Archive for July 2011

Mailbox Mayhem: New Coverage of and from
Stevie Wonder, Arrica Rose, Neil Young, Mark Erelli, Doc Watson & more!

July 30th, 2011 — 08:32 am

We’re home from the folkfields after a two-week hiatus, tanned, rested, and ready to explicate the current state of folk as represented by this year’s mainstage and sidestage lineups and their accompanying buzz. While we gather our thoughts [and CDs] for our annual post-fest megapost, here’s the best of what landed in the mailbox during our absence.

With its tender mix of old-timey reconstructions, traditional tunes, original songs, and recorded field narratives, On The Brooklyn Road – an incredible new country roots album from San Francisco Bay-area up-and-comer Nell Robinson, recently featured on A Prairie Home Companion – puts itself squarely in the category of older folk forms, even as it swings through songbooks both old and new. And yet there’s something deeply powerful and startlingly post-millennial about this sophomore album, as a whole, in no small part because of how effectively it provides a delightfully listenable, fluid primer of the interrelationships of the various folkforms which together fall into the roots category.

There’s a little bit of everything here, from country gospel to gentle singer-songwriter balladry, from grassy backporch pickin’ to a loose and lazy zydeco, all peppered with the recurring refrain of field recorded stories from Robinson’s mother and uncles, and leading us to the album’s delightful coda, which features pitch-perfect stylistic reconstructions of two traditional arrangements originally by the Cackle Sisters, a long-forgotten female duo from the 1930′s who invented their own yodeling form. But the sequence works well, and with nary a weak spot, leaving me struggling to pick just a pair for our post, even as it creates the perfect conditions for a press-ready quote we can stand by: Robinson’s sweet voice and the lighthearted settings of On The Brooklyn Road make for a consistent, thoroughly enjoyable journey through a timeless, sepia-toned world at the intersection of bluegrass, country, folk, and americana. Highly recommended.

Bonus track from Nell Robinson’s debut:

Folk-noirist Algebro‘s strangely fragile falsetto and gentle acoustic strum make for a reasonably odd match, with a product that starts off teetering on the edge of parody, and never shakes its easy association with Devendra Banhart. The handlebar moustache Algebro sports on the cover of his album doesn’t help, either – nor does the jock-y, math-y pseudonym taken by Chicago singer-songwriter Thom Cathcart for his solo project. But his utterly delicate take on this Stevie Wonder classic, released as a promotional freebie by the Georgia transplant, grows on you quickly, leaving us with the inner visions of a calmed, pensive narrator once totally hidden by the heavier instrumentation and soaring albeit somewhat bombastic beauty of the original.

Single Life, the newest album from Alberta singer-songwriter Landon A.R. Coleman, is a bit of a folk/rock/blues/americana/indie genre smorgasbord, as seen in the two streamable originals currently available over at bandcamp while we wait for an August release – a not unexpected result of a lifetime steeping in literature and in the indierock, flannel-wearing solo artist, and bluegrass branches of the musical arts. And his cover of Neil Young obscurity Down To The Wire is no exception: it starts as a warm and syrupy tune, with echoey emergent harmonies and sustained strings, and then somewhere along the way, ever-so-gently, it evolves into a fully orchestrated album-ender, with synthy flutes and reed flourishes that fade into something not so far from a mid-seventies Disney soundtrack.

Those who have been following Cover Lay Down over the last few months already know that we’ve been struggling with the aftereffects of a massive tornado strike here in my tiny rural Massachusetts town. What you may not know is that one of the buildings which was damaged was the same stately civil-war era granite structure in which Mark Erelli recorded his seminal Memorial Hall sessions, one of my favorite albums from this gem of the rich Boston folkscene.

Now Mark’s released Live In Monson, a limited-edition bandcamp EP of outtakes from those sessions, as a fundraiser for our continued clean-up and rebuilding efforts, featuring live versions of some of his most notable folk radio hits from the period; the high energy of his take on classic American slave song Follow The Drinking Gourd is indicative and apt. Stream, then buy at bandcamp for just 5 bucks to make a difference. And don’t miss Mark’s amazing “official bootleg” live session from Passim, recorded in 2010 and released this Spring, while you’re there – the Tom Petty encore is just the tip of the iceberg.

