Category: Vacation Coverfolk

Caribbean Coverfolk:
Pop, Reggae, Jazz & Folk Songs of the West Indies

April 19th, 2012 — 12:12 pm

As noted yesterday, we’re in Puerto Rico for an extended vacation, lazily hopping around the eastern side of the island in fits and starts. Old San Juan was my kind of town, and the perfect port of entry: just touristy enough, with authentic architecture and blue cobblestone streets, fine funky coffeeshops, and the most beautiful green labyrinth of a hotel, with resident parrots and a view of the sea over La Perla off the balcony. But two days in the city was more than enough, and now we’re in a stunningly spacious rental home in Ceiba, with plans for horseback riding, a rainforest hike, a moonless night walk through the bioluminescent lagoons, and plenty of lazy hours by the pool before we head to the resort for a long pampered weekend.

There’s still a serious lack of Puerto Rican folksinger coverage out there, and I’m not finding much in the way of acoustic Ricky Martin or Jose Feliciano tunes. But the larger Caribbean region is well known in song as both a vacation destination and as a poverty-stricken place of origin and return for the larger folk community – a paired set of polar tropes sadly common to destinations such as ours. Here’s a short coda to end our voyage, written high in las montanas on a breezy deck overlooking the beachside resorts of sleepy Ceiba and Fajardo, green islands ringed with white beaches and even whiter foam, and beyond them all, an expanse of blue ocean that stretches to the horizon.

  • Jack Johnson: A Pirate Looks At Forty (orig. Jimmy Buffett)

    (from iTunes Originals series, 2004)

2 comments » | Vacation Coverfolk

Vacation Coverfolk: Where We’re Going To
(Postcards from the past, songs from the present)

April 18th, 2012 — 12:55 pm

Sunday, April 15
Dear Reader,

Traditionally, when yours truly takes off for other climes, I leave behind a feature set or two of place-relevant coverage. But we’re off to San Juan in the morning for a long school break in the sun, with a spring in our step and an island-hopping itinerary on our mind. And unusually, there’s not much in the way of coverfolk from Puerto Rico to be found in the aether.

So here’s a few tracks about going places, pre-posted as a letter to the future for your midweek enjoyment. We’ll return in a week, shaking the sand from our shoes with a set of great new music from recent releases.

4 comments » | Theme Posts, Uncategorized, Vacation Coverfolk

Nebraska Coverfolk: Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes
(21 covers of and from the Omaha scenester and singer-songwriter)

August 14th, 2011 — 01:01 pm

Thanks to my father’s determination to visit all 50 US states in his lifetime, we’ve just returned from a short vacation, and as is our practice here at Cover Lay Down, that means a feature with a regional focus. Previous Vacation Coverfolk sets took us to California, the Carolinas, Memphis, and more; this week found us in Nebraska, and so we turn to the work of a particularly influential musician with a decidedly midwestern origin. Ladies and Gentlemen: Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes.

Outside of the cities, Nebraska is exactly what I always envisioned: miles upon miles of gently swelling farmland, planted green in corn and soybeans, with hardly a suburb in sight. But like everywhere in the postmillennial universe, urban centers have their curses and their charm, their commercial influences and their inner-city neighborhoods.

And so, although much of Omaha and its sister city, nearby capitol Lincoln, are comprised of the same old fast food strip malls and condo sameness that have grown to typify the American experience, I suppose it was unsurprising to find small bohemian enclaves in both cities, constructed around beautifully restored old marketplace buildings and train stations.

And where we find bohemia, we find good, authentic music. Nebraska’s history with music on the edge starts with its long and complicated history as a Jazz, Swing, and Blues enclave in the early half of the 19th century, centered around the storied Dreamland Ballroom in the African-American Near North Side neighborhood of Omaha, which attracted national acts, and was known as a breeding ground for bandmembers for touring bands. Dreamland would close in the 1960s, but the trend would later be continued by the Lincoln-based Zoo Bar, which has been home and host to many seminal Jazz and Blues recordings.

