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.
Thirty years ago, Garth Brooks released his breakthrough album No Fences. Powered by instant classics such as “Friends in Low Places,” “The Thunder Rolls,” and “Unanswered Prayers,” the record would ultimately sell 18 million copies. In the process, it transformed Brooks into a stadium-filling phenomenon and redefined the parameters for success in country music. The album is a quintessential piece of what we now call ’90s County, a hybrid of neo-traditional country twang mixed with ’70s-style acoustic rock and pop balladry.
Listening to No Fences with three decades of hindsight, it’s clear Brooks is more than a singer. He’s an epic storyteller. Whether he’s singing about bank foreclosures, religious epiphanies at high school football games or going to that place where “the whiskey drowns, and the beer chases” one’s blues away, he delivers every line as if he’s trying to convey some deep universal truth. Like many a country star before and after him, Brooks is a master of interpreting other people’s words. Though he co-wrote several of the songs, he sings every track as if it’s his own.
Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.
Last week, I wrote about the hugely influential 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. How influential? Without it, the world – and Jeff Buckley – might never have heard “Hallelujah.”
The 1995 tribute album Tower of Song is not remotely influential. None of its covers have become classics, nor did they introduce any Cohen deep cuts to the popular cannon. Where I’m Your Fan picked the hippest artists of the time, the Tower of Song curators seem to have gone out of their way to pick the least hip. Billy Joel. Elton John. Don freakin’ Henley.
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!
Kelly Clarkson is a genuine pop idol – idol is the key word there. She found fame as the original winner of American Idol back in 2002, mostly on the strength of her amazing voice. Not content to simply rest on those laurels, she quickly put her TV show winner past behind her and sought out a bigger, different sound. Her second album, Breakaway, accomplished that; she netted the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album and sold over fifteen million copies. That’s not bad for an album used as a statement piece about taking control of her own career.
Clarkson has continued refining her sound. At times she’s flirted with rock, as she did with the My December album. She’s indulged in country music as well, duetting with Reba McEntire on several occasions, finally leading to their co-headlining 2 Worlds 2 Voices tour in 2008. No matter what she chooses to sing, Kelly brings that amazing voice. Rolling Stone‘s Arion Berger said that “her high notes are sweet and pillowy, her growl is bone-shaking and sexy, and her midrange is amazingly confident.” With that kind of instrument at her command, any song she chooses to sing is worth listening to.