Archive for June 2011

Hold Me Now:
Songs of Solace, Hope & Sanctuary

June 28th, 2011 — 02:21 pm

They ran the last trucks through Paradise Lake Road last night, their claws clutching desperately at the piles of brush and branches which have covered the curbsides and yards since the month began. The high school seniors who worked so tirelessly to bring hope and helping hands to shellshocked neighborhoods the morning after their graduation did not happen begin to move on, visiting colleges, taking off for the summer. The church with the fallen clocktower posts daily on our facebook page, its requests sounding evermore desperate as it struggles to find enough volunteers to keep the momentum going.

The t-shirts sell, the benefits continue. The elderchild and I spend a rainy Saturday morning under a vendor tent amidst motorcyclists and their families at an underattended event, trying to raise consciousness and much-needed funds. As Meg Hutchinson, whose own hometown was hit hard by a tornado fifteen years ago, reminded us at our house concert that evening, the bright exposure of natural disaster reveals a town for what it is, and we are blessed, indeed, to live in a time and place where both the Red Cross and FEMA have let us take the lead, recognizing that we, more than most, have the talent and organization, the heart and hope to manage our own community in this time of recovery.

But it’s all uphill from here. Just as Katrina survivors still need our support, just as Haiti still struggles to rebuild, even as the streets and sidewalks clear, and the yards emerge clean and brown with new loam, we are still broken, with so much left to do that it overwhelms the senses and numbs the mind.

Foundations stand empty, a testament to the lives once lived above them.

Homes and businesses remain closed, the red and yellow tags on their boarded-up windows a reminder of just how much we have left to do.

Bodies remain hungry, homeless, and sad, desperately in need of any and all help that the world can bring us.

All this, even as the news begins to turn away, and the volunteers and saints who descended on our town like a holy host of angels begin to return to their own lives, leaving us amidst the bones and seeds, the trailers and the stumps. And here we remain, against the backdrop of our second act: a landscape in potential, waiting for us to begin the hardest part of disaster recovery.

And so, as June dwindles down to naught, we offer one last plea for support.

Donate to Cover Lay Down now, and we’ll give 40% of your generous donation to the town tornado relief fund, where it will go directly to the victims and the victimized. In return, you’ll receive our 2010-2011 sampler of exclusive live covers, our blessings, and our grateful appreciation.

Please don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid to give just a dollar or two to the cause. But help us rebuild, that we may once again have the strong, vibrant places that our strong, vibrant community deserves.

Click HERE to donate to Cover Lay Down / Monson’s Tornado Relief Fund and receive your link to our exclusive live 2010 bootleg digital download. No minimum donation required – even a dollar makes a difference…

15 comments » | Uncategorized

Festival Coverfolk 2011: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, July 22-24

June 26th, 2011 — 01:08 pm

Regular readers know: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is my home away from home, my happy place. An oasis amidst lush green farmland, nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Hillsdale, NY, its four stages, dance tents, camping areas and vast vendor zones rise from the mist each summer to take over the alfalfa fields of Dodd’s Farm, where they serve as much as 15,000 visitors with a cornucopia of music, food, fun and friendship.

This will be our fourteenth year volunteering at Falcon Ridge. In that time, my wife and I, and our friends and campmates, have risen to become Crew Chiefs, appointed caretakers and leaders of the various tasksets and zones which best match our talents. Our little campsite has grown, in size and reputation; the white picket fence which marks its site is well-known, and all who stop by for beer and companionship are welcome to join us at our table.

We have raised our family there, watching each year as the children gain more and more confidence and comfort in the fields, honoring that with the freedoms we give them: to be out of sight and mind for hours upon end, to wander with impunity among the tents and their trusted denizens. We have found a family, too: of fellow fans, and like-minded volunteers, who come each summer to throw their shoulders and hearts to the wheel alongside each other.

And though the world we help create every summer on the third weekend in July is but a temporary one, the community it sustains is eternal, and we in turn are sustained by it, throughout the cold winters, and the darknesses, the hard times and the shared celebrations, the late night facebook sessions which provide the faintest of echoes of the place that we carry in us.

It is my favorite place on earth. To be able to build it up each year is a privilege and an honor. And though the music that brings us together is but a spark, the impetus for the loving community that follows, it is to the music that we turn today – for without that music, there would be no Falcon Ridge.

As with many festivals, Falcon Ridge visitors this year will benefit from a general slump in ticket sales for solo acts across the genre line. Names like Solas, Greg Brown, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, which would ordinarily be out of the price range for a festival beset by weather woes and low ticket sales in past years, appear as headliners alongside mainstage mainstays and fan favorites like Red Molly, Mary Gauthier, and Susan Werner. And two relatively new folk supergroups – Brother Sun and Red Horse – will perform as trios, with the latter combination of John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky, and Eliza Gilkyson holding down the coveted Friday night closing set in the round, even as individual members of both groups will surely also find their way onto the workshop stage.

