Category: (Re)Covered

(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

(Re)Covered, vol XXV: New coverage from
Rose Cousins, Ryan Adams, the Stringdusters, Rani Arbo & more!

April 29th, 2012 — 02:41 pm

We’ve got an unusually large post today, both to acknowledge a growing backlog of recent projects from familiar, beloved folk artists, and to make up for our recent vacation-driven absence from these pages. Read on for an unheard-of 20-track (Re)Covered set, focused around a plethora of new releases and recordings from singer-songwriters and bands previously featured on the Cover Lay Down radar screen…

I’ve known of Halifax-based singer-songwriter Rose Cousins for years, though almost exclusively through her rich and ongoing collaboration with a number of local artists; indeed, over the past four years, we’ve heard her on these pages in duet and group work with Laura Cortese, Rose Polenzani, Sean Staples, and Edie Carey, but never managed to find an excuse to tout the work she produces in her own name.

Now our wait is over, with our highest praise for Rose’s newest solo album We Have Made A Spark, her third full-length. The eminently listenable album is a powerful collection of catchy, well-produced folk pop, a diverse and stirring set that ranges from angst-ridden slide-and-banjo driven countryfolk (The Darkness) to rich, wistful piano balladry (One Way, All The Time It Takes To Wait) that provides a potent intro to her catalog, and it benefits greatly from her collaborative tendencies, with layered guest harmonies and instrumental spots from a huge swatch of predominantly Boston-based artists, including the abovementioned favorites, plus Ana Egge, Amy Correia, Duke Levine, Charlie Rose, producer/bassist Zach Hickman, and more familiar names. And her take on Bruce Springsteen, the sole cover on an otherwise-strong collection of pensive, literate original works, is a stunning piece of modern Americana, performed as a duet with CLD fave Mark Erelli – the perfect beginning to our omnibus playlist today.

We’ve’ve been following award-winning young newgrass group The Infamous Stringdusters since their impromptu mainstage set at the 2006 Joe Val Bluegrass Festival blew us away; since then, they’ve returned to these pages several times, with takes on U2, John Mayer, and more pop and rock coverage in spades, even as their sound drifts towards a more worldly combination of genres designed to broaden their appeal with the jamband and country pop sets. Their newest album Silver Sky is no exception to this trend, with a funky, horn-driven, festival-ready take on Police hit Walking On The Moon that retains the reggae beat of the original, but adds layers of fiddle and mandolin for a piece that rivals the best of Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and other forefathers on the edge of bluegrass, jam, folk, and rock. Check out our archives and Silver Sky for more, or check them out on tour as they promote the album, but don’t miss them if you have the chance.

After appearing on these virtual pages several times, local heroes Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem – a family-friendly “agnostic gospel” band that grew out of the ashes of one-time bluegrass quartet Salamander Crossing around the turn of the century – are at it again with Some Bright Morning, released just this past week on local standby Signature Sounds, and I’m pleased to report that it’s another wonderful album that runs tender-to-tempest in its survey of the range of modern acoustic folkband production. Covers abound here, too, with a punchy moonlight jazzfolk take on I’ll Fly Away, a tense dustbowl version of East Virginia Blues, and a jangly, jumpin’ old-time swing take on Springsteen’s Reason To Believe just the tip of the iceberg; there’s also a number of well-written originals, including two reworkings of songs previously recorded by group members – a folk hymn setting of Tennyson’s Crossing The Bar, and a darkly mysterious take on old Salamander Crossing tune Fire In The Sky – to remind us of the potent musicianship and mature craft the quartet brings to their artistry.

Long-time readers may recall that Hannah Read first came to our attention as a founding member of chamberfolk experimentalists the Folk Arts Quartet; since then, the Berklee-trained, Scottish-bred singer and fiddler has mostly appeared on our radar via her work with other Berklee alums and attendees who trend towards bluegrass and old-timey work. But her newest EP Wrapped In Lace represents a major shift towards the dark, rich sonic landscapes of indie popfolk types Regina Spector, Ingrid Michaelson, Adele, and even Imogen Heap, with a generous helping of both the sparse folk experimentalism of UK darlings The Unthanks and smooth Diana Krall jazz in the mix to boot. The result is quite beautiful, a pure, sweet voice floated on top of a thoroughly produced, potent hybridization of british folk, cool jazz, and chill coffehouse sadcore that leaves us aching for more.

Each song here is its own landscape, and every one is rich with nuance and beauty. The EP’s single cover – a take on a Richard Farina composition which helped bring fame and fortune to Sandy Denny, Pete Seeger, and others since it’s origin in the early days of the folk revival – is quite possibly the sparsest on the disc, without the pulsing beats that drive the other tracks, but it’s worth sharing, not hardly for its cavernous, crackling, tense atmosphere, and the thick harmonies and chords that pierce the heart. And yes, that’s Sugar Hill records recording artist Sarah Jarosz on backing vocals – a bonus, indeed!

Conversely, though it’s been a while since we heard from her, Kristin Andreassen – a clogger, multi-instrumentalist, and tradfolk revivalist whom we touted as a central member of the new folk community way back in the summer of 2008 – continues to be a bit of an underground mover and shaker among her peers. Her new collaborative project Jumping Through Hoops – whose debut release Rockin’ To The Fiddle, a delightfully fun set of old-timey fiddle tunes and other tradfolk for the family, was released at the end of December – is nominally a co-bill with child psychologist and fiddler Kari Groff, but it features a star-studded cast from the Brooklyn-based Americana scene, with Kari and Kristin joined by Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still, Jefferson Hamer, and others for a powerhouse set that runs from jumper to lullaby – a journey that may well turn out to have been a missed contender for 2011 kidfolk album of the year. That’s Kristen’s voice on lead on the first track below, and founding Punch Brothers and Infamous Stringdusters member Chris Eldridge on lead on the second.

Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Reid Jamieson is one of our favorite Canadian artists here on Cover Lay Down, both because of his constant coverage, and because of the gentle, lighthearted approach the 2012 Lennon Award Winner brings to all of his performances. Previously, we’ve featured his interpretations of everything from Elvis and Hank Williams to the Sesame Street theme song, from the sounds of 1969 to his smooth, suave version of the Canadian National Anthem; his most recent web-based single release, a take on Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On recorded in honor of the 3D rerelease of major mass-market film The Titanic, is truly transformative, proving that even Dion’s particularly treacly pop can be reworked as a viable folk song in the hands of a true master.

Speaking of Canadian folk artists: our January 2010 feature on Woodpigeon represented one of our earliest forays into the experimental end of lo-fi indiefolk; since then, we’ve returned but once to the “ersatz karass based around the guitar, voice, and songwriting of Mark Andrew Hamilton”, though that earlier, often fragile fringefolk still reverberates, and they still post the occasional cover on their blog, as per the Velvet Underground bonus track below. But The Bard of Montreal, a new mostly-folk 25-track tribute to Leonard Cohen from the good folks at Herohill, is all Canadian, and all good; in addition to Woodpigeon’s whispery, retro, straight-out-of-a-Wes-Anderson-film take on an oft-covered Cohen classic, the collection is notable for Andrew Vincent’s broken slack-string version of Bird On A Wire, a weirdly endearing autoharp- and drumkit-driven So Long Marianne from The Strumbellas, a jangly banjo and fiddle Closing Time from Old Man Luedecke, and more coverage from Kathryn Calder, Tyler Butler, et. al. Plus: like previous Herohill cover albums, the whole damn thing is free, making it easy to pick and choose among the scattered gems.

Bonus track:

The monthly Twitter-driven coverage from Verve Pipe founder Brian Vander Ark, who we featured just a few months ago, continues to impress, with the recent release of REM cover Sweetness Follows and U2 cover All I Want on his SoundCloud page a potent reminder that modern folk is as much about production choices as it is about core lyrical and melodic sensibility. Which is to say: pop singer-songwriter + pop song + stripped down sensibility = folk session, and we shouldn’t be surprised, even – perhaps especially – if the tinkling bells and pulsing piano and harmonies here echo Peter Gabriel’s stillest, most achingly beautiful landscapes. And the etherial harmonies of Vander Ark spouse Lux Land, a potent singer-songwriter in her own right, speak for themselves.

