Jan 302021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

There are few bands with such a way with covers as the Cowboy Junkies, that in no small part to the icy warmth of singer, Margo Timmins, an astonishing 60 this month. She was born in Montreal, 1/27/61, and I have long been a fan, maybe not from the very start, but certainly once ‘Trinity Sessions’ threw down the gauntlet, quietly and emphatically. Birmingham Town Hall, in the English midlands, used to be a dreadful venue, any sounds not completely muffled being left free to echo around the pillars, hopeless for any band with any degree of amplification. It has since had a refurb, and has lost, thankfully, that legacy, but the Junkies were perfection there then, every pin dropping with perfect clarity, the most important pin being that of Timmins, an ethereal shimmer filling the gap between the controlled calm of the instrumentation.

In the subsequent years the band, Timmins and her two brothers, Michael on guitar and Peter on drums, along with family friend Alan Anton playing bass, have strayed little from that template. Initially supplemented by the instrumentation of Jeff Bird and others, adding mandolin, harmonica, dobro, steel and fiddle, latterly it would become the core quartet, as blues became as much an influence as country had been before. The band had been started by Michael, a record-hungry youth who had been in bands since high school. Margo had never sung in public before he goaded her to add vocals, and she initially sang facing away from the stage, such was her crippling shyness, echoing the experiences of Michael Stipe and Jim Morrison, two other equally iconic vocalists.

Over a 35-plus-year career, the Cowboy Junkies have produced 18 studio albums, six live albums, and seven compilations, with innumerably more material courtesy their website. (Sadly it seems that much of that rare and archive material in currently unavailable.) Covers have always been a feature; most of their records containing one or two, and they’re staples on tribute projects, to artists as varied as Gram Parsons and Blind Willie Johnson. In 2009, Timmins also found the time to release an all-cover solo album, enticingly entitled Margo’s Corner: The Ty Tyrfu Sessions, Volume 1. She has also added her froideur to any number of other artists, as a backing or additional singer, usually to fellow Canadians.

Let’s drill down into some of the best examples of her transformative skills, starting with perhaps the best known and, arguably, the best example.
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Dec 092020
 
haim hard headed woman

A virtual festival celebrating the music of Cat Stevens aired on YouTube on December 5 with 42 different artists covering his songs. Passenger did “Father and Son,” James Morrison did “The Wind” and Imelda May did “How Can I Tell You.” Rock trio Haim, who have received quite a bit of positive attention this year for their third album Women in Music Part III, was the second act to perform, delivering a beautiful acoustic cover of “Hard Headed Woman.” Continue reading »

Nov 302020
 
best cover songs november
Ashley McBryde – You’re Lookin’ at Country (Loretta Lynn cover)

The Country Music Hall of Fame recently presented a video series called Big Night at the Museum, getting modern country and Americana artists to cover Hall of Famers. Lucinda Williams did Johnny Cash, Miranda Lambert did John Prine, and a bunch more. Best by a blonde-streaked hair was Ashley McBryde, a performer who skirts the line between country, Americana, and brawny rock, proving her bona fides on Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Lookin’ at Country.” Continue reading »

Oct 152020
 

Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Will Oldham have been covering songs together for years, dating back to a 1994 EP where, as Smog (Callahan) and Palace Music (Oldham), they tackled Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will Be Fine.” Now they’re continuing the collaboration on a pair of new covers – not officially announced as the start of a covers album or anything, but one wonders… Continue reading »

Aug 302020
 

molly tuttle but i'd rather be with youIf I say that Molly Tuttle is a name we will all hear more of in the future, I hope that sounds nothing like hyperbole. She is a genuine talent, a virtuoso on her bluegrass-tinged acoustic guitar, blessed also with a sweet yet sassy voice and a gift to pen songs that both encompass the present, whilst invoking the rich musical heritage of, whether you like the phrase or not, Americana.

Not for nothing did Tuttle win instrumentalist of the year at the 2018 Americana awards, and guitarist of the year at the International Bluegrass Awards of the year before (the first woman to receive the latter honor, and at age 24 besides). Being brought up in her family band, the Tuttles, under the expert supervision of her Dad, Jack, a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and tutor himself, probably helped, but is was as she cut loose that the began to make her own name. Crowdfunding her debut, the EP Rise, gave her sufficient notice for Compass Records to pick her up, re-releasing Rise and her subsequent full length debut When You’re Ready, which dropped last year. The fact that guest vocals were provided by Jason Isbell gives an idea of her weight in music circles.

So why would she follow up these largely self-written (or co-written) projects with a covers album? And so soon? The answer is that neither did she expect to, the effects both of the coronavirus lockdown and the early March tornado that devastated her adopted hometown of North Nashville being a joint stimulus. Seeking inspiration in the absence of any live outlet, she began to revisit the records of her youth. Teaching herself pro-tools, she laid down some tracks, sending them to producer Tony Berg, who sent them on to various other musicians for them to flesh out, all working separately and remotely. Not that you can tell.

Now, with the bio thus far, is …but i’d rather be with you going to be a litany of country standards and bluegrass staples? Fear not, anything but. Tuttle’s inspirations range widely among artists as diverse as Rancid and FKA Twigs, embracing also the Rolling Stones, Harry Styles(!) and the National. The only nod to her received tradition comes from songbook of Karen Dalton, herself a far from typical Nashville denizen. As an incentive, it is also entirely safe for the banjo averse.
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Jan 022019
 
cover songs 2018

We already counted down the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2018 but, inevitably, many of our staff’s personal favorites get left off. So, before we begin scouting for what might become the best cover of 2019, we share the best of the rest, an unranked hodgepodge of worthy covers that only just missed our year-end countdown. Continue reading »