Apr 262013
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

It is hard to remember that in 1998, when Mermaid Avenue was released, Billy Bragg was a well-respected leftist folkie, a former busker who had progressively cleaned up and expanded his sound, and he was probably at the height of his commercial popularity. By contrast, Wilco, which was struggling to emerge from the shadows of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, had released two albums – a debut that was not fawned over, and a follow-up that was critically adored, but far from a hit. The idea that within a few years, Wilco would become a critical and popular success, serve as an example of the music industry’s bizarre decision-making process, headline places like Madison Square Garden, and curate its own summer music festival, would probably have been scoffed at by most, including Jeff Tweedy.

Keep in mind as well that in 1998, the idea of putting out an album of unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics with brand-new music was a bit unusual, but after Mermaid Avenue, it became almost common. Later albums from artists such as Jonatha Brooke, The Klezmatics and even Tweedy’s former Uncle Tupelo bandmate and nemesis Jay Farrar (along with Anders Parker, Will Johnson and Jim James) have followed this theme, as have single songs by artists as diverse as the Navajo group Blackfire and the punk provocateurs Anti-Flag. So, Mermaid Avenue was not only fabulous music, it helped to spawn a revival of interest in the music of Woody Guthrie, which can only be a good thing.

Continue reading »

Apr 192013
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Fans of Gram Parsons are generally divided into three camps over 1999’s Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons. The first thinks it’s brilliant, a reverent homage to a great songwriter and a testament to the weight of his country rock influence. The second likes the raw sound of another tribute album better: 1993’s Conmemorativo: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, featuring the likes of Bob Mould and The Mekons. And the third camp feels that the only person that can sing Gram Parsons songs is Parsons himself.

If we took the philosophy of the last opinion to heart, this site wouldn’t even exist. While the so-called purists would deny any version other than the one by the original artist as being legitimate, it certainly would be a dull world if all musicians were content to color within the lines without recognizing that someone else before them drew those lines. While Conmemorativo does contain some gems, there are two reasons why Return of the Grievous Angel is better: great production values, and the guiding hand of Emmylou Harris, who worked so closely with Parsons and who served as executive producer of the compilation. So count us among the members of that first camp. Now let’s meet the man who inspired the album. Continue reading »

Apr 192013
 

Funkadelic is the slightly lesser known iteration of George Clinton‘s Parliament (who eventually toured under the name Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk), but their critically-acclaimed Maggot Brain is packed with, well, funky dance tracks (and one mind-blowing guitar solo). “Can You Get to That” highlights the ensemble, freestyle feel of the album, with multiple vocalists and plenty of impromptu shouts. Recently, former member of the Staples Singers, Mavis Staples, recorded her own soulful version. Continue reading »

Dec 212012
 

Adele dominated the cover song landscape in 2011, but Two-Aught-Twelve saw no similar galvanizing figure. Yes Lana Del Rey got covered a lot, but Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire also seemed to garner an unexpected landslide of great covers (and speaking of landslides, so did Fleetwood Mac). “Call Me Maybe” was a huge hit that didn’t lead to much in the way of classic covers, and few seem to have even bothered attempting the Korean raps on “Gangnam Style.”

Which means that cover songs in 2012 were more diverse, ambitious, and left-field than ever before. A given YouTube search or Hype Machine browse would be as likely to turn up forgotten hits or underappreciated songwriters as it would the latest Top 40 smash. Find a sampling of all the diversity in Cover Me’s official Best Cover Songs of 2012 countdown. Start with #40-31 on the next page, and check back daily as we’ll be adding more til we hit #1.

Aug 212012
 

Over the past three decades, Bill Fay was, as he refers to it now, “deleted.” His albums went out-of-print; his music was forgotten by the very few who knew it in the first place, and his legacy seemed destined for the 25-cent bargain bin.

It’s a good narrative, and it’s mostly true. One group, though, never forgot Fay. Like-minded musicians twenty years his junior carried the torch throughout his absence with covers and shout-outs. Jeff Tweedy and Wilco led the pack, covering “Be Not so Fearful” in concert regularly over the years, even once dragging the reclusive Fay himself onstage. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus titled a song “Bill Fay” (though he later changed it to “Share the Red”). Continue reading »

Jan 092012
 

Last month, Wilco invited friend of the band/Jeff Tweedy collaborator Mavis Staples and opening act Nick Lowe onstage for a Chicago show for a rousing cover of “The Weight.” Some shaky cell footage emerged, but now we have something better: a video of the impromptu supergroup rehearsing the cover backstage at the Civic Opera House. Continue reading »