Philly singer-songwriter and Cover Lay Down partner-in-coverage Denison Witmer recently provided the best quote ever for our ongoing mandate alongside a week-long free release of his 2003 take on The Band classic It Makes No Difference after Levon Helm’s passage earlier this month. The track is now back on sale, and worth it; the quote, which will soon find its way to our masthead, is perfect: “As artists, we cover one another not because we think we can do a better job than the original version, but to pay respect to those who make music that touches us dearly.”

Denison – whose 2008 five-track bedroom covers collection still lives exclusively here in our archives – also recorded a crystal-clear take on Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds in an April 5 Daytrotter session. The recording is sweet and delicate as always, and utterly respectful to boot, though of course we’re proud to have been the first to share his earlier take on the song way back in April of 2011…and happy to report that fatherhood seems to suit Witmer’s pensive, deeply spiritual outlook well, indeed.

If it’s been a while since we returned to the work of Ryan Adams – and if we’ve never truly featured his folkier side or his songbook in coverage, an error of omission which is long overdue – it’s because the chameleonesque artist has been in a much more experimental, rock-oriented mode of performance for much of the past decade. But Adams’ recent iTunes session is a true celebration of the same pensive, more acoustic side he’s been touring with these past few months, stripping down a set of songs from his back catalog marvelously. His Sweet Carolina is more delicate than ever with soft guitar and harmonica; his take on old Whiskeytown tune Houses On The Hill reopens the song like an old bottle of wine, finding it a private, bluesy dustbowl ballad. And his cover of Bob Mould’s Black Sheets of Rain – the sole non-original in the EP’s octet – is hushed and dark, a true tonal transposition from a man who understands both the value of bombast and its absence.

Unless you’ve been living under a cone of silence, you already know that once-featured, once-revisited African American String Band Carolina Chocolate Drops hit the ground this winter with a new release and a major change in personnel: gone is high-energy co-founder Justin Robinson, here to stay is beatboxer Adam Matta and new multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins. The result, an appropriately titled mixed bag called Leaving Eden, underutilizes all members (Matta appears on just a small handful of tracks), leaving us hoping for a second round with more cohesiveness. But the album also continues the band’s journey aptly, bringing forth a broad tracklist of songs from spare to jubilant that channel the traditions of appalachia, turning the folk of the slavefields and the holler (and their modern equivalents) into songs at once ancient and timeless. And though the set is somewhat ragged as it yaws from slave hollers and fiddle tunes to melodic folk narratives, some of the selections here are quite stunning, with these sparse yet vastly different covers of North Carolinian songwriter Laurelyn Dossett’s title track and South African guitarist Hannes Coetzee’s instrumental Mahalla serving as an apt exhibit A and B.

Bonus Track:

Finally, we come full circle and then some today with recently-featured local hero Mark Erelli, and his newly recorded version of Band classic Ophelia, which he played as an encore at an utterly incredible, high-energy house concert last night co-hosted by yours truly. The version below was put up at his blog just a few days ago, along with a fantastic piece about Levon Helm and “The Band’s all-encompassing influence on modern American rock n’ roll”; those left wanting more are reminded to “like” both Mark’s webpage, where he posts new writing and a free (often quite rare) mp3 for download every month, and our Cover Lay Down Facebook page, where I’ll be posting a live Bill Morrissey cover and a few other traditional tracks from last night’s show in the next day or so.

1 comment » | (Re)Covered

Tributes and Cover Collections:
Pesky J. Nixon, Nick Cave, Josie Little, Peter Mulvey revisited, & more!

March 24th, 2012 — 12:17 pm

It’s finally Spring, though the warm winter shuffled our sense of season a bit this year. And just as the turning of the calendar has brought an early bloom of daffodils and crocuses to the garden, so has it revealed a growing set of cover collections and tribute albums, each featuring a beautiful bouquet of songs of and from artists we love. Today, we gather in these new and newly-found releases, providing news of the good stuff, a coverlovers delight. Enjoy!

Boston-based folk foursome Pesky J. Nixon‘s long-awaited covers album Red Ducks has been on our watchlist for ages, and now that it’s finally here, we’re proud to proclaim it a stunning success, an all-acoustic covers collection that delivers all we hoped for and more. Warm and raucous in turns, yet infectiously fun throughout, the album comes across like a gentler take on the Old Crow Medicine Show and others of the neo-organic americana camps, laden with campfire harmonies, fluid accordion, rhythmic guitar, and bright mandolin riffs, with takes on familiar folk, rock, and pop classics from Tom Waits, Cyndi Lauper, Dylan and more recorded in an intimate setting that is nonetheless perfectly evocative of their energetic live shows.

Regular readers may recall note of Pesky J. Nixon in and around our Falcon Ridge Folk Festival coverage last summer, but this album is a true tour de force for the team, who move in one fell swoop from ragged up-and-coming folksmen to serious contenders in the New England mainstage circuit with this delightfully focused, well-produced set – and sure enough, their Spring tour schedule has them traveling up and down the East Coast from now until summer, making it easy to catch these fine gentlemen as they promote both the album and their upcoming appearance at Falcon Ridge as hands-down winners of the 2011 Emerging Artist competition. Red Ducks drops officially on March 30, but you can and should purchase it in digital form over at Bandcamp if you’re too eager to wait for the physical disc; check it out, revel in its delights, and then hit up their CD release show on the 30th at The Lizard Lounge if you can.

I have no idea how I missed Dig Cave Dig, a Melbourne indie artists’ Nick Cave tribute from local label Beautiful Eskimo Records, when it was first released in Spring of 2011 – perhaps the combination of my lifelong distaste for Cave’s low, gravelly, atonal growl, a lack of international press, and my utter unfamiliarity with the musicians involved kept the damn thing hidden. And to be fair, the album is an unusual mix, bringing an almost even mix of gritty indie grunge rock and gentle folk treatments to the dark and sinister songbook of this long-time Australian underground critic’s darling.

But when the album quite literally fell into my lap earlier this week, I was thrilled to find that about half of the tribute consist of incredibly potent acoustic takes on Cave’s work. And even the louder, more violent tracks are a potent reminder of the power a true craftsman’s songs, making for an overall tribute which sheds new light on the hidden aches and tenderness that lurks under Cave’s often over-the-top performance. Stream it all on Soundcloud, skip around to find the folk if that’s your preference, and then support the fledgling label involved by purchasing the whole thing on iTunes here.

Luke Legs: Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow (orig. Nick Cave)

Little Wolf & Casey Hartnett: Where The Wild Roses Grow (orig. Nick Cave w/ Kylie Minogue)

Van Walker & Liz Stringer: Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For (orig. Nick Cave)

We first found Josie Little in our Couch By Couchwest coverage last weekend; the Kitty Wells song she recorded for the virtual festival was solid and spare, bringing new quiet energy to a classic cut better known for its original country twang. But digging deeper is always worth it, and here we have ample evidence: though I can’t find the video cover of I’m On Fire she supposedly performed in that virtual space in 2011, a quick google search revealed a soundcloud page chock full of tenderness and torn emotion, and coverage galore. Her take on Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe is startlingly quiet and pure – a deep, poisoned well of slowcore folk, perfectly imperfect. Her Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams covers are equally delicate and equally stunning; so is her take on Neil Young’s Powderfinger, stripping away all but the raw emotion, leaving only the 3 a.m. epiphany. I’ve posted a trio, including an utterly gorgeous Kathleen Edwards cover with overdubbed harmonies and quiet strums that leave me aching, but do yourself a favor, and head over to Soundcloud to hear more right away.

Josie Little: Sweet Little Duck (orig. Kathleen Edwards)

Josie Little: It Ain’t Me Babe (orig. Bob Dylan)

Josie Little: Only To Lose (orig. Whiskeytown)

According to its own webpage header, Onder Invloed (Under the Influence) is a video project by Dutch journalist and filmmaker Matthijs van der Ven, who films international musicians performing covers of their favorite bands and songs in live shows and private sessions; I found the set through Sandy, who shared a recent three-fer from Kim Janssen over at Slowcoustic last week, exposing a quiet acoustic session of covers from Iron & Wine, Damien Jurado, and Pedro the Lion that left me wanting more.

Happily, there’s a rich panoply of song coverage to be found here. A quick browse of the dozens of sessions and live sets van der Ven has produced and captured in the last several years revealed gems aplenty, from locals and musicians passing through The Netherlands on tour, the vast majority of them turning in performances which are intimate and tender, though other genres are certainly represented; the page also includes links to a streaming-only 14-track soundtrack that is only otherwise available as a companion to the Onder Invloed book, which was released in January and appears to be entirely in Dutch. I’ve embedded a few favorites below to whet your whistle, but truly, the website is where the action is.

