Over the weekend at a show in Essex Junction, Vermont, Guster frontman Ryan Miller joked that, with two of their four members now living in Vermont, maybe they were more of a Vermont band than Phish – which, though they famously formed in the state, also now has only two of the four members living there. A few songs later, he sealed the Vermont-cred deal by bringing out one of those two, Phish bassist Mike Gordon. Gordon jammed a bit on Guster original “Ruby Falls,” then they broke into a cover of the Pixies classic “Here Comes Your Man.” Continue reading »
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
For some artists we look at for these lists, it seems like every time someone covered one their songs, it turned out pretty good. Leonard Cohen was like that; the quality of the average Cohen cover is fairly high. John Prine, too.
Stevie Wonder is not one of those artists.
It’s not his fault, or the fault of his songs, but his material often gets sucked into the same cocktail-jazz muck that fellow piano man Billy Joel’s does. Nothing wrong with that sort of lounge jazz-pop when done well – and there are a few times on this list when it is – but there’s a lot of mediocrity to wade through. Stevie’s performance and production skills are so sharp that, when placed in lesser hands, his songs can come off as sentimental shlock. All the “Isn’t She Lovely”s alone are so sugary sweet you feel like you’ll get diabetes.
But here’s the good news: Covers of Stevie Wonder’s songs are so ubiquitous that, even when you weed out the bad and the just-okay, you’re still left with plenty of greatness. The fifty below span funk, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, jam band, jazz, and into galaxies beyond. So here they are, signed, sealed, and delivered to knock you off your feet.
P.S. Join our Patreon to get this entire list – and every other Best Covers Ever – in playlist and MP3 formats!
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For a certain ilk of artist, boutique destination music festivals in Mexico have become a recent mainstay of the January/February touring cycle (or lack thereof — who wouldn’t want to scuttle off to Mexico for a lost weekend rather than tour in the depths of winter?). Acts like Wilco, Brandi Carlile and an array of others in the indie/jam/rock firmament have been parading down south of the border to the all-inclusive resorts of Riviera Maya. Though Dead & Co.’s plans were thwarted this winter by the Omicron variant in the final hour, many other acts were still able to perform without snafus or health scares. Atop the heap of performers who made their way successfully to Riviera Maya, Mexico this February were My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, and Phish. Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
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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For nearly three decades, Halloween has been one of the biggest occasions of each year for Phish. The jam titans have presented a handful of legendary sets on October 31st in
“musical costume,” performing classic records in sequence: The Who’s Quadrophenia, The Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, among others. In recent years, the band have seemingly moved on from just covering existing records for the occasion, instead using the vaunted Halloween night for some even more mischievous musical stunts — sewing together their own fully original “musical costumes.” The band have, in essence, gone from reliving the classics to “covering” bands that… don’t exist. The ramped-up theatrics have only grown more exhilarating with each year. Feast your eyes, for example, on this Halloween’s Dune-meets-Power Rangers space suits (pictured above), which the band donned for ninety minutes in the guise of their 2021 costume: a “band” called Sci-Fi Soldier, who performed their “album” Get More Down from the year… 4680.
The particulars of whether Phish’s maximalist musical stunt as Sci-Fi Soldier constitutes a Full Album Cover are, for the purposes of our publication, a bit murky. Thankfully though, the band built up to this year’s Halloween show with plenty of “regular” covers in the mix too. Across their four-night run, including Halloween itself, at MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Phish littered their sets on October 28th, 29th and 30th with some epic a la carte tributes (and dropped a few subtle musical hints about the Halloween hijinx that were to follow). Continue reading »
I have always considered myself a casual Phish fan. Though I owned multiple CDs, including the six-disk box set Hampton Comes Alive, I only saw them play live once. I am not an authority on Phish history, such as the best live versions “Tweezer.” Still, I have always wondered on some level why their music inspires such derision from detractors. They’ve been a hardworking band for decades. Even though they’ve never scored a conventional hit, the group has a batch of solid original songs.
While listening to the new Phish tribute album Cluster Flies, I had an epiphany about why they have such a tough time attracting outside listeners. The band and its collaborators are great at writing catchy, interesting and thought-provoking songs. They’re just not that good at coming up with song titles. This may also explain why despite decades of listening, I have trouble keeping their song names straight in my head.
Cluster Flies was released by the website JamBase as a fundraiser for the site during the pandemic. It contains covers of all the tracks from Phish’s 2000 album Farmhouse, several songs from a bonus edition, and a few deeper cuts. Seven of the 12 songs from Farmhouse have one-word titles, with names like “Twist,” “Bug,” “Dirt,” “Piper,” “Sleep.” One can find multiple examples throughout Phish’s catalog: “Waste,” “Fee,” or “Free,” to name but a few. With names like these, the band undersells its greatest asset, making their music inaccessible for the uninitiated. Alas, I’m sure that’s just the way Phish fans like it. Fortunately, the songs, both on Farmhouse and Cluster Flies, show far more creativity than their titles.
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