The Staves cover of ‘Songbird’ is one of a kind




By Alexandria Sardam

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It’s been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But is that true in regards to all facets of life? And of music?

In this week’s column, Pardon the Interlude brings forth some of the most thoughtful, sweetly produced pieces of musical homage to the classics-and some new tunes-covered by solo acts and full bands alike.

After feverishly skipping consecutive covers on the Rumors Revisited album that came free with British rock magazine, Mojo, I finally found some solace in the song, “Songbird” as performed by The Staves.

Yet that moment of relief was more than solace, it was more like a moment of, this is actually quite breathtaking.

While Fleetwood Mac is no stranger to being covered by everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Sister Hazel, The Staves took their feminine, gentle wrath and spun out one of the most glorious Fleetwood Mac covers to date (Sit down Dixie Chicks).

While sticking to their original harmonies and acoustic warmth, The Staves captured the 1977 song from a rejuvenated perspective, fashioning the song into something that didn’t quite sound like the original-in the most non-jarring way.

The Staves version of “Songbird” gets the award for most creative cover. Well done ladies.

Unfortunately, it’s common for artists to reproduce exactly what they hear when performing covers, but for Thom Yorke’s cover of “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young it’s not exactly like that­– even though it might sound that way. Whenever Radiohead or soloist Yorke covers Young, especially in songs like “After the Gold Rush” that display a higher falsetto, Yorke simply nails it with freaky precision. The timbre in Yorke’s voice when it climbs with the piano mirrors Young’s hopeful vibrato entirely. Yorke’s musicianship in the way he covers artists is more of an honorable emulation than a form of interpretive expression. Few artists can actually perform another musician’s work, do it justice and still remain an original artist by performing it in the most pure, untouched sense. Hats off to that crazy, little English dude for getting it oh so right. In a response to what draws him to Young’s voice, Yorke said, “It was just his attitude to the way that he laid the songs down. You know, not just ‘After the Gold Rush’ but everything was all about capturing a particular moment and saying what’s on his mind but putting it in a way that is semi-abstract. At the time I was listening to lots of R.E.M. and that semi-abstract thing identified with Neil Young, but obviously it was a completely different technique. But it doesn’t matter what era, it’s always that thing when you’re laying down in your head, wherever you’re at at the time, staying completely true to that and no matter what it is, staying true to that. And the temptation-especially when people start listening to what you’re writing-is to worry, agonize about how things sound or how it’s coming across. And it strikes me that Neil Young has never worried about that. He’s always completely stayed true. ‘Needle and Damage Done’ the only way that you could possibly write a song like that is, it just comes out of you. It’s like a force of nature and I guess all good songs are like that.” Finally, we have Elton John’s “Rocket Man” as performed by My Morning Jacket. In this cover, Jim James lets the leisurely ease of his voice carry the song. James swaps out the piano for his guitar and while you’d imagine an Elton John song sans the piano would be like a PB&J sandwich without the peanut butter, it actually works beautifully. The only thing that remains hanging over the lyrics is the veil of echoing hypnosis in which the song is played. With the occasional hint of slide guitar, this classic cover is recreated, brilliantly showing how less can often be more. My Morning Jacket’s rendition of “Rocket Man” performed at the Forecastle Festival this summer was one for the books.

Not satisifed with these three? Check out the covers that made PTI’s favorite list, (In no particular order-mind you) that are all worth at least one listen…or two.

“Meet Me In the City” Performed by The Black Keys

“Your Song” Performed by Ellie Goulding, by Elton John

“Cousins” Performed by Mumford & Sons, by Vampire Weekend

“Breathe in the Air” by The Shins, by Pink Floyd

“Running Away” by Matisyahu, by Bob Marley

“Crazy” Performed by Ray Lamontagne, by Gnarls Barkley

“Seven Nation Army” Performed by Damien Rice, by The White Stripes

“Operator” Performed by The Avett Brothers, by Jim Croce

“Kashmir” Performed by TR3, by Led Zeppelin

“Fake Plastic Trees” Performed by Frank Ocean, by Radiohead

“Oh! Darling” Performed by Florence and the Machine, by The Beatles

“I Put a Spell On You” Performed by She & Him, by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

“White Rabbit” Performed by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, by Jefferson Airplane

“Blue Bayou” Performed by M. Ward and Norah Jones, by Roy Orbison

“Band on the Run” Performed by Niki Bluhm and the Gramblers (honorable mention, they did an acoustic cover in a moving vehicle…Yes, YouTube it now.)

“Friend of the Devil” Performed by Counting Crows, by the Grateful Dead

“(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” Performed by Sara Bareilles, by Ottis Redding

The Ultimate Covers:

“All Along the Watchtower” Performed by Jimi Hendrix, by Bob Dylan

“Knockin’ On Heavens Door” Performed by Guns N’ Roses, by Bob Dylan

“Simple Twist of Fate” Performed by The Jerry Garcia Band, by Bob Dylan

“Just the Way You Are” Performed by Frank Sinatra, by Billy Joel

“Cortez the Killer” Performed by Dave Matthews and Warren Haynes, by Neil Young

“Voodoo Chile” Performed by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, by Jimi Hendrix

“The Man Who Sold the World” Performed by Nirvana, by David Bowie

“Black Hole Sun” Performed by Peter Frampton, by Soundgarden

“Hurt” Performed by Johnny Cash, by Nine Inch Nails

And some stuff that should’ve just been left alone…:

“Beast of Burden” Performed by Bette Midler

“Teen Spirit” Performed by Miley Cyrus, by Nirvana

“I Gotta Feeling” Performed by Jeff Tweedy, Black Eyed Peas

“Baby One More Time” Performed by Bowling For Soup, by Britney Spears

“Highway to Hell” Performed by Green Day, by AC/DC

“Another Brick in the Wall” Performed by Marilyn Manson

“War Pigs” Performed by Cake, by Black Sabbath