Category: The Boston Folkscene

Local Folk Notes: New Coverage In The New England Scene
featuring Laura Cortese, Cliff Eberhardt, and a new YouTube covers project!

December 28th, 2011 — 11:50 am

Other than a short feature on local newgrass heroes Crooked Still back in September, it’s been a year or more since we returned to the local here on Cover Lay Down. But as previous features on Kristen Andreassen, Rose Polenzani, and various members of the Berklee College and New England Conservatory scenes have demonstrated, Greater Boston remains a hotbed of folk hybridism, thanks to ongoing cross-pollination among a still-growing set of artists living and attending school in and around the area.

Berklee still continues to crank out great acts through their bluegrass, roots, and folk programs, of course – most recently, we’ve been watching the emergence of Chasing Blue, a young bluegrass/Americana group whose promising May 2012 kickstarter-driven debut is still open for microfinancing. Local festivals still bring out the best of the region; local clubs from Passim to the Iron Horse continue to feature the best in local talent of several generations, furthering the spread. And the Lizard Lounge’s Sub Rosa series, aka “the secret society of Rose Polenzani with friends and strangers”, in which a dozen or more rotating local-and-beyond singer-songwriters serve as session players for each others’ songs, remains a central component of these singer-songwriter’s co-evolutionary paths, with each month’s roster a vertiable who’s who of emergence and interconnection.

But of the players in this fluid powerhouse of collaboration, several newer developments have also emerged in 2011, lending heft and bringing further honor to the traditional and singer-songwriter folk development in the region.

Of these, none has stood out more in the past year than the combined works of Laura Cortese, fiddler, singer-songwriter, co-organizer of the Boston Celtic Music Fest (which will take place next weekend in and around Harvard Square), and founder and editor-in-chief of Folkmopolitan, a hilariously snarky, tongue-in-cheek gossip blog on all things style and sex behind-the-scenes in the world of folk music, not unlike a Seventeen magazine for the hardcore folk set. But further moves, including a new peer-coverage YouTube-based blog series, are also part and parcel of the scene, and they, too, deserve our recognition and rally. So, too, do new cover albums from long-time players and stalwarts of the scene, lest we forget that the richness of a region spreads wide through its various traditions and communities.

Today, then, as a nod to that local scene whose success supports our hearts and souls throughout, and as a kickoff to a new year of ethno-musical pursuit, we introduce you to these new developments in our own nearly-home base – the better to build upon as we enter our fifth full calendar year of artistic exploration here at Cover Lay Down.

When Boston-based Laura Cortese started a midsummer Kickstarter campaign to begin raising money to produce, compile and release a series of tracks recorded in the past two years with a number of well-known peers from the Boston-area scene – among them Aoife O’Donovan, Sam Amidon, Jefferson Hamer, and a host more of artists who we have followed closely and touted often here on our pages – she described it as a project under her own name. And knowing that Cortese’s career and craft lead her towards both the traditional and the experimental, I couldn’t help but throw in a few bucks to help make it happen.

Since then the collaborative (with Cortese at the center, as bandleader and primary songwriter) has reconfigured itself as The Poison Oaks, finishing off their first album and a few extras, releasing a teaser or three via their website, and beginning to tour as a band. And though Pine (the album in question) hasn’t technically been released yet, the sum total of this work is stunning, pushing the boundaries of American folk into the realm of folk rock and indiepop, grounded in the lush, joyous, gleeful sound of the collaborative at work and play, and built around Cortese’s full-bodied, percussive, lusty fiddlework, her hearty yet oh-so-feminine vocals, and her playful, surprisingly deep songwriting.

You’ve heard two of these tracks in the past weeks, in fact. Despite its unofficial release via Laura herself as an exclusive thank-you for Kickstarter support, and despite the fact that it seems to have been recorded in-studio in 2009, with Laura’s permission, I included The Poison Oaks’ Magnetic Fields cover in our “best of 2011″ singles set, where it truly belongs. And thanks to a last-minute streaming-only web release on the cusp of Christmas, their take on Merle Haggard’s If We Make It Through December found top billing in our last-minute holiday set posted Christmas Eve, which we hope you were able to use as a soundtrack to your last-minute celebrations.

