The 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. Continue reading »
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
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… Continue reading »
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 »
Bob Dylan has been on a covers roll this year. On tour, he has primarily covered a number of Dead (“Truckin’,” “Stella Blue,” “Brokedown Palace”) or Dead-associated (“Not Fade Away,” “Only a River”) songs. But he’s dipped into other classic catalogs occasionally too. He did Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” for the first time and then, not long after, maybe the deepest cut yet: Merle Haggard’s 2016 track “Bad Actor.” The tape took a while to surface. It was worth the wait.Continue reading »
Alexa Rose is a North Carolina-based singer-songwriter originally from Virginia. She’s put out two albums of her own material and just released an EP this week, which features a cover of “Passionate Kisses” in addition to two original songs.Continue reading »
“Downtown Train.” “Ol ’55.” “Jersey Girl.” These are just three of the Tom Waits songs better known for their covers (respectively: Rod, Eagles, Bruce) than for Waits’ own performances.
It probably doesn’t need saying that Tom’s recordings are, in the best way possible, idiosyncratic. So it makes sense that, like Dylan, like Cohen, his songs often become more popular when more “traditional” voices sing them. Many of the best covers, though, keep some of that strangeness. No, they don’t do “the Tom Waits voice” – most people wouldn’t be able to talk for a week after attempting that. But they don’t sand off the strangeness.
Tom’s debut album Closing Time came out 50 years ago this month; he’s doing a reissue to celebrate. It, and its successor The Heart of Saturday Night, are in some ways his least representative albums, though. The songwriting is already strong on these, but it comes in – if you can believe it – a fairly conventional package. His voice hasn’t revealed its true character (to pick one among many memorable descriptions: “a voice like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car”), and he hadn’t discovered that hitting a dumpster with a two-by-four makes great percussion.
Some of those very early songs get covered in our list below. But his later, weirder, songs abound, too. Tom’s wife Kathleen Brennan, his musical co-conspirator for decades now, said her husband has two types of songs: “Grim Reapers” and “Grand Weepers”. On his Orphans box set, Tom divided them up another way: Brawlers, Ballers, and Bastards. You’ll find some of all flavors below. (And, if you want more new writing on Tom Waits music, subscribe to a newsletter called Every Tom Waits Song that – full disclosure – I also run).
– Ray Padgett
PS. Find Spotify and Apple Music playlists of this list, and all our other monthly Best Covers Ever lists, at Patreon.