Archive for July 2009

New Artists, Old Songs: Mailbox Overflow
(Covers of Britney, Kanye, Supertramp, Johnny Cash & more!)

July 29th, 2009 — 07:58 am

Going offline for two weeks means returning to an inbox in the triple digits, and though my brain is swimming a bit from trying to cut it down to size in one afternoon, sifting through the backlog of sound is made easier by the presence of a few true gems, and a few others with moments of greatness that just cry out to be heard in spite of any rough edges.

I’ll have video, audio, and commentary from the newest and best from my annual pilgrimage through the New England folk scene anon, probably early next week. But while I take a few days to make sense of this year’s folk festival scene, here’s the best from the flood.

    NY singer-songwriter Steven Mark sounds like he springs from the heydays of the sixties, albeit with Elliott Smith’s sensibilities: this cover, for example, sports late-career Beatleseque folk rock set around smooth lead piano and an undercurrent of acoustic guitar and light drums. The gentle framework makes for a nice dreamy feeling, leeching the angst out of the original lyrics, and replacing it with a lithium haze which suits the song surprisingly well.

    It’s a little loud for a folkblog, but I couldn’t resist passing along this wonderful indie rock piece from The Rodeo, who — if I’m reading this email correctly — appears to be the nom de plume of a single woman with an annagrammatic name who identifies as folk/indie on her MySpace, where she has posted a perfectly stunning, truly folk Dietrich-meets-Guthrie version of If I Had A Hammer to prove it.

    I don’t get as many CD submissions as I used to, but I still get a thrill from physical media that I just can’t get from downloads. Which is why I’m especially indebted to porterdavis for reminding me why I listen to everything that comes my way. Their newest self-titled album reveals a band with a penchant for sparse, soulful acoustic roots music that sounds like the world’s best backstage session with your favorite folksinger: this Muddy Waters cover is loose and funky, the album’s lead song has folk radio written all over it, and Carter’s Tune, a duet with Eliza Gilkyson, is a contemporary coffeehouse folk fan’s dream. Definitely pick up your own copy of porterdavis (the album).

    The meld of Brazillian traditional beats and appalachian bluegrass which Brooklyn-based composer/guitarist Clay Ross has adopted as his modality on his brand new album Matuto works a hell of a lot better than I expected. This version of an old gospel tune most recently covered by Eilen Jewell and the Sacred Shakers is earthy, ancient, aboriginal stuff, representative of the genius involved, well worth the purchase price.

    Rockstar Aimz wrote a glowing and thorough review of raspy-voiced Kasey Anderson‘s new self-released digital-only cover album Way Out West last week while I was sitting in a field basking in the folk. Since they pretty much covered the bases — wonderful deep-cut song selection, transformative reworkings, a strong diversity of sound — there’s little for me to add except to note that despite the etherial tone of his Johnny Cash cover, Way Out West is centrally a balladeer’s alt-country album. It’s all good. Download via Kasey Anderson’s label.

    Jim Hanft blows a mean harmonica and folk-rocks out a bit, as evidenced by the songs on his debut album Backyard Waltz. But he also crafts quiet soundtrack-ready singer-songwriter bedroom folk, subtle and stunning, and this lovely cover is a beaut, fresh and light as a summer’s day. I especially like the mix of vocals here — the pure female voice on the chorus comes out of nowhere like a ray of sunshine through warm cloud cover.

    Singer-songwriter Will Phalen wrote to let me know about his recent Arcade Fire cover, recorded as part of a cover-a-week initiative by Chicago songwriter’s forum The Song League; though he readily admits the vocals aren’t as strong as some of his other work, the late-night production values are actually quite apt for the song. But there’s a growing set of coversongs over at Will’s Song League tumblr page which seems well worth watching — I was especially taken by the slow, bedraggled glory of his Manic Depression, and his weary anthemic take on Please Please Me is an imperfect gem in 6/8 with moments of true greatness. In his other life, Will plays “Midwestern Folk Rock” with his band Will Phalen and the Stereo Addicts.

    Gorgeously fluid, totally atmospheric cover from acoustic roots rocker Scott Warren, a founding member of indie rock-slash-power pop outfit Signal Hill Transmission with shades of Slaid Cleaves in his soft twang and solo strum. Apparently, the guy from America likes it, too. The rest of his new album Quick Fix Bandage, which dropped today, is a bit more country-roots, and worth it.

