Thirty years ago, Garth Brooks released his breakthrough album No Fences. Powered by instant classics such as “Friends in Low Places,” “The Thunder Rolls,” and “Unanswered Prayers,” the record would ultimately sell 18 million copies. In the process, it transformed Brooks into a stadium-filling phenomenon and redefined the parameters for success in country music. The album is a quintessential piece of what we now call ’90s County, a hybrid of neo-traditional country twang mixed with ’70s-style acoustic rock and pop balladry.
Listening to No Fences with three decades of hindsight, it’s clear Brooks is more than a singer. He’s an epic storyteller. Whether he’s singing about bank foreclosures, religious epiphanies at high school football games or going to that place where “the whiskey drowns, and the beer chases” one’s blues away, he delivers every line as if he’s trying to convey some deep universal truth. Like many a country star before and after him, Brooks is a master of interpreting other people’s words. Though he co-wrote several of the songs, he sings every track as if it’s his own. Continue reading »
Over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work making our list of The Best Cover Songs of 2016. Narrowing it down to 50 caused some excruciating choices, that’s how many great covers there were this year.
We’ll be posting the full list next week (and “Best Cover Albums” this Thursday), but as a little appetizer, here are our Honorable Mentions, covers we loved and still wanted to spotlight as among the best 2016 had to offer.Continue reading »
August Wilson’s play Seven Guitars depicts the tragic death of a black blues musician unable to take advantage of his stardom because he can’t get his guitar out of the pawnshop so that he might return to Chicago and record another hit single on a better contract. The play is set in 1948, a year after real-life inspiration Blind Willie Johnson, the gravely voiced musician eulogized in the new tribute album God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson, succumbed to pneumonia while living in the ashes of a house that had burned down a week earlier. Despite having recorded thirty songs, Johnson died broke, famously using wet newspaper as blankets during his final days.
There are a million ways to evaluate God Don’t Never Change; most of them, I think, will settle on the fact that it will likely go down as one of the best American roots albums of 2016. I think so too. However, the lengthy discussion that follows will not just be about the incredible music of Blind Willie Johnson or even the deserving covers featured on this album. In what is perhaps a risky move in the world of music criticism, I want to frame my discussion of this album around issues of race and culture because we are a site dedicated to covers: the origins of the blues raise questions germane to any discussion of what it means to cover songs belonging to a genre that originally existed to give voice to the experiences and suffering of a specific group of people. Continue reading »
Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.
Bob Dylan turns 70 tomorrow. We pondered long and hard how to celebrate. This seemed to us deserving of more than the usual They Say It’s Your Birthday collection, and we knew we could do better than another Best Dylan Covers list. We wanted to do something truly special.
So we’re celebrating Dylan’s birthday this week by doing something no one’s ever done before: compiling covers of every single Bob Dylan song. If he released it on a regular studio album, we’ve got it, for a grand total of 279 songs.* Our entire staff has dug deep to find the hidden gems alongside the classics. We’ve got your “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Tangled Up in Blue,” sure, but we’ve also got your “Cat’s in the Well” and “Po’ Boy.” Heck – we’ve even got the Jesus stuff!Continue reading »
The first post of the month always features a look at songs covering every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The King of the Delta Blues Singers compilation didn’t come out until 23 years after Robert Johnson’s untimely death, but was such a force in the burgeoning folk movement of the early sixties that it quickly brought his music to the masses, inspiring young singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Rolling Stone called it the 27th greatest album of all time, and if that doesn’t qualify it for inclusion here I don’t know what does.
Tom Hanway – Cross Road Blues
First up we have a nice banjo duet acquired from our friends over at Cover Lay Down. Hanway’s clearly not a real big Cream fan. [Buy]
Peter Green – Terraplane Blues
He of Fleetwood Mac fame, Green ditched the grandiose pop sounds for his Robert Johnson Songbook. He can play slide guitar with the best of them though. If the Mac hadn’t worked out, he could have a good career in a bloozey bar band. [Buy]
Patti Smith – Come On In My Kitchen
Here it is, the pièce de résistance. Our Twitter followers will know I mentioned a cover I searched for for two years. Smith only released it on her rare Summer Cannibals single in 1996 and it is nowhere on the internet. Until now. Enjoy. [Buy]
Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band – Walkin’ Blues
The Hellhound on My Trail tribute album features such heavy-hitters as Taj Mahal and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, but nothing tops Trucks leading wife Tedeschi through a soulful wail of a number. [Buy]
Beck – Last Fair Deal Gone Down
We recently posted a live version of Beck doing this one with one Mr. Jack White (scroll down for more of that young man), but here’s a studio version for the Harry Smith Project covers set. [Buy]
Bob Dylan – 32-20 Blues
Bob Dylan’s covered half these songs in his career. This is the most recent, released last year on his Tell-Tale Signs outtakes set. Stay glued to Twitter though; I’ll tweet out more Dylan Does Johnson later this week. [Buy]
Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins – Kind Hearted Woman Blues
Margolin’s got blues chops galore: he used to be in Muddy Waters’ band. The real star here is the boogie-woogie piano of Mr. Perkins, currently in his 96th year and still kicking. [Buy]
The White Stripes – If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
The Stripes covered Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” on their first album, but this live recording comes from six years later, at a stop on their 2005 Get Behind Me Satan tour. Anyone who’s ever seen a live “Death Letter” (like this one) knows what Jack White is a blues-guitar badass. [Buy]
The Gun Club – Preachin’ Blues
The Gun Club actually changed the name here to “Preaching the Blues.” Oh, and they made it a wee bit louder. [Buy]
Johnny Winter – When You Got a Good Friend
Winter is known for his fiery electric guitar solos, but in this recording from Woodstock he shows he’s just as adept on acoustic. Give this man a slide and get the fuck out of his way. [Buy]
L?k?o – Ramblin’ On My Mind
It’s one of the unsolved riddles of the world why all music that comes out of Japan seems really bizarre, like made by A.D.D. children after a 24-hour Dragonball Z marathon. This comes off an all-Japanese tribute album Up Jumped the Devil: A Tribute to Robert Johnson and very few of the songs are recognizable. The re-re-remix sounds on this come off nicely though. [Buy]
John Mellencamp – Stones In My Passway
Mellencamp released blues/folk cover album Trouble No More to fulfill his contract with Columbia in 2003, proving that this “just a littly ditty ‘bout Jack and Diane” heartland rocker can sing the twelve-bar like no one’s business. [Buy]
Led Zeppelin – Traveling Riverside Blues
The Zep can come off a little pompous on some of their Lord of the Rings-aping originals, but there is no disputing their blues-rock prowess. [Buy]
This smokey late-night live recording brings folk, country, and Beelzebub himself to the table with creaky violin and Margo Timmins’ spooky vocal delivery. Satan may be in for a shock when this lass shows up. [Buy]