Category: Fleetwood Mac

(Re)Covered VII: More covers of and from
Sometymes Why, Eilen Jewell, Emma Beaton, Fleetwood Mac and more!

March 1st, 2009 — 12:48 am

It’s been quite a while since our last installment of our popular (Re)Covered series, in which we revisit previous posts through the new and noteworthy. But a growing collection of stunning apres-post reader submissions and a mailbox full of new upcoming works from previously-featured musicians cry out to be shared, and we’re long overdue. Without further ado, here’s some new covertracks and newly-found folk favorites worthy of your attention.

We’ve celebrated Kristin Andreassen, Ruth Merenda, and Aoife O’Donovan here on Cover Lay Down in the past, both as solo artists and as members of Uncle Earl (Andreassen), The Mammals (Merenda), and Crooked Still (O’Donovan): the three are central players in the new, rising neo-traditional cadre of folk musicians working to redefine the relationship between modern folk and more traditional forms such as bluegrass and appalachian music, and I believe them to be among the cream of the crop. I am a huge fan of these young ladies, and if you told me they were performing at two a.m. tomorrow night, separately or in combination, I’d skip out on my sleep and head over in a heartbeat, school night be damned.

Your Heart is a Glorious Machine, which drops March 10th from Signature Sounds, is the second album from this trio, which performs together as Sometymes Why, and I’ll be honest — it’s not what I expected at all. In fact, at first listen, the album is hardly folk at all. Instead, where their previous projects were grounded in both traditional and singer-songwriter folk, Your Heart comes off as a form of soul-influenced indiepop, heavy in tambourine and organ, targeted towards fans of Jenny Lewis or Feist. Heck, even the cover art speaks to a more indie audience.

Okay, so the album represents a significant departure from both their previous work as separate musicians, and their debut album as Sometymes Why. But once folk fans get past the shift in sensibility, with a few notable exceptions, Your Heart is surprisingly strong and eminently listenable, featuring a diverse collection of great songs and sweet, airy harmony vocals throughout. From the synthesized intro and sultry vocals of opener Aphrodisiaholic to the sweet and delicate acoustic guitar, harmonica and bells of Shine It and Slow Down, to the powerful Diamond, with its indie echo and a light foreground of strings and synth, this is music with a folk twang but plenty of soul, sure to appeal to modern folk audiences and the new indie crowd alike.

Unfortunately, those few notable exceptions come early in the tracklist. Both My Crazy and the single cover — a take on Concrete Blonde’s Joey — suffer from issues of pacing and too-precious overarrangement; as I wrote elsewhere when Joey first hit the blogs, “The song makes a decent light lullaby, but the arrangement here is too back and forth, and ultimately the hard rock organ, fuzz-guitar, and drum beat of the “forth” isn’t the best showcase for the team’s light folk harmonies.” Still, every new band deserves a few missteps, and even mostly-perfect albums are hard to come by; in the end, this is still a solid album, worth owning. Check out Joey below, and then head over to Signature Sounds for a few more (and more representative) samples while you pre-order.

Sea of Tears, the new disc from Eilen Jewell, represents a similar departure from her previous work. Jewell’s second album Letters from Sinners and Strangers was a masterpiece of crisp, light-hearted acoustic countryfolk swing which swept the folk-world upon its 2007 release; her work with the Sacred Shakers, which we wrote about when it emerged last summer, took that gorgeous, girlish voice and acoustic twang and applied it to old-timey gospel tunes, creating something “just a peg looser than a classic country gospel album.”

Now Jewell has moved away from that crisp, Sun Records-gone-organic sound to reimagine the jangly, twangy sounds of the British invasion of the sixties. As with the Sometymes Why album, regular listeners will likely find the result takes a while to get used to, with several songs heavy on the surf guitar coming at you right from the get-go, creating a sonic consistency easily mistaken for sameness. But upon further listen, in both these and a few softer rock ballads later on, the album ultimately attains its goal, rewarding the listener with a return to form and mastery, framed in a new sonic environment which really does pay homage to “the roots of rock and roll”, effectively and enjoyably.

Sea of Tears is due to drop from Signature Sounds in April. Here’s a new cover from the album, plus a more mellow older favorite, to prove it’s worth the wait.

In other news, a continued pursuit of the best new tradfolk heard at two recent festivals — The Boston Celtic Music Festival and The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival — has led to some lovely finds over the past few weeks, including two songs with a coincidence factor which collapses the traditional genre and performer distance between the two musical forms.

