Category: Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Collections:
Pesky J. Nixon, Nick Cave, Josie Little, Peter Mulvey revisited, & more!

March 24th, 2012 — 12:17 pm

It’s finally Spring, though the warm winter shuffled our sense of season a bit this year. And just as the turning of the calendar has brought an early bloom of daffodils and crocuses to the garden, so has it revealed a growing set of cover collections and tribute albums, each featuring a beautiful bouquet of songs of and from artists we love. Today, we gather in these new and newly-found releases, providing news of the good stuff, a coverlovers delight. Enjoy!

Boston-based folk foursome Pesky J. Nixon‘s long-awaited covers album Red Ducks has been on our watchlist for ages, and now that it’s finally here, we’re proud to proclaim it a stunning success, an all-acoustic covers collection that delivers all we hoped for and more. Warm and raucous in turns, yet infectiously fun throughout, the album comes across like a gentler take on the Old Crow Medicine Show and others of the neo-organic americana camps, laden with campfire harmonies, fluid accordion, rhythmic guitar, and bright mandolin riffs, with takes on familiar folk, rock, and pop classics from Tom Waits, Cyndi Lauper, Dylan and more recorded in an intimate setting that is nonetheless perfectly evocative of their energetic live shows.

Regular readers may recall note of Pesky J. Nixon in and around our Falcon Ridge Folk Festival coverage last summer, but this album is a true tour de force for the team, who move in one fell swoop from ragged up-and-coming folksmen to serious contenders in the New England mainstage circuit with this delightfully focused, well-produced set – and sure enough, their Spring tour schedule has them traveling up and down the East Coast from now until summer, making it easy to catch these fine gentlemen as they promote both the album and their upcoming appearance at Falcon Ridge as hands-down winners of the 2011 Emerging Artist competition. Red Ducks drops officially on March 30, but you can and should purchase it in digital form over at Bandcamp if you’re too eager to wait for the physical disc; check it out, revel in its delights, and then hit up their CD release show on the 30th at The Lizard Lounge if you can.

I have no idea how I missed Dig Cave Dig, a Melbourne indie artists’ Nick Cave tribute from local label Beautiful Eskimo Records, when it was first released in Spring of 2011 – perhaps the combination of my lifelong distaste for Cave’s low, gravelly, atonal growl, a lack of international press, and my utter unfamiliarity with the musicians involved kept the damn thing hidden. And to be fair, the album is an unusual mix, bringing an almost even mix of gritty indie grunge rock and gentle folk treatments to the dark and sinister songbook of this long-time Australian underground critic’s darling.

But when the album quite literally fell into my lap earlier this week, I was thrilled to find that about half of the tribute consist of incredibly potent acoustic takes on Cave’s work. And even the louder, more violent tracks are a potent reminder of the power a true craftsman’s songs, making for an overall tribute which sheds new light on the hidden aches and tenderness that lurks under Cave’s often over-the-top performance. Stream it all on Soundcloud, skip around to find the folk if that’s your preference, and then support the fledgling label involved by purchasing the whole thing on iTunes here.

Luke Legs: Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow (orig. Nick Cave)

Little Wolf & Casey Hartnett: Where The Wild Roses Grow (orig. Nick Cave w/ Kylie Minogue)

Van Walker & Liz Stringer: Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For (orig. Nick Cave)

We first found Josie Little in our Couch By Couchwest coverage last weekend; the Kitty Wells song she recorded for the virtual festival was solid and spare, bringing new quiet energy to a classic cut better known for its original country twang. But digging deeper is always worth it, and here we have ample evidence: though I can’t find the video cover of I’m On Fire she supposedly performed in that virtual space in 2011, a quick google search revealed a soundcloud page chock full of tenderness and torn emotion, and coverage galore. Her take on Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe is startlingly quiet and pure – a deep, poisoned well of slowcore folk, perfectly imperfect. Her Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams covers are equally delicate and equally stunning; so is her take on Neil Young’s Powderfinger, stripping away all but the raw emotion, leaving only the 3 a.m. epiphany. I’ve posted a trio, including an utterly gorgeous Kathleen Edwards cover with overdubbed harmonies and quiet strums that leave me aching, but do yourself a favor, and head over to Soundcloud to hear more right away.

Josie Little: Sweet Little Duck (orig. Kathleen Edwards)

Josie Little: It Ain’t Me Babe (orig. Bob Dylan)

Josie Little: Only To Lose (orig. Whiskeytown)

According to its own webpage header, Onder Invloed (Under the Influence) is a video project by Dutch journalist and filmmaker Matthijs van der Ven, who films international musicians performing covers of their favorite bands and songs in live shows and private sessions; I found the set through Sandy, who shared a recent three-fer from Kim Janssen over at Slowcoustic last week, exposing a quiet acoustic session of covers from Iron & Wine, Damien Jurado, and Pedro the Lion that left me wanting more.

Happily, there’s a rich panoply of song coverage to be found here. A quick browse of the dozens of sessions and live sets van der Ven has produced and captured in the last several years revealed gems aplenty, from locals and musicians passing through The Netherlands on tour, the vast majority of them turning in performances which are intimate and tender, though other genres are certainly represented; the page also includes links to a streaming-only 14-track soundtrack that is only otherwise available as a companion to the Onder Invloed book, which was released in January and appears to be entirely in Dutch. I’ve embedded a few favorites below to whet your whistle, but truly, the website is where the action is.

Anne Soldat: I Think It’s Going To Rain Today (orig. Randy Newman)

Kim Janssen: Passing Afternoon (orig. Iron & Wine)

Doghouse Roses: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (trad.)

Finally: we had plenty to say about Peter Mulvey’s newest release The Good Stuff in our full-length feature on the singer-songwriter back in February, so I won’t repeat it here, except to note that we’re huge fans of both Mulvey and this great new album, and for excellent reasons. But the album itself, which now comes with Chaser, a companion EP of even more coverage, has finally hit the market, and since we were asked to hold back on posting songs until the moment arrived, we’re itching to share. Here’s two favorites from the mix; don’t forget to hit up the archives for much more Mulvey coverage, and Signature Sounds to purchase the CD/EP set, for more of the good stuff, including what may well be the best damn cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows ever performed.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Pesky J. Nixon, Peter Mulvey, Tribute Albums

All Folked Up: The Smiths
(With an exclusive track from new tribute Please, Please, Please)

December 3rd, 2011 — 02:31 pm

Flashback, 1987: I’m a freshman in high school, just finding my way into the dark underbelly of underground music thanks to the burgeoning alternative college radio scene in and around the Boston area and a younger brother whose musical tastes blossomed early. I hadn’t really noticed UK band The Smiths during middle school, but when Girlfriend in a Coma hit the airwaves, it touched me deeply, and I purchased the album from which it came, hardly aware that it would be their last, that the band was already disintegrating from the stress between an exhausted and increasingly alcoholic Marr and a series of agressive acts from the dismissive, inflexible Morrissey. And then, as I noted in a single-song set and analysis posted elseblog way back in 2007, I played the song incessantly for weeks on end, finding it a perfect outlet for my own adolescent relationship angst.

