Category: Carrie Rodriguez

New and (Re)Covered:
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Patty Griffin, and Suzanne Vega

January 27th, 2010 — 07:55 pm

The mailbag is bursting with delight – so full, in fact, that I’ve decided that next week will be New Artists, Old Songs Week here at Cover Lay Down, featuring a whole host of new artists who have kindly sent along their demos, one-off tracks, and pre-releases in anticipation of greater recognition for the next generation. It is, as always, an honor to be able to share these folks with you; I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do, and pursue the links provided here to support their emerging talent.

While we compile and winnow the wonderful new voices that have come our way in the last several weeks, let’s clear the palate a bit by regrounding our ears in a few more familiar faces and thematically relevant songs which have popped up in the inbox alongside that cornucopia. Here, that means yet another installment of our popular (Re)Covered feature, with news, new songs, and newly-found tracks that have come our way, and should be coming your way, too, now that the new year has turned.

I finally managed to catch the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who we first featured back in April, last weekend at the Somerville Theater, and was utterly thrilled to find they are even more stunning in concert than I had imagined. Their infectious joy in not just recovering but truly rejuvenating a whole set of found song, from old country blues and minstrel-show jazz to stringband and rural jugband classics, is evident in every smile, holler, and nuanced move on an array of authentic instruments, from quills and autoharp to banjo, fiddle, guitar, voice and bones. And as performers and ethnomusicologists, their patter and performance offers a first rate journey through the folk traditions of Black America.

New album Genuine Negro Jig, which will include a studio version of their infamous Blu Cantrell cover and a delicious take on Tom Waits’ Trampled Rose alongside a whole new set of resurrected stringband and old-time jazz and blues tunes done in their inimitable Piedmont style, drops on February 16. Here’s two delightful cuts from the newest – the aforementioned Blu Cantrell cover, and a sweet, wry newly-recorded version of old stringband classic Cornbread and Butterbeans – plus a live cut to keep your feet moving in the meantime; for more, preorder Genuine Negro Jig, sit back, and wait for the magic to arrive.

Patty Griffin‘s new album Downtown Church is a true blue Americana Gospel album, not folk, but I hardly care; despite my ambivalence about her overproduced sophomore release Flaming Red, which recently caused a minor inter-blogger firestorm over at Star Maker Machine, it’s no secret that Griffin is one of my favorite artists, having first featured in our pages way back in our first few weeks as a blog, and several times since. And Downtown Church’s dustbowl gospel is utterly amazing, in no small part because of Griffin’s achingly, hauntingly, drivingly beautiful approach to a series of gospel classics, not to mention stellar support from Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, and a host of other powerhouse artists.

The result: a true gem of a new album that has the Americana world drooling in anticipation of what may well turn out to be the biggest release of the year. The NPR full-album stream disappeared yesterday upon the album’s release, but there’s a live concert over at No Depression tonight at 8:00 EST, full-length samples at Paste, and of course, you can and should buy the whole thing here. The whole damn thing comes with my strongest recommendation, but I really, really love the sparse piano and voice of final track All Creatures of Our God and King, and the power of the penultimate We Shall All Be Reunited, which, like Heavenly Day before it, has Grammy written all over it, especially now that an appropriate nomination category has been created.

The coverblogger code doesn’t usually consider a remade song a cover if it’s the same artist performing it – else we’d have to count pretty much every demo as an original, and every live performance an incident worthy of note. Wikipedia, however, seems to beg otherwise. And so just this once, I’m going to give honorable mention to the newest from Suzanne Vega, Close Up Vol 1: Love Songs, in which the once-ubiquitous singer-songwriter comes out of the shadows after years of living off residuals to put forth an utterly lovely album of acoustic versions of her own songbook – the first of four rounds of such self-coverage, if Vega’s press release is to be believed.

