Category: Jeffrey Foucault

Tributes and Cover Compilations, 2010
Volume 1: January – April

April 17th, 2010 — 10:24 pm

Saturday was Record Store Day, and though we’re off in Disney World – the least indie place in the known universe – it seemed nonetheless appropriate to ground today’s program in our most album-oriented feature.

Happily, there’s a bunch of solid tribute albums lurking on the horizon, both in and out of the folkworld. June, especially, promises to be exciting, with a John Prine tribute and a tribute to the songs of Shel Silverstein scheduled to drop almost simultaneously. The Prine tribute is much more americana-folk oriented – names include Justin Vernon, Josh Ritter, The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Justin Townes Earle – while the Silverstein tribute yaws wider, bringing in Sugar Hill records luminaries Sarah Jarosz, Black Prairie, and Sara Watkins alongside Andrew Bird, Kris Kristofferson, Lucinda Williams, Dr. Dog, Todd Snider and others. But there’s much commonality here: both albums feature John Prine and My Morning Jacket, and – given the subjects and the talent involved – each promises plenty of wry, tuneful social commentary done up right.

More generally, though it’s early yet, Consequence of Sound may not be wrong in naming 2010 the year of the tribute album. Slow-moving news of a grand Bowie tribute due in September is surely just the tip of an autumnal iceberg. And, in addition to a few rock and pop-driven tributes in the early part of the year – notably, Peter Gabriel’s reciprocal Scratch My Back project, and the recent Bird and the Bee electrotwee indiepop paean to the Hall & Oates songbook – the recent emergence of two fully folk-oriented albums, an eclectic iTunes-only DIY duo’s cover album, and an indie lullaby compilation which leans towards the mellow and acoustic, have set a high bar for this year’s crop. Today, we take a closer look at these first-round pace-setters.

First and foremost, major thanks and kudos to the always-excellent Call it Folk, who made first mention of LML Records release In My Room earlier this week. Featuring a solid mix of 20 longstanding folk icons and regional delights, the album asks its participating artists to cover their favorite songs, performed as if stripped down and solo from their living rooms and home studios and other comfort zones, and predictably, the resulting recordings are almost universally intimate, though the wide breadth of artists makes for a full and diverse mix.

I’m still soaking in this one, but the gems are there in spades, from Arlington Priest’s slightly prettified but still-weary take on Ray LaMontagne’s Jolene to new fave singer-songwriter Peter Bradley Adams’ ringing, hushed cover of Matthew Ryan’s I Hear A Symphony. No project of this scope is perfect, and to be sure, with the balance of these contributors skewing towards older, mid-to-late career artists, there’s a few piano-led clunkers from a few older folkies here that go heavy on the pop-vocalist syrup. But the song choices are often inspired, and all are handled with care and affection. And with proceeds going to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Amazon listing the full 20-song digital download for just under 8 bucks, it’s worth getting the complete set.

As with the abovementioned collaborative project, save for a single mention – this time on the increasingly perceptive pages of Beat Surrender – there’s been little early buzz about Mark Erelli and Jeffrey Foucault’s new collaborative effort Seven Curses, a stark, dark set of murder ballads from Springsteen, Guthrie, Neil Young, Porter Wagoner, and other powerful troubadours. But the first three tracks are available at Foucault’s website, and – as we might have expected from this particular pair of down-to-earth singer songwriters and cover artists – though the production runs the gamut from sparse, intimate ballads to fuzzed-out two-man folkabilly, taken as a set, the songs represent a fantastic teaser for the album-to-come.

Seven Curses – currently available in the US as an on-tour pre-release only, though it was released to the UK market on Fish Records last Monday – is due to drop on the dollar market towards the end of the month, though you can pre-order at Young Hunter records. And you better believe I’m placing my order today. Here’s two to tempt your ears into joining me.

I mentioned Pomplamoose last week as an example of the growing cadre of artists using the digital world to leverage themselves to fame and possible fortune; now, serendipitously, comes email notice of their new iTunes cover album Tribute To Famous People, just in time for inclusion herein.

Like their YouTube work, the new collection is less folk than playful eclectic pop, just an increasingly confident couple of multi-instrumentalists taking advantage of modern digital tools to build a layered, homegrown sound that is equal parts studio mixing and piece-by-piece performance. But though the sound and self-effacing sales pitch are perfectly indiegeek, the intimacy of lead singer Nataly Dawn and the humble approach to performer-centered song bring a sense of earnestness and authenticity very much in line with the modern indie folk and folkpop sensibility – especially on cuts such as these.

Finally, the folks at American Laundromat – nurturers and tireless promoters of a particular subgroup of predominantly female indie set, who caused so much celebration here upon the 2008 release of their stunning Neil Young tribute collection – once again come through with a stellar mix of music in Sing Me To Sleep, an impending collection of indie lullabies. Folk has generally been but one far end of the sound spectrum for the American Laundromat sound: High School Reunion, the 80′s tribute which they released back in 2005 ran the gamut, and their recent Cure covers album, though excellent, was just too heavy with electric noise and fury to merit mention in a folkblog. But aiming to reach children and their indie-sensible parents leads to production decisions that replace the feedback with sweetness, delicacy and drones, and our readers should find much to cherish here.

