Category: Leonard Cohen

‘Tube Thursday: New Video Cover Projects
take on the Guy Clark, Grateful Dead, and Leonard Cohen songbooks

February 9th, 2012 — 08:24 pm

It’s not the newest trend in the webiverse. See, for example, Hangin’ Out On E Street, the Bruce Springsteen-solicited covers project we noted way back in February of 2009, or The Stand Ins project, which had Bon Iver, The New Pornographers, David Vandervelde, and other indie names taking on the tracks from Okkervil River album The Stand Ins as it was released in 2008.

But the songwriter-specific video covers project concept seems to be peaking, with several major collections in process as we speak. Today, we present our favorite submissions from three new multi-artist coverage sets, granting us new glimpses into the songbooks of Guy Clark, The Grateful Dead, and Leonard Cohen…plus a few bonus vids we’ve had kicking around from another project with a very different focus, indeed.

The modern trend towards the slow, track-by-track leak of impending albums as distributed blog-by-blog exclusives intersects with the video cover project conceit in Old Ideas With New Friends, designed to raise awareness of Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen’s newest album, among a broad set of younger listeners by connecting his older songbook to the new, predominantly indie inheritors of his dark narrative style. You gotta admire the conceit of coverage as album promotion – it worked for Peter Gabriel and Okkervil River, after all – and though the central genre connection here is broad alternative and hipster indie, not folk, after only five installments, the inevitable crossover has produced some fine versions, with more to come from Old 97s’ Rhett Miller and The New Pornographers’ A.C. Newman, among others.

As a dubious bonus, of sorts, the project’s use of Vimeo’s precise sharing and embedding parameters show exactly how artists and labels can regain full control of the viral spread of media content without having to rely on broad-ranging, baby-with-the-bathwater law like SOPA or PIPA. Which is to say: you really must hear John Darnielle of The Mountain Goat’s sweet solo piano-driven cover of The Smokey Life, but you’ll have to head over to either Consequences of Sound or Vimeo to do it, as blog-embedding for the track is currently limited to that one major blog which managed to garner exclusive contract for first release. Luckily, after a similar short-lived period of exclusivity, the others in the project so far have now been made available to all of us. Here’s two that fit our mold.

Brandford Cox: Seems So Long Ago, Nancy (orig. Leonard Cohen)

Greg Dulli: Paper Thin Hotel (orig. Leonard Cohen)

As of the turn of the year, the official Grateful Dead page hosts The Dead Covers Project, a growing set of ‘tube-shared fan coverage – I’d use the term officially sanctioned, if it were not for the fact that, for a band which practically made its name through supporting the bootleg as a viable and supported mechanism of fan participation, the term seems fundamentally meaningless. The page will be featuring a new fan-made video every day in February, spreading the love…but in the end, like YouTube writ large, the project’s corporate underbelly hides a viable way to turn amateur status into gold: five of the videos will be “chosen” in March, and their artists’ profiles featured on the Dead’s online properties, and in the 2012 edition of the Grateful Dead Almanac, thus garnering VIP access to one of the largest music communities standing today.

Unlike other notables in today’s set, the Dead Covers project is truly amateur-oriented, with voting pushing fan favorites to the top of the home page; Dead fans being attuned to nuance in performance, the top of the list is quite good indeed, though the average Dead fan’s willingness to allow ragged recording quality after years of tape trading seems to favor interpretation over sound caliber. Still, a bit of digging after skimming the top of the list reveals hidden gems that linger, too. Here’s five favorites from the newest part of the vault.

Amal Bouhabib & Jeff Malinowski: Cassidy (orig. Grateful Dead)

Lauren Crow: Been All Around This World (orig. Grateful Dead)

JanelleVibes: Wharf Rat (orig. Grateful Dead)

Birdhouse: Here Comes Sunshine (orig. Grateful Dead)

Rob & Tom Wolfson: Deep Elem Blues (orig. Grateful Dead)

Townes Van Zandt contemporary and Red House Records recording artist Guy Clark’s been getting a heap of late-career recognition lately, thanks to This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, a two-disc set that finished January near the top of several major Country and Pop charts. But twelve-track companion piece Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool Ya: The Sin City Sings the Songs of Guy Clark over at Country-slash-Americana blog Turnstyled, Junkpiled is equally delightful, and a bit closer to the Americana and folk lines, thanks to a dozen LA musical acts that came together to pay tribute to the man and his music on streetcorners, stages, and studios, and in their living rooms.

