Category: Compilations & Tribute Albums

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, 2012: The Singles
(b-sides, deep cuts, YouTube one-offs, & more one-shot coverage)

December 30th, 2012 — 11:56 am

As we noted late last week in The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 1: Tribute Albums and Cover Compilations, it’s been a reasonably good year for full-album coverage. But although tracks from tributes continue to overwhelm singletons in my collection, as in previous years, a significant majority of the songs that lingered came from a mixed bag of borderline genre albums and single shot coverfolk releases, via the usual sources: YouTube and Soundcloud, in-studio sessions, website and bandcamp singles, full folk albums, and more.

That we continue to find so much of our favorite coverage of the year outside the album-length covers collection is an ongoing testament to our folk-first, artist-centric approach here at Cover Lay Down. After all, the point of our biweekly forays into the folkworld is to introduce you to the best of the singer-songwriter, roots, americana, bluegrass, and contemporary folk rock and folkpop canon. Our nominal focus on coverage is, in the end, merely a vehicle, to provide an entry into the craft and appreciation of those artists through the comfort zone of familiar song. And that artists, knowing this, remain prone to cover a song or two along the way, granting both a sense of their sound and an exposition of their influence, continues to lend credence to this folk-first mandate.

We eschew ranking for single songs; you’ll not find hierarchies here. But I’m not so humble as to enjoy the challenge of creating the perfect mix of coverfolk, circa 2012. And so, once again, we’re offering a two-part compromise: the short, mostly tongue-in-cheek “Best Of” which appeared on Friday…and here, today, the piece de resistance: a 29-song set of our favorite and most-played tracks from this year’s vast collection of singletons and deep cuts, designed to be downloaded and played in order for maximum emotional impact.

Like so many of the songs we posted in part one of this dual reluctance, every one of them gives me chills. Taken together, subjective though they are, they offer a challenge to 2013 and beyond.

So download the full set, or pick and choose among the singletons. Compare them against last year’s mixtape, to see how our tastes have changed. Hit the links beside each track to learn more about these amazing artists, and their output, and their journeys.

May the coming year bring us evermore joy through shared culture and communion. And may this humble offering grace your ears and raise your spirit, for now and for years to come.

The Year’s Best Singles: A 2012 Coverfolk Mix [Zip!]

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’s 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 set of alternate favorites and rare 2012 covers otherwise unblogged.

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

4 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 1:
Tribute Albums and Covers Collections (2012)

December 28th, 2012 — 06:16 pm

It’s coming on 2013, and for weeks, otherbloggers and tastemakers have been touting their 2012 picks, jostling to be the best and first match for your own preferences, inviting debate over position in the ranks. And once again, here I am, after weeks of archival digging and false starts, late out of the gate and still struggling with the sheer hubris of presenting my own Year In Review.

As I noted last December atop our Best Coverfolk of 2011 feature, my reluctance to pass judgement isn’t a cop-out. I’m a relatively fickle listener, 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 emergence, promise, and 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.)

As a general policy, then, I eschew 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 our recommendations list for the year. 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 though this year was perhaps not quite as generous as the last in some categories of coverage, 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.

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.

And so today, as the last days of the year wane into history, we bring you our wholly subjective picks: the best folk, roots, indie, and Americana coverfolk albums of 2012, arranged into categories much like those which we would use were we in the habit of ranking. Read, download, follow links to purchase, and then stay tuned later this weekend for an unordered mix of our favorite singletons and one-offs of the year.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists): Leonard Cohen: The Bard of Montreal / MOJO Magazine Presents The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered (tie)

The year in multi-genre, multi-artist tribute albums started and ended badly, in our wholly subjective estimation: Chimes of Freedom, Amnesty’s gigantic 4-CD Dylan tribute, offered several duds and but a single disc’s worth of favorites; late-year Fleetwood Mac tributes from MOJO magazine and Starbucks in-house label Hear Music leaned heavily indiepop this year, though we’ll surely see a track from one or the other in our impending “best of” single-shot mixtape, and neither made for full-bore success. But a similarly paired set of tributes to Leonard Cohen – a freebie from Canadian folklabel Herohill, and a March release from MOJO now mostly only available to collectors willing to pay for back issues – were either centrally or exclusively indiefolk albums, as befits a new generation of singer-songwriters heavily influenced by the poetry and melodic genius of the inimitable Canadian bard, and both were so strong, we’ve decided to put them up as a twinned set.

Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman, a little-blogged under-the-radar release from Tompkins Square Records which came to my attention via a reader just last month, deserves second-place recognition for a comprehensively strong set of folk-and-more tracks that reveal surprising nuance from the catalog of a sadly undersung jazzfolk hero of the Cornish circuit with over 30 albums to his name; check it out for slow, dreamy interpretations from Meg Baird, Two Wings, Maddy Prior, William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger, the ubiquitous Lucinda Williams and others who shared his stage. Strong runners-up included the decidedly twangy Nick Lowe tribute Lowe Country, and Long Distance Salvation, a double-disk tribute to Springsteen’s Nebraska, which contains at least a single album’s worth of excellence, and plenty of good besides.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist): Rory Block, I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis

Though last year there was strong competition in this category, the reciprocal single-folk-artist tribute was much rarer this year – indeed, as noted below, since the EP category contains but a single entry, we almost abolished it entirely. In part, this is because many of the best one-artist tribute albums of 2012 lean too far away from folk to count: Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s tribute to the Nina Simone songbook, for example, is quite powerful, but far too R&B for a folkblog; indie rock duo The Rosebuds’ same-name 20-year anniversary tribute to Sade album Love Deluxe, while excellent in its own right, is truly a soul album, though it has enough elements of folk to legitimize an honorable mention. Happily, country blues counts as folk on most radio playlists, and on ours. And so despite its own issues of over-consistency, Rory Block’s otherwise excellent Rev. Gary Davis tribute, with its masterfully authentic guitarwork and more than a hint of gospel harmonies, gets the prize by default.

Also problematic, for technical reasons: David Crossland’s tribute to mentor and Kingston Trio co-founder John Stewart remains on the cusp of release as of presstime and thus will likely count as a 2013 contender. And though Love Canon’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 and Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute To The Replacements got plenty of play in my car and my house this year, both get honorable mention but no awards: the former tribute to the songs of my 80′s childhood is hugely fun and eminently sunny but, despite a strong and perfectly earnest take on Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, ultimately lacks depth (and is probably supposed to, given the tongue-in-cheek band name, Tron-parody album cover, the laughter that ends many tracks, and a playlist that includes slyly gleeful bluegrass versions of both Olivia Newton John hit Physical and Devo’s Whip It); similarly, and much less successfully, though the MTV unplugged consistency of the Replacements tribute is fun for a while, the one-take two-uke retread approach wears thin by album’s end, leaving it with little staying power.

The Year’s Best Tribute EP: Hyacinth House, A Tribute to Bob

As above. This foreign-born folk-slash-indierock throwdown – technically recorded over a sequence of years, possibly not released in 2012 in the first place, and impossible to track or label otherwise with any definitive assurance – was the only EP-length reciprocal single-artist tribute we found this year. Luckily, it’s quite good enough to stand on its own.

