Archive for June 2010

Festival Coverfolk 2010: Grey Fox Bluegrass, July 15-18

June 29th, 2010 — 03:50 pm

This is my third year in a row touting the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival on these pages, and frankly, it’s getting more and more difficult to truly add value to our ongoing promotion. Which is not to say the festival has been stagnating – far from it, in fact. It’s just that after a decade of attendance, and three years of blogging about it, I’m running short on fresh superlatives worthy of the best grassfest around.

The reigning champion of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Festival of the Year” category after 35 years of continued excellence, the four day, five stage event has been consistent throughout in presenting a veritable who’s who of modern bluegrass in all its joyful diversity, and this year’s lineup is just stunning, with top-value names from all branches of the bluegrass canon, including many personal and fan favorites both young and old, returning to play Walsh Farm in tiny yet accessible Oak Hills, NY – just 45 min. from Albany, and three hours or less from both Boston and NYC.

We’ve covered many of these folks here before, so I hope no one minds today’s self-referential, repost-heavy approach to this year’s pre-fest celebration of all things Grey Fox. For a full schedule, including showtimes for Josh Williams, Donna The Buffalo, Sam Bush, The Gibson Brothers, and many more great acts less relevant to our folk focus yet no less adept or enjoyable as players and performers, head over to the newly-designed Grey Fox Festival website, where you can order your tix for the best fest around. Earlybird ticket sales end tomorrow, so don’t delay planning your summer roadtrip – once you take a listen to these fine samples from the Grey Fox 2010 lineup, of course.

    Crooked Still is one of our most-covered artists here on Cover Lay Down, and for good reason; in many ways, the Boston-based quartet-turned-quintet – equally at home at Celtic, folk, and Bluegrass festivals – defined a new sonic space in the post-millennial atmosphere, leading the way for a rising generation of hybridfolk that continues to explode into our ears and hearts. Their new cover of You Got The Silver, part of our Rolling Stones coverset last month, is excellent, too, as is their take on tradsong The Golden Vanity, blogged when new album Some Strange Country emerged.

    I first encountered international trio The Greencards at Grey Fox, one of the best moments of a very good year indeed; since then, I’ve caught ‘em twice, blogged ‘em alongside Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins, and developed an eternal hankering for their lead singer’s sweet powerhouse voice floating over those perfect popgrass arrangements.

    Kathy Mattea isn’t the first artist to make the leap from Falcon Ridge to Grey Fox in successive years; Crooked Still did the same thing a few years ago. But although we first featured Mattea as part of last year’s Falcon Ridge preview, the country chart-topper will be more solidly in her element at Grey Fox, and the setting is bound to make her songs of heartache and hope shine. Her appearance with Tim O’Brien on the Masters stage will see the occasional collaborators take on the songs of West Virginia, a delight for any coverfan – be sure to keep an eye out for me under the tent.

    The diversity of mandolin virtuoso and label-owner Dave Grisman’s output, especially in collaboration with the likes of Doc Watson, Jerry Garcia, John Hartford, and others over a long and illustrious career, has meant several mentions on these pages since our inception. But bluegrass is truly in his heart, and his music in ours.

    New York / New England local heroes The Sweetback Sisters, who we mentioned in December’s year-end post, teeter on the line between a raucous old-time honky-tonk folk, sensitive country swing, and other new hybridgrass forms; like Crooked Still, their alliance with folklabel Signature Sounds seems perfectly natural, especially when their two female vocalists take the lead on some sweet ballad. But that’s also Sam Amidon’s brother on drums in this funky Roger Miller remake – need I say more?

    We’ve been following singer-songwriter and mandolin goddess Sarah Jarosz since she first emerged as a player in the popgrass scene, most recently unveiling an exclusive look at her collaboration with Black Prairie on the recent Shel Silverstein tribute album. But her tendency towards cowboy boots belies her rightful setting. And I still want her version of Come On Up To The House played at my funeral.

    Even though the even-younger up-and-comer Sierra Hull‘s name doesn’t appear on the Grey Fox lineup as a solo act, she’ll be there as part of the Berklee Roots Music Show, showing the world what the newest players-in-training are doing in Boston via the brand new Roots Music Program at Berklee College. Sierra’s true-blue countrygrass take on an old Connie Francis tune whets our whistle for the next generation.

    Finally, veteran bluegrass performer and jam-band crossover fave Del McCoury will be on site again, still wiry and wild after a half century on the road with and without his sons and compatriots; two years ago, in our Grey Fox 2008 preview, I claimed that his version of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was better than the original, and though I’m going to assume you’ve got it by now, I stand by that assessment. Last year, Grisman and son showed up during Del’s set to back up the band. Who will sit in in 2010?

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and features every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: new coverfolk from the mailbag, a tribute to Dave Carter, a look ahead at a California vacation, and the subjective best of this year’s crop of YouTube coverage!

