Brandi Carlile – If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow cover)
This month, Austin City Limits held its eighth annual ACL Hall of Fame ceremony. The inductees were Joe Ely and Sheryl Crow. The latter was covered by, among others, Brandi Carlile, who also delivered Crow’s induction speech. It will surprise no one who’s ever seen Carlile perform on an award show before that she crushes it. (Find another Crow cover from the ceremony, by Jason Isbell, in the Best of the Rest below.)Continue reading »
Proving there is nothing like a Dylan covers project to pep up flagging inspiration, and proving also you just cannot have too many of such a thing, Dirt Does Dylan is a worthy addition to the shelves of similar, proving the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, almost as aged an act as is the Bard of Hibbing, have still got legs. Legs and, indeed, arms and voices, the better as to play this collection of, largely, older Dylan standards.
Since kicking off, back in 1966, the band have actually been quite shy of Dylan covers, a glance of their early album credits suggesting they were putting more eggs in the Jackson Browne basket, and I struggled, wading through their myriad releases to find much beyond their version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume Two, and that potentially only down to the presence of Messrs. McGuinn and Hillman as guests.
That said, founding member Jeff Hanna claims he first found his muse upon hearing Bob Dylan, then locking himself away in his bedroom, working on the chord structures of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” sharing that passion with Jimmie Fadden, who would be his longtime partner in the band they together formed. Fast forward five and a half decades, and Hanna and Fadden are still in the fold, with longtime stalwart Bob Carpenter and three new players, including Hanna’s son, Jaime. And is “Don’t Think Twice” still on the menu? You bet it it is! Continue reading »
Jason Isbell showed up at KEXP with 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden and played a session that dropped Monday. Isbell has been making up for lost (covid) time, fleshing out a full tour schedule for the rest of the year and putting out a Georgia-centric covers album (Georgia Blue) last fall with Brandi Carlile and others sharing vocal duties. Continue reading »
It feels like a cliché these days to start one of these year-end lists writing about “the times we live in,” but, as you read and listen to our picks, you’ll find the specter of the coronavirus and lockdown pretty unavoidable.
One of these albums is titled Songs from Isolation; another is Awesome Quarantine Mix-Tape. Even on some albums where it’s so blindingly obvious, it’s there. Aoife Plays Nebraska is a recording of a quarantine livestream she gave. Los Lobos envisioned Native Sons as a balm for being stuck at home, unable to tour. And then there’s the tribute to John Prine, the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, inspired by his death from the coronavirus last year.
But many of these albums recall better times too. Two are belated releases of in-real-life, pre-pandemic tribute concerts, one to Leonard Cohen and the other to Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes (well, I guess both of those subject are kind of bummers, in different ways…). Tributes abound to other recent deaths – Andy Gibb, Justin Townes Earle, Roky Erickson – but we have plenty to artists still with us too, like Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and a host of underground psych-rock bands you’ve never heard of.
Then there are those that don’t fit any narrative. An artist felt inspired by an unconnected bunch of songs, decided to cover ’em, and brought them all together into a cohesive record. What do Vampire Weekend and The Supremes have in common? Lauren O’Connell’s beatifully intimate imaginings. How about Allen Toussaint and Calexico? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss harmonizing all over ’em. Whether it’s a quote-unquote “lockdown record” or just someone saying, “hell, why not get a bunch of folkie weirdos to play Phish tunes?,” every album on this list brought something meaningful to – ugh – the times we live in.
Andrew VanWyngarden – Dance Monkey (Tones and I cover)
One of the biggest one-hit wonders of the last few years, pop singer Tones and I’s “Dance Monkey” emerged out of seeming nowhere to top charts across the world last year. In her home country of Australia, it is the longest chart-topper ever, breaking a record held by Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”! Despite its ubiquity, however, major covers have been sparse (perhaps because many people find the song, you know, annoying). Never one to shy away from putting off his audience, though, MGMT frontman Andrew VanWyngarden gave it a trippy psychedelic-folk cover as part of a radio station fundraising challenge.Continue reading »
It all started forty years ago today. On October 28, 1981, in Los Angeles, a Danish tennis player turned drummer by the name of Lars Ulrich met with guitarist James Hetfield for the first time. The two formed the basis for the band that would become Metallica.
In the ‘80s, the thrash metal quartet released four of arguably the greatest metal albums of all time: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All. That was just a warmup.
In 1991, the band released a self-titled album that would change their entire destiny, not to mention the history of metal. Dubbed simply Metallica, but otherwise known as The Black Album, the record became one of the best-selling hard rock albums in history. The record earned the band legions of new fans. It also triggered countless old ones, who were perturbed that the ultimate purveyors of thrash had gone “soft.” The record transformed Metallica into one of the biggest rock bands in the world. It’s a moniker they’ve carried ever since, even if their pace of album releases has slowed considerably.
Over the years, the band’s music has inspired numerous cover songs across multiple genres. Jazz, pop, rock, country, bluegrass, and numerous classical artists (not to mention countless metal bands) have taken on Metallica’s tracks. Adding more fuel to the proverbial cover fire, this year, to mark the 30th anniversary of The Black Album, the band commissioned an extensive tribute record dubbed The Metallica Blacklist. The album features cover songs by the likes of Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Darius Rucker, Miley Cyrus, My Morning Jacket, and Kamasi Washington.
So why has Metallica’s music inspired so many covers? Underneath the layers of distortion, hard-pounding double bass drums, and barbaric yowls, the band’s music and songwriting are strikingly complex. Listening to their original recordings, one can hear classical-style melodies, virtuosic guitar solos, and extended jams, as well as elements of classic, punk, and prog rock.
With the lyrics, one finds the band tapping into a deeper universe as well, exploring the lines between life, death, and spirituality. Their songs are filled with numerous biblical and religious references. Perhaps most famously, on “Enter Sandman,” the band quotes the prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” turning a child’s plea for salvation into a rumination on the horrors of the night.
Since their inception, Metallica has always been striving for something more profound. Many artists have heard the bells of inspiration toll. Here’s a list of 40 of the best Metallica covers from the last 40 years. – Curtis Zimmermann