Anne Soldat: I Think It’s Going To Rain Today (orig. Randy Newman)

Kim Janssen: Passing Afternoon (orig. Iron & Wine)

Doghouse Roses: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (trad.)

Finally: we had plenty to say about Peter Mulvey’s newest release The Good Stuff in our full-length feature on the singer-songwriter back in February, so I won’t repeat it here, except to note that we’re huge fans of both Mulvey and this great new album, and for excellent reasons. But the album itself, which now comes with Chaser, a companion EP of even more coverage, has finally hit the market, and since we were asked to hold back on posting songs until the moment arrived, we’re itching to share. Here’s two favorites from the mix; don’t forget to hit up the archives for much more Mulvey coverage, and Signature Sounds to purchase the CD/EP set, for more of the good stuff, including what may well be the best damn cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows ever performed.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Pesky J. Nixon, Peter Mulvey, Tribute Albums

(Re)Covered, vol. XXII: more covers of and from
Daniel Johnston, The Smiths, Stephen Foster, Chris Thile & more!

February 22nd, 2012 — 08:36 pm

It’s been a long haul these last couple of weeks, with new projects and courses to teach at work, and budget season fast approaching at the local school committee table. School vacation was cancelled, and the skies and ground remain dry as a bone despite the calendrical claim of New England February, leaving us grey and wan in the pale light of almost-winter above the equatorial line. And here at home, the stress is sky-high, thanks to an unfortunate incident at the beginning of the month that turned us into a single-car family struggling to make ends and family meet.

It’s times like these when the heart turns to echoes of the past to find evidence of meaning, lest we drown in the drudgery of the day-to-day. So join me as we attempt to spruce up our souls with yet another edition of our popular (Re)Covered series, featuring new and newly-discovered songs that revealed themselves just a little too late to make it into the original posts where they rightfully belonged.

We covered Hard Times Come Again No More in an end-of-year Single Song Sunday a few years ago, naming the mid-nineteenth century Stephen Foster tune – which admonishes the affluent to pause and remember the hard times, that they might be more inclined to support those whose lives are full of sorrow and pain, hunger and need – a perfect companion to the precarious blessing of a good year gone by.

Alas, the world is no less needy now than it was back in December 2009; indeed, since then, the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken up the cry, redefining the lines between those who would and those who can. And so, as with so many well-covered standards which resonate with the injustices of the ages, several strong contenders for the throne have emerged to add to our once-upon-a-time. Here’s two: an unusually rich and melodic Irish transformation from Voice of Ages, an incredible new album from The Chieftains which is notable for its amazing list of special guests (The Decemberists, Bon Iver, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Civil Wars, The Low Anthem, Punch Brothers, and more), and a dark, ragged stunner from the equally-amazing yet sadly overlooked 2011 tradcovers album Dark River, which finds Slaid Cleaves, Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson, and other familiar and new faces from the Austin, TX branch of the contemporary dustbowl folkworld taking on the Civil War-era songbook.

Speaking of Single Song Sundays: Last January’s feature on what is perhaps the best-known work from impish, self-destructive manic-depressive lo-fi genius Daniel Johnston was predominantly populated by covers which retained the fragile, destructive nature of the original performance even as they expanded the sonic potential of what is, ultimately, one of the best and last words in self-solace in the world of music. Not so with Seattle, WA indiefolk-slash-popsters Hey Marseilles, who turned the track into a drunken gypsy indiefolk waltz, high in energy and rich with muted mariachi rhythms and orchestral strings, for the 2010 Starbucks Sweetheart sampler, and then re-released it free on Valentine’s Day 2012. (Thanks to Adam, who previously brought us the Gundersen Family, for the pass-along.)

One of the things I love about being a blogger is that artists I never would have heard of otherwise send me stuff. Some of it is quite good, too. This month’s case in point comes via email from Marin of French slowcore duo The Missing Season, who sent along this vocally-layered indiefolk cover of The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out alongside notice of the band’s third homemade LP The Last Summer, a wonderfully haunting pay-what-you-will download which he describes as “a very slow album, both very synthetic and acoustic.” The phrases cover the cover, too, both aptly and in the best possible way; the cover, in turn, anticipates the studio work, which is winning me over all over again as I type this. And if you like their sound, too, know you’re not alone: the cover, which is available free on Bandcamp, was among the winning songs of a 2009 contest presided over by Geoff Travis, boss of Rough Trade Records, home of The Smiths themselves.

And speaking of The Smiths, whose covered-in-folk songbook we took on back in December of last year: I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to post another few covers from the short-lived UK band, ever since they came to me via various sources in the weeks just after our original post, and it looks like the time is nigh. Owen’s Girlfriend In A Coma is gently playful, and I’m not sure how I missed it the first time around; Sandy at Slowcoustic adeptly encapsulates Pickering Pick’s version of the song as “sombre aching alongside…ambient acoustics”; fans of Jeff Buckley’s dreamiest electrofolk will find Piers Faccini’s live, slow, solo electric guitar and vocal take right up their alley.

Devon over at Hearth Music unearthed this older tradfolk cover from Pharis & Jason Romero just yesterday via Facebook, and I couldn’t resist keeping it moving forward, both because the sound is utterly stunning, and because the setting is perfect for the flowing banjo and guitar which carry us through. You may recall the Horsefly, BC-based banjo-builders and old-timey aficionados from several sets here on these pages last year: first in March, when we celebrated several Jason & Pharis cover videos passed along by a fan, and subsequently via our feature on Hearth Music itself, who sent us their debut-as-a-duo album in August; we liked it enough to name it one of our top mostly-covers albums of 2011 in our year’s end best-of feature, and if this one track alone doesn’t show why, you’d better head back into the archives for a second look.

  • Pharis & Jason Romero: Wild Bill Jones (trad.)

Finally, though I know the bluegrass has been a bit thick on the ground for the past week or so here, thanks to our recent trip to the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival for the sixth year in a row, I just keep coming back to a triplet of powerful videos from Michael Daves and Chris Thile recorded last month in honor of Daves’ five year run at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC. Regular readers may remember our joy at discovering Daves’ high tenor yawp and high-energy guitar at last year’s festival; his 2011 album with Thile was a true joy to hear, easily making The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album in our end-of-year review, and I’m pleased as punch to be able to help spread the word about their ongoing collaboration.

And speaking of punch, and as a Chris Thile-related bonus, I’m also tacking on the Punch Brothers’ recording of Kid A, off the post-grass quintet’s brand new album Who’s Feeling Young Now? Paste magazine calls it an “eerily faithful interpretation of Radiohead’s electronic masterpiece”; I’m inclined to agree.

  • Michael Daves & Chris Thile: Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (trad.)

Hey, you! Looking for more coverfolk in your daily existence? Don’t forget to “like” our Facebook page for microblogged videos and streams from far and wide – this week’s posts include an Iron Maiden song transformed into a beautiful “traditional english ballad” with bouzouki and voice, a frenetic polkafolk take on Bon Jovi, a stripped down Stevie Wonder song, and a cover of The Swell Season’s Falling Slowly with tight harmonies and beautifully light instrumentation from Cover Lay Down faves Edie Carey and Girlyman taped live on tour just this week!

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Michael Daves, The Smiths

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Part 1:
Tribute Albums and Covers Collections

December 18th, 2011 — 12:08 pm

It’s coming on 2012, and all around us, bloggers tout their 2011 taste, jostling to be the best and first match for your own preferences, inviting debate over position in the ranks. And so, as we do every year as the calendar comes to a close, we struggle with the conceit of The Year In Review, surveying a year’s worth of posts, writing a never-ending series of half-hearted drafts, flinching every time we approach the task, yet feeling guilt every time we put it down.

My reluctance to pass judgement isn’t a cop-out. I’m a relatively fickle listener – my bias against live recordings, and their accompanying recording quality, is a constant thread here – but I’m also the sort of collector who takes more delight in discovery than digs. Our focus on the breadth of music often leans harder towards artist evolution than the next big thing because that’s the honest expression of how I think and hear. There’s no true hierarchy of artistic output in my disheveled aural infrastructure, just a spectrum of successes and partial successes. And how does one compare the sublime to the sentimental? The transformation to the faithful revisioning? The sparse to the layered? Coverage comes in as many flavors and subtypes, and each one can be done well.

