Archive for July 2010

The Folkier Side of Jason Mraz:
covers of Dylan, Kermit, Spirit In The Sky, and more!

July 31st, 2010 — 11:37 pm

It’s been over a year since we took on the folkier side of a decidedly non-folk artist here at Cover Lay Down. But as previous features on Beck, KT Tunstall, Evan Dando and Sarah McLachlan have demonstrated, there’s ample room in the folkworld for singer-songwriters who strip down occasionally, and/or use elements of folk music in constructing their career narratives. Too, recent changes in the ways in which folk festival lineups are managed speak amply to the palatability of such marginalia as “folk enough” for the term. And listening for folk in the larger popular ebb-and-flow of genre definition is a healthy exercise for folkwatchers, as we continue our lifelong journey to explore the boundaries and influences of that music we consider home.

Today, then, after a long hiatus, we return to the folkier-side fold with a feature on 33 year old chart sensation Jason Mraz. He’s got a beat, and a pair of Pop Grammys to boot, but there’s nothing to be afraid of here, folkfans – just some plain good music that will make you smile.

If you’re a Top 40 fan, the name Jason Mraz is decidedly familiar: the man’s most recent studio album, 2008 release We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things., debuted at number three on the Billboard charts, ultimately selling over 2 million records worldwide, and two of its greatest hits won pop-category Grammys last year for vocal performance. But I’ve always acted under the assumption that our primary audience here at Cover Lay Down skews away from pop, eschewing the charts – and in the case of this particular clear- and slippery-voiced tenor, this is one singer-songwriter who deserves respect from the folk side of the canopy even though he hardly needs it to stay in the shade.

Part of the new school of hard to categorize indie alternative artists, Mraz’ mix incorporates rock, pop, folk, blues, reggae and other forms; though much of his radio-ready releases are grounded in acoustic instrumentation, he’s not averse to a particularly bouncy radiopop or rockband sound, either. But as noted in the write-up for his recent Levi’s Pioneer Session, the man is a pop folkie at heart, with the soul of a busker. And – in part because of his gentle vocal delivery and a preference for basic song-supportive synth-bass-and-brush production – it’s easy to imagine much of his studio work finding a home on the Contemporary Folk shelf.

More generally, to my ears, the Virginia-based hipster has always had strong folk elements at the core of his sound, though it can take the occasional solo acoustic performance to reveal them. And others seem to agree – in March of 2003, for example, even as his high-concept debut single, the hip-hop lite-rock hit The Remedy (I Won’t Worry), was hitting the airwaves, Mraz was opening for Tracy Chapman at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

In other words: Jason Mraz may not be the typical folk artist featured here. But if his songbook is catchy as hell, it’s also lighthearted and often confessional, in ways certainly palatable to the breadth of our folkwatching audience, if the recent resurgence of 2008 reggaefolk smash-hit original I’m Yours on our local AAA radio station is any indication. And in coverage, the man just soars. We’ll kick off today’s hybrid acoustic-electric set with two Dylan covers, just to prove it.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk songlists and features each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday, fueled solely on CDs, coffee, and reader donations. Coming soon: a drive up the American West Coast precipitates a fortnight of folksongs, genre features, and singer-songwriter coversets in tribute to the great state of California.

2,122 comments » | Jason Mraz, The Folkier Side Of...

Festival Coverfolk, 2010: The Aftermath
Red Molly, Berklee Bluegrass, and more changes afoot in the folkworld

July 28th, 2010 — 11:18 am

As you can see above – yes, that’s me with my hands to the sky, dancing sidestage in full-on last-day-of-the-festival mode – this year’s annual excursion into the folkfields was a grand success. So good, in fact, that I’m writing this on the porch, reluctant to come inside lest the residual joy of the previous 11 days leech off in the presence of real toilets and showers, refrigerated food, and electric lighting.

But in the end, it was also a study in contrast, with Grey Fox bigger than ever, and Falcon Ridge smaller by far. Even as Grey Fox lost a press and volunteer parking lot to camping space, one uphill look at the Dodd’s farmland and you could see the empty spaces where campers and tents had filled the land, a field once fertile gone over to bald patches. Sure, the Beatles Coversongs Workshop was as populated as ever, and the sight of a packed parking lot waiting for dry-road entry on Saturday morning after Friday’s downpour day was heartening. But vendor lines were short, and seating sparse: long before people began to leave Falcon Ridge early Sunday afternoon, it was clear that the rush would be slight this year.

It’s tempting to frame this change in balance between festivals as a reflection of the larger ebb and flow of the two genres in the public imagination. The pop-and-country radio mainstreaming of folk artists such as Josh Ritter and Lori McKenna, the increase in bluegrass and newgrass sounds coming from acts and artists previously considered indie, rock, or pop, the continued rise and spread of bluegrass acts onto the country and folk radar, and a hundred other factors, many of which we’ve discussed here before, provide ample evidence for bluegrass’ upsurgence, even as folk blurs lines and fragments, moving back towards the small-scale house concert model, its most vocal longtime followers burying themselves in infighting about the true nature of folk in a modern world as the number of “pure” folk radio stations and programs dwindle down to a handful.

Too, Grey Fox seems to have benefitted from a growing core of second generation campers who come to party, drink, and revel, and don’t seem to care much whether the music goes on as scheduled. Though I was only present for Saturday, several sets started quite late due to performer frustrations with sound, and the largely empty seats which surrounded me didn’t seem to notice or care. To be fair, Thursday and Friday’s lineups were incredible, and it’s certainly possible that my fellow festivalgoers were just plumb tuckered out by the weekend. But several new additions to Grey Fox, including the funding of a well-attended movie night for kids down in the lower camping area, point to a continued effort to expand and enrich the experience for all ages, for which the organizers should be rightfully acclaimed.

