Jun 022022
 
She & Him Brian Wilson

She & Him, the ever-rolling musical project of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, came out of the gate in 2008 with three albums of original classic pop in five years. In the decade that’s followed since, the duo have opted to put original material aside, reveling in a different kind of sunshine: covers. She & Him released the spirited Classics in 2014, and a subsequent album full of holiday cuts (2016’s Christmas Party). The duo continue on as pop interpreters with the recent announcement of their third and latest all-covers album, Melt Away: A Tribute To Brian Wilson.

She & Him’s seemingly accessible sound has always been belied by more esoteric instincts; the pair value deep cuts as much as they do big hits. Assembling the tracklist for Melt Away offered Deschanel and Ward offered an ideal opportunity to celebrate both sides of Brian Wilson’s decades-deep songbook — both the standards, and the arty b-sides.

“We chose songs without any regard to their chart performance. The obscure ones hit us just as hard as the more popular songs — and all are ripe for re-imagining, re-interpreting, and re-inventing,” the duo said in a statement alongside the album announcement. “Brian writes songs of beauty and loneliness and vulnerability better than anyone — and by sequencing them next to popular songs of confidence and love and fun, it creates a more complete picture of life on earth.”

Ahead of Melt Away’s release on July 22nd, She & Him have shared a kitschy music video for “Darlin’,” drawn from the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey, released initially in 1967. They also shared the audio of the more well-known hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Check out both, as well as Melt Away‘s full tracklist, below.

Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson Tracklist

1.  Darlin’
2. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
3. Til I Die
4. Deirdre
5. Melt Away
6. Good to My Baby
7. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
8. Don’t Worry Baby
9. This Whole World
10. Kiss Me, Baby
11. Do It Again (featuring Brian Wilson)
12. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose
13. Please Let Me Wonder
14. Meant for You

Check out more She & Him covers here.
Check out more Beach Boys covers here.

May 132022
 

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

stevie wonder covers

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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Feb 072022
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

In the Still of the Night

Stationed at an Army barracks in Philadelphia, Fred Parris found himself longing for his fiancée. It was the mid-50s, and Parris was the lead singer for a doowop group called the Five Satins, so he wrote a song about their time together. Later, while on leave, he and the group holed up in the basement of St. Bernadette Church in New Haven to record “In the Still of the Night.”

The track, sometimes stylized as “In the Still of the Nite” or “(I’ll Remember) In the Still of the Nite,” was a modest hit for the group, reaching number 24 on the Billboard chart in 1956. Parris, who died in January at the age of 85, never became a household name, and he never married that girl. But this song has endured as one the defining tracks of the ‘50s, earning him accolades from around the music world upon his passing.

Parris’ ballad of youthful longing, love, and nostalgia has been a staple of oldies format radio for decades, often topping New York station WCBS-FM’s list of the greatest songs of all time. As both a love song and a remembrance of things past, it presents an idealized version of how people like to remember the ‘50s.
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Jan 072022
 

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

buffalo springfield covers

Retrospective saw Buffalo Springfield’s record company out to catch a final buck or two, their cash cow having imploded ahead of quite how much of a cash cow it could or should have been. The band had been on the decidedly no-frills ATCO label, an offshoot of Atlantic for acts that failed to fit their then template of blues, jazz, r’n’b and soul, along with other square pegs of the day, like Dr. John. I say no frills, as their cover art was always of the decidedly cheap and shoddy nature: Retrospective has a cover that cannot have taxed too many creative brains, the “rips” in the background paper, to allow inserts and a makeshift collage, are all clearly visible.

Retrospective, which is actually subtitled “The Best of Buffalo Springfield,” actually performed as well as their final album, Last Time Around, and surpassed the sales of both Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Again. It’s an artistic success, too; it contains many songs which have a greater quality, with the hindsight of time, than perhaps was fully appreciated at the time. Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” their biggest hit, has repaid itself time after time after time, becoming a soundtrack shorthand for setting a time and place during the US civil rights years. That has to appease him a little, surely, against his always apparent second pegging against his Canadian nemesis.

Judy Wexler – For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I rather like this, with the discordant chimes of piano, this, and the slightly off vocals adding to the sense of paranoia so apparent in Stills’ lyric. For a song with so many cover versions, this is one of very few that add much of anything new or different. The retro guitar and organ are also acutely apt, as Wexler’s vocal gradually take on more treatment. Judy Wexler is a jazz chantoozie with a back catalog that has usually strayed little from standards of that tradition, and that can become a bit supper club. This, however, comes from a 2021 LP entitled Back To the Garden (yes, that garden), celebrating the songs of the ’60s into ’70s. True, some are a bit anodyne, but by and large it pays a listen. Hell, she even makes “Big Yellow Taxi” bearable.

