Dec 182020
 

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10. Angel Olsen and Hand Habits – Walls (Tom Petty cover)

From the sometimes overlooked She’s the One soundtrack, this is a delight that had me scurrying back to the source, finding that the two women here have worked a minor miracle. A delightfully simple progression, with a plaintive lyric, this takes away any superfluous embellishments, stripping it back to guitar and voices, trading the verses, sometimes harmonizing. Few better tributes to Petty have yet been made. The nuance of pulling out the “all fall down” line, prompting where else Petty used that line, is near heartbreaking. – Seuras Og

9. Future Teens – All Star (Smash Mouth cover)


This version of “All Star” paints a picture of old friends waxing nostalgic about the glory days of their youth. But, lest you think this a tongue-in-cheek throw back, about two-thirds of the way through the song, that nostalgia turns to genuine angst. Percussion builds and the raw “You’ll never shine if you don’t glow” sends the song over the edge. – Sara Stoudt

8. Billy Strings with Sierra Hull – Circles (Post Malone cover)

I dare you to listen to this bluegrass cover of Post Malone and sit still. Billy Strings’ “virtual tour” cover of the Post Malone hit is such a surprisingly good fit that it almost seems it was written to be a country song. Sierra Hull’s backing harmonies fill out Strings’ voice wonderfully, and what bluegrass jam would be complete without the virtuosic solos we get from everyone on stage? It’s a fun cover that works amazingly well. – Mike Misch

7. Emel Mathlouthi – Every You Every Me (Placebo cover)

Tunisian singer/songwriter Emel Mathlouthi has won hearts and minds around the globe for her Arab spring anthem “Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free).” Her recent cover of Placebo’s “Every You Every Me” is one of those rare covers that you can listen to alongside the original and barely tell that it’s the same song. While Placebo’s version is hard-driving alt-rock, Mathlouthi reimagines the piece as a slow, acoustic gospel track. She brings out the raw passion at the heart of the lyrics. – Curtis Zimmermann

6. Intronaut – Run Through the Jungle (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)

Intronaut, an American metal band, may not have been people’s first guess to cover the iconic “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, filled with bayou-twang and a folksy swing. But Intronaut absorbs the simple melody and layers more and more distorted guitar and clamoring drums to create a strange math-rock cover, replacing the swing with headbang-worthy riffage. – Ally McAlpine

5. Sinead O’Connor – Trouble of the World (Mahalia Jackson cover)

Another year, another masterful Sinead performance. It remains uncertain how, as her own troubles continue to be well documented, she can so effortlessly drop this sort of magisterial performance. True, the arrangement differs little from Mahalia Jackson’s version, her vocal the catalyst, transporting the song from the pulpit to, like the video, the pavement. You can admire Jackson’s sentiment, but O’Connor has you feeling it, believing it, the song sounding an epitaph, having you worry as much for her as the world she sings to. Some may find her persona annoying and self-serving, but stuff that; just hear her pain, her voice a gossamer of steel. Astounding. – Seuras Og

4. Rozwell Kid – Only Time (Enya cover)

If anything will make you want to come “Undone” and destroy your sweater, it’s Rozwell Kid doing Enya’s millennium chart topper – 2000’s “Only Time.” The indie rock duo take more than a few pages out of Weezer’s book (from vocals to guitars to, well, pretty much everything) performing a completely unironic version of the song that had a second wave of success in the US as what seemed like the soundtrack to 9/11. It’s unclear if Rozwell Kid loves Enya as much as Atom + His Package (who not only dreamed of attending the “Punk Rock Academy,” but also gave up some of his punk cred by “Pumping Iron for Enya”) but they nail down a great cover for anyone nostalgic for a time when we thought things couldn’t get any more dire (2020 proved us very very wrong), or just for anyone who loves Enya, Weezer, and indie rock. – Jay Honstetter

3. BØRNS – Dawn Storm (T. Rex cover)

Although T. Rex may be known for groovy danceable tunes, “Dawn Storm” is passionate and soothing message in these strange times. The BØRNS cover replaced the trumpets with an orchestral arrangement to create a bright but gentle sound. He put his ethereal vocals to good use to sing the pronouncement of love. Despite the sweet undertones of the song, the second half is filled with electrified guitar riffs that honor T. Rex’s glam rock roots. – Ally McAlpine

2. Puss N Boots – Joey (Concrete Blonde cover)

Puss N Boots is an Americana band, for the most part, consisting of Sasha Dobson, Catherine Popper, and Norah Jones (on loan from her usual gig as the Norah Jones). They offer a mellowed but straightforward reading of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” a big hit from 1990. The change-up that Puss N Boots brings in is the band’s three-part harmonies. They layer in the voices and build them up at all the right points along the song’s path to your heart. No one is going to touch Johnette Napolitano’s dark vocal power on the original, and there’s no need to; there’s way more depth to Napolitano’s song than the way she performed it. It’s a song that somehow has not been covered by too many others, and it deserves a wider hearing, or a refreshed one. Inspired choice by Puss N Boots, and a sensitive, direct rendition that hits the mark. – Tom McDonald

1. Inter Arma – Southern Man (Neil Young cover)


The Bandcamp page for Virginia’s Inter Arma says that their music “resists generalization and categorization.” The band’s cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” bears that out. Initially transforming the opening chorus into a slow, Gothic, heavily echoed chant, they count four on the hi-hat before virtually exploding into a full-on death metal take on the already powerful song, upping the ante considerably. The result is exceptionally powerful, so powerful that you have to wonder – if this had been the version Ronnie Van Zandt heard first, would he and his bandmates still have written “Sweet Home Alabama?” – Bob Potemski

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