But fundamental changes in the way lineups are booked at most festivals still nominally considered “folk” are also at the core of the choices being made “out there” which influence influence. As folk-and-more festivals from Newport to Green River to Clearwater have expanded their rosters to include a much broader genre range, and enjoyed corresponding success, Falcon Ridge has chosen to hew close to its roots, sticking with fan-favorite singer-songwriters and acoustic folk acts, which may explain some of its shrinkage. And though it’s hard to be critical of the place that I truly consider home, there’s no doubt in my mind that the corresponding dip in both camping and day ticket sales will make for some difficult choices in the year ahead.

It’s also true that Falcon Ridge took a gamble this year, whittling the roster down and scaling down the hours on stagetime in a desperate attempt to stay in the black after a number of lean years. The weather, too, was iffy, with black clouds ubiquitous on the horizon, and rain and blue sky battling it out over the weekend, so volatile in their ongoing struggle that one memorable mid-afternoon set started in sun, went over to rain twice, and ended in sun again, albeit with a smaller audience. But whatever the source, whatever the reason, it’s going to be a close one, folks – so stay tuned for more Falcon Ridge updates as the year progresses.

That said: from a subjective point of view, both halves of my annual festival pilgrimage were a wonderful success. As predicted, Kathy Mattea, who we saw at last year’s Falcon Ridge Fest, was in fine voice at Grey Fox; her duet work with Tim O’Brien in workshop and mainstage sets was hilarious and tender in turns, and made a full-fledged fan out of me despite my reluctance to lean that far country. Sarah Jarosz turned in a solid mainstage set, too, with a few especially lovely softer ballads, though a tendency to push her voice too hard on the upbeat numbers speaks to her continuing education as an evolving young artist. And seeing a grinning, mellow Sam Bush cover Bob Marley up close and personal in the workshop tent – part of an explanation of his unique “chop” style – was a delight, indeed.

I was especially interested in the morning workshop with the folks from Berklee’s new American Roots Program, both as a follow-up to a similar presentation-slash-conversation at this past winter’s Joe Val Fest and because the several musicians who tend to tour with Berklee improv prof and banjoist Dave Hollender have already begun to win my heart and ears. Though making the Saturday a.m. wake-up call was clearly a challenge for the younger set involved, those who did show – mando prodigy Sierra Hull and flatpicking guitarist Courtney Hartman of the talented multi-sibling Hartman Family Band among them – put on an impressive display of talent as improvisers and instrumentalists, one which speaks highly of the “push, expose, support and nurture” approach which Berklee offers, and promises as much for their own future successes as it does for the success of the American Roots program overall.

Overall, then, Grey Fox 2010 was a fine, fine outing, despite heat and a short but violent mid-afternoon torrential downpour that drove even the hardiest of us from our seats by the end. Here’s a few bonus tracks from a quartet of the abovementioned to keep the grassy field lingering.

Meanwhile, at Falcon Ridge, the replacement of a day of mainstage music with a free day of campground informality led to much higher prominence for the unofficial “hilltop” stages, many of which I heard about secondhand from new convert and campmate Darius of Oliver di Place and Star Maker Machine, whose constant tentside updates throughout the fest helped me see the joy of the place through rejuvenated eyes.

Which is not to say that this year’s official performances were anything to sneeze at, of course. Though my work running the festival’s crew of teen volunteers kept me busy, I managed to catch a number of delightful sets, from informal to formal. Dala were amazing and sweet, as predicted, winning hearts wherever they turned up. The Brilliant Inventions were in fine form, drawing crowds and breaking hearts with their perfect acoustic pop performances, well-honed songcraft, and dreamy Everly Brothers harmonies, most especially with my new favorite original Black-Eyed Susan, which can and should be seen on YouTube here and here and is bound to be the centerpiece of their upcoming album. And fellow Showcase winner Chuck E Costa held his own nobly in a workshop set alongside Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmy LaFave, and Tracy Grammer, wowing fans and peers alike, and we’re proud to announce that the sweet-voiced singer and poignant lyricist has agreed to help inaugurate our 2010-2011 House Concert series this fall, with a date TBA.

Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams were amazing as ever this year, pulling a huge crowd for their Land of 1000 Dances set at the Dance Stage on Friday, pulling the young folks down from the hill to storm the stage by midset Saturday evening, and keeping the crowd moving at Sunday’s annual Gospel Wake-Up. And though new bluegrass quartet Chester River Runoff‘s mainstage set was cut short by the ubiquitous rain, I was lucky enough to be privy to their under-the-radar warm-up under the Site Crew tent beforehand, a sweet set of John Hartford covers, originals and tradtunes which made me a fan for life.

As in previous years, I’m proud to announce that I was able to record a number of covers at these performances, from Jimmy LaFave‘s Guthrie to Dala taking on Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now – and I snagged a few at Grey Fox, too, including the aforementioned Bob Marley cover from Sam Bush himself. The sound came out great on most of ‘em, and there was no official recording on the hill this year, so these may be the only copies of these covers in existence, making them rare indeed. I’m still hoping to unearth my camera’s connector cables to upload the Sat/Sun round of recording, but in the meantime, I’ve included the abovementioned as a single pair of teasers – with the promise of more to come as the weeks move forward.