Though they only released 4 full-length studio albums in a startlingly short six year career, British alt-rockers The Smiths are rightly recognized today as seminal, groundbreaking players in the evolution of both the independent music scene and modern music writ large, thanks to the sensitive post-punk sensibility of songwriting team Morrissey and Johnny Marr, and an unprecedented number of non-album singles, b-sides, and compilations. Their ability to channel the tensions of the age, and the trapped feelings of loneliness in a culture on the brink, spoke clearly and deeply to a generation; long after their break-up, their songs continued to do so on radio, and on my turntable.

Over the last decade or so, in recognition of their influence and their brooding way with the emotional core of the darkest side of the soul, the works of The Smiths, and of Morrissey’s solo career, have found their way into the hands of a number of luminaries, from Joshua Radin and Billy Bragg to Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. And now, with the 25th anniversaries of their most influential albums Strangeaways, Here We Come (1986) and The Queen is Dead (1987) looming large, their influence has been recognized with not one, but two separate tribute albums. The first of these, The Queen is 25, a free-to-download mixed Greek artist tribute from fellow coverblog The Cover Lovers, is a mixed bag: mostly electro/indie stuff, and not really my style. But the second, Please, Please, Please: A Tribute to The Smiths, is a two-CD set from American Laundromat Records, who have a strong reputation for great indiefolk coverage – and having just received my pre-release in the mail this morning, I’m thrilled to announce that it’s stunningly successful, a genuine miracle.

As a handful of previously-released Smiths-as-folk covers has already aptly demonstrated, transforming those mournful, angst-ridden vocals and the urgency of those synthbeats and bass into folkier, sparser, and/or acoustic numbers is less difficult than their placement in the canon would imply. At heart, Morrissey was a crooner and cultural critic, a predecessor of the dark emo camps, whose personal struggles with the world found life in deeply personal narrative performance. As such, though it focuses its attention on alienation, the Smiths songbook is chock full of open imagery, and couched in eminently singable melodies that are eminently open to flexible interpretation.

And here, on the newest collection, we find magic indeed: tiny, sweet, hushed takes on Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me from William Fitzsimmons and Canadian girl duo Dala, respectively; a soaringly slow alt-country ballad interpretation of There Is Light That Never Goes Out from Trespassers William; beautifully hollow, haunting piano balladry from Greg Laswell, Joy Zipper, and Sixpence None The Richer; gypsy folkpop coverage from the aptly-named Girl in a Coma; light grunge from Tanya Donelly and Dylan at the Movies, and much, much more. As with previous covers collections and tributes to the Neil Young, The Cure, lullabies, and more, American Laundromat has solicited a powerhouse set of artists from the indie and indiefolk worlds and given them license to find their own hearts in the music of their influences – and the resulting record is a tight diamond of consistency that elevates both performers and songwriters, a gem absolutely worth your time and patronage, whether you, too, were an early fan, a latecomer like me, or simply a culturally-aware radio listener who recognizes the majority of the songs from the low end of the dial.

So here’s an exclusive track from Sara Lov off the newest tribute to cross the desk – a wonderfully melodic, contemporary folk production posted with permission from the kind folks at American Laundromat – and a full set of Smiths covers from the last decade or so to match it. Like Please, Please, Please: A Tribute to The Smiths, our own collection ranges from angered to tender, revealing the broad range of the original songs, and of the universal emotion they express so adeptly. But taken as a set, they speak to the recesses of the soul in ways which remind us that, while bands come and go, we are privileged to live in an age where we can own the recording and reintepretation of song, the better to channel our emotion, and share the human condition – a folk conceit, to be sure, and one which keeps us coming back week after week. The Queen may be dead, but with tributes like these, the legacy of the Smiths is stronger than ever.

6 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Morrissey, The Smiths, Tribute Albums

(Re)Covered, Vol XXI: the Back On The Grid edition
(covers of and from Vic Chesnutt, Big Star, Folk Uke, Red Molly, & In My Life)

November 7th, 2011 — 04:54 pm

It’s been a weird year here in tiny rural Monson, MA, and it keeps getting weirder: after a devastating tornado in June, and a hurricane and flood in August, last week’s freak snowstorm hit us hard indeed, felling thousands of trees across the vast landscape, and knocking out power and phone lines for the vast majority of residents. To help out, once again, I’ll be re-gifting 40% of all donations to Cover Lay Down from now until the end of the month to support local rebuilding efforts – a gift sorely needed, with winter nigh upon us, and scores of local families still living in trailers while they rebuild their homes and lives after this unprecedented trifecta of natural disasters.

As for me: after 8 days without heat, running water, stereo system and internet, I’m itching to get back into the fold, and this towering backlog of albums and singles is here to help. So let’s get right back to the music after a week of radio silence with a long-overdue nod to those feature subjects which just keep coming back – a return to our regular (Re)Covered feature series, in which we take on new releases and discoveries which add value to previously-posted explorations of the artists and songs we love.

A new release from local fave acoustic folkroots trio Red Molly is always welcome, especially given how effectively their sound has matured with the addition of new member Molly Venter’s achingly adept voice. But I’m kicking myself for not making the connection to last month’s feature subject sooner, given that their new record Light in the Sky, released at the beginning of October and still receiving strong support from the Americana and folk charts, has not one but two Mark Erelli covers, each one a delight of harmonies and folkgrass stringplay, with the banjo, dobro, and guitar eminently equal to the heavenly three-part vocals which have so typified the Red Molly sound since their original inception around the folk festival campfire.

As always, the album offers a predominance of coverage, with a small handful of originals from the ladies interspersed into the mix; as always, the whole run is smooth and heartful, channeling the full range of countryfolk emotion, from angst and anger to hope and heaven, with equal aplomb. But if you’re a regular reader of Cover Lay Down, I suspect I’m preaching to the choir. And if you’re not yet a fan of these ladies after all our past coverage – from our original 2007 feature to this summer’s amazing take on Jack Hardy’s songbook – this pair of covers from the new release should make it clear: you’re long overdue for your own date with heaven.

This month’s charity tribute to Vic Chesnutt from Minnesota-based nonprofit Rock The Cause marks the second such tribute since his December 2009 passing, and at least his third overall, if we count the Sweet Relief album recorded live for his benefit over a decade before his passage. But while Cowboy Junkies’ recent full-album tribute Demons recasts the works of this crippled singer-songwriter in fairly predictable (albeit no less successful) washes of alt-country sound, Minnesota Remembers Vic Chesnutt, which drops tomorrow, is diverse and sweet and surprisingly consistent in its success, running the gamut from alt to indie to rock-solid rock, while retaining throughout the tender-yet-grounded lyrical sensibility of Chesnutt’s originals.

Featuring 17 tracks from a host of name-brand players – among them Haley Bonar’s amazingly gentle take on Chesnutt’s patriarchal-viewed Pinocchio story, and an utterly stunning, aptly broken solo take on Rabbit Box from Charlie Parr which I’m holding back to tempt purchase, the better to benefit the music-related causes which Rock The Cause supports – the album is sure to please both fans and newcomers; the below singles have both been heard elsewhere, but they’re well worth repeating.