Indeed, though Falcon Ridge always digs deep to find the right mix of music, this year’s list of performers is truly a masterwork. Some of this, of course, is due to fan influence: the funky, full septet sound of newcomers Spuyten Duyvil – named after the very northern tip of Manhattan Island, where the Harlem River flows into the Hudson – will be but one of four acts brought back by popular demand after last year’s impressive turn-out for the Friday afternoon emerging artists competition; joining them in the rotation will be Chris O’Brien, a solo singer-songwriter whose voice and energy crackle on stage, and fellow winners The Folkadelics and Barnaby Bright, both of whom come highly recommended.

The festival’s reputation for providing music both central to and along the boundaries of folk is well-deserved, and well-represented in the schedule. Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, the east coast quartet who wowed us at this year’s Joe Val Bluegrass festival, will be there to represent the grassy side of folk. Festival faves Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams will once again be present to wow us with their psychedelic folk rock late into the night. And alongside returning acts Seth Glier and Dan Navarro, this year will also see a reunion of folk duo Buskin and Batteau, a well-known and highly influential pair who have been appearing as soloists and sidemen for many years.

Here’s the usual mix of temptation, a preview sampler to whet your whistle, with covers both of and from this year’s featured artists. Listen, and then act now to order your tickets for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. And if you come – when you come – look for us by the white picket fence. You can hear the music from there; you can be the music, too.

As an added bonus: last year’s shift from a 4-day to a 3-day festival may have been a necessary response to finances, but with the hill opening Wednesday, the Falcon Ridge camping area has already developed a reputation among campers as the place to be on Thursday, thanks to several privately-run, coffee-house, artist, and small-label-sponsored stages which pop up along the grassy hilltop. This year’s “highlights on the hill” will include a preview of Chris O’Brien and Spuyten Duyvil’s mainstage sets, regional favorites from across the country, and mainstage acts from Falcon Ridge festivals past and present, including Buskin & Batteau, Anthony da Costa, and We’re About 9, many of whom have graced our house concert series in the past year. Here’s a sample schedule, and some favorite covertracks from the latter trifecta, to entice you to arrive early, too.

59 comments » | Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk

Covered In Folk: Billy Joel
(An American Icon’s Greatest Hits, Stripped Down)

June 22nd, 2011 — 01:35 pm

I’ve been a passive listener of Billy Joel’s original work since middle school, I guess. But way back in my emergent years, I was a true blue fan, sifting through his early work as a high tenor, singing along with his songs at summer camp campfires, performing Just The Way You Are for talent shows, tagging along with a friend to see the master perform in the midst of the We Didn’t Start The Fire era, struggling to come to terms with his mid-career rock and roll, and the drum-driven pop path which he had adopted by the late eighties.

My future folk fandom outed itself even then, I suppose – though I have a soft spot in my heart for the hidden blue-collar tenderness of The Downeaster ‘Alexa’, I always preferred the Piano Man’s lighter, more introspective work. I fell instantly in love with And So It Goes, and other the soft, tender songs which seemed designed primarily to break up the heavier sound on his later works, even as I learned to skip past both the angry and the political pieces, which I liked for their sentiment but hated for their bombastic radio rock tone, and the syrupy ballads which remain his signature. As such, though I know and love songs from many of his albums, Cold Spring Harbor, his 1971 debut, remains my favorite.

But Billy Joel’s songbook is recognized around the globe for a reason. Throughout his evolution as an artist, the be-knighted and well-awarded artist has retained a prescient knack for lyrics and mood which get to the heart of both middle and working-class perspectives on family, relationships, modernity, and more. His narratives, grounded as they are in the real world of feeling and fact, call to several generations; many, with other instrumentation, would be recognizable as folk. Love him or hate him, its hard to deny his influence, or his ability to shine a light on the world in which we live.

Regular readers may note that we have a particular favorite here: indeed, we’ve posted and reposted Lucy Kaplansky’s gorgeous piano take on Goodnight My Angel numerous times since we first featured her work way back in our first few months on the scene. But any prolific artist who can speak so effectively to our hearts and our culture is bound to be well-covered, and here we find the full range, from subtle solo singer-songwriter coverage on piano and guitar to fully instrumented acoustic folk versions of songs from throughout his deservedly celebrated career. Enjoy today’s tribute to the man and his vision, the best of which identifies the heart and soul while stripping down the bombast to expose the delicacy, and the raw emotion, which so characterizes Billy Joel’s greatest hits and deep cuts.

21 comments » | Billy Joel, Covered in Folk

Things We’ve Handed Down:
A Tribute to My Father, on Father’s Day

June 19th, 2011 — 08:37 pm

I’ve written about my father here before, most substantially when he was in the hospital for back surgery, and I spent a few days alone in his home, paying tribute to the man whose influence most significantly shaped my musical taste by spinning a set of coverfolk from the record collection I grew up with. And I’ve alluded to his company throughout our time here at Cover Lay Down, especially at concerts and festivals.

