Archive for March 2010

Late Edition: Last-minute coverfolk for a busy evening

March 31st, 2010 — 09:52 pm

I’m not thrilled about presenting two topical coverfolk sets in a row, primarily because they are the kind of posts that least support our stated mission here at Cover Lay Down. Which is to say: focusing on artists and songs, and helping make connections between culture, communities, performers and listeners through coverage, generally requires more than just the song itself; I’m a researcher by nature, and it pains me to skip the deep study.

But I’m flat out on both my professional and community responsibilities, in the midst of up-late grading and midterm-writing for my classes, and spending most nights at the head of the School Committee table for our small township, where budgets are tight and any decision we make will have seemingly dire consequences. And, to be fair, posts like this are the easiest to write: just open the archives, do a search for a term or two, gather in the songs, and let the stream of consciousness flow.

Here, then, with apologies to those who have come to expect better: an unusually hurried, eleventh hour roots-to-raggedfolk selection of songs that celebrate and condemn lateness. Perhaps it will help ward off the impending disaster I face, should any of my chosen hats come loose as I scurry to and fro, trying as ever to heal and nurture the world.

Oh, and PS: if anyone has an acoustic cover of Paul Simon’s Late In The Evening, I’d love to hear it.

Cover lay Down posts new coverfolk features each Wednesday and Sunday come rain, shine, or midnight.

1,703 comments » | Uncategorized

Getting The Bread Out: Pre-Passover Coverfolk
(folksongs of bread, biscuits, beer, and other leavened foods)

March 28th, 2010 — 12:35 pm

Though we’re practicing Jewnitarians in the Howdy house, I still keep kosher for Passover each year, substituting matzoh for bread, avoiding other flour-based foods save those heavy sanctioned substitutes made with matzoh meal, skipping beer for mead – even eschewing corn syrup, since corn can ferment in storage, for cane sugar sodas and juices where I can find them throughout the eight days and nights of praxis.

In traditional Jewish homes, preparing the household as a sacred space for the holiday involves two rituals: the first of gathering in whole loaves and stlll-edibles and selling them to neighbors for a dollar, to be redeemed after the holiday for the same price, and the second a ritual called Bedikat Chametz – sweeping the house for leavened crumbs, with feather and wooden spoon, and then taking it outside the next morning to burn ceremoniously on the lawn.

We never did this as a kid – even back then, not all of us kept Kosher for Passover. Nor do we nowadays: as the only adult Jew in the house, I’m the only one interested, though the elderchild is curious enough to consider and reject the idea each year. And given the wee one’s penchant for a subsistence diet of bread, rice, and milk, it would be cruel to insist otherwise, even if it were part of our common practice.

As such, there’s no place for feathers, nor cause to bother the neighbors.

But ritual has always appealed to me, and, like many midlife wanderers, as I age, I continue to search for personal meaning through the practices I find most comforting. And this year, I find it’s not enough for me to merely eat different for a week. Without the ritual cleansing – some sort of household-scale marker – the dietary “space” I’ve committed to just doesn’t feel sacred.

Happily, however, much modern Jewish practice accepts metaphoric action as a substitute for the real. And in many ways, this blog is my “house”. Today, then, I’m turning the ritual to the virtual realm, and to music: sweeping the ol’ archive for the best in leavened tunes, and pushing them outward to you as a way of clearing the proverbial floorboards for the holiday. Enjoy the fruits of my little Bedikat Chametz, and – if you celebrate – may you find joy and meaning in the Passover holiday.

1,577 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Passover

Thursday Tidbits: New Covers Album from Carrie Rodriguez
plus new coverfolk from Sam Amidon’s upcoming release

March 24th, 2010 — 09:50 pm

I’ve been sitting on Carrie Rodriguez’ upcoming cover album Love & Circumstance for a month and loving every minute of it, so I’m especially happy to report that her take on John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, & Jim Keltner’s Big Love has finally hit the streets running – and like the album itself, it’s a gorgeous slice of Popfolk Americana, sweet and sultry, thick with ringing guitars, subtle on the strings yet big in all the right ways.

