Archive for March 2012

Tributes and Cover Collections:
Pesky J. Nixon, Nick Cave, Josie Little, Peter Mulvey revisited, & more!

March 24th, 2012 — 12:17 pm

It’s finally Spring, though the warm winter shuffled our sense of season a bit this year. And just as the turning of the calendar has brought an early bloom of daffodils and crocuses to the garden, so has it revealed a growing set of cover collections and tribute albums, each featuring a beautiful bouquet of songs of and from artists we love. Today, we gather in these new and newly-found releases, providing news of the good stuff, a coverlovers delight. Enjoy!

Boston-based folk foursome Pesky J. Nixon‘s long-awaited covers album Red Ducks has been on our watchlist for ages, and now that it’s finally here, we’re proud to proclaim it a stunning success, an all-acoustic covers collection that delivers all we hoped for and more. Warm and raucous in turns, yet infectiously fun throughout, the album comes across like a gentler take on the Old Crow Medicine Show and others of the neo-organic americana camps, laden with campfire harmonies, fluid accordion, rhythmic guitar, and bright mandolin riffs, with takes on familiar folk, rock, and pop classics from Tom Waits, Cyndi Lauper, Dylan and more recorded in an intimate setting that is nonetheless perfectly evocative of their energetic live shows.

Regular readers may recall note of Pesky J. Nixon in and around our Falcon Ridge Folk Festival coverage last summer, but this album is a true tour de force for the team, who move in one fell swoop from ragged up-and-coming folksmen to serious contenders in the New England mainstage circuit with this delightfully focused, well-produced set – and sure enough, their Spring tour schedule has them traveling up and down the East Coast from now until summer, making it easy to catch these fine gentlemen as they promote both the album and their upcoming appearance at Falcon Ridge as hands-down winners of the 2011 Emerging Artist competition. Red Ducks drops officially on March 30, but you can and should purchase it in digital form over at Bandcamp if you’re too eager to wait for the physical disc; check it out, revel in its delights, and then hit up their CD release show on the 30th at The Lizard Lounge if you can.

I have no idea how I missed Dig Cave Dig, a Melbourne indie artists’ Nick Cave tribute from local label Beautiful Eskimo Records, when it was first released in Spring of 2011 – perhaps the combination of my lifelong distaste for Cave’s low, gravelly, atonal growl, a lack of international press, and my utter unfamiliarity with the musicians involved kept the damn thing hidden. And to be fair, the album is an unusual mix, bringing an almost even mix of gritty indie grunge rock and gentle folk treatments to the dark and sinister songbook of this long-time Australian underground critic’s darling.

But when the album quite literally fell into my lap earlier this week, I was thrilled to find that about half of the tribute consist of incredibly potent acoustic takes on Cave’s work. And even the louder, more violent tracks are a potent reminder of the power a true craftsman’s songs, making for an overall tribute which sheds new light on the hidden aches and tenderness that lurks under Cave’s often over-the-top performance. Stream it all on Soundcloud, skip around to find the folk if that’s your preference, and then support the fledgling label involved by purchasing the whole thing on iTunes here.

Luke Legs: Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow (orig. Nick Cave)

Little Wolf & Casey Hartnett: Where The Wild Roses Grow (orig. Nick Cave w/ Kylie Minogue)

Van Walker & Liz Stringer: Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For (orig. Nick Cave)

We first found Josie Little in our Couch By Couchwest coverage last weekend; the Kitty Wells song she recorded for the virtual festival was solid and spare, bringing new quiet energy to a classic cut better known for its original country twang. But digging deeper is always worth it, and here we have ample evidence: though I can’t find the video cover of I’m On Fire she supposedly performed in that virtual space in 2011, a quick google search revealed a soundcloud page chock full of tenderness and torn emotion, and coverage galore. Her take on Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe is startlingly quiet and pure – a deep, poisoned well of slowcore folk, perfectly imperfect. Her Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams covers are equally delicate and equally stunning; so is her take on Neil Young’s Powderfinger, stripping away all but the raw emotion, leaving only the 3 a.m. epiphany. I’ve posted a trio, including an utterly gorgeous Kathleen Edwards cover with overdubbed harmonies and quiet strums that leave me aching, but do yourself a favor, and head over to Soundcloud to hear more right away.