    (Trad.; from Live In Monson Benefit EP, 2011)

    (orig. Tom Petty; from 4.2.10, 2011)

According to Erelli’s website, he’ll also appear on a “rockabilly version of the Sesame Street classic Ladybug Picnic” on Alastair Moock‘s upcoming kid folk album These Are My Friends. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m a big fan of the gravely-voiced singer-songwriter, and you should be, too. Here’s step one: this gentle outtake from Moock’s first kid’s album A Cow Goes Moock, a Buddy Holly tune done for sleepy kids yet boasting a summery folkrock greatness, found among the samples available over at Moock’s kidfolk site. (Note: Moock’s Grownup’s Music, which lives separately, and comes in much more muted colors, is equally worth your while).

I tabled this one back at the end of June, but the timeless Louvin-esque strains of Ashville, NC duo The Twilite Broadcasters have been lingering in my ears ever since – it’s time to share the joy. The nut: twangy tenor/baritone harmonies and true craftsmen’s hands on the mando and guitar make for a delightful collection of traditional interpretations on the oldtime/country/bluegrass border. And like the songs themselves, the video of their take on Doc Watson-collected tune What Does The Deep Sea Say, which I found on their site, is adorably, indelibly authentic.

  • The Twilite Broadcasters: What Does The Deep Sea Say (orig. Doc Watson)

We’ve posted work from Arrica Rose before here at Cover Lay Down, celebrating her folkpop prowess as it evolves. Her slow, soft take on Tom Waits’ I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You, which we reposted in December ’09 as part of a Tom Waits coverage set, is a stunner still, three years after its release; her more recent take on the Bee Gees’ Tragedy is a delicate journey through summer.

But we’ve never heard her like this. The Californian artist’s most recently dropped song is pulled way back, an echoey, shimmery dreampop mashup of Video Killed The Radio Star and Wonderful World that takes our breath away. The gentle, almost funereal pace and pitch pairs so well with the Lois Armstrong classic, it turns what had been a tale of the inevitability of change into a song of solace, giving thanks for the constancy of nature’s blessings along our evolutionary path. Totally transformative, and a perfect teaser for upcoming indie rock album Let Alone Sea, which drops August 22 but is already garnering critical acclaim.

  • Arrica Rose and the …’s: Video Killed The Radio Star (Wonderful World) (orig. The Buggles/Louis Armstrong)
    (from Let Alone Sea, 2011)

In other news: after almost a year in download-only format, the debut album from Mon Monarch – the folk trio formed around singer-songwriter chuck e. costa, current Official State Troubadour of CT and one-time winner of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist competition – has finally hit the shelves, for those who still prefer a bit of plastic and liner notes; there’s no covers on it, but I can’t say enough about this amazing collection of heartfelt, intelligent lyrics and songcraft, so I’m using this opportunity to repost a video we took when costa played our concert series last year.

  • chuck e costa: No Love Today (orig. Chris Smither)

And finally, though I mentioned it in passing beforehand, uke-player and singer-songwriter Sophie Madeleine’s 30 covers in 30 days project ended Tuesday with the release of her newest album The Rhythm You Started; both can be accessed in full at Sophie’s website, and both come with our strongest support and ratings. BoingBoing reports that her cover of Pumped Up Kicks’ Foster The People is garnering the most attention, but though I find her Bon Iver cover quite beautiful, and appreciate the mix of obscurities and obligations the set spans, I’m still partial to the third song in the series, a light, warbly take on Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End which makes a great call-back to the baker’s dozen of song coverage we posted back in January.

  • Sophie Madeleine: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)

  • Sophie Madeleine: True Love Will Find You In The End (orig. Daniel Johnston)

2 comments » | Mailbox, Mark Erelli, New Artists Old Songs

Gone Folkin’: Cover Lay Down Takes A Short Vacation
…and leaves readers with 7 covers of our official theme song

July 13th, 2011 — 06:10 pm

On Friday, July 15, my family and I will head off on our annual jaunt to Hillsdale, NY, to help build the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival from the ground up, not to return until a full 11 days later, on the evening after the festival itself has ended. In case you’re wondering why we go, just check out the image above: yes, that’s me in the picture, at last year’s festival, and by the Sunday morning Gospel Wake-Up Call, I fully intend to look just like that.

As I noted in last month’s festival preview post, this will be our fifteenth consecutive year at Falcon Ridge, both as attendees and volunteers. And although for the past three years, I managed the inevitable lapse in internet access by pre-posting both prewritten and guest-penned features, this year, I’ve decided that the stress and distraction of managing such a solution isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

Which is to say: this post is just going to sit here, atop the blog, for the next two weeks.

And I’m fine with that. Really.

