Archive for April 2011

Tributes and Cover Compilations Week, Vol. 4: Countryfolk
albums of and from Laura Cantrell, Tom T. Hall, Michael Daves & Chris Thile

April 30th, 2011 — 12:07 pm

Our week-long coverage of this Spring’s fine crop of tribute albums and cover compilations comes to a close today with a trio of albums that fall square on the line between country and folk music. Enjoy!

Sleep With One Eye Open, the collaboration with ex-Nickel Creek founder Chris Thile which Brooklyn-based bluegrass musician Michael Daves alluded to back in February during his appearance at the Joe Val Bluegrass Fest, hits the ground running May 10, and I haven’t been this excited for a bluegrass album in a long, long while.

Daves is one of the best guitarists and vocalists in the business, a constant tour companion with banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka and Roseanne Cash who channels the high tenor tones of his forebears with exquisite deliberation; mandolinist Thile has had no small success bringing bluegrass to a younger, more indie-minded audience, first with Nickel Creek, more recently with his newgrass band Punch Brothers. Unsurprisingly, the combination is gleefully potent, making this a project sure to please fans of multiple generations. And, says Michael, though the male voice mando-guitar duet form is a staple of the bluegrass sound, it was important for us…to get that brother duet thing, but with this Lower East Side punk energy. One of the most enjoyable things about this experience was to underline the slightly delinquent side of bluegrass.

The set, which is comprised entirely of “traditional” oldtimey tunes and bluegrass standards made popular by Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, The Louvin Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs and other bluegrass legends was recorded in Jack White’s Third Man Studios, and will drop on Nonesuch Records on May 10; a single with two more songs – Man In The Mirror and Blue Night – will follow on the 24th. preorder the autographed CD here, or merely pass on your email address at their website, and you’ll be entered to win a Martin guitar…but to be fair, as the promo two-fer below makes clear, the chance to hear these two virtuosos at the top of their game should be more than enough incentive to buy the album.

  • Chris Thile & Michael Daves: You’re Running Wild (pop. The Louvin Brothers)

Laura Cantrell has long been a darling of the countryfolk set, with fans from NYC, where her Saturday-afternoon country show The Radio Thrift Shop became an institution, to Nashville, where she is known among the Grand Ol’ Opry crowd for both her deep, deceptively delicate songwriting and her refined ability to resurrect hidden gems from the early days of acoustic country, and transform more modern pieces from the popular canon in her inimitable singer-songwriter style. And the critics agree, with kudos from Paste to Rolling Stone; no less than UK tastemaker John Peel called her debut, Not The Tremblin’ Kind, his “favourite album of the last 10 years – and possibly my life”.

Her new tribute to country legend Kitty Wells is Cantrell’s most country album yet, with a vividly colorful cover shot reminiscent of the gingham-and-whiskey era which she is here to revive, and instrumentation that suits a modern interpretation of the canon of a long-gone, almost forgotten queen of early country. But folk fans with a penchant for the country side will still find much to love here, most especially in Cantrell’s voice, which remains as sweet as ever, in the gentle, classic slide-and-harmony driven country balladry which pours forth from the speakers, and in the love she brings to what is clearly a project for the ages.

Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music is already out in the UK, while Cantrell tours the country in the wake of the wedding of the century; it will go global on May 17, and can be pre-ordered at her website. The title-track single, a tribute to Kitty herself, is the sole original on the album, making it tough to justify inclusion here, but you can download it for an address at her website; I’ve included her take on Kitty Wells’ 1952 chart hit It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, and a few older, almost-as-countrified covers here, but encourage all to check out the album, and our 2008 feature on Laura Cantrell’s coverage, to see what makes this one worth pursuit.

Bonus Tracks:

Singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall’s children’s album Songs of Fox Hollow was released in 1974, just a year after I was, and to be honest, I’m surprised that I had never heard of it, having grown up in a home full of kidfolk. But that’s the whole point of I Love: Songs of Fox Hollow, an album tribute which aims to introduce a new generation to a gentle, playful kids’ album which was, apparently, born of Hall’s attempt to explain the working of his Kentucky farm to his two young nephews after a memorable summer spent together among the chicken coops, goat herds, and hayfields.

