Apr 152022
 

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!

Ukrainians

This post is not about the Ukrainians forced by circumstance onto the world’s stage. All our hearts bleed both for them and their country, subject to the cruelest and vilest of misjudgments, victims of Putin seeking to leave his mark. But it is closely related, being about the Ukrainians, the Leeds, UK-based band, who have been touting their postpunk take on the folk music of the mother country of founder/guitarist Pete Solowka for nigh on thirty years. And a whole lot more than just the folk music of Ukraine, as covers of their musical cohorts and influences, performed in a Cossack/Slavic style, all stentorian voices and balalaikas, also feature large in their repertoire.

Originally, and sometimes contemporaneously, Solowka has been a member of the Wedding Present, and it was that band that sparked the idea into ignition. When venerable and iconic DJ John Peel asked them to perform a session on his long running evening radio show, the Wedding Present decided to perform in the Solowka family language. They played “Hopa,” a traditional song the guitarist had been brought up listening to and singing along with.

Given the favorable reception, and with Solowka’s own grasp of the language not being up to it, they seconded in the presence of Len Liggins–or, to give him his full name, the legendary Len Liggins, a Russian (and Ukrainian) scholar, fluent in each language and a dab on the fiddle besides. This too went down well with the listeners, bar one Roman Romeynes, just possibly not his real name, a musician from another Leeds band, who jested they were taking the proverbial and bastardizing the tradition. So who better to then enroll, this offshoot now having a life of its own, spinning free from the Wedding Present. (The band had sacked Solowka; he said this was due to the greater acclaim given this experiment than the parent band.)

That groundbreaking 1989 Peel session, and the later sessions that followed, all eventually became available in recorded form, with 1991 seeing the debut release by the now-official band, with both band and release being named The Ukrainians. When Romeynes left shortly afterwards, the band consolidated as a more regular unit, leaving the Wedding Present linkage shattered behind them.

They initially found an appropriate home on the maverick and left field record label Cooking Vinyl, home also of Jackie Leven and Oysterband. After making a further pair or so of albums with that label, they started their own label Zirka, through Proper. They have been relatively prolific, with three further studio albums of (largely) original material, two live recordings, a covers compendium (which we reviewed here), and a glut of EP and singles. These have encompassed further covers, including of traditional Ukrainian folk songs, as well as all sorts of idiosyncratic songs drawn from sources as unlikely as varied. All transcribed into their well-worn mix of fiddle, accordion and balalaikas, accompanied by crashing bass, resounding guitars and pounding drums.

Perhaps classifiable as a niche taste at home, they have become superstars in the eastern European diaspora, not least Ukraine itself. Under the cataclysmic events of the the past six or so weeks, the band have decided they cannot stand idly by, and have launched a tour, all monies going in support of the refugee crisis.

Ukrainians Benefit

Let’s look at some of their covers….
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Jan 212022
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

California Dreamin' covers

Michelle Phillips had never seen snow before. She grew up in Mexico and California, so when she went to New York to stay at the Earle Hotel with her husband John, she didn’t have the right clothes. The couple had spent the day walking together, stopping by a church to warm up in the process. The next morning, John woke her up and told her to write this down.

“This” was the start of “California Dreamin’,” the Mamas and the Papas’ first big hit. It was earmarked to be Barry McGuire’s next big hit after “Eve of Destruction” – they’d recorded the backing vocals for him and everything – but then the powers that be decided to strip McGuire’s lead and add Denny Doherty’s. The Mamas and the Papas version came out first, and in Los Angeles, it did nothing. But in Boston, a town that knows a thing or two about wishing for warmth in the dead of winter, it hit big, and from there it soon made it to all of America. (Even if most of America, including Cass Elliott herself, misheard the lyric “I got down on my knees / And I pretend to pray” as “I began to pray.”)
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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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Aug 312021
 
best cover songs august
Brandi Carlile – We Belong (Pat Benatar cover)

Cheating a little as we missed this one in July, but if you too haven’t heard the acoustic “We Belong” Brandi’s been playing on tour with The Twins, it will be worth the wait. “We belong together” takes on a whole new meaning as we (try to) come out of quarantine. Continue reading »

Jun 172019
 
jamestown revival california dreamin

Recorded in a remote cabin studio set in the San Isabel National Forest in Buena Vista, Colorado, San Isabel, the third full-length record from Austin-based duo Jamestown Revival has them taking full advantage of the buzz that is being created with the upcoming music documentary Echo in the Canyon set to be released in September. The documentary, much like the band itself, evokes the essence of the Laurel Canyon artist enclave just North of L.A.’s Sunset Strip along with the spirit of Crosby Stills and Nash, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and many others. Continue reading »

Jakob Dylan and Jade Castrinos Team Up for Mamas and the Papas Cover

 Posted by at 1:33 pm  Comments Off on Jakob Dylan and Jade Castrinos Team Up for Mamas and the Papas Cover
Apr 292019
 
jakob dylan jade castrinos

Even though it was never a single, the Mamas and the Papas’ 1966 breakup anthem “Go Where You Wanna Go” has found a place on numerous greatest hits compilations. The track’s catchy chorus embodies how we imagine the free-loving spirit of the ‘60s: “You gotta go where you wanna go / Do what you wanna do / With whoever you wanna do it with.” Shortly after its release, the track became an actual hit for the 5th Dimension (who are getting covered a lot this month). Continue reading »