Wednesday, June 2, 2010

FP Top 5: Covers Albums

(Our Weekly Wednesday Countdown)

Since its incipient days, rock music (and later hip-hop and electronic music) has thrived on the juxtaposition of the innovative with the familiar.  In no instance is this more apparent than that of the cover song, that guiltiest of pleasures.  A re-working of a timeless tune allows a band to pay tribute to its idols while simultaneously discovering something new in the dusty depths of musical memory.  

It should be no surprise, then, that on numerous occasions bands have devoted entire LPs to the music of their predecessors, often with spectacular results.  Today we bring you our top 5 cover albums from the last 10 years.  Because we like to keep things contemporary, you'll find no Fakebook or Mermaid Avenue here, although you should certainly try finding them at your local record store.  And, because we limit ourselves to the genres mentioned in the opening, you will not find perhaps the greatest cover album of the last 10 years, David S. Ware's and Matthew Shipp's rendering of Sonny Rollins' hard-bop classic Freedom Suite.   Still, we think you'll find plenty here to please the ear.

5. Phosphorescent - To Willie (2007)
With the possible exception of Johnny Cash, no country-western songsmith embodies the spirit of rock n' roll more than Willie Nelson.  It stands to reason, then, that a generation of indie kids might be drawn to the occasional wonders of country music through the songs of the Red-Headed Stranger.  Athens, Georgia's Matthew Houck, aka Phosphorescent was once one of these indie kids, and his record of Nelson covers is the sincerest form of flattery.

Phosphorescent - Too Sick To Pray (Willie Nelson Cover)

4. Beck, St. Vincent, Liars, and Os Mutantes - Kick (2010)
This is not really an album, but then again this is not really a pipe, so, you know, think about that.  In August 2009, famous Scientologist Beck Hansen decided to get a group of friends together and cover several classic albums track by track.  While his early attempts (The Velvet Underground and Nico, Songs of Leonardo Cohen, Oar) were perhaps a bit too ambitious, INXS' prom-night classic Kicks is the perfect type of record for re-interpretation: beloved but not taken too seriously.  We have posted entries from this series previously, and the album can be viewed in its entirety at the Beck Record Club website.  Below, one of our favorites:

3. Easy Star All-Stars - Dub Side of the Moon/Radiodread (2003/2006)
You're probably thinking the same thing we were on learning of the existence of full-on reggae revisions of Dark Side of the Moon and OK Computer.  You're thinking, "if I saw this in the 99-cent bin at Wal-Mart, I would laugh, turn away, and start wondering what I was doing in Wal-Mart."  But, if you place your faith in Frontier Psychiatrist and give these records a listen, you'll be thinking, "wait...awesome."

Toots & The Maytals - Let Down (Radiohead Cover)

Morgan Heritage - Electioneering (Radiohead Cover)

Gary "Nesta" Pine & Dollarman - Money (Pink Floyd Cover)

2. Various Artists - I'm Not There (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2007)
A double album composed entirely of Bob Dylan covers that somehow we have yet to discuss.  The best way to describe it is: imagine if every good band covered Bob Dylan on one record.  Sold?

Iron & Wine with Calexico - Dark Eyes (Bob Dylan Cover)

Yo La Tengo - I Wanna Be Your Lover (Bob Dylan Cover)

1. Dirty Projectors - Rise Above (2007)
Dave Longstreth's Dirty Projectors became indie royalty with the 2009 release of Bitte Orca,  but this re-imagining of Black Flag's seminal hardcore record Damaged remains the band's finest work.  This is a covers album in the loosest sense imaginable; with the exception of the lyrics, Henry Rollins' and Greg Ginn's initial songs are rendered unrecognizable.  And yet, even the most dedicated Black Flag purist would have difficulty finding fault with this record.  The Projectors have captured the true spirit of popular music: familiarity mixed with innovation.

Dirty Projectors - Rise Above (Black Flag Cover)

Dirty Projectors - Thirsty And Miserable (Black Flag Cover)

That's it for cover albums!  Coming next week: album covers.

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