Archive for August 2010

Covered in Folk: Bruce Cockburn
(Lynn Miles, Mark Erelli, Donavon Frankenreiter and more!)

August 28th, 2010 — 03:29 pm

I first discovered Ontario-based singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn via 1987 singles collection Waiting For A Miracle, a double album set whose bright aboriginal cover art called to me from my father’s record collection. Even to my untrained adolescent ears, the seventeen year songspan told a story of a potent guitarist and prolific artist who had slowly turned from sparse acoustic folk to something urban, electrified, and politicized. And though I found myself favoring the middle of the album for its contemporary, catchy pre-rock melodies and accessible yet spiritual imagery, his astute, often poignant observations on the human condition were apparent throughout.

Like fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, Cockburn started out as a performer grounded in delicate, introspective songs and rural, natural poetics before turning towards the concrete and the cultural; by 1979, this change would catch the ears of US audiences, bringing him to Saturday Night Live on the heels of his first Top 40 hit Wondering Where The Lions Are. Like Dylan, he broke the acoustic barrier early in his career, taking on an increasingly rock-oriented sound as he moved into his second decade of solo performance, prompting some critics to dismiss his 1984 release Stealing Fire as a loss to the folkworld even as it sparked his second US chart single.

But to mistake Cockburn as just another chameleonesque pretender to the popfolk throne of social justice is to underestimate both his commitment to music as a vehicle for change and his power as both songwriter and evolving craftsman. Though the Berklee college dropout originally came to music through rock and roll, in Cockburn’s case, such evolution seems to come as a function of his own personal journey, both as an agnostic turned Christian and as an artist increasingly committed to environmentalism and human rights, willing to incorporate his growing anger into his musical output.

Bruce Cockburn’s journey doesn’t end with Waiting For A Miracle, of course. While the early greatest hits compilation ranges from tender nature ballads to the biting political commentary of If I Had A Rocket Launcher – which I wrote about in more depth over at Star Maker Machine – more recent albums have incorporated atmospheric production, with moody plugged-in soundscapes that bely his roots in jazz composition and his mid-nineties work with producer T-Bone Burnett, and acknowledge the world music influences which he has picked up in an activist’s journey. Indeed, such continued evolution confounds genre categorization: our local library, for example, places his first few albums in their folk collection, but files his later works under Pop, where I suppose they rightfully belong.

Still, though Cockburn never truly found the same reception south of the border which he enjoys in his native country, after almost thirty albums and forty years on the road, it’s no surprise to find that the man has been celebrated amply through coverage, including a small handful of tribute albums, most notably 1991 in-country release Kick At The Darkness, an impossible to find multi-artist celebration which is reportedly neither good nor consistent. And with one significant well-covered exception – the weary, bittersweet Pacing The Cage, an introspective, acoustic late-career muse on the miles traveled – it is equally unsurprising to find that the majority of this coverage springs from his early work, that which best speaks to his evolution as a craftsman.

And in part because of the vast spectrum of styles and subjects which his work has taken on, the diversity of interpretation which artists have brought to Cockburn’s songs is unusually broad. From the gentle folk rock of Michigan singer-songwriter Jeff Krebs to the decidedly playful contemporary folk of Canadian songbird Lynn Miles‘ kindie cover, from the rich acoustic pop clarity of Luke Vassella to both Canadian Teresa Ennis‘ light acoustic country and Irish-born singer Ronan Quinn‘s driving alt-countryfolk twang-and-strum, from Mark Erelli live in-concert turn to the high-production jazz-and-pop-tinged folk of Steve Bell‘s tribute, from the lazy summer delicacy of nufolk favorite Donavon Frankenreiter to the bluegrass Salamander Crossing brings to Child of the Wind to the freewheeling alt-radio poprock Barenaked Ladies never fail to provide, here’s a short sampler worthy of both Cockburn’s talent and his backstory.

Looking for more? Cockburn isn’t known for heavy coverage on his own, and several of the tribute albums he has contributed to in the past are long out of print. Still, here’s a few previously-posted favorites from the more recent pages of a long career, plus a cut from Things About Comin’ My Way, last year’s tribute to The Mississippi Sheiks. Get the lot, along with Waiting For A Miracle, everywhere fine music is sold.