Honorable mention goes to the four songs of Jurado Covers, which – quite unusually, for an EP-length format – has four different yet equally strong indie singer-songwriters paying tribute to the same artist, in honor of the release of Damien Jurado’s “zenlike” 2012 release Maraqopa. Download it for free at the link below.

The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist): Barrett Smith and Shannon Whitfield, Bring It On Home

By contrast, we find a huge and varied set of contenders in this category this year, many of which deserve respect and admiration at year’s end, from Pesky J. Nixon’s alternately intimate and raucous living-room-recorded Red Ducks to The Chieftains’ guest-heavy collaboration Voice Of Ages, which made the rounds of many blogs upon release, thanks to guest spots from Bon Iver, The Low Anthem, et al. But if we’re looking for album-length perfection with staying power, three strong contenders shoot to the top of the list: Peter Mulvey’s ancient, raw, ragged The Good Stuff, Rickie Lee Jones’ stunningly hushed and deconstructed The Devil You Know, which was produced by Ben Harper and sounds like it, and Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith’s amazingly heartfelt Bring It On Home. Of these, the half-acoustic soul, half-folk Bring It On Home gets the nod for top honors by a razor’s edge, because we’re suckers for both masterfully produced layers of stringwork and sweet harmonies here at Cover Lay Down, and this album has got ‘em in spades.

The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artists): Mason Jar Music and Friends, The Storm Is Passing Over

An incredible eleventh hour collection of songs thematically joined by the narratives of flood and storm evoked by Hurricane Sandy, The Storm Is Passing Over easily leapfrogs over all previous contenders in an otherwise lightly-populated category to make its first appearance here on Cover Lay Down atop our year’s end list, leaving us with nary a runner-up in sight. The predominantly sparse songs lean heavily towards the public domain, of both the traditional and the old-school folk, gospel, and blues canons; though Bela Fleck and Roseanne Cash make an appearance, generally speaking, the artists here, most of whom share a connection to the hard-hit borough of Brooklyn and its strong new folk scene, represent a veritable cross-section of the new folk revival, from Emily Elbert, Michael Daves, and Aoife O’Donovan to Dawn Landes, Abigail Washburn, Piers Faccini, The Gundersen Family and Tift Merritt.

A project like this, with all songs recorded in the last few weeks, could have come off as hastily contrived. But the first-rate artists here, many of whom we have been following for years, come together mightily, bringing a smooth collection of songs that range from tender to triumphant, heavy on the solo singer-songwriter and country blues – which is to say the three samples below are a true indictor; it all sounds this good from start to finish. Bonus points: it’s available on the cheap by name-your-own-donation, with all proceeds going to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, so head over to the website to stream and download now and support both scene and sorrow.

The Year’s Best Covers EP: Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, Old Gold

The short-set challengers in this category for 2012 run an especially broad gamut – so much so that it was tempting to create a hybrid-genre category just for Leftover Cuties and Lake Street Dive, both of which incorporate acoustic, big band, and indie elements in ways that truly defy genre. Other challenges, different in scope but similar in scale, face us with the Deschutes River Recordings series, which at three tracks, seems too light to compete, though each is a gem on its own, and with Laura Cortese‘s five-track Kickstarter Covers album, which, as we noted upon receipt, is technically not available to any but a handful of us who gave to last year’s Poison Oaks project crowdfunding campaign, though we have assurance from Laura herself that a slow track-by-track release over time is perfectly acceptable, allowing for our inclusion of a second track herein.

But although Ahoy!, the late-year half-pint release from newgrass pioneers the Punch Brothers, is an energetic delight of talent and folk hybridization, and although You Gotta Roll, the 5 song all-covers EP from Woody Pines, has a hopped-up ragtime-stringband-meets-rockabilly energy that evokes an era when blues, folk, jazz, and country were still intermingled on dustbowl radio, it’s the sheer warmth of Seattle countryfolk singer-songwriter Zoe Muth’s Old Gold that stands out among near-equals, with sweet, twangy vocals and a heady set of songs from her influences reimagined with richly-arranged abandon making for a true powerhouse of a coverset. Kudos to Signature Sounds, to producer Rob Mitchell, and to Muth herself, for their collaborative work in getting this tiny, precious Americana gem into the world.

The Year’s Best Kidfolk Covers Album: Renee & Jeremy, A Little Love

This was the year I truly fell in love with California singer-songwriter duo Renee & Jeremy; indeed, I’ve probably blogged about their work more times than anyone this year, and who can blame me? A Little Love is a tidy, gleeful gem of modern kindie music, apt and ample for family fare, chock full of soft-yet-infectiously reimagined songs from R.E.M., Coldplay, Queen, Supertramp, and others that celebrate the gift that is the generous and well-lived life.

Two new albums from perennial kidfolk favorite and Smithsonian songstress Elizabeth Mitchell tie for second place: both her Grammy-nominated Woody Guthrie covers album Little Seed and her more recent release Blue Clouds are excellent additions to a growing body of work, further cementing her place at the core of the modern kidfolk canon. Bonus points to Jumpin’ Through Hoops, whose Rockin’ to the Fiddle is a tiny, joyous tradfolk set of fiddle tunes and kidfolk classics from Kristen Andreassen and friends which was released too late in 2011 for consideration in last year’s tongue-in-cheek awards.

The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers Album: Charlie Parr, Keep Your Hands On The Plow

Last year, this category existed almost exclusively to acknowledge the highly-anticipated duo release from Michael Daves and Chris Thile; this year, we keep it in the mix in order to call back to Charlie Parr’s early 2012 treatment of old gospel blues songs, which has had quite solid staying power in our home and our ears as the year has progressed. As we noted way back in January, Parr’s hoarse voice and honest workmanship make for an especially strong and consistent album, sparse and heartfelt, with the right balance of ragged gospel blues harmonies and well-crafted hill-and-holler fiddle and fingerpicking bound to tempt those who find their heart in the modern neo-trad work of Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Low Anthem while still touching a nerve in lovers of the Louvin Brothers, Dave Van Ronk, Leo Kottke, and more.

A strong second-place showing from Portland’s well-respected, internationally-known Foghorn Stringband, whose 21-track 2012 release Outshine The Sun is a perfect exemplar of a classic old-timey sound, lends credence to our category even as their recent forays into Cajun and other broad roots sounds and sources adeptly widen the lens of the traditional. Though the inclusion of songs from Hazel Dickens, the Carter Family, and the Stanley Brothers in the mix of fiddle tunes, pre-WWII country, and early bluegrass technically transcends the limitations of the public domain canon, the unified sound of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, stand-up bass, and vocal harmonies around a single microphone has a warmth and an organic authenticity that is both loving and truly timeless, making the album well worth revisiting here.

