Archive for September 2009

House Concert: Folk Arts Quartet, Oct. 10

September 30th, 2009 — 03:53 pm

Are you busy next weekend? Our house concert series A Tree Falls Productions will be hosting the Folk Arts Quartet at the Monson, MA UU Parish hall on Saturday October 10th, and if you live within driving range — a circle which includes Hartford, CT, Springfield and Northampton, MA, and the Berkshires — you’re invited to be a part of this exciting evening with a group that the musical director of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival called one of her favorite bands to watch this year.

We’ve featured FAQ here before, celebrating the innovative fusion of Scottish and Canadian folkstyles and classical music which they call chambergrass; our weekend with the ladies at Falcon Ridge this past summer produced some lovely video and an illuminating backstage interview, both of which can still be viewed here, along with some sweet studio downloadables. Since then, the young Boston-based quartet has experienced a few line-up changes, adding CLD fave cellist Emma Beaton and – for this show, at least – folk fiddler Mia Friedman; I’ve heard both performers in other groups, and can vouch for their talent, so we’re especially thrilled to hear the new sound.

As with all house concerts, the show is just a hairstep below the level of club-scale promotion, but especially given the public venue, if you’re interested and available, we’d love to have you. Contact me at for details and directions, and don’t forget to let me know if you’ll join us at 6:00 for the pre-concert potluck.

Of course, folk fans closer to Chicago with a hankering for a blogger-hosted house concert should instead contact Craig over at Songs:Illinois, who is hosting Peter Mulvey and Matt Jones on October 11th. Sounds like a great show as well. Details here.

1,053 comments » | Uncategorized

To The Nines: On Broken Keys and Human Nature
(covers from Rosalie Sorrells, Steve Forbert, Alejandro Escovedo, +9 more!)

September 29th, 2009 — 09:05 pm

It’s always fascinated me how, as social animals who can both project future possibilities and mutate our environment to our benefit, we’re nonetheless driven to make peace with our own foibles, accommodate small stumbling blocks, and work around difficulties otherwise solvable and surmountable.

A case in point: the 9 key on my laptop keyboard has been broken since last winter, and – as removing the key cap to clean underneath it proved ineffective – I have been forced to conclude that there is something electronically awry here, somewhere in the circuitry. But instead of getting it fixed, I’ve spent months painstakingly cutting and pasting both the open parenthesis and the numeral nine into everything I write, here and elsewhere.

On the very face of it, this behavior is silly. A laptop is portable by definition; taking it to the Apple store to have the key pried up and the sensor beneath it fixed would surely have taken less time out of my life than the cumulative effort of working around the problem.

But as humans, we are wired to accept the now of a million small inconveniences as more favorable than the effort of repair. And the public embarrassment of taking the machine in to someone else to have it fixed, coupled with the vague dread of loss which accompanies even the most momentary hand-over of these external brains we call computers, has for far too long meant lost time, lost peace, and lost efficacy.

Today, then, a personal prompt, in order to force upon myself the impetus for change: an entire post of song titles which use the number 9*, followed in each case, as always, with cut-and-paste parenthetical note of both song origin and cover source. The diverse set features but a small sampling of the “9 songs” I’ve compiled over the years, from train wreck ballads to yearsongs; here’s hoping its design and compilation is as annoying as I suspect it will be, and that the very tedium of posting such a list will prompt me to change my short-term ways: to get off my ass, and get the damn thing fixed.

As always, folks, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to connect artists and fans, that both can thrive. Our newly-added play-as-you-listen functionality may make it easier to listen and move on, but if you like what you hear, please consider following artist and album links to purchase the music, direct from the source wherever possible. (That said: donations to defray the cost of fixing the no-longer-warrantied laptop which helps make that connection possible are also greatly appreciated.)

Oh, and bonus points to We’re About 9, a band whose name I have not been able to type for ages, for their covers of CSNY classic Helplessly Hoping and Richard Shindell’s Money for Floods.