We posted The Far West’s slow, boozy contribution to the project last week, claiming that its classic Gram Parsons vibe made it perfect for the No Depression crowd; it still remains a favorite. But these solo takes from Wic Coleman and Jackson Tanner are equally great in their own way, with a bit more of the dusty troubadour vibe which made Clark so vibrant in concert, for those of us lucky enough to have seen him perform in bare-bones form. And the full collection bears further note: if you like your folk on the country line, and you’re willing to accept a few tracks with the drums-and-bass so typical of barroom country among the more delicate, raw works, take a gander at every video over at the project page.

Jackson Tanner: Queenie’s Song (orig. Guy Clark)

Wic Coleman: She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (orig. Guy Clark)

In other cover project news: it’s not new, and it’s not focused around a single artist; its videos are not solicited, but sought out, and then filmed in a consistently intimate black and white style that has us zooming in on artists in their home environs as each one speaks into the camera, contextualizing our experience, before picking up their instrument and amazing us with raw beauty. But the continued great works from The Voice Project – a non-profit that uses its ongoing coverage chains to raise awareness for displaced women in Uganda – just keep on coming, and if you’re not a subscriber to their email blasts, thus ensuring that you don’t miss a single new video, you should be. Check out two fave vids from the project below, and then head on over to The Voice Project to browse, subscribe, donate, and fall in love.

Cillie Barnes: Million Dollar Bill (orig. Dawes)

Ben Sollee: Real Life (orig. Joan As Police Woman)

Looking for more video and streaming coverage throughout the week, including previews and bonuses from the blog and beyond? Don’t forget to check out and “like” the Cover Lay Down Facebook page!

Comment » | Grateful Dead, Guy Clark, Leonard Cohen, YouTube

Elseblog: Covers of Suzanne, Rare CSN at Star Maker Machine

May 23rd, 2008 — 08:33 pm

Still not sure how hard to push my work over at collaborative blog Star Maker Machine, where the blogging roster just keeps getting better and this week’s theme is songs named after women, a.k.a. Little Black Book. In the long run, I’m thinking maybe an ongoing sidebar sectional would be more apropos; in the meantime, I’m particularly proud of a few recent posts, including a treatise on tone and delivery as carrier of emotional narrative in Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, with covers from Peter Gabriel and Nina Simone…and a single-shot posting on demo versions which uses David Crosby’s early demo of Guinnevere to continue our recent discussion on B-sides, rarities, and other untrustworthy remnants.

Wanna bonus taste before you head over? Here’s a relatively recent Crosby covering Gram Parsons with Lucinda Williams on harmony, and a Leonard Cohen cover by another recently featured Suzanne. Also relevant: previous posts on Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, female folk musicians covering Neil Young.

And speaking of Rarities and B-Sides: you have but six more days to win Sarah McLachlan’s new Rarities and B-Sides collection, plus an autographed poster. Totally worth it, dude. Enter here.

820 comments » | David Crosby, Elseblog, Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega

Mothers of the Folkworld: Suzanne Vega, Ani DiFranco, Lori McKenna, Kris Delmhorst

May 10th, 2008 — 09:16 pm

Katrina, Narissa, and Amelia Nields, Clearwater Folk Festival, 2005

As a volunteer for performer check-in at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival for several years, I had the rare privilege of meeting the children of several notable folk musicians, from Lucy Kaplansky’s adopted daughter to Katrina Nields’ newborn. Seeing my favorite musicians up close and personal was always a treat. But seeing folk musicians in parenting mode always felt like peering behind the curtain of the public persona to something real. And once you see that part of a musician, it flavors the way you hear their songs from that day forward.

The confessional, personal nature of folk music lends itself well to songs of family and parenthood; as I’ve written about previously, I have a special fondness for music which speaks to that side of life. But it’s got to be especially difficult to be a mother who makes her living out of music. Working mothers have it hard no matter what, but musicianship isn’t like other careers: the late-night shows, the marathon recording sessions, the constant need for one more focused, childless hour crafting song, all stand in tension with the closeness and availability good parenting demands of us.

