May 212024
 

Long Distance LoveWell, how about that! On the same day as a still-going Little Feat put out a blues cover album, Sam’s Place (review incoming), so too choose Sweet Relief to put out Long Distance Love, a star-studded charity tribute to their late founder and lynchpin, Lowell George. Star-studded? Well, let’s say the likes of Elvis Costello, Dave Alvin and Ben Harper are all present and accounted for, with George’s own daughter, Inara George, also putting in an appearance.

Lowell George was a slide guitar maestro, a singer/songwriter with a penchant for complex swampland boogie, polyrhythmic shuffles to delight both brain and bootheels. He formed Little Feat back in 1969, after a short spell with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. A set of well-received albums followed, until 1979, when George (a) dissolved the band, (b) released his solo album Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here, and (c) died of a massive heart attack at the age of 34. It took eight years before the relicts of what had assuredly been his band reconvened, and they remain a vital presence, with George’s songs still the ones the fans mainly come to hear. These are the songs that return to the spotlight on Long Distance Love, and the four and a half decades since Lowell’s voice was stilled have done nothing to dampen their vibe.
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Mar 292024
 

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

best sheryl crow covers

Sheryl Crow is having a real moment. After years of being (unfairly) dismissed as music for moms in minivans, her cool credentials have been ratcheted up in recent years through praise by younger singers who grew up hearing her songs. Just last week, Olivia Rodrigo invited Crow onstage to sing “If It Makes You Happy.” Covers have flown in from Phoebe Bridgers, HAIM, Soccer Mommy, and any number of other hip young female singers. And—oh yeah—she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last fall.

For the Rock Hall induction, we did a feature on Crow, but devoted our big Best Covers Ever: Rock Hall Edition list to Kate Bush. But Crow’s got a new album out today, so we wanted to dedicate one to her now. A few of the covering artists we feature below are her contemporaries (and one is several generations older), but a large portion of the list comes from Millennials and Gen Z singers. That’s where the Sheryl energy is coming from these days, and they’ve given us a ton more great Crow-vers (sorry) than existed even a few years ago.

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Dec 152023
 

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

I like to think that badass lady in the artwork up there (done by our own Hope Silverman!) embodies the spirit of this year’s list. Not that they’re all CBGB-style punk songs—though there are a couple—but in her devil-may-care attitude. “Who says I shouldn’t do a hardcore cover of the Cranberries? A post-punk cover of Nick Drake? A hip-hop cover of The Highwaymen? Screw that!”

As with most good covers, the 50 covers we pulled out among the thousands we listened to bring a healthy blend of reverence and irreverence. Reverence because the artists love the source material. Irreverence because they’re not afraid to warp it, bend it, mold it in their own image. A few of the songs below are fairly obscure, but most you probably already know. Just not like this.

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Sep 222023
 
madison cunningham whats love got to do with it cover

California folk pop singer-songwriter Madison Cunningham enjoys her covers, having released an EP full back in 2020. Her latest is a solo acoustic cover of Tina Turner‘s most covered song: “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”

Performed live for the Howard Stern Show, Cunningham’s version begins with her finger-picked guitar and nothing else. Though the tempo is nearly the same at first – a little slower in the verse – the vibe is entirely different. She slows down in the pre-chorus and the chorus, reinforcing how distinct it feels.

Cunningham’s vocal sounds almost rueful. There’s a feeling of liberation in Turner’s performance at times; sure, she’s not entirely happy about coming to this realization, but she knows she won’t get fooled again. Whereas Cunningham’s performance sounds like she’s come to this unhappy realization now it’s pure lament. That attitude fits the rest of the performance, as Cunningham performs it as a traditional folk song, there’s nothing peppy in in it.

Jul 032023
 

FolkocracyRufus Wainwright’s Folkocracy is a reminder of how different a context is the word folk, when there is that Atlantic Ocean dividing America and Europe. This album feels a very North American version, where, broadly, anything much with an acoustic guitar, and on the softer side of rock, fits the bill, with often a fair old slice of the older social commentators, Seeger, Guthrie et al, chucked in for good measure. In the UK, folk tends more to the trad. arr., in style if not necessarily sacrosanct in content, and of a devoutly Celtic or Anglo hue. Wainwright doesn’t totally ignore any particular aul’ country, but Folkocracy is full of nods, sometimes eccentric, to an early 60’s heyday of Kingston Trios, Peter Paul and Mary and that ilk, if with a few left field lurches into Broadway and Hollywood. At times it is astonishing, in a beguiling way, sometimes bewildering and sometimes just plain odd. But, overall, this album is impressive, if more on the side of to be admired more than loved, with a slew of guests adding their varied (and variable) flavors at several stages along the way.
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Oct 132021
 

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

best paul simon covers

“I usually come in second to Dylan,” Paul Simon once said, “and I don’t like coming in second.” Indeed, he’s had to deal with it literally ever since he was born, in 1941. We already celebrated Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday in May, and today we turn to the man Dylan has called “one of the preeminent songwriters of the times,” Paul Simon, as he hits his own 80th. Simon’s in the rarified air of someone whose songs get covered almost as much as Dylan’s (ugh – second place again), so for this month’s Best Covers Ever, we’re diving into covers of the entire Paul Simon catalog, both solo and with Simon and Garfunkel.

Another thing Dylan once said about Simon, in relation to his own music, is this: “I’m not Paul Simon. I can’t do that. My songs come out of folk music and early rock n’ roll, and that’s it. I’m not a classical lyricist, I’m not a meticulous lyricist. I don’t write melodies that are clever or catchy.”

False modesty aside, Dylan hits on some of what makes Simon’s work so beloved by other musicians. His melodies are clever and catchy. His lyrics are meticulous. In both words and music, Simon can use a little to say a lot. His songs have strong cores, but leave a lot of space for other artists to play around with. So it’s no surprise that the list below spans genres from punk, dance music, gospel, and more. You’ll hear every sound except one: Silence (sorry). No matter how afield the songs roam, though, they still sound like Paul Simon.

So enough talk about Simon being a perennial silver medal winner. His craft and his talent have earned him and his songs a place at the top of the medal podium, and these fifty covers prove it.

The list begins on Page 2.