AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)
Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.
Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)
Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'”
Bedouine – Come Down in Time (Elton John cover)
Elton John’s setlists tend to be pretty greatest hits-heavy, but one relative deep cut that keeps popping up over the years is “Come Down in Time.” Despite never being a single, it resonates beyond just the man himself: Sting’s covered it, as have Judy Collins and Al Kooper. The latest artist to find herself inspired is Bedouine, aka. Azniv Korkejian. Often compared to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, her voice fits perfectly alongside one of Elton’s folksiest ballads.
Blackberry Smoke feat. Amanda Shires – You Got Lucky (Tom Petty cover)
The first Petty cover of a number here, the gone-too-soon icon having hit both the 68th anniversary of his birth and first anniversary of his death in in October. Blackberry Smoke and fiddle player Amanda Shires reimagine “You Got Lucky” as if Petty had recorded it for Wildflowers, all violin and mandolin and acoustic guitar pickin’. It translates beautifully, building to a solo-trading crescendo between Shires and frontman Charlie Starr.
Brandi and the Alexanders – Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover)
Brooklyn quintet Brandi and the Alexanders describe their sound as a mixture between Lauryn Hill and the Jackie Brown soundtrack, and you can hear touches of both in their slow-burn soul Sabbath cover. When the guitar solo hits, you discover they can psych-rock with the best of them too.
Jamey Johnson, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton & Lee Ann Womack – Gotta Serve Somebody (Bob Dylan cover)
The highlight of a new Muscle Shoals tribute album comes from an all-star lineup of country stars across generations. Bob Dylan’s gospel recordings have undergone a repetitional revival after last year’s Trouble No More box set, and this killer eight-minute cover should help these songs’ continued resurrection. The blend of Womack and Johnson’s big-voiced belting with Nelson and Stapleton’s understated crooning works wonders, and the smoking backing band ably honors the swampers’ legacy.
Jim James feat. The Resistance Revival Choir – Everyday People (Sly and the Family Stone cover)
We hated the My Morning Jacket frontman’s 2017 covers album, but this “Everyday People” cover performed backstage at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon begins to redeem him. It dispenses with the ironic distances and warped vocals to deliver a straightforward and powerful blast through the Sly and the Family Stone classic. The gospel choir doesn’t hurt one bit.
The Lemonheads – Can’t Forget (Yo La Tengo cover)
Our first ever Best Covers Album of the Year, in 2009 (we didn’t run year-end lists our first couple years), was The Lemonheads’ brilliant Varshons. If you haven’t heard Evan Dando and co’s “Layin’ Up with Linda,” check it out and then come back. The band has not released anything since then, but just announced Varshons 2 in January. They tackle everyone from John Prine to The Eagles to Florida Georgia Line (really). The first single is a nice little cover-song wink, tackling one of the few originals on Yo La Tengo’s own covers album, 1990’s Fakebook.
The Lil Smokies – Rocket Man (Elton John cover)
Would you believe this is one of two bluegrass “Rocket Man” covers that came out this month? Mile Twelve’s was a little polished for my tastes, but The Lil’ Smokies’ upbeat jig through the song works for me. Frontman Andy Dunnigan says: “There’s a certain power behind a good cover song. When I first started going to shows as a kid, I always loved how the crowd energy and enthusiasm level would ignite during a cover. When literally everyone in the room knows the tune and is singing along, it adds another layer to the shared experience. The thread of commonality is the power to provoke. We’ve been playing ‘Rocket Man’ for several years now and regardless of where we are in the country, what time it is, and how old or young the crowd is, everyone joins in for the sing-along.”
Mountain Man – Hot Knife (Fiona Apple cover)
After eight years away, the beautifully harmonizing trio of Molly Sarlé, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Meath return with a new album this month. And for Aquarium Drunkard, they added three covers, of Kacey Musgraves (“Slow Burn”), Neil Young (“Through My Sails”), and this very unexpected a cappella Fiona Apple track. They write: “Apple is so adept at writing circular melodies and rhythms – we wanted to learn this song as an exercise and it just stuck as something we wanted to sing together all the time. It continues to be wonderfully challenging every time we try to sing it together.” Download the studio version for free at Aquarium Drunkard.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Running Down a Dream (Tom Petty cover)
The one-year anniversary of Tom Petty’s death brought the expected bonanza of new Petty covers. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart did every band one better, though, by announcing a full Petty covers LP that day. For the Turntable Kitchen series, the band will run down the entire Full Moon Fever album. The first single, “Running Down a Dream,” doesn’t deviate too dramatically, but adds a little Pains shoegaze sheen.
Phoebe Bridgers – It’ll All Work Out (Tom Petty cover)
Another Petty cover, and one that veers further from the template. I had to go relisten to the Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) original to refresh my memory, so thoroughly does Bridgers make the song her own. Spare and shimmery, Bridgers wields the lightest of touches with shimmery guitar, soft backing vocals, and some very (very) spare percussion. With her voice, it needs nothing more.
Titus Andronicus – Only a Hobo (Bob Dylan cover)
Titus Andronicus’s latest album includes a brilliant pronoun-switched Bob Dylan cover called “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone.” On their new Home Alone for Halloween EP, Patrick Stickles dig way deeper into the back catalog for “Only a Hobo.” In true Dylan fashion, it’s clearly a first-take number with him directing the pianist as he goes, but passionate nevertheless.
Trentemøller – Transformer Man (Neil Young cover)
An electronic musician covering Neil Young always intrigues me (danceable “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” covers abound). Picking a song from Trans – Neil’s electronic album – feels like a bit of a cheat. But producer Trentemøller makes “Transformer Man” sit more comfortably in its space boots than Young’s original Trans recordings always did.
The usual disclaimer: The “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others, just ones we didn’t blurb, or already wrote about elsewhere.