Category: Bob Dylan

Jimmy LaFave covers:
Dylan, Guthrie, Townes, Springsteen, Joe Ely & more!

January 15th, 2012 — 11:41 am

Texas-born, Oklahoma bred singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave is a regular on the Northeast festival circuit; I’ve managed to catch his act many times in the last two decades, on main stages and side sets, and I’ve never failed to be impressed. But that first time was a revelation, serving as a potent introduction to the crossover country/folk Red Dirt subgenre, and – more significantly – to the historically-grounded poetry and achingly vivid performance of a folk artist who remains one of the most respected songwriters and interpreters in his field.

LaFave isn’t a melodic performer: that inimitable voice is broken and pained, and that’s part of its charm and its power. Though his work includes several hard-driving, full-band albums that, stylistically, mix rock, folk, rockabilly, and country, in his most potent output he tends towards the countryfolk ballad, wringing emotion like water from every line through a unique combination of inflection, strum pulse, and nuance, even when covering songs that are predominantly metered or rock-rhythmic in the original.

But unlike many singer-songwriters who regularly incorporate other artists’ songs into their sets, LaFave’s coverage is narrowly defined, predominantly focused upon a small set of influential artists who, like him, address pain and loneliness through simple melody, wailing vocals, and stark, poetic dustbowl lyricism. In many ways, this makes him a sort of performing ethnomusicologist, one whose study of Dylan, Guthrie, and other early, seminal members of the folk revival and their influence is a natural extension of his own work. To steep in his original songcraft is to steep in the history of a region and its cultural influence; to listen to LaFave’s coverage in this context lends credence to and layers new potential onto how we understand his own songwriting.

LaFave lives this connection to history thoroughly, wearing his influences proudly, including covers on almost every album, and throughout his sets. Indeed, his coverage of Dylan is legendary: LaFave includes a Dylan song on almost every album, and released a full dozen on the powerful two-disc set Trail in 1999; I posted a six-song set of these back in the summer of 2010, claiming “the man covers Dylan better than anybody”, and after a year thick with Dylan coverage, I stand by that assessment.

Over a three-decade career, he’s taken on a range of artists, too, from Donovan to Freddie King, from Springsteen to Big Bill Broonzy. But LaFave claims Woody Guthrie as his musical hero, and, indeed, it is his deep work in and among the songs and songwriters of the Guthrie tradition, guiding the Guthrie legacy, which is perhaps most significant to understanding his particular craft. He has performed at every single Woody Guthrie Folk Festival since its inaugural in 1998 and now belongs to its board of directors, founded and produced the 2003 nation tour of tribute show Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway with fellow Red Dirt folk musicians such as Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Sarah Lee Guthrie, and Kevin Welch, and no less than Nora Guthrie, daughter and guiding star behind the continued legacy of Woody, asked him to speak and perform at the ceremony inducting Woody into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

This approach to coverage and to artistic connection is more intimate, more substantive, and arguably more genuine than the pop coverage we often feature here on this blog. It is worthy of respect, and of celebration, both for the music it generates in him, and for the way in which it ties LaFave to the larger folkstream, making his own work a continuation of the legacies of others, a guiding star for his peers in the modern movement, and a defining legacy in its own right. Here, take a listen to the result – just the tip of a huge iceberg of coverage, and a body of work that includes over a dozen albums of merit – and I think you’ll hear that Jimmy LaFave, more than most, represents the pinnacle of what Cover Lay Down promises.

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5 comments » | Bob Dylan, Jimmy LaFave, Woody Guthrie

Mailbox Mayhem, 2012: January releases
from Charlie Parr & John Statz, plus new Steely Dan and Dylan tributes!

January 9th, 2012 — 04:06 pm

The January release holds a special place in the ebb and flow of artistry; though it runs the real risk of being forgotten by the time it comes to make our year’s end lists, it also finds the market just gearing up again after a spate of holiday absence and Christmas releases. Thanks to tip-offs and promos from the usual sources, our fresh eyes have spotted three albums – each one due to drop this month, all well worth watching for – plus a few bonuses on the event horizon. As always, read and click for the good stuff.

Five albums in, John Statz is still a relative newcomer to the field, and we seemed to have missed his most recent full-band disc, a rockin’ alt-country collection from 2010 aptly titled Ghost Town. But his newest album Old Fashioned represents a shift in sensibility for the itinerant singer-songwriter, from his earlier, grittier solo work to a richly produced dustbowl Americana, one that comes with all the right recommendations, from production house to distributor to studio session musicians. And if we’re eager to spread the word, it’s because this album is the best thing we’ve heard so far this year: thick with the ringing tones of the American heartland, graceful in execution and delivery, and perfectly, exquisitely folk, in the same vein as generations of wandering troubadours before him.

The Frightened Rabbit cover below is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, the title cut and sole non-original from this upcoming Yer Bird release, which starts accepting preorders tomorrow; though we’ve been asked to stick to streaming only, like the album itself, the song is such great and yearningly heartfelt singer-songwriter Americana, we just couldn’t resist sharing it the moment permissions came through the wires. Bonus points to John for the successful Kickstarter campaign which funded the recording and mixing, for the warm, gorgeously layered production provided by session sideman extraordinaire Bo Ramsey, whose previous projects with Lucinda Williams and Greg and Pieta Brown have already captured our hearts, and for Pieta’s harmonies throughout the record. (NB: Pieta’s new release Mercury, which hit in the waning hours of 2011, makes a great companion to Old Fashioned.)

