten. On October 15th, 1973, she released the single, “Jolene,” from her upcoming album of the same name. It became her second number-one single as a solo artist on the country charts, and upon its UK release in 1976, it was a top-ten hit in the UK Singles Charts. Continue reading »

Jun 012020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

son house and friends

The biography of delta blues musician Son House reads like an old blues song, composed of familiar fabrics borrowed from others, a patchwork quilt of “bluesman” tropes. See if you’ve seen these patterns before:

  • He made his first recordings in 1930, quickly and under shabby conditions. They didn’t sell.
  • He became a street preacher, and rejected the blues as “the devil’s music.”
  • He served time in Mississippi’s Parchment Farm penitentiary (on charges related to a shootout in a juke joint).
  • He migrated north along the Mississippi to escape farm labor and to find an industrial job (working in an East St. Louis steel plant for a time).
  • Field recordings of his songs were captured by Alan Lomax in 1941 and ‘42, becoming part of the Library of Congress folk song collection. (Congress stopped funding folk song collection in 1942, not that this stopped Lomax.) Thereafter House became a railroad porter and quit music.
  • He was rediscovered by young white audiences in the early ’60s and lured back into a music career.
  • He played the Newport Folk Festival in ‘64, gigged around Europe and North America, and wrote new songs and issued new recordings until ill health sidelined him once again.

Although those early Son House recordings didn’t sell, they influenced younger players like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, as did Son House himself, on a personal level. Howlin’ Wolf was yet another House protege of importance.

The Son House song we turn to today, “Death Letter,” doesn’t stem from his early days, but from his rediscovery period, specifically the 1965 sessions for Columbia. As often is true with folk music, the song’s actual history is a little murky. A couple of its verses appear on the 1930 song “My Black Mama, Part II.” The Lomax recordings from the ’40s also include snatches of the lyrics, but not the song itself. Then there’s the fact that Son House never established the definitive version; he performed the song extensively after his rediscovery, but rarely played the same set of verses.

Any artist who covers the song in his wake is left to draw from their favorite verses–or repeat the ones they know from the recording they happen to know. And of course they are free to bend the music itself to suit their mood. The three artists presented here don’t just change things up, they each make something distinctive from the commonplace blues progression that forms the song’s backbone.
Continue reading »

Jul 262019
 

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

bob dylan desire covers

Back in May, we polled supporters of our new Patreon on which Bob Dylan we should Full Album-ify next. We’d already done most of the super-famous classics – Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, etc. – so the options were more the gems adored by those in the know: 1997’s Time Out of Mind, 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and 1976’s Desire.

Time Out of Mind beat Desire by a single vote, and you can read our resulting cover-by-cover breakdown here. But – surprise! – today we’re tackling the runner-up as well. Continue reading »

May 242019
 

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

time out of mind covers

For Bob Dylan’s 78th birthday today, we wanted to post covers of every song on one of his classic albums. Problem was, we’d already given the “Full Albums” treatment to so many contenders: Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, Blonde on Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, and John Wesley Harding. We’d even done a couple of the oddballs: Empire Burlesque and Street Legal.

So, for the first poll on our new Patreon account, we put the question to our backers. Time Out of Mind beat out its competitors Desire and Freewheelin’ by a single vote – a testament to the power of Dylan’s latter-day work. Turns out, Dylan has a lot of classic albums.

Calling Time Out of Mind Dylan’s comeback, as many do, overstates it a bit. After, he was only eight years on from his last “comeback” album – 1989’s Oh Mercy – and had released several quite respectable records in between (though the less said about “Wiggle Wiggle” the better). Continue reading »

Jun 262018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

lena hall cover songs

Broadway star Lena Hall (Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has been releasing an ambitious series of EPs this year. Every month, she covers a handful of tracks by a favorite artist. In what she’s dubbed the Obsessed series, she’s already tackled Elton John, Peter Gabriel, and The Cranberries. June’s installment say her bringing her Broadway belt to five Radiohead songs; here’s a highlight:

Jack White is next month’s featured artist, and I’m quite excited for that one. As the covers Hall selected for us demonstrate, she’s something of a White Stripes superfan. She’ll hopefully preview one or two of her upcoming Stripes covers at her New York concert tomorrow night, “Six Months of Obsessions: From Radiohead to Hedwig” at Public Arts (tickets here).

Check out Hall’s cover-song picks below. Sure hope Dolly Parton and Soundgarden are on her Obsessed docket… Continue reading »

Jun 222018
 
westworld covers

As season two of the incredible HBO series Westworld wraps this Sunday, we’re taking a look back at the cover songs that have played an important role in setting the tone for this new and frightening world. Ramin Djawadi is the genius behind the scores for both seasons, relying heavily on unlikely covers of pop hits with lyrics that (subconsciously, given that the covers are instrumental) mirror the goings-on in the park.

Here are our five favorite Westworld covers: Continue reading »