Category: 80s

New Artists, Old Songs: 80′s Edition
(Covers of Toto, U2, Chris Isaak, New Order, John Mellencamp & more!)

April 3rd, 2010 — 08:15 pm

It’s a conceit of modern music critics and bloggers to approach songs and albums as objects, and songwriters and performers as producers of those objects. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Nominally, at least, our purpose is to provoke fandom and sales; from a critical perspective, the act of listening is best done as a focused activity, the better to isolate and describe those elements which make a particular song, album, performer or performance worthy of our limited attention, and our purchasing power.

But the coverfolk approach goes deeper by its very nature. Recasting or replaying familiar and deeply resonant songs evokes time and space, reminding us that, more often than not, in our daily lives, music comes to us as an integral part of an inhabitable environment, rather than as something discrete and objectifiable. To consider songs as part and parcel of our selves – historical, social, psychological, and otherwise – is to pursue the folkways: to recognize the power and the reality of song as tied as much to who we are as it is tied to what the song is. And it is that ethnographic approach, which asks us to re-couple song with its community and its incidence, which we aspire to here at Cover Lay Down.

That means that who I am, in particular – not just as a listener and writer with a particular taste, but as a being-in-time-and-space: a parent, a teacher, a male-gendered 37 year old who lives rurally and as connected to the earth and community as possible – is as vital to what we do here as the situation and histories of the folk-minded musicians who we feature. And so, as a child of the eighties, it’s a special delight to find the mailbox so full of those tunes whose lyrics and melodies live deeply inside me, embedded in my formative memories.

Today, as a mechanism for getting back on track after a short series of topical posts driven by exhaustion and fullness outside of my life as a coverblogger, we turn to that mailbox, and to a series of recent arrivals from new and newly-transformed artists whose coverage of that decade has delighted our senses in the last month or two. Ladies and Gentlemen: new artists, covering the 80′s.

We start today by breaking the mold a bit: I’ve featured The Infamous Stringdusters several times since our inception in 2007, most thoroughly back in 2008 upon the release of their second full-length, an eponymous live album that only cemented their rightful place atop the pantheon of young bluegrass bands. But although the six-man collaborative – who won awards for IBMA Album, Song and Emerging Artist of the Year for their 2006 debut Fork In the Road – is no longer “new”, their new album Things That Fly, due April 20th, represents a full transformation of their sound: a movement from typically crisp bluegrass to something dripping with reverb and high-production dynamics that will surely help to broaden their already stellar reputation as highly energetic, highly skilled craftsmen.

Setting new cover In God’s Country up against 3×5 – a John Mayer cover from Fork in the Road – provides an easy roadmap for the band’s evolution: both are stellar and strong, but the newer work comes across as more lush, vivid, and holistically expansive without sacrificing a whit of the good stuff. The rest of Things That Fly is much of the same, and comes highly recommended; thanks, as always, to Sugar Hill Records for granting permission for us to be the very first to stream this exclusive track.

  • The Infamous Stringdusters: In God’s Country (orig. U2)

    (from Things That Fly, due April 20, 2010)

This is the first attempt at acoustic music from Ryan Avery, a classically trained violinist who more typically performs “breakbeat electronica” under the moniker Chance’s End. But don’t hold that against Avery and his current performing partner and cowriter Emily Zisman (guitar and vox): the experiment is a great success, producing a delicious cover of an 80′s one-hitters’ tune long buried in the psyche that transforms the urgency of the the synth-heavy original into something lighter, yet somehow wistful and pensive, the lyrical longing revealed through the sparse and fluid tones of a late-night recording session. Fiddle-driven and simply arranged, yet utterly gorgeous. Check out YouTube for a simple but effective simulcast that reveals the production process.

File it under new-to-me: though it’s from a 2007 covers album, this delicious cover of Chris Isaak’s breakthrough tune from California-based Celtic/soul duo Gypsy Soul comes courtesy of an unsolicited reader recommendation, and I’m thrilled to have been introduced to their genre-busting work. The track in question starts off acoustic and slow, the sultry, warm vibrato voice of lead singer Cilette Swann supported by producer/musician Roman Morykit’s orchestral strings. But give it a minute: elements of alt-country and Americana licks, and the contemporary pop harmonies, crescendoes and tones of Sara McLachlan emerge as the plot thickens and builds.

