Archive for June 2012

Covered In Kidfolk: WIN Elizabeth Mitchell’s new tribute to Woody Guthrie!

June 28th, 2012 — 12:43 pm

“A trailblazer in the world of gentle, truly beautiful folk interpretations of pop, rock, and classic children’s tunes for the younger set… anyone who has not purchased [Elizabeth] Mitchell’s first few albums cannot claim to have a functionally complete set of good kids music in their home.” (Cover Lay Down)

As noted above in a February 2011 feature on the local kidfolk scene, we’re huge fans of Elizabeth Mitchell here at Cover Lay Down: thanks to her pitch-perfect delivery and her penchant for coverage, the NY-based teacher-turned-performer has been a mainstay of our Covered in Kidfolk series since day one, and her delicate, lullaby-esque takes on songs both lovingly retuned and curiously transformed have peppered our tribute sets to artists from Neil Young and Gillian Welch to Lou Reed and Bob Marley. So although we were mildly critical of her last album Sunny Day, news of a new release from Mitchell – a headliner act on the kiddie circuit whose star has risen so far she now hosts the Family Stage at the Newport Folk Festival – is good news, indeed.

But having steeped in it over the last 48 hours, I’m pleased to announce that Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie is a career highlight from a well-admired artist: a full-length tribute to the kidsong canon of none other than Woody Guthrie himself, featuring eight newly-recorded tracks and five previously issued favorites, to be released on Smithsonian Folkways on July 10th in honor of what would have been Guthrie’s 100th birthday; a collection of short songs that soar like tiny birds, sure to stick in the throat and linger in the heart of parents and children alike.

Like Songs To Grow On For Mother & Child, the seminal 1947 children’s folk album from which it pulls the majority of its source materials, Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie is designed to be a family affair – not just for kids, but for adults to enjoy with kids. In this context, the tribute is apt and adept, with Guthrie’s simple tunes and often quite sparse lyrics gracefully and honestly remade, beautiful in arrangement and execution: a strong contender for kidfolk album of the year, come December.

Her inclusion of harmonies from daughter Storey, cousin Penney, friends Amy Helm and Ruth Ungar, and husband Daniel Littleton, alongside tinkly pianos, funky percussion, fiddle drones, and subtle strummed guitars, make the perfect setting for a family celebration of songs that raised a generation of folkies and rabblerousers. The universal, timeless subjects they evoke – rain, land, grass, sky; work, play, music, sleep – prove the viability of the form, and then set a new standard for it. And for those of us who grew up on the originals, the album is a delight, illuminating the child within.

While you’ll have to wait until the release date to order direct from the label, thanks to the kind curators at Smithsonian Folkways, we’ve got a copy of this amazing tribute to kidfolk and canon to give away to a lucky listener. To enter for a chance to win Little Seed: Songs For Children by Woody Guthrie, just name your favorite kidfolk tune in the comments; we’ll pick a random winner sometime on Sunday. And make sure to include your email address, so we can contact you if you win.

In the meanwhile, listen and sing along to this pair of new recordings from Little Seed, an older video of a Guthrie tune repurposed for this new collection, and a long-overdue tribute to the coverfolk of Elizabeth Mitchell. Embrace the child, inner and alongside.

  • Elizabeth Mitchell: This Land Is Your Land (orig. Woody Guthrie)

  • Elizabeth Mitchell: Bling Blang (orig. Woody Guthrie)

    [from Little Seed: Songs For Children by Woody Guthrie, 2012]

    Elizabeth Mitchell: Grassy Grass Grass (orig. Woody Guthrie)

15 comments » | Elizabeth Mitchell, Kidfolk

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, July 27-29, 2012

June 25th, 2012 — 12:07 pm

Our favorite folk festival is but a month away from us, and though a weekend conflict with the Newport Folk Fest has a few daytrippers struggling to make the right call, for me it’s a no-brainer: after seventeen years of regular attendance, The 24th annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which will once again take place on Dodd’s Farm in Hillsdale, NY on the last weekend in July, is a home away from home, the perfect balance of community and comfort, with music flowing free and some of the best hillside seating this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