*Note: due to the selection criteria for today’s post, songs which use the word nine in the title were deemed ineligible for inclusion. In the case of songs where multiple versions have been recorded under both the numeral and the word, I used the covering artist’s label listing for the song to determine eligibility.

1,254 comments » | Uncategorized

Old and in the Groove:
New coverfolk from late-blooming artists

September 27th, 2009 — 01:46 pm

The folkworld is rich with young artists these days, and with their heroes and forebears; head out to any major summer festival, and you’ll find the full mix, from long-established sixties folkies to mid-career singer-songwriters my own age, from second- and third-album folkies in their late twenties working hard to prove that they have the stamina and talent to sustain the buzz to emerging newbies who tend towards the young and the restless.

Less common, however, is the musician or band that breaks into the scene later in life. It’s an oft unspoken truism in music that starting out is for the young. But even as the mix of voices is new to us, artists who emerge in the prime of their lives also provide an audible comfort — with their natural abilities, with the music, and with the material — which can only come with maturity.

Today, we feature three relatively new bands comprised of older musicians who have only recently banded together. All sport a touch of grey, which can be a disadvantage in any market. All trend towards different ends of the folk spectrum, as befits our broad definition of the folkworld here on Cover Lay Down. But all share a rare combination of early career optimism and that confidence which results from years of self-reflection and self-awareness. The result is a diverse trio of new artists with nothing to prove, making a gentle sort of music that aims not for pop-production perfection, but something deeper and more authentic, and eminently folk.

The two married couples who comprise the aptly-named Return to the Dream came together after years in the business found them each losing sight of the dreams and inspiration that had first led them to music. The result of this reexamined life: a quartet that produces gentle, uncomplicated folk steeped in the earnest, spiritual optimism of the folk school of Peter Mayer or Kallet, Epstein and Cicone, with a light touch on the acoustic guitar-driven instrumentation, honest male voices alongside female lead and harmony vocals that recall the best vibrato-laden tunes from a mid-career Judy Collins or Maria Muldaur, and lyrics which primarily deal with quiet themes of deep understanding and deep connection to love, community, and the world at large.

Their choices of covers on the album fit neatly within this worldview, most especially their light-handed treatment of Blind Faith classic Can’t Find My Way Home, which finds new life here as an honest reflection on the journey that brought their well-penned inspirational originals and rediscovery of the core of folk music to life. Their self-titled and self-released debut Return to the Dream drops September 30th, and comes highly recommended.

Melbourne-based trio The Mercurials was formed when long-time blues and rock collaborators Mark Ferrie and Andrew Pendlebury, looking for a new sound, found Israeli cellist and vocalist Adi Sappir busking outside the subway in 2004. Since then, the band has released two albums, with a third still at the pressing plant, and the slow, bluesy acoustic folk rock which they have adopted shows both an unsurprising maturity and a genuine pleasure in making music which lets each note linger, a pulsing, fluid songcraft which washes over the listener like slow waves.

There’s shades of the languid, atmospheric best of the Cowboy Junkies in their covers of Nick Drake and Bob Marley, something of the ragged glory of an acoustic Lou Reed in the interplay of cello and ageless vocals on Dylan’s You Angel You (found on their out-of-print debut; available for free on their downloads page), and a mellow yet focused vibe throughout both covers and originals here. Redemption Song will appear on upcoming Mercurials album Silver and Gold, which drops via their website on Oct. 11, and seems well worth the wait; in the meantime, head over to pick up their all-originals 2008 album Tangents and a few choice downloadables.

The loose acoustic gypsy jazz swing of Gumbo, newly discovered by fledgling label Wild Rose Artists, includes clarinet and flute to compliment the guitar and bass, but their sound nonetheless sports shades of Hot Tuna or Garcia and Grisman in their best and most mellow later days, pushing ragged glory from a series of well-penned originals and classic pre-war tunes. Upbeat and joyous, more than anything else, this trio with over a century of experience under its collective belt sounds happy to be here, still making new records after years of work with other ensembles, still around to celebrate the world through fine “vintage Americana” music.

