Nov 272020
 

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

Mr Bojangles coversIf you had to be best known for but one song, “Mr. Bojangles” can’t be a bad one to leave as a legacy, even if, strangely, it isn’t necessarily that characteristic of the rest of the author’s output. The author? Jerry Jeff Walker, a stalwart of the outlaw country movement, a contemporary of Waylon and Willie, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, to name just a few. Walker wrote “Bojangles” in 1967 and released it a year later, early on in a career that would produce well over twenty subsequent long players before his death earlier this year, of throat cancer, aged 78.

“Mr. Bojangles” has often been thought to be in honor of Bill Robinson, a black vaudeville performer who used Mr. Bojangles as his stage name. Not so. Seems it’s really a song about a whole less celebrated performer who Walker had met in jail, when he had been locked up for public intoxication. This Bojangles was a homeless man, who had adopted the name to hide his true identity, but had a fund of stories relating to the life he shared with his dog. When an ugly moment arose in the communal cell, Mr. Bojangles had lightened the mood with a tap dance. As you do.
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May 012020
 

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

Ada Habershon

Trying to find some positive across this wracked virus-strewn world, and it came, suddenly, in a flash. Actually, it didn’t quite come in a flash, it came as I semi-snoozed this another I don’t know what the hell day it is lockdown day, courtesy the joy of shuffle. I won’t say which version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” I heard, beyond it was one of these, but it caught my ear and set me thinking, feeling the song. In whatsoever version, gospel or secular, it has something to aspire us all to, that aspiration being hope. Continue reading »

May 032019
 

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

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.