Category: Folk Family Friday

My Father’s Shoes: Second Generation Folk
(a call to arms to support healthy inner-city families)

October 14th, 2012 — 10:04 am

The prevalence of poor and fragmented families in the inner-city school district where I teach is staggering, and the consequences are easily visible: even as last week’s open house brought in a record number of visitors to our school, the percentage of students whose parents or guardians came to visit our classrooms remains shockingly low, with each teacher seeing an average of 8 families in a schedule which has us each teaching over 140 students per semester.

Treating this tiny percentage as a triumph is both reasonable and terrifyingly sad. Put it up against the nearly 100% parent participation which we see in successful suburban and rural school districts, and in the charter schools in and around our own community, and the correlation is clear: students who do not have home support are much less likely to develop or maintain the skills needed to succeed in school – regardless of whether that lack of support stems from reasons of parent absence, linguistic isolation, or other consequences of the urban minimum-wage community.

Indeed, it is a proven assumption that parenting is a major factor in developing the platform that leads to student success. But because parent buy-in is undermined by poverty, and by related factors such as family fragmentation, the need to work more than one job, and transportation and housing instability, reaching parents is often impossible from the school side of the equation. Many of the homes I call each week have disconnected numbers, suggesting that basic needs such as phone service may not be within easy reach for some families in our district. Guardianship and housing shift so rapidly for our kids, we are often unable to find a parent to contact when the stress of an inconsistent home life presents itself as classroom disruption.

The lack of stability at home undermines students in other, broader ways, too. Where students do not have support or encouragement outside of school, student return on homework is too low to count on; the resulting attempt to do everything in the classroom is a drag on curricular pacing, and our students end up doing as little as half as much reading, writing, and math in a given year as compared to their suburban peers. Students who want to stay after school for extracurricular programs and make-up sessions cannot do so if missing the bus means an hour-long trek home, or if they need to pick up siblings from other schools because parents are unavailable. A lack of parent signatures on free lunch and medical release forms hampers our ability to help students in need throughout the day; students who need curricular or classroom modification cannot get access to those services if parents will not show up for meetings. And although we often assume that students who attend more than one lunch are defiant by nature, they may just like being near the smell of food.

Something rotten lurks at the foundation of a world in which students who succeed do so in spite of the family, not because of it. And because teaching, for me, is a matter of both vocation and social justice, the holistic approach I bring to my world pushes me to consider every platform I have at my disposal in my ongoing pursuit of positive change.

And so, I turn to a long-time dream: the production of a charity album, comprised of second-generation artists paying tribute to their own parent’s songbook, with the goal of using those songs to raise money to support family stability in urban and underprivileged districts.

Happily, second-generation folk musicians run like a thread through our work here at Cover Lay Down. Our occasional Folk Family Friday series has included multi-generational coverage from the Wainwrights and McGarrigles, The Waterson/Carthy clan, and the Guthries, and we’ve dipped into the work of the Carter and Cash families several times.

Early features on Ruth Ungar Merenda (daughter of Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, who performs with her husband as Mike & Ruthy), Kasey Chambers (daughter of Aussie alt-country guitarist Bill Chambers), Teddy Thompson (son of Richard & Linda Thompson), and Eliza Gilkyson (whose father, Terry, composed The Bare Necessities for Disney’s The Jungle Book), acknowledged the inherited gifts of these second-generation artists, too, even as they celebrated their unique output as solo artists and collaborators. And, most recently, we explored the coverage of alt-country star Justin Townes Earle as a bonus set for a recent feature on his father, Steve Earle.

But as time marches on, the number of folk-oriented singer-songwriters of merit rising in their father’s footsteps continues to grow. In addition to Eliza Carthy, Folk Uke (the duo of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson, Willie’s daughter), Sarah Lee Guthrie, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Martha Wainwright, John Carter Cash projects The Carter Family III and Cedar Hill Refugees, and others associated with the families above, the list of second-generation folk artists who we have posted here on Cover Lay Down also includes:

