Category: Joe Crookston

Other Voices, Other Rooms: 5 Folkblogs to Follow in 2012
(w/ folk covers of Queen, Elvis Costello, Strand of Oaks and more!)

January 4th, 2012 — 11:13 am

As I wrote just over a year ago in a 2-part feature on How To Be A Coverblogger [Pt. 1 / Pt. 2], keeping a coverblog requires a touch of obsession, an itch to live the writing life, and a willingness to keep a keen eye on a select handful of trusted sources.

But though we watch the other coverbloggers carefully throughout the year, we are folkies first and foremost here at Cover Lay Down. And – as we noted atop our year’s end mix – some of the best coverage comes under the coverblog radar, available only to labelwatchers with a penchant for exploration of new songs both for their own sake, and in hope of finding a buried take on someone else’s song in the mix, which can be used here to help promote and spread the word about artists and their work.

There’s a tiny handful of name-brand folkblogs out there – Songs: Illinois, most notably, features in the linklists of many of the biggest music blogs, and Craig’s recommendations, though increasingly sparse, remain solid; Direct Current is a bit more glossy (and much more comprehensive), but it tends to hit all the right high points for major releases in the mass market. And indiefolk and Americana, especially, find their way into the mix at many music blogs which focus on alternative and indie rock and pop, but are willing to cross genre lines to feature a new generation of folk-oriented bands and singer-songwriters, from all-girl music blog Wears The Trousers to NPR fave go-to girl Heather of I Am Fuel, You Are Friends.

But huge branches of the folk tree are less well represented, or even ignored, in these venues. Finding this work depends on an ability to track the folkworld as closely as we can. And the decidedly regional nature of most folk music, combined with a high radar threshold for work in this niche (as an example, note how classical, rock, country and pop radio stations pepper the dial, but folk music is generally limited to a single radio program or two in a given market), leaves us looking to smaller labels and folkbloggers to keep us up to date on new developments, acts, and albums.

We featured two new finds in this arena this past August, in fact. Publicity house and blog Hearth Music remains a favorite source of all things folk, roots, and Americana in the Pacific Northwest after major kudos in our original feature. And insightful, well-written Aussie blog Timber & Steel continues to impress with their ongoing exploration of the same range of sounds from the land downunder, where summer reigns even as the snow finally begins to fall here in the northern hemisphere; we’ve recovered their findings several times here on the blog, and are eagerly following their new features on a flood of summer festival finds as we speak.

Today, in a kick-off to the new year, we bring you a quick survey of a few other sources – specifically, five more select blogs which I have come to consider proven outlets for the best new folk music. Bookmark them all, and/or add them to your feedreader; check out their own sidebar linklists for further reading, too. And if you, too, have a favorite folkblog you’d like to recommend, drop a note in the comments, so all can share.

All things Irish blog 2 U I Bestow‘s native ground is rich with the folk tradition, and his celebration of it is notoriously comprehensive. As such, though host Peter Nagle goes rock, too, there’s plenty to love here, and I often find new coverage through the artists and albums he touts – for example, we noted a new covers album from Irish singer-songwriter Mundy, whose song from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack gives 2 U I Bestow its name, back in our April 2011 Tribute and Cover Compilations week series, thanks to early notice from the blog.

Peter’s Top 20 Albums of 2011 included this amazing take on traditional tune Rain & Snow, introducing me to the work of the sister trio The Henry Girls; the back-and-forth between delicate harp-driven tradfolk verses and fiddle-led folkrock chorus speak to a strong grounding in the various traditions of modern folk and roots music, and their newest album, December Moon, proves it, offering a surprisingly diverse set that catches the heart and echoes in the ears. Like 2 U I Bestow, The Henry Girls take on all corners of the modern folk ouvure, from cheery uke-driven indiefolk ditties to etherial tradfolk instrumentals and sea shanties, from warm harmony-driven tracks to contemporary americana balladry, with aplomb and respect; the delightfully playful Watching The Detectives – Elvis Costello, done as gypsy poprock with a theatrical flourish – is an exceptional delight.

I’ve cited Slowcoustic here plenty of times before, even featuring a guest post from it’s host two summers ago, and for excellent reason: Sandy’s tastes run towards fragile acoustic downtempo soundscapes, and his handle on the folkscene, especially the obscure Canadian and Midwestern branches of the new and delicate indiefolk stuff too broken and quiet to pop the hipster indieblog bubble, remains impeccable. And, like many on our list today, Sandy’s work goes beyond mere blogging: his fledgling label Yer Bird is a solid source of new music, a natural extension of the blog, and we’re expecting to have some exciting news about the label’s newest impending release in the next week or so to prove it.

