Category: The Farewell Drifters

(Re)Covered, vol. XX: more covers of and from
Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters, Rufus Wainwright, Dylan & more!

June 11th, 2011 — 08:54 pm

Our tendency towards revisiting posts gone by through the lens of new releases and projects is especially apropos this weekend, given the continued recovery efforts in our little tornado-ravaged town.   While the rest of us sift through the rubble, let’s sift through the archives, taking account of some new and noteworthy works from artists featured previously here on Cover Lay Down. 

We first featured young started-out-bluegrass band the Farewell Drifters on the release of the hook-heavy Yellow Tag Mondays, their 2010 release; back then, they were already leaning towards a broader stew of Americana and indie roots music, and you could hear both their influences and their growing trend towards folkrock in the Beatles covers we posted, which had been recorded a year apart from each other.

Today, in a (Re)covered two-fer, the Drifters bring us a song that we visited through other coverage way back on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, and like the rest of their newest album, it’s another step towards something rich and subtly different, both more mainstream and more original in sound and sensibility, couched in deeply layered pop-rock with just a hint of ‘grass, though relatively true to the original in most other ways. The cover – a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy In New York – is nowhere near as sweet or somber as the Shawn Colvin cover that so deeply speaks to my soul, but these days, being in the thick of the disaster, I need hope more than I need sadness, and this bonus track from Echo Boom, released just last week, provides just the trick, making for some fine summer soundtrack material.

  • Farewell Drifters: Only Living Boy In New York (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)

    (from Echo Boom, 2011)

Bonus Tracks:

Sam Billen is a stand-up, sensitive indie musician and producer who has shown up on Cover Lay Down several times, both for his several holiday projects and for REMOVERs, the electrofolk remix and coverage project which he has been building and posting – in public and entirely for free – for over a year as he adjusts to the home studio joys of new fatherhood. He’s long been on the top of our watchlist, in part because of the sheer authenticity of both his voice and the evident care and craftsmanship with which he produces his material, and in part because, unlike most musicians, he comes off as perfectly sincere, even humble in both his work and his occasional emails announcing new developments in that work.

But Sam gets major kudos for reaching out this time around – because in the midst of the chaos we’ve experienced since the tornado hit our tiny town, it was genuinely touching to receive an email that contained both a full paragraph reaching out to us in the context of that disaster, thanking us for our reporting of it and sending hope that we are all okay out here, and a link to the newest songs which Sam, his brother, and his father have taken on: a set of loving living-room covers of predominantly countrypop hits, just three guitars and voices taking on Neil Young and others, as honest as a campfire circle among family. Here’s two of my favorites, with encouragement to check out the rest of ‘em over at The Billen Brothers’ YouTube channel – plus an older bonus from the now-completed REMOVERs project.

  • The Billen Brothers: Ventura Highway (orig. America)

  • The Billen Brothers: I Will (orig. The Beatles)

Our 2007 feature on the Wainwright/McGarrigle Family was the very first of our Folk Family features; since then, we’ve revisited the extended clan multiple times, making note of Loudon’s Charlie Poole tribute, youngest daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche‘s delightful work as a solo singer-songwriter, and Kate McGarrigle’s passing last winter after a long struggle with cancer. Now, we return once more to report on a new work from what is perhaps the least “folk” of the modern Wainwright clan: Rufus, who has made a name for himself in movie soundtracks and pop circles as a balladeer, forging far beyond the folk roots which mother Kate and father Loudon set before him.

To be fair, Rufus has crossover appeal to folk audiences; as such, we’ve covered him here, too. But though the new Rufus box set House of Rufus – 19 full-length discs, both CDs and DVDs, a relatively complete compendium of demos, in-studio rarities, side projects, soundtrack cuts, live material, and 6 studio albums – primarily focuses on his work as a nuanced pop crooner (including the entirety of his infamous Carnegie Hall Judy Garland tribute), the sheer breadth is wide enough by far to be well worth collecting, including a vast and varied compendium of his collaborative work with family members and friends, many of which we’ve celebrated here before, and a few of which (most notably, a delicious duet on Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll performed with his father which, unfortunately, I’ve been asked not to release too early) are otherwise entirely unavailable. Here’s a couple other favorites from the box and beyond, just to show the diversity potential in such a sweeping set of coverage.

