Category: Rufus Wainwright

(Re)Covered, vol. XX: more covers of and from
Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters, Rufus Wainwright, Dylan & more!

June 11th, 2011 — 08:54 pm

Our tendency towards revisiting posts gone by through the lens of new releases and projects is especially apropos this weekend, given the continued recovery efforts in our little tornado-ravaged town.   While the rest of us sift through the rubble, let’s sift through the archives, taking account of some new and noteworthy works from artists featured previously here on Cover Lay Down. 

We first featured young started-out-bluegrass band the Farewell Drifters on the release of the hook-heavy Yellow Tag Mondays, their 2010 release; back then, they were already leaning towards a broader stew of Americana and indie roots music, and you could hear both their influences and their growing trend towards folkrock in the Beatles covers we posted, which had been recorded a year apart from each other.

Today, in a (Re)covered two-fer, the Drifters bring us a song that we visited through other coverage way back on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, and like the rest of their newest album, it’s another step towards something rich and subtly different, both more mainstream and more original in sound and sensibility, couched in deeply layered pop-rock with just a hint of ‘grass, though relatively true to the original in most other ways. The cover – a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy In New York – is nowhere near as sweet or somber as the Shawn Colvin cover that so deeply speaks to my soul, but these days, being in the thick of the disaster, I need hope more than I need sadness, and this bonus track from Echo Boom, released just last week, provides just the trick, making for some fine summer soundtrack material.

  • Farewell Drifters: Only Living Boy In New York (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)

    (from Echo Boom, 2011)

Bonus Tracks:

Sam Billen is a stand-up, sensitive indie musician and producer who has shown up on Cover Lay Down several times, both for his several holiday projects and for REMOVERs, the electrofolk remix and coverage project which he has been building and posting – in public and entirely for free – for over a year as he adjusts to the home studio joys of new fatherhood. He’s long been on the top of our watchlist, in part because of the sheer authenticity of both his voice and the evident care and craftsmanship with which he produces his material, and in part because, unlike most musicians, he comes off as perfectly sincere, even humble in both his work and his occasional emails announcing new developments in that work.

But Sam gets major kudos for reaching out this time around – because in the midst of the chaos we’ve experienced since the tornado hit our tiny town, it was genuinely touching to receive an email that contained both a full paragraph reaching out to us in the context of that disaster, thanking us for our reporting of it and sending hope that we are all okay out here, and a link to the newest songs which Sam, his brother, and his father have taken on: a set of loving living-room covers of predominantly countrypop hits, just three guitars and voices taking on Neil Young and others, as honest as a campfire circle among family. Here’s two of my favorites, with encouragement to check out the rest of ‘em over at The Billen Brothers’ YouTube channel – plus an older bonus from the now-completed REMOVERs project.

  • The Billen Brothers: Ventura Highway (orig. America)

  • The Billen Brothers: I Will (orig. The Beatles)

Our 2007 feature on the Wainwright/McGarrigle Family was the very first of our Folk Family features; since then, we’ve revisited the extended clan multiple times, making note of Loudon’s Charlie Poole tribute, youngest daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche‘s delightful work as a solo singer-songwriter, and Kate McGarrigle’s passing last winter after a long struggle with cancer. Now, we return once more to report on a new work from what is perhaps the least “folk” of the modern Wainwright clan: Rufus, who has made a name for himself in movie soundtracks and pop circles as a balladeer, forging far beyond the folk roots which mother Kate and father Loudon set before him.

To be fair, Rufus has crossover appeal to folk audiences; as such, we’ve covered him here, too. But though the new Rufus box set House of Rufus – 19 full-length discs, both CDs and DVDs, a relatively complete compendium of demos, in-studio rarities, side projects, soundtrack cuts, live material, and 6 studio albums – primarily focuses on his work as a nuanced pop crooner (including the entirety of his infamous Carnegie Hall Judy Garland tribute), the sheer breadth is wide enough by far to be well worth collecting, including a vast and varied compendium of his collaborative work with family members and friends, many of which we’ve celebrated here before, and a few of which (most notably, a delicious duet on Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll performed with his father which, unfortunately, I’ve been asked not to release too early) are otherwise entirely unavailable. Here’s a couple other favorites from the box and beyond, just to show the diversity potential in such a sweeping set of coverage.

