Covers albums generally rank next to "greatest hits played live" releases as easy ways for a band to fill out its catalog without trying all that hard. That bad rap is mostly deserved, because most musicians think plugging in and playing some old favorites is good enough. Instead, that approach usually just exposes how short they fall of the legends that inspired them. Still, there are happy exceptions like Grant-Lee Phillips' Nineteeneighties.
Touring the work of college-rock favorites like Pixies, Robyn Hitchcock, Echo & The Bunnymen, and others, Phillips has made, by his description, a "personal mix-tape." The emphasis is solidly on the "personal." Defining the difference between a cover and an interpretation, Phillips employs spare accompaniment and his rich, unmistakable voice to reshape the tracks as his own. Without the bath of synths, Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" becomes an insistent, slow-paced plea. Nick Cave's "City Of Refuge" gets transformed into an acoustic gospel warning, while New Order's "Age Of Consent" wears a country twang surprisingly well. If there's a heaven for people who came of age in the '80s, this is what's playing at the coffee shop.