Music Column: Bands show their brightest versatilities via coversBy Katie Huff | 01/23/2018 12:55am
This weekend, Jason Isbell did a three-night run at Alabama Theatre starting Thursday and running through Saturday. This marked the beginning of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s tour following the release of “The Nashville Sound.” Isbell’s setlist was extensive and perfectly appealed to the roaring Alabamians. The night ended with a cover, the perfect cover if you ask me. The audience broke into a universally bittersweet smile and gently swayed as they sang “Oh yeah, all right / Take it easy baby / Make it last all night / She was an American girl.”
After news broke about Tom Petty’s death on Oct. 2, Isbell tweeted “I can’t think of an important moment in my life without an accompanying Tom Petty song. Every night we walk off stage to his music. So sad.”
On Friday, Jan. 19, Petty’s family released a detailing the heavily influential American Rocker’s cause of death. Petty’s death was ruled an accidental overdose after being prescribed multiple pain medications to treat emphysema, knee issues and a fractured hip.
One of the drugs mentioned in the medical examiner’s report is fentanyl, linked to other recent accidental overdoses, including Prince, Lil’ Peep and, allegedly, Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. While these overdoses have increased vital conversation about the opioid epidemic, these drugs continue to permeate into society. In Massachusetts alone five people are dying from an opioid overdose everyday.
While this problem is dreadful because of its possibility for prevention, Isbell made this moment celebratory and jubilant. There was still a sense of melancholia, which is par for the course when it comes to Petty covers, but there was also a joyful nostalgia that made the performance unique.
The consummate cover comes from the intersection of a few varied but important concepts. One of the foremost qualities of this ideal is a song that the audience is surprised to hear. Maybe this means they think “I haven’t heard this song in awhile and forgot how much I used to like it” or “I would never expect this band to play this genre of music.”
Haim, the trio of sisters with an affinity for Prince and all things cool, covered Shania Twain’s “” for Like A Version, triple j’s weekly segment of in-studio covers. Most of the artists featured on Like A Version put their own exciting spin on an unlikely song, making me constantly wonder how they could make it look so easy. The Haim video features a coyly appealing guitar solo from Danielle Haim. Say what you will about Haim’s new album, but this cover makes Shania cool, as if I were a 7-year-old again. Other Like A Version covers to enjoy: , , .
Another successful variety of cover is to choose a song that your audience is unlikely to know. This gives the artist the chance to further their listeners’ knowledge of certain musical stylings or artists. It also serves as a peek into the music that has influenced the band in some cases. Whitney, the Chicagoan folky rock band personified in dreamy tracks full of musical delights and elegant lyrics, often covers the song “.”
“Magnet” was made famous by NRBQ, an American country rock band that formed in 1966. Based on that description, I would never opt for this band, but after hearing Whitney cover this track I have an immense appreciation for the original song and the cover. Whitney covers this song flawlessly with the addition of a funky horns section that makes an easily danceable song even more jive-inducing. As a cover, it performs its function well by intimating the band’s vast appreciation and knowledge of artists while playing a track that is enjoyable for the broad audience.
A cover can show another side to an artist. Maybe you’re made aware of the vast coolness and cleverness of a band. Maybe you’re able to see their appreciation and respect for other artists and those that motivate them to make innovative music and performances for themselves and their audience.