The songs, which speak of conservation and care, fit as neatly into the modern movement towards agro- and eco-sensitivity as they surely did in the seventies, and their reimagining here in the hands of Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Bobby Bare, Elizabeth Cook and others is sweet and gentle. The result is an album as accessible as it is unabashedly country-slash-Americana, simple and direct in language and rhyme, a perfect album for kids of all ages. It drops May 25, but can and should be streamed in its entirety at the project’s website.

Previously on Tributes and Cover Compilations Week:

528 comments » | Chris Thile, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Countryfolk, Laura Cantrell, Michael Daves, Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Compilations Week, Vol. 3:
The Watson Twins, Mundy, Sufjan’s Seven Swans, Madonna & more!

April 28th, 2011 — 08:30 pm

It’s shaping up to be a strong Spring in the world of tributes and cover albums, and good thing, too – though the single-shot covers continue to pour in daily, other than Reid Jamieson’s recent tribute to 1969, the Cowboy Junkies’ too-heavy-to-be-folk tribute to Vic Chesnutt, and a mid-February Sara Lov popfolk covers compilation, it’s been pretty dry at the album-length intersection of folk and coverage.

But apparently, in the world of cover albums, when it rains, it pours. Over the weekend, we featured Thea Gilmore’s stunning take on Dylan’s seminal 1967 album John Wesley Harding, and dropped two exclusive tracks from Paint It Black, the newest alt-country tribute to the Rolling Stones. Next weekend, we’ll be passing along bits and bytes from a trio of new tribute albums along the border of country, old-timey bluegrass, and folk music.

Today, we return to the shortform approach with a look at four more albums and EPs of folk, indiefolk, and folkpop coverage which have hit the ground running in the wake of a long, spare Winter.

Despite selling far fewer copies than the artist’s tributes to the states of Michigan and Illinois which came before and after it, Sufjan Stevens’ powerful, deeply Christian 2004 album Seven Swans served as such a powerful introduction to the one-time rising star for so many of his peers in the Indie world, it has taken only seven years for the album to be covered in full. But although it seems potentially risky to pay such thorough tribute to a single album so early in its history, there’s something quite deep about Seven Swans Reimagined, a focused indie tribute to the album which dropped at the end of March, the proceeds of which go to benefit for Komen for the Cure.

The roster features a veritable who’s who of the modern Indie movement, with many artists known for their appearance on other compilations, and though the album yaws through a fuller spectrum of the indie canon, with experimental arrangements which echo the originals, much of it is legitimately folk, thanks to generally acoustic, often hushed tones. In all cases, though, from the bouncy bells and flute of Half Handed Cloud’s gentle, pulsing neofolk to the frozen majesty of Unwed Sailor’s Sister to the plodding, echoey, psychedelic soundscape that transforms We Won’t Need Legs To Stand in the hands of Elin K. Smith, the songs maintain their humility and their spiritual edge effectively, even as their tones shift in new hands and mouths.

A few familiar faces, among them Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Joshua James, and Denison Witmer, will be a special delight those of an indiefolk bent; so will less well-known contributors, such as Shannon Stephens and Gregory Paul, whose harmonies make a gentle, almost Joni-esque acoustic slide ballad of Waste Of What Your Kids Won’t Have. And though it’s a bit more pop than folk, Wakey! Wakey! bring a delightfully rough, intimate edge to their majestic piano ballad take on A Size Too Small, taking what is perhaps my favorite song from the original album and turning it on its ear with aplomb. Stream, sample, and buy at Bandcamp – but first, here’s two streams to get you started.

  • Shannon Stephens and Gregory Paul: Waste Of What Your Kids Won’t Have (orig. Sufjan Stevens)

    (from Seven Swans Reimagined, 2011)

Blogwatchers already know about The Watson Twins‘ new Night Covers EP, which has been out since mid-April; cover fans may recognize their name from their take on Neil Young’s Powderfinger which appeared on Cinnamon Girl, the all-female, all-indie American Laundromat Records double album which we called “the tribute album Neil Young has deserved for most of his long and prolific career” when it emerged in February of 2008.

But though those who have followed the indie tastemakers in the past few years know the pair for their sweet sister harmonies, and for their collaboration with Jenny Lewis on the well-received Rabbit Fur Coat, which took the critical world by storm in 2005, should know by now: The Watson Twins are much more than a pair of backup singers made good. And, with one EP and two full-length albums already under their belts, identical twins Chandra and Leigh have produced a fine addition to our Spring roundup.

