Archive for October 2009

Thursday Tidbits:
Upcoming Freakfolk Odetta Tribute from Wears The Trousers

October 29th, 2009 — 07:19 pm

After hinting at the project for months, our favorite anglocentric femme-celebrating mag/blog Wears the Trousers has finally finished mixing their upcoming tribute album Beautiful Star: The Songs of Odetta; I’m honored to have been among the first to hear it, and after settling into it for a few go-rounds I’m also pleased to announce that it’s a strong album well worth celebrating on several levels – among them its respectful approach to the Odetta songbook, its musical range and depth and beauty, and the fact that all profits will go to benefit UK women’s charities.

The album features covers of sixteen signature songs from the powerful folk icon and interpreter of traditional song, thirteen of which were commissioned specifically for the WTT-curated project. The artists here are well chosen, and so – unlike so many mixed-bag tribute compilations – Beautiful Star comes across as a consistent piece overall, with sparse, atmospheric song settings and an abundance of female musicians from the weird, raw, and etherial end of the folk spectrum whose interpretations only beg deeper appreciation through multiple listens. Standouts include Liz Durrett, Linda Draper, Arborea, Ane Brun, Anaïs Mitchell, and Marissa Nadler, whose bonus non-album-track cover of Another Man Done Gone will be released into the wild in a few weeks for the usual blog blitz.

I don’t have permission to release any of the new tracks, but here’s one of the three previously-released songs, a haunting take on tradtune Motherless Child from BC-based experimental folk artist Ora Cogan; Gemma Ray’s version of 900 Miles, first released as a b-side in August, is an equally stunning contribution. Listen to both to whet your appetite for what is sure to be remembered as one of the best tribute albums of the year, and then bookmark or blogroll Wears the Trousers so you’ll be ready to catch Beautiful Star when the album drops on November 30th.

Odetta passed at the end of 2008 after a long and fruitful career of song interpretation; her contribution to folk music itself, and to its vital role as an engine of societal change, remain unparalleled. Here’s a pair of my favorite covers from her own recording career, each vastly different, yet somehow both a perfect, soulful balance of weary and majestic.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

[Update 8:48 pm] Bonus points: turns out Linda Draper’s gorgeously sparse, subtle take on tradtune Sail Away Ladies is also streamable here, on Myspace. Great artist, great tune, great cover.

1,147 comments » | Uncategorized

Covered in Kidfolk, Halloween Edition:
Ghostly Ghouls and Spooky Tunes For Cool Moms and Dads

October 27th, 2009 — 10:01 pm

Halloween in our tiny township is a community affair: most homes are too remote to manage, so we trick or treat downtown at storefronts and darkened sidestreet porches as the skies darken, making our way to the edge of town just after twilight’s end. There, we line up for our annual parade down Main Street, and – at the signal from a guy dressed as a traffic cone, or a phalanx of Roman gladiators from the high school football team – march onward to glory, and a costume contest and cider and popcorn balls to follow in the majestic granite edifice that serves us as town hall.

It is, to be honest, the quintessential, defining night of small scale life here in New England, this parade with no spectators through the middle of town, and I often cite the occasion by way of explaining our idyllic existence: how it feels to find yourself in the streets, alight and vibrant against the cold, good folks and friends and families marching to the left and right of you, their faces shared wonder under masks and makeup.

And so Halloween in my house is about costumes, plain and simple; my sweetheart is a creative soul, a locavore Paganesque Martha Stewart, and we’ve won prizes in past years for the caterpillar, and the flamingo beak she perched upon my head. This year, for the first time, the girls have not chosen a paired set of costumes: elderchild will go as a gothic vampire in crushed velvet cape and ruffles; the wee one will be “Sleeping Beauty but I’m awake now Daddy”, complete with pull-me cart transformed into a resting place fit for a tiny pink princess’ hundred year nap. I’ll be a house; if you knock on my door and yell “trick or treat”, I’m offering miniature board games, their pressed sugar game pieces lovingly ensconced in tiny cardboard game boards.

