Archive for May 2012

(Re)Covered, Vol. XXVI: New Covers of
The Band, Paul Simon, Bill Withers, Springsteen, Dylan, & more!

May 27th, 2012 — 08:27 pm

Our last (Re)Covered post at the end of April focused on new coverage from folk bands and singer-songwriter previously featured here on these pages, thus adding to our ongoing celebration of those who interpret song. But our mandate is bi-directional here at Cover Lay Down: the songbook is sacred, too, and our features just as often tout composition and canonical outlook. Today, then, we pay tribute to the songwriter, revisiting older Covered In Folk and Single Song Sunday features through select new additions to their respective sets.

Levon Helm’s passage earlier this year sparked a spike for an old Covered In Folk feature on The Band here on the blog, and a notable mention of two fave artist tributes – Mark Erelli’s homespun Ophelia and Denison Witmer’s rereleased stunner It Makes No Difference – here on the blog immediately thereafter. But we weren’t the only ones mourning through song: in the weeks since, several more projects and performances have emerged which sustain the posthumous legacy, showing that Helm’s influence may have been even greater than most gave him credit for. Among these, several stand out: irish folk experimentalist Lisa Hannigan’s set-list addition of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is sweet and adept, for example (and her Gotye cover, an unrelated bonus track, has a spare, sluggish beauty of its own). But most significant, at least in terms of scope, is Turnstyled Junkpiled’s Last Ramble For Levon, an 11-track “online video concert” featuring a host of LA-based countryfolk and coffeeshop cowboys.

The Coals: When I Paint My Masterpiece (orig. The Band)

Lisa Hannigan: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (orig. The Band)

BONUS TRACK: Lisa Hannigan: Somebody That I Used To Know (orig. Gotye)

It’s been quite a while since we featured Paul Simon’s songbook – not since July 4th, 2010, which featured a Single Song Sunday set of covers of American Tune, though arguably this delightful moment from last year counts. But the 25th anniversary of Graceland this month has sparked renewed interest in both the man and his music, and none shines so well as Louisiana acousti-cajun indie band Givers, whose recent Rolling Stone video version of That Was Your Mother kicks up its heels and stomps around with graceful impunity. Bonus points for this utterly haunting Fuel/Friends Chapel Session cover by Bryan John Appleby, which still slams me months after its release into the world.

  • Givers: That Was Your Mother (orig. Paul Simon)

Springsteen covers flood the market – see, for example, recent note of both Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem and Rose Cousins and Mark Erelli’s tributes to the man, not to mention top 2011 picks from Holly Figueroa O’Reilly and Marissa Nadler, a holy host of Springsteen covers that pepper through our singer-songwriter and thematic features, and a Springsteen compendium way back in 2009. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room at the top. Brand new cases in point: Horse Feathers, whose delicate Used Cars arrived alongside a mid-May Tim Hardin cover, and Coyote Grace – a coed duo-led Americana-folk band I keep missing at the folk festivals – who drops a Springsteen cover among the originals on their highly recommended new album Now Take Flight; like the rest of the disc, it’s poignant and raw, with beautiful midrange harmonics that run like a shiver down the spine of their performance.

We did a whole week of Dylan last year, and his songbook for multiple Single Song Sundays (You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Girl From The North Country). But given Dylan’s canonical stature, it’s inevitable that the floodgates would remain open here, too. Most recent finds include a stunning new take on Shelter From The Storm from mesmerizing, dreamy 2011 Cover Lay Down fave Joshua Hyslop, who releases his debut major-label full-length in July on Nettwerk, and a newly-found deep cut from Australian folkduo Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton, whose 5/4 duet graced last weekend’s Single Song Sunday feature on tradfolk tune Barbara Allen.

Bill Withers covers, on the other hand, are decidedly not a dime a dozen, though we certainly found enough love for a full Covered In Folk: Bill Withers treatment way back in February of last year. But Opus Orange bursts onto the scene with a cool indie swooner that starts acoustic and builds from there; by the time it blossoms into a trance-inducing chillhouse, you won’t care whether it truly counts as folk. Check ‘em out for an even-more-frozen collaborative cover of Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street and a grungy, greasy cover of Our Love Is Here To Stay featuring Eleni Mandell.

