Archive for January 2009

The Covers Roundtable, Part II:
More Fave Coverfolk from More Fave Folkbloggers

January 31st, 2009 — 08:55 pm

Second in a series, and a good thing, too, as I’ve been running a fever of 102 all weekend and have to correct over fifty final papers for a first thing Monday grading deadline.   Today we feature the coverfolk submissions of two folkbloggers who have recently joined the collaborative over at Star Maker Machine: Robbie of Womenfolk, and Susan of Optimistic Voices.

I gave major kudos to Robbie of Womenfolk back in November, when Cover Lay Down moved to its new domain, and Robbie did the dirty work on the wordpress install and the bare-bones design; since then, Robbie has introduced a stunningly gorgeous yet tasteful redesign of his own site, and continues to set the standard for tender, deliberate, thoughtful, celebratory and well-written treatment of all things femmefolk. Here’s three lovely covers he sent along for us to share.

  • Brianna Lane: Learn To Fly (orig. Foo Fighters)

    Robbie says: Minneapolis’ Brianna Lane released her third album, Let You In, in 2007 and on it, you’ll find her rendition of the Foo Fighter’s “Learn To Fly,” from their album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Lane’s soft and cozy voice and acoustic delivery provides a mellow and pleasant mood that compliments the original; it’s distinguishable as I’ve always felt covers should be, but she never veers too far from what made the original so great.
  • Allison Cipris: Only The Lonely (orig. The Motels)

    Robbie says: Allison Cipris creates music that is decidedly rock, but her cover of “Only The Lonely,” a song written by Martha Davis of the 80′s new wave band the Motels, is a wonderful display of the quieter side of the New York songwriter. Recorded in 2006, Cipris’ version isn’t remarkably different than the original, but her delivery is near-flawless.
  • Holly O’Reilly: Everybody Knows (orig. Leonard Cohen)

    Robbie says: “Everybody Knows” is probably one of my favorite songs of all-time. Master songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote it with Sharon Robinson, but Concrete Blonde cemented (pun not intended) my love for it.

    Songwriter Holly O’Reilly (formerly known as Holly Figueroa) covered the song on her 2007 album, “Gifts and Burdens.” Hers is certainly a folkier version; acoustic guitars, banjo and the deep hum of a cello delivering a surprisingly winning marriage of instruments while O’Reilly’s capable singing ties everything together to tell this beautifully pessimistic tale.

Susan and I probably know each other in real life — after all, we’ve attended the same folk festivals — but currently, we know each other through our shared work over at Star Maker Machine, where she contributes work from a particular subset of the contemporary folkworld which few if any other bloggers celebrate these days. Pity, that. Susan’s obvious and infectious love for the musicians she shares is evident in everything she writes, and she’s reintroduced me to a host of artists I used to know when I was younger. Here, she writes what is essentially its own blog post, but the introduction seemed so integral to the songs, I decided to skip the formatting I’ve been using and let it stand.

Susan says:  Hard to believe, but a decade ago I was horrified by covers that strayed too far off the mark – these days, because a dear friend helped me realize the redundancy of non-creative covers, I’ve found so many songs that opened up more fully *because* of the reinterpretation!

The hardest part of this assignment/invitation from Boyhowdy was finding covers he hadn’t already… um… covered – I spent the better part of an afternoon perusing the archives of Cover Lay Down, attempting to determine what selections I might have that he didn’t.  I did manage to find a few he wasn’t yet privy to (or, more likely, hasn’t yet disclosed)… and consider it quite an accomplishment – it’s like getting the Final Jeopardy answer at home when none of the TV contestants do…  :-)

It is no secret I am a word woman – I self-admittedly put up with mediocre guitar-playing and average-or-worse voices if the lyrics hit me in the heart.  Below are songs I listened to as originals… but only really heard through the re-covered styling:

  • Sara Hickman: Mad World (orig. Tears for Fears)

    Susan says: Most people know the Gary Jules version of this song from the movie Donnie Darko… and most people do not know the original is by Tears for Fears – Sara Hickman, a compelling and diverse Texas singer-songwriter (just as comfortable in a children’s music genre as she is in her well-penned adult themes), does a hauntingly lovely job of taking this song to another level…
  • Shawn Colvin:  Crazy (orig. Gnarls Barkley)