We’ve been fans of Carrie ever since I caught her on tour with mentor Chip Taylor after their first release introduced her to the world; back then, the emphasis was on her fiddle playing, but in the intervening years, as we noted upon the release of her sophomore effort She Ain’t Me, Carrie’s come into her own as a singer-songwriter – and in the hands of producer Lee Townshend, Love & Circumstance reveals a whole new level of confident mastery of Carrie’s chosen craft and sound. It’s always nice when a favorite turns to coverage, but this one’s special: consistently excellent throughout, with exquisite production values and a stunningly successful song selection. Apt comparison to Mindy Smith and Buddy and Julie Miller come to mind, and we don’t toss those names around lightly here.

Check out Big Love and a pair of older covers below, keep an ear on your local AAA and Americana stations for Carrie’s takes on Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch, Hank Williams, M. Ward, Lucinda Williams and more, and then put your order in for an April 13th release date well worth celebrating.

Speaking of favorite artists: news of Sam Amidon‘s upcoming album I See The Sign has been surprisingly sparse on the blogs, despite the huge buzz that followed 2008 indiefolk masterpiece All Is Well. But two new tracks have already surfaced – both covers – and taken together, they reveal a clear continuation of the curious combination of broken voice and moody fiddle-and-banjo-driven indiefolk which characterized his last record.

Good thing, too: as we wrote on the eve of its release, All Is Well was amazing, a haunting revelation that stretched the boundaries of traditional folk, and now we can expect the new one to be equally impressive.

We’ll get to hear more when I See The Sign drops next week, including Sam’s version of oft-covered tradtune Rain and Snow alongside other public domain obscurities and a pair of original compositions. For now, here’s the sounds from the street: a busily mesmerizing, slightly electrotwee take on an old Bessie Jones tune, and a swirling, gently hopeful, essentially Sufjan-esque take on an R. Kelly R&B popsong (!) complete with orchestral strings, plinky piano and bells, and Beth Orton on harmony vocals.

1,104 comments » | Uncategorized

Covered In Folk: John Prine
(21 covers incl. Laura Cantrell, Amos Lee, Josh Ritter & Jeffrey Foucault!)

March 23rd, 2010 — 08:00 pm

Like so many of our Covered in Folk feature subjects, I discovered country-folk singer-songwriter John Prine via coverage – through both his own “original” version of Roly Salley composition Killing the Blues, which Shawn Colvin attributed to Prine himself on her mid-nineties cover album Cover Girl, and Bonnie Raitt’s ubiquitous version of Angel From Montgomery, a sentimental bluesfolk number familiar to anyone who has ever flipped the radio dial to a Contemporary station in the last few decades.

It wasn’t until much later, during a week in attendance at my father’s house while he recovered from back surgery, that I discovered several of Prine’s early albums on my progenitor’s shelves, nestled there among Wainwright, Hartford, and other artists I had rejected in my youth as unfamiliar names with less than melodic voices, and a bit more country than I was ready to take on.

To be fair, my father’s collection was always a bit lighter on the Chicago folk revivalist scene from whence Prine arose, and heavier on the more localized NYC Fast Folk movement which I have touted so often on these pages. But I consider it a stroke of luck that the John Prine canon falls in that gap of my audiophilic development that I have only recently come to fill. In the intervening years, my tastes have matured beyond the direct sentiment and clear vocalists of my youth: these days, I look for nuance, deep social consciousness, and a bit of wry grit in my music. And for a true fan of such elements, John Prine is a diamond, plain and simple.

Though the bulk of John Prine’s greatest and most well-known songs were recorded in his late twenties, from the very first note of his self-titled ’71 debut, both man and music come across as ageless and wise. To listen to those weary recordings is to discover the truly complex combination of gentle wistfulness, perceptive wisdom, and humor which more often graces the best artists’ work only in their last years.

