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20. Chatham County Line – Sharing the Covers

Despite the fact that the band sticks pretty close to the DNA of the originals on this eclectically chosen set of cover songs, Sharing The Covers is a solid listen and a record that you will want to share with your friends at your next party. Not afraid to let the bluegrass freak flag fly, the instrumentation is first-rate, especially on The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run.” Vocally, the band has chops; the James Hunter staple “People Gonna Talk” will have listeners reaching for the album credits to make sure that they are hearing Dave Wilson singing, not Tom Petty. The lush Laurel Canyon touch along with the skin-tight harmonies make this record a warm comfort-food listen. – Walt Falconer

19. Various Artists – Benefit of Mr. Kitesurfer

Surf-rock covers of Beatles songs have been done since the Beatles’ own era; the Ventures alone did at least half a dozen. But rarely have they been grouped as ambitiously as on the UK record label Sharawaji’s new set. The record cover succinctly explains the premise: 13 bands from 13 countries play 13 songs from 13 albums by The Beatles. You’d expect the early stuff to work well in this format, but even later songs like “I Am the Walrus” and “Get Back” get ably molded into the style. Some people say “Helter Skelter” invented heavy metal. Not in this version, it didn’t. – Ray Padgett

18. Lateral Blue – Go Your Own Way: A Bluegrass Tribute to the 70s

It’s been a long time coming, but bluegrass cover albums of FM hits from the past have lost a lot of the novelty patina that used to be inherent in such undertakings. We can thank bands like Lateral Blue for this. The Nashville quartet covers well-worn ground from Elton to ELO, and they do so with neither hamminess nor an excess of sincerity, but with assurance and real appreciation for those who came before them. Go Your Own Way is proof both of the quality of songwriting in the ’70s and of the ability of bluegrass to dust those songs off and make them fresh again. – Patrick Robbins

17. Various Artists – This Is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson (Volume 2)

“I sang my balls off for you baby,” Mikaela Davis says on “Take 54” – and every other artist here could say the same. These 14 mostly-under-the-radar artists (with some notable exceptions, like Cheap Trick) breathe new life into a wide array of Nilsson gems. It avoids the hits slightly more than its 2014 predecessor – no “Coconut” or “Everybody’s Talkin’,” and they couldn’t capitalize on Russian Doll exposing “Gotta Get Up” to a huge audience, having tackled it in round one. But if non-Nilssonheads won’t know all the originals, that just opens more room for these artists to create the definitive versions. – Ray Padgett

16. Greg Laswell – Covers II

Another sequel, and not the last in this list either (are cover albums following movie trends now? Do these all exist in a shared cinematic universe?). In this case, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Greg Laswell follows up his 2009 album Covers by diving deep into the work largely of ’80s or ’80s-inspired artists on the alt-end of the spectrum. Depeche Mode, Psychedelic Furs, and Peter Gabriel all get airings, but so do ’90s-and-beyond rock goddess PJ Harvey and current dance-pop innovators Röyksopp. In every case, Laswell removes the songs far from their moorings, creating beautiful orchestral-folk ballads from sometimes unlikely source material. – Ray Padgett

15. Various Artists – Tiny Changes: A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’

When Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson took his own life last year, a segment of music fans mourned as hard as anyone did for Prince or David Bowie. Though he and his band never achieved that sort of mainstream stardom, for those in the know his work connected on a deep level. On Tiny Changes, a group of fellow musicians and former tourmates, all superfans themselves, cover every track on the band’s most beloved album The Midnight Organ Fight. Biffy Clyro amps up the volume on “The Modern Leper,” while Ben Gibbard falsettos through a synth-dirge “Keep Yourself Warm.” “Celebration” is the key word in the album’s subtitle. Though the circumstances are tragic, this whole album is an ultimately uplifting tribute to the work a great songwriter left behind. – Ray Padgett

14. Janiva Magness – Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty

Janiva Magness is one of the best blues voices you maybe won’t have heard of. Despite being only the second ever female artist to win the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, she has been operating largely under the mainstream radar since the early ’90s. Magness has done Fogerty before: she included “Long As I Can See the Light” in her 2016 release, the Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. Clearly this hit a chord, as this time she runs with a further dozen, both Creedence Clearwater Revival material and later solo songs. But make no mistake, this is no cut and paste job, settling for substituting her husky vocal for his hoarse holler. Rarely does she revisit the swamp-pop murk of the originals, applying instead varied shades of classic blues to the palette, giving new life and depth. – Seuras Og

13. Various Artists – Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration

Joni Mitchell, whose public appearances have grown increasingly rare with age and illness, attended this 2018 star-studded Los Angeles tribute show in person. That’s some pressure for the performers. But, as immediately becomes clear on this subsequent recording, they didn’t let her presence awe them into a reverent meekness. The opening track, the rarely-covered Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter standout “Dreamland,” incorporates bits “La Bamba,” with that song’s hit cover-ers Los Lobos working with Hispanic acts La Marisoul, Xochi Flores & Cesar Castro. That inventiveness lasts throughout this joyous and moving set. The musicians play around with the music and, like Joni herself, refuse to settle into a formula. – Ray Padgett

12. Steve Earle – Guy

I would guess when Steve Earle said he’d get up on Bob Dylan’s coffee table and proclaimed Townes Van Zandt the world’s greatest songwriter songwriter, he might have added that Guy Clark was number two while he was up there. This collection of songs, a sequel of sorts to his 2009 album Townes, is nothing short of terrific. With his band playing just the right notes at just the right times, the song “Old Friends” – with cameos from Terry Allen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Jo Harvey Allen, all friends of Clark’s – is worth the price of admission alone. And, of course, any version of “Dublin Blues” is to be savored. – Walt Falconer

11. Robbie Fulks – 16

Robbie Fulks has occasionally performed Bob Dylan’s little-loved 1978 album Street Legal live, and he finally put his rearrangements to tape. He spared no expense, bringing in, by my count, 27 different collaborators on these eight songs. On some tracks, they stay close to Bob’s original vision – big bands, backing singers, the whole sonic nine yards. But on others, he veers far afield, turning “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power”) into a spooky meditation that sounds more Tom Waits than Dylan, and giving “Baby Stop Crying” a grit and power far beyond the mediocre-at-best original. It’s vinyl-only, but worth your money. – Ray Padgett

See the top 10 on the next page…


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  One Response to “The Best Cover and Tribute Albums of 2019”

Comments (1)
  1. Thanks .. will look forward to hearing your top picks

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