Dec 172021

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10. Bill Callahan & Bonnie “Prince” Billy – She Is My Everything (John Prine cover)

One of John Prine’s most exquisitely evocative love songs, it is hard to imagine anything else but his old battered tin pot of a voice dancing over the lyrics. On their cover, Bill Callahan and Will Oldham (sporting his Bonnie “Prince” Billy threads) dispense the dual keyboard and much of Prine’s original whimsy, substituting a far slower shuffle, mournful organ the main backdrop, until the New Orleans funereal clarinet of Jacob Duncan. The guitar is provided by guest Sir Richard Bishop, and Oldham’s high fragile tone finds the right mood for the moment offered; that’s then transcended as Callahan’s lugubrious baritone slots alongside. One might imagine their so-different voices would jar in mixing; the reality is quite the opposite. John’d be proud of ’em. – Seuras Og

9. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Careless Whisper (Wham! cover)

The most infamous “cover” of “Careless Whisper,” in 2021 or otherwise, belongs to the Sexy Saxman, who blasts the song’s mighty hook in a cavalcade of guerrilla stunts. It’s a challenge to escape the Saxman’s antics and meme-ish impact on the song — not to mention the original Wham! track’s gushy schmaltz. Thankfully, organist / bandleader Delvon Lamarr transcends all these hang-ups and gimmicks on his inspired soul-jazz cover of “Careless Whisper,” released with his trio on this year’s excellent full-length record, I Told You So. With a mellow but fiery arrangement and some trippy production flourishes, Lamarr and his trio transform “Careless Whisper” from the overblown novelty of its assorted previous incarnations into an intoxicating slow burn. – Ben Easton

8. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Metal Heart (Cat Power cover)

“Be true, ’cause they’ll lock you up in a sad, sad zoo” is an unusual line for Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan to sing in his deep, full-bodied voice – and with a gospel choir behind him, no less. But he pulls it off magnificently on his cover of Cat Power’s “Metal Heart,” in collaboration with Rich Machin’s ever-adaptable Soulsavers. He and the band offer it up from their all-covers album Imposter, which recalls Johnny Cash’s American Recordings in the way it showcases Gahan performing other people’s songs to express the hurt, torment, and anger inside of him that stem from a life of sin, addiction, and redemption. On this track, more than any other, he’s demonstrably able to relate to its theme of breaking free from a spiraling level of negative thoughts and “bad dreaming.” He relates to such an extent, in fact, that he eschews the pensive, lo-fi, and slightly haphazard tone of the original, fronting an absolute monster of a song – organ, crashing drums, back-up singers, screaming guitars and all – while delivering one of his most powerful vocal performances yet. – Adam Mason

7. Fatoumata Diawara – Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan cover)

Pretty much every name on Uncut’s Dylan…Revisited 80th birthday tribute was bigger. The Flaming Lips! Richard Thompson! Cowboy Junkies! But, good as some of those were, ultimately no one did Bob better than Malian singer-songwriter and guitarist Fatoumata Diawara. Channeling classic Dylan covers from Africa like Youssou N’Dour’s “Chimes of Freedom” as well as her desert-blues countrymen Tinariwen, she brings new rhythms, instruments, and sounds to one of the most clichéd Dylan songs. You might have thought “Blowin’ in the Wind” would have been un-coverable by now. Fatoumata Diawara begs to differ. – Ray Padgett

6. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Hot Stuff (Donna Summer cover)

Pigs x 7’s and Lovely Eggs’ sludgy cover of Donna Summer’s ionic disco track “Hot Stuff” is about as far from the original as you can get while still remaining recognizable. Singers Matthew Baty and Holly Ross shout and scream the lyrics while the remaining band members pound away on the song, alternating between what sounds like the Melvins and what sounds like the Stooges. But the song retains its melody and, uncannily, some of its danceability. There’s an extended coda featuring more shouting just in case you missed the point. – Riley Haas

5. Caroline Polachek – Breathless (The Corrs cover)

In 2000, The Corrs reached arguably their peak in terms of mainstream success with the single “Breathless.” Two decades later, former Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek revisits the song, starting with the recognizable “go on” and then continuing simply at first, first reminding listeners of the original. Then the production increases, adding slightly more drama in the choruses as the song goes on, including a syncopated heartbeat drum that leads up to the first minute mark. The song changes course during the last minute; some dissonance creeps in while “go on” echoes. An electronic ambiance follows before closing with the inevitable invitation: “come on.” – Sara Stoudt

4. My Morning Jacket – Nothing Else Matters (Metallica cover)

Metallica marked the 30th anniversary of its self-titled commercial breakthrough with the release of The Metallica Blacklist, a tribute record featuring multiple covers of each song from the record. The album featured 12 covers of “Nothing Else Matters,” a song that already held the distinction of being the band’s most covered track. With its simple chord progression and even simpler lyrics, the song is infinitely malleable allowing each artist to give it their own creative spin. The standout from this new batch came from My Morning Jacket. The band opened by showcasing their softer side, rewriting the melody, and closed the track with a jammy style guitar solo, all held together by Jim James’ spacey vocals. – Curtis Zimmermann

3. Brandi Carlile – We Belong (Pat Benatar cover)

Brandi Carlile was scheduled to perform in Bonner, Montana in May of 2020, but COVID-19 stopped that from happening. Not to be denied, she scheduled three shows there for July 2021. Playing for an audience for the first time in over a year, she and her band closed the shows with a timely cover of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” Where the original is dominated by a children’s choir and that ba-BOOM-bah drumbeat, Carlile and her bandmates, twin guitarists Phil & Tim Hanseroth, take it down to one acoustic and some Americana harmonies. More importantly, they reassert that right here, right now, is where Carlile and her fans should be. It’s probable that this cover would be just as moving in another context, but it’s hard to see how its message could be more important, or more unforgettable, than it was in the year 1 A.C. – Patrick Robbins

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

At the Grammy Awards in March, country singer Mickey Guyton, a name probably unknown to many viewers (she hadn’t even released an album yet), stole the show with her performance of her song “Black Like Me.” As you might guess from the title, that song addressed racial discrimination, and she soon followed it up with a song about sexism: Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy.” Covering a singer like Queen B would intimidate just about everyone, but Guyton shows no fear, belting to the rafters while wringing emotion out of every note. Stylistically, she’s a very different singer than Aretha, pop and country rather than soul and gospel, but this is the sort of performance the other Queen could give when she latched onto the right song. – Ray Padgett

1. Alex Lahey – This Kiss (Faith Hill cover)

Faith Hill’s 1998 hit “This Kiss” equates smooching with “centrifugal motion,” the force that pulls a rotating body away from the center of rotation. The song had a similar impact on Hill’s career, transforming her from a well-regarded country singer into an international pop phenomenon. Australian singer/songwriter Alex Lahey took the song in another direction, turning Hill’s country-pop original into a full-powered alt-rocker. Heavy on both the distortion and the angst, it still evokes the “perpetual bliss” of locking lips with that special someone for the first time. Play it loud. – Curtis Zimmermann
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Don’t miss The Best Cover and Tribute Albums of 2021 and the Best Cover EPs of 2021 (Patreon exclusive).

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  2 Responses to “The 50 Best Cover Songs of 2021”

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  1. “Wow, what an incredible compilation of cover songs! Each song on this list showcases the artists’ incredible talent and their unique interpretive abilities. I love how they manage to put their own twist on familiar tunes, breathing new life into them. The selection here truly captures the essence of musical innovation and creativity in 2021. Thank you for curating such a fantastic list! Looking forward to discovering more amazing covers in the future. Best regards, Gary Ford.”

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