Archive for August 2009

August Passages: R.I.P. Mike Seeger et. al.
(plus a belated tribute to John Hughes)

August 30th, 2009 — 12:19 am

Being in and out this summer meant missing several opportunities to pay tribute to the fallen. Today, we remedy the situation.

The biggest blow to the folkworld in recent weeks was the loss of Mike Seeger, who made his mark on folk music as a multi-talented folk instrumentalist and producer, and as an avid ethnomusicologist, forging a bridge between the old and the new through paths as varied as his co-discovery of his own housekeeper Elizabeth Cotten, his home recording of such luminaries as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and his work with the New Lost City Ramblers, who sought to recapture an early folksound scavenged from a growing collection of old 78 rpm records.

Half-brother Pete may have been more telegenic – a more popular son of the limelight and the labor movements – but it was Mike who was arguably as influential as anthologist Harry Smith himself, picking up where Lomax and the Seeger parents left off, leaving us with a valuable legacy of traditional sound, providing folk music itself with a past as well as a future.

But as Mike Seeger was a celebrant of others, so is it appropriate to note his passing along with that of others of his generation. It takes thousands to make the world go round, and as the continued specialization of our celebrity culture has produced more and more intertwined opportunities for influence, so does the passage of time provide the illusion that more and more of those who have made a difference die each day.

Which is to say: the music world has lost several greats in the past few weeks, and though most were not folkies, the strong connection between folk music and culture, especially through coverage, leaves us mourning a vast array of popular influences, each of whom made their mark on today’s singer-songwriters and their fans.

The list for August alone includes doo-wop singer Johnny Carter, founding member of the Flamingos and long-standing member of the Dells. Ellie Greenwich, a Brill Building songwriter and producer who cowrote songs with Phil Spector and discovered Neil Diamond. Larry Knechtel, session musician for Paul Simon, The Byrds, and The Beach Boys, among others, and bassist/keyboardist for seventies sensation Bread. Record producer, singer-songwriter, and pianist James Luther “Jim” Dickinson, who produced seminal albums for Big Star, played on Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, and co-wrote On The Borderline with John Hiatt and Ry Cooder. Long-standing CBGB’s house band leader and prolific solo artist Willy DeVille, who wrote the theme song to Princess Bride. And let us not forget master guitarmaker Les Paul, who transformed the very tenor of modern music through his development of the solid body guitar.

All deserve some credit for the musical landscape of our times. In their memory, we offer the tributes of others, our ears, and our grateful thanks.

Today’s Bonus Coverfolk: he probably never wrote or played a lick of music in his life. But who could resist a short belated tribute to John Hughes, whose movies and their soundtracks framed the adolescence of a whole dissatisfied generation, from Pretty in Pink to Lick the Tins cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love to Lindsay Buckingham’s theme for National Lampoon’s Vacation.

As always, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to promote artists and musicmakers. If you like what you hear, follow links to pursue purchase from artist-centric sources.

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(Re)Covered XII: Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles
+ video covers of Paul Simon and Hank Williams from Falcon Ridge ’09!

August 26th, 2009 — 10:44 pm

Yet another prodigal return has turned up a backlog of new music, and this time, much of it fits neatly with previously posted features. Too, returning from two weeks of family vacation has meant a triumphant return to my own ever-growing collection, and, as often is the case, the distance which hiatus brings has lent new meaning to a few tunes collected a while back, yet never truly appreciated until I happened on them through shuffle.

So here’s yet another set of tunes that I’d have posted way back when, if I knew they existed. Thanks to library visits, fellow bloggers, recommending readers, label reps who still care about the little guys, and a nighttime stop-in at Provincetown’s own Muir Music — which has the best singer-songwriter rack I’ve ever seen — while passing through Cape Cod, for the fodder for this and pretty much every month’s edition of our popular (Re)Covered series.

