Archive for March 2011

Mailbox Mayhem: Hezekiah Jones, Corin Joel, Jason & Pharis
and more new and newly-found music from you, you, and you!

March 28th, 2011 — 10:32 pm

Cover Lay Down is still on semi-hiatus as March comes to a close, but I’m still listening to great music, thanks in no small part to fans, readers, musicians, and bloggers who have sent strong and beautiful covers our way in the last couple of weeks. In their honor, then, and yours: here’s some quick quote-heavy blips from the atmosphere to keep your ears and minds humming while we manage the toils and trials of the real world.

One-time Cover Lay Down guest blogger Sandy of Slowcoustic has always been a great source for the sparse, rough, and ragged end of new folk music, but since he started indie label Yer Bird Records, he’s become a powerful force for promoting and engendering the newest good stuff on the market, too. This month’s delight comes from Hezekiah Jones, “a collection of Philadelphia-area artists orbiting around the songwriting talents of one Raphael Cutrufello”, whose new album Have You Seen Our New Fort? drops this Tuesday, March 29th; the song, a cover of David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes, was originally recorded for a compilation that never came to be, but according to Sandy, there’s also “a fantastic cover of Chris Bathgate’s Last Parade on Ann St.” on the impending record – and I trust his judgement enough to put myself on the short list for pre-order.

There’s also a great and growing set of soundboard-sourced live tracks up at Yer Bird to celebrate, from a 2009 show with Hezekiah Jones and friends: I’ve included a pair of these below, along with another cover from another session earlier this year, but the list has been growing and will keep doing so until the release date, so don’t forget to check it out tomorrow, too.

Bonus Tracks:

We found and posted Corin Joel‘s fun, soft, tongue-in-cheek take on Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl way back in early 2009, thanks to a passalong from fellow singer-songwriter Joel Rakes, and folks seemed to like it – which makes me happy, as, after all, the whole point of this little enterprise is to help connect fans to artists through coverage. This week, the Delaware-based singer-songwriter and supposed piano rocker who claims “i usually hate everything i write, so lately i’ve been getting down on teenage pop cover songs, no big whoop” sent us a new cover, similar in approach but rich in atmospheric piano and strings, of Britney Spears song Hold It Against Me, and it goes a long way towards proving that the power and sensitivity we found in the artist’s work is no fluke – though to be fair, the Kesha and Justin Bieber covers also available free for download on his website are quite a bit more poppy.

Bonus Track:

Paul Vens, a Dutch singer-songwriter and folk fan who has been recording since the early eighties, first on Warner and then on his own independent label, wrote today to let me know that “Today I’ve seen an article about your work in the Dutch magazine New Folk Sounds“, a web-and-print pub which he describes as “a small, fine and honest magazine about acoustic folk music” – the whole thing is quite cool, even though I have no idea what it says. He also sent along three great covers of his own, and they’re surprisingly good, with deliberate instrumentation, a quiet, pensive voice, and a sensibility that’s balanced quite nicely between Traditional Britfolk and the revival movement of the sixties. Listen more than once to each, to let ‘em sink in, check out his entry on Folk Alley’s Open Mic for samples and more English-language info, and we’ll be back as soon as we can with more.

Finally, friend and admirer Paul of Westby, Wisconsin passes along this delightful YouTube cover from banjo-builders and old-timey aficcionados Pharis & Jason Romero, recorded at the Portland Old Time Music Gathering back in January of this year. I’d never heard of Pharis and Jason, who apparently spend their time handcrafting sounds and custom instruments on the road and out of their Horsefly, BC-based studio, but I’m quite impressed: not only is theirs a beautiful, gentle, almost perfect folk-gospel take on a classic bluegrass tune made popular by the Everly Brothers, it’s the clearest, crispest live recording I’ve ever heard – kudos to the sound engineer, whomever he or she may be.

Pharis & Jason: I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail (trad.)

Bonus Track: Pharis & Jason: Forsaken Love (orig. Carter Family)

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Crazy Coverfolk: Insanity Defined In Song

March 18th, 2011 — 04:34 pm

Hectic doesn’t begin to describe my life these days. Two weeks away from curtain in our local production of Alice In Wonderland, with a title role in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe waiting in the wings, my brain swims with characterizations, half-learned lines and dance moves. School Committee work comes to a head now, too, with budget season and the superintendent’s evaluation on our plate, and a town demanding answers as budget dollars continue to sink. Back at work, state testing begins next week, making a hash of curriculum even as we push the full-court press to prep kids for last-minute strategies in an inner-city school where “at risk” describes every element of our lives, from our students to their home situations to the ability of teachers to count on continued employment, and where continued mediocrity will surely bring state closure, or worse.

