It is my honor to share a birthday with a seminal hip hop balladeer, a grunge god, the hands-down master of New Orleans R&B songwriting, and the best soundtrack and pop-americana producer in the business. Since it was too hard to pick just one, instead of focusing on a single artist or genre today, I'm featuring some of my absolutely favorite covers of the work of LL Cool J, Dave Grohl, Allen Toussaint, and T-Bone Burnett, all of whom were born on January 14.
If I didn't have an outlet for celebrating these four incredible musicians, I'd probably spend the day moping around the house, feeling old. Instead, I get to spend a few hours researching, listening to, and celebrating the songs of their younger days, and mine. Not bad for the last day of my 34th year. Though to be fair, it also helps to realize that I'm younger than all of them.
Today's piece de resistance is Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' incredible cover of Fortune Teller from Raising Sand, their recent all-cover release, which owes its existence to not one but two of these four deities of the musical realm. But the rest of this fine set is worthy of your consideration, too. The envelope, please...
Though Allen Toussaint (b. 1938) has always been recognized as a performer and songwriter in hs own right, most of the songs he's written found fame in either his own hands or the hands of other R&B and rock artists. But his works are so prevalent, they show up in the folk world, too, especially where folk and blues-tinged rock meet. Bonnie Raitt's funky cover of Toussaint's 1970 hit What Is Success pays tribute to both the R and the B. Meanwhile, Fortune Teller, penned pseudonymically by Toussaint's alter ego Naomi Neville, and recorded by bands from the Rolling Stones to the Who, is just incredible in the hands of Plant, Krauss, and our next birthday boy.
- Bonnie Raitt, What Is Success (orig. Allen Toussaint)
- Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Fortune Teller (orig. Benny Spellman)
T-Bone Burnett (b. 1948) spends most of his time behind the scenes in the music world. But even if you've never heard his work as a roots rock Country singer-songwriter, you know his work as a Grammy-winning producer and song-writer for a bevy of musicians you really do admire (Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, Spinal Tap, his wife Sam Phillips) and for a rash of award-winning soundtracks (Cold Mountain, O Brother Where Art Thou, Walk The Line). Burnett plays guitar on the above-mentioned Fortune Teller, and produced the album, too; here's four more amazing covers of songs he either arranged or co-wrote.
- Alison Krauss, Sitting In The Window Of My Room (trad.)
- k.d. lang, Till The Heart Caves In (orig. Roy Orbison)
- Brooks Williams, Libera Me (orig. Sam Phillips)
- Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Alison Krauss, Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby (trad.)
- Update: Coverfreak shares a great T-Bone Burnett cover of Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend
Hip hop artist and actor LL Cool J was born in 1968, and he dropped his first album of major label tracks at 17 years old, which makes the entire hip-hop genre older than you thought. Here's a pair of playful indiepop folk covers of 1987 Def Jam release I Need Love, the first "romantic hip-hop ballad" to hit the top of the pop charts, just to prove it can be done, and done well; irish folk-rock singer-songwriter Luka Bloom and indie folktronic group Sexton Blake do excellent coverwork here and elsewhere, and come highly recommended.
Before he formed the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl (b. 1969) was Nirvana's last and most famous drummer. The folk scene is long overdue for some good Foo Fighters covers; while we wait, check out Laura Love's sparse bass and vocal, Patti Smith's soft banjo-tinged americana, and Kathryn Williams tense string quartet jazz folk -- some of the best from an infinite series of covers of Nirvana songs penned and recorded during Grohl's tenure.
- Patti Smith, Smells Like Teen Spirit (orig. Nirvana)
- Kathryn Williams, All Apologies (orig. Nirvana)
- Laura Love, Come As You Are (orig. Nirvana)
All artist and album links above go direct to label and musician homepages, so you can best support artists directly, and avoid supporting the faceless megacorporations which commodify those artists. Please, folks: buy what you hear if you like what you hear, and help me realize my birthday wish for a future bright enough to contain the infinite possibility of homegrown music, in a world in which artists can sustain themselves without having to keep their day jobs.
Just can't get enough? Cover Lay Down publishes every Sunday and Wednesday, and some Fridays and Holidays. Our archives are open late, but they don't stay up forever, so don't forget to hit up older posts before the songs go back to the ages from whence they came.