Andrew Combs – Reptila (The Strokes cover)
The Strokes’ Is This It songs have been covered to death, so musicians are digging deeper. We heard a killer Angles cover in April from Billie Eilish (more on her in a minute), and now singer-songwriter Andrew Combs takes on this Room on Fire track. His own music leans Nashville Americana, but from the crazy horns here, sounds like he’s been spending time in New Orleans.
B Wise – Under the Bridge (Red Hot Chili Peppers cover)
For his Triple J performance, Australian musician B Wise performed a passionate half-cover of an unlikely band: Red Hot Chili Peppers. He and his killer six-piece band put together a groovy soul cover that rescues the song from white-boy-funk purgatory. Double-threat B Wise then adds the cherry on top: his original, high-energy rap verses, which bounce beautifully off the mellow Peppers choruses.
Beth Orton and Chemical Bros – I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain (Tim Buckley cover)
Brit-folk inspired singer-songwriter Beth Orton covering Tim Buckley is not a surprise (particularly for anyone lucky enough to hear her stunning 2012 Bert Jansch-inspired album Sugaring Season). Mix in the Chemical Brothers, though, and the choice becomes more surprising. It’s a beautiful display of the genre tagged “folktronica” – recorded in 1998, and so perfect that I can’t imagine why it took 20 years to come out.
Billie Eilish – Hotline Bling (Drake cover)
Look beyond the horrifying cover (Is that Drake with the Stranger Thing kid’s mouth? Yikes). Unlike the photo, Eilish’s “Hotline Bling” is beautiful. It starts out sounding like it will be a solo acoustic number – and the 16-year old singer-songwriter can deliver those better than most. But it slowly expands into a layered and nuanced production, sounding the way Karen Dalton might have if she got into ironic hip-hop covers.
Elvis Costello – Someone Else’s Heart (Squeeze cover)
In 1981, Elvis Costello produced Squeeze’s fourth album East Side Story. Thirty years later, he teamed up with the Roots to cover that album’s second track. It was the first song the unlikely combo ever recorded together, and directly led to their collaborative album Wise Up Ghost two years later. So why did this cover take seven years to come out? Who knows, but it was worth the wait. It sounds more like a classic Costello track than their later work, with Questlove and co. asserting themselves less than they did on the proper album. Still, it’s one hell of a getting-to-know-you exercise.
Hailey Tuck – What’s Love Got to Do With It (Tina Turner cover)
Austin jazz singer Hailey Tuck’s “Love on Top” was a near-miss for last week’s Beyoncé covers countdown. But this, off the same new album Tuck + Cover (good name), was a shoo-in. Wisely realizing you can’t out-belt Tina Turner, Tuck brings it way down for a quiet acoustic ditty. The song holds up wonderfully even with all the bombast stripped away.
Lena Hall – Street Spirit (Fade Out) (Radiohead cover)
Broadway star Lena Hall (Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has been releasing an ambitious series of EPs this year. Every month, she covers a handful of tracks by a favorite artist. In this Obsessed series, she’s already tackled Elton John, Peter Gabriel, and The Cranberries – and June’s Obsessed tackled five Radiohead songs. My personal favorite is “Street Spirit,” a song tailor-made to take advantage of her theater-honed ability to belt to the back rows. (Bonus: She told us about her own favorite covers earlier this month).
Maisie Peters – I’ll Be There for You (The Rembrandts cover)
As usual, the Spotify Singles series featured a bunch of major names recording exclusive covers this month: CHVRCHES, Brandi Carlile, Yo La Tengo, Ray LaMontagne, and more. Many were good (a few more below), but my favorite came from one of the lesser-known names: Maisie Peters. The 18-year old British singer performed a spare, beautiful arrangement of the Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” – better known as the Friends theme song. Was she even alive when Chandler and Monica got together?
