(Re)Covered, vol XXV: New coverage from
Rose Cousins, Ryan Adams, the Stringdusters, Rani Arbo & more!

We’ve got an unusually large post today, both to acknowledge a growing backlog of recent projects from familiar, beloved folk artists, and to make up for our recent vacation-driven absence from these pages. Read on for an unheard-of 20-track (Re)Covered set, focused around a plethora of new releases and recordings from singer-songwriters and bands previously featured on the Cover Lay Down radar screen…

I’ve known of Halifax-based singer-songwriter Rose Cousins for years, though almost exclusively through her rich and ongoing collaboration with a number of local artists; indeed, over the past four years, we’ve heard her on these pages in duet and group work with Laura Cortese, Rose Polenzani, Sean Staples, and Edie Carey, but never managed to find an excuse to tout the work she produces in her own name.

Now our wait is over, with our highest praise for Rose’s newest solo album We Have Made A Spark, her third full-length. The eminently listenable album is a powerful collection of catchy, well-produced folk pop, a diverse and stirring set that ranges from angst-ridden slide-and-banjo driven countryfolk (The Darkness) to rich, wistful piano balladry (One Way, All The Time It Takes To Wait) that provides a potent intro to her catalog, and it benefits greatly from her collaborative tendencies, with layered guest harmonies and instrumental spots from a huge swatch of predominantly Boston-based artists, including the abovementioned favorites, plus Ana Egge, Amy Correia, Duke Levine, Charlie Rose, producer/bassist Zach Hickman, and more familiar names. And her take on Bruce Springsteen, the sole cover on an otherwise-strong collection of pensive, literate original works, is a stunning piece of modern Americana, performed as a duet with CLD fave Mark Erelli – the perfect beginning to our omnibus playlist today.

We’ve’ve been following award-winning young newgrass group The Infamous Stringdusters since their impromptu mainstage set at the 2006 Joe Val Bluegrass Festival blew us away; since then, they’ve returned to these pages several times, with takes on U2, John Mayer, and more pop and rock coverage in spades, even as their sound drifts towards a more worldly combination of genres designed to broaden their appeal with the jamband and country pop sets. Their newest album Silver Sky is no exception to this trend, with a funky, horn-driven, festival-ready take on Police hit Walking On The Moon that retains the reggae beat of the original, but adds layers of fiddle and mandolin for a piece that rivals the best of Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and other forefathers on the edge of bluegrass, jam, folk, and rock. Check out our archives and Silver Sky for more, or check them out on tour as they promote the album, but don’t miss them if you have the chance.

After appearing on these virtual pages several times, local heroes Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem – a family-friendly “agnostic gospel” band that grew out of the ashes of one-time bluegrass quartet Salamander Crossing around the turn of the century – are at it again with Some Bright Morning, released just this past week on local standby Signature Sounds, and I’m pleased to report that it’s another wonderful album that runs tender-to-tempest in its survey of the range of modern acoustic folkband production. Covers abound here, too, with a punchy moonlight jazzfolk take on I’ll Fly Away, a tense dustbowl version of East Virginia Blues, and a jangly, jumpin’ old-time swing take on Springsteen’s Reason To Believe just the tip of the iceberg; there’s also a number of well-written originals, including two reworkings of songs previously recorded by group members – a folk hymn setting of Tennyson’s Crossing The Bar, and a darkly mysterious take on old Salamander Crossing tune Fire In The Sky – to remind us of the potent musicianship and mature craft the quartet brings to their artistry.

Long-time readers may recall that Hannah Read first came to our attention as a founding member of chamberfolk experimentalists the Folk Arts Quartet; since then, the Berklee-trained, Scottish-bred singer and fiddler has mostly appeared on our radar via her work with other Berklee alums and attendees who trend towards bluegrass and old-timey work. But her newest EP Wrapped In Lace represents a major shift towards the dark, rich sonic landscapes of indie popfolk types Regina Spector, Ingrid Michaelson, Adele, and even Imogen Heap, with a generous helping of both the sparse folk experimentalism of UK darlings The Unthanks and smooth Diana Krall jazz in the mix to boot. The result is quite beautiful, a pure, sweet voice floated on top of a thoroughly produced, potent hybridization of british folk, cool jazz, and chill coffehouse sadcore that leaves us aching for more.