We don’t often get a chance to come back to our New Artists, Old Songs posts through featured artist coverage. But among the sweet, rich, soundtrack-ready original folkpop tracks on Starry Eyed, a 7-song EP from previously unheard-of Boston-by-Nashville songwriter Annalise Emerick which has caused me so much joy in my morning commute the past month, is a solid, folk-rockin’ cover of I Came Around that calls back to the vibrancy we felt in our 2008 post introducing songwriter Amie Miriello. There’s shades of Rosie Thomas here, too, and Ingrid Michaelson, and Regina Spektor, and the boston indiefolker crowd – all good stuff – and so, as bonus and balance, we also add a track from way at the other end of Emerick’s stunning sense of breadth and mastery: a quiet, surprising coda that earns our utmost respect for breathing new life into Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, an oft-sung tune that had previously struck us as too saccharine to cover with any depth. Thank Annalise for proving us wrong by snagging the whole EP in download or hard copy.

  • Annalise Emerick: I Came Around (orig. Amie Miriello)
  • BONUS TRACK: Annalise Emerick: Stand By Me (orig. Ben E. King)

Finally, I just can’t help coming back to kindie duo Renee & Jeremy, whose Coldplay cover we shared just a few days ago, for a wayback machine call to a 2008 Supertramp feature. The pair’s newest album, an all-covers delight called A Little Love, has been a perfect companion to a week without Mama, helping bridge the gap between my tastes and theirs as the kids and I have struggled to function as a pitch-perfect father-daughter team. Buy it for the kids you know; stick around for their perfect uke-and-bells turn on Monkees classic Daydream Believer, a truly gentle acoustic kindie reggae take on REM’s Shiny Happy People, a Queen cover right out of some sweet indie-flick, the joyous sing-along below, and more childlike transformations of originals from the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Simon & Garfunkel, John Lennon, and Yael Naim. And their website has samples of every one.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered

Missing Mama: Songs for the Single Parent
(A soundtrack for love at a distance)

May 25th, 2012 — 06:02 am

We’re braving it alone this week, the wee one, the elderchild and me. And though this meant an especially sniffly, snuggly Monday night, happily, the four stages of grief have passed quickly in such intense, obvious circumstances, leaving us accepting, if not yet perfectly balanced in our adoption of the adapted dance that is life with Daddy.

If I’m nervous but grateful for the chance to try, it’s in no small part because my time with the kids is too often stolen from Mama’s world. From the moment we find ourselves on the other side of the uterine wall, anxiously waiting for the emergence of parenthood, daddies learn to live with a little distance: to always be outside, separated by the skin, our relationships retarded by gestation even as mama grows fat with the pending person we call our own. By the time we get to meet our special someone, she’s already been nine months communing with the one she calls Mama. And now she’s breastfeeding, which makes Mama needful in a way with which we cannot compete.

Being the breadwinner doubles the distance. The traditional model of Dad as half-projected partner and inevitable other bears true on the ground when you’re just not there for the daily rituals of to-and-fro. The relative ignorance I experience this week is a reinforcing symptom: in three days, I’ve learned that it’s not worth the buffet price if the kid is only going to eat white rice, that forgetting to bring homework to dance class can lead to sheepish note-writing, that an after-school stop at the local farmer’s market makes ice cream unavoidable.

The fact that we’re still all safe and sane is a testament to the fact that, in many ways, Mama is still here. The menus and memos she left for us on the fridge are a touchstone; the pre-portioned bags of chips and cookies in the cabinet allow the kids to pack their own lunch with little fuss. Having clothes and schedules laid out before us is a bulwark against the ADHD Dad, and the potential for ongoing anxiety that such combination contains.

But distance makes the moments that much more precious; without absence, we never truly appreciate presence. Having Mama on the other side of the phone is bittersweet, but we could not feel this sense of mutual pride if we were not trying to make it on our own. I’m not just learning how to manage the morning routine, I’m also learning to live through the jealousy, a lesson that will take me a lifetime, for sure.

But oh, what a gift a week can be; what a joy it is to close the gap that Mama fills, if only for a fleeting moment.

And so we offer a family-friendly tribute to the distances we travel, every moment, to capture and celebrate each others’ hearts: a love song soundtrack of commitment, for those who leave and return, every day and every hour, like swallows in our lives. It’s what I’ve been listening to, late at night when the kids are in bed, and the fragile world is still spinning around.

Renee & Jeremy: Yellow (orig. Coldplay) [via]

3 comments » | Kidfolk, Theme Posts

Single Song Sunday: Barbara Allen
(Meg Baird, Colin Meloy, Laura Cortese & 10 more!)

May 20th, 2012 — 12:43 pm

Traditional death ballads aren’t a dime a dozen on the modern papcharts, but they’re a recognizable form among the folkways. Most deal frankly with unrequited and/or unequal love and its aftereffects, with gruesome detail and haunted characters; most go so far as to show the callousness of humankind through ghosts and body parts transformed, though history suggests that such lascivious imagery was more commonplace in the Puritan and previous worlds, where the funerial was a family affair, life lessons were taught and learned through song, pining could kill, and death in its stark bodily form was an everpresent part of life.

