Archive for April 2010

Metablog: site sluggish, songs stuck

April 30th, 2010 — 11:20 am

[UPDATE, 10:01 pm: looks like the site's back up! Thanks for your patience; see you Sunday!]

Leechers – that is, web sites & spiders looking to use our files as fodder for their own commercial purposes and give-aways – are slamming our server, presumably to figure out what’s left after we took down most of our older archives in the name of protecting artists and their ability to profit off their life’s work.

The result: Cover Lay Down is functioning far too slowly for normal use. I can’t upload files, which means I can’t post anything of substance. I’ve tried to post this particular note a dozen times, and will keep trying to get it through, but if you can read this at all, it likely means both you and I just lucked out in catching the connection between waves of “cannot connect”.

The staff at iMountain, our delightful hosts, have assured me that this sort of thing is usually temporary, but there’s nothing we can do about it in the meanwhile. So stay tuned for Sunday’s usual post, folks, and please feel free to peruse the sidebar for more great cover songs from around the blogs while you share our frustration…

1,769 comments » | Uncategorized

Under the Weather: Folk Covers for A Stormy Night, Redux

April 28th, 2010 — 09:00 pm

I’m a bit under the weather, and so is the sky, dropping branches and rain on the newly-cleared lawn and wreaking havoc on our ‘net connection. I’ve got some great new music to share, and it’s burning me up not to be able to bring it out this evening…but under the circumstances, I’m thinking something a little less strenuous might be more apropos.

Hope no one minds a repost, from the aftermath of a similar storm two summers ago, with a promise of something more substantive to follow later in the week…

They say April showers bring May flowers, but I’m not so sure. This evening’s thunderstorm was a big one, and in our end-of-the-wire rural existence, even when the power stays on, thunder knocks our ‘net connectivity for a loop. Meanwhile, now that the trees have finally filled in, our newly-terraformed backyard doesn’t seem to be getting more than a few hours of sun each day; as a consequence, we’re having trouble getting flowers to do much of anything back there.

I’ve got dozens of posts half-formed and half-written, in my mind and on the screen: new and beloved artists to feature, a long-overdue return to our Covered In Kidfolk series, a few great songwriters to rediscover through folk covers. But writing this with a waning battery and no ‘net access means being shut off from my usual research materials. And in the darkness, the sounds of rain pattering against the leaves, punctuated by the intermittent gutterball of thunder, are sweeter than any music I could play – so sweet, it’s hard to think about anything but the world outside.

Instead, I spent the last hour watching the flowerbeds all but wash away, and the muddy water wash the fill from between the flagstones. The rain against the windows turned the yard beyond into an everchanging pointilist dream. And I lost the thread of anything but the present.

Some rainstorms disrupt; some destroy; others help things grow. All involve chaos, in their own way; even if it is only because rain challenges our default image of the world outside as inherently sunny and easily navigable. Here’s a playlist compiled quickly, in the dark, and researched only afterwards: a set of coversong, from the usual wide variety of folk artists and singer-songwriters, that celebrates storms both real and metaphoric.

    I’ve always liked this song –- the way the the storm gets entangled with the emotional distance in the lyric, the repeated cry of I’m sorry that serves as the chorus — but the original comes off like a maudlin torch song in my ears. On his 2006 cover album nineteeneighties Grant Lee Phillips plays the song out straight, holding his emotion in check, letting the way the words trail off reveal the true heart of the damaged, emotionally tongue-tied narrator. The song is transformed.

    Despite her powerful interpretive voice, Cassandra Wilson is usually billed as smooth late night Jazz. But this song is something sparse and jangled from the eye of a storm: tense, frenetic blues from a single slide guitar, a tapping foot like rain on the roof, Wilson’s alto floating above it all like a howl of wind. From the surprisingly good collection The Best Smooth Jazz…Ever.

    I posted Redbird’s excellent version of this song at the bottom of a post on Grateful Dead rainsongs a while back [update: and here it is again]. Of the three versions here, Jimmy LaFave’s is loose bar-room folkrock americana, with a bit of dustbowl mixed in; Orton and Ward are lo-fi and spare, like a living room cover; Neko Case is sweetest, and oh so perfectly countrified.

    More Dylan. A very young Joan Baez released this surprisingly tender version of his condemnation of society and its lack of commitment to social justice in 1965 on her Dylan tribute album Farewell, Angelina. Almost forty years later, Edie and the boys bang it out like a poprock anthem.

    Newgrass pioneers Northern Lights worked with master fiddler Vassar Clements on and off for over a decade; I especially like their 2000 live album Three August Nights. This high-energy live cut is a five minute bluegrass festival, the perfect jam for a sunny summer afternoon.

    Mandolin and piano, robust harmonies in little-girl voices, and a story of love lost to the sky make this one of the strongest cuts on Nanci Griffith’s excellent cover album Other Voices, Other Rooms.

    Previously featured artists Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem turn this over-covered 1929 country and blues chestnut into a cheerful stroll of a song, a tight gem of acoustic folk swing music with a little sultry swagger built right in. From Cocktail Swing, which is all like that.

    Played as a tender, ragged waltz, a Creedence classic becomes pensive and atmospheric. This bright psychadelic indiefolk from newcomer Juju Stulbach, the Brazilian frontwoman of NYC band Mosquitos [update: and now half of new duo Undersea Poem], keeps growing on me. Bonus points: it’s the soundtrack to this subject-appropriate commercial for GE.

