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!
Back in 2021, Cover Me compiled a list of the top 30 Willie Nelson covers of all time. A comprehensive list, it included covers of many of Nelson’s trademark songs such as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Even then we noted we were leaving out a key component of the story: the number of covers Nelson has recorded himself.
As of this writing, Secondhandsongs.com lists a whopping 991 covers. Granted it counts instances where he re-recorded new versions of his old cover songs with other people. For example: it lists every single duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Nelson’s catalog of covers is both extensive and exceptional. One could easily place many of his covers, such as “Always On My Mind,” “Stardust,” or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” among the best of all time.
In 2023, Nelson has hit two major milestones – he turned 90 in April. and in November he’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – so we decided to revisit his covers collection.
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 »
Leftover Salmon have slowly become a bit of a staple across the US jam band circuit. That circuit punches way above the perceived weight, given the ticket sales such bands can attract. If the Grateful Dead were the template, a fusion of rock with any other genre you might snatch out the air, and a modus operandi for long and complicated instrumental freeform forays, Leftover Salmon have that to a T. Their shtick: a constant whiff of bluegrass seeping into the mix and instrumentation, further even than the Dead ever strayed. Heck, frontman and guitarist Vince Herman even has a vague look of latter-day Jerry Garcia, crossed with a current day Bob Weir, burly of frame and white of beard and locks. They may be under the radar to most, but with their new release Grass Roots, the band step out of the shadows of their scene, not so much into a different light as a light that will bring them more visibility.
Grass Roots (get it?) is their take on the sort of songs that both inspired them and taught them to play, a mix of trad and the expected culprits: the Dead, of course, and Dylan, with David Bromberg and the Seldom Scene also getting a nod. Their own description is their house style is polyethnic Cajun slamgrass, and who can argue with that? Instrumentation ranges from the expected of their rock progeny: guitars, bass, drums, with the bass as equally likely to be stand-up as plugged in and electric, to the the mandolins, banjos, fiddles and dobros of the mountain roots, with new added keyboards for added pizazz. All sing a bit. Continue reading »
Experimental Elvis. Surf-rock Kraftwerk. Garage-rock Roger Miller. Stoner White Stripes. Twee Beach Boys. Heavy-metal Townes Van Zandt. Retro-soul Merle Haggard.
There was no shortage of ambition, or wild genre-crossing ideas, among this year’s cover albums. Here are the best of the best.
25. Otu Fuzzy Tunes
Finnish doom metal outfit Otu stay on theme (“fuzzy”) throughout this covers album without ever getting boring. Each of the tracks is of a metal or hard rock song, but the style of cover varies each time. Album opener “No One Knows,” a Queens of the Stone Age cover, doesn’t stray terribly far from the original, just a bit heavier and fuzzed out. This is followed by a version of the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” that sounds almost like an early Nirvana track; the guitar is tuned low enough to sound like a bass, or else it’s a bass guitar playing the main riff. Track 3, a cover of “Iron Man,” is the first on the album to really sound like a true “doom” cover. It reveals that, while the other styles help keep the album from being too one-note, Otu’s strength is the slow, down-tuned, guttural sound of classic doom metal. “Holy Mountain” and “War Pigs” are strong tracks similarly drenched in towering, droning guitars. It’s a fun way to hear some classic tunes and you’ll get the most bang for your buck on this album with some good headphones or loud speakers. – Mike Misch
24. Various Artists Todo Muere SBXV
Todo Muere SBXV celebrates 15 years of the industrial, gothic, experimental record label Sacred Bones (that info will help to decipher the “SBXV”). Things get loud, as when a trio of metal acts Thou, Mizmor, and Emma Ruth Rundle road through Zola Jesus’s “Night.” They also get dreamy, as when ambient artist Hilary Woods warbles “In Heaven” from Eraserhead (that’s right, David Lynch is a Sacred Bones artist).