Gumbo’s debut album Never Tell Me To Quit, which can be sampled in its entirety over at internet radio-on-call delivery system Jango, is built around the original songwriting of guitarist and lead vocalist Sid Beam, who played in seminal folk group Magpie in the mid seventies, and the experienced support of wind instrumentalist and vocalist Joe Casprowiak and the jazz-trained bass-and-vocalist David Fournier. Like Sid’s originals, the album closer, a hugely fun cover of American blues and jazz standard Happy Feet, partners exceptional material with outstanding delivery; here, on this and two other songs at least a generation older than I am, the stew of experience and musicianship that is Gumbo shows its chops, proving that you’re never too old to come back to the fold, the fore, or the folk.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk sets and features Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: songs featuring the number nine.

1,699 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Reposted Eartunes:
Songs of Silence and Hearing & Songs from Artists With Tinnitus

September 23rd, 2009 — 10:55 pm

Apologies for yet another repost tonight, folks; at the eleventh hour, I find myself unable to shake a new bout of high-pitched tinnitus and ear-blockage, this time in my left ear. Listening to music is once again like trying to hear the good stuff underwater, and surrounded by keening whales. Making claims about music right now would be plumb dishonest.

Spending the afternoon at the doctor’s office — a visit which involved snaking a very long tube all the way through my sinuses and up to the very end of my eustachian tubes — hurt like hell, and didn’t produce much in the way of results save a permanent case of the drippy sniffles. I take small consolation in the fact that I am among a very small number of people who have seen the inside of their eardrums.

Having shared an “extra” set of Springsteen coversongs on Monday helps me feel a wee bit less guilty for “missing” a regularly scheduled Wednesday post, but I still feel pretty disappointed not to be bringing you the best of a slightly older crowd of “new” and re-emerging folk artists as promised. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery.

In the meantime, rather than fall off-schedule, I offer two sets of songs originally posted last January: one on the topic of silence and hearing, the other featuring songs of and from musicians with tinnitus. As always, I’ve included a bonus track or two to keep my regular readers happy. Feel free to head back using the links above to see the tunes in their original context, and read more about my earlier struggle with hearing loss.

Songs of Silence & Hearing

Songs of and from Artists With Tinnitus
(Charlie Haden, Pete Townshend, Andy Partridge [XTC], Neil Young, and Steve Kilbey of The Church)

  • REPOST BONUS VIDEO: stellar solo artist Jill Andrews, previously 1/2 of the now-defunct everybodyfields, covers Neil Young’s Needle and the Damage Done:

Cover Lay Down posts coverfolk sets and discursive features Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday without fail. Coming soon, I swear: new music from new musical acts with a few more years under their proverbial belts than the average whippersnapper.

1,332 comments » | Uncategorized

Elseblog: 27 Springsteen Covers @ Some Velvet Blog
…plus 8 reblogged Springsteen covers from features past

September 21st, 2009 — 06:25 pm

Just a quick mid-week pop-in to point coverfans to the 27 Springsteen covers WXPN solicited from their favorite Philly bands, courtesy of Bruce of Some Velvet Blog. The track list is stellar, with nary a dud throughout: Farewell Flight’s bedroom folk cover of Streets of Philadelphia is especially noteworthy, and don’t forget to stick around until the end of the playlist for Susan Werner‘s lovely version of My Hometown and a slow alt-country take on Independence Day from the John Train Band.

Those looking for an additional fix as Springsteen turns 60 this Wednesday might be interested in this mid-winter feature on YouTube covers, which includes a few solid videos from the Hangin’ Out On E Street cover project. There’s recent covers of I’m On Fire in both last month’s Love, Reposted post and our March Tribute to Tribute Albums, too. I’ve even re-upped the links on an old Star Maker Machine tribute to Springsteen’s carsongs, which features stellar covers from Ani DiFranco, Patty Griffin, and Townes Van Zandt, plus an original from the man himself.