    I could have sworn we had heard the last of the great Toxic covers long before now. But French folkpop experimentalist Lozninger‘s comprehensive melodic and tonal deconstruction of the otherwise over-covered tune turns the Britney Spears original into something delicious, almost unrecognizable, and not yet heard: swirling and moody, an underwater city draped with softly rippling seaweed.

Speaking of female-voiced pianofolk: soulful pop songstress Leslie Mendelson has a new album out, and it’s full and delicate all at once. This live in-studio RAWsession cover of Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire is a little more rock, a little less pop, and quite worth the click.

Finally, Jill Andrews, solo after an everybodyfields break-up, introduces us to her new project, a son named Nico…and throws in a sweet cover of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature as a bonus. A perfect way to celebrate death and life in one sweet turn.

Cover Lay Down will return Sunday with more coverfolk for your ears, heart, and soul.

1,213 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Chris Smither Covers, Redux:
(John Hiatt, The Grateful Dead, Little Feat, Chuck Berry, Dylan and more)

July 26th, 2009 — 11:21 am

As always, I’m offline at our annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival pilgrimage for the last weeks of July; feel free to stop by the Teen Crew tent some morning and say hi if you’re at the fest. But arriving early to help set up the festival site means making hard choices, and there’s none harder than missing this year’s Green River Festival, which featured an incredible Friday night line-up of fifteen Signature Sounds artists in honor of the label’s fifteenth anniversary year.

Signature Sounds is at the top of my favorite folk labels list, both for their incredible stable of artists and their tendency towards rich contemporary production values; it helps that they’re local, too, and that I’ve spent years as an adult audiophile listening to founder Jim Olsen spin the tunes on local radio. In the earliest days of Cover Lay Down, we featured numerous artists from their ranks, and serendipitously, two of these artists — Peter Mulvey and Chris Smither — have new CDs hitting the pavement at summer’s end. This week, we feature those artists, with bonus tracks from their upcoming releases, both of which come very highly recommended.

I seriously considered Chris Smither for our Covered in Folk series. After all, for much of his forty-year career Smither was a total unknown outside a very small community…unless you happened to know who wrote Bonnie Raitt’s hit Love Me Like A Man. Smither has cred as a performer in his own right; he deserves to be touted for his own deceptively simple musicianship, not just his writing. The problem is, while his songs have been pretty consistently out in the open since he started out, his career path yaws like a ship in a storm.

Smither joined the Cambridge, MA folk scene in the late sixties, and hit the national radar in the early seventies with a spate of albums that showcased his emerging songwriting and raw, bluesy swamp folk style. But he faded into relative obscurity by the end of the decade, touring sporadically, releasing only one album in the eighties while his songs lived on in the hands of others. For a while, it looked like another promising musician had gotten lost.

But when Smither came back in 1991 with intimately recorded live album Another Way To Find You, it put him right back in the groove, winning awards and filling bars across the country. Since then, he’s been prolific and celebrated; today, where the Dixie Chicks still sell more Patty Griffin than Patty Griffin, Chris Smither has transcended life as “the guy who wrote that song” to become a headliner again, reemerging from the dark eighties to impress a new generation with his foot-stomping blues/folk guitar style, his throat-scratching Florida by way of New Orleans tenor drawl, and his interpretation of both his own well-crafted tunes and familiar standards from the folk canon.

At his best, Smither’s signature sound is a holdover from the days of Leadbelly, before blues and folk music split into distinct genres. Like those that came before him, he can play fast and loose with tempo, speeding through phrases on the guitar in raw emotive power. What distinguishes his style from the great grandaddies of interpretive fingerplucking is a preference for fastfinger slide over chord-playing, and a mellow, weathered grin all his own that shines through his lyrical play to flavor even the most wistful of folksongs.

The edgy, bluesy style Smither favors in performance is best featured on Another Way to Find You, in all its live, foot-stomping glory; his produced work shows an equally gifted ability to play the power of that wailing voice and sweet guitarplay off a full wash of sound. Here’s a full house of covers from his second wave of fame — a trio of solid tracks from Another Way, and a pair of more recent, more produced cuts — just to prove that you can rise again:

Chris Smither: Friend of the Devil (orig. Grateful Dead)
Chris Smither: Down in the Flood (orig. Bob Dylan)
Chris Smither: Tulane (orig. Chuck Berry)
Chris Smither: Rock and Roll Doctor (orig. Little Feat)
Chris Smither: Real Fine Love (orig. John Hiatt)

Chris Smither sells all his in-print works, from 1984’s amazing It Ain’t Easy to his more mellow, bluesy recent gems, through his website, so you know where he’d prefer you buy them. Unfortunately, if you’d like to go back to his work from before the resurrection, you’ll have to scour the used recordshops — but they’re well worth the vintage price, if you find one in good condition.

