Category: Elvis

Vacation Coverfolk: Elvis, Covered

December 28th, 2010 — 06:17 pm

As noted Sunday, I’m in Memphis over the holidays, staying right on Beale Street in the thick of the scene. Though I’ve pre-scripted these entries in the interest of truly taking some time off, by now, we’re either on our way to or have already visited Graceland, so let’s dive right into our usual Vacation Coverfolk celebration, wherein we feature the songs and songbooks of local musicians of influence in the regions where we travel. Ladies and Gentlemen: Elvis Presley, covered in folk.

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that the King holds a highly significant place in the pantheon of American music. Entire books have been written about Elvis, both man and myth, and as many more on Elvis’ influence on the modern musical spectrum.

Far be it for us to cover Elvis in a single entry, then, or even claim to be able to summarize his influence appropriately as we winnow down towards today’s tribute set. But our particular ethnographic standpoint does offer a glimmer of perspective worth noting. To wit: like Columbus, Elvis is often reviled in the post-PC age, dismissed as a complicit participant in the theft of music from Black musicians, or relegated to the back burner as a mere interpreter of song. But cover bloggers, folklorists, and ethnographers alike know that interpretation itself is oft undersold as a genuine craft. Elvis may not have written all his greatest hits, but his ability to transform songs and deliver them to the masses authentically, riding the wave of rock and blues and pop even as they transformed the culture around him, is worthy of our admiration.

Which is to say: as a man who made his mark almost primarily through coverage, even as his particular case brought light to the challenges of copyright, color barriers, and due diligence in recognizing those who truly wrote and first recorded the defining songs of his era, Elvis gets our grudging respect, though we fully expect to be making fun of his adopted jumpsuited lifestyle and his still-rabid fan base as we drive to and from the once-unassuming home which he so gaudily remade in his own rhinestone image.

And it’s not just us, of course – thousands have recorded the songs which Elvis made famous, in every genre imaginable. Indeed, we actually did a specialized Elvis feature two Septembers ago, focusing on new folk artists covering songs made famous by the man who did more to bring Black music to white people than perhaps anyone in the past century, save maybe Alan Lomax, or Sam Phillips himself. Today, we mix and match these older songs with some long-standing favorites, skipping Blue Christmas, since we posted a pair of favorites just last week, and sticking to the obvious top-40 hits, though they are just the tip of an immense iceberg of musical influence which Elvis represents.

Cover Lay Down features new and classic coverfolk every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,356 comments » | Elvis, Memphis, Vacation Coverfolk

Covered in Folk: Elvis, Part 1
(Recently discovered covers from highly recommended artists)

September 16th, 2009 — 10:30 pm

Typically, in our regularly recurring Covered in Folk feature, we enumerate the impact a particular artist has had on culture, and follow that with a carefully compiled list of folk covers from that artists’ songbook. Tonight, we break the mold, turning to the songs made famous by Elvis Presley in order to tout a few artists whose new and recent releases or rediscovered gems have been at the top of my playlist for the last few weeks for one reason or another.

One day, perhaps, we’ll feature a more traditional look at Elvis, with a broader look at some of the covers which have peppered the genre landscape since the man who brought black rhythm and the sparkly jumpsuit to white culture made his mark on modern music. Until then, I make no apologies for the ulterior motive. Ladies and Gentlemen: The King himself, covered in folk.

I received Waiting for the Dawn, the new album from Childsplay, in the mail mid-summer, promptly put it on rotation in the car, and loved it so much I never brought it inside to run it through the computer to share with you all. But this is music that deserves to be heard. Featuring a veritable who’s who of the Boston neofolk scene, many of whom we’ve featured here before — Sam Amidon, Lissa Schenckenburger, and Crooked Still lead singer Aoife O’Donovan among them — the fiddle-centered ensemble is built around a simple but honorable premise: all the players use instruments made by local craftsman Bob Childs. And, I should add, they all play exceedingly well, both together and as solo artists.