    Susan says: All three of my children (and most of my friends/family) have heard my “radio is a wasteland” speech – unfortunately, what we’re treated to on a regular basis is what Program Directors have distilled down and are forcefeeding us, multiple times a day, day in/day out.  With so much great music out there, I don’t understand the need for a Top 40 format – of course, that’s where satellite radio stepped in to fill the gap (which I don’t, and probably will never, have… relying instead on my trusty and ever-growing CD collection).  I had heard Gnarls Barkley’s original entirely too many times on a car ride with my daughter, which (and this is going to sound just like something my mom would say) came across as noise – with Shawn Colvin‘s articulated and poignant rendition, I… got… it
  • Thea Gilmore:  Bad Moon Rising (orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival)

    Susan says: Who doesn’t love Credence Clearwater Revival? (rhetorical question) – they were a toe-tapping, feel-good, iconic group of the late-60′s/early-70′s, famous for Down on the Corner, Green River, Suzie Q  (so many hits, so little time) and Bad Moon Rising, done here by British songwriter Thea Gilmore with a stripped-down simplicity in which the tempo finally matches the words.  I knew nothing about Thea and, upon googling to find out more, also discovered that this CD is a collection of covers, among them Neil Young’s The Old Laughing Lady, Van Morrison’s Crazy Love, Jimmy Cliff’s Sitting in Limbo and Phil Ochs’ When I’m Gone – jackpot!

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

5 comments » | Uncategorized

RIP John Martyn, 1948 – 2009

January 29th, 2009 — 06:58 pm

I discovered John Martyn slowly, through coverage, and unless you’re an older folkie you may have too.  Though he was better known across the pond, and his star shone its brightest in the sixties and seventies, his song May You Never, in particular, become especially familiar in the folk/blues world after Clapton covered it on his seminal 1977 release Slowhand; since then, Martyn had lived life as a songwriter’s songwriter, still touring to smaller and older audiences as his songs traveled on without him in the hands of a diverse set of artists, from Dr. John to Beck to a huge and ever-growing crowd of his britfolk peers.  

Martyn’s delivery is easily comparable to his close friend and early label-mate Nick Drake, though without the depression. The covers I’ve collected here show Martyn as a tender songwriter with an eye for detail and an ear for ambience; each in their own way pays solid tribute to a man known for a master’s light touch with sadness and celebration alike. But it’s his own bonus track take on Singin’ In The Rain that makes for the perfect epitaph.   God bless, John, and thanks for the songs.

Looking for a taste of Martyn’s original work? Head over to Some Velvet Blog, Aquarium Drunkard, and Lonesome Music for heartfelt posthumous tributes and a sampler of John Martyn originals.

1,256 comments » | Uncategorized

The Covers Roundtable:
Favorite Coverfolk From Some Favorite Folkbloggers

January 27th, 2009 — 11:18 pm

Momentum matters; I’m a stickler for a blogging schedule. Last summer, rather than let the blog go dark during my annual folkfest pilgrimage, I asked a few fellow Star Maker Machine contributors to cover for me. Even in the midst of our little “blogger problem“, when it became clear that posts would remain under siege until I found my own host, I missed but a week of Wednesdays and Sundays before we were able to start back up here; even then, it was a struggle to get back into the groove after the short hiatus.

Which is why last week, in a spate of concern about losing a week of posting to my continuing tinnitus, I asked a few of my favorite folkbloggers to donate “a fave coversong or two, and a short write-up to accompany it”. The plan was to collect coverfolk from bloggers I trust, on the likely chance that I could not blog as my best self for a while, and have it ready to share with you as a celebration of my blogging peers and influences. And today, since the ringing is pretty bad and I’m looking at a long week grading finals at term’s end, I’m pleased to announce that the first batch of roundtable contributions has arrived just in time — and that to a one, in both song choice and syntax, they are as stellar and diverse a set as I could have hoped for.

To keep things fair, and celebrate each fave folkblogger equally, I’ll be sharing these wonderful responses in the order they arrived in the inbox. Tonight, then, we’ll kick off the Coverfolk Roundtable with a wonderful and diverse set of folk covers from bloggers Victoria of Muruch, Kat of Keep the Coffee Coming, and The Duke of The Late Greats. Enjoy!

