Category: Rosie Thomas

A Christmas Rose:
Rose Polenzani and the Boston folk crowd cover Xmas

December 22nd, 2009 — 04:51 pm

We’ve featured singer-songwriter Rose Polenzani several times here on Cover Lay Down, but to my regret, our ongoing celebration does not seem to be causing the artistic renaissance I had been hoping.

Today, then, as a last-minute holiday present to both artist and readers, I’d like to ask each of you to take a moment to consider the primary purpose of Cover Lay Down – to wit, the support of great and oft-undersung artists – and, in the spirit of the season, consider purchasing Polenzani’s most recent work, the utterly lovely 2008 release When The River Meets The Sea.

But first, here’s Rose, in a nutshell.

Rose Polenzani‘s history speaks achingly of the difficulty modern artists have in building and retaining audiences beyond their initial foray into the folkworld, and in moving from local sensation to globally recognized talent. Despite an early career feature spot at the 1998 Lillith Fair, and a subsequent decade of mid-level awards and recognition in the New England area and beyond, the sweet-voiced, impish singer-songwriter with an unerring ear for sly-yet-heartwarming lyrics and delicate, deliberate composition – who first came to my attention for her strong 1999 sophomore album Anybody, and her work with Voices on the Verge along with Beth Amsel, Erin McKeown, and Jess Klein – remains sadly undersung outside of her adopted East Coast base of operations.

And though her label output in the last five years has been sparse at best, the circumstances of When The River Meets The Sea, a live-in-studio collaboration with lo-fi, high-energy acoustic roots band Session Americana originally recorded in the summer of ’06 and not released until May of last year, strongly suggest that it is the business, not the talent, which may be keeping Rose from garnering her due in the marketplace.

Still, as her steady output of delightfully playful YouTube video covers and her leadership of the Boston-based collaborative Sub Rosa over the last few years have shown, Rose remains cheerfully upbeat, working and sharing with friends in the same situation, hosting them at every opportunity on small screen and stage. Her taste in partners, her eminently talented performance and craft of all things musical, and above all her positive, lighthearted approach to the work and play of musicmaking only reinforce my sense that this is an artist who is deserving of ongoing celebration, both for who she is and what she creates, and for the community she gathers around her.

Today, then, some holiday covers from Rose and friends, including a hilariously playful Peanuts tribute posted on Rose’s YouTube channel just yesterday, with the genuine hope of many good things to come in the year ahead for Rose Polenzani, her constant collaborators, and every fan of hers that I can muster.

Rose Polenzani and Rose Cousins: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (orig. Brenda Lee)

Laura Cortese, Rose Polenzani, Jennifer Kimball, Rose Cousins and Matt Malikowski: O Christmas Tree

Interested in seeing Rose and friends live in concert? Rose Polenzani’s “secret society of friends and strangers” Sub Rosa – with currently-confirmed artists Chris O’Brien, Aoife O’Donovan, Anne Heaton, Dave Godowsky, Dave Champagne, Dinty Child, Elana Arian, Melissa Ferrick, Joel Ninesling and more – will appear at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, MA on Dec. 29 @ 9:00. Knowing the Cambridge folkscene, I’ll be one of several bearded middle-aged guys in the crowd.

Of course, whether you’re in the area or not, in the spirit of looking back over the year, it’s worth noting that, counting the above bouquet, our ongoing celebration of Rose Polenzani now includes over a dozen gorgeous blossoms. Previously posted covers here on Cover Lay Down (with and without frequent collaborators Anne Heaton, Rose Cousins, Jennifer Kimball, Laura Cortese and others) include Neil Young’s For The Turnstiles, Bill Callahan’s Eid Ma Clack Shaw and Sharon Lewis’ She Is A Rainbow, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson duet Say, Say, Say, Feist’s The Park, and old movie soundtrack oddity turned sweetheart sonnet Lonesome Polecat. Also worth noting on YouTube: a recent collaborative cover of 80s classic Broken Wings. And Polenzani’s take on Death Cab For Cutie’s Soul Meets Body is just to die for.