But my relationship with my father goes far deeper than the musical tastes and listening habits we share. In the nine years since I became a father myself, and he separated and later divorced from my mother, my father has become the man I go to for deep discussion, for advice, for companionship. We go to dinner as often as we are able; have gone to Spain, and Germany, to Memphis and California, just the two of us. And I cherish those weeks and evenings together, as I cherish all my favorite memories.

Though his new partner is delightful company – smart, funny, wise – I like to think that I am still his favorite travel companion, just as he is mine. And though he has always had many friends, where I tend to prefer to have many friendly acquaintances, and an exceptionally small crowd of intimates, I am proud and honored to consider him my best friend.

It wasn’t always the case. As in so many families, my father and I fought mightily for a while as we struggled to come to terms with each other throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. I take full responsibility for this: I was trying to define myself as “other” in order to become myself, and spent many years forcefully rejecting what turned out to be guidance, in the name of separation.

It took becoming a father myself to truly begin to understand the deep connections we share – the similarities of personality and outlook, of taste and tone – and to be able to build upon it. And I have a kind of evidence of that, too. Because before I was a music blogger, I kept a personal blog. And back in 2003, on my very first Father’s Day as a new father, I wrote an entry which turns out to be a harbinger of that early awakening to my life as an adult son and parent. Here it is in its entirety, along with a few songs which touch on the unique nature of fatherhood: the young man coming to terms with his past, using his own parentage to process his place in the generations.

A father’s legacy is a wondrous thing; I think I notice it more now that I am a father, too. But I don’t own Father’s Day. I still think of it as something between my father and me. So while the baby naps with her mother, I put on some of the Father’s Day CDs my father sent me this week, and spent some time thinking about the things my father and I have between us.

When I listen to music sometimes everything comes together just right and I am in the music and it is in me. Also, I can recognize almost any singer’s voice on the radio before the DJ tells us who is singing.

My father used to play this game called “do YOU have the tickets?” Usually, he was just stalling for time while he checked to make sure he had them, but once when we were going to a baseball game he didn’t have them, and we had to go back. I remember they were on his dresser, right where he left them. I do that all the time.

You can learn a lot from a guy with a six foot long closet. I like clothes, and I know how to make them look good. I know color, for example, and I know not to iron directly on silk. It’s less an issue of knowing men’s fashion, and more like knowing what looks good on you, in the context of a deep appreciation for the social settings in which an outfit is appropriate, and what message it sends. I guess most guys learn how to dress from their fathers, but what I’m saying is, when I get dressed, I feel like I’m doing it right.

My father is the perfect host. I think there’s a connection there between the way he wears his clothes and the way he wears a party, but if there is, it’s indescribable. Still, any social comfort I have comes from him.

Sometimes when one of my father’s old friends meets me for the first time, or for the first time in a very long time, they say how much I look like him when he was my age, and we sort of grin, and don’t know what else to say, because what do you say when people say that? But it feels really good anyway.

When my daughter was born, I started a list of things I wanted to do with her. Here’s the list so far:

· Take her deep sea fishing. Wake her up before it’s light with no previous warning; leave note for the spouse. Make pb&j sandwiches to eat in the car.
· Go to a Baseball game. Get there early to see batting practice. Eat too much.
· Spend the night on our backs in a field watching a meteor shower.
· Go to the airport to watch planes take off.
· Set up a camera so we can see ourselves live on TV. Do a news show; tape it and send it to grandparents.
· Teach her to sing lead. Harmonize.
· Take her to her first real concert.
· Take her to Falcon Ridge and Winterhawk.
· On her birthday, have her plan a full day. Take her anywhere she wants.
· Go to the Museum of Science in Boston. See the chicks hatch. See a live animal demonstration and a lightning show. Play with bubbles, water, blocks and other stuff. Don’t forget to bring earplugs for everyone.
· Imax movie.
· Planetarium.
· Aquarium, especially penguins and hands-on starfish.
· Beach at low tide; tide pools.
· Tour of McDonalds
· Tour of a farm.
· Go to Grandma Martha’s gravesite. Tell her about Martha.
· Show her how to track her own genealogy. Make a family tree.
· Show her that if you cut a worm in half, it turns into two worms.
· Plant a garden. Grow tomatoes, beans, and carrots. Make a salad.
· Take her to New York City. Show her ground zero. Show her how alive NYC is.
· Take the train somewhere. Get a sleeper car. Live, moving, just to show her it can be done.
· Teach her that not all who wander are lost.
· Drive South in late May; watch it go from winter to spring as we go south. On the drive back, watch it turn back into Winter.
· Make banana bread.
· Make dinner for Mommy.
· Be generous.
· Teach generosity.