The newest album, which revolves around rich ensemble pieces that nonetheless manage to sound light-hearted, folky and smooth, includes several traditional reels and tradtunes, and a couple of covers; most balance Aoife’s sweet, breathy voice with a full string-led sound, and the result is nearly heavenly. Since the U2 cover made the rounds when the album was first released, here’s the lovely, delicate Elvis cover that closes the album, plus this totally non-Elvis bonus track: a gorgeous cover of Steve Earle’s Christmas in Washington from the same album. Buy Childsplay here, and fill your ears with joy.

My wee one is a girly girl by nature: pink is her preference, and princesses her thing. For this and other reasons, I tend to be in the other room during movie time, especially when the Disney-watching grows thick on the ground. But I couldn’t help but wander in the other day when I heard the unmistakable voice of Norah Jones at her mellow best emerging from the playroom.

I cannot recommend The Princess Diaries 2 to any but the most hardcore of Julie Andrews or Anne Hathaway fans, nor can I in good conscience promote any soundtrack album with both Lindsay Lohan and Kelly Clarkson on it to my regular readership. But this track is well worth passing along.

I’ve been meaning to fill our collective ears with Ingrid Michaelson‘s catalog for a while, ever since Girls and Boys got such high praise on the blog rounds upon its 2006 release. I finally got a taste of what I was missing when I was totally blown away by her new album Everybody, which I won in a contest hosted by fave blog Mainstream Isn’t So Bad just about the time the album hit number one on the iTunes charts.

The new album is cover-free, but I honestly haven’t stopped listening to it since the moment it arrived in the mail; its perfect indie folkpop is catchy as hell from beginning to end, and I’m exceedingly glad to have any opportunity to tout it. Here’s a live Elvis cover from her 2008 release Be OK to tempt you into buying the whole damn catalog, starting with Everybody.

Most folks don’t think of the public library as a source for music, which means most folks are missing out: though selection can vary widely from one to another, I’ve found that the average library includes at least a few hidden gems, quite probably ordered by some unknown benefactor librarian with a love for the acoustic stuff. Luckily, we’re connected to a pretty large system of library branches here in these rural, nearly radio-free environs, and I’ve learned to check the stacks when we drive through nearby towns.

Most recently, a trip to Northampton unearthed Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom‘s back catalog, which included this swirling, jangly, almost mystical long-forgotten turn on a well-covered Elvis tune. Acoustic Motorbike, the album from whence it comes, seems to be out of print, but if your local library doesn’t have it, you can and should pick up the bulk of his back catalog here.

We have shuffle to thank for this next track, which pairs Brazilian artist Seu Jorge‘s gentle acoustic guitarplay and that round, mesmerizing accent with a shuffling brushbeat and squeaky reed echo. I honestly can’t even remember how this perfect slowdance came to me originally; all I know is it’s there, in my head again, after floating from the speakers this past weekend in the midst of a lazy afternoon.

It’s a tough time of year for me to hit the local clubs and stages, what with the school year finally in full swing, the kids running us ragged with swimming lessons and other afterschool activities, and a pair of tiny kittens darting for freedom each time I open the door. Missing folk trio Red Molly last Friday in nearby East Hartford while we headed north instead to retrieve said kittens was just one of many lost opportunities in recent weeks. Though consoling myself with their recorded work isn’t the same, rediscovering this summery countryfolk take on their self-titled debut EP did put a smile on my face, and that’s not nothin’.

Keeping up with the blogs is always worth doing, and I’m not just tooting my own horn. For example: thanks to his quirky, well-honed tastebuds, host Jamie of Fong Songs has been good about keeping the tinkly tones of the PoZitive Orchestra on our radar, most recently checking in to let us know that although there’s nothing new in their catalog, the Russian band continues to hit the press. And for good reason, too. This cover of All Shook Up is a perfect example of their sparse, jazz- and sting-quartet influenced bossa-coustic sound.