Speaking of both the Boston music scene and seasonal blooms: late news of an inevitably joyous new holiday collaborative comes this week via email, and though I couldn’t be more disappointed to have missed their performance at Club Passim this past weekend, locals looking ahead to New Years would be well-advised to plan ahead for a final First Night performance from the short-lived holiday project Winterbloom, which features Antje Duvekot, Anne Heaton, Meg Hutchinson and Natalia Zukerman with a now-completed holiday tour and an eight song EP Traditions Rearranged, recorded in a three-day session at WERS and featuring classic carols and holiday originals from these four stellar voices of the Boston folk set.

The whole album is achingly beautiful, a perfect mix of sweet familiarities, seasonal folk songs in their original language, and well-crafted original contributions from Anne, Meg, and Antje, but their arrangement of Greg Brown wintersong Rexroth’s Daughter is especially stunning. Check it out below before heading over to the Winterbloom MySpace page to stream more stunning originals and Christmas coversongs, visit Antje’s homepage for a free download and video of her aptly-titled original Thanks For The Roses (Merry Christmas), set your radio clock for 6:00 pm on Dec 25th to catch a Christmas Day replay of their Nov. 18 in-studio performance at WUMB, and – if you’re in the area – don’t miss their 9:30 set at the Hynes Convention Center, part of the First Night Boston celebration.

And finally: she’s not local, but who could resist one more pair of beautiful bonus roses, for the holidays?

1,058 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Rose Polenzani, Rosie Thomas

New Artists, Old Songs Week, Part 2: Ane Brun, Sara Lov, Rosie Thomas

November 3rd, 2008 — 11:25 am

(REPOSTED with NO DOWNLOADS; see HERE for more)

We’re a bit off schedule here at Cover Lay Down, and for that I apologize; I wrote this post for our usual Wednesday deadline, but the part of my brain that used to be devoted to blogging appears to have been partially subsumed by the stress of impending host-loss, and the urgent need to re-imagine the blog in another form in order to continue blogging within what I continue to maintain are perfectly legitimate, legal boundaries.

As I wrote this past Sunday, a tidal wave of great new covers from indiefolk to freak to alt-country has slammed through my inbox in the past week or two, jamming my aural pleasure circuits and tipping over onto the page. Simultaneously, a chill has fallen over much of the blogging world in the face of reports of a massive increase in DMCA takedown requests to file hosts and blog services, which have subsequently cost bloggers posts, files, and (in my own case) the impending loss of my file host altogether.

In order to clear the inbox, then, and also to avoid – at least for the moment – posting the sort of older, classic songs which seem to have been predominantly featured in the take-down bonanza, this week, we’re exclusively featuring brand new coversong from all corners of the folk tent. And, since on Sunday we spoke of some amazing male folkvoices with new work on the scene, today we welcome the introduction of some wonderful womenfolk to our Late Fall/Early Winter New Release Spectacular. Enjoy.

News of The Young Eyes, the new five-song EP from LA-based Sara Lov, came to me via the best kind of personalized, targeted label outreach from professionals who make it clear that they actually read this blog — always a nice change from the huge volume of unwanted hip-hop fusion and electrodance originals I receive every week (um, guys? Coverfolk blog, here?). I’m glad her people found me, too: Lov’s short set runs a great radio-ready indie popfolk gamut, reminding me a little of Lisa Loeb, or some of Kathryn William’s more atmospheric gems.

In addition to some well-crafted, playful originals, the EP includes two wonderful choices done with aplomb and majesty. My Body Is A Cage, originally by Arcade Fire, is gorgeous pianofolk, with a subtle build and a driving piano chord over its resonant atmosphere; Beck’s Timebomb is a perfect light popfolk piece, jangly and bouncy all at once; together, they show range and promise galore.

Lov’s label preferred streams to downloads, and we’re not complaining; streams preserve copyright better, and we’re just happy to have any chance to share these incredible covers with you. The plastic version of The Young Eyes doesn’t drop until January, so I can’t speak to the cover art, but downloads are available now; if you want to be able to take these bits and bytes away, head over to Sara Lov’s website without delay. For bonus points, while you’re there, check out Sara Lov’s stunning cover of Simon and Garfunkel obscurity Old Friends, drowned perfectly in ringing bells and electronic haze.

