Holiday Coverfolk: All Saints Day
(Saints in Song, from Augustine to Theresa)

Members of a New York Police Department tactical team rescue Haley Rombi, 3, in the Dongon Hills neighborhood of the Staten Island borough of New York, Oct. 30, 2012. (Michael Kirby Smith/The New York Times)

I try to avoid sharing two thematic posts in a row. But Halloween has come and gone with nary a fanfare in our town, making it All Saints Day – and though having grown up Jewish, I don’t really have a coherent sense of the role of the saint in the everyday life, I do know that if there is such a thing, many friends on the East Coast could use a few right now.

I remember our own saints, though they called themselves angels: those that opened their hearts and homes to the distraught and homeless when the tornado came through our town last year, and when the October snowstorm that followed brought its second round of darkness and disaster. And though the religion classes I took my freshman year in college are but a haze in the brain, I remember, too, that saints are humans, first: that the helping hand is canonized, and that God, if there is one, works through us.

And so we offer a quick mid-week tribute to the songs of the saints: that cry for heavenly assistance, and curse the absent savior; that praise the human instinct to assist or suffer. All find relevancy in a world where help is needed, and offered, and accepted gratefully. May those who need find solace, and hope, in the small kindnesses of others. May those who rise from our midst offer miracle enow.

Looking for your own path to sainthood? Cover Lay Down is a public service, connecting artists and fans for the betterment of both; we accept no ads, and pay for server and bandwidth out of our own meager pockets. Donate to Cover Lay Down any time in the month of November, and we’ll not only send you a link to download all 18 of the songs above in one convenient zip file, we’ll also re-gift 20% of that donation to the NEA Closing The Achievement Gaps Initiative, which supports local children and families by funding home visits and parent engagement programs.

Posted by boyhowdy at 3:09 pm | 0 comments
Labels: Theme Posts

Coming A Terrible Storm:
Storms As Metaphors, Covered In Folk

I had something else planned for this weekend’s feature, but even as Massachusetts downgrades the danger, the “perfect storm” barreling towards the East Coast is clearly atop everyone’s minds, smothering election news in its wake, and leaving us resigned to yet another reminder that no matter how advanced our civilizations become, our lives are still lived on earth’s fragile lifeboat.

It’s a lesson that we’ve learned well, here in our tiny rural Massachusetts town. Last October, still reeling from the aftereffects of the massive tornado that slammed through our downtown area and left five percent of our town homeless, our ravaged community spent 8 days without power or heat in the aftereffects of the heavy Halloween blizzard. At the time, I sent my family north to stay with my in-laws, knowing that rural homes that depend on electric well pumps and furnace fans are no place for children in the cold darkness. But someone had to stay home and care for the cats. And so it was my lot to huddle under the blankets, and keep an eye on the weighted branches and downed power lines out my window, and dream – a lonely time, but a centering and humbling one, as well.

This time, we’re as ready as we can be. The basement is stocked with wood for the furnace; non-perishables spill over onto the countertops; out in the community, the laundromat and grocery store are jam packed with shoppers planning ahead for the possibility of powerlessness. And though there are concerns about time lost to the ages – of school days cancelled if the wires go down again – the well-practiced struggle for survival is more real, and more present, in a world where disaster-driven isolation and community dependency are increasingly the norm.

And here on the blog? Easy peasy. The natural disaster is a common metaphor in folk music; the human condition is easily represented through images of both helplessness and shelter. And so we seek out the songs that tell our stories in fire, flood, and famine, in landslide and earthquake, in shipwreck and snow, in dust storm and drought, and more. And out come the songs about storms, themselves.

Listen, as the storms and instabilities of our lives and communities are played out in song. Download ‘em quick, by zip file or as individual tracks below, before the wires go down. And then follow the links, as always, to purchase and celebrate, and help support the artists we tout, that they may continue to speak to our secret hearts in the darkness.

Can’t wait until the next feature? Like the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for streaming bonus tracks and coverfolk extras throughout the week!

Posted by boyhowdy at 9:30 am | 2 comments
Labels: Theme Posts

‘Tube Tuesday: Soundcloud, Bandcamp, & Youtube covers
from Ted Leo, Gibson Bull, Lotte Kestner, Laura Gibson & more!

Are you one of those people who keeps a million tabs open on your web browser? Yeah, me too. And although we continue to drop streaming bonus tracks, video delights, and other finds on the Cover Lay Down Facebook page throughout the week, the new and newfound tracks which find their way to our attention via mailbag, blog-surf, and just plain luck are often good enough to merit full feature status. Today, our ongoing collection reaches a critical mass, spilling over onto these pages. Enjoy.

The new cover series from the Deschutes River Brewery is framed around a great concept: artists perform songs about moving water by an actual riverside to raise money to support and restore the local watershed, “and forge new solutions for water sharing issues everywhere.” The outdoor setting brings an organic feel to the resulting tracks; I’m especially enamored of Laura Gibson’s gentle indie-gospel take on traditional track Down By The Riverside, but earlier tracks – a languid, soulful Ballad of Easy Rider from Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats complete with authentic frogsounds and birdcalls, and a funky Up On Cripple Creek from Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper – are worthy delights, leaving us eagerly waiting for more. As with most Bandcamp-distributed music, full streams are free, and downloads worth it; it’s hard to pass up the pay-what-you-want model, but give a bit if you can.

We featured UK singer-songwriter Gibson Bull’s beautifully deconstructed indiefolk rendition of Corrine, Corrina just a few weeks ago, comparing the tree-surgeon-turned-artist to both the No Depression crowd and modern indiefolkers from Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes to Bruce Springsteen. But we can’t resist sharing his newest cover right away, because this time it’s Bat For Lashes’ Laura, released in video form and then subsequently pushed to Soundcloud for free download after garnering 2000 hits in the first 4 days online, and it’s achingly good.

Since the coverage and its recording was reportedly a self-driven distraction from recording a new EP, and since we celebrated him so well when we first heard him, we’d like to think we get some of the credit for both the coverage and its viral spread, but let’s be honest: musicians like Gibson Bull come along rarely enough; to find such an evident master of his own pain and performance without even a major label album to his name, and to have the privilege of sharing it, is the reason we started blogging in the first place. Help us continue to celebrate him by sharing his work with your friends, in turn – and don’t forget his name, so when the EP emerges in the coming months, and starts showing up on all the big-name blogs, you can say you heard him first.

