Category: Andrew Bird

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

I Have A Dream: Coversongs of the Civil Rights Movement

January 21st, 2008 — 10:48 am

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

It saddens me how much Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech continues to resonate today. Sad, too, that so much of the rising generation thinks of today as just another day off.

May these few still, small, unsatisfied voices in the wilderness remind us of how far we have come — and how far we have yet to go.

341 comments » | Andrew Bird, Bruce Springsteen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gordon Downie, James Taylor, Protest Songs