Category: Suzanne Vega

New and (Re)Covered:
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Patty Griffin, and Suzanne Vega

January 27th, 2010 — 07:55 pm

The mailbag is bursting with delight – so full, in fact, that I’ve decided that next week will be New Artists, Old Songs Week here at Cover Lay Down, featuring a whole host of new artists who have kindly sent along their demos, one-off tracks, and pre-releases in anticipation of greater recognition for the next generation. It is, as always, an honor to be able to share these folks with you; I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do, and pursue the links provided here to support their emerging talent.

While we compile and winnow the wonderful new voices that have come our way in the last several weeks, let’s clear the palate a bit by regrounding our ears in a few more familiar faces and thematically relevant songs which have popped up in the inbox alongside that cornucopia. Here, that means yet another installment of our popular (Re)Covered feature, with news, new songs, and newly-found tracks that have come our way, and should be coming your way, too, now that the new year has turned.

I finally managed to catch the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who we first featured back in April, last weekend at the Somerville Theater, and was utterly thrilled to find they are even more stunning in concert than I had imagined. Their infectious joy in not just recovering but truly rejuvenating a whole set of found song, from old country blues and minstrel-show jazz to stringband and rural jugband classics, is evident in every smile, holler, and nuanced move on an array of authentic instruments, from quills and autoharp to banjo, fiddle, guitar, voice and bones. And as performers and ethnomusicologists, their patter and performance offers a first rate journey through the folk traditions of Black America.

New album Genuine Negro Jig, which will include a studio version of their infamous Blu Cantrell cover and a delicious take on Tom Waits’ Trampled Rose alongside a whole new set of resurrected stringband and old-time jazz and blues tunes done in their inimitable Piedmont style, drops on February 16. Here’s two delightful cuts from the newest – the aforementioned Blu Cantrell cover, and a sweet, wry newly-recorded version of old stringband classic Cornbread and Butterbeans – plus a live cut to keep your feet moving in the meantime; for more, preorder Genuine Negro Jig, sit back, and wait for the magic to arrive.

Patty Griffin‘s new album Downtown Church is a true blue Americana Gospel album, not folk, but I hardly care; despite my ambivalence about her overproduced sophomore release Flaming Red, which recently caused a minor inter-blogger firestorm over at Star Maker Machine, it’s no secret that Griffin is one of my favorite artists, having first featured in our pages way back in our first few weeks as a blog, and several times since. And Downtown Church’s dustbowl gospel is utterly amazing, in no small part because of Griffin’s achingly, hauntingly, drivingly beautiful approach to a series of gospel classics, not to mention stellar support from Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, and a host of other powerhouse artists.

The result: a true gem of a new album that has the Americana world drooling in anticipation of what may well turn out to be the biggest release of the year. The NPR full-album stream disappeared yesterday upon the album’s release, but there’s a live concert over at No Depression tonight at 8:00 EST, full-length samples at Paste, and of course, you can and should buy the whole thing here. The whole damn thing comes with my strongest recommendation, but I really, really love the sparse piano and voice of final track All Creatures of Our God and King, and the power of the penultimate We Shall All Be Reunited, which, like Heavenly Day before it, has Grammy written all over it, especially now that an appropriate nomination category has been created.

The coverblogger code doesn’t usually consider a remade song a cover if it’s the same artist performing it – else we’d have to count pretty much every demo as an original, and every live performance an incident worthy of note. Wikipedia, however, seems to beg otherwise. And so just this once, I’m going to give honorable mention to the newest from Suzanne Vega, Close Up Vol 1: Love Songs, in which the once-ubiquitous singer-songwriter comes out of the shadows after years of living off residuals to put forth an utterly lovely album of acoustic versions of her own songbook – the first of four rounds of such self-coverage, if Vega’s press release is to be believed.

We featured Suzanne Vega in our first Mother’s Day post way back in ’08, noting at the time that she had decided to focus on motherhood first and foremost after her daughter was born in 1994; it’s good to see her back in the studio, and though there’s a part of me that aches for a new set of songs, her early work is certainly strong enough to support reframing. So while you head over to her website to preorder, here’s a remade “original” from the newest, a pair of older Grateful Dead covers from Cover Freak’s least favorite album, and a few other takes on a personal favorite from the Suzanne Vega songbook for balance.