Gibson Bull: Laura (orig. Bat For Lashes)

Following memes is a hobby and vocational extension of my daily life as a teacher of mass and social media – one that seldom dovetails with our work here as curators and celebrants of the coverfolk world. But every once in a while, the twain meet, and this delightfully subtle cover of PSY sensation Gangnam Style, found accidentally during a search for the original video while teaching a lesson on the passive gaze last week, is a perfect exemplar: where the original drips with radio bombast and carefully placed pop pauses, the cover, which has received over three million hits since it first popped open on my computer, is smooth, hushed, and delicate; jazzy, sexy and bright. Kudos to young UC Berkeley K-rock ensemble Ra-On, who are duly stunned by the attention and newfound fame.

Ra-On: Gangnam Style (orig. PSY)

Many less hits on this misty-eyed solo Ted Leo cover, which was just released a few days ago to little fanfare. Those in the know remember Leo as the indie-punk singer-songwriter fronting Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, but we’ve often celebrated his stripped-down side here, which trends towards electro-acoustic grungefolk, a la the solo singer-songwriter work of Evan Dando, Beck, Richard Thompson and others. Listen as, with ringing electric guitar and ragged voice, this re-appropriated torch song, originally written by lyricist and composer Francesca Blumenthal and recorded by a vast spectrum of jazz divas and pop chanteuses from Blossom Dearie to Maria Muldaur, becomes an apt and maudlin commentary on the US election season, which comes to a close in just a few weeks.

I get a lot of mail, frankly – so much, it’s hard to track it all well. So I owe an apology to Pete Crossland, aka antiqcool, who sent me a few videos last year, which I never got to. But kudos to the determined, because when he sent along this year-old cover of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, it all came together. The track comes across as a bit easy-listening at first, but it’s got a sweet acoustic charm worth sharing all the same…and though the other covers in the antiqcool Soundcloud collection are worth sifting through, with gem-quality versions of Cat Stevens and Dylan in the mix, this one’s from a charity collection which was put together to raise money for animals in distress, which gives it a boost in my book. Plus, it’s hard to pass up a self-proclaimed musical tinkerer who promises to “blab about [us] incessantly to the whole world” if I post a cover good enough to stand on its own. Pete, you’re on.

Last time we heard from Scottish fiddlefolk experimentalist and Berklee College graduate Hannah Read, we found her new EP stretching the borders of jazz and indie electropop – a surprising turn, after following her early evolution through chamberfolk and solo folk balladry. Now the evermoving artist has a new all-girl folk trio based out of Brooklyn, along with fellow indiefolk explorers Wilsen and M. Lui, and they’re calling themselves THEM, making them the umpteenth new band to come up nigh ungoogle-able. A skim of her Facebook page nets a new Tumblr, with photos and a few live videos; if the three currently up are any indication, the lovely ladies are digging deep to find influence, and coming up roses.

THEM: Rambling Man (orig. Laura Marling)

Lotte Koestner just doesn’t stop. Her newest Bandcamp collection, released in the first week of October and aptly if unimaginatively titled Extra Covers Collection, is a huge compendium of influences and obscurities redone as echoey slowcore, with tracks compiled from both of her 2011 covers EPs and supplemented with more; her new Soundcloud page has been christened with one original and yet another brand new cover, and both are eerie delights. I’m especially enamored of her Billy Idol and Gotye covers (tracks 2 and 17 below), which transform the anger and frustration of the originals into something wistful and delicate, revealing the breadth of emotion available to beauty; her latest, a take on A Perfect Circle’s Weak And Powerless, is an equal triumph. Check out new and newly collected tracks from both sources below before heading back to our late-year 2011 featurette on her coverage both as a solo artist and in her role as one half of shoegaze duo Trespassers William.

Posted by boyhowdy at 4:20 pm | 1 comment
Labels: Soundcloud Saturday, YouTube

Chris Thile covers:
Josh Ritter, Jack White, Pavement, Wilco, Bach, Bob Dylan, U2 & more!

By definition, receiving the MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant always comes as a surprise: candidates for the five year, no-strings-attached award are nominated through a secretive and anonymous process, and most tend not to know they have even been nominated until that call comes the day of the announcement. The five-year award, for “exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances” is a bit like a Nobel Prize for general awesomeness, socio-culturally speaking, and those who win come from myriad fields: geriatricians, filmmakers, authors, historians, and social services innovators all find themselves eligible, and their ages range, in an average year, from under 30 to over 60.

But if evidence were needed to substantiate their selection criteria, class of 2012 MacArthur Fellow Chris Thile is ample enough in and of himself. Thile is only 31, but those of us who have been watching him since his adolescent emergence on the scene would be hard pressed to consider a worthier recipient of the half a million dollars that come to those named by the MacArthur foundation.

A major player in the progressive acoustic movement – his award cites him as “a young mandolin virtuoso and composer whose lyrical fusion of traditional bluegrass with elements from a range of other musical traditions is giving rise to a new genre of contemporary music” – Thile grew up in the midst of music; his father was an instrument technician, and the family started playing together with the Watkins family as Nickel Creek when Thile was eight, and cut his first solo album with major bluegrass label Sugar Hill at twelve.

With Thile, the band would go on to record five albums: though the first two are impossible to find, the melodic newgrass of Nickel Creek’s turn-of-the-century work was a natural pull for our ears, and we’re proud to say we saw them before their self-titled “debut” – featuring a redefined progressive trio sound, and produced by Alison Krauss – emerged in 2000. The jazz fusion and pop elements of Nickel Creek are as self evident as they are prototypical of the form; their unique sound led to full-band collaborations with Dolly Parton, Darol Anger, Glen Phillips (as Mutual Admiration Society), and more, and paved the way for an explosion of acoustic fusion music which continues in the bluegrass, indie, and folkworlds today.

Nickel Creek put out their last album in 2006; Sara and Sean Watkins have since found their own niches, both as collaborators and solo artists, and we’ve posted their more recent work here before. But since a time long before their dissolution, Thile’s work has been legion: solo albums that range from melodic pop to bouncy bluegrass; cross-genre collaborative work with bassist Edgar Meyer, cellist Yo Yo Ma, fiddler Mark O’Connor, banjo master Bela Fleck, and a veritable host of others; a mandolin concerto entitled Ad astra per alas porci which was commissioned jointly by over a half dozen orchestras internationally. His work with Brooklyn-based high tenor and bluegrass guitarist Michael Daves, which culminated in a 2011 album, has been an exemplary example of the early country duo form, demonstrating how closely and capably he hews to his roots. And, more recently, as heard thrice over in our recent 50-song tribute to Thom Yorke and company, his crossover band Punch Brothers, which combines accessible indiepop with the rhythmic underpinnings and instrumentation of bluegrass and jam fusion forms, has been a major vehicle for his continued evolution.

Throughout, Thile has pushed the envelope of what the mandolin can do, musically speaking, taking on Radiohead songs, traditional work, original compositions, and classical variations with equal skill and whimsy. His newest EP with Punch Brothers, which drops in mid-November, will feature covers of Gillian Welch, among others; below, dip into a mixed bag of coverage from Thile in his various incarnations and team-ups over a scant decade and a half span, culminating in the sweeping pace and majesty of the Punch Brothers’ brand new, haunting, crystal-clear take on Josh Ritter’s Another New World below, and then heard on over to their website to preorder Ahoy! and receive a download of the track as an early bonus.

  • Punch Brothers: Another New World (orig. Josh Ritter) [2012]

Looking for more coverage from Chris Thile?

Posted by boyhowdy at 12:07 am | 1 comment
Labels: Chris Thile, Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers

My Father’s Shoes: Second Generation Folk
(a call to arms to support healthy inner-city families)

The prevalence of poor and fragmented families in the inner-city school district where I teach is staggering, and the consequences are easily visible: even as last week’s open house brought in a record number of visitors to our school, the percentage of students whose parents or guardians came to visit our classrooms remains shockingly low, with each teacher seeing an average of 8 families in a schedule which has us each teaching over 140 students per semester.

Treating this tiny percentage as a triumph is both reasonable and terrifyingly sad. Put it up against the nearly 100% parent participation which we see in successful suburban and rural school districts, and in the charter schools in and around our own community, and the correlation is clear: students who do not have home support are much less likely to develop or maintain the skills needed to succeed in school – regardless of whether that lack of support stems from reasons of parent absence, linguistic isolation, or other consequences of the urban minimum-wage community.

Indeed, it is a proven assumption that parenting is a major factor in developing the platform that leads to student success. But because parent buy-in is undermined by poverty, and by related factors such as family fragmentation, the need to work more than one job, and transportation and housing instability, reaching parents is often impossible from the school side of the equation. Many of the homes I call each week have disconnected numbers, suggesting that basic needs such as phone service may not be within easy reach for some families in our district. Guardianship and housing shift so rapidly for our kids, we are often unable to find a parent to contact when the stress of an inconsistent home life presents itself as classroom disruption.

The lack of stability at home undermines students in other, broader ways, too. Where students do not have support or encouragement outside of school, student return on homework is too low to count on; the resulting attempt to do everything in the classroom is a drag on curricular pacing, and our students end up doing as little as half as much reading, writing, and math in a given year as compared to their suburban peers. Students who want to stay after school for extracurricular programs and make-up sessions cannot do so if missing the bus means an hour-long trek home, or if they need to pick up siblings from other schools because parents are unavailable. A lack of parent signatures on free lunch and medical release forms hampers our ability to help students in need throughout the day; students who need curricular or classroom modification cannot get access to those services if parents will not show up for meetings. And although we often assume that students who attend more than one lunch are defiant by nature, they may just like being near the smell of food.

Something rotten lurks at the foundation of a world in which students who succeed do so in spite of the family, not because of it. And because teaching, for me, is a matter of both vocation and social justice, the holistic approach I bring to my world pushes me to consider every platform I have at my disposal in my ongoing pursuit of positive change.

And so, I turn to a long-time dream: the production of a charity album, comprised of second-generation artists paying tribute to their own parent’s songbook, with the goal of using those songs to raise money to support family stability in urban and underprivileged districts.

Happily, second-generation folk musicians run like a thread through our work here at Cover Lay Down. Our occasional Folk Family Friday series has included multi-generational coverage from the Wainwrights and McGarrigles, The Waterson/Carthy clan, and the Guthries, and we’ve dipped into the work of the Carter and Cash families several times.

Early features on Ruth Ungar Merenda (daughter of Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, who performs with her husband as Mike & Ruthy), Kasey Chambers (daughter of Aussie alt-country guitarist Bill Chambers), Teddy Thompson (son of Richard & Linda Thompson), and Eliza Gilkyson (whose father, Terry, composed The Bare Necessities for Disney’s The Jungle Book), acknowledged the inherited gifts of these second-generation artists, too, even as they celebrated their unique output as solo artists and collaborators. And, most recently, we explored the coverage of alt-country star Justin Townes Earle as a bonus set for a recent feature on his father, Steve Earle.

