James Blake – “A Case of You”
When young dubstep prodigy James Blake stows the electronics and takes a seat at the piano, the results always seem to be astounding—like the soulful “DLM” from his most recent album, Overgrown. But his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” on 2011 EP Enough Thunder takes the cake for Blake’s balladeering. Simple as it is, his hurried vocals exude such sincerity and vulnerability that it perfectly illustrates how powerful music can be when it’s just a man and his piano. Or a woman and her guitar.
Van Halen – “Ice Cream Man”
Electing to cover a somewhat obscure blues tune would seem extremely odd for a band like Van Halen, were brothers Eddie and Alex not raised by an accomplished jazz saxophonist and clarinet player. And the suggestive lyrical content that kept the song from being released until 1969 made it a perfect fit for David Lee Roth, who opens the number dedicating it to the ladies. Diamond Dave gets things started off slow and sultry over some acoustic guitar before everything erupts into a typical Van Halen rock epic. Eddie absolutely dazzles with his acrobatic shredding and whammy bar assaults. The tribute to the Chicago bluesman is often overshadowed by the also excellent cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” on the same record, but “Ice Cream Man” stands out as more of a testament to the Van Halen brothers diverse musical background with especially noteworthy performances from Roth and EVH. Fortunately for Brim and the city of Chicago, he was able to open his very own blues club in his hometown with the royalities from the cover.
Chelsea Wolfe – “I Let Love In”
Chelsea Wolfe’s unique sound seems to stem from a wide array of musical influences, further evidenced in her choices of song covers. While she’s released a whole EP of Rudimentary Peni covers and an excellent rendition of Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction” that helped reignite her career, perhaps her most powerful homage is to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The title track from 1994’s seminal I Let Love In is Nick Cave offering up the mastery of his simultaneously mellow and melancholy crooning. Wolfe makes Cave’s cautionary woes especially haunting through her distant, reverberating vocals and somber, fuzzed-out accompaniment.
The Beatles – “Twist and Shout”
Technically, the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” is a cover of the Top Notes’ “Shake It Up Baby”, but the Beatles’ version borrows much more from the soul classic than the original. The track appears on their very first UK release, Please Please Me. After ten hours of straight recording, with only fifteen minutes of scheduling studio time left, the band cut their famous rendition of “Twist and Shout” with John Lennon suffering from a cold, trying everything from milk to cough drops to soothe his vocal chords. Lennon gave everything he could for the first take and was physically unable to attempt additional tries. Fortunately, his perfectly scratchy vocals were spot on, despite just being able to make out his coughing in the background. The cover demonstrates the Beatles’ love of early rock and soul music as well their gift at crafting perfectly pristine British pop tunes while John’s strained vocals inject the song with a legendary rawness.
Sondre Lerche – “Bluish”
Talented Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche seems at home no matter what type of music he’s approaching, always relating it back to mature pop sensibilities that belie his youth and experience. So it’s no surprise that when tackling one of Animal Collective’s most beloved tracks from the widely acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavillion, he’s able to strip down the song to its bare bones with just vocals and an acoustic guitar to reveal what a colorful pop tune “Bluish” is, even without the electronic and psychedelic whimsy.