Finally: social and professional pressures caused us to skip past two Bob Dylan tributes as his birthday came and went towards the end of May; recent tornado events in our local area kept us from coming back until now. But the pair is worth noting, even now, in part because both feature well-known, long-standing artists taking on the Dylan canon with aplomb.

First and foremost, Ralph “Streets of London” McTell released an EP-length set of Dylan covers two weeks ago, and though nobody seems to have noticed except astute Aussie folkwatchers Timber and Steel, the set is absolutely worth finding and purchasing. Somewhat akin in tone and timbre to the late Johnny Cash’s reinterpretation of the work of others late in his own life, yet imbued with McTell’s distinctive britfolk tones and fingerpicking, the six songs here are darkened with age, and deep with the pensive eye and mind of a fellow folksinger who has seen his share of fame, which is to say: as T&S notes, McTell’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright sounds like the song was written for him. Check out the full tribute here.

Second and no less noteworthy, Red House Records took advantage of Dylan’s 70th to release a decade-later follow-up to their defining Dylan folk tribute. Like the “original”, A Nod To Bob 2, the second release in this series, stars a set of recognizable folk artists taking on the canon – though notably, this time around, a few cuts can be found elsewhere, such as Danny Schmidt’s Buckets of Rain, or Eliza Gilkyson’s Jokerman, and some of these artists, such as John Gorka, are no longer in the prime of their careers, and their voices show it. Still, the roster here is sound, and the interpretations well-selected, with deeper cuts than the last round, and standouts all around, including a wonderful wail from the Jimmy LaFave, the Texan master of Dylan troubadour coverage, a delightfully bouncy, bluesy take from Hot Tuna, a truly sultry country blues from Pieta Brown, and Meg Hutchinson’s wonderful, echoing piano-driven reinvention of rarity Born In Time – the latter pair of which we could not help but pass along.

While we’re all about the artists here, and our server costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

15 comments » | (Re)Covered, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters

Birthday Coverfolk: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
(Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, and other musicians born in 1973)

January 14th, 2009 — 12:17 am

I was born January 14, 1973, on the cusp of the disco age, and amidst the last true gasps of the sixties. Though my father’s music was primarily blues and folk — the authentic, soulful stuff which I would return to in my own adulthood — for me, growing up in the eighties meant a childhood exposure to late Bee Gees and the early Michael Jackson, followed by a middle school passion for Howard Jones synthpop and Depeche Mode electronica; later, in my adolescence, I would turn to the growing anti-grunge movement like a dork to water, with a minor in early hip hop.

Which is to say: like so many of us, I spent my formative years rejecting the past of my parents, instead looking outward to the larger culture for my musical self. And, because what was out there was the shifting, constantly prototypical product of a culture in high transition, so has my own musical path from there to here been broad and diverse.

My path is not so unique, surely. Inasmuch as we are all a product of our own time and experience, from our secret vices to our public tastes, much of our adult habits of listening can be traced to that which we lived through, and which of it we tried on for size. Music defines so much of who we are, the comfort and contentment which comes from finding our own sound is surely as much a recognition of the self, as played out in the folkways of the world. And if anything explains the itch towards coversong, it is perhaps the desire to own both the external culture and the household stereo, and in doing so, collapse the distance between the authentic prodigal self and the cultural reality that we watched for cues as we grew.

Because musicians are people too, it is unsurprising to find that the vast majority of popular musicians who were born in the same year as myself tend towards the sounds of our mutual adolescence, both in cover choices and in genre of play. A quick perusal of the list of notable musicians born in 1973 reveals an overwhelming preponderance of rap production from the likes of Nas, Pharrell, and Mos Def, and that curious post-grunge, neo-anthem rock that characterizes Creed, Slipknot, and Incubus, all of which have one or more members turning 36 this year.

