Apr 302024
 
best cover songs
The Dirty Nil — Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler cover)

I’m honestly surprised there weren’t more “Total Eclipse” covers during this month’s total eclipse. Perhaps because our total eclipse was of the sun, rather than the heart. Or, more likely, because this song is hard as hell to sing. Best of the bunch came this garage-rocking version from Ontario trio The Dirty Nil. Gritty and raw, and singer Luke Bentham sells the hell out of it. Continue reading »

Apr 012024
 
best cover songs
Aoife O’Donovan — The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (Bob Dylan cover)

Bartees Strange — You Always Hurt The Ones You Love (Mills Brothers cover)

Beyoncé — Blackbird (The Beatles cover)

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Dec 132023
 

Follow all our Best of 2023 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2023

Some of the albums on our list were obvious home runs. Cat Power singing a tribute to a 1966 Bob Dylan concert? You know that’s gonna be great (and it is). A bunch of punk and psychobilly bands blasting through Cramps covers? Pretty much a guaranteed blast. 90-year-old Willie Nelson in the twilight of his career paying tribute to one of his personal songwriting heroes? Good luck not being moved.

Others were more surprising. Reggae David Bowie could go either way. So could free-jazz Harry Styles or indie-rock ELO. And maybe the biggest surprise of all: T-Pain covers Sam Cooke and Black Sabbath…and it’s not terrible??

As always, big names mix with some albums we guarantee you’ve never heard of. To use one of the clichéd words we see constantly in cover-album titles, uncover some new favorites below.


25. Various Artists — Stuff Your Fridge!

Stuff Your Fridge! features 30 tracks, recorded by underground bands you’ve probably never heard, covering all aspects of the Grateful Dead songbook. The covers can be at times both brilliant and/or cringeworthy. The tracks that fare the best are the ones that stray the furthest from the original recordings, such as a goth version of “Cold Rain and Snow” by Delay 77 and a prog metal rendition of “Fire on the Mountain” by Buck Pool. But the compilers saved the oddest for last. That distinction goes to “Attics of My Life” by Holey Hell. It’s a keyboard-driven instrumental, arranged as if written for the soundtrack to a first-generation ‘80s Nintendo game. One can only imagine what they would have done with Drums and Space. – Curtis Zimmermann


24. Amos Lee — Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams seems like a solitary artist despite a steady flow of collaborations with (and covers by) her many admirers–country stars, jazz giants, and arena rockers alike. So it’s a warming surprise to have a full album tribute from an artist like Amos Lee, one who has made his own sizable mark as a songwriter and who is a generation or two younger than Lucinda.

Drawing from all phases of Williams’ discography, Lee keeps mostly on the bare bones side of things, with acoustic guitar or piano supporting his soulful vocals. Certain takes may miss the emotional core of the originals, while on other tracks he brings life to songs that may have felt too downbeat in Lucinda’s delivery of them. Or not–each listener’s mileage will vary. And anyway, Honeysuckle Switches may well find an unbiased audience in Amos Lee fans who haven’t yet known the pleasure of the songs of Lucinda Williams. – Tom McDonald


23. T-Pain — On Top of The Covers

In 2019, Auto-Tune pioneer T-Pain joined the first cast of The Masked Singer in 2019, a television show where celebrities hide their identities behind costumes and sing. T-Pain ended up revealing himself at the very end, by winning, and surprising the judges. T-Pain’s cover album maintains a similar spirit, whether he is still searching for redemption after the death of Auto-Tune or finally at peace asserting his raw talent. He has chosen each song on the album to show off his vocal range and power, spanning from old standards to hits through the ages. You will hear plenty of vocal runs that assert “listen to what I can do,” but they do so without an overbearing bravado, just confidence. Instead of relying on a computer to back him up, T-Pain layers his own voice intricately throughout the entire album. You can hear it in the Glee-like chorus accompaniment in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” His choosing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the first place makes me think T-Pain is not taking himself too seriously with this cover album. It’s a guilty pleasure song, and perhaps not one that would first come to mind for someone whose brand is “Hard&B”. – Sara Stoudt


22. Various Artists — Dead Formats Vol. 2

Pure Noise Records’ second volume of (primarily) indie rock and alternative covers is just as fun as their first edition (which was our 16th best covers album of 2022). 15 artists tackle 15 tracks, as far back in time as Elton John from the ’70s, and there are a few tracks from the ’80s and ’90s, but most are covers from the aughts. Most of the covers are straightforward, high energy performances filtered through the lens of pop punk, but a few really stand out stylistically. Less Than Jake really lean into the vaguely Caribbean air of The Kinks’ “Come Dancing,” going full ska. Lavalove appear to treat Nirvana’s “Lithium” as pop punk, but then, on the bridges, they get really playful, alternately vamping and then embracing an aesthetic similar to Nirvana at their nosiest. Mint Green slow down Incubus’ “Drive” and though they don’t deviate much from the arrangement, the female harmonies stand out from the rest of the collection. (The Linkin Park and Slipknot covers also stand out, but only because they are faithful and the only nu-metal covers here.) – Riley Haas