That it comes, in the original, from that broken, ancient voice – a tonality that falls somewhere between Dylan’s nasality and Guy Clark’s dust-croaked twang, only deepened since Prine’s 1998 brush with cancer, which occasioned a removal of no small amount of neck tissue – only underscores that this is a mature listener’s music, though certainly, as the below coverage amply reveals, Prine’s simple, plaintive melodies and direct portrayals of blue-collar drunkards, drifters, addicts, and wise-but-downtrodden everymen are accessible enough to appeal to younger listeners – and cover artists – as well.

It’s certainly possible to go grand and bombastic with a few of Prine’s more humorous tunes – for evidence, we need only turn to the full-blown country-western twang of David Alan Coe’s 1974 hit You Never Even Called Me By My Name, a parody of popular country music co-written by Prine and frequent collaborator Steve Goodman. I’ve skipped a few others “out there” from bona-fide folkies such as Joan Baez, Todd Snider, and John Denver that seemed a bit too pretty for my tastes. And it is true that a few of today’s set – most notably takes from Eddi Reader, Nanci Griffith, and a young Kasey Chambers & family performing as The Dead Ringer Band – filter these songs through the well-produced countrypop sentiment that we have come to expect from these performers, though to say so is by no means an invitation to pass over what turn out to be strong interpretations of well-chosen songs.

But most of today’s covers are gentle and solo acoustic, sung with a heavy heart and a smile that’s wistful and wry, chagrined and sincere all at once – both because we do folk here, and because, more often than not, Prine’s lyrics and melodies demand it that way. Live covers from Amos Lee, Josh Ritter, Jeffrey Foucault, Laura Cantrell, Hayes Carll and others strip these songs to the bone, bringing the same sparse touch to these gems that Prine himself did on his exquisite 2000 album Souvenirs, in which he revisited his own early songbook with the wisdom of years. As such, like the tributes below, Souvenirs – and 2005 follow-up Fair & Square, a “laid-back” acoustic album which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album – come highly recommended for folk fans.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

Like what you hear? As always, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to promote artists; if you’ve found love in our little hobby, please consider following links above to purchase and pursue your own rich collection.

If, afterwards, you’d like to give a little back, please consider that – much like public radio – we depend on your generosity to help pay the bandwidth bills. As our gift to supporters, all who donate to Cover Lay Down will receive our Summer ’09 Bootleg mix, featuring Stonehoney’s cover of John Prine’s Paradise and 16 more exclusive tracks recorded live at various Northeast folk festivals and available nowhere else. Make your gift today!

1,517 comments » | Amos Lee, Covered in Folk, Jeffrey Foucault, John Prine, Josh Ritter

I Got A Bad Feeling:
Coverfolk To Soothe The Fevered Brow

March 20th, 2010 — 09:35 pm

Not sure what happened, but this evening after supper and a nap I woke up shivery and dizzy and speech-blurred, face burning, my arms and head heavy as if not my own. Oddly, I know this particular feverish feeling – more than anything, from memories of the dreadest of still-drunk hangovers – but as I haven’t had a drink in weeks, I’m forced to consider that either I’ve suddenly developed food poisoning from this evening’s fish & chips, or my body has decided to rebel against my schedule.

Maybe I’ve been pushing myself too hard. Long workdays blur in the memory; long school committee meetings and a new choral group at church take evenings from me. State testing begins on Tuesday; the local school budget is due in two weeks; when it’s over, and the kids are abed, I blog into the wee hours, and count four hours forward when setting the clock. And though it was a Saturday, today was deadly, too, despite Spring sunshine and unseasonable warmth: a morning workshop at school, a back-killing load-in for tomorrow night’s house concert with the incredible Meg Hutchinson.

Does that make sense? It’s hard to say; a drunkard’s distraction is part and parcel of my nauseated state. Whatever I had in mind originally for tonight’s entry has flown the coop, along with all thoughts of anything but trying to keep my flesh warm, my head up, my dinner down, and the restroom close.