I enjoyed seeing Lucy Wainright Roche on the showcase winner’s stage this year at Falcon Ridge, but it took a chance encounter with her 2007 debut EP 8 Songs, which includes a sweet and lovely cover of Richard Shindell’s Next Best Western and an absolutely stunning take on Fleetwood Mac hit Everywhere, to really sell me on her pure, simple sound. In Roche’s shy but sure hands, Christine McVie’s lyrics and melody shed their pop skin to reveal aching beauty, a breathy voice of longing in the darkness. Must be something in the blood.

Meanwhile, Atlas Sound — an apparent solo subsidiary of indie hipster band Deerhunter — brings relative obscurity Walk a Thin Line on a journey from slow echoey folkrock to anthemic coda. It’s like what you’d get if Jane’s Addiction made folk music. Finding tracks like this in the mailbag is just one more reason why I love the blogging life. For more Fleetwood Mac covers, don’t forget to check out our original feature on the songs of Fleetwood Mac.

It’s been a long time since we first featured The Beatles here on Cover Lay Down, but I was recently reminded of our early posts on the subject by several readers looking for the taken-down tunes from that distant memory. But having just dug this gorgeously mellow-yet-sincere take on What Goes On out of the archives after a reader turned me on to scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, I couldn’t resist passing it along. The album it comes from, Rubber Folk, is a gem of a collection featuring mostly aging britfolk performers; the whole shebang comes highly recommended.

Bonus points for young Nick Lattanzi‘s languid and lazy lo-fi cover of Don’t Let Me Down, which arrived in the mailbag along with four other acoustic covertracks back in May — a far cry from the high-energy take from new grass group Bearfoot which we posted here just a few months ago, but equally strong, in its own way.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a cue from Fong Songs and remind everyone of the ongoing attempt to cover of all 185 Beatles songs ever recorded over at the aptly-named Beatles Complete on Ukulele project. Though not every cover has been to my taste, and most aren’t folk, if nothing else, the vast diversity of the covers posted so far is a smart lesson in never underestimating the breadth of application to which one instrument can be put. NYC-based singer-songwriter Kenny White‘s take on “the worst Beatles song ever recorded” is a redemptive standout.

What with summerwork and vacation, I never really said all I wanted to about this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival — where, unsurprisingly, the Paul Simon tribute on Saturday afternoon was a true festival highlight. Last year, I recorded the whole thing on a cheapo voice recorder iPod attachment; this year, I eschewed formal recording, and though I do have a lead on a soundboard recording from the solid ninety minute set, it is currently awaiting artist permission before it can be released into the wild.

But I did manage to capture a few favorite artists from a sweet spot two tarps from the stage with a tiny Sony digital camera small enough to fit in my pocket. Here’s two slightly raggedly-filmed performances from that set — a lovely cover of April Come She Will from Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry, and a great Springsteen-esque Duncan from John Flynn — plus a solid Hank Williams cover by newcomer Abi Tapia & some very special guests performed on the same stage later in the weekend. It’s amazing what you can do with technology today, innit?

Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry: April Come She Will (orig. Paul Simon)

John Flynn: Duncan (orig. Paul Simon)

Abi Tapia and Friends: Your Cheatin’ Heart (orig. Hank Williams)

Cover Lay Down features pensive thoughts and clustered sets of new, newly-discovered, and favorite covers every Sunday and Wednesday. Coming soon: a belated tribute to a slew of recent passages in the folk world and beyond.

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

August 22nd, 2009 — 05:20 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Reposted: For my wife on our 13th anniversary

August 18th, 2009 — 02:45 am

For the past few years, my father and I have taken a week or so at the end of the summer to travel together, just the two of us. This year, we’ve gone to Germany to visit my brother and his wife, artists who recently moved here to take a stab at the European art scene; I’m writing this, in fact, from outside a Frankfurt Starbucks in the midst of morning rush hour, the only place I could find a decent Internet connection, though the price is pretty dear.

It’s precious time lost, for a family man who teaches school; I tend to have to hit the ground running when I return, and though the time abroad with my father is eminently worth it, going away at the end of August usually means I’m away for my anniversary. This year is no exception. Today, in fact, marks our thirteenth year together. And here I am, watching well-dressed business people walk the cobblestone streets in their suits, while my heart is still at home where it belongs.