The original intention behind pre-posting was noble, I think: to provide no gap in coverage for you, the reader, while still being able to proudly proclaim that, even while we were off galavanting around a field with twelve thousand people, “I” was actively blogging, albeit in absentia, and/or through trusted proxies. And truly, soliciting blogfodder from some of my favorite bloggers, and sharing those guest entries with my readers, was quite a thrill.

In reality, though, what happened was I’d spend the entire week before we left preparing those entries, and simultaneously feeling guilty because my wife was doing all the packing while I was huddled on the couch, pecking away. Then, once on site, I’d sneak off to the local library throughout the week to pirate off their wireless from the corner of the parking lot, making sure that everything posted properly, deleting spam, and just generally reveling in the fact that the blog was chugging away in our little corner of the Internet while I galavanted about in a field that doesn’t even get good cell phone reception.

Even when I wasn’t able to get away, there was a tiny, insistent part of my brain, demanding to know how the blog was doing. And in all those cases, those activities took away some of the joy, some of the freedom, some of the reinvigoration and rejuvenation which I depend upon our annual encampment Falcon Ridge to provide.

The moral here appears to be that blogoholics like myself are not truly served well by trying to keep up the pretense during a short absence. And this year, my need for a truly offline, community-based experience is paramount, after six weeks of tornado cleanup, a daily summer grind of teaching summer school, and a three-week intensive cramming session for this Saturday’s state teaching licensure exam in English.

This year, I’m determined to do it different.

And so Cover Lay Down will return in a couple of weeks. Until then, I encourage you to download the below, browse the archives for the good stuff, and check out the work of my fine fellow coverbloggers who populate that sidebar over there. Me, I’ll be building the community and basking in it, reveling in the music, the crowds, the family, and the friendship. We’ll be back on or around July 27th, rejuvenated and ready for more.

But first, the music.* Because you didn’t think I’d leave you in silence, did you?

*I actually named this blog after an old Dave Matthews Band song title, punned into service. But in the years since, I’ve informally adopted cover versions of Bob Dylan’s Lay Down Your Weary Tune, a song left off The Times They Are A-Changin’ and originally released by The Byrds, as our theme music – and the collection I’ve gathered in since then seems especially apt today, given our absence. We’ll leave it in your ears, until our return.

3 comments » | Uncategorized

Single Shot Tribute Albums: Kris Delmhorst covers The Cars

July 12th, 2011 — 01:24 pm

Brooklyn-born (and now Boston-based) singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Kris Delmhorst first discovered The Cars in the summer of ’84; in both generational outlook and effect, the musical epiphany that followed seems to parallel my own entry into the wonders of music that speaks to heart and body. And though these days, Delmhorst is known for gentler, more literate songwriting and performance in the modern confessional vein, her new release, Cars – now available for “immediate digital delivery” pre-order at Signature Sounds – finds the forty year old new mother and celebrated singer-songwriter looking back to those heady days of her youth, making for an album which provides a strong bridge between the gleeful, heady emotions which first drew us to those songs and the deliberate craftsmanship which has long marked Delmhorst as a patient, careful artist well worth our ongoing celebration.

Taking on the Ric Ocasek canon is a lark, to be sure – and there’s plenty of play afoot here, as you’ll hear from the get-go. But Delmhorst does so with aplomb, offering a fluid mix of deconstructed deep cuts and relatively faithful (and danceable) interpretations of fan favorites. At its best, as with all great folk tributes, the album comes across as a loving offering to the world through exploration of the self in the familiar, a deeply personal project which exposes deeper truths in songs better known for their rhythm and hooks.

As the four tracks currently streaming at Delmhorst’s store indicate, Cars isn’t a perfect album. The songs with the richest genre hybridization can seem anomalous and oddly balanced – listen for how the synth bleeps, the plastic horns, the pennywhistle, and the punk banjo pull back for the verse couplets on Hello Again, as if to compensate for the conflict between layers – and though the production brings it forward, Delmhorst’s breathy, notably delicate alto is still slightly lost against the harder, poppier, almost country drumbeat edge and sharp bluegrassy fiddles of You Might Think, even as the song stands out as an inevitable single.

But that voice serves the vast majority of her song settings well, and the softer, gentler, more transformative tracks exceptionally. Magic, especially, with its subtle mandolins, soft arrangement, and sweet girl harmonies, is both a harbinger and revelation, a mark of what Kris can do at her best. And overall, Cars is a wonderful conceit, a love note to our secret pop hearts, an apt tribute to a generation’s shared adolescence, a summer folkpop masterpiece. You can practically hear Delmhorst’s wide smile throughout.

