Mailbox Mayhem: New Coverage of and from
Stevie Wonder, Arrica Rose, Neil Young, Mark Erelli, Doc Watson & more!

We’re home from the folkfields after a two-week hiatus, tanned, rested, and ready to explicate the current state of folk as represented by this year’s mainstage and sidestage lineups and their accompanying buzz. While we gather our thoughts [and CDs] for our annual post-fest megapost, here’s the best of what landed in the mailbox during our absence.

With its tender mix of old-timey reconstructions, traditional tunes, original songs, and recorded field narratives, On The Brooklyn Road – an incredible new country roots album from San Francisco Bay-area up-and-comer Nell Robinson, recently featured on A Prairie Home Companion – puts itself squarely in the category of older folk forms, even as it swings through songbooks both old and new. And yet there’s something deeply powerful and startlingly post-millennial about this sophomore album, as a whole, in no small part because of how effectively it provides a delightfully listenable, fluid primer of the interrelationships of the various folkforms which together fall into the roots category.

There’s a little bit of everything here, from country gospel to gentle singer-songwriter balladry, from grassy backporch pickin’ to a loose and lazy zydeco, all peppered with the recurring refrain of field recorded stories from Robinson’s mother and uncles, and leading us to the album’s delightful coda, which features pitch-perfect stylistic reconstructions of two traditional arrangements originally by the Cackle Sisters, a long-forgotten female duo from the 1930′s who invented their own yodeling form. But the sequence works well, and with nary a weak spot, leaving me struggling to pick just a pair for our post, even as it creates the perfect conditions for a press-ready quote we can stand by: Robinson’s sweet voice and the lighthearted settings of On The Brooklyn Road make for a consistent, thoroughly enjoyable journey through a timeless, sepia-toned world at the intersection of bluegrass, country, folk, and americana. Highly recommended.

Bonus track from Nell Robinson’s debut:

Folk-noirist Algebro‘s strangely fragile falsetto and gentle acoustic strum make for a reasonably odd match, with a product that starts off teetering on the edge of parody, and never shakes its easy association with Devendra Banhart. The handlebar moustache Algebro sports on the cover of his album doesn’t help, either – nor does the jock-y, math-y pseudonym taken by Chicago singer-songwriter Thom Cathcart for his solo project. But his utterly delicate take on this Stevie Wonder classic, released as a promotional freebie by the Georgia transplant, grows on you quickly, leaving us with the inner visions of a calmed, pensive narrator once totally hidden by the heavier instrumentation and soaring albeit somewhat bombastic beauty of the original.

Single Life, the newest album from Alberta singer-songwriter Landon A.R. Coleman, is a bit of a folk/rock/blues/americana/indie genre smorgasbord, as seen in the two streamable originals currently available over at bandcamp while we wait for an August release – a not unexpected result of a lifetime steeping in literature and in the indierock, flannel-wearing solo artist, and bluegrass branches of the musical arts. And his cover of Neil Young obscurity Down To The Wire is no exception: it starts as a warm and syrupy tune, with echoey emergent harmonies and sustained strings, and then somewhere along the way, ever-so-gently, it evolves into a fully orchestrated album-ender, with synthy flutes and reed flourishes that fade into something not so far from a mid-seventies Disney soundtrack.

Those who have been following Cover Lay Down over the last few months already know that we’ve been struggling with the aftereffects of a massive tornado strike here in my tiny rural Massachusetts town. What you may not know is that one of the buildings which was damaged was the same stately civil-war era granite structure in which Mark Erelli recorded his seminal Memorial Hall sessions, one of my favorite albums from this gem of the rich Boston folkscene.

Now Mark’s released Live In Monson, a limited-edition bandcamp EP of outtakes from those sessions, as a fundraiser for our continued clean-up and rebuilding efforts, featuring live versions of some of his most notable folk radio hits from the period; the high energy of his take on classic American slave song Follow The Drinking Gourd is indicative and apt. Stream, then buy at bandcamp for just 5 bucks to make a difference. And don’t miss Mark’s amazing “official bootleg” live session from Passim, recorded in 2010 and released this Spring, while you’re there – the Tom Petty encore is just the tip of the iceberg.