Victoria and I have somewhat of a mutual admiration society going on. I was flattered to be named one of her top five recommended reads just a few weeks ago; in turn, I’ve been increasingly impressed by her own work over at Muruch, from her perceptive, honest reviews of a wide range of media, including Mountain Stage folk, folkpop, and the occasional DVD or book, to her ability to describe and anticipate the ramifications of the continued influence of Google on our blogger lives so presciently.

It was Victoria’s suggestion, in fact, that led to this little roundtable project. And just because she’s folk like that, she sent along not one, but three lovely folk-hybrid tracks for our listening pleasure.

  • Luminescent Orchestrii: She’s a Brick (orig. The Commodores)

    Victoria says: Luminescent Orchestrii are one of my favorite bands. Their music churns Romanian, Jewish, and Appalachian folk fiddle into a demented punk frenzy with the occasional pop and hum of a human beatbox. Their twisted and trippy instrumental cover of The Commodores’ “She’s a Brickhouse” was featured their debut album Too Hot To Sleep. What I love about their version is that accomplishes the two things that any great cover should: 1) it captures the spirit of the original, but 2) sounds fresh and original.
  • Pianafiddle: Jazzy Für Elise (orig. Beethoven)

    Victoria says: Pianafiddle are a West Virginian duo who perform improvised instrumental mashups of songs from a variety of genres, including folk, jazz, blues, Celtic, bluegrass, and classical. Though their rendition of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is indeed jazzy, the presence of the fiddle adds a definite folk element to the song. This cover is from their recent Or Something Like That! album, which was one of my favorites from 2008.

Duke needs little introduction; his long-standing blog The Late Greats is on all the best blogrolls. The man who introduced me to the importance of having regular features — after all, familiarity breeds content — tends toward the unapologetic and the pithy, choosing high posting volume over too much depth, preferring to let the music come to us with little more than a hook or two; that he has managed to keep this up for so long without sacrificing a consistently high quality continues to impress me. Here’s one of his favorites, which is also one of mine.

  • Jonathan Coulton: Baby’s Got Back (orig. Sir Mixalot)

    Duke says: “Transmogrify: to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect” Webster nailed it in regards to Jonathan Coulton’s version of the Sir Mixalot classic “Baby’s Got Back”. Nothing better than taking a rap song and folking it out.

Kat’s blogging style is uniquely intimate: each day at Keep The Coffee Coming she shares a personal reflection tinged with memory, a black-and-white image of yesteryear, and a handful of thematically-related songs, chosen from what I swear is my father’s record collection raised to the Nth power. The songs are posted as separate entries, with little or no words to accompany them. The net result is like a soundtrack for a soul. It’s a hell of a powerful way to run a folkblog.

  • Chris Smither: Cold Trail Blues (orig. Peter Case)

    Kat says: Chris Smither gives this Peter Case song a plaintive, desolate sound as he sings in a gruff whisper about a love lost, a trail gone cold. The song feels filled with longing. As for the music, Smither’s guitar work, his fingering, gives it the sound of a Mexican folk song. Anita Suhanin singing duet seems a bit lost behind Smither’s voice. The song comes from his 2006 release Leave the Light On.

Cover Lay Down publishes new features Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,020 comments » | Uncategorized

New Artists, Old Songs: From Tradfolk to I Kissed A Girl
(covers from Emma Beaton, Corin Joel, Jason Bajada and Meursault)

January 25th, 2009 — 12:06 am

Thanks to an extraordinarily generous anonymous benefactor, yesterdays mail contained an Audio Bone — a sort of headphone which fits in front of the ear, and, through the magic of bone conduction, sends sound directly to your inner ear, thus circumventing what is, in my case, a severely messed-up eardrum. Once again, I am floored by the generosity of others. Thank you, whoever you are, for making this still-struggling tinnitus sufferer and audiophile a very happy man indeed.