And so, as a general policy, I avow the critical lens; our mandate, as we see it, is to tout and expose. While others rank and score, we celebrate and share that which we love as we find it, believing that if it weren’t among the best things you’d hear all year, it wasn’t worth posting in the first place. In that sense, the entirety of our year’s blogging is itself our recommendations list. To winnow it down feels, on the one hand, like a dismissal of that joy we found in any of it when we found it.

And yet there is method in the madness of the recovery of the recent in the name of hierarchical organization. Just considering a Best Of post provides a useful and productive opportunity to revisit the archives. And as I noted in November in a casual roundup of the year’s Tributes and Cover Compilations, a generous and precious handful of coverfolk EPs and covers albums have emerged this year; to come back to them before they fade from the memory has its uses, too.

More significantly, while I abhor the very idea of ranking songs, album-length collections seem easier to rate. Hitting the mark singly, in three minutes or so of song, is itself a hard standard; providing a rich, nuanced journey through multiple tracks without stumbling is nigh impossible. Self-selection becomes the primary criteria, then: in those very rare cases where an entire album of covers comes to us as a success, the end result is well worth repeating at year’s end. And here, the successes are so few and far between, we can count on our fingers the albums which deserve not just our respect, but our awe and appreciation, and our last dollars.

So before we get to the year’s best one-off covers playlist later in the week, here’s a quick rundown of some favorite all-covers albums and EPs from 2011, arranged into categories much like those which we would use were we in the habit of ranking. Those looking for folk music through coverage should stay on the line, as we’ll follow it with a compendium of “best” single-shot tracks from the year; those looking for gift-giving recommendations for coverlovers, however, are heavily encouraged to consider this a shopping list with its own soundtrack.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists): Fast Folk Jack Hardy Tribute

Though we celebrate those cross-genre releases which contain folk and acoustic interpretations in the mix throughout the year, as a folkblog, we celebrate most those tributes which are quintessentially folk, and nothing else. As such, many amazing tributes, from Herohill’s Gordon Lightfoot spectacular to Sufjan Stevens indie tribute Seven Swans Revisited, and from this month’s American Laundromat Smiths tribute and last month’s Minnesota artists’ tribute to Vic Chesnutt to this Spring’s Alt-Country tribute to the Rolling Stones, are unfortunately ineligible for our official recognition, despite strong folk tracks aplenty, and high recommendations for broad-minded coverlovers.

Of these, Seven Swans and the Smiths tribute, surprisingly enough, are perhaps the folkiest, and the most consistent; we’ll have tunes from their majesty in our midweek “Best Coverfolk Songs of 2011″ entry, to be sure. I still have high hopes for two-disc Guy Clark tribute This One’s For Him, which may or may not have actually dropped at this point; it’s was supposedly coming in November, but it’s already out of print at Amazon, and I can’t find a digital version anywhere; please let me know if you’ve found a copy.

But if we had to pick just one – a desert island disc – from this year’s crop, and if we have to stick to folk alone, we’d select an album that technically hasn’t even been released yet: the Jack Hardy two-disc tribute, recorded for ultimate release through the Smithsonian’s Fast Folk catalog but leaked by its producer and engineer Mark Dann on a limited basis as a way to get the music out to those fans who truly appreciated the songwriting genius and often-cranky leadership of Hardy, who led folk sessions in his NYC apartment for decades, and founded Fast Folk itself, sparking the Greenwich Village revival of the eighties which so defines today’s greying folkscene. Where other albums pitch and wane against a measure of interpretive grace, here, any imperfections are part and parcel of the album’s success, in fitting tribute to a folksinger who measured songcraft almost exclusively by its authenticity and storyline, not its sound.

Second place honors go to Rounder Records’ Nod to Bob 2, which has an overwhelming number of especially strong tracks alongside some also-rans, and which I kept on rotation in the car for a record-breaking three months running, thanks in no small part to the stunning live take on What Good Am I from The Pines which kicks off the album.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist): Thea Gilmore, John Wesley Harding

Kris Delmhorst’s Cars tribute, Thea Gilmore’s Dylan tribute, Laura Cantrell’s swinging countryfolk tribute to Kitty Wells – as I’ve said before, it was a great year for artists playing full-length tribute to their favorite artist or album, a sub-category which is often so challenging to take on that most years produce but one or two albums of its ilk, good or bad. But though Delmhorst’s softer, more poignant cuts have remained in my ears, and Cantrell’s own tribute, while excellent, runs too close to country for my tastes, for full-album merit, nothing beats Gilmore’s Dylan: the set runs broad, but consistent and sweet even in its hardest folkrock moments.

The Year’s Best Tribute EP: Eef Barzelay, Black Tin Rocket / Clem Snide’s Journey (tie)

Eef Barzelay’s Black Tin Rocket was barely a blip on the radar when it first came out – there’s almost nothing about it on the blogs, and it’s not like the Transmissionary Six, whose songs the Clem Snide founder takes on in this 6-song EP, are a household name. But the longer I listen to this album, the more I find myself drowning in the lyrics and ragged, heartfelt solo interpretations. And in the end, the power of coverage is laid bare twofold through this small release, with just voice and guitar digging deep into the psyche, providing an entry into the work of the obscure duo. And so Barzelay ties with himself, urging a two-fer purchase alongside his Journey covers album. Most notable runner-up in this category: Ralph McTell’s Dylan tribute EP, which is a perfect meld of the quintessential McTell circa Streets of London and six well-chosen cuts from, you know, the best-known songbook in all of folkdom.

The Year’s Best Covers Album: Holly Figueroa O’Reilly, One

Plenty of contenders in this category this year. But as noted last month, top honors here go to Holly Figueroa O’Reilly, whose otherwise unnoted and unreviewed January 2011 digital-only release One hits the covers album trifecta: perfectly raw and delicate interpretations, stunningly successful selection of pop originals, and a heartwrenchingly poignant backstory.

Close seconds go to Marissa Nadler’s aching dreampop-slash-britfolk Covers II, Sara Lov’s I Already Love You, which we’ve come back to several times recently for its Smiths covers, the folkpop debut from 16 year old indie sensation Birdy (who gets major bonus points for releasing a self-titled covers album as a debut), and Reid Jamieson’s wonderful, gentle tribute to the songs of 1969, recorded and released in March in honor of his wife’s birthday. Other runners up include Duncan Sheik’s Covers album, which ran poppy but contains some real gems, June Tabor and Oysterband’s mostly-traditional second collaboration Ragged Kingdom, which hit late and off the radar but deserves our awe and support, and Eef Barzelay’s Fan Chosen Covers album, generated as a side-effect of his 2011 Journey covers kickstarter project (and now up to 20 tracks).

The Year’s Best Covers EP: Chamberlin, Cabin Covers

I had a handful of favorites here, including Chris Smither’s late-year rock ‘n roll tribute, and the Watson Twins’ Night Covers. But Chamberlin’s Cabin Covers EP, a surprise contender from Cover Me’s well-curated Best of 2011 lists, has caught my heart for a last-minute win. The album, which runs ragged and indie and beautifully reflective of its isolated, flood-torn rural recording session setting, totally passed me by before now, but it’s out of the gate like a racehorse, a hipster’s folk album with warm yet delicate covers of Vampire Weekend, Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks, and more, and all proceeds go to support VT communities affected by Hurricane Irene. We almost had a late entry with the brand-new Okkervil River covers EP, too; ultimately, it went too alt-country to be truly eligible, but it’s still well worth mention.

The Year’s Best Covers Rerelease/Reissue: Various Artists, They Will Have Their Way: The Songs of Tim and Neil Finn

A new category, as covers albums don’t generally get reissued (and digital distribution makes moot the conceit of issuance as incidence, anyway). But I just can’t resist the two-CD set They Will Have Their Way, which combines two previously-released single-gender Tim and Neil Finn tribute albums into one double-length set in honor of this year’s mixed-bag downunder tribute tour. The all-female and all-male Australian singer-songwriter tributes, originally from 2005 and 2010, remain available separately, but the combined power of these two albums is more than doubled, cementing the strong songwriting legacy of the Brothers Finn, who made their name in Split Enz and Crowded House.

The Year’s Best Kidfolk Covers Album: Laura Viers, Tumble Bee

In a year where the kindie movement has continued to turn towards both original compositions and a harder edge, Laura Viers’ tradfolk kindie record Tumble Bee is a hands-down winner here, mostly because the other choices yaw past the line between folk and other genres. Of those, the Tom T. Hall tribute remains worth your time if your kids and family like a good sunny acoustic country set.