Apologies for the unusually terse and fuzzminded entry, then. But the brain seems determined to drift, hewing close to its own concerns of body and mind, and my wife is insisting that I go to bed in a few minutes. Instead of our usual scintillation, here’s a half-hearted, half-witted, haphazard short set put together on the spur of the moment: coverfolk, slow-moving and soothing, all about feeling tired, sick, fragile, hurt, broken, and just plain bad.

Cover Lay Down: posting new coverfolk sets and features twice weekly without fail since 2007. Even when we’re feeling a bit weak ourselves.

1,455 comments » | Uncategorized

RIP: Alex Chilton, 1950 – 2010

March 17th, 2010 — 10:04 pm

The New York Times has confirmed that Alex Chilton, lead singer of Big Star and the Box Tops, passed on today of a suspected heart attack.

Chilton’s music was potent, and his influence immense; I still find new meaning in those simple lyrics, and nuance in those deceptively plain chords and melodies, each time I listen to them anew.

And tonight, I’m listening to them again, over and over.

In memory of the man who crafted some of the finest, most direct songs I know – the master of our adolescent hearts, still beating unbidden in our chests even as his own has stilled – today, we revisit one of my favorite features from last year.

Covered in Folk: Big Star
(Kathryn Williams, Son Volt, Evan Dando, Kelly Willis +10 more!)

Bloggers love Big Star. So much so, in fact, that mere mention of their names to a certain sort of audiophile is like a secret handshake, a wink and a nod that marks the listener as a well-informed, well-cultured aesthete of a particular underground substream which defined the modern musical map.

And deservedly so. Led by highly conflicted and conflicting personalities Alex Chilton & Chris Bell in the early seventies, the original incarnation of Big Star never had much mainstream success, perhaps because they were way ahead of their time, though label mismanagement and inter-band tensions certainly took their toll. Lineup changes had an effect, too: Bell left the band before Chilton and remaining band member Jody Stephens came back to record Third/Sister Lovers, a third and final masterpiece, and after that, the project pretty much petered out.

But thanks to mid-eighties back-catalog attention from both labels and the rising alt-rock movement, the post-British invasion proto alt-rock which Big Star produced during their short-lived first-wave career would go on to become a strong and heady influence for musicians and fans searching for a pound of powerpop truth in the lean rock decades which followed.

Singer-songwriters prone to pensive coverage love Big Star’s songbook, too. Short enough to fit in a thin box set, it is nonetheless chock full of easily learned, easily covered odes to timeless angst and adolescence, ranging from brooding acoustic ballads to powerful rockers.

The band’s underground cachet allows coverage to serve as a nod to smart listeners looking for an acknowledgement of the history of music which creates the time/space of performance and its corresponding experience. The songs themselves remain powerful enough to speak raw emotion in oft-hushed tones to anyone who might care to hear, regardless of familiarity with the original. It’s the ideal situation for covers, allowing the recreation of songs to serve as a community grounding for those that need it, while simultaneously providing a stage for just plumb good performance.

Which is not to say that it’s impossible to mess up a Big Star song. Only that there’s more than enough gems out there, and that we have the whole process — from the songwriters and original performances to the interconnected history which brings forth our experience of interpretation — to thank for it. We’ve posted a few of these before, and I’m certainly not the first to share most of ‘em, but for completeness’ sake, here’s the breathtaking best of a surprisingly large collection, from grungy electric folkrock to hard-edged alt-country to sparse and sultry singer-songwriter.

*You and Your Sister was a Chris Bell solo track, released as a b-side just a few months before Bell passed in a car crash at the age of 27 in December, 1978. It also featured Alex Chilton on backing vocals.