But every generation has its diversity, and here at Cover Lay Down we appreciate folked up covers of rap and rock as much as we celebrate those performers who, like myself, have settled their selves towards a more intimate sense of self in song. Today, then, in honor of my birthday, we present songs recaptured by people just my age — a set of coverfolk of and from my “lost generation” contemporaries, mining their own experience for tribute, recapturing other histories in song from the lips and hands of their influences. Enjoy.

I’m especially pleased to find indie darling and concert whistler Andrew Bird (b. July 11) on my contemporaries list, as I’ve been looking for an excuse to do the research ever since I fell in love with his more genre-bending post-americana work via the blogworld. Bird has plenty of folkcred — he was an instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music — and he plays like a man with a keen sense of folk history even as he pushes the boundaries of what it means to use the fiddle as a solo performer.

I shared Andrew Bird’s cover of tradsong Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed (aka Trimmed and Burning) in the midst of Dylan covers week over at Star Maker Machine a few months back; the links are dead there, but the text is worth the visit. Here, he shows his true roots with a few more haunting takes on songs deeply rooted in the folk canon.

We featured Rufus Wainwright (b. July 22) here at Cover Lay Down over a year ago in our first Folk Family Friday, an ambitious attempt to consider the musical output of the entire Wainwright/McGarrigle clan. I remain ambivalent about Rufus as a performer, not least because his torch songs can get too sappy for my taste. But his more subtle work stands out as worthy of our generation, especially when tempered by strong collaboration, and his acoustic cover choices are generally well-suited for his languid, slippery vocal style and reedy tenor. Here’s three duets; the work with his sister martha on their father’s song is a lovely conceit, and anything with Teddy Thompson is always wonderful, but I’m especially fond of the co-bill Neil Young cover with Chris Stills, off the popular KCRW studio sessions compilation Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project.

Not all performers trend solo, of course. Though both Annabelle Chvostek (b. October 5) and, to a lesser extent, drummer Caroline Corr (b. March 17) have worked on their own, these lovely ladies of folk are much better known for their work with female-voiced folkgroups The Wailin’ Jennys and The Corrs, respectively. The Irish folk rock which The Coors have made their own isn’t as much my cup of tea as the acoustic singer-songwriter trio harmonies of The Wailin’ Jennys (or, for that matter, the recent solo disk from alto Chvostek, which is spare and lovely), but from the Celtic dancepop mix of Fleetwood Mac cover Dreams to the crooning lullaby that transforms Neil Young’s Barefoot Floors, these are all worth the listen, as song and coversong.

Finally, Grey DeLisle (b. August 24) is generally known as a voice actress more than a songstress; if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ve heard her on such animated programs as Kim Possible, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and Harvey Birdman. But DeLisle’s 2005 Sugar Hill release Iron Flowers is a masterpiece of otherwise-originals that kicks off in style with a delicate autoharp and slide take on Queen anthem Bohemian Rhapsody – I just couldn’t let it go overlooked.

Cover Lay Down posts new covercontent and folkfaves every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: New coverfolk from some up and coming inbox artists, including a few discoveries from this weekend’s Boston Celtic Music Festival…plus a very special look at several well-respected songbooks — stripped down, unplugged, and all folked up.

1,228 comments » | Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright, The Corrs, Wailin' Jennys

And A Happy New Year (On The Turning of Time and Calendar Pages)

December 30th, 2007 — 04:04 am

It’s human nature to turn inward in times of timeturning. It’s reassuring that we do; it bespeaks our still-close relationship with nature, and the planet. In a world long teetering on the verge of disaster, our innate need to constantly reground ourselves in history and ecology gives me more hope than anything at the future and continued existence of the human race. That it happens everywhere, regardless of country or creed, only reinforces my faith in all of us.

May your year turn joyfully. May you put to rest all the anxieties of a lifetime passed-so-far, and pass clean into the new possibility. May you live more and more in the connections between, and less and less in the margins. May you cover the world, and may the world cover you.

