Apr 302024
best cover songs
The Dirty Nil — Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler cover)

I’m honestly surprised there weren’t more “Total Eclipse” covers during this month’s total eclipse. Perhaps because our total eclipse was of the sun, rather than the heart. Or, more likely, because this song is hard as hell to sing. Best of the bunch came this garage-rocking version from Ontario trio The Dirty Nil. Gritty and raw, and singer Luke Bentham sells the hell out of it.

Dolly Parton — Southern Accents (Tom Petty cover)

This what Dolly’s so-called “rock album” last year should have been. She carries a song like this so well on the forthcoming Petty tribute album. “I was fortunate enough to get to know Tom over the years,” she said in a press release. “He’s such an iconic artist and important songwriter. I’m so honored to be a part of this special album and to be able to share my version of one of Tom’s best songs.”

Eric Church — Son of a Son of a Sailor (Jimmy Buffett cover)

We’ve got a lot of tribute-concert covers this month, from three major tribute events: Jimmy Buffett at the Hollywood Bowl, Elton John receiving the Gershwin Prize, and Toby Keith getting the country-star tribute treatment at the CMAs. First up, alphabetically, we hit Buffett. Weirdly, many of the biggest names on the Bowl lineup just did their own song (McCartney did “Let It Be,” The Eagles did “Take It to the Limit,” etc). And everyone was playing with Buffett’s own band, so this was never going to deliver radical rearrangements. But Eric Church and Brandi Carlile (see below for hers) stood out by making the songs their own. I assume an album will come out of this, but until then we have the fan videos.

Joni Mitchell — I’m Still Standing (Elton John cover)

The second tribute was Elton John receiving the Gershwin Prize. The ceremony happened a few months ago, but it aired on PBS this month so we finally have good audio and video. Joni doing “I’m Still Standing” is obviously moving—and she is indeed standing, rather than sitting on her usual throne. As usual these days, it’s Joni and friends, which here include Annie Lennox, Brandi Carlile (again), Blake Mills, and SistaStrings. Joni brings a real swing to it, as if she’s singing an old Tony Bennett tune.

Kevin Abstract ft. Sky Ferreira — Need You Now (Lady A cover)

To open his Coachella set, former Brockhampton singer/rapper Kevin Abstract brought out Sky Ferreira to sing vocals on a cover of Lady A’s giant country weeper “Need You Now.” Ethereal and slow, sung over a synth bed, I expect this will soon be a studio track. Here, it segued into Abstract’s own (and Ferreira-free) “Empty.”

Lainey Wilson — How Do You Like Me Now? (Toby Keith cover)

The third tribute was the CMT Awards inviting three superstars to sing Toby Keith songs. Brooks & Dunn did “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” Sammy Hagar did “I Love This Bar” (which he’s recorded). But the best was Lainey Wilson, covering Keith’s 1999 hit “How Do You Like Me Now?” I won’t lie and say I was much of a Toby Keith fan, but Wilson sounds great belting this one.

Lorde — Take Me to the River (Al Green / Talking Heads cover)

For the forthcoming Talking Heads tribute album, Lorde covered the Talking Heads’ own cover of “Take Me to the River,” in tribute to Stop Making Sense. In a long note accompanying the release, which you can read here, she wrote about hearing “Take Me to the River” for the first time as a 12-year-old in New Zealand when her mom played her a poor-quality YouTube clip. “I felt a portal open between me and the screen,” she wrote. “Humor, lust, rhythm and ritual course through me. I don’t understand what I’m feeling, but I do understand that the band in the grainy video live with the same strangeness that I do. My pains tingle. My insides are replaced.”

Mary Gauthier — Coney Island Baby (Lou Reed)

New tribute album The Power of the Heart: A Tribute to Lou Reed is a hit and miss affair. One of the stealth highlights, though, is veteran singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, who delivers a slow-soul version of “Coney Island Baby” that stretches to seven-plus minutes.

SistaStrings — Girls Ride Horses (Judy Rodman cover)

The excellent new album My Black Country: The Songs of Alice Randall pays tribute to songs written by the author Alice Randall, the first African-American woman to write a number-one country hit (“XXX’s and OOO’s,” for Trisha Yearwood). Randall “said of this set, I had songs recorded in the 80s, in the 90s, in the 2000s, and 2010s, but I never once had the joy of hearing one of the songs that I wrote from the perspective of a Black woman recorded by a Black woman. With this project…I hope to change that.” Change it she does. Among many highlights is recent Joni Mitchell collaborator (see above) SistaStrings doing Judy Rodman’s 1987 feminist-revenge country hit “Girls Ride Horses Too.”

Orville Peck & Willie Nelson — Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other (Ned Sublette cover)

Bob Dylan is touring with Willie this summer. How can we get them to do a duet on this gay-cowboy anthem?

Trummors — I Can Still Make Cheyenne (George Strait cover)

The Americana duo of David Lerner and Anne Cunningham explained: “We have a classic country station here in northern New Mexico, KYBR in Española. They’re big on 80s artists like Keith Whitley, Clint Black, and, of course, the King—George Strait. For this LP, we wanted to showcase that neo-traditional influence alongside our love of West Coast stuff like the Byrds and Burrito Brothers. ‘I Can Still Make Cheyenne’ is a song about how even a sadly inevitable breakup can have a certain beauty and integrity; Anne and I both immediately connected with the melody and thought the chorus would be more powerful with a harmony.”

Vampire Weekend — Peggy-O (Traditional cover)

Vampire Weekend are promoting their first album in a few years, so, as always happens with them, the covers have begun. This one gets billed as a Dead cover, which I’m sure is where their inspiration comes from as they continue their transition from indie hipsters to jam band (they recently sat in with Goose). But, of course, it’s really a cover of the Dead covering an old folk song. Plus, at only four and a half minutes, there isn’t time for much jamming. Former Dirty Projectors singer Amber Coffman joins frontman Ezra Koenig on vocals.

WinterWonderWomen — The Weight (The Band cover)

All-female bluegrass supergroup WinterWonderWomen covered “The Weight” at a recent Colorado music festival WinterWonderGrass Steamboat. What makes this video special will be apparent as soon as you click play. They sound great and all, but, most importantly, they’re doing all this in a blizzard!

The Best of the Rest

Alice Glass — Drown (Smashing Pumpkins cover)

Annie Lennox — Border Song (Elton John cover)

Ashley Monroe — I Like Trains (Fred Eaglesmith cover)

Billy Porter — The Bitch Is Back (Elton John cover)

Bob Dylan — On the Banks of the Old Pontchartrain (Hank Williams cover)

Brandi Carlile — Come Monday (Jimmy Buffett cover)

Brian Falduto — Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That (Dolly Parton cover)

David Byrne — Hard Times (Paramore cover)

FACS — Take Me to Your Heart (Eurythmics cover)

Free Friends — Used to Be Young (Miley Cyrus cover)

Garth Brooks — Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (Elton John cover)

Gatlin — The Reason (Hoobastank cover)

HARDY — Gin & Juice (Snoop Dogg cover)

Honey Gentry — Mykonos (Fleet Foxes cover)

Little Big Town ft. Sugarland — Take Me Home (Phil Collins cover)

Metallica — Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (Elton John cover)

Nathaniel Rateliff — Winter Lady (Leonard Cohen cover)

Orcas — Under the Milky Way (The Church cover)

Self Esteem — You Can Get It If You Really Want (Jimmy Cliff cover)

Slash ft. Chris Stapleton — Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Slow Pulp — Hanging By a Moment (Lifehouse cover)

Smino — Roses (Outkast cover)

Check out previous months’ best covers lists.

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