    This lighthearted romp with double-uke and doubled girlvoices from Japanese duo Petty Booka is bright like a rainbow at storm’s end. Because, in the end, what better way to meet chaos than to smile and dance within it?

Cover Lay Down posts features and coverfolk sets every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: new work from nufolk, and more!

995 comments » | reposts

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty
(Dawn Landes, Kasey Anderson, Mark Erelli, Johnny Cash, & more!)

April 24th, 2010 — 11:26 pm

We’re back from our Florida vacation not much worse for wear, though the long slog home from anywhere proves a perennial challenge, and reentry into the world of work is always bittersweet. Still, the heart is light, and for that, I owe my family a great debt: to my father for making it all possible, to my children for helping me see the world as ever wondrous through their eyes, and most of all, to my spouse for planning the hell out of yet another perfect Spring Break.

Case in point: though much of our journey hewed close to the fabricated world of Disney, on our final day we eschewed the parks, and headed west to the mid-coast keys. The detour was a perfect capstone to our week: a respite from the plastic crowds, and a fine reminder of why people live here among the swaying palm trees, the warm and gentle gulf stream waters, the white sugar sand as fine as talc. Watching the sun set over Tampa Bay on the long, flat bridge to St. Petersburg was as sweet as the waterfront mojitos that followed.

Though it’s hard to imagine getting used to the heat of the day, it’s equally hard to walk away from the sheer joy of just sitting, calm and cool in shirtsleeves, in the gentle Spring breeze on the balcony after dark. And I can think of no better way to capture this moment forever than through folk music, in a tribute to a fine Floridian native son.

Tom Petty is Florida’s most famous export, musically speaking. Born and raised in Gainesville – where he was inspired by a chance childhood meeting with Elvis and high school guitar lessons from Don Felder of The Eagles – the grinning, iconic frontman and singer-songwriter has sold millions of records, won three Grammys, earned a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is often presented as the typical American Rock success story.

Though he went deeper and a bit more experimental in his later years, Tom Petty’s most identifiable musical alliance is with Heartland Rock – a white working-class subgenre popular in the 70s and 80s, typified by “traditional” rock-band electric guitar and drums tinged with mandolin and harmonica, and accessible blue-collar lyrics that tell of the social, physical, and economic isolation experienced by those struggling to recapture the american dream in a post-industrial decline. And sure enough, like the subgenre’s other famous practitioners – Bob Seeger, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and John Fogerty among them – though he has enjoyed renewed popularity among the younger set in recent years, Petty’s laconic drawl can most commonly be heard on bar-room jukeboxes and classic rock radio, alongside southern and country rock artists such as the Eagles and Lynard Skynyrd.

Like anybody, I guess, I find Tom Petty’s vast catalog of hit songs familiar from the very first chord. And though my struggle to love what can only be called “distinctive” voices is well known to our regular readers, as a child of the eighties, a pop culture aficionado, and a fellow pursuant of the dream, though I don’t own a single Tom Petty album, I nonetheless find comfort in the constant presence of his direct and often softly cynical songbook.

I’m not alone in this. The blogs were awash with Tom Petty covers back in 2008, when his superbowl halftime show was the talk of the town – a sure indicator that both bloggers and modern singer-songwriters share my appreciation for Petty’s apt portrayal of both the American heartland and the American heart. Today, as a mark of my own prodigal return, and in celebration of the coincidence of both American excess and Floridian paradise which I experienced in his home state, we gather in the best and folkiest – many posted previously here and elsewhere; all well worth repeating.

As always, Cover Lay Down is first and foremost in it for the artists: if you like what you hear above and below, we encourage you to pursue artist and album links to give back to the musicians we feature, and acquire some fine tuneage for your own files, too. Tom Petty may be ubiquitous, both with and without his perennial backing band the Heartbreakers, but those interested in pursuing his original works should head over to his webpage for videos, samples, tickets, purchase links and more.

Today’s Bonus Tracks offer up a pair of favorite covers of a song Petty cowrote for the late eighties supergroup Traveling Wilburys – whose star-studded line-up also included Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and George Harrison.

1,298 comments » | Covered in Folk, Tom Petty

Disney Coverfolk: Covering The Mouse
with Alison Krauss, James Taylor, Michelle Shocked and more!

April 21st, 2010 — 10:17 pm

Not sure what I was thinking when I planned to write and post this week’s feature from the midst of a Disney World vacation. Though we’re spending the week a wonderful house in a gated community just off site, instead of quiet nights by the pool, we’ve been dropping early, utterly exhausted after nine-hour days in the parks and dinner in one or another of Downtown Disney’s famous upscale restaurants.

To be fair, we’ve made the most of our time in the Mouse House. Having an event planner for a spouse means arriving armed to the teeth with trade-secret strategies and planning trivia; couple this forethought with a willingness to get an early start, my own tendencies towards applied social science, a willingness to cart lunch around in a thermos backpack and eat sandwiches while waiting for the shows to start, and a pair of rainy days early in the week that kept crowds light, and you’ve got a match made in Fantasyland.

This is not the Disney World I remember as a child, but that’s made it easier, I think. Thanks to the amazingly awesome Fast Pass system, we’ve been able to get a few reservations for the big rides early in the day, and build our days around them. And for the Magic Kingdom, we had a serious ace up our sleeve: Disney has a program where you volunteer in your local community and earn instant “jump the line” passes to six rides of your choice for one day; my wife and the wee one did a three hour stint in a local Head Start program a few months ago, and having those precious passes today made for a record-setting day in the most magical place on earth, indeed.