I could go on and on here — about how hard it is to get emails from my wife, telling how much the kids miss me; about what a fool I am, to keep missing my chance to celebrate the best damn thing in my life. But time is short at 8 Euros per hour, and I’ve said it all before. Here, then, is a repost originally shared on Valentine’s Day 2008. It says what it needs to, and then some.

Happy Anniversary, sweetie. I love you more than ever.

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.

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Third Generation Coverfolk:
Songs covered at Woodstock, covered again

August 15th, 2009 — 01:34 am

Hope no one minds an early “Sunday” post this week; I’m off to Germany in the morning, and was worried I might miss the deadline otherwise. Plus, it’s the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock today. How apropos, right?

Though the statistics on blog readers tell us that the majority of our readers were conceived after the summer of love, there’s no denying the myriad ways in which both the Woodstock generation and the 1969 Woodstock festival have shaped our collective musical landscape. As a generational touchstone, Woodstock holds a unique place in the annals of formative gatherings; as a musical map, the odd collection of genres and artists which took the stage over the course of the festival tell a tale of a society in transition.

Of course, it’s a no-brainer to say that Woodstock was as much a product of its culture as it was a producer of it. There’s little we can add to the huge volumes of history, ethnography, and paean which pepper our cultural landscape, connecting past and future through the focusing event.

But a quick look at Woodstock though the lens of coverfolk is interesting nonetheless. Though the number of pure folk musicians at the festival was limited, the complete set list for the three day celebration of love, mud, and music reveals a number of traditional folk and protest songs – an unsurprising development, given the nature of the times, and of the crowd. More recently written songs of love, harmony, and struggle from the world before and beyond Yasgur’s Farm pepper the list as well, from Dylan and The Beatles to Sam Cooke, Merle Haggard, and even Elvis.

That the range of coverage exhibited at Woodstock is in many ways perfectly typical of the spectrum of coverage in modern culture is both validating and liberating.

As a folk blog, we’ve long maintained that the primary purpose of coversong is to strengthen the connection between community and culture — that at its most powerful, coverage is a kind of folkways in action, a celebration of ourselves as a collective.

At Woodstock, then, like everywhere else except perhaps moreso, covers served as part and parcel of the larger tribute to the rich soundscape that makes us common folk in a common culture. Indeed, from our own tiny vantage point, we might suggest that it is this very refocusing of common song in the context of change which makes Woodstock so meaningful, so worthy of our collective memory, forty years on.

To demonstrate the continued relevance of song and moment alike, here’s a larger-than-average set of relatively recent covers of songs also covered at Woodstock. PS: If you’re looking for Janis Joplin, there’s a full set of modern covers of Summertime here in the archives.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: I go to Germany, and post more Bob Dylan.

1,334 comments » | Woodstock

Oceanfolk: Covers for the end of summer

August 11th, 2009 — 06:25 pm

We’re in Truro for a short week, in a rented beachhouse high on the dunes above the Cape Cod sound. Wakeless trawlers and shore fishermen, beach wanderers and bathers are few and far between, mere specks on an otherwise natural landscape that fills the sense with color: green grasses, faded yellow sand, the variable blues of sky and water.

At night the lights of Provincetown shine brightly just on the edge of the vista, a line of stars marking the difference between pitch-black sea and an invisible sky. Last night a shooting star dropped towards them while I watched, as if longing to join the tourists and summer people in their shared debauchery. I stayed up late reading the usual borrowed beachhouse paperback, the autobiography of an island lobsterwoman, and fell asleep before eleven.

The weeks ahead burn and roil on the horizon like sunset: next week in Frankfurt and Berlin with my father and brother, and then back to work, with new students to greet, new courses to teach, and new classrooms to maintain from then until eternity. But sitting here on the deck in the shade of the house, the marsh below me, the ocean beyond, this browngrey hawk drawing lazy circles in the blue overhead, I am reminded how vital it is to sit in stillness at the edge of it all, how centering it is to squeeze peace from the last fleeting weeks of summer.

