When Jason Isbell was asked to contribute a song to A Star is Born, after reading the screenplay he dug deep into his well of past demons to guess the struggles Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson Maine might have been going through. Drawing on his own path to becoming sober with help from his wife Amanda Shires, Isbell sums up the journey perfectly in 2:40 of near-perfect song: “I’m glad I can’t go back to where I came from / I’m glad those days are gone, gone for good.”
In the back of Houston’s folk music club The Sand Mountain Coffee House in the late 1960s hung a mural in full view of the artists performing. It paid tribute to five of the best songwriters of the day: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Don Sanders, and Mickey Newbury. It was to this spot – where Townes lived upstairs, where Jerry Jeff wrote “Mr. Bojangles” – that Steve Earle made a pilgrimage from San Antonio in order to meet Van Zandt. Earle not only met the troubled troubadour, but began a life-long friendship that resulted in naming his firstborn son Justin Townes Earle, and, in 2009, the release of Earle’s tribute album Townes, covering many of his greatest songs.
After meeting Townes, Steve left Houston and headed for Nashville in search of another one of his idols, Guy Clark. He found him in the back room of a bar playing pool. Here, history seemed to repeat itself as the two met and became very fast friends with Earle quickly joining Guy’s band as the bass player. And now, in 2019, ten years after the release of Townes, Steve Earle is set to release a set of his favorite Guy Clark songs, simply called Guy.
Don’t tell these guys rock is dead. Along with Greta Van Fleet and The Struts, L.A. rockers Rival Sons are carrying the torch, spreading the rock and roll message to the masses, one club, one arena, one stadium at a time (no exaggeration; they’ve opened for Aerosmith in arenas and Black Sabbath in stadiums). Five albums in and about to release their sixth, the band, led by Jim Morrison doppelganger Jay Buchanan, seems to be peaking at just the right moment in time.
Wrapping up a 2018 that saw him release the critically acclaimed album Tell It To The Judge and open for Spoon at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, Austin singer-songwriter Walker Lukens recently played a concert for local radio station KUTX. Before the show, the station polled their listeners on what song Walker and The Side Arms should cover. The Huey Lewis and the News hit “I Want a New Drug” was the clear audience favorite, winning over Fiona Apple’s “Sleep to Dream,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” and “Crazy in Love.”
When delivered with passion and a reverence for the record being covered, a track-for-track covers album reimagining an iconic album by someone’s musical heroes can result in an intoxicating listen. Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong mined this territory on 2013’s Foreverly, an album paying tribute to the Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The Walkmen took the format to the next level, inhabiting the very essence of the John Lennon-produced Harry Nilsson cult classic Pussycats with Pussycats Starring The Walkmen. And now, in 2018, the Austin-based Americana group The Band of Heathens have delivered A Message from the People Revisited, a timely tribute to the Ray Charles record A Message from the People, originally released in 1972.
Rod Stewart, one of the most prolific cover song performers around, is also an underrated songwriter. While his first two solo albums after departing The Faces included several cover songs – sterling versions of Dylan’s “Only A Hobo” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” – his superior self-penned tunes including “Gasoline Alley” from his second proper release, and the beautiful “Mandolin Wind” from Every Picture Tells a Story are the songs that really cemented his legacy.