Category: Fiddlers 4

Kevin Fox Covers: Paul Simon, Kate Bush, The Eurythmics, etc.
(w/ more cellofolk coverage from Ben Sollee, Fiddlers 4, Lindsay Mac et. al.)

September 18th, 2011 — 04:29 pm

As we noted in our recent profile of Crooked Still, the addition of the cello to the folk repertoire is relatively recent. Indeed, it would not be entirely wrong to credit founding member Rashaad Eggleston, who has since moved on to become a core member of stringfolk supergroup Fiddlers 4, with broadening these particular boundaries for a huge percentage of the folk audience.

But of course the much larger trend towards experimental expansion and genre-blur in the indie world comes into play here, too, making the rock violinist (or the rock cellist duo) a close cousin to the folk cellist in the post-20th-century marketplace of sound. And sure enough, we’ve posted singer-songwriter folk cellists before, like indie darling Ben Sollee and Falcon Ridge Folk Fest emerging artist Lindsay Mac, and found dozens more from all walks of folk on the radar, though arguably, the work of appalachian inheritor bands like Fiddlers 4, of orchestral folk and “chamberfolk” groups like Childsplay and The Folk Arts Quartet, of indiepop experimentalists such as The Portland Cello Project and their various rock-to-jazz-to-gypsyfolk members, and – more progenitally – folk-influenced pieces from the jazz-fusion Turtle Island String Quartet and others, better represent the larger systemic shift which has brought this unwieldy instrument, oft cited for having the timbre and tonal range most closest to the male human voice, into the canon.

Regardless of how it emerged, the willingness to accept cello music as folk is an interesting prerequisite for new discovery here at Covert Lay Down. And so we come together this weekend to explore the fruits of such discovery, in the person of one Kevin Fox, cellist and singer-songwriter extraordinaire.

Today’s post was almost a forgotten one-shot, based around a YouTube cover of Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes which got lost in the shuffle, resurfacing too late to make it into our recent set of Shod Coverfolk. But persistence paid off when I went looking for a studio version, on the off chance that Canadian cellist Kevin Fox had a larger body of work.

I’ve since learned much more about Kevin Fox. For starters, though in live-via-YouTube performance, his looped acoustic pop Paul Simon cover seemed pleasantly mild and measured when put against Ben Sollee’s more deliberately ragged, slipperier oveure, such comparison is unfair: Fox aims for something quite different, and achieves it marvelously. Instead, a closer listen – to this cover, and to Fox’s studio work as a set – reveals a preference for sparse, perfectly crafted, acoustic-driven contemporary soundscapes, and a particular talent for projecting darkness and light through the balance of the plucked and the bowed against his clear, breath-tinged singer-songwriter’s voice.

Fox’s stringwork is precise, his arrangements tight: there’s clearly a classical influence here, and mastery to match. But his larger body of work reveals a genuine eagerness to perform and write in multiple corners of the pop, rock, and folk spectrum. In addition to his solo work, the Halifax-born Fox is a frequent collaborator, arranger, and touring companion for a whole spectrum of talented countrymen and countrywomen, from Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer, Danny Michel, Raine Maida, Stephen Page and Celine Dion, in and around his native provinces. To each, he brings the right note of atmosphere, just as he does to his original compositions, and their layered arrangements for voice, cello, and little else.

Finding Kevin Fox could not have happened without the turn of mind which looks for the folk in such instrumentation, it’s true. His tendency to stick to the provinces makes him harder to find; his chamelonesque history as a sideman and behind-the-scenes post-composition arranger makes him harder still to categorize. But once discovered, Fox outs himself as a soulful folk artist in every carefully constructed note of his solo pieces, even as his own larger body of work reveals him to be a major player in the grand contemporary genre-blurring tradition which continues to grow and spread north of the border. Listen; I think you’ll hear it, too:

  • Stephen Page w/ Kevin Fox: Halelujah (orig. Leonard Cohen)

    (live from Jack Layton’s State Funeral, August 27, 2011)

Want more? Kevin Fox has three albums in print through his website – a potent and easy entry to a highly recommended artist on the rise, especially for those who cannot make it to shows above the border – and each one comes highly recommended, though only the two most recent of these include coverage.

But since we started in a larger context, let’s end the lesson today with some bonus cellofolk from others mentioned herein, both for comparison’s sake and to pay tribute to the others whose careers support and legitimize today’s feature subject. I think you’ll find it a diverse set – but no less apt, given the myriad overlapping of sounds and sensibilities in the modern folkways, and our ongoing celebration of the vast and varied tent we call “folk”.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Crooked Still covers The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Gillian Welch and more.