Yet the folkworld is full of female musicians who — with or without the help of sensitive, often stay-at-home dads — work their touring schedules around the various and sundry blessings of childrearing, from nursing and naps to school plays and graduations. Previously featured folkmothers include Caroline Herring, Lucy Kaplansky, Rani Arbo, Shawn Colvin, and Cindy Kallet: some of my favorites, and a significant percentage of the women who we’ve featured here on Cover Lay Down.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to sing a song to your child in front of ten thousand people, or, like Dar Williams did at Falcon Ridge last year, to bring them up on stage, so they can see what you see. And I can’t imagine what it must be like to give birth, or to head out on tour for a week without your child.

But I trust that the blogworld is surely swimming with songs about mothers this weekend. And in the midst of all that, I thought it was important to remind us all that the reason we’re here, on Mother’s Day and every day, is because a few daring, real people — people with families, with hopes and fears, with love enough to share — have chosen to make their living making the music that fills our world. And, notably, this is a career path where neither family health insurance nor maternity leave policies are the norm.

Today, as a tribute to working moms everywhere, we bring you some coversongs of and from a few more singer-songwriters with children of their own. As always, if you like what you hear, please support these artists and their families by purchasing their albums, heading out to their shows, and treating them as real people whenever possible.

Lori McKenna was already a mother of three when she stepped in front of her first open mic audience at the age of 27; since then, she has spent most of her career playing part-time in the local New England folk circuit, staying close to home while slowly making a name for herself with a growing set of well-crafted songs that celebrate the simple pleasures of life as a struggling middle class homemaker.

Though McKenna recently turned country, resetting her down-to-earth lyrics to a newly countrified sound and touring as an opening act for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, her long tenure in the folkworld and her constant celebration of a vividly real motherhood earns her the lead-off spot on today’s list. We featured McKenna sideman Mark Erelli’s cover of McKenna’s Lonestar earlier this week; here’s a gritty lo-fi take on Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees from The Kitchen Tapes, and a much more polished but no less authentic look back at Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes from out of print American Laundromat compilation High School Reunion.

For a while there, Suzanne Vega was on the fast track to become the most prolific and popular folk musician to come out of the second-wave Greenwich Village folk scene in the early eighties; she is probably best known for Luka, her late 80s hit about a neighbor’s abused child. But if you haven’t heard much from her in a decade or so, it’s because she decided to curtail her touring and recording significantly in 1994 in order to focus on her family after her daughter Ruby was born. Since then, she has produced only three albums of new material; the songs have gotten even more introspective, but her quality hasn’t suffered one bit.

Here’s Vega’s take on two delicate songs about children from Grateful Dead tribute album Deadicated, plus some great duet work with John Cale on an old Leonard Cohen standard.

Urban folk feminist Ani DiFranco is a relatively new mother and ferocious touring machine who has taken a non-traditional path to motherhood even for the musicworld; instead of taking a hiatus to focus on recording and parenting, as so many other musicians have done, Ani brings her daughter with her as she tours. The model seems to be working — Ani and family just made the cover of the most recent issue of Mothering magazine — but other than this concert video of new song Present/Infant from her new DVD Live at Babeville, Ani has not yet recorded any of the new songs about motherhood which she has performed at her recent shows. So here’s a few random covers of Ani DiFranco songs, including a great version of Joyful Girl, a song DiFranco wrote to honor her own mother, performed by jam band Soulive with Dave Matthews.

A swollen belly and a June due date make Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter and folk producer Kris Delmhorst an impending member of the folk musician mother club, but motherhood is already starting to affect her career; she was showing when I saw her at the Iron Horse a few months ago, and these days, she’s rushing through a few dates in support of her new and absolutely stunning album Shotgun Singer before she goes on family leave. We’ve played cuts from Delmhorst here before, in recognition of her work with Peter Mulvey and father-to-be Jeffrey Foucault as part of folk trio Redbird; today, it’s Kris’ turn to glow with this fine, twangy interpretation of an old spiritual tune, and a sweet collaborative turn on Tom Waits’ Hold On.

Thanks to for their feature on Folk Music Moms, which served as today’s writing prompt. For more about volunteering at Falcon Ridge this July, check out the festival website. Oh, and if you’re reading this, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

1,009 comments » | Alana Davis, Allison Crowe, ani difranco, Dave Matthews, Grateful Dead, Kris Delmhorst, Leonard Cohen, Lori McKenna, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Soulive, Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits

Looking Back, Looking Forward: On Half a Year of CLD plus more covers of and from your favorites and mine

March 30th, 2008 — 01:40 am

Image copyright Adam Pesch, 2003

Six months ago today I jumped into the world of music blogging with both feet and no expectations. Since then, Cover Lay Down has become many things to many people.