The Night Covers has but six tracks, most of which teeter on the alt-slash-popfolk line, as so much of their work has before; the disk is a bit pricey, but it seems worth the dough, if only because of how effectively the twins pay upbeat, driving tribute to a well-selected collection of pop and soul-turned-indiefolk songs from The Eurythmics to Bill Withers to Sade, with a rock turn by way of the Black Keys and PJ Harvey. Cover Me has a review of more substance, and an interview; their take on Turtles hit You Showed Me, the single, is typical of the album’s sound and sensibility.

Bonus tracks:

I wasn’t sure if I should include this next album on our list. After all, like the members of their indie roster, most of Toronto-based Paper Bag Records’ Madonna album tribute True Blue isn’t folk, ranging instead from the glitchy, fuzzed-out, almost Clash-esque rock Born Ruffians bring to Madonna b-side Jimmy Jimmy, to the wailing full-press post-punk of PS I Love You’s Where’s The Party, to the surprisingly well-translated throwback pop-tronica of Woodhands (Papa Don’t Preach), Winter Gloves (True Blue), and You Say Party (Love Makes The World Go Around) which anchor the album.

But the collection is free, making it an easy path to entry for the strong indie stable which Paper Bag Records represents. And two standout tracks are decidedly folk music: Laura Barrett’s gently disjointed La Isla Bonita, and The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “We’re Scared Version” of Live To Tell, which applies gentle guitar, synth, and tambourine to create a delicate, sunny, decidedly retrofolk version of Madonna’s sappy 80′s hit.

Finally, on the horizon: 2 U I Bestow brings us news of an impending covers album from cheerful Emerald Isle singer-songwriter Mundy, whose song of the same name not only serves as namesake for the Irish-only folkblog, it also brought the artist a bit of fame back in 1996, when it was included on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. The aptly titled Shuffle drops May 13 in US and UK markets; thanks to Mundy’s reps, I’ve had a chance to hear the whole thing, and found it warm, familiar, and quite worth the time – recommended, especially, for those who prefer their folk without the indie edge.

The set, a tribute to the Mundy’s favorite American “folk” influences – a list which includes alt-country, country, rock, and folk singer-songwriters, from Bob Dylan, John Prine, Paul Simon, and Warren Zevon to Parsons/Hillman, Emmylou Harris, and both Lucinda and Hank Williams – doesn’t dig terribly deep into the catalogs of the artists it honors, and the tracks tend to hew relatively close to their original genre. But the performances here are sincere and solid, transformative and truly listenable, fully fleshed out with contemporary radio-ready folk-rock production values and instrumentation: an apt introduction to a strong, well-produced performer sadly underrepresented and underappreciated on this side of the pond. Here’s the pre-release single – in stream-only form, as requested – and two older covers for reference.

  • Mundy: It’s A Wonderful Lie (orig. Paul Westerberg)

    (from Shuffle, 2011)

Bonus tracks:

Stay tuned, loyal readers! Cover Lay Down brings Tributes and Cover Compilations Week to a triumphant close this weekend with new tributes of and from Tom T. Hall, Laura Cantrell, and Chris Thile and Michael Daves!

267 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Madonna, Mundy, Sufjan Stevens, The Watson Twins, Tribute Albums

Thea Gilmore Covers Dylan
…plus more coverage from the heir apparent of British folk

April 24th, 2011 — 06:34 pm

Known for her interpretations of the songs of others as much as for her own firey, highly poetic lyrics and potent songcraft, British singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore has long been on my list as a potential feature subject here on Cover Lay Down – and sure enough, you’ll find an LP-length selection of her past coverage below, including takes on The Buzzcocks, The Clash, Elvis Costello, and more, which I hope will make a fan of those who have not heard her before.

But it’s Tributes and Cover Compilations week here on Cover Lay Down, and fittingly, though she’s been compared in her day to Sandy Denny, Beth Orton, Alanis Morisette, and Joni Mitchell, Thea’s newest effort is a tightly focused tribute to the man who – next to her husband, producer, guitarist and constant collaborator Nigel Stonier – is perhaps her strongest influence. And so we begin our feature with a comparative eye, enumerating the many connections between the 31 year old Gilmore and her musical ancestor and progenitor, Bob Dylan.