This year’s mainstage artists include yet another broad mix of the known and lesser-known, and we’re especially looking forward to seeing a handful of old favorites, including fest regulars Tracey Grammar and The Grand Slambovians, and the triumphant return of both folk-rockers Eddie From Ohio and queer-friendly trio-turned-quartet Girlyman, who we hope will spearhead Sunday’s annual Gospel Wake-up Call. Other returnees will be equally welcome: after wowing the crowd a few years ago with her inimitably girlish countryfolk, Eilen Jewell will be back for a second round; so will sensitive singer-songwriter supergroup Brother Sun, kicking bluegrass quartet Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, suburban roots cacophony Spuyten Duyvil, and singer-songwriters Ellis and John Flynn.

But there’s new delights to be had this year, too. List-toppers include Jubal’s Kin, a young family-founded old-timey-slash-bluegrass trio who we’ve shared here before, and Storyhill, a well-traveled folk duo whose recent appearance on Red House Records Dylan tribute A Nod To Bob Two is gently reminiscent of early Simon & Garfunkel, and whose 2005 covers album Duotones is a perfect slice of the seventies. I’m eager to hear more from the Andrew and Noah Band, whose rootsy Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover below reveals a jammy, sunny groove that seems ideal for the warm hills of Hillsdale. There’s always more than a few delights to be found among the short two-song sets from the 24 artists in Friday afternoon’s New Artists Showcase. And I’m really looking forward to finally catching Rod MacDonald, whose elder statesman status will net him a Friday Night Songswap set alongside Ellis, Holly Near, & Flynn.

Day & camping tickets are available now, and at the gate; Hillsdale, NY is in a perfect natural valley, which trends towards sun, and easily-accessible from New York, New Jersey, and New England; there’s a reason why I write about this festival religiously each year; we really do hope you’ll join us.

But camp if you can: one of the best parts of the Falcon Ridge experience is the endless campground pickings, which start just after the gates open on Wednesday night and run late into the wee hours among the canvas tents throughout the weekend. Several of these are formal enough to attract the big guns; I’ve spent several sleepless nights wandering these micro-venues in my well-spent youth, and note that the rite of passage has also well-served our various first-year visitors and camping companions over the years. Most especially, don’t miss yet another strong Thursday lineup at the Lounge Stage on the hill hosted by Pesky J. Nixon, our 2011 festival’s Most Wanted Emerging Artist winners, and featuring fellow Emerging Artist winners ilyAIMY and Louise Mosrie, and more mainstage artists and emerging singer-songwriters, including the airy harmonies of new Cover Lay Down favorites The Sea The Sea, who just won the new folk contest down at Kerrville.

Check out the full lineup, and pick up your Falcon Ridge Folk Festival tickets here. And don’t forget: if you love live festival coverfolk, you can always get our most recent exclusive all-covers Summerfolk bootleg sampler by donating to Cover Lay Down.

*Full Disclosure: I’m Crew Chief of the Teen Crew at Falcon Ridge, in charge of our “officer’s candidate school for future volunteers.” If you see a bearded guy with a walkie-talkie leading a bunch of kids in matching shirts around the festival grounds, come on over and say hi — I’d love to meet you!

2 comments » | Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk

Midweek Mail Call: New Folk Coverage
from tradfolk to Hendrix, The Killers, The Beatles & more!

June 21st, 2012 — 11:31 am

Ah, summer: when teachers can finally catch up on their blogging. And so, today, we dig through the mailbag for the best of what’s been sent along in the last few months, with a focus on a broad set of artists who are but one or two EPs and albums into what may well become a career, if we have anything to do with it. As always, folks – and especially in the context of this week’s kerfuffle between David Lowery of Cracker and Emily White of NPR – if you like what you hear here, do the artists a solid: head over to their websites after downloading, so that you, too, can proudly say that you’re supporting the continued creation of new art in culture, by putting your money where your ears are.

Close blogwatchers have heard from Benjamin Francis Leftwich before – we dropped his streaming cover of Arcade Fire’s Rebellion into a Soundcloud feature back in January of last year with little fanfare and no comment. But Leftwich is no one-shot wonder: thanks to some solid support from avid promo folks and a well-received debut EP of originals earlier this year, he’s been compared to Jose Gonzalez and Coldplay, featured on Daytrotter, is currently touring across Canada, and his coverage has been all over the web, thanks to several soundcloud one-offs and a free 5-track Covers EP released back in the fall. I’m pretty sure we’re among the first to post this newest track, which arrived just yesterday; recorded for an upcoming MOJO compilation, it makes a great companion to a pair of other, only slightly older covers that reveal the gentle young artist’s depth and talent.