That their thoughts are full of candy and dress-up play, rather than considering what lurks in the dark spaces as the leaves fall and the world grows ever-cold, is as much a function of our own modern lifestyle as it is the bland commercialism which tames all holidays in our electric-light culture. They’re neither superstitious nor scared of the dark, this grounded post-media generation, and so there’s nothing to be scared of here: no monsters under my childrens’ beds, no devils in our spiritual framework. Our ghosts are characters in stories, no more and no less supernatural than talking mice, stepmothers, running gingerbread men and princesses.

Perhaps because coverage follows culture, there’s nothing terribly frightening in tonight’s pre-Halloween kidmix: no nightmare-inducing songs, nothing lurking in the shadows which cannot be explained away with a kiss and a smile. But there are zombies, wolves, and a myriad of other creeps and crawlies, and heck, the Monster Mash isn’t scary, either, when you get down to it. From reincarnated cats to grim grinning ghosts, then, here’s a double-digit set of the lighthearted best for the young set on Halloween.

  • The Duhks: Death Came a Knockin’ (trad.)
    Nominally an optimistic song of spiritual acceptance in the face of death. But the close harmonies of The Duhks lend just the right touch of ghoulishness and discomfort for smaller ears.
  • Maria Muldaur: Heck, I’d Go (orig. Dan Hicks)
    Aliens stretch the limits of fearful creatures of the night, I suppose, but I’ve yet to hear of a UFO sighting in full daylight. Call ‘em the spooks of a starwatching scifi culture. From Muldaur’s Swingin’ In The Rain.
  • Noah and the Whale: Devil Town (orig. Daniel Johnston)
    A surprising number of Daniel Johnston tunes translate well for kids. Must be Johnston’s innocence. Though Noah and the Whale‘s ragged, slightly spooky take doesn’t hurt, either.
  • Pete Seeger: John Brown’s Body (trad.)
    Even before its melody was borrowed for something a bit more patriotic, this traditional tune was a song of glory. But any lyric that begins with a body mouldering in a grave fits right in here. From Dangerous Songs!?

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and sets each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: a tip of the hat to genre covers, a handful of new tribute albums, and an interview with singer-songwriter Caroline Herring, whose stunning, intimate new CD Golden Apples of the Sun hit the ground running this week.

1,048 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk

I Get This Stuff For Free:
New coverfolk received under new FTC guidelines for bloggers

October 24th, 2009 — 10:11 pm

It’s the buzz of the blogs: brand spankin’ new Federal Trade Commission guidelines for bloggers now require full disclosure of any personal benefit received gratis. According to the guidelines, which go into effect on December 1 of this year, that includes those gifts garnered purely as part of the review process, such as passes to shows, and promotional and review materials both digital and tangible of any value whatsoever.

Like many culture vultures and blogwatchers, though I recognize the need to create some sort of oversight which would make pay-for-review blogging more transparent, I find the broad scope of these new regulations comprehensively problematic for music and media bloggers, and selectively punitive in light of the fact that it is still not necessary for print media reviewers to disclose their own receipt of review copies when taking on criticism of an album or artist.

More broadly, this sad state of affairs comes as just one more straw in lean and scary times. The final release of these long-debated rules comes at the same time that both three-strikes anti-piracy laws and a possible end to net neutrality lurk on the legislative horizon. If the mere accusation of impropriety could cost the average blogger a narrowing or comprehensive loss of Internet access for his entire household, then music blogging could soon become a dangerous and subversive activity, indeed.

In the long term, activism is surely the answer – a strategy set that would include sharing in good faith, giving a portion of proceeds to EFF and other rights-fighters where possible, and continuing to work with labels and artists themselves so that we can stand together as mutual supporters as the noose tightens on our collective ability to harness the tubes for rightful artistic compensation and promotion.