Josie Little: Sweet Little Duck (orig. Kathleen Edwards)

Josie Little: It Ain’t Me Babe (orig. Bob Dylan)

Josie Little: Only To Lose (orig. Whiskeytown)

According to its own webpage header, Onder Invloed (Under the Influence) is a video project by Dutch journalist and filmmaker Matthijs van der Ven, who films international musicians performing covers of their favorite bands and songs in live shows and private sessions; I found the set through Sandy, who shared a recent three-fer from Kim Janssen over at Slowcoustic last week, exposing a quiet acoustic session of covers from Iron & Wine, Damien Jurado, and Pedro the Lion that left me wanting more.

Happily, there’s a rich panoply of song coverage to be found here. A quick browse of the dozens of sessions and live sets van der Ven has produced and captured in the last several years revealed gems aplenty, from locals and musicians passing through The Netherlands on tour, the vast majority of them turning in performances which are intimate and tender, though other genres are certainly represented; the page also includes links to a streaming-only 14-track soundtrack that is only otherwise available as a companion to the Onder Invloed book, which was released in January and appears to be entirely in Dutch. I’ve embedded a few favorites below to whet your whistle, but truly, the website is where the action is.

Anne Soldat: I Think It’s Going To Rain Today (orig. Randy Newman)

Kim Janssen: Passing Afternoon (orig. Iron & Wine)

Doghouse Roses: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (trad.)

Finally: we had plenty to say about Peter Mulvey’s newest release The Good Stuff in our full-length feature on the singer-songwriter back in February, so I won’t repeat it here, except to note that we’re huge fans of both Mulvey and this great new album, and for excellent reasons. But the album itself, which now comes with Chaser, a companion EP of even more coverage, has finally hit the market, and since we were asked to hold back on posting songs until the moment arrived, we’re itching to share. Here’s two favorites from the mix; don’t forget to hit up the archives for much more Mulvey coverage, and Signature Sounds to purchase the CD/EP set, for more of the good stuff, including what may well be the best damn cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows ever performed.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Pesky J. Nixon, Peter Mulvey, Tribute Albums

Anti-Festival Coverfolk:
The Best of Couch By Couchwest 2012

March 18th, 2012 — 09:25 pm

South By Southwest, the hippest multi-day, multi-venue industry bash in all the land, has finally drawn to its inevitable conclusion, and all across the country, artists and music bloggers are stumbling back to their daily lives a little wiser, a little wearier, and a whole lot more hungover.

There’s a tiny fragment of my heart that lives forever in jealousy of those musicians, promotional types, and hard-core blog-authors who clutter my feed with their legendary experience this time of year. But although I have spent much of the past week living vicariously through the frantic tweet and status updates of those brave enough to waive sleep and comfort for a chance to wander the long city-wide party, I’ve also been cheating a bit on the side, lurking around over at virtual anti-festival Couch By Couchwest, a tongue-in-cheek blog-based collaborative experience designed especially for those of us who have neither the time nor the youthful energy to couchsurf in Austin this time of year.

Just as SXSW brings together musicians and industry types, so has CXCW served as a fine meeting of the minds, bringing the famous to hobnob with the fans, both of whom were invited to post and participate in the community through commentary and collaboration. Yer Bird Records, of whom we are eternal fans, were a fine sponsor, soliciting a haiku contest, and exemplary sessions from John Statz, Hezekiah Jones, and more. Most significantly, from our own nicheblog perspective, in order to best approximate the live experience, musicians were invited to post songs from their own couches and practice spaces, thus forming the nucleus of the festival experience through vicarious sessioning. And though it was a bit less sweaty in cyberspace, just as one might have found in the live venues the festival was designed to mimic, some of them chose to take on coverage.