Looking past the horizon, I note that Carrie Rodriguez, who we first featured here upon release of her 2008 album She Ain’t Me, will be coming out with her first covers album in April, and on first listen, at least, it’s sounding like a practically perfect fiddle-driven Country-Americana Folkpop collection.

We’ll have more to say about this eventually, and a song to post, for sure, but I’ve been asked to keep the buzz and the songsharing on the down low until the date creeps closer. Still, Carrie’s currently on tour with Ben Sollee and Erin McKeown – a great choice of companions for the achingly sweet-voiced Rodriguez – and she’ll also be doing a few dates with Alejandro Escovedo and Los Lonely Boys in the next few, so if your town is on her touring schedule, make it a point to stop in to preview a track or two from the upcoming disc in a live setting.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and songsets each Sunday and Wednesday. And remember, folks: February 1st marks the kick-off date for New Artists, Old Songs Week here at Cover Lay Down, so don’t forget to head on back with your ears handy for a first-rate set of covers from a solid crop of up-and-comers come Sunday.

1,543 comments » | (Re)Covered, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Carrie Rodriguez, Patty Griffin, Suzanne Vega

New Artists, Old Songs: Celtic Folk Edition (Heidi Talbot, Grada, and Karan Casey)

June 4th, 2008 — 08:48 am

I’ve fallen far behind on my new music listening; the stack of great music out there grows faster than I can get to them, sadly. While I winnow down the pile, I’ve spent most of the week listening to some wonderful, relatively new folk releases from Compass Records, and let me tell you, I’m impressed.

The folks at indie roots label Compass, who became sales-parent to Celtic folk-oriented label Green Linnet just two years ago, are caretakers for a surprisingly large stable of true and traditional-leaning folk artists, but there’s little chaff in this wheatfield; when they play to their strengths, their hit-to-miss ratio is far better than the industry average. And the combination of Green Linnet’s artist roster and Compass Records artist-oriented approach to distribution seems to be a winner for all of us.

Today, we feature the coversongs of three Irish artists who have emerged from this fruitful collaboration to release authentic, predominantly acoustic records in partnership with Compass/Green Linnet in the last year.

If Heidi Talbot sounds familiar, it may be because you heard her as lead singer of long-standing Irish-American supergroup Cherish The Ladies, and it may be because, like the folks who commented when Muruch posted about Talbot’s newest album way back in January, you were lucky enough to hear her on your local folk radio show, and made it a point to follow up.

It certainly isn’t because you’ve heard that many other artists with voices as confidently and carefully understated as Talbot’s. I Love + Light is Talbot’s second solo outing, and this sophomore album shows a singer and songwriter on the verge of going singer-songwriter. The tracks range broadly from intimately performed Celtic music to a delicate acoustic folk that would sound welcome in any coffeehouse; overall, they make for a perfectly balanced post-americana album, a return to the broad roots of the folk tree which gains everything from Talbot’s eclectic experience as a musician on both sides of the Atlantic.

I Love + Light won an Indie Acoustic award for best album just a month ago; supposedly, Talbot will also appear on an upcoming album by Radiohead’s drummer, and we all know how popular Radiohead is on the blogworld. For some reason, though, blog searches reveal few hits. Clearly, Heidi Talbot is still working on building up her name recognition, and I’m happy to help by adding my recommendation. Buy I Love + Light, start listening now, and one day, you can say you knew her when.

  • Heidi Talbot, Time (orig. Tom Waits)
  • Heidi Talbot, Music Tree (orig. Tim O’Brien/Darrell Scott)

    My wife isn’t an audiophile; rather, she’s the kind of music listener who really only likes a few very particular CDs, one for each mood. So when she kept returning Cloudy Day Navigation in the CD changer, I knew it was worth a second listen myself. Sure enough, this third release from Grada is modern ensemble celtic folk music at its best and most authentic: earnest instrument-play, a flowing sound, lilting melodies, and a wonderful female lead singer who effortlessly displays that indescribable something that all great irish chantesuses have. The production is just light enough to keep things intimate, and when the song calls for such delicate delivery, they really shine.

