Dec 072018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

Black Friday may have gone, but here’s a twofer bargain.

Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, has produced two near-full album cover classics in her career (so far), which doesn’t even begin to fully address her never-more-quirky approach to the songs of others. Not that she is lost for any words of her own! She’s got a back catalogue stretching across many styles and many genres, from raw scratchy indie through slinky southern soul, a touch of electronica and back again, yet always unmistakably herself. Her career has seen her seemingly beset by internal demons; many had written her off until her triumphant return this fall with Wanderer, containing ten of her own songs, and one contender for our Cover Songs of the Year post.

But it is back to 2000 we first go, to The Covers Record. Allegedly a disappointment to her record company, who had appreciated this was an artiste worth their investment, but even with lackluster promotion it became a slow burning triumph. Praise and plaudits accumulated over the years, not least as box set dramas required ever more diverse musical accompaniments.
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Aug 202018
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Aretha Franklin cover

In 1998, the British music magazine Mojo polled 175 singers to determine the greatest singer of all time. Aretha Franklin was the winner, which in and of itself was not wholly unexpected. What was unexpected, the Mojo people told its readers, was the degree to which she ran away with it. According to Aretha’s peers, Frank Sinatra was a very distant second. Everybody knows of her famous demand for R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and in the hours that followed her passing, everyone would learn that she got it, and that she truly deserved it.
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Mar 022018
 

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

emel mathlouthi covers

We first discovered Emel Mathlouthi at last year’s Northside Festival. But let me be clear: when I say “discovered,” I hardly mean she was unknown. In fact, we were very late on the bandwagon; the Tunisian singer-songwriter is an international star. A few years back she became known as the “Voice of the Arab Spring” after one of her song’s became an anthem for the revolution. She even performed it at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2015:

As you can see in that video, her original songs are stunning. Her most recent album, Ensen, was my personal favorite album of 2017, and today she releases a follow-up set of inventive remixes of those songs titled Ensenity. You can get a taste over at The Fader.

With a voice like that, you won’t be surprised to learn she can deliver some pretty stunning covers too. She can belt “Hallelujah” with the best of ‘em, and has equally beautiful takes on David Bowie and Björk under her belt. She was even kind enough to put together a pretty mind-blowing version of “All Along the Watchtower” for my book party. It’s the rare cover that owes next to nothing to Jimi Hendrix: Continue reading »

Feb 282018
 
best cover songs february

Today we continue the tradition we started way back one month ago. Since we’re still new at this, I’ll reiterate that our picks are unranked and semi-impulsive. Even the un-blurbed “Honorable Mentions” at the bottom aren’t necessarily worse than the rest; in many cases, we’ve just already written about them at length and have little else to say.

Okay, disclaimers behind us, let’s dive in. Continue reading »

Feb 152018
 
pj harvey an acre of land

You have probably never heard “An Acre of Land.” It’s a very old English folk ballad, and not even a particularly well-known one in that niche. But you don’t need to have ever heard the song before to be stunned by PJ Harvey’s new cover of it.

The few other versions I dug on YouTube tend to be sung by people with thick accents off albums with titles like Widdecombe Fair. And they’re pretty, in a Fairport Convention-sings-songs-of-yesteryear sort of way. But Harvey’s version, a collaboration with London composer Harry Escott for the movie Dark River, is a different beast entirely. Listening to it doesn’t feel like a history lesson. It feels like something fresh, unburdened by tradition. Continue reading »

Jul 142017
 

If you are a regular reader of this site, you may remember this post from a couple months back, about the (to my ears) hotly anticipated shared project between English folkstrel Olivia Chaney and Portland quirkmeisters the Decemberists. Well, the lovely people at Nonesuch have now released Offa Rex’s The Queen of Hearts, and mighty fine it is too.

Chaney may not be especially well known to many, unless you were lucky enough to catch the last round of occasional Joe Boyd-curated Nick Drake tribute shows, featuring a host of singers and musicians from varied sources. Chaney was undoubtedly one of the stars of the one I saw, alongside company like Glen Hansard and Sam “Iron and Wine” Beam. This led me to her 2015 release, The Longest River, which I can commend. The Decemberists are much better known and have long been drawn to the canon of trad.arr., especially singer Colin Meloy. Indeed, one might surmise the seeds for Offa Rex were sown by a tour-only EP Meloy produced in 2006, Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins. Indeed, Meloy says he invited Chaney to the table by suggesting in a tweet that his band be her Albion Country Band. Queen of Hearts shows them not making a half-bad shot of it, with side-orders aplenty of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, not to mention a little of fellow U.S. travelers 10,000 Maniacs on the keyboard swirl of “Bonnie May.”
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