10. Fruit Bats – As I Rise
“I’ve always loved this song,” Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats says about “As I Rise,” the song he covered for the aforementioned Stars Rock Kill (Rock Stars) tribute album. He goes on to say that “it’s always felt to me like some sort of string band hymn reinterpreted into a Exile-era Stones track. My idea was to re-reinterpret it back into some kind of hyper traditional form. This song feels forever to me.” He succeeds, taking the Americana vibe of the song just south of the Mason-Dixon line. – Patrick Robbins
9. Cerys Matthews – Grace Cathedral Hill
A veritable marmite feast. That’s assuming your familiarity with the love it/hate it yeast-based spread, wherein one artist with a voice that carries no middle ground of opinion covers another. Which makes it trickier still if you like one and not the other. But each here are thoroughly delightful, if poles apart from the stances taken and moods offered. Matthews imbues a much lighter touch than Meloy’s somewhat somber narrative, with the orchestral backing almost enough to steal the thunder of Jenny Conlee’s majestic keys. – Seuras Og
8. Agatha & Fine – Yankee Bayonet
Agatha & Fine (f.k.a. Peyrson) offer their acoustic cover of “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” from a shady glen of a Parisian garden. A centerpiece ballad from The Decemberists’ 2006 record The Crane Wife, “Yankee Bayonet” originally featured singer-songwriter Laura Veirs in a call-and response duet with Meloy — a kind of Bob Dylan-Joan Baez act, but time-warped to the center of a Civil War battlefield. Agatha & Fine do away with some of the original’s affectations here, paring it back (or, rather, forward) toward more modern sentiments and a distilled arrangement — just guitar, ukulele, well-attuned harmonies and, crucially, some light late-summer air breezing through the verdant background scene. The cover feels easygoing and refreshing, a perfect park-picnic serenade. – Ben Easton
7. אדם זיו וירון פישמן – שמועות מלחמה [The Soldiering Life]
This superb version of “The Soldiering Life’ is drawn from an EP titled Colin Meloy In Hebrew, or six songs about disasters, death, suffering, and love. Yes, that may be the most perfectly on-the-nose name of any Decemberists cover collection ever. Ziv and Fishman’s EP take that notion even further by performing the tribute to literal love on the battlefield as a duet, thereby infusing it with bona fide sweet romance. The duo even harmonizes the horn-lines. Come feel the love. – Hope Silverman
6. The Dead South – Rox in the Box
One of the songs that undoubtedly doffs more than just a cap to the trad. arr. legacies that fill Colin Meloy’s fertile imagination, the Dead South are just the guys to take it and run. If the original sounds fresh off the boat, this sounds handed down generations of gnarled mountain folk, the band looking like a disreputable gang of bootleggers to boot. Which, for a bunch of old friends from Saskatchewan, Canada, isn’t bad going. Their hot off the presses double EP of covers, Easy Listening For Jerks, Parts 1 and 2, are well worth a detour. – Seuras Og
5. Audra Mae – Eli The Barrow Boy
Audra May’s honeyed and world-weary vocal on this exquisite cover brings to mind that of legendary country diva Sammi Smith… meaning it’s a little bit of a heart-squeezer. Adding fulsome instrumentation and harmonies, she reinvents the austere lament as an ethereal slow-motion waltz. It is magnificently mournful and mournfully magnificent. – Hope Silverman
4. Here Lies Laika – Clementine
A short but sweet cover of “Clementine” is hardly recognizable at first with its garage band pop-punk sound. What used to be a slow-paced acoustic guitar is now a much faster-paced pairing of drums and electric guitar. An almost ska-style synth replaces the mournful transitions between verses. Briskly moving through the lyrics, the song is over before you know it. – Sara Stoudt
3. Sarah Jarosz – Shankill Butchers
Seventeen. That’s how old Sarah Jarosz was when she recorded her debut album Song Up In Her Head, released in 2009. Listen to her cover of “Shankill Butchers” and ask yourself, how can someone so young immerse herself in a song so dark (based on the true, and truly horrific, story of the Northern Ireland gang) and wear its dread so lightly yet so well? It’s a performance you want to back away from, nice and slow – but you don’t want to get too far away or you might miss a note. To repeat: seventeen. – Patrick Robbins
2. Mariachi El Bronx – Los Angeles, I’m Yours
This song works as a mariachi song way better than you’d expect. Lead singer Matt Caughthran’s voice and style are quite similar to Colin Meloy’s original, but the syncopated accordion and the addition of horns during the chorus create a whole new environment for this song. It comes from the A.V. Club’s late, great “Undercover” series, where bands were forced to pick among an increasingly small list of songs to cover, leading to sometimes unexpected – but inspired – pairings. – Mike Misch
1. Marianne Faithfull w/ Nick Cave – The Crane Wife 3
The Crane Wife is an old Japanese folk tale, Tsuru no Ongaeshi, about a poor man who saves a wounded crane, which flies away. Shortly thereafter, he meets a woman, with whom he falls in love and marries. She promises to weave cloth that can be sold for a high price, but only if the man agrees never to watch her weave. They become wealthy, but of course the man needs to peek, and sees that, of course, his wife is the crane, and the cloth is woven from her feathers. She flies away, leaving him bereft of both love and fortune. For some reason, the Decemberists decided to open their Crane Wife album with “The Crane Wife 3,” the end of the story. Marianne Faithfull, whose rasp couldn’t be more different from Meloy’s high, reedy voice, did a fine version on her guest-filled 2008 cover album Easy Come Easy Go. Featuring a sparer and more open arrangement, highlighted by excellent acoustic bass work from Greg Cohen and background vocals from Nick Cave, Faithfull gets the piece’s fundamental melancholy. – Jordan Becker
Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including The Smiths, The Cars, The Rolling Stones, and more.
All well and good, but how does this not include Aimee Mann’s Engine Driver?
Hey I’m Josh Belville, aka Here Lies Laika. Thanks so much for putting me on this list! I am shocked and honored. I kept getting notifications of people buying the track on Bandcamp all of a sudden and I couldn’t figure out why, haha. Truly honored, thank you for appreciating my silly little pop punk cover.