Category: Tom Petty

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty
(Dawn Landes, Kasey Anderson, Mark Erelli, Johnny Cash, & more!)

April 24th, 2010 — 11:26 pm

We’re back from our Florida vacation not much worse for wear, though the long slog home from anywhere proves a perennial challenge, and reentry into the world of work is always bittersweet. Still, the heart is light, and for that, I owe my family a great debt: to my father for making it all possible, to my children for helping me see the world as ever wondrous through their eyes, and most of all, to my spouse for planning the hell out of yet another perfect Spring Break.

Case in point: though much of our journey hewed close to the fabricated world of Disney, on our final day we eschewed the parks, and headed west to the mid-coast keys. The detour was a perfect capstone to our week: a respite from the plastic crowds, and a fine reminder of why people live here among the swaying palm trees, the warm and gentle gulf stream waters, the white sugar sand as fine as talc. Watching the sun set over Tampa Bay on the long, flat bridge to St. Petersburg was as sweet as the waterfront mojitos that followed.

Though it’s hard to imagine getting used to the heat of the day, it’s equally hard to walk away from the sheer joy of just sitting, calm and cool in shirtsleeves, in the gentle Spring breeze on the balcony after dark. And I can think of no better way to capture this moment forever than through folk music, in a tribute to a fine Floridian native son.

Tom Petty is Florida’s most famous export, musically speaking. Born and raised in Gainesville – where he was inspired by a chance childhood meeting with Elvis and high school guitar lessons from Don Felder of The Eagles – the grinning, iconic frontman and singer-songwriter has sold millions of records, won three Grammys, earned a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is often presented as the typical American Rock success story.

Though he went deeper and a bit more experimental in his later years, Tom Petty’s most identifiable musical alliance is with Heartland Rock – a white working-class subgenre popular in the 70s and 80s, typified by “traditional” rock-band electric guitar and drums tinged with mandolin and harmonica, and accessible blue-collar lyrics that tell of the social, physical, and economic isolation experienced by those struggling to recapture the american dream in a post-industrial decline. And sure enough, like the subgenre’s other famous practitioners – Bob Seeger, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and John Fogerty among them – though he has enjoyed renewed popularity among the younger set in recent years, Petty’s laconic drawl can most commonly be heard on bar-room jukeboxes and classic rock radio, alongside southern and country rock artists such as the Eagles and Lynard Skynyrd.

Like anybody, I guess, I find Tom Petty’s vast catalog of hit songs familiar from the very first chord. And though my struggle to love what can only be called “distinctive” voices is well known to our regular readers, as a child of the eighties, a pop culture aficionado, and a fellow pursuant of the dream, though I don’t own a single Tom Petty album, I nonetheless find comfort in the constant presence of his direct and often softly cynical songbook.

I’m not alone in this. The blogs were awash with Tom Petty covers back in 2008, when his superbowl halftime show was the talk of the town – a sure indicator that both bloggers and modern singer-songwriters share my appreciation for Petty’s apt portrayal of both the American heartland and the American heart. Today, as a mark of my own prodigal return, and in celebration of the coincidence of both American excess and Floridian paradise which I experienced in his home state, we gather in the best and folkiest – many posted previously here and elsewhere; all well worth repeating.

As always, Cover Lay Down is first and foremost in it for the artists: if you like what you hear above and below, we encourage you to pursue artist and album links to give back to the musicians we feature, and acquire some fine tuneage for your own files, too. Tom Petty may be ubiquitous, both with and without his perennial backing band the Heartbreakers, but those interested in pursuing his original works should head over to his webpage for videos, samples, tickets, purchase links and more.

Today’s Bonus Tracks offer up a pair of favorite covers of a song Petty cowrote for the late eighties supergroup Traveling Wilburys – whose star-studded line-up also included Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and George Harrison.

1,298 comments » | Covered in Folk, Tom Petty

New Artists, Old Songs: Angel Snow, Sam Jacobs, and Jon Regen Cover Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Journey

April 6th, 2008 — 11:37 am

In order for me to cover a song, the melody must strike me as well thought out. I can’t just relate to the song personally, it must also involve the artist’s emotional detail. I tend to crave a genuine credibility from an artist’s voice and lyrics –- songs in which I believe every word. If I’m able to put myself in the situation of a song and play the part, then I know it’s for real and I want to share it with others.
– Angel Snow, singer-songwriter

Like many music bloggers, I have mixed feelings about becoming big enough to be noticed by the indie promoters. On the one hand, there’s a lot of great folk being produced out there, and I appreciate having it show up at my doorstep. On the other hand, there’s a lot of music out there, period. Some days it’s hard to find my doorstep.

