In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Singer-songwriter Nicki Bluhm boasts a lot of experience with collaboration. Her new album To Rise You Gotta Fall (hear a track below) features two co-writes with her friend Ryan Adams, and in recent years she’s toured in Phil Lesh’s band and as part of the Incredible Stringdusters. When last I saw her live, she was singing “The Weight” in Levon’s barn as part of Amy Helm’s female-musicians collective Skylark.
So as someone who knows how different musicians and genres can blend to create unexpected classics, it’s no surprise she’s a fan of cover songs. She used to record amazing covers with her band while driving the van, and her new album includes a powerful blast through Dan Penn’s “I Hate You” (appropriate for a divorce record). And she digs deep in her cover recommendations below, going from a certain song you might remember from last month’s Best Beyoncé Covers countdown to a nod to a Grateful Dead song she has sung with Lesh himself. Check out Nicki’s picks below.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Why Don’t You Love Me (Beyoncé cover)
Nicki says: Both Grace and Beyonce are absolute powerhouses. They are fierce, emotive and dynamic, not to mention incredibly talented. As a woman, I am all too familiar with the confusion and self-reflection that comes after a break up. I love this song because, unlike so many break up songs, the protagonist does not play the victim. Instead, she comes from a place of power and strong self-worth. To watch both these woman perform this song is empowering. I love how Grace stripped the highly produced pop song down to just a simple drum kit, two acoustics and her voice. Even in this broken down arrangement she still demands big attention and delivers the message with equal strength.”
I’m With Her – Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (Adele cover)
Nicki says: “Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins are some of my favorite contemporary female musicians. Individually their lights shine bright and together they make a beam that is almost blinding. Oddly I am not a huge fan of Adele (with all due respect) but when I heard I’m With Her cover ‘Your New Lover’ my jaw hit the floor. The simplicity of three voices and an upright bass leaves no room for mistakes. It takes raw talent to perform a song like this in such an exposed format. I love how they weave their harmonies together, subtly stacking and retracting to create a strong, understated dynamic. I also just love the message of this song. It promotes acceptance, moving on, forgiveness and new beginnings.”
The Brothers Comatose – Valerie (The Zutons / Amy Winehouse cover)
Nicki says: “These guys are dear friends of mine and they continue to work incredibly hard in the business. I’ve also had the opportunity to tour with them and collaborate on a couple duets: ‘Morning Time’ and most recently ‘Sugar Please’. They have a lot of respect for women in music and their cover of ‘Valerie’ is a great representation of that. Covering Amy Winehouse is no easy task. She was one of the great singers of our time and passed far too soon and tragically. What I love about this cover is that it is sung by men, in three part harmonies, bluegrass style. Such a 180 from its [most famous] form but equally alluring. If you haven’t caught on yet…I’m a sucker for great harmony singing.”
Linda Ronstadt – Love Has No Pride (Bonnie Raitt cover)
Nicki says: “Both Bonnie and Linda are two of my favorite female voices in music history. I have taken a lot of cues from them in my own approach to singing and music. I just recently learned that my dear friend and singer/songwriter Amy Helm’s mother Libby was a co-writer of this song which blew my mind because it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. Linda Ronstadt had an uncanny ability to sing songs written by others as if they were her own; coming from the very depths of her being. She is one of the greatest interpreters of song this world has ever witnessed. She reminds me that when you sing, it is always crucial to feel the words, to live them in the moment and to deliver them with meaning and authenticity. Linda never did anything less.”
Grateful Dead – The Race is On (George Jones cover)
Nicki says: “Growing up in Northern California with two older brothers in the ’80s, it was inevitable that The Grateful Dead would be a part of my musical fabric. Of course the band is known for its psychedelic instrumental meanderings, but some of my favorite songs The Grateful Dead covered (and they covered hundreds of songs) were their country picks. This song just makes me feel good and its lightness on a heavy topic is refreshing and inspiring. I particularly love this acoustic rendition of it with a laid back, relaxed feel. The ease in which they play and sing it makes me think of simpler times in my life. Sometimes music is a time machine and that’s what this song is for me.”