And though these are the “big three”, there’s also a thousand other things: Church Choir, where I’m leading the upcoming kids choir performance; a summer technology integration workshop for a homeschool organization I’ve been contracted to develop; a basement flooded by Spring thaw; all the daily minutia of a stable existence which clutter the calendar, and nag at the brain.

The result: most days I’m at work from sunup to sundown, staying after school to catch up on curriculum and grading; most nights I’m missing one thing to make it to another. Three times this week I never even made it home between leave-for-work and kid bedtime; I’ve forgotten to eat lunch twice, and eaten supper in the car between gigs three times. Weekends are for church, rehearsal, rehearsal, church. I see my kids in passing, if at all. And my sleep schedule has dropped to three hours a night, leaving the brain fuzzy and full.

It’s enough to make a man go crazy – and I would, too, if my wife wasn’t there to help me manage my time and energy from afar, even as she spends her days making costumes and sets for Alice. It’s enough to knock me off schedule for blogging, too. While we wait for a break in the clouds, here’s a soundtrack for the insanity that haunts me, lurking ever in the peripheral vision as I struggle to stay on top of it all.

Cover Lay Down posts new folkfeatures and coversets twice weekly.

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Monday Madness: Reid Jamieson covers 1969
(a full album release-day exclusive!)

March 14th, 2011 — 05:26 pm

Loving a musician can be sweet, indeed. Today’s evidence: as a present for his wife’s birthday, Cover Lay Down’s favorite Canadian singer-songwriter Reid Jamieson cut her a full album’s worth of hits from 1969, and the collection is a delight, full of sunshine and daisies, loose and light with love and affection. Says Carolyn:

“Reid actually recorded these songs in secret – right under my nose – over the last 2 weeks when not at work, rehearsal or sleeping and eating. He even hid a new snare drum in his laundry basket the whole time so I wouldn’t think something was up.”

The songs are mostly all one- and two-take session work, making their sheer success a tribute to Reid’s talent, and to his love for the birthday girl in question. But we’ve got full permission from the beaming recipient to share ‘em with impunity, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Reid’s self-proclaimed “midwife of song”. Snag what you will, leave a birthday wish for Carolyn in the comments if you so choose, and then head over to Reid’s homepage to purchase and sample more of the same, the better to keep the happy couple going for years to come.

Are you new to all things Reid? Then don’t forget to head back in time for our previous feature, wherein Reid Jamieson covers Elvis, Madonna, Sting, Lionel Richie, the 6ths, Laura Viers & more!

793 comments » | Reid Jamieson

(Re)Covered, Vol. XIX: More coverfolk of and from
Stevie Wonder, Sara Lov, Edie Carey, The Water Is Wide & more!

March 12th, 2011 — 06:26 pm

Early this week, my trusty, relatively rusty laptop went kaput, leaving me stranded with but an iPad to access the universe. With 50,000 songs and their library locked in limbo, and the iPad unable to load the full WordPress interface, I was in no position to let folks know what was happening behind the scenes; the resulting radio silence through what is usually a midweek blog feature deadline was frustrating, and I apologize for leaving regular visitors hanging on the line.

Today is a recovered day in more ways than one, then: not only is the world outside melting down to Spring, revealing last year’s leaves still unraked across the slowly surfacing front lawn, but I am once again able to blog with impunity. And for this, I owe much thanks to the fine folks at Apple, who – over the course of a very stressful week – imported every last file and bookmark from the old, inoperable machine into a new one, and proudly presented me this morning with a sleek 2011 MacBook Pro that feels delightfully new under my fingertips, yet on the screen looks and behaves like an old friend, down to its interface and organizational infrastructure.

And so here we are, grateful and relieved, with credit card maxed out but once again able to step wholeheartedly into the blogging fray. And given the context, it’s a perfect time to explore the ways in which the past echoes through the present through another edition of our popular (Re)Covered series, featuring new and newly-discovered songs that revealed themselves just a little too late to make it into the original posts where they rightfully belonged.