1,598 comments » | bluegrass, Festival Coverfolk

Folk Couples, Covered:
Sproule & Curreri, Schmidt & Elkin, and Ritter & Landes

June 27th, 2010 — 11:52 am

There’s a long tradition of singer-songwriter couples in folk music, especially in those pockets of history where you find movements and schools forming. From June Carter and Johnny Cash in the second-generation countryfolk days, Buddy and Julie Miller at the forefront of the modern Americana movement, and Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst’s marriage in the wake of their work with folk supergroup Redbird, to the doomed-but-productive pairings of James Taylor and Carly Simon in the singer-songwriter seventies and Maria and Geoff Muldaur in the Greenwich Village and Woodstock jugband era, not to mention the quirky songs of the Wainwright/McGarrigle/Roche dynasty, it seems there’s something about the excitement of new folkforms and foundations being built and nurtured which lends itself to other, more intimate collaborations.

It’s heartening, then, to find a small set of relative newlyweds and young couples in several pockets of the modern folkworld. It validates the vibrancy of the genre, and its various communities, to see rising stars pair off, living together, producing each other’s records, sharing studios and songwriting credits, and backing each other on record and on tour. Today, we take a look at three such post-millennial couples, with best wishes for their continued success.

I’d seen Devon Sproule as an opening act before, and enjoyed her slippery, fragile dustbowl twang; hadn’t heard much of her husband and occasional performing partner Paul Curreri, except his collaborative work with spouse Devon on their once-annual Valentines Duets series, but my initial impression of his work had been generally positive, if peripheral.

But Tuesday’s Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule show at Club Passim was a revelation. Both performers have a presence that belies their shy, fumbling demeanor – Curreri loose and potent, heavy on the roots and americana, with elements of Harry Nilsson’s lyrical playfulness, Sam Beam’s craft and bearded looks, and Jeff Lang’s bluesy, bold guitar style; the waif-thin Sproule as a more southern indiefolk-oriented vocalist and songwriter, with hints of Patty Griffin, Sarah Harmer, Lucinda and Victoria Williams in her voice and her nuanced stringwork. And as a show-ending duo, a third sound emerged, warm, intimate and rich with harmonies and psychic connection, that didn’t so much transcend their solo work as reinforce their prowess as performers and songsmiths, able to make the most of their respective instruments in a variety of settings.

As writers, there’s a vast difference in style: Curreri’s lyrics are concrete and often silly, full of real-world imagery, while Sproule tends more towards the confessional narrative, channeling a wide range of emotion through inner-voiced relationship stories and loving characterizations; both performers have some exquisite solo work on their MySpace pages which speaks well towards their body of recordings. (If you go, be sure to check out Sproule’s Plea For A Goodnight Rest, which is utterly stunning in both live and studio versions.) Put ‘em together, in coverage or in rare collaboration, and the best of both worlds comes forth – for example, the anti-lullaby One Eye Open and the Hank Williams cover below were delicious live, and their work together on reggae classic Sponji Reggae on Sproule’s 2010 release Don’t Hurry For Heaven is amazing.

I’d recommend a show to anyone, but whether you’re on or off the beaten tour track – the couple continues to be a cornerstone of the Charlottesville scene, but they’re on the road plenty these days – for more of Devon and Curreri, definitely pick up their respective new albums via their websites, and then head over to Paul’s site for five years worth of collaborative album-length cover sets.

When Austin-based musician Danny Schmidt – himself a contemporary and one-time collaborator with both Curreri and Sproule, as explored in a recent interview from the UK-based blog Backroads – kicked off our on-again off-again house concert series last fall, I had only heard a few songs, and had never seen him in person: all I knew about him was that the 2007 Kerrville winner was a rising star, well-recommended by a number of folkwatching friends. As I wrote at the time, his gentle grace and gravity were stunning in person, and delving deep into his catalog since, I have found his work rich and soul-touching, full of mystery and melody, a perfect soundtrack to a grateful life.

These days, according to his and hers facebook updates, Danny’s been spending much of his time focusing on production for his partner Carrie Elkin, another Kerrville alum whose newest album is due to drop pretty soon. Carrie’s a sunny, smiling sort in photographs – the fan-fueled microfinance structure she’s been using to raise money for the album’s mixing and production promises daisies, fresh eggs, and home-cooked meals along with the usual CD and house concert to those who help support her – and her voice, while often softly haunting, lyrically raw, and delicate, is ultimately no less optimistic and powerful, making her music a perfect compliment to Danny’s socially conscious, life-affirming introspection.

Elkin recorded a few covers on her 2001 self-released Live at the Front Room, which is sadly out of print; if anyone’s got a copy, I’d aching to hear her take on Angel From Montgomery and Amazing Grace. But the exclusive Townes Van Zandt cover below – a tasty tidbit from an upcoming 20+ track Townes tribute and benefit CD currently being finished across the pond, which will also feature Devon Sproule’s take on Townes rarity Turnstyled, Junkpiled – shows that the pair have little difficulty bringing just the right balance of broken hope and wistful depression to the dustbowl troubadour blues, too.