First, Scottish-bred and now Boston-based vocalist and fiddler Hannah Read, who sat in with the wonderful young folks of the Berklee Bluegrass Collage at Joe Val and performed as part of the Folk Arts Quartet at BCMFest, turned out to have a lovely cover of A Taste of Honey on her MySpace page. And second, Emma Beaton, who I wrote about here recently in glowing terms, has just unearthed a bluegrassy version of Red Rocking Chair, which she previously performed as a sparse banjo ballad; this second take is performed with some of the Berklee Bluegrass folks as well.

Coincidences abound here, including the fact that Hannah has photos of herself performing with both Aoife O’Donovan and Kristin Andreassen on her MySpace page. It would also seem that Berkley is a source to watch right now. Those living in the Boston area would be well advised to keep an eye on the Notlob concert series, which is featuring many folks from this scene this year: Hannah Read will perform with the Folk Arts Quartet on April 11; both Emma Beaton and the Boston Boys, which feature some of the Berklee Bluegrass crowd, will appear on May 9.

I’ve included a wonderful old-timey bluegrass cover of Rider on an Orphan Train here, too, because I picked it up at the Joe Val Fest after finally figuring out what all the fuss was about Dry Branch Fire Squad. We featured contemporary folk dulcimer-player David Massengil, who wrote the tune, when he appeared this summer at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

Finally: our recent feature on the songs of Fleetwood Mac led to a few wonderful recommendations from the peanut gallery; I’ve never been so grateful to have readers who consider the blog a true dialogue as I was when I tracked down Anna Ternheim‘s sweet, ringing acoustic take on Little Lies, and the gentle countryfolk harmonies and slide guitar of Nora O’Connor‘s version of That’s Alright. We’ll make a Fleetwood Mac fan of me yet, I guess. Keep ‘em coming, folks.

Are you an artist, a promoter, or a fan with a cover to share? Send ‘em along via the contact link at the top of the page — all songs considered, just like it says on NPR.

1,878 comments » | (Re)Covered, bluegrass, Eilen Jewell, Fleetwood Mac, Kristin Andreassen

Covered in Folk: Fleetwood Mac
(covers from Vetiver, Eva Cassidy, Leo Kottke, Cat Power +9 more!)

February 7th, 2009 — 05:34 pm

Confession time, folks: I’ve started and subsequently deserted no less than three separate entries on the songs of Fleetwood Mac since starting this blog over fifteen months ago. My problem, I think, is that although the relative plethora of good covers out there underscores both the cultural impact and the strong songwriting of Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham, and Christine and John McVie, I have an almost comprehensive ambivalence about their original work.

On the one hand, I have always had a secret shame for the catchy beats and classic pop production of their radio hits. Either there’s something good there, or under all the high-falutin’ language and claims to a carefully honed folk sensibility, my tastes are about as lowbrow as they come. It’s hard to get past the sneaking suspicion that both may be true; up until now, this self-loathing that results seems to have scuppered earlier attempts to come to terms with the subject at hand.

On the other hand, due to a unique combination of age and suburban top-40 radio experience, my first experience with Fleetwood Mac consisted of an entire pre-teen summer unable to escape the lite rock horror that is Little Lies. I have an intellectual sense that 1977 Grammy-winning, multi-platinum album Rumours is a seminal record, as well as perhaps the best songwriting showcase for the major players who defined the Fleetwood Mac lineup for their greatest decade. But because I will forever think of the songs from that album as perfect pop pap, allied forever with the background sound of classic daytime rock radio and the inescapable image of all that horrible eighties hair, I have trouble taking Fleetwood Mac seriously as performers.

Today, then, a thesis tested: I have long believed that no song can be fundamentally overcovered or overplayed — that the greatest coversongs have the power to cause us to reconsider good songs despite what may be a perfectly honed bias, or even a well-developed loathing. Ladies and gentlemen: the coversongs of Fleetwood Mac, here to prove that good coverage can be the salvation of song.

Some artists are surely worth the effort. But when your first experience with a band is their mid-career cheese, and that cheese becomes entangled with your own perfectly natural attempt to distance yourself from the dorky, Top 40 self of your mid-adolescence, it’s hard to approach their better, earlier works with the respect that it deserves.

For example, while the strong songwriting talents of Fleetwood Mac are evident in their coverage, locking the too-catchy beats back into my echolalic skull seems a high price to pay for the privilege of sharing their coversong. Still, despite myself, great covers of Fleetwood Mac songs pile up. Their songs have been reinvented so well, by so many, years after dismissing them for Rhiannon and other classic rock radiopap, I’ve recently found my way to giving their vast and diverse songbook a second chance through the performance of others.

