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Rewinding August | The Best Covers

Bird & Bee, Jesse Dayton and Surfer Blood make other folks' songs their own.


Everybody loves a great cover tune. And if there’s one thing better than a great cover tune, it’s a whole album of them. Here are the best tribute discs of the the month, in alphabetical order. Click on the cover picture to read the original review (and listen to the original album in full).

The Bird & The Bee
Interpreting The Masters Volume 2: A Tribute to Van Halen

WHO ARE THEY? The L.A. indie-pop duo of dreamy chanteuse Inara George (whose father was late great Little Feat frontman Lowell George) and keyboardist Greg Kurstin (whose subsequent career as a Grammy-winning superproducer has sorta overshadowed his own songwriting and performing career).

WHAT IS THIS? Just what it sounds like: A lovingly lighthearted (and guitar-free) tribute album to the unbridled musical glory of California arena-rock hedonists Van Halen, as fronted by the one and only David Lee Roth (sorry, Sammy). For those keeping score at home, this is also a sequel to their likeminded 2010 tribute to Hall & Oates.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? First and foremost: Abso-freakin’-lutely awesome! George and Kurstin (along with studio musicians, old pals and VIP guests like Beck) transmogrify VH classics such as Runnin’ With the Devil, Panama, Hot For Teacher, Jump and Unchained into synth-fuelled pop, rock and jazz masterpieces — while reverently recreating virtually every helium-huffing shriek, fretburning lick, hyperkinetic drumbeat and vocal ad lib. To quote George quoting DLR: Oh. My. God.

Jesse Dayton
Mixtape Vol. 1

WHO IS HE? The Austin Americana singer-guitarist who has lent his tremendous six-string skills to everyone from Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to X and Supersuckers — when he isn’t scoring (and sometimes appearing in) Rob Zombie movies or releasing his own killer solo albums.

WHAT IS THIS? Cool revamps of songs he didn’t write. And in keeping with both the title and his catholic tastes, the roster runs the gamut from singer-songwriters like Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne to The Cars, The Clash, AC/DC and Dr. Feelgood.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A guy who clearly believes that the point of covering a song is not to Xerox it slavishly, but to bring something new and interesting to the proceedings — and if possible, make it your own. Which is exactly what Dayton does to most of these songs.

Surfer Blood

WHO ARE THEY? A suitably surfy indie-rock outfit from Florida whose founding members originally christened their band Jabroni Sandwich — so really, Surfer Blood is a step in the right direction in more ways than one.

WHAT IS THIS? Their fifth studio release is exactly what its title and artwork suggest: A collection of covers. To their credit, it cuts a pretty wide stylistic and historical swath, including left-field cuts by everyone from Cream and Chad & Jeremy to Pavement, OutKast, Liz Phair and The Breeders (but no Fleetwood Mac, despite the Tusk-inspired pic).

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Gently scrappy and lightly surfy, in keeping with their general sonic profile — and in a way that gives these songs a loose, breezy immediacy that goes well with a covers set.