We’ve written about Josh Ritter here before several times, most recently in this year’s birthday coverfolk post. And as a bigger name than the other artists featured here, Ritter needs little introduction. His spouse Dawn Landes, meanwhile, is slightly lesser known, though not in my house: her 2008 release Fireproof, for example, is a haunting, well-worn journey through quirky singer-songwritery popfolk a la eighties Suzanne Vega, while her recent appearance on last year’s indiefolk Nilsson tribute Songs From The Point reveals a knack for atmospheric nufolk as well.

But Ritter’s 2009 marriage to Dawn Landes is notable, in part, because it may prove a test-case for the ways in which partnership on or off stage can help leverage and focus a deserving artist’s career through appeal to a particular audience. Though Landes’ most recent release, last year’s Sweetheart Rodeo, is an exceptionally strong and critically celebrated work that calls to the modern americana-laden trend, given the size of his audience, if her work garners any new exposure from here on out, it will be as impossible to divorce that success from her association with Ritter as it is her work with indie group Hem, an increasingly vast body of work on television soundtracks, and opening act slots for Vega, Jose Gonzales, Justin Townes Earle, and others.

Which is to say that Ritter is currently on tour with Landes as an opener – a touring strategy that will have inevitable fanbase ramifications, though it also surely allows them some rare time together in the midst of two very successful solo careers. And that’s a good thing, I suspect, given how Landes’ ability to sustain attention and grow her fanbase from album to album has been complicated by diversity – that is, by production strategies and songsmithing that yaw wider than most. Here’s hoping it also grants the consistent elements of her craft – that sweet and aching voice, that ability to find just the right sonic core to best lay out a lyric – the exposure they deserve.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

1,380 comments » | Carrie Elkin, Danny Schmidt, Dawn Landes, Devon Sproule, Paul Curreri

Covering The Past, Redux:
Reposted Songs From My Father’s Record Collection

June 23rd, 2010 — 09:25 pm

I’ve been in Boston for a new literacies teacher institute for the last few days, pushing the limits of my ability to multitask and taxing my brain with theory and new possibilities; it’s intense, and though I’m loving the work and the collaboration, the sustained concentration – and the all-day, full-body headache which has resulted – has left me a bit too drained to do justice to anything up to our usual standards.

But last night before the pain kicked in Dad and I headed off to catch Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri at Club Passim, and I was reminded of how much our shared bond is based in the music he taught me to love. I’ll be back Sunday with more about the amazing Paul and Devon, and a few other married singer-songwriter couples; in the meanwhile, here’s a reposted piece which – like my relationship with my father – I’m particularly proud of.

Originally posted March, 2009

The records I treasure have been reorganized in the last few years since the move, but they still smell of my musical awakening — that particularly sweet smell of aging record sleeves, and the cherrywood cabinet they used to inhabit. They range far beyond folk, of course: this is a man whose tastes run deep and broad, from Bob Carlin country to Kool and the Gang funk, from sixties jazzpop to bluegrass, all the early masters of a dozen genres of American music.

One whole side of the collection, in fact — the blues stuff, the jazz stuff, the soul, the R&B — evolved later, and separately, as I grew, so that it never truly seems like it sprang from my childhood as clearly. But the collection in toto contains the origins of my belief that all music has merit, and that all genres have their masters; that it is the performance, the skill, and the talent which provide the platform for success, by even the most subjective measure.

My father’s records have always been organized by personal association; to follow their sequence — from Bob Dylan to Steeleye Span to James Taylor, from Little Feat to Steely Dan to Cat Stevens — is to think like my father, or at least understand the world of musical influence and genre in his terms. And I know this world well. I spent hours lying on the hardwood floor in front of that cherrywood stereo cabinet, head cocked to the right as if listening, running my fingers along these tall, thin spines, sliding precious vinyl in and out of their paper sleeves carefully, as if each album contained the family, the world, the self, the very meaning of life itself.

Looking at these records now, I find many albums I missed then, and have since come to on my own — Loudon Wainwright III, John Prine, John Hartford among them, on the folkier side. Too, some musicians my father treasured took longer to love than others — the nasal voices of Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky, for example, only truly blossomed for me when I was old enough to come to their work with an adult’s mature understanding of memory, love, and other common themes. I’m still working on a love for Richard Thompson.

But there are whole sections that I know as well as the back of my father’s hand.

Indeed, it is not too much to say that somewhere deep in this collection was a kernel of my father himself, though I did not realize it at the time. And indeed, though I never truly saw him listen to these records, or even buy them, more than anything else, the access he gave me to these records — and through them, to him — is the beginning of the bond between us.

Our listening has long been private, done in darkness; I cannot claim that this song or that is his favorite cover of that bygone era, could not truly name his own experience with these songs if I were pressed to do so. But these are the songs handed down nonetheless, through the very nature of their presence, and the very fact of their importance, as shared artifacts in time and space.

And, though it would take years for me to hear their nuances, long before I heard the originals, these songs of my father’s are the progenitors, the soundtrack to an audiophile’s birth. That they would become form and foundation of the deep love and friendship I am privileged to share with my father today makes them all the sweeter.