And here’s a wee compendium of previously-posted fave folkcovers of The Boss, to boot.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk and features Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday. Coming later this week: middle-aged musicians new to the scene prove there’s nothing wrong with late bloomers.

1,440 comments » | Uncategorized

Glen Phillips Covers:
Huey Lewis, Van Morrison, The Beatles, Bjork, Gillian Welch + more
…plus new and old collaborative covers with Sean and Sara Watkins!

September 20th, 2009 — 05:41 pm

Glen Phillips made a name for himself as founding frontman for Toad The Wet Sprocket, a high school rock band made good; if you’re a child of the eighties like myself, or just a fan of retro alt-rock radio, you’ve heard his distinctive voice plenty of times, most notably on cultural staple Walk On The Ocean. Indeed, my own personal experience with the artist, now pushing forty, is restricted to a single lawn-seat glimpse at a mid-nineties H.O.R.D.E. festival, an event most memorable for being the first and last rock concert which I was able to convince the girl who would become my wife to attend.

But though Toad broke up before the turn of the century, this is no “where are they now” retrospective. For the past decade, the singer-songwriter with the distinctively strained voice and an ear for wry hook-laden songs has been busy pursuing his craft in other venues, drifting from label to label, releasing solo works and collaborations at a relatively frequent rate, and covering a broad set of tunes in concert and beyond. (For example, his Beatles cover, which you’ll find below along with several live covers, comes from an excellent all-Beatles-cover soundtrack to the truly awful 2009 Eddie Murphy vehicle Imagine That.) And although not all of Phillips’ output is legitimately folk, the vast bulk of it is singer-songwritery stuff, and it’s all good.

Glen Phillips’ three solo albums have veered from the full-blown singer-songwriter pop of his debut Abulum to the more Toad-like production of both faster and more atmospheric tracks on his incredible sophomore Lost Highway release Winter Pays for Summer, and back to both styles for his fluid, dynamic 2006 masterpiece Mr. Lemons — it says everything it needs to that I have favorites on all of them, and that each of those favorites fits a different mood. Though diverse, each album comes across as authentic, melodic, strong, and thoughtful: a rarity, in a world where most artists go through some sort of slump in their solo careers, and overall a powerful package indeed.

Phillips’ most notable collaboration, especially for folk fans, is an ongoing partnership with Sean and Sara Watkins, founding members of Nickel Creek and – like Phillips, Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, and a strong group of other musicians – regulars at L.A.’s Largo. In 2004, this partnership came to fruition with Mutual Admiration Society, a lighthearted, folkpop-meets-bluegrass album originally recorded in 2000 with all three members of Nickel Creek, and eventually released on the Sugar Hill label. I discovered the project last year in my local library, and, finding that it exists predominantly under the cultural radar, have worked tirelessly to spread the love to friends and neighbors ever since.

(Total aside: Bonus points to M.A.S. for featuring live Nickel Creek and Watkins-led covers of both the Jackson 5 hit I Want You Back and Britney Spears’ Toxic on their MySpace page; we’ve featured both Sara & Nickel Creek here previously, so I’ll let y’all head over there on your own to pick up these tracks.)

This week, the collaboration continues, and the task of promoting Glen Phillips, both solo and with the talented Watkins siblings, gets a heck of a lot easier with the release of a new project called Works Progress Administration — starring Glen, Sean, Sara, fiddler Luke Bulla, and members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Elvis Costello and the Imposters, all from the Largo scene. Most of the tunes were penned by Phillips, and though Sean’s straining to hit the high notes in a few places, that songwriting, plus incredible musicianship and strong harmonies, has resulted in an absolutely stellar set of songs well worth the purchase price. Check out the Kinks cover from that album below, order the whole thing here, and then check out this full set of Glen Phillips coverfolk to whet your whistle while you wait for Phillips and friends to bring the WPA tour to your town.

