Dec 102021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2021

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.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

The list starts on the next page…

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Nov 102021
 

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 the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted songwriter and keyboardist Billy Preston into its ranks last month for Musical Excellence, the other inductees seemed to get all the attention. That’s fair (after all, Preston passed away back in 2006), but it’s also in keeping with Preston’s long and sometimes overshadowed career. Despite writing hit records that blended soul, gospel, funk, and R&B with rock, he tends to be pegged not as a star, but as a stellar session player supporting the actual stars.

That’s valid, too. From the ‘50s through to the early 2000s, Preston does seem to have played with all the greats, from Mahalia Jackson to Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles to Sly Stone; in the rock world, he partnered with the Beatles and the Stones, The Band, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name just a few. But we will lean on Billy’s original songs, and on Billy as leader, in our collection of Preston covers.
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Feb 222021
 
aj croce sail on sailor

Though the Beach Boys recorded and released eight studio albums in the ‘70s, the endless sessions produced few classics. The quality of the music was dragged down by drug use, infighting and Brian Wilson’s crushing mental illness. These days, the albums play more like historical time-pieces than essential listening. Continue reading »

Sep 042018
 

It feels good to think about Jim Croce. His short, mercurial career consisted of just three records, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, Life and Times, and the posthumously released I Got A Name, which was completed just a week before Croce’s death in a plane crash on September 20, 1973. At the time of his death, he was right up there with fellow singer-songwriters Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and his trajectory was clearly on the rise.

The original “I Got A Name” single was released the day after the plane crash and hit number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The song, along with being the theme for the movie The Last American Hero, was also featured prominently in the movies Django Unchained, The Ice Storm, and Invincible. Now, Jim’s son A.J. Croce has released his cover of “I Got a Name” to honor his father.
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