Jan 302021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

There are few bands with such a way with covers as the Cowboy Junkies, that in no small part to the icy warmth of singer, Margo Timmins, an astonishing 60 this month. She was born in Montreal, 1/27/61, and I have long been a fan, maybe not from the very start, but certainly once ‘Trinity Sessions’ threw down the gauntlet, quietly and emphatically. Birmingham Town Hall, in the English midlands, used to be a dreadful venue, any sounds not completely muffled being left free to echo around the pillars, hopeless for any band with any degree of amplification. It has since had a refurb, and has lost, thankfully, that legacy, but the Junkies were perfection there then, every pin dropping with perfect clarity, the most important pin being that of Timmins, an ethereal shimmer filling the gap between the controlled calm of the instrumentation.

In the subsequent years the band, Timmins and her two brothers, Michael on guitar and Peter on drums, along with family friend Alan Anton playing bass, have strayed little from that template. Initially supplemented by the instrumentation of Jeff Bird and others, adding mandolin, harmonica, dobro, steel and fiddle, latterly it would become the core quartet, as blues became as much an influence as country had been before. The band had been started by Michael, a record-hungry youth who had been in bands since high school. Margo had never sung in public before he goaded her to add vocals, and she initially sang facing away from the stage, such was her crippling shyness, echoing the experiences of Michael Stipe and Jim Morrison, two other equally iconic vocalists.

Over a 35-plus-year career, the Cowboy Junkies have produced 18 studio albums, six live albums, and seven compilations, with innumerably more material courtesy their website. (Sadly it seems that much of that rare and archive material in currently unavailable.) Covers have always been a feature; most of their records containing one or two, and they’re staples on tribute projects, to artists as varied as Gram Parsons and Blind Willie Johnson. In 2009, Timmins also found the time to release an all-cover solo album, enticingly entitled Margo’s Corner: The Ty Tyrfu Sessions, Volume 1. She has also added her froideur to any number of other artists, as a backing or additional singer, usually to fellow Canadians.

Let’s drill down into some of the best examples of her transformative skills, starting with perhaps the best known and, arguably, the best example.
Continue reading »

Oct 282020
 
aa williams lovesong cover

“Lovesong” is The Cure’s biggest American hit and, as a result, so it’s possibly their most iconic song to casual fans. (It was a comparably minor hit in The Cure’s home country, so Brits might be a little surprised to hear this.) The song is typical Cure: an iconic bassline but otherwise pretty minimal accompaniment in the verses with a lush orchestral sound in the verses. It’s one of Robert Smith’s most emotionally direct and upbeat songs, which likely goes a ways to explaining its popularity.

A.A. Williams is a trained pianist and cellist who was off to a promising start to her professional career, with a buzzed-about EP in 2019, before the pandemic derailed everything. She’s still been able to release her debut album this year, and has been spending her pandemic time recording covers, like many musicians. We covered her “Songs in Isolation” series back in April.

In Williams’ hands, “Lovesong” is transformed into a mournful, longing plaint. Williams has slowed the song to a crawl and has replaced The Cure’s elaborate instrumentation with her solitary piano (removing many of the hooks as a result). Whereas Smith is singing a pledge to his soon-to-be wife for their wedding, Williams’ version of the lyrics is for all of us who have been separated from a loved one due to this terrible pandemic.

Check out our list of the 30 Best Cure Covers Ever.

Oct 262020
 
miley cyrus covers

In 2020, Miley Cyrus has spent lockdown reinventing herself, unleashing new old-school rockstar personal on her recent performances on MTV Unplugged and the Save our Stages Festival on Youtube. She covered a whopping seven songs over both performances – five in Unplugged and two in the SOS performance, her choices signaling her current touchstones. 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 »

Aug 192020
 

It isn’t any longer a surprise when avowed adherents of one tradition tackle another, and folk singers tackling the pop charts is one of the staples of current expectation. And it can be a mixed blessing.

Kate Rusby has one of the purest and most distinctive of voices that grace the UK folk circuit, and has been one of the most successful, her career stretching back over three-plus decades. Firmly associated with the trad. arr. firmament, her voice, with acoustic guitar, fiddles, and squeezeboxes reaping the songs of old England, she also writes material that can fit into that style seamlessly. An unmistakably Yorkshire presence, her accent unadorned by any need to adopt the faux-ploughboy (or -girl) many folkies seem to adopt, her whole persona seems inhabited by the tradition. There are no messages, she has no soapbox–just the singing. Continue reading »

May 292020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs may 2020
Daniel Romano’s Outfit – Sweetheart Like You (Bob Dylan cover)


This one’s for all the Dylan superfans. In 1984, Bob Dylan played three songs on Letterman with L.A. punk band The Plugz. They were gritty and garagey and raw. It boded well for his new sound. And then he never played with them again. The album he was ostensibly promoting, Infidels, was much smoother, helmed by Mark Knopfler. For those who still wonder what could have been, Daniel Romano covered the entire album as if he’d recorded it with The Plugz. Continue reading »