Mar 312021
best cover songs march 2021
Brandi Carlile – I Remember Everything (John Prine cover)

Millions saw Brandi Carlile cover John Prine’s final song “I Remember Everything” at the recent Grammy Awards. Turns out, it was a preview of a new album, a sequel to 2010’s Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, one of the best tribute albums ever. Not much more info out there yet – it’ll be out in the fall, apparently – but it has a high bar to live up to.

Brian Byrne – No One Will Ever Love You Honestly (The Magnetic Fields cover)

The latest in a long series of compilations benefiting local music venues we’ve seen, The AMH Comp benefits Long Island’s Amityville Music Hall. It was produced by local show promoters Long Island Emo, which gives you some idea of the genre, and has a ton of covers. The best one – which they didn’t even label as a cover – is Brian Byrne of bands Violent Joy and Envy on the Coast tackling a Magnetic Fields classic.

BTS – Fix You (Coldplay cover)

Though BTS taped their “Fix You” cover for MTV Unplugged, apparently all “unplugged” means now is “sitting on stools” – the guitars, when they come in, sound very much of the electric variety. No matter; it’s a great showcase for the seven members’ vocal prowess, even when all the dance moves and flash is stripped away.

Caamp – Square One (Tom Petty cover)

I’ve noted that before that, judging by how many artists cover its songs, 2006 album Highway Companion is sneaking in as Tom Petty’s final masterpiece. Here’s yet another from the band Caamp – and their banjo player is with me. “The album Highway Companion just felt like an album Tom had always wanted to make,” said banjo-ist Evan Westfall said. “It seemed authentic and true to where he’s from and that’s a feeling we’ve been trying to encapsulate in our music. ‘Square One’ is a song that we all connected with instantly on that album. That song/album is a huge inspiration.”

Lana Del Rey ft. Zella Day & Weyes Blood – For Free (Joni Mitchell cover)

Back in 2019, Lana Del Rey brought tour openers Zella Day and Weyes Blood out for a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” The onstage performance was good, but the intimate rehearsal video was even better. Now she’s captured that same vibe on a studio version, which closes her new album Chemtrails Over the Country Club.

Dr. Lonnie Smith ft. Iggy Pop – Sunshine Superman (Donovan cover)

Lonnie Smith is a B3 organ player who’s been on the scene since the ’60s. Iggy Pop is Iggy Pop. Iggy sounds great in full psychedelic crooner mode, but Lonnie’s the star of the show, ripping off some killer organ solos. It’s on Smith’s new album Breathe, which also includes a Lonnie/Iggy cover of Timmy Thomas’ 1972 hit, “Why Can’t We Live Together.”

Le Ren & Buck Meek – Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot cover)

Montreal’s Le Ren teamed up with Buck Meek of Big Thief for this new Gordon Lightfoot cover. “To me, this song encapsulates missing someone. As many people are separated right now, it felt like the right moment to cover it,” Le Ren said. “Buck and I recorded it in two different countries across time and space so in turn, the production reflects the song itself.”

Matt Berninger – Big Bird (Eddie Floyd cover)

The deluxe edition of The National frontman’s solo album Serpentine Prison features four covers. Matt tackling the indie-rock-beloved Velvet Underground and Morphine is not surprising, but the other two, both old soul tunes, are. Or were, I should say, until I remembered he recorded the album with Stax veteran Booker T. Jones. So of course he’s playing Eddie Floyd’s “Big Bird.” His producer wrote it!

Mickey Guyton – If I Were a Boy (Beyoncé cover)

Speaking of the Grammys, country singer Mickey Guyton got a star turn there this year, powerfully belting out her Black Lives Matter anthem “Black Like Me” (which, predictably, has been entirely ignored by country radio). She followed it up with the perfect cover, tackling Beyoncé’s feminist anthem “If I Were a Boy.” If you too were blown away at the Grammys, this is perfect evidence it wasn’t a one-off.

Vapour Theories – The Big Ship (Brian Eno cover)

“Ambient” implies “quiet,” right? Wrong. Philly guitar duo Vapour Theories take Eno’s “The Big Ship” – not literally off his ambient albums, but one of the most ambient-adjacent instruments on Another Green World – and, to quote Dylan, “play it f***ing loud.” It comes off an album called Celestial Scuzz, which is exactly right.

Various Artists – Mercy Mercy Me (Marvin Gaye cover)

One more Grammys cover. This one you didn’t see on the ceremony. Instead, it came to open the non-televised Premiere show earlier in the afternoon, where they give out 90% of the actual awards. A truly all-star lineup too long to list here contributed, but look out for Grace Potter, Gregory Porter, Kamasi Washington, PJ Morton, and Sarah Jarosz, all nominees this year (and winners in Morton and Jarosz’s case).

The Best of the Rest

Alex Lahey – This Kiss (Faith Hill cover)

Future Islands – We Don’t Need Another Hero (Tina Turner cover)

Gizelle Smith – King of the Mountain (Kate Bush cover)

Helado Negro – Sound and Vision (David Bowie cover)

IDLES – Peace Signs (Sharon Van Etten cover)

Jess Cornelius – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles cover)

Jordan Rakei – Lover, You Should’ve Come Over (Jeff Buckley cover)

King Hannah – State Trooper (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Kyle Hollingsworth – Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)

Leon Bridges & Keite Young – Like a Ship (Pastor T.L. Bennett cover)

Ocean Alley – Breathe/Comfortably Numb/Money (Pink Floyd covers)

Sam Smith – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper cover)

Saxon – Paperback Writer (The Beatles cover)

Shamir – Ocean Eyes (Billie Eilish cover)

Tinashe – I’m Every Woman (Chaka Khan cover)

Violet Island – Take on Me (A-Ha cover)

We Are the Union – Rasputin (Boney M cover)

Check out previous months’ best covers lists.

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