U2’s songs, especially in the ’80s, are distinguished by their wall of sound, with numerous Edge guitars creating an unmistakable signature. For 1987’s acclaimed The Joshua Tree, they added the sounds of American roots music to this stew. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” captures this fusion about as well as any song they did around this time – with The Edge’s trademark ringing guitar plus Bono’s gospel-inspired vocals and the backing vocals mimicking a church choir. Some slide guitar at the end adds an unmistakably American sound to the Irish band.
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.
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.
Today a double album’s worth of material is being released to celebrate the U.K.’s legends of glam rock – Marc Bolan and his band, T.Rex. Coinciding with the group’s long-overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November, AngelHeaded Hipster (its name culled from Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, “Howl”) features 26 covers of classic T-Rex songs by a diverse collection of artists ranging from Kesha to King Khan and U2 to Nick Cave.
AngelHeaded Hipster is produced by the late Hal Willner – who sadly passed away from complications from Covid-19 this past April. In the liner notes, Willner said, “As I was listening and getting familiar with all of Bolan’s work, I discovered that this guy was actually a great composer…I put him in the same pantheon as other composers that I’ve explored before (Kurt Weill, Thelonious Monk, Nino Rota, etc.). So, the concept for the album became to show Bolan as a composer…”
And he goes on to do exactly that.
Alex Kapranos & Clara Luciani – Summer Wine (Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra cover)
Clara Luciani is Nancy Sinatra and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos is Lee Hazlewood on this charming cover. Kapranos wrote, “When the lockdown started, we decided to record [‘Summer Wine’] — more for ourselves than anything else. We wanted to create the atmosphere of an imaginary world away from the confinement we were experiencing. Not that we were unhappy, but the imagination is the greatest medium for escape and adventure… After the lockdown eased off, we got together to film the video with our friends Adrien, Leo, Fiona and Hugo. I love the ideas they had, which suit the mood of the song and reflect our… well, our love of karaoke!”
In the current climate, it was to be expected that protest and anti-government songs would find their way back into rotation. But this cover of U2‘s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by Deon Jones has extra special significance.
At a protest in Los Angeles, Jones was shot at by police, with a rubber bullet lodging underneath his eye, missing it by inches. In response, Jones got together with pianist Jon Batiste to cover U2’s most political track “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from their 1982 album War.