Dec 172021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs of 2021

To come up with our year-end list, we listened to thousands of covers.

That’s not an exaggeration, or loosely throwing around “thousands” for effect. My iTunes tells me I personally listened to and rated 1,120 new covers in 2021. And I’m just one of a dozen people here. Many of those thousands of covers were very good! But “very good” isn’t good enough for our annual year-end Best Cover Songs list. So when we say these 50 are the cream of the crop, we mean it.

They, as usual, have little in common with each other. A few tie into current events: Artists we lost, social justice concerns, live music’s fitful return. Most don’t. But does a doom metal cover of Donna Summer really need a reason to exist? How about African blues Bob Dylan, New Orleans bounce Lady Gaga, or organ ballad Fleetwood Mac? Nah. We’re just glad they’re here.

So dive into our countdown below – and, if you want us to send you a couple hundred Honorable Mentions culled from those thousands, join the Cover Me Patreon.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief

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Dec 102021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2021

It feels like a cliché these days to start one of these year-end lists writing about “the times we live in,” but, as you read and listen to our picks, you’ll find the specter of the coronavirus and lockdown pretty unavoidable.

One of these albums is titled Songs from Isolation; another is Awesome Quarantine Mix-Tape. Even on some albums where it’s so blindingly obvious, it’s there. Aoife Plays Nebraska is a recording of a quarantine livestream she gave. Los Lobos envisioned Native Sons as a balm for being stuck at home, unable to tour. And then there’s the tribute to John Prine, the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, inspired by his death from the coronavirus last year.

But many of these albums recall better times too. Two are belated releases of in-real-life, pre-pandemic tribute concerts, one to Leonard Cohen and the other to Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes (well, I guess both of those subject are kind of bummers, in different ways…). Tributes abound to other recent deaths – Andy Gibb, Justin Townes Earle, Roky Erickson – but we have plenty to artists still with us too, like Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and a host of underground psych-rock bands you’ve never heard of.

Then there are those that don’t fit any narrative. An artist felt inspired by an unconnected bunch of songs, decided to cover ’em, and brought them all together into a cohesive record. What do Vampire Weekend and The Supremes have in common? Lauren O’Connell’s beatifully intimate imaginings. How about Allen Toussaint and Calexico? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss harmonizing all over ’em. Whether it’s a quote-unquote “lockdown record” or just someone saying, “hell, why not get a bunch of folkie weirdos to play Phish tunes?,” every album on this list brought something meaningful to – ugh – the times we live in.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

The list starts on the next page…

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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 »

Jun 082021
 

So Low by Lowland HumIt might seem like an obvious choice to perform a minimalist version of Peter Gabriel‘s So. Gabriel’s fifth album, and the first with its own name, So is the most ’80s of albums. It features so many of Gabriel’s career trademarks: Fairlight and Prophet synthesizers (and many others), sequencers, early drum machines, gated drums, etc. If there is any one album that captures the sound of ’80s record production, it’s So. (And that’s only fair since Gabriel invented so many of those conventions during his solo career.) So stripping it all away to focus on the songs might seem like an easy and obvious approach.

But whether or not it’s simple or obvious, “minimalist modern folk”  husband and wife duo Lowland Hum has created a powerful record with their song-for-song cover of the entirety of So, cleverly titled So Low and released on May 19. The band mostly use few instruments, Daniel and Lauren’s voices, an acoustic guitar, a few loops, and a few judicial overdubs. It feels like the exact opposite approach to the material that Gabriel took when he wrote the songs.

But don’t mistake this for a record like Gabriel’s own New Blood, where Gabriel reinvented his own songs as orchestral pop. There’s way more space here and so few instruments that some moments are almost spartan. Lowland Hum play with Gabriel’s songs just enough to make some of them sound new, but mostly they adhere closely enough the originals that they are easy to place.
Continue reading »

Oct 052020
 
best tribute albums

Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now. Continue reading »

Sep 212020
 
laura heaberlin

“The Book of Love” is the Magnetic Fields’ most-covered song, and it’s not even close. Covers database SecondHandSongs reports 27 officially-released versions, and that’s not counting the hundreds or thousands that have been played live at weddings. (The second most-covered Magnetic Fields song in their database has only five covers listed). The most prominent “Book of Love” cover is probably Peter Gabriel’s 2004 orchestral version, which now has inspired its own cover – a cover of a cover. Continue reading »