Sara Lov runs a little pop for the trad set, but people seemed to appreciate her joyful way with the songs she clearly loves, and we loved her playful, well-crafted covers of Beck’s Timebomb and Arcade Fire’s My Body Is A Cage enough to feature her prominently in the midst of our New Artists, Old Songs Week way back in 2008. So it’s especially exciting to note that her mid-February release, I Already Love You, is a full-bore covers album, one that pays tribute to an especially broad set of influences from Frank Sinatra and The Thompson Twins to others, like Ron Sexsmith, The Smiths, and Conor Oberst, more commonly cited among the indiepop world.

The production here is especially inspired, akin to the best settings and soundscapes of Aimee Mann or Rosie Thomas. Sara’s Sexsmith cover contains just enough of both Sexsmith’s signature slippery vocal mannerisms and the signature twang of the original guitar to ring familiar without sounding derivative; her Vasti Bunyan waltz, a delicate, lazy revelation, benefits greatly from its strings and piano; her take on Magnetic Fields classic Papa Was A Rodeo has AAA Radioplay in every perfect downbeat. But in the end, it is Sara’s voice, sweet and warm and ever so slightly rasped, which makes these songs ring out loud and true. Check out these tracks, and then – once you’ve heard their value, and extrapolated accordingly – head over to Sara’s website to pick up the whole thing for a donation of your choice.

Bonus Tracks, since they’re long gone otherwise:

I tend to do as much research as I can when presenting new discoveries, the better to provide thorough context for you to embrace new artists, as our mandate encourages. But though my Google Fu is highly honed, thanks to vocationally-relevant post-graduate coursework in webbed research methods, our ability to be comprehensive in such introductions can be stymied by multiple factors, from the tendency of older works to fall out of print to the modern digital dilemma which trades speed and ease of access for the loss of liner notes which might aid us in matching names to voices in the works of others.

New discoveries from two recently celebrated folk artists provide ample evidence for the effects of these limitations, and for why we depend on you to fill the gaps in our knowledge. We owe our first find to Lucas Miré, a fine singer-songwriter in his own right who we featured way back in 2009, who followed up on last weekend’s feature on Edie Carey by sending along this amazing cut from It’s Gonna Be Great, Carey’s 2008 cover-heavy out-of-print collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins (often featured here for her own collaborative work with Boston singer-songwriter Rose Polenzani), along with notice that he was recently privileged to host Carey in the studio to accompany him on one of his own recordings, leaving us eager to hear more when the time is ripe. And the second? Turns out it was actually already in my archives – but it took notice from a reader to realize that not only does recently celebrated NY-based bluegrass musician Michael Daves tour with Tony Trischka, he also lends his highly trained, powerfully barbaric tenor yawp voice to several tunes on Trischka’s more recent albums.

Speaking of Daves, and Trischka, and of the bluegrass world which we explored after our recent trip to the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival: We mentioned loving their stage companion Tashina Clarridge in that entry, but I should also note that my own impression of her performance was supported by fellow fiddler Andy Reiner, of Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, who I met over lunch in the lounge later that day – and given how friendly Andy was, and how avidly we touted their work as they prepared to take the mainstage as winners of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s 2008 Emerging Artist Showcase, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that after a single EP, and several years of smaller-scale YouTube and web releases, BMUZ finally released their first full-length album in November, and it’s a beautiful romp, combining old time americana with scandinavian folk and other influences to great effect. The Berklee College crowd just keeps impressing us, eh? Here’s a slippery teaser from Rousted, plus a track we posted way back when we first discovered them.

Bonus Track:

I love my wife, but let’s be honest: because she is one of those people who own one or two albums per mood, and because as a folk-listener she has a strong preference for soaring high-soprano celtic sirens, I don’t usually look to her to introduce me to new music. Nor do I usually end up listening long to recommendations from my mother, who trends towards the syrupy sweet end of folk.

Still, when I heard this version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground filling the living room as a soundtrack to a recent cleaning binge, I couldn’t help but rush to the stereo to figure out how I missed this one in our recent Covered In Folk feature on Wonder’s songbook. Turns out that’s one-time Cover Lay Down feature artist, ex-Nickel Creek and current WPA member Sara Watkins on vox with Darol Anger’s American Fiddle Ensemble, whose “gloriously eclectic album” Republic of Strings was released was back in 2004, and then passed along to us by my mother just a few years ago. Guess that’ll teach me to keep my ears and mind open – and to digitize everything when I get it, so it shows up when I search iTunes.