In the shorter term, in the interest of full disclosure, I note that a) I have no prior or personal relationship with any of the folks featured below, and b) today’s post, which features new works from a half dozen new and upcoming artists, is entirely the result of label and artist “gifting”. Specifically, my awareness of this music is entirely due to the fact that I was sent artistic works of value, ranging from single tracks available on iTunes to entire albums in both digital and hardcopy formats — from which, of course, I have been given full permission to share the tracks herein.

That I have chosen these particular artists to feature is not due to the fact that I got their stuff free, of course. It is because I loved their work more than the vast majority of what has come my way just as freely. But for what it’s worth, I neither make nor claim profit off of any of it.

Long-time hipster sidewoman Elin Palmer is well known to followers of The Fray, 16 Horsepower, Crooked Fingers and M. Ward for her support work on tour and in the studio, and that elfin voice with the faint hint of Swedish accent. But Elin’s debut solo album Postcard, which drops next week, is an indiefolk fan’s delight: layered, diverse, powerfully produced, and well suited to fans of Devotchka, The Decemberists, Regina Spektor et. al.

The Buddy Holly cover her label sent along is sparse, bouncy folkpop, fun without breaking barriers, a pipe-organ throw-away from an earlier incarnation of Elin’s sound. Listen – it’s worth it – but be sure to check out samples on Elin’s homepage to truly tempt the ears before buying Postcard direct from the source.

Ireland’s own Dr Fox’s Old Timey String Band contacted me themselves last week to pass along their darling MGMT cover, which combines a harmonic vocal mix reminiscent of early Guster with a loose freakfolk use of fiddle and banjo most modern listeners associate with the Avett Brothers or Sufjan. The cover is ragged, more backyard barbecue bluegrass than the tighter oldtimey stuff most folks associate with the country side of modern ‘grass, but like good pulled pork and ribs, it sticks to the soul.

Near as I can tell, there’s no CD to purchase here, though pubwatchers in Kerry should keep their eyes open for a Dr. Fox gig. But there are a few more traditional American folktunes at their MySpace page, and a fun cover of Dueling Banjos, each one charming in its own way, and no less startling for their overseas origin.

Bluegrass banjoist, country blues guitarist, composer, and banjo designer Tom Hanway‘s past albums are technically not new — his debut CD Bucket of Bees emerged in 1991 — but as three of them have just been released for the first time in digital format at all the usual suspects, I’m using the occasion to tout yet another fine body of work from an undersung musician amidst our celebration of the new and noteworthy.

Like so many from the bluegrass world, Hanway’s work is often collaborative, and chock full of coverage both old and new. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, his musical selections yaw wide, ranging from celtic to newgrass, traditional bluegrass to highly experimental jazz pieces a la Bela Fleck, or Tom’s own mentor Tony Trischka. My favorite, of course: a duet with the just-featured Lucy Kaplansky, on a Doc Watson original most famously covered by both Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. Here, this and other selections from each of the newly digititzed CDs originally produced on his own Joyous Gard label provide a substantive but still tantalizing taste of Hanway’s talent and range.

Award-winning lyricist and independent singer-songwriter Michael Gaither, whose sophomore effort Dogspeed has just hit the streets, performs warm, often hilarious americana folk tinged with the occasional country beat — good solid coffeehouse music, with autobiographical lyrics that teeter on the edge between profundity and sentimental simplicity. His Van Morrison cover is no exception, providing an excellent sense of the man and his music: smooth, relaxed guitar production, distinctive vocals that tell a solid story, and nary a flourish or fanciful air. The guest uke is a nice touch, too.

I know very little about LA-by-way-of-Georgia freak-country artist Amanda Jo Williams, except to note that her management is right on when they describe her voice as “June Carter on helium and acid”. But I’m a sucker for a good twangy, foot-stomping, can-banging folk cover with bells on, even if the track sounds a bit like it’s been filtered through a kazoo and a Jim Henson chicken chorus.