Interestingly, for me, with a very few notable exceptions — that stunningly raw cover of Gold Dust Woman that Hole came out with in the heady grunge days of the late nineties, both the Smashing Pumpkins and Dixie Chicks versions of Landslide, and of course Black Magic Woman, which many people have no idea was not actually by Santana — the successes here are almost universally the ones which both slow down and strip down the original production dynamics, leaving us with something delicate, intimate, and powerful — just the song, and nothing more.

This may be my personal bias at work, of course – I may be favoring the least pop among all covers in order to mitigate whatever self-applied bias I have against that part of myself that can’t help but nod his head along with Rhiannon. But notably, Shawn Colvin’s cover of The Chain doesn’t hold a candle to the Gnarls Barkley cover Susan shared with last week, coming as it does from the most lounge-act moment of her career.

Still, whether its your kind of thing or not, the team of Fleetwood, Buckingham, Nicks, and McVie wasn’t just another ABBA. The production may be a product of its age, but the songs themselves speak of pleasures and pain, loves lost and lusted after, which ring eerily familiar in the history of anyone who has ever made a claim to humanity in all its messy nuance. And nowhere is this more evident than in the monster success that was Rumours, an album produced amidst — and lyrically reflective of — the dissolution of the various marriages and relationships which framed the band

Today, then, we delve into some recent coverage, in an attempt to both chase my own ghosts, and to try to consider the songs as successful pieces outside of their original cultural context.

The covers here fall across several folk types. Singer-songwriter solo takes on the Fleetwood Mac canon are increasingly numerous; as evidence of their potential success, I’ve selected two favorite versions of Songbird which we first posted back in September as a kick-off to our partnership with Denison Witmer, and his oft-partner Rosie Thomas. Late vocalist Eva Cassidy brings her distinctive bar-based bluesfolk approach to the same song gorgeously, too. Tony Trischka and Alison Krauss‘ bluegrass cover of World Turning is a stroke of genius, illuminating the song from the inside out through a comprehensive genre-switch reinvention; it stands against master guitarist Leo Kottke’s version marvelously. And Snow and Voices turns Go Your Own Way into a frozen landscape, a highly atmospheric grungefolk ballad of a very modern type.

More recently, the indie tendency towards bedroom covers — that is, hushed lo-fi productions, rough around the edges, which sound like they were recorded in a single take just down the hall from a slumbering family — has produced a few stellar examples of the genre, most notably Vetiver‘s ragged acoustic folkrock take on Save Me A Place, and these versions of Fleetwood Mac staple Dreams: an out-of-print cover from ambient electrofolker Sandro Perri, a take from The Morning Benders which was found floating ’round the blogs upon its freebie release a few months ago, and this typically broken live take from indie folk fave Cat Power.

Taken as a set, the songs belie my bias, showing a diverse influence, and providing a potent look at some universal themes. May the covers assist with my conversion, and make fans of us all.

Today’s Bonus Coverfolk offer a few live takes on songs originally released as solo work from members of Fleetwood Mac. For some reason, I have less baggage here than I do for the above — a surprise, given how most of us know Holiday Road as the theme song to the National Lampoon’s Vacation series.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: The Corrs cover Dreams, too.

1,446 comments » | Covered in Folk, Fleetwood Mac

Denison Witmer Covers: Oasis, Big Star, Nick Drake, The Band, Bonnie Raitt and more!

September 20th, 2008 — 05:34 pm

Over the past few weeks, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Denison Witmer has released several relatively spare covers to the internet as promotional teasers, part of a mechanism to build buzz in anticipation of Carry The Weight, an upcoming album of original songs. The approach is a familiar one, seen in an increasing number of singer-songwriters and bands teetering on the indie boundaries of folk music — see, for example, the lo-fi bedroom covers of the Morning Benders, or the recently-featured popfolk take on the Smashing Pumpkins from newcomer Amie Miriello.

Overall, the phenomenon is especially validating, to me, because the use of covers as a familiar entry point to discover new musicians is the primary raison d’etre here at Cover Lay Down; to see artists and labels doing the same is a confirmation that, at least from the artist’s and industry’s perspective, our work is not wasted. But in this case, I’m also excited because I’m still in the process of discovering Witmer. And the more I hear of his increasingly understated mix of seventies folk sensibility and modern indiefolk production, the more smitten I become.