  • John Statz: Old Old Fashioned (orig. Frightened Rabbit)

    (from Old Fashioned, 2012)

I loved Charlie Parr’s piece on last year’s Vic Chesnutt tribute, and found plenty to like about Eastmont Syrup, an EP-sized collaboration with The Black Twig Pickers released with little fanfare and less recognition in the midst of 2011. And so I am thrilled to discover Keep Your Hands On The Plow, his impending album of traditional gospel classics, recorded at home with wife Emily, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low, and Four Mile Portage, a Duluth-based string trio.

Despite the relatively large list of sidemen, the songs here are sparse and heartfelt, with the right balance of ragged gospel blues harmonies and well-crafted hill-and-holler fiddle and fingerpicking bound to tempt those who find their heart in the modern neo-trad work of Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Low Anthem while still touching a nerve in lovers of the Louvin Brothers, Dave Van Ronk, Leo Kottke, and more. And though it ranges from haunting to bouncy and upbeat – East Virginia Blues, especially, is awash in eerie layers that compliment Parr’s torn voice; Blessed Be Thy Name opens with perfectly gentle two-part bluegrass harmony, catching my heart full-bore – the album as a whole is consistent and strong, sure to go a long way towards continuing to bring the acoustic singer-songwriter and song interpreter the recognition he deserves after a decade on the circuit.

Aching to hear Miley Cyrus take on You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go? How about aging rockstar Bryan Ferry tackling Bob Dylan’s Dream?

Yeah, me neither.

New Dylan tribute album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International is as unwieldy as its name: too big to work as a set, too broad to appeal to any single listener. Trust me, there is no reason why anyone should want to hear sleazy popstar Ke$ha cover Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, especially when she refers to her performance as “a suicide note to the love of my life and to my former life”; putting her version right up against the same song from the Kronos Quartet as a two-part finale to disc three of the 80-song compendium is mere sonic trickery, suggesting that this album is more about trying to market to everyone than it is about trying to create a listenable package.

But living in a digital world means never having to lift the needle. And of the 4 CDs involved here, there’s at least an album’s worth of great newly-recorded folk-and-then-some tracks, from Taj Mahal to Thea Gilmore, from Joan Baez to The Gaslight Anthem, from Jackson Browne’s take on Love Minus Zero to the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ amazing cover of relative obscurity Political World. Brett Dennen’s high tenor rasp seems perfect for You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, and the first and last discs, especially, show some promise, with strong coverage from Dierks Bentley, Michael Franti, Mark Knopfler, Billy Bragg, Zee Avi, We Are Augustine, and Lucinda Williams in the mix. Here’s hoping the producers allow single-song download via the usual sources when the whole thing drops in digital and physical form on January 24th; if not, the $25 price is almost worth it even if you’re going to be throwing away half the tracks. In the meanwhile, here’s three favorites that appear in slightly different form in the collection.

Still to come in January: A new five-song Martin Sexton EP, also due on the 24th, will contain a bouncy jamfolk cover of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth; the cover isn’t available yet, though the amazon snippet is tantalizing, but you can see & hear the title track on YouTube, and it’s decidedly a contemporary folk piece, with just enough twang to suit. Why an EP, you ask? “These songs are relevant today and I didn’t want to wait to release a full-length album,” Sexton explains in his press release. “And in a down economy, we’re getting new music to people for the price of a soy latte.”

And due on the 31st, at least according to Direct Current’s always-comprehensive release calendar: a delicate, jazz-ballad-y, sparsely done pianopop album of Steely Dan covers from two Swedish singers recorded six years ago but finally getting the US rerelease it deserves. Seriously. Called Fire In The Hole: Sara Isaksson and Rebecka Tornqvist Sing Steely Dan, the collection – originally self-released in 2006, now coming out through Zip Records – is a bit syrupy in spots, but sure to please fans of Tori Amos, Sara Barielles, Norah Jones, and other mistresses of the form. This relatively ancient video take on Rose Darling from an ’06 TV appearance is delightful pianofolk, speaking well of the whole shebang; the mp3s are from the album.

7 comments » | Bob Dylan, Charlie Parr, Compilations & Tribute Albums, John Statz

(Re)Covered, vol. XX: more covers of and from
Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters, Rufus Wainwright, Dylan & more!

June 11th, 2011 — 08:54 pm

Our tendency towards revisiting posts gone by through the lens of new releases and projects is especially apropos this weekend, given the continued recovery efforts in our little tornado-ravaged town.   While the rest of us sift through the rubble, let’s sift through the archives, taking account of some new and noteworthy works from artists featured previously here on Cover Lay Down. 

We first featured young started-out-bluegrass band the Farewell Drifters on the release of the hook-heavy Yellow Tag Mondays, their 2010 release; back then, they were already leaning towards a broader stew of Americana and indie roots music, and you could hear both their influences and their growing trend towards folkrock in the Beatles covers we posted, which had been recorded a year apart from each other.

Today, in a (Re)covered two-fer, the Drifters bring us a song that we visited through other coverage way back on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, and like the rest of their newest album, it’s another step towards something rich and subtly different, both more mainstream and more original in sound and sensibility, couched in deeply layered pop-rock with just a hint of ‘grass, though relatively true to the original in most other ways. The cover – a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy In New York – is nowhere near as sweet or somber as the Shawn Colvin cover that so deeply speaks to my soul, but these days, being in the thick of the disaster, I need hope more than I need sadness, and this bonus track from Echo Boom, released just last week, provides just the trick, making for some fine summer soundtrack material.

  • Farewell Drifters: Only Living Boy In New York (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)

    (from Echo Boom, 2011)

Bonus Tracks:

Sam Billen is a stand-up, sensitive indie musician and producer who has shown up on Cover Lay Down several times, both for his several holiday projects and for REMOVERs, the electrofolk remix and coverage project which he has been building and posting – in public and entirely for free – for over a year as he adjusts to the home studio joys of new fatherhood. He’s long been on the top of our watchlist, in part because of the sheer authenticity of both his voice and the evident care and craftsmanship with which he produces his material, and in part because, unlike most musicians, he comes off as perfectly sincere, even humble in both his work and his occasional emails announcing new developments in that work.