Finally, I have a special place in my heart for the appalachian dulcimer, ever since I became an amateur myself several years ago. My newest role model in this endeavor: singer-songwriter Butch Ross, who gave up guitar for a few less strings early in his career, and has since turned the instrument quite literally both backwards and upside-down, plying it with a full range of fingerpicked and hard-driven strumstyles, and – in the process – transforming the ways in which a dulcimer can be used, heard, and appreciated.

Ross’ delicious interpretations of traditional folksongs and, more recently, a few select pop favorites are both perfect late-night fare and a harbinger of a future career continuing to push the boundaries of folk with an innovative approach to one of its oldest stringed standbys. Here’s a tradsong, a melodic Beatles cover, and a great string-shattering cover of my favorite Richard Thompson tune; when you’re done here, head over to stream Butch’s newest, an aptly-titled instrumental album entitled A Long Way From Shady Grove, in its entirety before purchase.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features twice weekly, regardless of whatever we may or may not be given beforehand or afterwards. We remain proudly ad-free and non-profit, and exist for the sole benefit of musicians — because it is, after all, in everyone’s best interest to support opportunities for artists to continue to produce the best music they possibly can.

1,343 comments » | Uncategorized

REPOST: Lucy Kaplansky Covers…
Nick Lowe, Sting, Roxy Music, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, Dylan and more!

October 21st, 2009 — 10:27 pm

It’s been a long week, and I’m up against deadline on several fronts, trying to balance a professional review, impending midterms, and the creation of a virtual school tour with the usual package of parenting, teaching, school committee policymaking and the occasional nap.

There’s plenty of coverfolk in the hopper, and I’m aiming for a compendium this weekend to clear the decks a bit. But to tide us over, here’s a repost from our very first month on the web, featuring Lucy Kaplansky, a singer-songwriter whose longing vocals and way with confessional metaphor I still turn to to keep me sane in the midst of chaos.

You almost never got to hear of Lucy Kaplansky: An 18 year old member of the early 80s new folk movement, she made it as far as plans for a recording venture with Shawn Colvin, only to change her mind at the last moment. For the next decade, Kaplansky continued to do light session work, most notably as a backup singer on early Suzanne Vega albums, but spent most of her time plying her newly minted PhD in Psychology as a therapist in New York. It was a hard loss for the folk community: her voice had been a sweet standout in the crowd even then, as evidenced by Fast Folk recordings from the era.

Thankfully, in the mid 90s Lucy came back to the folk fold. Since then, though she still supposedly sees patients, she’s produced six absolutely incredible albums, chock-full of masterful songwriting. It’s tempting to see her therapist’s eye in her lyrical tendency towards storysongs of family, the lifestruggle of generational difference and the passage of time, the closing of distances metaphoric and real. But regardless of the source, there’s nothing like her ability to find the right pace for a song, the right tone for a line, the right note of etherial melody for a story.

Kaplansky remains in high demand as a backup vocalist for fellow folkies on the road or in the studios; her pure voice and New York accent can be heard on almost every Shawn Colvin, Richard Shindell, Nancy Griffith, and John Gorka album. Her ear is incredible — I’ve seen her on stage with a good half dozen performers, and she seems to be arranging her harmonies on the spot, making good songs great with a subtle yet powerful touch.

But though in concert she tends to focus on her own stunning songwriting, Dr. Kaplansky’s cheerful delight at singing and arranging the tunes of others translates to her own recordings, too: her albums tend to come in at about one-third covers, and her taste is impeccable. Over the last thirteen years, she has come to be known as much for her sterling interpretations of the songs of others as she is for her own material.

In fact, Lucy Kaplansky is such a prolific and powerful cover artist, I had real trouble narrowing down the choices, so today we’re offering a cover or two from each of her six major albums, presented in chronological order.

Lucy Kaplansky covers…

You can hear more Lucy tracks streaming at her website, but every single Lucy Kaplansky album from 1994 release The Tide to 2007 release Over The Hills belongs in your collection, and you can buy them all direct from Red House Records. So do it. Period.