What, you’re still here? Seriously, you people. Go buy WPA, and then, if you haven’t already, pick up the Glen Phillips back catalog. Or, if nothing else, head over to his webpage and click on the donate button.

After all, as I pointed out to some cheeseball who wanted to pay me to promote their artists just this afternoon, Cover Lay Down is proudly non-profit, avidly pro-artist, and fully supportive of the peer-to-peer recommendation and promotion model which characterizes music blogs at their best.

Which is to say: our love is not for sale. But Glen Phillips’ work is, and it’s well worth the price.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Mutual Admiration Society cover Elliott Smith’s Between the Bars live in some parking lot after a show.

979 comments » | Glen Phillips, Nickel Creek

Covered in Folk: Elvis, Part 1
(Recently discovered covers from highly recommended artists)

September 16th, 2009 — 10:30 pm

Typically, in our regularly recurring Covered in Folk feature, we enumerate the impact a particular artist has had on culture, and follow that with a carefully compiled list of folk covers from that artists’ songbook. Tonight, we break the mold, turning to the songs made famous by Elvis Presley in order to tout a few artists whose new and recent releases or rediscovered gems have been at the top of my playlist for the last few weeks for one reason or another.

One day, perhaps, we’ll feature a more traditional look at Elvis, with a broader look at some of the covers which have peppered the genre landscape since the man who brought black rhythm and the sparkly jumpsuit to white culture made his mark on modern music. Until then, I make no apologies for the ulterior motive. Ladies and Gentlemen: The King himself, covered in folk.

I received Waiting for the Dawn, the new album from Childsplay, in the mail mid-summer, promptly put it on rotation in the car, and loved it so much I never brought it inside to run it through the computer to share with you all. But this is music that deserves to be heard. Featuring a veritable who’s who of the Boston neofolk scene, many of whom we’ve featured here before — Sam Amidon, Lissa Schenckenburger, and Crooked Still lead singer Aoife O’Donovan among them — the fiddle-centered ensemble is built around a simple but honorable premise: all the players use instruments made by local craftsman Bob Childs. And, I should add, they all play exceedingly well, both together and as solo artists.

The newest album, which revolves around rich ensemble pieces that nonetheless manage to sound light-hearted, folky and smooth, includes several traditional reels and tradtunes, and a couple of covers; most balance Aoife’s sweet, breathy voice with a full string-led sound, and the result is nearly heavenly. Since the U2 cover made the rounds when the album was first released, here’s the lovely, delicate Elvis cover that closes the album, plus this totally non-Elvis bonus track: a gorgeous cover of Steve Earle’s Christmas in Washington from the same album. Buy Childsplay here, and fill your ears with joy.

My wee one is a girly girl by nature: pink is her preference, and princesses her thing. For this and other reasons, I tend to be in the other room during movie time, especially when the Disney-watching grows thick on the ground. But I couldn’t help but wander in the other day when I heard the unmistakable voice of Norah Jones at her mellow best emerging from the playroom.

I cannot recommend The Princess Diaries 2 to any but the most hardcore of Julie Andrews or Anne Hathaway fans, nor can I in good conscience promote any soundtrack album with both Lindsay Lohan and Kelly Clarkson on it to my regular readership. But this track is well worth passing along.

I’ve been meaning to fill our collective ears with Ingrid Michaelson‘s catalog for a while, ever since Girls and Boys got such high praise on the blog rounds upon its 2006 release. I finally got a taste of what I was missing when I was totally blown away by her new album Everybody, which I won in a contest hosted by fave blog Mainstream Isn’t So Bad just about the time the album hit number one on the iTunes charts.

