May 272022

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10. Eddi Reader – My Old Friend the Blues

Scottish musicians are often drawn to country tinges, perhaps recognizing those same strains of melody. Eddi Reader is one such, the erstwhile chanteuse from Fairground Attraction turned doyenne of the folk world, with her renditions of the songbook of Robert Burns a classic. Reader is no drawler like Earle, and this is one of the highlights of her first record, Mirmama. Her voice is a fragile and pure vessel, her clarity a contrast to his, evoking that window between sobbing and rage. Prior to Mirmama‘s making, Reader had been acting in Your Cheatin’ Heart, a well-received TV series about Glasgow’s still thriving country-and-western scene; perhaps that’s where she had gained appreciation of the song. – Seuras Og

9. Waylon Jennings – The Devil’s Right Hand

Waylon Jennings was in a vulnerable spot in the mid-’80s. He was drug-free, recording for a new label, and trying to get away from the outlaw country sound that had defined him, but was now straitjacketing him. The resulting album, Will the Wolf Survive, was his first chart-topper in six years. It closed with “The Devil’s Right Hand,” Steve Earle’s mini-morality play that suited Jennings like an old pair of jeans. He may not have been very self-confident at this time in his career, but he knew a good song when he heard it, and he knew how to inhabit it. – Patrick Robbins

8. KM North – Copperhead Road

This cover opts for a less bombastic opening than the original, focusing more on the storytelling guitar. This simplicity persists, but the strumming is still high-energy. The pace keeps the memories flowing, even rushing past some of the more painful ones. Accordingly, the vocals are delivered in less celebratory-of-a-legend tone and instead provide a somber look back to Copperhead Road. – Sara Stoudt

7. Emmylou Harris – Goodbye

Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle have collaborated many times (including Harris providing supporting vocals on “Nothin’ Without You”). They toured together as recently as 2021. They have duetted on this particular song before, but in this solo version from her Wrecking Ball album, Harris brings a full sound with bigger drums and additional strings. Her voice has a rich timbre, and throughout the song her words build and fade out over and over again. These changes happen quickly like she’s there and then quickly disappearing. I miss the harmonica break of the original, but there is an occasional electric guitar that peeks in, without coming on too strong, to add variety. – Sara Stoudt

6. Ricky Koole feat. Ocobar – Days Aren’t Long Enough

Netherlands singer and actress Ricky Koole teamed up with her fellow Dutchmen Ocobar for an album in 2017. It included a wonderful cover of “Days Aren’t Long Enough,” originally a duet Earle did with his then-wife Allison Moorer. Koole takes all the vocals herself, with a buttery and expressive voice that pairs beautifully with Ocobar’s gentle folk-rock propulsion. – Ray Padgett

5. Fiddler’s Green – The Galway Girl

Fiddler’s Green is a German group that was first formed in 1990. They almost exclusively perform Irish folk songs. This band really took “Galway Girl,” by now almost as much an Irish standard as “The Auld Triangle,” and ran with it. The jovial cover is fully-orchestrated with mandolin, drums, upright bass, violin, pennywhistle, and accordion. A tiny bit of grit in the voice of the lead singer reminds me of the Dropkick Murphys. – Aleah Fitzwater

4. The New Nostalgia – Christmas in Washington

A sentimental piano and hazy string sound set the nostalgic scene of this cover, and although this version deviates from the more folksy, acoustic guitar accompaniment, The New Nostalgia still endeavors to keep the message simple. About halfway through, a subtle backbeat joins in, and a few techno-echoes appear in the last minute as new people are called to return. However, the song never kicks in above its baseline steady sound. – Sara Stoudt

3. Supersuckers – Here I Am

Cowpunk icons Supersuckers rollick through this El Corazon track at top volume, with scorching guitar solos aplenty. The studio version appeared on the band’s 2006 EP Paid, but this live version packs even more energy (and muttonchops). – Ray Padgettt

2. Levon Helm – The Mountain

The title track from Earle’s 1999 record with bluegrass veteran Del McCoury, and his band, “The Mountain” is simple and straightforward in its original form. It takes good ol’ Levon to give it the guts it was always calling out for. Sounding as if he is telling the story of his life (no great stretch), Helm gives it his pure bootleg corn-liquor vocals, and it is nothing short of a delight, his unmistakable drums a solid ballast giving presence. This comes from Dirt Farmer, his late-period unexpected comeback, after a gap of twenty-five years. It was a record that was instantly as comfortable as worn-in cowboy boots, beautifully scuffed and down-at-heel. Absolutely no surprise the album won 2008’s Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. – Seuras Og

1. Shawn Colvin – Someday

Steve Earle has formed solid bonds with lots of other performers, but there’s something special about the simpatico between Earle and Shawn Colvin. It’s a connection that goes back nearly four decades. They’ve recorded entire albums together, embarked on “duet tours” together, and no doubt they’ve supported each other through their various personal-life struggles. On “Someday” we have Colvin on her own in 1994 (it’s a track from her amazing Cover Girl album), covering an Earle song written a decade earlier. As we’ve written elsewhere, Colvin not only doesn’t shy away from material that’s pretty guyville (men writing about men with deeply romantic feelings for cars and gas stations and beer joints), but it’s where she often excels as an interpreter. (See her take on Tom Waits’ “Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night,” for example.) Earle has commented that part of what helped him get through his darkest days in prison was hearing that Colvin had covered “Someday.” I wonder if Colvin was sending him back his own message so he could reabsorb it: “I’m gonna get out of here someday.” – Tom McDonald

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Stevie Wonder, John Prine, The Cars, The Rolling Stones, and more.

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  2 Responses to “The 25 Best Steve Earle Covers Ever”

Comments (2)
  1. 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.

  2. I think you could have found room for Bap Kennedy’s “Angel is the Devil”.

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