Sep 292023
best cover songs
Al Green — Perfect Day (Lou Reed cover)

It’s been 15 years since the last Al Green album. Does “Perfect Day” signal the beginning of his comeback? Unclear — I thought so after his last single, another cover, and that was five years ago. But we can hope. “I loved Lou’s original ‘Perfect Day’—the song immediately puts you in a good mood,” Green explained. “We wanted to preserve that spirit, while adding our own sauce and style.”

Cat Power – Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob Dylan cover)

Last November, Cat Power performed a show at the Royal Albert Hall recreating Bob Dylan’s famous “Judas!” show at the “Royal Albert Hall” (actually it was in Manchester, but people didn’t know that for decades). In its immediate aftermath, fan videos of the event were very quickly taken down. Now we know why. That show is becoming an official live album, Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert, out November 10. At the start of “Ballad of a Thin Man,” a fan inevitably shouts “Judas!” Her reply: “Jesus.”

Fleet Foxes & Jim James — Expecting to Fly (Buffalo Springfield cover)

My Morning Jacket and Fleet Foxes toured together this month, with regular collaborations and sit-ins. The best of them was this Buffalo Springfield cover at the Hollywood Bowl. A four-piece horn section intros the performance, but, as with so many things from both MMJ’s Jim James and FF’s Robin Pecknold, the stars are the angelic vocals.

Joe Policastro Trio — Ceremony (New Order cover)

On their album Ceremony, the jazz trio of bassist Joe Policastro, guitarist Dave Miller, and drummer Mikel Avery cover the New Order song of the same name. “Our take on ‘Ceremony’ began riffing on the song’s iconic bassline, but it evolved into something else very quickly,” Policastro said. The arrangement interpolates composer Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie,” and the album also features covers of Roy Orbison (“Blue Bayou”), Thelonious Monk (“Brilliant Corners”) and João Bosco (“Bala Com Bala”).

Joshua Redman — Streets of Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Staying on the jazz tip for a minute, Blue Note Records just released saxophone player Joshua Redman’s beautiful “Streets of Philadelphia.” Gabrielle Cavassa takes the vocals, but, as you might expect given Redman’s chosen instrument, saxophone takes center stage just as much as singing.

Katie Alice Greer — Wolf Like Me (TV on the Radio cover)

“Wolf Like Me” is one the best, loudest indie-rock bangers of the 2000s. TV on the Radio’s original was rowdy enough, but a number of subsequent covers (like Local H’s) have turned the dial even higher. Katie Alice Greer, though, goes in the other direction. Over almost whispered double-tracked vocals, she slows it down without losing any of the menace. If anything, her version is even more threatening, like a wolf not as it’s attacking but as it’s lurking in the shadows, ready to spring.

MS MR — Flagpole Sitta (Harvey Danger cover)

The indie-pop duo MS MR formally broke up this month (though they’ve been mostly inactive since 2017) with a couple new tracks, one original, and this cover. “To be honest, ‘Flagpole Sitta’ was a pretty spontaneous choice,” they said of their cover. “Lizzy found herself consistently returning to it during the pandemic for its lyrical narrative and nostalgia, but it was Max who quickly realized that its melodies, harmonies, and lyrics all felt like something we might have written. It was wildly fun to make, as evident in its bombast and energy, and it feels right to end our time as a band with a cover, just like we playfully began!”

Norah Jones, Questlove and Christian McBride — Why Am I Treated So Bad (Staple Singers cover)

Like everyone else these days, Norah Jones has a podcast. Called Playing Along, the show finds Jones interviewing fellow artists before — and this is where hers stands out from the pack — performing with them. On a recent episode, she combined Roots drummer Questlove with jazz bassist Christian McBride. Thankfully, they’ve excerpted one of the tracks they performed on the podcast, a jazzy, jammy take on the Staple Singers classic “Why Am I Treated So Bad.”

Rosali — Stuck Inside a Cloud (George Harrison cover)

North Carolina singer-songwriter Rosali recently signed to revered indie label Merge Records. She celebrated with this cover, explaining, “Written as he was dying from cancer, the song appeared on his posthumous album, Brainwashed. It’s a questioning, honest song that’s full of grace, seemingly about living the strange awareness of his deteriorating health and the meaning of our existence. Produced by my longtime collaborator and bandmate James Schroeder, we gave the cover a dreamy synth-pop treatment reminiscent of Julee Cruise and Broadcast. Recorded in the early months of the pandemic, the song feels all the more relevant as we continue to confront the death and confusion of that time. I hope you enjoy it, and I can’t wait to share my new songs.”

Slothrust — Pony (Ginuwine cover)

I suppose it makes sense that a band called Slothrust would cover Ginuwine’s extremely horny ‘90s hit “Pony.” This loud-quiet-loud alt-rock cover builds to a full-on psychedelic guitar freakout. It comes off the Boston trio’s upcoming EP I Promise.

Soccer Mommy — Here (Pavement cover)

Soccer Mommy’s new covers EP Karaoke Night (good name) has buzzier choices. Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift, etc. But she’s right in her element gently crooning over this Pavement song while the buzzsaw guitars roar behind her.

The Best of the Rest

A.A. Williams — Without You I’m Nothing (Placebo cover)

Alex Lahey — Make Your Own Kind Of Music (Cass Elliot cover)

Bella White — Unknown Legend (Neil Young cover)

Birdy — True Love (Christine and the Queens cover)

Eartheater — Chop Suey (System of a Down cover)

In This Moment — Army of Me (Björk cover)

Max Tundra – This Woman’s Work (Kate Bush cover)

The Miraculous Love Kids of Afghanistan ft. E of Eels — Only the Young (Journey cover)

Naima Bock — So Long Marianne (Leonard Cohen cover)

Nate Smith — Chasing Cars (Snow Patrol cover)

OCEANS — Chop Suey (System of a Down cover)

Olivia Dean – Cool About It (boygenius cover)

Rum Jungle — Stay (Rihanna cover)

SAER — I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash cover)

Sally Shapiro — Rent (Pet Shop Boys cover)

Skinny Pelembe feat. Beth Orton — Who By Fire (Leonard Cohen cover)

Terrace Martin & Alex Isley — Paradise (Sade cover)

Check out previous months’ best covers lists.

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  2 Responses to “The Best Cover Songs of September 2023”

Comments (2)
  1. Looking forward to checking out more of this list. My September picks not mentioned here:

    The Routes – Ever Fallen in Love (Buzzcocks)

    Munya – Bizarre Love Triangle (New Order)

    Jenni Muldaur & Teddy Thompson – After the Fire Is Gone (Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty)

    Josh Ritter – The Goonies ‘R Good Enough (Cyndi Lauper)

    And, just for kicks:
    Edwin Evers – Far from Over (Frank Stallone)

  2. I am a huge Al Green fan —his own songs, that voice, and that stage personality. Gorgeous. And most of his covers, from Bee Gees to Freddy Fender shows him to be a superb interpreter as well. But he completely misses the ironic message of Perfect Day, which is the narrative point of the song. It’s a total fail. His version could be a deodorant commercial.

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