We featured Suzanne Vega in our first Mother’s Day post way back in ’08, noting at the time that she had decided to focus on motherhood first and foremost after her daughter was born in 1994; it’s good to see her back in the studio, and though there’s a part of me that aches for a new set of songs, her early work is certainly strong enough to support reframing. So while you head over to her website to preorder, here’s a remade “original” from the newest, a pair of older Grateful Dead covers from Cover Freak’s least favorite album, and a few other takes on a personal favorite from the Suzanne Vega songbook for balance.

Looking past the horizon, I note that Carrie Rodriguez, who we first featured here upon release of her 2008 album She Ain’t Me, will be coming out with her first covers album in April, and on first listen, at least, it’s sounding like a practically perfect fiddle-driven Country-Americana Folkpop collection.

We’ll have more to say about this eventually, and a song to post, for sure, but I’ve been asked to keep the buzz and the songsharing on the down low until the date creeps closer. Still, Carrie’s currently on tour with Ben Sollee and Erin McKeown – a great choice of companions for the achingly sweet-voiced Rodriguez – and she’ll also be doing a few dates with Alejandro Escovedo and Los Lonely Boys in the next few, so if your town is on her touring schedule, make it a point to stop in to preview a track or two from the upcoming disc in a live setting.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and songsets each Sunday and Wednesday. And remember, folks: February 1st marks the kick-off date for New Artists, Old Songs Week here at Cover Lay Down, so don’t forget to head on back with your ears handy for a first-rate set of covers from a solid crop of up-and-comers come Sunday.

1,543 comments » | (Re)Covered, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Carrie Rodriguez, Patty Griffin, Suzanne Vega

New and Noteworthy Coverfolk: Carrie Rodriguez, Mark Erelli, The Sacred Shakers (w/ Eilen Jewell)

August 10th, 2008 — 09:42 am

Now that my email inbox is finally back to ground zero, it’s time to take a look at the best of the recent crop of shiny plastic that has once again begun to pile up beside the alumni mags and kitchen counter catalogues. Here’s the top tier, some new releases and a handful of exclusive, previously unblogged covers from three well-respected singer-songwriters still on the cusp of full-blown fame: Mark Erelli, Carrie Rodriguez, and Eilen Jewell’s new country gospel project The Sacred Shakers. Regular reader of the usual folkblog suspects have already heard about some of these, but good news, like good music, bears repeating.

Mark Erelli is an old favorite of mine, ever since the high-folk production of 2001 sophomore release Compass and Companion started getting radioplay back in the mid nineties; since then, he’s gone deeper into honky tonk and bluesfolk, and spent a good deal of time on the road as a guitar man, supporting the fast-rising career of old friend and coffeehouse circuit peer Lori McKenna. But his new disk Delivered, on long-time label Signature Sounds, is a triumphant return to his singer-songwriter roots, with a polished sound made even more mature and powerful by the faint hints of explorative influence from his last few outings, and it’s a wonderful place to find him.

Erelli, whose local-boy-made-good backstory and aw-shucks manner only compliment a distinctive raspy tenor with a New England twang and a fine sense of how to write an ageless political folksong, hasn’t included any covers on this newest. But like his early albums, Delivered contains a great set of well-crafted tunes with strong vocal arrangements, solid atmosphere and open, confessional lyrics, grounded in common themes of spiritualism, hope, political desire, atonement and authenticity. Alternately hushed and driving, at their best, the collection of first-rate songs that comprise Delivered rival the best and most pensive of Paul Simon’s midcareer, the most yearningly hopeful of Springsteen, or the downtrodden post-folk of Dylan’s most recent.

I’ve previously posted a few choice gems from Erelli’s vast collection of covers (see below for links). And there’s bound to be more to come, as long as Erelli continues to post a new unreleased track on his blog every month; this month’s freebie, for example, is a great bedroom cover of Greg Brown’s If I Had Known well worth the download. Here’s a few more I’ve been holding back until just the right moment, all of them well worth repeat listening; his slow, sultry campfire versions of Joni Mitchell classic Case of You and Roy Orbison classic Crying are personal favorites, both among my top covers of all time. Enjoy ‘em while you wait to buy Delivered, which is available on tour only right now, and hits the streets at Signature Sounds on September 16.