To me, Cover Lay Down is sometimes a haven, often a playspace, always a way to try to put into words why I love what I love. But even though it is work, it is never a burden. And it is a place I am proud to call my home on the web.

But as a home is nothing without a constant stream of dinner companions, houseguests and couchcrashers, a blog is nothing without its readership. Though I only hear from a tiny percentage of the thousand or so of you who visit on an average day, it is clear from those who do share thoughts and songs that Cover Lay Down has served you well. The outpouring of interest, support, and kind words has been validating. I treasure every comment and email, and consider many of you friends.

More surprising has been the relatively recent recognition by promoters, labels, and artists themselves. It has always been my aim to support artists first and foremost, as organically as possible, but as a cover blogger, I never expected to hit the radar. Thanks to every promoter that reaches out to me, to every small label that works with me to keep the focus on artists and songs, and especially, to every artist who has not only shared their gifts, but more and more often, their words of encouragement.

It is a rare privilege to serve as a bridge between the music I love and the community I cherish. Thank you, all, for your trust, your recommendations, and your encouragement. Together, we really are making a difference.

For those who are curious about what this place looks like behind the scenes, it’s worth noting that careful hit-tracking shows a steady rise in readership pushed by periodic blips of discovery from the blogosphere and web-based press. It is neat to be noticed, and I really appreciate recent mentions from the likes of Muruch, Berkeley Place, Copy, Right via WFMU’s Beware the Blog, and many others I truly respect. I owe these folks, too, and am proud to consider them mentors and peers.

But even if not all posts make The Houston Chronicle, Weblog Wannabe, or what appears to be the German version of MTV, or garner notice on those carefully selected linklists of incredible folk and coverblogs you see to the right, I am proud that such recognition keeps driving the average size of our readership ever upwards. I may be wrong, but I’d like to think our growth after each blip underscores the fact that so many who find this place come back on their own — which in turn validates the continued good balance we’ve managed to create between featuring songs and songwriters, and the performers that cover them.

I enjoy writing them all, though I am proudest of the continued work trying to define the myriad ways and means of folk itself — a thread that wends its way through every post, whether it explores the possibility of a single subgenre or song, or focuses on a given singer or songwriter. And, now that labels and artists have begun sending me their work, I am increasingly excited about the unique opportunity to use cover songs as a vehicle for audiences like yourselves to find new artists.

But today is as much about looking back as looking ahead, and we meet here for the music more than anything. So enough about us — let’s get to the coversongs, shall we? Today, a very special installment of our (Re)Covered series, wherein we revisit the past, and add new value to older posts. After all, isn’t building bridges between the past and the now, too, what folk is all about?

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I was so blown away by South of Delia, the new cover album by singer-songwriter Richard Shindell, that I needed to share it with the world. Since then, I keep coming back to that amazing album, and to the artist who recorded it, who recently released the first in what promises to be a wonderful series of live concert recordings. It seems especially fitting to look back to that first post today, for a deeper look at Richard Shindell, plus young folk group We’re About 9 with an a capella cover of one of his most poignant songs.

  • Richard Shindell, Lawrence, KS (orig. Josh Ritter)
  • Richard Shindell, Fourth of July, Asbury Park (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
  • Richard Shindell, Darkness, Darkness (orig. Jesse Colin Young)
  • We’re About 9, Money For Floods (orig. Richard Shindell)

    Most of our first few months we were seriously under the radar. Though my early look at Britney Spears — a post originally intended as a Halloween “mask” — brought some recognition, it says something that even as family friend Sam Amidon garners mention in Rolling Stone and Spin, and even though my look at him was more exhaustive than any I have read, no one seems to remember that we, too, did a feature on Sam Amidon way back in November of last year, before many of the big guns spotted him. Here’s a trifecta of Amidon covers I originally posted way back when, one each from his new work and his two previous albums; pick up a bunch more of his cuts at that original post.

  • Sam Amidon, Head Over Heels (orig. Tears for Fears)
  • Sam Amidon, Louis Collins (orig. Mississippi John Hurt)
  • Sam Amidon, Little Johnny Brown (trad./ arr. Ella Jenkins)

    Just before the momentum really started to build, I put up a gigantic but generally unnoticed post about local folkfaves Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, and mentioned I hadn’t yet heard their newest album Big Old Life. Since then, I’ve made friends with the folks at Signature Sounds, a wonderful label/studio who first produced the work of Josh Ritter and Lori McKenna, and currently work with folkblog fave Eilen Jewell and previously-covered Jeffrey Foucault and Caroline Herring; they sent me a copy of Big Old Life, and I’m happy to report it was all I had hoped for: fun, quirky, and full of surprises. Rani deserves a real shot at my current audience, so here’s two of my favorite tracks; the Dylan, especially, is both wonderful and awesomely odd.

  • Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Farewell, Angelina (orig. Bob Dylan)
  • Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Heart with No Compassion (orig. Leonard Cohen)

    Speaking of Leonard Cohen: if email responses were the best measure of success, our Single Song Sundays would hands down be counted as our most popular entries. In almost every case, from features on tradfolk songs like House Carpenter and Amazing Grace to heavily covered singer-songwriter cuts like Joni Mitchell’s River and Dylan’s Girl of the North Country, posting multiple versions of a song has brought in choice submissions from fans and artists alike. I truly appreciate these emails, and love learning about new artists this way. Here’s the best of what came in after my most recent post on Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, with much thanks to two new e-friends for introducing me to Antje Duvekot and Karen Jo Fields, two singer-songwriters I’ll be listening to over the next few months.

  • Antje Duvekot, Famous Blue Raincoat (orig. Leonard Cohen)
  • Karen Jo Fields, Famous Blue Raincoat (ibid.)

    What’s next on Cover Lay Down? Plenty. I’m working with several artists I love to bring forward some great covers they’ve done over the years, and anxiously awaiting word on a few “in the works” cover projects from folksters new and old. With the folk festival season soon upon us, I expect to be more in tune with what’s new in the folkworld, and hope, as well, to be able to renew and strengthen connections with artists, fans, and promoters.

    In other words, much of what you’ll continue to see here is that which we do best, only deeper. But even that is not static. Folk is culture, so as culture changes, folk changes, too. As long as new gems and rising stars shine among the new and unheard CDs that clutter my desktop, it is my hope to add more short features on newer artists still below the radar. I’ll have an experiment of sorts in that vein coming along later this week. But to the extent that we can say so, I think the model we’ve created together is largely a success. Expect more of the same as we go forward.

    One last word before I go. In the end, the purpose of this blog truly is to best support folk music, and the artists who make it. Regular visitors may have noticed that we disdain mass market commercial sources for music here wherever possible. My recent connections with artists and labels has only strengthened my belief that the best way to support the music we love is not just to buy it, it is to buy it through the artists themselves, at shows, on artist websites, and through distribution centers like CD Baby — sources which genuinely send the bulk of the profit back to the artist herself.

    Please, folks: if you like what you hear, buy, and buy local. Else one day, there might be nothing left for us to talk about except the oldies. And if I could ask for anything back from all of you, it would not be words. It would be that this community, this scene, this sound is still vibrant a hundred years from now, for our children and theirs.

    Thanks for staying with me for so long, both tonight and since you found this place. We’ll be back Wednesday, and again on Sunday, ad infinitum. But come back any time you like. For you, the door is always open.

  • 1,250 comments » | (Re)Covered, Antje Duvekot, Karen Jo Fields, Leonard Cohen, metapost, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, richard shindell, Sam Amidon, We're About 9

    Single Shot Coverfolk: Damien Rice covers Jeff Buckley covering Hallelujah

    March 11th, 2008 — 09:47 am

    Damien Rice channels Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at last night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

    Told you so. Worth watching nonetheless.

    438 comments » | Damien Rice, Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen

    Single Song Sunday: Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat

    March 9th, 2008 — 08:42 pm

    Hands down, the most re-recorded song of the last decade from the vast catalog of Canadian poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is Hallelujah; the newly-reposted MOKB Covers Project: Hallelujah counts over forty recent versions, and the list is by no means complete. I have no complaints about this — it’s a great song, which, like so many of Cohen’s best work, moves fluidly between grand mythos and intimate confession to give voice to strong yet otherwise unexpressable feeling. Problematically, however, the vast majority of covers of this song are not truly Leonard Cohen covers, but covers of Jeff Buckley’s particularly sparse, soaring version, the most familiar of which was recorded live in 1993 and released on Grace.

    To feature these versions of Hallelujah, then, is to feature not Cohen himself, but a particular process by which song ownership and song authorship can be divorced to the betterment of song, one seen more recently in the way Noel Gallagher of Oasis has begun to cover Ryan Adams’ setting of Wonderwall in live performance. And, while interesting, getting tangled in the way in which song ownership can truly shift is no way to truly acknowledge the immense impact that Cohen and his songs have had on the development of popular music.