The Year’s Best Rereleased Cover or Tribute Album: Lotte Kestner, Extra Covers Collection

We created this category last year as a one-shot in order to feature They Will Have Their Way, a nominally “new” release cobbled from two previous one-shot tribute albums of male and female covers of Neil and Tim Finn songs. But while technically there is some great new coverage in Trespasser’s William co-founder Lotte Kestner’s aptly if unimaginatively titled Extra Covers Collection, the majority of the slowcore collection is forged from the two 2011 EPs we discovered and touted too late to make it into last year’s “best of” feature. Both new and older tracks combine to hold up eminently well as a late night lullaby set, though we continue to wish Kestner, who trends towards covering the obscure, would include more detail in her track listing; the Billy Idol cover below is a retread, while the Gotye cover is, naturally, new, but both remain favorites.

The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album: Rayna Gellert, Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds

A kind of catch-all last year, which allowed for a nod to those albums which lean heavily on coverage, but include enough originals in the mix to knock them out of consideration as “true” covers albums. This year, consideration of such cover-heavy releases allows us to celebrate the work of several artists: a new solo outing from Uncle Earl fiddle-player Rayna Gellert, New York tradfolker Jan Bell’s well-balanced thematic soiree Dream of the Miner’s Child, bluegrass banjo wizard Bill Evans’ In Good Company, a guest-heavy album which includes a delightfully fun 4-song sequence of instrumental Beatles tunes plus coverage of John Martyn and Sarah Siskind, and Canadian crooner Reid Jamieson’s tribute to the songs of winter, which, while it garnered treatment as a covers album upon release in November, truly belongs in this category thanks to three solid original tunes.

Of these, Rayna Gellert’s Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds edges out to the top, if only because of how effectively Gellert packages and presents a perfectly-balanced mix of the traditional and the newly-penned in her triple-threat role as arranger, lead performer, and producer – indeed, the album, which finds the artist shifting from old-timey fiddle tunes to vocal-driven singer-songwriter fare, is so unified in its timelessness, it’s often hard to tell which are the old tunes, and which the new. NPR’s Bob Williams called it “an exquisite slice of Americana”, and we’re inclined to agree, recommending it to the No Depression and indiefolk crowds alike for its morphine-drip drones and atmospheres. And with its strong phrasing, Gellert’s deep alto voice, risen to new-found prominence, reminds us of none so much as Cindy Kallett’s, which is high praise indeed from this long-time fan.

The Year’s Best YouTube Covers Series: ortoPilot, 2012 YouTube Advent Calendar

Finally, our sole new category this year, and one long-overdue, as the trend towards YouTube coverage sets and series seems to reached critical mass a while ago. Old Ideas with New Friends, a previously-blogged early 2012 Vimeo project designed to raise awareness of Leonard Cohen’s then-new release Old Ideas, had a diverse set of tracks but several with staying power, while Antje Dukekot’s monthly six-song-so-far Antje Sings Covers! solo set may lack the rich instrumentation and depth of her nuanced studio albums, but her lighthearted overdubbed takes on favorite songs from Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, The Wailin’ Jennys, and others make for a fine if cutesy introduction to her live performance. But in the end, appropriately enough, it’s the native YouTuber who wins out: ortoPilot’s advent calendars are always stellar, but this year’s is nearly perfect, with masterful predominantly solo guitar-and-voice driven takes on a diverse set of modern pop and indie radio tunes from Seahorses, Kings of Convenience and Foster The People to TLC, Green Day, Stevie Wonder and Smashmouth.

  • ortoPilot: You’ve Got A Friend In Me (orig. Randy Newman)

  • Antje Duvekot: Ford Econoline (orig. Nanci Griffith)

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 set of favorite 2012 covers otherwise unblogged.

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

2 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums

More Tributes and Cover Compilations:
Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith, Reid Jamieson, The Big Bright & more!

November 10th, 2012 — 02:57 pm

Seems like only weeks since our four-part series on the coverlover’s bread and butter, the full tribute or covers album. But even before the usual spate of Xmas Coverfolk begins to tickle our fancy, the end of the year often brings delight in this category, and 2012 has been no exception, sending along a host of tight sets and sessions sure to warm the chilled heart of even the most jaded folkfan. Enjoy…

The most potent and poignant version of Paul Simon’s Duncan ever recorded; warm and well-crafted contemporary folk reconstructions of Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire, James Taylor’s You Can Close Your Eyes, and Paul Seibel’s Louise; a distinctively dark and moody You Are My Sunshine – new collaborators Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith, who have toured together but recorded as solo artists up until now, are at the top of their games. And though overall their brand new all-covers album Bring it on Home runs a diverse gamut from true contemporary folk to indie electro-acoustic soul (album-opener Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me; Van Morrison’s I’ll Be Your Lover, Too) and soft-as-smoke blues club balladry (Tom Waits’ Green Grass; Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado; old standard Moonglow), its heart is made of stunning folk gems, making it an easy competitor for the year’s best coverfolk album and causing several major upheavals in my ongoing list of favorite song covers.

Masterful production and arrangement here provide us with the perfect combination of comfort and revelation, making for a perfect late-night long drive soundtrack; it’s easy to believe that the album found inspiration in “a late-night tour drive across what seemed like all of Canada”. Gentle trumpet, uke, fiddle, banjo and saxophone flourishes lend just the right layers to the songs, showcasing strong and deliberate vocals, crisp guitars and pianos, and arrangements without disrupting the smooth track-to-track flow. And the combination of voices here is heavenly, with Strong and Whitworth’s equally intimate, equally weary voices trading lead and harmony in true duo form.

Bring It On Home drops November 20, but as a lucky recipient of an advance copy, I’ve had it stuck on repeat in the car for over a month – even my ten year old, whose tastes run towards pre-teen pop, finds the lush harmonies and rich instrumentation worth asking for over and over. Our highest recommendation, then: check out two tracks here, and stay tuned for a Single Song Sunday coming up in the next few weeks featuring a third.

We’re huge fans of Vancouver singer-songwriter Reid Jamieson here at Cover Lay Down, and I’d like to think the feeling is mutual: thanks to direct outreach from the recipient in question, we were the first to feature Songs of 69, his 2011 all-covers birthday tribute to his wife and muse, and we’ve also found great joy in his 2012 renditions of both Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On and the Canadian National Anthem, both of which were directly forwarded to us for sharing.

As we’ve heard in all those recent projects, Jamieson’s smilingly bright, sweet and gentle tenor and light touch on both instrumentation and arrangement lend themselves especially well to lighter fare – which is to say that although his back catalog includes more high-energy electricity than much of his recent output (his 2007 tribute to the songs of Elvis Presley, for example, is a true-blue honky-tonk romp), much of Reido’s recent output has been tonally consistent, both beautiful and smooth, with layered harmonies that teeter on the edge of sentimentality without tipping into cloy.