What I like most about Slowcoustic is that it is a constant source of stuff I had no idea existed, and fall in love with instantly. In 2011 alone, Sandy has brought us Hezekiah Jones, Samantha Crain, Conrad Plymouth, new otherwise-unreleased work from 2010 find Caleb Coy, and, most recently, Lotte Kestner, who we then just had to celebrate in a full-fledged post at the end of the year. And his most listened to songs of 2011 list is a work of honest beauty, one that tipped me off to a heretofore unknown Neil Young cover from a live Jeffrey Foucault session in my neck of the woods (and which was also picked up over the summer by Common Folk Music, a two-party source of exuberance and taste which comes almost as highly recommended, and is equally solid for news of new folk music releases, if not as plentiful with the coverage or downloadable tracks).

Like many bloggers and blogwatchers, I discovered For Folk’s Sake through their incredible Christmas compilations; regular readers will find the name familiar, though they may not have realized it was a project solicited by a website, rather than a label or collaborative. But their sporadically-produced podcasts are a stellar outlet for capturing the mood of the new indiefolk scene that has come to typify the mainstage at Newport Folk Festival. And the UK-based blog itself is a solid source for the hipster side of folk and Americana music, with prominent placement of Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, AA Bondy, Emmy The Great, and other names from that branch of the movement, and a willingness to include singer-songwriters more typically connected to the coffeehouse crowd, such as Devon Sproule and Anais Mitchell.

In short, without For Folk’s Sake, I’d never have found the haunting folk balladry of The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons, a mixed-bag late-December split-bill tribute album from UK folksters The Unthanks (who DiVinyl guestblogged about, in their early incarnation as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, way back in July of 2008), recorded live in a chapel in December of 2010, in a concert session that was named a Gig of the Year by tastemaking UK print publication The Independent. And I’d have to sift through much more elseblog chaff to get to the best of today’s indiefolk singer-songwriters and bands.

The Wheel’s Still In Spin takes it’s name from Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, but it isn’t truly a folkblog; it yaws broad and trends pithy, but its voracious weekly focus on recommended new releases is about as comprehensive as it gets, putting it in a “skim regularly” category. And though author Darin’s cross-genre tastes range all the way from Josh Ritter, Vandaveer, and Vetiver to Thievery Corporation, Kurt Vile, and the occasional punk act, he’s bluntly honest and unapologetic about what he likes and why, and I tend to agree with the majority of his vast and varied assessments.

Case in point: though many blogs mentioned the The Wooden Birds this year, and though Cover Me did take note of the Jackson Browne bonus track added to the mix in mid-December, The Wheel was the only one I follow regularly that remembered the band’s sparsely hypnotic, pop-ish yet acoustically-driven March 2010 release Two Matchsticks in their voluminous year’s end recaps and “best of” listings. Here; the songs speak for themselves.

Finally, a man who is a blogger by extension only: like many older folkwatchers and media mavens, Ron Olesko’s primary output remains print and radio; much of his online work on Twitter and at Ron Olesko’s Folk Music Notebook merely points to his columns in Sing Out Magazine, to guest spots for his own work, and to the weekly playlists of his long-standing folk radio show Traditions; these outlets, and his placement as chair of the selection committee for the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance yearly showcases, speak loudly to his prominence in the world of folk. But though sometimes sparse, Ron’s news from the folkworld is an invaluable addition to a folkwatcher’s habits.

The old-school rules here: both the elder statemen of the singer-songwriter world and newer acts which carry the folk revival forward yet hew closely to its traditions, such as Cover Lay Down favorites Red Molly and Joe Crookston, find their way to Olesko’s attention. But subscribing to his twitter feed is worth it: it brought me to his 12 Favorite Folk CDs of 2011, and though it, John McCutcheon’s Woody Guthrie tribute (which we originally dismissed as a bit too measured, but which has grown on us), Crookston’s newest album Darkling & The Bluebird Jubilee, and The Once, a post-millennial Newfoundland trio that trends towards the varied sounds of their native folk influences, whose gentle, earnest Queen cover is utterly perfect to ring in the new year, and whose previous work includes sweet originals, equally delightful takes on Leonard Cohen, Amelia Curran, and more obscure Canadian contemporaries, and upbeat tunes from Canadian and UK traditions.

