Over the weekend at a show in Essex Junction, Vermont, Guster frontman Ryan Miller joked that, with two of their four members now living in Vermont, maybe they were more of a Vermont band than Phish – which, though they famously formed in the state, also now has only two of the four members living there. A few songs later, he sealed the Vermont-cred deal by bringing out one of those two, Phish bassist Mike Gordon. Gordon jammed a bit on Guster original “Ruby Falls,” then they broke into a cover of the Pixies classic “Here Comes Your Man.”
Anais Mitchell & The Staves – Strong Enough (Sheryl Crow cover)
For a few years now, long-running French video company La Blogothèque has been filming a series they call “One to One” at Bon Iver’s various European festivals. They blindfold one audience member and bring them into a private room for a concert for one. Bon Iver did one, and Damien Rice’s is a must-watch. Personally, that experience sounds more awkward than enjoyable – especially with all the cameras in your face – so I’d rather just watch someone else’s personal concert on video. This one is a gem, feature The Staves with Anais Mitchell delivering a gorgeously-harmonized Sheryl Crow cover.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Let’s start by defining our terms: This list concerns the best covers of the Talking Heads. Because the best covers by the Talking Heads is a very short list.
Here is that list, in its entirety:
Peter, Bjorn and John’s 2006 hit “Young Folks” is one of the catchiest indie songs of the past five years. The whistle-happy story of girl meets boy seems like it’s appeared in every commercial, movie trailer, college student’s mix tape and grocery store playlist since it was first featured on the Swedish band’s breakthrough album Writer’s Block. It’s also been covered from everyone from British pop band The Kooks to British soft rock singer James Blunt.
I saw Randy Newman a few weeks back (review here) and it reminded me how underrated he is as a popular songwriter. Sure, the songs are all sung from the point of view racists, perverts, rich assholes and generally unlikeable people, but that just makes the more interesting than the “I love you, you don’t love me, boo hoo” school of tune creation. Luckily, musicians seem to share my reverence for the man more known for his Pixar ditties than serious compositions, and covers of his songs abound. So here’s his most famous album and, though there’s no “Short People” or “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” to be found, these tunes are all classics in their own right.
Kirsty MacColl – Sail Away
You probably know MacColl from her role as the potty-mouthed girlfriend on The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” She’s a lot less belligerent here. [Buy]
The Bobs – Lonely at the Top
I’d love to put a Frank Sinatra cover here, as the song was written for him, but unfortunately he turned it down on the grounds that his audience wouldn’t realize it was a joke. Sounds to me like he just needs a better audience. Anyway, in lieu of that, here’s some funky a capella, sounding like a brass swing band, without the band. [Buy]
Wanda Jackson – He Gives Us All His Love
Time for the religious material. Jackson took these lyrics to heart on a gospel album with the unsubtle title Praise the Lord. One wonders if she knew the original context of this song, on an album that all features “God’s Song” later where God sings, “Man means nothing, he means less to me than lowliest cactus flower.” I notice she didn’t cover that one. [Buy]
Fanny – Last Night I Had a Dream
Fanny isn’t the best choice to name your group, but there’s nothing awkward about his blasting soul, June Millington’s soul screams turning the quiet original up to eleven. [Buy]
Okkervil River – Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear
Newman has said this was his first off-beat song, written with a stranger character and a stranger plot. Its sing-song tune and animal circus narrative makes it a natural for kiddie albums and The Muppet Show (video), but there’s something a little darker under the surface I can’t quite put my finger on. [Buy]
Art Garfunkel – Old Man
Tough to find covers of this one with a far more popular Neil Young song of the same name. Garfunkel’s gorgeous take was worth the search, proving his voice was angelic with or without Paul by his side, and a master of tempo and pacing to boot. [Buy]
Wilco – Political Science
In New Year’s Eve ’04, Wilco played a late-night show at Madison Square Garden. After the ball dropped, they busted out a covers set that included some Judas Priest, Tom Petty, and this. The intro (not on the file, unfortunately) is priceless: “This next song is actually a foreign policy memo we found back stage. Must have been left here by the Republican National Convention. We took a little time tonight and we put it to music.” Some things haven’t changed. [Buy]
Bela Fleck – Burn On
From the Sail Away tribute album (available on iTunes), bluegrass master Béla Fleck lays down a guitar plucking instrumental that seems to sway in the breeze. [Buy]
Guster – Memo to My Son
Guster handles another obscurity on the aformentioned tribute album, giving it the old country-rock treatment. [Buy]
Michael Derning and Mia Arends – Dayton, Ohio – 1903
The folky Cover Art is the rare tribute disc to feature not one, but five Randy Newman covers (including “Simon Smith” and “Lonely at the Top” incidentally). A quiet acoustic duet changes the sound, but keeps the mood of the front-porch original. My question though, knowing Randy: Did something happen in Dayton in 1903, or is this a song to be taken at face value? [Buy]
Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule – You Can Leave Your Hat On
You know the Joe Cocker version, and probably the almost-the-same Tom Jones version too. But here’s acoustic blues, if Robert Johnson and Rosetta Tharpe did a stomping duet. [Buy]
Etta James – God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)
The other half of that religion two-pack mentioned early. James understated blues singing works far better than one would have good reason to expect on this little pessimistic, nihilistic ditty. [Buy]