What with multiple Big Star reissues and compilations coming at us this year — most notably upcoming four-disk Rhino demos-and-all retrospective Keep The Eye On The Sky, which drops September 15 — I’m not the only one to pick up on the buzz. For more relatively recent blogger paeans, including links to a few more great Big Star covers, check out August tributes from Mainstream Isn’t So Bad and Aquarium Drunkard. And don’t forget to pick up 2006 tribute album Big Star, Small World if you’re up for some additional coverage of the late nineties post-grunge and Americana type.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and sets Wednesdays, Sundays, and the very occasional otherday.

1,790 comments » | Big Star, RIP

Irish Singer-Songwriters Week, Vol 2: Women’s Voices
(A St. Paddy’s Day Who’s Who of Irish Coverfolk)

March 16th, 2010 — 10:41 pm

Sunday, we started off Irish Singer-Songwriter’s Week with a feature on Irishmen under 40 and a promise of more to come. Today, on the cusp of St. Patrick’s Day itself, we fulfill that promise in spades, with music of and from a full compliment of young Irish lasses, and – at post’s end – links to a full set of revived past features on U2, Sinead O’Connor, and Celtic Punk. Enjoy…and may the luck of the Irish be with ye!

    Sinéad Lohan seems to be an artist lost to time; my father knew the name, but her website address has been taken over by a “Quality Engineer at Apple Computer” named George. It doesn’t help that Lohan only recorded two albums, both before she turned 21, leaving the limelight before the turn of the century to focus on motherhood; rumors of a third album – supposedly recorded in 2004 and in production in 2007 – swirled around the fanbase in the last few years, but no such album seems to have emerged.
    But if the public has missed her, her musical peers have not: Lohan, whose 1995 debut was recorded at the tender age of 17, was first covered by Joan Baez two years afterwards, and the coverage continued well into the millennium. The perfect countrypop ballad Lohan makes of Dylan’s To Ramona, which appears on the last installment of the A Woman’s Heart series, is a fine showcase for her clear, emotive vocals; the two bonus tracks – the first a driving popfolk, the other languid and bluegrassy – speak exquisitely to the universality of her lyrics.

    Popfolk keyboardist Gemma Hayes, born in Tipperary in 1977 and now based in Dublin, is relatively well known in the indie crowd, thanks to multiple soundtrack appearances, plenty of love from European charts and stages, and the above collaboration with Norwegian electrofolkie Magnet, which appeared in the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Her Sade cover, recorded in 2005 for the radio, is a lovely rough-cut slice of pensive singer-songwriter folk, reminiscent of Jonatha Brooke’s best and quietest work, sweetly transformed and beautiful with yearning; the gentle, pulsing Kate Bush cover – a triumph of interpretation that channels the best of Bush’s distinctive tones while retaining the restrained delicacy of Hayes’ natural delivery – is her most recent release, a 2009 holiday gift to the universe recorded live in Dublin.

    Wallis Bird is the youngest of today’s featured Irish Lasses; born in ’82, she works out of London, but we won’t hold that against her. New Boots, her sophomore release, has been out in Ireland since July, but it just hit the streets of mainland Europe on Monday; at first listen, with one or two softer exceptions, it’s a great high-production poprock romp, with wailing vocals, fast-paced, practically anthemic arrangements, and heavy drums and guitar, ideal for mainstream radioplay and a far cry from the folkworld. Still, her 2008 cover of Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough, originally recorded for an ad campaign for UK newsrag The Sun, comes off gleeful, jangly and rough, like an acoustic take from an Irish KT Tunstall, with a hint of whistle and squeezebox. Gorgeous.

    We reviewed Irish-born songstress Heidi Talbot ages ago, as a part of a feature on Compass Records, and featured both her Tom Waits cover and her Tim O’Brien cover from 2008 Indie Acoustic award-winning album In Love + Light in recent features on the gentlemen in question, so I’ll not dwell too much on her today, save to point out that this wonderful album has been in the CD changer in my car for ages, and it’s going to stay for ages, too. The aforementioned really are her best non-original works, but this Ink Spots cover is a great crooner’s ballad, if a bit warbly; her take on tradsong Bedlam Boys is delicious, too, and about as traditional as we’ll get today.