5 comments » | Elseblog, Joe Crookston, John McCutcheon, John Statz, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, The Henry Girls, The Once, The Wooden Birds

Falcon Ridge, (Re)Covered: Joe Crookston, Peter Siegel, Lindsay Mac (reposted, sans mp3s)

October 23rd, 2008 — 06:57 pm

Dear confused readers: yes, this is the second time I’ve posted this one. Despite what I believe to be full and explicit permission to share the songs referenced below — permission received directly from each of the artists referenced herein, after in-person discussion over the summer — sometime today, blogger axed the original version of this post.

Though I’m not happy about it, I can’t really blame blogger. However deplorable, the current, horrible, draconian copyright laws in the US are quite clear: under DMCA, any take-down complaint, regardless of legitimacy or origin, must be treated as legitimate, or the person who hears the complaint becomes criminally liable for not acting. You can’t do anything about it, really. Current DMCA rules require a two week waiting period before you can file a counterclaim to defend your use. From there, the onus to prove and defend fair use is on the sharer, and unless you are also the content producer, it takes time to amass evidence, even after you finally figure out what the complaint is. And the industry is willing to throw money at you until you’ve been buried.

To point out that the DMCA’s counter-notification process falls short is just the tip of the iceberg here. The impact of this phenomenon on short-term value, market timing, and potentially viral media is so severe, it seems like a death knell for social media itself. Rumor has it, folks have been using this very approach to kill McCain YouTube videos before they get seen, knocking them out for the duration of the election cycle, and the McCain camp is pissed.

I’ve put the post back, because words are our true trade, and the shows we’re promoting here are tomorrow night, and the next. But while we try to figure out what the heck is wrong here, I’m posting the words without the music. My apologies, folks: there’s something in the air, I think.

Been thinking about Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this week. Some of this is seasonal — there’s an inevitable longing for summer, now that the world around us has changed from green to gold. But mostly I’m in the mood because this weekend marks the annual Crew Chiefs meeting, and that means 24 hours of househopping with dozens of dear and drunken friends, serious partying across state lines, and a sharing-and-strategy session to recreate the best damn place on earth with some pretty committed volunteers.

It will be my third year, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about the fact that, while I’m gone, a few of my favorite young up-and-comers from Festivals past and present will be swinging through the area. It’s a terrible irony — that the best way to support the musicians is to drive away from then, that next year’s festival might continue to provide a forum for them — and I feel badly about missing them. Today, then, we return to a few of the still-rising stars who have played the festival in the past, and deserve to be remembered in the colder months.

First and foremost, I’m quite disappointed to be missing the Joe Crookston and Peter Siegel co-bill this Friday up at the Pioneer Arts Center in Easthampton, MA. Siegel is a great musician and a good friend who has played Falcon Ridge as a solo performer and as a mandolinist with several string bands and contrabands; Joe was one of my favorite new discoveries at this year’s festival, a great guy and a great songwriter with an earnestness that really lights up in performance. Both lean heavily towards social justice songs of the best type: engaging, powerful, emotive, and not at all hokey; it’s a great idea for a co-bill, and if it weren’t Falcon Ridge, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

I’ve written about Peter Siegel over at Star Maker Machine; Peter has a new album coming out in a few weeks, and I’m really looking forward to hearing it. And I wrote at length about Joe Crookston’s coverage earlier, too. So I won’t go on here, except to say: here’s a previously-posted Supertramp coverstream from Joe, and a wonderful Phil Ochs cover from Peter; go to the show this Friday, and tell the boys I said I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.

  • Joe Crookston: The Logical Song

    (from Able Baker Charlie & Dog)

  • Joe Crookston: The Logical Song (live)
    (live from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, 2008)
  • Peter Siegel: Power and Glory
    (from The Show, 2004)

In other Falcon Ridge-comes-to-Massachusetts news: I first mentioned Lindsay Mac here when she was playing at Falcon Ridge; since then, she’s finished that new album, and it’s a startlingly strong collection of well-crafted urban folk. Lindsay is on a coffeehouse and music hall tour, swinging through New England this weekend via Natick, Marblehead, and Hartford; there’s always good energy in the air in the first weeks after the CD release tour begins, so check out the tour schedule if you’re in the New England/New York/New Jersey area, because this is the perfect time to see a great musician at the top of her game.

Lindsay is one of a growing number of folk and folkfringe musicians who play the cello, though in her case, she plays it slung and strummed like a mandolin, which results in a unique and quite startling low sound that plays magnificently off her gorgeous, fully controlled voice. But despite her unusual choice of instrument, her body of work is very firmly in the Ani DiFranco urban funkfolk camp; though Lindsay’s sound is all her own, there are certainly shades of DiFranco’s vocal mannerisms and confessional, song-length metaphoric approach to relationships lost and found in her best work.