    (Trad.; from Live In Monson Benefit EP, 2011)

    (orig. Tom Petty; from 4.2.10, 2011)

According to Erelli’s website, he’ll also appear on a “rockabilly version of the Sesame Street classic Ladybug Picnic” on Alastair Moock‘s upcoming kid folk album These Are My Friends. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m a big fan of the gravely-voiced singer-songwriter, and you should be, too. Here’s step one: this gentle outtake from Moock’s first kid’s album A Cow Goes Moock, a Buddy Holly tune done for sleepy kids yet boasting a summery folkrock greatness, found among the samples available over at Moock’s kidfolk site. (Note: Moock’s Grownup’s Music, which lives separately, and comes in much more muted colors, is equally worth your while).

I tabled this one back at the end of June, but the timeless Louvin-esque strains of Ashville, NC duo The Twilite Broadcasters have been lingering in my ears ever since – it’s time to share the joy. The nut: twangy tenor/baritone harmonies and true craftsmen’s hands on the mando and guitar make for a delightful collection of traditional interpretations on the oldtime/country/bluegrass border. And like the songs themselves, the video of their take on Doc Watson-collected tune What Does The Deep Sea Say, which I found on their site, is adorably, indelibly authentic.

  • The Twilite Broadcasters: What Does The Deep Sea Say (orig. Doc Watson)

We’ve posted work from Arrica Rose before here at Cover Lay Down, celebrating her folkpop prowess as it evolves. Her slow, soft take on Tom Waits’ I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You, which we reposted in December ’09 as part of a Tom Waits coverage set, is a stunner still, three years after its release; her more recent take on the Bee Gees’ Tragedy is a delicate journey through summer.

But we’ve never heard her like this. The Californian artist’s most recently dropped song is pulled way back, an echoey, shimmery dreampop mashup of Video Killed The Radio Star and Wonderful World that takes our breath away. The gentle, almost funereal pace and pitch pairs so well with the Lois Armstrong classic, it turns what had been a tale of the inevitability of change into a song of solace, giving thanks for the constancy of nature’s blessings along our evolutionary path. Totally transformative, and a perfect teaser for upcoming indie rock album Let Alone Sea, which drops August 22 but is already garnering critical acclaim.

  • Arrica Rose and the …’s: Video Killed The Radio Star (Wonderful World) (orig. The Buggles/Louis Armstrong)
    (from Let Alone Sea, 2011)

In other news: after almost a year in download-only format, the debut album from Mon Monarch – the folk trio formed around singer-songwriter chuck e. costa, current Official State Troubadour of CT and one-time winner of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist competition – has finally hit the shelves, for those who still prefer a bit of plastic and liner notes; there’s no covers on it, but I can’t say enough about this amazing collection of heartfelt, intelligent lyrics and songcraft, so I’m using this opportunity to repost a video we took when costa played our concert series last year.

  • chuck e costa: No Love Today (orig. Chris Smither)

And finally, though I mentioned it in passing beforehand, uke-player and singer-songwriter Sophie Madeleine’s 30 covers in 30 days project ended Tuesday with the release of her newest album The Rhythm You Started; both can be accessed in full at Sophie’s website, and both come with our strongest support and ratings. BoingBoing reports that her cover of Pumped Up Kicks’ Foster The People is garnering the most attention, but though I find her Bon Iver cover quite beautiful, and appreciate the mix of obscurities and obligations the set spans, I’m still partial to the third song in the series, a light, warbly take on Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End which makes a great call-back to the baker’s dozen of song coverage we posted back in January.

  • Sophie Madeleine: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)

  • Sophie Madeleine: True Love Will Find You In The End (orig. Daniel Johnston)

Category: Mailbox, Mark Erelli, New Artists Old Songs 2 comments »

2 Responses to “Mailbox Mayhem: New Coverage of and from
Stevie Wonder, Arrica Rose, Neil Young, Mark Erelli, Doc Watson & more!

  1. boyhowdy

    Just checking the comments to see if the captcha thing works…

  2. Robin

    Great youtube clips, love it!

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