Thea Gilmore got an early start in the industry, working in a recording studio and recording her first album as a teenager, breaking into the charts at 23, and – as we saw in our recent feature on the songs of Bill Withers – working alongside such British folk rock icons as John Kirkpatrick (Steeleye Span) and Martin Allcock (Fairport Convention) before she hit her stride as a solo artist. Since then, in just 15 years, the prolific songstress has produced a dozen albums, each one a critic’s darling and a gem of distinction, and appeared on numerous collaborative efforts alongside some of the greats of modern folk music on both sides of the pond, including a star turn as Joan Baez’ hand-picked opener for her 2004 presidential election tour.

Though her voice is a beautiful, clear alto – a far cry from the signature rasp and whine which typifies Dylan’s performance – Thea Gilmore has often been compared to Bob Dylan, with whom she shares a disdain for genre convention, a penchant for obstinacy, a belief that audiences will reward “honest expression” over accessibility, and a preference for rushing to the studio to record songs while they are still in the formative stage. Even USA Today has seen it, saying that “Gilmore detangles sex, religion, and politics with a literate eloquence and defiance that recall the early poetic eruptions of Bob Dylan.”

But Gilmore’s connection to the defining icon of the sixties singer-songwriter movement is strong in other ways, too. She cites Dylan’s records, alongside The Beatles, Fairport Convention, and Elvis Costello, as early childhood influences. She even references Dylan’s canon in her bio, explaining the ways in which her writing has matured over time by suggesting that “You don’t have to be trying to write Masters Of War every time. You can write about your own decisions, turn small parts of your life into songs that people can relate to.”

Notably, she recorded I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, her first Dylan cover, by request, for a Dylan covers CD solicited by Uncut Magazine in 2002; she later released the track again on Songs From The Gutter, a set recorded during that session, and thus originally conceived as a tribute to Dylan himself. The track struck a chord, and since then, the accolades have poured in, including one from Bruce Springsteen himself, who confronted Gilmore backstage at a 2008 concert to show his appreciation for the track, calling it “one of the great Dylan covers” – a sentiment with which we agree wholeheartedly.

Now, in the aftermath of strong performances of I Pity The Poor Immigrant and Masters of War alongside coverage from Laura Cantrell, Eddi Reader, Josh Rouse, Roseanne Cash and others at the Celtic Connections Festival’s 70th birthday tribute to Bob Dylan (recorded in January; now showing on Sky TV for those lucky enough to live in the UK), Gilmore has re-recorded the entirety of John Wesley Harding, Dylan’s seminal 1967 album – which the maturing British singer-songwriter cites as “his most sustained, satisfying record”, with characters that seem “unfathomably but implicitly linked”, and a startling “sense of earthiness and economy”.

The task took only seven days, according to the preamble to the video posted below, promising and delivering an urgency and situational energy which itself pays apt tribute to the master’s work and process. And though I’ve only heard only samples of most tracks so far, taken alongside Gilmore’s craft and reputation, the evidence they provide is undeniable: the result – a box set which includes the album itself, and postcards for each track – seems destined to be one for the ages.

Dylan’s original John Wesley Harding album marked a return to acoustic music and traditional roots after his mid-sixties foray into the possibilities of electric rock. But Thea has chosen to pour her love for the Dylan canon more broadly into this focused set of songs, making for a vast journey through influence and interpretation. The tracks on this new reinterpretation of John Wesley Harding run from fast-and-grungy, band-driven alt-country and rock (The Wicked Messenger, Drifter’s Escape) to bluesy piano-led balladry (Dear Landlord) to more typical folk and folk rock fare of multiple types and origins, offering a spectrum of that encompasses the very breadth of Dylan coverage in the world of music writ large, including an old-timey banjo touch on I Am A Lonesome Hobo that would sound perfectly at home on an Americana album, and one-two punch of an album kickoff comprised of a delightfully ukelele-led backporch bar band title track, and an utterly grand take on As I Went Out One Morning that rivals the best of June Tabor or Fairport Convention.