The Year’s Best Kidfolk Covers EP: Maiden Radio, Lullabies

Kids EPs are rare, indeed. But we’d create a new category just for Julia Purcell, Cheyenne Marie Mize, and Joan Shelley, the Louisville ladies of Maiden Radio, a harmonizing folk trio whose 2011 8-track Lullabies is gentle and sweet enough for kids in dreamland and for moms and dads after bedtime, too. Recorded for the young daughter of one of their own, released on Daniel Martin Moore’s new label Ol Kentuck, its traditional folk songs snuggle up against the timelessness of tracks like Gillian Welch’s Dear Someone, each one a tiny two-minute gem. Not bad for a sophomore effort.

The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album: Chris Thile and Michael Daves, Sleep With One Eye Open

Laura Viers almost won this category, too – after all, as Grammy sweeps tell us, there’s nothing restricting a cross-over album from taking first honors in any and all of the arenas it covers. But Sleep With One Eye Open, the amazing bluegrass standards album from Michael Daves and Chris Thile, which we blogged about after Daves mentioned it early in the game at the Joe Val festival in February, edges it out by a nose. Second place goes to Daniel Martin Moore’s dreamfolk In The Cool Of The Day, which covers the gospel spiritual canon in lullaby mode, and exquisitely so. And if it’s older, unsourced tradfolk you prefer, then there’s the dark horse candidate: the organic, delightfully homespun duo album from Thomas Fox, which we featured back in summer – an album recorded as soundtrack for a local theater production of Our Town, and named after the Thornton Wilder play itself. Gentle, endearingly ragged americana, gritty and mild.

The Year’s Best Mostly-Covers Album: Red Molly / Pharis and Jason Romero / Nell Robinson (3-way tie)

A number of artists released albums this year which feature coverage heavily, yet sprinkle originals liberally in the mix. Red Molly’s newest, for example, runs roughly 50% each way; Molly Vintner original tearjerker Hold It All is easily the most potent song in the set, but overall, their covers of Gillian Welch, Dolly Parton, Buddy and Julie Miller, Mark Erelli, and a few traditional appalachian tunes are the album’s centerpiece and strength. A Passing Glimpse, the debut album from married banjomakers and tradfolk duo Pharis and Jason Romero, may include a number of originals, but they sound just as ancient – and come across just as stunningly sparse and tender – as the tradfolk and gospel covers which give the album its potency, and the players their credibility. Similarly, Nell Robinson’s On The Brooklyn Road paints the past and present in perfect sepia tones, though it has less coverage still. We’ll call this one a three way tie, with runner-up honors to Spuyten Duyvil’s rootsy crowd-driven New Amsterdam, and save Nell’s best track for our upcoming “Best Songs” feature.

Want a GREAT set of music from 2011? Download our entire set as a zip file:

And stay tuned later this week for Part 2 of our series, in which we compile a host of the year’s best singletons and b-sides from the worlds of YouTube, Soundcloud, album cuts, and more!

Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’ end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift EP-length set of favorite 2011 Holiday Covers otherwise unblogged.

Thanks, folks. May your days be merry and bright.

1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Compilations & Tribute Albums

(Re)Covered, Vol XXI: the Back On The Grid edition
(covers of and from Vic Chesnutt, Big Star, Folk Uke, Red Molly, & In My Life)

November 7th, 2011 — 04:54 pm

It’s been a weird year here in tiny rural Monson, MA, and it keeps getting weirder: after a devastating tornado in June, and a hurricane and flood in August, last week’s freak snowstorm hit us hard indeed, felling thousands of trees across the vast landscape, and knocking out power and phone lines for the vast majority of residents. To help out, once again, I’ll be re-gifting 40% of all donations to Cover Lay Down from now until the end of the month to support local rebuilding efforts – a gift sorely needed, with winter nigh upon us, and scores of local families still living in trailers while they rebuild their homes and lives after this unprecedented trifecta of natural disasters.

As for me: after 8 days without heat, running water, stereo system and internet, I’m itching to get back into the fold, and this towering backlog of albums and singles is here to help. So let’s get right back to the music after a week of radio silence with a long-overdue nod to those feature subjects which just keep coming back – a return to our regular (Re)Covered feature series, in which we take on new releases and discoveries which add value to previously-posted explorations of the artists and songs we love.

A new release from local fave acoustic folkroots trio Red Molly is always welcome, especially given how effectively their sound has matured with the addition of new member Molly Venter’s achingly adept voice. But I’m kicking myself for not making the connection to last month’s feature subject sooner, given that their new record Light in the Sky, released at the beginning of October and still receiving strong support from the Americana and folk charts, has not one but two Mark Erelli covers, each one a delight of harmonies and folkgrass stringplay, with the banjo, dobro, and guitar eminently equal to the heavenly three-part vocals which have so typified the Red Molly sound since their original inception around the folk festival campfire.

As always, the album offers a predominance of coverage, with a small handful of originals from the ladies interspersed into the mix; as always, the whole run is smooth and heartful, channeling the full range of countryfolk emotion, from angst and anger to hope and heaven, with equal aplomb. But if you’re a regular reader of Cover Lay Down, I suspect I’m preaching to the choir. And if you’re not yet a fan of these ladies after all our past coverage – from our original 2007 feature to this summer’s amazing take on Jack Hardy’s songbook – this pair of covers from the new release should make it clear: you’re long overdue for your own date with heaven.

This month’s charity tribute to Vic Chesnutt from Minnesota-based nonprofit Rock The Cause marks the second such tribute since his December 2009 passing, and at least his third overall, if we count the Sweet Relief album recorded live for his benefit over a decade before his passage. But while Cowboy Junkies’ recent full-album tribute Demons recasts the works of this crippled singer-songwriter in fairly predictable (albeit no less successful) washes of alt-country sound, Minnesota Remembers Vic Chesnutt, which drops tomorrow, is diverse and sweet and surprisingly consistent in its success, running the gamut from alt to indie to rock-solid rock, while retaining throughout the tender-yet-grounded lyrical sensibility of Chesnutt’s originals.

Featuring 17 tracks from a host of name-brand players – among them Haley Bonar’s amazingly gentle take on Chesnutt’s patriarchal-viewed Pinocchio story, and an utterly stunning, aptly broken solo take on Rabbit Box from Charlie Parr which I’m holding back to tempt purchase, the better to benefit the music-related causes which Rock The Cause supports – the album is sure to please both fans and newcomers; the below singles have both been heard elsewhere, but they’re well worth repeating.

Our Folk Family Friday Feature on the Guthrie clan, posted last November, cited Arlo’s daughter Cathy and her performing partner Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie) as key members of the newest generation of performing family members, noting that “the duo, who call themselves Folk Uke, are a bit more punk and a lot more obscene than the rest of their kin, but the music is fine indeed, and firmly grounded in the folk tradition.” Now, six years after their self-titled debut dropped, Folk Uke arrives again with their sophomore release, entitled Reincarnation, on November 22, and we’re happy to call it a tour de force of folk, with special guest appearances from both famous fathers, from producer and multi-instrumentalist Abe Guthrie, and from second-gen singer-songwriter Shooter Jennings to boot.

All family connections aside, the duo are excellent singer-songwriters, and indeed, it’s Cathy and Amy who make this record special, grounding it in their signature gentle, airy strum styles and light, whimsical vocals, providing a delicacy that belies their raw, earthy, almost anti-folk sensibility and lyrical truth. There’s love in here, for sure, but it’s a love rich in secular realism, making for an apt addition to the Guthrie/Nelson family legacies, and – from their sparse opening cover of a Harry Nilsson song originally performed by Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl in the 1980 film Popeye, to the palette of uke, bass, and guitar which tinkle and strum under the clear vocals throughout – a strong, sweet, eminently listenable album in its own right.

It was hard to justify running down the power on the iPad while the lights were out, but I made an exception for this amazing Beatles cover several times over. Here’s why: while Brooklynite Bess Rogers, whose new album Out Of The Ocean is buzzworthy enough to have made her the featured ‘Single Of The Week’ artist on iTunes/Japan last week, generally goes for indiepop production with organic, acoustic undertones – much like Ingrid Michaelson, for whom Bess tours as lead guitarist and back-up singer – her take on In My Life, which was originally released as a single this August to little fanfare, is positively etherial, stark and lovely in all the right places, with the uke and harpsichord keys, the layered vocals, and a delightfully clicking beat counterpoint containing all the warmth of the perfect late summer evening.

Interesting, how a song we featured this summer in multiple versions as part of our commemorative post-tornado series came back to haunt me once again in the midst of yet another weather-related disaster. Even in the freezing dark, this one kept me warm and smiling.

For bonus points, a quick search of the universe reveals several strong albums already under Bess’ belt, plus an equally delicate, warm take on The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick from a 2010 all-covers NYC artists’ benefit for the nonprofit urban kids writing collaborative organization 826NYC – our very first Christmas cover of the season – that shimmers with firelight, setting the bar high, indeed.

Finally: I only watch one TV show regularly, and I watch it on Hulu, giving me an eight day delay for discovery on this amazingly atmospheric take on Big Star classic The Ballad of El Goodo from up and coming guy/girl folkpop duo The Wellspring. The poignancy may not characterize all their work – the stream on their page which touts their newest EP runs up to full throttle, as befits a band being produced by the same folks that brought you other indie folkpop icons (like Ingrid Michaelson, again, et. al.) – but it certainly brought just the right tone to the final moments of yet another heartbreaking episode of the best damn hospital drama around. And the ringing fullness of its sound pairs perfectly with Evan Dando’s ragged, sparse alternate cover, which we last shared way back in March 2010, when Big Star founder and patron saint Alex Chilton passed on into the big band in the sky.

Like what you hear? Then stay tuned, ’cause Cover Lay Down is back in business with more to come! We’ll return later this week and next for more new releases and folk features, including a look at the life and songs of cowboy countryfolk outlaw Guy Clark.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Red Molly, Tribute Albums

(Re)Covered, vol. XX: more covers of and from
Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters, Rufus Wainwright, Dylan & more!

June 11th, 2011 — 08:54 pm

Our tendency towards revisiting posts gone by through the lens of new releases and projects is especially apropos this weekend, given the continued recovery efforts in our little tornado-ravaged town.   While the rest of us sift through the rubble, let’s sift through the archives, taking account of some new and noteworthy works from artists featured previously here on Cover Lay Down. 

We first featured young started-out-bluegrass band the Farewell Drifters on the release of the hook-heavy Yellow Tag Mondays, their 2010 release; back then, they were already leaning towards a broader stew of Americana and indie roots music, and you could hear both their influences and their growing trend towards folkrock in the Beatles covers we posted, which had been recorded a year apart from each other.

Today, in a (Re)covered two-fer, the Drifters bring us a song that we visited through other coverage way back on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, and like the rest of their newest album, it’s another step towards something rich and subtly different, both more mainstream and more original in sound and sensibility, couched in deeply layered pop-rock with just a hint of ‘grass, though relatively true to the original in most other ways. The cover – a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy In New York – is nowhere near as sweet or somber as the Shawn Colvin cover that so deeply speaks to my soul, but these days, being in the thick of the disaster, I need hope more than I need sadness, and this bonus track from Echo Boom, released just last week, provides just the trick, making for some fine summer soundtrack material.

  • Farewell Drifters: Only Living Boy In New York (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)

    (from Echo Boom, 2011)

Bonus Tracks:

Sam Billen is a stand-up, sensitive indie musician and producer who has shown up on Cover Lay Down several times, both for his several holiday projects and for REMOVERs, the electrofolk remix and coverage project which he has been building and posting – in public and entirely for free – for over a year as he adjusts to the home studio joys of new fatherhood. He’s long been on the top of our watchlist, in part because of the sheer authenticity of both his voice and the evident care and craftsmanship with which he produces his material, and in part because, unlike most musicians, he comes off as perfectly sincere, even humble in both his work and his occasional emails announcing new developments in that work.

But Sam gets major kudos for reaching out this time around – because in the midst of the chaos we’ve experienced since the tornado hit our tiny town, it was genuinely touching to receive an email that contained both a full paragraph reaching out to us in the context of that disaster, thanking us for our reporting of it and sending hope that we are all okay out here, and a link to the newest songs which Sam, his brother, and his father have taken on: a set of loving living-room covers of predominantly countrypop hits, just three guitars and voices taking on Neil Young and others, as honest as a campfire circle among family. Here’s two of my favorites, with encouragement to check out the rest of ‘em over at The Billen Brothers’ YouTube channel – plus an older bonus from the now-completed REMOVERs project.

  • The Billen Brothers: Ventura Highway (orig. America)

  • The Billen Brothers: I Will (orig. The Beatles)

Our 2007 feature on the Wainwright/McGarrigle Family was the very first of our Folk Family features; since then, we’ve revisited the extended clan multiple times, making note of Loudon’s Charlie Poole tribute, youngest daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche‘s delightful work as a solo singer-songwriter, and Kate McGarrigle’s passing last winter after a long struggle with cancer. Now, we return once more to report on a new work from what is perhaps the least “folk” of the modern Wainwright clan: Rufus, who has made a name for himself in movie soundtracks and pop circles as a balladeer, forging far beyond the folk roots which mother Kate and father Loudon set before him.

To be fair, Rufus has crossover appeal to folk audiences; as such, we’ve covered him here, too. But though the new Rufus box set House of Rufus – 19 full-length discs, both CDs and DVDs, a relatively complete compendium of demos, in-studio rarities, side projects, soundtrack cuts, live material, and 6 studio albums – primarily focuses on his work as a nuanced pop crooner (including the entirety of his infamous Carnegie Hall Judy Garland tribute), the sheer breadth is wide enough by far to be well worth collecting, including a vast and varied compendium of his collaborative work with family members and friends, many of which we’ve celebrated here before, and a few of which (most notably, a delicious duet on Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll performed with his father which, unfortunately, I’ve been asked not to release too early) are otherwise entirely unavailable. Here’s a couple other favorites from the box and beyond, just to show the diversity potential in such a sweeping set of coverage.

Finally: social and professional pressures caused us to skip past two Bob Dylan tributes as his birthday came and went towards the end of May; recent tornado events in our local area kept us from coming back until now. But the pair is worth noting, even now, in part because both feature well-known, long-standing artists taking on the Dylan canon with aplomb.

First and foremost, Ralph “Streets of London” McTell released an EP-length set of Dylan covers two weeks ago, and though nobody seems to have noticed except astute Aussie folkwatchers Timber and Steel, the set is absolutely worth finding and purchasing. Somewhat akin in tone and timbre to the late Johnny Cash’s reinterpretation of the work of others late in his own life, yet imbued with McTell’s distinctive britfolk tones and fingerpicking, the six songs here are darkened with age, and deep with the pensive eye and mind of a fellow folksinger who has seen his share of fame, which is to say: as T&S notes, McTell’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright sounds like the song was written for him. Check out the full tribute here.

Second and no less noteworthy, Red House Records took advantage of Dylan’s 70th to release a decade-later follow-up to their defining Dylan folk tribute. Like the “original”, A Nod To Bob 2, the second release in this series, stars a set of recognizable folk artists taking on the canon – though notably, this time around, a few cuts can be found elsewhere, such as Danny Schmidt’s Buckets of Rain, or Eliza Gilkyson’s Jokerman, and some of these artists, such as John Gorka, are no longer in the prime of their careers, and their voices show it. Still, the roster here is sound, and the interpretations well-selected, with deeper cuts than the last round, and standouts all around, including a wonderful wail from the Jimmy LaFave, the Texan master of Dylan troubadour coverage, a delightfully bouncy, bluesy take from Hot Tuna, a truly sultry country blues from Pieta Brown, and Meg Hutchinson’s wonderful, echoing piano-driven reinvention of rarity Born In Time – the latter pair of which we could not help but pass along.

While we’re all about the artists here, and our server costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

15 comments » | (Re)Covered, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters

Dylan, Etc.: More covers of and from
Sarah Jarosz, Lavinia Ross, Lisa Hannigan, Anna Vogelzang & more!

May 16th, 2011 — 07:46 pm

There’s a lot of Dylan in the air this month – see, for example, both our recent feature on Thea Gilmore’s John Wesley Harding, released in honor of the seminal singer-songwriter’s 70th birthday next week, and last weekend’s house concert preview for our upcoming show with Anthony Da Costa, who many have compared to Dylan himself. But as we’ve noted several times here at Cover Lay Down, the Bob Dylan canon is far too vast to justify a single feature. So here’s an omnibus of a different sort: five vastly different new and newly-found takes on Dylan, plus more from the mailbox and beyond.

