Category: richard shindell

(Re)Covered IX: More covers of and from Mike and Ruthy, Richard Shindell, U2, and YouTube

April 11th, 2009 — 09:33 pm

It’s been a busy week, what with re-election to the local School Board, midterm grading, and Passover coming to a head all-at-once. To compensate, I’ve timeshifted this post a bit, writing ahead in time stolen from sleep and paperwork, so that the family can spend the weekend in Boston while I pass words and coversong along via some template trickery.

Which is to say: as you read this, I’m not here right now. And since we’re drifting in the complex currents of past tense grammar, why not reach back in time a bit more? Here’s yet another installment of our popular (Re)Covered series, wherein we cover new and newly-rediscovered songs that dropped into our laps just a bit too late to make it into earlier features on the same subject.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that American expatriate Richard Shindell is one of my absolute favorite singer-songwriters. In fact, looking back in the archives, I find that we’ve covered the one-time Fast Folkie in depth several times, both as a solo coverartist and as a member of Cry Cry Cry.

I last wrote about Shindell in (Re)Covered V, back when he was soliciting micro-financing for his upcoming album; since then, I’ve received my own copy of Not Far Now and companion alt-takes collection Mariana’s EP, and I’m happy to report that a) it’s a topper, and b) it contains a marvelous cover of Dave Carter’s The Mountain. One day, I aspire to a full set of covers of the late great Dave Carter’s work, both with and without his still-touring partner Tracy Grammer. In the meantime, this one’s just too good to hang on to.

Richard Shindell Bonus: We posted a studio version of modern Celtic folkband Solas covering of Shindell’s On a Sea of Fleur de Lis way back in our very first post; here’s a hopping live version of the same from their 2004 live CD/DVD, which brought together all past and present members for an amazing set of songs.

I’ve written about Ruth Ungar Merenda‘s work a few times here, too, most recently in her role as one third of nu-folk trio Sometymes Why. But as I noted in our first full feature on her work as a solo artist and co-founder of now-defunct neo-trad group The Mammals, these days Ruthy spends most of her time with her husband and fellow ex-Mammals member Mike Merenda and their new tiny son.

It’s Mike and Ruthy we’re interested in today. The two just came out with a new album called Waltz of the Chickadee, and in addition to the usual diverse set of intimate, old-timey originals, it includes some wonderful covers of some familiar old tunes. Here’s two vastly different takes on the long-ago past from the new work: a loose acoustic old-time jam take on Guthrie classic Dust Bowl Blues, and a mellower, sweeter, more indie-folk Hang Me.

Ruth Merenda Bonus: Dad Jay and stepmom Molly Mason invited Ruthy in to sing harmony on an old Leadbelly tune given the acoustic swing treatment on the title track to their 2003 album.

I hadn’t planned on returning to our feature on native YouTube covers, but as I mentioned at the time, more and more artists are producing work in front of the cameras, and it just doesn’t seem fair to them or their producing organizations to strip the sound of its innate visual component without acknowledging the work in its original multimedia form.

Here’s a simply stunning eighties cover from new folk-crush William Fitzsimmons, a still-rising star from the same hushfolk school as Sufjan and Iron and Wine, recorded last summer on a Deep Rock Drive session.

William Fitzsimmons Bonus: Fitzsimmons’ modern indiefolk lullaby cover of James Taylor’s You Can Close Your Eyes is but one of many powerful tracks on the previously-featured sixties and seventies tribute Before the Goldrush.

Speaking of video, and as a nod to our recent set of U2 covers, here’s a slightly precious but oh so gorgeous popfolk video cover from a recent TV appearance by a collection of Norwegian pop singers. Seems this cover is the first single from their new tour, or something. Totally guilty pleasure, but I love it all the same. (Less impressive, unless you like American Idol fauxfolk: their 2007 cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.)

U2 Bonus: here’s an old Redbird outtake, ragged but equally gorgeous in its own fragmented way, rediscovered through a reader (thanks, Jeff).

As always, Cover Lay Down is proud to support artists directly, without middlemen or megastores. If you like what you hear here, please consider following links to artist websites and preferred points of purchase.