But when this self-proclaimed crooner gets serious, the results are even more powerful. And so we’re especially pleased to report that on Songs For A Winter’s Night, a brand new selection of winter-themed songs released November 9, heartwarming renditions of Gordon Lightfoot’s title track, Gene MacLellan’s Snowbird, Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper, 1984 Band Aid project Do They Know It’s Christmas?, and a trio of sweetly optimistic originals, among others, stand alongside a choice of several darker songs – most especially Tori Amos’ Winter, Steve Miller’s Winter Time, Bruce Cockburn’s The Coldest Night Of The Year, and Nick Lowe’s Freezing.

This combination of song choice and project premise makes Songs For A Winter’s Night an exceptional album from a long-time favorite: transformational, diverse, and consistent all at once. Reid’s prolific and generous heart rings through every track, making the album perfect romantic fare for the coming cold. Stream the whole thing on SoundCloud, and then head over to Reid’s site to buy physical or digital product and download an ever-growing compendium of beautiful coverage for the heart’s every season.

  • Reid Jamieson: Winter (orig. Tori Amos)

I’m generally wary about blogging and/or bragging about tracks and projects which are unavailable to you, the reader – after all, the whole point of our ongoing exploration is to share the work to support artists and their art. But here’s a pitch for artist support: back in 2011, as part of a Kickstarter crowdfunding effort to make her most recent album, Laura Cortese offered a collection of to-be-recorded covers to anyone willing to give at the $50 level; last week, Cortese finally finished the EP-length coverset in question and sent it along to the small, exclusive group of us who lent our support, and although technically it’s not designed to be available for public consumption, she granted me permission to share a song at a time, with the caveat that she probably won’t be recording any more covers for a while.

In order to balance the exclusivity of the reward with the opportunity to share, we’ll be eking these out over the next year or so; you’ll have to wait for Cortese’s haunting fiddletake on Emmylou Harris’ Boulder To Birmingham, an amazing version of The Beatles’ And Your Bird Can Sing recorded live with Session Americana, a sparse but electropunky mutation of Steve Earle’s I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, and a synth-and-fingersnap reinvention of Joni Mitchell’s California. But for now, here’s the first, with a promise of all of these eventually, and always more to come from our favorite fiddling singer-songwriter.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

New covers project The Big Bright is still in the early stages, with just two official songs to their name; as such, it’s a bit of a stretch to consider them within a feature designed to showcase full albums and EPs of coverage. But the very premise that brings Ollabelle’s Glenn Patscha and Fiona McBain and “critically-acclaimed neo-noir singer/songwriter” Liz Tormes together is well within our mandate: The Big Bright was formed to pay tribute to 80s New Wave songs, and if the two songs they’ve released so far are any indication, their goal of finding the tender frailties hidden under the bombast of New Wave production is already well on its way to successful fruition.

The two tracks below, which currently represent the first and only official output from the trio, are unlabeled, underscoring the project’s novelty, but their transformation of INXS and Tears For Fears provide apt exemplars for both breadth and premise; as you’ll hear, this is true-blue indiefolk emocore – a bit of a surprise for those familiar with Ollabelle’s rootsy neotraditional output, but delightful all the same. Those in the NYC area will be pleased to hear that the band are in residence at The Rockwood every Monday for the month of November, offering three more chances to hear fuller sets from the trio; the rest of us will be eagerly awaiting more.

  • The Big Bright: Don’t Change (orig. INXS)

  • The Big Bright: Change (orig. Tears For Fears)

Finally, speaking of tribute albums: our search for second-generation artists willing to cover their fathers’ songs for our recently-announced charity “dream project” continues, with four nationally-recognized artists officially committed already. It’s way too early to name names, but suffice it to say that although I’m still hoping to hear from more of our 30 “dream team” members soon, I’m so excited about the generosity and talent of each and every one of these four incredible artists, it’s becoming quite difficult to keep the cat in the proverbial bag.

But by way of some not-so-subtle justification for saying so, allow me to note that a long discussion with a still-secret fifth potential contributor this week led to engineer, producer, house concert host, and studio-owner Neale Eckstein of Fox Run Studios, who has had a hand in enough cover videos to allow us to consider his body of work a series in and of itself.

Full disclosure mandates that I mention that Neale and I are already members of the mutual admiration club: he subscribes to this blog, and I’m a huge fan of his annual Falcon Ridge Folk Fest after-fest photo-and-music collages, which often show me dancing wildly at stageside, if you know where to look. But the work he’s done in presenting the below artists and their covers speaks for itself: each represents its artist exceptionally, while offering intimate and apt entry into their body of work. We’ll close out, then, with a trio of YouTube covers produced by Fox Run Studios, and note that BettySoo’s bluesy take on standard You Don’t Know Me, Cliff Eberhardt and James Lee Stanley’s Doors cover, a Prince cover from singer-songwriter KC Clifford, and more original and cover recordings from Antje Duvekot, Grace and Pierce Pettis, Bethel Steele, Cary Cooper, Matt Nakoa, Brother Sun, and others are available on the Fox Run YouTube page.

Emilia Ali: Edge of Seventeen (orig. Stevie Nicks)

Robin Batteau w/ Neale Eckstein: Heart Of The Matter (orig. Don Henley)

Ellis Paul: Crying (orig. Roy Orbison)

Before we compile our list of the year’s best tribute albums, cover compilations, and single tracks, Cover Lay Down wants to hear from YOU! Helping out is easy: just check out award criteria and categories for both Best Tribute Albums and Cover Collections of 2011 and our 2011 coverfolk mix of The Year’s Best Singles, use the sidebar to scour and sift through a year’s worth of archives, and leave a message in the comments below touting your favorite albums, EPs, and single tracks from 2012. And don’t forget to come back in a few weeks for news of new holiday compilations from Catie Curtis, The Sweetback Sisters, For Folk’s Sake, and more!

3 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Laura Cortese, Reid Jamieson

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2012:
Part 4: full-album folk coverage of Springsteen & The Replacements

September 28th, 2012 — 09:06 pm

After EP-length sets, multi-genre tributes, and rock/blues/pop artists turned folk for coverage, we close out our four-part series on this year’s mid-year tributes and compilations with a potent pair of decidedly folk albums paying apt tribute to the works of Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements. Enjoy!

Nebraska, the seminal album that proved Springsteen was more than just an anthemic pop rocker, has been done in full before. But it’s the 30th anniversary of the sparse, haunting demo-session-turned-studio-release, making another attempt nearly inevitable. And given the star power that turned out for Badlands, the turn-of-the-century tribute in question, to take it on again seems like an easy avenue to folly for all but the most skilled set of musicians.

Surprisingly, however, new indie tribute Long Distance Salvation: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is a near-perfect nod, both to the songbook itself, and to the canonical shift it represents. And this success is, in no small part, due to the collective prowess of the indiefolk craftsmen which haunt the album, whose appropriately lo-fi contributions make it a powerful product from a new generation steeped in the sounds of Springsteen as folk artist. Joe Pug, Kingsley Flood, David Wax, Strand of Oaks, The Wooden Sky, Joe Purdy, and a holy host of other post-millennial singer-songwriters come in strong, atmospheric, and truly transformative without trading away the potency of the original songbook or performances. And the album is heavy on the neo-traditional, too, with Spirit Family Reunion, Trampled By Turtles, Kingsley Flood, and a few more from the grassy/brassy sides of the indie world bringing in choice cuts which call to Springsteen’s recent Seeger sessions.