Finally, as expected, our Valentine’s Day 2011 Single Song Sunday feature on the scottish ballad The Water Is Wide brought some fine versions out of the woodwork. Some of these submissions came from you, our readership, via comments and emails; standouts here included takes from Luka Bloom and Steve Goodman, both of whom we’ve covered before here and there in our tenure, and an amazing Emmylou Harris-led multi-artist take from Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration at Madison Square Garden in May of 2009 which, frankly, just makes me ache for the availability and cashflow to attend such things.

Sheer chance landed us a brand new-to-us cover of the traditional tune, too: mere days after we posted the original entry, I found a set of CDs from dulcimer player and singer-songwriter Thomasina, a former Connecticut State Troubadour, in the mailbox, and her 2003 setting of the song, which is built around a previously recorded piano arrangement from friend Monica Robelotto, is a beautiful standout among strong tracks for those who prefer their folk a bit more formally phrased. Here’s the lot, with grateful thanks to all those who pass along the good stuff, and a recommendation that you also check out both the Cowboy Junkies’ and the Maura O’Connell versions of the song if you can find ‘em.

764 comments » | (Re)Covered, Sara Lov

New Artists, Old Songs, Vol. XX:
Amy Black, Edie Carey, Delaney Davidson, and Albert Niland
cover Kris Delmhorst, Shawn Colvin, Kate Bush, In The Pines & more!

March 7th, 2011 — 11:15 pm

The mailbag overfloweth with good wheat among the chaff, and it’s been a long time since we took the time to sit down and sort out the tunes for your listening pleasure. Over the next few weeks, then, we hope to resurrect some old standard features, which help us get at the new and new-to-you stuff before the novelty wears off. Today’s kick-starter: a heap of new and “new to me” albums and songs that introduced me to rising-star folk artists you should get to know, too.

Drummer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Lorne Entress sure knows how to pick ‘em. Perhaps best known in the folkworld for his support of the Boston crowd of singer-songwriters – a body of work that includes producer credits on Mark Erelli, Lori McKenna, and Catie Curtis albums, distinctive percussion on Dave Carter’s catalog and Erin McKeown’s Distillation, and musical direction for Signature Sounds 10th Anniversary Show – next to Signature Sounds’ own Jim Olsen, the man has arguably had more influence on my own musical tastes in the past decade than any other in the industry.

Entress’ newest find, Boston-based Amy Black, is a second-career artist, who spent a decade in the world of business before putting out an all-covers countryfolk album last year under the name Amy Black and the Red Clay Rascals to fairly solid critical success but very little fanfare or airplay. Now, on March 29, Black returns with One Time, recorded under her own name alone, and though the production still swings full and rich, the turn from bandleader to singer-songwriter has brought her clear voice and sweet tonality to the forefront, turning her towards Americana with a taste of folkrock and a range of sound that goes effortlessly from sweet balladry to deep roots without a whit of sacrifice, and everyone benefits.

As we heard in their cover of Ain’t No Sunshine, posted in last week’s tribute to the songs of Bill Withers, Black’s debut had more than a hint of twang and swing, resulting in a landscape not unlike that of Red Molly, and it’s present here, too, especially in cuts like her Loretta Lynn cover, and her take on tradfolk tune Ain’t No Grave. But the new solo turn runs deeper, too, as heard in her slow, dusty, dobro-driven Kris Delmhorst cover, and a spate of originals that reveal a burgeoning talent worthy of Entress, and of you.

Amy’s CD release will take place at Club Passim in Boston on the afternoon of April 3rd, with Entress on drums and a full band to boot; the show will be filmed for an upcoming DVD, so get your tickets now if you want to have your own hoot and holler added to her next release. Out of towners take note: check her out via facebook, and you can even win a full prize package with hotel accommodations, brunch, CDs and t-shirts, show tickets for the CD release, and more. In the meantime, head on over to Amy Black’s website to pick up a free track for an email address, and pre-order while you’re at it – you’ll not regret it.

I caught Edie Carey opening for Catie Curtis last month at the Iron Horse – my favorite folk club, in the heart of Northampton, MA – and something struck me as familiar, until finally I placed it: in style and sound, Carey comes across as a slightly more upper-middle class Lori McKenna, with a bit more lightness and a little less raw pain and hardship in her voice, and a tendency towards full-bellied songcraft that ranges primarily from tender to celebratory. The combination works wonders in live tracks such as Diamond in the Rough, a favorite Shawn Colvin tune, and the cover makes a great entry point for the whimsy and clearheaded optimism that reveals itself in much of her catalog – and which made her a great traveling companion for Curtis, who is known for a touch of the lighter side, herself.