    As promised on Sunday, we close tonight’s set with a few recent works from Lisa Hannigan, who made her name as an essential companion to Damien Rice, but set out on her own in 2007 after being booted mid-tour due to ongoing tensions about the direction of their musical journey together. Courting Blues, a Bert Jansch cover, is the sole non-original on her debut solo album Sea Sew, and it’s a mystical, moody gem, with smooth, warm vocals floated upon cello squeaks and fluttery drums. Meanwhile, Hannigan’s cover of Disco classic Upside Down is nigh impossible to find in the States – send it along if you’ve got it! – so in its stead, I’ve included a favorite piece from her work with Rice which, while wildly different in tone, sits exceptionally well in the ears, and suits the month to boot.

    As a bonus: I don’t know much about classically-trained Irish cellist-turned-singer-songwriter Vyvienne Long, except that she has covered several indierock tunes, has also toured with Damien Rice as a string and piano player, and seems to have a knack for sparse, moody arrangements. Reportedly, her newest album dropped last week in Ireland, too. Mostly, though, I just couldn’t resist throwing this White Stripes cover in.

Previously on St. Patrick’s Day (all download links now LIVE and REVIVED!)

3 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Saint Patrick's Day

Irish Singer-Songwriters Week, Vol 1: Male Voices
(A St. Paddy’s Day Who’s Who of Irish Coverfolk)

March 14th, 2010 — 08:40 am

Previously on St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve covered Sinead O’Connor, U2, and Celtic Punk; there’s an autumnal feature from the 2008 ICONS Irish Music festival lurking in the archives, too, with coverfolk offerings from Solas, Luka Bloom, The Tannahill Weavers, and Alison Brown. In honor of the holiday, on Wednesday, March 17th, we will be reviving long-dead download links on all four of those older posts, so don’t forget to return on St. Pat’s Day itself for a full Irish breakfast of fine acoustic music.

But there’s certainly more to be found in the Irish music scene than the obvious cask-aged choices which have made it across the pond. This week, to broaden the base a bit, we turn our ears and hearts to the predominantly post-millennial coverfolk of a younger generation of under-40 solo singer-songwriters – some familiar, others new – who carry the rich blood and accents of the motherland in their hearts and their music.

The week’s offerings are nothing exhaustive, of course; with Ireland’s rich musical tradition, there’s entire blogs devoted to the stuff. Those interested in a more comprehensive look at the Irish music scene from the ground would do well to start with fan favorite 2 U I Bestow, whose host has introduced me to many fine acts from the Emerald Isle.

But you have to start somewhere, and as with any set, I’ve got my own preferences to offer up. So here’s a taste of the young Irish folk who tickle my fancy: we’ll cover the men today, and offer a set of female voices to follow later in the week.

    Born in Dublin in 1971, Mark Geary won a green card by lottery in the mid-nineties, moved to New York City, and soon found himself a regular at Sin É alongside Jeff Buckley and other rising stars. Despite his years in the states, however, Geary retains his connections to the motherland, most recently performing at the Whelans 20th Anniversary celebrations in order to promote his late 2009 live album Live Love Lost It – NYC. This U2 cover comes from the tripartite Irish radio cover compilation series Even Better Than The Real Thing; for more U2 covers from Irishmen and others, don’t forget to check out last year’s St Pat’s post.

    Damien Dempsey, born and raised in the Dublin suburbs, champions the plight of the Irish underclass through music that melds traditional Irish folktunes and other myriad influences with a contemporary, almost Celtic punk sensibility. His many appearances on the aforementioned in-studio cover compilation series are a bit raw for me, but his studio work seems much more stable; as evidence, this b-side take on Fly Me To The Moon balances the vocal mannerisms of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself with a ragged Irish singer-songwriter’s gleeful soul. Also highly recommended, if a bit more traditional: Dempsey’s 2008 all-covers release The Rocky Road.