Thea’s John Wesley Harding box set drops May 23, but if you preorder on ebay, she’ll post your CD on the 3rd – leaving plenty of time for you to grow familiar with her take on Dylan’s work before Bob becomes a septuagenarian on the 24th, a day which Gilmore and friends will mark with a record release show at London’s Union Chapel. Here, as a teaser, is Gilmore’s celebrated version of I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, the only previously-recorded track from what promises to be a stellar addition to the neverending canon of Dylan tributes, and a somewhat muddy but absolutely heartfelt fan recording of Thea and her band taking on album-closer I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight live at The Arches in Glasgow this past March. Listen, and then head over to eBay for more words and promises from the star herself.

  • Thea Gilmore: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (orig. Bob Dylan)

Looking for bonus tracks? Then oh, have we got a treat for you. As noted above, Thea Gilmore’s comfort with coverage runs far broader than her most significant influence, from a notable 2008 duet performance with Mike Cave to several one-shot folk-rock releases on other compilations to her edgy, sadly out-of-print 2004 covers album Loft Music. Here’s the set I would have posted, before Thea’s deep connection to Dylan became so apparent.

Previously on Tribute and Cover Compilations week at Cover Lay Down:

  • New alt-country Rolling Stones tribute Paint It Black, with two exclusive covers from the upcoming album!

680 comments » | Bob Dylan, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Thea Gilmore, Tribute Albums

Covered in Alt-Country: Paint It Black
…with TWO exclusive tracks from the impending Stones tribute!

April 23rd, 2011 — 11:11 am

It’s shaping up to be Tributes and Cover Compilations week here at Cover Lay Down, thanks to a wave of strong cover albums coming over the dam in the next few weeks. Today, we kick off our take on this delightful collection of new and impending coverage early with a look at the newest in Rolling Stones tributes – including two exclusive tracks never before heard outside the studio.

Tribute producer Jim Sampas, whose stellar indie covers collection Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute To Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home hit the ground running back in October, is at it again with Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute To The Rolling Stones, due to drop May 17th on his own Reimagine Music label. And though this time around we’re among the first to note its existence, this isn’t the last you’ll hear of it: the album features strong showings from some of our favorite acts on and around the folk/alt-country line – Cowboy Junkies, Hem, Over The Rhine, Great Lake Swimmers, The Handsome Family and more – and Jim’s reputation among both print press and in the blogosphere is top-notch, for good reason.

It’s daring to take on such a well-known canon – though there are surprisingly few tribute albums out there, as our June 2010 feature demonstrates aptly, the Rolling Stones have been covered almost as thoroughly in the last half century as Dylan himself. But as we noted previously, where too many cover albums drift aimlessly, trading off the strength of a few gems, Sampas – the guiding light behind two of the decade’s strongest album-centered tribute albums, turn-of-the-century alt-country-to-popfolk Springsteen tribute Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and 2005 indie Beatles tribute This Bird Has Flown – has made a name for himself curating genre-focused cover compilations which flow smoothly and successfully from one track to the next.

And Paint It Black is no exception – another great addition to the Sampas canon, chock full of slide guitars, harmonica, and brushed drumhead beats, its reinterpretations updated sparingly if at all with modern indiepop and country rock sensibilities. Each track is a gem, each transition another revelation: everything fits, and everything works. It’s like listening to your favorite late-night radio station when the DJ is in the perfect groove.

The song selection on Paint It Black is strong, too: the album contains a solid mix of popular hits and lesser known gems from the Stones’ catalog, in a sequence which neither features nor hides songs of either category.

But much of the success of this particular tribute is due to the collective efforts of the group of artists which appear on the album. Modern alt-country is a big tent, and Sampas’ hand-picked roster pushes against its boundaries by putting exceptional alt-country efforts from acts who generally self-identify as singer-songwriter, indie, and folk rock alongside pitch-perfect performances from more familiar members of the alt-country school.

The result is a broad, sprawling collection that works. Great Lake Swimmers kick things off with a gentle, summery indie breeze of Before They Make Me Run; from there, until Anders Parker’s scratchy, atmospheric Coming Down Again closes the record, the coverage bursts with diversity, running the gamut without skipping a beat.

