Apr 282020

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.


Deadicated is so much more than a great covers album; it’s a great album, period. But more, it also heralded the era for covers albums to be more than a leg up for aspiring musicians to get a grip on the slippery pole, by riding on the laurels of another more established act. This was one of the first tribute albums where the great and the good lined up to salute their peers.

But I’ll get back to that. My reasons for it attaining classic status stemming a whole lot more than from the fearsome reputation of the Dead. As a… well, whatever I was, I loved the idea of the Grateful Dead. But over here in Britain, there was no Deadhead culture as such. They came over, what, once? (Yup, Bickershaw Festival, 1972, as at least one contributor to the album knew only too well.) As an avid reader of New Musical Express and Melody Maker, the UK “inkies”, the musical press within whose hallowed pages they were ensured good copy, to me they were just the coolest dudes ever. I’d also read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was smitten.

But where to start? In truth, I was daunted, happier to wear the T-shirt than buy the music. I didn’t want it spoilt by any risk of finding the idea to be less than the reality of the dream.

Luckily a trip to Orlando, circa 1987, solved that conundrum, around about the time of In the Dark. Of course, the big hit single helped, even if there were more filler tracks than killer tracks on the album. Clearly I hadn’t quite got that the Dead were more a live experience than a studio band. Still haven’t, really; to this day, listening to live records has never been a great immersive for me. But, praise be, I loved the studio records, snapping up the back catalog.

When Deadicated dropped in 1991, I bought it, unheard. The roster of artists included an impossible array of my favorites: Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Dr. John, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies and more. Catnip and heaven combined. (Deadicated also served as a benefit for Rainforest Action Network, active to this day, a charity dedicated to the preservation of these vital once macro-climates, shrinking by the day through the scourge of deforestation.)
Continue reading »

Feb 102009

workingman's dead coversI’ve been to Bonnaroo two times, but somehow the traditional vibe hasn’t hit me; I still don’t like jam bands. In fact, I may be the only person alive who prefers the Grateful Dead as an album band. In the studio they’re forced to keep a certain focus lacking in the twenty-minute jam noodles they seem incapable of avoiding live. Album-wise, however, this and American Beauty are certified classics. A few songs on the latter annoy me (read: “Truckin’”), but every song on Workingman’s Dead gets my toes tapping.

Jammy Dead covers abound, making this potentially the easiest cover disc I’ve ever done. I tried to branch out a little bit though so, while there are a few jammy elements, there’s also a strong jazz-folk current running through this list. Spark one up and turn on, tune in, drop out.

Indigo Girls – Uncle John’s Band

The girls keep the folk harmony styling of the first, but make it bop and roll. This and the Zevon below come off a hit-or-miss Dead covers come called, moderately creatively, Deadicated. [Buy]

Henry Kaiser – High Time

Piano jazz brings out the heartache of this duet. I can’t figure out who the female vocalist is here, but if you like the sound check out Eternity Blue, his album of Dead covers. [Buy]

Stiff Dead Cat – Dire Wolf

A unique name for a band certainly, but somehow their sound fits. It’s ugly, raw, and going slightly sour. Some fast-paced bluesing here, they go so far as to drastically reinvent the chorus with a completely new cadence. Once you get the original out of your head, it works great. [Buy]

Catherine Russell – New Speedway Boogie

Another one for the female vocal fans out there, Russell’s take grooves and swings propelled by a bassline worth of Phil Lesh himself. Many artists here rely on the harmony stylings of the originals, but Catherine proves she needs no help by wrapping her voice around each word so soulfully you know anyone else would just distract. [Buy]

The Waybacks – Cumberland Blues

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It would be insulting to Jerry and co. not to include a live take somewhere in here, so here’s one by a band that shares the Dead ethos of sharing concert recordings. The Waybacks acoustic-bluegrass jam this one out to thirteen minutes, but you can find many more covers of it at archive.org. [Buy]

Emory Joseph – Black Peter

Another tribute album worth getting, Fennario: Songs by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, EJ plucks his acoustic along with periodic flourishes of drum, organ, or whatever else strikes his fancy. It gives the proceedings the ode of a funeral dirge, but slowly builds into celebratory gospel. [Buy]

Desert Rain – Easy Wind

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Another live one here, it’s the rare imposition of an electric guitar in this set. The guitar makes up for it by distortion-soloing throughout the song, vying with vocals and harmonica for brash attention. [Buy]

Warren Zevon with David Lindley – Casey Jones

One of my favorite songwriters, Warren Zevon is no slouch at the art of the cover either. Here he keeps the spirit of the original intact while mixing some fun rock vibes. Nice to see Lindley here as well who, in a weird twist of fate, has spent a lot of time collaborating with the aforementioned Henry Kaiser. Catchiest song about a cocaine-addled train engineer headed to his doom ever! [Buy]