Not all these albums are still in print, and few are digitized; as such, there’s much on these shelves which cannot be posted. But here’s a few coversongs from those artists and albums I remember best — from those childhood hours sunk deep into my father’s psyche, made manifest in music.

Cover Lay Down posts new features every Sunday and Wednesday, come hell or high water. Stay tuned later this weekend for a look at Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri and a few other singer-songwriter couples through coverage.

257 comments » | reposts

Flower Communion Sunday:
because you are my flower, and I love you.

June 20th, 2010 — 04:43 pm

Ah, Flower Communion Sunday. Traditionally the last Sunday service before a Universalist Unitarian parish moves to a lay-led summer, the Flower Communion celebrates the contributory nature of the UU community by bringing the blooming world into the church at its last, and then letting it go back out again as we ourselves turn to the world of social justice and peace-making. The beauty and diversity of life – of our own, and the bounty of the land – is present in the rich cornucopia of the green-stemmed bounty. And by bringing flowers from our own gardens, and then taking home those of another, we pay tribute to the found and foraged nature of our practice, and of our spiritual selves.

The ritual is easily explicable: we all bring flowers, and by midservice, the dais is covered with color and scent – an even mix of found and wild sources, and the cultivated and garden-born, reflecting the organic mix of seeds and sprouts that comprise the source-cobbled praxis of our “faith where we find it.” We bless the flowers, and ourselves, and line up to pick a single stalk or clustered bloom to take with us for the summer; we sing a song of the spirit, and drift off into the fellowship hall for cake and summer goodbyes, flowers in hand, and fellowship in hearts.

The timing is good, it being Father’s Day and all; I love flowers, and the color and scent they bring to the household fills my spirit. And this weekend’s overnight up north at the in-laws was rich with bachelor buttons and lupin, the summer’s last peonies, fields thick with forget-me-nots, the garden’s late vegetable flowers. Showing the kids how to suck the tiny drop of sweetness from the purple clover flowers in their grandmother’s flower patch brought a closeness too often inaccessible during the school year.

Today in church, as the elderchild sang David Mallet’s Garden Song, one of a tiny trio of small voices filing the room, I was reminded that the wee one on my lap has asked that it be our family song, and listened close for the nuance which has caught her ear. And somewhere in there, the metaphor of garden as community and life welled forth within me, and I held her close, and whispered the words, and she clutched my arms around her, and the joy of the world was ours forever.

More generally, I am reminded that Universalist Unitarianism is a folk religion: community centered in source and celebration, its meanings personal, its songs and sermons thoughtfully selected and everchanging, its texts an ongoing celebration of stones turned and streamlet banks discovered, its shared reading of them an endless series of offerings for the search we share. I am reminded, too, why I have found myself more and more self-defining as UU, though the welcome flowers I have brought into the fold are Jewish and humanistic.

I’m also reminded why I blog. We’ve covered roses for Valentine’s, and summer aplenty before. But this time of year, as many of us switch from work-a-day to summer mode, it’s nice to have a ritual that reminds us of the way our tiny lives are part of the passing of the seasons, their beauty ours, and their bounty shared. And as it is in church, so it is here: our little space on the web is not merely a published sequence of song, but a shared nexus of give-and-take, the songs themselves flowing back and forth through us, making us whole, and making us one. A music blog, too, is a communion, as is the experience of listening we give to each other.

Let us celebrate the summer, and our shared selves, through song.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

1,435 comments » | Uncategorized

Covered in Folk: John Hartford
(The John Hartford Stringband, plus Gillian Welch, Sam Bush, & more!)

June 16th, 2010 — 11:29 am

Well-covered in popular culture and over at classic songs collaborative Star Maker Machine, John Hartford never made the splash he could and should have as a performer, in part because Glen Campbell’s Grammy-winning cover of Gentle On My Mind sold so well, the cash flow gave Hartford license to chuck it all in and pursue his true passion – as a steamboat captain on his beloved Mississippi River.

But the man I once heard referred to as “the clown prince of old-time” kept coming back to the music, winning a few Grammys himself in his day. His legacy is strong, and his influence can be found in the continued evolution of the old-time folkgrass sound so beloved on these pages; indeed, we’ve posted several Hartford compositions here before, as warranted. And though I myself only truly found his songs in the last few years, as far I’m concerned, any celebration of the man and his songbook is warranted, too, any time we can justify it.

Proof positive arrived in the mail this week from the members of John Hartford’s band, now performing as the John Hartford String Band: they’ve just released Memories of John, a fine and fitting tribute featuring previously unreleased audio from the man himself, and with guest vocals and instrumentals from Tim O’Brien, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, and others – a short but solid who’s who of artists equally adept on the folk, bluegrass, and country line.

The collection works splendidly. Despite aging voices, in Memories of John, the one-time compatriots of the late great singing, songwriting steamboat pilot (Bob Carlin on banjo, Matt Combs on fiddle, Mike Compton on mandolin, Mark Schatz on bass, and guitarist Chris Sharp) have put together a worthy collection of Hartford tunes both familiar and obscure, including several songs Hartford left as sketches, now fleshed out as quintessentially Hartford-esque. And the love these men feel for their long-gone compatriot shows through the performance, with fine instrumental craftsmanship at both joyfully breakneck and tender ballad tempos, and a sense of reverent whimsy that evokes the man himself in every note.