The result: we’ve gone on practically every ride, seen almost every show and sight, and the longest line we had to wait in was the wait to get our bags checked on the way into Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Monday. Tomorrow, we’ll hit Space Mountain first thing before the line gets long, take a nap, and then finish the week with a dinner in Cinderella’s Castle with a plethora of Princesses – a must for any good Dad with two little princesses of his own – followed by a fireworks finale, a beach day to recharge, and a plane ride back home.

Still, such focus leaves us little time for attention to music beyond the bounds of It’s A Small World and the surprisingly excellent Finding Nemo: The Musical over at Disney Hollywood. The best laid plans of Mice and men having gone awry, here’s a tribute of a different sort: a set of folk and acoustic covers of songs from the Disney canon collected over the years, with much thanks to Kurtis of Disney coverblog Covering The Mouse for laying the foundation, and keeping the magic alive.

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

1,216 comments » | Covering The Mouse

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2010
Volume 1: January – April

April 17th, 2010 — 10:24 pm

Saturday was Record Store Day, and though we’re off in Disney World – the least indie place in the known universe – it seemed nonetheless appropriate to ground today’s program in our most album-oriented feature.

Happily, there’s a bunch of solid tribute albums lurking on the horizon, both in and out of the folkworld. June, especially, promises to be exciting, with a John Prine tribute and a tribute to the songs of Shel Silverstein scheduled to drop almost simultaneously. The Prine tribute is much more americana-folk oriented – names include Justin Vernon, Josh Ritter, The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Justin Townes Earle – while the Silverstein tribute yaws wider, bringing in Sugar Hill records luminaries Sarah Jarosz, Black Prairie, and Sara Watkins alongside Andrew Bird, Kris Kristofferson, Lucinda Williams, Dr. Dog, Todd Snider and others. But there’s much commonality here: both albums feature John Prine and My Morning Jacket, and – given the subjects and the talent involved – each promises plenty of wry, tuneful social commentary done up right.

More generally, though it’s early yet, Consequence of Sound may not be wrong in naming 2010 the year of the tribute album. Slow-moving news of a grand Bowie tribute due in September is surely just the tip of an autumnal iceberg. And, in addition to a few rock and pop-driven tributes in the early part of the year – notably, Peter Gabriel’s reciprocal Scratch My Back project, and the recent Bird and the Bee electrotwee indiepop paean to the Hall & Oates songbook – the recent emergence of two fully folk-oriented albums, an eclectic iTunes-only DIY duo’s cover album, and an indie lullaby compilation which leans towards the mellow and acoustic, have set a high bar for this year’s crop. Today, we take a closer look at these first-round pace-setters.

First and foremost, major thanks and kudos to the always-excellent Call it Folk, who made first mention of LML Records release In My Room earlier this week. Featuring a solid mix of 20 longstanding folk icons and regional delights, the album asks its participating artists to cover their favorite songs, performed as if stripped down and solo from their living rooms and home studios and other comfort zones, and predictably, the resulting recordings are almost universally intimate, though the wide breadth of artists makes for a full and diverse mix.

I’m still soaking in this one, but the gems are there in spades, from Arlington Priest’s slightly prettified but still-weary take on Ray LaMontagne’s Jolene to new fave singer-songwriter Peter Bradley Adams’ ringing, hushed cover of Matthew Ryan’s I Hear A Symphony. No project of this scope is perfect, and to be sure, with the balance of these contributors skewing towards older, mid-to-late career artists, there’s a few piano-led clunkers from a few older folkies here that go heavy on the pop-vocalist syrup. But the song choices are often inspired, and all are handled with care and affection. And with proceeds going to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Amazon listing the full 20-song digital download for just under 8 bucks, it’s worth getting the complete set.

As with the abovementioned collaborative project, save for a single mention – this time on the increasingly perceptive pages of Beat Surrender – there’s been little early buzz about Mark Erelli and Jeffrey Foucault’s new collaborative effort Seven Curses, a stark, dark set of murder ballads from Springsteen, Guthrie, Neil Young, Porter Wagoner, and other powerful troubadours. But the first three tracks are available at Foucault’s website, and – as we might have expected from this particular pair of down-to-earth singer songwriters and cover artists – though the production runs the gamut from sparse, intimate ballads to fuzzed-out two-man folkabilly, taken as a set, the songs represent a fantastic teaser for the album-to-come.

Seven Curses – currently available in the US as an on-tour pre-release only, though it was released to the UK market on Fish Records last Monday – is due to drop on the dollar market towards the end of the month, though you can pre-order at Young Hunter records. And you better believe I’m placing my order today. Here’s two to tempt your ears into joining me.

I mentioned Pomplamoose last week as an example of the growing cadre of artists using the digital world to leverage themselves to fame and possible fortune; now, serendipitously, comes email notice of their new iTunes cover album Tribute To Famous People, just in time for inclusion herein.

Like their YouTube work, the new collection is less folk than playful eclectic pop, just an increasingly confident couple of multi-instrumentalists taking advantage of modern digital tools to build a layered, homegrown sound that is equal parts studio mixing and piece-by-piece performance. But though the sound and self-effacing sales pitch are perfectly indiegeek, the intimacy of lead singer Nataly Dawn and the humble approach to performer-centered song bring a sense of earnestness and authenticity very much in line with the modern indie folk and folkpop sensibility – especially on cuts such as these.