Today’s bonus coversongs are a full house, too:

Special BONUS EXCLUSIVE COVER PREVIEW from Chris Smither’s upcoming album Time Stands Still, due out on Signature Sounds in September:

1,249 comments » | Uncategorized

Peter Mulvey: Ten Thousand Mornings, Redux
(covers of Los Lobos, U2, The Beatles, and more!)

July 22nd, 2009 — 10:34 am

As always, I’m offline at our annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival pilgrimage for the last weeks of July; feel free to stop by the Teen Crew tent some morning and say hi if you’re at the fest. But arriving early to help set up the festival site means making hard choices, and there’s none harder than missing this year’s Green River Festival, which featured an incredible Friday night line-up of fifteen Signature Sounds artists in honor of the label’s fifteenth anniversary year.

Signature Sounds is at the top of my favorite folk labels list, both for their incredible stable of artists and their tendency towards rich contemporary production values; it helps that they’re local, too, and that I’ve spent years as an adult audiophile listening to founder Jim Olsen spin the tunes on local radio. In the earliest days of Cover Lay Down, we featured numerous artists from their ranks, and serendipitously, two of these artists — Peter Mulvey and Chris Smither — have new CDs hitting the pavement at summer’s end. This week, we feature those artists, with bonus tracks from their upcoming releases, both of which come very highly recommended.

I first encountered Peter Mulvey at the 2003 Green River Festival, where he appeared as part of lo-fi folk covergroup Redbird along with folk blues artist Jeffrey Foucault and his recent bride, the full-voiced Kris Delmhorst. Though at the time I was more impressed with the others, it is Mulvey’s interpretations I keep coming back to — Delmhort’s work is sweet simplicity, and Foucault can play the blues like nobody’s business, but Mulvey has the versatility of the true cover artist, and the knack of bringing new meaning to a wide breadth of song.

Peter Mulvey fans speak mostly of his songwriting and guitarplay, which play off the similar strings but equally defined style of his constant sideman and collaborator David “Goody” Goodrich to create a rich slackstring sound; Mulvey’s voice falls more into the Tom Waits and Dylan camps, full of feeling but hardly melodic. As a member of Redbird, this lends a rough edge to harmonies. As a solo cover artist, though, the spare voice recasts lyrics powerfully.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Ten Thousand Mornings, a 2002 album of covers — the up-and-coming folksinger’s bread and butter — recorded live in Mulvey’s old stomping grounds: the Davis Square subway station just outside of Boston. It’s a neat concept, designed to call to his roots as a struggling busker, and it works exceptionally well: the echoes of the brick and tile underground lend an air of realism, and the trains and passersby screech and shuss, becoming part of the music, making the experience — and the songs — truly live.

It’s hard to pick just two cuts from this album, both because there’s so many gems and because there’s a surprising diversity among them, given that most are just a guy and his guitar (and his guy, and his guitar). In the end, I decided to save his best covers of folk artists for other posts, so you’ll have to wait for his amazing interpretation of Dar Williams’ The Ocean, and his Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, and Dylan covers. Two of my remaining favorites from the subway series, the second with backup from Anita Suhanin:

Ten Thousand Mornings is one of many fine Peter Mulvey records from folk label Signature Sounds; Mulvey sells them directly through his website, so you know where he prefers that you buy them. And now you know why you should, too.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

Special REPOST BONUS: an exclusive track from the upcoming Peter Mulvey album Letters From a Flying Machine, due this fall from Signature Sounds:

1,529 comments » | Uncategorized

Single Song Sunday: Summertime
(John Fahey, Colin Meloy, Pura Fe, The Zombies and five more!)

July 19th, 2009 — 11:32 am

There’s a good bit of the Gershwin brothers in the folkstream, and for good reason: the best of their tunes are catchy, simple, and storied, just as the best folk is. Moreso, more than almost any other composers of popular song for the stage, the universal recognition factor of so much of their songbook marks it as folksong, or something near enough: owned by the culture-at-large, familiar on the tongue and the ear, versatile enough to take flight in the hands of the hundreds of artists and amateurs who have made the songs their own.