Cover Lay Down: posting new coverfolk features and songsets twice a week without fail since 2007.

1,071 comments » | Bruce Cockburn, Covered in Folk

Shod Coverfolk: On shoes and the end of summer

August 25th, 2010 — 09:52 pm

On the canvas of my mind, I paint the summerself as a towheaded Tom Sawyer, barefoot and fancy free. And though I cannot see into the infinite otherminds that share my world, it’s healthy, I think, to imagine that we all recreate our childhoods as such.

But there was little point in going unshod in my suburban childhood. A walk meant pavement, not sidewalks, and on the street, the threat of broken glass or ancient gravel shards was everpresent. Even our own backyard was sparse and prickly, a minefield of instep acorns; even the woodchips beneath the swingset were too splintery for toes untoughened by a lifetime of bare earth. For me, shoes and sneakers were the way of the world. And until recently, they always were.

Today, thanks to influence and instinct – evoked, in part, from the better memories of my farm-bred spouse – my children’s lives are different. Here in the woods, the girls run free, digging in the dirt with their heels, leaving muddy footprints across the flagstones as they scamper in for supper. As a consequence, their feet are tougher, the soles and pads thickening with age far earlier than mine ever did. Though I winced my way through the selfsame pathways, watching them run over the rough rocks and pebble beaches as we traveled up the Pacific Coast these last few weeks was validating, affirming the value of our choice to raise them without barriers between earth and flesh.

And such barefoot afternoons and weekends may continue for a while yet, though the rain and chill which arrived this week are a harbinger of colder months to come. But tonight summer ends, and the world of socks and laces rears its ugly head.

Which is to say: the elderchild starts school tomorrow morning, and my own classes will begin on Monday. The wee one will enter the world of public education this year, too, with Kindergarten a given in a world of second grade standardized tests. And school means shoes – for bare toes are outlawed in most schools these days, and for good reason: though flip flops are en vogue, the new world of liability and oversensitivity to hygiene make such summerwear moot in the classroom.

Time to put summer sandals back into storage for another year, then, and climb back into our sneakers and hard shoes, still scuffed from Spring, and dusty with the sifted sunbeams of a summer’s rest. We’ll buy new ones when the paychecks start coming in again, and perhaps by then the pride of shod and booted life will return to us. Too soon, the leaves will fall, and the snows begin, turning shoes to boots with high-top laces. In the meantime, here’s a soundtrack for our sorrow.

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

1,089 comments » | Theme Posts

New Artists, Old Songs:
HelenaMaria, Tom Meny, The Sleeping Years and the Carter Family
cover Amos Lee, The Go-Betweens, Rihanna, Death Cab and more!

August 21st, 2010 — 09:42 pm

Work starts Monday, and the mail is overflowing, as it tends to be when we return from summer. New releases from Mark Kozelek, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, and other familiar voices will surely find their place on these pages anon. But sheer inbox management demands another edition of our popular New Artists, Old Songs feature, wherein we bring you new and newly-discovered coverage from artists still hovering under the radar.

Stylish identical twin duo HelenaMaria is totally pop, with recent placement on the UK iTunes charts and MTV’s “The Hills”, a saccharine sweet sincerity, and pure, stylized vocals pulled directly from the popcharts. And their growing body of coverage proves it: you’ll find Usher, Eminem, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Rihanna here, and with the single exception of an old Ben Folds Five take, that’s the range.

But the stripped-down WYSIWYG approach to the videos twin sisters Helena and Maria distribute via iTunes and their YouTube channel has an intimacy which makes me hope beyond hope that they never stop producing the softer, sparser stuff alongside the full-bore production. Sure, as Sara Barielles has aptly demonstrated, there’s a demand for this sort of performance, and I suppose their original single Burn For Me, while a bit over-produced even for its chosen genre, has promise as a chart-maker. But I’m selfish – I’d rather keep ‘em on the folkside, where they shine like future stars.

Austinite Tom Meny passed along his 2008 cover of John Lennon’s Imagine last week, and I’m glad he did: it brought me to his bluesfolk take on my favorite Death Cab For Cutie song, and now I’m sifting through the sands of time at his YouTube channel, listening in awe as the man wrings more soul from a selection of well-chosen alt-pop songs than I thought possible.