Finally, the folks at American Laundromat – nurturers and tireless promoters of a particular subgroup of predominantly female indie set, who caused so much celebration here upon the 2008 release of their stunning Neil Young tribute collection – once again come through with a stellar mix of music in Sing Me To Sleep, an impending collection of indie lullabies. Folk has generally been but one far end of the sound spectrum for the American Laundromat sound: High School Reunion, the 80′s tribute which they released back in 2005 ran the gamut, and their recent Cure covers album, though excellent, was just too heavy with electric noise and fury to merit mention in a folkblog. But aiming to reach children and their indie-sensible parents leads to production decisions that replace the feedback with sweetness, delicacy and drones, and our readers should find much to cherish here.

Unlike the rest of today’s recommendations, Sing Me To Sleep isn’t out yet – it drops 5/18 – but there’s an amazing limited edition package that you just don’t want to miss available for pre-release up on the site, and that’s certainly close enough on the horizon to merit a preview, isn’t it? Here’s a delicious, delicate Jack Early cover from indie popsters Dean & Britta, label-sanctioned and drowsy with underwater guitars, to make you sleepy with desire.

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coversets every Sunday, Wednesday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: reflections on a Floridian vacation.

1,302 comments » | Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, Pomplamoose, Tribute Albums

Covered In Kidfolk: Daddy’s Little Girl, Redux
(Coversongs for Fathers and Daughters)

April 14th, 2010 — 08:19 pm

Two years ago today I paid tribute to my youngest after a whirlwind week of cake and circuses. Now here it is her birthday again, and watching her hold her own with her little friends in the midst of a Princess and the Frog-themed swim party on Sunday afternoon, it’s clear that the pre-kindergarten independence I anticipated at three has come to full-blown fruition at five.

The wee one’s grown a lot since we last featured her here, on the cusp of her first big girl bed. Her face has grown angular and thin, her hair grown back in again, long and luxurious after the unfortunate game of hairstylist gone wrong which prompted the pixie cut she sported in her younger years. Just months away from public school, she stays up late as her sister, drawing undersea landscapes, sounding out words from her picture books, copying letters painstakingly alongside her mother’s careful printing, often falling asleep curled up amidst a bedful of language.

She’s also come into her own as a person. She focuses, staying at the table with her art projects long past the predictable moment, never throwing tantrums, riding calm and confident off into the sunset on her little trike while we’re teaching her sister to go without training wheels. She’s learned somehow to stand up to her sister without hardening her heart – a miracle if ever I saw one – but she’s not determined like her sister, not bullheaded, not tomboyish, not oversensitive to the death of small creatures.

No, she’s a pink girl, this one, all Princesses and tiaras, make-up and pretty dresses, despite odds and a deliberate effort to raise kids free of the traditional trappings of gender, as if to prove the question of nature vs. nurture once and for all. But she’s still my little empath, always worried about other people’s emotions before her own. Where the elderchild seems to have inherited my anxiety, the wee one takes on the stress of the world in other ways, through curiosity and concern, questioning and please-and-thank-yous, tenderness and perceptiveness, working on and working through.

The quiet confidence is her mother’s, through and through. It’s a blessing, to see it come out like that. She’s gentle, and matter-of-fact, and occasionally wise beyond her years, and I’m proud, as only a father can be, to step back occasionally, and watch her sleep, and play, and sing, and know that she is becoming so many things that I am not, and that her life is working for her in ways that I cannot know.

The distance between us I once saw coming on the horizon has both come to pass and not come to pass. I don’t cry, as much, when I think of her getting bigger, and see her coming into her own. But she’s still Daddy’s little girl. And it still breaks my heart to watch her grow, up and away and apart.

Here’s the rest of the piece on fathersongs I wrote way back when she turned three. And the songs which accompanied that first tribute post – the ones I will always associate with fatherhood, in all its pride and secret terror. For comparison’s sake, you know. And for memory’s sake, too.

There are several popular folksongs about fathers and sons which have been covered within the genre — stellar versions of Cat Stevens’ Father and Son and Paul Simon’s St. Judy’s Comet jump to mind, though Ben Folds’ Still Fighting It remains so definitive it is practically uncoverable.

But with the exception of a few sappy countrypop tunes, there aren’t so many songs written from fathers to daughters out there.

One reason the crossgender parent-to-child song may be so rare is that it provides a weaker outlet for the narrator to project their own sense of childhood into the child. Which is to say: The narrative trick which turns a song about fathers into a song about fatherhood, which makes mincemeat of my heart in songs like Harry Chapin’s Cat in the Cradle and Mike Rutherford’s Living Years, is unavailable to us. No matter how much I love my children, I can never claim to know what it is to be a little girl with a Daddy.

But though like the moments I have with my own little girls, songs which speak directly and explicitly to our lot as parents with daughters are precious and few, what songs there are tug powerfully at the heartstrings. So today, a short set of songs which speak to my own complicated feelings for my own little girls. I’ve deliberately left out songs which name sons or mothers, though I’ve allowed myself a couple of songs which are open enough to come from any parent to any child. But this set of songs is intended first and foremost for daddies to give to their daughters. As such, it runs from sugar and spice, through everything nice. Because whether you listen as a child or as a parent, that’s what memories are made of.

Unlike our previous kidsong posts here on Cover Lay Down, a vast majority of the songs included herein were not originally intended for children. Instead, most teeter on an open line, innocent enough to apply to either a lover or a child, unspecific enough to allow a good interpreter to choose, if they wish. To me, the delivery and intention of the performances below resolves the lyrical vagueness in a way that makes them perfect for sharing between parent and child. But many work well as more general songs of love and affection. You’re welcome, as always, to make them your own in any way you need them to. That’s the heart of folk, right there.