6 comments » | Ben Sollee, Fiddlers 4, Kevin Fox, Lindsay Mac

Crooked Still Covers: Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Gillian Welch, Tradfolk

June 19th, 2008 — 11:21 pm

Boston-based “alternative folk/bluegrass” band Crooked Still emerged at the edge of the newgrass movement just after the turn of the century, and much of their subsequent success is due to the talents of the group members and founders: banjo wizard Dr. Gregory Liszt, double bass man Corey DiMarino, and breathy, emotive singer Aoife O’Donovan. But if their star rose quickly, it was thanks in no small part to a then-novel approach to traditional song, one which placed master cellist and all-around oddball Rushad Eggleston’s innovative, improvisational style and high-energy stringplay at the center of what was otherwise a sparse yet nuanced tradfolk stringband sound.

And rise it did. By 2004, the band was playing mainstage sets at both Newport Folk Festival and Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, where their debut album Hop High outsold all competition. Two years later, the release of Shaken By A Low Sound brought us more of the same, cementing their reputation in both the folkworld and the bluegrass circuit as a band worth watching.

And then, last year, Crooked Still announced that Rushad would be leaving the group.

Many of us in the folkworld feared that this would be the end of Crooked Still. Long before Ben Sollee’s avant-folk celloplay made him the darling of the blogworld, Eggleston had set the pace and standard for the cello as a contemporary instrument outside of the string quartet or orchestra setting, both through his work with Crooked Still, and as a member of several groups with master fiddler Darol Anger. Replacing Eggleston with another cellist seemed like a no-brainer for a group that had made their name trading on the interplay between Rushad and the other group members; adding another string player seemed like a safe bet, too. But would it be enough?

In a word: YES.

Since their inception, Crooked Still has always handled traditional folk music exceptionally well, and this new line-up continues the tradition with aplomb, bringing new life to timeless songs. But where their previous albums leaned heavily on tradsongs such as Little Sadie, Shady Grove and Darlin’ Corey — songs made familiar, if not popular, by older generations of folk and bluegrass artists, from Doc Watson to Jerry Garcia — their new album Still Crooked, on folk label Signature Sounds, digs deeper than previous efforts, tracing the roots of traditional folk through other, more obscure carriers, such as Ola Belle Johnson and Sidney Carter. The result is a set of songs that sound both fresh and timeless, in ways that their previous efforts could not be without escaping their songs’ history.

There’s also some surprises, here. Tristan Clarridge plays the cello with more subtlety than than Rushad did, but this only deepens the sound from where it was before. The addition of fiddler Brittany Haas brings a keening high note to the mix; in slower songs, especially, the higher stringsound rebalances lead singer Aoife O’Donovan’s breathy voice towards the sonic center of the Crooked Still sound, where once her vocals competed with the cello for prominence. The fuller setting brings out a side of Aoife as singer that is even better than before. The bigger sound that results is potent, and totally enveloping.

Those who could not imagine Crooked Still without their founding cellist need not be concerned. More importantly, though, those who thought it was impossible to improve on the Crooked Still sound will be surprised. The “new” Crooked Still sound is more traditional, in terms of genre, but it is also simultaneously something more than it was, a stellar maturation of previous efforts. Nowhere is this more evident than in Low Down and Dirty, Aoife’s first original composition for Crooked Still, a classic revenge ballad with a twist that comes across as some of the best folk I’ve heard in ages. Still sharp, wielded exquisitely, the cutting edge of traditional folk music remains in good hands.

Wanna hear it for yourself? You’ll have to buy the album for the originals, and the tradfolk; almost every song is a ten out of ten. But here’s a genuine label-approved Cover Lay Down exclusive, not one but TWO covertracks from Still Crooked, which hits stores next week: a wild, spunky take on an old Mississippi John Hurt tune, and a sultry, quiet public domain number with stunning backing vocals from Levon Helm’s daughter Amy, a fine musician in her own right. Plus a few older covertracks from Crooked Still’s earlier releases, to give newcomers a sense of their overall sound. Listen, and then run right out and buy Still Crooked to hear the rest. Or just come on out to Falcon Ridge Folk Fest this July, and see ‘em in person.

Since we’re in the mood, today’s bonus coversongs feature other cello players from the folkworld: newcomer Ben Sollee and his amazing Sam Cooke cover, and a cut from Fiddlers 4, a wonderful neo-appalachian quartet from some of the best genre-crossing string players in the business, featuring none other than Rashad himself on the low notes. Plus a youtube link for a great, spare solo cover by young folkcellist Lindsay Mac, who will also perform at Falcon Ridge this year.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Crooked Still covers tradsong Wind and Rain

Further reading: Folk tastemaster Songs:Illinois has two MORE Crooked Still songs: one from Still Crooked, and one from Hop High.

915 comments » | Ben Sollee, Crooked Still, Fiddlers 4, Gillian Welch, Lindsay Mac, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson