Dave Richardson – Bright Phoebus (Lal & Mike Waterson cover)
Vermonter Dave Richardson digs deep into folk-rock history on his new album Palms to Pines, covering the title track of Lal & Mike Waterson’s 1972 album Bright Phoebus. Deeply obscure at the time – only 1,000 copies were initially pressed – it became known as “folk music’s Sgt. Pepper” among the very, very few people who actually heard it. The record has seen a recent resurgence with champions like Arcade Fire and Jarvis Cocker leading to a 2017 re-release on überhip Domino Records. Richardson makes it sound like a classic all along.
Dierks Bentley w/ The War and Treaty & Larkin Poe – Pride (In the Name of Love) (U2 cover)
How do you approximate The Edge’s guitar effects on mandolin? You don’t. Instead, you make “Pride” fully, 100% old-school country. It works better than you’d think, aided in large part by The War and Treaty’s knockout vocals. The video may be on Dierks Bentley’s YouTube channel, but they steal the show. Awards show cover performances rarely come this good.
Jade Bird – Black Star (Radiohead cover)
When you think of Radiohead covers, songs like “Creep” and “Fake Plastic Trees” probably come first to mind. But “Black Star” is becoming a stealth classic, a way to show you’re in deep to the catalog. Rosie Carney did a knockout version last year, and Gillian Welch years before that. Now Jade Bird comes in with her own killer version, which seems inspired by Welch’s, with her partner and guitarist Luke Prosser filling the David Rawlings role.
La Luz – Tale Of My Lost Love (Female Species cover)
It can sometimes be a tough lift to get anyone to listen to a cover if they don’t know the song or either artist. If that applies to you on this song, take the plunge! It’s a beautiful slice of harmonized folk-pop that sounds straight out of Laurel Canyon. Numero Group has a compilation of the original group out this year, which inspired the cover; you can learn more about it, and them, at Bandcamp.
Left Hand Solution – Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)
There are few things I like as much as a “Jolene” that gets weird. Last year, Lingua Ignota’s extremely creepy cover landed on our year-end list. Left Hand Solution makes the song heavy in a different way, giving it a powerful doom-metal delivery.
Lorde & Marlon Williams – Tougher Than the Rest (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Damn you New Zealand! Here the rest of us our still stuck inside and Lorde and Marlon Williams are able to give what looks like a completely normal concert. At least we can experience it vicariously. Are they trying to say that New Zealand is tougher than the rest?
Matriarchs – Heavy In Your Arms (Florence and The Machine cover)
“Heavy” is the operative word in the title here. Matriarch’s lead singer Kay says: “Florence And The Machine has always been one of my favorites. ‘Kiss With A Fist’ was my first introduction to them. I was immediately drawn in by its punk attitude. The tongue and cheek, self-aware and honest nature of the songwriting connected with me. A friend of mine actually introduced me to ‘Heavy In Your Arms’ and it just spoke to me on many levels in regards to mental health, vulnerability, and the idea that emotions can weigh so heavily on us that we may feel too much of a burden for others, as well as ourselves. The themes of the song are pretty powerful and heavy and I honestly felt compelled to make a heavy version of the song without losing the melodic elements that make the song so beautiful. So we did.”
Mount Eerie – Gris (Ô Paon cover)
Steve Earle covered his dead son a few months ago and, just when we’d started to get over that, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum drops this cover of his dead wife Geneviève Castrée, who recorded under the names Woelv and Ô Paon. It’s as beautiful – and devastating – as you’d expect.
Tom Jones – Pop Star (Cat Stevens cover)
Tom Jones recently gave a must-listen interview to Marc Maron, during which he touched upon this song. He said, if my memory serves, that he was around when Cat wrote this song and that, while he meant it sarcastically, Jones took it sincerely. “To me, ‘Pop Star’ is all about the excitement I felt at the time of my first success, and I imagine that a great many bands and artists feel the same when things start to happen for them,” Jones said in a press release. “To get your first TV records out there, to be on TV for the first time, to get your first important gigs, and to go to the bank with your first earnings…what could be better than that?”
Waxahatchee – Fruit of My Labors (Lucinda Williams cover)
Katie Crutchfield has called Lucinda Williams one of her heroes, and covered a host of her songs live, but I believe this is the first time she’s put one on a record, the Saint Cloud deluxe edition. In fact, she now knows Lucinda, speaking with her for Interview just last year. She wrote in the intro, “As a musician, a woman from Alabama, a lover of poetry and literature, a believer in the dark, effervescent magic of the deep South, Lucinda Williams’s songs mean everything to me. She tells the stories of my life, the lives of characters I swear I’ve met before, the lives of my mother and grandmothers and aunts and sisters, of black sheep, of the dead and the dying—and she does it with such consistent singularity that I can confidently say I think she’s sitting at the table with the greatest songwriters of all time. She’s certainly my favorite.”
Wild Pink – Jeopardy Theme Song
There are more ambitious covers on Wild Pink’s simply-titled EP Six Cover Songs. I mean, pretty much all of them, from Taylor Swift to Shane MacGowan, are more ambitious than a 50-second acoustic version of the Jeopardy theme song. But for some reason, this one just hits right.
The Best of the Rest
Cigar Cigarette ft. MOTHERMARY – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper cover)
Dallas Woods ft. Kee’ahn – What’s Luv? (Fat Joe & Ashanti cover)
Kat Wright – Everybody’s Talkin’ (Fred Neil cover)
Loose Cattle – Aunt Avis (Vic Chesnutt cover)
Los Straitjackets – Time Is On My Time (Irma Thomas cover)
Mikaela Davis & Mary Lou Lord – Some Song (Elliott Smith cover)
Miley Cyrus – We Will Rock You / Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen covers)
Missy Higgins & Birdz – Survivor (Destiny’s Child cover)
Miya Folick – Torn (Ednaswap cover)
Nicole Atkins and Marissa Nadler – Mr. Blue (The Fleetwoods cover)
Orson Wilds – I Felt Your Shape (The Microphones cover)
Paul Kelly and Julia Stone – The Partisan (Leonard Cohen cover)
The Record Company – Ball and Chain (Big Mama Thornton cover)
Sam Brookes – You Can Discover (John Martyn cover)
Small Black – Kyoto (Phoebe Bridgers cover)
Uwade – Lodarore (Sir Victor Uwaifo cover)
Yeule – Cattails (Big Thief cover)
Check out previous months’ best covers lists.