But Sam gets major kudos for reaching out this time around – because in the midst of the chaos we’ve experienced since the tornado hit our tiny town, it was genuinely touching to receive an email that contained both a full paragraph reaching out to us in the context of that disaster, thanking us for our reporting of it and sending hope that we are all okay out here, and a link to the newest songs which Sam, his brother, and his father have taken on: a set of loving living-room covers of predominantly countrypop hits, just three guitars and voices taking on Neil Young and others, as honest as a campfire circle among family. Here’s two of my favorites, with encouragement to check out the rest of ‘em over at The Billen Brothers’ YouTube channel – plus an older bonus from the now-completed REMOVERs project.

  • The Billen Brothers: Ventura Highway (orig. America)

  • The Billen Brothers: I Will (orig. The Beatles)

Our 2007 feature on the Wainwright/McGarrigle Family was the very first of our Folk Family features; since then, we’ve revisited the extended clan multiple times, making note of Loudon’s Charlie Poole tribute, youngest daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche‘s delightful work as a solo singer-songwriter, and Kate McGarrigle’s passing last winter after a long struggle with cancer. Now, we return once more to report on a new work from what is perhaps the least “folk” of the modern Wainwright clan: Rufus, who has made a name for himself in movie soundtracks and pop circles as a balladeer, forging far beyond the folk roots which mother Kate and father Loudon set before him.

To be fair, Rufus has crossover appeal to folk audiences; as such, we’ve covered him here, too. But though the new Rufus box set House of Rufus – 19 full-length discs, both CDs and DVDs, a relatively complete compendium of demos, in-studio rarities, side projects, soundtrack cuts, live material, and 6 studio albums – primarily focuses on his work as a nuanced pop crooner (including the entirety of his infamous Carnegie Hall Judy Garland tribute), the sheer breadth is wide enough by far to be well worth collecting, including a vast and varied compendium of his collaborative work with family members and friends, many of which we’ve celebrated here before, and a few of which (most notably, a delicious duet on Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll performed with his father which, unfortunately, I’ve been asked not to release too early) are otherwise entirely unavailable. Here’s a couple other favorites from the box and beyond, just to show the diversity potential in such a sweeping set of coverage.

Finally: social and professional pressures caused us to skip past two Bob Dylan tributes as his birthday came and went towards the end of May; recent tornado events in our local area kept us from coming back until now. But the pair is worth noting, even now, in part because both feature well-known, long-standing artists taking on the Dylan canon with aplomb.

First and foremost, Ralph “Streets of London” McTell released an EP-length set of Dylan covers two weeks ago, and though nobody seems to have noticed except astute Aussie folkwatchers Timber and Steel, the set is absolutely worth finding and purchasing. Somewhat akin in tone and timbre to the late Johnny Cash’s reinterpretation of the work of others late in his own life, yet imbued with McTell’s distinctive britfolk tones and fingerpicking, the six songs here are darkened with age, and deep with the pensive eye and mind of a fellow folksinger who has seen his share of fame, which is to say: as T&S notes, McTell’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright sounds like the song was written for him. Check out the full tribute here.

Second and no less noteworthy, Red House Records took advantage of Dylan’s 70th to release a decade-later follow-up to their defining Dylan folk tribute. Like the “original”, A Nod To Bob 2, the second release in this series, stars a set of recognizable folk artists taking on the canon – though notably, this time around, a few cuts can be found elsewhere, such as Danny Schmidt’s Buckets of Rain, or Eliza Gilkyson’s Jokerman, and some of these artists, such as John Gorka, are no longer in the prime of their careers, and their voices show it. Still, the roster here is sound, and the interpretations well-selected, with deeper cuts than the last round, and standouts all around, including a wonderful wail from the Jimmy LaFave, the Texan master of Dylan troubadour coverage, a delightfully bouncy, bluesy take from Hot Tuna, a truly sultry country blues from Pieta Brown, and Meg Hutchinson’s wonderful, echoing piano-driven reinvention of rarity Born In Time – the latter pair of which we could not help but pass along.

While we’re all about the artists here, and our server costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

15 comments » | (Re)Covered, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters

After The Rapture: Songs of Ascendance
(Covers of Dylan, John Prine, John Gorka & more!)

May 22nd, 2011 — 11:30 am

Dylan’s 70th birthday is nigh upon us, and as he seems to still be walking the earth after the predicted Rapture has come and gone, we can only assume that either he wasn’t any worthier than we, or – once again – the extremists have proved themselves no more able to predict God’s timing than the rest of us.

Me, I’m quite proud of myself for not giving in to the temptation to release a mess of helium-filled blow-up dolls to the heavens down on main street. Instead, I spent a long evening with friends around the campfire, making music and reveling in the earthly delights of drink and debauchery until the wee hours. And the news of the rapture lent a tone of gratefulness to the whole proceedings, making it feel better than usual to be here – giving us something to thank Rev. Camping and his evangelical followers for, after all.

Heaven is a rich minefield for folk artists, of course, calling back to the age-old spiritual/secular split in musical history which symptomized the larger turn towards the secular as western society emerged from the dark ages. In the abstract, the term is everpresent, both as a literal call to the Christian concepts which frame so much of our society, and, used metaphorically, to represent a kind of nirvana state, an ideal to which the community and culture aspires.