Nano and the 6-2-4 – Drive My Car (The Beatles cover)
Even if this cover sucked, the cause would be righteous. To celebrate Saudi Arabian women finally being allowed to drive on June 24, the Berklee College of Music and PRI’s The World commissioned an Arabic cover of “Drive My Car.” Clever idea to honor an important moment in history. Full stop. But here’s the bonus: Even ignoring the context, it’s a fantastic cover. They translated both the lyrics and music rather dramatically, with only the vocal melody and “beep beep”s recalling the original. Singing over an inventive orchestral rearrangement by Palestinian cellist Naseem Alatrash, Syrian singer Nano Raies belts the rewritten lyrics with a passion and joy that are transfixing. A moving cover worthy of its moment.
STACEY – 2 Become 1 (Spice Girls cover)
What ever happened to the Spice Girls reunion? I feel like that announcement has hit my Twitter feed a half dozen times ever since their brief moment together at the 2012 Olympics, with no follow-through. I’m not saying I care either way, but make a decision, ladies! In the meantime, STACEY’s cover should appeal to those clamoring for some ’90s nostalgia and to those who couldn’t care less. It’s poppy enough for pop fans, but washed-out and ethereal enough for the indie-rock hipsters.
St. Vincent – Forty Six & 2 (Tool cover)
Which riffs do you wish you had written?
— BBC Radio 6 Music (@BBC6Music) June 8, 2018
The BBC asked guitar-god St. Vincent to play a few favorite riffs for their social media. She dutifully threw out a little Pantera and Jimi Hendrix. Fine, but not proper covers (they’re only five seconds long). Then she gets to Tool. She plays the riff, stops, and introduces it. On to the next. But wait! She starts playing it again, and singing too. Now we’re talking! That fact that she can rip out a Tool song off the top of her head is pretty damn impressive – and on acoustic guitar no less.
The National + Sufjan Stevens – Memories (Leonard Cohen cover)
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon only gets more inscrutable with time. A few weeks ago, he and The National’s Dessner brothers launched a new website called PEOPLE. Its purpose? Unclear. But buried within the purposefully hard-to-parse layout was a beautiful Leonard Cohen cover, featuring 4/5 of the National joined by Sufjan Stevens on vocals. It was a wedding gift for Bryce Dessner’s 2016 wedding, but only getting released now (if being buried deep on a weird website really counts as a “release”).
The Regrettes – Helpless (Hamilton cover)
Confession time: I don’t care about Hamilton. I haven’t been able to see it in person, and though I really like musical theater, I have trouble following soundtracks for plays I haven’t seen. So the Hamilton hype has passed me by. But if you’re like me, good news: you don’t need any background to enjoy the Regrettes’ joyous new “Hamildrop.” It’s a buoyant pop-punk jam that sounds like vintage Avril Lavigne or Paramore. And it has something to do with American history… or so they tell me.
Vanessa Carlton – Little Bit of Rain (Fred Neil cover)
Every month, Vanessa Carlton is releasing a new cover song. The first three, tackling Neil Young, Robyn, and Fleetwood Mac, were probably more eye-catching choices. But my favorite so far is this, her take on a Karen Dalton song penned by Fred Neil. Unlike some of the others, it doesn’t seem engineered with one eye towards indie-blog love. It’s just a song Carlton loves, delivered passionately.
Yo La Tengo – Time Fades Away (Neil Young cover)
Wow, can you believe Yo La Tengo did a six-minute “Time Fades Away” cover?? I’m kidding. That sounds exactly like what they would do – the only surprise is that it isn’t longer. Sometimes, though, staying in your wheelhouse pays off. Their Spotify performance is every big as noisy and ramshackle as you’d expect, constantly threatening to careen off the nearest cliff. Have you heard of the genre dubbed “Spotifycore” – polished, inoffensive, mood-playlist-ready music? This is pretty much the opposite.
The usual disclaimer: The “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others, just ones we ran out of time to write about, or already wrote about elsewhere.