Ever since Bowie’s Pin-Ups turned me on to early Pink Floyd, Small Faces and semi-obscure Who tracks, I’ve been a fan of the Covers Album.
Usually a throwaway album, some people have the ability to turn take a group of songs and make them their own.
I’ve separated the Covers Album from my top albums list this year, due to the large number released this year. Here’s the Top 10 in alphabetical order.
Allison Moorer – Mockingbird
Part 1 of Sister Act 2008, Allison does tribute to other female songwriters with this collection. While I found the production to be a bit soft, Allison has a voice like butter… and I’m a sucker for redheads with buttery voices.
Standout Tracks : Revelator (Gillian Welch), Orphan Train (Julie Miller)
Cat Power – Jukebox
Her second covers album got far fewer raves than her first, but I find this one to be better. Chan hit her stride with The Greatest in ’07, and continues that theme with this collection. If you don’t have the second disc, it’s almost better than the first.
Standout Tracks : Aretha, Sing One For Me (George Jackson), Naked, If I Wanted To (Moby Grape)
French Kicks – Covers EP
A short EP of covers which barely made the list (brevity is not always appreciated) but get a boost from also releasing one of the better LPs this year.
Standout Track : Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (The Shirelles)
Glen Campbell – Meet Glen Campbell
This is an oddly engaging album, and while it’s fairly obvious that Glen didn’t pick these songs himself, he puts a huge amount of empathy and authenticity into each one. A music snob’s playlist of tunes from the Velvet Underground, Replacements, U2 and Jackson Browne gets the treatment (although his version of These Days doesn’t hold a candle to Gregg Allman’s version from Laid Back).
Standout Tracks : Sing (Travis), All i Want is You (U2)
Headless Heroes – The Silence Of Love
Like This Mortal Coil before them, Headless Heroes are a band formed around the idea of covering some great songs. With a roster of great musicians and a fantastic lead singer in Alela Diane these songs are given a timeless spirit.
Standout Tracks : True Love Will Find You In The End (Daniel Johnston), Just like Honey (The Jesus and Mary Chain)
Me First & the Gimme Gimmes – Have Another Ball
Not just a cover album, but a cover band. This is a collection of early, sometimes hard-to-get singles by the band. Listening to this comp vs. their most recent release shows how good they’ve gotten over the years, but they were never bad… picking from a crop of ’70s AM favorites, they prove there were good songs behind the sheen.
Standout Tracks : Mother and Child Reunion, The Boxer (yes, they should do a full Paul Simon album someday)
Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I Lay My Head
I know I’m going to get shit for this one, but I enjoyed this album. Yes, I’m a Tom Waits fan… Yes, she occasionally sounds like a bullhorn… Yes, the production is sometimes over the top… but it’s great to hear Tom’s songs in a different setting and I get the feeling she really loves these songs.
Standout Tracks : Anywhere I Lay My Head, Falling Down (Tom Waits)
Shelby Lynne – Just A Little Lovin’
A tribute to Dusty Springfield, this is a great collection that showcases Shelby’s voice and her command of the material. It seems as if she had sung these songs for decades and brings a connection to the song similar to the one Dusty had. It’s easy to dismiss the material as cheese pop, but one listen will shake that.
Standout Tracks : Anyone Who Had a Heart (Burt Bacharach and Hal David), You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (Pino Donaggio, Vito Pallavicini, Vicki Wickham, Simon Napier-Bell)
The Postmarks – By The Numbers
A great concept (12 songs, each with the number in the title) with a great distribution scheme (one single a month free on eMusic for the first 8 months of 08) that were totally unnecessary, as this album is one of the best of the year, covers or not. A great example of taking recognizable songs and giving them a new spin.
Standout Tracks : Five Years (David Bowie), Nine Million Rainy Days (The Jesus and Mary Chain)
Vetiver – Thing Of The Past
A bit of a freak-folk supergroup effort, but anchored by Andy Cabic, this album is a crate-digger’s paradise, filled with lost and obscure songs sure to stump many a music geek. A quick Google search results in a collection of the originals, which in some cases are far better than the Vetiver effort… but that’s cool, that’s why covers albums rock. Bonus points for having one of the best covers of the year, setting the mood for this entire LP.
Standout Tracks : Houses (Elyse Weinberg), Sleep a Million Years (Dia Joyce)