It’s a great list, but I can’t take credit for most of it. With a few exceptions, it’s just a list of things my father used to do with me when I was little. Sometimes when I look at this list it’s a little intimidating to imagine myself forging anything better in my own style. Most of the time I’m just really, really grateful.

I hope my own father will keep us company on some of these outings. Yet even if he can’t make it sometimes, somehow, no matter what we do together, I know that my own father will be with us. As he is somehow always with me, watching out for me, watching over me. Thanks, Dad. I love you, too.

As an afterthought, before the music begins: I find, looking at the last section above, that we’ve covered about half of my original “to do” list, maybe more, since that long-ago draft hit the public airwaves practically unnoticed. And there are some items which we have accomplished in spirit, though not in the same way I originally intended. I have yet to take my children to Ground Zero, for example, but I think yesterday’s walk through the ravaged streets of Monson, as part of our own day of service to help our own tornado town rebuild, serves as an apt replacement to introducing my children to the concept of culture and society as comprised of people, not things.

But I digress: today is about the list, and the legacy it represents. And more generally, resurrecting the list for Father’s Day reminds me of what we all have accomplished, though it also reminds me that there is more to do, yet. And that is a wonderful thing, to be grounded in time that way: to have that time ahead of us, and behind us, and in front of us, all at once.

Whether my own father realizes it or not, the parental “to do” list is the best Father’s Day gift a father can give to a son. So if you’re a father, I encourage you to spend some time today and this week making your own list – to check in on your successes, and clarify the roadmap for the months and years ahead. And if you are a son, or daughter, I encourage you to make one, too.

Honor thy father, and love him, too. Turns out, it’s one of the most beautiful things in the universe.

As always, we eschew advertising here at Cover Lay Down, preferring to ask you to support the artists we tout instead of cluttering our pages with sponsors competing for your hard-earned dollars. But the bandwidth we provide comes at a cost, and we depend on your donations to help support the cause.

But there are times when others need our help, too, and this is one of those times. As such, for the month of June, Cover Lay Down will continue to give 40% of all donations to the town of Monson, to support rebuilding and clean-up efforts after the tornado came through and wiped out our downtown area, leaving over 100 people homeless. Please click here to help if you can. Thanks.

10 comments » | Uncategorized

Long Way Home:
Rebuilding Tornado Town, One Donation At A Time

June 16th, 2011 — 07:05 pm

Two weeks since the tornado came through, and by most accounts, we’re making real progress in our tiny town. Houses once broken disappear overnight, leaving empty spaces; others, chimney-less and battered, cover their gaping roofholes with tarps, until the valley below the town hall begins to look like a patchwork quilt: patches of peaked sky blue, newly exposed summer lawns, lumber, the stone grey of bare foundations. People go to work, and school. The local news moves on to other topics; there are long moments when I forget that the place where I live and love and raise my family is still so broken, so needy, so much in pain.

A semblance of normalcy begins to settle in us all. Committees are formed to disburse donations; the volunteer coordinators at the First Church now have regular hours, and a database to track those who need, and those who offer. The immediacy of disaster fades into a kind of natural, endless discourse about methodology and priorities, even as the invisible work crews still struggle to cut and move brush and stone across the valley, and the homeless find temporary housing, or move along to their out-of-state in-laws, wondering how and when they will be able to return.

The world is brighter than it used to be, now that sunlight streams through where once shade and evergreen woods lined the mountaintops. You can see the downed treetops on the mountains, and the lines of ragged trunks that snakes its way down and through and back up again. The churches and the tall stone performance hall in the center of town are stabilized with tacks and tarps, and surrounded with shiny fences, preserved in the midst of chaos while they await red tape and federal funds, stonemasons and donations.

Monson remains united, as the t-shirt says: in our grief, and in our efforts to keep up what has become an increasingly uphill battle to sustain the energy of clean-up and stabilization. But we are not healed, yet, and not out of need. The calls still come, throughout the day on our facebook page, and on signs that litter the broken streets: for chainsaw crews and brush haulers, clothing and bins, ice and water for the workers, dinners for the displaced.

Scarred and broken hearts lurk in our bodies, as their physical representations do on our streets.

And such scars take longer to heal than we ever remember.

For the days come where the rain clouds come in on the wind, and our blood starts to beat a little faster. We scan the darkening sky, measuring the swirls and eddies against our memories; we stay inside, and sit watchful on the couch, facing the picture windows, our chests tight against each other as rain beats on the roof.

Though the rainbow which comes afterwards, an apparition hanging over the desolation, reminds us of the joy and gratitude we felt in the first days after the storm, its effect, like its existence, is fleeting. And when it is gone, it leaves behind it the exhaustion of change, of the unsettled life, of the dark clouds on the horizon.

Some day we will get over it, this irrational fear of clouds.

Someday, when we have helped everyone, we will be healed.

For now, Cover Lay Down is giving 40% of all donations before the end of June to tornado relief, to help the hundreds of people still in need in our community. Please consider giving what you can, and rest assured, we’ll apply your donation to real people in real need, where it can make the most difference to rebuilding a town ravaged by natural disaster. I’ll even throw in a 10-song exclusive download – all live, all covers, all recorded by yours truly in the last 12 months – for anyone who donates.

And all you have to do is click here to help.

Here’s a few songs about the slow process of rebuilding our hearts, and the world, after loss transforms us, to keep us going as we rebuild the world together.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

8 comments » | donate, Tornado

(Re)Covered, vol. XX: more covers of and from
Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters, Rufus Wainwright, Dylan & more!

June 11th, 2011 — 08:54 pm

Our tendency towards revisiting posts gone by through the lens of new releases and projects is especially apropos this weekend, given the continued recovery efforts in our little tornado-ravaged town.   While the rest of us sift through the rubble, let’s sift through the archives, taking account of some new and noteworthy works from artists featured previously here on Cover Lay Down. 

We first featured young started-out-bluegrass band the Farewell Drifters on the release of the hook-heavy Yellow Tag Mondays, their 2010 release; back then, they were already leaning towards a broader stew of Americana and indie roots music, and you could hear both their influences and their growing trend towards folkrock in the Beatles covers we posted, which had been recorded a year apart from each other.

Today, in a (Re)covered two-fer, the Drifters bring us a song that we visited through other coverage way back on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, and like the rest of their newest album, it’s another step towards something rich and subtly different, both more mainstream and more original in sound and sensibility, couched in deeply layered pop-rock with just a hint of ‘grass, though relatively true to the original in most other ways. The cover – a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy In New York – is nowhere near as sweet or somber as the Shawn Colvin cover that so deeply speaks to my soul, but these days, being in the thick of the disaster, I need hope more than I need sadness, and this bonus track from Echo Boom, released just last week, provides just the trick, making for some fine summer soundtrack material.

  • Farewell Drifters: Only Living Boy In New York (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)

    (from Echo Boom, 2011)

Bonus Tracks:

Sam Billen is a stand-up, sensitive indie musician and producer who has shown up on Cover Lay Down several times, both for his several holiday projects and for REMOVERs, the electrofolk remix and coverage project which he has been building and posting – in public and entirely for free – for over a year as he adjusts to the home studio joys of new fatherhood. He’s long been on the top of our watchlist, in part because of the sheer authenticity of both his voice and the evident care and craftsmanship with which he produces his material, and in part because, unlike most musicians, he comes off as perfectly sincere, even humble in both his work and his occasional emails announcing new developments in that work.

But Sam gets major kudos for reaching out this time around – because in the midst of the chaos we’ve experienced since the tornado hit our tiny town, it was genuinely touching to receive an email that contained both a full paragraph reaching out to us in the context of that disaster, thanking us for our reporting of it and sending hope that we are all okay out here, and a link to the newest songs which Sam, his brother, and his father have taken on: a set of loving living-room covers of predominantly countrypop hits, just three guitars and voices taking on Neil Young and others, as honest as a campfire circle among family. Here’s two of my favorites, with encouragement to check out the rest of ‘em over at The Billen Brothers’ YouTube channel – plus an older bonus from the now-completed REMOVERs project.

  • The Billen Brothers: Ventura Highway (orig. America)

  • The Billen Brothers: I Will (orig. The Beatles)

Our 2007 feature on the Wainwright/McGarrigle Family was the very first of our Folk Family features; since then, we’ve revisited the extended clan multiple times, making note of Loudon’s Charlie Poole tribute, youngest daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche‘s delightful work as a solo singer-songwriter, and Kate McGarrigle’s passing last winter after a long struggle with cancer. Now, we return once more to report on a new work from what is perhaps the least “folk” of the modern Wainwright clan: Rufus, who has made a name for himself in movie soundtracks and pop circles as a balladeer, forging far beyond the folk roots which mother Kate and father Loudon set before him.

To be fair, Rufus has crossover appeal to folk audiences; as such, we’ve covered him here, too. But though the new Rufus box set House of Rufus – 19 full-length discs, both CDs and DVDs, a relatively complete compendium of demos, in-studio rarities, side projects, soundtrack cuts, live material, and 6 studio albums – primarily focuses on his work as a nuanced pop crooner (including the entirety of his infamous Carnegie Hall Judy Garland tribute), the sheer breadth is wide enough by far to be well worth collecting, including a vast and varied compendium of his collaborative work with family members and friends, many of which we’ve celebrated here before, and a few of which (most notably, a delicious duet on Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll performed with his father which, unfortunately, I’ve been asked not to release too early) are otherwise entirely unavailable. Here’s a couple other favorites from the box and beyond, just to show the diversity potential in such a sweeping set of coverage.