Denison Witmer has been around for a while: he’s released a steady string of albums in a decade or more, and seems to have become a staple of the rich Philadelphia folk scene in that time. But though he’s not so far, geographically speaking, from my own rural Massachusetts setting, musically speaking, Dension’s more recent sound leans more towards the delicately organic indiefolk approach of Nick Drake, Elliott Smith or Mary Lou Lord, even as it comes across as smoother in performance than any of those musical peers and predecessors. And the Philly folk scene has long been separated from the Boston and New England folk scenes by the vast dividing line that is NYC; it is rare for artists to make it in both scenes without hitting a certain level of fame, if not notoriety, on a national level.

As such, my experience with Denison comes from the very expansion of my own taste and experience in both the folkworld and the covers world which are part and parcel of my commitment to blogging over the last eleven months. On the folkfront, Denison’s name came up in my exploration of the work of Rosie Thomas, especially following the release of her blog-favorite album These Friends of Mine, which was heavily influenced by Thomas friends, co-producers and session musicians Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer. And, in the covers realm, I’ve recently discovered, and come to appreciate, Denison’s delicate, reverent takes on a well-selected subcatalog of other people’s songs.

As with his previous covers album, 2003 release Recovered, these newest covers are nothing especially transformative, but that’s not the point. As we heard in our previous Single Song Sunday feature on Jackson Browne/Nico song These Days, which included Dension’s version of the song amidst a huge pile of other covers, Denison’s approach to coversong strips songs down to their sonic core, not so much reinterpreting as owning and refocusing the songs in toto — from arrangement to lyrical structure — in the particular context of Denison’s languid voice, rich string style, and preferences for a slow, songwritery, richly atmospheric, and slightly folkpop production.

In the past, the result turned songs by The Band into highly recognizable versions of songs by The Band done with reverence, one voice, and just a slightly more focused production, songs by Big Star into folkrock songs with Big Star’s particular riff style and grunge approach. Here, it means quiet, stunning, reverent-yet-raw bedroom cover versions of Bonnie Raitt’s signature tune I Can’t Make You Love Me and The Red House Painters’ beautiful Have You Forgotten, and — released just today — a pensive campfire cover of Oasis hit Champagne Supernova, all of which both reflect and totally re-center familiar songs, allowing them to retain the tone of the original, while creating a pleasant new entry into each through consistently warm, slightly raspy tones. You get the best of both worlds, in other words: covers which show Denison’s commitment to songcraft and musicianship; songs which speak clearly as songs, recalled and refreshed with respect.

Thanks to My Old Kentucky Blog for raising the flag on these newest covers; keep an eye on Denison’s MySpace over the next few weeks as he releases other well-chosen obscurities and familiarities yet to be named. In the meanwhile, while we wait for the November arrival of what may well be the long-overdue breakthrough release from this underrated thirtysomething composer, session man, and solo artist, here’s those abovementioned covers, along with another great cover from Denison’s back catalog which honors his debt to protoypical indiefolk icon Nice Drake. As always, stick around afterwards for a few bonus tracks…

Remember, folks: we’re here, in part, because the folkprocess survives in the way artists and song each winnow towards and away from each other, giving us entry into the best of what is new and current through the old and familiar. But though Denison released a vast swath of his catalog free for eternal download a few years ago in honor of his thirtieth birthday, you can’t eat free. If these covers take you to listen to and subsequently buy the original works of Denison Witmer, and remind you to order Carry The Weight when it comes out in November, then the model works for all of us — the artists, the labels, the bloggers, the fans. And then, everybody wins.

A few more, perhaps, before you go? Though Denison’s influence, voice, and signature sound, like Sufjan’s, is all over Rosie Thomas’ These Friends, not many people realize that one of the best songs on that album is actually a cover of one of Denison’s earlier songs. Here’s that cover, plus the incredible original, since it seems to have gone relatively unheard in last year’s Rosie Thomas lovefest…plus another paired set from Denison and Thomas, pulled early from an upcoming feature on the songs of Fleetwood Mac.

Cover Lay Down publishes new covercontent Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Friday or Holiday. Coming soon: new old timey musicians take on timeless songs, sweet songs of apples and honey to celebrate the Jewish New Year, and yet another installment in our popular Covered in Kidfolk series for cool moms and dads.

254 comments » | Big Star, Bonnie Raitt, Denison Witmer, Fleetwood Mac, Nice Drake, Oasis, Red House Painters, Rosie Thomas, The Band