Today’s bonus coversongs come from compilations and other projects:

Cover Lay Down will return Sunday with a collection of sweet coversongs from new and upcoming artists and self-promoters.

1,038 comments » | Lucy Kaplansky, reposts

Wedded Coverfolk:
Songs (and a Story) of Weddings and their Aftermath

October 18th, 2009 — 05:12 pm

This weekend, my wife’s brother got married: a wedding a long time coming, and as such, planned to the last detail. His blushing bride wore vintage lace in cream and brown, as befit the season and their shared love of the natural world, and for moment there, time stopped, like it should, when he in his best grey suit turned to watch her come up our impromptu aisle, her flower-girls tight against her, unsure of the attention.

The minister was lighthearted and blessedly brief, the speeches fine and poignant, and throughout it all, the weather held, though it was cold enough by the pond to chap the bride’s hands, giving our glad and gallant groom the excuse to warm then in his own: the perfect picture, framed against the fall-splattered mountains and the crisp orchards of still-green and bright, ripe red.

Afterwards, there was an appropriately exquisite locavore’s supper, of artisanal cheeses and pumpkin ravioli, spiced pork and cider, and dancing, under a post-and-beam canopy, amidst the wood and stone which have for so long defined the couple. When darkness fell too early, there were fireworks, bright against the heavens, and we stood as one, craning our necks to the sky, clapping and whistling, united in awe.

There’s nothing like a marriage, and nothing like the moment that marks its birth. But my favorite part of any wedding is the aftermath: when the happy couple has driven off, proud and slightly pale with endless anticipation, high upon their tractor driven cart draped in autumn leaves and grapevines, or a chain of glowsticks hurriedly constructed by the bride’s new niece-in-laws.

For there we are, the rest of us, united through our love for the dear and now departed. And so, trusting their judgment in the waning glow that the bride and groom have set before us, we turn to each other, and touch each other on the shoulders, before going back inside for one last drink and then another – until the conversation moves past small talk, and we double ourselves, finding sustenance in laughter and growing together, new family becoming new friends.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk features twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Sundays.

874 comments » | Uncategorized

Covered in Folk: Townes Van Zandt
(Jeffrey Foucault, Guy Clark, Peter Mulvey, The Lemonheads + 7 more)

October 14th, 2009 — 10:17 pm

I don’t know as much about Townes Van Zandt as I’d like to. Despite the great similarities in sound and sensibility between his work and that of Guthrie, Dylan, and other core members of the folkworld, somehow he never cropped up in a childhood balanced between a mother’s love of the Seeger classics and a father’s fandom for the singer-songwriters of his own generation.

Of course, some of that is due to Van Zandt’s relative obscurity during the bulk of his life – as my father notes, until his resurgence in popularity at the turn of the century, it was almost impossible to find any of the artist’s studio recordings. But a commitment to coversong brings with it a lifetime of scouring liner notes and copyright notices. And the more I look, the more I find that so many of the great lonesome, mournful songs of distance and alienation recorded by the artists I love best in the last fifteen years have had their start in the hands and heart of Townes Van Zandt.

Too, in the same way that Big Star holds a special place in the hearts of a particular sort of blogger, there’s a high level of modern respect and celebration for the work of the soft-spoken Texas troubadour in the world of alt-country audiophiles. Pancho and Lefty, especially, seems to be well-covered and well-shared; over the years I’ve collected a full score of great covers of the song from websites hither and yon, so I’ll be going light on it today, in order not to preempt a someday Single Song Sunday feature on the song.

The combined commendations of the artists I love and the bloggers I respect came to a head back in the spring, when the buzz about Steve Earle’s tribute album was just starting to build. Suddenly, the blogosphere was full of Townes, both covers and originals. Most notable, at least for its combination of folk sources and coverage, was this fine post from astute countryfolk blog Beat Surrender, who offered an alternate version of Townes featuring a solid mixed bag of live and studio covers of the fifteen songs Earle chose to cover. The set comes highly recommended, and – as it’s still live – I’ll not repeat it here.