1,269 comments » | (Re)Covered, richard shindell, U2

Covered in Folk: Pete Seeger (On Folk as an Engine of Social Change)

September 24th, 2008 — 08:37 pm

Though I believe that folk, most especially in the way it functions as a channel of engagement and public discourse, is by definition an agency of cultural change, I have been reluctant to use this blog as a forum for advocating explicit change of any one type. Perpetuating the relevance of folk as an agenda in and of itself, it seems to me, precludes taking sides for any particular agenda which might be carried by folk, lest we alienate opposing values, and in doing so, diminish the potential of folk to remain dialogic.

But it’s pledge drive time at our local radio station, and the Nobel Prize selection committee does seem to have a set criteria for signatories and public outcry as an establishing principle for prize consideration. And it’s hard to imagine anyone genuinely untouched by the compassionate, tireless work in the name of human dignity, empowerment, and awareness which Pete Seeger continues to consider his life’s work after over sixty years as a recording artist and activist.

So when my mother, who once used Seeger’s songs as a vehicle for planting the seeds of peace and justice in both myself and in the inner city classrooms of New York City, became the most recent in a long series of folks to remind me of the recent petition to recognize Pete’s long-standing contribution to social, environmental, and political change, it seemed like the right time to use the soapbox to do some particular good.

Though there are parallels to be made between the community ownership of song upon which this blog is predicated, and the ways in which Pete Seeger‘s work has bridged time and space to touch and affect the rest of us, one one level, honoring this particular life’s work is made more challenging by our focus on coversong. For, though there are certainly tunes that one can point to as written by Seeger during his long career, the question of coverage and song origin is complex and unclear in much of Seeger’s catalog.

Which is to say: the son of an ethnomusicologist and a true believer in folk as a mechanism for tying past to future, perhaps more than any artist in history, Seeger has lived folk song as if it truly did belong to the community for which it speaks. As such, Seeger’s contribution to folk was one of popularization as much as songcraft; many of the songs he is best known for have their origin in the past, and much of his better-known works, like Turn, Turn, Turn, use older components to create new works. Even Seeger’s own greatest hits album combines songs written by Pete Seeger with songs popularized by Seeger. And even the better tribute albums out there mix songs which Seeger actually wrote with songs which he made his own.

None of this precludes consideration from the Nobel folks, of course; indeed, it is Seeger’s deep sense of the social and folk environment as both purposeful and shared by all of us which is perhaps the most powerful case for his recognition. As such, first and foremost, the aim of today’s post is to ask all of you to take a moment and — in the name of folk itself — sign your name to the petition asking the Nobel Prize Committee to consider Pete Seeger for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his tireless work sowing the seeds of peace.

But of course, you also come here for the music. And there are some great tributes out there, most notably the three sets which the activist-founded, socially conscious folklabel Appleseed Recordings has released in a scant decade of existence; I’m especially enamored of double-disk first release Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs Of Pete Seeger, which in addition to the Ani DiFranco and Bruce Cockburn covers below includes a veritable who’s who of big-name inheritors of the activist folkmantle, from Richie Havens and Odetta to Springsteen and Billy Bragg.

Someday, I aspire to the time and energy it would take to approach a proper post on the central influence Pete Seeger and his family — from father Charles (the ethnomusicologist) to half-siblings Peggy and Mike to half-nephew Neill MacColl and grandson Tao Rodriguez of the Mammals — have had in defining and continuing to define folk music as a social and political engine of change for almost a century. In the meanwhile, here’s a set of personal favorites with a much simpler organizing principle: songs which other folk artists of a certain political bent have learned from or associate with Pete Seeger himself, regardless of authorship, and have recorded in deliberate tribute to this long-standing folk icon.

*removed at artist/label request.

Folk and social consciousness go hand in hand; to support one is to support the other. If you have ever been moved by folksong, sign the petition — technically, a petition “to persuade [the] American Friends Service Committee to enter Pete Seeger as their nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008 ” — and in doing so help make the case for both Seeger and the folk process itself as an agency of peace. Then, head on over to Appleseed Recordings for the opportunity to purchase Seeger’s work, the aforementioned cover albums, and a whole host of other folksongs from a growing stable of socially aware artists actively engaged in using folk music to change the world for the better.

Want more? Today’s bonus coversongs offer a tiny, tiny taste of Seeger as political song interpreter, just in case you’re still young enough to have never really encountered his own continued celebration of his folkpeers and ancestors:

Cover Lay Down publishes new materials Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday. Join us this weekend as we celebrate one year of coverfolk blogging.

1,112 comments » | ani difranco, Bruce Cockburn, Eric Bibb, Holly Near, Joan Baez, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Marlene Dietrich, Natalie Merchant, Pete Seeger, richard shindell, The Mammals, Tony Trischka

Buddy and Julie Miller Cover: Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, John Hiatt, John Sebastian, and more!

July 6th, 2008 — 10:01 am

One of the primary reasons I focus on coversong here at Cover Lay Down is because I believe that covers are a great way to make the process of discovering new artists both comfortable and familiar. Most of the time, whether the organizing principle of a given post is the interpretive work of one singer-songwriter, or a single artists’ songbook, this means a focus on popular songs, and less popular artists performing them. After all, you don’t need me to introduce you to Bob Dylan, but you’re much less likely to have heard Angel Snow’s delicate, raw take on Dylan’s Meet Me in the Morning.

But for me, the discovery process works the other way, too. When I began collecting covers in earnest as part of the creation of this blog, I started using the “composer” field in iTunes actively; in doing so, I gained the ability to easily cluster songs by songwriter. This not only made it easier to organize songs for our Covered in Folk feature posts — it also led me to discover artists I might not otherwise have found, had I not been confronted with the fact that many beloved songs I had thought were unrelated originals by different artists shared a common songwriter, and gone looking for more work by that songwriter.

Today, this process bears wonderful fruit: a focus on the interpretive work of a married pair of singer-songwriters who I first encountered through their songs as covered by other artists. They’re known better as behind-the-scenes wizards from the country/roots-rock end of American folk music, but they’re great performers in their own right, and I think they deserve as much a chance to shine as their songs do. Ladies and Gentlemen: Buddy and Julie Miller.

Texan Julie Miller started singing at sixteen, releasing her first album in 1991; long-time Nashville session guitarist Buddy Miller met her on the road, and soon they were sharing both bed and band. But the singing-songwriting team of Buddy and Julie Miller was truly formed in 1995, when Julie co-wrote songs and contributed vocal talents for Buddy’s first solo effort Your Love And Other Lies. Two years later, critical accolades for the release of her major-label debut Blue Pony, which featured Buddy as producer and on multiple instruments, sealed their reputations in the folk and country worlds; since then, the two have become one of the most successful musical husband and wife teams you’ve never heard of.

You’ve almost definitely heard Buddy and Julie’s session work, though. Both are heavily in demand: Buddy for his production work, vocals, bass, and lead guitarplay, Julie for her vocal harmonies and writing. Between them, they’ve worked on over a hundred albums, in session with the likes of everyone from Frank Black and Jimmie Dale Gilmore to Mindy Smith and Patty Griffin. Buddy, who served in Emmylou Harris’ band for eight years, has earned accolades from bandmates Emmylou and Steve Earle, among others, for his guitarwork and his vocals; meanwhile, Julie’s vocal harmony has become the mark of a certain kind of promise for releases from predominantly female folk artists with a particular southern folk/country bent to their sound and their outlook.

But because session work is often invisible to the average listener, in name, at least, Buddy and Julie are probably better known for their work as interpreted by others. Their songs are unmistakable: rich with black and white old-testament imagery, catchy melodies, that particular form of desperate hope and strength common to regional music of proud but dirt-poor community, and a mountain gospel trope which fits well with the typical themes of post-folk country music. As other people’s hits and deep cuts, their music has helped bring fame and fortune to a huge set of artists from the country and folk worlds, from core country artists Lee Ann Womack (multiple tracks), The Dixie Chicks (Hole in My Head) and Brooks and Dunn (My Love Will Follow You) to countryfolk Emmylou Harris (All My Tears) and Hank Williams III (Lonesome for You), from Christian rockers Jars of Clay (All My Tears) to bluesman John Mayall (Dirty Water) to straight-up folk artists Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell (see bonus section below).

Though their co-billed album Buddy and Julie Miller was a 2001 Grammy Nominee for Best Contemporary Folk Album, Buddy and Julie Miller are lesser-known as performers in their own right outside the music community. The Millers spend more time on sidelines than center stage; as such, they sometimes come off as session players getting their big break in concert, but they have their moments. I saw them a few years ago at the Green River Festival: Buddy studious, ragged and white-haired, grinning as he hunched over the guitar like a sideman; Julie beside him, smiling, singing a bit too brashly for her voice, her confidence level somewhere between performing spouse and full-blown performer. But the music was memorable in its way — big and generous, skillfully and unpretentiously presented, clearly studied — and the songs catchy and fun in the particular manner of rock music sung by folk musicians.

Still, it’s the studio where these folks really shine as solo artists. By himself, Buddy Miller favors an electrified roots-rock sound, with skilled guitarwork that runs a full range from driving to atmospheric wail, while Julie leans towards more traditional southern-style singer-songwriter folk fare in the vein of Nanci Griffith or Caroline Herring, produced (by Buddy, mostly) in a folkpop vein. They work with each other, so though nominally some albums are hers, some his, there are usually bits of each of them in the songs. Together, they make a powerful team, both in the way their various talents come together as a single whole, and in the way Julie’s sometimes tentative vocals compliment Buddy’s rough southern voice — think a slightly lighter-weight Kasey Chambers with a more intelligible Steve Earle, and you’ve just about got it.

Here’s some of Buddy and Julie Miller’s best coverwork, both solo and with others, that you’ve never heard.

*Look, the point here is to whet your appetite, so you’ll buy the stuff; ordinarily, I’d have links here and above to Buddy and Julie’s webstore, where you can pick up more of their fully autographed works direct from the source, without dropping most of the profit in the coffers of Big Music. But Buddy usually runs the store, and he’s currently on tour with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, so he can’t fill orders. And most of Julie’s old albums are out of print, while the Millers prepare a “best of the early years” CD.

My recommendation: pick up Universal United House of Prayer NOW, direct from the label, and let that be your turntable goodness for the summer. Then, when you want more, come back to the webstore in August…or head out to your local indie store, where they’ll be happy to order whatever they can find for you.

Want more? Of course you do. And given the high recognition factor for the Buddy and Julie Miller songbook, we’d be remiss in not offering you a look at some of their best songs as performed by others. Because the list was so exhaustive, though it was hard not to share Emmylou’s version of All My Tears, I’ve decided to focus on some of our favorite song interpreters in the folkworld: Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, and Lucy Kaplansky, the three folk artists who, together, comprised the short-lived folk supergroup Cry Cry Cry. Today’s bonus coversongs may be just the tip of a very big, very wonderful iceberg, but I think you’ll find them worthy. (Bonus points: see if you can make out Buddy on one of these covers!)

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

  • The Gibson Brothers cover Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go
  • 806 comments » | Bob Dylan, Buddy and Julie Miller, Buddy Miller, cry cry cry, Gram Parsons, John Hiatt, John Sebastian, Julie Miller, Lucy Kaplansky, richard shindell

    America, The Beautiful: Coverfolk for a Thoughtful Fourth

    July 3rd, 2008 — 11:51 pm

    I’m not exactly the patriotic type. I’ve been to more countries than states; I prefer solitude to mall culture. Heck, we don’t even have basic cable. But all power-hungry, commercial/corporate complex, bittersweet modernity aside, I believe in the ideals which frame the constant American dialogue with itself — including first and foremost the requirement that we keep talking, lest we abdicate our role as government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    And I believe that, by definition, as music which speaks of and for a people, American folk music holds a particular place in that conversation which is America. Folk focuses that conversation, making it real and vivid, whether it is through the lens of policy critique or protest cry, the immigrant experience or the internal monologue of a singer-songwriter struggling to be free.

    Checks and balances and a mechanism for self-correction; fireworks and barbecue, and the right to make dumb mistakes and have to live with ‘em. Losing love, and falling in it again. Finding hope, and being scared to dream one more time. It’s the American way, all of it — and it’s been that way since inception.

    Which is to say: if I may sometimes work to change the policies of those in power, through sharing song or through town meeting politics, it is because I love this country. And I hope I never lose that fluttery feeling in my stomach when we come in for a landing at the international terminal, and I know that I am home.