Finally: social and professional pressures caused us to skip past two Bob Dylan tributes as his birthday came and went towards the end of May; recent tornado events in our local area kept us from coming back until now. But the pair is worth noting, even now, in part because both feature well-known, long-standing artists taking on the Dylan canon with aplomb.

First and foremost, Ralph “Streets of London” McTell released an EP-length set of Dylan covers two weeks ago, and though nobody seems to have noticed except astute Aussie folkwatchers Timber and Steel, the set is absolutely worth finding and purchasing. Somewhat akin in tone and timbre to the late Johnny Cash’s reinterpretation of the work of others late in his own life, yet imbued with McTell’s distinctive britfolk tones and fingerpicking, the six songs here are darkened with age, and deep with the pensive eye and mind of a fellow folksinger who has seen his share of fame, which is to say: as T&S notes, McTell’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright sounds like the song was written for him. Check out the full tribute here.

Second and no less noteworthy, Red House Records took advantage of Dylan’s 70th to release a decade-later follow-up to their defining Dylan folk tribute. Like the “original”, A Nod To Bob 2, the second release in this series, stars a set of recognizable folk artists taking on the canon – though notably, this time around, a few cuts can be found elsewhere, such as Danny Schmidt’s Buckets of Rain, or Eliza Gilkyson’s Jokerman, and some of these artists, such as John Gorka, are no longer in the prime of their careers, and their voices show it. Still, the roster here is sound, and the interpretations well-selected, with deeper cuts than the last round, and standouts all around, including a wonderful wail from the Jimmy LaFave, the Texan master of Dylan troubadour coverage, a delightfully bouncy, bluesy take from Hot Tuna, a truly sultry country blues from Pieta Brown, and Meg Hutchinson’s wonderful, echoing piano-driven reinvention of rarity Born In Time – the latter pair of which we could not help but pass along.

While we’re all about the artists here, and our server costs continue to rise as our popularity continues to grow, here at Cover Lay Down, we believe in passing it forward. So although we encourage you to check out and purchase albums by all artists featured here before moving on, Cover Lay Down is pledging 40% of all donations given between now and June 30th to rebuilding our local community after the recent tornado cut a swath through the hills and into our downtown area, destroying our Town Offices and leaving well over 100 people homeless. Won’t you consider helping out? Click here to donate.

15 comments » | (Re)Covered, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Billen, The Farewell Drifters

Bluegrass On The Edge:
New releases from The Farewell Drifters, Keller Williams, and Crooked Still

May 16th, 2010 — 07:40 pm

The breeze outside is gentle, and the temperature hovers in the low seventies. Our garden is overgrown with tall grasses, I can hear the kids calling breathlessly to each other from the woods behind the house, and the best damn ‘grass festival in the Northeast is just two months away. Perfect for an afternoon on the porch with the laptop, a glass of lemonade, and a stack of new and upcoming releases from the broad borders of bluegrass.

Nashville-based up-and-comers The Farewell Drifters are my favorite kind of bluegrass band: talented, young and energetic, with chops and poise beyond their years. Which makes me especially happy to report that their sophomore album Yellow Tag Mondays is a well-balanced delight, revealing a hidden pop side and an ear for perfect tenor-led harmonies, making it clear that this quintet of fresh-faced, clear-voiced singer-songwriters and instrumentalists are more than ready for the main stage.