Our Folk Family Friday Feature on the Guthrie clan, posted last November, cited Arlo’s daughter Cathy and her performing partner Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie) as key members of the newest generation of performing family members, noting that “the duo, who call themselves Folk Uke, are a bit more punk and a lot more obscene than the rest of their kin, but the music is fine indeed, and firmly grounded in the folk tradition.” Now, six years after their self-titled debut dropped, Folk Uke arrives again with their sophomore release, entitled Reincarnation, on November 22, and we’re happy to call it a tour de force of folk, with special guest appearances from both famous fathers, from producer and multi-instrumentalist Abe Guthrie, and from second-gen singer-songwriter Shooter Jennings to boot.

All family connections aside, the duo are excellent singer-songwriters, and indeed, it’s Cathy and Amy who make this record special, grounding it in their signature gentle, airy strum styles and light, whimsical vocals, providing a delicacy that belies their raw, earthy, almost anti-folk sensibility and lyrical truth. There’s love in here, for sure, but it’s a love rich in secular realism, making for an apt addition to the Guthrie/Nelson family legacies, and – from their sparse opening cover of a Harry Nilsson song originally performed by Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl in the 1980 film Popeye, to the palette of uke, bass, and guitar which tinkle and strum under the clear vocals throughout – a strong, sweet, eminently listenable album in its own right.

It was hard to justify running down the power on the iPad while the lights were out, but I made an exception for this amazing Beatles cover several times over. Here’s why: while Brooklynite Bess Rogers, whose new album Out Of The Ocean is buzzworthy enough to have made her the featured ‘Single Of The Week’ artist on iTunes/Japan last week, generally goes for indiepop production with organic, acoustic undertones – much like Ingrid Michaelson, for whom Bess tours as lead guitarist and back-up singer – her take on In My Life, which was originally released as a single this August to little fanfare, is positively etherial, stark and lovely in all the right places, with the uke and harpsichord keys, the layered vocals, and a delightfully clicking beat counterpoint containing all the warmth of the perfect late summer evening.

Interesting, how a song we featured this summer in multiple versions as part of our commemorative post-tornado series came back to haunt me once again in the midst of yet another weather-related disaster. Even in the freezing dark, this one kept me warm and smiling.

For bonus points, a quick search of the universe reveals several strong albums already under Bess’ belt, plus an equally delicate, warm take on The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick from a 2010 all-covers NYC artists’ benefit for the nonprofit urban kids writing collaborative organization 826NYC – our very first Christmas cover of the season – that shimmers with firelight, setting the bar high, indeed.

Finally: I only watch one TV show regularly, and I watch it on Hulu, giving me an eight day delay for discovery on this amazingly atmospheric take on Big Star classic The Ballad of El Goodo from up and coming guy/girl folkpop duo The Wellspring. The poignancy may not characterize all their work – the stream on their page which touts their newest EP runs up to full throttle, as befits a band being produced by the same folks that brought you other indie folkpop icons (like Ingrid Michaelson, again, et. al.) – but it certainly brought just the right tone to the final moments of yet another heartbreaking episode of the best damn hospital drama around. And the ringing fullness of its sound pairs perfectly with Evan Dando’s ragged, sparse alternate cover, which we last shared way back in March 2010, when Big Star founder and patron saint Alex Chilton passed on into the big band in the sky.

Like what you hear? Then stay tuned, ’cause Cover Lay Down is back in business with more to come! We’ll return later this week and next for more new releases and folk features, including a look at the life and songs of cowboy countryfolk outlaw Guy Clark.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Red Molly, Tribute Albums

Single Shot Tribute Albums: Kris Delmhorst covers The Cars

July 12th, 2011 — 01:24 pm

Brooklyn-born (and now Boston-based) singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Kris Delmhorst first discovered The Cars in the summer of ’84; in both generational outlook and effect, the musical epiphany that followed seems to parallel my own entry into the wonders of music that speaks to heart and body. And though these days, Delmhorst is known for gentler, more literate songwriting and performance in the modern confessional vein, her new release, Cars – now available for “immediate digital delivery” pre-order at Signature Sounds – finds the forty year old new mother and celebrated singer-songwriter looking back to those heady days of her youth, making for an album which provides a strong bridge between the gleeful, heady emotions which first drew us to those songs and the deliberate craftsmanship which has long marked Delmhorst as a patient, careful artist well worth our ongoing celebration.

Taking on the Ric Ocasek canon is a lark, to be sure – and there’s plenty of play afoot here, as you’ll hear from the get-go. But Delmhorst does so with aplomb, offering a fluid mix of deconstructed deep cuts and relatively faithful (and danceable) interpretations of fan favorites. At its best, as with all great folk tributes, the album comes across as a loving offering to the world through exploration of the self in the familiar, a deeply personal project which exposes deeper truths in songs better known for their rhythm and hooks.

As the four tracks currently streaming at Delmhorst’s store indicate, Cars isn’t a perfect album. The songs with the richest genre hybridization can seem anomalous and oddly balanced – listen for how the synth bleeps, the plastic horns, the pennywhistle, and the punk banjo pull back for the verse couplets on Hello Again, as if to compensate for the conflict between layers – and though the production brings it forward, Delmhorst’s breathy, notably delicate alto is still slightly lost against the harder, poppier, almost country drumbeat edge and sharp bluegrassy fiddles of You Might Think, even as the song stands out as an inevitable single.

But that voice serves the vast majority of her song settings well, and the softer, gentler, more transformative tracks exceptionally. Magic, especially, with its subtle mandolins, soft arrangement, and sweet girl harmonies, is both a harbinger and revelation, a mark of what Kris can do at her best. And overall, Cars is a wonderful conceit, a love note to our secret pop hearts, an apt tribute to a generation’s shared adolescence, a summer folkpop masterpiece. You can practically hear Delmhorst’s wide smile throughout.

Make your summer complete. Get Cars here.

Bonus track: Kris Delmhorst and Session Americana cover The Cars’ Drive in a 2006 session.

9 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Kris Delmhorst, Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Compilations Week, Vol. 4: Countryfolk
albums of and from Laura Cantrell, Tom T. Hall, Michael Daves & Chris Thile

April 30th, 2011 — 12:07 pm

Our week-long coverage of this Spring’s fine crop of tribute albums and cover compilations comes to a close today with a trio of albums that fall square on the line between country and folk music. Enjoy!

Sleep With One Eye Open, the collaboration with ex-Nickel Creek founder Chris Thile which Brooklyn-based bluegrass musician Michael Daves alluded to back in February during his appearance at the Joe Val Bluegrass Fest, hits the ground running May 10, and I haven’t been this excited for a bluegrass album in a long, long while.

Daves is one of the best guitarists and vocalists in the business, a constant tour companion with banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka and Roseanne Cash who channels the high tenor tones of his forebears with exquisite deliberation; mandolinist Thile has had no small success bringing bluegrass to a younger, more indie-minded audience, first with Nickel Creek, more recently with his newgrass band Punch Brothers. Unsurprisingly, the combination is gleefully potent, making this a project sure to please fans of multiple generations. And, says Michael, though the male voice mando-guitar duet form is a staple of the bluegrass sound, it was important for us…to get that brother duet thing, but with this Lower East Side punk energy. One of the most enjoyable things about this experience was to underline the slightly delinquent side of bluegrass.