The album delves deep, skipping over several of the Hartford tunes true fans know best. But this choice makes sense, in a way – many of Hartford’s most famous compositions have found their way into the folkways, and as such, any tribute designed specifically to focus on the close connection between the man and the songs themselves would suffer from the distant echo of coverage in our hearts and ears.

Our mandate is different, of course: at Cover Lay Down, it is that absorption of song into the canon which inspires us. Today, then: a thorough treatment of John Hartford’s songbook, in folkways both sparse and rich…and with plenty of fiddle and banjo at the helm, just as John would have wanted it.

Like what you hear? Thanks to the fine folks at Compass Records, I’ve got an extra copy of The John Hartford Stringband’s Memories Of John coming my way via parcel post. Leave a comment below with your name and email address, and I’ll enter you into a drawing to win it.

Of course, the songs of John Hartford would be nowhere without the original powerhouse performances of Hartford himself, who passed on of complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2001, leaving us with a legacy of over 30 albums of original songs, traditional tunes, and the occasional playful popcover. Today’s Bonus Tracks let the man speak for himself, through a few select familiarities remade in his own inimitable manner:

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Click here to help support the cause.

1,349 comments » | John Hartford

Reid Jamieson Covers:
Elvis, Madonna, Sting, Lionel Richie, the 6ths, Laura Viers & more!

June 13th, 2010 — 09:46 pm

Discovering under-the-radar singers who share my love of coverage is always a treat, especially when their website features a huge cache of free downloads. But far too often, I find, there’s a reason why such cover-heavy collections remain undersung. Mere interpretative skill is nothing to sneeze at, to be sure – after all, there are some wonderful artists out there who have made a career of taking on the songs of one source or another. But our mandate here is to help you find your way to singer-songwriters through coverage, in order to help their stars rise, and the heavens continue to be full of their infinite grace. As such, we’d be remiss if we slipped into the kitsch and kaboodle of the one-off cover, or even the genre artist.

Happily, Reid Jamieson is more than just another unsigned cover artist leveraging the web and the songbooks of giants to reach a few more fans. Essentially unknown in the States, the Canadian singer-songwriter has been busy above the border for a decade or more, recording four albums since 2001. He’s worked with Sarah Harmer and members of Blue Rodeo, had songs featured on TV and in film, and been a staple member of CBC’s Vinyl Cafe, both on the air and on the program’s sponsored tour, since 2006. And though his next potentially career-exploding album isn’t due until September, it’s never too early to offer a closer, more thorough look, so you can say you knew him when.

I actually found Reid Jamieson a few years back, while scouring the web for Harry Nilsson covers. At first listen, the slight strain of his tenor and his country-boy strum style brought Mark Erelli most obviously to mind, while his sideburned look – equal parts Morrissey and Chris Isaak – only reinforced my first impression of a musician playing at the border between traditional country and modern singer-songwriter folk. And certainly, like Erelli, the slippery-voiced Jamieson shows strong in the guise of pop-country crooner, as evidenced by his 2007 Elvis covers album The Presley Sessions; if you’d heard nothing else, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the man was nothing more than an unusually strong country-folk performer, worth watching for if you like that kind of stuff.

But don’t let his wry grin, or his tendency towards the playful and coy, fool you into missing the depth and dexterity Jamieson brings to both his songwriting and his interpretation of the songs of others. The haunting beauty he evokes when he turns his talents to stripped-down folk or bluesy solo takes on pop ballads is on par with the jumping, rocking energy and charm he brings to his performance of country standards. There’s as much Amos Lee and Damien Rice in this sound as there is acoustic country. And that’s a good thing, indeed.

It’s rare to find an artist so powerfully adept in so many different modes of performance, and rarer still to find one who is so deliberate about applying that chameleonesque style and substance to such a diverse set of source material. And though we admire his fearlessness in making coverage such a vital part of his artistic canon, with an equally strong knack for hook-laden writing, and for applying just the right tone to every one of his own notes and songs, clearly, Reid Jamieson is a rising star overdue for recognition beyond his native borders.

Check out over a decade of mostly acoustic coverage below – most skimmed from the Reido Radio section of Reid’s website, so I’ve eschewed the usual track-by-track references for all but the last few tracks – and hear it for yourself.

Ready for some original works? Good, because Reid Jamieson’s most recent release – Courting Juniper, an utterly gorgeous stripped-down six-song EP released last November – is smooth and pensive without losing a whit of the energy and sensuality of his previous work, showing the kind of maturation that can tip a performer over into name recognition, and bringing elements of popfolkers Brent Dennon and Ron Sexsmith into the mix.

Courting Juniper also bodes exceptionally well for Jamieson’s upcoming full-length Staring Contest, which will feature full studio versions of the Courting Juniper songs along with more originals, and guest backing from Samantha Parton of Be Good Tanays and Anne Lindsay of Blue Rodeo.

