Category: Mailbox

Midweek Mail Call: New Folk Coverage
from tradfolk to Hendrix, The Killers, The Beatles & more!

June 21st, 2012 — 11:31 am

Ah, summer: when teachers can finally catch up on their blogging. And so, today, we dig through the mailbag for the best of what’s been sent along in the last few months, with a focus on a broad set of artists who are but one or two EPs and albums into what may well become a career, if we have anything to do with it. As always, folks – and especially in the context of this week’s kerfuffle between David Lowery of Cracker and Emily White of NPR – if you like what you hear here, do the artists a solid: head over to their websites after downloading, so that you, too, can proudly say that you’re supporting the continued creation of new art in culture, by putting your money where your ears are.

Close blogwatchers have heard from Benjamin Francis Leftwich before – we dropped his streaming cover of Arcade Fire’s Rebellion into a Soundcloud feature back in January of last year with little fanfare and no comment. But Leftwich is no one-shot wonder: thanks to some solid support from avid promo folks and a well-received debut EP of originals earlier this year, he’s been compared to Jose Gonzalez and Coldplay, featured on Daytrotter, is currently touring across Canada, and his coverage has been all over the web, thanks to several soundcloud one-offs and a free 5-track Covers EP released back in the fall. I’m pretty sure we’re among the first to post this newest track, which arrived just yesterday; recorded for an upcoming MOJO compilation, it makes a great companion to a pair of other, only slightly older covers that reveal the gentle young artist’s depth and talent.

Leftwich leads us to another new favorite: Fossil Collective, a Leeds duo who toured with the aforementioned up-and-comer during his UK tour in February. But where BFL tends to perform and record in a solo singer-songwriter vein, this is full-blown indiefolk of the Bon Iver and Monsters of Folk type, rich and layered, with subtle instrumentation that ranges from strings to keys, and etherial harmonies that soar above honest, almost alt-country rhythms and strums. Those interested in pursuing more should definitely check out ‘Let It Go’, their newly-released EP.

We’d never heard of Radical Face, aka Ben Cooper, with and without friends. But when he sent along this simply beautiful unsolicited one-shot, recorded as a recentering exercise amidst a grueling studio schedule as he cranks out his first album under the new moniker, we couldn’t help but sit up and take notice. A quick search through YouTube reveals a small back catalog of solo work, several now-defunct group projects of various experimental typology, and a delightful new video which spins towards catchy, alt-radio ready Garden State indiepop, with plenty of majesty atop acoustic underpinnings a harbinger of good things to come.

With but one EP to her name, seventeen year old sunshine girl Zella Day is just starting to make her mark on the music world; indeed, the five studio tracks on Cynics vs. Dreamers, which run from high-gloss synthpop to contemporary singer-songwriter folk alternative, reveal an artist still exploring possible settings for her voice. But if it was up to us, we’d vote for folk: as the below novelty reveals, her vocal control and fingerpicking are already smooth, and the tension between the dark lyrics and haunted visuals of this brand new video take on Seven Nation Army and the sweet, haunted yet girlish delicacy she brings to her decidedly understated acoustic version make for an exquisite if brief journey.

Back in the world of hardcopy tradfolk comes a well-received album already making the midyear best-of lists: The Honey Dewdrops, a husband and wife duo from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains whose newest release Silver Lining evokes the warm sounds of hills and holler even as it puts forth a smashing set of original songs that tug at the heartstrings as effectively and as well as anything Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ever recorded. The lone cover on the album is but a coda, a beautiful, haunting a capella closer of trad track Bright Morning Stars – and these old bonus YouTube takes, on Utah Phillips’ Miner’s Lullaby and Bill Monroe’s Can’t You Hear Me Callin’, and the banjo and guitar featured in the couples’ hands on the cover art of this utterly stunning neo-traditional album, gives a decent sense of how those close high countrygrass harmonies sound up against the native strings, I suppose. But Silver Lining itself is truly sublime from start to end, and perhaps only the second perfect album we’ve found this year so far: head to their website ASAP to check it out.

You Gotta Roll, the 5 song all-covers EP from Woody Pines – like the above, another physical product from the fine folks at Hearth Music, whose taste and promotional approach remains impeccably irresistible – has a hopped-up ragtime-stringband-meets-rockabilly energy that comes across as grounded in an equally traditional American sound, albeit from a different era, back when blues, folk, jazz, and country were still intermingling on the early days of dustbowl radio. Heck, the album even starts with the warm fuzz and whine of a radio tuner, confirming our suspicions that both folksinger Woody Pines himself and the boys in this same-name foursome know exactly what they sound like, and how well. Those in the know will be duly impressed when they hear that Billy Joe Shaver has called them “the best band I ever heard in my life”. And with four albums in the back catalog, there’s plenty here to love.

Way back on the indiefolk side of music, we’re pleased to report that the first day of summer means yet another incredible Fuel/Friends summer mix, and this year’s package includes several non-originals worth mention: The Head And The Heart on a rooftop covering Damien Jurado this past April, Vetiver and Fruit Bats covering Bobby Charles in a record store last September, and an utterly delightful Jimi Hendrix cover from new acoustic soul sensation Michael Kiwanuka, recorded just a couple of weeks ago for a SiriusXM session. Kiwanuka is the real deal, folks, as his Leonard Cohen cover from the March issue of Mojo proves a hundredfold; as Heather notes, “his voice is all warm and redolent, and every time I listen to his record it feels like a still July Sunday afternoon, no matter where the clock and the calendar point”; keep eyes and ears open for his bright future.

Bonus Tracks:

Finally, it’s a bit bombastic-slash-majestic for folk, but fans of Regina Spektor and Nelly McKay will find much to love in this piano-and-vox take on LL Cool J classic Mama Said Knock You Out from NYC singer-songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Alyson Greenfield, first posted to YouTube back in March as part of a continued push to promote 2011 iTunes/bandcamp EP Rock Out With Your Glockenspiel Out with four more coversongs of similar ilk and comparable delight, including “Gangsta’s Paradise” on the titular glockenspiel.

Just can’t wait for your Coverfolk fix? Why not “like” the Cover Lay Down facebook page for previews, bonus streams, and more throughout the week!

Comment » | Mailbox, New Artists Old Songs

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

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