Dec 022022
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Editor’s Note: Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac died on Wednesday after a brief illness. She was 79. In her honor, we’re resurrecting a post from a decade ago, lightly reworked for the sad circumstances.

Christine McVie was the Mona Lisa of ’70s rock music. She always seemed one cool remove away from the maelstrom of Fleetwood Mac, but there was a lot going on behind that sardonic gaze, and she let it out in her songs, where she specialized in first-person accounts of romances that could be right even when they felt so wrong – and, of course, vice versa. Today we’re celebrating McVie with five covers that give a whole different meaning to the phrase “one cool remove away.”
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Nov 212022
 

My IdealI confess I didn’t quite know how to approach Amos Lee’s My Ideal: A Tribute To Chet Baker Sings–with excitement and delight, or merely admiration. I get that this sounds grudging, but in my book Chet was not only one of the best two jazz trumpeters who ever strode this earth, he was also one of the very best singers. Alas, outside jazz circles, he never quite became the household name he could have been. Rock circles knew him best, perhaps, as the horn player on Elvis Costello’s own original version of “Shipbuilding,” arguably a quarter century past his peak. So anyone who can raise his profile, well, that’s fine by me.

Amos Lee has been around for a while, an associate of Norah Jones, and a purveyor of a bluesy folk hybrid style. That he has recorded his first five recordings for Blue Note might also suggest someone somewhere could hear a hint of something jazzier to his bow. Rather than offer any view to his previous, let’s stick with My Ideal, wherein he deigns to replicate the mood of the album Chet Baker Sings, backed by a trio of Philly’s finest. These comprise David Streim on piano and trumpet, Madison Rast on bass, with Anwar Marshall on the drum seat.
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Nov 182022
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Fifty years ago today, on November 18, 1972, Neil Young fired Danny Whitten. The 29-year-old guitarist had already been dismissed from Crazy Horse due to his drug use. Young gave him another chance to join his touring band, the Stray Gators, as they went out to promote Harvest. When Whitten proved he couldn’t handle that either, Young gave him fifty dollars and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That night, he got a phone call: Whitten had died of a drug overdose.

A crushed Young, who had already written “The Needle and the Damage Done” about Whitten, went on to record Tonight’s the Night, a tribute to him and to roadie Bruce Berry. These are some of Young’s strongest works and have all the impact today that they had on first release. But there’s another artistic work related to Whitten that’s arguably greater and longer lasting. And it came from the pen of Danny Whitten himself.
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Nov 122022
 

Live ForeverBillie Joe Shaver was one tough dude. The mere fact that he made it to 81 years old is a tribute as much to his constitution as to anything else, because his life and times read as if he wasn’t one much for compromise. Hell, too tough even for the Highwaymen, turning down the opportunity to be a member of that iconic grouping of his peers. As a performer he 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.
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Nov 112022
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Whatever you think or don’t think of the Grateful Dead, we have to credit the songwriting team of Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter for turning out some indelible classics. As long as there are acoustic guitars to strum and humans to sing, “Ripple” will ring out, and “Friend of the Devil” too. These songs have osmosed into the folk tradition that gave rise to them.

I’m not going to make the same claim of timelessness for “Bird Song,” Garcia and Hunter’s elegy to their friend Janis Joplin. Its greatness is of a different kind. But as far as elegies go, it has very few peers and is worth attention.
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Nov 042022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

dolly parton covers

Dolly Parton is a singer and a songwriter. I mention that obvious truth because these days it tends to get overshadowed by her other titles: Icon. Inspiration. National Treasure. The Only Human Being Alive Everyone Agrees On (Radiolab produced an entire nine-part radio series based on that premise). And she is all those things, but first and foremost she’s a working 9-to-5 musician who has been perfecting her craft for seven decades.

Parton says she wrote her first song as a five year-old in 1952. She hasn’t stopped writing songs since. She one estimated she’s amassed 10,000. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the verifiable numbers speak for themselves: 52 studio albums, 25 Number One songs, 100 million records sold worldwide. Just as important a tribute to her gifts, though, are how often her songs get covered. Not just the obvious ones, the “Jolene”s and “I Will Always Love You”s (though plenty of those, lord knows), but the album cuts, the singles that didn’t top the charts, and the songs she didn’t write herself but made into Dolly Parton songs anyway.

Some of the below covers sound a little bit like Dolly’s own music. Most do not. She considers herself straight country, not, as she made clear when first nominated for the Rock Hall earlier this year, rock and roll. But, in this list, she is rock and roll. And folk and pop and hip-hop and soul and a whole host of other genres. Dolly Parton may indeed be the only human being everyone agrees on. What a way to make a living.

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