Dec 142020

Return to the beginning

20. The Flying Horse Big Band – Flying Rays

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

I was rather surprised to learn that the Flying Horse Big Band is a student ensemble from the University of Central Florida and not a band of crack professionals. The group’s album Florida Rays features stellar big band renditions of tracks from the Ray Charles songbook. It includes hits like “What I’d Say” and “Hit the Road Jack” and some of Charles’ best-known covers such as “Being Green” and the country standard “Busted.” Throughout the record, the band pushes the boundaries of the big band sound, adding elements of funk and blues to the arrangements. This whole album swings from start to finish, providing a fiery connection between jazz’s past and the genre’s future. – Curtis Zimmermann

19. The Night Swiper – Miles for Melania

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Narek Arutyunyants may not be a household name (believe it or not), but under his alias The Night Swiper, he deserves to be one. This self-billed Armenian Jew from Moscow has an understanding of Americana that makes him sound like he grew up on the country roads of West Virginia. Yes, that John Denver song is here, along with suspects both usual – Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen – and unusual – the lead track “Stars” was written and first performed by David Duchovny. Recommended if you like your alt-country to have the easy vibe behind it that only a full life’s experience can bring. – Patrick Robbins

18. Deerhoof – Love-Lore

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

Covering 43 songs in 35 minutes has to be some kind of record. Extremely out-there band Deerhoof has never been one for convention though. And sure, you can find lists of all the songs they cover here, from Beach Boys to Stockhausen, but it’s more fun to let the album play and be surprised. It’s like an art-punk-covers version of Girl Talk, smashing together unlikely bedfellows at a rapid clip. – Jane Callaway

17. Guga Stroeter, Lucio Agra, Renato Soares – Carnawerk, Computador do Amor

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Maybe you never imagined a world in which you needed Brazilian jazz versions of Kraftwerk songs. I know I didn’t. But now, with Computador do Amor (“Computer of Love”, referencing the 1981 UK #1 “Computer Love”), we live in that world. And it’s a very happy one. Vocalist Lucio Agra, guitarist/producer Renato Soares and vibraphonist Guga Stroeter utterly transform Kraftwerk’s music from innovative but often sterile synthpop to vibrant, celebratory party songs. They mix in samba, frevo and marchinha (Brazilian carnival music genres from southeastern Brazil) with the overall jazzy vibe (ahem) to invigorate this music in ways I didn’t know were possible. It’s happy, it’s bouncy, it’s the furthest thing from austere German synthesizers and sequencers. But, somehow, it works brilliantly. – Riley Haas

16. Various Artists – On the Road: A Tribute To John Hartford

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Songwriter, banjo-picker, old-time fiddler, dancer, TV star, radio DJ, and, perhaps most importantly, professional riverboat pilot. Welcome to the weird, wide world of John Hartford. So a new John Hartford tribute album is most welcomed, and now we have one in hand. It boasts a satisfying balance and diversity. You get the better-known Hartford pieces sprinkled among the lesser-known ones, for one. Plus, the artists that contribute to On the Road are a strong and varied crowd. Big-name performers that you know are gonna deliver (Yonder Mountain, the McCourys) are offset by exciting artists you might not have not come across before (Fruition, Greg Garrison, and Danny Barnes, to name a few). Whether or not you warm up to the unfamiliar performers right away isn’t the point; a tribute record should have some news, and this one does. – Tom McDonald

15. Molly Tuttle – …but i’d rather be with you

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Despite recent wins as instrumentalist of the year at the 2018 Americana awards, and guitarist of the year at the International Bluegrass Awards of the year before (the first woman to receive the latter honor, and at age 24 besides), Molly Tuttle’s inspirations range widely among artists as diverse as Rancid and FKA Twigs, embracing also the Rolling Stones, Harry Styles and the National. The only nod to her received tradition comes from songbook of Karen Dalton, herself a far from typical Nashville denizen. – Seuras Og