Better known as a fast-rising star in the indie world, and especially in the British Isles, where her commercial for Sky+ HDTV features this new delicate pianofolk cover of Cyndi Lauper ballad True Colors, Scandinavian singer-songwriter (and blonde bombshell) Ane Brun is not necessarily as familiar to ears tuned to the folkside of the dial. But despite the almost chilly, sparse nature of her arrangements, folk fans will hear something eminently warm and familiar in these covers, especially the almost freakfolk hollowness of both voice and acoustic guitar of Big In Japan. (Think Madeleine Peyroux with Jose Gonzales on guitar, and you’ve captured this Alphaville cover perfectly.)

Both of today’s covers are up at Ane’s MySpace — there’s also a gorgeous live cover of True Colors at the end of this recent concert video recorded in Amsterdam — and both have been featured prominently as downloads on numerous blogs without getting yanked; Ane also co-owns her own record label, so it seems safe to assume that getting them here is both acceptable, and will have no negative impact on sales. Rather, our goal, as always, is to create positive buzz and business; if you like what you hear, we highly recommend Ane’s newest album Changing of the Seasons, which dropped just a few weeks ago, and is clearly poised to go very far indeed.

  • Ane Brun: True Colors (orig. Cyndi Lauper)
  • Ane Brun: Big In Japan (orig. Alphaville)

Finally: I debated whether or not to include notice of the new Christmas album from indiefolk darling and fellow Denison Witmer fan Rosie Thomas here; after all, it’s hardly Halloween, and far be it from me to be the cause of any retroshift in what is already a culture doomed to spend a good fifth of the year shopping amidst the mistletoe. And this is unquestionably a Christmas album, complete with shaken sleighbells, children’s chorus fade-outs, and plenty of cozy fireside torchswing. But truly, though the songs on A Very Rosie Christmas are eminently christmassy, the music was just to good to hold on to, no matter the season.

Previous covers from Rosie Thomas were sweet but relatively faithful, merely applying her delicate, tentative touch to the previously-posted Witmer tune Paper Doll, and to friend Sufjan Stevens’ famously hushed arrangement of REM favorite The One I Love. But the sheer quirky bravado Thomas shows in utterly changing the tunes and tropes of some almost too-familiar carols which nestle among the few originals here is stunning, bringing new meaning to some old chestnuts. Turning her little girl’s voice to a notch more power may move her sound a little closer towards that of fellow Christmas anthem singers Shawn Colvin or Carly Simon, but that’s not always a bad thing, and happily, the vast majority of A Very Rosie Christmas stays on the good side of Contemporary Adult Alternative.

Even more exciting is the application of this redemptive, transformative approach to a few unexpected familiarities. The songs change so much, it is not far from the truth to say that Rosie’s cover of Christmas Don’t Be Late (the song that made Alvin and the Chipmunks famous) is quite possibly one of the best new Christmas songs I’ve heard in a very, very long time. I wasn’t able to secure permission to share it, but I was able to garner permission to stream her cover of Joni Mitchell favorite River, which is equally transformative, especially when put up against the huge set of covers of the song we put up a year ago here on Cover Lay Down.

The stream herein is posted with permission from the label, and gratefully; it provides just the right teaser, I think. Though we’re the first to share this cover with the world at large, I expect to see it popping up again and again as we head towards the holidays. A Very Rosie Christmas hits the streets November 4th, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. At this rate, we’ll have snow on the ground by then.

17 comments » | Ane Brun, Rosie Thomas, Sara Lov

Denison Witmer Covers: Oasis, Big Star, Nick Drake, The Band, Bonnie Raitt and more!

September 20th, 2008 — 05:34 pm

Over the past few weeks, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Denison Witmer has released several relatively spare covers to the internet as promotional teasers, part of a mechanism to build buzz in anticipation of Carry The Weight, an upcoming album of original songs. The approach is a familiar one, seen in an increasing number of singer-songwriters and bands teetering on the indie boundaries of folk music — see, for example, the lo-fi bedroom covers of the Morning Benders, or the recently-featured popfolk take on the Smashing Pumpkins from newcomer Amie Miriello.

