Nov 042022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

dolly parton covers

Dolly Parton is a singer and a songwriter. I mention that obvious truth because these days it tends to get overshadowed by her other titles: Icon. Inspiration. National Treasure. The Only Human Being Alive Everyone Agrees On (Radiolab produced an entire nine-part radio series based on that premise). And she is all those things, but first and foremost she’s a working 9-to-5 musician who has been perfecting her craft for seven decades.

Parton says she wrote her first song as a five year-old in 1952. She hasn’t stopped writing songs since. She one estimated she’s amassed 10,000. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the verifiable numbers speak for themselves: 52 studio albums, 25 Number One songs, 100 million records sold worldwide. Just as important a tribute to her gifts, though, are how often her songs get covered. Not just the obvious ones, the “Jolene”s and “I Will Always Love You”s (though plenty of those, lord knows), but the album cuts, the singles that didn’t top the charts, and the songs she didn’t write herself but made into Dolly Parton songs anyway.

Some of the below covers sound a little bit like Dolly’s own music. Most do not. She considers herself straight country, not, as she made clear when first nominated for the Rock Hall earlier this year, rock and roll. But, in this list, she is rock and roll. And folk and pop and hip-hop and soul and a whole host of other genres. Dolly Parton may indeed be the only human being everyone agrees on. What a way to make a living.

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Oct 092022
 

Brother BrothersIs there a more evocative term than sibling harmony? And we are here talking about singing, rather than the standard well-rehearsed tales of dysfunctional derring-do betwixt embattled brothers, that usually renders the phrase, at best, ironic. No, this is that sweet spot, blood on blood, wherein the gene pool confers a mystic closeness between voices: think Everly, Louvin, McGarrigle. There are a lot, many falling loosely into country genres.

As do these guys, Adam and David Moss, who go a step further and are identical twins. Illinois natives, they grew up with their Dad’s record collection, singing along and honing the precision between their voices. Sure, Don and Phil figured large in that collection, it not long before comparisons were being made. With a couple of well-received albums and an EP under their belts, and tours supporting the likes of Sarah Jarosz, now seemed as good as any to drop a slew of covers (well, two months ago, actually – apologies for the delay).

A quick glance at the list of song might raise slight concern; do we really need yet another “These Days,” for one? Well, you know, maybe we do. Really. Let’s investigate.
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May 272022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

steve earle covers

Today, Steve Earle releases the fourth in his occasional series of covers albums. They pay tribute to his musical heroes and teachers who’ve passed on – Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker – plus, in one tragic case, his son Justin Townes Earle, who died in 2020.

We’ll be reviewing the new one, Jerry Jeff, in the near future, but as we celebrate covers by Steve Earle, we thought we’d also celebrate covers of Steve Earle. Though he’s never been a big generator of hit singles, this songwriter’s songwriter has had a number of songs become stealth standards, particularly in the Americana, folk, and alt-country worlds. When everyone from Johnny Cash to The Pretenders is singing your songs, you know you’re doing something right. Continue reading »

Oct 132021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best paul simon covers

“I usually come in second to Dylan,” Paul Simon once said, “and I don’t like coming in second.” Indeed, he’s had to deal with it literally ever since he was born, in 1941. We already celebrated Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday in May, and today we turn to the man Dylan has called “one of the preeminent songwriters of the times,” Paul Simon, as he hits his own 80th. Simon’s in the rarified air of someone whose songs get covered almost as much as Dylan’s (ugh – second place again), so for this month’s Best Covers Ever, we’re diving into covers of the entire Paul Simon catalog, both solo and with Simon and Garfunkel.

Another thing Dylan once said about Simon, in relation to his own music, is this: “I’m not Paul Simon. I can’t do that. My songs come out of folk music and early rock n’ roll, and that’s it. I’m not a classical lyricist, I’m not a meticulous lyricist. I don’t write melodies that are clever or catchy.”

False modesty aside, Dylan hits on some of what makes Simon’s work so beloved by other musicians. His melodies are clever and catchy. His lyrics are meticulous. In both words and music, Simon can use a little to say a lot. His songs have strong cores, but leave a lot of space for other artists to play around with. So it’s no surprise that the list below spans genres from punk, dance music, gospel, and more. You’ll hear every sound except one: Silence (sorry). No matter how afield the songs roam, though, they still sound like Paul Simon.

So enough talk about Simon being a perennial silver medal winner. His craft and his talent have earned him and his songs a place at the top of the medal podium, and these fifty covers prove it.

The list begins on Page 2.

Jun 042021
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams, the album, was the game changer for Lucinda Williams, the artist, even if few knew or realized it at the time. Sneaking out on Rough Trade records, home of the Smiths, it started a slow burn of releases, initially only by drip feed, speeding up over the ensuing decades to a now near insatiable speed.

Williams’ debut, 1979’s Ramblin’ On My Mind, was an overly polite album of blues covers and country staples. Next was Happy Woman Blues, a first stab at her own material, in 1980. Now, with her self-titled third record, she was finally paired with a band, and the combination of the developing rawness of her vocals, allied to some country-folkie-blues, was a hit more with critics than the public, a fate she was to endure for some time yet.
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Feb 122021
 

Off the Beaten Path looks at covers of songs from a less popular era in an artist’s career.

James Taylor

When you hear that an artist has done a James Taylor-penned cover, you can pretty safely assume that it is one of the following songs: “Fire And Rain,”, “Sweet Baby James,” or “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Those that choose to venture deeper tend to favor a little “Shower The People” or “Carolina In My Mind.” Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with those choices: I mean, they are all undeniable evergreen classics. And there have been some ridiculously good takes on a few of these songs, especially “Fire…” of which several are themselves total fire (check some of them out here).

But, if I can offer a little get-off-my-lawn style observation, this rigid devotion to a specific handful of songs can get a little repetitive. It also does something of a disservice to the Taylor catalog, which is hundreds of crazy wonderful songs deep. All of which is to say that it’s especially nice to hear an artist take a swing at a JT deep cut. An album track. A B-side. A non-single (or non-performing one). Thankfully, there are a few artists who’ve eagerly taken the plunge, proving there is a wealth of goodness to be had beyond the hits.

It’s time to open the JT deep-cut cover floodgates. Let’s let this crew of artists provide some glorious inspiration.
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