Make your summer complete. Get Cars here.

Bonus track: Kris Delmhorst and Session Americana cover The Cars’ Drive in a 2006 session.

9 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Kris Delmhorst, Tribute Albums

Sing Me A Story, a Poem, A Play:
Songs Inspired By Literature, Covered In Folk

July 11th, 2011 — 04:03 pm

I had hoped to spend Sunday bringing you news of YouTube ukelele sensation Sophie Madeleine’s cover-a-day-for-a-month promotion, and of the new 34-song Herohill tribute to Gordon Lightfoot – a pair of recent projects which transcend the usual scope of tributary.

Instead, I found myself drowning in the depths of scholarship, studying frantically for a state teaching license test in English next Saturday, the results of which could make or break my employment next year.

Good thing other bloggers got to the aforementioned mega-compilations instead. Because here, today, we can offer only compromise: a set of folk covers which celebrate and re-imagine songs based on well-known books, poems, and plays…

The Massachusetts Teachers Educator Licensure test in English (gr. 5-12) is highly canonical, which is to say that passage depends on one’s familiarity with both the classics of every era, genre, and developmental phase in literature from around the globe, and the various and sundry ways in which academics talk about, teach, and examine such texts.

Ay, poor me: though well read and an excellent tester, it’s been two decades since I last sat in a formal classroom environment for the study of English. I’m not just out of practice; I’m wholly unfamiliar with a good half of what the test covers, both because it never came up in my study of the classical English poets, and because a surprising amount of that content is either new or newly reincorporated into and/or contextualized in the increasingly global, politically correct canon. (And most of that, of course, has not a white of relevance to the modern English classroom. Yet it remains on the test.)

And so while all around me the household prepares for our annual jaunt to the folkfields, here I sit, cramming my poor summer brain with poems and plays, plots summaries and themes, critical perspectives and obscure poetic tropes. I dream in iambic pentameter, muttering about Whitman and Wollencraft, 8th century Chinese poetry and multicultural lit; I wake to a haze of vocabulary terms which merely describe the intuitively obvious, and the minute details of dozens of no-longer-in-vogue developmental strategies for teaching reading.

Happily, there’s fodder here for both sides of the brain. Well-read musicians of all stripes and genres have taken on the canon over the years, and though many of these are either too new, too metal, or too obscure to have prompted much in the way of acoustic covers – see, for example, Kris Delmhorst’s Strange Conversations, which bases an album’s worth of songs around her favorite poems; Pink Floyd’s magnum opus Animals, which is based on George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novelette Animal Farm; a huge swath of Iron Maiden’s output – there’s just enough solid coverage out there to make it worth a feature.

Still looking for a good cover of The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me, which both cites and retells Nabokov’s Lolita. But these will suffice, as a quickie, before I head back to the stacks.

  • Train: Ramble On (orig. Led Zeppelin)
    (from One and a Half [out of print], 1999)
    - based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy

17 comments » | Theme Posts

The Folkier Side of Eef Barzelay/Clem Snide:
covers of Journey, Daniel Johnston, Christina Aguilera, Lou Reed & more!

July 5th, 2011 — 02:47 pm

Eef Barzelay’s voice is whiny and pinched, more like Daniel Johnston than anyone else on the circuit, though without the atonality and lack of rhythmic sense which so characterizes the man he often covers in concert. His on-again off-again band, Clem Snide, which he reformed in 2009 after a pair of Barzelay-only solo records, lists themselves as a kind of alt-countrified indie rock, and tends to perform in a slightly nerdy, postmodern grunge vein, resulting in a sparse deadpan sensibility reminiscent of their namesake, a character who appears in several novels by William S. Burroughs.

And though they appeared alongside other darlings of the indie set on the retro-covers Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack, and their song Moment in the Sun was chosen as the theme song for the second season of the quirky anti-sitcom Ed – a fitting match, given the series’ deep exploration of social popularity and self-esteem – they’re hardly mainstream, and generally not considered folk.

And yet. There’s something of the post-revival folk singer in Barzelay’s songwriting, and in the tenderness the Israeli-born, New Jersey-bred singer-songwriter brings to his deeply confessional, often surprisingly hopeful lyrics. Barzelay’s folk credibility is there on paper, too, after spending a few years in the NY-based Sidewalk café anti-folk scene in the mid-nineties. Poignant and hilarious in equal measure, much of his work, both with and without his Clem Snide compatriots, features an indiefolk gentleness, and the delicacy that we associate with the popfolk crowd – indeed, like the Journey cover below, a number of the covers released under the Clem Snide moniker seem to actually be just Eef himself, in the studio or on stage.

