Category: Eilen Jewell

(Re)Covered VII: More covers of and from
Sometymes Why, Eilen Jewell, Emma Beaton, Fleetwood Mac and more!

March 1st, 2009 — 12:48 am

It’s been quite a while since our last installment of our popular (Re)Covered series, in which we revisit previous posts through the new and noteworthy. But a growing collection of stunning apres-post reader submissions and a mailbox full of new upcoming works from previously-featured musicians cry out to be shared, and we’re long overdue. Without further ado, here’s some new covertracks and newly-found folk favorites worthy of your attention.

We’ve celebrated Kristin Andreassen, Ruth Merenda, and Aoife O’Donovan here on Cover Lay Down in the past, both as solo artists and as members of Uncle Earl (Andreassen), The Mammals (Merenda), and Crooked Still (O’Donovan): the three are central players in the new, rising neo-traditional cadre of folk musicians working to redefine the relationship between modern folk and more traditional forms such as bluegrass and appalachian music, and I believe them to be among the cream of the crop. I am a huge fan of these young ladies, and if you told me they were performing at two a.m. tomorrow night, separately or in combination, I’d skip out on my sleep and head over in a heartbeat, school night be damned.

Your Heart is a Glorious Machine, which drops March 10th from Signature Sounds, is the second album from this trio, which performs together as Sometymes Why, and I’ll be honest — it’s not what I expected at all. In fact, at first listen, the album is hardly folk at all. Instead, where their previous projects were grounded in both traditional and singer-songwriter folk, Your Heart comes off as a form of soul-influenced indiepop, heavy in tambourine and organ, targeted towards fans of Jenny Lewis or Feist. Heck, even the cover art speaks to a more indie audience.

Okay, so the album represents a significant departure from both their previous work as separate musicians, and their debut album as Sometymes Why. But once folk fans get past the shift in sensibility, with a few notable exceptions, Your Heart is surprisingly strong and eminently listenable, featuring a diverse collection of great songs and sweet, airy harmony vocals throughout. From the synthesized intro and sultry vocals of opener Aphrodisiaholic to the sweet and delicate acoustic guitar, harmonica and bells of Shine It and Slow Down, to the powerful Diamond, with its indie echo and a light foreground of strings and synth, this is music with a folk twang but plenty of soul, sure to appeal to modern folk audiences and the new indie crowd alike.

Unfortunately, those few notable exceptions come early in the tracklist. Both My Crazy and the single cover — a take on Concrete Blonde’s Joey — suffer from issues of pacing and too-precious overarrangement; as I wrote elsewhere when Joey first hit the blogs, “The song makes a decent light lullaby, but the arrangement here is too back and forth, and ultimately the hard rock organ, fuzz-guitar, and drum beat of the “forth” isn’t the best showcase for the team’s light folk harmonies.” Still, every new band deserves a few missteps, and even mostly-perfect albums are hard to come by; in the end, this is still a solid album, worth owning. Check out Joey below, and then head over to Signature Sounds for a few more (and more representative) samples while you pre-order.

Sea of Tears, the new disc from Eilen Jewell, represents a similar departure from her previous work. Jewell’s second album Letters from Sinners and Strangers was a masterpiece of crisp, light-hearted acoustic countryfolk swing which swept the folk-world upon its 2007 release; her work with the Sacred Shakers, which we wrote about when it emerged last summer, took that gorgeous, girlish voice and acoustic twang and applied it to old-timey gospel tunes, creating something “just a peg looser than a classic country gospel album.”

Now Jewell has moved away from that crisp, Sun Records-gone-organic sound to reimagine the jangly, twangy sounds of the British invasion of the sixties. As with the Sometymes Why album, regular listeners will likely find the result takes a while to get used to, with several songs heavy on the surf guitar coming at you right from the get-go, creating a sonic consistency easily mistaken for sameness. But upon further listen, in both these and a few softer rock ballads later on, the album ultimately attains its goal, rewarding the listener with a return to form and mastery, framed in a new sonic environment which really does pay homage to “the roots of rock and roll”, effectively and enjoyably.

Sea of Tears is due to drop from Signature Sounds in April. Here’s a new cover from the album, plus a more mellow older favorite, to prove it’s worth the wait.

In other news, a continued pursuit of the best new tradfolk heard at two recent festivals — The Boston Celtic Music Festival and The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival — has led to some lovely finds over the past few weeks, including two songs with a coincidence factor which collapses the traditional genre and performer distance between the two musical forms.

First, Scottish-bred and now Boston-based vocalist and fiddler Hannah Read, who sat in with the wonderful young folks of the Berklee Bluegrass Collage at Joe Val and performed as part of the Folk Arts Quartet at BCMFest, turned out to have a lovely cover of A Taste of Honey on her MySpace page. And second, Emma Beaton, who I wrote about here recently in glowing terms, has just unearthed a bluegrassy version of Red Rocking Chair, which she previously performed as a sparse banjo ballad; this second take is performed with some of the Berklee Bluegrass folks as well.

Coincidences abound here, including the fact that Hannah has photos of herself performing with both Aoife O’Donovan and Kristin Andreassen on her MySpace page. It would also seem that Berkley is a source to watch right now. Those living in the Boston area would be well advised to keep an eye on the Notlob concert series, which is featuring many folks from this scene this year: Hannah Read will perform with the Folk Arts Quartet on April 11; both Emma Beaton and the Boston Boys, which feature some of the Berklee Bluegrass crowd, will appear on May 9.

