The big story in 2022 covers came from a song that’s almost 40 years old: “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).” After Kate Bush’s classic had its Stranger Things moment, every week we got a half dozen new covers. It’s been six months since the show came out, and they’re still coming! This entire list could have been “Running Up That Hill” covers if we’d let it.
We didn’t, and it isn’t. The song makes one appearance, as do a number of other trendy 2022 items: Wet Leg, GAYLE, and Beabadoobee; the latest Cat Power covers project; posthumous releases (Dr. John, Levon Helm); songs that tie into coming out of pandemic isolation.
But, as always, a joy of our list is all the covers that tie into nothing, and that you won’t find anywhere else. Doom-metal Townes Van Zandt? Bluegrass Eminem? Ska Eddie Murphy? Folk Björk? Psych-rock Groucho Marx? Those are just five of the fifty killer covers on this year’s countdown. So run up that road, run up that hill, run up that building, and read on at the link below.
Experimental Elvis. Surf-rock Kraftwerk. Garage-rock Roger Miller. Stoner White Stripes. Twee Beach Boys. Heavy-metal Townes Van Zandt. Retro-soul Merle Haggard.
There was no shortage of ambition, or wild genre-crossing ideas, among this year’s cover albums. Here are the best of the best.
25. Otu Fuzzy Tunes
Finnish doom metal outfit Otu stay on theme (“fuzzy”) throughout this covers album without ever getting boring. Each of the tracks is of a metal or hard rock song, but the style of cover varies each time. Album opener “No One Knows,” a Queens of the Stone Age cover, doesn’t stray terribly far from the original, just a bit heavier and fuzzed out. This is followed by a version of the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” that sounds almost like an early Nirvana track; the guitar is tuned low enough to sound like a bass, or else it’s a bass guitar playing the main riff. Track 3, a cover of “Iron Man,” is the first on the album to really sound like a true “doom” cover. It reveals that, while the other styles help keep the album from being too one-note, Otu’s strength is the slow, down-tuned, guttural sound of classic doom metal. “Holy Mountain” and “War Pigs” are strong tracks similarly drenched in towering, droning guitars. It’s a fun way to hear some classic tunes and you’ll get the most bang for your buck on this album with some good headphones or loud speakers. – Mike Misch
24. Various Artists Todo Muere SBXV
Todo Muere SBXV celebrates 15 years of the industrial, gothic, experimental record label Sacred Bones (that info will help to decipher the “SBXV”). Things get loud, as when a trio of metal acts Thou, Mizmor, and Emma Ruth Rundle road through Zola Jesus’s “Night.” They also get dreamy, as when ambient artist Hilary Woods warbles “In Heaven” from Eraserhead (that’s right, David Lynch is a Sacred Bones artist).
Even if you don’t know many of the original songs – and, unless you’re deep in this scene, you probably won’t – the cumulative effect is mesmerizing, moving, and at times a little harrowing. In a good way. – Ray Padgett
23. Jason McNiff Tonight We Ride
Jason McNiff may not be the best known of names, but this hard-working singer and guitarist has hewn himself quite a place in the annals of that awkwardly-titled genre, UK Americana. McNiff earned a degree in French and Russian, but the lure of his first love proved too strong. He immersed himself in the fingerpicked guitar of folk and blues, in particular the work and style of the late Bert Jansch. McNiff spent his COVID lockdown hunkering down with weekly online gigs, dubbed the “Sundowner” sessions. Exhausting both his own repertoire of songs and those he already loved by others, he had to learn a whole new catalog of material. Tonight We Ride was the logical conclusion: eleven songs encompassing artists McNiff holds the most in reverence. Sure enough, that includes two Jansch songs, alongside The Beatles (“Tomorrow Never Knows”), Leonard Cohen (“Moving On”), and a couple Dylan tunes too. – Seuras Og
22. AWOLNATION My Echo, My Shadows, My Covers, & Me
The opener clearly reveals this album as also pandemic-born: “how can we dance when our earth is turning? how do we sleep while our beds are burning?” The genre of this song is closer to that of what you might expect from modern-rock hitmakers AWOLNATION, but that’s where my predictions of what would happen next faltered. AWOLNATION provides a soundtrack for the full pandemic roller coaster featuring just as much electro pop as their signature rock approach, as well a variety of guest collaborators.
Feeling down? Jump right into “Take A Chance On Me,” where you might find yourself second-guessing, “wait this is the ‘Sail’ group?!?” Need to refresh your workout mix? There is “Maniac.” Other mood boosters are “Just a Friend” or “Flagpole Sitta,” which you might never have expected to appear together in an album setting. Lest you think this is only a tongue-in-cheek album, introspective choices are woven throughout, like “Wings of Change” and “Alone Again (Naturally)”.
If I had to pick a pair of favorites, one fun and one more serious, they would be AWOLNATION putting the MMMBop in “Material Girl” with Taylor Hanson and “Eye in the Sky” with Beck (not a song I was familiar with before, but now a tune I can’t get out of my head). – Sara Stoudt
21. Various Artists Stór agnarögn
If you’re Icelandic, you probably know these songs. Ásgeir Trausti’s 2012 album Dýrð í dauðaþögn was a sensation in his home country, the best selling debut ever in the country (sorry, Björk).
But statistically speaking, you are probably not Icelandic. So you don’t know the original versions of these ten songs – and if you do, it’s probably via the John Grant-translated English versions. No matter. Sigur Rós became sensations without anyone understanding what they were saying. Ásgeir’s songs have beautiful melodies, frequently soaring into Bon Iver-channeling falsetto, and they work wonderfully in this collection of his countrymen-and-women’s covers. Even if you don’t understand a single word (I don’t!), the music will carry you away. – Ray Padgett
Angel Olsen dropped two terrific covers this month. Her version of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” recorded for the TV show Shining Girls, features haunting electronic textures underpinning her voice. It’s a surprisingly un-folky cover of one of Bob’s early folk songs. Her version of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road standout “Greenville” is just as good, guitar echoing behind her mesmerizing double-tracked vocals.Continue reading »
Jason McNiff may not be the best known of names, but this hard-working singer and guitarist has hewn himself quite a place in the annals of that awkwardly entitled genre, UK Americana. McNiff earned a degree in French and Russian, but the lure of his first love proved too strong. He immersed himself in the fingerpicked guitar of folk and blues, in particular the work and style of the late Bert Jansch.
Ahead his premature death, Jansch had had a residency at London’s 12 Bar Club, playing to the faithful every Wednesday. McNiff made sure he was there, week after week, soaking up the excellence. No doubt Jansch came to recognize the tousle-headed youngster in the front row; it’s no coincidence that McNiff’s first record deal was with Jansch’s brother-in-law’s label, Snowstorm. A slew of releases have followed, garnishing him, along the way with an Americana UK (a webzine) album of the year and a nomination for alt country best of year in the US Independent Music Awards. So, no slouch.
Like many current releases, COVID and lockdown birthed Tonight We Ride. McNiff spent his enforced vacation hunkering down with weekly on-line gigs: the “Sundowner” sessions. Exhausting both his own repertoire of songs and those he already loved by others, he had to learn a whole new catalog of material. Tonight We Ride was the logical conclusion: eleven songs encompassing artists McNiff holds the most in reverence, with a couple of his own for good measure. Unsurprisingly, this encompasses both the accepted great and good–in this case, Dylan, Townes, and the Beatles–as well as a couple from the next generation down. And, of course, a couple from Jansch, his idol, and whose percussive picking style permeates this album. Continue reading »
What’s better than one Indonesian black-metal Dua Lipa cover? Three Indonesian black-metal Dua Lipa covers! Not that you’d ever know these were Dua Lipa songs unless you were listening really closely to the lyrics (and could manage to make them out).
The Band of Heathens – El Paso City (Marty Robbins cover)
During lockdown, Band of Heathens hosted a regular livestream variety show called Good Time Supper Club. One segment, “Remote Transmissions,” featured them covering a new song every episode – over 50 in all. They’re collecting some of the best on a forthcoming album of the same name: Remote Transmissions. “Making records is always about cataloging any point in time. We wanted to celebrate the unique collaborative aspect of the show,” guitarist Ed Jurdi told American Songwriter. “What better way to document the last year than with these songs?” First up is this take on a Marty Robbins country classic.Continue reading »
Ahead of the release of the third volume of Townes Van Zandt’s cover albums, Songs of Townes Van Zandt, Belgian sludge-metal band Amenra have released a cover of Van Zandt’s dark ballad “Kathleen.”
The original is a dark and moody country track, with gentle finger-picked guitar and well timed swells of a string section adding to the the ambiance. Amenra have kept the soft guitar, but have underscored it with a foreboding cello melody, and slightly off-centre keyboard drones. The result is a ballad that just sounds menacing. While Van Zandt’s track had the potential for something to go wrong, this new cover indicates that danger is very much ahead.