Thursday Open Thread: Best Cover Artists

This week’s most pleasant surprise is that Patty Loveless will be releasing new music later this year.   Sleepless Nights, due Sept. 9, is her first album in three years, and it’s a collection of classic country songs.

My first reaction to this was mixed, as I’ve heard some uninspired cover albums in my time.  (Starting Over, anyone?)  But Loveless has turned in some solid remakes over the years, covering everyone from Lucinda Williams to Waylon Jennings with great effectiveness.

Some artists just have a knack for making songs their own, even if they’ve already been hits by others.   I think the best cover artist in country music is Dwight Yoakam.    His album Under the Covers is fantastic, and he’s transformed decade-old songs by Johnny Horton, Elvis Presley and Buck Owens into contemporary hits.

Who do you think is country music’s best cover artist?


  1. I agree that Dwight is a great cover artist and did not like Reba’s cover album. I think that Alan Jackson’s Under The Influence is pretty good. For the most part, I like’d Martina’s Timeless, but there was something about it that kept me from loving it. I liked a lot of Dolly’s Those Were The Days, but didn’t really like the over all product of Mark Chesnutt’s Heard It In A Love Song.

    I, too, have mix feelings about Patty doing a cover album, though I think it’s mostly because I was looking forward to new music by her. I think that if anyone can make a good one though, it’ll be her. So, I’ve decided that I’m still looking forward to the album. In general, I actually like cover songs and albums, but there is always a little hesitance until I hear them.

  2. I agree with Leeann. I would have preferred some fresh music from Patty. My only hope is that she selected a few “off-the-beaten-path” classics in addition to the well-known covers. She could put her own distinctive stamp on just about any song I do believe.

  3. I think Patty is one of the best at covering songs. I also really loved Alan Jackson’s cover album a few years ago. I thought his “Blues Man” was even better than the original and one of my favorite songs by him period.

    I’m very excited about Patty’s new album. She has covered not only the classics before but also a lot of really cool singer-songwriter songs and given them a fresh take.

    From a new report I was just reading: Produced with her husband and musical soul mate, Emory Gordy Jr., and backed by a Who’s Who of Nashville A-list session players, including Harold Bradley, John Hobbs, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Harry Stinson, Steve Gibson and Biff Watson, with background vocals by Vince Gill, Sleepless Nights features 14 titles that the pair culled from a pool of nearly 500 songs. This album of classics celebrates the many facets of heartache that make country music the diary of the common man.

  4. there’s really hardly anything to look forward to when artists are doing cover albums, unless you were born too late for the original. sure, they usually are full of good songs, then again, what would be the point in covering average material? the whole concept of covers basically sucks.

    dwight yoakam is a misleading example. i bet if he decided to put a bouzuki (typical greek string instrument) into the instrumentation of “she wore red dresses” he’d have a #1 hit in greece tomorrow, even without having Kostas translating the lyrics into greek.

    coming back to the concept of covers, how would like those:
    – lebron james covering michael jordan’s big plays next season
    – david hockney covering the mona lisa slightly more california style
    – bobby labonte covering richard petty in next years nascar series
    – last years same day newspaper reprinted on lime-coloured paper today

    anyone jumping up and down on such prospects?

  5. Dwight is still the best, but Keith Urban has put forward some impressive covers in his time. His take on Billy Thorpe’s “Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy” is probably my favorite of those. I’ve also been very impressed by Alison Krauss’ ability to transform any song she covers into a haunting and reasonably depressing tainted-love lament. It works well for her. My favorite example of that would be her take on The Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You.”

  6. Keith Urban has done good with “Country Comfort.” I think he’s a good choice for country ‘cover artist’

    I think Jamey Johnson has the ability for killer covers (he did two Waylon songs on his “That Lonesome Song.”

  7. Patty Loveless is the best. in my opinion, hands down. She infuses new life into every song she covers. Whether in a performance or on a recording, Patty makes each song her own, often besting the originals. If anyone doubts, look through her many fine albums, but also check out her many wonderful performances posted on Youtube, especially her recently posted rendition of Bill Monroe’s “Close By”..Nothing short of breathtaking.

    At first I too was a little disappointed upon hearing this news of an album of covers. I too was looking forward to new material from Patty. But the more I think about it, the more excited I am becoming at the prospect of yet another amazing album from her and Emory. I think this could well be another crowning achievement… “Sleepless Nights” may be yet another incredible specialty album by one of the best Country singers on the planet. I am confident that Patty’s new album will take its place with “Mountain Soul” and “Blue Grass, White Snow” as an instant classic, artistically if not commercially. Add to these the many, many, solid Country albums Patty and Emory have given us over the years, and it is apparent that Patty Loveless has one of the most well balanced and comprehensive repetoires of any Country singer, past or present.

    Some may point to an artist “resorting” to an album of covers as evidence of a career in decline. But in Patty’s hands,it is just the opposite. Judging by what Patty has done in the past, this is bound to be another jewel in her already treasured crown. I think this decision to cover Country classics is an inspired choice by Patty and Emory, and yet another indication that Patty will choose the timeless over the trendy every time! Sleepless Nights is bound to be for classic Country what Mountain Soul is for Bluegrass.

    Patty Loveless is a timeless artist and a living legend. This incredible Kentuckian is as much a national treasure as anything contained in Fort Knox, and I cannot wait to see what she does next!

