Mark Erelli Covers:
Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Porter Wagoner & 12 more!

I’ve been a Mark Erelli fan ever since I saw him on stage at the 1999 Green River Festival, just two years after his 3 a.m. discovery at a folk conference hotel room jam. I was thrilled by the release of 2001 breakthrough album Compass and Companion, which brought several singles to local folk-and-roots radio station WRSI thanks to their close connection with the Signature Sounds label. And since then, I’ve discovered multiple connections between us – among them, a love of coverage, a love for the history and natural imagery of New England, and a love for Memorial Hall, the fine granite Civil War-era edifice in my hometown of Monson, where Mark recorded a live album in 2001.

All along, as his career progresses, I’ve often wondered why Mark Erelli isn’t more of a household name. Certainly, the gentle, cheerful singer-songwriter from the suburbs of Boston has spent long days on the cusp of national fame, winning Kerrville’s coveted New Folk contest in his early twenties, spending weeks atop the national Americana charts. His 2006 album Hope & Other Casualties was named Album of the Year by influential Boston folk station WUMB; his work has been covered by the likes of Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert, and chuck e costa; People Look Around, his Katrina-inspired co-write that year with fellow Boston singer-songwriter Catie Curtis, won the grand prize at the International Songwriting Competition.

Mark defines himself as a musician, not just a singer-songwriter; he seems happy as a sideman, a collaborator, and an opening act for the likes of Red Molly, John Hiatt, Gillian Welch, and others, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain if he seems to be a well-kept secret too much of the time. But the projects which bring him to the forefront are always good, and often amazing. In solo guise, Erelli comes off as a sort of anti-Townes Van Zandt, a performer from the flip side of the dour troubadour strain of folk: in his capable hands and palpable voice, both hope and tragedy find apt outlet, but even in the depths of angst and despair, the songs never lose the everpresent tone of awe and gratefulness which characterizes so much of his work. And he’s unafraid to reinvent himself, moving fluidly from the contemporary singer-songwriter sound of his early work to the dark folk gospel of the Memorial Hall Recordings (2002) and the country swing of Hillbilly Pilgrim (2004), and from there to recent incarnations as a bluegrass and folkblues collaborator.

Though the busy singer-songwriter has a knack for poignancy, and the voice to match, his signature scratchy tenor soars and croons and sings out, in delicate ballads, frustrated screeds, and rollicking roots/rockabilly tunes. His take on I’ll Be Here In The Morning, off the amazingly powerful, eminently quiet 2007 lullaby album Innocent When You Dream, is a perfect apotheosis, weary as the original even as it brings a lightness to the song which Townes never imagined, and couldn’t have pulled off if he tried. And, as heard in the below Mary Gauthier cover, his harmony work with fellow local and frequent collaborator Lori McKenna lends the perfect note of sweetness to McKenna’s full-bodied voice; those who find it as potent as I do will be happy to note that Mark spends almost as much time on the road supporting McKenna, Curtis, Kris Delmhorst, Josh Ritter, and others as he does in solo guise.

Erelli’s more recent solo and band-led works include a low-key, high-quality live album which we wrote about earlier this year, the gritty, fleshed out sound of 2008 album Delivered, and Little Vigils, a gentler, more pensive solo effort from last year which is heavily influenced by his fatherhood, his native New England, and his work with Karine Powart and others on The Darwin Project, an 18-song UK singer-songwriter project inspired by the life and work of Charles Darwin. But like Seven Curses, the diverse, deep 2010 duo album of murder ballads which Erelli made with bluesy Wisconsinite folk artist Jeffrey Foucault, his newest release is a collaborative effort, and it’s a doozy.

The album is C’Mon!, the band is Barnstar!, and the overabundance of exclamation points is a surprisingly accurate reflection of the high energy and fun Erelli, banjo wizard Charlie Rose, Massachusetts-based father and son fiddle and mando luminaries Jake and Taylor Amerding of Northern Lights fame, and producer/bassist Zack Hickman (recently of Josh Ritter’s touring band) bring to the project. The heavily bluegrass and cowboy country-influenced debut features a fine combination of Erelli-penned tunes, both reinvented and first release, and covers from all over the musical map (Neil Young, Micky Newbury, Traveling Wilburys, and Paul Simon), so we’ll start our set there, with a note that there’s a great ‘grassy Dawes cover available for free download at Bandcamp along with the usual streaming whistle-whetters, and our regular reminder that feature status here on Cover Lay Down is itself our strongest recommendation: if you like what you hear, follow the links below to buy and support Mark Erelli, and help spread the word about his many projects.

  • Barnstar!: Handle With Care (orig. Traveling Wilburys)
  • Barnstar!: Boy In The Bubble (orig. Paul Simon)

    (from C’mon!, 2011)

  • Mark Erelli: Crying (orig. Roy Orbison)
    (from Signature Sounds 10th Anniversary Sampler, 2004)

Looking for more coverage? Mark Erelli sticks to original works on the majority of his solo albums (though a couple, like The Memorial Hall Recordings and Innocent When You Dream, include multiple examples, thanks to their particular focus). But his website includes a downloads section, and while this month the link goes directly to the Bandcamp page for C’Mon!, where you can snag that free download of what Cover Me calls a grassed up version of “contemporary indie-folk gem When My Time Comes by Dawes”, most months it contains a discrete page with a single live or demo recording. Here’s a half dozen live and rare demo covers I’ve picked up over the years.

Category: Mark Erelli 2 comments »

2 Responses to “Mark Erelli Covers:
Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Porter Wagoner & 12 more!

  1. MH

    Missing your great posts, and, especially your wonderful writing on life and music. Hope your busy schedule finds time for you to come back. I am sure there are many of us out there who feel the same.

  2. boyhowdy

    I was actually in the dark for the last eight days, MH – our power was only restored yesterday – and will return this afternoon, I promise! Sorry to have left such a gap in posting; thanks for your patience, and for sticking with me in this time of trouble and strife!

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