But as time marches on, the number of folk-oriented singer-songwriters of merit rising in their father’s footsteps continues to grow. In addition to Eliza Carthy, Folk Uke (the duo of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson, Willie’s daughter), Sarah Lee Guthrie, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Martha Wainwright, John Carter Cash projects The Carter Family III and Cedar Hill Refugees, and others associated with the families above, the list of second-generation folk artists who we have posted here on Cover Lay Down also includes:

  • Americana artist Pieta Brown, who first came to our attention for her work with her sisters covering their father’s paean to their grandmother on Greg Brown tribute Going Driftless.
  • Blues/folk musician Toshi Reagon, daughter of Freedom Singers founders Bernice Johnson Reagon and Cordell Hull Reagon and goddaughter of Pete Seeger.
  • Acoustic bassist Sam Grisman, whose work with both his father Dave Grisman’s touring band and Greg Listz newgrass project The Deadly Gentlemen keeps him on our radar.
  • Singer-songwriter Harper Simon, son of Paul, whose underground credibility as a musician is eminently his own, though his output remains low.
  • Beautifully harmonic sister act The Chapin Sisters, a.k.a. Abigail and Lily, whose father, Tom Chapin, was well known in my childhood home for his poignant, political, and silly kidsongs.
  • Sweet-voiced Inara George, whose father Lowell founded Little Feat, and who performs today as both a solo artist and as part of retro-harmony trio The Living Sisters.
  • Indie folk rocker Ben Taylor, son of James and Carly Simon, who continues to impress with his organic approach to performance.
  • Singer and multi-instrumentalist Amy Helm, who forms one-fifth of the core of folk band Ollabelle, co-produced her father Levon’s 2007 Grammy winning traditional folk album Dirt Farmer, and toured with him until his recent passage.
  • Fiddle-playing Americana artist Carrie Rodriguez, whose father David Rodriguez has been covered by Lyle Lovett, and was named Best Texas Songwriter for three consecutive years before expatriating permanently to the Netherlands in 1994.
  • Session instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Jake Armerding, fiddler for Barnstar! and other local projects, whose father Taylor was a founding member of newgrass pioneers Northern Lights.
  • Violinist and indie a capella darling Petra Haden, daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who has played and recorded with everyone from The Decemberists to Green Day, and from Bill Frisell to Beck.
  • Soft pop crooner Norah Jones, whose work may not always fall into the folk camp, but whose descent from Beatles compatriot and sitar player Ravi Shankar gives her eminent domain here.

Even Miley Cyrus is starting to come into her own, having impressed us with her work on this year’s Dylan tribute, and her new raspy, soulful acoustic cover of Melanie Safka’s Look What They’ve Done to My Song. Folk rock sibling Kami Thompson, brother of Teddy and daughter of Richard & Linda, released a strong folk rock debut album in late 2011 that featured fellow second-gen artists Sean Lennon and Martha Wainwright, among others. And although neither have recorded any coverage yet, exceptionally strong 2012 debut albums from both Lilly Hiatt, daughter of John Hiatt, and Grace Pettis, daughter of Pierce Pettis and winner of this year’s Kerville New Folk competition, bring us hope for the next generation of second-generation artists.

For the last few years, as the idea has taken seed in my wildest dreams, the daunting task of producing a full album of second-generation singer-songwriters covering the songs of their famous folk fathers has been a pipe dream – one stymied by my lack of access to the musicians themselves, and a lack of experience in producing a quality fund-raising project.

But every new artist that emerges from the fold represents a step towards viability. The development of home recording techniques, fan funding infrastructures such as Kickstarter, and digital distribution houses such as Bandcamp have brought us closer to the possibility of producing and distributing such a project without access to a studio or label. And the addition of Grace Pettis to the mix even brings a tentative title to our dream: Legacy, a song from her father’s canon which – due to its treatment of race relations and inheritance – serves as an especially apt frame in which to place our project.

And so, today, we embark on this ambitious project by putting out our first call to arms: If you have a personal or professional connection with any second-generation artists, please help us get in touch with them, so that we may present the project to them, and – hopefully – confirm that both parents and children are amenable to working with us.

(If you are a producer or a label, or have experience putting together a charity project, then yes, I want to hear from you, too. But my goal in this first phase is simply to garner an initial commitment from enough second-generation artists to move forward. Once/if that happens, we will move on to curatorial issues, media format, distribution, and whether we need to raise money to seed the project.)

If it works, then I hope to have the album ready by sometime in mid-to-late 2013, so we can use the proceeds to support and promote fatherhood and family structure, the better to help stabilize urban and underprivileged communities for generations to come.

In the meantime, we continue our own survey of those inheritors of the gentle dream with a set of coverage from 26 artists whose famous fathers put them on our wish-list for such a project.

Once again, today’s feature aims to spark a project; If you know a second-generation folk artist, please help by either sending me their contact information, and/or sending them a shout-out, and directing them to this post to contact me further.

But because many of my students cannot wait for such fruition, those who want to help in the short term can find a place here, too. Donate to Cover Lay Down any time before the end of October, and I will give 20% of that donation to the NEA Closing The Achievement Gaps Initiative, which supports local children and families by funding home visits and parent engagement programs.

Posted by boyhowdy at 10:04 am | 7 comments
Labels: Folk Family Friday

Covered In Folk: Radiohead
(with 50 covers to celebrate Thom Yorke’s 44th birthday!)

For Radiohead, as with so many bands formed in high school, it is the team that matters first and foremost, in no small part because of the tight and adept skills each band member has developed throughout their co-evolution and ongoing collaboration. Guitarist and composer Ed O’Brien is celebrated for his distinctive use of effects pedals, and for the harmonies he brings to help create and sustain Radiohead’s rich, layered sound; the versatility of drummer Phil Selway has been a key component of their evolution as a modern band, especially as they have moved on to adopt unusual rhythms and time signatures.

Bassist Colin Greenwood may have picked up the bass out of necessity, in order to find a place in the band’s original formation, but his steady hand and multi-instrumental talents have served the band well as foundation as they have built their reputation and their canon. And composer, keyboardist, and guitarist Jonny Greenwood, whose older brother Colin was a classmate of the other four original members, is often cited as one of the best aggressively-styled stage and studio guitarists of the modern era, but he has also been a key player in developing the electronic sound which represents Radiohead’s second stage; his composition skills are evident in the five film soundtracks he has scored since 2003, and in his role as composer-in-residence for the BBC Concert Orchestra.

But despite the prowess and relevance of these others, there is ample reason to find lead singer and centerpiece Thom Yorke so often placed at the forefront of any exploration of what makes Radiohead tick so efficiently, and so well. Like so many of us, the English singer-songwriter was saved from a tormented childhood by music, finding refuge in the tiny practice rooms of his all-boys school after his congenitally paralyzed eye, and the drooped eyelid above it which resulted from a botched surgery in his elementary years, made him the easy target of bullies. But his talent, and that of his school bandmates, was no fluke: though Yorke has gone on record as being frustrated by his naturally beautiful voice, with its soaring tenor vibratos and tight control, the emotional contrast he creates by adopting other vocal styles, and by putting that beauty up against the often painful and acidic topics the band chooses to take on, has continued to carry them to broader fame, even as their works grow more abstract, more electronic, and more diverse.