In the case of Summertime, a song which first came to light as a repeated motif in Porgy and Bess, the connection to folk is especially strong. The deliberate faux-African American folk spiritual tone, and the Ukranian folk-lullaby which composer George Gershwin mined for the aria, speak to a solid grounding in the musical traditions of not just one but several peoples. And the simple lyrics, co-written by brother Ira Gershwin and Porgy playwrights DuBose and Dorothy Hayward, are ecologically-grounded, deeply emotional, and culturally resonant. As such, though it also makes for an especially lush pianoblues and vocal jazz standard, the song calls to folk, and has been amply covered in the folkworld.

As promised when we last visited the songs of summer, then: a good and typically diverse set of folk and folk-hybrid takes on this cultural classic. From the light, earthy tones of favorite folk interpreters Doc Watson and Dave Grisman to John Fahey‘s languid, ringing walk, the country steel wail of Mike Auldridge and the eerie lo-fi indiefolk of Decemberist Colin Meloy, the mystical ghosts of native american folk artist and lap slide aficionado Pura Fe, the mellow jamfolk of The Zombies, Janis Joplin‘s bluesy wail, Eva Cassidy‘s lounge blues; Bela Karoli‘s strange and beautiful deconstructed stringfolk: this is summer incarnate, no matter how you slice it.

Cover Lay Down is proud to support direct and independent sales over mass-market commercialization and the narrowing of the cultural spectrum which the megastore model leads to. As always, folks, if you like what you hear, don’t forget to click on artist links above to pursue purchasing, in most cases direct from the artists.

1,636 comments » | Single Song Sunday

Covered in Pianofolk: The Keyboardist as Folk Musician
(Allison Crowe, Vienna Teng, Emm Gryner, Regina Spektor and more!)

July 14th, 2009 — 11:39 pm

Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe, who has made a career of covering, crafting and performing warm, lyrical songs with little more than an intensely rich, emotional voice, strong piano skills, and a heap of moxie, was recently refused entry into the UK for a music festival, a casualty of the United Kingdom’s increasingly stringent rules for touring artists, which in turn seem to be part and parcel of the insane and inappropriately panicked global response to the fear of terrorism.

We’ve covered Allison’s work here before, and her manager Adrian even offered us some temporary hosting when we got into a spot of trouble last November; as a fan and a friend, I admire her cheerful yet proactive response to this despicable predicament, and wish her the best of luck in her continued tour. If you’d like to help the cause, please join Allison and others in signing the Visiting Academics and Artists Petition.

That said: few describe Crowe or her keyboard-wielding contemporaries as folk performers; the rise of the piano as a solo instrument in the hands of folk-grounded musicians is a relatively new development. But switch out the piano for a guitar, and I think most would accept the categorization. Today, with the help of Crowe and a few fellow female singer-songwriters, we make the case for the piano-vocalist as folk.

What is it about instrumentation that flavors our categorization of music inside or outside of the folk canon? Much, I think, has to do with history, both of folk itself, and of our own personal experience with the sound and genre placement of particular instruments.

As recently as the Woodstock generation, vocalized folk music was driven by singer-songwriters and interpretive troubadours wielding instruments portable enough to move from back porch to coffeehouse to labor protest — guitars, banjos, the autoharp, the mountain dulcimer. The side of folk which evolved from the blues comes to us through an evolutionary path which eschewed barrelhouse for guitar-driven field-blues. And regional forms — from bluegrass to old-timey folk to zydeco — whose evolution has become entwined with folk music, are similarly driven by strings plucked, strummed, or bowed, along with the occasional accordion or hammered dulcimer.

Ethnomusicologists take note: we don’t often consider the technology of the instrument, and its effect on the evolution of folk’s various forms. But if form follows function, then changes in functionality open up new avenues for expression. Writ broadly, we might say that with portability and location such determinant elements of the folksinger’s choice of instrument, it took both an increased ubiquity of the piano in the spaces where folk happens, and the development of the synthesizer, to make the keyboard-playing folk musician a real possibility in the smaller, generally amateur venues which typify modern folk performance.

These factors do not arise from thin air, of course. They were driven by the genre blur between pop, rock, and folk which have brought folk-oriented singer-songwriters into larger performance spaces, many of which held pianos, the advent of folk as an increasingly “native” recorded medium in the seventies and eighties, and the full-production sound of contemporary folk, which brought keyboard players into the studio as part of the folk creation process.

Combine these, and you have a platform wide enough to contain a new generation of piano-playing singer-songwriters who stand with at least one foot in the folk process, even as they straddle genre lines in their marketing and self-identity as artists. From here, it takes but a little — the folksinger’s adoption of rock music’s synthesizers for solo performance, and the small folk venue’s inclusion of piano and drums as part of a platform of preparedness for a more diverse spectrum of music. Abracadabra: the conditions for change are met.