As with Badlands, Long Distance Salvation goes a few tracks beyond the original album setlist, including Pink Cadillac, Shut Out The Light, and other Springsteen b-sides, leaving us with a wholesome 14 cuts total. And, as if we needed another argument to pay our dollar down, the entire project is just just 5 bucks to download, with all proceeds going to benefit Project Bread. Our highest recommendations, with tracks to follow.

Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute To The Replacements, which dropped this past week on Bar/None, is a little bit folk and a little bit MTV unplugged session, honoring the path that the mandolin, like the banjo before it, has taken as it moves into the instrumental mainstream of rock and pop in the post-millennial world. And if the concept rings a bit of those bluegrass tribute albums, rest assured that the performance transcends the easy association: Nashville music veterans, pop/rock singer-songwriters, and session musicians Tom Littlefield (Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Nanci Griffith) and Jonathan Bright, performing here as duo Bright Little Field on ukes and a drum kit made of pots and pans, share a genuine love of the punk-tinged underground rock band they pay tribute to, and it shows: though breezy and occasionally even cute, there’s something quite listenable about the tracks that appear here, with a combination of balladry and rockers that mix clean and folky, with nary a low point.

We’re late twice over in celebrating Treatment Bound – the album was originally released in 2010, making this a rerelease, and arguably, it belonged in our previous feature on non-folk musicians going folk for tribute albums, thanks to the performing duo’s association with the rock and country worlds. But I just discovered it myself this week, and I gotta say, I’m loving it, in no small part because it hits my personal trifecta of respectful coverage, folkgrass, and 80s alt-rock source material. Check out a favorite track below before purchasing direct from the artists.

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Comment » | Bruce Springsteen, Compilations & Tribute Albums, indiefolk, The Replacements, Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Compilations, Fall 2012
Part 3: multigenre & multi-artist tributes

September 26th, 2012 — 02:04 pm

For those just joining us: we’re in the midst of a multi-feature series on previously-unblogged cover and tribute albums released this year. Previously, we posted explorations of EP-length cover sets and folky all-covers albums from artists generally associated with other genres; today, we take on four of those ubiquitous mixed genre multi-artist tribute albums, with an eye towards their folkier tracks.

Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe, the newest countryfolk-slash-country rock tribute from Austin-based label Fiesta Red Records, isn’t folk, and it isn’t marketed as such, though the roots and twang crowds have been buzzing about it since notice of the album first appeared at Summer’s beginning. But while a number of the tracks on this fine (and long overdue) tribute to the pivotal English singer-songwriter, musician and producer best known for penning such pub rock and new wave hits as Cruel To Be Kind and (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding fall squarely into the country rock camp, the album also includes cuts from well-known countryfolk singer-songwriter troubadours Lori McKenna, Hayes Carll, Caitlin Rose, and Ron Sexsmith – Mckenna and Sexsmith’s tracks are beautifully intimate, and Carll and Rose’s typically twangy – plus several surprising delights from some sparsely-performed up-and-coming bands and solo acts such as Amanda Shires, whose take on Lowe’s I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass shatters both genre lines and my heart all at once.

It’s worth noting, I suppose, that despite lede graf mention of the fundraising nature of the project (proceeds from album sales go to benefit victims of the 2010 Nashville floods and 2011 Texas wildfires), Paste magazine dismisses the album as a languid also-ran that fails to capture either the political urgency or the playfulness of Lowe’s work. But Paste can go to hell: regardless of how twangy or gritty a given track might sound, to this folk-lover’s ears, every one is treated with delicate respect and heartfelt beauty, revealing more to love than just the song, making the album a strong addition to any broad-minded folk-lover’s collection.

Just Tell Me That You Want Me, this year’s new Fleetwood Mac tribute from Starbucks in-house label Hear Music, is decidedly not folk, either – it’s mostly indie pop in the first half, and hazy dance pop in the second, though heavy on the guitar fuzz and synth beats throughout – and although Antony Hegarty’s quivering falsetto take on Landslide is worth a listen, most of the album fails magnificently, thanks to both a tendency towards phoned-in performances in no small part to the song selection, which skips over almost every one of the band’s best Lindsey Buckingham compositions.

But buried towards the back, where it seems decidedly out of place, you’ll find a rich, utterly soul-crushing take on Storms from Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy that builds and crashes like the waves on the shore. We’re no strangers to folk interpretations of Fleetwood Mac, having featured them in our Covered In Folk series way back in 2009; our love for “Prince” Billy’s neo-folk song deconstructions, which trend towards the ragged and soulful, is well-documented as well, in our May 2011 omnibus double-feature on the new American icon, which features full sets of both his vast canon of coverage and a collection of others taking on his songbook. The combination of the two is as stunning and powerful as one might expect.

The lines of coverage blur a bit when an artist takes on his own canon. But although Chest Fever: A Candian Tribute to the Band, which is due to drop October 2nd from Curve Music, is centered around the voice and selection process of organist, keyboardist and saxophonist Garth Hudson, who is often credited as being the principal architect of the Band’s unique folk-rock sound, this is decidedly not a Band album, or even a greatest hits collection: instead, Hudson merely picked out a selection of his favorite songs to play, and then found a holy host of well-respected countrymen to take on the songs so he could enjoy himself as he played along.

Thanks to this origin, Hudson’s careful selection of fellow Canadian icons and groups as single-take partners for a series of comprehensive recastings is not all folk, but it’s entirely influenced by the acadian rhythms and roots rock of the originals in all cases. And, as the joyous, rolling energy of the performance below demonstrates, his choice of bandmates to bring forth just the right combination of reverence and revitalization to every given take – in this case, Newfoundland-based Celtic folk-rock band Great Big Sea, taking on Band b-side Knockin’ Lost John; in other cases, Bruce Cockburn, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida, Mary Margaret O’Hara, The Sadies, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies, and the ever-ubiquitous Neil Young – is nothing short of inspired.

Finally, the newest compilation from indie label Paper Bag Records, which offers full tribute to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, is flavored throughout with electronic and grungy rock instrumentation, as befits the anthemic rock opera. But we’re used to hearing Ontario trio The Rural Alberta Advantage in indiefolk guise, having featured their more acoustic works in these virtual pages several times previously, and if they appear here wailing over crashing cymbals and heavy metal guitars, there is nonetheless just enough folk rock in the mix to celebrate – a perfect mix of Green Day and Steve Earle. Hard-core folk fans may prefer to skip this one altogether, but Paper Bag Records is unfailingly successful in putting together albums which stand strong from start to finish; those who come for coverage will love the treatment, and the price – an email address – is hard to beat.