The set, which is comprised entirely of “traditional” oldtimey tunes and bluegrass standards made popular by Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, The Louvin Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs and other bluegrass legends was recorded in Jack White’s Third Man Studios, and will drop on Nonesuch Records on May 10; a single with two more songs – Man In The Mirror and Blue Night – will follow on the 24th. preorder the autographed CD here, or merely pass on your email address at their website, and you’ll be entered to win a Martin guitar…but to be fair, as the promo two-fer below makes clear, the chance to hear these two virtuosos at the top of their game should be more than enough incentive to buy the album.

  • Chris Thile & Michael Daves: You’re Running Wild (pop. The Louvin Brothers)

Laura Cantrell has long been a darling of the countryfolk set, with fans from NYC, where her Saturday-afternoon country show The Radio Thrift Shop became an institution, to Nashville, where she is known among the Grand Ol’ Opry crowd for both her deep, deceptively delicate songwriting and her refined ability to resurrect hidden gems from the early days of acoustic country, and transform more modern pieces from the popular canon in her inimitable singer-songwriter style. And the critics agree, with kudos from Paste to Rolling Stone; no less than UK tastemaker John Peel called her debut, Not The Tremblin’ Kind, his “favourite album of the last 10 years – and possibly my life”.

Her new tribute to country legend Kitty Wells is Cantrell’s most country album yet, with a vividly colorful cover shot reminiscent of the gingham-and-whiskey era which she is here to revive, and instrumentation that suits a modern interpretation of the canon of a long-gone, almost forgotten queen of early country. But folk fans with a penchant for the country side will still find much to love here, most especially in Cantrell’s voice, which remains as sweet as ever, in the gentle, classic slide-and-harmony driven country balladry which pours forth from the speakers, and in the love she brings to what is clearly a project for the ages.

Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music is already out in the UK, while Cantrell tours the country in the wake of the wedding of the century; it will go global on May 17, and can be pre-ordered at her website. The title-track single, a tribute to Kitty herself, is the sole original on the album, making it tough to justify inclusion here, but you can download it for an address at her website; I’ve included her take on Kitty Wells’ 1952 chart hit It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, and a few older, almost-as-countrified covers here, but encourage all to check out the album, and our 2008 feature on Laura Cantrell’s coverage, to see what makes this one worth pursuit.

Bonus Tracks:

Singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall’s children’s album Songs of Fox Hollow was released in 1974, just a year after I was, and to be honest, I’m surprised that I had never heard of it, having grown up in a home full of kidfolk. But that’s the whole point of I Love: Songs of Fox Hollow, an album tribute which aims to introduce a new generation to a gentle, playful kids’ album which was, apparently, born of Hall’s attempt to explain the working of his Kentucky farm to his two young nephews after a memorable summer spent together among the chicken coops, goat herds, and hayfields.

The songs, which speak of conservation and care, fit as neatly into the modern movement towards agro- and eco-sensitivity as they surely did in the seventies, and their reimagining here in the hands of Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Bobby Bare, Elizabeth Cook and others is sweet and gentle. The result is an album as accessible as it is unabashedly country-slash-Americana, simple and direct in language and rhyme, a perfect album for kids of all ages. It drops May 25, but can and should be streamed in its entirety at the project’s website.

Previously on Tributes and Cover Compilations Week:

528 comments » | Chris Thile, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Countryfolk, Laura Cantrell, Michael Daves, Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Compilations Week, Vol. 3:
The Watson Twins, Mundy, Sufjan’s Seven Swans, Madonna & more!

April 28th, 2011 — 08:30 pm

It’s shaping up to be a strong Spring in the world of tributes and cover albums, and good thing, too – though the single-shot covers continue to pour in daily, other than Reid Jamieson’s recent tribute to 1969, the Cowboy Junkies’ too-heavy-to-be-folk tribute to Vic Chesnutt, and a mid-February Sara Lov popfolk covers compilation, it’s been pretty dry at the album-length intersection of folk and coverage.

But apparently, in the world of cover albums, when it rains, it pours. Over the weekend, we featured Thea Gilmore’s stunning take on Dylan’s seminal 1967 album John Wesley Harding, and dropped two exclusive tracks from Paint It Black, the newest alt-country tribute to the Rolling Stones. Next weekend, we’ll be passing along bits and bytes from a trio of new tribute albums along the border of country, old-timey bluegrass, and folk music.

Today, we return to the shortform approach with a look at four more albums and EPs of folk, indiefolk, and folkpop coverage which have hit the ground running in the wake of a long, spare Winter.

Despite selling far fewer copies than the artist’s tributes to the states of Michigan and Illinois which came before and after it, Sufjan Stevens’ powerful, deeply Christian 2004 album Seven Swans served as such a powerful introduction to the one-time rising star for so many of his peers in the Indie world, it has taken only seven years for the album to be covered in full. But although it seems potentially risky to pay such thorough tribute to a single album so early in its history, there’s something quite deep about Seven Swans Reimagined, a focused indie tribute to the album which dropped at the end of March, the proceeds of which go to benefit for Komen for the Cure.

The roster features a veritable who’s who of the modern Indie movement, with many artists known for their appearance on other compilations, and though the album yaws through a fuller spectrum of the indie canon, with experimental arrangements which echo the originals, much of it is legitimately folk, thanks to generally acoustic, often hushed tones. In all cases, though, from the bouncy bells and flute of Half Handed Cloud’s gentle, pulsing neofolk to the frozen majesty of Unwed Sailor’s Sister to the plodding, echoey, psychedelic soundscape that transforms We Won’t Need Legs To Stand in the hands of Elin K. Smith, the songs maintain their humility and their spiritual edge effectively, even as their tones shift in new hands and mouths.

A few familiar faces, among them Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Joshua James, and Denison Witmer, will be a special delight those of an indiefolk bent; so will less well-known contributors, such as Shannon Stephens and Gregory Paul, whose harmonies make a gentle, almost Joni-esque acoustic slide ballad of Waste Of What Your Kids Won’t Have. And though it’s a bit more pop than folk, Wakey! Wakey! bring a delightfully rough, intimate edge to their majestic piano ballad take on A Size Too Small, taking what is perhaps my favorite song from the original album and turning it on its ear with aplomb. Stream, sample, and buy at Bandcamp – but first, here’s two streams to get you started.

  • Shannon Stephens and Gregory Paul: Waste Of What Your Kids Won’t Have (orig. Sufjan Stevens)

    (from Seven Swans Reimagined, 2011)

Blogwatchers already know about The Watson Twins‘ new Night Covers EP, which has been out since mid-April; cover fans may recognize their name from their take on Neil Young’s Powderfinger which appeared on Cinnamon Girl, the all-female, all-indie American Laundromat Records double album which we called “the tribute album Neil Young has deserved for most of his long and prolific career” when it emerged in February of 2008.

