Dec 172018

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40. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Runaway (Kanye West cover)

In February, Charlotte Gainsbourg, the first daughter of French pop, did her part to strengthen transatlantic ties. Appearing on French TV, she performed a brilliant cover Kanye West’s “Runaway.” Gainsbourg sang in English and played the track as a slow, hypnotic dialogue seemingly between two troubled lovers. As she whispered out the words, “Never was much of a romantic/I could never take the intimacy/And I know I did damage/’Cause the look in your eyes is killing me,” it was enough to put chills through the hearts and minds of listeners on both sides of the pond. So, “I think it’s time for us to have a toast …” to a cover that captured the frenetic genius of Kanye’s lyrics and showcased Gainsbourg’s talents as a singer. – Curtis Zimmermann

39. Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco – You’re Driving Me Crazy (Lee Morse cover)

In 2017, Van Morrison released two albums of mostly jazzy covers and reworkings of his own back catalog, with a few new songs thrown in. In 2018, he released another two (the most recent one just this month). Not bad for a septuagenarian. But that begs the question, is this quality, or just quantity? Happily, they are, overall, interesting, entertaining and enjoyable releases by a mature artist exploring the jazzier side of his music that was always present, but was overshadowed at times by folk, rock and Celtic influences. “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is the title track of Morrison’s first of the year’s releases, co-headlined by jazz organist and trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco and featuring his quartet. The album was banged out in two days, and that lends a sense of immediacy to every track. “You’re Driving Me Crazy” was written by Walter Donaldson in 1930, was first covered by Lee Morse and later recorded by pretty much everyone. That includes cartoon character Betty Boop, in Silly Scandals. Morrison and the band are clearly having a blast with the song, and the notoriously moody singer even laughs during the solos. – Jordan Becker

38. Amanda Palmer – The Mess Inside (The Mountain Goats cover)

Longtime readers of Cover Me are almost certainly familiar with Amanda Palmer at this point. We’ve featured many of her ukulele-driven covers over the years, but, surprisingly, this is the first time she’s made the year-end list. Her take on The Mountain Goats’ heart-wrenching “The Mess Inside” starts as simply as the original, with just her ukulele and restrained vocals. But as the song develops, strings, backing vocals, and hand claps join in, matching the power of the emotional lyrics. – Mike Misch

37. Hailey Tuck – Cruel Summer (Bananarama cover)

Muggy, long days of summer spent missing a loved one almost makes you appreciate winter (almost). That’s the mood that Bananarana’s “Cruel Summer” conveys. Hailey Tuck adds some humidity with her delightfully slowed down version, featuring wispy background voices and a heartbeat in the piano’s steadily increasing intensity. Her vocals convey achy emotion through subtle bends and occasional airiness, invoking a heavier summer anthem: Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” – Elizabeth Erenberg

36. Say Sue Me – Dreaming (Blondie cover)

I would argue that “Dreaming” is Blondie’s best power-pop song, with great drumming and an exuberant pace. I would also argue that Say Sue Me take it somewhere greater in their cover. The South Korean combo slows it down, centers the sound around waves of guitar, and doesn’t so much feature Sumi Choi’s vocals as allow them to float through the gauze between you and her. Where Blondie’s “Dreaming” jumps up and dances, Say Sue Me’s comes up and takes hold of you. I know which I prefer. – Patrick Robbins

35. Tony Joe White – Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley cover)

Released barely a month before he died, this is archetypal Tony Joe White, substituting Presley’s swagger for a knowing late night/early morning shimmy through the backwaters and badlands. This ain’t bluster, this is blues, distilled through a hundred glasses of illicit hooch, sourced from swampland stills. Listening to it, you can just sense he may not be long for this world. Presley merely sang the song, with a young man’s arrogance; White exudes it, with all the world-weariness of experience. – Seuras Og

34. Anana Kaye & Irakli Gabriel – Rake (Townes Van Zandt cover)

In addition to picking some of the more obvious alt-country figures to populate the stunning 32-track tribute album they curated, the organizers of a Townes Van Zandt festival in Italy reached deeper for some of the names. One of those surprise gems came from Georgian singer Anana Kaye and her musical partner Irakli Gabriel. Kaye’s witchy vocals channel Kate Bush or Siouxsie Sioux, while guitarist Gabriel builds a layered soundscape for her to belt over. Together, they turn a relative deep cut into a moody masterpiece. – Ray Padgett

33. Mountain Man – Hot Knife (Fiona Apple cover)

The Mountain Man trio always features beautiful harmonies, and Apple’s “Hot Knife” makes great source material. This a cappella version has less dichotomy than the original, de-emphasizing the push and pull between the different lyrics. It results in a less-challenging, sweeter sound. At under three minutes, it’s a short and sweet bit of fun. – Mike Misch

32. Swamp Dogg ft. Justin Vernon – Answer Me, My Love (Nat King Cole cover)

This isn’t the first time Swamp Dogg has paired with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and the effect inevitably shows worlds colliding. To counter Swamp Dogg’s rich and earthy voice, Vernon adds the Messina, a multifaceted synthesizer effect allowing for instant and thorough instrument-vocal harmonization. Hearing the boot steps of high tech throughout a soul song with dramatic horns is startling – and effective. Going by the yardstick of sonic rudiments alone, there’s no competing with Nat King Cole; his voice in the original is pure zephyr. Swamp Dogg’s match of solid old-world talent to modern-day technique makes it fresh. – Merry Mercurial

31. Robin Kester & Moon Moon Moon – Frozen (Madonna cover)

One month after we posted a massive Best Madonna Covers countdown, another coulda-been-a contender revealed itself. And for a track rarely covered, no less. Singer Robin Kester and musician Moon Moon Moon (aka Mark Lohmann) strip away all the dance from the Ray of Light hit, turning into the slowest of burns. The barely-there electronic production serves mostly as an excuse to let Kester loose, and her knockout power-ballad vocals give the song a poignancy its original version lacked. – Ray Padgett


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  7 Responses to “The Best Cover Songs of 2018”

Comments (3) Pingbacks (4)
  1. Merry Christmas and HNY2019 Ray!
    Let always there will be the sound of music!

  2. Check out “Houses of the Holy” from H.C. McEntire

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