The biggest buzz at this year’s Falcon Ridge festival, of course, was the impending change-over in the lineup for Red Molly, a folk trio that first formed in the FRFF campgrounds and rose to mainstage prominence through the Emerging Artist Showcase. As announced on their webpage a few weeks back, Carolann Solebello has decided to leave the group to focus on family and solo work, and Falcon Ridge was her last hurrah, with exquisite turns from the three ladies on every stage throughout the weekend marking a fitting farewell to a fine festival’s favorite daughter. The fall season will find Austin singer-songwriter Molly Venter joining Laurie MacAllister and Abbie Gardner to keep the glory going, and if Carolann’s last turn with the group – this season’s James, an exceptional album of familiar covers, peer tributes, and originals – is any indication, there’s high potential for all four women to remain on the radar for a good long while yet.

My personal fest highlight, in fact, was a long leisurely campsite visit with Laurie of Red Molly and the boys from The Brilliant Inventions, who I lured into our shaded den of iniquity with the promise of beer in an otherwise dry festival. To my delight, we hit it off, and as the lazy afternoon continued, what had started as casual conversation turned into a brainstorm session for potential coversongs for the coming re-incarnation of Red Molly. Out of respect for the artistic decision-making process I won’t spill the beans on the long list of possibles which resulted, but it was a coverlover’s dream to be treated as an equal in such rarified discourse, and I’m looking forward more than ever to new releases from Red Molly and TBI.

But I would note in passing that it was wonderful to find two people who appreciate Marc Cohn’s highly underrated second album as much as I do, especially the Crosby-and-Nash-backed She’s Becoming Gold. And that same pair – Eliot and Josh of The Brilliant Inventions – recommended I seek out their YouTube take on Sound of Silence, which they report as having been a rediscovery of Simon’s songwriting and arranging talents. So here it is, drowned a bit in audience noise but audibly genius nonetheless, along with another solid performance from 500 Songs For Kids, and two wonderful new covers from Red Molly’s strongest album yet, to close out today’s festival aftermath set.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and features twice weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays. Coming soon: a trip to California prompts a plethora of features related to the banana-shaped state. And don’t forget to stay tuned for the announcement that we’ve finished compiling this year’s bootleg festival recordings into a single zip file, to be available exclusively to those who support Cover Lay Down.

1,491 comments » | Dala, Festival Coverfolk, Jimmy LaFave, Red Molly, Sam Bush, Sierra Hull

Guest Post: Sandy of Slowcoustic
stops by with sweet covers of Lionel Richie and Damien Jurado

July 25th, 2010 — 10:30 am

As before, I’m still in the folkfield, due to return Monday. But we’re not the type that leave our readers bereft here at Cover Lay Down. Even when we’re hanging about stageside in a field somewhere, trying to get our favorite singer-songwriters to cover Freebird.

Instead, we asked Sandy, aka Smansmith, the ever-eloquent host of Slowcoustic – “a blog about the unhurried side of Americana/Alt-Country/Folk/Indie/Down-Tempo music” which has truly caused me to rethink the very nature of folk music over the last year or so – to stop in for a visit. And though he’s been hard at work on Folk Music For What Lies Ahead, a very promising compilation he’s been curating for Yer Bird Records which is due to drop this coming Tuesday, Sandy came through swimmingly, with a pensive piece on the nature of coverage, and its generative purpose from the artist’s perspective. Take it away, Sandy!

Hello everyone! Firstly, don’t get too excited, this is a guest post (or part post) from myself, better known as Sandy from Secondly, thank you to Boyhowdy for inviting me to bring my $0.02 on the pages of Cover Lay Down! Being a fan of this very site for a while now, I am taking part in filling the void left from your regular in-depth read to try provide a small morsel of food for though along with a couple of covers (!!) to take away. Remember, just a small morsel…

I didn’t really know where to start with this post, so I decided to find a couple of covers that I thought I would use. Sounds simple right? Well not as easy as you think when trying to come up with covers for a blog that covers covers better than myself (see what I did there?). So I did end up finding two covers and when listing them it hit me on what to post on…”why do artists perform covers in the first place?”.

We are going to discard the obvious reasons of not having enough of your own material to fill a show or album and go into whether it is for amusement or as an homage. Sure there may be more reasons, but in this instance I wanted to provide these two sides or examples of the cover track. You see where I am going with this now. If you are aware of my blog Slowcoustic, you are aware that I enjoy the hushed and slower side of things and folk ballads tend to hit home with me. So a great acoustic version of a Lionel Richie song is a fantastic place to start, isn’t it? Let’s listen to a cover that I think might have been done for “fun” or just because it seems absurd to have something like Lionel Ritchie covered by a deep south man-of-the-cloth type like Evan Birdsong of Blackbird Harmony.

Now, what about the cover song that isn’t done because it was a song that you wanted to change, but a song that you simply like and wanted to play it because you want to. It might not be specifically like you are performing a “cover song” so to speak, but simply playing the song originally performed by someone else. If you get what I am saying. I feel this next track is something like this as it isn’t wildly different than the original and is clearly not done tongue in cheek. The band is Theodore, but the track is actually a solo performance by the lead singer Justin Kinkel-Schuster who does a great performance of Damien Jurado’s “Fuel”.

There you have it. A cover that might have been in fun and one that was simply performed – in my opinion, both work better than most.


Cover Lay Down will return Wednesday with a fresh outlook on life. Thanks to Sandy and Chad for covering so well in my absence!

1,671 comments » | Guest Posts

Guest Post: Chad of Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands
shares covers of Paul Simon, Journey, Neil Young and more!

July 21st, 2010 — 11:04 am

As noted earlier, I’m off in the fields this week, trading indoor plumbing and wi-fi for pop-ups, port-a-potties and mud as we hit our summer round of folk and bluegrass festivals. If you, too, want to at least approximate the experience from the comforts of home, slather on the sunscreen, grab a beer from the cooler, move the camping chair into the living room, and head back to our earlier posts on Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and Falcon Ridge Folk Festival for some vicarious pleasure.