But though those who have followed the indie tastemakers in the past few years know the pair for their sweet sister harmonies, and for their collaboration with Jenny Lewis on the well-received Rabbit Fur Coat, which took the critical world by storm in 2005, should know by now: The Watson Twins are much more than a pair of backup singers made good. And, with one EP and two full-length albums already under their belts, identical twins Chandra and Leigh have produced a fine addition to our Spring roundup.

The Night Covers has but six tracks, most of which teeter on the alt-slash-popfolk line, as so much of their work has before; the disk is a bit pricey, but it seems worth the dough, if only because of how effectively the twins pay upbeat, driving tribute to a well-selected collection of pop and soul-turned-indiefolk songs from The Eurythmics to Bill Withers to Sade, with a rock turn by way of the Black Keys and PJ Harvey. Cover Me has a review of more substance, and an interview; their take on Turtles hit You Showed Me, the single, is typical of the album’s sound and sensibility.

Bonus tracks:

I wasn’t sure if I should include this next album on our list. After all, like the members of their indie roster, most of Toronto-based Paper Bag Records’ Madonna album tribute True Blue isn’t folk, ranging instead from the glitchy, fuzzed-out, almost Clash-esque rock Born Ruffians bring to Madonna b-side Jimmy Jimmy, to the wailing full-press post-punk of PS I Love You’s Where’s The Party, to the surprisingly well-translated throwback pop-tronica of Woodhands (Papa Don’t Preach), Winter Gloves (True Blue), and You Say Party (Love Makes The World Go Around) which anchor the album.

But the collection is free, making it an easy path to entry for the strong indie stable which Paper Bag Records represents. And two standout tracks are decidedly folk music: Laura Barrett’s gently disjointed La Isla Bonita, and The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “We’re Scared Version” of Live To Tell, which applies gentle guitar, synth, and tambourine to create a delicate, sunny, decidedly retrofolk version of Madonna’s sappy 80′s hit.

Finally, on the horizon: 2 U I Bestow brings us news of an impending covers album from cheerful Emerald Isle singer-songwriter Mundy, whose song of the same name not only serves as namesake for the Irish-only folkblog, it also brought the artist a bit of fame back in 1996, when it was included on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. The aptly titled Shuffle drops May 13 in US and UK markets; thanks to Mundy’s reps, I’ve had a chance to hear the whole thing, and found it warm, familiar, and quite worth the time – recommended, especially, for those who prefer their folk without the indie edge.

The set, a tribute to the Mundy’s favorite American “folk” influences – a list which includes alt-country, country, rock, and folk singer-songwriters, from Bob Dylan, John Prine, Paul Simon, and Warren Zevon to Parsons/Hillman, Emmylou Harris, and both Lucinda and Hank Williams – doesn’t dig terribly deep into the catalogs of the artists it honors, and the tracks tend to hew relatively close to their original genre. But the performances here are sincere and solid, transformative and truly listenable, fully fleshed out with contemporary radio-ready folk-rock production values and instrumentation: an apt introduction to a strong, well-produced performer sadly underrepresented and underappreciated on this side of the pond. Here’s the pre-release single – in stream-only form, as requested – and two older covers for reference.

  • Mundy: It’s A Wonderful Lie (orig. Paul Westerberg)

    (from Shuffle, 2011)

Bonus tracks:

Stay tuned, loyal readers! Cover Lay Down brings Tributes and Cover Compilations Week to a triumphant close this weekend with new tributes of and from Tom T. Hall, Laura Cantrell, and Chris Thile and Michael Daves!

267 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Madonna, Mundy, Sufjan Stevens, The Watson Twins, Tribute Albums

Thea Gilmore Covers Dylan
…plus more coverage from the heir apparent of British folk

April 24th, 2011 — 06:34 pm

Known for her interpretations of the songs of others as much as for her own firey, highly poetic lyrics and potent songcraft, British singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore has long been on my list as a potential feature subject here on Cover Lay Down – and sure enough, you’ll find an LP-length selection of her past coverage below, including takes on The Buzzcocks, The Clash, Elvis Costello, and more, which I hope will make a fan of those who have not heard her before.

But it’s Tributes and Cover Compilations week here on Cover Lay Down, and fittingly, though she’s been compared in her day to Sandy Denny, Beth Orton, Alanis Morisette, and Joni Mitchell, Thea’s newest effort is a tightly focused tribute to the man who – next to her husband, producer, guitarist and constant collaborator Nigel Stonier – is perhaps her strongest influence. And so we begin our feature with a comparative eye, enumerating the many connections between the 31 year old Gilmore and her musical ancestor and progenitor, Bob Dylan.

Thea Gilmore got an early start in the industry, working in a recording studio and recording her first album as a teenager, breaking into the charts at 23, and – as we saw in our recent feature on the songs of Bill Withers – working alongside such British folk rock icons as John Kirkpatrick (Steeleye Span) and Martin Allcock (Fairport Convention) before she hit her stride as a solo artist. Since then, in just 15 years, the prolific songstress has produced a dozen albums, each one a critic’s darling and a gem of distinction, and appeared on numerous collaborative efforts alongside some of the greats of modern folk music on both sides of the pond, including a star turn as Joan Baez’ hand-picked opener for her 2004 presidential election tour.

Though her voice is a beautiful, clear alto – a far cry from the signature rasp and whine which typifies Dylan’s performance – Thea Gilmore has often been compared to Bob Dylan, with whom she shares a disdain for genre convention, a penchant for obstinacy, a belief that audiences will reward “honest expression” over accessibility, and a preference for rushing to the studio to record songs while they are still in the formative stage. Even USA Today has seen it, saying that “Gilmore detangles sex, religion, and politics with a literate eloquence and defiance that recall the early poetic eruptions of Bob Dylan.”

But Gilmore’s connection to the defining icon of the sixties singer-songwriter movement is strong in other ways, too. She cites Dylan’s records, alongside The Beatles, Fairport Convention, and Elvis Costello, as early childhood influences. She even references Dylan’s canon in her bio, explaining the ways in which her writing has matured over time by suggesting that “You don’t have to be trying to write Masters Of War every time. You can write about your own decisions, turn small parts of your life into songs that people can relate to.”

Notably, she recorded I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, her first Dylan cover, by request, for a Dylan covers CD solicited by Uncut Magazine in 2002; she later released the track again on Songs From The Gutter, a set recorded during that session, and thus originally conceived as a tribute to Dylan himself. The track struck a chord, and since then, the accolades have poured in, including one from Bruce Springsteen himself, who confronted Gilmore backstage at a 2008 concert to show his appreciation for the track, calling it “one of the great Dylan covers” – a sentiment with which we agree wholeheartedly.

Now, in the aftermath of strong performances of I Pity The Poor Immigrant and Masters of War alongside coverage from Laura Cantrell, Eddi Reader, Josh Rouse, Roseanne Cash and others at the Celtic Connections Festival’s 70th birthday tribute to Bob Dylan (recorded in January; now showing on Sky TV for those lucky enough to live in the UK), Gilmore has re-recorded the entirety of John Wesley Harding, Dylan’s seminal 1967 album – which the maturing British singer-songwriter cites as “his most sustained, satisfying record”, with characters that seem “unfathomably but implicitly linked”, and a startling “sense of earthiness and economy”.