    Platinum-selling Irish recording artist Declan O’Rourke slammed onto the scene post-millennium with an October 2004 debut Since Kyabram; since then, he’s played with Snow Patrol and Bic Runga on tour, opened for Bob Dylan, and found his work covered on two successive albums by Folk/Pop Scotswoman Eddi Reader. The U2 cover here is from Even Better Than The Real Thing, Vol. 3; Little Girl In Bloom is from a lovely tribute to fellow Irishman Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzie.

    Galway-raised, Malta-born Dubliner Adrian Crowley, cited by Ryan Adams in 2005 as “the best singer-songwriter that no one’s heard of”, is part of the new breed of indiefolk musicians, artists equally adept in the delicate world of lo-fi bedroom folk and the often strange realm of studio production, in which electronic elements and traditional instruments interact fluidly, and atmospheric tones reign supreme. This track, one of a full album’s worth of James Yorkston covers which accompanied the release of Yorkston’s When The Haar Rolls In, takes one of my favorite compositions and treats it with delicacy and respect.

    Glen Hansard turns forty in April, making him barely eligible for our list, but we’d be lost without him; well-known for his cinematic roles both recent (Once) and historical (The Commitments), the man is the only Irish-born artist to hold an Oscar for Best Song, and his work – as a solo artists and as a founding member of The Frames – has made him a staple of the Irish music scene for over two decades. The Dylan cover is a well known soundtrack take from 2007; the Van Morrison is a live WFUV in-studio take from the same year; the Pixies cover is from a 2002 live concert in the Czech Republic.

    We’ve featured multiple covers of and from Damien Rice in our time together, most notably when he channelled Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah for Leonard Cohen’s 2008 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; his version of U2′s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For features prominently in last year’s St. Patrick’s Day set. I’m planning on featuring his well-known long-time touring companion Lisa Hannigan on Wednesday when we turn our sights to Irish lasses, too. But who can resist his takes on Radiohead and Prince?

Cover Lay Down will return on Wednesday with a coverfolk set from some younger Irish lasses…and links to four full previous-years’ St. Patrick’s Day posts to boot!

1,840 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Saint Patrick's Day

A Little Light Music: Coverfolk For Our Longer Days

March 10th, 2010 — 10:34 pm

As a teacher, I’m used to waking in the dark, like a sneak thief rising in the night, stealing time from sleep while the spouse and children slumber. Past open doors and tiny sighs I go silently, to navigate the narrow stairs, start the coffee in the stove’s tiny flourescent overhead, check morning email at the kitchen counter with nothing but the laptop glow to illuminate the keys.

These days, by the time I come up again, fully dressed, to kiss them each in turn on my way out the door, their faces are already visible in the deep wan dawn. And that’s a difference from February, when it took the hallway light to ensure that I did not trip on books or paper dolls, knock clumsily against bedframes, and awaken the kids.

Even as Winter wanes and the afternoons turn warm with sun, it’s still dark when I wake up. But leaving the house in full-bore sunrise is a harbinger of Spring.   And though daylight savings will cost us an hour this Sunday, turning the clock back to an early darkness, such change is temporary.

On the car radio, the weatherman counts the added minutes: three more today, and the sun bright in my rear view mirror as I crest the hill between towns, the city spread out below me no longer in shadow. Soon, the work I wake into will be aglow again with blue.   Today, then, let’s bring on the light.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and features each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,301 comments » | Uncategorized

(Re)Covered, XV: More covers of and from
Talking Heads, Pat Wictor, Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli & Paul Simon!

March 6th, 2010 — 10:32 pm

Our music library may be vast, but we’ve never claimed to be completists here at Cover Lay Down. There’s always something missed or previously unheard, and always something new, too, released just in time to taunt us in the aftermath of a topical post.

Serendipitous addenda come from fellow bloggers, readers, labels, artists and library visits into our welcoming ears and hands. From there, they make their way back to you via our (Re)Covered features, wherein we share new and newly-rediscovered songs that dropped into our laps just a bit too late to make it into earlier features.