Even if you don’t know many of the original songs – and, unless you’re deep in this scene, you probably won’t – the cumulative effect is mesmerizing, moving, and at times a little harrowing. In a good way. – Ray Padgett
23. Jason McNiff Tonight We Ride
Jason McNiff may not be the best known of names, but this hard-working singer and guitarist has hewn himself quite a place in the annals of that awkwardly-titled genre, UK Americana. McNiff earned a degree in French and Russian, but the lure of his first love proved too strong. He immersed himself in the fingerpicked guitar of folk and blues, in particular the work and style of the late Bert Jansch. McNiff spent his COVID lockdown hunkering down with weekly online gigs, dubbed the “Sundowner” sessions. Exhausting both his own repertoire of songs and those he already loved by others, he had to learn a whole new catalog of material. Tonight We Ride was the logical conclusion: eleven songs encompassing artists McNiff holds the most in reverence. Sure enough, that includes two Jansch songs, alongside The Beatles (“Tomorrow Never Knows”), Leonard Cohen (“Moving On”), and a couple Dylan tunes too. – Seuras Og
22. AWOLNATION My Echo, My Shadows, My Covers, & Me
The opener clearly reveals this album as also pandemic-born: “how can we dance when our earth is turning? how do we sleep while our beds are burning?” The genre of this song is closer to that of what you might expect from modern-rock hitmakers AWOLNATION, but that’s where my predictions of what would happen next faltered. AWOLNATION provides a soundtrack for the full pandemic roller coaster featuring just as much electro pop as their signature rock approach, as well a variety of guest collaborators.
Feeling down? Jump right into “Take A Chance On Me,” where you might find yourself second-guessing, “wait this is the ‘Sail’ group?!?” Need to refresh your workout mix? There is “Maniac.” Other mood boosters are “Just a Friend” or “Flagpole Sitta,” which you might never have expected to appear together in an album setting. Lest you think this is only a tongue-in-cheek album, introspective choices are woven throughout, like “Wings of Change” and “Alone Again (Naturally)”.
If I had to pick a pair of favorites, one fun and one more serious, they would be AWOLNATION putting the MMMBop in “Material Girl” with Taylor Hanson and “Eye in the Sky” with Beck (not a song I was familiar with before, but now a tune I can’t get out of my head). – Sara Stoudt
21. Various Artists Stór agnarögn
If you’re Icelandic, you probably know these songs. Ásgeir Trausti’s 2012 album Dýrð í dauðaþögn was a sensation in his home country, the best selling debut ever in the country (sorry, Björk).
But statistically speaking, you are probably not Icelandic. So you don’t know the original versions of these ten songs – and if you do, it’s probably via the John Grant-translated English versions. No matter. Sigur Rós became sensations without anyone understanding what they were saying. Ásgeir’s songs have beautiful melodies, frequently soaring into Bon Iver-channeling falsetto, and they work wonderfully in this collection of his countrymen-and-women’s covers. Even if you don’t understand a single word (I don’t!), the music will carry you away. – Ray Padgett
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
This post has been a long time coming. Any cover song site worth its weight in scrambled eggs has to touch on the most covered song by the most covered band of all time. So now we arrive at “Yesterday” by the Beatles, a song they recorded four days before Paul McCartney turned 23. (They recorded “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “I’m Down” during the same session – not a bad day’s work, Paul.)
“Yesterday” was the first Beatles song to feature only one member, and the first to feature a string quartet. The lads weren’t especially keen on the song, burying it deep on side two of Help! and not allowing it to be released as a single in the UK. Matt Monro stepped up to release his version two months after the Beatles released theirs. Après Matt, le déluge – over a hundred covers in 1966 alone, over three thousand covers total according to the Guinness Book of World Records (you get the sense that they eventually threw up their hands and stopped counting).
Sinatra, Aretha, Dylan, Elvis – all of them recorded terrific versions. Many more great ones were recorded by artists who weren’t known by only one name. Parodies were recorded by artists from EuFourla to the Beatles themselves (on their 1965 Christmas record). In fact, never has the topic “Five Good Covers” felt more woefully inadequate than it does for this song. Nevertheless, we persist, and we hope you enjoy these five drops in “Yesterday”‘s ocean. Continue reading »
You may listen to the gentle plucking when this begins and thing, boy that’s not what I expected from that band photo. Is this an acoustic flying V? Blacktop Mojo’s “My Girl” stays pretty and meditative for over half the run time, turning the oldies classic into a pretty folk-rock ballad. Eventually, though, true to that long-hair-and-leather image, the heads start banging and axes start shredding.Continue reading »