To study Radiohead, then, is to take on the evolution of both a sound and a sentiment, one which is constantly pushing the envelope of art in the 21st century. Today, the band is known for a certain post-modern experimental approach to music, and to the industry of making it, but it wasn’t always so: their first few albums were downright melodic, with the radio-ready grunge pop of early hit Creep turning to alienated art-rock for 1997 release OK Computer, and it is perhaps unsurprising to find so many of those songs covered in folk and acoustic style. When, at the turn of the century, the band’s arrangements and sonic settings began to turn away from simple beauty to a collage approach to sound, with broader genre elements such as layered synth chords and beats and string and horn components appropriated from the alternative and underground scenes, and composition focused on environment over verse-chorus-verse, some long-time fans who had grouped the band in with other similar-sounding elements of their catalog threw their hands up in disgust and walked away, but many fans stayed on, captivated by the complexities of production and performance, their own tastes maturing with the band.

A Grammy win for Best Alternative Album in 2001 spread the word farther, to those who loved the “new” sound, even as some mainstream critics labeled 2000 album Kid A and its same-session follow-up Amnesiac a “commercial suicide note”, accusing the band of being “intentionally difficult”. And though it is rarer to find acoustic takes on such experimental anti-folk fare, the coverage continued, as new artists came along to test the continued viability of modern folk even as their versions and revisionings stripped away the electronic atmospheres, proving that Yorke, the Greenwoods, and their compatriots are still quite the singer-songwriters.

This week, as Radiohead’s lead guitarist, vocalist, and composer turns 44, we pay tribute to the band and its influence, and to Yorke’s inimitable voice, through the vast and varied interpretations of others. Unusually for us, we’ve arranged this gigantic set of favorite covers sequentially by original album – the better to explore the way in which Radiohead’s songbook has evolved, from the lyrically introspective and melodic to the avant-garde.

As you listen, note the way earlier covers (and cover artists) trend towards the more melodic, with both coverage and traditional poprock song structure growing less common as the catalog turns towards Radiohead’s later, more challenging works. (Indeed, even a year and a half after the release of their most recent work, 2011′s The King Of Limbs, I have yet to find any favorite covers from that album’s short and often psychedelic songbook, though the avid fan is welcome to head over to YouTube for numerous covers of lead single Lotus Flower.)

But listen, too, as the carefully winnowed set we have selected for our journey yaws wide through the voices and hands of the diversity that is folk, with paired and triplicate covers a study in contrast wherever possible. And remember that even here, our 50 delights are but the tip of an iceberg, with glacial runoffs that range from fast to slow, and thin to deep: from intimate, melodic Americana and coffeehouse folk to neo-traditional and experimental newgrass, hard-edged folk rock, soaring and often challenging indiefolk, and more.

from Pablo Honey (1993)

from The Bends (1995)

from OK Computer (1997)

from Kid A (2000)

from Amnesiac (2001)

from Hail To The Thief (2003)

from In Rainbows (2007)

Tired of downloading by hand? Donate to Cover Lay Down before October’s out, and we’ll send along a zip file of the whole 50 track set!

Posted by boyhowdy at 11:59 pm | 4 comments
Labels: Covered in Folk, Radiohead

Mumford & Sons Cover:
Springsteen, Townes, Simon & Garfunkel, Alt-J, The Beatles & more!

Mumford & Sons rose to fame rapidly: from a 2007 formation that found them on the road with Laura Marling, with rented instruments and without even an album to their name, to a 2009 debut LP that slammed through the charts, garnering awards aplenty along the way, culminating in a pair of Grammy nominations in late 2010 that subsequently paved the way for even bigger successes at home and abroad.

Though it’s an easy claim for those following the indiefolk market, like so many others, we’ve been fans of the folk rock quartet throughout their meteoric rise. Although they hadn’t recorded another full-length until just last week, a series of EPs and live sessions and guest star spots kept them in our radar. Throughout, the rich, soaring harmonies and neo-traditional instrumentation put them squarely in our affection; their literate songwriting, and their penchant for both the odd cover and the frequent collaboration, kept us coming back for more. And the odd cover of and from the boys of the West London folk scene – from compatriots and copilots of the Glastonbury circle such as Two Door Cinema Club and Marling herself, and of popular tunes from Vampire Weekend’s Cousins to Wagon Wheel – let us celebrate them here and there, as warranted.

But in the last few days, as their second studio album Babel has slammed the market, the band has truly exploded into our hearts and ears, thanks to a huge series of coverage that celebrates the folk and folk rock predecessors who have influenced both their own sound, and the modern folk rock crowd at large. The set includes a bonus track cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer from that same album with special guests Jerry Douglas and Simon himself, a World Cafe take on Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You that easily rivals any of the plethora of covers in our early 2012 Single Song Sunday feature on the song, a surprise BBC Radio 1 cover of Alt-J’s Tessellate, and a huge and utterly splendid Mumford & Sons & Friends Daytrotter session released just yesterday, with tour-bus recorded covers of Springsteen, Dylan, The Stanley Brothers, Guy Clark, and even a take on a Roger Miller song from the old Disney animated version of Robin Hood in the mix, and with special guests Abigail Washburn, Nathaniel Rateliff, and members of Dawes on board for the ride.

Taken together, these new releases are a joyful noise indeed; added to the BBC Radio covers of their past, they comprise a companion album of mostly-in-studio coverage sure to please even the most jaded old folkie. Listen, and be amazed – and then go on to Daytrotter to download the rest of their set, snag a copy of Babel, and become one of the millions who know.

And a few favorite covers of the West London boys, as bonus tracks:

As always, we eschew advertising here at Cover Lay Down, preferring to ask you to support the artists we tout instead of cluttering our pages with sponsors competing for your hard-earned dollars. But the bandwidth we provide comes at a cost, and we depend on your donations to help support the cause.

