Dec 132022

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10. The Brother Brothers
Cover to Cover

Is there a more evocative term than sibling harmony? That sweet spot, blood on blood, wherein the gene pool confers a mystic closeness between voices: think Everly, Louvin, McGarrigle. Many fall loosely into country genres, as do these guys, Adam and David Moss, who go a step further and are identical twins. A rousing “That’s How I Got to Memphis” sets the tone, as some sumptuous AOR electric piano beckons in the brother’ mellifluous harmonies, before they go into songs by Jackson Browne (“These Days”), Tom Waits (“Flower’s Grave”), Dolly Parton (“If You Ain’t Got Love”), and more. Full marks for performance, choice and presentation, leaving a glow of fond memory in the listener that establishes the project as all the more well worth the doing. – Seuras Og

9. Wednesday
Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ‘Em Up

On Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ‘Em Up, indie-rockers Wednesday bring heavy waves of distortion to songs by country crooners Gary Stewart (“She’s Actin’ Single [I’m Drinkin’ Doubles])” and Roger Miller (“Lock, Stock and Teardrops”) alongside more obvious indie fare like Big Star’s Chris Bell and Drive-By Truckers. The back half goes more DIY with home recordings by just two bandmembers, singers and guitarists Karly Hartzman and MJ Lenderman. But “more intimate” doesn’t always mean “quieter.” They keep the distortion turned to 11 on tunes by Smashing Pumpkins (“Perfect”) and Medicine (“Time Baby II”), even as the vocals turn into homespun duets. – Ray Padgett

8. Various Artists
Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono

Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard is all too aware of the blinkered perspective many people have of Yoko Ono’s music. It’s this that’s driven him to curate Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, a tribute album to coincide with the New York-based artist’s 89th birthday. He’s all about doing justice to her more underappreciated musical achievements here, contending that “the tallest hurdle to clear has always been the public’s ignorance as to the breadth of Yoko’s work.”

To do so, he commandeers a supreme assortment of old and new Yoko collaborators comprising alt-rock legends (David Byrne, Yo La Tengo, the Flaming Lips), a bedroom pop musician (Jay Som), his own group (Death Cab), an R&B duo (We are KING), a Korean-American-led dream-pop project (Japanese Breakfast), a Californian violinist/vocalist (Sudan Archives), and, of course, the go-to tribute artist of our current time (Sharon Van Etten). Ocean Child is a tribute album worthy of more than the faint praise usually applied to Yoko’s music. These are tunes of the highest order, reinvented by a diverse range of artists in extremely colorful and life-affirming ways. – Adam Mason

7. David Fenech & Pierre Bastien
Suspicious Moon

We’ve got some weird stuff on this list, but I’m not sure anything compares to Suspicious Moon. David Fenech and Pierre Bastien are two experimental music composers in France. They break down 11 famous Elvis tunes into extremely out-there genre pieces that can sound like John Zorn (“Suspicious Minds”) or Philip Glass (“In the Ghetto”) or an old crooner record melting on a radiator (“Heartbreak Hotel”). You will know every one of the songs on this record, but you’ve never heard them anything like this. – Ray Padgett

6. Various Artists
Live Forever: A Tribute To Billy Joe Shaver

As a performer, Billy Joe Shaver may not have been as celebrated as Waylon, Willie & Johnny, being very much in the gravel ‘n’ grits school of rough and ready, but his songs have gone right across the board and back again. You just might surprise yourself by how many you recognize on Live Forever: A Tribute to Billie Joe Shaver. Old mucker Willie Nelson, joined by Lucinda Williams, sings “I’m Going To Live Forever” like he means it, a perfect commemoration, the words undoubtedly built to last, this interpreter then channeling the message in flesh. Ryan Bingham represents the next generation of outlaws, with a rousing “Ride Me Down Easy,” while Miranda Lambert’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal” offers a good sort of show biz hokum variety. Veterans like George Strait and Steve Earle mix with younger artists like Margo Price and Amanda Shires before Alison Russell’s “Tramp on Your Street” closes things with an incandescent gospel shiver. – Seuras Og

