A virtual festival celebrating the music of Cat Stevens aired on YouTube on December 5 with 42 different artists covering his songs. Passenger did “Father and Son,” James Morrison did “The Wind” and Imelda May did “How Can I Tell You.” Rock trio Haim, who have received quite a bit of positive attention this year for their third album Women in Music Part III, was the second act to perform, delivering a beautiful acoustic cover of “Hard Headed Woman.”
Few weeks pass without some prominent new Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve been coming especially quickly of late. No surprise, really, with the man’s own posthumous album out last week to rave reviews. So, to try to keep up, we’ve rounded up a few of the best recent entries, in order from most Leonard Cohen-y to least Leonard Cohen-y.
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 Strokes’ “You Only Live Once” comes in two forms: as the opening track and third single from their album First Impressions of Earth and also as a demo version with the title “I’ll Try Anything Once,” released on the b-side of their “Heart in a Cage” single. The “You Only Live Once” single is upbeat, catchy, and features the full strength of the band. The “I’ll Try Anything Once” demo, however, is very different. It’s this version that Haim cover so beautifully during their recent visit to BBC Radio 1’s Piano Sessions.
I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.
What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s.