So purchase Babel, and sign up for Daytrotter to download the entire session referred to above. And if there’s dimes in the coffers when you’re finished, please, click here to help if you can. Thanks.

[PS: want more Cover Lay Down in your life? Check out our Facebook page for updates and bonus tracks throughout the week. Now featuring a hugely pristine bonus video: Mumford & Sons cover Neil Young!]

Posted by boyhowdy at 10:12 pm | 4 comments
Labels: indiefolk, Mumford & Sons

New Artists, Old Songs, Vol. XXV: from Katy Perry to tradfolk
with Jan Bell, Rebecca Jordan, Brianna Lea Pruett, Ben Howard, Gibson Bull, and Cahalen & Eli

It’s been a while since we dug into the newest crop of up-and-comers here on these virtual pages. But we’ve been digging them, all right, and it’s high time to tip the cream into your ready ears. So read on for some incredible new covers of Springsteen, Norman Blake, Carly Rae Jepson, Katy Perry, Darrell Scott, Elizabeth Cotten, Townes Van Zandt, John Martyn, Fleetwood Mac, and a great set of re-imagined songs from the deep, dark recesses of the American folk tradition.

The guest stars on Jan Bell‘s newest album Dream of the Miner’s Child belie the Brooklyn-based musician’s broad stylistic approach to altfolk and Americana: the list includes two founding members of The Be Good Tanyas (Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton), Phillipa Thompson of the M Shanghai Stringband, and members of her own alt-country band The Maybelles. But the inclusion of both legendary Smithsonian Folkways recording artist Alice Gerrard, and fellow Englishwoman Juliet Russell, who joins in on an old Celtic ballad, are telling, too: Bell is a native Yorkshire lass, a coal-miner’s granddaughter from a region grounded in the same mining trials and tribulations that she covers here, and though she is still young, opening act gigs for Emmylou Harris, Wanda Jackson, Odetta, Steve Earle and The Be Good Tanyas themselves speak eminently to her acceptance as a harbinger and interpreter of the old ways in the new.

Bell’s voice and arrangements here are notable for their ragged tenderness, with weary voices, soft guitar, and fiddle strains that clamber out of the darkness to scratch and paw at the soul. The songs span generations, following the movement of songbook fragments and tunes from the UK to Appalachia, making the title track – a Welch song which found its way into the hands of Ralph Stanely and Doc Watson via the blind Alabama Evangelist Rev. Andrew Jenkins, who re-arranged it in 1925 – the perfect centerpiece; from there, the strains of Jean Ritchie, Watson, and others mix well with the originals and traditional tunes, creating a seamless album of true beauty. To argue over whether this sort of music is country or folk is to miss the point: these haunting acoustic arrangements may be new, but they call to a time before the distinction made sense, when all the world was folkways, and they evoke the best of that history.

Technically, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West aren’t new to these pages: I posted a traditional tune from the neo-tradgrass duo’s debut album in our recent pre-fest feature on FreshGrass. But as was eminently evident from their strong, confident live performance on that North Adams stage, this pair is going places fast, thanks to pickin’ & strummin’ prowess on the usual set of bluegrass duo instruments from mando and guitar to banjo and bouzouki, and sweet duo harmonies that ring sweet as the Louvin Brothers, the Monroe Brothers, and other country pairs of yesteryear, with Eli’s warm baritone a perfect counterpoint to Cahalen’s knife-edged tenor.

All of which made me pleased as punch to have recieved a preview copy of their new album Our Lady Of The Tall Trees in the mail just this week, because it allows me to share their excellent cover of Norman Blake’s Church Street Blues, penned and originally performed by Norman Blake but made famous by Tony Rice on his intimate folk-oriented 1983 album of the same name, and played live in tribute last weekend to the latter, who was under doctor’s orders to stay home. But this is an album to purchase, truly: the title track alone is worth every penny, and their take on traditional tune The Poor Cowboy is twangy and sorrowful, as mellow and mournful as any cowboy troubadour’s folk ballad.

Bonus track:

  • Cahalen Morrison & Eli West: Hop High (trad.)

The powerful voice of singer-songwriter and multi-media artist Brianna Lea Pruett rings of Regina Spektor, Bessie Smith, Kate Wolf, and Carole King all at once, with nuanced strains of folk, jazz, and blues in the mix, and the unsettling arrangements on her newest full-length The Stars, The Moon, The Owl, The Cougar, and You echo this approach, combining electric and acoustic atmospheres of piano and guitars, bells and beats to create a hybrid album that runs from anti-folk to grunge to delicate blues and jazzpop, making it impossible to categorize.

But there’s a folkwoman’s depth to Pruett even beyond all this, one that goes beyond mere instrumentation: a native Californian of both Appalachian and Choctaw-Cherokee heritage, the spiritual wanderer – who has already translated Amazing Grace into Tsalagi at the request of the Arkansas Cherokee Nation, and is currently working on a biography of Elizabeth Cotten with Cotten’s granddaughter – has dipped herself in the scenes and sentiment of Portland, UK, Northern California, and New York since first hitting the scene in 2005, performing live and generally in solo singer-songwriter guise alongside Mark Kozelek, Nick Jaina, and other kindred spirits along the way, where she has become known for her stunningly sparse versions of traditional folk songs such as this take on In The Pines, and for truly timeless-sounding folk originals that ring of the same stark sentiment.

Bonus tracks:

Rebecca Jordan writes that she “really enjoys” Cover Lay Down, saying that she is “a huge fan of cover songs and glad [we] created a platform for exposure”, and I’m honored. But if I’m glad to have heard from her, it’s because once I had a chance to steep in her songs, the feeling was mutual: Jordan’s voice is powerful and sweet, her arrangements are strong and potent, and her control is mature as all hell, making her an ideal candidate for our celebration.

And we’re not alone in saying so, either – Jordan was a finalist in the 2010 Mountain Stage NewSong contest, and has written songs for Kelly Clarkson and John Legend; her piano-and-cello-driven cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, from 2008 EP The Trouble With Fiction, is quite beautiful, and the buzz for her upcoming and highly anticipated Asphalt Heart EP has already reached a fever pitch, with a feature in the August 2012 issue of Performer magazine, and a “cinematic” video for lead single Eve ready to drop in October, though it’s hard to beat the live in-studio acoustic version of the song currently featured on her YouTube page.