The end result is a truly enjoyable journey, more melancholy than the original but equally vivid, new eyes guiding us through familiar territory. The album it comes from runs deep and wide, from contemporary folk to Celtic-tinged pop to dusty, growling Americana, a perfect mix for the modern folkfan who thinks they’ve heard it all. I’m planning on ordering a few copies, myself.

Emerging Vermont singer-songwriter Jer Coons‘ slow, sensitive take on the Jackson 5 classic I Want You Back was released free to the airwaves back in December, a blog-borne teaser to keep the buzz going after the release of his lovely debut Speak; in recent weeks, as part of his ongoing Sunsets with Jer YouTube series, we’ve also been blessed with his cover of Love Vigilantes, a New Order tune I remember fondly, both in the original and and, more recently, as performed by both countryfolk champion Laura Cantrell and indiefolk blog favorite Iron & Wine.

The full-court cover-press seems to be working: Coons is selling out venues on tour up and down the East Coast, and though I’m disappointed to have missed the chance to see him as he passed through Northampton recently, surely my loss is others’ gain. Recent gigs opening for John Oates – yes, really – who has recently begun to leverage his own success in the eighties towards a career as a solo folk musician grounded in the sounds of the early folk revivalists, provide an additional connection to this week’s theme, and merit a bonus track from Oates himself off a recently-featured tribute to the Greenwich Village scene.

Bonus tracks:

I’m embarrassed to note that the original album from which this next song comes was one of my first pre-adolescent purchases. But Ana Silvera‘s cover of Toto’s Rosanna is perfectly gorgeous, etherial and wistful and heartbreaking and broken, and worth sharing on its own merits; I’m pleased as punch to be the first to bring it to the web.

And now’s the time to check her out, as her star begins to rise. British-born but now relocated to Brooklyn, Silvera – an operatically trained singer-songwriter and pianist with a penchant for lush arrangements, classical literary and historical textual allusions, and an utterly stunning “nouvelle chanteuse” voice – has already made major waves in both the NYC and London/Cambridge scenes despite a comprehensive lack of recordings, most recently for a 2007 collaboration with UK freak folk sensation Yo Zushi, and work with several members of Antony and the Johnsons.

Silvera’s first single Hometown, a first release from a pending debut album that promises more of the same, dropped March 11, and I absolutely love it. the YouTube video and the track itself reveal strong shades of Regina Spektor, with piano-led orchestration, fluid vocal dynamics, and blue-sky rise-and-fall tones; reportedly, Silvera also covers No Me Quitte Pas in concert, a favorite of Spektor’s. But there’s also something of Maura O’Connell’s vocal prowess in this cover, and that’s a potent combination, indeed. Purchase Hometown now to whet your whistle, check out Wears The Trousers for more about Silvera herself, and keep an eye on her webspaces for the full release.

Johnny Gruber, who records under the name Knock ‘Em Alive, describes his work as a mix of “electro, power pop, and indie bubblegum rock”, and aptly so. His cover of Paper In Fire is truly a radio rock song, which puts it pretty far to the boundaries here, so I’ll keep the writing short – but I just couldn’t resist this Mellencamp remake, Gruber’s first-ever attempt at recording a cover, and an exclusive here at Cover Lay Down.

We close our celebration of all things 80′s today with a bang, and a return to the broad mountain-music roots of bluegrass. The band: Kingsley Flood; the sound, my favorite kind of ragged, rootsy, post-Americana/indie group vibe. Led by perceptive lyricist Naseem Khuri, the new quintet out of Boston’s Berklee scene eschews comparisons to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, preferring to tout equally valid and exciting connections to a wider base of influences, from Joe Strummer and The Replacements to Calexico, Guthrie, and The Band. Me, I hear ‘em all, and the combination of quintessential American characters and settings, cohesive sound, bluegrass-and-then-some instrumentation, and high-energy hybridfolk arrangements is keeping me up nights grinnin’.

This live cover of Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole is solid, bluesy and bar-ready, but the crowd recording doesn’t do the full studio potency of the band justice. So for more originals from debut CD Dust Windows, which dropped today, head over to Front Porch Musings, who posted not one but four stellar tracks. I’m especially enamored of Cathedral Walls, and the poppy trumpet-driven melodic rawness of A Little Too Old seems ready to take the indie blogs by storm, but it’s all very, very good.

Missed yesterday’s teaser post? Then don’t forget to head on back for a deliciously sparse take on a New Kids On The Block classic!

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