We’re huge fans of the Sugar Hill Records catalog here at Cover Lay Down. But this two solid releases this month have raised the bar even higher for the best little bluegrass label in the business: Follow Me Down, a stunningly powerful sophomore album from festival circuit fave and local college student Sarah Jarosz, and a strong solo record from Tara Nevins, better known as the sole female voice behind roots rockers and folk festival faves Donna The Buffalo.

Cover Me already hit the ground running last week with Sarah’s Radiohead cover, which features her singing alongside the Punch Brothers, but as a nod of the head towards our ongoing support of her burgeoning career on the border of bluegrass and indiepop – the girl turns twenty next week, for goodness sake – we’ve been given exclusive first-stream rights for Jarosz’ cover of Dylan’s Ring Them Bells, and it’s a masterful take, warm and sweet and aching, with rich production, a pitch-perfect tonality, and subtle harmonies by Vince Gill. Meanwhile, Nevins takes on Van Morrison amidst a spate of deep, mystical originals, and it fits in just fine with her rootsy sensibility. Both albums come highly recommended; head over to Sugar Hill to order.

  • Sarah Jarosz: Ring Them Bells (orig. Bob Dylan)

Our feature on the songbook of Kate Wolf last summer found us wandering North through Kate’s own hills of California, and on upstream to Oregon. Now, in the mail, comes Keepsake, the sole solo album from Lavinia Ross, Oregonian farm-owner and musician whose music is as earthy and honest and organic as her produce. The album includes three Kate Wolf covers, a take on James Taylor’s Millworker, several originals, and a rock-solid interpretation of Dylan’s Tomorrow is a Long Time, recorded with her husband, singer-songwriter Rick Ross, and the whole thing is light and gentle as it comes. Here’s a pair to get you started.

We keep a close eye on little-lo-fi-UK-label-that-could Where It’s At Is Where You Are; though their catalog yaws wide, their taste for covers is insatiable, as we noted way back in March of 2009 upon the release of their gigantic Springsteen tribute, and again over the holiday season, and their stable includes a number of quite wonderful otherwise-unknowns emerging on and about the folkworld. This month’s news takes note of The Lobster Boat, the newest release from Howard Hughes of French band Coming Soon and David Tattersall of The Wave Pictures, whose work together sounds a bit like a mostly-acoustic folk-rock band whose members grew up listening to the Kinks, Belle and Sebastian, and the Violent Femmes; if the below bonus b-side and the title track streaming on their homepage are any indication, this one is well worth the pounds.

  • Howard Hughes and David Tattersall: The Locusts Sang (orig. Bob Dylan)

Elseblog, the collaborative at covers tumblr Copy Cats shared this 2009 bell-driven Lisa Hannigan cover of Just Like Tom Thumb Blues a few weeks ago, but it finally caught my ear – a sharp shock amidst a long slog – as I was digging through the feedreader, trying to catch up after two weeks of being out of the loop. Not sure if it’s folk, per se, but we’ve celebrated Hannigan’s beautifully torn voice here before, and the sparse instrumentation and stark pub setting are utterly delightful to this folk listener’s ears.

Finally, since we were trending Dylanesque this week, I headed over to YouTube and did a quick search, just to see what would pop up, hoping to find the perfect coda. Sure enough: amidst the grungy bedroom amateurs, indie-folk banjo-player Anna Vogelzang‘s just-recorded after-midnight cover of Don’t Think Twice comes off road-weary and delicate, providing the perfect excuse to finally tout this long-admired up-and-comer. The ex-Dresden Dolls bandmember’s upcoming new album will feature Anthony Da Costa (thus bringing this entry full circle), and members of Dresden Dolls and Righteous Babe, among others; check out Anna Vogelzang’s YouTube channel for more, more, more from this amazing post-punk singer-songwriter.

Bonus Track:

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and themed songsets twice weekly.

44 comments » | (Re)Covered, Anna Vogelzang, Bob Dylan, Sarah Jarosz

(Re)Covered, Vol. XIX: More coverfolk of and from
Stevie Wonder, Sara Lov, Edie Carey, The Water Is Wide & more!

March 12th, 2011 — 06:26 pm

Early this week, my trusty, relatively rusty laptop went kaput, leaving me stranded with but an iPad to access the universe. With 50,000 songs and their library locked in limbo, and the iPad unable to load the full WordPress interface, I was in no position to let folks know what was happening behind the scenes; the resulting radio silence through what is usually a midweek blog feature deadline was frustrating, and I apologize for leaving regular visitors hanging on the line.

Today is a recovered day in more ways than one, then: not only is the world outside melting down to Spring, revealing last year’s leaves still unraked across the slowly surfacing front lawn, but I am once again able to blog with impunity. And for this, I owe much thanks to the fine folks at Apple, who – over the course of a very stressful week – imported every last file and bookmark from the old, inoperable machine into a new one, and proudly presented me this morning with a sleek 2011 MacBook Pro that feels delightfully new under my fingertips, yet on the screen looks and behaves like an old friend, down to its interface and organizational infrastructure.

And so here we are, grateful and relieved, with credit card maxed out but once again able to step wholeheartedly into the blogging fray. And given the context, it’s a perfect time to explore the ways in which the past echoes through the present through another edition of our popular (Re)Covered series, featuring new and newly-discovered songs that revealed themselves just a little too late to make it into the original posts where they rightfully belonged.

Sara Lov runs a little pop for the trad set, but people seemed to appreciate her joyful way with the songs she clearly loves, and we loved her playful, well-crafted covers of Beck’s Timebomb and Arcade Fire’s My Body Is A Cage enough to feature her prominently in the midst of our New Artists, Old Songs Week way back in 2008. So it’s especially exciting to note that her mid-February release, I Already Love You, is a full-bore covers album, one that pays tribute to an especially broad set of influences from Frank Sinatra and The Thompson Twins to others, like Ron Sexsmith, The Smiths, and Conor Oberst, more commonly cited among the indiepop world.

The production here is especially inspired, akin to the best settings and soundscapes of Aimee Mann or Rosie Thomas. Sara’s Sexsmith cover contains just enough of both Sexsmith’s signature slippery vocal mannerisms and the signature twang of the original guitar to ring familiar without sounding derivative; her Vasti Bunyan waltz, a delicate, lazy revelation, benefits greatly from its strings and piano; her take on Magnetic Fields classic Papa Was A Rodeo has AAA Radioplay in every perfect downbeat. But in the end, it is Sara’s voice, sweet and warm and ever so slightly rasped, which makes these songs ring out loud and true. Check out these tracks, and then – once you’ve heard their value, and extrapolated accordingly – head over to Sara’s website to pick up the whole thing for a donation of your choice.

Bonus Tracks, since they’re long gone otherwise:

I tend to do as much research as I can when presenting new discoveries, the better to provide thorough context for you to embrace new artists, as our mandate encourages. But though my Google Fu is highly honed, thanks to vocationally-relevant post-graduate coursework in webbed research methods, our ability to be comprehensive in such introductions can be stymied by multiple factors, from the tendency of older works to fall out of print to the modern digital dilemma which trades speed and ease of access for the loss of liner notes which might aid us in matching names to voices in the works of others.

New discoveries from two recently celebrated folk artists provide ample evidence for the effects of these limitations, and for why we depend on you to fill the gaps in our knowledge. We owe our first find to Lucas Miré, a fine singer-songwriter in his own right who we featured way back in 2009, who followed up on last weekend’s feature on Edie Carey by sending along this amazing cut from It’s Gonna Be Great, Carey’s 2008 cover-heavy out-of-print collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins (often featured here for her own collaborative work with Boston singer-songwriter Rose Polenzani), along with notice that he was recently privileged to host Carey in the studio to accompany him on one of his own recordings, leaving us eager to hear more when the time is ripe. And the second? Turns out it was actually already in my archives – but it took notice from a reader to realize that not only does recently celebrated NY-based bluegrass musician Michael Daves tour with Tony Trischka, he also lends his highly trained, powerfully barbaric tenor yawp voice to several tunes on Trischka’s more recent albums.