Lindsay has some absolutely glorious, stunning tracks from her new album up at MySpace; I’m especially enamored of the etherial, hushed 7 Stones, which I heard live this summer, curled up against the lip of the workshop stage, listening to the rain on the tent’s canvas roof. But she’s savvy enough to know that the sole cover on her upcoming album, a crisp, spare treatment of Beatles standard Blackbird, is worth withholding. Instead, in discussion with her backstage at Falcon Ridge this year, after hearing that I had posted a YouTube vid of her acoustic version of Bill Withers signature tune Use Me, she was up for letting me share the produced cover of the song, off her previous album Small Revelations — and let me tell you, it’s amazing, a souped up acoustic funk piece worth putting on repeat. In fact, 7 Stones is so amazing, I’m going to break ranks –a privilege previously reserved for only one other artist — and post that one, too, even though it’s not a cover. Listen, and then pick up Stop Thinking.

  • Lindsay Mac: Use Me (orig. Bill Withers)
  • Lindsay Mac: 7 Stones (original)

Oh, and here’s a total bonus: while I was looking for Lindsay’s cover on YouTube, I found another singer-songwriter cellist covering the same song; the track is a bit fuzzy, and there’s some pretty annoying coffehouse spam bracketing the performance, but there’s something about this kid Trevor Exter that seems worth pursuing. Nothing to do with Falcon Ridge, but totally worth passing along.

Cover Lay Down posts feature articles every Sunday, Wednesday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: The inbox is full of coverfolk awesomeness, and you’re going to love it.

366 comments » | Joe Crookston, Lindsay Mac, Peter Siegel, Trevor Exter

Covered in Folk: Supertramp (Joe Crookston, Ian Ball, Drew Emmitt, Lili Haydn, and Me!)

August 16th, 2008 — 11:28 pm

Given how familiar their greatest hits are, it’s startling to find so few Supertramp covers out there. Perhaps it’s the lack of authenticity afforded a band which was, after all, formed not out of some sense of artistic urgency, but on a millionaire patron’s whim, which fueled then-unknown singer-songwriter Rick Davies’ classified ad in popular industry mag Melody Maker. Perhaps it’s the prog-rock era itself, its orchestral, larger-than-life poses shunned as anathema to the modern post-slacker indie generation and their hushed, lo-fi alt-folk bedroom output. Maybe it’s just the hair.

But redemption can be found in the songs laid bare; it turns out that Supertramp can be done well. To prove it, here’s some above-average Supertramp covers that fit the format here on Cover Lay Down.

Our set today provides a fairly complete look at a small but recognizable group of catchy radio hits, from singer-songwriter violinist Lili Haydn‘s jazzy torchsong take on Goodbye Stranger to Leftover Salmon mandolinist Drew Emmitt with a catchy acoustic jamgrass version of Take the Long Way Home. I couldn’t choose, so you get both the grungy alt-folk album original and a stunning acoustic outtake of Gomez frontman Ian Ball‘s delicate, broken Breakfast in America; don’t miss the wonderful lo-fi indiefolk german cabaret version of the same, complete with ragged horn and a perfect, klezmeresque clarinet bridge, from an artist who performs under the ungoogle-able name of Me.

I especially like singer-songwriter Joe Crookston’s pensive, political, almost mystical version of The Logical Song — thanks to Joe for allowing us both a stream from his new and highly-recommended folkchart-topping album Able Baker Charlie & Dog, and a take-away live version recorded by yours truly at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest. On the other hand, though the cover of Give A Little Bit by German acoustic coverband Huntcase is a bit kitschy, it will have to do until someone else does a better acoustic version of that classic rock radio favorite.

Enjoy them all, folks, and mind the links, which — as always here on Cover Lay Down — go straight to artist-preferred stores and sources wherever possible. And do consider snagging a CD or two, or at least purchasing a download, if you like what you hear. After all, artists who have to work day jobs have no time to come to your town, either.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk features on Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Friday and holiday. Coming Soon: Summer’s End, Bluesfolk, and a new 7-song EP from Jim Henry.

982 comments » | Drew Emmitt, Huntcase, Ian Ball, Joe Crookston, Lili Hayden, Me, Supertramp

The State of Folk: A Post-Fest Preamble Plus EXCLUSIVE live Beatles covers from Falcon Ridge 08!

