The Year in Lists 2015: 15 Terrific Tributes, from Bob Dylan to Sexwitch

A survey of 15 fine tribute albums and covers LPs that came out in 2015

An abundance of superb original music dropped in 2015, but even more extraordinary was the profusion of exceptional tribute and covers albums, which found an array of artists putting their own personal stamp on other artists’ material. Here’s a survey of the finest 15. To check out playlists featuring "traditional" Best of 2015 album nominees, listen here (for releases out January through June) and here (for releases out July through December). Our final picks will be revealed in the coming week.

Ryan Adams, 1989 We’ve already gushed about the prolific indie rocker’s full-album re-tool of the chart-busting LP from Taylor Swift. In sum, Adams’ 1989 is neither ironic nor novelty but elegantly-wrought interpretations that transform sparkly pop into brooding folk or upbeat Americana and force you to re-evaluate and appreciate both the lyrical and instrumental quality of the source material.

Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield, Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith The two Americana darlings started collaborating on songs from the late artist’s catalog while Mayfield toured with the Avett Brothers in 2011. The dozen tracks on the resulting LP are sparse, heart-breakingly exquisite renderings fueled by the pair’s gorgeous winding vocal harmonies.

Lea Delaria, House of David Bet you didn’t know the actress who plays Big Boo on Orange is the New Black is a brilliant singer with a jazzy-rich vocal quality? Delaria flexes her impressive pipes in this homage to David Bowie that encompasses a melancholic gospel-hued delivery of “Modern Love” and some “Starman” scatting.

The Delorean Sisters, The Delorean Sisters The Brooklyn group has likened their music to “Hank Williams in leg warmers,” and their self-titled debut is a collection of delightful banjo-and-uke-plucked alt-country/Americana-spun covers of pop and hair metal hits from the ‘80s, with gems ranging from the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again” to Danzig’s “Mother” to “Take On Me” by a-ha.

Bob Dylan, Shadows in the Night Possibly the last artist you’d expect to tackle tracks by a man nicknamed “The Voice,” but Dylan proves he’s more than capable in his classy elegantly-arranged Sinatra homage, his rusted rumbles assuming added warmth and emotive resonance in the 10 pop standards he hand-picked, like “The Night We Called It a Day” and “That Lucky Old Sun.”

Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn Following the folk traditions of song re-tellings, the longtime Carolina Chocolate Drops member dropped a solo T-Bone Burnett-produced LP that finds her crafting nuanced and intimate readings of odes by Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Odetta, Patsy Cline and Joan Baez, among others.

Iron & Wine & Ben Bridwell, Sing Into My Mouth Band of Horses primary Bridwell teams with Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, for this covers LP of delicate folk-hued splendor named for a lyric from the Talking Heads track “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” that leads off the collection. Odes by Spiritualized, JJ Cale, Sade, Bonnie Raitt and others also get re-imagined.

Sexwitch, Sexwitch British rock band Toy and Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan unite to perform obscure ’70s psych-folk odes from Iran, Morocco, Thailand and the U.S. You’ve likely never heard the originals, but will still be mesmerized by Khan’s haunting vocals, underpinned by steady pulsing grooves and darkly exotic, tripped-out instrumentals.

Slow Club, I Swam Out to Greet You Slow Club – the indie folk-pop duo made up of pretty harmonizing multi-instrumentalists Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor – draws from a wide range of sources on this Record Store Day-driven covers LP, including Future Islands, Pulp, Neil Young, The Eagles and Echo the Bunnymen (the stripped-back, tinkling, lo-fi delivery of “Killing Moon” is a definite highlight).

Various Artists, Gazing with Tranquility: A Tribute to Donovan A 15-song homage to the Scottish folkie made up of re-imaginings that vary from straightforward rootsy (Ivan & Alyosha, “Catch the Wind”) to synth rock stealthy (Astronautalis, “Season of the Witch”) to weirdo psychedelic (The Flaming Lips, “Atlantis”).

Various Artists, Dear Janet Leading off with Deradoorian’s bare vox-and-keys reading of “Pleasure Principle,” Dear Janet features 16 ambient pop and electro-synth experimenters like Naytronix with tUnEyArDs, LAKE and Karl Blau stamping their own unique stylistic qualities on Janet Jackson’s R&B-pop mold without losing the meat of what made the originals so good.

Various Artists, Good People Rock Montreal-based Yellow Bird Project (YBP) partners with indie bands to raise money for various charities via recordings like this comp to benefit nonprofits The Voice Project (human rights) and Red Hot (AIDS), in which indie artists cover other indie artists, like a bright strings-driven rendition of New Pornographers’ “The Fake Headlines” by Andrew Bird and a sparse electro-ambient re-tooling of TV on the Radio’s “Family Tree” by Hayden.

Various Artists, Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone Released in conjunction with the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, this soulfully reverent tribute is largely produced by Robert Glasper and powered by Lauryn Hill, who croons through six of the album’s 16 tracks, including a regally sultry take on “Feeling Good.” Other highlights: a ‘70s-soaked funk-grooving cover of “Sinnerman” by Gregory Porter and a jazz-rap rendering of “We Are Young, Gifted and Black” featuring Common with Lalah Hathaway.

Various Artists, Whatever, Nevermind
Another release spurred by Record Store Day, this one put together by Robotic Empire and paying tribute to Nirvana’s Nevermind with mostly heavier mutations of the originals by Young Widows, Boris, Torche, Kylesa and La Dispute, among others; Circa Survive’s “Drain You” proves a particular high point.

Cassandra Wilson, Coming Forth By Day A slinky, jazz-blues homage to Billie Holiday showcases Wilson’s deep, silky intones as joined by some surprising collaborators: Van Dyke Parks doing string arrangements, Yeah Yeah Yeahs primary Nick Zinner playing guitar, and the rhythm section handled by two members of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds.

Check out a playlist featuring a few tracks from each aforementioned album below.

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