The Ballad of Barbara Allen – also known by several similar names, and recorded canonically as Child Ballad 84, of Northern English or Scottish origin – isn’t a murder ballad, specifically; it is instead a warning tale of despair and rue, with a simple yet beautiful melody and virtually infinite variation in its lyrics. As such, the song makes for both a particularly beautiful example of and a potent template for the larger form.

The story is simply told: two would-be lovers die in sequence – first he, of her spurned love; then she, of a belated grief at her cruelty in his passing – thus reinforcing the lesson that acknowledging the heart’s need, and being kind in its honest expression, are fundamental to life itself. In many variants, the final verses paint a pretty picture of posthumous reconciliation, in which a briar growing from her grave, and a rose from his, entwine themselves over the lovers’ buried corpses. But regardless of whether this coda is included or no, the tonal narrative remains consistent.

The universality of Barbara Allen’s moral, and of the emotional core which it takes to reveal it, anticipate the confessional mode of the folk music revival, underscoring its presence as one of the modern folk canon’s most repeated songs. Yet just as our response to dismissal-driven death can range from outrage to sorrow, so do the various versions of this old song cover the emotional gamut.

At the extremes, Laura Cortese and Jefferson Hamer‘s saw and rage play well against the sliding melancholy of aging guitarsmith Martin Simpson, while Colin Meloy‘s pinched nasality and full band folk rock turn come in a far tonal cry from the sweet delicacy Lucy Wainright Roche brings to her take. In between, a half-century of versioning offers a breadth of potential as The Waterboys go whispery and sparse, Sunita Staneslow plucks harpstrings under instrumental pipes, The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover play a bluegrass ballad, Shirley Collins floats a nearly medieval take over hollow reeds, Deborah Packard trills thin and sweet over a low drone and haunting flute, Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton lend Aussie accents and a staggering 5/4 meter to pulsing celtic tones, Jean Ritchie sings a solo appalachian plainsong, Emmylou Harris croons contemporary, and Meg Baird remakes the song as a singer-songwriter’s lament, complete with backporch harmonies and cowboy guitar. Listen singly below, or click to download the entire set for comparison’s sake.

5 comments » | Single Song Sunday, Tradfolk

Mother’s Day Coverfolk
(On learning to love the self in the other)

May 13th, 2012 — 07:54 pm

I’ve written about my father several times here on Cover Lay Down, citing him as a friend and fellow folkfan whose companionship I cherish, especially now that I have children of my own. I’ve written about my wife, too, and my children, when the occasion warranted it. But other than a 2008 feature on Mothers of the Folkworld, we’ve skipped over Mother’s Day for four years running – leaving my own mother conspicuously absent from these virtual pages.

If I’ve avoided taking the time to parse the particulars of our often volatile relationship until now, it is because for most of my adult and adolescent life, I did not understand it. But though I cannot and should not claim to know anyone as well or better than I know myself, after years of therapy and soul-searching, I think I have come far enough to take an awkward step towards explicating my avoidance of the topic until now.

The things I have inherited from my mother run deeper and more complex. From her come ADHD tendencies and a high propensity for disorganization, a deep need for social and interpersonal connection, a teary sensitivity to the world. Though it is these same raw and specific qualities, I think, which allow me to experience such deep and profound joy and solace in the universe, the exposure to the emotive elements which results also leaves me in a particularly poor place to negotiate truces when I must.

Instead, these innate characteristics, and the confusion that they often cause within me, leave me wandering the earth with an innate feeling of fragility. And the knowledge that I contain such multitudes can lead to poor choices: a carelessness with words and action that often worsens when I let my guard down around those who I know too well; a snowblindness to other opinions that comes across as disrespect; a propensity to overreact to small things, and thus magnify my distress.

And if I have learned anything in my almost forty years, it is that where one person in such a situation can mitigate and manage the delicate self through care and community and introspection, people of this particular type are ill-equipped to support each other, or indeed to come to terms with each other.

The result is a particularly bittersweet relationship, and I know that my mother and I both regret that we have not yet been able to overcome that which we share to grow closer, and more respectful towards each other.

