Aug 102021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

20th Century

People come up with crazy schemes all the time – what’s less common is when someone actually goes through with said crazy scheme. Americana legend Peter Stampfel, formerly of The Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs, is that someone. Continue reading »

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.
Continue reading »

Mar 062020
 

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

Moondog Matinee

Just five years on from the release of the rapturously-received Music From Big Pink album in 1968, simmering tension had already begun to erode The Band’s all-for-one-and-one-for-all dynamic. “We couldn’t get along… ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ and all that stuff was over,” drummer Levon Helm told GRITZ magazine in 2002.  The decision to record an album of covers appears to have been something of a tension-relieving exercise, a chance for The Band to let their hair down and remind themselves why they had started making music together in the first place. No Civil War epics or songs lamenting the plight of the American farmer to be found here: Moondog Matinee was designed to be nothing more than a straight-up party. Ironically, however, it’s the diversions into more sombre territory that provide some of the the album’s strongest moments.
Continue reading »

Jul 252018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

great lake simmers cover songs

Toronto folk-rock mainstays Great Lake Swimmers are staying busy for the band’s 15th anniversary. In April, they released a six-song EP, and, rather than taking a breath, almost immediately announced a full-length album The Waves, The Wake, out next month. They’ll then embark on a North American tour this fall so extensive that there are multiple stops in Saskatchewan.

Check out the new single from The Waves, The Wake:

Before things get too nutty for the band, founding singer and songwriter Tony Dekker took a few minutes to tell us about his favorite cover songs. His tastes span a wide genre and time range, from a 1961 Fats Domino single to a tribute album that came out just a few months ago. Dig in below (then go read our feature on the band’s own covers from 2012). Continue reading »

Jan 312018
 
best cover songs january

At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close. Continue reading »

Nov 012017
 
killers fats domino

There’s a new word buzzing around the Internet to describe those unfortunate souls who were born between 1977 and 1983: Xennials. It’s a term for those who do not quite fit into Generation X or Generation Y. Born in 1981, The Killers lead vocalist Brandon Flowers falls squarely into this category.

During a recent performance at the New Orleans Voodoo Music + Arts Experience festival, Flowers described a musical induction ritual widely shared by members of his generation. As he introduced a tribute to the Crescent City’s recently departed rock ‘n’ roll founding father Fats Domino, Flowers described how he, and perhaps every other Xennial, first heard Domino’s music while driving in the car with his father. “The station was always set to the oldies,” he told the crowd. “And when Fats Domino came on, we always turned it up.” Continue reading »