Jan 262023
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best lucinda williams covers

Lucinda Williams has never had a big hit song. None of her singles have charted on the Top 40, or even on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at all. In fact, most of her songs don’t hit any chart.

You may already be thinking to yourself: Who cares! Giant pop-chart hits are not the way you measure the success of a singer and songwriter like Lucinda Williams. You know what is one possible way, though? Covers. (A few of which, incidentally, made her song hits in other hands.)

Like a few other songwriter’s-songwriter types we’ve covered in this series (John Prine, Steve Earle), the respect Lucinda gets from her peers and fans far outweighs her own commercial success. It’s probably the sort of acclaim she’d value more. Williams’ songs have been covered by her elders alongside a wide array of younger folk and indie artists. Earle, in fact, has called the album he co-produced, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, “one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in.”

None other than Bob Dylan himself, when he played her take on “Change the Locks” (covered twice on our list) on his Theme Time Radio Hour, compared her to Bessie Smith, calling her “another strong-hearted spirited woman.” He added cheekily, “Time Magazine called her America’s best songwriter in 2002. I guess I was out of town.”

Below, we’ve rounded up 25 equally strong-hearted, spirited covers. Lucinda, who turns 70 today, is no slouch at covers herself – don’t miss her recent Lu’s Jukebox series. But for her birthday, we honor her songwriting and let other artists do the heavy lifting.

25. John Mellencamp – Lafayette

Lucinda Williams’ first album was a collection of covers, but her second, Happy Woman Blues, consisted of all originals, kicked off by “Lafayette” – the first of her songs about her native Louisiana, but certainly not the last. It’s about how the singer misses Lafayette and how it took leaving to appreciate it, so she’s coming back. Because Lafayette is the center of Cajun culture, the song is fittingly a country/zydeco mix, and focuses on the eating, drinking, dancing and other wild times that she looks forward to repeating. John Mellencamp’s 2003 album Trouble No More was a collection of (mostly) blues and folk covers, and his spare take on “Lafayette” is more country-blues than Cajun. His gruff lead vocals are sometimes overshadowed by the twangy female background singer, but it’s a worthy effort. – Jordan Becker

24. Jimbo Mathus – Lake Charles


Picking a single track off Solo Blues Guitar: Jimbo Mathus Performs Lucinda Williams Car Wheels on a Gravel Road kind of defeats the purpose. As you can probably guess from that album title, it’s Mathus, of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame, performing Lucinda’s most iconic album in full (on, as the tin says, solo blues guitar). It’s a beautiful listen that you can hone in on or just let add atmosphere in the background. But, since we have to highlight one, “Lake Charles” will give you a good taste of his combination of finger picking and slide on that beautiful resonator guitar. – Ray Padgett

23. Dennis Mac Namara – I Envy the Wind


If there were a church devoted solely to unrequited love, where all those in the throes gathered to commiserate, “I Envy The Wind” would be the lead hymn in the songbook. Why this song has been covered so sparingly over the years remains a mystery. Hyperbolic hot take coming, but if ever a song was powerful and poised enough to knock “Hallelujah” off its ubiquitous and over-covered pedestal, “I Envy The Wind” is it. Dennis Mac Namera’s skeletal acoustic cover is home to a stunner of vocal performance, equal parts booming and fragile. The heartache and longing are oh so palpable, as is Mac Namera’s unabashed admiration for the song itself. Let us pray. – Hope Silverman

22. Peter Gallagher – Still I Long For Your Kiss

Lest anyone forget, Williams is every bit as much a singer and interpreter of the blues as she is of the broader country/Americana slant she is usually associated with. Check out her aforementioned first album, 1979’s Ramblin’ On My Mind, a set of largely nothing but the blues, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson and the like, with a token Hank Williams for good measure. Sure, her own version of “Still I Long For Your Kiss” carries a bluesy hint, but it took this fella to strip it right back, delectably so. This fella? Peter Gallagher. You’ll know him as an actor in loads of films and TV. But, as this clip shows, he can sing, really sing. This comes from a record he made in 2005, Seven Days In Memphis, of Southern soul belters backed by a crew of the best session men that producer Steve Cropper could find. The other singer here is his TV wife from The O.C., Kelly Rowan. – Seuras Og