In more recent years, thanks to a rise in indie venues, music festivals, and coffeehouses, Nebraska has produced a small collection of singer-songwriter types, predominantly male indiefolk musicians who we’ve covered here before: Joshua James, Josh Rouse, and others.

But much of the indie side of this influence is centered around singer-songwriter Conor Oberst – the driving force behind Bright Eyes, which was created out of the Omaha indie scene in the nineties; founding member of recent indiefolk supergroup quartet Monsters of Folk, and brother to Justin Oberst, co-founder of indie label Saddle Creek Records, which claims to be the primary spearholder for the Omaha Sound, a flavor typified by indie rock influences with a slight country twang.

Named best songwriter of 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine, Oberst’s work is characterized by acoustic-based settings and angst-ridden lyrics that match impressionistic narratives with depressing, emotionally immature worldviews. With Bright Eyes – a moniker which Oberst has used as both a solo artist and as a coverall for band releases – he’s veered from bluegrass-tinged alt-country to light, echoey, hushed-voice troubadour folk to true-blue indie retrorock.

The range displayed by his simultaneous 2005 Bright Eyes releases – the folk-influenced I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, and the electro-pop-influenced Digital Ash In A Digital Urn – typify this experimental fluidity: the former sounds like Ryan Adams’ quieter, more tender side; the latter sounds more like new work from Depeche Mode, albeit with Oberst’s uniquely breathless, wavery, warbly voice as a constant throughout both albums. As a solo artist and collaborator, much of his work follows in this same vein, with intimacy in some songs and tours, and harder edges flavoring others.

Indeed, some of the songs and covers that Oberst has recorded, both on his own and in partnership with others, are so far from folk that today’s set represents but one side of the coin for this particular artist. For example, though two decidedly sweet Dylan songs make the cut below, you’ll have to track down his frenetic thrashpunk cover of One More Cup Of Coffee, recorded with Ryan Adams in what appears to have been a Dead Milkmen moment.

Nonetheless, the diversity of both Oberst’s songbook and performance modes has engendered quite a broad variety of coverage, both of and from Oberst himself, which fits under a broad definition of folk. As such, our covers collection veers wide, touching upon the typically crunchy and stripped-down (Marissa Nadler, Kelsea Olivia), produced piano popfolk (Sara Lov), and edgy alt-folk of the indie type (loud grungefolk from Bettie Serveert, and sparse anti-folk takes from Existential Hero and The Sarcastic Dharma Society). While common to songbook coverage, such a range of sound is less common in the hands of a single artist, who here takes on both country/folk/pop forefathers Bob Dylan, John Prine and Paul Simon and indie counterparts such as Feist, Daniel Johnston, and Elliott Smith with everything from solo slouch to wailing screamfolk. Prepare to be surprised.

Covers of…

…and covers from…

  • Bright Eyes w/ Jenny and Johnny: Wrecking Ball (orig. Gillian Welch)

1 comment » | Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst, Vacation Coverfolk

Oceanfolk, Redux: Covers for the end of summer

August 7th, 2011 — 11:57 am

Originally posted, with slight modifications, in August 2009. Because it’s one of my favorite sets…and because bloggers need vacations, too.

We’re in Truro for a short weekend, just like in 2009, in the same rented beachhouse high on the dunes above the Cape Cod sound. Wakeless trawlers and shore fishermen, beach wanderers and bathers are few and far between, mere specks on an otherwise natural landscape that fills the sense with color: green grasses, faded yellow sand, the variable blues of sky and water.

At night the lights of Provincetown still shine brightly just on the edge of the vista, a line of stars marking the difference between pitch-black sea and an invisible sky. Last time we were here a shooting star dropped towards them while I watched, as if longing to join the tourists and summer people in their shared debauchery. I stayed up late reading the usual borrowed beachhouse paperback, the autobiography of an island lobsterwoman, and fell asleep before eleven.

