Oct 302020

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20. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard (Tom Waits cover)

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins showed just how far out of the park he could knock a Tom Waits cover in 1991 with “Ice Cream Man,” and, on 2000’s New Coat of Paint tribute album, he did it again. There’s an obvious connection between Hawkins and Waits, two gravel-voiced eccentrics unafraid to holler when necessary. Screamin’ Jay brings soul horns and a gritty blues backing to the arrangement, but, as always, he’s the star of the show.

19. Lilys – Strange Feeling (Tim Buckley cover)

If “Song to the Siren” is the only Tim Buckley song you know, the double-disc Sing a Song for You: Tribute to Tim Buckley makes a worthy entry point. Mark Lanegan and Mojave 3 are probably the best-known acts on the set, but even the lesser-knowns shine. Lilys, a DC indie-rock act, bring some fuzz guitar to a psychedelic cover of “Strange Feeling,” sounding like the Doors by way of the Pixies.

18. R.L. Burnside – Chain of Fools (Aretha Franklin cover)

Bluesman R.L. Burnside had been performing since the 1960s, but didn’t find success until the end of his life. In the ’90s, he became one of the early stars of Mississippi blues label Fat Possum Records. 2000’s Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down, released when he was 73, featured a flew classic blues covers, a lot of originals, and one left-field pick: A raw and grooving version of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

17. Elwood – Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot cover)

North Carolina rapper Prince Elwood Strickland III only had a brief moment in the sun: this half-sung, half-rapped Gordon Lightfoot cover reached #33 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks. It didn’t appear to set him up for much of a career; his Wikipedia notes that a few years later “Elwood’s second record was released independently in 2005. Although not a lot is known about this record, it can be heard on Elwood’s website,” which seems about as under-the-radar as it gets. But his inventive “Sundown” remains a wonderfully imaginative interpretation where he sings Lightfoot’s chorus and raps Lightfoot’s verses, mixing in some new lyrics of his own.

16. Eric Clapton & B.B. King – Riding with the King (John Hiatt cover)

No double Clapton and King picked “Riding with the King” mostly because of its title, at least at first (it also allowed them a cover shot of Clapton squiring King around town in a vintage car). But gimmicky though the concept is, they make it count, with B.B.’s presence inspiring Clapton to more energy than he’d shown in years.

15. The Distillers – Ask the Angels (Patti Smith cover)

Before she was an award-winning author and widely beloved godmother of artists and leftists everywhere, Patti Smith was a punk. She spat on stage, didn’t shave her armpits, sneered and yelped and generally fought the power wherever she could. On their rowdy “Ask the Angels,” The Distillers bring Patti’s music back to its punk roots.

14. Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks – The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (Tom Waits cover)

After several decades struggling with alcohol and drug use while his career floundered, swing musician Dan Hicks made his comeback on the 2000 all-star collab Beatin’ the Heat. Special guests included Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, Brian Setzer (whose music owes an obvious debt to Hicks), and Tom Waits. Waits’ appearance, though, did not happen on Hicks’ cover of Waits’ own song, the fun resurrection of early jazzbo novelty number “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me).”

13. Etta James – Gotta Serve Somebody (Bob Dylan cover)

On our aforementioned recent Best Tribute Albums Ever feature, we included Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. But that album of gospel singers covering Bob’s Christian songs came out in 2003. Might it have been partially inspired by Etta James’ grooving “Gotta Serve Somebody” three years prior?

12. Lambchop – Love TKO (Teddy Pendergrass cover)

As I write this, Lambchop has just released a Wilco cover. That feels like the band you’d expect Kurt Wagner to be covering: folk-leaning indie rock with an experimental edge. But on “Love TKO,” Wagner veered way into left-field, covering Philly soul legend Teddy Pendergrass. They makes it work wonderfully, spicing up Wagner’s typically droll singing with touches of organ and baritone sax.

11. Kelly Hogan & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts – Papa Was a Rodeo (The Magnetic Fields cover)

Another act with several 2000 covers vying for this list (check out her “Whispering Pines” too), Kelly Hogan, perhaps best-known for her long association with Neko Case, performs the definitive version of one of the Magnetic Fields’ best songs. It came out on her album Beneath The Country Underdog, released in Bloodshoot Records, also responsible that year for Alejandro Escovedo’s great Mick Jagger cover (#21).

The list continues on Page 6.

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