  • Americana artist Pieta Brown, who first came to our attention for her work with her sisters covering their father’s paean to their grandmother on Greg Brown tribute Going Driftless.
  • Blues/folk musician Toshi Reagon, daughter of Freedom Singers founders Bernice Johnson Reagon and Cordell Hull Reagon and goddaughter of Pete Seeger.
  • Acoustic bassist Sam Grisman, whose work with both his father Dave Grisman’s touring band and Greg Listz newgrass project The Deadly Gentlemen keeps him on our radar.
  • Singer-songwriter Harper Simon, son of Paul, whose underground credibility as a musician is eminently his own, though his output remains low.
  • Beautifully harmonic sister act The Chapin Sisters, a.k.a. Abigail and Lily, whose father, Tom Chapin, was well known in my childhood home for his poignant, political, and silly kidsongs.
  • Sweet-voiced Inara George, whose father Lowell founded Little Feat, and who performs today as both a solo artist and as part of retro-harmony trio The Living Sisters.
  • Indie folk rocker Ben Taylor, son of James and Carly Simon, who continues to impress with his organic approach to performance.
  • Singer and multi-instrumentalist Amy Helm, who forms one-fifth of the core of folk band Ollabelle, co-produced her father Levon’s 2007 Grammy winning traditional folk album Dirt Farmer, and toured with him until his recent passage.
  • Fiddle-playing Americana artist Carrie Rodriguez, whose father David Rodriguez has been covered by Lyle Lovett, and was named Best Texas Songwriter for three consecutive years before expatriating permanently to the Netherlands in 1994.
  • Session instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Jake Armerding, fiddler for Barnstar! and other local projects, whose father Taylor was a founding member of newgrass pioneers Northern Lights.
  • Violinist and indie a capella darling Petra Haden, daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who has played and recorded with everyone from The Decemberists to Green Day, and from Bill Frisell to Beck.
  • Soft pop crooner Norah Jones, whose work may not always fall into the folk camp, but whose descent from Beatles compatriot and sitar player Ravi Shankar gives her eminent domain here.

Even Miley Cyrus is starting to come into her own, having impressed us with her work on this year’s Dylan tribute, and her new raspy, soulful acoustic cover of Melanie Safka’s Look What They’ve Done to My Song. Folk rock sibling Kami Thompson, brother of Teddy and daughter of Richard & Linda, released a strong folk rock debut album in late 2011 that featured fellow second-gen artists Sean Lennon and Martha Wainwright, among others. And although neither have recorded any coverage yet, exceptionally strong 2012 debut albums from both Lilly Hiatt, daughter of John Hiatt, and Grace Pettis, daughter of Pierce Pettis and winner of this year’s Kerville New Folk competition, bring us hope for the next generation of second-generation artists.

For the last few years, as the idea has taken seed in my wildest dreams, the daunting task of producing a full album of second-generation singer-songwriters covering the songs of their famous folk fathers has been a pipe dream – one stymied by my lack of access to the musicians themselves, and a lack of experience in producing a quality fund-raising project.

But every new artist that emerges from the fold represents a step towards viability. The development of home recording techniques, fan funding infrastructures such as Kickstarter, and digital distribution houses such as Bandcamp have brought us closer to the possibility of producing and distributing such a project without access to a studio or label. And the addition of Grace Pettis to the mix even brings a tentative title to our dream: My Father’s Shoes, a song from her father’s canon which serves as an especially apt frame in which to place our project.

And so, today, we embark on this ambitious project by putting out our first call to arms: If you have a personal or professional connection with any second-generation artists, please help us get in touch with them, so that we may present the project to them, and – hopefully – confirm that both parents and children are amenable to working with us.

(If you are a producer or a label, or have experience putting together a charity project, then yes, I want to hear from you, too. But my goal in this first phase is simply to garner an initial commitment from enough second-generation artists to move forward. Once/if that happens, we will move on to curatorial issues, media format, distribution, and whether we need to raise money to seed the project.)

If it works, then I hope to have the album ready by sometime in mid-to-late 2013, so we can use the proceeds to support and promote fatherhood and family structure, the better to help stabilize urban and underprivileged communities for generations to come.

In the meantime, we continue our own survey of those inheritors of the gentle dream with a set of coverage from 26 artists whose famous fathers put them on our wish-list for such a project.

Once again, today’s feature aims to spark a project; If you know a second-generation folk artist, please help by either sending me their contact information, and/or sending them a shout-out, and directing them to this post to contact me further.

But because many of my students cannot wait for such fruition, those who want to help in the short term can find a place here, too. Donate to Cover Lay Down any time before the end of October, and I will give 20% of that donation to the NEA Closing The Achievement Gaps Initiative, which supports local children and families by funding home visits and parent engagement programs.

7 comments » | Folk Family Friday

Folk Family Double Feature: The Guthries

November 24th, 2010 — 10:11 pm

We’re long overdue for a comprehensive look at the Guthrie legacy here on these pages. And with Arlo’s infamous long-form Thanksgiving narrative Alice’s Restaurant Massacree riding the airwaves this weekend in anticipation of next week’s inevitable all-Christmas-all-day switch-over, it seems there’s no time like the present.