Leftwich leads us to another new favorite: Fossil Collective, a Leeds duo who toured with the aforementioned up-and-comer during his UK tour in February. But where BFL tends to perform and record in a solo singer-songwriter vein, this is full-blown indiefolk of the Bon Iver and Monsters of Folk type, rich and layered, with subtle instrumentation that ranges from strings to keys, and etherial harmonies that soar above honest, almost alt-country rhythms and strums. Those interested in pursuing more should definitely check out ‘Let It Go’, their newly-released EP.

We’d never heard of Radical Face, aka Ben Cooper, with and without friends. But when he sent along this simply beautiful unsolicited one-shot, recorded as a recentering exercise amidst a grueling studio schedule as he cranks out his first album under the new moniker, we couldn’t help but sit up and take notice. A quick search through YouTube reveals a small back catalog of solo work, several now-defunct group projects of various experimental typology, and a delightful new video which spins towards catchy, alt-radio ready Garden State indiepop, with plenty of majesty atop acoustic underpinnings a harbinger of good things to come.

With but one EP to her name, seventeen year old sunshine girl Zella Day is just starting to make her mark on the music world; indeed, the five studio tracks on Cynics vs. Dreamers, which run from high-gloss synthpop to contemporary singer-songwriter folk alternative, reveal an artist still exploring possible settings for her voice. But if it was up to us, we’d vote for folk: as the below novelty reveals, her vocal control and fingerpicking are already smooth, and the tension between the dark lyrics and haunted visuals of this brand new video take on Seven Nation Army and the sweet, haunted yet girlish delicacy she brings to her decidedly understated acoustic version make for an exquisite if brief journey.

Back in the world of hardcopy tradfolk comes a well-received album already making the midyear best-of lists: The Honey Dewdrops, a husband and wife duo from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains whose newest release Silver Lining evokes the warm sounds of hills and holler even as it puts forth a smashing set of original songs that tug at the heartstrings as effectively and as well as anything Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ever recorded. The lone cover on the album is but a coda, a beautiful, haunting a capella closer of trad track Bright Morning Stars – and these old bonus YouTube takes, on Utah Phillips’ Miner’s Lullaby and Bill Monroe’s Can’t You Hear Me Callin’, and the banjo and guitar featured in the couples’ hands on the cover art of this utterly stunning neo-traditional album, gives a decent sense of how those close high countrygrass harmonies sound up against the native strings, I suppose. But Silver Lining itself is truly sublime from start to end, and perhaps only the second perfect album we’ve found this year so far: head to their website ASAP to check it out.

You Gotta Roll, the 5 song all-covers EP from Woody Pines – like the above, another physical product from the fine folks at Hearth Music, whose taste and promotional approach remains impeccably irresistible – has a hopped-up ragtime-stringband-meets-rockabilly energy that comes across as grounded in an equally traditional American sound, albeit from a different era, back when blues, folk, jazz, and country were still intermingling on the early days of dustbowl radio. Heck, the album even starts with the warm fuzz and whine of a radio tuner, confirming our suspicions that both folksinger Woody Pines himself and the boys in this same-name foursome know exactly what they sound like, and how well. Those in the know will be duly impressed when they hear that Billy Joe Shaver has called them “the best band I ever heard in my life”. And with four albums in the back catalog, there’s plenty here to love.

Way back on the indiefolk side of music, we’re pleased to report that the first day of summer means yet another incredible Fuel/Friends summer mix, and this year’s package includes several non-originals worth mention: The Head And The Heart on a rooftop covering Damien Jurado this past April, Vetiver and Fruit Bats covering Bobby Charles in a record store last September, and an utterly delightful Jimi Hendrix cover from new acoustic soul sensation Michael Kiwanuka, recorded just a couple of weeks ago for a SiriusXM session. Kiwanuka is the real deal, folks, as his Leonard Cohen cover from the March issue of Mojo proves a hundredfold; as Heather notes, “his voice is all warm and redolent, and every time I listen to his record it feels like a still July Sunday afternoon, no matter where the clock and the calendar point”; keep eyes and ears open for his bright future.