14. Rachelle Garniez – Gone to Glory

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

In this album, Rachelle Garniez pays tribute to musicians who have died within the last few years. The opening song “Killed by Death” (in tribute to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister) sets the tone. The song starts with drama filled strings that lead into a jazzy accordion; the effect makes us weirdly want to tango. It’s clear the goal is to celebrate the life of these musicians rather than mourn. The album is made up of songs from multiple genres; pop, rock, and country get a dash of jazz-hand pizzazz, but Garniez also remains on brand and takes on potentially more obscure tunes from jazz and big band stars. “Rhinestone Cowboy” (in tribute to Glen Campbell) is a standout in its earnestness. It’s less of a jazzy number, but as the album wraps up we’re finally allowed to feel the loss. – Sara Stoudt

13. Whyte Horses – Hard Times

Rough Trade | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Like all of us at Cover Me and most of you reading this, Dom Thomas is a dyed-in-the-wool music nerd. Apart from running the show at the hidden treasure heaven that is the Finders Keepers record label and DJing, he also finds time to produce and curate his own recordings. Under the moniker of Whyte Horses, Thomas has thus far released three albums, the latest of which is a collection of eclectic covers featuring a mix of evergreen tunes, cult classics and deep cuts performed by a hand-picked group of collaborators. Thomas characterizes the album as “a fantasy mixtape” and that one of a kind pop love is palpable throughout, from the song choices to it’s surprising and sweet guest stars. While the better known songs on offer are good (it’s hard to go wrong with a little “Ça plane pour moi”), the tracks that shine the brightest are the less familiar ones. Especially fine are John Grant dishing up the deep soul on Baby Huey’s seminal “Hard Times” and Whyte Horse in-house vocalists Lucy Styles and Natalie McCool’s sunshine strewn take on Phil Cordell’s superb psych-pop b-side from 1969 “Red Lady.” But the album’s undeniable centerpiece is a cover of the Bee Gees obscure gem from 1974, “Mister Natural.” With its fabulously warm vocal from Elly Jackson of La Roux and infectious arrangement, it is not only a Hard Times highlight but one of the best covers of a Gibb brothers song you’re ever gonna hear, period. – Hope Silverman

12. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – All the Good Times

Bandcamp | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Welch/Rawlings apply the same tried-and-true formula they’ve honed for a quarter century now: all-acoustic, duet-style, singing into a single mic. Even the recording method is antiquated: they dusted off a reel-to-reel to capture these songs; no DAT or hard drives for these two. Then there’s the song material. It’s all old and faded, like well-worn denim jeans. You won’t find a song more recent than 1985 in the track list, and three of the songs date closer to 1895, if they can be dated at all. Many creative artists responded to the coronavirus pandemic by firing up Instagram and sharing their at-home selves. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have not followed suit, but they are sharing in their own unique fashion. All the Good Times is an invitation, to anyone listening, to return to the roots for awhile, to get back to basics, and to attend to what matters. – Tom McDonald

11. Whitney – Candid

Bandcamp | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

The Chicago band known for their indie-soul sound thoughtfully curated 10 covers for their LP Candid. None of the covers are wild or overtly experimental, but it is clear Whitney took care to play with their sound on each track, rather than try and compete with the original writers. They lean into their folk side by teaming up with Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield to create a gentle cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” while other tracks such as “Strange Overtones” and “Hammond Song” contain a bright beat livening the song while keeping the dreamy feeling of a Whitney sound, in part to singer Julien Ehrlich’s falsetto. The band plays around with the music, pulling the covers from various R&B singers, folksters, and rock musicians and took care to mold and form each song molding it into a new interpretation. The album moves by quickly but in no way feels rushed. – Ally McAlpine

See the next set on the next page…


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  One Response to “The Best Cover and Tribute Albums of 2020”

Comments (1)
  1. I just now found out about your site… way cool! Have you heard the Thorns (not Matthew Sweet’s group) Nobody does the Byrds better..

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