Thinking more deeply, though, Woody’s songbook also bears out well as a soundtrack for giving thanks. So many of his narratives point to the dustbowl world, with its depression-era desperation for that which we take for granted today, from freedoms to support structures, from our pastures of plenty to the homes we share. To listen to Woody Guthrie in this time and place is to recognize that, though we have come so far, and have much to give thanks for, there are still those whose lives are defined by what they lack. To play out these songs as a soundtrack of thanksgiving is to honor those who have no gatherings to attend, no families with which to break bread, little resources for travel or table.

Today, then, as a companion piece to the testament to Woody’s poetics posted today over at Star Maker Machine, we offer a relatively short holiday-ready exploration of three generations of Guthries – Grandpa Woody, dad Arlo, daughter Sarah Lee, and more – followed by our biggest weekday song-set yet, a true double-feature, with both Guthries covering and Guthries covered.

May the songs, and the story behind them, serve as soundtrack for the heavy heart and the light spirit alike on this Thanksgiving weekend.

There’s little debate over the significance of Woody Guthrie. Arguably the most important singer-songwriter in history, the man’s influence on and in American folk music is unparalleled, his impact on Western culture profound. From his anti-fascist guitar to the recently-cast songs, previously unrecorded, which both Billy Bragg and Wilco and the Klezmatics have brought to marvelous musical fruition in recent years, thanks to the excellent curative work of daughter and Woody Guthrie Foundation overseer Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s stature continues on larger than life – which is saying a lot, given his presence in the early labor and folk movements, and the strength which he lent to culture in his years on this earth.

Of course, Woody’s legacy continues through his family as much as it does through his iconic stature and songbook. While the fine work of preservationist Nora nurtures that legacy, son Arlo Guthrie, himself an inheritor and continued chronicler of his father’s work, had a powerful career of his own in the heady revival days, hitting the charts with Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans and several strong originals, including the well-covered minor hit Coming Into Los Angeles. And though he’s better known for his talking blues style of performance than for the more traditional fare which his father made famous, like his father before him, Arlo’s life and work are steeped in social justice, featuring common themes of protest, unionization, and inequality throughout.

More recently, graddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion have cut several solid albums, as solo artists and as a collaborating duo, including the recent kindie-folk album Go Waggaloo, spearheaded by Sarah and with various family members, which continues a family-friendly trend started by Woody and continued by Arlo. Another of Arlo’s daughters, Cathy Guthrie, has teamed up with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy; the duo, who call themselves Folk Uke, are a bit more punk and a lot more obscene than the rest of their kin, but the music is fine indeed, and firmly grounded in the folk tradition.

And in the last several years, the trio of Arlo, Sarah, and Johnny, along with Arlo’s son Abe, sisters Cathy and Annie, and various and sundry friends and relations, have gone on tour as the Guthrie Family Legacy Band, performing songs performed and penned by Woody himself along with their own work and the occasional folk standard, proving that the strength of the Guthrie bloodstream remains undiluted even as its progeny branch out into the brave new world of modern singer-songwriter folk.

We’ve posted our share of Woody Guthrie covers in our three years and then some on the web – not surprising, given the rich presence of those songs in the hands and hearts of his peers and his musical progeny. Some remain live, or have been reposted since; as evidence of the man’s legacy, you’ll find links to many of those original posts below.

But much of our earliest Woody Guthrie coverage is worth revisiting, especially in the context of today’s broader lens. And there’s more to share, too, from half a century of tributaries both inside and out of the folkworld. So here’s a doubled set to tide you over until Sunday, with some covers from each Guthrie generation followed by a long set of favorite folkcovers of the Woody Guthrie songbook, in tribute and in thanks.

Set 1: Selected Guthrie Family covers

See also: The Guthrie Family Legacy Band in concert, a full-sized 2007 Mountain Stage concert of Woody’s originals and other songs performed by Sarah, Arlo, Abe, Johnny, and others.

Set 2: Woody Guthrie, Covered In Folk

A favorite Arlo cover, as a bonus:

And more Woody Guthrie coverage, previously on Cover Lay Down:

Cover Lay Down is thankful for music and musicians, independent labels and small-scale concert venues, coverage and content … and you.

935 comments » | Arlo Guthrie, Folk Family Friday, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Woody Guthrie

Folk Family Friday: The Wainwrights cover Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Wainwright, et al.