Bonus Tracks:

Finally, it’s a bit bombastic-slash-majestic for folk, but fans of Regina Spektor and Nelly McKay will find much to love in this piano-and-vox take on LL Cool J classic Mama Said Knock You Out from NYC singer-songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Alyson Greenfield, first posted to YouTube back in March as part of a continued push to promote 2011 iTunes/bandcamp EP Rock Out With Your Glockenspiel Out with four more coversongs of similar ilk and comparable delight, including “Gangsta’s Paradise” on the titular glockenspiel.

Just can’t wait for your Coverfolk fix? Why not “like” the Cover Lay Down facebook page for previews, bonus streams, and more throughout the week!

Comment » | Mailbox, New Artists Old Songs

Iron & Wine covers:
Little Feat, The Four Tops, Nick Drake, New Order & more!

June 17th, 2012 — 07:20 pm

Iron & Wine – the nom de plume of American singer-songwriter Sam Beam, who took an MFA to a career in film studies before switching to the musical arts – was an early adopter in the heavily bearded and blog-driven indiefolk movement, smashing into the scene with debut The Creek Drank The Cradle, an understated home-recorded collection of originals released in 2002 on Sub Pop that made several major critics’ end-of-year lists. The use of his cover of Such Great Heights as a b-side to the Postal Service original in January of the following year helped spread his name and his sound to a wider audience even as it served as a harbinger of coverage to come.

These early works established Iron & Wine as a true force in the new folk world. Several albums and EPs in the next few years, including multiple live bootlegs and a highly desirable collaboration with fellow rising stars Calexico, led to a 2005 mainstage performance at Bonnaroo, and featured artists status on alternative and indie playlists worldwide. And the re-use of a number of his songs in major films and TV shows – from Garden State and Twilight to House, Grey’s Anatomy, and The O.C. – only cemented his reputation as a key player in the post-millennial transformation of both industry and genre.

Beam deserves his recognition. His originals are unparalleled; like many of my generation, I find true depth and potency in his early works, including both his early acoustic 4-track recordings and the rich, full band sounds of sophomore full-length Our Endless Numbered Days, and continue to keep his sensitive songbook close to my ears and heart even as it has expanded into a more electrified folk rock sound. But his intense layered whisper and a strong sense of nuance in both performance and arrangement also reveal poignancy in the songs of others on whose shoulders he stands. And his knack for resurrecting songs whose original production values obscure a surprising tenderness make him an easy favorite of the blogset, and an apt feature subject here.

There’s much to celebrate, too. In ten scant years of industry work, Beam has taken on a wide swath of the musical map in his inimitable way; we’ve shared several of these in other, older posts here on Cover Lay Down over the years, most recently in and among our beloved thematic sets. But what prompts today’s feature is Beam’s return to the fore of the indie coverage movement, thanks to a double-shot set newly released for Suicide Squeeze’s singles series: called Two Sides of George, the a-side features a George Michael tune originally recorded for the AV Club last summer, while the b-side takes on Lowell George composition Trouble. You’ll find both new songs streaming above our usual coverage history below; listen, and hear why Iron & Wine remains one of our favorite coverfolk standbys.

    Iron & Wine: One More Try (orig. George Michael)

    Iron & Wine: Trouble (orig. Little Feat)

[pick up the entire Iron & Wine coverage set as a zip file!]

4 comments » | Iron and Wine

School’s Out:
(Songs for Teachers, Students, and the Rest of Us)

June 10th, 2012 — 11:01 am

Another school year comes to a close on Wednesday, and although I’m planning on spending a few weeks earning extra cash for writing curriculum and attending in-house workshops here and there in the months ahead, for the most part, the end is near, the pace of my life about to shift to summer. By this time next week, I expect to be puttering around the yard, catching up on the long grass and wilderness that springs from order in the inevitable Spring; by July, I’ll be deep into rehearsals for a production of As You Like It, and scouring the camper in preparation for the usual round of summer music festivals. With a little luck, the ears will clear up a bit, and I’ll be able to get back on schedule for our usual twice-a-week entry schedule, too.