Speaking of the always-excellent Signature Sounds: though Eilen Jewell, whose chipper Texas swingfolk wowed the blogworld last year, still has just the two albums to her name as a solo artist, this month marks the release of a selftitled collection of public domain tunes and a few country classics from new group The Sacred Shakers, which builds a core of male vocals and old-timey alt-country instrumentalists around Jewell’s sweet voice and girlish energy.

Though the premise here is old-timey bible-belt country gospel, played out in a surprisingly full spectrum of settings from slow waltz to driving alt-country, the sound is not so far off from Eilen’s big splash, last year’s Letters from Sinners & Strangers. Not that this is a bad thing: just a peg looser than a classic country gospel album, The Sacred Shakers album has touches of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and even the Stray Cats, but — as songs:illinois noted while I was away — has more in common with early Sun Records era Johnny Cash and Elvis than anything.

Which is to say: mostly, The Sacred Shakers is just plumb great swingin’ countryfolk with a hint of alt-country, full of fiddle and banjo licks, country rock guitar, thumping stand-up bass and the distinctive clicketyclack of the honkytonk drumkit in its more upbeat moments, and sweet and honest-voiced when Jewell steps forward for the slower sets, like Hank Williams cover Ready to Go Home, or obscure tradtune Twelve Gates to the City (which you can hear over at songs:illinois).

Here’s an *exclusive* label-approved pair from the new release, and a fave Eilen Jewell solo cover from last year. Especially startling: Greg Glassman, in duet with Jewell on the slow, ragged waltz that transforms album closer and country gospel classic Green Pastures, sounds eerily like Ryan Adams.

Finally, for the last few years, Brooklynite fiddle player Carrie Rodriguez has been slowly working her way out from the shadow of Chip Taylor, who first discovered her a few years back. She first appeared as a Tracy Grammer-esque partner, lending her duet voice and fiddle to Taylor’s own tunes; more recently, with last year’s Seven Angels on a Bicycle, she’s come forward as frontwoman and titular performer, albeit with Taylor on board as producer and co-writer. Now, with She Ain’t Me, out just last week on EMI imprint Manhattan Records, Rodriguez finally comes into her own, trading the rough-hewn look for a shiny cover art glamour, delivering a solid set of surprisingly poppy, diverse originals that run the range from Carole King to Louisiana Swing to full-blown poprock; Twangville hears Lucinda Williams, too, and I think I agree.

Rag Doll, the album’s sole cover and another rep-approved Cover Lay Down web exclusive, is a lovely, atmospheric folkpop piece with sublime vocals, a great showcase for both Rodriguez’ increasingly confident voice and mononymic indie-folkster Sandrine’s underrated songwriting; but my favorite track on the new album is the driving countryfolk neo-fiddletune Absence, co-written with Mary Gauthier and guest-starring fellow new folk revival vocalist Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still (who also lends vocals to Mark Erelli’s release, come to think of it). Check out Muruch’s review for Absence, and then pick up She Ain’t Me for even more gorgeous high-production folk originals.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

As always, all new and as-yet-unreleased tracks shared on Cover Lay Down are posted with full permission from labels and artist representatives. For review consideration, please send CDs and sundries to the address listed on the sidebar.

1,041 comments » | Carrie Rodriguez, Eilen Jewell, Mark Erelli, The Sacred Shakers

Covered in Folk: Neil Young (Of Tribute Albums and Female Indiefolk)

March 2nd, 2008 — 11:00 am

I have a love/hate relationship with Neil Young. While I’ve always loved his early work, both solo and with CSNY, as my ears and his voice age, I find it harder to listen to that infamous whine for more than a few minutes at a time. But ever since I wore a used copy of his incredible, confessional album Harvest down to the groove one mopey adolescent summer, I have had nothing but admiration for Neil Young’s ability to pen poetic yet straightforward songs which give voice to the plight of the powerless and the disaffected in modern American culture.