21. Angel Olsen – Greenville


Angel Olsen dropped two terrific covers last June. Her version of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” recorded for the TV show Shining Girls, features haunting electronic textures underpinning her voice. It’s a surprisingly un-folky cover of one of Bob’s early folk songs. Alas, it came a year too late for our Best Bob Dylan Covers list. Her version of of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road standout “Greenville” though is just as good, guitar echoing behind her mesmerizing double-tracked vocals. – Ray Padgett

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Nov 192021
 

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!

John Mellencamp

I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think.
Continue reading »

Oct 072010
 

Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.

Two facts influenced today’s pick: One, last Saturday was Farm Aid 25 and two, today John Mellencamp turns 59. So what better way to celebrate both occasions than with a cover Mellencamp performed at a previous Farm Aid? As a member of the Farm Aid Board of Directors, the man has sung alongside Willie Nelson and Neil Young at almost all of them. That’s a lot of “Rain on the Scarecrow”s.

This particular video comes from Farm Aid 2003. Mellencamp had just released Trouble No More, his terrific blues covers album, and played a couple cuts from it. With some hot resonator slide from guitarist Andy York, Robert Johnson’s blues standard “Stones in My Passway” rolls along like good electric blues should. Happy birthday, John! Continue reading »

Jan 232010
 

Cover News is a weekly feature keeping you up to date on the goings-on in the world of cover tunes, tribute albums, etc. Plus, at the bottom we post the array of cover tunes we’ve been sent in the past week. Have you recorded a cool cover? Send an mp3 to the email address on the right and we’ll post it!





Blondie

January’s Cover Commissions is up and running! Check out info on Kristy Brannon, then tell her what song you want to hear. [Cover Me]

Rihanna covers “Redemption Song” to raise money for the Haiti Relief Fun. Since it’s such a good cause, I’ll say no more. [iTunes]

Speak of Haiti (and who isn’t speaking of Haiti), so many covers in last night’s telecast. From classics (Bruce Springsteen doing “We Shall Overcome”) to newcomers (Taylor Swift tackling Better Than Ezra), all the stars stepped up their game for a good cause. All the performances will be available for purchase on iTunes Monday, with all proceeds going to help. [MTV]

Blondie covers from A to Z for, you know, the next time you need eight different version of “Heart of Glass.” [Berkeley Place]

Peter Gabriel gets epic in a full-orchestration cover of the Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is a Cage.” Wait for it. [Stereogum]

The “I Wish I Was There” moment of the week: The Swell Season covering Springsteen’s “Drive All Night” with Clarence Clemons’ nephew. Prepare to swoon. [YouTube]

Dear obnoxious “Freebird” requesters: Conan ended his show performing it with Will Ferrell, Beck, Bill Gibbons, and Ben Harper. You won’t get it any better, so maybe now you can shut up. [YouTube]

Starbucks continues its apparently annual Sweetheart series with a disc of new covers by Spoon, Jose Gonzalez, The Long Winters and more. [Consequence of Sound]

Grizzly Bear and Hot Chip come from the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, but as two blog darlings maybe it was inevitably one would cover the other. [I Guess I’m Floating]

Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard covers Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” for Seattle… [GIVE Seattle]

…while Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes covers it for Haiti. [Paste]

This Week’s Submissions

Doron Deutsch and the Astronauts – Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen) [more]

Flecton Big Sky – Workin’ Man’s Blues (Merle Haggard) [more]

Knock ‘Em Alive – Paper in Fire (John Mellencamp) [more]

The Piano – Right Now (Akon) [more]

Julian Shah-Tayler – Cracked (Joaquin Phoenix/Antony Langdon) [more]

Send your cover to the email address on the right!

Nov 032009
 

The first post of the month always features a look at songs covering every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!


The King of the Delta Blues Singers compilation didn’t come out until 23 years after Robert Johnson’s untimely death, but was such a force in the burgeoning folk movement of the early sixties that it quickly brought his music to the masses, inspiring young singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Rolling Stone called it the 27th greatest album of all time, and if that doesn’t qualify it for inclusion here I don’t know what does.