But the idea of ascendance is both more specific and more problematic. In these visions, Heaven is not just a spiritual center, a place to which we rise, it is a destination made concrete, one that chooses us as much as we choose it. And whether oblique or direct, the songs which address the Rapture and its accompanying apocalypse ring of hope and doomsday, their twinned tension encapsulating the universal, everpresent question of worth with which we all struggle in our darkest moments.

Today, then, as a companion to Rapture-themed sets from Cover Freak, Town Full of Losers, and fellow Star Maker Machine collaborator Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, we present a set of coverfolk lighthearted in its thematic relevance yet heavy on the gospels of grace and ascendance, beginning with a trifecta of tracks originally written by that born-again earth-bound savior, Bob Dylan, and ending with a tongue-in-cheek coda from Jill Sobule. Floridian young’uns Jubal’s Kin’s version of the 19th century hymn Come Ye Sinners, especially, comes highly recommended – but as always, all herein are well worth the listen.

71 comments » | Bob Dylan, Theme Posts

Dylan, Etc.: More covers of and from
Sarah Jarosz, Lavinia Ross, Lisa Hannigan, Anna Vogelzang & more!

May 16th, 2011 — 07:46 pm

There’s a lot of Dylan in the air this month – see, for example, both our recent feature on Thea Gilmore’s John Wesley Harding, released in honor of the seminal singer-songwriter’s 70th birthday next week, and last weekend’s house concert preview for our upcoming show with Anthony Da Costa, who many have compared to Dylan himself. But as we’ve noted several times here at Cover Lay Down, the Bob Dylan canon is far too vast to justify a single feature. So here’s an omnibus of a different sort: five vastly different new and newly-found takes on Dylan, plus more from the mailbox and beyond.

We’re huge fans of the Sugar Hill Records catalog here at Cover Lay Down. But this two solid releases this month have raised the bar even higher for the best little bluegrass label in the business: Follow Me Down, a stunningly powerful sophomore album from festival circuit fave and local college student Sarah Jarosz, and a strong solo record from Tara Nevins, better known as the sole female voice behind roots rockers and folk festival faves Donna The Buffalo.

Cover Me already hit the ground running last week with Sarah’s Radiohead cover, which features her singing alongside the Punch Brothers, but as a nod of the head towards our ongoing support of her burgeoning career on the border of bluegrass and indiepop – the girl turns twenty next week, for goodness sake – we’ve been given exclusive first-stream rights for Jarosz’ cover of Dylan’s Ring Them Bells, and it’s a masterful take, warm and sweet and aching, with rich production, a pitch-perfect tonality, and subtle harmonies by Vince Gill. Meanwhile, Nevins takes on Van Morrison amidst a spate of deep, mystical originals, and it fits in just fine with her rootsy sensibility. Both albums come highly recommended; head over to Sugar Hill to order.

  • Sarah Jarosz: Ring Them Bells (orig. Bob Dylan)

Our feature on the songbook of Kate Wolf last summer found us wandering North through Kate’s own hills of California, and on upstream to Oregon. Now, in the mail, comes Keepsake, the sole solo album from Lavinia Ross, Oregonian farm-owner and musician whose music is as earthy and honest and organic as her produce. The album includes three Kate Wolf covers, a take on James Taylor’s Millworker, several originals, and a rock-solid interpretation of Dylan’s Tomorrow is a Long Time, recorded with her husband, singer-songwriter Rick Ross, and the whole thing is light and gentle as it comes. Here’s a pair to get you started.

We keep a close eye on little-lo-fi-UK-label-that-could Where It’s At Is Where You Are; though their catalog yaws wide, their taste for covers is insatiable, as we noted way back in March of 2009 upon the release of their gigantic Springsteen tribute, and again over the holiday season, and their stable includes a number of quite wonderful otherwise-unknowns emerging on and about the folkworld. This month’s news takes note of The Lobster Boat, the newest release from Howard Hughes of French band Coming Soon and David Tattersall of The Wave Pictures, whose work together sounds a bit like a mostly-acoustic folk-rock band whose members grew up listening to the Kinks, Belle and Sebastian, and the Violent Femmes; if the below bonus b-side and the title track streaming on their homepage are any indication, this one is well worth the pounds.

  • Howard Hughes and David Tattersall: The Locusts Sang (orig. Bob Dylan)

Elseblog, the collaborative at covers tumblr Copy Cats shared this 2009 bell-driven Lisa Hannigan cover of Just Like Tom Thumb Blues a few weeks ago, but it finally caught my ear – a sharp shock amidst a long slog – as I was digging through the feedreader, trying to catch up after two weeks of being out of the loop. Not sure if it’s folk, per se, but we’ve celebrated Hannigan’s beautifully torn voice here before, and the sparse instrumentation and stark pub setting are utterly delightful to this folk listener’s ears.

Finally, since we were trending Dylanesque this week, I headed over to YouTube and did a quick search, just to see what would pop up, hoping to find the perfect coda. Sure enough: amidst the grungy bedroom amateurs, indie-folk banjo-player Anna Vogelzang‘s just-recorded after-midnight cover of Don’t Think Twice comes off road-weary and delicate, providing the perfect excuse to finally tout this long-admired up-and-comer. The ex-Dresden Dolls bandmember’s upcoming new album will feature Anthony Da Costa (thus bringing this entry full circle), and members of Dresden Dolls and Righteous Babe, among others; check out Anna Vogelzang’s YouTube channel for more, more, more from this amazing post-punk singer-songwriter.

Bonus Track:

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and themed songsets twice weekly.

44 comments » | (Re)Covered, Anna Vogelzang, Bob Dylan, Sarah Jarosz

Thea Gilmore Covers Dylan
…plus more coverage from the heir apparent of British folk

April 24th, 2011 — 06:34 pm

Known for her interpretations of the songs of others as much as for her own firey, highly poetic lyrics and potent songcraft, British singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore has long been on my list as a potential feature subject here on Cover Lay Down – and sure enough, you’ll find an LP-length selection of her past coverage below, including takes on The Buzzcocks, The Clash, Elvis Costello, and more, which I hope will make a fan of those who have not heard her before.

