Category: Lindsay Mac

Kevin Fox Covers: Paul Simon, Kate Bush, The Eurythmics, etc.
(w/ more cellofolk coverage from Ben Sollee, Fiddlers 4, Lindsay Mac et. al.)

September 18th, 2011 — 04:29 pm

As we noted in our recent profile of Crooked Still, the addition of the cello to the folk repertoire is relatively recent. Indeed, it would not be entirely wrong to credit founding member Rashaad Eggleston, who has since moved on to become a core member of stringfolk supergroup Fiddlers 4, with broadening these particular boundaries for a huge percentage of the folk audience.

But of course the much larger trend towards experimental expansion and genre-blur in the indie world comes into play here, too, making the rock violinist (or the rock cellist duo) a close cousin to the folk cellist in the post-20th-century marketplace of sound. And sure enough, we’ve posted singer-songwriter folk cellists before, like indie darling Ben Sollee and Falcon Ridge Folk Fest emerging artist Lindsay Mac, and found dozens more from all walks of folk on the radar, though arguably, the work of appalachian inheritor bands like Fiddlers 4, of orchestral folk and “chamberfolk” groups like Childsplay and The Folk Arts Quartet, of indiepop experimentalists such as The Portland Cello Project and their various rock-to-jazz-to-gypsyfolk members, and – more progenitally – folk-influenced pieces from the jazz-fusion Turtle Island String Quartet and others, better represent the larger systemic shift which has brought this unwieldy instrument, oft cited for having the timbre and tonal range most closest to the male human voice, into the canon.

Regardless of how it emerged, the willingness to accept cello music as folk is an interesting prerequisite for new discovery here at Covert Lay Down. And so we come together this weekend to explore the fruits of such discovery, in the person of one Kevin Fox, cellist and singer-songwriter extraordinaire.

Today’s post was almost a forgotten one-shot, based around a YouTube cover of Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes which got lost in the shuffle, resurfacing too late to make it into our recent set of Shod Coverfolk. But persistence paid off when I went looking for a studio version, on the off chance that Canadian cellist Kevin Fox had a larger body of work.

I’ve since learned much more about Kevin Fox. For starters, though in live-via-YouTube performance, his looped acoustic pop Paul Simon cover seemed pleasantly mild and measured when put against Ben Sollee’s more deliberately ragged, slipperier oveure, such comparison is unfair: Fox aims for something quite different, and achieves it marvelously. Instead, a closer listen – to this cover, and to Fox’s studio work as a set – reveals a preference for sparse, perfectly crafted, acoustic-driven contemporary soundscapes, and a particular talent for projecting darkness and light through the balance of the plucked and the bowed against his clear, breath-tinged singer-songwriter’s voice.

Fox’s stringwork is precise, his arrangements tight: there’s clearly a classical influence here, and mastery to match. But his larger body of work reveals a genuine eagerness to perform and write in multiple corners of the pop, rock, and folk spectrum. In addition to his solo work, the Halifax-born Fox is a frequent collaborator, arranger, and touring companion for a whole spectrum of talented countrymen and countrywomen, from Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer, Danny Michel, Raine Maida, Stephen Page and Celine Dion, in and around his native provinces. To each, he brings the right note of atmosphere, just as he does to his original compositions, and their layered arrangements for voice, cello, and little else.

Finding Kevin Fox could not have happened without the turn of mind which looks for the folk in such instrumentation, it’s true. His tendency to stick to the provinces makes him harder to find; his chamelonesque history as a sideman and behind-the-scenes post-composition arranger makes him harder still to categorize. But once discovered, Fox outs himself as a soulful folk artist in every carefully constructed note of his solo pieces, even as his own larger body of work reveals him to be a major player in the grand contemporary genre-blurring tradition which continues to grow and spread north of the border. Listen; I think you’ll hear it, too:

  • Stephen Page w/ Kevin Fox: Halelujah (orig. Leonard Cohen)

    (live from Jack Layton’s State Funeral, August 27, 2011)

Want more? Kevin Fox has three albums in print through his website – a potent and easy entry to a highly recommended artist on the rise, especially for those who cannot make it to shows above the border – and each one comes highly recommended, though only the two most recent of these include coverage.

But since we started in a larger context, let’s end the lesson today with some bonus cellofolk from others mentioned herein, both for comparison’s sake and to pay tribute to the others whose careers support and legitimize today’s feature subject. I think you’ll find it a diverse set – but no less apt, given the myriad overlapping of sounds and sensibilities in the modern folkways, and our ongoing celebration of the vast and varied tent we call “folk”.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Crooked Still covers The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Gillian Welch and more.

