Avril Lavigne & All Time Low – All the Small Things (Blink 182 cover)
One way you can tell millennials are getting old: There are now nostalgia-bait festivals catering to the music of their (our) youth. Such was the case with When We Were Young, the emo and pop-punk fest in Vegas a couple weeks ago with Paramore, My Chemical Romance, Bright Eyes, and dozens more. A video high point is this extremely fun and infectious cover of “All the Small Things” by All Time Low and Avril Lavigne, performed right after Blink 182 announced they were getting back together. Best part: When the entire crowd hollers alone to “Work sucks / I know”!Continue reading »
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.
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.
When Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs turned 50 last year, a box set anniversary reissue materialized. The classic album by Derek & the Dominos (aka Eric Clapton and band, plus Duane Allman) was given its due with state-of-the-art remixes and other assorted love tokens—a 12-by-12-inch book, certificates of authentication, discs full of outtakes (Clapton and Allman action figures sold separately, I guess). This summer Layla enjoys another, more vivid celebration: Layla Revisited, a live concert recording by the formidable Tedeschi Trucks Band, with guests Trey Anastasio and Doyle Bramhall II. It’s a lively and focused performance, as the soulful and high-powered ensemble romp through the full Layla album in original song order, in a single live show (with one small exception recorded in studio).
These releases are all pretty impressive for an album that was initially met with mixed reviews, tepid sales, and some measure of confusion about the artist, this mysterious Derek. The label execs wanted an “Eric Clapton” album, of course, but by then he’d had it with the spotlight. (After a short tour in support of the album, he dissolved the band and withdrew into a long, dark seclusion.) No one knew the Dominos, either, though the band had formed the core of All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s first post-Beatles effort. Harrison’s project came out the same month as Layla and attracted all the attention and praise that Layla missed out on.
A feeling of fate surrounds Layla Revisited. Derek Trucks is named after Clapton after all (or after his pseudonym, anyway), and is the nephew of Butch Trucks, founding drummer of the Allman Brothers Band. Derek quickly emerged as an exceptional guitarist in the Duane Allman mold, and eventually led the Allman Brothers Band in its final decade. He has also shared the stage a number of times with Clapton (they played “Layla” together, naturally). One more simple twist of fate: the stellar singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi–Trucks’ life partner–was born on the very day the original Layla came out. So, yes, there’s a lot to celebrate here, and a lot of history to revisit. Continue reading »
Alex Cameron ft. Roan Yellowthorn – Islands in the Stream (Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton cover)
For a new single, Australian singer Alex Cameron, who has worked with everyone from The Killers to Foxygen, decided to take on two Kenny Rogers tunes written by Barry Gibb. One, “Midsummer Nights,” is comparatively obscure. The other – the one above – is not. Playing the Dolly Parton role to Alex’s Kenny is Roan Yellowthorn aka Jackie McLean, daughter of “American Pie” singer Don McLean.
Annie – Just Like Honey (Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Norwegian pop musician Annie doesn’t release much music – 2020 saw her first album in 11 years – but she’s got a new EP out in September, Neon Nights. It features some originals and covers. One is the Dirty Dancing song “She’s Like The Wind.” Another is this discofied, but still shoegazy in a more electronic way, take on the Jesus and Mary Chain’s most often-covered song.Continue reading »
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!
Like the centuries-old architectural marvel in India that he took as his stage name, musician and composer Taj Mahal seems to live beyond the reach of time. There’s been an “old soul” vibe about him, an ageless quality, since he debuted in the mid-sixties. Taj may not be the sole survivor of his generation, but you won’t find a more soulful survivor who is still in the game.
His artistic longevity is all the more impressive because Taj has never had the chart-topping hit, or a cultish following, or the other advantages that make it easier for a performer to sustain a career. Yet here he is, almost 80, still throwing down, resonating with a new crop of musicians. Continue reading »