21. Teddy Thompson — My Love of Country

Anyone not already convinced of Teddy Thompson’s mastery of country music need only waltz into his joy of an eighth album, appropriately titled My Love of Country. It’s here that the singer (hailing from London rather than Nashville, lest you should wonder) revitalizes a trove of country standards from the ’50s and ’60s. And it’s here that he channels his 23 years of professional dalliance in the genre into one immensely satisfying, 27-minute whole.

Teddy has the voice for it, of course, which is as strong, deep, rich, and emotive an instrument as it’s ever been. He also has the necessary conviction to deliver tracks previously made famous by George Jones, Buck Owens, and Ray Charles, as well as the skill to forge a magnificent country cut out of a whiskey-soaked number penned by his famous folky dad, Richard, in 1974: “I’ll Regret It All in the Morning.” He further has the help of an impeccable range of musicians to bring the fine period detail, including Charlie Drayton (drums), Byron Isaacs (bass), Jon Cowherd (piano), and producer David Mansfield (violin/accordion/pedal steel/most other things). That’s not to mention sublime harmony singers in the vein of Logan Ledger. But the ultimate reason Thompson makes “A Picture of Me Without You,” “Cryin’ Time,” and “You Don’t Know Me” sound so heartfelt and effortless is from having been immersed in these songs for much of his life. “That’s the real key,” he says, “having them in your body for a long time.” Amen to that. – Adam Mason

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Oct 302023
 

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!

Back in 2021, Cover Me compiled a list of the top 30 Willie Nelson covers of all time. A comprehensive list, it included covers of many of Nelson’s trademark songs such as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Even then we noted we were leaving out a key component of the story: the number of covers Nelson has recorded himself.

As of this writing, Secondhandsongs.com lists a whopping 991 covers. Granted it counts instances where he re-recorded new versions of his old cover songs with other people. For example: it lists every single duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Nelson’s catalog of covers is both extensive and exceptional. One could easily place many of his covers, such as “Always On My Mind,” “Stardust,” or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” among the best of all time.

In 2023, Nelson has hit two major milestones – he turned 90 in April. and in November he’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – so we decided to revisit his covers collection.

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Jul 142023
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best grateful dead covers

I’ve heard it said that one of the curses of having a hit song is that the artist is forced to sing it for the rest of their life the same exact way it was recorded. While that may be true for some artists (certainly for the Eagles), it has not been the case for the Grateful Dead.

Since they released their first album in 1967, the band has never viewed their recordings as sacred texts. Instead they treated their songs as blueprints, starting places to begin the next great jam. Every time they perform a track, it’s like they’re covering themselves.

Take a song like “Fire on the Mountain.” It was originally recorded by Dead percussionist Mickey Hart as an instrumental called “Happiness is Drumming” on his 1976 album Diga. Robert Hunter eventually added lyrics, and the band began performing it on their legendary Spring ‘77 tour. They later recorded a condensed studio version for their 1978 album Shakedown Street, sung by Jerry Garcia. Since his passing, it’s been performed by many Dead offshoot bands and sung by the likes of Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, Oteil Burbridge, and, even reggae singer Jimmy Cliff. Each version is so different that I couldn’t tell you what counts as the “original.” One can trace a similar pattern with many of the Dead’s songs through the decades — don’t get me started on “Dark Star.”

Artists covering a Dead song have an invitation to reinvent it, as if at the request of the ghost of Jerry Garcia. Given such freedom, it’s only natural that the Dead’s catalog has inspired countless musicians across genres to put their own spin on the songs. This explains why nearly six decades after the band’s formation, and with the latest incarnation Dead & Company wrapping up this weekend, the onslaught of covers shows no signs of ever, ever stopping. These cover songs guarantee the band’s music will live on long after the last remaining members have passed away.

Here is a list of our favorites…

–Curtis Zimmermann

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May 312023
 
best cover songs may 2023
Beck – Hands on the Wheel (Willie Nelson cover)

Willie Nelson’s giant 90th birthday concert in Los Angeles featured a whole host of covers. Some of them featured the man himself. Admittedly, that makes those not really covers, so we’ll feature a couple Willie-less Willie tunes. First up, Beck tackles Willie’s Red Headed Stranger classic “Hands on the Wheel.” (Find another cover of this song in the Best of the Rest list.) Continue reading »