But never fear, loyal readers: I’ve not left you to your own devices as easily as that. Long-time blogger Chad of now-defunct music blog Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands – whose early support really helped me get going in the blogworld – has kindly offered to step in for our usual midweek post; he’s got some great faves below, and a nice subjective take on the communal beauty of coverage, so keep reading for some tasty acoustic folkpop and more from an excellent writer and a wise, wise man.

When I was invited to contribute a guest post to Cover Lay Down this week, it was a no brainer. As a former obsessive music blogger myself – long since burned out and now much more leisurely about things over here – I have loved, followed, and appreciated this site since its earliest days. The dedication Boyhowdy puts into this site – into every aspect of it, every post – is at once admirable and amazing. Hopefully, I don’t drop the ball today in his place.

A good cover is a thing of beauty, a communal moment in the very best sense of the word. One artist approaches another’s song and re-appropriates it for his or her own purpose, casting a different light on things merely by taking a stab at it. Among my favorite covers, I find no distinct pattern. Some hew rather closely to the original version, honoring its melodies and phrasings, paying tribute to a good song the best way they know how. Others completely change the style, sound, or scope of the song, offering a brand new vantage point on familiar terrain, providing us with a companion piece of sorts to set alongside the original and remind us that there’s another way of looking at things. Though there’s perhaps no formula for success, no road map for creating the perfect cover, in the end the ones I find myself returning to again and again have one thing in common: they breathe new life into something, and make it matter to me again.

With all that in mind, here’s a handful of covers that I consider some of my favorites over the past few months…

    A stripped-down take on Paul Simon’s glorious 1986 tune, delivered to you in a cathartic, nasally voice just this side of early Dylan.

    In lead singer Eef Barzelay’s capable hands, this lite-rock/slow dance staple becomes something altogether different. By coming at things earnestly (and acoustically), without any winking, the band is able to pull off a rather fantastic trick: making you actually care about a Journey song.

    I’m with Paul McCartney on this one: this is one of the greatest love songs ever written. Ben Kweller keeps things simple – just a piano and a fragile voice – but that’s all a song like this really requires.

    This one plays it pretty close to the original – because the original is basically perfect. And hearing Glen Hansard and Sam Beam harmonize is every bit as wonderful as it would seem to be.

    It’s just amazing how fair people can be…

Like what you hear? Visit Chad at his new home base to keep up with his thoughts and favorite sounds. And don’t forget to come back Sunday, when Cover Lay Down will host a few thoughts and covers from the proprietor of Slowcoustic, “a blog about the unhurried side of Americana/Alt-Country/Folk/Indie/Down-Tempo music”.

1,011 comments » | Guest Posts

(Re)Covered, vol. XVII: more covers of and from
Springsteen, Townes, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Disney & more

July 18th, 2010 — 10:49 am

By the time you read this, we’ll have been in the fields for two days already, camping out just a short hop from the Falcon Ridge Folk Fest mainstage while we help build the place from the ground up – and I’ll have spent Saturday at Grey Fox Bluegrass Fest, too, so it’s a reasonable bet that I’ve got a starter burn across my neck and nose, and a camera full of close-up press-access shots and shaky video of the best cover sets I could find.

I’ll have a lovely guest post or two for you later in the week, as usual. But in cleaning house for my absence, I unearthed a whole waiting list of coverage from the usual sources – artists, commenters, labels and more – that calls back to the archives. So rather than leaving you emptyhanded, here’s yet another edition of our popular (Re)Covered series, wherein we recover new and newly-discovered songs that surfaced just a little too late to make it into the original posts where they rightfully belonged.

There’s plenty of Springsteen covers in the ether, and so we’ve covered him plenty here, in thematic posts and in a compendium shared way back in September of last year. Most recently, we even included three covers of I’m On Fire to close out our set of songs for May’s heat wave. But the canon continues to attract the best and brightest, as evidenced by my recent serendipitous discovery of Erik Balkey’s amazingly transformative take on Born in the USA unearthed while looking for covers for our recent Dave Carter tribute.

Since any excuse to pass along the goods is good indeed, I’ve included yet another backstage take from the MVYRadio SXSW archives, and a bonus cut from Catie Curtis found on In My Room, a tribute album which we featured back in our first look at this year’s Tributes and Cover Compilations – a feature which also included Jeffrey Foucault and Mark Erelli’s take on Springsteen’s Johnny 99 from recent collaborative cover compilation Seven Curses.

One of the best thing about blogging is you, the reader – especially when you share covers I haven’t heard yet in the wake of a particularly interesting post. Case in point: this live take on American Tune, recorded live at Kerrville a few years ago, which was sent along via email after we shared ten versions of the seminal Paul Simon song for our July 4th Single Song Sunday. Kenny White‘s new to me, too, so head on over to his site to learn more…

Similarly, “friend and fan” Ted emailed the week after our recent feature on young Couples of the Folkworld with a take on Paul Curreri’s Letting It Be from singer-songwriter Daniel Boonelight, and I’m greatly appreciative for the introduction. Daniel’s a true-blue newcomer, with a few other covers and some nicely crafted originals up at YouTube but nothing formal recorded yet as far as I can tell, but his earnest voice and gentle, generally acoustic tendencies have real potential, and his preference for video-based recording reveals an organic approach to music that dovetails nicely with the modern digital trend towards realism and authenticity.

Though it seems likely that Boonelight would prefer that you take a gander at the VideoSongs, the tracks hold together well on their own as sonic landscapes, too. So here’s both: two video covers – the Curreri cover and a rough take on Ryan Adams’ Sweet Carolina recorded with friends – with stripped-from-video mp3s for the win.