  • Livingston Taylor, Isn’t She Lovely (orig. Stevie Wonder)
    Like brother James, Livingston Taylor specializes in sweet songs delivered in a crisp, light crooning tenor over bright acoustic stringwork. This cover of Stevie Wonder’s tribute to female innocence comes from kidlabel Music for Little People, off out-of-print collection That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of.

  • Lucy Kaplansky, Goodnight My Angel (orig. Billy Joel)
  • Eliza Gilkyson, Child Of Mine (orig. Carole King)
    A pair from the incredible kidfolk compilation Down at the Sea Hotel: Cover Lay Down fave Lucy Kaplansky with a gorgeous tune originally penned by Billy Joel for his own daughter, and Eliza Gilkyson with a breathy, slow country blues take on a Goffin/King classic which suggests misty-eyed regret even as the lyrics celebrate a child’s independence.

  • Shawn Colvin, Say A Little Prayer (orig. Greg Brown)
    So many female coverversions of songs written by fathers for their daughters. This one, which treats the late-night illness of a child with a stoicism and a lightness masking the secret fear all parents have for their sick children, is more poignant than many, more mystical than most. Shawn Colvin is but one of many strong folkwomen on the highly recommended all-female Greg Brown tribute Going Driftless.

  • John Hiatt and Loudon Wainwright III, My Girl (orig. Smokey Robinson)
    Languid and dreamy, floated over a majestic piano and guitarstrum, the beauty of this version lies in the distance between Wainwright’s melodic voice and Hiatt’s rasp. Listen for the high harmony; it’s chilling. Originally a B-side, subsequently off out-of-print Demon Records compilation album From Hell to Obscurity.

  • Ani DiFranco w/ Jackie Chan, Unforgettable (orig. Nat King Cole)
    Originally a song with unspecified female subject, this song was transformed when Natalie Cole chose to re-record it with the ghost of her father. Though the end result was a song more from daughter to father than the other way around, I think the sentiment holds, even in Ani DiFranco and Jackie Chan’s unusual take. From When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You’d Hear.

  • Ben Lee, In My Life (orig. The Beatles)
  • Chantal Kreviazuk, In My Life (ibid.)
    This song may not have been intended to speak to the way all other loves pale in comparison to the sudden, deep love we feel for our chidren, almost from the moment they are born. But it says it, all the same. Many good versions to choose from here; in the interest of diversity, here’s Aussie Ben Lee‘s tentative, nasal tenor and slow wash of sound off of recent indie tribute album This Bird Has Flown, in sharp contrast with Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk‘s bright soprano, layered over production suprisingly similar to the original, from the Providence soundtrack.

  • Billy Bragg w/ Cara Tivey, She’s Leaving Home (orig. The Beatles)
    All my fears in one song: the parents who never truly understood their child, even as she leaves them behind without a goodbye. Another repost, and more Beatles, gorgeously performed by Billy Bragg; so tender and wistful, it’s just right for the occasion.

  • Sheryl Crow, You Can Close Your Eyes (orig. James Taylor)
    One of my very favorite songs to sing to children: a stunningly simple lullaby of eternal parent/child tomorrows from James Taylor, covered in folkpop well enough for a Grammy nomination for Sheryl Crow in the Best Pop Female Vocalist category. [Edit: though William Fitzsimmons' version, recorded after this was originally posted, remains my favorite.]

  • Gray Sky Girls, You Are My Sunshine (orig. Jimmie Davis)
    I sing this song to my children, as my parents sung this song to me. Though the Elizabeth Mitchell version I posted in our very first Covered in Kidfolk post [edit: and again in January, 2010] sounds more like my parents, the simple, sweet plaintive harmony from local “organic country slowgrass” folkies Gray Sky Girls best parallels that which I hear in my head and heart.

As always, artist and album links above go to online sources for purchasing genuine plastic circles which offer the best chance of profit for musicians, and the least amount of corporate middleman skim-off. Teach your children well: support the artists you listen to.

1,712 comments » | Kidfolk

Take It Down: Music Blogging Behind The Scenes

April 11th, 2010 — 09:06 pm

May you live in interesting times, says the old apocryphal proverb and curse, and we do: as I teach my students each December and May, the rise of the digital is in full swing, and even as the window of possibility that digital technologies have wrought begins to close, the power to leverage this new technology and fundamentally wrest society’s power back into the hands of the people still theoretically lurks among us – though the Huxleyan tendency towards passivity, and the wont of those in power to work to stay in power, mean the deck is stacked high against us, indeed.

It is an interesting time to be a musician. DYI is the name of the game, though the profitability remains amorphous, the path unclear, the vocational pursuit of artistry and songcraft providing more hope than promise for almost every player involved. Today’s All Things Considered feature on gleefully grinning, geeky YouTube sensations Pomplamoose is but an anecdote in a sea of anecdote, a feature on a couple who have made it for now despite the odds, yet who have no solid evidence that, come the end of the world in 2012, they will still find themselves able to support even the most simple of lifestyles working in a similar vein.

The lot of the music blogger is equally in flux. Here at Cover Lay Down, our popularity has risen in leaps and bounds over a period of a few short months; among other benefits, the recognition has brought a recent prompt from a major world music label which shall go unnamed, asking me for suggestions for upcoming compilations, and offering both a booklet mention and a finder’s fee for any successes. I’m grateful for the attention, and happy to share – after all, it serves the art and artists we love to be so well positioned, and in the end, I’m in it for their future, and my childrens’, before anything else.