5. Sorcha Richardson
Hot Fuss

Turntable Kitchen, the vinyl-only series of cover albums, delivers the goods again on their latest. Irish singer-songwriter Sorcha Richardson turns The Killers’ world-conquering debut album into an electro-folk slow-burn, all gentle synths, quiet guitar, and hushed atmospherics. “All These Things That I’ve Done” loses the gospel choir, but gains a burbling horn line. “Mr. Brightside” drops the iconic electric guitar riff, but swaps in a new finger-picked one. Being European, she even does “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll,” which only appeared on their version of the album. – Ray Padgett

4. Watkins Family Hour
Vol. II

Though Sara & Sean Watkins are siblings, songwriters and bandleaders in their own right, Watkins Family Hour feels like the crown jewel of their many musical projects. Their latest record, Vol. II, captures the pair’s inventive spirit and progressive impulses — not to mention the energy of WFH’s live variety shows, often held at L.A.’s Largo with the ‘anything’s possible’ looseness of a living room jamboree.

Unlike their first self-titled album, Vol. II doesn’t rely on novelty tunes or strictly traditional song picks. The eclectic covers here—ranging from Glen Phillips and The Zombies to re-workings of tUnE-yArdS and Elliott Smith’s “Pitseleh”—feel sharp and timeless, adapted with art-rock precision. Vol. II has an enviable cast of collaborators, many of whom could easily overshadow the family band vibe just on sole billing: Jackson Browne, Benmont Tench, Madison Cunningham, Gaby Moreno, Jon Brion, Lucius, and Fiona Apple (!). But Vol. II thrives on the humility, understatement and participatory joy of all the guests involved, with Sara and Sean Watkins graciously at the fore as interpreters and hosts. A refreshing, surprisingly focused big-tent collaboration, a master class in music appreciation and a primer for how boundless roots music can feel in 2022. – Ben Easton

3. Eli Paperboy Reed
Down Every Road

Some years back, Ace Records put out two killer compilations subtitled Where Country Meets Soul. They collected a bunch of knockout covers of country tunes by soul singers from yesteryear. Eli Paperboy Reed’s Down Every Road might as well be the third volume in that series. Though decades younger than anyone on those first sets, Reed is an old soul (no pun intended). He’s also a record collector who knows his stuff backwards and forwards, so he comes well equipped to turn a bunch of Merle Haggard hits and deep cuts into Stax-style raveups with a big horn section and an even bigger voice. – Jane Callaway

2. The Routes
The Twang Machine

The Routes’ new tribute album to Kraftwerk, The Twang Machine, is a fun translation of one type of instrumentally-focused music into another. The album takes its name from Bo Diddley’s famous box-shaped guitar, but the music has more in common with Dick Dale – it’s full on surf rock, albeit with the musicianship standards of the surf rock revival bands that have sprung up intermittently since the genre’s heyday.

It turns out that Kraftwerk’s music is pretty perfectly suited to surf. With so little reliance on lyrics, the drama of the music usually has to come from the instruments, so it’s no surprise the melodies work as instrumentals. But The Routes have found the key to imagining each of these 10 Kraftwerk, um, hits, as effective surf rock tracks on their own. The twang is in full effect, with plenty of whammy bar, double beat, and some ’60s organ for good measure. Listening to The Routes here, it’s easy to forget the songs’ origin as sterile German proto synth pop, given the warm sound, the very clear aesthetic, and the enthusiasm of the playing. – Riley Haas

1. Amenra / Cave In / Marissa Nadler
Songs of Townes Van Zandt Vol III

When you first hit play on Songs of Townes Van Zandt Vol III, you think you know what you’re in for. An acoustic guitar and a pretty voice (Marissa Nadler’s) is a pretty standard way to sing Townes tunes. But half a minute into “Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria,” the picture shifts, as synthesizers and layered backing vocals gently enter. Things get stranger, and darker, from there. All three artists here have ties to heavy metal, and you can hear those impulses even when things stay quiet. And when they get loud, especially on the Cave In tracks “At My Window” and “The Hole,” and the mesmerizing joint version of “Flyin’ Shoes,” watch out. If you thought Townes Van Zandt songs were dark and haunted before, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. – Ray Padgett

Check back later this week for the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2022! (And support us on Patreon for the Best Cover EPs of 2022 as well.)

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