“Weird Al” Yankovic takes being funny very seriously. From his prodigious accordion chops on the accordion to the diligence he takes to obtain permission from his parody subjects, Yankovic’s humorous constructions are surprisingly involved and thorough. His approach has quite a bit in common with Sparks, the long-running art pop duo comprised of brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Like Yankovic, the Mael brothers are longtime Los Angeles denizens and pursue their hilarity with a kind of sharp focus and discipline; they’ve released twenty-four frank and tightly constructed records, with many of their recent releases entirely self-produced. Their connection was affirmed earlier this year with Weird Al’s appearance in The Sparks Brothers, a revelatory new music documentary produced by Edgar Wright. Yankovic appears in the film as a talking head on numerous occasions, but his most enthralling — and “serious” — contribution to the film is a solo accordion cover of Sparks’ wild “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us.”
Cult Classics Vol. 1: I Don’t Even Think of You That Often arrives 30 years after the original multi-artist Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. There have been other tributes since then – Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1995, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man in 2006, and The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered in 2012 – but Cult Classics Vol. 1 is notable for being the first to be recorded since Cohen’s death five years ago this month.
Drawing comparisons between this new album and the hugely influential I’m Your Fan is probably unfair: after all, the earlier record saved ‘Hallelujah’ from remaining an undiscovered gem in Leonard’s catalogue, and rescued his career by introducing his music to a new audience of young rock fans. Cult Classics arrives in a very different context (Cohen is now revered to the point of having a 10,000-foot mural in his honour on the side of a Montreal high-rise), and is more of an acknowledgement of the influence Leonard continues to have on the young singer-songwriters of today.
Soulsavers is, or was, the nom de guerre for the initially electronica production team Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who have increasingly developed into the providers of a lush neo-gospel soundscape, incorporating element of country, soul, and blues, into which a variety of singers have embedded (usually) rich and evocative vocals. Dave Gahan is, of course, the front man for Depeche Mode, as famous for his medical history as his work in those early adopters of electronica/pop. His tones are perfect for the Soulsavers brand, and he first came aboard in 2012, singing and writing much the material for The Light the Dead See. This prove a bigger draw than earlier material and the collaboration continued, with the next album, Angels and Ghosts, perhaps ominously now under the Dave Gahan and Soulsavers soubriquet. The duo then made an instrumental album, Kubrick, Gahan returning to Depeche Mode duties.
Last year Gahan began to drop hints as to a further collaboration, and that it would be a covers collection: “When I listen to other people’s voices and songs—more importantly the way they sing them and interpret the words—I feel at home. I identify with it. It comforts me more than anything else.” A taster, the Cat Power song “Metal Heart,” dropped a month or so back and all seemed to be auguring well. Now we have Imposter, the full basket of fruits of their labors. And we have a problem.
Throughout this pandemic, many artists have come together (while remaining apart) to record new music. The Underground Youth and Laura Carbone have teamed up and recorded an EP of Roy Orbison covers titled In Dreams, out now. Both artists recording their parts separately before adding them together, or as they put it: “Heartfelt home recordings in a time of isolation and distance. Brought together in the digital space to sound like a union.”
The longest and most ambitious track on Wilco’s breakout album Summerteeth, “Via Chicago” is both a showcase for that album’s elaborate, sophisticated production and a preview of the weird places Wilco would go on their acclaimed followup, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. For LA singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels’ more traditional cover, she’s joined by country rockers Ohtis, who reunited in 2019 after 15 years, and only then put out their debut album.
That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Elvis Presley was finally convinced to get back, in true Beatles fashion, on “Burning Love,” the song he released as a single in August 1972. It was high time he reclaimed his throne as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, considering his recent dearth of hits in the US, and an audience seemingly weary of his ballads, his gospel numbers, and, ultimately, his “American Trilogy.” On “Burning Love,” he was able to reconnect with his incendiary late-’50s incarnation, to the point of ad-libbing a slice of his 1959 rocker, “A Big Hunk o’ Love.” In the 1972 song, he found the ingredients to catapult him back to the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. (He was joined there by Chuck Berry and Ricky Nelson, the first time all three had been in the top ten in fourteen years.)
What is less well known is that Presley achieved exactly the kind of resurgence with “Burning Love” that Arthur Alexander hoped for when he released it as a single six months earlier. What is also little known, therefore, is that Presley’s version is a cover. By a matter of months.