    Overall, Grada is an irish-american band to watch; even without its bonus live performance DVD, Cloudy Day Navigation would be eminently worth owning. Their cover of Suzanne Vega’s The Queen and the Soldier — one of my favorite from this american singer-songwriter — recasts it so perfectly in the storysong tradition of the Emerald Isle, it’s as if it always belonged there. And Susan McKeown’s River is perfect Sunday afternoon putty in their hands, all light harmonies, softly plucked strings, and flute and fiddle. The rest, from traditional reels to sweet celtic folk, is much the same.

  • Grada, The Queen and the Soldier (orig. Suzanne Vega)
  • Grada, River (orig. Susan McKeown)

    Karan Casey was the original vocalist for fave celtic folk band Solas; these days, as a solo artist, her sound falls somewhere between the irish folkpop of Mary Black or Sinead O’Connor and a slightly sparser version of the dark side of Irish ballad music, where Enya and Loreena McKennitt live: more production, more drone, mostly ballads, and overlaid with languid atmospheric effects on string and pipe. But though my wife listens to the latter pair of aforementioned sirens, she wasn’t as taken with Karan Casey as she was with Grada, and I think I know why: though the surface medium here is irish siren, Karan’s music is more folk than new age.

    Casey’s drawn-out delivery succeeds best when she veers closer to the kind of irish/appalachian pop sound that wins Sting and Alison Krauss their Grammy awards, such as with this Joni Mitchell cover, and her version of traditional song Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, both from her new release Ships in the Forest, which is technically self-released but licensed through Compass in the US. The approach may not be my wife’s favorite, but it’s my cup of tea for sure; in my book, any music which focuses on this particular singer, coupled with an entirely plausible yet predominantly acoustic atmospheric production, makes Karan Casey worth a second listen.

  • Karan Casey, The Fiddle and the Drum (orig. Joni Mitchell)
  • Karan Casey, Black is the Color (trad.)

    Previously on Cover Lay Down:

  • Solas covers Sarah McLachlan, Richard Shindell, Rain and Snow

    Calling all folk musicians, singer-songwriters, labels and promoters: Have you or someone you know/represent/love recently released an album which includes at least one coversong? Think your music might fit the folk trend here on Cover Lay Down? Drop me a line! (No living room recordings, please.)

  • 1,183 comments » | Grada, Heidi Talbot, Joni Mitchell, Karan Casey, solas, Susan McKeown, Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits

    Elseblog: Covers of Suzanne, Rare CSN at Star Maker Machine

    May 23rd, 2008 — 08:33 pm

    Still not sure how hard to push my work over at collaborative blog Star Maker Machine, where the blogging roster just keeps getting better and this week’s theme is songs named after women, a.k.a. Little Black Book. In the long run, I’m thinking maybe an ongoing sidebar sectional would be more apropos; in the meantime, I’m particularly proud of a few recent posts, including a treatise on tone and delivery as carrier of emotional narrative in Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, with covers from Peter Gabriel and Nina Simone…and a single-shot posting on demo versions which uses David Crosby’s early demo of Guinnevere to continue our recent discussion on B-sides, rarities, and other untrustworthy remnants.

    Wanna bonus taste before you head over? Here’s a relatively recent Crosby covering Gram Parsons with Lucinda Williams on harmony, and a Leonard Cohen cover by another recently featured Suzanne. Also relevant: previous posts on Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, female folk musicians covering Neil Young.

    And speaking of Rarities and B-Sides: you have but six more days to win Sarah McLachlan’s new Rarities and B-Sides collection, plus an autographed poster. Totally worth it, dude. Enter here.

    820 comments » | David Crosby, Elseblog, Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega

    Mothers of the Folkworld: Suzanne Vega, Ani DiFranco, Lori McKenna, Kris Delmhorst

    May 10th, 2008 — 09:16 pm

    Katrina, Narissa, and Amelia Nields, Clearwater Folk Festival, 2005

    As a volunteer for performer check-in at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival for several years, I had the rare privilege of meeting the children of several notable folk musicians, from Lucy Kaplansky’s adopted daughter to Katrina Nields’ newborn. Seeing my favorite musicians up close and personal was always a treat. But seeing folk musicians in parenting mode always felt like peering behind the curtain of the public persona to something real. And once you see that part of a musician, it flavors the way you hear their songs from that day forward.