But the other side of the ledger is heavy, too, and getting heavier. With a rise in popularity comes a shift in server costs: last month, visitors downloaded almost 1.5 Terabytes of music from Cover Lay Down, almost 50% over my current bandwidth allotment. Though the fine folks at iMountain were nice enough to cut me a one-time deal, at this rate, I’ll be paying more for the blog by June than our one-salary family of four pays for groceries each month.

Attention begets attention, too. Close statwatching in the aftermath of last month’s overage reveals that roughly 20% of my bandwidth issues are caused by illegal use of my files – mostly, from users in China and Spain playing files hosted at Cover Lay Down’s server through their own pages and search engines and forums. Such “hotlinking”, as it’s called in the techworld, is truly theft – after all, I pay for file hosting in order to connect musicians and fans; taking that bandwidth costs me money, divorcing the songs from the text removes the potential for artists to be discovered, and we all lose out. As such, in the coming weeks, I will be working behind the scenes to ensure, as best I can, that the only places folks will be able to listen to and download the songs we link to will be here, your own feedreader, sister blog Star Maker Machine, and the few aggregators which we trust.

But more global influences take their toll, too. The passage of the “draconian” UK Digital Economy Bill last week, as chronicled by BoingBoing, casts a dark shadow over the future of music blogging and other legal fan-based sharing media. The act, which requires ISPs to cut off Internet access for an entire household, school, or business for an entire year after even the most egregiously unfounded accusations of piracy and copyright violation, makes the DMCA – the US law which continues to wreak havoc on long-established blogs, most recently causing major players Keep The Coffee Coming and My Old Kentucky Blog to disappear from the blogger rolls – look like child’s play.

- music to mourn the digital crackdown to -

What does this all mean for you, the reader? Two things, I think:

First: keeping archived music up forever is a huge driver of our recent bandwidth overage. And – to be fair – my intention here was never to provide a permanent archive for music which, in the end, we want you to buy from the artist, the better to keep them in the studio and on tour. As Heather puts it so well, music blog mp3s are designed to be temporary temptations, surprisingly good tidbits that only work if you go on to buy, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you’ll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log.

As such – in order to stay true to our mission, in order to minimize the possibility for hotlinking and bandwidth theft, and in order to maximize the possibility that we can continue to afford to bring you rich, thorough sets on a bi-weekly basis – all files at Cover Lay Down will henceforth be up no longer than six months. With a twice-weekly publishing rate, that’s about 50 posts live at any given time.

If you’re new here, please note that you have about a week left to peruse the archives with full download capability. After that time, though the written archives will remain forever open, all music files posted before November 2009 will be deleted.

- music to stay honest to -

Second: the recent surge in bandwidth costs have cut recent donations down to the bone, and costs are rising every month. Though donations help defray server costs, it’s still my own wallet which bears the brunt of the cost for this little hobby. Cover Lay Down has faithfully served the public for two and a half years, and we’d like to continue, but we need your help.

If you’ve been reading along for a while, and have been thinking about donating a few bucks – even one dollar – to help us keep the place afloat, now’s the time to put your money where your heart and appreciation are.

You can donate to Cover Lay Down here. We hope you’ll consider it. Heck, we’ll even throw in a free gift.

- music to donate to –

Of course, though we need your donations to stay afloat, we also ask that you remember our mandate, and support the artists we present here as best you can. If you hear songs you like, pursue the artists that perform those songs avidly, with pocketbook and pen, tickets and facebook fandom. Water the music tree, lest it wither and die.

And if you encounter one of “our” songs hosted on another page, please let us know, so we can send a nice note along reminding people to stay honest, and insist that these songs remain forever stuck to the words which tout them, and the musicians who crafted them…at least until they become stuck in your ears, too, and you cannot help but dance.

Thanks, folks. May the music be with you, always.

- music to dance joyously to –

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and song sets each Wednesday and Sunday. And with your help, we aim to keep it that way.

1,192 comments » | metablog

Gillian Welch Covers:
John Hartford, Neil Young, Greg Brown, Townes Van Zandt & more!

April 7th, 2010 — 09:58 pm

The songs of Gillian Welch – predominantly written and performed by Welch and her long-time partner David Rawlings – have been a constant presence here at Cover Lay Down, both here-and-there as warranted, and in two discrete features: the first a 2008 tribute to the artist, the second a 2009 ten-track collection of covers of the song Orphan Girl.

As such, we’ve written about the musical duo known as Gillian Welch thoroughly, and there’s little need to recap, save to note that if you don’t already own her entire four-record discography, you really, really should take the time to pick it up.

But although the Gillian Welch songbook is so highly respected as to offer an extraordinarily rich and diverse opportunity for those of us who appreciate the tribute and transformation that coverage brings, so, too, do the archives host a precious collection of Welch’s own interpretation of others’ songs, rarities and b-sides all, from the broken-souled troubadour poets Townes Van Zandt, John Hartford, and Robert Earl Keen to Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead, Gram Parsons, and other astute chroniclers of the human condition.

And tonight the unseasonable heat wave here in New England pushes down on the soul, putting us in mind of some true-blue dustbowl-driven American Primitive music: sultry, sepia-toned, heroin-paced, thick with drawl and Rawling’s ever-so-sweet harmonies and trademark 1935 Epiphone guitar, and steeped in the sweat of the downtrodden, the lean, the hopeless, and the God-forsaken. Bring on the good stuff.