Imagine‘s quite good, and since it’s what he’s pushing, I’ll pass it forward. And the Death Cab is utterly gorgeous, too – a great showcase for his atmospheric guitarplay, smoky voice, and overdubbed harmonies. But don’t miss his more recent interpretation of Amos Lee’s Sweet Pea, either – it makes a perfect short, tight, bluesy encore. Get these and many other covers – from The Pixies and U2 to Springsteen and Jimmy LaFave – for free at Tom’s mp3 download page, and then stick around for the originals, which share the same tender heart.

Dale Grundle, now performing solo under the name The Sleeping Years after an early career path with The Catchers, has supported Damien Jurado and Okkervil River, and earned acclaim from several trusted UK sources, from the BBC to The Guardian to Word magazine, where he has been granted apt comparion to Nick Drake, Elliot Smith and John Martyn; my own library already contained the singles-slash-title tracks from his 2007 EPs Clocks and Clones and Setting Fire To Sleepy Towns, where they fit neatly alongside both the aforementioned artists’ output and Death Cab For Cutie’s dreamier stuff. His sleepy indiefolk take on Cattle & Cane (a for-sale single, hence the streaming) comes to us via new project The Explorer’s Club, a subscription-based single-a-month label project, promising good things for the future on all counts, and proving once again that this Irishman remains an artist to watch closely.

Finally, something either very new or very old, depending on how you count things: Past & Present, a new collaboration between some Carter/Cash Family heirs performing under the name The Carter Family III. We featured John Carter Cash’s more experimental work last year, but the addition of A.P. and Sarah Carter’s grandson Dale Jett on autoharp and vox and John’s wife Laura on fiddle and vocals makes for something both definitively new and eminently traditional here, with a particularly Appalachian sound and sentiment that translates over effectively to the spate of originals paired alongside the family tree songbook. The album drops this Tuesday on in-house label Cash House Records, but it sure sounds timeless to me.

1,361 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

California Coverfolk, Vol. 6: Oregon Transplants
Stephen Malkmus, M. Ward, Tony Furtado, & Darol Anger

August 17th, 2010 — 09:46 pm

Here’s some fun to cap off our Summer 2010 Vacation Coverfolk series: just as we’ve moved on from California to Oregon, crossing the state line for a final week with friends and family, so did these well-known boundary-pushing artists leave the long, banana-shaped state of their birth to settle north of the border, helping make the “Portland scene” the vibrant hotbed of music it became in the wake of the indie and folk revivals of the post-grunge late nineties.

Funk-fusion banjo player and bandleader Tony Furtado may not have Bela Fleck’s following or fame, but it’s not for lack of trying or talent. Instead, even as his career has explored the intersection of electric production, fingerpicking, and slide guitar, Furtado has hewn closer to his roots, fitting traditional folksongs and bluegrass numbers smoothly in and among his original compositions, his overall sound not so much challenging the genre envelope as balancing on the knife edge between innovation and graceful evolution – as seen, for example, in his comprehensive reinvention of early bluegrass standard Mollie & Tenbrooks.

Now, 14 albums into a thriving career, the man hovers just under the national radar, though his free concert at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square this Thursday afternoon and a top-of-the-marquee headline turn alongside Peter Rowan and Joy Kills Sorrow at this weekend’s first annual Beavergrass Bluegrass Festival down in Corvalis speaks volumes about his regional recognition. We most recently heard Furtado covering the ol’ standard Man of Constant Sorrow with Tim O’Brien; here’s a few more faves from a long overdue appreciation.

Indie rock god Stephen Malkmus – founder of prototypical indieband Pavement, spearhead of the 1990s indie underground revival, member of The Silver Jews, and more recently of solo “and The Jicks” fame – is a terribly prolific artist, whose numerous studio recordings in all these incarnations shuffle in and out of time, mixing elements of post-punk, basement grunge, alt-rock and true blue rock ‘n roll. And I’ve always liked his songwriting, which manages to capture a detachment and a sneer with reasonably spare lyrics and the basic melodic craft you’d expect of a man known for his understated prowess in all four of the basic instruments of rock: guitar, bass, drums and vox.