The task took only seven days, according to the preamble to the video posted below, promising and delivering an urgency and situational energy which itself pays apt tribute to the master’s work and process. And though I’ve only heard only samples of most tracks so far, taken alongside Gilmore’s craft and reputation, the evidence they provide is undeniable: the result – a box set which includes the album itself, and postcards for each track – seems destined to be one for the ages.

Dylan’s original John Wesley Harding album marked a return to acoustic music and traditional roots after his mid-sixties foray into the possibilities of electric rock. But Thea has chosen to pour her love for the Dylan canon more broadly into this focused set of songs, making for a vast journey through influence and interpretation. The tracks on this new reinterpretation of John Wesley Harding run from fast-and-grungy, band-driven alt-country and rock (The Wicked Messenger, Drifter’s Escape) to bluesy piano-led balladry (Dear Landlord) to more typical folk and folk rock fare of multiple types and origins, offering a spectrum of that encompasses the very breadth of Dylan coverage in the world of music writ large, including an old-timey banjo touch on I Am A Lonesome Hobo that would sound perfectly at home on an Americana album, and one-two punch of an album kickoff comprised of a delightfully ukelele-led backporch bar band title track, and an utterly grand take on As I Went Out One Morning that rivals the best of June Tabor or Fairport Convention.

Thea’s John Wesley Harding box set drops May 23, but if you preorder on ebay, she’ll post your CD on the 3rd – leaving plenty of time for you to grow familiar with her take on Dylan’s work before Bob becomes a septuagenarian on the 24th, a day which Gilmore and friends will mark with a record release show at London’s Union Chapel. Here, as a teaser, is Gilmore’s celebrated version of I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, the only previously-recorded track from what promises to be a stellar addition to the neverending canon of Dylan tributes, and a somewhat muddy but absolutely heartfelt fan recording of Thea and her band taking on album-closer I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight live at The Arches in Glasgow this past March. Listen, and then head over to eBay for more words and promises from the star herself.

  • Thea Gilmore: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (orig. Bob Dylan)

Looking for bonus tracks? Then oh, have we got a treat for you. As noted above, Thea Gilmore’s comfort with coverage runs far broader than her most significant influence, from a notable 2008 duet performance with Mike Cave to several one-shot folk-rock releases on other compilations to her edgy, sadly out-of-print 2004 covers album Loft Music. Here’s the set I would have posted, before Thea’s deep connection to Dylan became so apparent.

Previously on Tribute and Cover Compilations week at Cover Lay Down:

  • New alt-country Rolling Stones tribute Paint It Black, with two exclusive covers from the upcoming album!

680 comments » | Bob Dylan, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Thea Gilmore, Tribute Albums

Covered in Alt-Country: Paint It Black
…with TWO exclusive tracks from the impending Stones tribute!

April 23rd, 2011 — 11:11 am

It’s shaping up to be Tributes and Cover Compilations week here at Cover Lay Down, thanks to a wave of strong cover albums coming over the dam in the next few weeks. Today, we kick off our take on this delightful collection of new and impending coverage early with a look at the newest in Rolling Stones tributes – including two exclusive tracks never before heard outside the studio.

Tribute producer Jim Sampas, whose stellar indie covers collection Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute To Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home hit the ground running back in October, is at it again with Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute To The Rolling Stones, due to drop May 17th on his own Reimagine Music label. And though this time around we’re among the first to note its existence, this isn’t the last you’ll hear of it: the album features strong showings from some of our favorite acts on and around the folk/alt-country line – Cowboy Junkies, Hem, Over The Rhine, Great Lake Swimmers, The Handsome Family and more – and Jim’s reputation among both print press and in the blogosphere is top-notch, for good reason.

It’s daring to take on such a well-known canon – though there are surprisingly few tribute albums out there, as our June 2010 feature demonstrates aptly, the Rolling Stones have been covered almost as thoroughly in the last half century as Dylan himself. But as we noted previously, where too many cover albums drift aimlessly, trading off the strength of a few gems, Sampas – the guiding light behind two of the decade’s strongest album-centered tribute albums, turn-of-the-century alt-country-to-popfolk Springsteen tribute Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and 2005 indie Beatles tribute This Bird Has Flown – has made a name for himself curating genre-focused cover compilations which flow smoothly and successfully from one track to the next.

And Paint It Black is no exception – another great addition to the Sampas canon, chock full of slide guitars, harmonica, and brushed drumhead beats, its reinterpretations updated sparingly if at all with modern indiepop and country rock sensibilities. Each track is a gem, each transition another revelation: everything fits, and everything works. It’s like listening to your favorite late-night radio station when the DJ is in the perfect groove.

The song selection on Paint It Black is strong, too: the album contains a solid mix of popular hits and lesser known gems from the Stones’ catalog, in a sequence which neither features nor hides songs of either category.

But much of the success of this particular tribute is due to the collective efforts of the group of artists which appear on the album. Modern alt-country is a big tent, and Sampas’ hand-picked roster pushes against its boundaries by putting exceptional alt-country efforts from acts who generally self-identify as singer-songwriter, indie, and folk rock alongside pitch-perfect performances from more familiar members of the alt-country school.

The result is a broad, sprawling collection that works. Great Lake Swimmers kick things off with a gentle, summery indie breeze of Before They Make Me Run; from there, until Anders Parker’s scratchy, atmospheric Coming Down Again closes the record, the coverage bursts with diversity, running the gamut without skipping a beat.

Hem’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want is a triumphant ballad, sweet and honest, a sublime, well-orchestrated track reminiscent of the Band; Giant Sand’s Jumping Jack Flash, meanwhile, is sexy, dark and dirty, a low-key bass-and-piano barrelhouse with echoes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits. On the title cut, Brian Ritchey’s flowing strings and piano build majestically from aching gypsy balladry to classical seventies to guitar-smashing nineties rock and back again to rest. Boston-based Barbara Kessler’s lovely version of You Got The Silver swings smashing, slide-guitar-driven countryfolk. And the Handsome Family surprises us all with a true-blue half-spoken country tune, with a touch of modern cowboy punk that perfectly suits Faraway Eyes.

Elsewhere, Cowboy Junkies turn in a slow, sultry Moonlight Mile that takes a surprisingly grungy turn before pulling back towards sweetness. Over The Rhine’s piano, slide, and vocals drift etherial over Waiting On A Friend; Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos channel Dr. John, John Prine, David Gray and Gram Parsons in a pitch-perfect, surprisingly novel turn on Wild Horses. Newly reunited alt-country mainstays Blue Mountain smash through Torn And Frayed like the SXSW-veteran country-roots bar band they are. And on the other end of the alt-country spectrum, the driving beats, tinkly synth patterns, anthemic electric guitar, and echoey vocals of Matthew Ryan’s take on Streets of Love owe as much to top 40 hits from U2, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol, and Springsteen’s highest-concept radiopop Streets of Philadelphia, as it does to the original.