    Luckily, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will acknowledge this Monday, Leonard Cohen is no one-hit wonder. Though it has become essentially impossible to honor this gravel-voiced folksinger and songwriter via Hallelujah, there are many, many musicians of greatness who have been moved to interpret the various pages of his deceptively slow songbook. And while I have a particular fondness for a few particularly stunning Leonard Cohen covers — among them Teddy Thompson’s Tonight Will Be Fine, Serena Ryder’s Sisters of Mercy, and Regina Spektor’s Chelsea Hotel — today is not a day for breadth, but for focus.

    No, to truly consider the genius of Leonard Cohen as songsmith, we need look no further than a song which was first released way back in 1971, on Songs of Love and Hate: Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat.

    By most accounts, Famous Blue Raincoat is probably not the song Leonard Cohen would have us choose to honor him with. In a 1993 interview in Details magazine, Cohen describes the song as both powerful and flawed, and I don’t think he’s wrong; the literary convention of the letter is awkward, especially at the end, and much goes unresolved in the music and narration. Ultimately, says Cohen, the song was “good enough to be used…but lyrically, it’s too mysterious, too unclear.”

    But whether Cohen intended it or not, I think the flaws here are ultimately what makes the song so effective. In a listener’s ears, the wandering narrative, the odd repetitions which seem not to resolve, and even the dubious, damaging choice to filter this story through the awkward form of the letter itself are attributed to the speaker, not the artist. The result is an especially realistic, poignant sort of unreliable narrator perfectly suited to the uneasy truce the singer claims to have made with his woman, the letter’s addressee, their shared pasts, and how they found themselves here.

    In the end, in spite of or because of its flaws, the effective pairing of deceptively simple melody and complex emotional story make Famous Blue Raincoat one of the best works of an incredible artist. The complex relationship between these elements is vivid because it is so tangled and indescribable; it’s hard to imagine a clearer portrayal of this particular triangle without sacrificing the emotional success of the song overall.

    The care and craft which today’s cover artists bring to the song would seem to suggest either that other musicians agree with this assessment, or that the song is so powerful and workable that even a half-hearted approach cannot help but result in a solid performance. Knowing these artists, I’m inclined to assume the former in at least half of the performances below. But notably, in either case, we can attribute much of the success of any cover version to Cohen himself. And that’s what it takes to make the Hall of Fame, folks. Listen, and be moved:

    As always here on Cover Lay Down, wherever possible, all album/artist links go to artist homepages and preferred distributors, and never to the megastores that care more for money than art. So click through or head off to your local indie distributor to purchase the best music around. Because paying for your music is good karma, and doing so direct from the source is the best way to support the next generation of hall of famers.

    1,164 comments » | Hayden, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Baez, Jonathan Coulton, Leonard Cohen, Lloyd Cole, Marissa Nadler, richard shindell, Single Song Sunday, Tara MacLean, The Like, Tori Amos

    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

    Covered In Folk: Lou Reed / The Velvet Underground (Of second generation anti-folk and modern indie kids)

    October 19th, 2007 — 10:57 am

    Alt-folk artist and producer Joe Henry and I are doing double duty today, folks: Henry’s amazing cover of Pale Blue Eyes appears below, but I’ve also guest-posted a write-up of his coverwork over at Disney cover blog Covering The Mouse for this month’s “When You Wish Upon A Star Week”. Thanks to CTM host Kurtis for inviting me over to play, and don’t forget to head on over for the bonus Joe Henry tuneage after you’re finished here!

    It’s hard to mistake Lou Reed for a folk artist. As primary songwriter for pre-grunge, early lo-fi champions Velvet Underground, Reed wrote for a sound wailing with feedback and screaming with the heady rush of an early rock and drug culture. And though the simpler streetmajesty of his early solo work, most notably 1972 single Take a Walk on the Wild Side, comes across as not so far off in both voice and production from contemporaries Leonard Cohen (a true folkie) or Springsteen (who has always teetered on the folk-rock edge), his work over the last few decades has tended more towards the odd, the electronic, and the experimental.

