There are few better storytellers in music than the late Townes Van Zandt, and few more overlooked, which is why it’s exciting to see more contemporary artists celebrate his timeless music as on the 2012 tribute album, Songs of Townes Van Zandt, featuring Steve Von Vill and Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Scott “Wino” Weinrich of Saint Vitus. Though all the covers contained on the album are exceptional, Von Till’s “Black Crow Blues” might just be the hardest-hitting. The supremely smokey voice that many have come to love from the post-metal titans breathes new life into the simplistic, lament-filled hymn of one of country music’s greatest and most tragic figures.
As influential as early sludge was on a young Kurt Cobain, it seems fitting that Nirvana’s somber acoustic number from the seminal Nevermind was given the down-tuned treatment from modern day sludge masters Thou. Their rendition begins pretty straightforward and true to the original before erupting into something seething and relentlessly heavy, conveying just as much emotion as the original—even if that emotion happens to be crushing hatred rather than depression. If their really was “something in the way,” that’s no longer a problem, because Thou’s cover smashed it into tiny bits.
Certainly one of single most covered songs of all time, Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” is as beautifully heartbreaking as music comes, but never more so than in the hands of the prematurely departed Jeff Buckley. Dying at the young age of thirty from an evening swim in Memphis’ Wolf River Harbor, leaving only one full-length album behind, the prodigy son of folk great Tim Buckley more than left his indelible mark on music with Grace, including its haunting interpretation of “Hallelujah”. The subtly intricate guitar accompaniment is equally as resplendent as Buckley’s gentle tenor, at once hopeful and hopeless, reciting Cohen’s brilliant poetry. Magical and moving from start to finish, the song lives on, not only as one of the most powerful covers recorded, but as one of the most powerful statements in music and a dirge for an inspired and talented young artist that undoubtedly had plenty more to share with the world.
There couldn’t have possibly been a more suitable artist to cover Sol Invictus’ neofolk treatise on religion than Agalloch. The Pacific Northwestern black metallers have taken quite a bit of influence from the genre Sol Invictus mastermind Tony Wakeford had large role in creating while still in Death in June. The English band itself recorded two versions of the song, with Agalloch borrowing much more heavily from the latter, it being the folkier of the two and the earlier far more on the industrial side. With both acoustic and electric guitars and sung and sneered vocals, the cover slows down the somewhat hurried tempo of the second version into a perfectly deliberate pace for a blackened neofolk anthem.
In 2012, Boris and Asobi Seksu released a 7″ split with each band covering a song from the other. While Boris’ take on “New Years” is nothing short of excellent, Asobi Sesku really steal the show with their reimagining of the shoegaze-y intro to 2005’s Pink. Where the Japanese trio employed fuzz and psychedelia, Yuki and company deliver a vibrant and dreamy electro-pop track that plays like a nighttime drive through a lit up Shinjuku.