July 30th, 2008 — 10:08 am

Gee, but it’s great to be back home. And bearing gifts, including an exclusive live Beatles tribute concert, recorded this past Friday in a sunny field in Hillsdale, NY, which you’ll find just down below.

But first, the weather report:

Regular readers may remember that I’d hoped to have a Utah Phillips tribute set to share today. Unfortunately, a freak hurricane-force thunder-and-hailstorm and torrential downpour mid-afternoon on Sunday brought several major event-sized tents down, flooding roads and washing away tentsites, soaking sound equipment, and generally turning the encampment into something just shy of a post-apocalyptic landscape, bringing an early end to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival just a few hours before that eagerly awaited set could take place.

Here’s a video taken from the storm (by Coriform). If you look to the left as the camera pans, you’ll see a golf cart parked in front of a white lump — that lump is actually the flattened remains of the site crew/ice/information tent, which collapsed on me and a couple of dozen others in high wind and heavy lightning, driving us out into the hailstorm. Scary. You can also read first-hand accounts from multiple festgoers at this livejournal thread.

It is, genuinely, a miracle that no one was seriously hurt, and a tribute to all the site organizers and volunteers that we managed to get everyone out safely, and with their sense of humor fully intact. And it says what it needs to, I think, that I’m already looking forward to next year’s fest.

And now, the news: something big is happening to folk music. Despite the rocky ending, spending time at both a major bluegrass festival and a major folk festival in rapid succession over the past two weeks provided no small insight into the ways in which the musical landscape is changing, and why. I saw and heard plenty which helped me understand why many folk bloggers have recently started “going bluegrass”, for example…and plenty, too, which shed light on the funny relationship between americana and alt-country and indie music and other folk forms, something which we have spent no small amount of time describing over our few months here at Cover Lay Down.

More broadly, a look at label-run merch tables, and at other festival and coffeehouse line-ups via fest-posted programs and tour schedules, provided a decent sense of the full circuit — since who’s recording, who’s touring, and who’s headlining, is a pretty good indicator of what people are going to perceive as the core of currency in folk when the festival season dries up in late Autumn. I’ve fallen in love with the work of multiple newcomers, garnered new respect for a few more familiar faces I had previously underestimated, and decided that I still do like the narrative-laden one voice, one guitar singer-songwriter folk music which has, for the last few decades, been at the core of American folk, even if it is no longer so central as to be definitive.

In trying to identify this shift, I am especially indebted to fellow ‘casters and fans, promoters and musicians, who took the time to help me groupthink the modern folkworld, most especially Kristin Andreassen (of Uncle Earl and Sometymes Why), Lindsay Mac, and Joe Crookston, all of whom made time to chat with me about the state of music and the music business from the performer and songwriter’s perspective. You’ll hear those names come up again as, over the next few weeks, we use our continued journey together here at Cover Lay Down as a platform for exploring the current state of folk music, and how covers can help us both understand and anticipate the near future of folk.

Right now, thought, I’m still a bit shaken from the storm and its aftermath. So while I try to organize my thoughts a bit, here’s the majority of the Beatles tribute workshop, taped by yours truly on a little iPod with Belkin voice-recorder attachment from the foot of the Falcon Ridge workshop stage late Friday afternoon. I haven’t trimmed the tracks yet, so intros may be a bit long…but if you want to get a sense of what it was like to be there in the moment, this is about as good as it gets.

I’ve starred my favorites, for those who just want a sample: Anthony da Costa’s gorgeous, torn rendition of I’m Looking Through You; Joe Crookston’s mystical banjo-led take on Norwegian Wood; Randall Williams’ powerful, soaring version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. I’d have starred Lindsay Mac’s incredible rendition of Blackbird, too, if the bass notes of her cello had not fuzzed out my admittedly low-tech recording; I’ve included her live take here anyway, as a teaser, but keep an eye open for Lindsay’s upcoming sophomore album (release date Sept. ’08) for what promises to be a beautiful, pristine version of the song.

Beatles Tribute Workshop
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, July 2008

Thanks to all my guest posters, who shared such powerful words, perspectives, and song in my absence; it’s a truly wonderful thing to come home and find the place in better shape than you left it. We’ll be back Sunday with the first of several subgenre- and artist-focused posts from this year’s festbest and brightest.

958 comments » | Anthony Da Costa, Festival Coverfolk, Gandalf Murphy, Joe Crookston, Lindsay Mac, Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Randall Williams, The Beatles, The Strangelings, Tracy Grammer