We first took on the Townes Van Zandt songbook back in October, but the Townes covers have been coming fast and furious this year, thanks in no small part to the impending release of Riding The Range: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt, coming this September on Righteous 23 Records to benefit the UK’s QE2 Activity Centre.

This week, a last-minute mailbag submission from Vermont singer-songwriter Hip Hatchet put me in mind of Loretta, Townes’ paean to a sweet young barroom girl, if only because he’s got a great cover of the tune on his MySpace page – one which, he claims, was inspired by John Prine’s cover of the song, as heard on Poet, the 2001 country tribute to the cowboy troubadour. Hip Hatchet, whose lovely new album Men Who Share My Name, available for just two bucks on Bandcamp, is on target to become one of my favorite field listens during my impending absence, thanks to shades of Nick Drake’s performance and songsmithing, Arborea’s rural atmosphere, and a delightful chamberfolk-meets-nufolk production dynamic, full of rich horns and strings.

But it turns out I’ve got quite a few covers of this one. So in addition to Hip Hatchet’s mellow basso version, how about a growly back porch blues from the coming Riding The Range tribute, a slowcore indie lullaby take from Fort King, Ralph Stanley II’s bluegrass turn, and Steve Earle’s old timey alt-country cover from his own recent Townes tribute.

A double-dipper here from Jeff Pianki, who we first featured way back in February in honor of his stunning Loggins and Messina cover, and who has just released his newest cover: a delightfully low-key and gentle take on The Jungle Book monkey song I Wanna Be Like You, perfect as a follow-up to April’s Disney Songs post. Also solid, for those interested in Jeff’s songwriting skills: Joe Hertler‘s cover of Jeff’s Seeds In The Ground, which showed up on the same page just a few months ago.

Hello Bones, Pianki’s debut full-length, remains impending, though you can download demos of the songs and a b-sides prerelease EP cutely titled Hello Scones at; personally, I can’t wait to see what he does with the production, but the demos hold together nicely as a preview. Head over to Jeff’s Tumblr for more, but be warned: you’ll definitely fall in love with the sunny, sweet original love songs posted July 5 and June 25.

Finally, though Joni Covers week ended last Sunday over at the theme-driven, multi-member music blog Star Maker Machine, I’m particularly proud of my own postings, which included two chilly, etherial folkpop takes on Joni’s Blue and three lovely, delicate turns on All I Want – only one of which had actually come from our own Joni Covers post way back in June of last year. As noted above, I’m off to Falcon Ridge this week and next with three other members of the collaborative, so posting may be a bit sparse over there, but I’m pretty sure the others put up a few scheduled posts to go on in their absence, so you’re still missing out if you’re not a regular visitor or feedfollower.

Here’s two faves from the Joni Covers set, one from those selfsame MVYRadio archives, and one which was actually posted by fellow SMM contributor and folkblogger Darius of Oliver Di Place, whose tent is waiting for him alongside our pop-up camper as we speak. Can’t wait to meet him in person…

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and feature articles every Sunday and Wednesday without fail – even when we’re out standing in our field.

1,460 comments » | (Re)Covered

New Artists, Old Songs:
Matt Ryd, Piney Gir, Marco Mahler & Fort deClare
cover Beyonce, Billy Idol, Mark Knopfler, Wilco, Stevie Wonder & more!

July 13th, 2010 — 04:48 pm

We’re in indieland today, featuring a handful of new and new-to-me artists and labels who might generally be overlooked by the typical folkfan. Which is sort of the point, really: our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs series has always aimed to introduce you to under-the-radar artists, and since radar is subjective, the acoustic side of the hipster canon is certainly fair game. Especially when even in-genre, these folks are still struggling to make a name for themselves. Here’s hoping, as always, that you’ll help spread the word.

This cover comes with perfect timing, given the recent heat wave – though truly, Loudon Wainwright III’s well-covered summer gem is as much about sarcastic self-loathing as it is about the titular activity. Its source: A Very Magistery Summer, this June’s digital-only label compilation from Michigan indiehouse Le Grand Magistery, which isn’t totally folk, but has a nice light, organic feel to it, with sounds echoing everything from the Kinks to the soft sounds of the summer of love, making for a great, melodic set of throwback poolside pop songs lightly coated with the sparsest dusting of indie hipster fuzz and credibility.

Amazon’s mp3 store has the usual 30 second samples; check ‘em out to see why I recommend this one as a full-album download instead of the usual song-by-song pick-and-choose. Here’s Kansas-born, UK-based singer-songwriter Piney Gir, whose midcentury alt-countrified incarnation and recent folkpop release The Yearling have also ticked our fancy, with the aforementioned cover and a rocking Americana b-side used in a 2007 Peugeot ad to tempt you further.

Marco Mahler‘s newest release Laptop Campfire Speed is an aptly named showcase for his electro-popfolk; I usually find such things to be more electro than folk, but the light touch on production here results in a sound both decidedly post-millennial and oddly delicate, full of atmospheric soundscapes that would sound equally at home in a songcircle or a modern shaman’s slowcoustic DJ set.

His take on James Alley Blues – no. 61 in the Harry Smith Anthology, and first recorded by New Orleans folkblues singer Richard Brown on the cusp of the nation’s first great depression – is haunting and layered, a fundamentally acoustic track with bells and slow syrupy underpinnings, and though it’s a little less poppy than some of the other tracks on the CD, many of which echo the softer side of the Eels, it’s no anomaly: taking on such an ancient tune with such modernized aplomb only proves Mahler’s grounding in the folkways. Check out the full release on bandcamp, and then purchase it to take it with you.