The effect of instrumentation on our experience of music is not trivial: our formative experience with the piano, both as listeners and musicians, is most often that of pop or classical music, and the context in which both listener and performer hear the piano informs the way we hear and make this sort of song performance. Though style and innovation matter greatly to the individualized performer, we cannot help but bring our biases along with our listening ears, and apply it to any vocalist with her hands on the keys.

The way we describe piano-based singer-songwriter music is indicative of this subjective history. Though rock influences are evident in the work of a diverse set of artists from Tori Amos to Regina Spektor to Emm Gryner, the pop vocalist label is forever bandied about; Spektor identifies with the anti-folk movement, and Gryner’s fan base is wholly indie and alt-rock, but you’ll find these performers filed under pop. Even piano-playing musicians who are embraced by the folk community first and foremost, such as Susan Werner and Vienna Teng, are described in reviews and biographies in the terminology of pop and classical music, treated as anomalies or curiosities by the very fans that claim them as their own. Meanwhile, Fiona Apple is celebrated for her vocals, but isn’t remembered for her piano work, though it got her demo tape noticed in the first place. And that all of these performers lean heavily on their vocal talents, drifting into pop vocalist mannerisms and fluidity of performance, doesn’t help our case.

But it’s worth remembering that I first saw new radiopop phenomenon Sara Bareilles in a folk club, just a girl and her electric keyboard in front of a few dozen appreciative folk fans, an opening act for a performer long forgotten. I saw Nellie McKay, who has gone on to make a name for herself in the indie world as a quirky, playful post-pop lounge deconstructionist, in the same venue, again as an opener, and on a battered baby grand, long before she made her name beyond her native New York City.

In both cases, no one blinked — and that says it all. Take away the production, suspend the disbelief that a hundred years of string instruments have wrought, betray your biases towards the black and white, and this is, in the end, a form of singer-songwriter folk, accepted by the community, and well within the range of folk festival feature performance. Here’s just a few favorites from what may well be one of folk music’s newest genre-stretching branches.

As always, Cover Lay Down encourages you to click on artist links above to learn more about tours, merchandise, and downloads direct from the source, the better to support the next generation of artists pushing the boundaries and biases of folk. After all, pianos may be made of wood, but this sort of craftsmanship doesn’t grow on trees.

12 comments » | Subgenre Coverfolk

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
(On growing up, growing old, and trying to remember it all)

July 12th, 2009 — 12:04 am

The elderchild doesn’t turn seven until Wednesday, but with grandparents spread far in every direction, and friends available on weekends only, we’ve been in full celebratory swing since Friday. This year’s theme is the circus, and we’re giving it a good go, following up a week of trapeze and tumbling camp with a trip to Circus Smirkus with a few friends tomorrow.

The long stretch gives me license to ponder the child she has become, and I’ve tried, turning to memory and the albums that line our bookcases with an eye towards recovering the history that made her the willful, wild child she is today. But though the photos and old journals tell me that she was once a tiny thing, fascinated by beetles and buttons, I’m startled to find that I cannot remember any of it.

I know people say it seems like yesterday, but in my head, time doesn’t work that way. My memory has always been fleeting; my sense of the world always immediate, everpresent, and eternally now. For me it seems like a lifetime since that first moment I fell in love with her — both the idea of her, and the real bloody thing, squalling and blue in the hospital room.

It’s hard to reconcile the past with the present. On the ground, my daughter is a powerful personality, gleeful and curious, a boundary tester and a bossy bessie, into magic and circus tricks, fishing and fairy houses and the little boy next door. Too big to carry, too smart for her own good, she stays up for hours in her room after lights out, drawing furtive messages on the back of her knees, reading in the wan light of the hallway just like her Daddy did when he was little.

In my head, I accept that photos do not lie — that this same lean, lanky womanchild who shares my preference for figuring out over mastery, and treats me with scorn when I do not know what she knows, was once the tiny child I taught to skip and run, fly and dream. But in the autobiographical existence we share each day, it seems like she’s always been the way she is now. And it worries me that I can’t remember the little girl she’s outgrowing.

If the smaller self is somewhere in the hidden recesses of my aging heart, it is walled away, overwhelmed by the daily realities of our willfullness and the struggle for selfhood.

I miss it every moment of my life.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Eight stunning covers of Who Knows Where The Time Goes, plus two more from another day.

