If you missed the whole brouhaha when Steely Dan dropped Aimee Mann as their opening act, it’s too long to recap here. To skip to the end, Mann tweeted, “All is forgiven if Donald [Fagan] just tells me what Brooklyn is about.” And he did! So, at a recent show at City Winery, she covered it. All does indeed appear to be forgiven.Continue reading »
Kurt Vile’s new album (watch my moves) features 14 original songs and one surprise cover: Bruce Springsteen’s “Wages Of Sin.” To say this isn’t an oft-covered song is putting it mildly; the only prior version SecondHandSongs lists is the one by Damien Jurado and Rosie Thomas that ranked high on our Best Springsteen Covers Ever list, from the tribute album Badlands – A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.Continue reading »
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!
For an artist who never cracked the top 50 in the U.S., Garland Jeffreys has left quite a footprint. A friend of Lou Reed’s when they were students at Syracuse University, Jeffreys went on to perform on John Cale’s solo debut Vintage Violence before striking out on his own. His mix of rock, folk, soul, reggae, and more made him hard to pigeonhole, but the people who knew, knew. Rolling Stone named him the Best New Artist of 1977, a year that saw debuts from the Clash, the Jam, Talking Heads, Television, and more. Far from prolific – he released five albums between 1983 and 2013 – Jeffreys still secured a devoted following, especially in Europe. Though he no longer tours, he continues to write, maintains an active Twitter presence, and a documentary is in the works to raise awareness of this rare giant of the past half-century-plus. Continue reading »
To come up with our year-end list, we listened to thousands of covers.
That’s not an exaggeration, or loosely throwing around “thousands” for effect. My iTunes tells me I personally listened to and rated 1,120 new covers in 2021. And I’m just one of a dozen people here. Many of those thousands of covers were very good! But “very good” isn’t good enough for our annual year-end Best Cover Songs list. So when we say these 50 are the cream of the crop, we mean it.
They, as usual, have little in common with each other. A few tie into current events: Artists we lost, social justice concerns, live music’s fitful return. Most don’t. But does a doom metal cover of Donna Summer really need a reason to exist? How about African blues Bob Dylan, New Orleans bounce Lady Gaga, or organ ballad Fleetwood Mac? Nah. We’re just glad they’re here.
So dive into our countdown below – and, if you want us to send you a couple hundred Honorable Mentions culled from those thousands, join the Cover Me Patreon.
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.
One of the best things to come out of the coronavirus lockdown, should one be allowed to say such a thing, has been the run of homespun lockdown recordings, the artists stranded at their homes with neither the staples of touring or studio recording being much accessible to them. Sadly, this too has also been one of the worst things of the pandemic, with rather too many bedroom warblings of the same old, same old staples and standards of coverland. Thankfully, Aoife O’Donovan’s Aoife Plays “Nebraska” is one of the former type. The simplicity of this performance is the strength here, the songs already spare and sparse, with O’Donovan’s rich vocal poignancy being the only change from the gruffer original. Even her guitar is almost only just there, like curls of smoke from a background smoldering grate, there more to add texture and atmosphere than necessarily to accompany. Continue reading »