His taste in coverage, and his tendency to reinvent the songs he takes on, are legendary: the Asia and Eddie Money covers below are totally transformed; his recent six-song EP, which takes on the songs of underground alt-country couple The Transmissionary Six, is a masterpiece. And even in their louder moments, such as their thrashing, smashing, anthemic Christina Aguilera cover, there’s something of the modern festival-bound folkrock band in the way Clem Snide takes on their craft, with equal nods to Oysterband and Fairport Convention, Neil Young and R.E.M. in the beat, the bass, and the beauty.

Recently, Clem Snide announced a new EP of Journey covers after a successful visit to the AV Club – as evidence of their fan base, their kickstarter campaign brought in four times the necessary cash; as a total bonus, a couple of dozen people paid 150 each to have the band record a cover of their choice, promising more coverage by far in the coming months and years. Even more fun: on their website, the band sells both three song “personal recordings” and the opportunity to write a song for you for 100 bucks. Now that’s new media leverage at its finest, well within the folkways of the 21st century.

As always, we’ll keep our ears to the ground on your behalf for that upcoming coverage. In the meanwhile, here’s some favorites from the archives.

43 comments » | Clem Snide, Eef Barzelay, The Folkier Side Of...

America, The Beautiful, Redux:
Coverfolk for a Thoughtful Fourth

July 3rd, 2011 — 10:02 am

I had big plans to share some thoughts about my conflicted love for America this year on the anniversary of our birth as a nation. But looking in the archives, I see I’ve written it before: both last year, when we mused upon the complexity of patriotism in a modern age, and in our first year, at a time when our national discourse was increasingly polarized by the impending presidential election.

Our Single Song Sunday from last year remains live, and I encourage you to head back into the archives for 10 covers of Paul Simon’s American Tune, and some thoughts on the complicated times which continue to characterize our national zeitgeist. But since it’s been a while, here’s our 2008 post revisited. Its sentiment stands: may your Independence Day be thoughtful, too.

I’m not exactly the patriotic type. I’ve been to more countries than states; I prefer solitude to mall culture. Heck, we don’t even have basic cable. But all power-hungry, commercial/corporate complex, bittersweet modernity aside, I believe in the ideals which frame the constant American dialogue with itself — including first and foremost the requirement that we keep talking, lest we abdicate our role as government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And I believe that, by definition, as music which speaks of and for a people, American folk music holds a particular place in that conversation which is America. Folk focuses that conversation, making it real and vivid, whether it is through the lens of policy critique or protest cry, the immigrant experience or the internal monologue of a singer-songwriter struggling to be free.

Checks and balances and a mechanism for self-correction; fireworks and barbecue, and the right to make dumb mistakes and have to live with ‘em. Losing love, and falling in it again. Finding hope, and being scared to dream one more time. It’s the American way, all of it — and it’s been that way since inception.

Which is to say: if I may sometimes work to change the policies of those in power, through sharing song or through town meeting politics, it is because I love this country. And I hope I never lose that fluttery feeling in my stomach when we come in for a landing at the international terminal, and I know that I am home.

So let other bloggers share patriotic song today. I’d rather take the country as it is: dialogic, complex, open about its faults and favors, and always looking for a better way. And if saying so means posting songs we have posted here before, then so be it — for these are, after all, timeless songs, with messages that bear repeating.

Happy Birthday, America. Long may your contradictions endear us to you. May you never lose hope. And may we never stop singing.

Bonus repost tracks, 2011

12 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, reposts

Single-Shot Coverfolk: O Canada
(Reid Jamieson Folks Up The Canadian National Anthem)

July 1st, 2011 — 06:03 am

News from North-of-the-border fave Reid Jamieson, whose tribute to the songs of 1969 found exclusive first-round coverage here on these pages back in March: it’s Canada Day, and he’s recorded a sweet upbeat cover of their national anthem in his signature countryfolk style. Take a minute and twenty out of your busy Friday schedule to celebrate, won’t you?

Like it? There’s plenty more coverage where that came from, including Reid’s takes on songs from fellow countrymen Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, and Great Lake Swimmers, over at Reido Radio!

8 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Reid Jamieson