Dec 182020
 

Follow all our Best of 2020 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

Typically, the world of cover songs does not change that much year-to-year. You can point to big shifts across decades, sure, but the difference between cover songs in 2018 and 2019, broadly speaking? Negligible. But 2020 was – in this as in everything else – very different.

As concerts ground to a sudden halt, musicians turned to live-from-quarantine home performances, first on their social media, then, once some kind of business model got built up, on various paid platforms. And cover songs were a big part of that. Some musicians did themed covers nights, like Ben Gibbard on YouTube early on or Lucinda Williams’ more produced Lu’s Jukebox series more recently. Others just felt the freedom in such an intimate environment to try things out, spontaneously covering influences, inspirations, or even songs they only half knew. We collected dozens of those early home covers in our Quarantine Covers series, and still only hit a small fraction.

Musicians eventually settled in, and productions got a little more elaborate than the staring-at-your-iPhone-camera look. Witness the heavy metal comedy series Two Minutes to Late Night, which transitioned from a long-running live show in New York City to a series of YouTube covers with dozens of metal-scene ringers covering songs from their couches, corpse paint and all. Witness Miley Cyrus’s endless series of killer cover locales, from a fire pit to an empty Whisky a Go Go. Or witness long-running radio covers series like BBC’s Live Lounge or Triple J’s Like a Version – often the source of a song or two on these lists. First they had musicians tape special covers from home, then, in the BBC’s case, they moved to a giant warehouse studio for suitable social distancing. (Triple J’s pretty much back to post-coronavirus business as usual – sure, Australia, rub it in.)

There’s one other major way covers reflected 2020, and it’s almost too painful to think about, so I’ll just list their names. John Prine. Adam Schlesinger. Hal Willner. Charley Pride. So many musicians taken by this virus, many reflected in some of these covers (Pride’s death happened after our list was finalized, but tributes are already rolling in). In a year filled with tragedies, covers offered one place for musicians and fans to find solace.

Many of the songs on our year-end list reflect this terrible year in one way or another. But you know what? Many don’t. Because covers can also offer a fun respite from all the stress. Doom metal Doobie Brothers? Post Malone on mandolin? A viral TikTok hit by a guy who calls himself Ritt Momney? Those have nothing to do with anything! But they’re what we live for.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

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Sep 302020
 
cover songs september 2020
Amigo the Devil – Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood cover)

When we last heard Amigo the Devil, he was stripping down a Tom Jones song to create a haunting murder ballad. Now he does the same to another highly polished pop song – but a much more recent one. “[The original is] this very confidence-boosting, really good-feeling, power-infusing song,” Amigo’s Danny Kiranos told Rolling Stone. “I was curious what it would sound like if you took away the positive nature of it and kept the lyrics, essentially the emotions they are portraying.” Continue reading »

Sep 282020
 
ritt momney

Utah-based teen band turned solo project Ritt Momney has released a cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s R&B hit “Put Your Records On.” Only 20 years old and one LP into his career, main man Jack Rutter has seen this breakthrough hit land him a major-label record deal. Originally released independently in April, the summery track achieved viral success on TikTok – it currently has over 23 million streams on Spotify. In a Rolling Stone interview, Rutter described the track’s popularity as “an almost overnight shift”. Continue reading »

Nov 222019
 

Come On Up To The HouseThere are several reasons why Come On up To The House: Women Sing Waits had to be more than good, not least the fact this is scarcely the first such project. Waits cover albums by individual female artists – Holly Cole and Scarlett Johansson, just as a couple f’rinstances – are already lining up in judgement and for comparison. Then there are the myriad individual covers songs scattered across the repertoire of innumerable women of note. Why, I can find ten quality female-sung versions of “The Heart of Saturday Night” at the drop of a pork pie hat.

So why should this be so? What’s the draw here? Firstly must be the innate quality of the songs, somehow inhabiting a timeless era unsullied by the insistent imprints of any one style or structure. Secondly – and I tread carefully here – Waits’ voice and arrangements aren’t overly, shall we say, to all tastes, the combination of corncrake and clatter sometimes masking the delicate beauty in some of his work, especially the later years. The female voice will often draw this closer into focus than ol’ ‘Frank’ at his wildest, silk purses from, well, you know. Finally, it is now so very long since any new, it seems timely to have a reminder of him. And maybe a prompt for his muse? Continue reading »

Aug 272019
 
women sing waits tribute

One of the best tribute albums of the 2000s was 2008’s Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity. Now there’s a sequel of sorts, albeit one produced by a different label: Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits.

Out November 22 on Dualtone, the album features 12 artists across generations covering Tom Waits hits and deep cuts. Personally, I’m excited to hear Phoebe Bridgers tackle “Georgia Lee” and Kat Edmonson do “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” – two songs that don’t get covered often enough. But the hits are there too: “Jersey Girl” (Corinne Bailey Rae), “Ol’ 55” (Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer), “Hold On” (Aimee Mann), and of course “Downtown Train” (Courtney Marie Andrews). Continue reading »

Jan 312016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

justintimberlake

Justin Timberlake shouldn’t be what he is. Starting out in a boy band doesn’t normally signal the beginning of a long career. N’Sync was, like most boy bands before them, a meteor, designed to burn hot and then disappear. But a funny thing happened: Justin Timberlake emerged out of what was left and got to work transforming himself into a star.

When N’Sync put itself on the shelf in 2002, Justin responded by putting out his first solo album, Justified. He made no secret of his ambitions, stating he’d like to pattern himself after Michael Jackson. A lofty goal, but Timberlake put the time in, touring hard and putting out danceable tunes with wide appeal. His next album, though, would put the world on notice.
Continue reading »