Young gets his share of covers, though next to Dylan, Paul Simon, and Bruce Springfield, the prolific folk-rocker’s songbook is hardly what we could call well-represented. And given his lyrical bent, it’s unsurprising to find that most of the best covers have emerged from the indie and folk worlds, where musicians and audiences generally share both Young’s socio-political dissatisfaction and his fluid fondness for making music in both acoustic and electric forms. It’s not like my life has been a series of Neil Young-related disappointments.

However, where it’s easy to find strong tribute albums of Springfield or Dylan, as albums, the few Neil Young tributes I’ve encountered have been less than memorable. Last year’s Uncut (UK) magazine freebie Like A Hurricane had some excellent folk artists on the roster, but all but three of those songs had been previously released, and back issues are hard to come by. Other, older tributes, like late eighties alt-rock release The Bridge, had a few good cuts, but with a few exceptions (Sonic Youth, The Pixies), The Bridge is generally considered a set of tepid work from some otherwise incredible artists.

Which makes Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity a long-overdue splash of vibrant life in an ocean of mediocrity. This new two-disc set features well-crafted Neil Young covers lovingly recorded by women who, like the previously featured Mary Lou Lord, live and play at the intersection of folk and alternative rock. The songs run the gamut from acoustic folkpop to indiefolk to electrified alternative, and unlike most multi-artist tribute albums, they fit together smoothly, making for a great and well-balanced listen from cover to cover. This is the tribute album Neil Young has deserved for most of his long and prolific career.

The proof is in the posting: I had originally planned to post this entry earlier, but the nice folks at American Laundromat let me take my pick of the collection, and I spent the first week trying to winnow down a two-CD set of great tracks to something manageable. Even after skimming off amazing songs like Luff’s great grungy Tell Me Why, Eurotrash’s alt-pop title cut, and Veruca Salt’s post-punk Burned — all of which, while amazing examples of indiegirl altrock in their own right, fall outside even a liberal interpretation of folk — I had to make some hard choices in selecting which songs to share.

You’ll have to buy the album for Lori McKenna’s countryfolk version of The Needle and the Damage Done, a dreamy rock anthem from Kristen Hirsh, a balanced, edgy cover of Heart of Gold from Tanya Donelly, the sweet indiefolk harmonies of the Watson Twins and Elk City, and more. But ultimately, I think I’ve selected a short set of streams which represent the breadth and excellence that is Cinnamon Girl.

No downloads here, folks, though I’ve dropped a few in the bonus section below. But don’t skip ahead. Press play below to hear Jill Sobule’s banjo-tinged folkrock, Kate York’s breathy alt-country jam on Comes A Time, the fragile Aimee Mann-like voice-and-piano folkpop of Amilia K Spicer, and my favorite track of many, Dala’s subtle, sultry cover of A Man Need a Maid.

Kate York, Comes A Time

Jill Sobule w/ John Doe, Down By The River

Dala, A Man Needs A Maid

Note: song has a long fade-in…

Amilia K Spicer, Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Told you so. Now head over to American Laundromat to pick up your copy of Cinnamon Girl today. All proceeds go to Casting for Recovery, which provides fly fishing retreats for breast cancer survivors.

While you’re there, take a look around. American Laundromat is an excellent label which specializes in pretty much all the things I like: tribute albums, the music and culture of the late eighties, and some of the best indie voices in the business. If nothing else, take a few minutes to listen to “American Laundromat radio”, where you can hear Lori McKenna’s cover of Peter Gabriel’s classic In Your Eyes, among other tracks from their great and growing stable of tribute albums.

Today’s bonus coversongs offer up some more Neil Young tributes from the acoustic singer-songwriter branch of the femfolk world:

Still need more Neil Young coversongs? Cover Me’s cover-by-cover reconstruction of Neil Young’s On The Beach includes some great cuts from across the musical spectrum, including Jeff Tweedy and The Be Good Tanyas. Act quick, because the links are due to go down in the next week or two.

493 comments » | Amilia K. Spicer, Carrie Rodriguez, Covered in Folk, Dala, Elizabeth Mitchell, Emily Haines, Emmylou Harris, Jill Sobule, Kate York, Marissa Nadler, Neil Young, Wailin' Jennys