Unlike the rest of today’s recommendations, Sing Me To Sleep isn’t out yet – it drops 5/18 – but there’s an amazing limited edition package that you just don’t want to miss available for pre-release up on the site, and that’s certainly close enough on the horizon to merit a preview, isn’t it? Here’s a delicious, delicate Jack Early cover from indie popsters Dean & Britta, label-sanctioned and drowsy with underwater guitars, to make you sleepy with desire.

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coversets every Sunday, Wednesday, and the occasional otherday. Coming soon: reflections on a Floridian vacation.

1,302 comments » | Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, Pomplamoose, Tribute Albums

Covered In Folk: John Prine
(21 covers incl. Laura Cantrell, Amos Lee, Josh Ritter & Jeffrey Foucault!)

March 23rd, 2010 — 08:00 pm

Like so many of our Covered in Folk feature subjects, I discovered country-folk singer-songwriter John Prine via coverage – through both his own “original” version of Roly Salley composition Killing the Blues, which Shawn Colvin attributed to Prine himself on her mid-nineties cover album Cover Girl, and Bonnie Raitt’s ubiquitous version of Angel From Montgomery, a sentimental bluesfolk number familiar to anyone who has ever flipped the radio dial to a Contemporary station in the last few decades.

It wasn’t until much later, during a week in attendance at my father’s house while he recovered from back surgery, that I discovered several of Prine’s early albums on my progenitor’s shelves, nestled there among Wainwright, Hartford, and other artists I had rejected in my youth as unfamiliar names with less than melodic voices, and a bit more country than I was ready to take on.

To be fair, my father’s collection was always a bit lighter on the Chicago folk revivalist scene from whence Prine arose, and heavier on the more localized NYC Fast Folk movement which I have touted so often on these pages. But I consider it a stroke of luck that the John Prine canon falls in that gap of my audiophilic development that I have only recently come to fill. In the intervening years, my tastes have matured beyond the direct sentiment and clear vocalists of my youth: these days, I look for nuance, deep social consciousness, and a bit of wry grit in my music. And for a true fan of such elements, John Prine is a diamond, plain and simple.

Though the bulk of John Prine’s greatest and most well-known songs were recorded in his late twenties, from the very first note of his self-titled ’71 debut, both man and music come across as ageless and wise. To listen to those weary recordings is to discover the truly complex combination of gentle wistfulness, perceptive wisdom, and humor which more often graces the best artists’ work only in their last years.

That it comes, in the original, from that broken, ancient voice – a tonality that falls somewhere between Dylan’s nasality and Guy Clark’s dust-croaked twang, only deepened since Prine’s 1998 brush with cancer, which occasioned a removal of no small amount of neck tissue – only underscores that this is a mature listener’s music, though certainly, as the below coverage amply reveals, Prine’s simple, plaintive melodies and direct portrayals of blue-collar drunkards, drifters, addicts, and wise-but-downtrodden everymen are accessible enough to appeal to younger listeners – and cover artists – as well.

It’s certainly possible to go grand and bombastic with a few of Prine’s more humorous tunes – for evidence, we need only turn to the full-blown country-western twang of David Alan Coe’s 1974 hit You Never Even Called Me By My Name, a parody of popular country music co-written by Prine and frequent collaborator Steve Goodman. I’ve skipped a few others “out there” from bona-fide folkies such as Joan Baez, Todd Snider, and John Denver that seemed a bit too pretty for my tastes. And it is true that a few of today’s set – most notably takes from Eddi Reader, Nanci Griffith, and a young Kasey Chambers & family performing as The Dead Ringer Band – filter these songs through the well-produced countrypop sentiment that we have come to expect from these performers, though to say so is by no means an invitation to pass over what turn out to be strong interpretations of well-chosen songs.

But most of today’s covers are gentle and solo acoustic, sung with a heavy heart and a smile that’s wistful and wry, chagrined and sincere all at once – both because we do folk here, and because, more often than not, Prine’s lyrics and melodies demand it that way. Live covers from Amos Lee, Josh Ritter, Jeffrey Foucault, Laura Cantrell, Hayes Carll and others strip these songs to the bone, bringing the same sparse touch to these gems that Prine himself did on his exquisite 2000 album Souvenirs, in which he revisited his own early songbook with the wisdom of years. As such, like the tributes below, Souvenirs – and 2005 follow-up Fair & Square, a “laid-back” acoustic album which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album – come highly recommended for folk fans.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

Like what you hear? As always, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to promote artists; if you’ve found love in our little hobby, please consider following links above to purchase and pursue your own rich collection.

If, afterwards, you’d like to give a little back, please consider that – much like public radio – we depend on your generosity to help pay the bandwidth bills. As our gift to supporters, all who donate to Cover Lay Down will receive our Summer ’09 Bootleg mix, featuring Stonehoney’s cover of John Prine’s Paradise and 16 more exclusive tracks recorded live at various Northeast folk festivals and available nowhere else. Make your gift today!