Matt Ryd has a solid handle on pursuing fame in the age of the Internet – he sends email blasts with regularity, and posts songs via Youtube throughout the year, all part of a calculated attempt to develop a fan base through leveraged sharing. His choices for coverage, too, implicate the Chi-town singer-songwriter as both a popfan and a bit of an attention whore, with tracks clearly designed to attract maximum linkability – Beyonce, Katy Perry, Billie Jean, Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, an electric-uke Lady Gaga cover, and more populate the list. And as one of the songs on his debut EP made it to Scrubs, the preeminent venue for his particular style of indie folkpop, it’s safe to say the strategy is working.

But don’t sell Ryd short just because he’s appealing to the masses. His most recent fan blast included this poppy arrangement of an oft-covered tune by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame, and it’s a perfect case study in how simple, deliberate arrangement and sparse instrumentation can transform an original into something deliciously sweet and new. Stick around for the overdubbed popchart harmonies, check out his YouTube channel, and then sign up for the Matt Ryd mailing list to get exclusive subscriber-only access to an amazing entire digital album’s worth of radio canon coverage that makes me smile.

Finally, folky experimentalists Fort deClare – a band named after nothing, apparently, though it has a nice faux-historical, pseudo-military hipster ring to it, doesn’t it? – send along a couple of playful, sparse, lo-fi covers of similarly familiar origin, along with virtually none of the other information bloggers usually work with.

Seriously: no pic, no sense of where they’re from…nothing. Just the covers, and the phrase “You can give them to people for free, if you want to.”

Good thing I took the absence of info as a challenge, and listened to the tracks all the way through. The three-song set took a while to grow on me, but it’s hard not to smile when the whistle and kazoo kick in on their banjo-led take on perennial indie insider nod-and-wink song Such Great Heights. There’s no album to purchase here yet, but head over to their MySpace page for their lazy samba take on Feist’s Gatekeeper, a few other solid folk-ambient bedroomfolk covers, and some drearily delightful originals – Resentment, especially, has a mellow strum and an endearing, slightly off-kilter sound, a drowned heroin dream that rises into the sun.

[Update, Wed 7:50 pm: just got a note from Sam of Fort deClare, who says the band is mostly just him, with some cowriting and live performance support from fellow bandmate Reid. Sam's based down in Virginia, and he's just turned fifteen - not bad for a high school boy!]

1,981 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2010, vol. 2:
Crooked Fingers, folk supergroup Red Horse, and a new Bob Marley Tribute

July 10th, 2010 — 10:04 pm

As predicted, it’s been a strong year for tributes and cover compilations; here we are only halfway into summer, and already we’re looking at our second full feature post on the topic, not to mention recent note of tributes to Shel Silverstein, John Hartford, Graham Nash, Robbie Basho, and several others that have found their way here in the intervening months.

Cover albums can go either way, of course – as can any cover – but there’s plenty of cream in this particular crop: the coverlover’s bread and butter is a fattening bounty, and we’re thrilled once again to bring you the newest and most noteworthy from all corners of the folkworld. Enjoy!

New folk supergroup Red Horse comes with a lot of baggage for old folkies like myself. With three fast-folk-era singer-songwriters turned modern mainstage mainstays coming together, the record would have to be nearly perfect to hit the high bar. And while Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson – both of whom we’ve revisited within recent memory – remain high on my list of eternal favorites, when last we wrote about John Gorka way back in March of 2008, I noted that his aging voice and his growing tendencies towards overlong instrumental lead-ins and song-suffocating contemporary folk production settings had resulted in several recent “uneasy listening” records, leaving me longing for his earlier days.

Happily, the trio redeems themselves here by staying sparse, letting the settings support instead of overwhelm, staying true to the songs they visit by hewing to strong lead voices and simple instrumentation, on piano or guitar in turn. Gorka’s gentle voice is back on target, for the most part; Eliza and Lucy sound as sweet as ever, and the three friends retain an appropriately light touch on the harmonies. As a result, the songs sound fresh and new, the voices renewed and deliberate; I’m relieved to find the trio overcoming the temptation of mere fan familiarity and recoverage to carry their album’s weight, and eager to recommend the July 13 release to anyone.

But though the songs here are rejuvenated, at heart, this is a covers album, with a playlist dominated by songs originally recorded by one or another of the group, now taken on by different lead voices. And this turns out to be a wonderful thing. Hearing Eliza take on Kaplansky’s Promise Me is worth the price of the record alone. Lucy’s clear, sweet voice singing lead on Eliza’s Sanctuary is utterly transformative, unveiling new triumph and hope in the tune; her turn on Gorka fave Blue Chalk is strong, too. Even Gorka’s gentle, wry way with Lucy’s Don’t Mind Me, although pitched high enough for Gorka’s voice to show a strain, is still a solid track on an excellent album.

It’s not perfect, but all in all, listening to Red Horse is like being privy to the perfect songcircle: intimate, confident, and glistening with the love the performers share for each other, and for the songs they have chosen to take on. Here’s one of several favorites from the new self-titled Red Horse record – now available for pre-order from Red House Records along with a free download of Don’t Mind Me – plus tracks and links to past features on Gorka, Kaplansky, and Gilkyson, to keep you in the mood over the weekend.