Our recent post covering the Talking Heads songbook has proved to be immensely popular, netting huge surges in traffic after receiving mention from both Metafilter and Very Short List. As is generally the case, with popularity comes an increase in suggested also-rans, and though many of the songs readers sent along were not folk at all – for example, I had already considered and rejected Guster’s uber-funky alt-jamband take on Nothing But Flowers and Moxy Fruvous’ slammin’ live cover of Psycho Killer as far too rock for our readership, and passed over Miles Fisher’s electrocover as fun but far too weird, when compiling our original post – this Jason Spooner track, recommended by fellow Star Maker Machine regular FiL, is a great slow-burn acoustic folk jam that fits the bill perfectly.

In an interesting email exchange with Pat Wictor after our recent feature on the NY-based singer-songwriter attempted to used his recent career path to exemplify the challenges artists face in moving from “emerging” to “established”, Pat humbly suggested that I had made the common mistake of confusing buzz with name-recognition and much more typical under-the-radar career growth – an error all the more frustrating because I myself have addressed this issue of bloggers mistaking buzz concentration as an indicator of popularity in previous posts, specifically in regards to the shortened buzz-and-fall cycle which has accompanied the rise of the rapid-fire blogging world. Mea culpa.

As Pat points out, his career continues to grow, albeit in more subtle ways out of the “new artist” limelight; recent developments include growing audience sizes, his first major tours of California, Texas, the Midwest, and the Carolinas, and a move from opening act slots to co-bills in much larger spaces. But that doesn’t mean he’s rich and famous yet, folks. Instead, says Pat, he’s engaged in “the long, slow work of building an audience, person by person,” and that’s where a blog can be a fine vehicle, indeed. Here’s a matched set of subtly different covers of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Got To Move from Pat’s work with frequent stage-sharer and fellow 2006 Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist Abbie Gardner (of similarly up-and-growing folk trio Red Molly) – one from his album, one from hers – to help keep these artists on your radar where they belong.

We’ve featured local singer-songwriters and frequent touring companions Mark Erelli and Lori McKenna here in fits and starts over the years: our first-year Mother’s Day post offered a pair of now long-gone coversongs from the housewife-turned-singing sensation; the release of Mark’s 2008 album Delivered occasioned a similar subfeature, including several covers which have suffered the same fate.

But their recently recorded cover of Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now, which came to me via Bottom of the Glass, is a full-bore delight, with driving beat, lightness, and harmonies that lend a bit more hope and perhaps a touch more steel to what seemed to be an untouchable original. And sending you off to purchase the recent 1% For The Planet benefit compilation from which it comes is a great way to support ecological causes, to boot. As a bonus, in lieu of reviving old posts ad infinitum, I’ve included a few favorite othercovers from those previous posts.


Finally, in other covernews, the new Peter Gabriel all-covers album Scratch My Back is, by most accounts, sappy, maudlin, emotionless and tame; it wasn’t even that hard to find a reviewer willing to call it “the worst cover album in the history of cover albums.” But the good news is that it’s part of a reciprocal project, which means upcoming Peter Gabriel covers from each of the artists whose work Gabriel mangles on his own release. And if Paul Simon’s cover of Biko, released in tandem with Gabriel’s cover of Boy in the Bubble as the second “Double A-side” single from the project, is any indication, we’re in for a great ride.

Our Paul Simon cover feature is yet another part of our long-dead archives, and we’re surely overdue to revisit his songbook, so expect another round of Simon covers to come sometime in 2010. In the meanwhile, stay tuned to the usual indieblogs for Peter Gabriel covers from Bon Iver, Regina Spektor, and more in the weeks ahead.

As an added bonus, since we’re looking back that far today, here’s another stunning Peter Gabriel cover from an album featured in our very first post here at Cover Lay Down, way back in September of 2007.

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets every Wednesday and Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,100 comments » | (Re)Covered, Jason Spooner, Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads

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