We actually did a feature on Pavement way back in February of 2008; the writing remains, so there’s no need to rehash the obvious here. But the songs we posted alongside our deep exploration of the band and the man – both the Pavement covers, and Malkmus’ Dylan covers from the I’m Not There soundtrack – bear repeating.

Though torn-voiced singer-songwriter M. Ward was born in California, in just a decade of active recording and performance he has come to define the Portland scene more centrally than any, having grown to prominence in the region as a solo artist, producer, and guest vocalist before joining She & Him and his fellow Monsters of Folk on his way to further fame and fortune.

Thanks to a tendency towards especially prolific coverage, we’ve featured the frequent indie-crowd collaborator previously known as Matthew Stephen Ward plenty here on the blog, both solo and in conjunction with Beth Orton, Lucinda Williams, Conor Oberst, and of course Zooey Deschanel, the “she” to Ward’s “him”. But though Ward’s ragged, whispered tones and gentle nuance bring majestic tension to these pairings, the sparser balance between his delicate stringwork and voice in solo performance is no less potent. Today, we honor the man by letting that solo work shine.

Finally, from back in the realm of several traditions – classical, folk, and jazz among them – comes fiddler, teacher, and bandleader Darol Anger, perhaps best known for his work as a founding member of both the newgrass Dave Grisman Quintet and the chamber jazz group Turtle Island String Quartet. Over 30 years into a stunning career at the forefront of acoustic and string-band genre-experimentation, Anger has collaborated with dozens of artists, from guitar god Michael Hedges to jazz violin god Stephane Grappelli, from Appalachian revivalist Mark O’Connor to bluegrass standard-bearers Tony Rice, Tim O’Brien, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas and Bela Fleck, from folk cellist Rushad Eggleston to newgrass bands Nickel Creek and Yonder Mountain String Band.

His subtle touch in bluegrass supergroup NewGrange’s albums is a reminder of how fiddle should lift the ‘grass without overpowering it. His six-album run with partner and mando player Mike Marshall are staples of the Windham Hill and Compass Records labels. Recent collaboration Fiddlers 4 and folk journey Heritage, linked to below, are light and amazing. And yes, that’s his strings you can hear at the end of NPR’s Car Talk.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features, sets, and sentiment on Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday.

1,077 comments » | California Coverfolk, Darol Anger, M. Ward, Pavement, Stephen Malkmus, Tony Furtado

California Coverfolk, Vol. 5:
The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, & more native sons and daughters

August 15th, 2010 — 01:01 am

There’s so many bands from California, it would be an exercise in futility to try to pay tribute to all of them in a single post. But with two major native singer-songwriters and the entire Punk genre out of the way, we’re left much closer to the mainstream, providing an opportunity to narrow our focus down. Here’s a few major sixties and seventies pop and rock acts that are or were forever associated with the state which gave them their birth.

Though Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass and old timey folk performances have found their way to these pages far more often than those of the band with which most people associate him, there’s no denying that the Grateful Dead epitomize the free love and drug-fueled trance rhythms of Haight Ashbury at its height. Having bussed through the neighborhood – now a sadly gentrified version of hippiedom – just days ago, it’s quite a relief to turn to some true-blue Deadsongs, all grassed up and exquisite as ever in the hands of these well-worn tributaries.

No California tribute series would be complete without the Beach Boys. Though their later work got weird and wild, to most of the world, their name still epitomizes a clean-cut era gone by: wooden-sided wagons, beach blanket harmonies, and what Wikipedia calls “a Southern California youth culture of cars, surfing, and romance” – kind of the antithesis of the sixties which would follow, once the hippies moved in and Skate Punk took over. [To hear what that sort of mash-up might sound like, might I recommend both the Lash version of Wouldn't It Be Nice and Melt Banana's violent take on Surfin' USA over at Cover Freak's recent Beach Boys cover post?]