1,327 comments » | Uncategorized

Covering the Popular:
On Folk Alley’s 100 Most Essential Folk Songs of All Time

July 7th, 2009 — 08:47 pm

First and foremost: To my immense and pleasurable surprise, as of last week, Cover Lay Down has broken into the top 100 over at leading music blog aggregator Hype Machine. Thanks, folks. It is, as always, an honor and a privilege to serve the community, and I appreciate the recognition that such list-making signifies.

It’s worth noting here that although bandwidth costs rise with each new tier in popularity, we are probably one a very few blogs to make it that high on the list without advertising. Before summer ends, I hope to have a very special announcement involving an exclusive quarterly podcast subscription give-away for those who choose to donate. In the meantime, feel free to click on that little donate tab above, or not, without pressure, in anticipation of such gift-giving. Come fund drive time, early adopters will be remembered.

In the meanwhile, our thoughts turn to another top 100: Folk Alley’s 100 Most Essential Folk Songs of all time, as voted on by their readership, reported on just a few weeks ago on NPR, and currently playing in random order over at Folk Alley, the 24/7 online stream from WKSU.

It’s an interesting list, with few surprises, and plenty of beloved covers and originals; it’s especially pleasing to run down towards the end of the list and recognize songs I hold dear, but which I had not realized were as well recognized by the community, such as Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia (#74), Cheryl Wheeler’s Arrow (#76), John Gorka’s Love is Our Cross to Bear (#92), and more.

Many of these songs are covers as we count them — which is to say, the list is peppered with both traditional songs and standards — and it is interesting to me to find, say, John Denver’s original version of Leaving on a Jet Plane (#100) chosen over the Peter Paul and Mary classic, or the Martin Carthy Scarborough Fair (#35) instead of, say, popularists Simon and Garfunkel, alongside Doc and Richard Watson’s take on tradsong House of the Rising Sun (#53) and Tom Rush’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s Urge for Going (#94). Most, though, are the “right” covers, from Seeger’s multiple entries to The Byrds’ Turn Turn Turn (#22) to Fairport Convention’s definitive versions of trad-tunes Matty Groves (#29) and Tam Lin (#89).

Still, there are a very small few in this seminal set which I have come to love through coverage — songs for which I respect in the original, but would defend to the death in the interpretation. Here’s the subjective rarities: my better versions, the internal and eternal wind of change against the canon, the tunes I hear in my head when I read their titles. After all, as much as it is about the communal, in the end, all music is deep, and personal, and private.



Cover Lay Down is proud to be your favorite coverfolk blog.

1,760 comments » | Uncategorized

(Re)Covered XI: More covers of and from
Beck, The Kinks, Wilco, and a Contest Week wrap-up

July 5th, 2009 — 04:15 pm

Our popular (Re)Covered series, wherein we recover songs that dropped through the cracks too late to make it into the posts where they belonged, generally provides an opportunity to check in on previously featured artists, songs and themes. Today, I’ve also included an omnibus reminder to enter our Contest Week contests before entries close on Monday at midnight.

But first, thanks to other blogs, artists and label notices, fan submissions, and other agents of serendipitous universe, here’s the scoop on some new songs, new takes, and new discoveries.

We made a case for Beck-as-folksinger way back in the early weeks of Cover Lay Down; as I suggested at the time, the stripped-down, almost funereal acoustic side of the popular genre-pushing artist is closer to his heart and history than most popular music fans realize.

Since then, Beck has continued to ride the line between hiccuping electronic pop and the more pensive works which have wormed their way into the heart of grungefolk audiophiles everywhere, though it’s hard to justify his most recent compilation appearance, a beat-heavy, fuzzed out rock cover of Dylan’s Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat which appeared on recent indierock compilation War Child: Heroes, as anything but the radio-oriented track it is intended to be.

But in the last few weeks, news of a new project has hit the blogs, sure to appeal to fans of his weary troubadour sound: Beck has grand plans to record a series of one-shot in-studio sessions covering classics with a host of well-seasoned friends and fellow musicians, releasing them through his website as Beck’s Record Club, and if the three retro-grungy Velvet Underground covers which already grace are any indication, the project is well worth watching. Here’s the first taste, plus a favorite older cover for continuity’s sake:

We closed out last summer with a feature on The Kinks, and the subject proved popular: In the days that followed, I received plenty of encouragement, and a handful of tracks from readers. Most were on the syrupy side — I’m not sure why Ray Davies’ songwriting lends itself so well to torch songs. But a few were keepers.