Each song here is its own landscape, and every one is rich with nuance and beauty. The EP’s single cover – a take on a Richard Farina composition which helped bring fame and fortune to Sandy Denny, Pete Seeger, and others since it’s origin in the early days of the folk revival – is quite possibly the sparsest on the disc, without the pulsing beats that drive the other tracks, but it’s worth sharing, not hardly for its cavernous, crackling, tense atmosphere, and the thick harmonies and chords that pierce the heart. And yes, that’s Sugar Hill records recording artist Sarah Jarosz on backing vocals – a bonus, indeed!

Conversely, though it’s been a while since we heard from her, Kristin Andreassen – a clogger, multi-instrumentalist, and tradfolk revivalist whom we touted as a central member of the new folk community way back in the summer of 2008 – continues to be a bit of an underground mover and shaker among her peers. Her new collaborative project Jumping Through Hoops – whose debut release Rockin’ To The Fiddle, a delightfully fun set of old-timey fiddle tunes and other tradfolk for the family, was released at the end of December – is nominally a co-bill with child psychologist and fiddler Kari Groff, but it features a star-studded cast from the Brooklyn-based Americana scene, with Kari and Kristin joined by Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still, Jefferson Hamer, and others for a powerhouse set that runs from jumper to lullaby – a journey that may well turn out to have been a missed contender for 2011 kidfolk album of the year. That’s Kristen’s voice on lead on the first track below, and founding Punch Brothers and Infamous Stringdusters member Chris Eldridge on lead on the second.

Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Reid Jamieson is one of our favorite Canadian artists here on Cover Lay Down, both because of his constant coverage, and because of the gentle, lighthearted approach the 2012 Lennon Award Winner brings to all of his performances. Previously, we’ve featured his interpretations of everything from Elvis and Hank Williams to the Sesame Street theme song, from the sounds of 1969 to his smooth, suave version of the Canadian National Anthem; his most recent web-based single release, a take on Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On recorded in honor of the 3D rerelease of major mass-market film The Titanic, is truly transformative, proving that even Dion’s particularly treacly pop can be reworked as a viable folk song in the hands of a true master.

Speaking of Canadian folk artists: our January 2010 feature on Woodpigeon represented one of our earliest forays into the experimental end of lo-fi indiefolk; since then, we’ve returned but once to the “ersatz karass based around the guitar, voice, and songwriting of Mark Andrew Hamilton”, though that earlier, often fragile fringefolk still reverberates, and they still post the occasional cover on their blog, as per the Velvet Underground bonus track below. But The Bard of Montreal, a new mostly-folk 25-track tribute to Leonard Cohen from the good folks at Herohill, is all Canadian, and all good; in addition to Woodpigeon’s whispery, retro, straight-out-of-a-Wes-Anderson-film take on an oft-covered Cohen classic, the collection is notable for Andrew Vincent’s broken slack-string version of Bird On A Wire, a weirdly endearing autoharp- and drumkit-driven So Long Marianne from The Strumbellas, a jangly banjo and fiddle Closing Time from Old Man Luedecke, and more coverage from Kathryn Calder, Tyler Butler, et. al. Plus: like previous Herohill cover albums, the whole damn thing is free, making it easy to pick and choose among the scattered gems.

Bonus track:

The monthly Twitter-driven coverage from Verve Pipe founder Brian Vander Ark, who we featured just a few months ago, continues to impress, with the recent release of REM cover Sweetness Follows and U2 cover All I Want on his SoundCloud page a potent reminder that modern folk is as much about production choices as it is about core lyrical and melodic sensibility. Which is to say: pop singer-songwriter + pop song + stripped down sensibility = folk session, and we shouldn’t be surprised, even – perhaps especially – if the tinkling bells and pulsing piano and harmonies here echo Peter Gabriel’s stillest, most achingly beautiful landscapes. And the etherial harmonies of Vander Ark spouse Lux Land, a potent singer-songwriter in her own right, speak for themselves.