Even more amazing, the damn thing works. Though I continue to struggle to write with depth in the midst of the buzzringing, I am finally able to hear music – in short doses – well enough to start sampling the newest covers to come my way. And, thanks to a backlog of collected tuneage, some wonderful covers which have emerged from recent acoustic blogsessions and radioplay, and a few well-timed submissions from the universe, I’ve got lots of new and noteworthy coverfolk from relative unknowns to share. Let’s get to the music, shall we?

There’s not much out there to tell us about Corin Joel; his web page redirects, his MySpace page is essentially bare, and though the song below is atmospheric acoustic guitar and voice, he claims to be a piano rocker. But Joel Rakes, whose lovely Christmas covers we featured towards the end of the year, is a friend and fan; he passed along this cover of Katy Perry pop hit I Kissed a Girl, and I think it blows that bouncy Max Vernon piano oddity out of the water. Who knew the song would stand up so well as an acoustic version sans irony? Encore, Corin.

By all accounts, Quebecois singer-songwriter Jason Bajada‘s first big label release Loveshit isn’t going to be pure folk, if indeed there is such a thing. In fact, assuming that the three lovely songs posted on his MySpace page are any indication, the album — which drops February 10 via Maple Music — will come off as solid, slightly twee indiepop, without too much of an edge.

But though the production is consistent, don’t dismiss Bajada too quickly. The lyrics are solid, the arrangements restrained yet powerful; the vocals are echo-y, earnestly floated over a smooth post-pop beat; the overall effect is catchy and smart, reminiscent of the smooth chamberpop end of the indie spectrum. The aforementioned MySpace tracks give a crystal clear sense of Loveshit‘s subtle, deceptively gentle power, and should go a long way towards helping the Bajada buzz, but before you go, check out this solo Wolf Parade cover — sparse by comparison to the rest of his recent work, it’s well worth its weight in bits and bytes.

Speaking of new labels, I finally caught up with post-folk electronics experimentalists Meursault, whose 2008 debut was put out by Matthew of Song, By Toad fame. Unsurprisingly, given Matt’s stellar, uniquely talented ability to capture the new and neotraditional sounds emerging from today’s britfolk movement, Meursault won kudos from the blogs at the end of the year, hitting many Best of 2008 lists. Even less surprisingly, like many of the musicians which Song, By Toad champions, though Mersault challenges the boundaries of folk itself, this is true folk music, managing to call to both modern and traditional forms in every note.

Here’s a startling cover of an old Moondog tune from Meursault: weird enough to match the streetperson story of The Viking of 6th Avenue himself, and just as poetic as the odd man turned out to be, this is true freakfolk buried under a hissing steampunk tapehiss and drone; it may not be the kind of singer-songwriter folk that we’re used to on this side of the pond, but the use of distortion as an instrument grows on you if you give it a chance. Plus a lovely, etherial, much more melodic take on traditional ballad The Cuckoo recorded at a Song, By Toad session last year which I keep at the top of my tradfolk playlist.

And finally, since we’re on the subject of tradfolk music with roots in the British Isles, and since it looks like I’ll never truly recover that promised post-fest review of the Boston Celtic Music Festival, here’s a lovely pair of tunes that have remained in my head from that event. They come from Emma Beaton, a lovely Halifax lass who, after winning a 2008 Canadian Folk Music Award for Young Performer of the Year, recently relocated to Boston to join the growing tradfolk scene there, and who I’m planning on keeping a close eye on as she finds her way around the clubs and ceilidhs.

Emma is multitalented, on gorgeous clear voice and on instruments bowed (cello) and plucked (banjo); her recorded music to date is inventive and diverse, grounded in celtic and americana traditions but ultimately all her own, and more than anything I’ve heard in 2009, it reminds me why I listen to folk music in the first place. In fact, the best moment of the festival, for me, was Emma’s banjo duet with Nic Gareiss covering Kate Rusby’s All God’s Angels, with newcomer Nic on the Tim O’Brien part and what was possibly an oud. Though it was the first time the two had performed together, the sound was delicate and broken and perfectly sweet, much of a type with recent work from Sam Amidon and others of that neo-revivalist ilk, and I fell in love at once.

Beaton has recently joined modern american stringband Joy Kills Sorrow, but if I ever had the time and guts to start producing musicians on my own, I’d start with Emma and Nic as a duo; here’s hoping that their performance this month was just the first in a long and fruitful partnership.