    The confessional, personal nature of folk music lends itself well to songs of family and parenthood; as I’ve written about previously, I have a special fondness for music which speaks to that side of life. But it’s got to be especially difficult to be a mother who makes her living out of music. Working mothers have it hard no matter what, but musicianship isn’t like other careers: the late-night shows, the marathon recording sessions, the constant need for one more focused, childless hour crafting song, all stand in tension with the closeness and availability good parenting demands of us.

    Yet the folkworld is full of female musicians who — with or without the help of sensitive, often stay-at-home dads — work their touring schedules around the various and sundry blessings of childrearing, from nursing and naps to school plays and graduations. Previously featured folkmothers include Caroline Herring, Lucy Kaplansky, Rani Arbo, Shawn Colvin, and Cindy Kallet: some of my favorites, and a significant percentage of the women who we’ve featured here on Cover Lay Down.

    I can’t imagine what it must be like to sing a song to your child in front of ten thousand people, or, like Dar Williams did at Falcon Ridge last year, to bring them up on stage, so they can see what you see. And I can’t imagine what it must be like to give birth, or to head out on tour for a week without your child.

    But I trust that the blogworld is surely swimming with songs about mothers this weekend. And in the midst of all that, I thought it was important to remind us all that the reason we’re here, on Mother’s Day and every day, is because a few daring, real people — people with families, with hopes and fears, with love enough to share — have chosen to make their living making the music that fills our world. And, notably, this is a career path where neither family health insurance nor maternity leave policies are the norm.

    Today, as a tribute to working moms everywhere, we bring you some coversongs of and from a few more singer-songwriters with children of their own. As always, if you like what you hear, please support these artists and their families by purchasing their albums, heading out to their shows, and treating them as real people whenever possible.

    Lori McKenna was already a mother of three when she stepped in front of her first open mic audience at the age of 27; since then, she has spent most of her career playing part-time in the local New England folk circuit, staying close to home while slowly making a name for herself with a growing set of well-crafted songs that celebrate the simple pleasures of life as a struggling middle class homemaker.

    Though McKenna recently turned country, resetting her down-to-earth lyrics to a newly countrified sound and touring as an opening act for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, her long tenure in the folkworld and her constant celebration of a vividly real motherhood earns her the lead-off spot on today’s list. We featured McKenna sideman Mark Erelli’s cover of McKenna’s Lonestar earlier this week; here’s a gritty lo-fi take on Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees from The Kitchen Tapes, and a much more polished but no less authentic look back at Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes from out of print American Laundromat compilation High School Reunion.

    For a while there, Suzanne Vega was on the fast track to become the most prolific and popular folk musician to come out of the second-wave Greenwich Village folk scene in the early eighties; she is probably best known for Luka, her late 80s hit about a neighbor’s abused child. But if you haven’t heard much from her in a decade or so, it’s because she decided to curtail her touring and recording significantly in 1994 in order to focus on her family after her daughter Ruby was born. Since then, she has produced only three albums of new material; the songs have gotten even more introspective, but her quality hasn’t suffered one bit.

    Here’s Vega’s take on two delicate songs about children from Grateful Dead tribute album Deadicated, plus some great duet work with John Cale on an old Leonard Cohen standard.

    Urban folk feminist Ani DiFranco is a relatively new mother and ferocious touring machine who has taken a non-traditional path to motherhood even for the musicworld; instead of taking a hiatus to focus on recording and parenting, as so many other musicians have done, Ani brings her daughter with her as she tours. The model seems to be working — Ani and family just made the cover of the most recent issue of Mothering magazine — but other than this concert video of new song Present/Infant from her new DVD Live at Babeville, Ani has not yet recorded any of the new songs about motherhood which she has performed at her recent shows. So here’s a few random covers of Ani DiFranco songs, including a great version of Joyful Girl, a song DiFranco wrote to honor her own mother, performed by jam band Soulive with Dave Matthews.

    A swollen belly and a June due date make Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter and folk producer Kris Delmhorst an impending member of the folk musician mother club, but motherhood is already starting to affect her career; she was showing when I saw her at the Iron Horse a few months ago, and these days, she’s rushing through a few dates in support of her new and absolutely stunning album Shotgun Singer before she goes on family leave. We’ve played cuts from Delmhorst here before, in recognition of her work with Peter Mulvey and father-to-be Jeffrey Foucault as part of folk trio Redbird; today, it’s Kris’ turn to glow with this fine, twangy interpretation of an old spiritual tune, and a sweet collaborative turn on Tom Waits’ Hold On.