Hem’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want is a triumphant ballad, sweet and honest, a sublime, well-orchestrated track reminiscent of the Band; Giant Sand’s Jumping Jack Flash, meanwhile, is sexy, dark and dirty, a low-key bass-and-piano barrelhouse with echoes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits. On the title cut, Brian Ritchey’s flowing strings and piano build majestically from aching gypsy balladry to classical seventies to guitar-smashing nineties rock and back again to rest. Boston-based Barbara Kessler’s lovely version of You Got The Silver swings smashing, slide-guitar-driven countryfolk. And the Handsome Family surprises us all with a true-blue half-spoken country tune, with a touch of modern cowboy punk that perfectly suits Faraway Eyes.

Elsewhere, Cowboy Junkies turn in a slow, sultry Moonlight Mile that takes a surprisingly grungy turn before pulling back towards sweetness. Over The Rhine’s piano, slide, and vocals drift etherial over Waiting On A Friend; Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos channel Dr. John, John Prine, David Gray and Gram Parsons in a pitch-perfect, surprisingly novel turn on Wild Horses. Newly reunited alt-country mainstays Blue Mountain smash through Torn And Frayed like the SXSW-veteran country-roots bar band they are. And on the other end of the alt-country spectrum, the driving beats, tinkly synth patterns, anthemic electric guitar, and echoey vocals of Matthew Ryan’s take on Streets of Love owe as much to top 40 hits from U2, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol, and Springsteen’s highest-concept radiopop Streets of Philadelphia, as it does to the original.

Even those acts I had never heard of – Everest, who channels the Rolling Stones’ rollicking, ragged, acoustic hollers; The Bittersweets, whose deliberate, soaring vocals and slow ringing waves of sound on Loving Cup remind one of Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin- don’t fail to impress. And though I would have loved to hear Mary Gauthier solo here, Dear Doctor, which features Lee Harvey Osmond and Gauthier in harmony throughout, turns out to be a slow duet with harmonica and acoustic guitar, with back-porch vocals that channel Emmylou and Graham’s recognizable alt-country approach quite well, indeed.

As with Subterranean Homesick Blues, thanks to Jim, I’ve been given permission to drop a pair of tracks on you early, in anticipation of what is sure to be a strong wave of appreciation from coverbloggers and alt-country watchers alike once Paint It Black starts picking up steam. And as before, picking just two is a challenge, both because the album works so well as a start-to-finish alt-country journey through the Stones catalog, and because practically all of these cuts are strong enough to cut through the fog.

To be fair, it was tempting to pick tracks from those artists who would net us the most hits on the aggregators. But we’re audiophiles, not populists, here at Cover Lay Down – our goal, as always, is to ply coverage as a tool to introduce you to musicians you may not yet have grown to love. In this case, then, though I highly recommend the entire album from start to finish, I’ve merely aimed for a nod towards our mandate, and selected two delightful tracks from artists I’m still discovering myself: Neal McCarthy and Ivo Matos, whose dreamy Wild Horses is some of the best roots music I’ve heard in ages, and Hem, whose decision to turn The Rolling Stones’ sixties anthem You Can’t Always Get What You Want into a country waltz is a startlingly successful, absolutely irresistible proof of concept for the album itself. Enjoy.

Looking for some bonus tracks? It was tempting to close today’s feature with a smorgasbord of previous coverage of the Rolling Stones, but we’ve done it before. And as always, we’re here first and foremost to make the connection between folk artists and fan – and as with Jim Sampas’ previous project, this new tribute album is as much about the artists, and the producer and label-owner, who have come to the table with vision as it is about the songs themselves. So here’s an alt-country-and-beyond covers collection, featuring a few more artists featured on Paint It Black.

763 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Rolling Stones, Tribute Albums

Denison Witmer covers Bob Marley, releases new album
with a special discount exclusively for Cover Lay Down readers!

April 19th, 2011 — 10:31 pm

We’re huge Denison Witmer fans here at Cover Lay Down, and the feeling is mutual: we were honored to be chosen as ongoing host for the five-track “bedroom folk” covers collection which Denison recorded to support the 2008 release of Carry The Weight, his last full-length studio album, and we were proud to feature an exclusive, first-peek stream of his sweet version of I’ll Keep It With Mine back in October, in support of Subterranean Homesick Blues, an incredible 2010 indie tribute to Dylan’s seminal Bringing It All Back Home.