PS: Want to help support Cover Lay Down in its continued fight for world domination struggle to bring you the best folk and coverage around? Awesome! Here’s some ways you can help:

  • Support the artists we tout by purchasing their work whenever possible!
  • Spread the word to friends and family by clicking “like” on a favorite post!
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings!
  • Donate to Cover Lay Down to help cover our rising server and bandwidth costs!
  • Join our facebook page to keep the folk and coverage coming throughout the week!

1 comment » | Antony and the Johnsons, Bonnie Prince Billy, Compilations & Tribute Albums, Great Big Sea, Lori McKenna, Ron Sexsmith, Tribute Albums

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2012
Part 2: EPs from Zoe Muth, Emily Elbert, Lake Street Dive & more!

September 23rd, 2012 — 08:02 pm

As our title notes, we’re in the middle of a multi-feature series exploring recent Tributes and Cover Compilations – an overdue exercise, since our last full-length feature on the subject dates back to March 2012. Last week, we took on three new full-length folk albums from artists generally thought of as originating outside the genre; today, we look at a trio of new EPs, and an in-progress EP-length video session, by and from true-blue folk artists and bands.

It’s becoming increasingly common for artists to release otherwise-covers albums and EPs with a single original song on them (see, for example, Friday’s treatment of Rickie Lee Jones’ The Devil You Know, which is being marketed as an interpretive album, even with one new track lurking among the covers). While this trend confounds delineation a bit, I’m certainly willing to allow it – after all, our own mandate at Cover Lay Down assumes the cover is predominantly a vehicle for comfort and approachability; to find that one original in the mix, and hold it up to the light of coverage, allows us to ease into the fullness of an artist’s craft, regardless of their stature. And in the case of the EP, it’s not hard to consider the work an expanded case of the maxi-single, which has often included b-side coverage – thus offering a short and inexpensive risk to the buyer, letting them sample the sound of a band, while testing the waters of their songwriting.

Conveniently, two all-covers-but-one EPs from young artists on the Signature Sounds label have been tickling my fancy this year, and though they come from opposite ends of the folk spectrum, both are worth celebrating. The first, from Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers, features stellar countryfolk coverage from the twangy Seattle-based singer-songwriter, who has been compared to Loretta, Emmylou, Iris Dement, and Patty Griffin – high praise indeed, and incredibly apt, though the clarity of Kate Wolf is there in spades, too, in this tribute set to her influences. The second, from local heroes Lake Street Dive, was a core component of my summer soundtrack, perfect for summery drives with the windows rolled down; their work is less obviously folk, but the quirky, sparse instrumentation of the band, which features stand-up bass, vocals, drumkit, and trumpet, and the one-mic one-take recording on Fun Machine, fit squarely into the indiefolk mindset, even as the covers take on The Jackson 5, George Michael, Hall & Oates, and Paul and Linda McCartney, and the performances yaw towards an iconoclastic folk club lounge band’s modality.

  • BONUS TRACK: Lake Street Dive: I Want You Back (orig. Jackson 5)

Possibly defunct Scandinavian Americana-folk collective Hyacinth House was around for a while, it seems – a quick internet search reveals old MySpace and pages that describe the band’s progress for a period of three years, from their inception at the hands of singer and producer Mack Johansson in 2003 up through the studio recording of their second album in 2006; a deeper dig nets blog mention of Swedish awards nominations for a 2008 album of originals which may or may not be that same second album, a rarities and b-sides album from 2009, and word of Johansson’s solo debut in late 2010. But if nary a homepage can be found anymore, perhaps it is a lesson in nomenclature: naming your band after both an entire artistic movement and a song by The Doors is always going to bury search results a bit, especially after you let your band fall by the wayside.

Still, if their fragmented history is to be believed, even after their possible passage, Hyacinth House remains a local favorite in the Netherlands, and their Dylan tribute A Tribute To Bob is worth hearing beyond those tiny borders. Recorded live on the road in the second half of the decade, and released this summer, the five tracks show a range of tonality – as might be expected from a group that in its earliest days ranged up to 17 members, though generally based on a core quartet of singer, guitar, cello, and alternating banjo, harmonicas and dobro, and unfailingly centered around Johansson himself. But whether it’s the sparse guitar-centered Springsteen feel of In My Time Of Dyin’ or their jangly contemporary dustbowl Buddy Miller take on Masters of War, the overall feel is wholly consistent with the quiet, contemporary acoustic roots music that we love to hear here on Cover Lay Down. Which is to say: it’s all folk, and it’s all quite good.

Finally, we’re going to go wide, and declare a professionally-recorded, single-session series of YouTube covers equivalent to an EP, even though we generally insist that medium matters, and even though only two of the cuts have been released as of yet, making declaration of session length and content comprehensively premature. But give us some credit for not wanting to wait to bring you the best coverage we’ve heard this month: though we snuck one of her collaborative works with fellow Berklee grads The Boston Boys in a few months ago, we’ve been looking for an excuse to feature 23 year old jazz-slash-folk singer-songwriter Emily Elbert for a while, not hardly because of her fondness for video coverage, and the two amazing covers she’s already published from last month’s home studio sessions with her piano-playing father Roland are simply stunning, with Emily’s powerful, soulful voice and subtle guitar framed adeptly by the rolling jazzfolk piano her father sets behind her. Check ‘em out below, and then bookmark Emily’s YouTube and Facebook pages to make sure you catch the rest as they emerge.

3 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Emily Elbert, Lake Street Dive, Tribute Albums, Zoe Muth

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2012
Part 1: Rickie Lee Jones, Rory Block, and a trio of metal voices

September 21st, 2012 — 05:37 pm

It was a relatively sparse Summer for tribute albums and cover collections, but we did miss a few during our long hiatus – and Fall has been bringing in a rich harvest, too. In honor of what we’ve fondly called the coverlover’s bread and butter, over our next few posts, we explore a host of new and impending albums for the covers connoisseur, with our usual mix of all-folk albums, hybrid genre sets, and singleton acoustic tracks from multi-genre collections sure to please all listeners – starting today, with a trio of totally folk cover-and-tribute albums from artists generally associated with other genres.

After five decades on the road and in the studio, multi-genre living legend Rickie Lee Jones has taken a number of turns in and out of the folk canon in her long and storied career, producing plenty of folkpop alongside full albums of radiopop, R&B and Jazz standards and crooners along the way. But where too many artists of her age and influence have turned to the maudlin and trite in their old age – see, for example, James Taylor’s dreadfully shallow post-millennial cover albums – Jones’ newest work sets her alongside Johnny Cash and his final quartet of albums, painting her aptly as a vibrant, deliberate artist to keep watching even as she continues to reinvent herself.

Even if you’re a fan already, you’ve never heard anything like The Devil You Know, Jones’ brand new full-album tribute to her contemporaries and influences, a hugely powerful collection quite sparingly produced by fellow Grammy winner Ben Harper. The all-but-one-original covers album is a stunner from start to finish: quiet, broken, dark, and truly folk in every way, consistent and rich with slippery, sultry notes of blues and jazz. Try the broken wail of Comfort You, the slow, low buzz of Sympathy for the Devil, the dustbowl blues slide of Reason To Believe, the dreamy beauty of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. And then consider that the entire album goes on like this, and buy two copies – one for yourself, and one for a friend – because this is Rickie Lee like a blazing comet, with a promise of more genius and genre-stretching to come even as she reaches an age and stature that could have easily excused a well-deserved turn at easy listening.