Glenn Frey was born and raised in Detroit. Don Henley was from Texas. Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and spent time in the Greenwich Village folk scene on his way to the top. But along with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Doobie Brothers, Linda Rondstadt, and other notable bands and musicians, the Eagles were central to the spread of the California country rock sound, particularly popular in the California music scene of the late 1960s, and their most famous hit Take It Easy – a co-write by Browne and Frey – would go on to define both the genre and the laissez-faire attitude it promoted.

Oddly, covers of Take It Easy are few and far between, though I can picture the song easily in my inner ear, stripped of its country twang, perhaps with a mandolin’s delicacy. And we posted the Gypsy King’s take on Hotel California last week as our journey began. But here’s a few more Eagles covers to keep you soaring.

Finally, The Mamas and the Papas – best known for their smash hit California Dreaming – aren’t that well covered, as it turns out; seems their self-proclaimed “leave folk behind” approach to songwriting doesn’t appeal to the acoustic set. And their cover of John Hartford’s California Earthquake is bombastic and far too funky for a folkblog. But I did find this fingerpickin’ solo instrumental delightful, the perfect lighthearted endcap to a long journey through the Golden State.

Cover Lay Down publishes new features and coverfolk sets each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. Looking for the rest of our California Coverfolk series? Previously on Cover Lay Down:

Coming up: We’ve moved on to Oregon, and so does the last installment of this summer’s Vacation Coverfolk!

1,125 comments » | California Coverfolk, Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, The Eagles

California Coverfolk, Vol 4:
The Punk Rock Collection, Revisited

August 10th, 2010 — 11:17 pm

If you’ve been playing along, you already know that we’re blogging from the road as we drive North up the California coast, with a day or two each in Eugene and Portland before we head homeward a week from today. In fact, if today goes as planned, we’ll be wand’ring (and camping) amidst the redwoods as this post goes live.

As is our tradition here on Cover Lay Down, our immersion in the culture and landscape of a particular vacation region has precipitated a series of features which connect our coverfolk mandate to the highways and byways we travel. So far, we’ve presented three: an exploration of California in song, Dave Alvin’s tribute to his fellow Californian singer-songwriters, and a close look at the songbook of Kate Wolf, a long-gone but not forgotten folksinger whose songs often celebrated her native state.

Today, as we approach California’s Northern border, we broaden the boundaries a bit with a look at the California Punk scene through the lens of coverage.

As I noted in our 2009 Year In Review, last November’s study of seminal first-wave Punk Rock covers was our most popular post ever here at Cover Lay Down, and I haven’t forgotten that it came with a promise of an eventual follow-up, which would feature covers from the last 25 years of punk music’s ouvre. While I’m not prepared to present something so momentous while we’re on the road, looking through the archives in search of artists who scream California, it’s hard to avoid the prominence of Punk.

Indeed, though London, Washington DC, New York and Boston all played their part, more than almost anywhere, California plays as major role a role in the resurgence of punk music in the last generation as it did in the Americanization of early hardcore punk music in the early eighties, with thriving scenes throughout the state and a Wikipedia entry on the subject to prove it. Thanks in part to local punk labels such as Fat Wreck Chords, Alternative Tentacles and Lookout! Records, the Golden State is able to lay definitive claim to the origin of the Skate Punk subgenre, and it remains the home to several major players in both the Pop Punk and third-wave Ska Punk hybridizations of the late eighties and early nineties, from Green Day, Blink 182 and the Offspring to Sublime and No Doubt.

As an outsider to punk music, I’m in no position to suggest that there is something sonically distinctive about any or all of these performers or subgenres – though it seems intuitively obvious to note that Skate Punk is often distinguished by its association with both skate culture and the aggressive, fast-paced motions of skateboarding itself. But I will note that, as in the previous incarnation of our Punk Covers series, the vast majority of these songs play out as beautiful, raw, even delicate tributes in the adept hands of these predominantly solo and stripped-down performers. So here’s a short set of songs made famous by the post-second wave California crowd, all folked up and pretty as you please.

PS: I looked and looked, but can’t find any decent folk-y No Doubt covers. Got any leads? Leave ‘em in the comments…

1,678 comments » | all folked up, California Coverfolk

California Coverfolk, Vol. 3: Dave Alvin’s West Of The West

August 8th, 2010 — 10:00 am

Previously in this series

“There are two types of folk music: quiet folk music and loud folk music.
I play both.”