Nils Lofgren – Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Wanting mainly to avoid the progressively corrupted facsimile copies of this proto-metal-punk songs that prevail, who better than Nils to offer this rather more nuanced acoustic take? Lofgren, of course, the teen prodigy who, years ahead of gracing Bruce’s E Street Band, was adding his piano to Young’s After the Gold Rush, and who is now, again, a member of the mighty Crazy Horse. Perhaps Young’s simplest song, it is a righteous snarl on the BS version, offering few clues as to the songwriting the author was capable of, but still remains as one of the more likeable songs within his canon. Lofgren, arguably more a player than a singer, has just the right gruffness required, that not always so successful on the rest of the album from whence it comes, The Loner: Nils Sings Neil. (Whither Nils Sings the Boss?)

Donny Osmond – Sit Down, I Think I Love You (Buffalo Springfield cover)

WTAF!! Donny pejorative Osmond? I know, I know, it’s hard to believe but don’t go. Popping away any of the punch in this second Stills song, it is actually OK. Sure, it is sappy and mindless, as is much of the power of pop music, and should be. Making the Mojo Men version seem positively hardcore by comparison, it has a beguiling and simple charm, allied to the litest of reggae lite backbeats. I am not sure I could listen to the whole album, if indeed it comes from one, but, if hearing this, unknown, I could appreciate quite what he, or his producers, have done with the source material. (Should you need to know, it comes from the Don’s 1971 record, To You With Love, Donny.)

Percy Sledge – Kind Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Unexpected cover number two. I think Sledge absolutely nails this song, the sole Richie Furay song on the album. In the inimitable church organ style of the “When a Man Loves a Woman” hitmaker, with sympathetic brass and a choir in full collusion, it is as far removed from the tasseled buckskin jackets of Buffalo Springfield as I can imagine. Indeed, the idea of Neil, Stephen and Richie, all in tuxes and white silk scarves, sweating in the spotlight, becomes quite appealing, especially if all with appropriately short and brilliantined hair. Percy Sledge may have only ever done one song, but he did it so well that it warrants him doing it all over, even with different words and lyrics.

Sugarcane Jane – Bluebird (Buffalo Springfield cover)

You could say it takes forever for this live version of Stills’ second-finest BS song to get going. And that, don’t you feel, is part of the appeal. It certainly looks a lot of fun. The band are based around husband and wife Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee, who it is here, pregnant and playing the snare drum. Crawford has actually appeared as a sideman on many of Neil Young’s various recordings, as well as for Dwight Yoakam, Eddie Rabbitt, and Steve Winwood. They have a plethora of their own recordings as well, being a top draw in the Gulf Coast circuit.  I guess it is maybe unfair to judge them on a live barroom show alone, but even if you did, I bet you’d stay to the end. And, as support for Dwight’s forthcoming tour, I’d get in early to catch them.

Rainy Day – On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield cover)

It takes quite a bit to de-escalate one of Neil Youngs’s more wistful downbeat whimsies, but, by Jove, this lot manages it, turning this gentle and somber song into altogether a bit of an anticlimactic snooze fest. All the more so, as you realize who was, or may have been, on board. Rainy Day seems mainly to have been an all-star Paisley Underground collaborative, put together, perhaps, to fill such a rainy day in L.A., making it feel more like a week. However, Discogs tells me that this “On the Way Home” was largely a David Roback solo slot, the late Mazzy Star man, which goes some way to explain the narcoleptic presentation. Makes it better, in fact, but I would like to see how would have fared, had he enrolled other rainy Day alumni, such as Susannah Hoffs and Steve Wynn. Rainy Day’s sole product, self-titled, came out in 1984, and included one other Neil Young song, as well as covers by Dylan, the Who, and the Beach Boys.

Scott the Hoople – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I guess the album art is a give-away, this appearing on an all Shakey tribute album, that could actually manage the loss of the ‘e’ and still be accurate. Indeed, we covered the parent album here. Put together by Scott McCaughey, sometime multi-instrumental sideman for R.E.M. until a devastating stroke in 2017. This album was part his therapy, the deliberate Youngian shambles is a perfect fit for the songs, rather than, I hope, all his condition allows. Maxing the inherent psychedelia from the melody and infusing the meter with a lope-legged wobble, it perfectly captures how Neil might have tackled it himself, away from the rest of the band, not least the ham-fisted rhythmic cadences in the original. The organ and the phased guitars exude the atmosphere of a perma-stoned Haight to degree that way transcends the New Christy Minstrelisms in its first iteration. One question: who the hell was Clancy?