Equally torn, yet from way on the other side of the origin spectrum, is Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Scott Kelly, & Steve Von Till’s Songs of Townes Van Zandt, released this summer to little fanfare or recognition. The ragged, growling set from three seminal underground metal voices gone sparsely acoustic, a three-way split CD which features the trio trading off solo takes, rings of Robitussin lethargy dreams – neither the sound nor the sentiment that typical fans of Kelly and Von Till, Oakland-based artists who have long made their names as members of doom-and-gloom post-metal band Neurosis, and Weinrich, who is better known for his iconic work in the same doom scene, might expect, and a likely cause of its lack of attention from those both outside and in the world of alt-metal upon its release in July.

But this is truly a singer-songwriter’s anti-folk album, even if it wasn’t marketed as one. And if not all the tracks on this album are equally to my taste, as is often the case with nominally collaborative albums which actually turn out to have been created using the pastiche method, those used to hearing the tormented troubadour covered by the melodic and the past-their-prime folk set will quite appreciate their consistent sentiment, which truly illuminates, showing just how suited the slow speeds, low tones and surly, ragged style of metal-gone-folk are to Townes’ songbook. In my book, that makes the work quite a success overall – and worth our consideration here.

In her long and celebrated career, Mississippi Delta Country Blues singer/songwriter and guitarist Rory Block has drifted back and forth across the folk and blues lines, just like the country blues form itself: we’ve featured her work before in our thematic sets, and these days, the multiple W.C. Handy Award winner is just as likely to be found at blues festivals as folk fests, even as the folk festival scene implodes into indie, rock, blues, R&B, and roots. But I remember her mid-career works fondly from my childhood, where I found them a staple of my father’s folk collection, and I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis, which popped up in May, is just as fresh and raw as those early works, making it an apt addition to any folk collection.

I Belong To The Band is the third in a series of recent tribute albums to the elder masters of the form, and as with previous tributes to Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell, it’s tempting to treat the album as a one-take throwaway – stylistically, Block hews closely to what she knows best, and surely, after all these years, she can pump out this sort of loose, wailing work in her sleep (assuming that she sleeps with a slide guitarist and a few gospel singers at her bedside, that is). But with equal parts Christian celebration and bleak despair, the vibrancy and tenderness comes through eminently all the same, showing an artist still in her prime paying adept tribute to those who forged the way. For novices and collectors alike, then, and highly recommended for both.

Enjoying the ride? Then stay tuned this week and next for our continued short series on recent cover compilations and tribute albums, with feature posts on mostly-covers EPs and LPs, multi-artist multi-genre tribute albums, and more to come!

3 comments » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Rickie Lee Jones, Rory Block

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

Peter Mulvey Covers “The Good Stuff”
(Radiohead, Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jolie Holland, U2 & more!)

February 12th, 2012 — 07:22 pm

Peter Mulvey was one of the very first artists we wrote about here at Cover Lay Down, way back in October of 2007; at the time, we claimed that Mulvey has the versatility of the true cover artist, and the knack of bringing new meaning to a wide breadth of song, citing both his 2002 covers album Ten Thousand Mornings, recorded live in the Davis Square subway station just outside of Boston, and his collaborative work with lo-fi coverfolk supergroup Redbird as ample evidence.

Since then, we’ve come back to Mulvey’s work multiple times, both as a solo artist and a collaborator. His whimsical, ragged takes on songs originally written and performed by Dar Williams, Paul Simon, U2, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman and others have helped illuminate the works of these songwriters, and lent a sense of whimsy to features on Oceanfolk, Winterfolk, Show Tunes covers, and more. And, in 2009, in order to acknowledge the impending release of Letters From a Flying Machine, we revisited our original post, adding the lone cover from that album – a delightful take on Ira and George Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay – as justification for our continued celebration.

As we noted in our first look at the artist, Mulvey’s voice falls towards the Tom Waits and Dylan camps, full of feeling but hardly pure; fans tend to cite his songwriting and his guitarplay, which range from spoken word and acoustic swingjazz to contemporary folk and Americana, rather than his strained, whispery, sandpapery voice, when explaining their affection for the Milwaukee-based, Boston-and-Dublin bred singer-songwriter who has produced 16 albums in his career, and toured the country five times by bike. And certainly, Mulvey and Goodrich celebrate their collaborative fretwork, with the powerful all-instrumental album Nine Days Wonder, released last year, standing as an apt culmination of their partnership.

But there’s something to be said for the power of song wrung from a broken instrument, and as a vocalist, Mulvey is a master of making the most of every note. As a member of Redbird, which also includes Mulvey’s constant sideman and collaborator David “Goody” Goodrich and coffeehouse folkstars (and eventual married couple) Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucault, he lends a rough edge to harmonies, expanding the sonic experience, grounding the work in emotional grit. And, as a solo cover artist, whether in his earliest live recordings as a more traditional singer-songwriter or his most recent roots and jazz transformations, the spare voice recasts lyrics powerfully.

At the end of March, Mulvey’s third major covers-oriented project will come to fruition with the release of The Good Stuff, recorded last summer at the Signature Sounds studio just a few miles down the road from where our own blog is based. The plan was to make a rustic yet living album of standards, with rootsy instrumentation courtesy of Goodrich and others, and a long list of possible songs to winnow down to a single album, based primarily on the songs’ ability to come across as both timeless and lasting.

And although we’ve promised not to offer or stream any of the new tracks until early March, having just received our preview copy of the album this week, we’re thrilled to announce that the project succeeds in spades, due to a potent combination of acoustic genre play, nuanced craftsmanship, and that healthy double-dollop of whimsy and respect which have become the hallmark of Mulvey’s work.

As in Ten Thousand Mornings, Mulvey’s definition of “standards” ranges wide indeed, taking us from Duke Ellington to Tom Waits to Jolie Holland in the span of a single album. But where in that earlier project it was the environment which made for a vibrant, unified experience, with the echoes in the brick and tile underground and the screech and shuss of trains and passersby lending an air of realism, here, even as they mutate and transform to match the sense and sensibility of the set, it is the voice and guitar alone which create cohesion, with each carefully chosen setting providing new insight into a well-chosen classic song.

The result is practically miraculous: a diverse set, simultaneously ancient and utterly new, which calls us to a myriad of authentic folk and jazz forms, with the music as adept a carrier of the century as the songbook. His Mood Indigo and High Noon combine bouncy fiddlefolk with a minor key swing, coating a deceptively gentle delivery in dramatic tension; his Thelonious Monk instrumental is just ragged enough; his take on Willie Nelson’s Are You Sure? is a gleeful acoustic country duet, gentle and wry; his take on Tom Waits’ Green Grass is low and hollow, a death’s dirge that rises into the night; his cover of Holland’s Old Fashioned Morphine is a bluesy Waits-esque interpretation, a drink and drug-addled hallucination; his Everybody Knows is a deep, funky samba that wails into electric smoke. If, as Mulvey notes, these are the songs “that will be firmly ensconced in the firmament when half a century blows all the rest of the chaff away”, then there’s a good chance that his will be the versions which we hear in our heads.