I resolve to continue to promote folk artists and their labels by linking to their preferred source for purchasing wherever possible, rather than supporting megastores and megalabels who really aren’t interested in music, or in musicians or their audiences, except as a means to a dollar.

In addition, I resolve to continue to serve an astute listening public (that’s you!) by continuing to bring you songs, singers, and songwriters in context as long as it is safe, legal, and fun for all of us…and by feeling grateful for every comment, email, and download. It’s nice to feel appreciated, folks. Thanks for listening, and have a very, very happy new year.

Don’t forget to come back Wednesday for another installment in our very popular Covered in Folk series. This week I’ll be featuring folkcovers of Paul Simon tunes.

808 comments » | Ben Taylor Band, Bruce Cockburn, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mindy Smith, Pablo, Rufus Wainwright, Shawn Colvin, Tony Trischka

(Re)Covered: More of and from…Cat Stevens, Neil Finn, The Wainwright Family, and Bill Morrissey

November 30th, 2007 — 01:28 am

I certainly wasn’t planning to post four times this week. But I’ve unearthed some great-but-late cuts that just begged to be passed along. And this past holiday weekend left me feeling thankful for all those who write and say such nice things about Cover Lay Down. Guess the urge to keep giving was just too much to bear.

Today, the second installment in our (Re)Covered series, wherein we recover songs that dropped through the cracks too late to make it into the posts where they belonged. Enjoy!

I’ve had several requests for the popcovers I mentioned in last week’s Cat Stevens post — they’re not folk, but Stevens is, and both Natalie Merchant and Sheryl Crow have folk cred (the former from her recent solo work, the latter from her early pre-stardom days). So here are Peace Train and The First Cut Is The Deepest. Along with a sweet, ragged, just-unearthed version of Wild World by antipopsters The Format. Plus Australian indiefolkers New Buffalo‘s slow, grungy acoustic take on that Nina Simone song that Yusuf covers, just for comparison’s sake. Oh, and a wonderful, sparse, sleepytime Here Comes My Baby cover from previously featured kidfolk songstress Elizabeth Mitchell. Ask, and ye shall receive, and then some.

  • 10,000 Maniacs, Peace Train
  • Sheryl Crow, The First Cut Is The Deepest
  • The Format, Wild World
  • Elizabeth Mitchell, Here Comes My Baby
  • New Buffalo, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (orig. Nina Simone)

I also picked up a few wonderful solo acoustic covers from Neil Finn last week that I couldn’t resist passing along; they would have been great bonus songs from our October feature on the songs of Neil and Tim Finn, if I’d had ‘em, but that’s what our (Re)Covered feature is for. He’s not folk, and neither are the original artists of these two pop songs, but the brightly optimistic singer-songwriter treatment Finn gives these two pop songs would be perfectly appropriate on any folk festival stage in the country.

  • Neil Finn, Billie Jean (orig. Michael Jackson)
  • Neil Finn, Sexual Healing (orig. Marvin Gaye)

Lest we lose sight of our core mission, here’s some folk covering folk: a wonderful Bill Morrissey and Greg Brown cover of Hang Me, Oh Hang Me I rediscovered just after posting Bill Morrissey’s tribute to Mississippi John Hurt. It’s a traditional folksong you might recognize as covered by the Grateful Dead under the alternate title Been All Around This World; I’m saving that for a long-overdue Garcia and Grisman feature, but in the meantime, here’s another sweet version of the same song by new neotraditionalist Canadian alt-folkies The Deep Dark Woods.

  • Bill Morrissey w/ Greg Brown, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me
  • The Deep Dark Woods, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me

And finally, not one but two beautiful songs which really speak to the whole twisted family dynamic of the Wainwrights, who we featured in our first Folk Family Friday. First, in a burst of typical irony, Rufus and Martha cover father Loudon Wainwright III’s One Man Guy, then — just to show there’s no hard feelings — Kate and Anna McGarrigle once again bring together family friend Emmylou Harris and ex-spouse Loudon for a jangly take on the traditional Green, Green Rocky Road.