But there’s always more to be found. Here’s a short, mostly mellow set of my favorite covers of the Townes Van Zandt songbook, just a tip of a very large iceberg, scavenged and scoured with care – heavy on the singer-songwriter folk, and without our usual indie-to-alt diversity. Taken together, they make a great tribute to a great man and musician, lost to the lifestyle before so many of us would find him in the first place.

Townes may be long gone, a victim of the hard life which he celebrated so tenderly, but his legacy lives on in both the songs and the hard-working artists he inspired. As always, if you like what you hear, then pay your share to help the next generations survive on the road: follow the links above to pick up albums and tour dates, direct from the source wherever possible.

Cover Lay Down shares new and newfound coverfolk favorites every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,013 comments » | Covered in Folk, Townes van Zandt

Songs About Places: Coverfolk from The Chelsea Hotel
(lots of Leonard Cohen covers + Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Nico and more!)

October 10th, 2009 — 10:52 pm

There are many folk songs about geographical place, from old ballads of small Irish towns to American troubadour songs of the dustbowl and prairie to the Bleecker Street songs of the singer-songwriter sixties. In most cases, of course, these songs are more about events or movements inimitably tied to place: for example, though our recent paean to Woodstock did not look past the event itself, Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name would lend credence to this view.

Fewer, however, are songs about particular buildings. And why this is so is simple: there are few addresses in this world which can successfully represent a particular modality to singers and listeners alike.

The Chelsea Hotel is the exception that proves the rule. In part because it has for so long offered long-term rooms to those who were willing to trade comfort for community, a call to the Chelsea is both a reference to a particular place and time, and a nod to the oft-underfunded life of the musician in squalor. And because both neighborhood and hotel are such dominant figures in the formative lives of a myriad of musicians and artists, the NYC landmark has been featured prominently in well over thirty songs from those who have lived and composed there during its heyday.

The most popular of these is easily Chelsea Hotel No. 2, Leonard Cohen’s famous tribute to his days with Janis Joplin in the “unmade bed” of their shared hotel room – a song which may well hold the record for “most covered” over at YouTube. But as Wikipedia helpfully notes, numerous songs by folkies and others mention the place, from Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning, Nico’s Chelsea Girl, and Bob Dylan’s Sara to eponymous songs by Alejandro Escovedo, Jon Bon Jovi, Patti Scialfa, Jefferson Airplane, Ryan Adams, Dan Bern, Okkervil River, and others.

Not all have been covered, of course. But enough have found voice in the hands of others to remind us of how deeply the Chelsea Hotel figured in the lives and transitions of the folk community. Today, we look at covers of a few songs which make reference to the famous landmark, whether or not they are known to have been composed there.

Cover Lay Down posts religiously every Sunday and Wednesday, and the occasional otherday.

2,356 comments » | Uncategorized

Slaid Cleaves Covers:
Fred Eaglesmith, Del McCoury, Ana Egge
and a bunch of other musicians you’ve never heard of

October 6th, 2009 — 09:31 pm

I was introduced to Austin-by-way-of-Maine singer-songwriter and unmatched musical storyteller Slaid Cleaves at the turn of the century through local radioplay, and the subsequent purchase of then-new release Broke Down. But I was grateful to be reminded of Slaid’s genius last week through a thorough and appropriately celebratory look back at Broke Down over at This Mornin’ I Am Born Again, where fellow folkblogger and Star Maker Machine co-contributor Payton uses Slaid’s setting of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics as a namesake song.