November 2nd, 2007 — 10:50 am

Today, in our first of what promises to be a fine series of Folk Family Fridays, we bring you a family tree of Wainwrights: Loudon, Rufus, Martha, and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, proud and outstanding in their field. Keep an ear and eye open for upcoming posts on the Taylor/Simons, the Thompsons, three generations of Guthries, The Ungars, and anyone else we can connect by blood or marriage in less than six degrees.

Loudon Wainwright III met Kate McGarrigle in Greenwich Village in 1969; she and her sister were darlings of the Quebec folk scene; he was struggling to make a name for himself in the New York folk world. Their marriage didn’t last long, but happily for the folk canon, it produced both enough acrimony to provide fodder for their own songwriting for years to come, and future folk-musicians Rufus and Martha, who each went on to make made a name and a niche for themself by continuing the family tradition of using their music to blast out at their family.

(Sidenote: Loudon went on to marry Suzzy Roche of the Roche Sisters; their daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche has performed with Rufus and Loudon, and released some great covers herself. And commenter woolmanite rightly notes that Loudon’s sister Sloan is a folk-rocker, too. But we’d be here all night if I didn’t stick to the once-nuclear Wainwright/McGarrigle branch of the family tree. Another time, another post…)

If even Vanity Fair has told their story, what else is there to say about the Wainwrights? For starters, consider the potential in tracing not just lyrical roots and commonality among folk families, but in listening to their works sequentially to compare the way nurture and stylistic choice and random genetic mixes produce in some folk families a sort of common voice, while in other families, subsequent generations end up at different poles of the folk spectrum, even while their voices echo their roots, their families, and their genre.

The Wainwrights are a poster family for the latter case; unlike many folk families (see, for example, Arlo and Woody Guthrie), each one of the Canadian-American Wainwrights has their own defined musical style. Yes, there’s a faint hint of Kate and Anna’s breathy melodies in Martha’s airy intonation, Dad’s swallowed vowels and a touch of Mama Kate’s loose country melody in brother Rufus’ torch song approach. The playfulness of lyric and performance, a dominant trait, shine through both sides. But the torch song stylings Rufus favors are all his own, and though she styles herself folkpop, Martha’s a darling of the indie movement for a reason.

Of the four — we’ll count Kate and Anna as one — Rufus is the one who has truly made a name for himself as a coverartist. I posted his co-cover of King of the Road when we covered his co-conspirator and constant companion Teddy Thompson earlier, and live bootlegs of everything from Careless Whisper to his Judy Garland covers bob up to the blogsurface constantly. You’ve heard his Hallelujah, and so I’ve posted a different Leonard Cohen cover here.

But as with all true folksingers, the recorded output of each of these prolific singer-songwriters includes enough covers to keep listeners smiling and this post on track. Today, some especially bright gems from the immense coveroutput of a collective century of musical genepool genius. I’m especially enamoured of Loudon’s yelping bluegrass interpretation of the traditional Hand Me My Banjo Down. It puts Springsteen’s version to shame.

  • Loudon Wainwright III and Tony Trischka, Hand Me My Banjo Down (trad.)

  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle feat. L. Wainwright, Schooldays (orig. L. Wainwright III)
  • Martha Wainwright, Bye Bye Blackbird (orig. Gene Austin)
  • Martha Wainwright, Tower of Song (orig. Leonard Cohen)

  • Rufus Wainwright feat. Kate McGarrigle, Lowlands Away (trad.)
  • Rufus Wainwright, Harvest Moon (orig. Neil Young)
  • Rufus Wainwright, Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (orig. Leonard Cohen)

Expect a few more Wainwright family songs as we approach the holidays; 2005 release The McGarrigle Christmas Hour was one of the finest Christmas albums from the folk camp since the millenium turned over. Maybe I’ll confront the Roche/Wainwright connection then — the Roche Sisters’ We Three Kings is a refreshing, crisp winterdisk, too.

In the meantime, instead of creating the world’s largest buy-these-discs paragraph, here’s a link to the webpages of each Wainwright/McGarrigle mentioned in today’s post:

Today’s bonus songs are few but precious:

  • Emmylou Harris covers Kate McGarrigle’s Going Back to Harlan
  • Regina Spektor covers Chelsea Hotel No. 2

Stay tuned over the next few days for our first KidFolk coverpost (Garcia and Grisman! Alison Krauss! The Be Good Tanyas!) and yet another guest post over at Disney coverblog Covering The Mouse. Enjoy!

1,109 comments » | Folk Family Friday, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright III, Martha Wainwright, Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright, Tony Trischka