Philly singer-songwriter and Cover Lay Down partner-in-coverage Denison Witmer recently provided the best quote ever for our ongoing mandate alongside a week-long free release of his 2003 take on The Band classic It Makes No Difference after Levon Helm’s passage earlier this month. The track is now back on sale, and worth it; the quote, which will soon find its way to our masthead, is perfect: “As artists, we cover one another not because we think we can do a better job than the original version, but to pay respect to those who make music that touches us dearly.”

Denison – whose 2008 five-track bedroom covers collection still lives exclusively here in our archives – also recorded a crystal-clear take on Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds in an April 5 Daytrotter session. The recording is sweet and delicate as always, and utterly respectful to boot, though of course we’re proud to have been the first to share his earlier take on the song way back in April of 2011…and happy to report that fatherhood seems to suit Witmer’s pensive, deeply spiritual outlook well, indeed.

If it’s been a while since we returned to the work of Ryan Adams – and if we’ve never truly featured his folkier side or his songbook in coverage, an error of omission which is long overdue – it’s because the chameleonesque artist has been in a much more experimental, rock-oriented mode of performance for much of the past decade. But Adams’ recent iTunes session is a true celebration of the same pensive, more acoustic side he’s been touring with these past few months, stripping down a set of songs from his back catalog marvelously. His Sweet Carolina is more delicate than ever with soft guitar and harmonica; his take on old Whiskeytown tune Houses On The Hill reopens the song like an old bottle of wine, finding it a private, bluesy dustbowl ballad. And his cover of Bob Mould’s Black Sheets of Rain – the sole non-original in the EP’s octet – is hushed and dark, a true tonal transposition from a man who understands both the value of bombast and its absence.

Unless you’ve been living under a cone of silence, you already know that once-featured, once-revisited African American String Band Carolina Chocolate Drops hit the ground this winter with a new release and a major change in personnel: gone is high-energy co-founder Justin Robinson, here to stay is beatboxer Adam Matta and new multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins. The result, an appropriately titled mixed bag called Leaving Eden, underutilizes all members (Matta appears on just a small handful of tracks), leaving us hoping for a second round with more cohesiveness. But the album also continues the band’s journey aptly, bringing forth a broad tracklist of songs from spare to jubilant that channel the traditions of appalachia, turning the folk of the slavefields and the holler (and their modern equivalents) into songs at once ancient and timeless. And though the set is somewhat ragged as it yaws from slave hollers and fiddle tunes to melodic folk narratives, some of the selections here are quite stunning, with these sparse yet vastly different covers of North Carolinian songwriter Laurelyn Dossett’s title track and South African guitarist Hannes Coetzee’s instrumental Mahalla serving as an apt exhibit A and B.

Bonus Track:

Finally, we come full circle and then some today with recently-featured local hero Mark Erelli, and his newly recorded version of Band classic Ophelia, which he played as an encore at an utterly incredible, high-energy house concert last night co-hosted by yours truly. The version below was put up at his blog just a few days ago, along with a fantastic piece about Levon Helm and “The Band’s all-encompassing influence on modern American rock n’ roll”; those left wanting more are reminded to “like” both Mark’s webpage, where he posts new writing and a free (often quite rare) mp3 for download every month, and our Cover Lay Down Facebook page, where I’ll be posting a live Bill Morrissey cover and a few other traditional tracks from last night’s show in the next day or so.

Category: (Re)Covered One comment »

One Response to “(Re)Covered, vol XXV: New coverage from
Rose Cousins, Ryan Adams, the Stringdusters, Rani Arbo & more!

  1. The Friday mixtape is not a mixtape « Bob's Beats

    [...] Cover Lay Down, check out some great Americana coverage here. I really liked  Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem – described as “a family-friendly “agnostic [...]

Leave a Reply