Today’s Bonus Track: Welch and Rawlings haven’t released an album under the Gillian Welch name since 2003 tour-de-force Soul Journey, but last year’s A Friend Of A Friend, which was released under the Dave Rawlings Machine moniker, is still a partnered work, albeit with Rawlings’ voice and slightly sharper string-style at center stage, and it features a delicious dual Conor Oberst/Neil Young cover. The pair are pretty bent on keeping the studio recording off the blogs, as is their right, but here’s a live version done up right from a recent visit to the Daytrotter studios.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Gillian Welch covers Radiohead’s Black Star, plus two solar systems’ worth of other coversongs about space.

1,470 comments » | David Rawlings, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch

New Artists, Old Songs: 80′s Edition
(Covers of Toto, U2, Chris Isaak, New Order, John Mellencamp & more!)

April 3rd, 2010 — 08:15 pm

It’s a conceit of modern music critics and bloggers to approach songs and albums as objects, and songwriters and performers as producers of those objects. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Nominally, at least, our purpose is to provoke fandom and sales; from a critical perspective, the act of listening is best done as a focused activity, the better to isolate and describe those elements which make a particular song, album, performer or performance worthy of our limited attention, and our purchasing power.

But the coverfolk approach goes deeper by its very nature. Recasting or replaying familiar and deeply resonant songs evokes time and space, reminding us that, more often than not, in our daily lives, music comes to us as an integral part of an inhabitable environment, rather than as something discrete and objectifiable. To consider songs as part and parcel of our selves – historical, social, psychological, and otherwise – is to pursue the folkways: to recognize the power and the reality of song as tied as much to who we are as it is tied to what the song is. And it is that ethnographic approach, which asks us to re-couple song with its community and its incidence, which we aspire to here at Cover Lay Down.

That means that who I am, in particular – not just as a listener and writer with a particular taste, but as a being-in-time-and-space: a parent, a teacher, a male-gendered 37 year old who lives rurally and as connected to the earth and community as possible – is as vital to what we do here as the situation and histories of the folk-minded musicians who we feature. And so, as a child of the eighties, it’s a special delight to find the mailbox so full of those tunes whose lyrics and melodies live deeply inside me, embedded in my formative memories.

Today, as a mechanism for getting back on track after a short series of topical posts driven by exhaustion and fullness outside of my life as a coverblogger, we turn to that mailbox, and to a series of recent arrivals from new and newly-transformed artists whose coverage of that decade has delighted our senses in the last month or two. Ladies and Gentlemen: new artists, covering the 80′s.

We start today by breaking the mold a bit: I’ve featured The Infamous Stringdusters several times since our inception in 2007, most thoroughly back in 2008 upon the release of their second full-length, an eponymous live album that only cemented their rightful place atop the pantheon of young bluegrass bands. But although the six-man collaborative – who won awards for IBMA Album, Song and Emerging Artist of the Year for their 2006 debut Fork In the Road – is no longer “new”, their new album Things That Fly, due April 20th, represents a full transformation of their sound: a movement from typically crisp bluegrass to something dripping with reverb and high-production dynamics that will surely help to broaden their already stellar reputation as highly energetic, highly skilled craftsmen.

Setting new cover In God’s Country up against 3×5 – a John Mayer cover from Fork in the Road – provides an easy roadmap for the band’s evolution: both are stellar and strong, but the newer work comes across as more lush, vivid, and holistically expansive without sacrificing a whit of the good stuff. The rest of Things That Fly is much of the same, and comes highly recommended; thanks, as always, to Sugar Hill Records for granting permission for us to be the very first to stream this exclusive track.

  • The Infamous Stringdusters: In God’s Country (orig. U2)

    (from Things That Fly, due April 20, 2010)

This is the first attempt at acoustic music from Ryan Avery, a classically trained violinist who more typically performs “breakbeat electronica” under the moniker Chance’s End. But don’t hold that against Avery and his current performing partner and cowriter Emily Zisman (guitar and vox): the experiment is a great success, producing a delicious cover of an 80′s one-hitters’ tune long buried in the psyche that transforms the urgency of the the synth-heavy original into something lighter, yet somehow wistful and pensive, the lyrical longing revealed through the sparse and fluid tones of a late-night recording session. Fiddle-driven and simply arranged, yet utterly gorgeous. Check out YouTube for a simple but effective simulcast that reveals the production process.

File it under new-to-me: though it’s from a 2007 covers album, this delicious cover of Chris Isaak’s breakthrough tune from California-based Celtic/soul duo Gypsy Soul comes courtesy of an unsolicited reader recommendation, and I’m thrilled to have been introduced to their genre-busting work. The track in question starts off acoustic and slow, the sultry, warm vibrato voice of lead singer Cilette Swann supported by producer/musician Roman Morykit’s orchestral strings. But give it a minute: elements of alt-country and Americana licks, and the contemporary pop harmonies, crescendoes and tones of Sara McLachlan emerge as the plot thickens and builds.

The end result is a truly enjoyable journey, more melancholy than the original but equally vivid, new eyes guiding us through familiar territory. The album it comes from runs deep and wide, from contemporary folk to Celtic-tinged pop to dusty, growling Americana, a perfect mix for the modern folkfan who thinks they’ve heard it all. I’m planning on ordering a few copies, myself.