I’ve included a wonderful old-timey bluegrass cover of Rider on an Orphan Train here, too, because I picked it up at the Joe Val Fest after finally figuring out what all the fuss was about Dry Branch Fire Squad. We featured contemporary folk dulcimer-player David Massengil, who wrote the tune, when he appeared this summer at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

Finally: our recent feature on the songs of Fleetwood Mac led to a few wonderful recommendations from the peanut gallery; I’ve never been so grateful to have readers who consider the blog a true dialogue as I was when I tracked down Anna Ternheim‘s sweet, ringing acoustic take on Little Lies, and the gentle countryfolk harmonies and slide guitar of Nora O’Connor‘s version of That’s Alright. We’ll make a Fleetwood Mac fan of me yet, I guess. Keep ‘em coming, folks.

Are you an artist, a promoter, or a fan with a cover to share? Send ‘em along via the contact link at the top of the page — all songs considered, just like it says on NPR.

1,878 comments » | (Re)Covered, bluegrass, Eilen Jewell, Fleetwood Mac, Kristin Andreassen

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

Just A Song Before I Go: Catie Curtis covers Death Cab (plus Eilen Jewell, Lucinda Williams @ Green River)

July 16th, 2008 — 05:47 am

That’s us on the treeline, there. See?

What with weather and whatnot, the New England folk festival season only runs from June to September; it’s a pretty compressed time, rich with opportunity, and invariably, there are tough choices to be made. But over the years, the luckiest of us have found found a few sacred places that feel like home, and we wouldn’t miss them for the world.

Which is to say: I’m off tomorrow for the farms and fields of midstate New York, for two glorious weeks of festivaling: bluegrass at Grey Fox this weekend, and folk at Falcon Ridge the following. And there ain’t no blogging from the field.

But don’t worry, folks, I got you covered. A few like-minded and folk-friendly bloggers have graciously agreed to guest-blog here in my absence, so keep coming ’round for some great writing from the rotation. But before I go, here’s a few from the folks and fests I’ll regret missing while I’m away.

I just received my advance copy of Sweet Life, the upcoming release from alt-folkie Catie Curtis, in the mail today, so I can’t honestly say I’ve had a chance to let it sink in. But I’m already in love with her surprisingly poppy, affirming cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s Soul Meets Body, and we’re long overdue for recognition of the enduring work of this wonderful songwriter, champion of the working class, and long-time staple of the Boston folk scene.

Curtis is known for her vivid storytelling, especially in her ability to tease greatness out of ordinary lives, but she has always had a knack for carefully chosen, deliberately interpreted coversongs which she can truly make her own. This great cover is no exception: her guitarwork and the alt-pop production are catchy as hell, and her voice comes off all breathy and beautiful, like Lucinda Williams after a few voice lessons. Happily, the album seems to be more of the same.

Catie’s turn on etown will feature a collaborative cover of Yellow Submarine with Barenaked Ladies, but it doesn’t air until the end of August; Sweet Life won’t drop until September, and I’ll be away for Catie’s tourdates in northeastern New England next week. To tide us over, here’s the Death Cab cover, plus an older cover of minimalist alt-rockers Morphine from Catie’s 2004 album Dreaming in Romance Languages.

  • Catie Curtis, Soul Meets Body (orig. Death Cab for Cutie)
  • Catie Curtis, The Night (orig. Morphine)

Back when we lived up near Greenfield, MA, and before Grey Fox became too much of a temptation, we were regulars at the Green River Festival, a day-only fest (no camping) which has slowly spread to encompass three successive days of music. Previously, I’ve written about seeing Jeffrey Foucault there; the Green River also brought me my first live experiences with a whole host of amazing artists, from Josh Ritter and Gillian Welch to Carrie Rodriguez and Peter Mulvey.

This year’s Green River Fest line-up is worth celebrating, especially for the free concert in town on Thursday night featuring Cover Lay Down favorites Richard Shindell, Caroline Herring, and future feature-post subject Mark Erelli. Mainstage shows the following days will feature Mavis Staples, Los Straightjackets, Jimmie Vaughn, Crooked Still, and the following pair of alt-country/folk femmes, who cover Greg Brown exquisitely. Green River runs July 17-19; if you don’t care much for for hard-core bluegrass, and you’ve got a place to crash in the upper reaches of Western Massachusetts over the coming weekend, you really should be getting on the road right about now.

  • Eilen Jewell, Train that Carried Jimmie Rogers Home (orig. Greg Brown)
  • Eilen Jewell, Walking Down the Line (orig. Bob Dylan)
    (more Eilen)

  • Lucinda Williams, Lately (orig. Greg Brown)
  • Lucinda Williams, Hang Down Your Head (orig. Tom Waits)
    (more Lucinda)

Stay tuned for some great guest bloggers covering subjects from Hank Williams covers to trans-oceanic British folk rock. I’ll be back in the swing of things by the end of July, rejuvenated and steeped in the real deal, with photos of both festivals, at least one interview, and a report on the Beatles and Utah Phillips coversong songswaps just announced for Falcon Ridge.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

883 comments » | Bob Dylan, Catie Curtis, Dan Fram, Death Cab for Cutie, Eilen Jewell, Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits