Jun 142024
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Take Me to the River

The Talking Heads cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” has a very solid place in the world of cover songs. Also in the world of Cover Me: the site’s founder and editor-in-chief devoted a chapter of his book Cover Me to it, and on our first Q&A post, when the staffers were asked to name their favorite cover song, that was the response from two of them.
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Apr 192024
 

The Power of the Heart: A Tribute to Lou ReedLou Reed was quite the fella. Initially a proto-Brill Building popsmith for Pickwick Records, he morphed into a leather and shades VU biker and glam-rock trans offender. And FX metal feedback noisenik, and elder statesman socio-political commentator, before closing his recording career with a soundtrack for meditation and mindfulness. Indeed, just about anything and everything, for nearly five decades, all while being a notoriously spiky literary curmudgeon, bane of any journalist trying to capture his essence. It took music, not words, to do that, and with The Power of the Heart: A Tribute to Lou Reed, it’s officially been done.
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Dec 132023
 

Follow all our Best of 2023 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2023

Some of the albums on our list were obvious home runs. Cat Power singing a tribute to a 1966 Bob Dylan concert? You know that’s gonna be great (and it is). A bunch of punk and psychobilly bands blasting through Cramps covers? Pretty much a guaranteed blast. 90-year-old Willie Nelson in the twilight of his career paying tribute to one of his personal songwriting heroes? Good luck not being moved.

Others were more surprising. Reggae David Bowie could go either way. So could free-jazz Harry Styles or indie-rock ELO. And maybe the biggest surprise of all: T-Pain covers Sam Cooke and Black Sabbath…and it’s not terrible??

As always, big names mix with some albums we guarantee you’ve never heard of. To use one of the clichéd words we see constantly in cover-album titles, uncover some new favorites below.


25. Various Artists — Stuff Your Fridge!

Stuff Your Fridge! features 30 tracks, recorded by underground bands you’ve probably never heard, covering all aspects of the Grateful Dead songbook. The covers can be at times both brilliant and/or cringeworthy. The tracks that fare the best are the ones that stray the furthest from the original recordings, such as a goth version of “Cold Rain and Snow” by Delay 77 and a prog metal rendition of “Fire on the Mountain” by Buck Pool. But the compilers saved the oddest for last. That distinction goes to “Attics of My Life” by Holey Hell. It’s a keyboard-driven instrumental, arranged as if written for the soundtrack to a first-generation ‘80s Nintendo game. One can only imagine what they would have done with Drums and Space. – Curtis Zimmermann


24. Amos Lee — Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams seems like a solitary artist despite a steady flow of collaborations with (and covers by) her many admirers–country stars, jazz giants, and arena rockers alike. So it’s a warming surprise to have a full album tribute from an artist like Amos Lee, one who has made his own sizable mark as a songwriter and who is a generation or two younger than Lucinda.

Drawing from all phases of Williams’ discography, Lee keeps mostly on the bare bones side of things, with acoustic guitar or piano supporting his soulful vocals. Certain takes may miss the emotional core of the originals, while on other tracks he brings life to songs that may have felt too downbeat in Lucinda’s delivery of them. Or not–each listener’s mileage will vary. And anyway, Honeysuckle Switches may well find an unbiased audience in Amos Lee fans who haven’t yet known the pleasure of the songs of Lucinda Williams. – Tom McDonald


23. T-Pain — On Top of The Covers

In 2019, Auto-Tune pioneer T-Pain joined the first cast of The Masked Singer in 2019, a television show where celebrities hide their identities behind costumes and sing. T-Pain ended up revealing himself at the very end, by winning, and surprising the judges. T-Pain’s cover album maintains a similar spirit, whether he is still searching for redemption after the death of Auto-Tune or finally at peace asserting his raw talent. He has chosen each song on the album to show off his vocal range and power, spanning from old standards to hits through the ages. You will hear plenty of vocal runs that assert “listen to what I can do,” but they do so without an overbearing bravado, just confidence. Instead of relying on a computer to back him up, T-Pain layers his own voice intricately throughout the entire album. You can hear it in the Glee-like chorus accompaniment in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” His choosing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the first place makes me think T-Pain is not taking himself too seriously with this cover album. It’s a guilty pleasure song, and perhaps not one that would first come to mind for someone whose brand is “Hard&B”. – Sara Stoudt