To be fair, we’re a bit worn out from our own early weekend post – a quite popular feature that took on the folkways of the heavy metal movement through the coverage of 14 fine folk and acoustic musicians – and from our secret Facebook-only St. Pat’s set, which found us sharing 8 fine folkcovers of songs by Irish band U2, including a rare acoustic take on Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For from none other than indie goddess Sara Bareilles. But it is Sunday, after all – the day we usually share our thoughts with you, the readers and fans. So here’s an appropriately quick and dirty feature set of coverfolk highlights from Couch By Couchwest that made us proud to be part of the crowd.

Matthew Ryan: Mama You’ve Been On My Mind (orig. Bob Dylan)

John Statz: It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (orig. Bob Dylan)

Ryan Montbleau: Ain’t Nobody’s Business (orig. Taj Mahal)

Blackwater Jukebox ft. Sadie & The Blue Eyed Devils: Mr. Vain (orig. Culture Beat)

Phil Norman: Become You (orig. Amy Ray)

Paul Otteson: Curious Scar (orig. Dietrich Gosser)

Hollysdollar: Vampyre (orig. AA Bondy)

Josie Little: This White Circle (orig. Kitty Wells)

Strand of Oaks: Long Desert Train (orig. Jason Molina)

Wess Floyd: Nebraska (orig. Bruce Springsteen)

Black Twig Pickers: Going Down That Road Feeling Bad (trad.)

Cory Branan: Bad Moon Rising (orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival)
An encore performance from Couch by Couchwest 2011!

Bonus track: Hezekiah Jones’ amazing cover of Chris Bathgate’s Last Parade on Ann Street isn’t available for embedding, but it is absolutely worth the visit to the main CXCW site…and a great way to start your journey through the archives of this incredible festival.

1 comment » | Festival Coverfolk, YouTube

All Folked Up: Heavy Metal
(folk covers of seminal metal bands from Iron Maiden to Metallica)

March 16th, 2012 — 10:18 pm

I think of metal and its various forms only peripherally, as some other tribe’s music, acknowledged as valid yet neither understood nor experienced from the outside. But because metal rose in the sixties and seventies, a warped response to blues rock and the psychedelics that raised intensity to a level previously unheard, I have always known it; its culture is largely unchanged in nature, focusing on a core fashion and the shared experience of the live event, even as it attracts new generations.

And, as within our ever-popular 2009 exploration of Punk through coverage, though I can’t claim to be an expert on the various subgenrae or nuances of Metal, I recognize its importance in modern culture, its ability to speak so clearly to the lost, the lonely, and the disillusioned, and its unique folkways.

From the outside, at least, Metal drips with masculinity; its predominantly male, macho stance seems to channel and release acceptance and confidence for the crowds that come to bang their heads. But the particularly antithetical, ironic stance adopted by folksingers looking to tame and temper songs originally formed around violent delivery and angsty screams has more breadth than one would expect. From Evan Dando’s heroin acoustic Fade To Black to Bunny West’s torchsong piano Run To The Hills to a myriad of coopted Crazy Train covers, covers here range from tense to tender, channeling the inner fear and the inner fire, lending doubt and dawn to songs once howled into the night.

Together, they offer a study in ethomusicology: evidence of another folk, in another space that we encounter in bursts of insight, spilling out of cars and bars, and coming to us through coverage, as we pass in the night.

Download the entire set in one convenient zip file!

4 comments » | all folked up

On Making Time:
Temporal coverfolk, and a plea for support

March 11th, 2012 — 02:49 pm

As noted on our Donate page, here at Cover Lay Down we insist on remaining ad-free and non-profit – the better to focus our attention and your support on those artists we tout week in and week out, thus making it possible for them to keep their hands and voices in the game full-time, for the benefit of all.

