Dec 172012

This year’s cover albums offered ambition on a scale we’ve never seen before. Moving beyond the normal “cover a bunch of random songs we like” tossoff, 2012 offered deeply thought-out conceptual collections. One updated kiddie folk songs for raved-out rockers, others reworked complete albums to their own ends. Even the all-star tributes that pop up every year aimed higher – one of the year’s most high-profile had 70+ tracks! So today we count down the best of the bunch, the ones that swung for the fences and got there. With every passing year there seems to be less sigma attached to the phrase “cover album,” and these sets move that needle even farther forward.

10. Various Artists
Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

Buy on iTunes or Amazon.
No 75-song collection is going to be particularly coherent, but amidst the four discs on this charity set are so many definitive renditions of Dylan deep cuts it’s easy to miss the trees for the forest. Whether it’s the Gaslight Anthem bellowing through 1978’s “Changing of the Guards” or the Carolina Chocolate Drops back porch jamming through 1989’s “Political World,” you can sift through hours of great covers even after you’ve weeded out the duds.

Stream The Gaslight Anthem – Changing of the Guards (Bob Dylan cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/ChangingoftheGuards.mp3]

9. Joan Osborne
Bring It On Home

Buy on iTunes or Amazon.
After her brush with Top 40 success with “(What If God Was) One of Us,” Joan Osborne fell off the mainstream radar. The haters and fans alike might be surprised to know she’s doing just fine though, having marked out a parallel career as a credible blue-eyed soul singer rather than try to recreate her one unlikely hit. Her latest in a series of cover albums, Bring It On Home finds her and a top-notch studio band swinging and smoking through songs by Ray Charles, Bill Withers, and Ike & Tina Turner. It’s good company, and she keeps it well.

Stream Joan Osborne – I Don’t Need No Doctor (Ray Charles cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/IDontNeedNoDoctor.mp3]

8. Various Artists
Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac

Buy on iTunes or Amazon.
With the Mac back in action in 2013 – and already bickering four months before the first show – the timing couldn’t have been much more fortuitous for this indie-centric tribute. Helmed by the same team who did last year’s Rave On Buddy Holly, the set features heavy-hitters like MGMT and the Kills, plus a couple token vets like Billy Gibbons and Marianne Faithfull, shimmering through takes on Stevie Nicks hits and Peter Green obscurities alike and making the case for the full decades-long catalog, not just Rumours.

Stream Antony – Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/Landslide.mp3]

7. Meklit and Quinn
Meklit and Quinn

Buy on iTunes or Amazon.
Having kicked around the San Francisco soul scene separately for years, Meklit Hadero and Quinn DeVeaux didn’t connect until sharing a bill at a DIY storefront venue in 2010. The pair encored with Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home,” discovered their immediate chemistry, and began planning an album together. Their version of “Bring It on Home” ends the album on its most predictable selection, but even left-field choices like MGMT and Lou Reed feel of a piece with the funky R&B swagger.

Stream Meklit and Quinn – Satellite of Love (Lou Reed cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/SatelliteofLove.mp3]

6. The Rosebuds
Love Deluxe: The Rosebuds Perform Sade

Download at Bandcamp.
While Meklit and Quinn welcome indie songs to R&B, the Rosebuds go in the other direction. Bon Iver collaborators Ivan and Kelly Rosebud, known for intricate rootsy harmonies, get seriously sensual on a full-album cover of Sade’s Love Deluxe. They find the midpoint between North Carolina folk and London soul, deftly making over the baby-making slow jams for the bearded Brooklyn set.

Stream The Rosebuds – No Ordinary Love (Sade cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/NoOrdinaryLove.mp3]

5. Various Artists
The Bard of Montreal

Download at Herohill.
There are no shortages of folkie Leonard Cohen covers – there’s even a new book about “Hallelujah” covers alone – but if you want to stick with one set (and don’t want to pay anything), The Bard of Montreal is the way to go. A selection of no-name Canadian artists sway through songs from throughout his career, from early songs like Andrew Vincent’s revelatory “Bird on a Wire” up to the present with Laila Biali’s chiming “Show Me the Place.”

Stream Andrew Vincent – Bird on a Wire (Leonard Cohen cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/BirdonaWire.mp3]

4. Catherine A.D.

Buy at iTunes or Amazon.
Catherine A.D. has been trickling out lush, layered pop covers for a few years now, and we’ve lapped up every one. Now she’s finally collected them on an album, with new tracks besides. The wavering shimmer in her voice aches through songs by Bon Iver, Nina Simone, and Sleigh Bells. Much is often made of the Stockholm Syndrome anti-feminism of the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Fell Like a Kiss).” This version sounds sung from the grave.

Stream Catherine A.D. – He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss (The Crystals cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/HeHitMe.mp3]

3. Richard McGraw
Popular Music

Buy at iTunes or Amazon.
Though his cover choices include the likes of Lady Gaga and REO Speedwagon, Richard McGraw doesn’t possess an ounce of irony. No matter how ridiculous his source material – Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” anyone? – McGraw brings a deadly serious delivery to every line that raises these above novelty and makes them fit right alongside the more “acceptable” songs he selects. The cabaret theatricality makes you hang on every word, even when he’s singing about wanting your ugly, wanting your disease.

Stream Richard McGraw – Party All the Time (Eddie Murphy cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/PartyAlltheTime.mp3]

2. The Darcys

Buy at iTunes or Amazon.
Covering a complete album charges artists with an unusually daunting tasting: presenting their own cohesive package drawn entirely from someone else’s cohesive package. And few albums present more of a comprehensive package than Steely Dan’s AJA. The Darcys work in and around the songs though, adding pop-rock sheen to paper over some of the jazz wonkery. For purists of “the Dan,” this is surely sacrilege, but anyone with an open mind may just discover new ways to hear these songs.

Stream The Darcys – Peg (Steely Dan cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/Peg.mp3]

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Buy at iTunes or Amazon.
When this album came out, most of the coverage focused on the curatorial implications of reviving classroom chestnuts like “Oh Susannah” and “Clementine.” All of the history and “what this means” discussion is valid, but when you press play the first thing that strikes you is the fuzz of the power chords, the strained bellows, the cardboard-box bashing of the drums. Neil and the Horse’s ragged glory rages so hard the source material becomes secondary. Whatever they are, these songs rock. The fact that you already know all the words is an added bonus.

Stream Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Clementine (Trad. cover)
[audio: Bestof2012/Albums/Clementine.mp3]

Check back tomorrow for Best Cover Songs of 2012…

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  2 Responses to “The Best Cover Albums of 2012”

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  1. This list should definitely include Todd Snider’s Tribute to Jerry Jeff Walker: Time as We Know It. More info:

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