Nov 262021
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Harvest

Harvest is the one Neil Young album that everybody knows of. The reason? Almost undoubtedly “Heart of Gold,” that era-defining song of the early ’70s, all acoustic whimsy, swaying on a stool. Of course it is a terrific song, if a little diminished by ubiquity, but not hugely typical of, at least, Young’s latter-day work, especially when he saddles up with Crazy Horse.

But, by golly, that sweet acoustic ditty has done ol’ Shakey well. At last count there were over a hundred “Heart of Gold” covers, some of them good enough to warrant a yearly check of no small size passing through his mail slot. It did pretty well in its author’s iteration too, mind, hitting the coveted number one spot in the US singles chart (Young’s only sojourn there) and top ten in many other territories. Considering Young had only started dabbling with acoustic songs in response to a back injury, necessitating his sitting to play, how serendipitous must that fall have been? Mind you, his own comments as to where it took him were less than generous: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On the back of the single, so too did Harvest flourish, likewise becoming a chart topper with Young’s biggest LP sales to date. Characteristically, given the sheer cussedness of the man, it contains a number of styles, some harking back to previous album After the Gold Rush, some more akin to future more country-inflected excursions. This reflected the musicians recruited, largely country session men making their first outing as the Stray Gators. Pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, and drummer Kenny Buttrey helped shape Harvest‘s sound. So did Jack Nitzsche, the producer and pianist who also played a part with Crazy Horse. Nitzsche decided to orchestrate a couple of the songs as well, an odd move at the time for an artist in other than easy-listening territory. And then there was the stark and bleak beauty of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” gaunt in its unadorned voice and guitar, a song as chilling as Bert Jansch’s clearly influential “Needle of Death.”

A year shy of its half century, how, then, has Harvest fared? How well have the songs lasted? How do they fit into the differing tastes of this century? These more recent interpretations help reveal the answer: better than expected. The original Harvest is an album I listen to for a wallow in nostalgia; these ten covers stand on wholly different ground.
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Nov 192021
 

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!

John Mellencamp

I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think.
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Nov 162021
 

Soulsavers is, or was, the nom de guerre for the initially electronica production team Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who have increasingly developed into the providers of a lush neo-gospel soundscape, incorporating element of country, soul, and blues, into which a variety of singers have embedded (usually) rich and evocative vocals. Dave Gahan is, of course, the front man for Depeche Mode, as famous for his medical history as his work in those early adopters of electronica/pop. His tones are perfect for the Soulsavers brand, and he first came aboard in 2012, singing and writing much the material for The Light the Dead See. This prove a bigger draw than earlier material and the collaboration continued, with the next album, Angels and Ghosts, perhaps ominously now under the Dave Gahan and Soulsavers soubriquet. The duo then made an instrumental album, Kubrick, Gahan returning to Depeche Mode duties.

Last year Gahan began to drop hints as to a further collaboration, and that it would be a covers collection: “When I listen to other people’s voices and songs—more importantly the way they sing them and interpret the words—I feel at home. I identify with it. It comforts me more than anything else.” A taster, the Cat Power song “Metal Heart,” dropped a month or so back and all seemed to be auguring well. Now we have Imposter, the full basket of fruits of their labors. And we have a problem.
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Jul 072021
 
The Highwaymen Supergroup

The previous supergroups we’ve featured for Supergroup Week have been members of other bands, forming a new band with musicians based on their musical networks. This sometimes is a natural progression: band dynamics cause groups to fracture and leave members looking for a new team to create music with. Friends from a musical past-life join others that they’ve jammed with at some point to try something new. This time around, we have solo artists joining forces. This suggests a longing to collaborate and be part of a bigger musical effort. We also switch genres, from rock to country & western with some outlaw flair. The supergroup networks are still strong in the ’80s, often first marked by solo artists covering others’ work that they admired, and their legacies sparked new supergroups in the ’10s.

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Jul 012021
 
av undercover

Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great. Continue reading »

May 192021
 
bob dylan comments about cover songs

Bob Dylan has never exactly been a loquacious interviewee. From the ’60s, when he would spend interviews mocking the press, to the ’10s, where he rarely bothers giving interviews at all, comments from Bob on any given subject are usually relatively few and far between. But I was curious, as we prepare to launch our 100 Best Bob Dylan Covers Ever list on Monday, what Dylan covers has the man himself remarked upon? Continue reading »