Even those acts I had never heard of – Everest, who channels the Rolling Stones’ rollicking, ragged, acoustic hollers; The Bittersweets, whose deliberate, soaring vocals and slow ringing waves of sound on Loving Cup remind one of Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin- don’t fail to impress. And though I would have loved to hear Mary Gauthier solo here, Dear Doctor, which features Lee Harvey Osmond and Gauthier in harmony throughout, turns out to be a slow duet with harmonica and acoustic guitar, with back-porch vocals that channel Emmylou and Graham’s recognizable alt-country approach quite well, indeed.

As with Subterranean Homesick Blues, thanks to Jim, I’ve been given permission to drop a pair of tracks on you early, in anticipation of what is sure to be a strong wave of appreciation from coverbloggers and alt-country watchers alike once Paint It Black starts picking up steam. And as before, picking just two is a challenge, both because the album works so well as a start-to-finish alt-country journey through the Stones catalog, and because practically all of these cuts are strong enough to cut through the fog.

To be fair, it was tempting to pick tracks from those artists who would net us the most hits on the aggregators. But we’re audiophiles, not populists, here at Cover Lay Down – our goal, as always, is to ply coverage as a tool to introduce you to musicians you may not yet have grown to love. In this case, then, though I highly recommend the entire album from start to finish, I’ve merely aimed for a nod towards our mandate, and selected two delightful tracks from artists I’m still discovering myself: Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos, whose dreamy Wild Horses is some of the best roots music I’ve heard in ages, and Hem, whose decision to turn The Rolling Stones’ sixties anthem You Can’t Always Get What You Want into a country waltz is a startlingly successful, absolutely irresistible proof of concept for the album itself. Enjoy.

Looking for some bonus tracks? It was tempting to close today’s feature with a smorgasbord of previous coverage of the Rolling Stones, but we’ve done it before. And as always, we’re here first and foremost to make the connection between folk artists and fan – and as with Jim Sampas’ previous project, this new tribute album is as much about the artists, and the producer and label-owner, who have come to the table with vision as it is about the songs themselves. So here’s an alt-country-and-beyond covers collection, featuring a few more artists featured on Paint It Black.

763 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Rolling Stones, Tribute Albums

Tribute Albums and Cover Compilations 2010, Vol. 3:
Late year releases, missed gems, and new holiday compilations

December 16th, 2010 — 12:17 am

As regular readers are surely aware, we tend to stay out of the ubiquitous year’s-end “best of” fray, leaving compilation to those blogs that focus on the ever-new. In part, that’s because we’re archivists and folklorists, not tastemakers, here at Cover Lay Down – which is to say, you’re just as likely to find a song from last decade as you are a release from last month being presented in our biweekly missives.

Too, as a matter of policy and preference, we prefer not to play favorites among the best players, believing that there is much to be said of and for the broad and vast diversity of successful songs and interpretations that comprise the threads of the modern folkways. Instead, we work hard only to bring you that which is worthy of pursuit, regardless of origin, as long as it fits into the intimate niche which we have carved out for ourselves.

But it’s hard to pretend that we haven’t trended towards the new a bit more this year than we had before – a fact that is driven as much by a renewed interest in the way that younger artists rise through the ranks, and in how older artists mature as they try to stay current and true to their own development, as it is by the fact that, after three and a half years on the circuit, we’ve featured a good many of my favorite artists in thorough detail by now. And as part of our ongoing focus on the everchanging world at the intersection of folk and coverage, we do try to keep tabs on the best tribute albums on a roughly quarterly basis throughout the year.

As always, we recommend all the songs and artists we tout here on these pages; those looking for something special for that special someone would be well advised to pick up pretty much any of the albums we’ve celebrated throughout 2010, or indeed, since our 2007 inception. But if you’ve scoured the archives, and are still stuck, here’s a few late-year releases and newly discovered collections which might make perfect stocking stuffers for the coverlover on your list.

Like the work of the artist it honors, Versions of Joanna is an eclectic, often strange mix of music, delicate and full of drones and creaky voices, typified by long narratives, pulsing instrumental swells and soaring melodic lines. But Joanna Newsom’s knack for abstract, often cryptic lyrics and fragile nufolk atmospheres translates well in the hands of this well-chosen collection of independent, often genre-bending artists – a list that includes M. Ward, Billy Bragg, Owen Pallette, and Ben Sollee, in addition to an international cadre of modern folk artists new to my ears but eminently worth watching.

At heart, though many of its songs are framed within production that pays apt tribute to Newsom’s frozen sonic landscapes, and though there are a few exceptions to the rule – like Joel Cathey’s amazing, upbeat harp-pop take on The Book Of Right-On, Versions is still mostly sparse singer-songwriter indiefolk, on piano and/or strings, with a few cello-and-bell exceptions. But it’s all beautiful, with a consistency that belies both its sonic diversity and the worrying first impression that it’s a bit early to do a tribute album for a living artist with only a few albums under her belt. The best part: sales from the 21-track digital album, which dropped just last week, will benefit Oxfam America’s Pakistan Floods Relief Fund, making your purchase a true gift in more ways than one.

Jennifer Schmidt: This Side Of The Blue (orig. Joanna Newsom)

Owen Pallett: Peach Plum Pear (orig. Joanna Newsom)

Rosa Hinksman: In California (orig. Joanna Newsom)

(from Versions of Joanna: A Tribute to Joanna Newsom, 2010)

We covered Boston-based altfolk siren Marissa Nadler way back in 2008 as a follow-up to our original freakfolk post, and again in May of 2009, in acknowledgement of the large-but-not-comprehensive bootleg collection of predominantly lo-fi covers which was floating around the webs at the time. But we seem to have missed the midsummer 2010 release of an untitled, “non-official” covers collection from Nadler herself, currently available via crafter’s website Etsy. The collection includes several songs which we already had – but who wants a downloadable set for gift-giving when for just 12 bucks, you can get a personalized collection of 17 favorites lovingly curated by the artist herself, burned on demand, and packaged in a delightful handmade cover with an original linotype designed by the artist herself.

Nadler is due to begin recording her next album in January, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of this month; in the meanwhile, here’s a few of my favorite covers from her past.

Of course, holiday albums are an especially relevant treat this time of year, with inevitable nods to songs old and new, and we’ve featured several of this year’s best already, from the Indigo Girls multifaith collection to Sam Billen and Josh Atkinson’s newest kickstarter-driven freebie. Joel Rakes’ ongoing holiday EP project is in rare form this year, with twangy, hook-laden indie pop production filling out the once-a-week-’til-Christmas tunes to great and catchy effect. And the aptly-named Merry Ellen Kirk, whose still, lovely Do You Hear What I Hear we featured last year, has added an yet another song to her own ongoing free holiday EP well worth including in the mix, as well.

Though we included a track from Christian singer-songwriter Sara GrovesO Holy Night Tour: The Prison Show, a raw, bluesy set of folkpop carols recorded in an Illinois women’s prison, on Sunday, the free digital-only album comes highly recommended, especially as a gift for the empowered women in your life. In fact, I’m so in love with this collection, I couldn’t help but share a second gem, which totally and delightfully transforms a familiar carol into something sweet, gentle, new, and eminently folk.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention my new and growing affection for Dogs on Tour, a Chicago/Midwest based multi-musician collaborative, who forwarded me their second annual Christmas compilation just last week. Though it’s a cross-genre feast, as much a gorgeously experimental soundscape as a collection of discrete songs, there’s strong folk elements rounding out the mix, and like so much of the best of the season’s underground, it’s free, too, though you’re encouraged to donate a buck or two if you like the work. Plus, it comes with the best terms-of-use notice ever: “If downloaded you are agreeing to the terms of sharing it with everyone you possibly can, passing this link on to others all over the world, and having a Merry Christmas.” Done and done. Pass along the link, and the ones above, for a gift that costs nothing, yet means much.