It’s a good life. Here’s a soundtrack for it.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and commentary Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional otherday.

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Laura Love Covers
Steve Miller, Nirvana, Laura Nyro, Wayfaring Stranger, and more!

August 8th, 2009 — 09:47 pm

I picked up my first Laura Love album in the early nineties, and can’t for the life of me remember why. Nor can I remember what happened to it, though I still have the CD booklet for Pangaea — an especially regrettable turn of events, given the album’s lovely, sparse cover of Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, and the utter dearth of available downloadables from this and several other rarities from Love’s early career as an artist dancing on the edge of genre.

Pangaea may be long gone, but the eclectic afro-celtic sound which typifies bass player and vocalist Love’s recorded output has stuck with me through the years all the same. I’ve still got widely praised and equally out-of-print 1997 release Octaroon, its title a sly nod to Love’s multiracial background, and pass along its great solo cover of Nirvana’s Come As You Are on cover mixtapes whenever I can. And when a recent serendipitous trip to our local library turned up several other Laura Love albums, appropriately split between the rock and folk sections, I was reminded how much I enjoyed her distinctive style, both as a vocalist and folkrock bandleader, and the way she applies it to a vast spectrum of musical styles and genres.

Love hasn’t released anything new since 2007, when she turned her sights and sounds towards the bluegrass and African American spiritual canon, rediscovering herself as a neo-traditional grass tenor along the way. But though the music is centrally American in origin, as with her other work, NeGrass is eminently modern: worldbeat and wild, oft-danceable and generally joyous in tone, the funky bass-driven music supporting Laura Love’s unmistakable pure and lusty alto/tenor. Here’s a few from the in-print stacks.

As alluded to above, due to frequent label shifts, much of Laura Love’s early albums are hard to find, especially Pangaea, which is oft-cited as the definitive collector’s item. But her 1995 Putumayo collection offers a solid introduction to her early work, and her more recent work is consistently good, including several live concerts available through FestivalLink and the currently under-construction LiveBand. 1998 release Shum Ticky is an equally great ride, featuring two songs about her booty, and a surprisingly effective duet with Sir Mix-a-Lot. Get ‘em all here, with Laura’s blessing.

As an afterthought: Laura Love studio collaborator and touring companion Barbara Lamb — a performer and fiddle teacher who at the age of 14 taught an 11 year old Mark O’Connor how to play, and whose fiddle-playing has since graced the stages and records of the likes of Tony Trishka, Peter Rowan and Riders in the Sky — has just released Twisty Girl, a new digital album whose experimental, electrified tracks lean heavily on looped percussion and fiddle to create a surprisingly engaging sonic landscape; though the record is a significant departure from her earlier work, it’s hard to deny its raw, hypnotic charm.

Here’s a few covers from Lamb’s previous album, 2006 bluegrass outing Bootsy Met A Bank Robber, with a dollop of luck on her continued success as a solo artist pushing her own boundaries.

Cover Lay Down shares musings on music, community, and culture, framed around coverfolk sets from a broad variety of sources and local heroes, every Sunday and Wednesday. Coming soon: we hit the far reaches of Cape Cod, and sing surely of the sea.

1,410 comments » | Laura Love

Berklee Bluegrass and The Folk Arts Quartet:
Notes from the fore of the Boston folk and bluegrass scene

August 4th, 2009 — 11:58 pm

Someone’s doing something right at the Berklee College of Music. As a gathering place for talented musicians steeped in a variety of traditions, it has long held a reputation both a natural source for emerging artists and a hotbed of hybridization. You may not have realized it, but the odds are excellent that at least some of your own favorite artists attended the prestigious school, from Patty Larkin, Gillian Welch, Bruce Cockburn and Susan Tedeschi to Melissa Etheridge, Bill Frisell, Donald Fagin, Juliana Hatfield, Aimee Mann and John Mayer.