But listen long enough, and you’ll see there’s more to this artist than just the easy stuff. 2010 release Bring The Sea, especially – seventh in a series, and the third in her catalog funded entirely by her growing legion of appreciative fans – is a stunning tour de force of contemporary folk, pensive and gentle from track one, with support from the likes of Glen Phillips and Shawn Mullins lending credence to her deepening craft and relevance. And the Cory Chisel cover it contains is dark enough in spades, revealing depths worth plumbing just under the surface.

The Iron Horse has a knack for introducing me to artists on the cusp of mega-star fame – I saw both Nellie McKay and Sara Barielles as opening acts there, long before they could fill the room, let alone the charts. Here’s hoping the same thing happens to Edie – she deserves it.

Kiwi artist Delaney Davidson came to me via fanmail passalong, and thank goodness for that – else I’d never have discovered the grungy, alt-country stylings of this self-styled “vagabond folk” artist from the other side of the world. Davidson traffics in multiple genres – he’s put out work both solo and in collaboration that runs from full-band indie altrock to true blue roots music – but he wears his vast and varied influences on his sleeve in all incarnations, and his cover choices are especially revealing: his timeless multiply-dubbed take on tradfolk classic In The Pines sounds like it’s been filtered through both back porch punk and a tin can O Brother Where Art Thou and back again, and the ramshackle punkabilly southern blues turn on the obscenity-laden Dirty Dozen contains its own irony, as if it came right out of a Tarrantino soundtrack. Fans of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, rejoice: here’s your savior, after all.

VIDEO: Delaney Davidson: In The Pines (live)

Finally: I know almost nothing about Irish singer-songwriter and apparently flamenco-influenced Albert Niland, who seems to have recorded this studio cover of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights a while back, and then performed it on Irish radio recently enough for a reader to track down the original and send it along. His website is pretty sparse, without even a bio, and there’s not much in the way of other tracks out there that I can find, either. But I know soul when I hear it. Tell me more, if you know it.

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets 2x a week.

713 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Reposted Eartunes:
Songs of silence and hearing & songs from artists with tinnitus

March 2nd, 2011 — 10:36 pm

Regular readers know that I suffer from chronic ear problems brought on by congenitally small eustachian tubes, coupled with a permanent, high-pitched half-hissing, half-ringing noise in my right ear which worsens significantly when my ears are blocked. Listening to music in this state, I once wrote, is like trying to hear the good stuff underwater, and surrounded by keening whales.

What I may not have mentioned before is that several years ago I made the decision to manage these two related medical issues by having tubes installed in both of my ears – a solution which diminishes the effect of the tinnitus, and keeps my sinuses nice and clear, but one which only works for about eight months at a time, after which the eardrum starts to crowd out the tubes, and I need to go in for a tune-up.

Which is all to explain that today, I spent my lunch hour holding my head perfectly still, chatting genially with my audiologist while he numbed, yanked, re-cored, and re-tubed my ears.

It’s frustrating to lose the hearing, even for a day or two, but it had to happen: I’m narrating a production of Tubby The Tuba on Friday, and I really needed to be able to kick the pressure and pain. I feel better, now, though the world sounds strange and hollow, as it always does for a day or two after what has become a regular, almost comforting surgery.

But until the swelling and jetsam settle down, I cannot hear a blessed thing properly.

I’ve got several features half-written – a fun piece on an artist whose new cover album I recall as quite delightful; a set of shorts which look back on some songs that came in too late to find their rightful place in a few previous entries – and was hoping to tackle the growing pile of new artists this evening. But it would be dishonest to tout something which I cannot truly experience myself. So we’ll wait until Sunday to resume new features, and in the meantime, offer two familiar and relevant song sets, first posted in January of 2009, re-compiled with addenda in September of that year, and now presented with even more bonus tracks: a full list of coversongs about silence and hearing*, and a second featuring covers of songs of and from musicians with tinnitus.

*the two links above go to the original entries on the subject, where I describe the origins of my struggle with hearing issues for the morbidly curious.

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)

Cover Lay Down posts coverfolk sets and discursive features Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon, I swear: new music and new discoveries. I think you’ll find them worth the wait.

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