It’s been 15 years since the last Al Green album. Does “Perfect Day” signal the beginning of his comeback? Unclear — I thought so after his last single, another cover, and that was five years ago. But we can hope. “I loved Lou’s original ‘Perfect Day’—the song immediately puts you in a good mood,” Green explained. “We wanted to preserve that spirit, while adding our own sauce and style.”Continue reading »
It feels like a cliché these days to start one of these year-end lists writing about “the times we live in,” but, as you read and listen to our picks, you’ll find the specter of the coronavirus and lockdown pretty unavoidable.
One of these albums is titled Songs from Isolation; another is Awesome Quarantine Mix-Tape. Even on some albums where it’s so blindingly obvious, it’s there. Aoife Plays Nebraska is a recording of a quarantine livestream she gave. Los Lobos envisioned Native Sons as a balm for being stuck at home, unable to tour. And then there’s the tribute to John Prine, the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, inspired by his death from the coronavirus last year.
But many of these albums recall better times too. Two are belated releases of in-real-life, pre-pandemic tribute concerts, one to Leonard Cohen and the other to Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes (well, I guess both of those subject are kind of bummers, in different ways…). Tributes abound to other recent deaths – Andy Gibb, Justin Townes Earle, Roky Erickson – but we have plenty to artists still with us too, like Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and a host of underground psych-rock bands you’ve never heard of.
Then there are those that don’t fit any narrative. An artist felt inspired by an unconnected bunch of songs, decided to cover ’em, and brought them all together into a cohesive record. What do Vampire Weekend and The Supremes have in common? Lauren O’Connell’s beatifully intimate imaginings. How about Allen Toussaint and Calexico? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss harmonizing all over ’em. Whether it’s a quote-unquote “lockdown record” or just someone saying, “hell, why not get a bunch of folkie weirdos to play Phish tunes?,” every album on this list brought something meaningful to – ugh – the times we live in.
The deliberately slow solo piano version of a peppy pop song is a covers cliché, especially with online covers. But in the right hands it can still have power. We’ve profiled A.A. Williams’ forays in this style throughout the pandemic. Now she’s collected all of these covers on an album, Songs from Isolation; a very appropriate title given the mood of the songs and her sole presence on the recordings.
Most of the songs here are indeed solo piano renditions of rock songs, at a slower tempo, and most of the songs are quite famous. So the album does at least flirt with the internet cliché. But both Williams’ performances and the context she recorded them in give weight to these versions in a way that some random YouTube piano cover usually doesn’t. Continue reading »
“Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is the most ambitious track from the Smashing Pumpkins‘ most ambitious album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It was recorded in different pieces and assembled in the studio, which helps explain the stark contrasts between the different sections of the song. It’s one of those songs where the Pumpkins kind of turned into a prog rock band.Continue reading »
“Lovesong” is The Cure’s biggest American hit and, as a result, so it’s possibly their most iconic song to casual fans. (It was a comparably minor hit in The Cure’s home country, so Brits might be a little surprised to hear this.) The song is typical Cure: an iconic bassline but otherwise pretty minimal accompaniment in the verses with a lush orchestral sound in the verses. It’s one of Robert Smith’s most emotionally direct and upbeat songs, which likely goes a ways to explaining its popularity.
In Williams’ hands, “Lovesong” is transformed into a mournful, longing plaint. Williams has slowed the song to a crawl and has replaced The Cure’s elaborate instrumentation with her solitary piano (removing many of the hooks as a result). Whereas Smith is singing a pledge to his soon-to-be wife for their wedding, Williams’ version of the lyrics is for all of us who have been separated from a loved one due to this terrible pandemic.
Every week the names doing these covers from home just get bigger. This past week got a boost from Global Citizen’s all-star charity event, from which several of today’s set come, as well as one major appearance in last night’s Jersey for Jersey fundraiser (Fountains of Wayne’s heartbreaking “Hackensack” from that is worth watching too, though, except for guest bassist Sharon Van Etten, it’s not a cover).
But, amidst the all-stars, musicians at every level continue to take to the internet to perform covers. We’ve got some of the best we’ve seen below. As always, we make no claims to being comprehensive, so share any other favorites in the comments.Continue reading »