But equally exciting is the various collaborations which Cortese took on under her own name during the two year window in which she was recording and planning the debut of what would become The Poison Oaks. And since my Kickstarter support netted me the full set of Laura’s recent projects – a collection that’s quite literally filled the CD changer – I’m passing on the joy to you, with a track per album/EP, and our highest recommendations for any and all of these.

Among them you’ll find chamberfolk (The Acoustic Project, with sisters Natalie and Brittany Haas and Hanneke Cassel on fiddles and cello), duo singer-songwriter stuff (2010 release One Mic, Two Amps, a collaboration with Jefferson Hamer), “vocals project” femmefolk (Simple Heart, which features many voices we know and love from the local scene), and the hybrid indierock of Poison Oaks itself, whose debut album Pine is a full-blown delight. Any of them are worth the find – so pick and choose among them based on your genre preferences, or order the whole set direct from Cortese’s website.

Here on the other end of the state, there’s also news for rejoicing: one-time Fast Folk growler and elder statesman Cliff Eberhardt recently teamed up with iconoclastic Philly-bred singer-songwriter James Lee Stanley to release an entire album of acoustic Doors covers and reinventions called All Wood and Doors – a follow-up of sorts to Stanley’s 2005 Stones tribute All Wood and Stones, created at the urging of founding Doors drummer John Densmore – and though it arrived at our doorstep just a hair too late to consider it in our year’s end “best of 2011″ lists, the result is certainly award-worthy, featuring slow, bluesy pick-driven takes on a canon often thought of as nearly uncoverable.

There’s some notable sidemen here, including ex-Monkee Peter Tork and Paul McCartney guitarist Lawrence Juber, but the album primarily revolves around Eberhardt’s torn lead vocals, Stanley and Eberhardt’s light walking-blues picking styles, fluid contemporary production dynamics which echo Richie Havens’ most beloved albums, and rich, layered 70′s-era folk rock harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash or Buffalo Springfield. And the local connection? Eberhardt may have made his name in the 80′s-era New York City folk scene, but residency matters: he’s currently based out of Williamsburg, MA, just a hop and a jump from our mid-Massachusetts home, and does regular shows in the area when he’s not on tour. Pick up All Wood and Doors direct from the project website, or download the entire album from for only $4.99.

More globally/regionally speaking, we’ve had our eyes closely glued to Cover Your Friends, an amazing concept created and implemented by percussive Maine folksinger and guitar-slinger Connor Garvey. The premise: singer-songwriters learn and then record themselves covering their peers via YouTube, on a site which, linguistically-speaking, at least, seems targeted towards those singer-songwriters…but which remains public, so we can watch them share the joy amongst themselves.

The videos range from the playful to the intimate, with a broad variety of interpretation, and each serves as apt introduction and tribute to both performer and songwriter, promising an ongoing fount of new coverfolk to expand our horizons as the project continues. The site, which necessarily runs broader than our New England focus would imply, nonetheless features many locals among its mix; two rounds of coverage have been published and collected so far, from the likes of Carrie Elkin, Anna Vogelzang, Ethan Scott Baird (of Pesky J. Nixon), and Garvey himself. The future seems bright, indeed.

Carrie Elkin: Along The Way (orig. Robby Hecht)

Justin Roth: Real Love Song (orig. Amy Speace)

What’s on the horizon for 2012 in our region? Plenty. Boston-based folk foursome Pesky J. Nixon, who recently were announced as the hands-down winners of the 2011 Falcon Ridge Folk Emerging Artists Showcase, have recorded and are expected to drop Red Ducks, a covers album, in February. Local label Signature Sounds, who brought us both Boston-based singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst’s Cars tribute and a rock and roll tribute EP from Amherst, MA transplant Chris Smither in 2011, has several projects in the works, too, and they’ve yet to disappoint us. And here in rural Monson, we’re just starting to reach out to artists for a Spring 2012 House Concert Series that’s sure to impress.

So stay tuned throughout the year for more folk coverage from near and far. And if you, too, want to help us continue to bring you the best in coverfolk on our regular twice-weekly basis, won’t you please consider a charitable donation to Cover Lay Down? All proceeds go directly to bandwidth costs on one of the largest ad-free music blogs in the blogosphere; all donors will receive our exclusive LP-length 2011 Xmas covers mix, and that warm fuzzy feeling.

1 comment » | Cliff Eberhardt, Laura Cortese, The Boston Folkscene