Finally: social and professional pressures caused us to skip past two Bob Dylan tributes as his birthday came and went towards the end of May; recent tornado events in our local area kept us from coming back until now. But the pair is worth noting, even now, in part because both feature well-known, long-standing artists taking on the Dylan canon with aplomb.

First and foremost, Ralph “Streets of London” McTell released an EP-length set of Dylan covers two weeks ago, and though nobody seems to have noticed except astute Aussie folkwatchers Timber and Steel, the set is absolutely worth finding and purchasing. Somewhat akin in tone and timbre to the late Johnny Cash’s reinterpretation of the work of others late in his own life, yet imbued with McTell’s distinctive britfolk tones and fingerpicking, the six songs here are darkened with age, and deep with the pensive eye and mind of a fellow folksinger who has seen his share of fame, which is to say: as T&S notes, McTell’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright sounds like the song was written for him. Check out the full tribute here.

Second and no less noteworthy, Red House Records took advantage of Dylan’s 70th to release a decade-later follow-up to their defining Dylan folk tribute. Like the “original”, A Nod To Bob 2, the second release in this series, stars a set of recognizable folk artists taking on the canon – though notably, this time around, a few cuts can be found elsewhere, such as Danny Schmidt’s Buckets of Rain, or Eliza Gilkyson’s Jokerman, and some of these artists, such as John Gorka, are no longer in the prime of their careers, and their voices show it. Still, the roster here is sound, and the interpretations well-selected, with deeper cuts than the last round, and standouts all around, including a wonderful wail from the Jimmy LaFave, the Texan master of Dylan troubadour coverage, a delightfully bouncy, bluesy take from Hot Tuna, a truly sultry country blues from Pieta Brown, and Meg Hutchinson’s wonderful, echoing piano-driven reinvention of rarity Born In Time – the latter pair of which we could not help but pass along.

While we’re all about the artists here, and our server costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

15 comments » | (Re)Covered, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters

Single Song Sunday: In My Life

June 4th, 2011 — 07:24 pm

There are places I remember…

A moment in time, on a stone bench with Pia, our backs to the rubble that was once her home. Showed her an AP photo of a man holding a page from her account book, which had flown 80 miles to make the news. Admired the clean hole that was her home’s foundation, and the clothes – her daughter’s, her son’s, her husband’s, her own – she has been collecting from the neighborhood. Left her looking in the flat mound next to it for the other shoe to match her daughter’s favorite pair, and her family’s rings – later, I heard, they found the sapphire ring on a branch in a tree, three houses away.

An old woman standing by the assisted living facility just on the standing side of the street, looking out into the headless forest, and her neighbor’s totalled homes, her eyes questioning at the disaster just beyond. 82 years in town, she said, and she’s never seen anything like it. Three days since the storm, and she’s finally come outside, but just to the end of the garden; the rest, she said, is too much, too soon.

Back and forth all morning in the town offices, a hundred years of records and files strewn across floors thick with dust and ceiling tile, bright sun shining in from the torn roof above. We got everything out of a score of offices, packed it up for the long move across town, and though we all wore masks, we knew who we were, and nodded as we went past.

A dozen power company trucks, winching wire through shattered streets. A family, standing on the third floor of their home, looking outward through a wall that used to be there. Truck beds of trees, moving past at a crawl among the gawkers on Main Street; military vehicles full of National Guardsmen, their eyes wary and tired. Backhoes, pushing lumber and glass, branches and belongings, into piles as tall as the houses that once stood here.

So much pain. So many shellshocked. So many people, their t-shirts dark with sweat, twenty to a yard, climbing through the trees, pulling, sawing, hauling. So many of the people I love, descending into the neighborhoods with water and sandwiches, information and friendship, and most of all, the silence that is the community together in shared loss.

Today I saw the wreckage firsthand, whole neighborhoods flattened into nothingness. This morning I walked and worked my way through the war zone that is my town. I cannot tell you where I was – the place looks so unrecognizable, I truly did not realize which streets they were, though a little voice in the back of my brain tells me that these are streets I have driven hundreds of times before.

Monday, the schools will open – for a while, with teachers and counselors in every classroom, to help the kids see the familiar spaces as they were before, and help them in their long path to normalcy again. Tuesday, classes will begin again, if the roads are clear enough for buses; Wednesday night, graduation will take place, a week to the day, a community coming together to celebrate those kids who walked through town today in their senior class shirts in groups of fours and fives, and humbly bent to help wherever they could.

I’m not sure I should, yet. But I’m thinking of taking the elderchild down tomorrow, to see. Because the people I saw today need children, and laughter, and the hope of future generations before them. Now, more than ever before, it is clear: this is what community is all about.

And so I turn to a song that once made me cry, when we said goodbye to another community. A song that another senior class, in another time, chose as their senior song, and we sang along, me and my wife, the elderchild and the infant wee one, pink-slipped into oblivion with no prospect of a job, about to be kicked out of our campus housing onto the knife edge of homelessness, ready to join the graduates on our next grand adventure.

