When we think back to this year, we might remember 2011 as the year that the whole concept of the “cover album” became more fluid, and not always for the better. Thanks to the increased prominence of sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, a cover album could be conceived, recorded, and shared in the space of a weekend. This didn’t necessarily lead to better cover albums, but it certainly led to more of them. They came in all formats – digital, CD, vinyl, and even cassette-only – and from all directions – labels, blogs, and even some magazines.
Which, we like to think, makes this list that much more helpful. In a year where the biggest single-artist cover album we got came from William Shatner, it proved a particular challenge to dig through the many obscure artists and assorted tributes and extract the gems. Gems there certainly were though, be they from newcomers making an impression with their favorite songs or old-timers honoring groups that influenced them decades ago. It may have taken a bit more work to find them, but the end result is as strong a selection as we’ve seen.
Continue to page 2 to read the list…
As you’ve surely heard by now, R.E.M. broke up yesterday via an understated note on their website. Just as it began, the entire enterprise ended not with a bang, but with a murmur. The quartet-turned-trio performed together for 31 years, 15 albums, and countless “R.E.M. changed my life” exclamations in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Over the course of their career, the band performed countless covers. From the very beginning, they seemingly relished every opportunity to pay tribute to their influences, tacking covers onto singles, compilations, and their annual Christmas fan club records. In the whole lot, there are few duds. Through a combination of smart selections (no novelty rap covers here) and a rare ability to extract the essence of a lyric or melody, they made just about every song they tackled sound like an R.E.M. original. To remember the beloved band, we look back chronologically at some of their most important and best-known covers. Continue reading »
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Mark Linkous was a genius. A sensitive, fragile, damaged genius who created haunting, lo-fi musical tapestries as Sparklehorse. Linkous, a Virginia Gentleman whose pop band, Dancing Hoods, was chewed up and spit out by the corporate machine in the 1980s, reinvented himself in the ‘90s. There would be four full Sparklehorse releases, and an EP, as well as a couple collaborations: one with Christian Fennesz, and last year’s Dark Night of the Soul with Danger Mouse and David Lynch. Depression, drug overdoses and legal issues would lead to an uneven timeline of Sparklehorse releases over a 15 year period. Sparklehorse is an acquired taste…a complex bottle of blended malt Scotch that has been aging in a cask for decades; its harsh bite and smoky, burning finish a barrier to the three-chord Lite Beer crowd. Linkous’s vocals have a lot to do with Sparklehorse’s sometimes inaccessibility. He doesn’t so much sing as release his breath into the path of a song – the way that one spirit might summon another in your dream. Or nightmare. Continue reading »
Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.
We began our celebrations yesterday, but today, in fact, is the big day. On May 24th, 1941, Bob Dylan was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. Twenty-one years later he released his first album and ever since…well, you know.
We continue our week-long series presenting covers of every single Dylan song with “Father of Night,” one of several Dylan songs that Manfred Mann rescued from obscurity. From there we hit songs by Jeff Buckley, The White Stripes, George Harrison, and, oh, about 54 more. Hours of music, and we’re not even halfway done! Continue reading »
A truly unique voice with an unusual perspective on life, Vic Chesnutt created some of the most fascinating alternative folk music from 1990 until his death by his own hand on Christmas Day of 2009. Paraplegic as the result of a car accident at the age of 18, he received a good deal of acclaim, but little success, continually shuffling between labels and never breaking through to the mainstream. He always garnered the respect of his peers, however – the Sweet Relief Two tribute album of 1996 featured none other than Madonna, R.E.M. and Smashing Pumpkins. Canadian alt-country legends Cowboy Junkies now offer their tribute to Chesnutt in the form of their new album Demons, featuring 11 covers of his songs.
The Junkies built their career on well-chosen and well-crafted covers (you can see our recent feature here) and they continue the tradition nicely in the present album. They open with a raucous take on “Wrong Piano,” originally a slow contemplative ballad from 1995’s Is The Actor Happy. The Junkies reimagine the track with distorted lead guitar and loud “Like A Rolling Stone”-style organ, only bringing it down to allow vocalist Margo Timmins to deliver the verses. Continue reading »
Our 45-songs-and-counting Cowboy Junkies Live Collection included the October live debut of Vic Chesnutt’s “Wrong Piano,” which was recorded in Edmonds, Washington. The sound quality left something to be desired, but the promise shone through. Well now we return with the Junkies‘ official studio recording of “Wrong Piano.” It’s a distorted blast of guitar and organ, and our first glimpse at what next month’s Chesnutt tribute album holds in store. Continue reading »