Bonus Tracks:

From way on the other end of the ever-expanding singer-songwriter tent comes Eric Bachman, one-time frontman for indie-rockers Archers of Loaf, who since the turn of the century has been performing and recording under the name Crooked Fingers both with and without a rotating cast of fellow indie sidemen. Genre classification comes hard for such a project – Bachman’s most familiar indie hit, 2005 sleeper Sleep All Summer, mixed his signature Neil Diamond-esque vocals with a slow and languid brush-and-guitarwail, his last full-length Forfeit/Fortune featured a brassy, heavily layered sound that wandered from poppy eighties-beat tunes to busy latino-tinged rockers, and his first covers EP, 2002 release Reservoir Songs, was a banjo-driven set of mellow-yet-grungy poprockers and ballads taken right from the Billboard charts.

But Bachman and friends pull back for their newest EP, a fan-funded second round of coverage aptly titled Reservoir Songs II, going deeper into the well for song sources and choosing a more atmospheric, intimate indiefolk setting overall. The resulting disc remains diverse, tackling Moby Grape, Thin Lizzy, The Kinks and Merle Haggard with equal aplomb, moving from both alt- and lo-key Americana to a bluesy yet true-blue folk take on John Hartford’s Gentle On My Mind. And the Kickstarter fundraiser went so far over the mark, Crooked Fingers is now back in the studio, recording yet another full-length. Bonus, indeed.

Bonus Track:

The diverse world beat flavor that so epitomizes world music label Putumayo‘s output generally appeals to contemporary folk audiences, which would be enough to justify its inclusion here in a pinch. But it’s also true that in and among the globally-sourced gentle jazz sambas, upbeat poptunes, true blue reggae cuts, South African rhythm delights, and other songs on the wonderful collection on Putumayo’s new Bob Marley tribute Tribute To A Reggae Legend – which, like Red Horse, drops on July 13th – are several lighter, acoustic takes on the Marley songbook, including this delightful Hawaiian interpretation of fan favorite Is This Love, and a gorgeous grassy favorite from Northern Lights featuring Jonathan Edwards originally released in 2008.

Finally, though it’s been out for a few months, I was reminded recently during a drive from Boston that popular Celtic band Solas is back with The Turning Tide, their 10th album, and as always, they’ve chosen to take on the canon, moving fluidly from traditional irish reels and ballads to a handful of more popular sources, including Richard Thompson, Josh Ritter, and Bruce Springsteen. The underlying theme that ties this newest crop of songs together is social justice, and the resulting collection, while diverse in sources, is a cohesive and eminently positive experience.

This is Solas’ second album with current lead singer Máiréad Phelan, whose breathy voice is a bit of a change from previous lead vocalists, but as Fiddlefreak noted way back in February, she’s hit her stride; the siren song at the fore works well as a whisper, whether before a ballad, a lilting melody, or a whirling reel, and the instrumentation behind her is as crisp and lively as ever. Their recent Mountain Stage show, still available for streaming at NPR, was amazing, and included live takes on both the covers below, but if you’re not already a Solas collector, The Turning Tide is an equally fine place to start working your way backwards through the canon.

Ad-free, fan-funded, and artist-focused, Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and songsets twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Sundays at a minimum. Like what you hear? Help support our server fees with a small donation and receive a seventeen song set of privately recorded covers from last year’s summer festivals with our gratitude!

1,350 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Tribute Albums

Covered In Folk: Dave Carter, 1952 – 2002
The Legacy of a Buddhist Cowboy Poet

July 6th, 2010 — 08:18 pm

Each year as schooldays fade into memory and the summer festival season grows close, my thoughts turn to Dave Carter. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter, already well respected by critics and peers, Carter was on the road with his partner Tracy Grammer in the summer of 2002 when he was stricken down with a heart attack during an early morning run in the New England heat.

Their scheduled set at that day’s Green River Festival was taken over by Signature Sounds labelmate Mark Erelli with little fanfare. And the following weekend, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Tracy took to the stage with determination, cementing Carter’s legacy with a mainstage tribute set performed with friends and folkfamily that, surely, would have made Dave smile.

I’d like to say that I was there, as so many friends were. But this series of events comes to me secondhand, eclipsed by the miracle of parenthood, and the uncertain, overwhelming future of its sudden and everpermanent arrival. For on the day of Dave Carter’s death, in a hospital just a few blocks from where he had planned to perform on that fateful day, my wife and I were walking into the same hot summer, our newly-born child cradled carefully in our arms.

It was the one and only year we’ve missed Falcon Ridge in fifteen years of continuous attendance – the field being no place for a week-old infant – but though I have no regrets in choosing personal joy over shared wake under the circumstances, I have long wished I could have been there for the celebration of Carter’s life which took place that summer on the ridge. Instead, I am left with faint memory and eternal song, his recorded catalog of Zen mysticism and gentle cowboy poetics a permanent fixture on my playlists, his warm voice and sublime vision a constant echo of what was and could have been.

Far be it from me to claim some special bond between Carter and myself, despite the proximity of life and death which we shared; I was only privileged enough to see Dave and Tracy once in concert, and now it is too late.

But Dave Carter lives in my heart, and in the hearts of those folk musicians I love. And why not? It’s not just that Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer spent the last two years of his life atop the american folk charts, thanks to top honors at Kerrville, Napa Valley, and other festivals following their kitchen-recorded, independently released debut When I Go (1998), and the subsequent success of Tanglewood Tree (2000) and Drum Hat Buddha (2001); it’s that they earned that recognition, through unparalleled songcraft, dedicated performance, and a grateful approach to the universe that lives on in his songs, and in her life.

Perhaps Joan Baez said it best, describing Carter’s songs as folkways-ready: “There is a special gift for writing songs that are available to other people, and Dave’s songs are very available to me. It’s a kind of genius, you know, and Dylan has the biggest case of it. But I hear it in Dave’s songs, too.” Listen, and you’ll hear it too.