It brought us here, once, this song. And it will bring us home again, too.

While our server and bandwidth costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

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Everything Is Broken: A Tornado Hits Boyhowdytown

June 3rd, 2011 — 12:31 pm

Up until this week, you probably hadn’t heard of Monson, Massachusetts, our little haven in the woods, a tiny rural town (population 8,000) in the no-man’s land between Springfield and Worcester, Hartford and Northampton. But Wednesday evening a tornado split our town in two, flattening homes, cars, businesses, and entire acres of trees, splashing our once-beautiful haven across the front page of every major newspaper from here to the UK and beyond. No one got hurt, but there’s a swath of destruction like a war zone from way above downtown through the dead center of everything I love. And now, two days later, most of us are still digging out of the wreckage.

We were among the lucky ones. I was home, upstream from the tornado’s path, and saw none of it firsthand. My wife and kids were in the basement of our friends’ home, with their dogs and children; we subsequently spent the next five hours trying to get to each other with only cell phone signals to guide us, a journey which involved one of us driving 200 miles to get from one town to the next, and a number of us dragging dogs and children through the wreckage of downed power lines and trees, back and forth as the skies darkened into night and the sirens wailed in the near distance.

But by morning, once we cleared the driveway with the chainsaw and could get out to walk amidst the rubble, the damage was evident: my beloved town has been terraformed.

It’s heartbreaking, and hard to find more deliberate words. The sight of the sky where there used to be trees brings tears to everyone’s eyes; the sight of dozens of houses overturned, or reduced to lumber and roofpaper, brings us to our knees. The town offices and the supermarket have had their roofs peeled away, the churches have had their steeples smashed on the street. The air is filled with the constant sound of sirens and chainsaws and generators and not much else. Graduation has been cancelled, as has so much normalcy.

Still, we’ve been counting our blessings this week in Monson. Facebook has become a lifeline, helping keep us connected and on task as we coordinate shelters and clean-up, FEMA and Red Cross and National Guard assistance where it is most needed. News crews from national and local outlets still stand on the streetcorners, helping to raise awareness. Outsiders drive through with trucks full of generators and water.

More importantly, the community has proved its worth a thousand times over. Kids who were supposed to walk the stage tonight in pomp and circumstance get heat stroke pulling personal belongings from the wreckage. The mega-volunteers we know well organize distribution centers for food and water, bedding and bins for those who have lost everything but their bodies and their hope. People hug in the streets, and thank God that everyone is okay, after all, if a bit shell-shocked.

It will be ages before life is even close to normal here. A weekend before we can drive to the other side of the wreckage. Days before we return to work. Weeks before the shredded phone and power lines are reconstructed, and electricity is returned to all. Months before the supermarket opens, and we can order pizza to our homes again. A summer before the town offices are open for business again, in the abandoned old school building up on the nearby hill. Decades, I suppose, before the tall trees regenerate, and the landscape looks the same.

But we are here, together, with love and help all around. And that is all that matters, really.

So here’s an upbeat set – nothing special, just a quick soundtrack to accompany the news. Me, I’m off to downtown, to get my hands dirty helping to start the long process of rebuilding our community. If all goes well, we’ll be back this weekend with more.

While our server and bandwidth costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

37 comments » | Uncategorized

New Artists, Old Songs, Vol. XXI: From the fringes of folk
with covers of Ryan Adams, The Smiths, Linda Rondstadt, tradfolk & more!

June 2nd, 2011 — 09:40 pm

It’s been a long while since we turned to the mailbag, but even after pulling out most of the vast Dylan tribute coverage over the last few months, it’s bulging at the seams with the good stuff. So, as always, we’ve sifted through the chaff to find the best recent releases from new, practically new, and still under-the-radar artists – and happily, plenty in this late Spring crop is well worth your while.

From classic jump-up cajun to broken-down bedroom folk to full-blown folk-influenced rock and roll, this month’s backlog best yaws wide indeed. But folk is everywhere, if you know where to find it. Let the coverage begin.

Elsewhere, as in her single Shanghai Cigarettes, indiefolk star Caitlin Rose is brash and countrified – and the attitude has gotten her far, from Bonnaroo stages to co-bills and opening slots with the likes of Ron Sexsmith, Deer Tick, Justin Townes Earle and the Felice Brothers. But her Linda Ronstadt cover is plaintive, delicate and sweet, a quiet cry into the soul, a late-night pensive look into the darkness. And her take on You Are My Sunshine, recorded live a few years ago for an American Songwriter live session, is wistful and beautiful countryfolk that rivals June Carter’s best. Check her out on NPR’s World Cafe, where she appeared in-studio this evening, then head over to her homepage to take a peek at and order her newest album, Own Side Now, which garnered a highly respectable 8 stars at Spin just a few weeks ago.