Finally, I won an autographed copy of the first Stonehoney album when it first came out a year or two back, and liked their well-constructed countryrock songs well enough indeed. But it wasn’t until I heard their stripped-down performances on the workshop stage at this summer’s Falcon Ridge Folk festival that I truly considered them from a folk perspective, which makes for an ever better framework to crawl inside their slightly countrified americana sound.

Blue Christmas is generally considered a holiday track, but this lovely demo-style recording, originally released via their website, popped up on the shuffle last week and stuck like an earworm; I see no reason why good music can’t be featured year-round.

Cover Lay Down posts regular features and coverfolk twice weekly. This is one of them.

1,251 comments » | Covered in Folk, Elvis, New Artists Old Songs

Red Molly: Never Been To Vegas (Gillian Welch, Susan Werner, Elvis and more)

November 7th, 2007 — 11:42 am

Though I spend plenty of time at the foot of the stage, I don’t usually care much for live recordings: I prefer the perfection of the studio to the roar of the imaginary crowd, and poor sound quality bothers my ears. But every once in a while, when there’s a good engineer at the sound board, something truly special results. Such is the case with Red Molly‘s strong first full-length album Never Been To Vegas — which, when added to their four-song in-studio EP, is the sum total of their recordings.

And, with the exception of a few previously-sung notables by Red Molly dobro player Abbie Gardner, every single song on these albums is a coversong.

The three folksingers that comprise Red Molly — Gardner, bass player/mandolinist Carolann Solobelo, and banjo/guitarist Laurie MacAllister — met around covers, so it’s no surprise that their entire recorded output consists of them. Formed from the early morning remnants of a latenight songcircle high above the darkened mainstage of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, the trio returned to the festival two years later to win the highly-competitive FRFF Emerging Artist showcase. (Full disclosure: I’m crew chief for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival teen crew).

Since then, the girls of Red Molly have toured with the other 2006 showcase winners, opened for such luminaries as Jonathan Edwards and John Hammond, and come back to Falcon Ridge as featured performers, wowing crowds and winning admiration from fellow musicians with their sweet harmonies and full acoustic sound. Throughout, they’ve been playing covers — banking admiration for such time as they might return to either their own solo work, or a fuller existence as the rarest of American folk creatures: the folk group.

Mostly, Red Molly’s interpretations lean towards the Americana end of folk music — coverchoices include Gillian Welch, Hank Williams, and old traditional folk/gospel songs such as Darlin’ Corey and When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder. But regardless of subject, their tight crystal-clear harmonies and brightstringed musicianship bring each song forward as a gift to be shared, a glittering gospel.

Today we feature a trio of songs from the folktrio’s Never Been To Vegas, with kudos to engineer Dae Bennett for changing my mind about live recordings, even if this one turns out to have been recorded in a studio, not a coffeehouse. Don’t forget to check out the bonus songs below for a sweet pair of covers from their self-titled EP, and a wonderful version of You Gotta Move by Abbie and fellow 2006 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Showcase winner Pat Wictor.

  • Red Molly, Caleb Meyer (orig. Gillian Welch)
  • Red Molly, Coal Tattoo (orig. Billy Edd Wheeler)
  • Red Molly, Blue Night (orig. Kirk McGee)

Support these fast-rising, red-wearin’ women by buying Red Molly, plus solo albums from Abbie, Laurie, and Carolann, from CD Baby via the Red Molly website. While you’re there, follow the link to pick up this year’s Naked Folk Calendar (the girls of Red Molly were the November 2006 pin-up); all calendar profits go towards health insurance for struggling folk musicians.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

  • Red Molly wrings new life from old Elvis-covered chestnut Are You Lonesome Tonight…
  • …and jams through Susan Werner’s Yellow House
  • Abbie Gardner and Pat Wictor wail the doublesteel blues on You Gotta Move (orig. Mississippi Fred McDowell)
  • Previously posted: Red Molly covers Patty Griffin

34 comments » | Abbie Gardner, Billy Edd Wheeler, Elvis, Gillian Welch, Kirk McGee, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Red Molly, Susan Werner