Dec 172018

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30. Kamasi Washington – Fists of Fury (James Wong, Joseph Koo, Ku Chia Hui cover)

For the opening track to his new album Heaven and Earth, saxophonist Kamasi Washington took the theme song to the Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury, renamed it “Fists of Fury” and turned it into a full-fledged political anthem. The nine-minute fusion jazz symphony has a groove that captures the spirit of ‘70s blaxploitation, sax solos that emulate the sound of John Coltrane, and a message that resonates in our complicated times. When vocalists Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible call out, “Our time as victims is over/We will no longer ask for justice/Instead we will take our retribution,” it perfectly embodies the brutal sturm und drang that was 2018. – Curtis Zimmermann

29. Mandy Barnett ft. John Hiatt – A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done (Sonny and Cher cover)

With this cover, Mandy Barnett continues proving that her voice can flex far beyond the roots of country. The Sonny & Cher original is a wistful remembrance of carefree childhood days, its happy-sad lyrics complemented by a pruned big-band orchestration. Barnett traces Cher’s path with undaunted range. Sleek, full, and nuance, her vocals sail above the blues-deep tone of guest John Hiatt, who steps into Sonny’s role, making a wonderful contrast. While the original was more playful, this one digs into the mournful nature of letting go of the playing-cowboy days. – Merry Mercurial

28. Berhana – Whole Wide World (Wreckless Eric cover)

As the resident self-proclaimed expert on covers of Wreckless Eric’s garage-punk classic “Whole Wide World,” I had to check out this one, by 25-year-old singer Amain Berhane. He performs as Berhana and recently had a song placed on the great show Atlanta. He offers a unique take on the song: a laid-back, dreamy version with electronics and R&B influences, and more. I’ll let the artist describe it: “If you heard the song, it's kinda like garage from the ’70s. It's so good. I wanted to put a different spin on the same words. I wanted it to have an old-timey, surf rock feel. Steel guitar and slides.” Berhana’s version might have slid into the top five if I was writing my earlier piece now, although the liberal insertion of what I’ll have to call the “N-Word” makes me a bit uncomfortable (and I suspect Wreckless Eric would agree). – Jordan Becker

27. Ratboys – I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon (Sesame Street cover)

It’s a nice place to visit, Ernie tells us, but “I Don’t Want To Live on the Moon.” Neither do I, but I wouldn’t mind living in Ratboy’s cover. It feels big without feeling menacing; it’s sweet, thanks in large part to Julie Steiner’s vocal performance. It moves at a comfortable pace, neither breakneck nor shamble, and it’s got a welcoming spirit. If this song was a vehicle, it would be a bright yellow customized van. As it is, I plan on taking it out for a spin more than a few times in the weeks to come. – Patrick Robbins

26. Iron & Wine – What I Am (Edie Brickell & New Bohemians cover)

Edie Brickell and New Bohemians stormed the pop charts in the late ‘80s with “What I Am,” a dance track for the Deadhead crowd. For his recent cover, Sam Beam stripped the song down to its most basic elements. Without the warbly guitar fireworks or Brickell’s booming voice, the “unplugged” folk jazz rendition of the song becomes a quiet exploration of one’s own psyche. Beam rolls out the song’s lyrics as both a statement of oneself and an open-ended question for the ages: “I’m not aware of too many things/I know what I know, if you know what I mean.” Indeed. – Curtis Zimmermann

25. Jamey Johnson, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton & Lee Ann Womack – Gotta Serve Somebody (Bob Dylan cover)

One of several highlights from the most excellent Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Sound covers album, this one will have you jumping into the way back machine to search out the Bob Dylan original from Slow Train Coming. The cover, slowed down just a bit from the original, seems to be enhanced with the lyrics popping to the forefront courtesy of the bourbon-soaked voices of Jamey, Willie and Chris, three cowboys doing their best to save Outlaw Country. Lee Ann Womack jumps on board in just the right places to class up the joint. – Walt Falconer

24. Marc Ribot ft. Tom Waits – Bella Ciao (Goodbye Beautiful) (Traditional cover)

The original “Bella Ciao,” an Italian folk song performed to resist fascism during World War Two, has been covered many times. Its original melody was composed in the early 20th century by rice-weeders, but its meaning is timeless. Each covering artist makes it personal to their own story of saying goodbye to an oppressor. Tom Waits brings a sweet sadness to it with a husky voice and a slower tempo. Marc Ribot tells a clear story about the struggles of our times in the shadow of our nation’s capital. This poignant video is its own act of resistance. – Elizabeth Erenberg

23. The Killers – Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (Elton John cover)

It takes a special vocalist to pull of an Elton John tune without sounding trite and forced, and The Killers’ Brandon Flowers manages that his cover of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” This song is a perfect choice for Flowers, both vocally and instrumentally. The updated synth heavy backing and satisfyingly thick harmonies give the cover an air of modernity while still staying true to the original. – Angela Hughey

22. Mutoid Man – She’s a Lady (Tom Jones cover)

Two years ago, metal trio Mutoid Man surprised, and likely alarmed, some New York City subway riders with a raging take on “She’s a Lady” performed in between stations stops. The occasion was a gag for online metal-comedy show Two Minutes To Late Night, and the production quality reflected as much. Thankfully, the band finally recorded it properly, and it’s a rager. The novelty element remains, certainly, but the ultimate cheeseball song actually works in this thrashfest context. Don’t be surprised if, instead of throwing panties at the next Tom Jones concert, the old ladies start a mosh pit. – Ray Padgett

21. Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)

The Wheatus offers an anthem protesting guilt by association: singer Brendan B. Brown was villainized as a kid for liking bands the rougher characters liked. Whiny and melodic with a singalong chorus, it was the everywhere song of 2000. Not an obvious choice for Australian Gold Coast import Amy Shark to cover, but by the time she’s done, it’s hers. She dials the cover down to acoustics to start, then takes it through alternating but cooperative vibes of balladry and heartbroken country before landing back at the song’s pop-punk birthright. The verses feel made for the soft, emotive licks of her voice, which powers up in a snap to deliver the iconic chorus. – Merry Mercurial


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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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