Jan 142022
 

Cat PowerAt this stage of her career, Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, is as arguably well known for her cover versions as her own songs. Covers is her third dedicated album thereto (we’ve looked at the first two before), with a scattering more across the rest of her other output. When other artists reach their third such collection, whispers carry that this may be a sign of fading inspiration. If Marshall’s covers were just a stack of facsimile copies, cut’n’pasted from the usual culprits, possibly that worry could carry some weight for her as well. But Marshall has long since stopped having to defend her love of remorphing and remolding the songs of others, oft citing that being her approach, anyway and as well, to her own songs. It is only recordings that are ever frozen in time and space, and most performers with any lasting legacy are constantly rewriting and revising, a view we heartily here endorse. And, as if to underline that, one of the “covers” here is of one of her old songs, “Hate,” here newly named as “Unhate.”

So what do we get here? Twelve songs, from this century to just over halfway through the last, from artists some celebrated and some surprising, taking no heed of genre or expectation in the songs chosen. So Frank Ocean sits alongside Nick Cave, Shane McGowan with Lana del Rey, with Billie Holiday and Kitty Wells (Kitty Wells, fer chrissakes!) for good measure. Plus, as if deliberately to contradict my earlier comment, there is even a cover of Jackson Browne’s surely by now overly frequently presented “These Days.”
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Oct 082021
 
Cat Power Covers

Throughout indie rock’s ascendance in the ‘00s, Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) was one of the foremost musicians to keep the flame of cover songs alive. Marshall’s epic pair of cover LPs in that decade, 2000’s The Covers Record and 2008’s Jukebox, were luminous and sharp — featuring pointed, personal interpretations of the likes of Smog, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, James Brown, alongside legends of blues. While the albums may not have had an outsized impact (Marshall was often keen to deliberately tone her versions down, cooling the temperature and sitting back in the groove), both were brilliant vehicles for her evolution as an artist. Looking back, too, her open-hearted approach to interpreting songs of all sorts— commingling rock, folk, blues, punk and classic R&B in the same stew — was a harbinger for the genre-hopping that’s become standard in the years since Jukebox’s 2008 release. It seems only natural now, for example, to cover The Rolling Stones as a solemn dirge; to play a doo-wop classic on autoharp; or to take on Kander & Ebb with a band comprised of leading Memphis soul session players. Continue reading »

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 »

Mar 042020
 
lume swim good

Originally appearing on his stellar 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank Ocean’s romantically fatalistic R&B groove “Swim Good” qualifies as a bit of a modern day classic. It’s a vivid pop epitaph, describing his last ride in a Lincoln Town Car, with endless heartbreak as both his driver and passenger – with a little Tyler the Creator thrown in for good measure. It somehow manages to be both dramatically dark and empowering, a song perfectly built for solo listening. Continue reading »

Feb 282018
 
best cover songs february

Today we continue the tradition we started way back one month ago. Since we’re still new at this, I’ll reiterate that our picks are unranked and semi-impulsive. Even the un-blurbed “Honorable Mentions” at the bottom aren’t necessarily worse than the rest; in many cases, we’ve just already written about them at length and have little else to say.

Okay, disclaimers behind us, let’s dive in. Continue reading »

Feb 232018
 
frank ocean moon river

The 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s has a complicated legacy rivaling that of Gone with the Wind. The images of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of the famed Manhattan jewelry store are some of the most memorable of the 20th century. Yet, Mickey Rooney’s yellowface portrayal of the Japanese landlord I. Y. Yunioshi renders the film almost unwatchable today.

The movie’s Oscar-winning theme song “Moon River,” with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has long transcended the era in which it was written. The song’s instantly recognizable melody has made it a standard through the ages, with versions by a wide range of artists from Frank Sinatra to The Killers. On Mancini’s Spotify page, Hepburn’s original from the movie and the main-title instrumental rendition are his top two tracks, beating out the equally iconic “Pink Panther Theme.” Frank Ocean recently added to “Moon River’s” exhaustive legacy by releasing a cover.

Ocean has made a name for himself as a musical trailblazer with his hypnotic blend of R&B and hip hop. Ocean sings most of the song in a raspy, almost bluesy voice. The accompaniment itself is rather sparse: one note simply repeating itself again and again, almost like a heartbeat. Ocean, singing lead and backup, uses his voice to carry the melody. He inverts the lyrics, shifting emphasis away from the words “moon river” and placing them squarely on the words “two drifters,” singing them with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice. The song fades out with soft electronic effects, sounding like it would be at home on Ocean’s other albums. With an artist of Ocean’s caliber taking on the tune, it’s clear that Mancini and Mercer’s iconic song from the early ‘60s is in no danger of fading away.

Click here to listen to our five favorite covers of “Moon River.”