Cover Lay Down publishes new features Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday. Coming this week: fave coversongs from some of our favorite folkbloggers.

1,576 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Chris Pureka Covers: Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, OCMS
(on American Primitivism and the folk approach to coversong)

January 21st, 2009 — 12:47 am

Covers happen for all sorts of reasons, from sincere tribute to mere musical opportunity. Some result in successful reinvention, others in mere parody; as other cover bloggers have noted, all are worthy of mention somewhere, if only for the kitsch, or the shock of the genre bait-and-switch.

But regardless of impetus, for an artist, the choice of a few songs among so many in the vast catalog of found sound culture is hardly an arbitrary one. As much as we analyze and revel in the ultimate product — the familiar, as filtered through the artistry and style of a given cover artist — style is only part of what makes a cover truly great. Rather, if folk is about cultural communion, then coverfolk asks that we listen for the process of selection and ownership; that we attend to the version, and read the interpretation as a commentary on the performer’s soul.

Which is to say: to consider cover songs from a folk perspective is, in part, to insist that which songs an artist chooses to make her own matters as much as performance does. Acoustic pop is fun, to be sure, but as with folk in general, the quest for stripped-bare authenticity is generally the holy grail here. It’s not just about acoustic instrumentation, or solo performance. Those covers which feature musicians truly finding their own voices in other people’s songs, and then laying that discovery at our feet, are the ones that linger.

It’s no accident that local singer-songwriter Chris Pureka is often compared to Ryan Adams and Gillian Welch. Though Pureka’s star is still rising, she has already mastered the gritty combination of folk, americana, alt-country and old-time string band music which Welch describes as American Primitive; her preference toward the same loose harmonies and slow dustbowl production stay within genre, too. And, as we shall see below, her cover choices tend to a narrow range of such influences.

But Pureka is no clone: to ground this talented artist in genre merely provides a framework for celebrating her style and substance. And there’s much to celebrate about Chris Pureka. Equally at home with sustained notes and silence, quiet ballads and wistful fiddletunes and dark driving americana, her bright, fluid guitarwork evokes a dustbowl atmosphere as vivid and timeless as the sepia cover of her excellent 2006 album Dryland. And, though grounded in heartland tones, the stories of inner life she spins out in her distinctive, almost addictive alto, warm and languid and heavy with vibrato, are open and universally recognizable.

This powerful package was especially well-suited to the exploration of solitude and second thoughts which so typified Dryland — an album I’ve just begun to rediscover this week in anticipation of the inauguration-day release of Chris Pureka’s newest endeavor, the eclectic EP Chimera, which mixes live tracks with a few previously-unreleased studio takes, in the process providing a broad look at the current range of a talent to watch out for.

Like its namesake, Chimera is a bit less cohesive than Pureka’s previous albums, but that’s the point, in a way; Pureka refers to the disk as “playful”, and if anything, it represents not so much a departure, but a chance to collect the disparate pieces of the self as performer which she has experienced over the past two years since Dryland was released. The live cuts stand out, though the recording with fellow queerfolk act Girlyman is not as crisp as this picky audiophile might like, but there’s great music here in all quarters, including a strong studio version of Hold It Together and a wonderful take on Dylan-via-Old Crow Medicine Show neoclassic Wagon Wheel. And, as a teaser for an as-yet unnamed album to be released later this year, it serves us well, whetting the whistle for more.

Ready to get hooked? Both Dryland and Chimera come highly recommended by Robbie over at Womenfolk, who has a few more originals for you to hear; check out the Chris Pureka homepage for purchase, tourdates, and more. But first, thanks to Chris’ management, here’s two *exclusive* new covers to stream –Wagon Wheel off Chimera, and a live unreleased Ryan Adams cover which suits her to a T — plus a download of the pitch-perfect Gillian Welch cover Chris Pureka included on Dryland. Listen, and enjoy.

  • STREAM: Chris Pureka: Wagon Wheel (orig. Old Crow Medicine Show, via Dylan)
  • STREAM: Chris Pureka: Dear Chicago (live) (orig. Ryan Adams)
  • Chris Pureka: Everything Is Free (orig. Gillian Welch)

Oh, and since we’re exploring American Primitivism today…here’s today’s bonus coverfolk: a short set by the artists covered above, plus another I always thought belonged in with the bunch. I recorded the first one myself, at the Green River Festival a number of years back — how’s that for an exclusive, eh?