The brand new video for her cover of Katy Perry’s The One That Got Away is an apt vehicle, too: it starts deceptively lo-fi, like an amateur YouTube product, but as the hiss of the room fades, and the voice – that voice! – rises in song, the whole piece coming together into a swirl of color and framing devices that betray her professionalism, and bespeak her meteoric rise towards fame. So hurrah for a woman who knows how to look after herself, and for music that speaks to the soul, because with such paired power and authenticity at her fingertips, we predict that Jordan’s going far, and fast.

Bonus track:

Last-minute additions tend to fall into my lap as I write, and this round has been no exception. But UK singer-songwriter Gibson Bull is no eleventh-hour also-ran: though the version of Corrine, Corrina his producer sends me is totally deconstructed, it bears the weight of the modern indiefolk movement with aplomb, calling to the layered tones of Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Ray LaMontagne, and a post-millennial Bruce Springsteen on one hand, and the post-folk branches of the No Depression movement on the other.

Some quick stop-the-presses research reveals that the former tree-surgeon has been making the rounds at the UK festivals, and that he has recently joined the ranks of The Workshop, the Notting Hill songwriting and recording studio which is already becoming well-known for its work with indie folk artists and singer-songwriters. It also reveals an artist’s website that has been overtaken by a single video from Bull’s Workshop sessions, making it difficult to point readers to his 2010 debut, but there’s a couple of great solo takes on the YouTube archives that bode well: a jangly folksinger’s Shady Grove recorded last December for a London pub’s unplugged sessions, and a muddy, mangy Moonshiner from the same year or before that bears the weary weight of its pond crossing, rivaling favorite takes from Jeffrey Foucault and others on our own side of the globe.

Finally: over among the indiefolk at I Am Fuel, You Are Friends, Heather’s been celebrating Ben Howard a bunch this year, and it’s not hard to see why: with shades of Jose Gonzalez, and an indiefolk singer-songwriter’s tenderness, this artist can put power into almost anything. His late-February solo video cover of Dancing In The Dark bears a soft majesty that revitalizes; his collaborative work on John Martyn’s Over The Hill, recorded with Michael Kiwanuka, India and Chris, Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, The Staves, and Johannes from Bear’s Den during a “Communion Jam” at SXSW 2012, helps bring a rich gospelfolk feel to a slow song once performed gentle and solo. And the urgency of his Radio 1 live cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s ubiquitous Call Me Maybe, released in May, is a solid counterpoint, too, with grungy guitars, soaring fiddles, and a driving beat creating an urgency under Howard’s gentle voice that fits perfectly with the song.

Not sure where to start clicking? Why not download all 15 tracks as a single zip file!

Posted by boyhowdy at 10:23 pm | 1 comment
Labels: Ben Howard, Brianna Lea Pruett, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, Gibson Bull, Jan Bell, New Artists Old Songs, Rebecca Jordan

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2012:
Part 4: full-album folk coverage of Springsteen & The Replacements

After EP-length sets, multi-genre tributes, and rock/blues/pop artists turned folk for coverage, we close out our four-part series on this year’s mid-year tributes and compilations with a potent pair of decidedly folk albums paying apt tribute to the works of Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements. Enjoy!

Nebraska, the seminal album that proved Springsteen was more than just an anthemic pop rocker, has been done in full before. But it’s the 30th anniversary of the sparse, haunting demo-session-turned-studio-release, making another attempt nearly inevitable. And given the star power that turned out for Badlands, the turn-of-the-century tribute in question, to take it on again seems like an easy avenue to folly for all but the most skilled set of musicians.

Surprisingly, however, new indie tribute Long Distance Salvation: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is a near-perfect nod, both to the songbook itself, and to the canonical shift it represents. And this success is, in no small part, due to the collective prowess of the indiefolk craftsmen which haunt the album, whose appropriately lo-fi contributions make it a powerful product from a new generation steeped in the sounds of Springsteen as folk artist. Joe Pug, Kingsley Flood, David Wax, Strand of Oaks, The Wooden Sky, Joe Purdy, and a holy host of other post-millennial singer-songwriters come in strong, atmospheric, and truly transformative without trading away the potency of the original songbook or performances. And the album is heavy on the neo-traditional, too, with Spirit Family Reunion, Trampled By Turtles, Kingsley Flood, and a few more from the grassy/brassy sides of the indie world bringing in choice cuts which call to Springsteen’s recent Seeger sessions.

As with Badlands, Long Distance Salvation goes a few tracks beyond the original album setlist, including Pink Cadillac, Shut Out The Light, and other Springsteen b-sides, leaving us with a wholesome 14 cuts total. And, as if we needed another argument to pay our dollar down, the entire project is just just 5 bucks to download, with all proceeds going to benefit Project Bread. Our highest recommendations, with tracks to follow.

Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute To The Replacements, which dropped this past week on Bar/None, is a little bit folk and a little bit MTV unplugged session, honoring the path that the mandolin, like the banjo before it, has taken as it moves into the instrumental mainstream of rock and pop in the post-millennial world. And if the concept rings a bit of those bluegrass tribute albums, rest assured that the performance transcends the easy association: Nashville music veterans, pop/rock singer-songwriters, and session musicians Tom Littlefield (Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Nanci Griffith) and Jonathan Bright, performing here as duo Bright Little Field on ukes and a drum kit made of pots and pans, share a genuine love of the punk-tinged underground rock band they pay tribute to, and it shows: though breezy and occasionally even cute, there’s something quite listenable about the tracks that appear here, with a combination of balladry and rockers that mix clean and folky, with nary a low point.

We’re late twice over in celebrating Treatment Bound – the album was originally released in 2010, making this a rerelease, and arguably, it belonged in our previous feature on non-folk musicians going folk for tribute albums, thanks to the performing duo’s association with the rock and country worlds. But I just discovered it myself this week, and I gotta say, I’m loving it, in no small part because it hits my personal trifecta of respectful coverage, folkgrass, and 80s alt-rock source material. Check out a favorite track below before purchasing direct from the artists.