But it’s Tributes and Cover Compilations week here on Cover Lay Down, and fittingly, though she’s been compared in her day to Sandy Denny, Beth Orton, Alanis Morisette, and Joni Mitchell, Thea’s newest effort is a tightly focused tribute to the man who – next to her husband, producer, guitarist and constant collaborator Nigel Stonier – is perhaps her strongest influence. And so we begin our feature with a comparative eye, enumerating the many connections between the 31 year old Gilmore and her musical ancestor and progenitor, Bob Dylan.

Thea Gilmore got an early start in the industry, working in a recording studio and recording her first album as a teenager, breaking into the charts at 23, and – as we saw in our recent feature on the songs of Bill Withers – working alongside such British folk rock icons as John Kirkpatrick (Steeleye Span) and Martin Allcock (Fairport Convention) before she hit her stride as a solo artist. Since then, in just 15 years, the prolific songstress has produced a dozen albums, each one a critic’s darling and a gem of distinction, and appeared on numerous collaborative efforts alongside some of the greats of modern folk music on both sides of the pond, including a star turn as Joan Baez’ hand-picked opener for her 2004 presidential election tour.

Though her voice is a beautiful, clear alto – a far cry from the signature rasp and whine which typifies Dylan’s performance – Thea Gilmore has often been compared to Bob Dylan, with whom she shares a disdain for genre convention, a penchant for obstinacy, a belief that audiences will reward “honest expression” over accessibility, and a preference for rushing to the studio to record songs while they are still in the formative stage. Even USA Today has seen it, saying that “Gilmore detangles sex, religion, and politics with a literate eloquence and defiance that recall the early poetic eruptions of Bob Dylan.”

But Gilmore’s connection to the defining icon of the sixties singer-songwriter movement is strong in other ways, too. She cites Dylan’s records, alongside The Beatles, Fairport Convention, and Elvis Costello, as early childhood influences. She even references Dylan’s canon in her bio, explaining the ways in which her writing has matured over time by suggesting that “You don’t have to be trying to write Masters Of War every time. You can write about your own decisions, turn small parts of your life into songs that people can relate to.”

Notably, she recorded I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, her first Dylan cover, by request, for a Dylan covers CD solicited by Uncut Magazine in 2002; she later released the track again on Songs From The Gutter, a set recorded during that session, and thus originally conceived as a tribute to Dylan himself. The track struck a chord, and since then, the accolades have poured in, including one from Bruce Springsteen himself, who confronted Gilmore backstage at a 2008 concert to show his appreciation for the track, calling it “one of the great Dylan covers” – a sentiment with which we agree wholeheartedly.

Now, in the aftermath of strong performances of I Pity The Poor Immigrant and Masters of War alongside coverage from Laura Cantrell, Eddi Reader, Josh Rouse, Roseanne Cash and others at the Celtic Connections Festival’s 70th birthday tribute to Bob Dylan (recorded in January; now showing on Sky TV for those lucky enough to live in the UK), Gilmore has re-recorded the entirety of John Wesley Harding, Dylan’s seminal 1967 album – which the maturing British singer-songwriter cites as “his most sustained, satisfying record”, with characters that seem “unfathomably but implicitly linked”, and a startling “sense of earthiness and economy”.

The task took only seven days, according to the preamble to the video posted below, promising and delivering an urgency and situational energy which itself pays apt tribute to the master’s work and process. And though I’ve only heard only samples of most tracks so far, taken alongside Gilmore’s craft and reputation, the evidence they provide is undeniable: the result – a box set which includes the album itself, and postcards for each track – seems destined to be one for the ages.

Dylan’s original John Wesley Harding album marked a return to acoustic music and traditional roots after his mid-sixties foray into the possibilities of electric rock. But Thea has chosen to pour her love for the Dylan canon more broadly into this focused set of songs, making for a vast journey through influence and interpretation. The tracks on this new reinterpretation of John Wesley Harding run from fast-and-grungy, band-driven alt-country and rock (The Wicked Messenger, Drifter’s Escape) to bluesy piano-led balladry (Dear Landlord) to more typical folk and folk rock fare of multiple types and origins, offering a spectrum of that encompasses the very breadth of Dylan coverage in the world of music writ large, including an old-timey banjo touch on I Am A Lonesome Hobo that would sound perfectly at home on an Americana album, and one-two punch of an album kickoff comprised of a delightfully ukelele-led backporch bar band title track, and an utterly grand take on As I Went Out One Morning that rivals the best of June Tabor or Fairport Convention.

Thea’s John Wesley Harding box set drops May 23, but if you preorder on ebay, she’ll post your CD on the 3rd – leaving plenty of time for you to grow familiar with her take on Dylan’s work before Bob becomes a septuagenarian on the 24th, a day which Gilmore and friends will mark with a record release show at London’s Union Chapel. Here, as a teaser, is Gilmore’s celebrated version of I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, the only previously-recorded track from what promises to be a stellar addition to the neverending canon of Dylan tributes, and a somewhat muddy but absolutely heartfelt fan recording of Thea and her band taking on album-closer I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight live at The Arches in Glasgow this past March. Listen, and then head over to eBay for more words and promises from the star herself.

  • Thea Gilmore: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (orig. Bob Dylan)

Looking for bonus tracks? Then oh, have we got a treat for you. As noted above, Thea Gilmore’s comfort with coverage runs far broader than her most significant influence, from a notable 2008 duet performance with Mike Cave to several one-shot folk-rock releases on other compilations to her edgy, sadly out-of-print 2004 covers album Loft Music. Here’s the set I would have posted, before Thea’s deep connection to Dylan became so apparent.

