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10. Various Artists – UnderCover: A Tribute to A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders’

UnderCover Presents is a San Francisco tribute-concert series where local artists across pop, soul, folk, hip-hop, and beyond reinterpret a classic album track-by-track. Sometimes they turn these into studio recordings, and their Bandcamp page is a feast for cover lovers. In addition to creating fresh takes on tribute-album staples like Bob Dylan and Radiohead, they look beyond the obvious to honor figures not tributed enough. On the latest, they redo innovative hip-hop pioneers A Tribe Called Quest’s third album with blaring horns, funky percussion, and a host of ace Bay Area singers and rappers. – Ray Padgett

9. Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited

This record is one of those rare entities where the tribute album is better than the original. This thing is ridiculously cool. With a different female singer for each song, Mercury Rev puts their own swirling psychedelic spin on the original country-folk classics. “Big Boss Man” with Hope Sandoval is an eclectic stunner, on “Reunion” with Rachel Goswell you just might find out what was thrown off of the Tallahatchie bridge, and Susanne Sudfor’s spin on “Tobacco Road” will tingle your spine. Lucinda Williams does what Lucinda Williams does on “Ode to Billy Joe,” the only song not on the original recording, to polish off a sublime set of masterful songs. – Walt Falconer

8. Various Artists – Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits

There are several reasons why Come On up To The House: Women Sing Waits had to be more than just pretty good, not least the fact this is scarcely the first such project. Waits cover albums by individual female artists – Holly Cole and Scarlett Johansson, just as a couple f’rinstances – are already lining up in judgement and for comparison. Then there are the myriad individual covers songs scattered across the repertoire of innumerable women of note. Why, I can find ten quality female-sung versions of “The Heart of Saturday Night” at the drop of a pork pie hat. Thankfully, Come On Up is very good indeed. Aimee Mann delivers the first killer stroke, singing in a lower register than usual, channeling Nebraska-era Bruce as she nails “Hold On.” New psych-folk breakout Phoebe Bridgers then, impossibly, further lifts the mood with the maudlin heart lift of “Georgia Lee,” evoking a Midwestern dust-blown chapel, if strangely and wonderfully having the guitar playing through a Leslie filter. – Seuras Og

7. Chris Anderson – Song Cycle

Peter Gabriel gets covered twice on this Los Angeles film composer’s sprawling covers album, which seems fitting. Like Gabriel, Anderson possesses a boundless ambition and the hustle to make his ideas come to pass. In this case, he recruits an entire gospel choir for some songs, blending their sound with various studio vocalists to entirely recast everything from Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” to the aforementioned Gabriel duo (“Mercy Street” and “Digging in the Dirt,” the latter masterfully blended with Dave Matthews’ “Eh-Hee” and a stunner even for those Matthews-skeptics among us.) – Ray Padgett

6. Nouvelle Vague – Curiosities

Nouvelle Vague has made a good career out of reworking punk and new wave songs into the silky smoothness of bossa nova. But they put a lot more thought into their albums than “record twelve songs, release twelve songs.” Curiosities collects some of the songs that didn’t make the cut for albums over the past fifteen years, and it becomes clear fairly early on that it wasn’t inferior performances that sidelined these reimaginings. “Girl U Want” gets a Carl Perkins-style guitar, while “Brass in Pocket” sounds like a Northern Soul slow-dance number. They’ve been called a one-trick band, but Curiosities proves that Nouvelle Vague kept some of their finest tricks hidden up their sleeves. – Patrick Robbins

5. The Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: (A Tribute to Van Halen)

Nobody really knew that we needed a tribute album covering every cool song that Hall and Oates ever penned when the Bird and the Bee hit us between the ears with Interpreting The Masters, Vol. 1: (A Tribute to Hall and Oates) back in 2010, but it turned out that inquiring ears embraced those Buzz Lightyear versions of “Private Eyes,” “Maneater,” and “Rich Girl” and were clamoring for more of the same. And now, thankfully, with Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: (A Tribute to Van Halen), our collective dreams of a sequel have been realized. Singer Inara George and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin are back, moving a bit further past the original arrangements here than they did on the last one, turning a batch of hard-rockers into earwormy synthpop. “Panama” gets turned into a streamy, between-the-sheets number, and “Hot For Teacher” morphs into ZZ Top feat. Bruce Hornsby. – Walt Falconer

4. Jenn Champion – The Blue Album

Jenn Champion has gone through many musical identities, performing solo under the names Jenn Ghetto and S, and playing in a band called Carissa’s Wierd. Now she takes on another musical identity: a Weezer cover artist. The overall vibe of this full-album cover of that band’s acclaimed debut is the self-conscious lyrics of old-school Weezer paired with the musical style of Tegan and Sara’s poppy Heartthrob album. Each track gets its own synth phrase, paired with a subtle club beat. The result could be an over-produced mess, but not here. Champion makes tasteful choices, lightening the effects of the instrumentation with her airy vocals. This album is only available via Turntable Kitchen, and it may be the best that covers-records series has done to date. – Sara Stoudt

3. Bernard Fowler – Inside Out

Bernard Fowler has been the Rolling Stones’ backing vocalist since 1989, touring with the band and appearing on most of their group and solo albums. So you’d imagine he’d bring that experience to his album of Stones covers right? Not directly. In addition to being a bandmate, he’s clearly a fan, and he digs far deeper into their discography than the Stones themselves do on tour. Other than the record-closing “Sympathy for the Devil,” Fowler selects real obscurities, selecting songs from little-loved albums like Goats Head Soup (“Dancing with Mr. D”) and Undercover (three separate tracks). Picking songs listeners might not be that wedded to gives him the freedom to go full Gil Scott-Heron, turning these into spoken-word jazz numbers that instantly become the definitive versions of these deepest of cuts. – Ray Padgett

2. Various Artists – Wilcovered: Wilco Songs Covered

Wilco turned 25 this year, and the birthday occasioned two separate high-profile tribute albums. The first, All of God’s Money: A Tribute to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot features many strong tracks (Meat Wave’s “War on War” is a must-listen), but some stick too close to the originals. That’s rarely a problem on this Uncut Magazine collection, which came with their November issue and can be tracked down online. Cate Le Bon makes “Company in My Back” a herky-jerky synth song, Low makes “War on War” – two great covers of that this year – an atmospheric meditation, and guitar wizard Ryley Walker pulls maybe the most impressive trick of all, reinventing a song the band themselves hadn’t released yet (Ode to Joy’s “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)”). I could continue listing highlights, but it would soon be the whole tracklist. – Ray Padgett

1. Juliana Hatfield – Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police

If Juliana Hatfield likes an artist, you can be sure that we are going to hear about it. As a fast follow-up to her 2018 record, Juliana Hatfield sings Olivia Newton-John, Hatfield memorializes another influential artist from her teens with the appropriately named Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police. Thankfully, she keeps things interesting and offers unique, almost Go-Go’s-worthy arrangements for most of the songs. Not sticking to the hits, Hatfield covers a couple of deep cuts, including the splendid up-tempo tunes “Landlord” and “Murder By Numbers” cranking up the guitars to 11. Even if you are not a big Police fan, the energy that zips from song to song makes this one a real winner. “Canary In A Coalmine” is worth the price of admission alone, and Juliana does the impossible and makes the cringe-worthy “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” listenable. – Walt Falconer

Click here for the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2019!

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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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