1,517 comments » | Amos Lee, Covered in Folk, Jeffrey Foucault, John Prine, Josh Ritter

Jeffrey Foucault Covers: Neil Young, Tom Petty, van Zandt, Chuck Berry, CCR, R.E.M.

February 6th, 2008 — 02:39 pm

The best seat at the Green River Festival is in the shade along the ridge by the side stage, watching the motionless kiteflyers staring at the outfield sky. Because every year, there’s that one sidestage artist that comes out of nowhere, a voice and style fully formed, and — where did HE come from? — blows you away. You have no idea who you just missed at the main stage, and you don’t care.

Such was the year I discovered Jeffrey Foucault.

Foucault (pronounced foo-kalt) is a scruffy, shy, self-effacing country boy between songs. But once the guitar strum starts, in just a few notes he transforms into a bluesfolk singer songwriter with a mean slide hand and a voice like the weight of a thousand years. Seeing him live is like being present at a field recording. Even in electric form, as in his jangling juke joint blues cover of Chuck Berry classic Tulane, he has an authenticity that you just don’t hear more than a couple of times a generation.

As a musician, Foucault is also an intuitive partner. Foucault had come to the Green River Festival that summer as part of Redbird — a coverfolk trio, with previously-featured Peter Mulvey and coffeehouse folkstar (and eventual Foucault spouse) Kris Delmhorst. The way he used his scratchy Wisconsin blues voice to push and pull his partner’s voices like taffy, making something torn and beautiful, sweet and bitter both, out of the three artists’ disparate and distinctive styles, was truly extraordinary. Happily, this comes across in recording, too.

A sparse harmony-centered set, then, mostly B-sides and alternate takes, featuring Foucault solo, with Redbird, and with fellow alt-country folkster Mark Erelli: folks my age, all voices on the verge, part of a particular school of third wave coffeehouse folk that’s just now hitting their stride.

Pick up all of Jeffrey Foucault’s work since and including his stellar 2001 debut Miles From the Lightning. Redbird, too. And start booking those folk festivals now, folks: the groundhog may have seen his shadow, but summer’s always just around the corner somewhere.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

337 comments » | Chuck Berry, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jeffrey Foucault, Neil Young, Peter Case, R.E.M., Redbird, Tom Petty, Townes van Zandt

All Folked Up, Part 1: Richard Shindell’s South of Delia

September 30th, 2007 — 07:15 pm

Welcome to Cover Lay Down, folks! Hope you found us okay. For a short letter of introduction/explanation covering why the world needs another cover blog, and why this just might be it, click here.

Our inaugural cover set below trumpets Richard Shindell’s recent South of Delia, a full album of covers released earlier this year. In presenting it, I’m trying to establish a posting template of sorts, wherein posts will include (wherever possible) both a featured cover and one or more bonus covers which are related to the feature in some way. Enjoy the music!

Richard Shindell is no stranger to cover songs. Many of the new generation discovered him through Cry Cry Cry, a one-shot folk supergroup which brought Richard, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky together for an covers album and a short tour a few years back before tension between the two women in the group brought the collaboration to an end. And his cover of Dar’s Calling the Moon gives me shivers.

But it says what it needs to, I think, that though Dar was surely the most widely known of the three, Cry Cry Cry only included one song by one of their own members on that single, seminal album — Shindell’s Ballad of Mary Magdalen.

Shindell is a singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter, a member of the same second-gen folk movement that brought forth Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, and John Gorka, and a man who is just as happy to play guitar along with them as he is to share his own well-written songs. He is known among his peers as a slightly shy, somewhat reclusive genius who hides deep insight in a plethora of storysongs ranging in subject and imagery from catholicism to the refugee’s plight. Ask any folksinger of a certain age to list the ten best lyrics they’ve ever heard, and you can bet Shindell’s work will be up near the top.

So many of us were left scratching our heads when we heard that his next release would be a full set of covers. And wondered, as well, what was up with the lack of press, and the release on the living-room label “Richard Shindell Recordings”. Was this merely a labor of love?

Naysayers fear not: South of Delia is a rich tribute indeed. Shindell manages to reassess and reimagine a broad set of tunes, bringing a new poignancy to deepcuts from the familiar (Dylan’s Tales of Yankee Power, Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street, The Band’s Acadian Driftwood) to the neofolk (the Josh Ritter and Jeffrey Foucault covers are especially well done, and let me say here: it takes both guts and grace to cover the younger generation, and to do it well.) His choices of song well fit his own songwriter’s bent, telling tales of the downtrodden, the refugee, the lovelorn, the lost — an especially masterful tactic in the case of songs which were, in their original form, produced to emphasize music and mood more than lyrics.

But don’t take my word for it. Here, take a listen to the deep yearning for place and racial acceptance Shindell brings to Born in the USA, which many folks consider Bruce Springsteen’s least meaningful song. I promise you’ll never hear it the same way again.

South of Delia is Shindell’s first album on the “Richard Shindell Recordings” label. You can get it in the usual places, but I prefer purchase through the artist websites whenever possible, so buy Richard Shindell’s South of Delia here.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

862 comments » | all folked up, Bruce Springsteen, cry cry cry, Dar Williams, Jeffrey Foucault, R.E.M., richard shindell, solas