Overall, the phenomenon is especially validating, to me, because the use of covers as a familiar entry point to discover new musicians is the primary raison d’etre here at Cover Lay Down; to see artists and labels doing the same is a confirmation that, at least from the artist’s and industry’s perspective, our work is not wasted. But in this case, I’m also excited because I’m still in the process of discovering Witmer. And the more I hear of his increasingly understated mix of seventies folk sensibility and modern indiefolk production, the more smitten I become.

Denison Witmer has been around for a while: he’s released a steady string of albums in a decade or more, and seems to have become a staple of the rich Philadelphia folk scene in that time. But though he’s not so far, geographically speaking, from my own rural Massachusetts setting, musically speaking, Dension’s more recent sound leans more towards the delicately organic indiefolk approach of Nick Drake, Elliott Smith or Mary Lou Lord, even as it comes across as smoother in performance than any of those musical peers and predecessors. And the Philly folk scene has long been separated from the Boston and New England folk scenes by the vast dividing line that is NYC; it is rare for artists to make it in both scenes without hitting a certain level of fame, if not notoriety, on a national level.

As such, my experience with Denison comes from the very expansion of my own taste and experience in both the folkworld and the covers world which are part and parcel of my commitment to blogging over the last eleven months. On the folkfront, Denison’s name came up in my exploration of the work of Rosie Thomas, especially following the release of her blog-favorite album These Friends of Mine, which was heavily influenced by Thomas friends, co-producers and session musicians Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer. And, in the covers realm, I’ve recently discovered, and come to appreciate, Denison’s delicate, reverent takes on a well-selected subcatalog of other people’s songs.

As with his previous covers album, 2003 release Recovered, these newest covers are nothing especially transformative, but that’s not the point. As we heard in our previous Single Song Sunday feature on Jackson Browne/Nico song These Days, which included Dension’s version of the song amidst a huge pile of other covers, Denison’s approach to coversong strips songs down to their sonic core, not so much reinterpreting as owning and refocusing the songs in toto — from arrangement to lyrical structure — in the particular context of Denison’s languid voice, rich string style, and preferences for a slow, songwritery, richly atmospheric, and slightly folkpop production.

In the past, the result turned songs by The Band into highly recognizable versions of songs by The Band done with reverence, one voice, and just a slightly more focused production, songs by Big Star into folkrock songs with Big Star’s particular riff style and grunge approach. Here, it means quiet, stunning, reverent-yet-raw bedroom cover versions of Bonnie Raitt’s signature tune I Can’t Make You Love Me and The Red House Painters’ beautiful Have You Forgotten, and — released just today — a pensive campfire cover of Oasis hit Champagne Supernova, all of which both reflect and totally re-center familiar songs, allowing them to retain the tone of the original, while creating a pleasant new entry into each through consistently warm, slightly raspy tones. You get the best of both worlds, in other words: covers which show Denison’s commitment to songcraft and musicianship; songs which speak clearly as songs, recalled and refreshed with respect.

Thanks to My Old Kentucky Blog for raising the flag on these newest covers; keep an eye on Denison’s MySpace over the next few weeks as he releases other well-chosen obscurities and familiarities yet to be named. In the meanwhile, while we wait for the November arrival of what may well be the long-overdue breakthrough release from this underrated thirtysomething composer, session man, and solo artist, here’s those abovementioned covers, along with another great cover from Denison’s back catalog which honors his debt to protoypical indiefolk icon Nice Drake. As always, stick around afterwards for a few bonus tracks…

Remember, folks: we’re here, in part, because the folkprocess survives in the way artists and song each winnow towards and away from each other, giving us entry into the best of what is new and current through the old and familiar. But though Denison released a vast swath of his catalog free for eternal download a few years ago in honor of his thirtieth birthday, you can’t eat free. If these covers take you to listen to and subsequently buy the original works of Denison Witmer, and remind you to order Carry The Weight when it comes out in November, then the model works for all of us — the artists, the labels, the bloggers, the fans. And then, everybody wins.