    So let other bloggers share patriotic song today. I’d rather take the country as it is: dialogic, complex, open about its faults and favors, and always looking for a better way. And if saying so means posting songs we have posted here before, then so be it — for these are, after all, timeless songs, with messages that bear repeating.

    Happy Birthday, America. Long may your contradictions endear us to you. May you never lose hope. And may we never stop singing.

    992 comments » | Allison Crowe, Danny Michel, Eva Cassidy, Holiday Coverfolk, Melora Creager, richard shindell, Tony Furtado

    (Re)Covered V: More Covers of and from Richard Shindell, Cindy Kallet, Doc Watson, James Taylor

    May 4th, 2008 — 06:38 pm

    News, new releases, and new discoveries leave us no choice but to bring you yet another long-overdue installment of our popular (Re)Covered series, wherein we recover songs that dropped through the cracks too late to make it into the posts where they belonged.

    A huge news trifecta this week from Cover Lay Down inaugural-post favorite Richard Shindell: he’s started a blog, he’s decided to reopen sales of his recent live album as a digital download, and he’s decided to try financing his next record by offering every single one of us the chance to become a producer.

    Shindell’s blog is already proving to be a vibrant space for thoughtful, well-written treatises on the world and how it is changing, though we’d expect nothing less from this articulate singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter; the first two entries offer a short journalistic report from his adopted homeland of Argentina, and an artist’s-eye reflection on how changes in the music industry have altered the relationship between musicians and fans, primarily for the better. And the news that others will soon be able to order his well-produced and wonderfully organic live album, which I wrote about in our six-month anniversary post, is just plain great.

    But I’m especially excited to see Shindell join the growing ranks of folk artists who are not only embracing the new, digital world, but tapping into its fullest potential. Album microfinancing through the fanbase is a gutsy move, but it is a viable one, as singer-songwriters Kris Delmhorst and Jill Sobule have successfully demonstrated; the multi-tiered approach Shindell is using to finance his new work seems creative, and offers real return for investors: at the entry level, you’re basically buying the album in advance; from there, investment return climbs all the way up to house concerts and housepainting.

    As Richard points out in his most recent blog entry, working with “big music” and the RIAA has its costs, and often require that artists work in ways which are not consistent with their own value systems. But the file-sharing landscape offers new opportunities which greatly improve the potential for the relationship between artists and fans. Fan financing is just one example of this; a second is Shindell’s creation of an open guitar case, where those who have downloaded his work for free, or just appreciate it, can choose to stop by and support Shindell directly. Here’s hoping that this is only the tip of a very big iceberg.

    Please join me in supporting the creation of Richard’s new album, and celebrating yet one more musician who has decided to leave behind the crumbling, artist-unfriendly industry. Even if you aren’t interested in purchasing a full album, or participating in microfinancing at this time, if you like the songs I’ve included here, or enjoyed previously-posted covers from Richard Shindell, including songs by Springsteen and Ritter, Leonard Cohen, and Jeffrey Foucault and Dar Williams, please consider donating to Shindell via his open guitar case.

    In other (Re)Covered-worthy news, I just recieved my review copy of Heart Walk, the new album from the trio of Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein, and Michael Cicone. As expected, it’s a beautful work, full of robust harmony and sincere emotion, primarily comprised of coversongs of underappreciated folk artists who share the same social and ecological sensibilities of Kallet and co. Like the trio’s previous two albums, which I wrote about in our previous feature on Cindy Kallet, Heart Walk is both an especially powerful musical experience, and a great and loving introduction to the work of other folk musicians you may not have heard of, but should. Kudos, all around.

    Order Heart Walk and hear samples here; if you live in the Boston area, come join me at First Parish Church in Watertown on May 17th for the Kallet, Epstein, and Cicone CD release party, a rare opportunity to see the trio (and friends) perform live. In the meantime, these two covertracks from the new album — a cover of an old Judy Collins tune, and an absolutely stunning cover of Peter Mayer’s Holy Now featuring Michael’s warm, clear lead vocals — are a great way to whet the appetite.

