Feb 282020

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs of february
Amanda Palmer – Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil cover)
Julia Stone – Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil cover)

Due to the wildfires devastating Australia, Midnight Oil’s ecological anthem “Beds Are Burning” has gotten covered a lot this year (Patti Smith was, as always, ahead of the curve). The sudden abundance of covers of a great song is not a silver lining – there is no silver lining – but hopefully the funds from these go some small way towards rebuilding. The two most prominent come from honorary Australian Amanda Palmer and actual Australian Missy Higgs, on a charity EP that sees the first low-key Dresden Dolls reunion in ages, and from Julia Stone, who put together a covers set that comes out next month and features The National and more covering Aussie acts.

Amigo the Devil – Delilah (Tom Jones cover)

Amigo the Devil’s version of “Delilah” sounds so much like some old murder ballad – and so little like what I think of as Tom Jones – that I had to double check Jones hadn’t recorded some gritty folk project at some point (he has released 40 albums, after all). Nope. That’s just how dramatically Amigo the Devil’s Danny Kiranos transformed the song. “I remember hearing Tom Jones songs around my parents and their friends when I was young,” he told Brooklyn Vegan. “At the time, I didn’t process how dark some of them really are. ‘Delilah,’ for example, is usually such a drunkard karaoke sing-along that I feel like most people still don’t notice it. This version came from wondering what it would sound like to match the mood of the song with the content of the story being told.”

Bartees Strange – About Today (The National cover)

Bartees Strange does not look like your typical National fan. That’s not me saying that – it’s him. In the digital liner notes to his upcoming tribute EP, he describes going to a 2019 National show and seeing few other black faces in the crowd. He wondered, as he puts it, “Why was it so rare to see black people at shows like these; to see black musicians freed from reductive definitions of genre; to see black acts with this level of success in a genre that is deeply informed by legacies of black music in America?” So he decided to bring his own experiences to these songs he loved. The first single is “About Today.” It sounds almost nothing like the original and I can’t wait to hear the rest.

Built to Spill – Bloody Rainbow (Daniel Johnston cover)

Speaking of unlikely tribute projects! Built to Spill’s first album in five years boasts the self-explanatory title Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston. Not surprising that the beloved indie-rock veterans would cover a song by the maybe-even-more beloved cult songwriter, especially after his recent passing. But a whole album is a shock, from a band not exactly prolific (this isn’t Guided by Voices churning out several albums a year). But it turns out they’d backed Johnston himself at a few shows, and recored this album shortly thereafter. Even more impressive, they eschew the oft-covered “True Love Will Find You in the End” and “Walking the Cow” entirely.

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Empty Promises (Michael “Iron Man” Burks cover)

I’m a huge Buddy Guy fan, and for several years he’s been big-upping this teenage blues player from Clarksdale, Mississippi. I saw them play together at Buddy’s club in Chicago last month and he could match Guy lick for lick – this from a kid not yet old enough to buy a drink at the bar. His new single is a deep cut of Michael “Iron Man” Burks. Forget the fact that you probably don’t know the original. Just listen to Kingfish play.

Dropkick Murphys – The Bonny (Gerry Cinnamon cover)

If someone releases a song called “The Bonny,” you know Dropkick Murphys are going to cover it. And they wasted no time, with Scottish singer-songwriter’s Gerry Cinnamon’s original coming out only three months ago. If you’ve ever heard Dropkick Murphys, you know what this song will sound like. That’s a good thing.

Fuck You, Tammy! — True Love’s Flame (David Lynch cover)

Did you have a good Twin Peaks Day? That was February 24, in case you missed it. This nerd holiday comes from Dale Cooper noting that date the first time he drives into town. I don’t think there’s a What Did Jack Do? Day yet – that’s David Lynch’s new Netflix short – but maybe this is the first step. This Lynch-universe tribute band (that’s a thing, apparently) performs the first cover of the torch song the monkey sings at the end of the beguiling film.

Guga Stroeter – Nós Na Autobahn (Kraftwerk cover)

Earlier this month, David McLoughlin of Sao Paolo music promoter Brasil Calling emailed me about what he described as “a long tradition of Brazilian acts doing covers of International successes, especially dance bands from the north, who perform local genres such as forró and brega.” His example was a Kraftwerk cover from 2001. Well Kraftwerk must be big down there, since shortly after he emailed me an entirely different Brazilian Kraftwerk cover that just dropped. This one gives “Autobahn” a samba vibe. Thanks to David for turning me onto a scene I didn’t know existed, and check out his site for many more such discoveries.

Harry Styles – Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell cover)

Lotta “Big Yellow Taxi” covers of late. Norah Jones collabotor Sasha Dobson (more on her in a minute) performed one in January, then Seattle indie band Great Grandpa a couple weeks later. Maybe everyone agreed to try to finally bury that Counting Crows monstrosity. The most high-profile of all comes from Harry Styles, who since leaving One Direction has gone full-on classic rock. Surprised he didn’t pick “Woodstock.”

Lizzo – Adore You (Harry Styles cover)

Speaking of Styles, in December he covered Lizzo’s “Juice” for the BBC Live Lounge (they subsequently performed it together). On her own Live Lounge, she returned the favor.

Molly Sarlé – Gypsy (Fleetwood Mac cover)

In 2016, Bon Iver sampled Stevie Nicks on a new song. But they didn’t sample a regular Stevie Nicks track; they sampled a popular YouTube video of Stevie singing “Wild Heart” to warm up backstage. Similarly, North Carolina singer Molly Sarlé, perhaps best known as part of the trio Mountain Man, didn’t just cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy.” She covered a demo of the song, little more than a few keyboard notes and Nicks’ voice. She embelishes it some – not least with her powerful vocals – but the intimate quality remains. (Listen at Aquarium Drunkard)

Puss n Boots – Joey (Concrete Blonde cover)

The aforementioned Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson collaboration (with bassist Catherine Popper too) released its second album this month. Along with original songs, covers abound, from Tom Petty (their brilliant cover ranked high on our Best of 2019 list when they released the single) to Dolly Parton to Paul Westerberg. But the most surprising of all is ’90s alt-rock heroes Concrete Blonde. Most bands play this song loud (I’m still partial to Local H’s amps-to-11 roar). Puss n Boots take it in the exact opposite direction.

The Best of the Rest

Andrew Bird, Iron & Wine, and Calexico – On the Road Again (Willie Nelson cover)

Bat for Lashes – The Boys of Summer (Don Henley cover)

Best Coast – If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow cover)

Billy Ray Cyrus – I Am…I Said (Neil Diamond cover)

Billy Strings – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (Bob Dylan cover)

The Goners – Dead in the Saddle (Dead Moon cover)

K A G – Play with Fire (The Rolling Stones cover)

Melodicka Bros. – Walk (Pantera cover)

Molly Bunch – Needy (Ariana Grande cover)

Nichole Wagner – Life During Wartime (Talking Heads cover)

The Revivalists – To Love Somebody (Bee Gees cover)

Rozwell Kid – Only Time (Enya cover)

These Grey Men – Starman (David Bowie cover)

Vandoliers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) (The Proclaimers cover)

The VANNS – Hey, Ma (Bon Iver cover)

Check out previous month’s best covers lists.

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