Last year must have been the year of the cover tune. Leading the pack of recordings devoted to the cover concept was Herbie Hancock and his star studded The Imagine Project. Herbie skillfully drove his crew of John Legend, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Pink, Seal and more through songs like “Imagine” and “Don’t Give Up” resulting in a big victory for all (as well as a Grammy). Marc Cohn walked us back to 1970, proving it was a very good year for songwriting. You can’t really miss with songs by John Lennon and Van Morrison but there’s some nice surprises with Aimee Mann and India.Arie (also with Herbie) dusting off Badfinger and Bread for a fresh sound. Two more that got some good play are Bettye Lavette and her Grammy nominated soulful Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook that includes a moving Led Zep’s “All My Love,” while The Bird and the Bee dug into the hits of Hall and Oates for what looks like the first of a series with Interpreting the Masters – Volume 1. Peter Gabriel was doing his solemn back scratching thing, John Legend and The Roots sounded the wake up call and Sting was focusing on well, Sting.
While 2010 was particularly generous to the cover tune, not all covers are created equal. It helps to start with a great song but to really stand out, there needs to be a twist. Some sort of gender or genre bending that lives up to, or better yet, outshines the pre-make. My favorites are the ones that have flown under the radar and I’d like to think we’ve got some pretty good sh*t. So I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Here’s a taste of some of my best goods:
Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson’s sultry versions of “The Weight” and “Harvest Moon” have long been high on my list but the more recent “Closer to You” by the Wallflowers has since taken the top spot. It took awhile, but Blue Note finally got wise (kind of a no-brainer) and put out a collection of her best pop covers and every cut is a classic.
Cassandra Wilson – Closer To You
Another guy filed under jazz that shouldn’t be tied down is Jamie Cullum. He always outdoes himself, but the spin he puts on Rhianna’s “Don’t Stop The Music” is OFF THE CHARTS!
Jamie Cullum – Don’t Stop The Music
Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” reaches new heights in the capable hands of Paul Anka and his slammin’ big band (the “My Way” shout out alone makes it worthwhile). If you dig this, then his Rock Swings takes hip to a whole new level.
I know a few die-hard Dave Matthews fans who let this one slip by. Dave guesting with jazz funk band Soulive on the Ani DiFranco tune “Joyful Girl.” Need I say more?
I first heard this on KCRW’s Eclectic 24 and he had me at, “Girl, close your eyes.” It’s Brazilian singing sensation Seu Jorge doing “Rock With You” and though it’s gotten some mixed reviews, I think it’s mad crazy ride-the-boogie awesomeness.
Seu Jorge & Almaz – Rock With You
p.s. Just prior to posting, I watched Solitary Man ( with a great performance by Michael Douglas and an interesting view of growing up and aging…or not) which aptly opened with Johnny Cash doing Neil Diamond’s song of the same name. Not sure it gets any better than that.
Ok then, let’s see what you’ve got. And check back again….there’s always more where this came from…