Dave Alvin – most recently of Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women; previously of the LA suburbs – has always played roots music, whether it’s the early rockabilly roots rock of The Blasters, the Punk of seminal LA band X, the countrified blues he generated earlier in his career as a solo artist, or the tejano-roots-rock-Americana hybrid he’s evolved and developed as his own. But in the world of Grammys, as in my own, roots music and folk music are closely intertwined, or so said the Academy when it granted Public Domain: Songs From the Wild Land, his 2000 collection of traditional folk and blues classics, highest honors in the Contemporary Folk category despite a heavy country clang and twang on Railroad Bill and a strong blues harmonica leading the barrelhouse on Don’t Let Your Deal Go Round.

There’s plenty of beautiful troubadour balladry on that album, too, to be fair. His Delia sounds centrally like a well-produced cowboy folksinger’s piece, and his Texas Rangers is as haunting as any. And 1994 release King of California – his first attempt at a more acoustic solo sound after years of harder-edged roots rock – is a gorgeous piece of work, low and steady as a Townes album, as much a tribute to Alvin’s talent as arranger and performer as it is a tribute to Alvin the songwriter and lyricist, the man who has also published two books of poetry.

But it’s the fourth-generation Californian’s tribute to the singer-songwriters of his native state which concerns us today, as the miles speed on by up the coast towards Oregon. His slightly croaky, smoky voice is perfectly suited for reinvention, and on concept covers album West of the West, it covers his fellow Californians with aplomb, moving fluidly between blues, rock, and folk.

And when it works, it really works. His Los Lobos cover, for example, opens up a murky hole with blues banjo, faint drumcrashes, string bass and Tom Waits’ phrasing, exposing the dark blues at the song’s core. And where Keller Williams’ recent cover of the Grateful Dead tune Loser is delicate and humorous, calling to its ragged origins, Alvin whispers and wails, wringing the darkness from the tune with Pink Floyd guitar majesty. It’s no wonder the man’s name keeps cropping up on so many tribute compilations, taking on everyone from Springsteen to Haggard.

Here’s three of the slower, less rockin’ cuts from the West of the West tribute, followed by a handful of other, similarly toned-down covers from Dave Alvin’s “quiet” acoustic side. (I know it seems anomalous at first, but trust me on the Surfer Girl cover – the tension between the traditional doo-wop and that distinctive voice are what makes it worth it.) Buy it all here when you’re done.

1,130 comments » | California Coverfolk, Dave Alvin

California Coverfolk, Vol 2: Kate Wolf
(Covers of and from Kate, Greg Brown, Dave Alvin, Nanci Griffith & more!)

August 6th, 2010 — 11:59 pm

As noted previously, we’re headed up the West Coast for the next two weeks and then some, blogging merrily along the way. On Wednesday, we marked the first steps of our journey with a sweet set of songs about the great state of California; today, in the first of two weekend single-artist feature posts, our California Coverfolk series continues with a look at the songs and songbook of one of the region’s most beloved singer-songwriters.

Born in San Francisco, educated at Berkeley, and long known as a native daughter of her adopted Sonoma County, singer-songwriter Kate Wolf was a shining star in the American second-wave folk revival, “repopularizing” folk music in Northern California in the late seventies, and going on to national acclaim before her untimely passing in 1986. With a dozen albums to her name – half of which were released posthumously – she made her claim aptly as a writer and song interpreter particularly influenced by “honest songs and honest singers”, with shades of The Weavers, A.P. Carter, Dylan, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizell, and other early influences resonating throughout her catalog.

Kate’s clear, pure voice is unmistakably intimate, and in her best recordings, she treats it gently, letting the cadence carry her from soft and low into a soaring legato that slides like light over subtle fingerpicked strings. But there’s more to these songs than just prettiness. Her love of the folkways – of song, and of her natural setting – is evident in her songcraft and her delivery: like the best folksongs, her timeless lyrics of love and longing are deceptively simple, grounded in the flora and fauna of human experience, but they contain depths that resonate long past song’s end.

Though she succumbed to Leukemia at the young age of 44, twenty five years later, Kate’s legacy remains strong. Her life is celebrated each year at the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival in Laytonville, CA, which traditionally closes with her song Give Yourself To Love, and this year attracted such folk luminaries as Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Greg Brown, The Waifs, Carrie Rodriguez, and more. And several excellent tribute albums have floated to the surface over the years, including both Laurie McClain’s 2003 cd The Trumpet Vine, and 1998 Red House Records release Treasures Left Behind: Remembering Kate Wolf. Below, some favorites from a well-deserved eternity in coverage.

Kate was as accomplished a singer and picker as she was a songwriter, and her love of song carried over into the tunes of others; indeed, many of the covers she chose to take on in her short lifetime carry the poignancy and prescience of her life and death. Though beautiful Joni Mitchell and Woody Guthrie covers on her earliest albums remain undigitized, her masterful take on These Days, taken from posthumous mostly-covers compilation Looking Back At You, is utterly gorgeous, a perfect soundtrack for the next leg of our journey.

1,057 comments » | California Coverfolk, Kate Wolf

California Coverfolk, Vol. 1: Here In California
(State Songs, City Songs, Street Songs and more!)

August 4th, 2010 — 12:58 pm

I’ve cheated a little here, penning this a few days in advance just in case something goes awry in our plans, scheduling it to post automatically so you could be here now. But in my mind, it’s Wednesday as I write this, legs up in the passenger seat for a short leg of the long drive from San Simeon to Monterey, where my wife’s relatives will be putting us up at a seaside conference center and resort that boasts such “authentic” rustic environs that it eschews TV and radio, and provides wi-fi solely in the lobby.

Through the windshield, the twisted cliffs part, offering the endless Pacific to our delighted eyes, and I am reminded of the last time I took this journey, untethered and struggling to stay carefree, with a newborn second child, no job and no home to go home to. Now I look at my wife frowning thoughtfully at the road, and at my children playing quietly in the seat behind me, and I smile, comfortable in the knowledge that this, too, shall pass, and it will ever be okay.

We’ve been in California since late Sunday night, flying into LAX in the wee hours, starting our vacation with two nights just North of Los Angeles, visiting my father’s relatives and settling in to the scorched-earth summer landscape; from there, we drove about three hours up the coast, stopping in Santa Barbara for lunch and a look-see, ending the night fireside in a campsite under the stars, thanks to the borrowed tent atop our borrowed station wagon. This morning, we took in Hearst Castle, mostly to serve the spousal preference for grandeur and solitude while the kids and I turned the one-time home to the stars into a playground and scavenger hunt site.

And our grand adventure is still just beginning. Over the next two weeks we’ll be slowly crawling up the coast, visiting old friends and family, never moving more than three or four hours a day, stopping in most cases for two nights at a time, the better to seep in the vastly different environments that comprise this gigantic state. From there, we’ll land in Eugene, OR, for a four-day stay with my brother-in-law and his wife, and fly out of Portland on our anniversary.

It’s my second trip to The Golden State, and our first attempt at a long multi-day driving vacation with the kids, but in the early stages, at least, we’re still happy windowgazing. Promises of giant redwood forests and cave explorations, museums and aquariums, and a day or two more of camping in the long gaps between major cities, help fill the miles, and though the everpresent trucks slow us down a bit on the coastal highway, it’s good to be anywhere, really, three weeks from the school year and under an open sky. Me, I’m looking forward to exploring the smalltowns and subdivisions which, to me, have always offered comfort and cultural epiphany: San Francisco’s Chinatown, Mendocino, Monterey; undiscovered walking villages, hidden oases in the midst of wine country. And since we’ve got plenty of time, it’s a good bet that our journey will bring a few unplanned surprises, too.

The carefree nature of our family vacation lends itself poorly to definitiveness, and anyway, there’s far too many songs of California – of the state itself, and its various locations both intimate and chaotic – to make any attempt at a comprehensive compendium here. Too, for reasons which will soon be apparent, I’m saving a few obvious choices for later in our journey, including the one you’re surely thinking of, and the song which appears in our title above. But here’s a few relatively recent favorites to keep the beat as we drive ever Northward.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and songsets each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday. To listen while you browse, check out our Play! page.

1,835 comments » | California Coverfolk, Regional Folk