Happily, in my case, the potential for being overwhelmed by new music is tempered by our focus on the intersection of two relatively small niches within the music world. Though we define “folk” broadly here, much of the music I recieve is easily rejected as either not folk, or all originals. Winnowing the pile down from there is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. For in and among the chaff that comes my way, a few artists have stood out as both worthy of repeated listening, and perfect for my readership.

This presents a challenge. Though many of our feature series here at Cover Lay Down focus on songs or genre, which provide plenty of opportunity for a single great track to find its way into the mix, until now, we’ve only done full features on artists who have enough cover songs under their proverbial belts to merit the full Cover Lay Down treatment. But some artists are so impressive right out of the gate, they merit notice even before their body of work has grown to that scale.

So today, we begin a new occasional series, in which I have the rare privilege of introducing some artists so far under the radar that most of them haven’t even hit the rest of the blogosphere, so new that they haven’t yet recorded more than a single cover or two, and so incredible I just couldn’t wait until their next album to write about them.

We call this new series New Artists, Old Songs, and though I expect most posts in this series to be short one-shot occasionals, this weekend we kick it off on a high note with three artists to keep your ears on: Americana singer-songwriter Angel Snow, urban alt-country artist Sam Jacobs, and bluesfolk pianist Jon Regen. Someday, when these folks are as famous as they truly deserve, you and I can take some pride in recognizing genius when we first heard it.

Nashville singer-songwriter Angel Snow has recorded exactly one album, with but a single cover, but I’ve never been so happy to have finally been discovered by the industry as I was when I stuck Fortune Tellers into my CD player. Angel’s promotional materials describe her sound as “classic Americana folk with a modern edge”, and that’s spot on, but it doesn’t begin to capture the incredible emotive power that Angel can wring from spare, ringing guitarwork and a plaintive country vocal style versatile enough to go from the the open tonality of Natalie Merchant to the weary yet hopeful backporch intimacy of Caroline Herring.

In short, Angel Snow’s music is wry and confessional, raw and open, and I’ve fallen in love with it. I was so eager to hear more that I asked her manager to pass along a few questions. Here’s Angel’s thoughts on Dylan:

Bob Dylan is a favorite of mine not only because his music continues to transcend time, but also because it was — and is still — so profound. His music left some flabbergasted (I love that word) and others outraged, and yet still he did what he felt he had to do. Maybe it was because he had to get his emotions out. Whatever his reasons for pushing that envelope, he still managed to keep his storytelling talent intact. Dylan’s train of thought -– now that’s something I’d like to dig into.

Compared to the rest of Fortune Tellers, Angel’s solo Dylan cover is sparse, but no less intimate. Add a bit more open-throated power, a light application of well-produced slow bass, kit drums, and gospel organ, and some vulnerable and introspective songwriting, and you’ve got a total package that’s already on my Best of 2008 list. Download the Dylan, check out a few more tracks at Angel Snow’s myspace page, and then pick up Fortune Tellers.

NYC singer-songwriter Sam Jacobs, who writes and performs under the name Lipstik, works in multiple genres — in addition to this raggedly stunning folk music, he’s also working on “some dance stuff and some noise rock things”. But his no-longer-forthcoming 4-song digital EP There Is Only One Thing, which features a cover of Tom Petty’s Yer So Bad, is a collection of “sad songs with piano and cello” on the verge of No Depression alt-country, with a sense of song structure and subject aptly described as Leonard Cohen-esque. Full-length work-to-be Pain is a Reliable Signal promises more in the same vein, if a bit more Van Morrison, and that’s not bad, either.

Today’s track is an apt example. The aforementioned Tom Petty cover starts ragged and raw, with brushes and guitar and a voice not unlike Petty’s, if a bit more melodic. The song transitions smoothly to a full-bore weary beauty once the cello comes bowing in, and the end result is pure alt-folk gold. Download below, and then Check Lipstik out here.

Pianist and singer-songwriter Jon Regen is already an old hand in the music industry; he accompanied and anchored tour bands for jazzmen Jimmy Scott and Kyle Eastwood for years, and cut two acclaimed albums of pianojazz in the early millenium. He’s recently started recording and performing his own work, and like fellow folkblogger and impeccable taste-master Muruch, who posted the title track off Regen’s promising new album Let It Go last week, I was struck by Regen’s “bluesy acoustic” authenticity from the first listen. Let It Go has high folkpop credibility, with production work from the same guys who work with Teddy Thompson and Ryan Adams, and support from Martha Wainwright on vocals and the distinctive guitarwork of Andy Summers of The Police, but Regen’s original songwriting and stellar performance are the real find here, and I’m glad he thought to seek us out.