1,617 comments » | Uncategorized

This Land Is Our Land:
Thousands of Grinning Americans Cover Woody Guthrie

January 19th, 2009 — 12:22 am

Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Tao Rodriguez, a gospel choir, and the entire mall cover Woody Guthrie at today’s inaugural concert in Washington DC.    Not the world’s largest sing-along, but certainly one for the history books.  

Bonus points for mega-symbolism, including Pete himself, three generations of grizzled folk organizers on stage, and the superimposition of Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the Lincoln Monument. Also: Look! It’s George Lucas!

PS: This week’s theme over at Star Maker Machine is Songs of Hope and Change.    Dare to dream; come on by.

1,195 comments » | Uncategorized

Singleshot Coverfolk: Before the Goldrush
(A Covers Project with Ana Egge, Dawn Landes, Matt the Electrician & more!)

January 18th, 2009 — 02:09 pm

What with finals coming up, I’ve fallen behind on my feedreader, and just today discovered Heather’s notice of Before the Goldrush, an amazing new covers compilation to benefit Teach for America. The digital-only release includes a huge set of new-generation, predominantly indie-folk artists paying tribute to the singer-songwriters of the sixties and seventies who laid the foundation for their own success. As an inner city teacher and a coverfolk blogger, I cannot recommend a better way to support the totality of the things I love.

Before The Goldrush isn’t just worth having for its premise, either. Though I already had a few of these tracks from other sources, there are numerous new names to discover here, and plenty of lovely new covers from songwriters I’ve already started to learn to love. The several songs I’ve heard from the album are diverse, but I have yet to hear a dud — a rarity in the world of compilations. This, plus my happiness at finding so many songs and songwriters I already love on the roster, make it clear that this is one tribute compilation eminently worth the purchase. And, as one reviewer notes, because all proceeds go to a non-profit, the download is even tax deductible.

Here’s the total tracklist, followed by a gorgeous sample previously released elsewhere, and two non-album tracks from new fave artists who also appear on the compilation; for more glowing praise and the Okkervil River cover of Joni Mitchell’s Blonde in the Bleachers, head over to I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. Listen, read, click, and then buy Before The Goldrush. It’s the right thing to do, all ’round.

Cover Lay Down posts new features Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday. Coming up this week: new coverfolk from a local singer-songwriter. See you then!

1,382 comments » | indiefolk, Tribute Albums

Covered in Folk: Dolly Parton
(Sarah Harmer, Kasey Chambers, Paula Cole, Mindy Smith and more!)

January 18th, 2009 — 12:47 am

As a child of the eighties, I grew up with a popcultural impression of Dolly Parton as a rhinestone MILF, the ditzy blond of 9 to 5 and Islands in the Stream, famous for being famous. When my father passed me her 2001 folk/bluegrass album Little Sparrow, which mixes her own originals with several great and surprising covers, I was startled to find myself a fan of the album, more than merely appreciative of the sweet longing in her clear, delicate performance, but I figured it was a fluke, given that the disk was designed to be an off-genre departure.

It wasn’t until the release of 2003 tribute album Just Because I’m a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton that I realized just how powerful Parton’s own songbook is. Because, while I bought the album for the performances, once reframed in the hands of Alison Krauss, Mindy Smith, Joan Osborne, and other countryfolk women, the songs made sense, and spoke to my feminist heart. And since then, though I’ve tried not to admit it, I’ve harbored a secret affection for Dolly.

Most folks outside the Country world think of Dolly Parton as a caricature, and on some level, they’re not wrong; if anything, I would suggest that the power of her performance lies partially in the dissonance between the perfect, plastic exterior and the inner doubt and strength which she reveals in song. But because the everywoman’s dream glamour-self which she has chosen to take on as her own public persona is so up front and out there, it can preempt serious consideration of her music. And that’s a shame, because the empowering, truly feminist songs which she has crafted over a long career represent a stellar body of work.

