Albums consisting entirely of songs made famous by someone else can be decidedly hit or miss affairs. When an actor like William Shatner gives birth to a record of space related songs on the horribly named Seeking Major Tom record, a platter that is an assault to the ears and absolutely tortures stone-cold classics like “Space Cowboy”, “Rocket Man” and “Walking on the Moon” and Pat Boone is given valuable studio time to cut 12 “Metal” tunes on In a Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy covering “Metal” classics “Smoke on the Water” and “Love Hurts” along with an absolutely horrid version of “Holy Diver” that warrants Ronnie James Dio coming back from the dead to kick Pat Boone’s ass, a legitimite case can be made to ban the genre altogether.
And then there are the good ones. And there a lot of them. The Walkmen took their fandom to the next level with their nuanced recreation of Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cat’s that was itself essentially a covers record, and the Flaming Lips recently came out with a somewhat bizaar guest driven track by track rendition of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band which is strangely cool, and is probably considered epic to a Flaming Lips fan, but hardcore Beatle fans would probably be better served checking out Cheap Trick’s Sgt. Pepper Live.
Willie Nelson has released a lot of really good covers albums, the best of which is probably Willie Sings Kristofferson, and even the iconic Bob Dylan has joined Rod Stewart with songs performed from the great American songbook.
Here are five top-notch artist covers albums very much worthy of some of your ear time.
Metallica – Garage Inc.
Very much a genre specific selection here, this one tend to veer slightly more to the rock side vs. the heavy metal bombastic playing we are used to from Metallica. Scoring high marks for the song selection here with Seger’s “Turn the Page,” the Thin Lizzy anthem “Whisky in the Jar,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone,” this one is a mighty fine road trip record and on that will definitely scratch that hard rock itch.
Bryan Ferry – Dylanesque
When the first line of the song hits you between the ears “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too” the line from “Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” this time delivered by Roxy Music front man Bryan Ferry, you immediately know that this version rides the same side of the track as the original, and that this song, or any other Bob Dylan song for that matter, is in the capable hands of a master. A master paying tribute to a master. Highlights are “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and the somewhat over looked classic “Make You Feel My Love.” The version of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” might be the second best cover of the song just behind the almost death bed performance of the song delivered by Warren Zevon on The Wind.
k.d. Lang – Hymns of the 49th Parallel
This unique take on the covers genre, covering songs by Canadian artists, works well mostly due to the fact that two of the most brilliant songwriters ever just happen to be from north of the border in Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell. All of the arrangements here are short, sweet and too the point with k.d.’s voice on brilliant display front and center. “After the Gold Rush” and “Helpless” the two Neil Young songs presented here are first rate, and “The Day I Walk,” a song written by the criminally ignored (except by the critics) Bruce Cockburn is a pleasant surprise. The real stunner here, of course, is Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. in a Beatles vs. Stones sort of debate the jury is still out among many as to which version is better. This one, or the Jeff Buckley version. While the studio version presented here is certainly terrific, seek out a live version. It will change your life.
Dexys – Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul
Dexys, the later day version of Dexys Midnight Runners of “Come On Eileen” fame may not be that well known on certain sides of the pond, and lead singer Kevin Rowland certainly could shop in any mall in America without fear of recognition, but all of that being said, Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul is on fine record, forget covers record.
The album is 1/2 vinatge traditional Irish standards and 1/2 carefully curated from an eclectic palate of artist including Joni Mitchell, LeAnn Rimes, and The Brothers Gibb, with a couple of tasty nuggets from the great American songbook thrown in for good measure. “You Wear it Well” sounds perfect with the Dexy-fied arrangement and Rowlands exquisitely deep voice, and the Johnny Cash deep track 40 Shades of Green sounds like it could have been a traditional Irish ballad, Country style.
The opener “Women of Ireland” is a beautiful instrumental and a perfect mood setter to carry you on a sea voyage to the Emerald Isle. “To Love Somebody” is brilliant, and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” is stunning.
This record released in 2016 is a good one. Better than good actually.
David Bowie – Pin Ups
This album, released between Alladin Sane and Diamond Dogs represented sort of the last hurrah for Ziggy Stardust, and Bowie was in fine peak form. Choosing a set of songs that were his personal favorites some of these songs were bona-fide hits of the day including The Easybeats “Friday on My Mind” and The Yardbirds “Shapes of Things” while others more are obscure deeper tracks by major acts like “See Emily Play” the Pink Floyd Song and the Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” “I Can’t Explain” in the slowed down version presented here is distinctly different that the original, and “Here Comes the Night” is a scorcher.
Pin Ups was the swan song for Mick Ronson and the Spiders from Mars. What a way to go out.
Steve Earle – Towns
Jesse Malin – On Your Sleeve
Joseph Arthur – Lou
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Kicking Against the Pricks
Elvis Costello – Almost Blue