22. Various Artists — Dead Formats Vol. 2

Pure Noise Records’ second volume of (primarily) indie rock and alternative covers is just as fun as their first edition (which was our 16th best covers album of 2022). 15 artists tackle 15 tracks, as far back in time as Elton John from the ’70s, and there are a few tracks from the ’80s and ’90s, but most are covers from the aughts. Most of the covers are straightforward, high energy performances filtered through the lens of pop punk, but a few really stand out stylistically. Less Than Jake really lean into the vaguely Caribbean air of The Kinks’ “Come Dancing,” going full ska. Lavalove appear to treat Nirvana’s “Lithium” as pop punk, but then, on the bridges, they get really playful, alternately vamping and then embracing an aesthetic similar to Nirvana at their nosiest. Mint Green slow down Incubus’ “Drive” and though they don’t deviate much from the arrangement, the female harmonies stand out from the rest of the collection. (The Linkin Park and Slipknot covers also stand out, but only because they are faithful and the only nu-metal covers here.) – Riley Haas


21. Teddy Thompson — My Love of Country

Anyone not already convinced of Teddy Thompson’s mastery of country music need only waltz into his joy of an eighth album, appropriately titled My Love of Country. It’s here that the singer (hailing from London rather than Nashville, lest you should wonder) revitalizes a trove of country standards from the ’50s and ’60s. And it’s here that he channels his 23 years of professional dalliance in the genre into one immensely satisfying, 27-minute whole.

Teddy has the voice for it, of course, which is as strong, deep, rich, and emotive an instrument as it’s ever been. He also has the necessary conviction to deliver tracks previously made famous by George Jones, Buck Owens, and Ray Charles, as well as the skill to forge a magnificent country cut out of a whiskey-soaked number penned by his famous folky dad, Richard, in 1974: “I’ll Regret It All in the Morning.” He further has the help of an impeccable range of musicians to bring the fine period detail, including Charlie Drayton (drums), Byron Isaacs (bass), Jon Cowherd (piano), and producer David Mansfield (violin/accordion/pedal steel/most other things). That’s not to mention sublime harmony singers in the vein of Logan Ledger. But the ultimate reason Thompson makes “A Picture of Me Without You,” “Cryin’ Time,” and “You Don’t Know Me” sound so heartfelt and effortless is from having been immersed in these songs for much of his life. “That’s the real key,” he says, “having them in your body for a long time.” Amen to that. – Adam Mason

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Dec 042023
 

Honeysuckle SwitchesThe last time we featured Amos Lee on this site, about a year ago, he was subject to such a savage kicking that even I felt bad, so it is with utter delight to discover Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams. So often do we feature Lu here, given her prodigious thirst for covering the songs of others, it becomes especially good to see the compliment returned.

Lee and Williams have form; always a fan, Lee had a dream come true as she collaborated with him, for “Clear Blue Eyes,” on his 2011 break through album, 2011’s Mission Bell. Returning frequently to her songs in his concert settings, he says of her that “her vulnerability opened my heart,” citing how “she embraces sadness but is never enveloped by it.” I think that sentiment perfectly embraces the bittersweetness so often apparent in her songs, and Lee shares that quality in spades, a fragile strength that bears witness to his having maybe faced similar battles along the road.
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Oct 202023
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Tom Petty

Tom Petty (10/20/50 – 10/2/17) was clearly one of the good guys, with little but praise of and for him following his untimely death, 18 days shy of his 67th birthday. Possibly going a little too hard celebrating the end of the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour, he took that one toke over the line and died of an accidental drug overdose. What a waste, just say no, etc etc. (To be fair, intractable pain from a fractured hip and his emphysema were each also weighing heavy at the time.)

Petty was no stranger to cover versions, over his lengthy career, initially with the later revived Mudcrutch, but predominantly with his own band, 13 albums as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and 4 under his own name alone, there are a few, mainly across his myriad live albums. Today, though, we are to celebrate covers by others of his own songs, but it would be churlish not to take at least a nod at his rendition of Lucinda Williams’ “Change The Locks” or his version of the UK one hit wonder “Something In The Air,” originally by Thunderclap Newman.

A Tom Petty song was seldom comparable to the work of others, or transferable, that much, to other styles, mainly down to the idiosyncrasy of his vocal style, a high pitched nasal whine. My apologies to anyone put off by that overly clinical description of his voice, for, in full flight, it was a rousing and rallying instrument of power and promise. Still is. But it would somehow be remiss not to comment on the one very similar singing style, especially given the reception of the debut single from Petty and his team…
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Aug 312023
 
Amanda Palmer and The Righteous Babes — The Last Day of our Acquaintance (Sinéad O’Connor cover)


You’re going to notice a theme here. We have the usual grab-bag included below (see “Best of the Rest”), but, for our featured covers up top, it’s all Sinéad. There were so many wonderful tributes performed, often in concert and always powerful and moving. Many did “Nothing Compares 2 U,” technically a Prince cover but really a Sinéad song now and forever, but others selected from elsewhere in her catalog. Of this one, which just came out Tuesday, Amanda Palmer wrote, “This song means a great deal to me, as does the artist who penned it, along with everything she still stands for.” A portion of the money from sales will be donated to The Irish Women’s Survivor Support Network. Continue reading »