Here’s a trio of vastly different but equally summery Kinks covers which have come to my ears since then, and stuck: a delicate solo uke version of Victoria from Ema and the Ghosts, a lighthearted retro-rocker from Holly Golightly, and an older typically british folkrock take on Days from Kirsty MacColl.

We featured Sam Jacobs, who fronts the loose collaboration of friends now performing under the moniker The Flying Change, way back in our very first New Artists, Old Songs post, and a few Wilco covers when ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett passed a few months ago. Now, thanks to Sam himself, we bring this exclusive, endearingly lo-fi take on Wilco’s Pieholden Suite, recorded live with full band, including oboe and sax. It’s not exactly folk, but it starts off that way, and stays pretty mellow throughout. Great stuff from a maturing artist.

I’ve also included Jacobs’ wonderfully Cohen-esque cover of Tom Petty’s Yer So Bad, recorded under the name Lipstik, which we first posted back in April of 2008, and a great ragged Daniel Johnston bonus cover from Bennett’s last album, which is available for free download here.

Finally, our very first annual Cover Lay Down contest week has been quite the adventure. But since geography, availability, and other factors seem to be keeping most folks from entering our two festival-related contests, to make it easier, I’m making each prize for those contests available separately. In other words: EACH contest includes at least one highly-recommended CD, and each CD can be won without stress or commitment.

Here’s the list, with linkbacks good until midnight Monday; click on each for contest entry details. If you’re only in it for the CDs, make sure to include the phrase “CD ONLY” in your entry.

Contest #1: Win 26-song all-covers indiefolk CD sampler Before the Goldrush

Contest #2: Day passes for both Friday and Saturday at Grey Fox Bluegrass Fest, July 16-19, PLUS new CDs from both newgrass angel Sarah Jarosz and cajun & swing combo Red Stick Ramblers

Contest #3: Two four day camping passes to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, July 23-26 PLUS Susan Werner’s most recent all-covers chamberfolk CD Classics

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming up later this week: Cover Lay Down hits the Hype Machine top 100 pop charts, and we use the occasion to ponder the definitive nature of popular folk songs.

1,442 comments » | (Re)Covered, Beck, CONTESTS, The Kinks

CLD CONTEST WEEK’s Grand Conclusion!
Contest #3: Win Two Passes to Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, July 23-26!

July 3rd, 2009 — 09:33 pm

Our previous contests this week — one to win Grey Fox Bluegrass day passes and some sweet bluegrass and cajun CDs, the other to win the Before the Goldrush tribute CD — have been successful, but there’s still plenty of chances left. The Grey Fox contest includes over $250 worth of prizes alone, and there’s FOUR chances to win, so don’t forget to enter before contests close on Monday at midnight!

But wait! Today, Cover Lay Down CONTEST WEEK comes to a head with an amazing chance to win two four-day camping passes for Falcon Ridge Folk Festival! Read on for details…

My love for the Berkshire-based Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is unabashed and longstanding; it is my happy place, and the community which forms around it each year my home away from home. Last month’s Falcon Ridge Preview post featured plenty of music from the likes of Amy Speace, Cliff Eberhardt, Girlyman, Kathy Mattea and more, and glowing praise for a holy host of festival returnees from Susan Werner to The Nields to Janis Ian to Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, and now, as the festival grows close, I can feel the excitement growing.

This year’s roster of performers is stellar as always, and the festival is within easy driving distance of all places New York and New England. But even if it’s a bit of a drive for you, never fear: thanks to the festival organizers, we are proud to offer an incredible final Contest Week prize of two full camping passes to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which will allow you and a guest to stay on site 24/7 for the full four days, taking advantage of the best this community has to offer. And one lucky runner up will receive a copy of Susan Werner’s Classics*

To enter, leave a comment below OR send an email letting me know who you are most excited to see at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Please make sure to include your email address in all correspondence!

There’s plenty of samples at our original post, but here’s a few more to whet your whistle for the best darn festival around!

*The small print: If you’re not local enough to make Grey Fox (Contest #2) or Falcon Ridge (Contest #3), you can enter to win CD prizes only; to do so, just remember to include the words CD ONLY in your email or comment. ALL contests will close at midnight on Monday, July 6. Good luck!

1,023 comments » | CONTESTS, Festival Coverfolk

Contest #2: Win passes and CDs from Grey Fox Bluegrass, July 16-19

July 1st, 2009 — 09:44 pm

Our contest week got off to a great start Monday with a chance to win indiefolk tribute compilation Before the Goldrush. Entries for all contests won’t close until midnight on Monday, July 6, so there’s still time to throw your hat in the ring.