But making and reinforcing connections between musicians and the community they serve isn’t free. The amount of bandwidth it takes to serve our growing readership runs well over a terabyte of data each month, and you just can’t get that sort of pipeline without paying for it. And having technical support at our fingertips means ensuring that the blog, and its coversongs, are here when you need them.

And so, a couple of times a year, we come to you, our beloved readers, asking for support to keep the music flowing.

Why now? Primarily, because the coffers are low. It costs about a hundred dollars a month to cover our costs, and right now, the account has just enough in it to take us into April. Without your gift, the clock runs out.

But in my mind, there’s also a strong parallel between the clock-change of Daylight Savings Time and the pacing of the paycheck-driven life. I’ll be thinking of it when I rise in the dark tomorrow to leave for work on time. And I’ll be pondering its manifestations as I dwell among the various stressors that keep us in tension with the time and attention we spend here on these pages.

And these days, I spend a lot of time thinking about money. It’s budget season in our schools, and with the Federal jobs bill gone dry, my role on our local school board has turned once again to our annual examination of how to make do with less. Contact negotiations continue in the inner-city school system where I teach, leaving me uncertain of what the future might bring, or even whether I might still have a job when the process is over. Taxes are coming due, causing us once again to sit at the kitchen counters of our memories and figure out just where our money goes, and whether we’ll need to get second jobs just to afford the basic, bare lifestyle we enjoy.

I did not join the school board to manage money, but I recognize that our yearly exploration of the district pocketbook is an important lens through which we reexamine our priorities on the ground. I did not join the teaching field to get rich, but the choice of weekends and summers off has its costs, to me and to my family.

Time, as they say, is money. And the way we ration and gather these precious resources is often less dissimilar than we’d like to admit. Our resources are always limited: to give and take an hour here, a dollar there, is to be deliberate about what we have to give, lending our hearts to that which we think serves ourselves and our communities most.

And so we come to you today with hat in hand, asking only that you take a moment out of your busy life to help out, and – in doing so – become a proud supporter of our mission.

If you’re a regular contributor, we encourage you to consider renewing your commitment, the better to perpetuate that which you take for granted.

If you haven’t donated before, we ask that you consider throwing a few dollars into the pot, the better to ensure that we’ll be here for months and years to come.

Give to Cover Lay Down, and help us sustain the words, the music, the artists and the community.

Because it’s time.

Cover Lay Down has been proudly serving artists and fans at the intersection of folk and coverage since 2007 thanks to the support of readers like you.

2 comments » | donate, Theme Posts

The Coverfolk Smorgasbord:
New and new-found delights from the mailbox and beyond!

March 5th, 2012 — 10:16 pm

A coverblogger’s inbox is always full, and though much of what we receive is off-genre or original, following the threads of inspiration is often a fruitful pursuit. But regardless of source or format, inevitably, the ongoing collection reaches a critical mass. And when it does, it becomes imperative to share, lest we find ourselves unable to move on for fear of losing track of the good stuff.

Today, then, we return to the mailbag to spread the word on the best song interpretations we’ve received from fellow bloggers, artists, managers, promotional folks and fans in a particularly generous span of weeks. Recorded in living room sessions, live spaces, and studios, each track has impressed us enough to be worthy of not just pass-along, but promotion; as such, as always, if you like what you hear, don’t forget to follow links to explore more original works from the artists we celebrate.

While our ongoing exploration of new and emerging artists often dovetails with our mailbox occasionals – most of the entries herein, for example, come from young folks whose appearance here represents early notice of rising adeptness – the latter conceit remains necessary, in part, in order to acknowledge long-standing artists whose recent coverage sparked our interest. This week’s case in point: Dave Crossland, a maturing artist of no small stature whose credits include years of work with mentor and Kingston Trio founder John Stewart and bill-sharing with the likes of Roseanne Cash, Shawn Colvin, and Lindsey Buckingham.