Of course, as noted above, Jamieson’s website is chock full of downloadables, both originals and covers; if it’s coverage you desire, I absolutely recommend that you head on over for more of the greatness featured above – most especially the entirety of his Train Songs session from The Vinyl Cafe, which is due to be rebroadcast on June 15th on Vinyl Cafe – and pick up the aforementioned Presley Sessions disc while you’re there. But don’t forget to bookmark, too: I have it on good authority that Jamieson is working on a 7-song EP of Neil Finn/Split Enz/Crowded House covers, which is just icing on the cake.

1,259 comments » | Reid Jamieson

Covered In Kidfolk, Vol 10:
More Lullabies and Softsongs for Cool Moms and Dads

June 9th, 2010 — 11:33 pm

I don’t sing my children to sleep as much as I used to. Now that they’re older, and need more time to wind down after long days at school and play, bedtime has by necessity shifted to something more solo, wherein we read a story or two, kiss their brows, and then leave them to their own devices, letting them read or listen to audiobooks before they drowse into dreamland at their own pace.

It’s good to give our children the space to find their own rituals as they grow; important, as a general case, to help them develop the habits that will take them into adolescence and adulthood, leaving them with the tools to be healthy and sane. But we are human, and it bruises the heart to be less wanted, less needed, even if it is natural and necessary in the face of that growing independence.

And so, occasionally, when they ask me to stay, I acquiesce, and bring out the dulcimer, to pluck gently at the strings, and sing the old lullabies while they smile and stare at worlds beyond the ceiling in the dark. And back downstairs, while they play quietly in their own little worlds, I still sift through the sands of new releases with an ear cocked towards the stairwell, snagging sleepsongs as I find them with my little girls in mind, in the secret, futile hope that one day, they will be small again, in heart if not in body, and there will once again be occasion to use them.

We posted our original Lullabies and Sleepsongs post – our very first Covered in Kidfolk feature here on Cover Lay Down – way back in November of 2007, framing the series as an antidote to that pap that passed for kids music in the disco era. Or Barney songs. Or that awful, too-chipper CD of baby-fied classics your mother picked up at her local all-natural toy store (sorry, mom). And I’m proud to say that today, after a long and successful run of kidfolk features on a variety of subjects, we have maintained that standard, offering an ongoing series of playlists for cool moms and dads to enjoy with their kids, instead of merely tolerating them as an endemic aspect of parenting.

Since then, my own personal need for such songs and sets has lost its urgency, it’s true. But my own lullaby collection has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks in part to a batch of new and newly-discovered musicians playing in and around the kidfolk canon. And the songs deserve celebration, however bittersweet it is to collect them. And perhaps you need them, as I needed them once, to help your own wee ones drift off into their own infinite lands of nod.

Today, then, we revisit some old favorite lullabies and quiet songs – keeping the best of our original entry, and adding newer recordings and foundlings into the mix as warranted. Whether you’re a parent of growing young ones yourself, or just a kid at heart, may you find solace and slumber here.

  • Grey Sky Girls, Oh Susanna (orig. Foster)
    So many covers of this classic folktune. In our original entry, we featured a version by the Be Good Tanyas, off of Blue Horse, which is also excellent. But local gals the Grey Sky Girls go sparser, and dreamier, making for a softer, gentler set.
  • Zubot & Dawson, May You Never (orig. John Martyn)
    When I suggested Zubot & Dawson’s fluid, guitar-and-fiddle-driven folkjazz cover in response to a recent call for lullabies for an upcoming Putumayo Kids sampler, their rep noted that the mention of a barroom fight made this song ineligible for their consideration. Fair enough, and fair warning. Beautiful nonetheless.
  • William Fitzsimmons, You Can Close Your Eyes (orig. James Taylor)
    Perhaps my all-time favorite lullaby cover, posted previously in other guises more than once. And there’s even more depth here if we note that indiefolk singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons was raised by blind parents. From 2008 classic 70s folkpop cover tribute Before The Goldrush.
  • Childsplay, Love Me Tender (orig. Elvis Presley)
    The most recent release from New England string collaboration Childsplay floats the etherial voice of Crooked Still frontwoman Aoife O’Donovan over the perfect atmosphere. More here, from when we first reviewed Waiting For The Dawn.
  • Peter and Bethany Yarrow, All Through The Night (trad.)
    Peter Yarrow’s voice has lost some of its clarity since he first went on the road with Paul and Mary. But on his new series of kids books and song samplers, the gravel and grace carry a power almost unparalleled, equal in scope and relevance to Pete Seeger’s kidfolk canon, or Grisman and Garcia after him.
  • Rosie Thomas, The One I Love (orig. R.E.M.)
    Surely, Michael Stipe & co. never intended this song as a child’s lullaby. But in the hands of Rosie Thomas and friends Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer on 2006 debut These Friends of Mine, it comes off as more than delicate enough for a little one’s love.
  • Mark Erelli, I Don’t Know Why (orig. Shawn Colvin)
    A child’s wonder, a child’s innocence, a child’s longing for understanding, and an adult’s almost-complete acceptance of the challenges and delights of the world as it is channelled clearly through the capable hands and campfire voice of Mark Erelli on his lullaby album Innocent When You Dream.