To the extent that anyone knows who he is, Slaid Cleaves is known for twangy, dusty songs of the downtrodden and stubborn, adeptly strung in meters both upbeat and down, and for the wry optimism that surfaces in odd moments on stage and in songs like Breakfast in Hell. But to say that Slaid lives and works under the radar is an understatement. This is a man who won the Kerrville New Folk competition in 1992, yet whose albums from that entire decade remain out of print; a man who several years ago went public about his low paycheck ($17,000 a year!) and high incidence of life on the road on the cover of a Sunday newspaper supplement. For a talent as large and a heart as gentle as his, the man is sadly, sorely undersung.

Touting strong performers in need of recognition is one of the things we do best, of course. But this is a coverblog, too: for us to sing praise, an artist has to have a record of coverage. Happily for us, Slaid’s no stranger to covers. But where others cover popular songs, his body of coverage serves as less a push for reframing the familiar as it does an introduction to a whole ecosystem of other, equally under-recognized troubadours. And for that, Slaid deserves kudos, too.

Slaid’s 2006 covers album Unsung takes this tendency towards obscurity to its logical conclusion, presenting 13 songs by people he admires as friends and musical peers, all of whom you’ve probably never heard of. That the album sold few copies says what it needs to about the marketing difficulties of the obscure covering the obscure. But in many ways, though Broke Down provides the perfect introduction to his versatile style and substance, Unsung is Slaid’s most consistent album, envelopingly beautiful from start to finish, and that says something valuable, too, about his ability to pluck the pithy and astute from life, whether through the lyrics of others or his own poet’s mind, and use them to create and sustain both the hilarity of life’s underbelly and darkest of dark, quiet moods, even as hope lurks around the corner.

The artist’s most recent cover, a slow and bluesy take on Ray Bonneville’s Run Jolee Run, comes from his 2009 album Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away; like so much of his work, it speaks of working class underdogs – in this case, the story of a working woman on the lam from an abusive boyfriend – in a fine high and twangy baritone over well-strummed acoustic guitar. The song is especially fitting here and now, as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this week’s theme over at Star Maker Machine has us posting songs of domestic violence and sexual abuse; I’ve included it below, along with the usual coverset. When you’re done listening, check out another original over at Payton’s place, and then pick up Unsung, Broke Down, and a plethora of other fine works direct from Slaid Cleaves himself before joining us both over at Star Maker Machine for more songs in the key of consciousness.

Cover Lay Down goes all-out with the coverfolk features each Wednesday and Sunday, plus the occasional otherday.

1,083 comments » | Uncategorized

(Re)Covered Singer-Songwriters:
New CDs from Caroline Herring, Cliff Eberhardt, John Gorka & Catie Curtis

October 3rd, 2009 — 12:57 pm

Great news in the world of singer-songwriter folk in the past few weeks, as four of our favorite folk artists have emerged from the studio with smashing new albums. As each has been featured previously here on Cover Lay Down, we’re styling the features as part of our ongoing (Re)covered feature, which looks back at older posts in order to help keep familiar names and perennial faves on the radar where they deserve. Enjoy the sneak peeks, and don’t forget to follow links to purchase what you love…

Caroline Herring‘s Lantana was one of the first new albums we featured here at Cover Lay Down; both album and artist set an almost impossibly high standard for the blog which we have struggled to maintain ever since. Now the Texas-based singer-songwriter and one-time SXSW best new artist who first captured our hearts with her deep and often heartbreaking look at the inner lives of women everywhere has come back with Golden Apples of the Sun, a stunning, celebratory new album, due in November on Signature Sounds.

Golden Apples of the Sun turns this southern girl’s lyrical eye inward to great effect. The originals are exquisite, featuring deep, deliberate, mature songwriting coupled with that stripped-down sound and breathy, gracefully fragile voice. But to my immense joy, Herring’s growing awareness of her forebears and influences here comes to a head in a wealth of coverage. Her comprehensive transformation of Cyndi Lauper’s oft-covered True Colors into an almost unrecognizable dustbowl folktune is both surprisingly intimate and perfectly, plaintively Caroline; in keeping with its gentle yet confessional bent, the album also includes a truly beautiful cover of Joni Mitchell’s Cactus Tree, plus strong melodic takes on two traditional American folk standards.