Speaking of Daves, and Trischka, and of the bluegrass world which we explored after our recent trip to the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival: We mentioned loving their stage companion Tashina Clarridge in that entry, but I should also note that my own impression of her performance was supported by fellow fiddler Andy Reiner, of Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, who I met over lunch in the lounge later that day – and given how friendly Andy was, and how avidly we touted their work as they prepared to take the mainstage as winners of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s 2008 Emerging Artist Showcase, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that after a single EP, and several years of smaller-scale YouTube and web releases, BMUZ finally released their first full-length album in November, and it’s a beautiful romp, combining old time americana with scandinavian folk and other influences to great effect. The Berklee College crowd just keeps impressing us, eh? Here’s a slippery teaser from Rousted, plus a track we posted way back when we first discovered them.

Bonus Track:

I love my wife, but let’s be honest: because she is one of those people who own one or two albums per mood, and because as a folk-listener she has a strong preference for soaring high-soprano celtic sirens, I don’t usually look to her to introduce me to new music. Nor do I usually end up listening long to recommendations from my mother, who trends towards the syrupy sweet end of folk.

Still, when I heard this version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground filling the living room as a soundtrack to a recent cleaning binge, I couldn’t help but rush to the stereo to figure out how I missed this one in our recent Covered In Folk feature on Wonder’s songbook. Turns out that’s one-time Cover Lay Down feature artist, ex-Nickel Creek and current WPA member Sara Watkins on vox with Darol Anger’s American Fiddle Ensemble, whose “gloriously eclectic album” Republic of Strings was released was back in 2004, and then passed along to us by my mother just a few years ago. Guess that’ll teach me to keep my ears and mind open – and to digitize everything when I get it, so it shows up when I search iTunes.

Finally, as expected, our Valentine’s Day 2011 Single Song Sunday feature on the scottish ballad The Water Is Wide brought some fine versions out of the woodwork. Some of these submissions came from you, our readership, via comments and emails; standouts here included takes from Luka Bloom and Steve Goodman, both of whom we’ve covered before here and there in our tenure, and an amazing Emmylou Harris-led multi-artist take from Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration at Madison Square Garden in May of 2009 which, frankly, just makes me ache for the availability and cashflow to attend such things.

Sheer chance landed us a brand new-to-us cover of the traditional tune, too: mere days after we posted the original entry, I found a set of CDs from dulcimer player and singer-songwriter Thomasina, a former Connecticut State Troubadour, in the mailbox, and her 2003 setting of the song, which is built around a previously recorded piano arrangement from friend Monica Robelotto, is a beautiful standout among strong tracks for those who prefer their folk a bit more formally phrased. Here’s the lot, with grateful thanks to all those who pass along the good stuff, and a recommendation that you also check out both the Cowboy Junkies’ and the Maura O’Connell versions of the song if you can find ‘em.

764 comments » | (Re)Covered, Sara Lov

Holiday Coverfolk 2010, Vol. 1: Christmas, (Re)Covered
(New and newly-found holiday songs from familiar faces)

November 27th, 2010 — 07:41 pm

Every year, I find my struggle to stave off Christmas Creep stymied by the drive to provide the meaningful and new before early-season eagerness can be replaced by weary resignation.

Oh, sure, I wish it were otherwise – after all, December has so much more to offer, from Hanukkah to the very real possibility of an early snow day. But being the last blogger on the block to cover Christmas risks hitting folks when their patience for the songs of the season has already been exhausted. And dropping the best of what we have to offer into an unwelcome lap frames fruitful artistry as fruitcake, heavy and unwanted, when it should arrive fresh and new as the December snow, sparkling and light with joy.

So yes, it’s early for the holiday samplers to begin in earnest. But then, we’ve but a month before these songs get shelved again, and all competitive urgency aside, giving artists their due time in your worthy ears does seem to warrant the immediacy.

In the spirit of the modern season, then, and in the interest of giving the people what they want to hear, here’s the first of what will surely be several holiday-themed features this year. We’ll start with ringing in the new, so that this year’s top crop can be given their full potential, with new work from familiar faces this weekend; stay tuned for old favorites, carols and coverage from young and newly-discovered artists, and more as the weeks progress.

The Indigo Girls – who we covered in full way back in September, 2009 – have waited a long time to take on the holiday spirit, perhaps because their early work, so heavily steeped in raw depression and rage, was anathema to the tone and tenor of the season.

But the long-standing duo has broadened their perspective since then, finding comfort and joy in creating anthems and courting hope where once they spewed forth only anger. Now, in keeping with their long-standing commitment to diversity and social justice, they present new seasonal record Holly Happy Days, a diverse set of songs from various sources and traditions, which yaws from sparse yet cheerful pop to dark folkrock. And though the synthesized production causes a few tracks to come off as cursory, the underlying pain of their earlier work still lingers appropriately in such tunes as Peace Child and the album-closing piano-led hymn There’s Still My Joy – providing balance to the larger mass of upbeat and hopeful numbers, including both their fast-paced take on a Klezmer Hanukkah tune, which would have fit easily into our midweek feature on the Guthrie family, and this mellow cowboy take on O Holy Night.

In his new holiday EP Christmas Gift, alt-country fave Scott Miller, who we’ve not yet covered, takes on John Prine, who we have. I don’t know as much about the Southern-based one-time rock star as I apparently should, though several Americana bloggers I trust seem to think he’s at the forefront of the modern canon. But the gentle gospel lilt he lends to Prine’s old chestnut makes for a pretty stunning transformation of an oft-covered favorite, while other cuts, from a “dueling banjos” arrangement of Joyful Joyful to a slow twangy cover of Neil Young’s Star Of Bethelem, along with several well-crafted originals, shine as well. If the Christmas Gift EP is typical of Miller’s work, he’s got one more fan in me as of right now.

For comparison’s sake:

Just One Angel, a new project spearheaded by Christine Lavin, is predominantly a collection of originals, from many of the same crowd that brought you the In My Room tribute album which we featured earlier this year. Lavin’s lighthearted spirit and tender nature are easily evident, with songs ranging from irreverent to holy, and like the aforementioned tribute, this one comes recommended especially for older folkies, who will recognize the names of many artists here.

Among the gems on Just One Angel, I found a Dar Williams cover from Darryl Purpose, who we first took note of in our July 2010 tribute to the Dave Carter songbook; a quick search of the archives brought me to the softspoken folksinger’s self-released 2002 Christmas album The Gift of the Magi (And Other Seasonal Stories), a delightful set of modern folk coverage which includes both the Dar tune and a second Carter cover. Head back into our own archives for features on both Dar covering and Dave covered, but don’t forget to pick up both Darryl’s holiday record and the Just One Angel compilation first.

Bonus points for Kate Taylor‘s take on Auld Lang Syne from the same compilation as above, originally released at the turn of the century as her very first single after a 20 year hiatus from musicmaking. We hit a few of our favorite covers of the perennial New Years tune last year around the turn of the calendar, but there’s a hidden secret bonus traceback here, too, for those who recognize the harmony vocalist on the track. Yes, that’s Kate’s more famous brother, alright. Uncredited here, but unmistakable.

Like many labels this time of year, Bedroom Community – that’s Sam Amidon‘s label, for those without encyclopedic recall – will be releasing its own collection of seasonal tunes, aptly entitled Yule, which in the case of the tiny Icelandic outlet in question means remixes, exclusive tracks, unreleased album outtakes and scores which trend towards the fragile, icy extremes of the indiefolk world, all available free to download exclusively with every purchase made through their web store until the New Year. The collection includes an acoustic version of Kedron, Amidon’s contribution to the 2008 nufolk spiritual gathering Help Me To Sing: Songs of the Sacred Harp; the tracks from Yule haven’t been released yet, but here’s the original release to warm the heart a bit before it drops.

Finally, and in other news: Sam Billen, whose kickstarter-funded holiday project we wrote about several weeks ago, reports that the album has been sent along to the printers as of last Friday, so expect the freebies to be available pretty soon; in the meanwhile, here’s a pair of delicate, sweetly soaring tracks from his 2008 holiday collection Merry Christmas, now available free to download from the website.

Oh, and in the interest of not repeating myself this year, while also providing fodder for those once again searching for just the right mix for the holiday season, here’s the full set of last year’s Christmas posts:

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and features twice weekly without fail, come snow or unseasonal warmth. Coming soon: new holiday covers from new artists, acoustic favorites from yesteryear, and more holiday cheer!

1,280 comments » | (Re)Covered, Holiday Coverfolk

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