The Folkier Side of Ed Sheeran
(covers of tradfolk, Dylan, Nina Simone, Elton John, Jay Z and more!)
If you’ve heard pop radio in the last few years, you’ve certainly heard Ed Sheeran. At just 24, the boyish songwriter who learned to love Dylan, Clapton, and Van Morrison as he traveled into London in the family van on weekends is already a multi-platinum-seller, nominated for Best New Song and Best New Album Grammys in subsequent years; he’s sold out Madison Square Garden, and performed at the closing ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics.
Sure, he’s written for One Direction and Taylor Swift, and performed with Elton John. He cites Eminem and British folk/hip-hop duo Nizlopi as influences alongside The Beatles and Damien Rice. His second EP featured a set of pairings with artists from the grime genre, showing an early penchant for exploration and collaboration.
But listened to with the folk ear, especially in his frequent live in-studio performances on the BBC and elsewhere, Sheeran comes off as a modern-day Tracy Chapman, slippery and soulful, albeit with a hint of youthful exuberance and bounce. Fluid strum and pick patterns typify his solo work, with lusty yet tender vocals that fade in and out of song. The boy simply exudes authenticity, humility, and generosity, in persona and in song, as he works to tap into the universal sentiments of his world.
Whether he’s taking on the traditional folk canon, fellow folk artists from Dylan to Bon Iver, or just stripping down popular songs such as Hit Me Baby One More Time or We Found Love, both of which we’ve heard covered in folk here before, Sheeran brings boyish charm and a playful reverence to the lyrics and songs of others, exposing a mature sense of his own influence, and of the culture of music that surrounds him. And his talent for interpretation is facile and quick: his creative transformation of Lorde’s Royals, for example, was learned in 2 and a half minutes while the original played in the studio, and recorded immediately afterwards, live and on-air; the layered, looped beatbox takes on Wayfaring Stranger and Nina Simone’s Be My Husband in today’s set were captured live, in one take.
Sheeran’s rich, gentle take on Elton John’s Candle In The Wind, released in 2013 as part of an album of covers honoring the 40th anniversary of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, echoes the best of the California folk rock movement of the seventies. And although only two cover songs appear on his own records – the a capella version of traditional Irish folksong The Parting Glass which appears as a hidden track on his debut full-length, and the gentle solo piano-driven version of Planxty’s The West Coast Of Clare that caps off 2007 self-released EP Want Some – there’s literally dozens of intimate, eminently listenable covers out there. Here’s our favorites, from traditional to modern; download them all in one set, or listen independently below.
- Ed Sheeran: Wayfaring Stranger (trad.)
- Ed Sheeran: Wild Mountain Thyme (trad.)
- Ed Sheeran: The Parting Glass (trad.)
- Ed Sheeran: The West Coast Of Clare (orig. Planxty)
- Ed Sheeran: Don’t Think Twice (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Ed Sheeran: Masters Of War (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Ed Sheeran: Make You Feel My Love (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Ed Sheeran: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)
- Ed Sheeran: Candle In The Wind (orig. Elton John)
- Ed Sheeran: Be My Husband (orig. Nina Simone)
- Ed Sheeran: Ain’t No Sunshine (orig. Bill Withers)
- Ed Sheeran: In My Life (orig. The Beatles)
- Ed Sheeran: Wish You Were Here (orig. Pink Floyd)
- Ed Sheeran: Empire State Of Mind (orig. Jay Z)
- Ed Sheeran: Royals (orig. Lorde)
- Ed Sheeran: Wonderwall (orig. Oasis)
- Ed Sheeran: Someone Like You (orig. Adele)
- Ed Sheeran: We Found Love (orig. Rihanna)
- Ed Sheeran: Dirrty (orig. Christian Aguilera)
- Ed Sheeran: Hit Me Baby One More Time (orig. Britney Spears)
- Ed Sheeran ft. Gary Lightbody: Chasing Cars (orig. Snow Patrol)
- Ed Sheeran and Passenger: No Diggity / Thrift Shop (orig. Blackstreet / Macklemore & Ryan Lewis)
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