Kate Rogers – Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Perhaps Neil Young’s most ambitious song ever, this meandering epic of a song is never going to be open much to covering. Possibly not unwisely, Rogers here is covering more the song in its demo version, “Down Down Down,” as revealed in the (Young curated) BS boxset of 2001. However, she brings in some slight flavors from the wide ranging original that is enough to remind the eccentricity of the song, her delivery sufficient to recall the inherent beauty. Rogers is a Canadian singer who has paddled in only the shallower waters of fame, rather than gaining any full immersion, perhaps coming up against unfair comparisons with the likes of Dido. In covers land we know her best for her 3rd record, Seconds, which is where this song comes from, along with creditable versions of songs by as varied a cast as the Pixies and the Smiths, throwing in Blink-182 and Radiohead for good measure. Worth a listen.

The Beach Boys – Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

The other, I guess, 2nd best known Stills BS song, I was as excited as you to think Burbank’s finest may have done a full-blown vocal cover version of this, wondering quite how it would sound. Sadly that wonder remains untapped, as not a vocal cord is strained in this rendition. Indeed, beyond the guitar motif that introduces the song, lifted verbatim from Stills, that is all you get. Buoyed by the anticipation that Carl and the boys might chime in at any moment, I listened to the end, getting the feel that Carl too had been hoping that, perhaps setting it up as a click track for that very purpose. (I keep saying Carl, as this comes from 2018’s Friends sessions boxset, a time when Brian was, although nominally in control, beginning to retreat a little into the sandbox.) I’d still love to hear the harmonies as or if the Boys joined in.

The Meat Puppets – I Am a Child (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Well, that was a bit different, wasn’t it?! And, whilst other opinions may be available, or even reflex, it has, um, something. Whether it is sufficient that the something is to totally deconstruct and destroy perhaps the most delightful and childlike of Neil Young’s songs is uncertain, but that they certainly achieve. Compared, actually, to the wishy-washy would be copycat performances out there, I prefer it, as I can never see anyone but Neil getting away with the lyrics or the general ambience. Or at least to make it as believable as only he can do. Whether I like it, per se, is another story, which is a shame, as I want to like both the version and the idea of the Meat Puppets. With a name so gross, surely some goodness must arise? The brainchild of the brothers, Curt and Cris Kirkwood, and the initial drummer Derek Bostrom, he now back in the band after a 24 year hiatus, they have had an astonishing 41 year career, nominally still going, and with fans touting for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (unsuccessful) last year. This comes from the expanded version of their 1980 eponymous debut. I especially like that Meat Puppets II contains a song called “I Am a Mindless Idiot.”

Buddy Woodward – Go and Say Goodbye (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Am I surprised or disappointed it has taken so long to get to a bluegrass cover, this and so many of the Springfield songs so open to such interpretation? Be that as it may, this has just the right mix of hokum and sawdust to have feets a’tapping. A Stills song, this, even in his band’s own rendition, forewarns of the country leanings he later explored deeper, if better, in Manassas. Buddy Woodward seems to have been operating a largely off-grid career in bluegrass and Americana, operating out of New York City, and has performed with many a performer of higher repute, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle for two. He has also been a voice artist for the Pokémon series and appeared in the long running TV series of Nashville.

Jakob Dylan feat. Regina Spektor – Expecting To Fly (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Along with “Broken Arrow,” this is the other song that has Young demonstrating his inability to fully engage in any concept of being a team player. Whilst the former has some backing vocals from Furay, this is Young and Young alone, the others possibly even unaware of the stuff he was cutting whilst they were away. I think it ideal that is should be Bob’s boy, Jakob, offering this tribute, as this operates at a level above that of a mere cover, and Jakob’s daddy is perhaps the only artist with a catalog that surpasses even Young’s. Regina Spektor adds a glorious second verse vocal, ahead of the pair coming together for the swooping chorus, or parts of it. It comes from a documentary soundtrack curated by Dylan, the documentary, Echo In the Valley, made by Andrew Slater, and being about the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of the 60s, that proved so elemental in the development of folk into rock of that moment in time. Dylan was instructed to produce the accompanying music, reprising and recalibrating the music made there at that time. Featuring a panoply of other guests, Cat Power, Beck, Fiona Apple, the author of this song also pops up, on a cover of the Byrds’ David Crosby song “What’s Happening.”

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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Nov 092021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

West of the West

“We dreamed of all the crazy places we never been. Like California.” So sings/speaks Bill Kirchen in the classic Commander Cody song “Mama Hated Diesels,” aptly summing up the lure of the Golden State. And, with due hats tipped to Tennessee and to New York State, is there any other that has drawn in so many songwriter acolytes to the flame it has provided, and for so long? Which, by way of introduction, is where Dave Alvin headed with West of the West, a glorious potpourri of songs from the 5th largest economy in the world, pulled together, chosen and sung by the erstwhile Blaster and X man.
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