There’s a reason why Dolly Parton is celebrated and covered by her peers: under all that glam and glitter is a genuine and perceptive soul, capable of capturing the universal poignancy in the small lives and big dreams of generations of girls and women struggling to break free of societal models. Here’s some favorite folkcovers which strip away the rhinestones, the bleached blond hair, and the everpresent bustline, to reveal the true power of the songs, followed by a short bonus set of surprising covers from Parton herself. You’ll never listen to Dolly the same way again.

After a decade on bluegrass label Sugar Hill, Dolly Parton returned to mainstream country this past year with the release of Backwoods Barbie, her 42nd album and the first to be released on her own label. The ever-versatile Dolly, who owns her own amusement park, and has recently begun blogging, will also be welcomed into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in February. Today’s Bonus Coverfolk collects some stellar covers from her slightly folkier side:

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features Wednesdays and Sundays, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: we feature a local folkie singer-songwriter with an ear towards the American Primitivism of Gillian Welch, including two new and exclusive covers you won’t want to miss.

2,154 comments » | Covered in Folk, Dolly Parton

Birthday Coverfolk: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
(Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, and other musicians born in 1973)

January 14th, 2009 — 12:17 am

I was born January 14, 1973, on the cusp of the disco age, and amidst the last true gasps of the sixties. Though my father’s music was primarily blues and folk — the authentic, soulful stuff which I would return to in my own adulthood — for me, growing up in the eighties meant a childhood exposure to late Bee Gees and the early Michael Jackson, followed by a middle school passion for Howard Jones synthpop and Depeche Mode electronica; later, in my adolescence, I would turn to the growing anti-grunge movement like a dork to water, with a minor in early hip hop.

Which is to say: like so many of us, I spent my formative years rejecting the past of my parents, instead looking outward to the larger culture for my musical self. And, because what was out there was the shifting, constantly prototypical product of a culture in high transition, so has my own musical path from there to here been broad and diverse.

My path is not so unique, surely. Inasmuch as we are all a product of our own time and experience, from our secret vices to our public tastes, much of our adult habits of listening can be traced to that which we lived through, and which of it we tried on for size. Music defines so much of who we are, the comfort and contentment which comes from finding our own sound is surely as much a recognition of the self, as played out in the folkways of the world. And if anything explains the itch towards coversong, it is perhaps the desire to own both the external culture and the household stereo, and in doing so, collapse the distance between the authentic prodigal self and the cultural reality that we watched for cues as we grew.

Because musicians are people too, it is unsurprising to find that the vast majority of popular musicians who were born in the same year as myself tend towards the sounds of our mutual adolescence, both in cover choices and in genre of play. A quick perusal of the list of notable musicians born in 1973 reveals an overwhelming preponderance of rap production from the likes of Nas, Pharrell, and Mos Def, and that curious post-grunge, neo-anthem rock that characterizes Creed, Slipknot, and Incubus, all of which have one or more members turning 36 this year.

But every generation has its diversity, and here at Cover Lay Down we appreciate folked up covers of rap and rock as much as we celebrate those performers who, like myself, have settled their selves towards a more intimate sense of self in song. Today, then, in honor of my birthday, we present songs recaptured by people just my age — a set of coverfolk of and from my “lost generation” contemporaries, mining their own experience for tribute, recapturing other histories in song from the lips and hands of their influences. Enjoy.

I’m especially pleased to find indie darling and concert whistler Andrew Bird (b. July 11) on my contemporaries list, as I’ve been looking for an excuse to do the research ever since I fell in love with his more genre-bending post-americana work via the blogworld. Bird has plenty of folkcred — he was an instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music — and he plays like a man with a keen sense of folk history even as he pushes the boundaries of what it means to use the fiddle as a solo performer.

I shared Andrew Bird’s cover of tradsong Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed (aka Trimmed and Burning) in the midst of Dylan covers week over at Star Maker Machine a few months back; the links are dead there, but the text is worth the visit. Here, he shows his true roots with a few more haunting takes on songs deeply rooted in the folk canon.