Crossland, a self-proclaimed “road monkey” with four studio albums under his belt, would have likely remained on the periphery of our ongoing exploration of the singer-songwriter movement, too, were it not for his brand-new, fondly funereal take on Stewart-penned Monkees classic Daydream Believer, which Crossland himself seems to have leaked to the web last week in honor of the recent passing of Monkees member Davey Jones. The track will appear on his upcoming album Mother Country, a long-overdue tribute to the Stewart songbook; the microfinanced labor of love is currently less than a thousand dollars away from pressing, so definitely head on over to the Mother Country project page to help speed the process along with a donation if you can.

We’ve posted plenty about the scene at Boston’s Berklee College in the past few years, but this newest step forward is something special indeed: Under The Influence, the brand new twelve-track product from student-run label (and full-credit music business/management course) Heavy Rotation Records, features a pair of covers each from six incredible student and recent alumni musical acts, each a cross-genre tribute to the influences that brought the artists to the table in the first place, and the absolutely stunning sum total says more about the twinned talent and tenacity of the Berklee program than anything we’ve managed to put together in the past, for sure.

It’s not all folk here, though it’s all good: Pinn Panelle’s screaming guitar-and-organ-driven cover of R.E.M. classic Radio Free Europe is a madcap jam-metal screamer, like a Phish and Duncan Sheik mashup on speed; pop-driven loop artist Julia Easterlin’s work is reminiscent of Ingrid Michaeleson and Imogen Heap’s best; the Berklee String Metal Ensemble’s Smashing Pumpkins cover sounds just like what would happen if you gave Fugazi and Megadeth a set of mandolins and taught ‘em to use ‘em. But singer-songwriter David Pramik’s U2 cover is a tender wail over a pulsing contemporary folk atmosphere, and The Boston Boys and Emily Elbert, both of whom I’ve seen and loved separately before, come together for a smashing indie-grass take on a Green Day obscurity sure to please fans of Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, and Leftover Salmon. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, folks; head over to the HRR bandcamp page to read more, and stream the rest of the project.

When I first found young Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter Jason Steel on late 2011 release The Rough Guide to English Folk, I was struck by how impossibly American he sounded; his cover of tradfolk ballad The False Bride on that compilation is a mellow, creak-voiced dream that speaks as much to Leadbelly, and to other, older and more earthbound fingerpickers from the blues and mountain traditions, as it does to compatriots Sam Amidon, Nick Drake, and John Fahey. But pursuing the threads here was well worth the effort: Steel’s jagged take on bawdy folk ballad The Bonny Black Hare, which seems to have been recorded in a live session, is vastly distinct, yet equally coherent and beautiful, echoing an unusual combination of Appalachian, Tin Pan Alley, and tradfolk elements, hewing a space between and around the various threads of folk which push and pull across the oceans between us.

Lost Leaders is a duo comprised of Ollabelle / Levon Helm Band member Byron Isaacs and Peter Cole, both of whom are, apparently, fans of the blog; though their output thus far is slim, they’ve just finished recording their first record up at Levon’s barn in Woodstock, and their summer 2011 gig opening Levon’s infamous Midnight Ramble is nothing to sneeze at. But those looking for an indicator of their potential need look no farther than the first two releases in their live video series, a living room covers project that has caused a sort of mutual admiration society to emerge among us. Their hypnotic dual electric/acoustic guitars and sweet harmony vocals are right up our alley, and their choices of coverage inspired; if the two tracks below tickle your fancy, too, don’t forget to bookmark the Lost Leaders YouTube page and website for more as their debut album’s release date gets closer.

We don’t often get submissions from indie actors, but we’ll make a major exception for PigPen Theater Co., a group of recent Carnegie Mellon University graduates who “started a theater company in school, kind of by accident”, and subsequently won the NYC Fringe Festival’s top award two years running for plays and performances built around original folk tales and folk music. According to the email they sent, the young folks in question are branching out in support of a debut Kickstarter-driven indie-folk album project even as they continue to work on a new play and an animated short film; they now have a series of “about 7″ cover videos planned, with songs chosen by project donors, and if the first two are typical, theirs is just the kind of gently ragged, harmony-driven, footstomping, banjo-and-bass-drum, neo-traditional sound that drives us wild here at Cover Lay Down – leaving us eager to hear more coverage, and the debut album that will follow.