  • Caitlin Rose: Faithless Love (pop. Linda Rondstadt, orig. JD Souther)

Bonus Tracks:

Angie Hart isn’t new, and neither are her covers – most were recorded in 2009, ultimately used as bonus tracks on an album that helped relaunch her to name-recognition status among a certain crowd familiar with her early work with popband Frente! in the mid-to-late nineties and with her partner Jesse Tobias in the duo Splendid in between ’96 and ’05. But the piano balladry and hushed, heavily Aussie-accented little-girl voice ring true and clear from the mailbox (thanks, Will!), and the chamelonesque performer goes from atmospheric emopop to syrupy-slow pianofolk on her 2009 b-sides set; on the orchestrated tracks, such as Blue (cowritten with Joss Whedon of Firefly fame) or Reckless, we find as much influence from the early psychedelic british folk rock movements as from the modern post-pop indie torchsong set.

Janelle Daddona’s Firecracker is light with doubled harmonies that soar and a tense, treble jangle on the strings – simpler and more subtle than Ryan Adams surely ever imagined, but a highly successful interpretation needs no excuse. The NY/PA-based singer-songwriter comes without much press to scavenge from, and little sign on Google, suggesting she’s farther under the radar that even we usually go to find these gems; there’s no link above, for example, because the only one I could find goes to her MySpace page, and all it has is a short video of her bellowing Natural Woman at some karaoke bar. But even a single song can be a light in the darkness. Let’s let it shine on her.

Backwoods, Sean Siegfried’s instrumental fingerstyle guitar album, is dreamy and mellow, a far cry from the electrified output he apparently used to prefer; he names Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, and Jose Gonzales as recent influences, but the crisp and deliberate tones in this reimagined take on a traditional Irish melody and other tracks remind me more of John Renborne’s seminal Black Balloon album than anything else – high praise indeed, given how seminal that album was in shaping my own childhood as a budding audiophile. The track, like the album, would go well with something equally unassuming yet deceptively deep, like a fine wine, or thoughtful contemplation of the ripples therein.

Thomas Fox – not a single artist, as might be expected, but a duo collaboration between Blake Thomas and Mary Fox – play traditional old-timey folk, with harmonies like Mike and Peggy Seeger and voices to match. The full collection of well-chosen American folk standards they recorded for a recent production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at Minnesota’s Yellow Tree Theater is an old folkie’s delight, and it’s just a mere bonus to this occasional amateur actor to find that the pair performed in the show, as well. This AP Carter standard Single Girl, Married Girl echoes with ancient midwestern dust, and the echoing strains of Blake’s voice on Sugar Hill are perfect for the traditional tune; pick up the rest of the CD here, and stick around for The Window and the Light, Blake’s newest collection of original folk.

Get your boogie on with Jesse Lége, Joel Savoy, and the Cajun Country Revival, an American roots supergroup that play true-blue Cajun dancehall music crossed with Texan honky-tonk. The stellar chemistry between these stars of both camps plays out in and as The Right Combination, which is loose and joyful throughout; their take on tradtune Corina, for example, is rich with accordions and country slide guitar and a honky-tonk bounce that just won’t quit.

Like The Band? Like Jack White? Then you’ll love Needle, Feather and a Rope, a majestic alt-countrified horn-driven take on the universe and everything in it released last month by the Blind Willies, which seems to be primarily a project of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Alexei Wajchman. The band got their start covering tradfolk tunes and originals in high school; though their earlier work is lighter in tone – previous work Everybody’s Looking For A Meal, a duo collaboration between Wajchman and fellow Blind Willies founder and fiddler Annie Staninec, is more subtle, and decidedly more folk, but no less heartfelt – the new album is a shot in the arm, with the primordial sounds of Leadbelly and Lomax filtered through New orleans blues, Randy Newman pop, Rolling Stones rock and roll, grandiose indiefolk, and just about every other genre that has followed. Check out their adaptation of the traditional Lomax-collected tune Rattlesnake below for ample evidence.

Green River Ordinance is unabashedly grungy, decidedly Top 40, indisputably anthemic – more rock than anything we’ve ever posted here, for sure. Their take on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, for example, is a slamming summer pop hit, destined for plenty of rock radio airplay over the next few months if it ever gets to the right ears; their Justin Bieber cover is fun and redemptive poprock, too. But the cover choices they’ve made in compiling new covers EP Songs We Like From Before We Were Born include several folk-rock numbers, including popular favorites from both Stealer’s Wheel and The Band, so I’m pushing the envelope a bit today with both. Keep an ear cocked for a grand shout-out to folk anthem This Little Light Of Mine towards the end of the latter.

  • Green River Ordinance: Stuck In The Middle With You (orig. Stealer’s Wheel)

Cover Lay Down brings you new coverfolk sets and features twice weekly thanks to support from readers like you. Coming soon: two late Dylan tributes from the older set, this summer’s New England folk fest preview tour, and more!

536 comments » | New Artists Old Songs