But continued development of programs in songwriting and guitar, and a new focus on bluegrass in the past several years, have accelerated Berklee’s impact on the folk and bluegrass worlds, especially in and around the Boston area. Cellist and singer-songwriter Lindsay Mac, who we featured here last year as a winner of the 2007 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival‘s emerging artist showcase, is an alum; this year’s celebrated set of audience-selected showcase winners from 2008 included Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, several of whose members have recently graduated from the school as well. And jazz-influenced up-and-comer Emily Elbert, who competed in this year’s emerging artist showcase for a spot in next year’s festival and has just come off a tour with G Love and Special Sauce, is currently at Berklee focusing on songwriting and voice, as is talented vocalist Ali Rapetti, aka Bedside Companion, who accompanied Emily.

And Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, which last year included both the Infamous Stringdusters and Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet — both of which feature Berklee alumni — this year featured several acts associated with the college, from professor and master mandolinist John McGann, who sat in with Del McCoury, to previously-noted band The Boston Boys, who formed as students in the school, to fiddler Casey Driessen of the Sparrow Quartet, to Crooked Still, who picked up their original cellist Rushad Eggleston from there, to one of Berklee’s newest members, 16 year old mandolin wunderkind Sierra Hull, who will start the program in the fall.

The Folk Arts Quartet, who played two sets at Falcon Ridge 2009, are just one of the up-and-coming bands who have emerged from Berklee in the past year which both straddle and transcend the line between folk and bluegrass. International in origin and flavor — their members come from three countries, and carry Scottish, Cape Breton, and classical traditions into their performance — the quartet performs a style they call chambergrass, a high-energy fusion of multiple influences which works so well that no less an authority than the musical director of Falcon Ridge herself touted FAQ as one of her favorite bands to watch this year.

Thanks to an encounter with fiddler Hannah Read on Thursday, I had a chance to sit down with the four ladies of the FAQ behind the Falcon Ridge workshop stage on Friday morning, and much of our conversation revolved around the presence of Berklee as an intersection point or node for their artistic and musical cross-pollination. Their unique combination of jazz, celtic, bluegrass and folk elements which so wowed the Falcon Ridge crowds this year came as a result of jamming together in a Berklee classroom; though current cellist Liz Davis Maxfield will be leaving the group for a year abroad studying Irish traditional music, she will be replaced by CLD fave Emma Beaton, herself a student at Berklee.

The collaborative creative process which is so evident in their performance, especially on their self-titled debut CD, is a result of equal contribution from all group members; Read and fellow fiddler Julie Metcalf trade off on lead and harmony throughout, and the women work together on writing and bringing songs to the group for composition, arrangement, practice and performance, which speaks to both the strength of Berklee’s program and those it attracts and nurtures. And Berklee has been highly supportive of the group, bringing them onstage for commencement to perform their own Cape Breton-style arrangements of songs by honorary degree recipients Linda Rondstadt and Smokey Robinson; award-winning fiddler and foot percussionist Ivonne Hernandez, one of the group’s founding members, was also featured as a notable graduate in the ceremony’s press release.

Here’s a few artist-approved video covers from the Folk Arts Quartet, taken by yours truly at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest…plus a studio version of Waterlily from the Folk Arts Quartet’s incredible and highly recommended self-titled debut album, a few bonus covers featuring new and founding members on vocals, and a pair of great covers from other Berklee bluegrass artists spotted at Grey Fox and Falcon Ridge over the past few weeks.

Of course, there are other reasons why Boston has long been a hotbed of folk and traditional music: its Irish population, seminal folk clubs and coffeehouses such as Club Passim and house concerts such as the Notlob series, long-standing traditions of and areas for busking. The high concentration of colleges which bring young people into the area as fans and members of the talent pool are a strong factor as well: the New England Conservatory, for example, just down the street from Berklee, nurtured the talents of Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still, and Sarah Jarosz, who we featured in April, will attend the school this fall.