Sometimes, the covers we get from the mailbag are just a bit too far over the line into other genres to feel right for us. But when we reluctantly decided that The Giving Tree Band’s cover of Brown Eyed Women, recently recorded for the aforementioned and ongoing Dead Covers Project over at, was a crystal clear, beautifully layered, humdinger of a tribute – tight, nuanced, and goddamn sweet as sin – that nonetheless didn’t really seem folk enough, the guys in the band, who sport adept chops directly inherited from the Allman Brothers, The Band, and other country rock influences, were happy to oblige with something a bit more folky upon request. So check out their impromptu acoustic cover of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass below, recorded just last week in honor of Harrison’s birthday, and then feel free to backtrack via the link above for a Dead cover that truly does Jerry and the gang justice.

We close our video coverage today with a one-shot from Vancouver rising star duo The River And The Road – a pass-along which comes, unusually enough, from one of the members’ brothers, who is such a fan, he couldn’t resist sending us their take on Gillian Welch classic Look At Miss Ohio. What can we say: the guys are clearly on their way somewhere good; we love the song, and we love the way it sounds in a stairwell, with banjo, guitar, and dual male voices. For fans of the Avett Brothers and Old Crow, especially; it’s that kind of bearded folk, after all.

Pssst! Looking for an ongoing stream of coverfolk videos and streams throughout the week? Head over to the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for more, including a tinkly piano and muffled drumkit Dylan cover, a Billy Bragg-alike cover of a cut from the brand new Damien Jurado album, and more “facebook only” bonus tracks from the mailbag!

4 comments » | Mailbox

Snowsongs, Redux: late coverfolk in praise of snow

March 1st, 2012 — 05:31 pm

I had other plans last night – dance class chaperonage and an early fast food supper out with the kids; a long school committee meeting; a late-night blog entry that bowed to a particularly delicious crop of video-driven mailbox coverage. But Mother Nature had a different idea, and here, in a town ravaged by October blizzards and June tornadoes, we’ve learned to listen to her insistent ways.

And so, after months of startling sun and warmth, and what was surely the driest season on record, winter came at last to our little pocket of middle New England. Roads were closed, events were cancelled, and the fat, fluffy flakes covered the trees, the ground, and every inch of available landscape, leaving behind the kind of white, blurry, Ansel Adams wonderland that woodsy romantics associate with Christmas and the unexpected gift of school cancellations.

Now here it is, just 24 hours later, and though the school district where I teach decided to hold class regardless, the snow has continued to fall throughout the day. My own children, who hid behind the trees at driveway’s end to pelt my returning car with snowballs, steam the flush from their faces with hot chocolate and orange slices, chattering happily of snowfort adventures. Choir is cancelled, and as the snow waxes and wanes outside, it eradicates any thought of obligations.

The burdens of perpetual motion are gone, buried in inches. Lost are the urges of mere hours; fled are the clocks of have-to and should. The world, in its insistent manner, has taken our plans, and left us stasis. And though we posted a strong set of wintersongs back in December, here by the roaring fire of the pellet stove, mulled cider in hand and children nestled nearby, my heart insists on the soft solace that only songs of snow can bring.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled artist-centric features by Sunday, to be sure. In the meantime, join us as we celebrate the return of white winter with a thematic return to songs of snow both familiar and new or newly-found, covered in folk.

Looking for more snowsongs? Our pre-Christmas 2011 Wintersongs feature includes more seasonal sentiment and snowsongs, including beautiful covers of Counting Crows’ Long December, Sara Barielles and Ingrid Michaelson’s Winter Song, Vashti Bunyan’s Winter Is Blue, and plenty more – and it’s available in a single, convenient zip file!

Comment » | reposts