Andrew Bird – Andalucia (John Cale cover)
Props to any musician who chooses some non-obvious tunes for their Christmas album. Even Joni Mitchell’s “River” has so often been served as the “surprise” holiday song by now that it feels pretty played out. Andrew Bird covers a few standards on his upcoming Hark! – “Oh Holy Night,” “White Christmas” (though weirdly not the hymn that gave the album its name) – but makes room for some seasonally-appropriate fare John Prine, Handsome Family, and, on the first single, John Cale.
Complicated Animals – Times Like These (Foo Fighters cover)
I’m not a big Foo Fighters fan, but the Brazilian-American duo Complicated Animals delivers a lush folksy take on one of Grohl and co’s biggest hits. It might convince any other skeptics that, like ’em or not, they can write the hell out of a pop song.
Dan Horne – The Motorcycle Song (Arlo Guthrie cover)
Arlo Guthrie recently announced his retirement from touring due to illness. It’s a shame; the one time I saw him years ago, he put on an extremely entertaining and ramshackle show. Luckily Cass McCombs sideman Dan Horne is picking up the mantle with a cover of this very stupid and fun song. “To me it’s a song about escaping the absurdity of reality,” Horne says. “I love pickles, don’t have a motorcycle, but put it all together and it makes so much sense.”
Dave Hause ft. Lilly Hiatt – Doublewhiskeycokenoice (Dillinger Four cover)
If you’re a Hold Steady fan, you probably mostly know the Dillinger Four song “Doublewhiskeycokenoice” from its shoutout in that band’s ode to hardcore influences “Celebration Summer” (guilty as charged). You’ll have to just take my word that the original sounds exactly nothing like Dave Hause and Lilly Hiatt’s piano ballad. Hause has a great concept on two new covers EPs, Patty and Paddy. Patty pays tribute to Patty Griffin; Paddy pays tribute to Dillinger Four’s Patrick “Paddy” Costello. Two extremely different influences!
Devon Gilfillian – Mercy Mercy Me (Marvin Gaye cover)
This summer, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On bumped Sgt. Pepper from the top slot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Ever List. Buzzy soul singer Devon Gilfillian used his quarantine productively to record covers of every song on the album. Here’s him playing “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” on Colbert.
Jolie Holland & Thor & Friends – Louisiana 1927 (Randy Newman)
The compilation Kin Campaigns curated 17 new covers, each supporting a progressive candidate running for Congress. So the full name of this track is really “Jolie Holland & Thor & Friends – Louisiana 1927 (Randy Newman) [supporting Adrienne Bell in Texas].” The album also features Sharon Van Etten, the ubiquitous Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and more, but this Jolie Holland track is a highlight. Though covering a song titled “Louisiana” for a candidate in Texas does seem a little odd.
M Ward – For Heaven’s Sake (Billie Holiday cover)
On December 11, the prolific M. Ward will release an entire Billie Holiday covers album, Think of Spring. He writes, “I first heard [Billie’s album] Lady In Satin in a mega-shopping mall somewhere in San Francisco. I was about 20 years old and didn’t know much about Billie’s records or her life or how her voice changed over the years. Anyway, the sound was coming from the other side of the mall and I remember mistaking her voice for a beautiful perfectly distorted electric guitar — some other-world thing floating there on this strange mournful ocean of strings and I was hooked for life.”
Prince Fatty – Black Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover)
Per the man dubbed Prince Fatty himself: “After Breaking Bad and Greys Anatomy, Hollywood got to know about the Prince Fatty sound. All was quiet for a while until I got a call from a sync agent asking if I had any psychedelic “Free Love” era songs in my style for a pitch. I had to admit that I didn’t but it got me thinking which songs could be converted. A selection was drawn, and ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane stuck out. A masterpiece of course and quite a challenge as the vocal is so skillfully delivered.” Yes, there’s a dub version too.
Purity Ring – Better Off Alone (Alice Deejay cover)
The cover itself is good, anchored by the song’s ever-present synth hook. But the real appeal is the joyful Robyn-esque dance movies of Purity Ring’s Megan James in the music video. Oh, and the alien.
Sinead O’Connor – Trouble of the World (Mahalia Jackson cover)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: No matter how often personal troubles land her in the tabloids, Sinead O’Connor never stopped making great music. Every year or two she resurfaces with a new cover – last year’s was “Rainy Night in Soho” – and it’s always great. This latest is no exception. She writes, “for me the song isn’t about death or dying. More akin, a message of certainty that the human race is on a journey toward making this world paradise and that we will get there.”
The Best of the Rest
Bat for Lashes – We’ve Only Just Begun (The Carpenters cover)
Don’t Sleep – Runnin’ Down a Dream (Tom Petty cover)
Lingua Ignota – Kim (Eminem cover)
Maddie Medley – Criminal (Fiona Apple cover)
Mountain Man – Through My Sails (Neil Young cover)
Order of Operations – Psycho Killer (Talking Heads cover)
Raul Malo – A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke cover)
Seth Yacovone – Key West / Caribbean Wind (Bob Dylan cover)
Skylar Gudasz & Libby Rodenbough – Wild Mountain Thyme
Squirrel Flower – Explain It To Me (Liz Phair cover)
The Wild State – Bloodbuzz Ohio (The National cover)
Todd Snider – Runnin’ with the Devil (Van Halen cover)
Check out previous months’ best covers lists.