The best cover songs are sparkling interpretations of originals, with just enough of a difference to make that tune stand on its own.
Prime examples: Cat Power's breathy version of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and Patti Smith's own shamanistic rendition of Van Morrison's "Gloria" in 1975.
Smith's new covers album "Twelve" (Columbia) certainly doesn't rival the roaring grit of her "Gloria," but the songs are decently inspired attempts to honor her heroes, from Bob Dylan to the Doors.
The stringy-haired singer and punk poet, inducted this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, lends her roughhewn voice to worldly effect on Hendrix's "Are You Experienced." On Neil Young's "Helpless," she glides on an emotional, vulnerable moan.
The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," while an obvious choice, does gain momentum under Smith's righteous, political tongue with its apocalyptic references to rape, war, flood and fire. Nirvana's '90s grunge anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit," however, is a random choice, stripped of its electrified growl and muted with acoustic guitar and banjo.
While Smith's desire to bring Kurt Cobain's alienated words to the surface - like Tori Amos' 1992 breakout cover - is understandable, the combo of spoken-word and warbling doesn't quite work.
Here's to 60-year-old Smith's next album of her own material, and to rocking into old age with the well-worn chutzpah of her youth.