    • Kallet, Epstein, Cicone, Holy Now (orig. Peter Mayer)
    • Kallet, Epstein, Cicone, Since You Asked (orig. Judy Collins)

    Our recent vacation to North Carolina was lots of fun, but being without the bulk of my music collection meant a relative dearth of music availability for the posts I produced while on the road. Happily, since my return, my continued search for songs from fathers to daughters and more old folk song covers from Doc Watson led me to Daddies Sing Good Night, a decade-old compilation from bluegrass label Sugar Hill records. This great coveralbum, which turned up in my daughter’s vanity, was the source for the Seldom Scene cover of Sweet Baby James I included in our recent James Taylor coversongs megapost; it also includes these two great father-to-son cuts from Doc Watson.

    And finally, speaking of ol’ JT: thanks to all my readers, especially long-time reader and fan Carol, for the many songs and suggestions that poured in after the aforementioned James Taylor megapost. Though I’m saving most of my newly-embiggened collection of Taylor covers ever-hopefully for a future post on other members of the mightily talented Taylor Family, here’s that Alison Krauss and James Taylor cover of the Louvin Brothers I’d been looking for — it’s even better than I hoped it would be.

    801 comments » | (Re)Covered, Alison Krauss, Cindy Kallet, Doc Watson, James Taylor, Judy Collins, Louvin Brothers, Merle Haggard, Pete Seeger, Peter Gabriel, Peter Mayer, richard shindell, Townes van Zandt

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

    March 30th, 2008 — 01:40 am

    Image copyright Adam Pesch, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Single Song Sunday: Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat

    March 9th, 2008 — 08:42 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Opposite of Fear: Songs Of Hope and Love For Valentines

    February 13th, 2008 — 11:08 am

    I remember the night we drove everywhere just to find a place to commit ourselves to a future together. It was cold, like tonight is cold.

    It wasn’t Valentine’s Day. But it was love.

    Looking back, I can’t believe it took me so long to accept that the feelings I had for you were real, and worth risking everything. All that time I thought I was too broken, too battered. All that time, I thought a fool like me didn’t deserve a woman like you.

    But you always believed. And every morning when I kiss you in your sleep before I leave, I thank you for that calm certainty. Without your willingness to wait forever, I might never have found the courage to jump into the abyss.

    A companion post to Sunday’s songs of Love and Fear, then: a soundtrack for that long shared silence; a short sweet story of the miracle of us. If I could give you anything, it would be this feeling, always. No longer afraid, I fly with you.

    Thanks to all who come, read, sample, and support artists.

    May you, too, find love.

    898 comments » | Alison Krauss, Holiday Coverfolk, Liz Durrett, M. Ward, Matthew Good, Patty Larkin, richard shindell, Rosie Thomas, Swati, Valentines Day Coverfolk

    Dar Williams Covers: Springsteen, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, The Beatles…

    December 23rd, 2007 — 10:46 pm

    It took me a while to get into Dar Williams. The way she plays with the strong break between her bold lower tones and her breathy upper register is an acquired taste. Her songwriting is generally wry and poignant, but it takes more than one skim-the-surface listen to appreciate its complexity. She tends towards strong, heavy production, which attracts a younger alt-folk crowd, but can overwhelm her well-crafted, literate lyrics.

    But at her best, Dar is an incredible artist. Her songwriting and her stage presence are so raw and fragile, it’s like what it must have been like to see Joni Mitchell during her Blue period. She picks distinctive, powerful voices for harmony, weaves a rich, complex tapestry to tell her strum and story. Her work is the soundtrack of my soul. Her music is listenable, mature, and strong, and it bears repeating.

    Dar is flat-out incredible live. I’ve seen her half a dozen times, maybe, and she just radiates good cheer and a cute, puppy-dog-awkward stage discomfort that makes you want to root for her. When she plays Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, she always asks the field to light up their cellphones and lighters all-at-once when she does “Iowa”, and there’s that created moment where she’s just awestruck and gasping, and you cry there in the dark, for the beauty of it all.