It’s hard to love in another what you struggle with in yourself – hard, too, to pair such characteristics across the table and expect clarity in understanding. Living with my mother is more often than not a tightrope walk of polite watchfulness in our relations. Even when we find ourselves in moments or months of balance, the voice in my head that cannot so easily trust is always working to push me back down the mountain to its base, where I must begin the Sisyphean struggle anew, for the sake of our family, and our families.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my mother. I admire how hard she worked to maintain a family in my childhood, when my father was working long and absent hours to give us the lifestyle he and she agreed was best for all of us. I appreciate the words of comfort and support she has offered me in my hours of need, even if I could not and would not hear them wholly in the moment. My parents’ divorce several years ago gave me a chance to see her for herself, and the opportunity to watch her grow and thrive as a person of faith and innate optimism. And the ways in which this – all of this – has illuminated my own sins and challenges, clearing the path for me to make peace with my own faults and failures, and through them, to make peace with her, is easily acknowledged, though it remains elusive in my grasp as a tool for relationship building.

I cannot claim to have finished my journey; if I am not yet ready to come out and say that my mother is my friend, it is because of that which I cannot yet love in myself. But although I am hardly a praying man, my mother’s urgings towards meditation have not gone unheeded; I know, and hope she sees, that on my own side of that proverbial table, I have been gathering strength for a peace between us, one that grows more urgent even as it grows closer every day of our lives. And I know, too, because she has shown me, that faith is not only possible, but a vital cornerstone to a life lived honestly, and well.

To my mother, then: to whom I owe not only life, but the abilities and lessons that let me feel and see such life as a joyous, wondrous miracle every day. For that, I love her deeply, if not yet so well. And with that love at my back I will work until my final breath to forge and solder the ties that bind us, until our relationship is something we can both cherish and celebrate together.

Download our Mother’s Day Mix as a zip file!

6 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Theme Posts

Covered In Folk: Tim Hardin
(Luka Bloom, Mark Lanegan, Karen Dalton, Seth Avett & 13 more!)

May 6th, 2012 — 11:48 am

I’m of an age where Tim Hardin‘s Reason To Believe is heard first and foremost in the voice of a late-career Rod Stewart – an inauspicious echo for a song so powerful, and so well-covered. But a good coverwatcher learns to spot trends among the liner notes as he gathers in the sheaves. And so, with today’s culminating feature, we come to honor a gradual and growing awareness of the work of the sixties and seventies singer-songwriter among a generation of artists and fans born after his rise and fall from grace – much of it secondhand, through coverage.

Like so many of his long-gone contemporaries, Hardin’s history is dark and disturbing: a long-time heroin addict who showed early promise, he drifted through the Greenwich Village and other, less definitive folk scenes in his early years, ultimately growing to become a featured act at Woodstock and a celebrated member of the radiofolk revival in my parents’ teenage years. Although he recorded nine and half full-length albums before an untimely overdose in 1980 cut his career to the quick, the gentle Oregon-based performer suffered greatly from a combination of stage fright and addiction. For much of his later years, he lost the ability to tour altogether, turning in notably erratic performances when he did find himself on stage, despite continued celebration by critics and peers alike for his work as a composer and studio musician.

But even to the end, stylistically, Hardin’s work is worth its early and ongoing recognition. Listening to his songbook, one is struck by his effortless way with melody, typified by waves of sound that rise and fall, pulse and swell through his performance. Lyrically, too, there is a consistency of tone, with confessional songs of deep heartache and disconnection, and the struggle to make sense of the world – topics that so characterize certain songwriters of his era, but run especially deep in such a conflicted personality. The combination of these elements makes for a particularly potent mix: there’s power in his smooth and dreamy approach to songwriting and recording alike, one well-served by that gentle, slightly hoarse tenor and the soft guitar strum, underscored by gentle piano, brushed drums, and orchestral elements, resulting in a catalog that redefines easy listening as a palatable, palpable force laid over a narcotic darkness.

Such a splash in his time cannot help but ripple into the present. Hardin’s songs are familiar on late-night soft rock radio even into the new century; his most popular works have been covered umpteen times, with many making it to their own place on the charts. Most versions retain the dreamy, maudlin setting, even as they span decades, from Donovan, Karen Dalton, and The Pozo-Seco Singers’ mid-sixties recordings to newer takes from Okkervil River, Horse Feathers, Damon & Naomi, Kathryn Williams, Jesse Malin, Mark Lanegan, and others pushing the maudlin fringes of folk, indie music, rock and pop in the 21st century. Indeed, If I Were A Carpenter, Hardin’s second most famous song, is technically a cover in the songwriter’s hands: Bobby Darin reached number 8 on the US charts with his version, which was released a full year before Tim Hardin 2, and returned the favor three years later by penning Simple Song Of Freedom for Hardin’s use. But we’ll allow both here, since our Covered In Folk sets are designed to celebrate songbooks and originals alike, and Hardin’s versions are no less seminal.

[download the entire 17-song set as a zip file!]

2 comments » | Covered in Folk, Tim Hardin