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 122022
 

Live ForeverBillie Joe Shaver was one tough dude. The mere fact that he made it to 81 years old is a tribute as much to his constitution as to anything else, because his life and times read as if he wasn’t one much for compromise. Hell, too tough even for the Highwaymen, turning down the opportunity to be a member of that iconic grouping of his peers. As a performer he may not have been as celebrated as Waylon, Willie & Johnny, being very much in the gravel ‘n’ grits school of rough and ready, but his songs have gone right across the board and back again. You just might surprise yourself by how many you recognize on Live Forever: A Tribute to Billie Joe Shaver.
Continue reading »

Oct 032022
 
best cover songs september 2022
Confidence Man – Heaven (Bryan Adams cover)

For their recent Like a Version performance, Confidence Man, a duo of Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, covered Bryan Adam’s “Heaven.” Well, sort of. They really took their cues from the hit club cover of “Heaven” by DJ Sammy. “We didn’t actually know [it was a cover],” said Planet. “Stu, our manager – who’s old – told us that. We listened to [the original], and it’s not that good.” Ouch! But their cover is a blast to watch, all charisma, choreography, and energy from the two of them in front of an ominously veiled band. As NME points out, Confidence Man are the third act a a cover of a cover on the show. In 2017, Alex Lahey covered Natalie Imbruglia’s hit cover of Ednaswap’s non-hit “Torn” (we wrote a feature explaining the backstory there). And in 2018, garage-rock septet West Thebarton covered Florence + The Machine‘s cover of The Source and Candi Staton’s “You’ve Got the Love.” Continue reading »

Aug 312022
 
Eddie Vedder – Long Shadow (Joe Strummer cover)

This month, Joe Strummer would have turned 70. In a few weeks, Dark Horse Records will release the compilation Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years. To promote it, director Lance Bangs filmed a video of Eddie Vedder covering the posthumously-released Mescaleros track “Long Shadow.” It’s a simple fireside performance, similar to Vedder buddy Neil Young’s lockdown videos, and hopefully will bring more attention to a lesser known non-Clash track from the Strummer catalog. Continue reading »

Jun 302022
 
best covers of june 2022
Angel Olsen – Greenville (Lucinda Williams cover)


Angel Olsen dropped two terrific covers this month. 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. Her version of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road standout “Greenville” is just as good, guitar echoing behind her mesmerizing double-tracked vocals. Continue reading »

Apr 292022
 
best cover songs april 2022
Aimee Mann – Brooklyn (Steely Dan cover)

If you missed the whole brouhaha when Steely Dan dropped Aimee Mann as their opening act, it’s too long to recap here. To skip to the end, Mann tweeted, “All is forgiven if Donald [Fagan] just tells me what Brooklyn is about.” And he did! So, at a recent show at City Winery, she covered it. All does indeed appear to be forgiven. Continue reading »