As noted above, we’ve been asked not to spill the beans on the newest coverage from Mulvey. But here’s a build-up of older coverage from the man himself, both with and without friends – to reinforce your appreciation for a fine artist and interpreter, and to whet your whistle for the March 28th release of The Good Stuff.

  • Peter Mulvey: Hard Time Come Again No More (pub. Stephen Foster)

    (from Glencree, 1999)

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Hayward Williams covers Tom Waits’ Long Way Home w/ Peter Mulvey and Brianna Lane on guitar and harmony vocals

Comment » | Compilations & Tribute Albums, Peter Mulvey

Mailbox Mayhem, 2012: January releases
from Charlie Parr & John Statz, plus new Steely Dan and Dylan tributes!

January 9th, 2012 — 04:06 pm

The January release holds a special place in the ebb and flow of artistry; though it runs the real risk of being forgotten by the time it comes to make our year’s end lists, it also finds the market just gearing up again after a spate of holiday absence and Christmas releases. Thanks to tip-offs and promos from the usual sources, our fresh eyes have spotted three albums – each one due to drop this month, all well worth watching for – plus a few bonuses on the event horizon. As always, read and click for the good stuff.

Five albums in, John Statz is still a relative newcomer to the field, and we seemed to have missed his most recent full-band disc, a rockin’ alt-country collection from 2010 aptly titled Ghost Town. But his newest album Old Fashioned represents a shift in sensibility for the itinerant singer-songwriter, from his earlier, grittier solo work to a richly produced dustbowl Americana, one that comes with all the right recommendations, from production house to distributor to studio session musicians. And if we’re eager to spread the word, it’s because this album is the best thing we’ve heard so far this year: thick with the ringing tones of the American heartland, graceful in execution and delivery, and perfectly, exquisitely folk, in the same vein as generations of wandering troubadours before him.

The Frightened Rabbit cover below is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, the title cut and sole non-original from this upcoming Yer Bird release, which starts accepting preorders tomorrow; though we’ve been asked to stick to streaming only, like the album itself, the song is such great and yearningly heartfelt singer-songwriter Americana, we just couldn’t resist sharing it the moment permissions came through the wires. Bonus points to John for the successful Kickstarter campaign which funded the recording and mixing, for the warm, gorgeously layered production provided by session sideman extraordinaire Bo Ramsey, whose previous projects with Lucinda Williams and Greg and Pieta Brown have already captured our hearts, and for Pieta’s harmonies throughout the record. (NB: Pieta’s new release Mercury, which hit in the waning hours of 2011, makes a great companion to Old Fashioned.)

  • John Statz: Old Old Fashioned (orig. Frightened Rabbit)

    (from Old Fashioned, 2012)

I loved Charlie Parr’s piece on last year’s Vic Chesnutt tribute, and found plenty to like about Eastmont Syrup, an EP-sized collaboration with The Black Twig Pickers released with little fanfare and less recognition in the midst of 2011. And so I am thrilled to discover Keep Your Hands On The Plow, his impending album of traditional gospel classics, recorded at home with wife Emily, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low, and Four Mile Portage, a Duluth-based string trio.

Despite the relatively large list of sidemen, the songs here are sparse and heartfelt, with the right balance of ragged gospel blues harmonies and well-crafted hill-and-holler fiddle and fingerpicking bound to tempt those who find their heart in the modern neo-trad work of Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Low Anthem while still touching a nerve in lovers of the Louvin Brothers, Dave Van Ronk, Leo Kottke, and more. And though it ranges from haunting to bouncy and upbeat – East Virginia Blues, especially, is awash in eerie layers that compliment Parr’s torn voice; Blessed Be Thy Name opens with perfectly gentle two-part bluegrass harmony, catching my heart full-bore – the album as a whole is consistent and strong, sure to go a long way towards continuing to bring the acoustic singer-songwriter and song interpreter the recognition he deserves after a decade on the circuit.

Aching to hear Miley Cyrus take on You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go? How about aging rockstar Bryan Ferry tackling Bob Dylan’s Dream?

Yeah, me neither.

New Dylan tribute album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International is as unwieldy as its name: too big to work as a set, too broad to appeal to any single listener. Trust me, there is no reason why anyone should want to hear sleazy popstar Ke$ha cover Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, especially when she refers to her performance as “a suicide note to the love of my life and to my former life”; putting her version right up against the same song from the Kronos Quartet as a two-part finale to disc three of the 80-song compendium is mere sonic trickery, suggesting that this album is more about trying to market to everyone than it is about trying to create a listenable package.

But living in a digital world means never having to lift the needle. And of the 4 CDs involved here, there’s at least an album’s worth of great newly-recorded folk-and-then-some tracks, from Taj Mahal to Thea Gilmore, from Joan Baez to The Gaslight Anthem, from Jackson Browne’s take on Love Minus Zero to the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ amazing cover of relative obscurity Political World. Brett Dennen’s high tenor rasp seems perfect for You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, and the first and last discs, especially, show some promise, with strong coverage from Dierks Bentley, Michael Franti, Mark Knopfler, Billy Bragg, Zee Avi, We Are Augustine, and Lucinda Williams in the mix. Here’s hoping the producers allow single-song download via the usual sources when the whole thing drops in digital and physical form on January 24th; if not, the $25 price is almost worth it even if you’re going to be throwing away half the tracks. In the meanwhile, here’s three favorites that appear in slightly different form in the collection.

Still to come in January: A new five-song Martin Sexton EP, also due on the 24th, will contain a bouncy jamfolk cover of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth; the cover isn’t available yet, though the amazon snippet is tantalizing, but you can see & hear the title track on YouTube, and it’s decidedly a contemporary folk piece, with just enough twang to suit. Why an EP, you ask? “These songs are relevant today and I didn’t want to wait to release a full-length album,” Sexton explains in his press release. “And in a down economy, we’re getting new music to people for the price of a soy latte.”

And due on the 31st, at least according to Direct Current’s always-comprehensive release calendar: a delicate, jazz-ballad-y, sparsely done pianopop album of Steely Dan covers from two Swedish singers recorded six years ago but finally getting the US rerelease it deserves. Seriously. Called Fire In The Hole: Sara Isaksson and Rebecka Tornqvist Sing Steely Dan, the collection – originally self-released in 2006, now coming out through Zip Records – is a bit syrupy in spots, but sure to please fans of Tori Amos, Sara Barielles, Norah Jones, and other mistresses of the form. This relatively ancient video take on Rose Darling from an ’06 TV appearance is delightful pianofolk, speaking well of the whole shebang; the mp3s are from the album.

7 comments » | Bob Dylan, Charlie Parr, Compilations & Tribute Albums, John Statz

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