Feb 122021
 

Off the Beaten Path looks at covers of songs from a less popular era in an artist’s career.

James Taylor

When you hear that an artist has done a James Taylor-penned cover, you can pretty safely assume that it is one of the following songs: “Fire And Rain,”, “Sweet Baby James,” or “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Those that choose to venture deeper tend to favor a little “Shower The People” or “Carolina In My Mind.” Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with those choices: I mean, they are all undeniable evergreen classics. And there have been some ridiculously good takes on a few of these songs, especially “Fire…” of which several are themselves total fire (check some of them out here).

But, if I can offer a little get-off-my-lawn style observation, this rigid devotion to a specific handful of songs can get a little repetitive. It also does something of a disservice to the Taylor catalog, which is hundreds of crazy wonderful songs deep. All of which is to say that it’s especially nice to hear an artist take a swing at a JT deep cut. An album track. A B-side. A non-single (or non-performing one). Thankfully, there are a few artists who’ve eagerly taken the plunge, proving there is a wealth of goodness to be had beyond the hits.

It’s time to open the JT deep-cut cover floodgates. Let’s let this crew of artists provide some glorious inspiration.
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Feb 102021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

When is a cover not a cover? If a song is written but never committed to any released format, what counts as the original version? Both questions that might raise askance of this set, a set that I believe can, and indeed should, pass muster for these august pages. After all, if it’s good enough for Woody Guthrie

Jeffrey Lee Pierce is a name known more by association, I guess, than in his own right, popping up in the alongside others plowing the same vein. Literally. Whilst his lifetime recorded output, predominantly under the Gun Club soubriquet, may have been prodigious, he left enough unfinished and discarded songs to provide the bulk of the material in these three (so far) recordings.
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Feb 092021
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Goose covers

Goose, whose name was inspired by an inside taco-related joke between bandmates Peter Anspach, Ben Atkind, Trevor Bass, and Rick Mitarotonda, formed in Connecticut in 2006. Many point to their performance at the Peach Festival in Scranton, PA in 2019 as the moment that elevated them from local heroes to more widespread fame.

Following in the footsteps of great jam bands before them (yes, they get compared to Phish a lot), Goose is known for keeping the vibe going with extended instrumentals. They’ve been keeping busy during the pandemic, even profiting from a “Bingo Tour” where they live stream a setlist determined in real time by random draws of bingo balls and raising money for charity.

Throughout their different gigs they’ve performed quite a few covers. Let’s check out a sampling of them.

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Feb 052021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Taj Mahal covers

Like the centuries-old architectural marvel in India that he took as his stage name, musician and composer Taj Mahal seems to live beyond the reach of time. There’s been an “old soul” vibe about him, an ageless quality, since he debuted in the mid-sixties. Taj may not be the sole survivor of his generation, but you won’t find a more soulful survivor who is still in the game.

His artistic longevity is all the more impressive because Taj has never had the chart-topping hit, or a cultish following, or the other advantages that make it easier for a performer to sustain a career. Yet here he is, almost 80, still throwing down, resonating with a new crop of musicians.
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Feb 012021
 
cover songs january 2021
Amanda Shires – That’s All (Genesis cover)

Our first song kicks off what will be a theme here. A lot of these came out at the very top of the year (or the very end of 2020) to kick a garbage year to the curb and hope for something better. Shires said: “’That’s All’ is a song that I have played a lot on tour. The song defines 2020 for me. It’s a true Covid anthem and I dare you to not dance to my version when you hear it!” Continue reading »

Jan 302021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

There are few bands with such a way with covers as the Cowboy Junkies, that in no small part to the icy warmth of singer, Margo Timmins, an astonishing 60 this month. She was born in Montreal, 1/27/61, and I have long been a fan, maybe not from the very start, but certainly once ‘Trinity Sessions’ threw down the gauntlet, quietly and emphatically. Birmingham Town Hall, in the English midlands, used to be a dreadful venue, any sounds not completely muffled being left free to echo around the pillars, hopeless for any band with any degree of amplification. It has since had a refurb, and has lost, thankfully, that legacy, but the Junkies were perfection there then, every pin dropping with perfect clarity, the most important pin being that of Timmins, an ethereal shimmer filling the gap between the controlled calm of the instrumentation.

In the subsequent years the band, Timmins and her two brothers, Michael on guitar and Peter on drums, along with family friend Alan Anton playing bass, have strayed little from that template. Initially supplemented by the instrumentation of Jeff Bird and others, adding mandolin, harmonica, dobro, steel and fiddle, latterly it would become the core quartet, as blues became as much an influence as country had been before. The band had been started by Michael, a record-hungry youth who had been in bands since high school. Margo had never sung in public before he goaded her to add vocals, and she initially sang facing away from the stage, such was her crippling shyness, echoing the experiences of Michael Stipe and Jim Morrison, two other equally iconic vocalists.

Over a 35-plus-year career, the Cowboy Junkies have produced 18 studio albums, six live albums, and seven compilations, with innumerably more material courtesy their website. (Sadly it seems that much of that rare and archive material in currently unavailable.) Covers have always been a feature; most of their records containing one or two, and they’re staples on tribute projects, to artists as varied as Gram Parsons and Blind Willie Johnson. In 2009, Timmins also found the time to release an all-cover solo album, enticingly entitled Margo’s Corner: The Ty Tyrfu Sessions, Volume 1. She has also added her froideur to any number of other artists, as a backing or additional singer, usually to fellow Canadians.

Let’s drill down into some of the best examples of her transformative skills, starting with perhaps the best known and, arguably, the best example.
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