    Thanks to for their feature on Folk Music Moms, which served as today’s writing prompt. For more about volunteering at Falcon Ridge this July, check out the festival website. Oh, and if you’re reading this, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

    1,009 comments » | Alana Davis, Allison Crowe, ani difranco, Dave Matthews, Grateful Dead, Kris Delmhorst, Leonard Cohen, Lori McKenna, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Soulive, Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits

    Cowboy Singers: Folk artists cover songs of the range

    January 30th, 2008 — 07:16 am

    I figured it would be fitting to end our contest week with a theme that would help us transition back from the countrified edge of folk. Thus: folk singers covering cowboy songs. Enjoy!

    Continuing our discussion from earlier this week: back when the world was acoustic, a guitar and a voice could travel a long way, from back porch to prairie campfire, and be different only by context, and the tone it lends. Since then, of course, our sense of genre has been radically transformed and fully, irreversably exploded into chaos. But once upon a time, folk and country and back porch blues weren’t so different, after all.

    The irony, then: while modern country music claims the concept of cowboy, today, reducing old cowboy standards back to their essentials is considered folk, where it would have once been just plain song. Crossover songs like these are like a return to the roots of the branching tree that is american music, back when the world seemed all wide open spaces and endless horizon; singing them is like longing for a time when we were a nation of strong, silent types.

    Today, then, some cowboy songs in the key of folk: a few true traditionals about the range and the prairie, and a song or two which merely references the once-familiar image. A few are technically country music, but their countrified folk interpetations are old and familiar enough to transcend genre. Most aren’t really about cowboys. They’re about the idea of cowboys, one of our last remaining clear-cut cultural metaphors.

    • Bill Staines, Home on the Range (trad.)
    • Maria Muldaur, Prairie Lullaby (orig. Billy Hill)
      A pair of quiet western songs from old-timey folk and gospel collection American Lullaby, effectively interpreted by two northeasterners: true New England backcountry folksman Bill Staines and ex-Greenwich Village folk staple Maria Muldaur.

    • Riders in the Sky, Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle (orig. Gene Autry)
    • Riders in the Sky, You’ve Got A Friend in Me (orig. Randy Newman)
      Cowboy and western band Riders in the Sky have appeared at the Grand Ole Opry over 700 times. They also do a great cover of You’ve Got A Friend in Me, from Toy Story. Hey, Woody is a cowboy, too.

    • Ry Cooder, Billy The Kid (trad.)
      Billy was technically an outlaw, not a cowboy. But the setting matches, and Ry Cooder gives this traditional song such a wonderfully sparse, jangly, bluesy feel with nothing but mandolin and electrified slide, I couldn’t hold back.

    • Lucy Kaplansky, Cowboy Singer (orig. Dave Carter)
      I requested this song at a recent Lucy Kaplansky show; Lucy seemed pleased. It came off dark and thoughtful and sweet all at once, as always. From her penultimate release The Red Thread.

    • Kelly Willis, Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim (orig. Kirsty MacColl)
      One last mellow country song before I go: Kelly Willis does a great version of this old Kirsty MacColl waltz on Easy, all sweet voice and transcendent harmony. You’d never know it was country if you couldn’t hear the woodblock downbeat.

    • Suzanne Vega/Bill Frisell/Wayne Horvitz/Syd Straw, Medley Two: Stay Awake/Little Wooden Head/Blue Shadows On The Trail (orig. Disney)
      The annoying thing about 80s-era Disney cover album Stay Awake is the way the songs are impossible to separate from each other. The lovely thing about this medley is that all the pieces work. I posted it for Syd Straw‘s cowboy song; we’ll consider the Suzanne Vega and Bill Frisell Disney covers a bonus.

    As always, artist and album links above lead to artists’ preferred source for purchase wherever possible. Buy what you like; like yourself better for buying local and direct.

    68 comments » | Bill Staines, Kelly Willis, Lucy Kaplansky, Maria Muldaur, Riders in the Sky, Ry Cooder, Suzanne Vega, Syd Straw