  • Rufus Wainwright w/ Martha Wainwright, One Man Guy
  • The McGarrigles, Green, Green Rocky Road

As always, all artist links here on Cover Lay Down go directly to the artists’ preferred source for purchasing music. Please, folks: if you like what you hear, both here and out there in the wild world, buy the music, and support the continued production of incredible sound from those who eschew the easy top 40 route to fame and fortune.

1,043 comments » | (Re)Covered, Cat Stevens, Elizabeth Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Loudon Wainwright III, Neil Finn, Rufus Wainwright

Folk Family Friday: The Wainwrights cover Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Wainwright, et al.

November 2nd, 2007 — 10:50 am

Today, in our first of what promises to be a fine series of Folk Family Fridays, we bring you a family tree of Wainwrights: Loudon, Rufus, Martha, and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, proud and outstanding in their field. Keep an ear and eye open for upcoming posts on the Taylor/Simons, the Thompsons, three generations of Guthries, The Ungars, and anyone else we can connect by blood or marriage in less than six degrees.

Loudon Wainwright III met Kate McGarrigle in Greenwich Village in 1969; she and her sister were darlings of the Quebec folk scene; he was struggling to make a name for himself in the New York folk world. Their marriage didn’t last long, but happily for the folk canon, it produced both enough acrimony to provide fodder for their own songwriting for years to come, and future folk-musicians Rufus and Martha, who each went on to make made a name and a niche for themself by continuing the family tradition of using their music to blast out at their family.

(Sidenote: Loudon went on to marry Suzzy Roche of the Roche Sisters; their daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche has performed with Rufus and Loudon, and released some great covers herself. And commenter woolmanite rightly notes that Loudon’s sister Sloan is a folk-rocker, too. But we’d be here all night if I didn’t stick to the once-nuclear Wainwright/McGarrigle branch of the family tree. Another time, another post…)

If even Vanity Fair has told their story, what else is there to say about the Wainwrights? For starters, consider the potential in tracing not just lyrical roots and commonality among folk families, but in listening to their works sequentially to compare the way nurture and stylistic choice and random genetic mixes produce in some folk families a sort of common voice, while in other families, subsequent generations end up at different poles of the folk spectrum, even while their voices echo their roots, their families, and their genre.

The Wainwrights are a poster family for the latter case; unlike many folk families (see, for example, Arlo and Woody Guthrie), each one of the Canadian-American Wainwrights has their own defined musical style. Yes, there’s a faint hint of Kate and Anna’s breathy melodies in Martha’s airy intonation, Dad’s swallowed vowels and a touch of Mama Kate’s loose country melody in brother Rufus’ torch song approach. The playfulness of lyric and performance, a dominant trait, shine through both sides. But the torch song stylings Rufus favors are all his own, and though she styles herself folkpop, Martha’s a darling of the indie movement for a reason.

Of the four — we’ll count Kate and Anna as one — Rufus is the one who has truly made a name for himself as a coverartist. I posted his co-cover of King of the Road when we covered his co-conspirator and constant companion Teddy Thompson earlier, and live bootlegs of everything from Careless Whisper to his Judy Garland covers bob up to the blogsurface constantly. You’ve heard his Hallelujah, and so I’ve posted a different Leonard Cohen cover here.

But as with all true folksingers, the recorded output of each of these prolific singer-songwriters includes enough covers to keep listeners smiling and this post on track. Today, some especially bright gems from the immense coveroutput of a collective century of musical genepool genius. I’m especially enamoured of Loudon’s yelping bluegrass interpretation of the traditional Hand Me My Banjo Down. It puts Springsteen’s version to shame.

  • Loudon Wainwright III and Tony Trischka, Hand Me My Banjo Down (trad.)

