Dec 102021

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30. Dave McMurray – Grateful Deadication

Blue Note | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

The Grateful Dead has a storied history of teaming up with jazz legends, sharing the stage with the likes of Branford Marsalis and Ornette Coleman. Saxophonist Dave McMurray continued this tradition in 2021 with Grateful Deadication, an album of jazz reinterpretations of Dead classics. The Dead never sounded so darn smooth. McMurray delivers a funky take on “Fire on the Mountain,” a smooth-jazz rendition of “Eyes of the World,” an Allman Brothers-style reworking of “Franklin’s Tower,” and transforms the Dead’s late-career hit “Touch of Grey” into an R&B slow jam. Since it wouldn’t be a proper Dead tribute album without a member of the Dead showing up, Bob Weir joins him on guitar, alongside R&B singer Betty LaVette, for a bluesy take on Jerry Garcia’s “Loser.”  – Curtis Zimmermann

29. Nell Smith & the Flaming Lips – Where The Viaduct Looms

Bandcamp | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

It would be easy to characterize The Flaming Lips’ collaboration with 14-year-old fan Nell Smith for an album of Nick Cave covers as a novelty. On paper, it seems like a nesting doll of nerdy coolness, for fans only. But digging this album isn’t dependent on whether you are a full-on Cave-man/woman, a Lip-stick, or a fan of the cult classic Langley Schools album. Even if you are coming in as an outsider or dabbler, the combination of Smith’s straightforward, dispassionate vocals, the Lips’ subtly spacey instrumentation, and the humanity in Cave’s writing makes for an affecting listen. There are some genuine treasures here, especially the takes on “Girl In Amber” and “The Ship Song,” both of which burn with absolute beauty and heart-squeezing fragility. Upon hearing the former, Nick Cave gushed that it was “beautiful and chilling,” which is also the perfect way to describe the album as a whole. – Hope Silverman

28. Various Artists – Ô


In 2016, Geneviève Castrée passed away at the age of 35. Indie-rock fans might know her best as the wife of Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum; his devastating album of grief, A Crow Looked at Me, was rated one of the best albums of 2017 by Pitchfork and The New York Times. But Castrée was an accomplished musician in her own right, recording under the names Ô Paon and Woelv. On the simply-titled Ô, a host of friends and admirers cover her songs. Abrasive, noisy, discordant, and – oh yeah – in French, the tracks showcase a writer pushing the boundaries of contemporary music. If you’d never heard her original music (I admit I hadn’t), the versions by Thou, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Karl Blau, and, naturally, Elverum himself serve as a worthy introduction. – Ray Padgett

27. Reid Jamieson – Songs of 69

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It must be nice to be married to a musician and have them give you the gift of music. That’s the position Carolyn Victoria Mill found herself in one day in 2011. Her creative partner and husband Reid Jamieson surprised her with a birthday present of covers of songs that were first recorded in 1969, the year Mill was born. This year, Jamieson shared that collection with the world, and we’re delighted he did. His affection comes through, both for his wife and these songs, and shows what a strong year 1969 was for music. With a palette ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Sesame Street theme song, Jamieson takes all these songs into the bedroom studio, turning small budget into big asset (clinking glasses make great percussion) and making these songs of ’69 twelve to be cherished – and not just by the first two people to hear them. – Patrick Robbins

26. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Georgia Blue

Bandcamp | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

The genesis of this excellent collection of songs from Georgia artists (loosely interpreted) was an Election Day promise by Jason Isbell on Twitter that, if Georgia went blue, he’d do a cover album. Isbell followed through, with this guest filled disc. The artists range from James Brown to Vic Chesnutt, from Cat Power to Indigo Girls to the Allman Brothers. There are two R.E.M. songs (and Isbell sings Michael Stipe’s part on a fine cover of Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” with Brandi Carlile and Julien Baker filling the roles of Amy and Emily). The highlights, and there are many, include both songs fronted by Brittney Spencer – a gender flipped version of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” which is not only killer, but really changes the meaning of the lyrics, and her soulful take on Gladys Knight’s cover of “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Other high points include Isbell and John Paul White’s cover of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” a jazzy, almost Santana-esque 12 minute jam on the Allmans’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and Amanda Shires’ trippy, rocking, violin-drenched cover of Cat Power’s “Cross Bones Style.”  I’d also like to give a shout out to the cover of Drivin ‘n’ Cryin’s rocking “Honeysuckle Blue,” sung by 400 Unit ace guitarist Sadler Vaden, who was in that band, but not when they released that song. – Jordan Becker

