Archive for October 2011

Mark Erelli Covers:
Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Porter Wagoner & 12 more!

October 24th, 2011 — 03:50 pm

I’ve been a Mark Erelli fan ever since I saw him on stage at the 1999 Green River Festival, just two years after his 3 a.m. discovery at a folk conference hotel room jam. I was thrilled by the release of 2001 breakthrough album Compass and Companion, which brought several singles to local folk-and-roots radio station WRSI thanks to their close connection with the Signature Sounds label. And since then, I’ve discovered multiple connections between us – among them, a love of coverage, a love for the history and natural imagery of New England, and a love for Memorial Hall, the fine granite Civil War-era edifice in my hometown of Monson, where Mark recorded a live album in 2001.

All along, as his career progresses, I’ve often wondered why Mark Erelli isn’t more of a household name. Certainly, the gentle, cheerful singer-songwriter from the suburbs of Boston has spent long days on the cusp of national fame, winning Kerrville’s coveted New Folk contest in his early twenties, spending weeks atop the national Americana charts. His 2006 album Hope & Other Casualties was named Album of the Year by influential Boston folk station WUMB; his work has been covered by the likes of Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert, and chuck e costa; People Look Around, his Katrina-inspired co-write that year with fellow Boston singer-songwriter Catie Curtis, won the grand prize at the International Songwriting Competition.

Mark defines himself as a musician, not just a singer-songwriter; he seems happy as a sideman, a collaborator, and an opening act for the likes of Red Molly, John Hiatt, Gillian Welch, and others, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain if he seems to be a well-kept secret too much of the time. But the projects which bring him to the forefront are always good, and often amazing. In solo guise, Erelli comes off as a sort of anti-Townes Van Zandt, a performer from the flip side of the dour troubadour strain of folk: in his capable hands and palpable voice, both hope and tragedy find apt outlet, but even in the depths of angst and despair, the songs never lose the everpresent tone of awe and gratefulness which characterizes so much of his work. And he’s unafraid to reinvent himself, moving fluidly from the contemporary singer-songwriter sound of his early work to the dark folk gospel of the Memorial Hall Recordings (2002) and the country swing of Hillbilly Pilgrim (2004), and from there to recent incarnations as a bluegrass and folkblues collaborator.

Though the busy singer-songwriter has a knack for poignancy, and the voice to match, his signature scratchy tenor soars and croons and sings out, in delicate ballads, frustrated screeds, and rollicking roots/rockabilly tunes. His take on I’ll Be Here In The Morning, off the amazingly powerful, eminently quiet 2007 lullaby album Innocent When You Dream, is a perfect apotheosis, weary as the original even as it brings a lightness to the song which Townes never imagined, and couldn’t have pulled off if he tried. And, as heard in the below Mary Gauthier cover, his harmony work with fellow local and frequent collaborator Lori McKenna lends the perfect note of sweetness to McKenna’s full-bodied voice; those who find it as potent as I do will be happy to note that Mark spends almost as much time on the road supporting McKenna, Curtis, Kris Delmhorst, Josh Ritter, and others as he does in solo guise.

Erelli’s more recent solo and band-led works include a low-key, high-quality live album which we wrote about earlier this year, the gritty, fleshed out sound of 2008 album Delivered, and Little Vigils, a gentler, more pensive solo effort from last year which is heavily influenced by his fatherhood, his native New England, and his work with Karine Powart and others on The Darwin Project, an 18-song UK singer-songwriter project inspired by the life and work of Charles Darwin. But like Seven Curses, the diverse, deep 2010 duo album of murder ballads which Erelli made with bluesy Wisconsinite folk artist Jeffrey Foucault, his newest release is a collaborative effort, and it’s a doozy.