Previously on Tribute and Cover Compilations week at Cover Lay Down:

  • New alt-country Rolling Stones tribute Paint It Black, with two exclusive covers from the upcoming album!

680 comments » | Bob Dylan, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Thea Gilmore, Tribute Albums

Single Song Sunday:
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (x16)

May 8th, 2010 — 10:58 am

We’ve had great success with previous Single Song Sunday compilations from the Dylan songbook. But they say the third time’s a charm, and it’s been a rough couple of days, with the passage of a town icon and long-time educator whom I had grown to respect deeply in these past few years, and news of the divorce of an old friend and long-time crush, coming right on top of each other. This, plus the impending annual migration of this year’s senior class, have left my mind lingering on loss and loneliness as the week comes to a close.

And love him or hate him, Dylan’s a master poet of such sentiment.

The shortest song on Blood on the Tracks – itself an unequalled masterpiece of confessional folk, one which comes in at #16 on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest records of all time – You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go nonetheless plays out as an infinite anthem of pain, easily looped ad infinitum, its sentiment and sound perfect for sorrow-drowning on endless repeat. Unusually direct, for a Dylan lyric, its explicit recitation of love at its penultimate hour is nonetheless easily understood; unusually realistic, in its portrayal, it is nonetheless chock full of the poetics we’ve come to expect from the man at his best.

Dylan’s songs are generally open for interpretation, as all good folksong should be; the result is evident in the constant return to his canon here at Cover Lay Down, and in the world of coverage writ large. We’ve previously posted Shawn Colvin‘s sweetly definitive cover of You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome, for example, along with Mary Lou Lord‘s ever-grunged, clearly derivative version of it; Madeleine Peyroux‘s more recent jazzfolk version of the song, too, has been a favorite since it first hit local radioplay after 2004′s Careless Love, and you’ll find all three below.

But a search through the stacks reveals dozens more covers, and some of them are quite good, indeed. Our resultant sixteen-song set, as always, has been carefully selected for breadth and balance as much as for sheer talent and performance, yet though it is, in the end, a diverse and beautiful collection, it barely scratches the surface of the coverage out there.

With so many out there, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find that several of today’s tracks come from whole-cloth Dylan tributes. Included here: The melodic, from Irish-based Tom Roger Aadland, off his most recent release, a delightful all-Norwegian version of Bob Dylan’s complete ‘Blood On The Tracks’. The slow, bluesy take from Tom Corwin And Tim Hockenberry‘s Mostly Dylan: New Perspectives On The Songs Of Bob Dylan, which owes as much of a debt to Marc Cohn, John Hiatt, and other raspy-voiced piano balladeers as it does to Dylan himself. And on It Takes A Lot To Laugh, their 2001 tribute to the rough-voiced troubadour, Andy Hill & Renee Safier transform the piece into a countrified ballad.

Back in the world of single-shot coverage, Naked Eyes guitarist Pete Byrne chimes in with a pretty, thoughtfully-paced presentation, a soft folkpop ballad tinged with indie echoes, synth-flute accents, and overdubbed retro harmony from a wonderful all-covers acoustic comeback album. Ben Watt – the male half of 80s popfolk duo Everything But The Girl – turns in an early pre-fame solo take steeped in pulsing guitar-pedal reverb, minor falls, and a slight latinesque beat without losing its essentially gentle, equally dream-like atmosphere. MySpace acoustic guitarist and singer Antonio Cruz adopts Peyroux’s vocal lag, coming off like a melodic, late-night Nick Drake. And then there’s Andy Solberg‘s version of the song, perfectly imperfect, with a touch of Tom Waits’ rasp and a ragged acoustic blues band sound that falls somewhere between Keb’ Mo’s slower stuff and any one of the jamband world’s elder statesmen on a good night.

Other women, too, have their gentle way with loneliness. Marissa Nadler‘s home-recorded take on the song is etherial and airy, more intimate than any, a true delicacy that builds from tentative nufolk to a beautiful, brave wallflower’s blues before melting away into nothingness. And the dreamy distance of Danish girl trio My Bubba and Mi, whose brand new release How It’s Done In Italy is high on my current playlist, is simply exquisite.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the energy spectrum, that high, lonesome sound meets mellow summer in the bouncy yet gentle folkgrass of the Brewflies; Tony Trischka and Skyline, too, take a grassed-up approach, albeit slightly more strained, and with a bit more pop and twang. Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, and friends find their own twangy drobo-driven middle ground among several southern genres, including bluegrass, southern rock, and true-blue country, on their 2004 Nashville Acoustic Sessions release. Even clear-toned alto singer-songwriter Robin Greenstein, who would otherwise not get mention within a paragraph about the ‘grass element, floats her own sweet, clear vocals and acoustic pop guitar over a Hartford-esque banjo pitterpat and the occasional Joni-esque high range peak.

Seems there’s a whole host of nuanced approaches to loss: the bluesy and the bold, the delicate and the driven, the wistful and the spare, the heavy and the lighthearted. Something for everyone, surely. And appropriately so, for such a universal emotion, given such powerful voice. Without any further ado, then: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.

As always, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to support the artists we feature, that the folkways might continue to spread throughout our lives and history ad infinitum. If you like what you hear, please consider clicking on artist and album links above to discover more.

1,105 comments » | Bob Dylan, Single Song Sunday

Single Song Sunday: Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
(John Martyn, Billy Bragg, Indigo Girls, The Waifs and 8 more!)