Now once again, thanks to the artist himself, we’re proud to be offering our readers not one, but two unique opportunities to connect with Denison’s work. And it all begins with The Ones Who Wait, Denison Witmer’s newest studio album, which drops April 26th on Mono Vs. Stereo records.

At first listen, The Ones Who Wait comes off as incredibly rich, revealing sonic echoes of the best albums by Glen Phillips, Peter Bradley Adams, Michael Penn, past collaborator Rosie Thomas, and others, while simultaneously showing Denison’s influence by the likes of Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Graham Nash, Big Star, and Jackson Browne. Not to suggest that Denison’s work is derivative, of course: after a dozen albums and EPs, his careful craftsmanship as a performer and songwriter has produced a canon which is unique and very special indeed, worth hearing and savoring.

But if you’ve never purchased a Denison Witmer album, now is the time, as this record represents a whole new level of success for the Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter. The goal here, according to Denison himself, was to make an album “about reverence. mindfulness. patience. I want the songs to open up and change over time.” And having steeped in the album over the past 24 hours, I’m happy to announce that his care and effort translated exquisitely well into the songs themselves.

In short: The Ones Who Wait is a deceptively gentle, deeply layered journey that runs from summery alt-countrified tracks to pensive-yet-upbeat contemporary singer-songwriter fare, its echoey indie soundscapes and dreamy optimistic lyrics once again demonstrating why Denison Witmer remains at the top of our eternal recommendations list. Deeper and broader and more powerful in its way than his sparse solo work, it is an unqualified masterpiece, offering track after track of aching beauty and stunning, subtle instrumental support, revealing a maturing artist at the top of his game.

And because we’re such fans and champions of Denison Witmer here at Cover Lay Down, Denison is giving readers of this blog a special deal on The Ones Who Wait. To take advantage of this exclusive, one-of-a-kind offer, head over to Bandcamp, scroll down to the “”The Ones Who Wait” Preorder Package”, click “buy now”, enter the discount code “coverlaydown” in the checkout dialog, and you’ll receive 10% off the pre-order price – a deal which nets you an autographed copy of the CD shipped April 26, and an instant download of the exclusive 18 track “Live in Your Living Room Vol. 1″. (You can also use the code for a week after the album drops – the price will go up a bit, but the discount will remain. But trust me, the pre-release deal is a killer ap, indeed).

As a bonus, in support of the new album, Denison has given us an exclusive Bob Marley cover to release into the wild. The crisp and clear concert recording, taped in Fort Wayne, Indiana during the aforementioned Live In Your Living Room sessions, reveals a performance akin to those in our Denison Witmer Covers Project: sparse and delicate, raw and reverent, and truly transformative. And though it’s stripped of the potent production which makes The Ones Who Wait such a success, regular readers (and those who take advantage of the Bandcamp double-set above) know that Denison’s solo acoustic work carries a power all its own. I have it straight from the artist’s mouth that this recording is intended to be but the first of an eventual album of Bob Marley covers, a promise that, frankly, leaves me aching for more. But for now, Dayenu: this single cover is more than enough.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

PS: Looking for even more Denison covers? The man himself tells me he just submitted a track for Seven Swans Reimagined, a strong indie tribute to Sufjan Stevens’ album Seven Swans featuring the likes of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Joshua James, DM Stith, and other Cover Lay Down indiefolk faves…which went live without a single version of Abraham. The tribute, a benefit for Komen for the Cure, is already out, but Denison’s contribution should go live in the next few days – and the track will be available free on the Bandcamp page once it emerges. Stay tuned…

725 comments » | Denison Witmer, Exclusives

Monday Exclusive: The Webb Sisters cover Tracy Chapman
and Leonard Cohen, and Judy Collins

April 18th, 2011 — 05:15 pm

A Cover Lay Down exclusive, today, thanks to some particularly savvy promo folks, who stoked my ego by naming me their No. 1 choice for an exclusive first peek at a new video from The Webb Sisters, in the hopes that it would lure me out of my recent hiatus. What can I say: I’m human, I’ve been itching to get to something more substantive and new since yesterday’s bird-themed coverfolk set marked our triumphant return to blogging, and I’m also on school vacation, looking out at a week of sand, surf, and solitude rather than the usual hectic homelife.

