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Monday, March 31, 2008

10 (+1) Great Covers

Steve talks cover songs and I can’t help but think about some of my own personal favorite covers. While it’s true that it’s very rare for a cover to outshine the original, I think it’s just as true that many cover versions bring something new out of the song. Update: And check out Jed’s post (and thanks for the link) on the subject.

These are a few of my favorite things, although I’ve done it with a twist. Every other song is something covered by Mark Lanegan or a Lanegan-related group. If you don’t like his voice, you might want to skip those; if you do like his voice, they would make a tremendous EP all on their own.

Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
Leonard Cohen penned a beautiful song, but Jeff Buckley’s voice and arrangement made it into something as near perfect as can be. It’s not often that I would call a man’s voice angelic, but Buckley’s qualifies. The entirety of Grace is worth hearing, but “Hallelujah” is tremendous.

Twilight Singers - Live with Me
Massive Attack’s “Live with Me” is a sort of mutant cross between electronica and blues with Terry Callier on vocals. Great stuff. Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers slow it down a bit, bring out the full-on blues experience, and gives Mark Lanegan the chance to make it more desperate and earthy than the original.

Slobberbone - To Love Somebody
The Bee Gees’ wonderful “To Love Somebody” has been covered by more people than I can remember. Some of the best--and, to me, most surprising--were Janis Joplin, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Slobberbone. And it’s Slobberbone’s version that I like the most. Slobberbone turns the R&B number into a slow, warm country ballad. Great stuff.

The Walkabouts - Feel Like Going Home
When Charlie Rich sang “Feel Like Going Home”, it came out pretty and nice. When The Walkabouts sing “Feel Like Going Home” it becomes something more personal and the weariness of “everything I done is wrong” becomes more real. Mark Lanegan’s voice comes in on the third verse ("Cloudy skies are closing in...") like an old man facing his death after a long life and wanting the release. It would be brutal if it weren’t so pretty.

The Gourds - Gin and Juice
Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” wouldn’t normally seem like a perfect fit for a bluegrass makeover, but it is one of the most fun songs to come from the 90’s alt.country (whatever that means) movement. Enjoy the groove and laugh when you hear the heavy accents singing about ghetto thug life.

Mark Lanegan - Carry Home
The original from the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce is a little rock number from The Gun Club’s album, Miami, but Mark Lanegan makes it his own. From his album of covers, I’ll Take Care of You, “Carry Home” becomes a sparse slice of Americana that is hardly recognizable as the original--just a simple guitar framing Lanegan’s rich, deep voice. 

Johnny Cash - Hurt
When Nine Inch Nails recorded “Hurt,” I would never have imagined that Johnny Cash could turn it into a deeper lament than the original. But his aging voice and emotional reading of the lyrics stand as one of the most blatant and affecting looks at failure, regret, and mortality.

Screaming Trees - Darkness Darkness
Basically a throw-away from the song from the Trees for the True Lies soundtrack, their cover stands well against The Youngblood’s original. It’s fun to hear Lanegan and company hitting full rock stride with a song that fit beautifully with their own work. A perfect fit.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole - Hawai’i ‘78
Best known for his shockingly pretty cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole also covered “Hawai’i ‘78”, a song originally recorded by The Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. Iz’s voice was truly special; sadly he died far too young from complications related to his morbid obesity (at one time weighing well over 700 pounds).

Soulsavers - Blues Run the Game
If you’ve heard “Blues Run the Game,” it was probably Simon & Garfunkel’s pretty cover of the little-known Jackson C. Frank original. The Soulsavers trade the folk guitar in for gentle piano and cello. Folkies will always love the original, but for the rest, the Soulsavers created a song that won’t ever be stuck in one time zone. Others have covered the tune, but none quite so effectively.

Bonus - Megadeth - These Boots
Nancy Sinatra couldn’t pull off the rocking attitude that comes with Megadeth’s speed-metal version of her rebellious classic. To be fair, Dave Mustaine will never be as cute as she was when she sang the song, but his growl does have a certain charm.

Big Bonus Territory
In the extended entry is an assortment of the songs and artists listed here. Where I couldn’t find an original or a cover, I went with something by the covering artist. And, yes, Megadeth is there at the end.

Enjoy.

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