Mar 292024
 

Run up that hill back to the beginning.

10. Wesley Schultz — If It Makes You Happy

The slow and maudlin acoustic cover of a nominally upbeat song is a familiar trope. Too much so, maybe. But Wesley Schulz, the Lumineers’ frontman, singer and guitarist, imbues a sweet sensitivity into the song. The backing ooh-oohs give that extra touch of dignified despondency as they add their Walk on the Wild Side tones to the chorus. The gradual build, with piano and muted strings further ramping up (down?) the mood, gets to just the right spot before Schulz ditches them for a near-spoken final line. – Seuras Og

9. Prince — Everyday Is a Winding Road

1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic saw then-Symbol Prince shooting for the pop stars – not just in terms of aiming for popular hits, but in terms of getting popular collaborators to join up with him. This included Gwen Stefani, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, and Crow, the latter of whom pitched in on two songs. One of those was her own “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” and multiple critics talked about how it either represented or rose above its company, calling it anything from “barely recognizable” to “borderline travesty.” Stereogum said the song was “converted from rootsy delight to coolly existential funk” while NME, who hated the album, called it “an astonishing act of dogshit-to-diamond alchemy.” It was a true representation of “everybody gets high / everybody gets low.” As for the once and future Prince, who reclaimed his birth name the following year, he was a little bit closer to feeling fine. – Patrick Robbins

8. Anais Mitchell & The Staves — Strong Enough

This cover was filmed in Berlin, and posted by La Blogothèque, a music blog centered around films. In the video, the three singers sit in wooden chairs in the near dark, performing for and facing an unmoving man in a chair. In this trio’s hands, the song feels like home. As Mitchell’s voice comes in over the plucked strings, pure and gentle, tones reminiscent of Alison Krauss come to mind. But once the other two come in with their immaculate harmonies? The sound becomes downright ethereal. – Aleah Fitzwater

7. Soccer Mommy — Soak Up The Sun

Soccer Mommy released one of our favorite covers of 2023 with this shimmering take on Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun.” The Soccer Mommy cover isn’t a wild departure from the original: it’s a low-key upbeat tune driven by chugging power chords and airy vocals. There’s a tinge of shoegaze and just a little less pop sweetness in the way Sophie Allison delivers the melody, but overall Soccer Mommy’s version feels more like an ode to the 2002 Crow smash. It’s a feel-good tribute done well enough to warrant inclusion on both this list and 2023’s best. – Mike Misch

6. Johnny Cash — Redemption Day

Sheryl Crow would probably agree that Johnny Cash’s cover of “Redemption Day” is the finest version of the track ever recorded. Better than the original, better than the version pasted together in 2019 of she and Cash “dueting” on the track, better than anyone has done or will ever do. Recorded only a few months before his passing in 2006, The Man in Black delivers the song with gorgeously grizzled gravitas and imbues it with unspeakable humanity and hope. His deftness on the bridge is hand-on-the-heart beautiful and, like nearly everything Cash recorded with producer Rick Rubin in the ’90s and early ’00s, it transcends its pop origins and feels like a prayer. – Hope Silverman

5. Jason Isbell — Run Baby Run

Written on election night 1992, as Crow watched the results that would transition the government “from conservative George Bush to young, unconventional, good-looking Bill Clinton,” the song is about a woman “caught in between generations. She was raised by hippies in a time of real conservative social structure.” It was the first single from Crow’s debut album, and it was not particularly successful at the time. However, its anthemic structure and ambivalent message—is the protagonist running away from problems or fleeing stagnation?—makes it a good listen. Jason Isbell performed the song at Crow’s induction into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame in 2022, prefacing his performance by noting that Crow was unusual for rock stars, in that she was basically a nice person, and not “real goddamn weird.” Isbell retains the basic feel of the original track and adds a tasty guitar solo. – Jordan Becker

4. Maggie Koerner — The Difficult Kind

It requires stamina to take on this almost-seven-minute song, and Maggie Koerner is up to the challenge. She maintains so many of the winning attributes of the original: the call and response between the guitar and the vocals before the full band joins in, the outlaw vibe, the repeated building of vocal power before dropping back again. It’s soulful storytelling at its finest. Can’t you just see this song being its own James Bond soundtrack song with its dark and twisty lyrics and its brooding guitar? – Sara Stoudt

3. Esther Rose — My Favorite Mistake

Esther Rose, one of the bright new stars of country-infused musics, slows and simplifies the melody, drawing out the inherent poignancy of the lyric. With all the “rawk” excised, it is mainly carried by her voice and some freight-train steel. The rhythm section give out a barely-changing chug that accentuates the slow, propulsive mood of the song, it feeling more confessional than the in the original. Rose hasn’t that many covers under her belt yet; I for one would like to hear more. – Seuras Og

2. HAIM — Strong Enough

Admittedly, the notion of sisterly pop trio and FM radio throwbacks with a pinch of modernity HAIM covering Sheryl Crow’s ’90s-iconic “Strong Enough” is pretty on-the-nose. But HAIM’s 2013 live rendition of the anthemic acoustic jam is hardly the sweet ‘n’ jangly singalong-with-an-emotional-edge original. No, it is an absolute barn burner. It is a scorching shredfest, thanks in no small part to Danielle Haim’s supremely nasty guitar solo for which she deserves a gargantuan pair of devil horns. This cover is not only a beautiful tip of the hat to the now more rightfully appreciated Lilith Fair era 1997-99 (Seriously, those shows were genuinely bitchin’, no pun intended), it completely freakin’ rocks. – Hope Silverman

1. Screaming Females — If It Makes You Happy

This cover was part of The A.V. Club’s A.V. Undercover series where bands pick a song to cover off of a list that dwindles as the season goes on. Screaming Females first appeared on Season 3, about a third of the way through, choosing this song from the remaining list of songs voted for by readers.

The light touch on the opening guitar doesn’t give the game away at first. But then a slight dissonance creeps in before being amplified by the drum kit crash. Marissa Paternoster’s deep, somber vocals join in and are maintained as the permanent style of the verses. The band’s backing gets louder as the chorus approaches, but then drops out quickly for that first release of “if it makes you happy.” It’s unleashed, yelled, in your face, and then the band returns to punctuate every sardonic point made in the remaining lines. The instruments also get to make their mark; a guitar solo with a continued drum beat will have you torn between breaking out your air guitar or your air drum kit.

The entire listening experience is cathartic. So is singing along. And even though Screaming Females broke up at the end of last year, the memory of this cover will sustain us. – Sara Stoudt

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Dolly Parton, Kate Bush, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and more.

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