25. Various Artists – Modern Love

Bandcamp | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

There have been innumerable tributes to David Bowie, both before and since his 2016 passing. But music executive Drew McFadden thought they didn’t truly represent Bowie as an artist. “I felt that the connection between Bowie and R&B, jazz, funk, gospel and all things soulful, had never really been explored before – at least not so much in covers, which tend to lean more towards rock and pop,” McFadden said. So he put together Modern Love, a tribute album that finds a new prism with which to bend Bowie’s light. The collection has many worthy arcane choices – it’s good to see “Lady Grinning Soul” get its time to shine – but the songs you know and love also glow in atmospheric arrangements. At its best, and it’s at its best a lot, Modern Love is further proof that Bowie may have deserved immortality, but it’s his songs that found it. – Patrick Robbins

24. Various Artists – Cluster Flies | Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

Cluster Flies is a tribute album released by the website JamBase. It contains covers of every track from Phish’s Farmhouse, and a few bonus and deep tracks. Clocking in at nearly two hours, the album cuts across multiple genres. The duo Sylvan Esso reworks “Farmhouse” into a dreamy folk tune. Longtime Trey Anastasio collaborator Jennifer Hartswick delivers a blues-rock take on “Dirt.” There are experimental songs, including Club d’Elf’s fusion jazz take on “Sand” and James Petralli’s rocksteady rendition of “Gotta Jibboo.” The album is both a solid tribute to Phish’s musical legacy and a showcase of the diverse voices from the jamband universe. – Curtis Zimmermann

23. Aoife O’Donovan – Aoife Plays Nebraska


One of the best things to come out of the coronavirus lockdown, should one be allowed to say such a thing, has been the run of homespun lockdown recordings. Sadly, this too has also been one of the worst things of the pandemic, with rather too many bedroom warblings of the same old staples and standards of coverland. Thankfully, Aoife O’Donovan’s full-album tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is of the former type. The simplicity of this performance is the strength here, the songs already spare and sparse, with O’Donovan’s rich vocal poignancy being the only change from the gruffer original. Even her guitar is only just there, like curls of smoke from a smoldering grate, more to add texture and atmosphere than to accompany. – Seuras Og

22. Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. – Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons

Amazon | Spotify | Apple Music

The cover of Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons shows bricks with the names of multiple victims of senseless killings. Its promotional material says it was “inspired by the turbulent and tragic experiences of lives lost in the ongoing struggle for human rights and equality.” Heavy stuff. But Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., the husband-and-wife team from the 5th Dimension, aren’t out to make this a mournful requiem. To the contrary, these covers of eight Beatles songs, one solo John, and one solo Paul, are full of soul, warm and uplifting. They even do the unthinkable and make “Silly Love Songs” treacle-free. If you like your Beatles covers soft and intimate, you’ll want this one in your collection. – Patrick Robbins

21. Los Lobos – Native Sons

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Few bands are as able to flit between genres so effortlessly as Los Lobos, as their presence on tributes to artists as diverse as Fats Domino, Richard Thompson, and the Grateful Dead displays. Now, with Native Sons, they put their latest varied covers in one place. The theme here is Los Angeles, the music they grew up listening to, the music on the radio as they honed their trade. So we get songs by big hitters like the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield alongside some of the popular Chicano fare from the barrios. The affection the band have for the original renditions is obvious, their interpretations honoring that love, yet with just enough of their own special sauce to make it also faithful to their own name and brand. – Seuras Og


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