20. Wight Hot Pipes – Copperhead Road
With a band name like Wight Hot Pipes, you know this cover will double down on the bagpipes. The opening certainly announces itself, but, at first, they don’t push it further, instead opting for a banjo and simple drum beat to keep the steady, work-hard pace. Don’t despair! The bagpipes reappear in a jaunty interlude and then persist throughout the rest of the song as the tune turns from plucking folk to more rock-out outlaw celebration. – Sara Stoudt
19. Wanda Jackson – The Graveyard Shift
Last year, the 84-year old Wanda Jackson retired from recording with one final album, Encore. It was her first in nine years, following 2012’s Unfinished Business. That 2012 album got overshadowed a bit by the Jack White-produced set that proceeded in 2011, The Party Ain’t Over (don’t miss Jack and Jackson roaring through “Shakin’ All Over” on Letterman). But the more under-the-radar follow-up boasted another killer producer, and one germane to our list: Steve’s son Justin Townes Earle. Likely J.T. suggested this song, from his dad’s 1999 bluegrass collaboration with Del McCoury, The Mountain. – Ray Padgett
18. Kathy Mattea – Nothing But a Child
Earle’s 1988 album Copperhead Road oozed with swagger and attitude, but it didn’t end that way. The last song on the album was “Nothing But a Child,” a Christmas song that the New York Times had the temerity to call “hokey.” It certainly doesn’t sound hokey when Kathy Mattea sings it. With a voice clear as water, she brings a purity to the story of the Three Wise Men. She also gets across that this song has a lot more on its mind than Christmas. Parenthood is just as important here, and so is the feeling that children have the power to wipe away the pain in the world, even if only for a while. – Patrick Robbins
17. The Judds – Cry Myself To Sleep
“Cry Myself to Sleep” is a rare track from Earle’s earliest recording period; he released it as a B-side in 1984. Though first released by Earle, the song was actually written by the English songwriter Paul Kennerley, who had moved from London to Nashville the year before to write country songs in earnest. It was Emmylou Harris who brought the song to The Judds. Naomi and Wynonna recorded “Cry Myself to Sleep” for their second album, along with another one by Kennerley, “Have Mercy.” The Judds took both songs to #1. – Tom McDonald
16. Curtis Stigers – Hometown Blues
The sort of song Earle can write in his sleep, a country ragtime romp with a broad nod, as indicated in the live intro, to Doc Watson amongst others. Curtis Stigers, by now on his journey from AOR to jazzier climes, gives it some supper club shuffle and a neatly casual vocal that might tax most karaoke enthusiasts, over a walking bass, dancing piano, and a brush frenzy on the drums. A bare whisper away from cliché, Stigers has enough chutzpah to carry it off. It comes from his 2002 album Secret Heart, which, this and the title song by Ron Sexsmith apart, is largely made up of standards from the 1950s and earlier. – Seauras Og
15. Jerod Birchell – Ellis Unit One
Both Birchell’s smoky voice and his acoustic guitar delivery are faithful to the original. There is an extra snap in the strumming, though, which keeps you alert and stops you from getting too lulled by the calming melody. It is a reminder that hey, this content is important. Although the words are spoken calmly, when you really listen in, you must reckon with the fact that you are actually listening to a recount of the death penalty. – Sara Stoudt
14. Spearfish – Justice In Ontario
The next in the “loud Steve Earle covers” canon, Swedish hard-rock band Spearfish roared through Earle’s 1990 deep cut “Justice in Ontario” on their 2003 collaborations album Back for the Future. They roped in a ringer to handle the hollered lead vocals too: original Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno. It’s loud and angry as hell. The world needs more heavy metal Steve Earle covers. – Ray Padgett
13. Gretchen Peters – I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
It is unusual for Gretchen Peters to do a cover version, not least as she has become a go-to girl for writing songs picked up by her peers, often earning them more limelight than she has herself ever attained. Arguably more popular in Europe than the States, she is a regular visitor, as actually too is Earle, touring the U.K. most years. Peters starts off “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” (from her 1996 debut album The Secret of Life) as if she is going to drench it in schmaltz, but her voice is sufficient Raggedy-Ann as to give the song the necessary gravitas. The piano part is transposed to guitars, an organ gliding in the background, and it calls for attention as a credible and likeable rendition. – Seuras Og
12. Owen & Hill – Nothing Without You
Owen & Hill’s harmonies are emblematic of the straight-forward, grateful message of the song; they support one another to become something. Their vocals at times have a faraway sound that is reminiscent of calling into the woods, leading to not quite an echo, but a dampening effect. Despite this, we can hear them, even when in whisper mode, rise above the barely-there guitar. – Sara Stoudt
11. Joan Baez – Jericho Road
Steve produced Joan’s terrific 2008 album Day After Tomorrow, and he wrote a couple new songs for her to sing: “God Is God” and “I Am a Wanderer.” But the album also included one cover of an preexisting Earle song, “Jericho Road” from Earle’s hip-hop-inflected 2007 album Washington Square Serenade. Joan’s version wisely showcases her voice, now lower and richer than it had been in the ’60s. There are no instruments; only handclaps and backing vocals (by Earle, among others) accompany her singing. – Ray Padgett
for Colvin’s “Someday” :
Colvin gives it a bit of sadness as opposed to Earle’s sense of defiance. You might notice she gets around the line about being too small for high school football by changing it from “I’m still hangin’ round cause I’m a little bit small” to ” Me I never even got through High School at all.” When Earle wrote this he couldn’t have known how prophetic he was about his own future. Fast forward to his song, “N.Y.C.” and it is almost like time travelling to where he is on the receiving end of this same kid (himself) and his dreams of escape to the big city.
Go out and give a kid a twenty today. Give ’em hell.
I think you could have found room for Bap Kennedy’s “Angel is the Devil”.