The album is C’Mon!, the band is Barnstar!, and the overabundance of exclamation points is a surprisingly accurate reflection of the high energy and fun Erelli, banjo wizard Charlie Rose, Massachusetts-based father and son fiddle and mando luminaries Jake and Taylor Amerding of Northern Lights fame, and producer/bassist Zack Hickman (recently of Josh Ritter’s touring band) bring to the project. The heavily bluegrass and cowboy country-influenced debut features a fine combination of Erelli-penned tunes, both reinvented and first release, and covers from all over the musical map (Neil Young, Micky Newbury, Traveling Wilburys, and Paul Simon), so we’ll start our set there, with a note that there’s a great ‘grassy Dawes cover available for free download at Bandcamp along with the usual streaming whistle-whetters, and our regular reminder that feature status here on Cover Lay Down is itself our strongest recommendation: if you like what you hear, follow the links below to buy and support Mark Erelli, and help spread the word about his many projects.

  • Barnstar!: Handle With Care (orig. Traveling Wilburys)
  • Barnstar!: Boy In The Bubble (orig. Paul Simon)

    (from C’mon!, 2011)

  • Mark Erelli: Crying (orig. Roy Orbison)
    (from Signature Sounds 10th Anniversary Sampler, 2004)

Looking for more coverage? Mark Erelli sticks to original works on the majority of his solo albums (though a couple, like The Memorial Hall Recordings and Innocent When You Dream, include multiple examples, thanks to their particular focus). But his website includes a downloads section, and while this month the link goes directly to the Bandcamp page for C’Mon!, where you can snag that free download of what Cover Me calls a grassed up version of “contemporary indie-folk gem When My Time Comes by Dawes”, most months it contains a discrete page with a single live or demo recording. Here’s a half dozen live and rare demo covers I’ve picked up over the years.

2 comments » | Mark Erelli

Canadian Thanksgiving Coverfolk:
Canadian Artists covering Canadian Artists

October 10th, 2011 — 03:30 pm

Though it falls on Columbus Day, Canadian Thanksgiving Day seems relatively untainted by the parallel history of white privilege and savagery which have come to typify the two American holidays with which it shares either date or name. Rather, though giving thanks in the territories is still partially grounded in the European exploration of territories and provinces, Thanksgiving Day in Canada was originally established as a harvest holiday, pure and simple, first as a natural extension of the human need to celebrate the cornucopia, and subsequently by proclamation, in 1957.

My connection to Canadian Thanksgiving is familial: my father in law is originally from Montreal, making my wife a citizen by proxy; as such, in order to help ensure parity in a large and growing family, the spousal clan has occasionally used the date as a kind of pre-Thanksgiving over the years, taking advantage of the long weekend to come together for good food and good company, as the celebration seems to warrant.

But my connection to Canada itself is broader, still, through my love of music. From an American perspective, Canada is an extraordinarily prolific contributor to the sonic scene – astonishingly so, given that the country has a smaller population than California, and a much lower population density.

And though there is broad diversity in the Canadian music scene, the Canadian influence on modern folk music alone is vast and varied. Expat luminaries from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to The Band, and native sons and daughters from Gordon Lightfoot to Stan Rogers, have all had strong impact on the evolution of sound below the border; similarly, the traditional folkforms of Acadia and elsewhere, like so many other world beats, have both arrived wholesale in our collections and, as influence, have found their way into the sounds of other folkforms, from Cajun music to the Boston fiddlefolk scene. And the modern inheritors of this dream are legion, as evidenced by our proud promotion of Reid Jamieson, Kevin Fox, The Duhks, Danny Michel, The Be Good Tanyas, and others who have found their way to these pages.

Searching through the combined output of these Canadian folks and folkforms on this day of thanksgiving, I find a mixed bag of relevant songs: about harvest, home, and appreciation. And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks for their contributions through a themed set, with Canadian artists taking on the works of Canadian artists, each one a song of praise and promise, each one in its own way a thankful, loving celebration of and for the joys of the universe.

8 comments » | Canadian Coverfolk, Holiday Coverfolk

Day of Atonement: on coming back and coming forward

October 8th, 2011 — 04:19 pm

The week leading up to Yom Kippur, The Jewish Day of Atonement, is supposed to be a time for self-reflection, culminating in repentance and a plea for pardon. And though I no longer fast, or belong to a temple, in the last few years, I have continued to use the opportunity as a chance to take stock of the soul, wandering into the woods or just taking a few hours on the front porch alone to make peace with the world both inside and out.