A few more, perhaps, before you go? Though Denison’s influence, voice, and signature sound, like Sufjan’s, is all over Rosie Thomas’ These Friends, not many people realize that one of the best songs on that album is actually a cover of one of Denison’s earlier songs. Here’s that cover, plus the incredible original, since it seems to have gone relatively unheard in last year’s Rosie Thomas lovefest…plus another paired set from Denison and Thomas, pulled early from an upcoming feature on the songs of Fleetwood Mac.

Cover Lay Down publishes new covercontent Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Friday or Holiday. Coming soon: new old timey musicians take on timeless songs, sweet songs of apples and honey to celebrate the Jewish New Year, and yet another installment in our popular Covered in Kidfolk series for cool moms and dads.

254 comments » | Big Star, Bonnie Raitt, Denison Witmer, Fleetwood Mac, Nice Drake, Oasis, Red House Painters, Rosie Thomas, The Band

The Opposite of Fear: Songs Of Hope and Love For Valentines

February 13th, 2008 — 11:08 am

I remember the night we drove everywhere just to find a place to commit ourselves to a future together. It was cold, like tonight is cold.

It wasn’t Valentine’s Day. But it was love.

Looking back, I can’t believe it took me so long to accept that the feelings I had for you were real, and worth risking everything. All that time I thought I was too broken, too battered. All that time, I thought a fool like me didn’t deserve a woman like you.

But you always believed. And every morning when I kiss you in your sleep before I leave, I thank you for that calm certainty. Without your willingness to wait forever, I might never have found the courage to jump into the abyss.

A companion post to Sunday’s songs of Love and Fear, then: a soundtrack for that long shared silence; a short sweet story of the miracle of us. If I could give you anything, it would be this feeling, always. No longer afraid, I fly with you.

Thanks to all who come, read, sample, and support artists.

May you, too, find love.

898 comments » | Alison Krauss, Holiday Coverfolk, Liz Durrett, M. Ward, Matthew Good, Patty Larkin, richard shindell, Rosie Thomas, Swati, Valentines Day Coverfolk

Best of the Season: The Holiday Halfcovers of Over The Rhine

December 24th, 2007 — 03:02 pm

One last holiday post, though I promised otherwise. Because the holiday songs of Over The Rhine transcend the season. I saved the best for last.

I just re-discovered Over The Rhine, and they blew me away. The sweet breathy girlvocals, the moody guitar and piano, the exquisite musicianship and tonality. I’m a bit too much in awe to say much, honestly.

Post-folkers Over the Rhine have been around for fifteen years, touring with everyone from Dylan to the Cowboy Junkies. In that time, they’ve gone from a foursome to a married twosome, mellowed out significantly, and produced not one but two holiday albums: 1996 masterwork The Darkest Night of the Year, and last year’s fan-only, absolutely mind-blowing Snow Angels, which didn’t truly hit the mass market until this holiday season.

It was Snow Angels which recaptured my heart. Most of the album consists of heart-stopping originals: identifiably Christmassy, of a variety of types, all resonant with the best of the fireside yule. But it also includes two half-covers, new Christmas songs which start with or contain the kernels of traditional Christmas songs. I’m not sure what to call these, except so incredible, you just have to hear them.

For our final holiday post, then, a featurette: three Over The Rhine holiday songs — one old, two new — that are more than covers. Each uses the familiar as a starting point, adding lyrics, rechording the sound, twisting melodies beyond recognition. But this isn’t like that tiny shard of Jingle Bells at the head and tail of Joni Mitchell’s River. This is something new, on the far edge of the coversong, but still identifiably a cover. And it’s gorgeous.

Look, I know it’s late in the season to push holiday music. But I swear, I plan to keep Snow Angels on the turntable until February, at least. And new Over The Rhine album The Trumpet Child, too. You will too, when you hear them. Get them now.

Today’s bonus coversongs are more true to their much more recently written original. But they’re both sweet and sleek, just the thing for that last, late-Christmas afternoon light.

Bonus bonus (late addition): in case your Christmas isn’t truly here until after the holidays, here’s the best version I know of Blue Christmas, by Chaim Tannenbaum, off The McGarrigle Christmas Hour. (Do you think Chaim Tannenbaum is his real name? Translated, it means “tree of life”.)

785 comments » | Chaim Tannenbaum, Holiday Coverfolk, Over The Rhine, Rosie Thomas, Shawn Colvin