Emerging Vermont singer-songwriter Jer Coons‘ slow, sensitive take on the Jackson 5 classic I Want You Back was released free to the airwaves back in December, a blog-borne teaser to keep the buzz going after the release of his lovely debut Speak; in recent weeks, as part of his ongoing Sunsets with Jer YouTube series, we’ve also been blessed with his cover of Love Vigilantes, a New Order tune I remember fondly, both in the original and and, more recently, as performed by both countryfolk champion Laura Cantrell and indiefolk blog favorite Iron & Wine.

The full-court cover-press seems to be working: Coons is selling out venues on tour up and down the East Coast, and though I’m disappointed to have missed the chance to see him as he passed through Northampton recently, surely my loss is others’ gain. Recent gigs opening for John Oates – yes, really – who has recently begun to leverage his own success in the eighties towards a career as a solo folk musician grounded in the sounds of the early folk revivalists, provide an additional connection to this week’s theme, and merit a bonus track from Oates himself off a recently-featured tribute to the Greenwich Village scene.

Bonus tracks:

I’m embarrassed to note that the original album from which this next song comes was one of my first pre-adolescent purchases. But Ana Silvera‘s cover of Toto’s Rosanna is perfectly gorgeous, etherial and wistful and heartbreaking and broken, and worth sharing on its own merits; I’m pleased as punch to be the first to bring it to the web.

And now’s the time to check her out, as her star begins to rise. British-born but now relocated to Brooklyn, Silvera – an operatically trained singer-songwriter and pianist with a penchant for lush arrangements, classical literary and historical textual allusions, and an utterly stunning “nouvelle chanteuse” voice – has already made major waves in both the NYC and London/Cambridge scenes despite a comprehensive lack of recordings, most recently for a 2007 collaboration with UK freak folk sensation Yo Zushi, and work with several members of Antony and the Johnsons.

Silvera’s first single Hometown, a first release from a pending debut album that promises more of the same, dropped March 11, and I absolutely love it. the YouTube video and the track itself reveal strong shades of Regina Spektor, with piano-led orchestration, fluid vocal dynamics, and blue-sky rise-and-fall tones; reportedly, Silvera also covers No Me Quitte Pas in concert, a favorite of Spektor’s. But there’s also something of Maura O’Connell’s vocal prowess in this cover, and that’s a potent combination, indeed. Purchase Hometown now to whet your whistle, check out Wears The Trousers for more about Silvera herself, and keep an eye on her webspaces for the full release.

Johnny Gruber, who records under the name Knock ‘Em Alive, describes his work as a mix of “electro, power pop, and indie bubblegum rock”, and aptly so. His cover of Paper In Fire is truly a radio rock song, which puts it pretty far to the boundaries here, so I’ll keep the writing short – but I just couldn’t resist this Mellencamp remake, Gruber’s first-ever attempt at recording a cover, and an exclusive here at Cover Lay Down.

We close our celebration of all things 80′s today with a bang, and a return to the broad mountain-music roots of bluegrass. The band: Kingsley Flood; the sound, my favorite kind of ragged, rootsy, post-Americana/indie group vibe. Led by perceptive lyricist Naseem Khuri, the new quintet out of Boston’s Berklee scene eschews comparisons to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, preferring to tout equally valid and exciting connections to a wider base of influences, from Joe Strummer and The Replacements to Calexico, Guthrie, and The Band. Me, I hear ‘em all, and the combination of quintessential American characters and settings, cohesive sound, bluegrass-and-then-some instrumentation, and high-energy hybridfolk arrangements is keeping me up nights grinnin’.

This live cover of Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole is solid, bluesy and bar-ready, but the crowd recording doesn’t do the full studio potency of the band justice. So for more originals from debut CD Dust Windows, which dropped today, head over to Front Porch Musings, who posted not one but four stellar tracks. I’m especially enamored of Cathedral Walls, and the poppy trumpet-driven melodic rawness of A Little Too Old seems ready to take the indie blogs by storm, but it’s all very, very good.

Missed yesterday’s teaser post? Then don’t forget to head on back for a deliciously sparse take on a New Kids On The Block classic!

1,404 comments » | 80s, New Artists Old Songs

New Artists, Old Songs:
Huff This! covers a New Kids On The Block classic

April 2nd, 2010 — 08:26 pm

I’m working on an 80′s feature for Sunday. This one just couldn’t wait.

Ah, the tongue-in-cheekiness of a New Kids On The Block cover.

It’s tempting to dismiss this sort of project as less than serious: a cheesy boyband pop song; a band named after a peer pressure command; yet another arty, lo-fi video. But there’s something oddly earnest and genuine about the way Huff This! approaches a song I thought I never wanted to hear again.

The music hovers between performance art and studio craft: sweetly casual, slightly anti-punk indiefolk, a raw and tender cover well worth sharing. And Director Ben Berlin’s video is a satirical tour de force, slowing down the cheesiness until it takes on a kind of slo-mo grace, reflecting our hungry gaze back on ourselves through the use of underage and real-bodied dancers and oddly-framed beauties, framing it all in an indie director’s angsty rooftop lens.

Dancer-slash-band frontwoman Alison Clancy, who sent the track along, is clearly both serious about her art, and playful enough to take the risk. You should be, too.

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming later this weekend: new and emerging artists cover U2, Toto, Chris Isaak, New Order, Tom Waits, John Mellencamp and more favorite hits from the 80′s!

2,129 comments » | Huff This!, YouTube