We’re tentatively scheduled for an interview when Caroline hits the Iron Horse in Northampton the first week of November; in the meanwhile, here’s an older track from Lantana, plus two of the four newest, which you can enjoy while you wait for Golden Apples of the Sun and its companion EP Silver Apples Of The Moon, a Signature Sounds web-only release which will include covers of Kate Wolf and The Carter Family.

I first featured Cliff Eberhardt in anticipation of his stellar stagework at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest. Now Eberhardt’s new album 500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions has dropped, and it’s a doozy of a set, including ten new originals, a recast version of his own signature song The Long Road, and strong new studio covers of both John Hiatt’s Back of My Mind and folk classic 500 Miles.

Recorded at the Austin-based Blue Rock Studios, and “flavored”, as the press release notes, by the vast diversity of sound that has come to define Texas music, 500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions marks a new step in Eberhardt’s artistic journey, one which trades the sparse bluesy tones of his last album for a fuller sound without sacrificing a whit of the intimacy, the honesty, or the plain-spoken truth for which this gruff-voiced artist has been known since his early days in the Fast Folk movement.

If you’re in the Boston area, and reading this post in its first hours, check out Eberhardt’s CD release party tonight at seminal folk club Passim; in the meanwhile, download the newest covers, plus a previously-shared cut from way back when, and then head over to Red House Records to purchase 500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions direct from the label.

Not sure how I let the newest full-length from Boston-based singer-songwriter Catie Curtis fall between the cracks when it emerged onto the scene this past summer. But after bumping into Hello Stranger while killing time in a local record store this Thursday, I’m filing it under “better late than never”, with a quick reminder to label reps, promotional types, and fellow fans that the world of folk is vast, and we really do depend on you to help keep us apprised of all the great stuff out there.

Hello Stranger is somewhat of a shift for working-class champion Curtis, who we celebrated last year for her poppy Death Cab for Cutie and Morphine covers, running the gamut from gentle fiddle-and-banjo acoustic roots music to true blue bluegrass. But Catie’s genius and talent are not lost here, only reframed to great effect. The album works, in part, because of Catie’s clear love for both good production and the sound of good old back porch music, not to mention a serious helping of Nashville, where the album was recorded with southern luminaries from Mary Gauthier to Allison Brown, co-owner and founder of the Compass Records label which released the record.

The result: a gorgeously produced set of songs that teeter on the edge of newgrass, perfectly balanced and perfectly autumnal. Here’s an older one from the archives, plus new covers of Cat Stevens and Richard Thompson, with a five-star recommendation for the rest of the set.

Finally, beloved father figure and mentor to the younger folkset John Gorka reveals another addition to the canon in the forthcoming So Dark You See. Though as I wrote about last February, Gorka’s earlier albums are warm, sensitive, and potent, and as such remain well worth celebration, I continue to have mixed emotions about his recent work, which trends towards the treacly.

But though the production on some tracks continues to teeter on the edge of overwrought, and Gorka’s aging vocal strain remains evident in places, So Dark You See is overall a move back in the right direction, and there are a handful of especially solid tracks on this new album, including both an original entitled Utah and an appropriately rich, mournful cover in tribute to the recent passage of hobo poet and folksinger Utah Phillips, and my favorite track, a lovingly sparse acoustic blues cover of old jazz standard Trouble in Mind.

So Dark You See hits stores and digital venues on October 13th; though only completists will likely want the whole thing, I highly recommend browsing samples via the usual sources, and picking up the best at the usual per-track cost. Full tracks are not yet available, but here’s a partial clip of Gorka covering Trouble in Mind at a soundcheck last year, and a favorite from his earlier work to carry the buzz into the weeks ahead.

Cover Lay Down publishes new coverfolk sets, reviews and themed posts every Wednesday and Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

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