As always, folks, Cover Lay Down exists to promote the continued good work of artists from all branches of the folkways. If you like what you hear, please consider supporting Cover Lay Down directly, and/or clicking on artist/album names to buy some incredible music for the young and the young at heart. And remember, kids: buying music from the artist’s preferred source gives you peace of mind so you can sleep like a baby.

1,250 comments » | Kidfolk

Contest Coverfolk: WIN 2 passes to Falcon Ridge, July 23-25
featuring Dala, Jimmy LaFave, The Brilliant Inventions, and more!

June 6th, 2010 — 10:50 pm

Edit, 6/30: Congrats to Dean Marshall, this year’s randomly-selected FRFF ticket winner! Enjoy the festival, Dean – we’re looking forward to seeing you on site!

Festival season is upon us once again, and though upcoming obligations will keep me from some of my regular haunts this year, it would take an honest-to-goodness apocalypse to keep me from the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, our absolute favorite summerfest, which takes place July 23-25 in the above-pictured hills of Hillsdale, NY, just over the Massachusetts border.

And you can join us too, thanks to the good graces of long-time Festival artistic director Anne Saunders, who has provided us with a pair of all-expenses-paid camping passes to pass along to one of our lucky readers. It’s a $300 value, including three days of music, five days of camping, and contra dancing and hillside tent-shows until the wee hours…and all you have to do to WIN is to leave a comment at the bottom of this entry before the clock strikes midnight on June 20th.

As noted earlier in these virtual pages, Falcon Ridge is slimming down a tad this year, but the lineup remains strong, with a solid mix of old favorites and newcomers, including previously-featured singer-songwriters Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka, and Red Molly, newcomers Chester River Runoff and The Andrew & Noah Band, and festival faves Cheryl Wheeler, We’re About 9, Ellis, Vance Gilbert, Gandalf Murphy, Tracey Grammer, and Nerissa & Katryna Nields. As is our practice, the following offers an introduction to a few as-yet-unfeatured artists; read on for tunes and artist featurettes, and be sure to leave your name and email address in the comments for a chance to join us in the fields come the last weekend in July.

Popfolk girl duo Dala will be making their first appearance at Falcon Ridge this year, quite likely in a headline spot Friday or Saturday night where previous years have featured Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco, and you better believe I’ll be front and center when they hit the stage. Originally scheduled for last year’s festival until a scheduling conflict caused them to cancel at the last minute, these young women, who met in their high school music class and have been best friends ever since, are the real deal: pure, exquisitely mixed alto and soprano, with a delicate hand on the guitars and a sense of poise and presence honed by eight years on the road together.

By all accounts, the Canadian duo is one of the biggest rising stars on the popfolk circuit, one that has been sweeping the major festivals this year, including a mainstage set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, and a gig at the WUMB Boston Music Fest just today. But I’ve been eager to see them live for a few years now, ever since I first heard the pair on 2008 Neil Young tribute Cinnamon Girl, and I’m just as eager to get my hands on their newest project, a live CD/DVD entitled Girls From The North Country, which features the songs of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, and others, performed by Dala and equally undersung Canadian girl groups Oh Susanna and Good Lovelies. If you like soaring and sweet two-girl harmonies – and who doesn’t, really – then let this act be the tipping point that gets you on the road this summer.

I keep meaning to come back to Jimmy LaFave here on Cover Lay Down: I’ve seen the almost painfully broken-voiced Texan multiple times on the circuit, and whether he’s channeling hope or despair, his honest, soulful delivery never fails to drill deep into my psyche. The red dirt roots-rocker and soulful balladeer will be all over this year’s festival, appearing mainstage alongside Gilkyson, Gorka, and Cheryl Wheeler as part of the annual Friday Evening Song Swap, tearing up a solo set, and attending at least one workshop stage collaboration, and I couldn’t be happier: the man covers Dylan better than anyone, really, and I can think of no finer way to help you see it than to offer this mini-set, collated from his long and fruitful career.

Last, but certainly not least: Falcon Ridge is notoriously tardy about releasing their full schedule, but after 22 years, it’s a given that Friday afternoon on the ‘ridge will be given over to the Emerging Artists Showcase, where new acts compete for a chance at a mainstage gig the following year. Past winners include some incredible artists, from Meg Hutchinson to Red Molly, but last year’s fan-selected showcase winners are an unusually strong, talented, and diverse group; having been blown away by all three at this year’s preview tour, I’m proud to recommend their work to all.

Chuck E Costa‘s uplifting singer-songwriter folk is utterly gorgeous, as is his delicate voice; the below Mark Erelli cover is a solid choice for him, but truly, in person, sans production, his songs go straight to the heart. Local up-and-comers Swing Caravan deconstruct, craft and cover lighthearted, stunningly talented acoustic swingjazz, and their in-the-aisles performance at last year’s festival was one of my personal highlights. Hilarious harmonizing duo The Brilliant Inventions write bold-yet-tender indiepop songs that sound like a cross between the Weepies, Guster, Ben Folds, and Fountains of Wayne, and I’ve been absolutely blown away by their beautifully produced debut Have You Changed; the live cover below speaks well of their stage presence, but doesn’t begin to do justice to their real live sound, so I’ve broken ranks to include an original title track today. Listen, then come out and see for yourself why I’m utterly in love with this year’s showcase winners.