The new album is cover-free, but I honestly haven’t stopped listening to it since the moment it arrived in the mail; its perfect indie folkpop is catchy as hell from beginning to end, and I’m exceedingly glad to have any opportunity to tout it. Here’s a live Elvis cover from her 2008 release Be OK to tempt you into buying the whole damn catalog, starting with Everybody.

Most folks don’t think of the public library as a source for music, which means most folks are missing out: though selection can vary widely from one to another, I’ve found that the average library includes at least a few hidden gems, quite probably ordered by some unknown benefactor librarian with a love for the acoustic stuff. Luckily, we’re connected to a pretty large system of library branches here in these rural, nearly radio-free environs, and I’ve learned to check the stacks when we drive through nearby towns.

Most recently, a trip to Northampton unearthed Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom‘s back catalog, which included this swirling, jangly, almost mystical long-forgotten turn on a well-covered Elvis tune. Acoustic Motorbike, the album from whence it comes, seems to be out of print, but if your local library doesn’t have it, you can and should pick up the bulk of his back catalog here.

We have shuffle to thank for this next track, which pairs Brazilian artist Seu Jorge‘s gentle acoustic guitarplay and that round, mesmerizing accent with a shuffling brushbeat and squeaky reed echo. I honestly can’t even remember how this perfect slowdance came to me originally; all I know is it’s there, in my head again, after floating from the speakers this past weekend in the midst of a lazy afternoon.

It’s a tough time of year for me to hit the local clubs and stages, what with the school year finally in full swing, the kids running us ragged with swimming lessons and other afterschool activities, and a pair of tiny kittens darting for freedom each time I open the door. Missing folk trio Red Molly last Friday in nearby East Hartford while we headed north instead to retrieve said kittens was just one of many lost opportunities in recent weeks. Though consoling myself with their recorded work isn’t the same, rediscovering this summery countryfolk take on their self-titled debut EP did put a smile on my face, and that’s not nothin’.

Keeping up with the blogs is always worth doing, and I’m not just tooting my own horn. For example: thanks to his quirky, well-honed tastebuds, host Jamie of Fong Songs has been good about keeping the tinkly tones of the PoZitive Orchestra on our radar, most recently checking in to let us know that although there’s nothing new in their catalog, the Russian band continues to hit the press. And for good reason, too. This cover of All Shook Up is a perfect example of their sparse, jazz- and sting-quartet influenced bossa-coustic sound.

Finally, I won an autographed copy of the first Stonehoney album when it first came out a year or two back, and liked their well-constructed countryrock songs well enough indeed. But it wasn’t until I heard their stripped-down performances on the workshop stage at this summer’s Falcon Ridge Folk festival that I truly considered them from a folk perspective, which makes for an ever better framework to crawl inside their slightly countrified americana sound.

Blue Christmas is generally considered a holiday track, but this lovely demo-style recording, originally released via their website, popped up on the shuffle last week and stuck like an earworm; I see no reason why good music can’t be featured year-round.

Cover Lay Down posts regular features and coverfolk twice weekly. This is one of them.

1,251 comments » | Covered in Folk, Elvis, New Artists Old Songs

Cat Coverfolk:
On filling the empty spaces with love and kittens

September 12th, 2009 — 10:00 pm

It’s been most of a year since our beloved cat Jacob passed away, and although I still think of him sometimes when I pass the rock where we laid his body to rest, the memory of his heaviness on my shoulders, like the sound of his rattling purr, has lost its weight as it moved from heart to brain.

As I wrote back in September when he first fell ill, Jacob was our first child, the first other life to which I committed myself wholly. To lose him was to lose a part of myself, and in the slow fade that followed, there were times when I cursed the mind’s insistence on moving on, and the tendency to miss the memory more than the animal himself.

That it came among the gradual realization that – barring the everpossible accident – we were done having children made it all the more poignant to adapt to the loss. The causality isn’t clear: was it the loss that let us come to terms with the decision, or the newfound acceptance in the understanding of loss which drove it? But certainly, having our family get smaller in the midst of the nearly unspoken agreement that it would not again get any larger was part and parcel of the emotional journey.