6 comments » | Ben Sollee, Fiddlers 4, Kevin Fox, Lindsay Mac

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

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

Crooked Still Covers: Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Gillian Welch, Tradfolk

June 19th, 2008 — 11:21 pm

Boston-based “alternative folk/bluegrass” band Crooked Still emerged at the edge of the newgrass movement just after the turn of the century, and much of their subsequent success is due to the talents of the group members and founders: banjo wizard Dr. Gregory Liszt, double bass man Corey DiMarino, and breathy, emotive singer Aoife O’Donovan. But if their star rose quickly, it was thanks in no small part to a then-novel approach to traditional song, one which placed master cellist and all-around oddball Rushad Eggleston’s innovative, improvisational style and high-energy stringplay at the center of what was otherwise a sparse yet nuanced tradfolk stringband sound.

And rise it did. By 2004, the band was playing mainstage sets at both Newport Folk Festival and Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, where their debut album Hop High outsold all competition. Two years later, the release of Shaken By A Low Sound brought us more of the same, cementing their reputation in both the folkworld and the bluegrass circuit as a band worth watching.

And then, last year, Crooked Still announced that Rushad would be leaving the group.

Many of us in the folkworld feared that this would be the end of Crooked Still. Long before Ben Sollee’s avant-folk celloplay made him the darling of the blogworld, Eggleston had set the pace and standard for the cello as a contemporary instrument outside of the string quartet or orchestra setting, both through his work with Crooked Still, and as a member of several groups with master fiddler Darol Anger. Replacing Eggleston with another cellist seemed like a no-brainer for a group that had made their name trading on the interplay between Rushad and the other group members; adding another string player seemed like a safe bet, too. But would it be enough?

In a word: YES.

Since their inception, Crooked Still has always handled traditional folk music exceptionally well, and this new line-up continues the tradition with aplomb, bringing new life to timeless songs. But where their previous albums leaned heavily on tradsongs such as Little Sadie, Shady Grove and Darlin’ Corey — songs made familiar, if not popular, by older generations of folk and bluegrass artists, from Doc Watson to Jerry Garcia — their new album Still Crooked, on folk label Signature Sounds, digs deeper than previous efforts, tracing the roots of traditional folk through other, more obscure carriers, such as Ola Belle Johnson and Sidney Carter. The result is a set of songs that sound both fresh and timeless, in ways that their previous efforts could not be without escaping their songs’ history.

There’s also some surprises, here. Tristan Clarridge plays the cello with more subtlety than than Rushad did, but this only deepens the sound from where it was before. The addition of fiddler Brittany Haas brings a keening high note to the mix; in slower songs, especially, the higher stringsound rebalances lead singer Aoife O’Donovan’s breathy voice towards the sonic center of the Crooked Still sound, where once her vocals competed with the cello for prominence. The fuller setting brings out a side of Aoife as singer that is even better than before. The bigger sound that results is potent, and totally enveloping.

Those who could not imagine Crooked Still without their founding cellist need not be concerned. More importantly, though, those who thought it was impossible to improve on the Crooked Still sound will be surprised. The “new” Crooked Still sound is more traditional, in terms of genre, but it is also simultaneously something more than it was, a stellar maturation of previous efforts. Nowhere is this more evident than in Low Down and Dirty, Aoife’s first original composition for Crooked Still, a classic revenge ballad with a twist that comes across as some of the best folk I’ve heard in ages. Still sharp, wielded exquisitely, the cutting edge of traditional folk music remains in good hands.

Wanna hear it for yourself? You’ll have to buy the album for the originals, and the tradfolk; almost every song is a ten out of ten. But here’s a genuine label-approved Cover Lay Down exclusive, not one but TWO covertracks from Still Crooked, which hits stores next week: a wild, spunky take on an old Mississippi John Hurt tune, and a sultry, quiet public domain number with stunning backing vocals from Levon Helm’s daughter Amy, a fine musician in her own right. Plus a few older covertracks from Crooked Still’s earlier releases, to give newcomers a sense of their overall sound. Listen, and then run right out and buy Still Crooked to hear the rest. Or just come on out to Falcon Ridge Folk Fest this July, and see ‘em in person.

Since we’re in the mood, today’s bonus coversongs feature other cello players from the folkworld: newcomer Ben Sollee and his amazing Sam Cooke cover, and a cut from Fiddlers 4, a wonderful neo-appalachian quartet from some of the best genre-crossing string players in the business, featuring none other than Rashad himself on the low notes. Plus a youtube link for a great, spare solo cover by young folkcellist Lindsay Mac, who will also perform at Falcon Ridge this year.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Crooked Still covers tradsong Wind and Rain

Further reading: Folk tastemaster Songs:Illinois has two MORE Crooked Still songs: one from Still Crooked, and one from Hop High.

915 comments » | Ben Sollee, Crooked Still, Fiddlers 4, Gillian Welch, Lindsay Mac, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson