Feb 222021
 

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!

Bill Frisell covers

We’ve highlighted several of guitarist Bill Frisell’s covers in the past—songs by Madonna, Lou Reed, John Lennon, and more. But it’s time Frisell gets a post of his own. He’s been abundantly prolific for several decades now, and in recent years his output rate has only accelerated. He turns 70 next month, and may get Grammied again, this time for last year’s Americana album, a collaboration with Grégoire Maret and Romain Collin, with its covers of Bon Iver, Jimmy Webb, and Mark Knopler. In this post we’ll survey the whole Frisell catalog, not just the recent achievements, with a focus on songs in the rock/pop/country genres.
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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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Jan 082021
 

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!

LA’s Grant Lee Buffalo was formed in the early ’90s out of a regrouped Shiva Burlesque. A folk band juiced up with fuzz boxes, the trio could go from folk to grunge and back in a matter of moments. Lead singer and guitarist Grant-Lee Phillips has an impressive vocal range, which features an impressive falsetto that YouTube bedroom coverers dare not attempt, and makes finding covers of some songs near impossible. Although critical darlings, the band struggled to find success in what was then a radio-dominated music industry, despite great production values and lyrics about the militarization of law enforcement and voter apathy that still hold up today.

A brief reunion tour in 2013 did yield the excellent Live at the Royal Festival Hall, an authentic plugged-in affair that I highly recommend. Since breaking up, Phillips has gone solo under his own name, while bassist Paul Kimble has formed Pistol Star, and drummer Joey Peters has been a member of Rusty Truck and the country revival band Stash.

We’ve talked about the covers Grant Lee Buffalo recorded before; now it’s time to see others covering GLB originals. Let’s go down the rabbit hole.
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Nov 052020
 

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!

Marc Bolan T.Rex

Armed with a seemingly bottomless well of self-belief, in possession of both off-the-charts charisma and head-turning beauty, Marc Bolan was a pop star like no other. He was the very definition of “transcendent,” which is to say the combination of his lovably ludicrous lyrics and infectiously crunchy Chuck Berry riffs appealed not only to screaming teenage girls but to the cool outsider kids as well. By 1976 he was being openly acknowledged as an inspiration to many of the early prognosticators of punk, including The Damned and Siouxsie. He loved the association and latterly referred to himself as “the Godfather of Punk if you like.” He would no doubt have accepted his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a humility befitting his persona (perhaps mentioning all of the above and then asking why it took them so long) and fully embraced the praise to be rightfully heaped upon him, all of which is ridiculously fun to imagine.

He is yet another artist whom despite inspiring a mountainous number of covers has been somewhat underserved. Alas, for every beauteous version of “Cosmic Dancer,” there are dozens of not-so-great takes of “Children of the Revolution.” To throw additional salt in the wound, there are loads of exquisitely fun and fine deep cuts that have yet to be tackled with the same eagerness as the hits (classic ballad “Broken-Hearted Blues” still hasn’t enjoyed a seminal reading, nor has the eternally groovy “The Wizard“). Thankfully, 2020 saw a superb effort to begin righting the ship, courtesy of the legendary Hal Willner, who organized the star studded tribute album AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex (read our review here). It features all the hits, yes, but shines the brightest when it gets into the deep stuff (check out BØRNS’ version of 1976’s “Dawn Storm,” it’s gorgeous).  Here’s hoping the album serves as a clarion call for future excavation of the solid gold deep cuts within the Bolan and T.Rex catalog (there are a ton!).

In honor of Marc’s HOF induction, we’re going to offer up a few of the straight up craziest, sexiest and coolest amongst the thousands of existing covers out there. Get it on…
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Sep 252020
 

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!

When I first saw the guitarist Charlie Hunter, it was accidental. I was only interested in seeing the sax player and the drummer—two legends—not the guitarist playing with them. If I’d never heard of him, how good could he be? Hunter was in mid-solo when I walked in. Within seconds I was sold—loved the scalding tone, the unhurried feel, the unexpected chords. Then the music shifted gears and the bass line grabbed my attention. I turned to check out the bassist–but no bassist stood on stage. It took some time to figure it out: the bass player was also Charlie Hunter.

On closer inspection, Hunter wasn’t playing a 6-string, but a 7- or 8-string beast—the “extras” were bass strings. The song’s latin-jazz groove pulsed from the bottom set of strings, the leads and melodies spidered out from the top few strings. On top of that Hunter was clearly improvising all of it, working out the bones of the song blow-by-blow with the drummer. The sax player I came to hear stepped up to solo, but by then I was mostly there to see Charlie Hunter.
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Sep 212020
 

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!

Annie Lennox

It’s March of 1995, and by this point in time it has been firmly established that Annie Lennox doesn’t make bad albums. From her earliest days in The Tourists, through her incredible partnership with Dave Stewart in Eurythmics, to her glorious 1992 solo debut Diva, the quality level has been ridiculously high. Every album to the last has contained multiple soaringly wonderful evergreen pop classics, most of which are justifiably worshipped and treasured to this very day. But of course, if there’s one thing we know for certain about pop music, it’s that it’s a cruel, fickle beast, and critical favor can turn on a dime. And so, after a pretty consistent outpouring of acclaim, maybe it was inevitable that by 1995 the jar of journalistic goodwill was empty. Annie’s second solo album Medusa featured a perfectly sung and slickly produced selection of cover songs, and the time had finally come; the critics hated it.

While its brilliant, theatrical first single “No More I Love You’s” was a worldwide hit and the LP itself sold by the truckload, music journalists were pretty much across the board unimpressed (even here at Cover Me). One review in a big culture magazine at the time amusingly referred to the album as “a muff,” described Annie’s attempts at certain songs as “belly-flops,” and declared the overall sound to be “microwaved.”

So whose assessment of Medusa was “right,” the fans’ or the critics’? Well, truth be told, both. Put simply, it was an immaculately sung, pristinely produced, cleverly chosen selection of covers, with nary a rough edge to be seen. And while the overall sound could be characterized as chilly and/or mechanical in spots, it was still home to some pretty gloriously heartfelt and powerful song interpretations. Case in point: a broodingly beautiful take of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as well as a grandly dramatic reading of Procol Harum’s epic “Whiter Shade of Pale.” And of course, the aforementioned “No More…” was a brilliant pop song by any standard.

But here’s the thing: Despite its renown, Medusa shouldn’t be looked at as the final word on Annie Lennox’s ability to reinvent and breathe new life into old songs. Over the years, she has proven herself to be an exceptionally gifted interpreter… and the majority of her finest cover work has come in the form of free-standing one-offs. With that in mind, let’s put Medusa to the side for a minute and turn a spotlight on the heart-clutchingly wonderful stuff around the edges, the live, the rare, and the underrated. Let’s venture into the depths of Annie’s truly exceptional cover canon, wherein lay a whole lotta treasures…
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