This year, it doesn’t take much soul-searching to see my life has fallen off the rails a bit. Indeed, my long absence from these pages is but one indicator of how much distance has come to exist between the ideal and the real. But if the point of Yom Kippur is to come back to the best of oneself, and restore those relationships that are most in need of healing, then it is here which I should be today.

And so, in keeping with the holiday, Cover Lay Down returns after a two week hiatus, offering a peek into the mind of the blogger, a step towards the active recommitment which this holiest of holy days demands.

Excuses are easy when you’re a busy man: September is always an uphill climb for a teacher and parent, and this year’s been especially tricky, with a new course to teach and rewrite on the fly, and small but pivotal roles to rehearse in two plays at once on the near horizon, to add to the usual pile of classwork and kidstuff, committeework and church choir, etcetera. The damage I’ve done to my body pushing myself to the limit is non-trivial: I’ve clearly torn something in my knee, and the disc I crushed in my back years ago has flared up, making it painful to walk, sit, or stand.

I’m so busy, these days, I’m hardly listening to much in the way of new music, in fact. And, as a consequence, there’s also a part of me that feels a bit guilty about blogging the new stuff in the first place when my knowledge of the new and novel begins to grow so tenuous.

More broadly, as noted above, the choices I have made in the past few weeks have included deserting my post here at Cover Lay Down. Blogging takes time; blogging takes energy; it’s hard to justify the writing life when the only time one is home is to sleep, and though my mind has turned often to these pages, my fingers have not.

In my mind, I remain superman: forever young, forever strong, forever able to do it all. It frustrates me to be so overwhelmed. But it frustrates me more to be so affected by it.

And, digging deep, I find that my ability to think of myself as a blogger is an important aspect of my self-image, one which sustains me still. To have given up on the blog, however temporarily, at the very moment that we celebrate four years on the web, may not directly contribute to my malaise, but it has meant giving up on the part of myself I use to process the very stress and turmoil I first wrote about here in September.

It’s time to get back on track. It’s time to start writing again. And so here I am again, struggling to organize my thoughts on the screen, trying to recover the self.

Interlude: There’s a connection to writing in the religious framework of Yom Kippur, one that I’ve often found too slippery to grasp: something about the end-goal of atonement, which would have G-d inscribe you in the book of life for another year. I struggled with this concept as a child: though clearly the point of Yom Kippur is renewal, it is framed as if there were some heavenly high water mark for contrition, without which condemnation follows.

Since then, however, my belief system has evolved into a decidedly community-centered spirituality. I have come to see my own life and how I choose to live it moment to moment as a form of writing, with each act, each decision to move forward or back, my signature and stamp upon the world. And I have found myself speaking and writing my own self into being, using the web as a vehicle for the inner voice, turning what was once a private process of enjoyment and analysis into a humble gift.

Call it sacrilege; call it what you will. To take on the mantle of the book of your own life is both scary and, to some, high treason. But if, in looking for G-d, one finds the inner self and the community instead, the journey is surely not for naught.

In four years on the web, we have spoken predominantly of art and artistry, focusing our attention on the music, as it should be. But in and around that primary focus, we’ve also posted personal feature pieces which address hope and love, disappointment and pain, all grounded in the daily existence of the blogger himself – notably, the same universal tropes and tenors which, by definition, make folk music a genre whose songs thrum with culture by evoking the personal and the universal.

Which is to say: I love this place for the way it has helped me share the music I love, and for how it connects us all through the web of the folkways. But taking time today to reflect upon the transgressions I have made, I find that I need this place for the sustenance it provides the soul, the opportunity it provides to sign the book of life, twice a week, and in doing so, perpetuate the legacy that I value more than life itself.

And so we start anew today, with a coverfolk mix of songs whose lyrics speak about atonement, forgiveness, repentance and apologies, and with a recommitment: if we can all agree to forgive me a day here or there, I’ll be working hard on my end to juggle the balls, and get back on track as a twice-weekly blogger, come hell or high water.

If I have transgressed against any of you, through deliberate action or through omission, I offer apologies, and the commitment to rectify those wrongs at the earliest opportunity.

May this coming year be one in which you, too, continue to write yourself into the world.

7 comments » | Uncategorized