PS: Want to help support Cover Lay Down in its continued struggle to bring you the best folk and coverage around? Awesome! Here’s some ways you can help!

  • Support the artists we tout by purchasing their work whenever possible!
  • Spread the word to friends and family by clicking “like” on a favorite post!
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings!
  • Join our facebook page to keep the folk and coverage coming throughout the week!
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Posted by boyhowdy at 9:06 pm | 0 comments
Labels: Bruce Springsteen, Compilations & Tribute Albums, indiefolk, The Replacements, Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Compilations, Fall 2012
Part 3: multigenre & multi-artist tributes

For those just joining us: we’re in the midst of a multi-feature series on previously-unblogged cover and tribute albums released this year. Previously, we posted explorations of EP-length cover sets and folky all-covers albums from artists generally associated with other genres; today, we take on four of those ubiquitous mixed genre multi-artist tribute albums, with an eye towards their folkier tracks.

Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe, the newest countryfolk-slash-country rock tribute from Austin-based label Fiesta Red Records, isn’t folk, and it isn’t marketed as such, though the roots and twang crowds have been buzzing about it since notice of the album first appeared at Summer’s beginning. But while a number of the tracks on this fine (and long overdue) tribute to the pivotal English singer-songwriter, musician and producer best known for penning such pub rock and new wave hits as Cruel To Be Kind and (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding fall squarely into the country rock camp, the album also includes cuts from well-known countryfolk singer-songwriter troubadours Lori McKenna, Hayes Carll, Caitlin Rose, and Ron Sexsmith – Mckenna and Sexsmith’s tracks are beautifully intimate, and Carll and Rose’s typically twangy – plus several surprising delights from some sparsely-performed up-and-coming bands and solo acts such as Amanda Shires, whose take on Lowe’s I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass shatters both genre lines and my heart all at once.

It’s worth noting, I suppose, that despite lede graf mention of the fundraising nature of the project (proceeds from album sales go to benefit victims of the 2010 Nashville floods and 2011 Texas wildfires), Paste magazine dismisses the album as a languid also-ran that fails to capture either the political urgency or the playfulness of Lowe’s work. But Paste can go to hell: regardless of how twangy or gritty a given track might sound, to this folk-lover’s ears, every one is treated with delicate respect and heartfelt beauty, revealing more to love than just the song, making the album a strong addition to any broad-minded folk-lover’s collection.

Just Tell Me That You Want Me, this year’s new Fleetwood Mac tribute from Starbucks in-house label Hear Music, is decidedly not folk, either – it’s mostly indie pop in the first half, and hazy dance pop in the second, though heavy on the guitar fuzz and synth beats throughout – and although Antony Hegarty’s quivering falsetto take on Landslide is worth a listen, most of the album fails magnificently, thanks to both a tendency towards phoned-in performances in no small part to the song selection, which skips over almost every one of the band’s best Lindsey Buckingham compositions.

But buried towards the back, where it seems decidedly out of place, you’ll find a rich, utterly soul-crushing take on Storms from Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy that builds and crashes like the waves on the shore. We’re no strangers to folk interpretations of Fleetwood Mac, having featured them in our Covered In Folk series way back in 2009; our love for “Prince” Billy’s neo-folk song deconstructions, which trend towards the ragged and soulful, is well-documented as well, in our May 2011 omnibus double-feature on the new American icon, which features full sets of both his vast canon of coverage and a collection of others taking on his songbook. The combination of the two is as stunning and powerful as one might expect.

The lines of coverage blur a bit when an artist takes on his own canon. But although Chest Fever: A Candian Tribute to the Band, which is due to drop October 2nd from Curve Music, is centered around the voice and selection process of organist, keyboardist and saxophonist Garth Hudson, who is often credited as being the principal architect of the Band’s unique folk-rock sound, this is decidedly not a Band album, or even a greatest hits collection: instead, Hudson merely picked out a selection of his favorite songs to play, and then found a holy host of well-respected countrymen to take on the songs so he could enjoy himself as he played along.

Thanks to this origin, Hudson’s careful selection of fellow Canadian icons and groups as single-take partners for a series of comprehensive recastings is not all folk, but it’s entirely influenced by the acadian rhythms and roots rock of the originals in all cases. And, as the joyous, rolling energy of the performance below demonstrates, his choice of bandmates to bring forth just the right combination of reverence and revitalization to every given take – in this case, Newfoundland-based Celtic folk-rock band Great Big Sea, taking on Band b-side Knockin’ Lost John; in other cases, Bruce Cockburn, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida, Mary Margaret O’Hara, The Sadies, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies, and the ever-ubiquitous Neil Young – is nothing short of inspired.

Finally, the newest compilation from indie label Paper Bag Records, which offers full tribute to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, is flavored throughout with electronic and grungy rock instrumentation, as befits the anthemic rock opera. But we’re used to hearing Ontario trio The Rural Alberta Advantage in indiefolk guise, having featured their more acoustic works in these virtual pages several times previously, and if they appear here wailing over crashing cymbals and heavy metal guitars, there is nonetheless just enough folk rock in the mix to celebrate – a perfect mix of Green Day and Steve Earle. Hard-core folk fans may prefer to skip this one altogether, but Paper Bag Records is unfailingly successful in putting together albums which stand strong from start to finish; those who come for coverage will love the treatment, and the price – an email address – is hard to beat.

PS: Want to help support Cover Lay Down in its continued fight for world domination struggle to bring you the best folk and coverage around? Awesome! Here’s some ways you can help:

  • Support the artists we tout by purchasing their work whenever possible!
  • Spread the word to friends and family by clicking “like” on a favorite post!
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings!
  • Donate to Cover Lay Down to help cover our rising server and bandwidth costs!
  • Join our facebook page to keep the folk and coverage coming throughout the week!

Posted by boyhowdy at 2:04 pm | 1 comment
Labels: Antony and the Johnsons, Bonnie Prince Billy, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Great Big Sea, Lori McKenna, Ron Sexsmith, Tribute Albums

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