Or so I thought. And yet earlier this week, my wife called me about a stray that her sister might or might not be able to keep. The subject, once raised, was easily addressed; I’m pretty sure I used the phrase “I trust your judgment”, fully knowing that this is one of the true commitments to anything-that-follows of married life.

And then there we were last night, the four of us in the car, driving north to pick up a pair of nine week old fuzzballs who needed a home. The children named them Pippin and Max, and in less than 24 hours, they’ve snuggled into our hearts, becoming part of the family.

Though both are true tiger cats, Max, especially, is like a tiny reincarnation of what once was. His coloring and pattern are identical to Jacob’s; like his namesake and his predecessor alike, he is a wild thing, exploring first, making mischief of one kind or another, leading the wild rumpus across the carpet. He’s an escape artist like Jacob, too, and the louder of the bunch, though he tires easily. More than once, as he melted into the crook of my arm, I remembered Jacob as a tiny thing, scared and looking for a home.

Great loves can never be replaced, be they man, woman, child or beast. But the holes they leave in our hearts are empty rooms to be filled, with warmth and laughter and secret fear, and knowing the shape of those rooms is the only thing that makes it possible to truly love another, wholly and with understanding. I’ve learned, and I believe: Jacob will always be with us, and my family will ever change.

And so these tiny brothers are ours for the duration, fleas and all, come sickness or health, and beautiful, just as they are. Knowing that they, too, cannot be forever makes loving them a bittersweet task, I suppose. But such is love, in its final form. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Welcome home, boys. Hope you like coverfolk.

And, since there aren’t that many truly worthy folk covers of songs with “cat” in the title, here’s Today’s Bonus Coverfolk: a few previously-posted coversongs featuring other members of the feline family, plus an extra-favorite cover tune about a critter who bears the name polecat, but is truly no relation.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and song sets Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday. Coming this week: new covers from a decidedly more mature set of undiscovered artists. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

1,888 comments » | Uncategorized

The Indigo Girls Cover:
Dire Straits, Violent Femmes, Gladys Knight, Pete Seeger, and more!

September 9th, 2009 — 10:47 pm

As I noted this spring over at Star Maker Machine, I was an active Indigo Girls fan throughout and beyond my late adolescent protogrunge period. Strange Fire and its follow-up, the 1989 eponymous major label debut Indigo Girls, were staples on the turntable in a world otherwise filled with heavier fuzz and sonic experimentation from Primus to Dinosaur Jr to the Lemonheads, and I attended several concerts over the years, if only because someone had to sing the Michael Stipe part in Kid Fears.

But though their first two albums remain the gold standard for their dark acoustic alternative folk, in many ways, the aptly-named 1992 release Rites of Passage, which many ex-fans mark as the beginning of the end, was also the best of their subsequent high-production albums, most notably for the way the full studio pop orchestration and percussive rhythms that pepper the disk support the duo’s already stellar vocal harmonies and strong hook-heavy songwriting. Indeed, one of the reasons I stuck with the Indigo Girls for so long after my ears had moved past the stripped down alt-grunge of the late eighties and early nineties to a more contemporary folk sound is that the evolution of their on-album sound matched my evolution as a music fan.

Since then, though they stopped releasing singles for the popcharts just before the turn of the century, the Indigo Girls have spent a rich career going back and forth, continuing to include a broad set of song styles on each album, and – in concert – often performing with full band for one set, and then returning sans back-up for a return to their earlier, rawer sound. As such, although with one notable exception — a Dire Straits cover which appears on Rites of Passage — the Indigo Girls don’t generally cover songs on their own studio albums, their authorized live output, coupled with a few stellar appearances on tribute compilations, has resulted in an unusually diverse body of coverage which well represents the full spectrum of their style, from acoustic alt-folk to full-bore contemporary popfolk.