We featured Rufus Wainwright (b. July 22) here at Cover Lay Down over a year ago in our first Folk Family Friday, an ambitious attempt to consider the musical output of the entire Wainwright/McGarrigle clan. I remain ambivalent about Rufus as a performer, not least because his torch songs can get too sappy for my taste. But his more subtle work stands out as worthy of our generation, especially when tempered by strong collaboration, and his acoustic cover choices are generally well-suited for his languid, slippery vocal style and reedy tenor. Here’s three duets; the work with his sister martha on their father’s song is a lovely conceit, and anything with Teddy Thompson is always wonderful, but I’m especially fond of the co-bill Neil Young cover with Chris Stills, off the popular KCRW studio sessions compilation Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project.

Not all performers trend solo, of course. Though both Annabelle Chvostek (b. October 5) and, to a lesser extent, drummer Caroline Corr (b. March 17) have worked on their own, these lovely ladies of folk are much better known for their work with female-voiced folkgroups The Wailin’ Jennys and The Corrs, respectively. The Irish folk rock which The Coors have made their own isn’t as much my cup of tea as the acoustic singer-songwriter trio harmonies of The Wailin’ Jennys (or, for that matter, the recent solo disk from alto Chvostek, which is spare and lovely), but from the Celtic dancepop mix of Fleetwood Mac cover Dreams to the crooning lullaby that transforms Neil Young’s Barefoot Floors, these are all worth the listen, as song and coversong.

Finally, Grey DeLisle (b. August 24) is generally known as a voice actress more than a songstress; if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ve heard her on such animated programs as Kim Possible, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and Harvey Birdman. But DeLisle’s 2005 Sugar Hill release Iron Flowers is a masterpiece of otherwise-originals that kicks off in style with a delicate autoharp and slide take on Queen anthem Bohemian Rhapsody – I just couldn’t let it go overlooked.

Cover Lay Down posts new covercontent and folkfaves every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: New coverfolk from some up and coming inbox artists, including a few discoveries from this weekend’s Boston Celtic Music Festival…plus a very special look at several well-respected songbooks — stripped down, unplugged, and all folked up.

1,228 comments » | Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright, The Corrs, Wailin' Jennys

Blogger’s Block: On Writing Against The Noise
(plus coverfolk of and by musicians with tinnitus)

January 12th, 2009 — 12:08 am

Apologies for the eleventh-hour entry, folks. I waited all weekend, hoping that my ear troubles would dissipate, but alas, it seems I am doomed to suffer the double distraction of deafness and tinnitus for a while longer.

Happily, my ability to hear and appreciate live music was not as compromised as I feared. I spent a practically ecstatic Saturday afternoon at this year’s Boston Celtic Music Festival, and I’m still glowing from both the music and the experience of folk-as-communion which was so prevalent at the festival. But though I am eager to share my thoughts about it, and report on some truly wonderful developments in the Boston-based neotraditional folk scene which we first wrote about here this summer, tonight I’m truly not up to the task.

Distraction is the right word; it’s not just the noise, or the lack of it, that bothers me. The ringing keeps me from being able to stay focused enough to write and think; the lack of sleep which loud ringing has caused has taken its toll on my mind as well. My ability to develop the coherent, cohesive piece which the young, talented musicians at the core of the scene truly deserve is corrupted. And, as you can see from the overutilization of the word “truly” in the last two paragraphs, I am already almost out of words.

Wednesdays will be a Birthday post, as I will be turning one year older this week; the excuse to write about myself will, conveniently, allow us to postpone the need to hear and listen to the self. From there, it is my hope to return to my usual competence, and to the subject of the New England post-traditional folk scene, by next weekend.

Until then, we apologize for technical difficulties. Here’s a simple set of folkcovers of and by musicians who also reportedly suffer from tinnitis, including four stunningly lovely Neil Young covers, Sara McLachlan’s famous folkpop cover of XTC radio classic Dear God (songwriter Andy Partridge suffers tinnitus in both ears), a hilariously tongue-in-cheek folk take on the Pete Townshend-penned Pinball Wizard paired with a surprisingly folky acoustic turn from Townshend himself, and two great recent tracks from genre-bending jazzman bassist and ear-ringer Charlie Haden, whose wonderful new tradfolk and bluegrass release Charlie Haden Family & Friends: Ramblin’ Boy has been making the blogrounds. At least I’m in good company, eh?

1,342 comments » | Ears

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