  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle feat. L. Wainwright, Schooldays (orig. L. Wainwright III)
  • Martha Wainwright, Bye Bye Blackbird (orig. Gene Austin)
  • Martha Wainwright, Tower of Song (orig. Leonard Cohen)

  • Rufus Wainwright feat. Kate McGarrigle, Lowlands Away (trad.)
  • Rufus Wainwright, Harvest Moon (orig. Neil Young)
  • Rufus Wainwright, Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (orig. Leonard Cohen)

Expect a few more Wainwright family songs as we approach the holidays; 2005 release The McGarrigle Christmas Hour was one of the finest Christmas albums from the folk camp since the millenium turned over. Maybe I’ll confront the Roche/Wainwright connection then — the Roche Sisters’ We Three Kings is a refreshing, crisp winterdisk, too.

In the meantime, instead of creating the world’s largest buy-these-discs paragraph, here’s a link to the webpages of each Wainwright/McGarrigle mentioned in today’s post:

Today’s bonus songs are few but precious:

  • Emmylou Harris covers Kate McGarrigle’s Going Back to Harlan
  • Regina Spektor covers Chelsea Hotel No. 2

Stay tuned over the next few days for our first KidFolk coverpost (Garcia and Grisman! Alison Krauss! The Be Good Tanyas!) and yet another guest post over at Disney coverblog Covering The Mouse. Enjoy!

1,109 comments » | Folk Family Friday, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright III, Martha Wainwright, Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright, Tony Trischka

Teddy Thompson Covers: Leonard Cohen, The Everly Brothers, and King of the Road

October 10th, 2007 — 10:12 pm

British born and New York based alt-musician Teddy Thompson released Up Front and Down Low, an album of classic country covers, in July, and it says what it needs to about his underdog status that a) the disk has only been released in the US, and b) neither the blogosphere nor any other market seems to have noticed. Heck, I was startled to discover it myself as I researched today’s entry, and I spent an entire summer listening to nothing else but Thompson’s second album Separate Ways, a perfect, crackling masterpiece of self-pity topped off by a hidden Everly Brothers track.

One of several second-generation musicians emerging from under their parent’s wing to startle a new generation, Teddy Thompson has not yet managed to ring the bell of fame that fellow secondgen artist and bad influence Rufus Wainwright has. Nor has he found his audience, yet — being compared to Crowded House in one review and Jackson Browne and David Gray in another provides a pretty broad range. But if Thompson remains unknown, it’s not for lack of musicianship (though in the case of his newest outing, it may be because the country market is not his niche).

Thompson’s music is only folk in the broader sense, but his folk credentials are solid: son of old folkies Richard and Linda Thompson, born and raised in a Sufi commune, Thompson Jr. shares his mother’s sweet, clear, etherial voice, and his father’s penchant for bitter lyrics full of the seamy underside of fame and drug culture. The combination is powerful, and even if his guitar playing is still on the cusp of maturity, using his parents and peers in the studio has, so far, made up for that lack. I am confident that Thompson’s music will eventually win the hearts and minds of a full generation once he returns to his original songwriting.

In the meantime, here’s two songs Thompson covered for the 2006 Leonard Cohen tribute film I’m Your Man, where he stood out among some pretty heavy compatriots, including Wainwright himself. Tonight Will Be Fine comes especially recommended — something about the bittersweet lyrics and the slow pace suits him, I think.

  • Teddy Thompson, Tonight Will Be Fine (orig. Cohen)
  • Teddy Thompson, The Future (orig. Cohen)

Still haven’t heard Teddy’s newest album, but I’d buy enough copies of Separate Ways for all of you if I had the cash. Since I don’t, you should head over to his website and pick it up for yourselves — and if you get the new one, too, let me know how it turned out, will you?

Today’s bonus coversongs:

  • Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright cover King of the Road
  • Teddy and Linda Thompson cover the Everly Brothers’ Take A Message To Mary
  • Richard Thompson covers Squeeze’s Tempted (because I’m saving his Prince cover and his version of Oops! I Did It Again for another post)

1,091 comments » | Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, The Everly Brothers