    -Steve from Boston

  8. I guess I get to be the first one to say that Trisha Yearwood is the best cover artist around. Also, with the exception of her ‘Starting Over’ album, Reba has recorded a superior version of lots of older songs in her day …

  9. First things first…. “YAAAAYYYY!! New Patty Loveless!!”.
    I always appreciated her cover of Lone Justice’s “Don’t Toss Us Away”. Patty has that gift of being able to add old school country to her work and that is a huge part of what separates her from so many other females in country. You can just tell she has an appreciation for it…. that intangible that no voice teacher or manager can give ya.

    I agree with Martina’s “Timeless”. Some cuts are great but others are kinda meh. I really do like Martina but she is (IMHO) one of the most inconsistent artists when it comes to choosing songs.

    I have to give a shout-out to Johnny Cash’s covers near the end. They may be acquired tastes and for Cash fans only but I LOVE “Hurt” and really like his version of U2’s “One” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”. He gave all those songs an entirely new dimension.

  10. wow steve f.!
    your post is almost changing my mindset on cover albums, at least, when it comes to one by patty loveless. could you possibly do a similar post on “bruxelles sprouts”? I dislike that vegetable as much as covers – but who knows…..

  11. The list of patty’s upcoming album’s songs are:

    1. Why Baby Why
    2. The Pain of Loving You
    3. He Thinks I Still Care
    3. Sleepless Nights
    4. Crazy Arms
    6. There Stands the Glass.
    7. That’s All It Took
    8. Color of the Blues
    9. I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever
    10. Next In Line
    11 Don’t Let Me Cross Over
    12. Please Help Me I’m Falling
    13. There Goes My Everything
    14. Cold Cold Heart

  12. WOW! What an impressive track list. I am really glad Patty didn’t just do the same old ‘standards’ over like so many. #11 is a Carl and Pearl Butler song from 1967 that I believe was co-written by Dolly Parton. A real gem. #13 is a fine Hank Locklin tune. And ‘There Stands The Glass’ is one of the greatest country songs ever. I am definitely excited about this album now …

  13. Hey Matt B. – I posted the link to your acoustic version of “Just A Dream” over at Squinty Dan’s. Hope you don’t mind!

  14. My favorite covers artist by far is Ricky Van Shelton on his first three or four albums before he went downhill. He covered some great classic songs like “From a Jack To a King”, “Statue of a Fool”, and “Somebody Lied” that I preferred to the originals because of Ricky’s soaring voice.

    As for the old Davis Sisters 1953 classic “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know”, I’ll have to see how Patty’s version stands up to the duet by Wanda Jackson and Jann Browne.

    A current artist who does a fine job of covering Loretta Lynn songs is Amber Digby, who’s father played in Loretta’s band for over 20 years. Its nice to see young artists keeping the traditions alive. Along those same lines I love the covers done by Sunny Sweeney as I’ll gladly listen to anything Sunny sings with all that twang in her voice.

  15. I’m loving the idea of “The Pain of Loving You”, one of my favorite songs.

    Rick, good call on Ricky Van Shelton! I never get tired of “From a Jack to a King” and “Somebody Lied.” Could’ve done without his take on “Pretty Woman”, though.

  16. One of the things I DO NOT like about today’s music scene (country or otherwise) is the insistance upon finding new songs, preferably those never before recorded by anyone. I much preferred competing versions of a great song fighting it out in the marketplace. I also enjoyed hearing alternative versions of some of my favorite songs as performed by accomplished performers. Most CDs today are full of mediocre committee-written songs, songs that are largely unmemorable. If you have a song that can neither be whistled or hummed, then the success of the song is all in the production

    Having gotten that rant off my chest – the topic at hand: The undoubted King of the cover versions was Sonny James. Sonny was a capable songwriter and had many hits on songs that were not covers, but his ability to take a Pop, R & B or Rock & Roll song and fit it to the country market was uncanny. Among the covers that went to #1 for Sonny:

    “Take Good Care of Her” (Adam Wade)
    “I’ll Never Find Another You” (The Seekers)
    “A World of Our Own” (The Seekers)
    “Only The Lonely” (Roy Orbison)
    “Running Bear” (Johnny Preston)
    “Since I Met You Baby” (Ivory Joe Hunter)
    “It’s Just A Matter of Time” (Brook Benton)
    “My Love” (Petula Clark)
    “Endlessly” (Brook Benton)
    “Empty Arms” (Teresa Brewer)
    “Bright Lights, Big City” (Jimmy Reed)
    “Born To Be With You” (The Chordettes)
    “Only Love Can Break a Heart” (Gene Pitney)
    “Is It Wrong” (Warner Mack)

    Other hits included covers of “What In The World’s Come Over You” (Jack Scott) , “I Love You More and More Everyday” (Al Martino), “Abilene” (George Hamilton IV), “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” (Sam & Dave) and “In The Jailhouse Now” (Webb Pierce)

    No one else in the history of country music has had as much success with cover songs. While in some instances I prefer the original, Sonny’s versions are very good and in some cases better than the original versions

  17. Paul,

    Your mention of the Seekers is cool. My parents love them and “Another You” (their version) was their wedding song. I grew up on them, but they really haven’t carried over to my preferences as an adult. I do think of them fondly though, due to them being a big part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

  18. What is great about the cover album by Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam is the artists just did not go out and record country music’s greatest hits. They went out and found songs that might something to them personally. It made for better, more empathic, performances.

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