August 22nd, 2009 — 05:20 pm

People who have no sense of the scale of a true coverfan’s collection often ask if I’ve done a Dylan feature yet. Simply put, the answer is no. It’s not that the task of compilation is daunting, it’s that the selection pool is so huge, to pick our usual short set would be too exclusionary, like picking the best ten stars in the sky, or the top five of an endless stream of cut stones. Heck, even our long-past week of Dylan covers over at Star Maker Machine barely scratched the surface.

But the same sheer numbers which make a broad-stroke tribute set essentially impossible create the ideal conditions for a Single Song Sunday scenario. We featured a dozen covers of Girl from the North Country way back when; now, in honor of my imminent departure from summer and Germany, we tackle Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.

For a teacher, the last days of August mark the end of a frame of mind, one where time is looser, and responsibilities have given way to a necessary state of self-reflection and regeneration. This year, summer’s end also means a goodbye to Germany, and to my brother and his wife, who will remain when my father and I return to the states tomorrow. Thanks to the whims of time and travel, after two planes, two taxis, and a long drive across Massachusetts, I will arrive home long past my children’s bedtime; I will kiss them in their sleep, and – having adjusted to the time difference just in time to leave it behind – stagger into bed for a short nap before waking to the first day of work.

Bob Dylan’s famous lyric applies here, though in the abstract. Summer is where my heart lives and grows, warm and safe through the long winter months. The week spent with my father is always precious. But home is where the soul is, and it’s time to go home: to my sweet children, and my inexhaustible spouse; to the vocational urge which nurtures my constant sense that a life of giving back every single day is the only one I can stand.

Monday, the rumblings of a school year gearing up to begin will bring me back to the classroom for professional development; that evening, when I return from the first of my 185 day workyear, I will finally be able to be with my family again, just us around the dinner table. In doing so, I will once again become myself, and recapture the crystal core that – however flawed and human – shines from me in my best moments. That doing so requires shelving the summerself is interesting and sad and wondrous, but there ain’t no use to sit and wonder why; explanations are moot, in the end. It’s alright to go, and let go; to walk into the unknown armed with only conviction and confidence, and let the world begin again.

Today’s Single Song Sunday features a song that – for many reasons – has become a popular choice to cover in concert. The set runs half and half, live and in-studio, and, as always, includes only the best and most authentic of a much larger sourcepile, plucked from a diverse set of folk, ranging in tone from bluegrass to indiefolk, from singer-songwriter to folk rock. All come highly recommended – try one if you don’t recognize the artist’s name – and in most cases, can and should be purchased along with other strong songcraft direct from independent and artist-friendly sources through the links provided.

But regardless of whether the crowd was there in spirit or bodily during the recording, each cover manages to recapture Dylan’s bittersweet sense of leaving the safety and comfort of the nurturing known for the benefit of the wandering, always-searching best-self soul. That such safety and comfort here is a woman makes it no less relevant to my own annual journey. Summer is a woman, too: warm, loving, nurturing, and powerful. But so is autumn, and she travels with me wherever I go: my constant companion, my saving grace, my true partner.

And so it goes. It’s like my father’s business card says: every step of the journey is the journey.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk sets and features Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday.

1,504 comments » | Bob Dylan, Single Song Sunday

Why Do I Love Hank? Country coverfolk with today’s guest host: Paul

July 25th, 2008 — 10:41 am

My name is Paul and I usually blog over at Setting The Woods On Fire. Boyhowdy has been kind enough to let me say a few words here while he enjoys a vacation. As you might have guessed from the title of my blog, I’m a big fan of Hank Williams. I also love cover songs.

Cover songs are fun because they help you separate the song from the performance. Do I love Hank because of the songs he wrote and poularized? Or do I love Hank because of the way he performed them? I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but listening to covers of Hank is a good way to understand what makes Hank’s records so special.

Except for the Dylan tune, the tracks featured here are new to me. Boyhowdy thought it might be interesting to see how a Hank fan would respond to folky covers of Hank’s work. Some I liked a lot. Some not so much.

I’ll start with Cold Cold Heart by Norah Jones. This one should generate lots of interest, as it’s one of Hank’s best compositions performed by popular singer. While Norah undoubtedly has a great voice, I’m not sold. I hear it more as a musical exercise than as an emotional plea from a frustrated lover. Lesson: I love Hank because he really sells a song.

Norah Jones, Cold Cold Heart (H. Williams)
(from Come Away With Me)

Since I wasn’t so nice with the first one, let’s move on to my favorite song in this batch of Hank covers, a brilliant medley of Wedding Bells and Let’s Turn Back The Years performed by John Prine and Lucinda Williams. I love everything about this recording. Hank did not write Wedding Bells but it sounds just like something he could have written, which is shown by how seemlessly this “medley” fits together. John and Lucinda do a nice job selling the song without over-singing. Not surprising, considering their talents. (Of course, it might just be the peddle steel guitar that so warms my country-loving heart on this piece.)

John Prine & Lucinda Williams, Wedding Bells/Let’s Turn Back The Years (C. Boone/H. Williams)

(from In Spite of Ourselves)

Speaking of over-singing, here’s a rendition of Long Gone Lonesome Blues that’s just a bit too overdone for my taste. Yodeling is OK (in small doses). Quavery yodeling is pushing it.

Red Molly, Long Gone Lonesome Blues (H. Williams)
(from Never Been To Vegas)

Over-singing isn’t always bad, though. I’m not exactly sure why, but Mark Erelli’s spirited version of The Devil’s Train works well despite the singer’s affected “twang”:

Mark Erelli, The Devil’s Train (H. Williams)
(from The Memorial Hall Recordings)

Another one from Boyhowdy’s batch that I really liked was I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive by Greg Brown. It’s kind of a goofy song (“I was living high until the fatal day a lawyer proved I wasn’t born, I was only hatched”), and it’s a Hank Williams’ signature tune, so it’s not an easy assignment for a cover artist. But Brown pulls it off with aplomb by playing it straight. Just like Hank, I believe Brown’s exaggerated tale of woe.