Those who follow us regularly may recall that we wrote about letting go of the despair which seems to inherently accompany inner-city teaching back in February, in a post called Making Peace With The Wild Things: A Prayer For My Students; since we’re sneaking this feature in among a heavy weekend of grading and family plans, I’ll let that previous entry speak for my heart now. But it’s worth noting: as we come to the last of the days that count for grading, after attendance woes and drop-outs, a wave of worst-case scenario classroom behavior that kept many of them from the work, and an endless series of frantic moments in which kids turned sullen and raw after coming to see that their skill level was just too low to understand the readings and the questions about them, just 15 of the 75 students still on my rosters are even eligible to pass, depending on their final exam and project performance.

In this context, it was especially poignant to have attended our local youth theater’s performance of School House Rock last night – a play which frames the beloved Saturday morning shorts of my childhood and yours as a sort of fever dream brought to a new teacher on the morning of her first day in the classroom. So much hope, sung so loud and proud by such bright children, and not a one of them failing their classes. Such a contrast to the kids just two towns and an uncrossable socioeconomic chasm apart, who swagger into my classroom with blocks of ice and fire on their shoulders, and will not put them down for anything, even as their burdens hide their talents, and burn away their futures.

A revived tribute, then, to songs of school, penned and sung by those who made it out alive, and cobbled from both older posts about teacher appreciation and more recent acquisitions to the ever-growing covers collection. May they contain all the hope and hopelessness I need to sustain myself for yet another year in the classroom, the hallways, and the teacher’s lounge. May we forever approach our students with humility, efficacy, and care. And may my own students come back with renewed vigor; and may they come back at all.

1 comment » | Theme Posts

R.I.P. Doc Watson
(a look beyond the appalachian fiddle tune)

June 3rd, 2012 — 01:01 pm

When Arthel “Doc” Watson passed on to the great jam session in the sky this past week, the ensuing nationwide recognition for the man and his impact on our culture was inevitable. Watson is and was rightly cited for his ethnomusical bent, most particularly for how the masterful fingerpicker transformed the fiddle tunes which he heard in his native appalachia for guitar and banjo, bringing traditional songs out of the mountains and hollers into the mainstream of popular music via the folk revival of the fifties and sixties, and creating a trademark picking style out of the transformation, in a time when bluegrass, folk, blues and country were at a crossroads.

The combination of timing, talent, and treatment became the perfect platform for fame and fortune, winning him multiple Grammy awards in both the folk and country categories. And many of the classic tunes he helped spread and salvage run strong in the tradfolk revival today; there is no questioning his legacy.

But though it is his prowess with the songs of Deep Gap, North Carolina which most impacted the folkways, Doc’s true impact on the culture goes far beyond the direct line between the appalachian hills and the folk movement which NPR and others so respectfully recognized in the last several days.

A child prodigy who learned from radio as much as he did from his elders, and who spent much of the fifties playing in a country and western swing band, Doc was a prolific performer and studio musician, and his ear for the popular was equal to his ear for the local.

As such, although it is predominantly for his traditional resurrections which we hear of him today, in his many years of recording and performing, Doc focused no small amount of attention on the swinging Nashville sound, using it to channel the hits and a small handful of originals. After a lifetime achievement of over fifty albums recorded live and in the studio, in collaboration and at the helm, his vast catalog came to include a number of hits from the country charts, plus standards from Elvis to the Everly Brothers, from Broadway to Tin Pan Alley, from The Mississippi Sheiks to Mississippi John Hurt.

We covered the traditional songs of Doc Watson way back in 2008 in a Vacation Coverfolk post, when a trip to North Carolina brought us to steep in the sounds of his particular south; those that might be interested in the deeper particulars of his story and style are invited to click back in time to read more. Today, we pay tribute to the man with a second set of song, which features Doc, friends, and family taking on the tunes of his own century. Listen, especially, for the two lullabies, recorded just after the untimely death of his son and life musical partner Merle, which mark a poignant turning point in our set below.

Download the entire 22 song set as a zip file!

2 comments » | Doc Watson, RIP