    I was hoping to find a bootlegged copy of Dar covering the Cat Stevens song Peace Train this summer on stage at FRFF with the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Alas, we’ll just have to go on without it. Happily, there’s plenty of coverlove to put forth, from the sweet, poignant Pierce Pettis cover Family to the urban popfolk ride of the Kinks’ Better Things — both of which Dar makes so much her own I didn’t realize they were covers when I first heard them. Plus great covers of Springsteen, The Beatles, The Band, Nick Lowe, Pink Floyd, and some bonus songs, as always: supergroup Cry, Cry, Cry, a cover of a Dar song by the very first artist we ever featured here on Cover Lay Down, and another cover of that Kinks song. And don’t forget to head back to last month’s archives to pick up Dar’s folkrockin’ cover of David Bowie’s Starman after you’re finished here.

    Dar Williams has just come out with a new live DVD, which includes a cover of the Grateful Dead song Ripple. Her management usually frowns on pre-release, so buy Live at Bearsville, and the rest of her amazing catalog, and find out for yourself how intimate and powerful Dar Williams can be.

    Today’s bonus coversongs:

    761 comments » | ani difranco, Bruce Springsteen, cry cry cry, Dar Williams, Fountains of Wayne, Nick Lowe, Peter Mulvey, Pierce Pettis, Pink Floyd, richard shindell

    All Folked Up, Part 1: Richard Shindell’s South of Delia

    September 30th, 2007 — 07:15 pm

    Welcome to Cover Lay Down, folks! Hope you found us okay. For a short letter of introduction/explanation covering why the world needs another cover blog, and why this just might be it, click here.

    Our inaugural cover set below trumpets Richard Shindell’s recent South of Delia, a full album of covers released earlier this year. In presenting it, I’m trying to establish a posting template of sorts, wherein posts will include (wherever possible) both a featured cover and one or more bonus covers which are related to the feature in some way. Enjoy the music!

    Richard Shindell is no stranger to cover songs. Many of the new generation discovered him through Cry Cry Cry, a one-shot folk supergroup which brought Richard, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky together for an covers album and a short tour a few years back before tension between the two women in the group brought the collaboration to an end. And his cover of Dar’s Calling the Moon gives me shivers.

    But it says what it needs to, I think, that though Dar was surely the most widely known of the three, Cry Cry Cry only included one song by one of their own members on that single, seminal album — Shindell’s Ballad of Mary Magdalen.

    Shindell is a singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter, a member of the same second-gen folk movement that brought forth Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, and John Gorka, and a man who is just as happy to play guitar along with them as he is to share his own well-written songs. He is known among his peers as a slightly shy, somewhat reclusive genius who hides deep insight in a plethora of storysongs ranging in subject and imagery from catholicism to the refugee’s plight. Ask any folksinger of a certain age to list the ten best lyrics they’ve ever heard, and you can bet Shindell’s work will be up near the top.

    So many of us were left scratching our heads when we heard that his next release would be a full set of covers. And wondered, as well, what was up with the lack of press, and the release on the living-room label “Richard Shindell Recordings”. Was this merely a labor of love?

    Naysayers fear not: South of Delia is a rich tribute indeed. Shindell manages to reassess and reimagine a broad set of tunes, bringing a new poignancy to deepcuts from the familiar (Dylan’s Tales of Yankee Power, Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street, The Band’s Acadian Driftwood) to the neofolk (the Josh Ritter and Jeffrey Foucault covers are especially well done, and let me say here: it takes both guts and grace to cover the younger generation, and to do it well.) His choices of song well fit his own songwriter’s bent, telling tales of the downtrodden, the refugee, the lovelorn, the lost — an especially masterful tactic in the case of songs which were, in their original form, produced to emphasize music and mood more than lyrics.

    But don’t take my word for it. Here, take a listen to the deep yearning for place and racial acceptance Shindell brings to Born in the USA, which many folks consider Bruce Springsteen’s least meaningful song. I promise you’ll never hear it the same way again.

    South of Delia is Shindell’s first album on the “Richard Shindell Recordings” label. You can get it in the usual places, but I prefer purchase through the artist websites whenever possible, so buy Richard Shindell’s South of Delia here.

    Today’s bonus coversongs:

    862 comments » | all folked up, Bruce Springsteen, cry cry cry, Dar Williams, Jeffrey Foucault, R.E.M., richard shindell, solas