Kudos to Regen for knowing his audience; Muruch may have the single, but I got a very nice personal note and an *unreleased* cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ which he recorded in 2005. It’s a great track, soulful and well-produced, reminiscent of the best work of Marc Cohn or Bruce Hornsby, and I’m honored to be the first to bring it to light. Listen, and then stream and buy Let It Go.

Finally, today’s bonus coversong isn’t an old song, and it’s not new to the blogs, either. But young LA-based “acoustic soul” and jazz-folk crooner and songwriter John West is going places, too — somewhere just on the soul side of Shawn Mullins, I suspect, with more than a touch of Corinne Bailey Rae. This folky, gorgeously understated take on Rihanna’s Grammy-nominated and admittedly over-covered Umbrella is the only acoustic version of this song I’ve found which manages to retain the oozing sexiness of the original. And, dammit, it’s totally stuck in my head, so maybe posting it here will help.

We’ll be back Wednesday with a long-overdue return to our regular Covered in Folk feature, wherein we collect the very best folk covers of a single artist’s songs.

Interested in being considered for the Cover Lay Down treatment? Please gmail for details. All serious submissions taken seriously. Please note, however, that home recordings will only be accepted from Sam Beam.

777 comments » | Angel Snow, John West, Jon Regen, Journey, Sam Jacobs. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty

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

Beck Covers: Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, The Flaming Lips, Nick Drake

November 12th, 2007 — 05:36 pm

I saw Beck from a great distance in the heyday of Odelay, sandwiched between Primus and Toad the Wet Sprocket: it was the early nineties, it was Horde, we were bopping on the throbbing lawn, and folk was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Fifteen years later I’m married to the girl I took to the concert, Beck’s still cranking out the pophits, my hard drive is stuffed with folk music, and I pick up every Beck album as it comes out.

Is Beck a folk musician? Not if measured by his hits, no. Technically, his most popular work is post-modern alt-rock, if anything. But there’s plenty of reasons why Wikipedia includes the artist formerly known as Bek David Campbell in its list of American folk singers, and uses the term “folk song” to describe a vast swath of his work (I swear, it said that even before I showed up). Beck spent his early days as a busker and coffeeshop player, which gives him the folk street cred; he even opened for Johnny Cash in 1995. He can play a slide guitar and twang his postadolescent voice like no one’s business; some of his songs from that period and before come across as almost alt-country.

Beck’s songwriting, too, lends itself well to the cadence of the folksinger, as both his less highly-produced projects and covers of his work demonstrate. Today’s bonus selections, by KT Tunstall, Tom Petty, and Marianne Faithful, provide some tasty versions from the folkier side of this versatile performer’s songbook, just to show how folk these songs really are. But Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change, especially, represents a stripped-down acoustic style that leans on his rough interpretation and a simple, indiefolk production style — even if the occasional synthpulse in the background belies his post-modern hip hop heritage.

And when Beck takes on the songs of others, he generally chooses to slow them down, letting his quavery voice and lo-fi, sparse acoustic instrumentation recreate tone and timbre until everything is wistful, hazy, and raw. Live or B-side, tribute album or hidden track, Beck’s penchant towards funereal alt-folk pieces, like Ryan Adams or Gillian Welch at their slow and melodramatic best, legitimizes his inclusion in a blog devoted to folk covers.

Want proof? Today we bring you a broad set of covers from Beck’s folksinger side: the dreamlike echoes and hawaiian guitar of Your Cheatin’ Heart, the strings and lo-fi drumkit pulse of James Warren’s Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes, the slow, ragged-harmonies of Beck and Emmylou Harris covering Gram Parson’s countryband ballad Sin City, an in-studio acoustic cover of the Flaming Lips, and the eerie, gorgeously dark Nick Drake covers Pink Moon, Which Will, and Parasite. Are they folk songs? Absolutely. Is Beck an unsung folkstar? Listen up, and decide for yourself:

Regardless of categorization, Beck’s work is available directly through his online store. Folkfans should probably start with Sea Change; if your ears can take the bouncier, harder stuff, I also highly recommend Odelay and Guero.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

886 comments » | Beck, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, KT Tunstall, Marianne Faithful, Nick Drake, The Flaming Lips, Tom Petty