  • The Brilliant Inventions: Man In The Mirror (orig. Michael Jackson)

Of course, these songs and artists are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Among other artists previously on Cover Lay Down, and appearing at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival:

Like what you hear? Want in? Leave a comment below with your name and email address to enter to win a pair of full-fest camping passes for this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival!

1,303 comments » | CONTESTS, Dala, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk, Jimmy LaFave

Wednesday Exclusive: Sarah Jarosz and Black Prairie
cover Queen Of The Silver Dollar off the new Shel Silverstein tribute

June 2nd, 2010 — 05:13 pm

Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein – first mentioned here in April as part of our look at this year’s early Tributes and Cover Compilations – is due to drop next week, and the buzz is getting loud, with previews posted on Stereogum, Pitchfork and Spin in the last few weeks alone.

Yesterday, fellow coverblog Cover Me premiered Lucinda Williams’ take on The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, a one-time hit for Marianne Faithfull, and as might have been expected from the the raspy-voiced queen of modern alt-country, it’s a gem among gems. As I noted in the comments, Lucinda’s cover comes off darker and more atmospheric than I expected – the production is more post-millennial Emmylou Harris than anything – but that’s no complaint: the track is gorgeous, and easily justifies the price of admission alone.

But it’s our turn for a premiere today. And instead of turning to the familiar and wonderfully welcome artists who pepper the track list, we’ve chosen to feature the newest, greenest acts on the record. Because we’re very big fans, and you should be, too.

Slower than Emmylou’s 1975 country and western take, less ragged countryfolk than the Dr. Hook original, the newest interpretation of Silverstein’s ode to a hardened but still desirable barfly comes off happy and wry, as befits the man who penned it. Sarah Jarosz’s maturing voice floats over the indie-meets-string-band sound of the still-fledgling Portland-based Decemberists side project Black Prairie, the male tenor harmonies rising to meet hers as if in a bluegrass choir, the accordion, fiddle, and sliding steel string buttressing their tune as it grows oh-so-slowly from mellow and atmospheric to full, joyous and twangy.

We’ve featured both Black Prairie and Sarah Jarosz here on Cover Lay Down before. So it’s especially wonderful to report that their first try at collaboration is a gentle, bittersweet acoustic country masterpiece, and quite an honor to be the first to set it free. Here, take a listen:

Twistable, Turnable Man is great from start to finish, really – how could it be otherwise, with a line-up that includes John Prine, Andrew Bird, Nanci Griffith, Kris Kristofferson, Dr. Dog, Todd Snider, and My Morning Jacket? So what are you waiting for? Head over to Sugar Hill Records to preorder your copy today.

1,505 comments » | Black Prairie, Sarah Jarosz, Tribute Albums

Covered in Folk: The Rolling Stones
(on coverage beyond blues, ballads, and basic rock & roll)

June 1st, 2010 — 10:42 pm

There’s little a humble folkblogger could add to the cultural conversation about the Rolling Stones. Heck, without a quick glance at Wikipedia, I can’t even name all the players, though after three and a half decades of modern radio culture, I can certainly hum along with their radio hits.

There’s certainly no dearth of Stones covers out there, either. Yet interestingly, though the songs of Jagger and Richards seem to lend themselves to soul, heavy metal, and both mainstream and alt-country wonderfully, I find few covers from the folkworld in my collection. Oh, sure: Wild Horses strips down wonderfully; Angie, too, though both are more often covered as rock ballads, or plaintive pianopop. But for a band so steeped in the blues and gospel traditions, it seems like there should be much more to offer from the acoustic side of the music world.

It’s tempting to point to the predominantly adolescent bent of the lyrical content, or the jangly rock framework which the Stones adopt in so many of their greatest hits, in explaining why the Jagger/Richards compositions are less obvious a choice for folk coverage than, say, Townes Van Zandt or The Beatles, or even R.E.M. Personally, I think the vast majority of their songbook is so guitar riff and beat-driven, and their performance so driven by Jagger’s over-the-top delivery, that boiling out these essentials doesn’t always retain the essence of the songs. At least one failed experiment in this vein – the utterly bloodless, comprehensively boring New Licks: A Tribute To The Rolling Stones – lends credence to my theory.

Perhaps its time for a renaissance, regardless. In the meanwhile, there’s plenty of authentic emotion to be found in these choice covers from the folkworld and its fringes.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

  • Pianofolk chanteuse Allison Crowe covers The Rolling Stones’ Shine A Light, and Danny Barnes covers Willie Johnson’s Let Your Light Shine On Me, alongside 10 more folk covers of songs about light.

1,035 comments » | Covered in Folk, Rolling Stones