The weeks ahead burn and roil on the horizon like sunset: next week in Omaha, Nebraska with my father to see the Worlds Largest Ball of Stamps and the Kool Aid Museum, and then back to work, with new students to greet, new courses to teach, and new classrooms to maintain from then until eternity. But sitting here on the deck in the shade of the house, the marsh below me, the ocean beyond, this browngrey hawk drawing lazy circles in the blue overhead, I am reminded how vital it is to sit in stillness at the edge of it all, how centering it is to squeeze peace from the last fleeting weeks of summer.

It’s a good life. Here’s a soundtrack for it.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and commentary Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday.

1 comment » | Vacation Coverfolk

For The Birds: Wild Avian Coverfolk
(Cover Lay Down Returns, On Wings and a Prayer)

April 17th, 2011 — 12:15 pm

It’s Spring, and that means rebirth: when the earth reemerges from the earth, covered in last year’s leaves. When the morning is filled with brave still-chilled birds, proffering a soundtrack for our triumphant return.

It’s also school vacation, and that means our annual trip down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where we join up with family members more typically spread far and wide across the country, enough to spill into two adjacent houses. In past years, as with most of our excursions to various and sundry parts of the world, finding ourselves in another state meant Vacation Coverfolk features on local music and musicians. But we’ve done North Carolina, via James Taylor, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, and others, in years past. And truly, this year, coming here feels more like coming home than ever before.

And so, instead, I find myself marveling at the feathered referents which have populated this year’s journey, and the flight from stress it has grown to represent. After a mad all-night dash down the coast, our shore-line arrival featured a sunrise peppered with gulls and plovers; when we finally arrived at our secluded rental home just after breakfast, we were stopped by some sort of grey, bewildered finch peering at us from her nest by the front door. The three story deck of our borrowed home looks out over a backyard lagoon populated by grazing Canada Geese and proud egret families. Robins and red-winged blackbirds pepper the lawn, their bright colors a constant flash in the landscape.

Last night, just before supper, an osprey swirled down out of the sky like the impending storm, catching a fish in his talons just yards from our wondering faces. Farther off, on the sound past the narrow treeline, the gulls dip and sway and coast on the breeze alongside their smaller compatriots. Crows, doves, and white-throated long-beaks of unidentified species hop from branch to branch at eye level in the gnarled trees. The world is full of mating calls, of whoops and twitters, of all the calls that mark this territory as theirs, and us as guests.

But we are welcome, and for the first time in a month or more, I, too, am free to swoop and play, feel free enough to join them in their flight. For the birds, then, and in honor of our freedom: some wild avian coverfolk, with a promise that the set, like Spring itself, is but a harbinger of more to come.

After a long hiatus, Cover Lay Down is back on track with new coverfolk features and songsets posted at least twice weekly. Stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead for new and newly-discovered covers from the folkworld, including a close look at Britfolk sensation Thea Gilmore, Spring house concert and Summer festival previews, and more!

726 comments » | Theme Posts, Vacation Coverfolk

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

Vacation Coverfolk: Talk Memphis
(Songs of Beale Street and beyond)

December 26th, 2010 — 12:41 am

We haven’t traveled together since last summer’s journey to Germany, and we’ve got the time. So my father and I are on the road again, just an hour or two ahead of an old-fashioned New England blizzard, off to Memphis, Tennessee, for the short gap between Christmas and New Years.

So far, we’ve penciled in The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the National Civil Rights museum, Sun Studios, and a chance to see the Gibson luthiers in action; the Smithsonian Rock ‘N Soul Museum is actually in our hotel, so we’ll be sure to cover that, too. The plan also includes blues, barbecue, and the inevitable trip to Graceland, so expect a full coverset of songs made famous by Elvis later this week.

For now, in keeping with the vacation spirit, I’ll keep it short and sweet: here’s a set of coverfolk in tribute to the city itself, home of Beale Street and the blues, capped off by a couple of glitchy, catchy electrofolk covers of Paul Simon’s tribute to the journey itself.

1,082 comments » | Memphis, Vacation Coverfolk