Those interested in watching the local scene are especially encouraged to keep an eye on other festivals coming up in and around Boston, including ICONS this fall, and both the BCMFest and the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival this winter. And if you’re in Cambridge and have a chance to attend, I highly recommend attending Sub Rosa, a semi-regular in-the-round Lizard Lounge residency hosted by Cover Lay Down favorite Rose Polenzani, featuring Alastair Moock, Catie Curtis, Jennifer Kimball, Aoife O’Donovan, Anne Heaton, and a dozen or more other young players and songwriters from the Boston area, many of whom will be performing at the Boston Folk Festival on September 13th.

Polenzani recently posted the full soundboard recordings from a recent Sub Rosa, which includes some lovely covers and originals; you can pick up the full set from her blog, but here’s a pair of Rose’s own performances from that set, plus yet another installment in Rose’s ongoing collection of YouTube cover tunes: an absolutely gorgeous video of Polenzani, Heaton, Rose Cousins, and Laura Cortese covering Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney duet Say Say Say.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk every Sunday and Wednesday, plus the occasional otherday. And, as always, if you like what you hear, click on artist and festival links above to support the venues and artists that make possible this blog and many others like it.

892 comments » | Uncategorized

Covered in Folk: Smokey Robinson
(covers from Billy Bragg, Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, Laura Nyro and more!)

August 2nd, 2009 — 12:58 pm

At 69, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and multiple Grammy winner Smokey Robinson is a cultural icon, with three songs on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and a string of chart hits longer than Def Jam’s rap sheet. Though he is best known for his work with the Miracles in the sixties, and his subsequent solo career, his influence on modern music runs deeper still: his list of 4000 published songs includes writing or co-writing credit for My Guy, Don’t Mess With Bill, and Marvin Gaye’s first two million-sellers; he was the primary songwriter and producer for the Temptations from 1963 to 1966. Perhaps most significantly, it was his suggestion to songwriter and collaborator Berry Gordon that he start a label which led to the creation of Motown, and as a producer and VP for the label through much of its formative years, he provided guidance for a plethora of artists and styles who continue to frame much of the musical spectrum today.

Indeed, given the sheer number of songs “the poet laureate of love” has written and recorded in his 50 year career, and the heavy influence of the Motown sound on the generation of songwriters which followed, it would be odd if we couldn’t dig up at least a few covers from the folk and acoustic world.

But the sheer variety of coverage that such a search reveals is worthy of note. Perhaps because his songs address such universal emotion, and in such a direct, heartfelt manner, the simple, soulful ballads for which Robinson is best known seem to lend themselves well to individual transformation. From the many covers of You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me and The Tracks of My Tears which pepper the landscape — among them Billy Bragg and Greg Brown‘s slow, broken-hearted solo acoustic covers, Laura Nyro‘s gospel soul take with R&B trio Labelle, indiefolker Thao‘s ragged retro styling, and subtle and soulful in-studio duets from Patty Griffin and She and Him — to obscurities such as Claudia Russell‘s sultry, bluegrassy I Second That Emotion, Loudon Wainwright III and John Hiatt‘s rare majestic paean to My Girl, a live English Beat-flavored cover of Tears of a Clown from swamp-roots rockers The Radiators, Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles‘ acoustic guitar-driven alt-rock americana Being With You and the Jerry Garcia Band‘s early, jammy instrumental version of Temptations hit Since I Lost My Baby, the covers assembled speak louder than words, paying fitting tribute to a seminal soul and R&B songwriter.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk features every Sunday, Wednesday, and the occasional otherday, but we couldn’t do it without your continued support of the artists we feature; as always, if you like what you hear, please click on artist names above to purchase music direct from the source, and find out what artists are coming through your area on tour.

If you’re a Smokey fan, don’t forget to head over to his website to download his most recent single, a cover of Norah Jones’ Don’t Know Why. And whether you’re a folkfan or just in it for the covers, definitely come back later this week for a look at the continued influence of Berklee College on the Boston folk and bluegrass scenes.

1,424 comments » | Covered in Folk, Smokey Robinson