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Ask Wide Open Country: What Classic Album Would You Want to See Covered in Concert?

Earlier this month, it was announced that Ryan Adams would be covering The Rolling Stones’ classic double-album Exile On Main St. at this year’s Jazz Fest. Adams and legendary producer Don Was (Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones) will be recruiting an all-star cast for the performance at New Orleans’ Saenger Theatre on May 5. After years of producing Stones albums such as Voodoo Lounge, A Bigger Bang and Stripped, Was remixed The Exile on Main St. 2010 reissue (as well as 2011’s reissue of Some Girls).
Rarely do artists perform an entire album in its’ entirety. Bruce Springsteen’s been known to do so with Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run or Born in The USA. In 2016, he did The River Tour, which had The Boss performing his 1980 double-album The River. In 2012, alt-country pioneers Old 97’s did very much the same thing with their 1997 instant classic Too Far To Care as part of celebration for the album’s 15 year anniversary.

In hip-hop, artists such as Nas, Blackstar, Lauryn Hill and Wu-Tang Clan’s The GZA have all performed classic albums in full as one-off festival shows. The jam band Phish has had stretches where they’d perform other bands’ albums in full (The Beatles’ The White Album, The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. for example). And of course, there’s been plenty of rock acts (Motley Crue, The Cure, Steely Dan) who’ve booked tours hoping to bank on nostalgia and the music of their heyday.

A few years back, Texas songwriter Terry Allen performed his magnum opus Lubbock (on Everything) in Lubbock. It was the only time Allen and company—who were the original players on the 39 year-old double record—ever played the album in order and in one sitting.

Texas Gentleman bassist Chase McGillis and songwriter Phillip Creamer have hosted a handful of tribute record nights over the last few years. Typically with an all-star backing band, various special guests that have ranged from Paul Cauthen and Jillette Johnson to Ruby Boots and the Wild Feathers’ Joel King, they have tackled legendary albums such as Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Though not exactly the same, there’s been plenty of general tributes to Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Van Morrison and many others by the pair.

With that in mind, what albums would you want to see covered and by who? Why? We threw that question at the Wide Open Country staff for their top suggestions.

Thomas’s Pick: Mike and The Moonpies Covering Strait Country by George Strait

I love these kind of hypotheticals. I tend to spend way too much time overthinking them. I had a solid 10 choices, but I’m going to go with my gut (and initial) answer. Mike and The Moonpies performing George Strait’s 1981 debut Strait Country. It just makes sense. For starters, Mike and The Moonpies are a well-oiled, beer drinking, honky-tonking, six-piece machine—perhaps the best in the business at playing old school country licks for rowdy dancing crowds. Their latest release, Steak Night at The Prairie Rose, finds them at their peak powers with country groovers about late nights, barroom breakups and jukebox memories.

‘80s Strait isn’t the same as his more refined ‘90s crossover counterpart. It’s whiskey soaked and deeply rooted in the Texas dancehall and honky-tonk circuit. There’s really no bad choice here, but Strait Country is my personal preference. You have a little bit of everything. Hard-edged drinking anthems like “Friday Night Fever” and the breezy “Down & Out.” There’s a warm softness to “I Get Along With You” and the album closing “Her Goodbye Hit Me in the Heart.”
That’s exactly what The Moonpies have used as the template for much of their career — equal parts high & lonesome and free & loose. It’s ‘80s grit heartbreakers and piercing guitars. At only 27 minutes, Strait Country would give them plenty of options. They could follow up with their own Strait-esque material—“Damn Strait,” “Never Leaving Texas” and “Beaches of Biloxi”—or, just keep going down the early Strait rabbit hole with Strait From the Heart and Right or Wrong. Regardless, I’d suggest rough and rowdy dive bars and crowded honky-tonks as the optimal setting with everyone wearing Urban Cowboy garb and sipping LoneStars.

Bobby’s Pick: Old Crow Medicine Show Covering John Hartford’s Aereo-Plain

Don’t let that name or genre label fool you. Hartford did way more than write “Gentle on My Mind” for Glen Campbell, although that alone would’ve made him a future legend. He also brought levity to roots music, writing songs that were often downright absurd without overshadowing his talents as a vocalist and banjo picker. Nor does the silliness of “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” and “Vamp in the Middle” downplay the stacked Aereo-Plain Band, featuring Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Randy Scruggs and a pre-Will the Circle Be Unbroken Vassar Clements. Together, they accidentally helped create “newgrass” for young pickers and old hippies willing to stray from the stringent bluegrass mold. 

A stacked and talented unit in their own right, Old Crow Medicine Show is the best mainstream choice to introduce a new generation of fans to an overlooked classic.  The string band-inspired group being way more blues than bluegrass would be an advantage, as that’d push Hartford’s master work even further away from the norm. Hopefully, these reinterpretations would gain this outside-the-box album some post-dated mainstream acceptance, rightfully placing it in the same stratosphere as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the film Deliverance.  

Jeremy’s Pick: Cam Covering Eagles by the Eagles

Though she doesn’t get enough credit for it, Cam is very much part of the “California country revival” that spans the breadth of the genre with artists such as herself, Jon Pardi, Brett Young and Sam Outlaw. And as she’s shown on her 2015 major label debut Untamed and most recent single “Diane,” Cam is a powerhouse vocalist with the ability to flow effortlessly between breakthrough ballads (“Burning House”) and full-steam-ahead barn burners (“Runaway Train”).

So how cool would it be to hear her tackle the legendary 1972 debut from one of the originators of California crossover country, the Eagles? From album opener “Take It Easy” to the eclectic “Earlybird,” Eagles provides plenty of opportunity for an artist like Cam to spread her wings (pun intended).

As “Diane” and “My Mistake” show, Cam is clearly a fan of huge harmonies, which the Eagles deliver in droves. Imagine her delicate delivery on songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” or what kind of twist she could deliver to a song like “Witchy Woman.” With a clear gift for lyrical empathy, it would also be interesting to hear Cam take some liberties with the male perspective on the record. It’s the kind of reimagining that could pay homage to one of America’s great music titans while still feeling fresh.

Plus, Cam is one of only a handful of modern country artists who seems to have a complete command of the stage from the moment she steps on it. That’s no easy feat in a space where artists sometimes find themselves thrust onto a stage they haven’t yet learned to navigate. Covering the Eagles’ eponymous debut is no small task, but it’s one Cam could answer with equal parts bravado and finesse.

Bobbie Jean’s Pick: Brandy Clark Covering This Time by Dwight Yoakam

They’ve already shown their mutual admiration for one another’s work with their gorgeous duet on Clark’s “Hold My Hand,” but beyond that, Clark is the perfect vocalist to cover one of the kings of tear-in-your-beer country music: Dwight YoakamGuitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. put him on the map and Hillbilly Deluxe made him a certified star, but in my opinion it doesn’t get better than Yoakam’s fifth studio album, 1993’s This Time.

Like Yoakam, Clark has proven that she’s as adept at singing heartbreakers as she is penning them. There’s no one more fitting to cover the sorrowful “Two Doors Down,” bittersweet kiss-off “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” and the yearning “Try Not To Look So Pretty.” Plus, as Clark has shown with her own rollicking tunes like “Stripes” and “Crazy Women,” she’d set the stage on fire with her take on Yoakam’s signature early ’90s hits  “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and “Fast as You.”

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Ask Wide Open Country: What Classic Album Would You Want to See Covered in Concert?