Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
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.
Dozens (hundreds?) of young artists fell for the 2015 song of the year, Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” and posted their own version of the hit on social media. But only one of them found herself taking a call from Prince, who saw enough talent and originality in her post to want to hear more. That was just one early “lift-off” moment in the career of singer, song-writer, pianist, and Blue Note recording artist Kandace Springs.
The calls to collaborate kept coming, from artists in diverse genres, locations, and generations: Ghostface Killah, Daryl Hall, Black Violin, and David Sanborn in the U.S., Aqualung and Metropole Orkest in Europe. (We highlighted her Metropole Orkest hook-up in our Charles Mingus celebration back in April.) Springs’ vocal stylings are varied enough, and her roots are deep enough, to deal with all of it: her work reveals clear hip-hop, soul, and R&B influences, but classical music and straight-ahead jazz are her true loves. Her life-long hometown of Nashville may be synonymous with country music, but that’s one form Springs hasn’t taken on. Yet.
The Band Of Heathens ft. Margo Price – Joy (Lucinda Williams cover)
Promoting her new album That’s How Rumors Get Started, Margo Price has been on a great covers kick. She recently tackled a political country classic at the Grand Ole Opry, Bob Dylan on CBS, and John Lennon from her house. Now she’s teamed up with Band of Heathens to cover a Lucinda Williams classic. To quote Lucinda on Instagram, “Get to Slidell, girl!!”
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Are there any bad John Prine covers?
I mean, sure, there are bad covers of anyone worth covering. But it struck me going through the many candidates for this list that they mostly ranged from transcendent on the high end to pretty good on the low. “Pretty good” was about as bad as it got! I don’t think you could say that for anyone else we’ve featured in this series.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
By the mid- to late-’80s, John Hiatt was seen pretty much as a lost cause. True, a pretty decent songwriter, having penned a hit or two for others, Three Dog Night and Roseanne Cash both being welcome recipients of his muse. But himself? Deemed just another drunk by the majors, with Arista having been the last to throw in his beer-stained towel; sobriety seemed to have beckoned too late for that final chance.
Luckily for him, the then-tiny UK label Demon, run by the same mavericks behind Stiff and Radar, had a little faith. Indeed, Hiatt himself later said they were willing to put out the farts in his bathtub, so enamored were they of his talent. And they had some bucks to back that up, if not many. Enough for about four days in the studio, if they could keep other costs to a minimum.
Hiatt rustled up his old buddy Nick Lowe, who was married to
Roseanne Cash Carlene Carter at the time. Lowe agreed to waive any fee and to share a motel room with Hiatt. Ry Cooder, whose 1980 album Borderline had included two Hiatt numbers (plus their author on guitar and backing vocals), was also up for it, as was journeyman session drummer supreme Jim Keltner. Remarkably, they were all free those four days, even if the material wasn’t entirely ready. Allegedly Cooder had to be persuaded to hang on a few hours at the end, whilst Hiatt finished writing a necessary tenth track. Another tale is how the impressively lairy rhythm of “Memphis in the Meantime” comes from Lowe plugging in and playing, less than an hour after arrival, for a song he had neither heard nor rehearsed.
But the gamble paid off, and 1987’s Bring the Family became Hiatt’s breakthrough, even if the same line-up were not available to promote it on the road. That came a full five years later, with, now, the band collectively entitled Little Village, coming together for an eponymous album, a tour, and no little rancor. Lowe later stated the problem was of too much time and too much money in the studio. But that’s another story.
Mose Allison is possibly best known these days through his association with Van Morrison, who released Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison in 1996. Morrison probably gave Allison’s career a late boost, presenting him as a somewhat kindred spirit, albeit having a few more years on him, and hopefully a more benign presence than Van the Man, if even harder to classify.
I had always filed Allison under jazz, though blues was probably closer to his idiom, yet here we have If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison, which sees him being covered by a slew of largely rock music gentry from the past few decades. Listening to this selection, it becomes easier to see that blues is at least the template to Allison’s songs. Not necessarily a version familiar to the backstreet bars of Chicago, this is a more polished version of the blues, with echoes of both supper club and Tin Pan Alley – though in Allison’s hands and voice, they sound perhaps a shade less archaic. These are fine songs and, if these covers succeed in pointing attention back to the originals, then at least part of the work of this collection has been done.