1,034 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Holiday Coverfolk, Tribute Albums

Covered in Indiefolk: Subterranean Homesick Blues
…with an EXCLUSIVE track from the newest Dylan tribute!

October 24th, 2010 — 09:54 am

You may not recognize the name Jim Sampas, but true-blue coverfans know his work: as the guiding light behind two of the decade’s strongest album-centered tribute albums – turn-of-the-century alt-country-to-popfolk Springsteen tribute Badlands and 2005 indie Beatles tribute This Bird Has Flown – the producer has made an unparalleled mark on the evolving world of coverage. Recently, Sampas started new label ReImagine Music as a vehicle for his ongoing pursuit of all things coverage, and his first solo project, Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, hit the ground running a few weeks ago with a bang, netting well-deserved, highly positive coverage in major print and web outlets from Rolling Stone and Paste to The Boston Globe and NPR.

Thanks to Jim, I managed to get my paws on the album a few weeks before its release, and though I’ve noted it in passing here, I haven’t really given it its due. Instead, I’ve been biding my time, working with Jim behind the scenes to net permission to post an exclusive track for our readership, and – not incidentally – forging a mutual appreciation society along the way, built on our common tastes, a shared love of coverage, and our strong support for indiefolk and alt-country artists.

Today, we present the fruits of that effort, and I think you’ll find that it’s been worth the wait. Because now, with both Jim and the Dylan folks fully on board, Cover Lay Down is proud as punch to present a close look at this stunning tribute and the artists it features, along with a track you’ll find nowhere else on the web.

Covering Dylan well enough to spark a coverlover’s interest is tougher than it looks. Truly, I have more Dylan covers than any other; to stand out in the crowd, any album which attempts to take on the works of this generation’s most defining musical poet is going to have to hit hard, and stay long.

Where the I’m Not There soundtrack – the second-most recent Dylan tribute on the market – aims for melodic success, the artists chosen for this October’s Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” take risks, pushing the original tunes farther, exploring their potential in new and nuanced ways, and the strategy pays off handsomely. The resulting collection yaws wider than most tributes, but it also delves deeper, making for an exceptional album worthy of every name involved.

The collection starts dark, with Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn and John taking on the tribute’s title track as a creaky, almost terrifying jaunt through dark Halloween streets. From there, it trends fluidly from technodreamy (The Castanets’ Maggie’s Farm; Asobi Sesku’s Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream) to majestic stripped-down singer-songwriter alt-country and indiefolk (Helio Sequence’s Mr. Tambourine Man, Sholi’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue), covering a full range of sunny-but-ragged retropop (Julie Doiron’s On The Road Again, DM Stith’s mariachi-tinged Gates of Eden), frantic alt-countrypunk (Franz Nicholay’s busy banjo-driven It’s Alright Ma), and more haunting, atmospheric songcraft (Mirah’s Love Minus Zero, Ane Brun’s slow, oddly synthesized She Belongs To Me, the etherial harmonies of The Morning Benders’ Outlaw Blues) along the way.

But although the 11 songs which Dylan originally selected for his seminal album make for a fine ride, as others have noted, it’s the bonus tracks here which will most effectively tempt the average folkfan. Five songs, from J. Tillman’s heartbreakingly slow alt-country ballad If You Gotta Go, Go Now to stunning treatments from Laura Viers and William Fitzsimmons, cap off the sequence; taken as an EP extra, the short set is quite possibly the best tribute album to come down the pike all year. And if you purchase from iTunes, you’ll find it followed by another trio of tunes, an iTunes exclusive set featuring tracks from Matthew Ryan, Graham Parker, and Bill Janovitz, which bring gravitas and grace to Forever Young, License To Kill, and Boots of Spanish Leather – making nineteen in all, and nary a dud among them.

The winding path makes for an exquisite journey, chock full of potent musicianship and transformative revisioning. These are artists I love, many of them at the top of their form as both interpreters and performers. And though I recognize the strong temptation to pick and choose from digital albums, the ebb and flow sequence is strong enough to recommend picking up the whole set.

And the track order is inspired, though it’s less important in a digital release; being a folkfan, I especially like the run in the middle of the album from Mirah to Doiron, and then at the end from Witmer to Fitzsimmons. But notably – and exceptionally rare, for a tribute album of this scope – even the songs I like least are worth listening to more than once. There’s an interesting urgency in Mr. Tamborine Man that I’ve never heard tried before – it’s quite evocative. And the way the Ane Brun cover slowly coalesces out of the disparate organ and tape hiss beat atmosphere is beautiful, though it’s not her best work by a long shot.

Sampas let me pick from the lot to feature here, and it speaks to the overall success of the set that selecting just one was an agonizing choice. The Morning Benders leaked Outlaw Blues early in October, free to download in return for the usual email address; I had high hopes to share the Fitzsimmons hushed version of Farewell Angelina, but it’s selling well, as it should, and I have no desire to undermine sales for this album. I almost went for the Viers at the last minute, too, and highly recommend the Mirah and J. Tillman tracks, especially, for those whose tastes trend towards the acoustic.

But truly, though there’s so many sensational tracks on this tribute, I’m thrilled to be given the choice to present the album’s sweet take on I’ll Keep It With Mine, one of my favorite Dylan compositions. Denison Witmer’s ringing, maudlin tones are transformative – perhaps in a more subtle manner than some others on the album, but subtle is an easily overlooked virtue in the world of coverage. And Cover Lay Down shares a special bond with Witmer, continuing to serve as the only artist-authorized place on the web where you can find his five-song set of lo-fi folk covers produced to help promote 2008 release Carry The Weight.

So here’s our exclusive teaser, plus that free download of Outlaw Blues, in hopes that you, too, will follow its path to both album and artists. Enjoy, and remember: you heard it here first.

Looking for more? I was tempted to follow this week’s exclusive track with a set of more Dylan coverage, but truly, this album is as much about the artists, and the producer and label-owner, who have come to the table with vision as it is about the songs themselves. So here’s a split list: some earlier covers from more artists featured on Subterranean Homesick Blues, followed by a bonus triplet of tasteful and tasty favorites from Sampas’ previous projects.

Bonus Jim Sampas-produced tracks:

Cover Lay Down presents new coverfolk features and songsets twice weekly. So bookmark us, or add us to your feedreader, to keep tabs on the world of coverfolk – what’s new, what’s worth revisiting, and what’s coming down the pike – including future notice of ReImagine Music’s next project, an alt-country tribute to the Rolling Stones starring Great Lake Swimmers, Cowboy Junkies, Handsome Family and more!

1,300 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Denison Witmer, Tribute Albums

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