Though true fans of Amy and Emily may have already collected the majority of the live rarities, and recent release aptly called Rarities actually compiles several of these onto one somewhat inconsistent disk, there’s still something here for everyone today, whether you’re a fan of the sparser campfire folkstuff or the layered folkrock, or just looking for a new thrill. In chronological order, then: the Indigo Girls cover the world of folk, and then some.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: The Indigo Girls cover Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright live with Joan Baez, circa 1995 (plus 11 more covers of the Dylan classic!)

906 comments » | Indigo Girls

Teach Your Children Well: On Presidents and Partisanship
(+15 coversongs in the key of unity and mutual understanding)

September 5th, 2009 — 07:21 pm

As a media teacher, a parent, a school board member, and an American, I am utterly horrified by this week’s partisan outcry in response to President Obama’s upcoming speech to the schoolchildren of America. And I am quite honestly angered by the fact that many school systems – due to both parent outcry and the personal and political beliefs of administrators – have chosen to make proud public display of not showing the speech in their classrooms and communities.

Before you get all liberal on me, please note that my concern is not political, but civic. Yes, the president happens to have arisen from a cohesive, commodified two-party system. And yes, I have a particular belief system, and the roles I have chosen to take on in my public life are ones which allow me to live out my convictions.

But the reason I have chosen to live a life of managing classrooms and moderating meetings is not to further my own ideals, or to drown out or preempt the voices of others. It is because I believe that everyone’s voice should be heard, regardless of their political bent. And whereas my political beliefs are none of your damn business, using children as pawns to further your own agenda is absolutely my business: it hurts the culture in which I and my children live, by perpetuating a belief that dialogue is deadly, that exposure is damaging, and that ignorance is an appropriate political act.

See, a culture in which people believe children should be shielded from their president is a culture founded on fear. And acting to keep your school age students from hearing the President of the United States speak directly to THEM – a historic event, one which has only happened two times in the past (in both cases by Republican presidents) — is the worst form of indoctrination into that fear culture. It’s not just bad civic behavior to make kids think a democratically elected leader is their enemy. Because it teaches bad civic behavior in such a heavily manipulative and divisive way, it’s bad parenting, too.

Raising cloistered kids who believe what you believe solely as a matter of faith and ignorance is no way to make this world keep spinning. Instilling naivete in any name is nothing to be proud of. Whatever you believe, teaching deafness and divisiveness is anti-community, anti-culture; it’s a form of cruelty to children, a good way to ensure that the world to come will be a miserable place for your children and theirs.

Trust your kids to make their own decisions about what’s wrong and right. Expose them to the world, both with and without you at their side, and guide them through the process of developing critical thinking skills, so they can apply them on their own, as smart, savvy adults. Share your own thoughts with them, and teach them to argue civilly, that they might listen when you explain what you believe, and why. Treat your kids with respect, and trust that good teachers will let them voice their opinions, and help them find logic in their own beliefs.

But don’t hide them from the world. And don’t use them as a shield, a tool, a vehicle to further your own ends, no matter if you are an ultra-liberal pro-choice vegan activist, a fundamentalist ultra-conservative counter-demonstrator, or someone who stands proudly in the vast gulf of rich beliefs that exists outside and between these poles.

If you truly believe in your convictions – regardless of their content – then trust that smart people with like minds will come to them on their own. And if you truly believe in your children, show them so by treating them like people, not pawns.

As always, if you like what you hear, eschew the big anonymous corporate storefronts and click on artist and album links above for artist-preferred sources of purchase. After all, the best way to keep the lines of communication open in this culture is to stay community-centered, open-minded, and go right to the source whenever possible.

Cover Lay Down will return midweek with less ranting political content and more music, we promise. In the meantime, folks interested in a broad mix of coverage from folk to funk may want to head over to Star Maker Machine, where the collaborative is just wrapping up a full week of Beatles covers

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