Greg Brown, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (F. Rose/H. Williams)
(from Friend of Mine)

Only one of Boyhowdy’s batch of folky Hank covers really bothered me, and this is it. The descending harmony party is cloying. And the re-written lyric about the “gay” dog just does not belong in a Hank Williams song (not that there’s anything wrong with gay dogs). Score one point for Hank’s performance trumping his songs.

Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri, Why Don’t You Love Me? (H. Williams)
(from Valentines Day Duets #3, 2006)

Let’s close this post with a Hank song performed by one of the few artists that I would place on an equally high pedestal, Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan, (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle (H. Williams/J. Davis)
(outtake from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)

I hope you enjoy these tunes. If I’m wrong about my criticism of any of the few I didn’t like, please let me know. It’s just one Hank fan’s opinion.

Oh yeah, my conclusion from listening to these covers is that I like Hank’s songs, but I love the way he sings them.

Prolific blogger and tastemaster Paul pays regular tribute to country, rock, bluegrass, and jazz over at Setting The Woods On Fire. He is also a founding member of collaborative music blog Star Maker Machine.

1,013 comments » | Bob Dylan, Devon Sproule, Greg Brown, Guest Posts, Hank Williams, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Mark Erelli, Norah Jones, Paul Curreri, Red Molly

Just A Song Before I Go: Catie Curtis covers Death Cab (plus Eilen Jewell, Lucinda Williams @ Green River)

July 16th, 2008 — 05:47 am

That’s us on the treeline, there. See?

What with weather and whatnot, the New England folk festival season only runs from June to September; it’s a pretty compressed time, rich with opportunity, and invariably, there are tough choices to be made. But over the years, the luckiest of us have found found a few sacred places that feel like home, and we wouldn’t miss them for the world.

Which is to say: I’m off tomorrow for the farms and fields of midstate New York, for two glorious weeks of festivaling: bluegrass at Grey Fox this weekend, and folk at Falcon Ridge the following. And there ain’t no blogging from the field.

But don’t worry, folks, I got you covered. A few like-minded and folk-friendly bloggers have graciously agreed to guest-blog here in my absence, so keep coming ’round for some great writing from the rotation. But before I go, here’s a few from the folks and fests I’ll regret missing while I’m away.

I just received my advance copy of Sweet Life, the upcoming release from alt-folkie Catie Curtis, in the mail today, so I can’t honestly say I’ve had a chance to let it sink in. But I’m already in love with her surprisingly poppy, affirming cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s Soul Meets Body, and we’re long overdue for recognition of the enduring work of this wonderful songwriter, champion of the working class, and long-time staple of the Boston folk scene.

Curtis is known for her vivid storytelling, especially in her ability to tease greatness out of ordinary lives, but she has always had a knack for carefully chosen, deliberately interpreted coversongs which she can truly make her own. This great cover is no exception: her guitarwork and the alt-pop production are catchy as hell, and her voice comes off all breathy and beautiful, like Lucinda Williams after a few voice lessons. Happily, the album seems to be more of the same.

Catie’s turn on etown will feature a collaborative cover of Yellow Submarine with Barenaked Ladies, but it doesn’t air until the end of August; Sweet Life won’t drop until September, and I’ll be away for Catie’s tourdates in northeastern New England next week. To tide us over, here’s the Death Cab cover, plus an older cover of minimalist alt-rockers Morphine from Catie’s 2004 album Dreaming in Romance Languages.

  • Catie Curtis, Soul Meets Body (orig. Death Cab for Cutie)
  • Catie Curtis, The Night (orig. Morphine)

Back when we lived up near Greenfield, MA, and before Grey Fox became too much of a temptation, we were regulars at the Green River Festival, a day-only fest (no camping) which has slowly spread to encompass three successive days of music. Previously, I’ve written about seeing Jeffrey Foucault there; the Green River also brought me my first live experiences with a whole host of amazing artists, from Josh Ritter and Gillian Welch to Carrie Rodriguez and Peter Mulvey.

This year’s Green River Fest line-up is worth celebrating, especially for the free concert in town on Thursday night featuring Cover Lay Down favorites Richard Shindell, Caroline Herring, and future feature-post subject Mark Erelli. Mainstage shows the following days will feature Mavis Staples, Los Straightjackets, Jimmie Vaughn, Crooked Still, and the following pair of alt-country/folk femmes, who cover Greg Brown exquisitely. Green River runs July 17-19; if you don’t care much for for hard-core bluegrass, and you’ve got a place to crash in the upper reaches of Western Massachusetts over the coming weekend, you really should be getting on the road right about now.

  • Eilen Jewell, Train that Carried Jimmie Rogers Home (orig. Greg Brown)
  • Eilen Jewell, Walking Down the Line (orig. Bob Dylan)
    (more Eilen)

  • Lucinda Williams, Lately (orig. Greg Brown)
  • Lucinda Williams, Hang Down Your Head (orig. Tom Waits)
    (more Lucinda)

Stay tuned for some great guest bloggers covering subjects from Hank Williams covers to trans-oceanic British folk rock. I’ll be back in the swing of things by the end of July, rejuvenated and steeped in the real deal, with photos of both festivals, at least one interview, and a report on the Beatles and Utah Phillips coversong songswaps just announced for Falcon Ridge.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

883 comments » | Bob Dylan, Catie Curtis, Dan Fram, Death Cab for Cutie, Eilen Jewell, Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits

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