Tracy Grammer continues to perform the Dave Carter songbook, most often with local hero and master instrumentalist Jim Henry by her side. In 2005, she released Flower of Avalon, which included nine previously unrecorded songs written by Carter, and a single traditional tune that fits perfectly within the set.

Since then, Tracy has continued to perform and record, making a name for herself beyond that of Dave Carter’s partner and muse. But in many ways, her life continues to be as much a part of his legacy as his songs. Pick up her work, and theirs, at And then catch her this year at Falcon Ridge, the most life-affirming place I know, bar none.

Today’s tribute to Dave Carter would not have been possible without the archival assistance and generosity of fellow Falcon Ridge folkie and Star Maker Machine contributer Susan. Thanks, Susan!

1,407 comments » | Covered in Folk, Dave Carter, Tracy Grammer

Single Song Sunday: Paul Simon’s American Tune
(on being an American on Independence Day)

July 4th, 2010 — 11:28 am

American flag recovered amid World Trade Center debris

We live in complicated times, in a complicated country. Oil gushes into our waters, and each day, I watch the hurricane news, waiting for the perfect storm that will lead to the destruction of the East Coast beaches in whose warm waves and on whose clinging sand I have spent so many summers. The New Orleans project which won our hearts in the months following Katrina is out of money, though it shimmers with hope on the new series from the folks who brought you The Wire. My inner city students dwell in poverty, living lives of hardship with no obvious way out, and so do many of my neighbors, in our tiny rural town where next year, due to budget cuts, there will be no more music in the schools.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be America without all this trouble and strife. Though as a teacher, a school board member, a community hellraiser, a Unitarian Universalist, and a parent, I work for a better day with every minute of my being, I recognize that the Constitution is far from a utopian document; rather, the independent spirit on which we were founded contains the tensions of our continued successes and frustrations.

Still, I am dismayed by the way we have learned to think of ourselves as King George III, with our own politics and politicians as the enemy. Trust in government “of the people” is gone, as is trust in the citizenry, if the news is to be believed. On forums and facebook, through picket lines and protests and policymaking, my fellow Americans act as if they have abdicated their ownership of the dream, coming out in proud and unlistening opposition to a nation that is supposed to be their own. Thinking about the future here can be bleak, sometimes, and though I put on a happy face and promise them love eternal, I struggle to answer my children’s questions about what will be, when they are grown.

But yesterday we spent the morning in the bearded crowds at the Brattleboro Farmer’s Market, munching lumpen sugar donuts made in some hippie kitchen, marveling at the freshest of uberlocal basil and lamb and flowers, and the easy mix of tourists and organic farmfolk with which we shared the open air. After lunch we took to the Connecticut River, sharing the tiny midriver island with comfortable strangers, picking raspberries and watching as my father-in-law at the helm pulled a series of children – ours, and our new friends – gleefully shrieking through the water behind him. As night fell, we drove home through the green hills of Vermont and Massachusetts, and the girls exclaimed with sleepy delight as through the interstate treelines came flashes of light and sparks from a dozen or more fireworks shows and backyard barbecues, their temporary light fading into stars.

And though I had planned another post for this morning, my mind turned to this country, unbidden. And in my breast stirred hope.

You don’t need to go looking for America, as Paul Simon wrote in some other, earlier American tune. It’s all around us, its best and its worst. And though it’s hard to be bright and bon vivant when we are so weary from this American life, it’s all right, what with tomorrow ever another day.

I’ve spent several long car rides steeped in various versions of Simon’s American Tune, most especially Eva Cassidy’s posthumous release; it’s a masterful soundtrack for sorrow, with an undercurrent of hope that lifts the spirit. And certainly, though Cassidy brings the beauty and pain for which she has become famous, much of the success of this song can be found in 1973 original: the soaring melodies, the lyrical back-and-forth between the deeply personal and the despairingly political, which have attracted so many to it, both as fans and cover artists.

But the way the song becomes grounded in the various folkstyles of American music holds special interest to us today, as America celebrates itself. In the space among and between Darrell Scott‘s gentle fiddle-and-mandolin driven bluegrass take, Storyhill‘s ragged SXSW backstage singer-songwriter campfire duo, the rise and fall of Glen Phillips‘ live and unreleased electrified solo performance, Mark Erelli‘s chunky, slippery, deceptively optimistic home demo recording, Willie Nelson‘s typically cowboy tenor, Charlie Wood‘s majestic piano blues, Mae Robertson‘s sea chanty-inspired, gospel-voiced plainsong, the broken harmonies of the Indigo Girls live at the Newport Folk Festival, and more, these visions of America capture all the mystery and madness, the love and longing, the frustration and the uplifting determination, the quintessential spirit of the American love for country, in all its bittersweet forms.

Want to support the continued production and performance of American tunes? Then remember: though the sharing ways of folk and the political change that it so often embodies are embedded in the form, downloading is just the beginning of a lifelong process. Click on artist names above to pursue and purchase the works of the icons and icons-to-be that we celebrate here.

Coverfans interested in more tributes to America The Beautiful, including Willie Nelson’s take on our “other” national anthem and a decidedly odd cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s America from UK progrockers Yes, will enjoy this morning’s five-song set from Cover Freak. I’m also particularly proud of America The Beautiful: Coverfolk For A Thoughtful Fourth, a post we put up for Independence Day 2008 whose sentiment is worth revisiting, though the songs are no longer live.

If you have energy to spare afterwards, don’t forget to lend your support to us, too, as we continue to work hard twice each week to bring you the best coverage of the folkworld we know how to provide. Tell your friends, donate if you can, and add this site to your feedreader so you don’t miss a single feature.

1,028 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Paul Simon, Single Song Sunday