But don’t leave just yet. Because today, we up the ante by bringing you not one but four chances to win, thanks to the wonderful folks at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and their sponsor Sugar Hill Records. Prizes include a pair of Grey Fox festival passes for Friday, a second pair of passes for Saturday, and CDs from new bluegrass sensation Sarah Jarosz and cajun string band the Red Stick Ramblers. And we’re letting them go as separate prizes, so even if you can’t make the shows, you can still enter to win the CDs!

The Northeast’s preeminent bluegrass fest kicks off two weeks from tomorrow, so clear the calendars, make some room in the CD changer, and read on for details and tunes.

As I predicted last year, the 2008 relocation of the long-standing Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival to a new festival site on the edge of the Catskills proved to be a stunning success. Now, like most bluegrass fans in the NY/New England area, I’m itching to get back to the laid-back community, with its multiple stages, idyllic country setting, and powerhouse acts from the broad reaches of the bluegrass world.

Of course, much of my excitement springs from the fact that some of my favorite artists will return this year, from the chilling Kentucky-based blues-driven Steeldrivers to newgrass folk quintet Crooked Still. Old-timer Del McCoury will be back, as will Claire Lynch, Peter Rowan, David Bromberg, and Tim O’Brien; those names alone represent a huge part of the modern bluegrass canon, and each is worth seeing more than once in a lifetime.

Add Ricky Skaggs, The Gibson Brothers, The Waybacks, and the easygoing stories and song of long-time festival hosts Dry Branch Fire Squad to the list, throw in dance tent favorites like old-school cajun & western stringband Red Stick Ramblers, and you’ve got a veritable who’s who of modern bluegrass, from high energy countrygrass and old-timey performers to old-school newgrass balladeers and singer-songwriters.

I’m constantly on the lookout for rising stars, too, and as always, Grey Fox has young talent aplenty. Rising sensation and freshly-minted high school graduate Sarah Jarosz, who we featured here in April in anticipation of the release of her debut CD Song Up In Her Head, will be doing a main stage set sure to please. So will new Berklee barnburners The Boston Boys, who I celebrated here after seeing them tear up a small church basement back in May.

I’m especially eager to hear more from Brooklyn-based post-traditional stringband King Wilkie. I just received their new album King Wilkie Presents: The Wilkie Family Singers, which frames itself as the product of music therapy session of a fictional musical family not unlike a dysfunctional Carter Family come to life; the conceit seems odd on the screen, but in the ears, the album is a masterwork from start to finish, rich enough in talent and style to rival such lofty predecessors. And it boasts plenty of talent, from the band members themselves to special guests Robyn Hitchcock, banjo experimentalist Abigail Washburn, and long-standing masters Bromberg and Rowan.

Overall, this year’s Grey Fox promises to be one of the best regional events in ages. And to help you get there, in body and in spirit, thanks to the ever-generous Grey Fox folks and their sponsor, long-standing go-to bluegrass label Sugar Hill Records, we’re giving away an unprecedented set of FOUR separate prizes:

  1. A pair of day passes for Friday
  2. A pair of day passes for Saturday
  3. A copy of the new Sarah Jarosz CD Song Up In Her Head
  4. A copy of the new Red Stick Ramblers CD My Suitcase Is Always Packed

To enter, merely leave a comment OR send an email with the subject line GREY FOX CONTEST letting me know who your favorite bluegrass artist is. FOUR lucky winners will each get a taste of the best ‘grass around; two will get to bring a friend. If you’ve got a preference, or you just can’t make it this year, make sure you let me know whether you’d prefer tickets, a CD, or whatever you can get your grubby hands on.

For the lucky ones, and for the rest of us, here’s a short set of sample tunes to whet your appetite for Grey Fox. Together, they define the extraordinary breadth and talent we’ve come to expect from a great festival.

Whether you can make it, or you’re just in it for the tunes, don’t forget to check out artist links above to support the folks that make our heads nod and our hearts sing. And if you’re in the region, or ready to head out to the fields, pitch a tent, and stick around for the whole weekend, check out the Grey Fox Festival site for tickets, directions, and more. See you on the hill July 16-19!

PS: Don’t forget to come back later this week for the final installment of Cover Lay Down’s CONTEST WEEK. Trust me, you won’t want to miss this one!

935 comments » | CONTESTS, Festival Coverfolk