    But many of today’s singer-songwriters cut their teeth on their parent’s Velvet Underground records long before the colored girls sang “doot doo doot” on classic rock radio. And Reed’s songwriting, its vivid imagery grounded in the muted browns and grays of streetcorners and the seamy underbelly of urban life, still speaks to a generation growing up alienated from place, in part by the very medium that carries these words from me to you. Covers of Lou Reed’s work are everywhere, and more often than not, they sound like folk.

    Today in celebration of the singer-songwriter as folk artist, we present a quintet of Lou Reed covers by a set of musicians from the periphery of folk. The cuts below mostly feature young and blog-popular indie musicians, though I’m allowing father figure Joe Henry into the fold because of his work producing such neo-folk musicians as Teddy Thompson and ani difranco. Though few of these folks self-identify as folk artists, their primarily acoustic, rough-voiced, low-production styles ground them in the genre nonetheless, even as these same qualities call to the original tone and temper of Reed’s beautifully brokenvoiced anthems of broken boulevards and counterculture dreams.

    • Martha Berner, Sunday Morning (orig. Reed/Cale)
    • Clem Snide, I’ll Be Your Mirror
    • Cat Power, I Found a Reason
    • Iron and Wine w/ Calexico, All Tomorrow’s Parties
    • Joe Henry, Pale Blue Eyes

    If you’re old, like me, you’ve probably got your old Velvet Underground and Lou Reed albums packed away on their original vinyl format; you can upgrade for the digital age here, and get Lou Reed’s newer work via Hi Fidelity.

    All other artists listed today sell their disks directly through their web pages or labels; just click on their names to buy and browse: Martha Berner, Clem Snide, Cat Power, Iron and Wine w/ Calexico, Joe Henry.

    Today’s bonus coversongs:

    302 comments » | Calexico, Cat Power, Clem Snide, Covered in Folk, Dan Zanes, Iron and Wine, Joe Henry, John Cale, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Martha Berner, Velvet Underground

    Teddy Thompson Covers: Leonard Cohen, The Everly Brothers, and King of the Road

    October 10th, 2007 — 10:12 pm

    British born and New York based alt-musician Teddy Thompson released Up Front and Down Low, an album of classic country covers, in July, and it says what it needs to about his underdog status that a) the disk has only been released in the US, and b) neither the blogosphere nor any other market seems to have noticed. Heck, I was startled to discover it myself as I researched today’s entry, and I spent an entire summer listening to nothing else but Thompson’s second album Separate Ways, a perfect, crackling masterpiece of self-pity topped off by a hidden Everly Brothers track.

    One of several second-generation musicians emerging from under their parent’s wing to startle a new generation, Teddy Thompson has not yet managed to ring the bell of fame that fellow secondgen artist and bad influence Rufus Wainwright has. Nor has he found his audience, yet — being compared to Crowded House in one review and Jackson Browne and David Gray in another provides a pretty broad range. But if Thompson remains unknown, it’s not for lack of musicianship (though in the case of his newest outing, it may be because the country market is not his niche).

    Thompson’s music is only folk in the broader sense, but his folk credentials are solid: son of old folkies Richard and Linda Thompson, born and raised in a Sufi commune, Thompson Jr. shares his mother’s sweet, clear, etherial voice, and his father’s penchant for bitter lyrics full of the seamy underside of fame and drug culture. The combination is powerful, and even if his guitar playing is still on the cusp of maturity, using his parents and peers in the studio has, so far, made up for that lack. I am confident that Thompson’s music will eventually win the hearts and minds of a full generation once he returns to his original songwriting.

    In the meantime, here’s two songs Thompson covered for the 2006 Leonard Cohen tribute film I’m Your Man, where he stood out among some pretty heavy compatriots, including Wainwright himself. Tonight Will Be Fine comes especially recommended — something about the bittersweet lyrics and the slow pace suits him, I think.

    • Teddy Thompson, Tonight Will Be Fine (orig. Cohen)
    • Teddy Thompson, The Future (orig. Cohen)

    Still haven’t heard Teddy’s newest album, but I’d buy enough copies of Separate Ways for all of you if I had the cash. Since I don’t, you should head over to his website and pick it up for yourselves — and if you get the new one, too, let me know how it turned out, will you?

    Today’s bonus coversongs:

    • Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright cover King of the Road
    • Teddy and Linda Thompson cover the Everly Brothers’ Take A Message To Mary
    • Richard Thompson covers Squeeze’s Tempted (because I’m saving his Prince cover and his version of Oops! I Did It Again for another post)

    1,091 comments » | Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, The Everly Brothers