Tom Hanway – Cross Road Blues

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First up we have a nice banjo duet acquired from our friends over at Cover Lay Down. Hanway’s clearly not a real big Cream fan. [Buy]

Peter Green – Terraplane Blues


He of Fleetwood Mac fame, Green ditched the grandiose pop sounds for his Robert Johnson Songbook. He can play slide guitar with the best of them though. If the Mac hadn’t worked out, he could have a good career in a bloozey bar band. [Buy]

Patti Smith – Come On In My Kitchen


Here it is, the pièce de résistance. Our Twitter followers will know I mentioned a cover I searched for for two years. Smith only released it on her rare Summer Cannibals single in 1996 and it is nowhere on the internet. Until now. Enjoy. [Buy]

Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band – Walkin’ Blues


The Hellhound on My Trail tribute album features such heavy-hitters as Taj Mahal and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, but nothing tops Trucks leading wife Tedeschi through a soulful wail of a number. [Buy]

Beck – Last Fair Deal Gone Down


We recently posted a live version of Beck doing this one with one Mr. Jack White (scroll down for more of that young man), but here’s a studio version for the Harry Smith Project covers set. [Buy]

Bob Dylan – 32-20 Blues


Bob Dylan’s covered half these songs in his career. This is the most recent, released last year on his Tell-Tale Signs outtakes set. Stay glued to Twitter though; I’ll tweet out more Dylan Does Johnson later this week. [Buy]

Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins – Kind Hearted Woman Blues


Margolin’s got blues chops galore: he used to be in Muddy Waters’ band. The real star here is the boogie-woogie piano of Mr. Perkins, currently in his 96th year and still kicking. [Buy]

The White Stripes – If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day


The Stripes covered Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” on their first album, but this live recording comes from six years later, at a stop on their 2005 Get Behind Me Satan tour. Anyone who’s ever seen a live “Death Letter” (like this one) knows what Jack White is a blues-guitar badass. [Buy]

The Gun Club – Preachin’ Blues


The Gun Club actually changed the name here to “Preaching the Blues.” Oh, and they made it a wee bit louder. [Buy]

Johnny Winter – When You Got a Good Friend


Winter is known for his fiery electric guitar solos, but in this recording from Woodstock he shows he’s just as adept on acoustic. Give this man a slide and get the fuck out of his way. [Buy]

L?k?o – Ramblin’ On My Mind


It’s one of the unsolved riddles of the world why all music that comes out of Japan seems really bizarre, like made by A.D.D. children after a 24-hour Dragonball Z marathon. This comes off an all-Japanese tribute album Up Jumped the Devil: A Tribute to Robert Johnson and very few of the songs are recognizable. The re-re-remix sounds on this come off nicely though. [Buy]

John Mellencamp – Stones In My Passway


Mellencamp released blues/folk cover album Trouble No More to fulfill his contract with Columbia in 2003, proving that this “just a littly ditty ‘bout Jack and Diane” heartland rocker can sing the twelve-bar like no one’s business. [Buy]

Led Zeppelin – Traveling Riverside Blues


The Zep can come off a little pompous on some of their Lord of the Rings-aping originals, but there is no disputing their blues-rock prowess. [Buy]

Rory Block – Milkcow’s Calf Blues


Block comes from Princeton, NJ, but sounds straight off of Bessie Smith’s back porch. For more great Johnson covers like this, download to this fan-made Complete Covers collection. [Buy]

Cowboy Junkies – Me and the Devil Blues


This smokey late-night live recording brings folk, country, and Beelzebub himself to the table with creaky violin and Margo Timmins’ spooky vocal delivery. Satan may be in for a shock when this lass shows up. [Buy]

The Mountain Goats – Hellhound on My Trail


A nice indie-folk ending, where the same band who so memorably took on Ace of Base’s “I Saw the Sign” brings the same quiet magic to our man R.J. John Darnielle sings like a man tired of running, just about ready to let the hellhound have him. [Buy]