But the British-born sibling pair are absolutely worth coming out of hiding for, with a preference for lush, two-instrument arrangements that show strong influences from both the British and US folkpop traditions, and deep, beautiful, soaring, often heartbreaking brit harmonies, with the strong accents of their native Kent, that pull you in no matter the label you’re looking for. The combination of Hattie’s harp and mandolin and Charley’s guitar and piano is marvelous, at once ancient and modern. And their take on Tracy Chapman’s Baby Can I Hold You, which I am proud to introduce to the world, is comfortable and intimate, played on a couch with just acoustic rhythm guitar and what appears to be some sort of mandolin or oud. Check it out:

The Webb Sisters have hit the radar before, too. Touted as rising stars of the next generation by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, and Princess Anne, hand-picked to lend their talents for studio recordings and tours for Cohen, Sting, Natalie Maines, and Natalie Merchant, their version of If It Be Your Will – recorded live on tour in 2008, introduced by Cohen himself, with whom the sisters Webb have toured regularly – is a tour de force of femmefolk simplicity, stunningly fragile, delicate, icy, and prayerful, with harp and soaring vox and – barely – a guitar, that gently fills fragments of sparse silences. And the fuller, more contemporary, almost countrypop production which supports their appearance on mixed-bag 2008 Collins tribute Born To The Breed makes for a stand-out track which salvages a song I once considered too treacly to be covered effectively.

The Webb Sisters’ next full-length album, Savages, will drop on May 9th; promisingly, it was produced with multiple Grammy-winning Beatles A&R man Peter Asher’s guiding hand at the helm. Direct Current has described it as both a continuation and expansion of their previous work “from the more traditional-based U.K. folk…into more Americanized rootsy pop,” with both drive and “a lighter than air delicacy” throughout. Sounds like we’re in for a thing of beauty, indeed. Check out today’s bonus tracks, and then learn more at the Webb Sisters’ website.

739 comments » | Exclusives, The Webb Sisters

For The Birds: Wild Avian Coverfolk
(Cover Lay Down Returns, On Wings and a Prayer)

April 17th, 2011 — 12:15 pm

It’s Spring, and that means rebirth: when the earth reemerges from the earth, covered in last year’s leaves. When the morning is filled with brave still-chilled birds, proffering a soundtrack for our triumphant return.

It’s also school vacation, and that means our annual trip down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where we join up with family members more typically spread far and wide across the country, enough to spill into two adjacent houses. In past years, as with most of our excursions to various and sundry parts of the world, finding ourselves in another state meant Vacation Coverfolk features on local music and musicians. But we’ve done North Carolina, via James Taylor, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, and others, in years past. And truly, this year, coming here feels more like coming home than ever before.

And so, instead, I find myself marveling at the feathered referents which have populated this year’s journey, and the flight from stress it has grown to represent. After a mad all-night dash down the coast, our shore-line arrival featured a sunrise peppered with gulls and plovers; when we finally arrived at our secluded rental home just after breakfast, we were stopped by some sort of grey, bewildered finch peering at us from her nest by the front door. The three story deck of our borrowed home looks out over a backyard lagoon populated by grazing Canada Geese and proud egret families. Robins and red-winged blackbirds pepper the lawn, their bright colors a constant flash in the landscape.

Last night, just before supper, an osprey swirled down out of the sky like the impending storm, catching a fish in his talons just yards from our wondering faces. Farther off, on the sound past the narrow treeline, the gulls dip and sway and coast on the breeze alongside their smaller compatriots. Crows, doves, and white-throated long-beaks of unidentified species hop from branch to branch at eye level in the gnarled trees. The world is full of mating calls, of whoops and twitters, of all the calls that mark this territory as theirs, and us as guests.

But we are welcome, and for the first time in a month or more, I, too, am free to swoop and play, feel free enough to join them in their flight. For the birds, then, and in honor of our freedom: some wild avian coverfolk, with a promise that the set, like Spring itself, is but a harbinger of more to come.

After a long hiatus, Cover Lay Down is back on track with new coverfolk features and songsets posted at least twice weekly. Stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead for new and newly-discovered covers from the folkworld, including a close look at Britfolk sensation Thea Gilmore, Spring house concert and Summer festival previews, and more!

726 comments » | Theme Posts, Vacation Coverfolk