Like many young five- and six-piece bluegrass bands, The Farewell Drifters push their own strong songwriting heavily; in two albums and one EP, their total coverage count remains small enough to count on one hand, with room left over for hitchhiking. That’s not a bad thing – primary songwriters and band co-founders Josh Britt and Zach Bevill have a knack for hook-heavy composition and solid, sweet countrypop lyrics that, when added to the band’s rich sound, engender apt comparison to Nickel Creek. Still when the boys do go outside their own book, it’s a genuine joy, and thanks to their reps, I’m proud to present an exclusive covertrack from the new album, plus a bonus cover from their 2008 River Song EP, and one more from their debut which reveals just how far the road has taken the band in three short years.

It’s been a long, long while since we visited the Beatles songbook, but it’s good to hear a young band prove there’s still life in those old familiar tunes. Listen, then head over to their website to check out The Farewell Drifters’ back catalog, and to save your place in line for the June 8 release of Yellow Tag Mondays.

Keller Williams is hard to categorize – though the irreverent and self-indulgent singer-songwriter spent much of his career on the jamband circuit, he most often performs in full solo folksinger mode; his albums tend to stick to a particular sensibility throughout, but taken as a collection, they run the gamut from electrojam to acoustic folk. But with the sweet flatpicking, acoustic bass, and occasional harmonies of husband and wife duo Larry and Jenny Keel layered under his signature choppy guitar style on every track, just like in previous 2006 Keller and the Keels collaboration Grass, his new all-covers album Thief comes closest to bluegrass than anything.

Though both Keller and his detractors often have trouble taking his performance seriously – check out the utter silliness of his Moondance cover from 2003 live release Stage below to see what I mean – the approach here is comprehensively successful, transforming a vast array of songs from the hidden recesses of alt-radio and popular culture into delightful summery tunes, playful and light. I’ve included a few favorites, but the whole album is worth pursuit, if only to hear tracks such as signature Amy Winehouse hit Rehab, Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses, and the Butthole Surfer’s Pepper totally revamped as lazy jazzgrass jams a la perennial cover favorites Hayseed Dixie.

Of course, the biggest news in the increasingly rich world of crossover folk/bluegrass these days is the newest from Crooked Still. All eyes are on Some Strange Country, due to drop on Tuesday, and available for full-album streaming at NPR until then. I’m a huge fan of Crooked Still, and there’s a lot to love here: their album-closing cover of the Rolling Stones’ You Got The Silver is fun, sure to please both cover lovers and newcomers alike; first single Half of What We Know is a strong radio-ready composition that works well with the band’s fluid, dark atmosphere, and it’s wonderful to hear a full record’s worth of new covers and originals from Crooked Still – a band with a well-known reputation as perfectionists who hew close to their catalog in concert, and take few risks on stage and between albums, as evidenced by Crooked Still Live, last summer’s under-the-radar live album.

But though I highly recommend purchase to old fans and new, I’m also finding a grain of salt in my celebration of Some Strange Country. The press release, as might be expected, touts the record as a sonic expansion, and it’s fair to say that lead singer Aoife O’Donovan lets go a bit more than on previous releases, but other than that, I’m hard-pressed to describe it as anything but a continuation and perhaps a crystalization of the same wonderful sound we’ve been privy to before.

Am I asking too much? Are familiarity and comfort an inherent drawback to defining your own sound outside of traditional genre lines? Check out both the above-linked original track and this totally revamped take on my youngest daughter’s favorite traditional folksong, move on quick to NPR before the stream turns into a pumpkin at midnight tomorrow, and make the call for yourself.

Speaking of NPR: I managed to catch the tail end of a Mountain Stage rerun last week which featured barely post-adolescent sibling trio The Lovell Sisters originally recorded in June of last year, and the set was such a stunner, a blow-your-socks-off fusion of folk, bluegrass, country and old-timey acoustic, I can’t help but pass it along.

The Lovells Sisters broke up in January – seems college takes short-term priority over performance for sister Jessica – and there’s nothing but wonderfully vibrant originals on the first EP from the remaining duo, now performing as Larkin Poe. But the EP is well worth note and promotion, so click here for the NPR archive of The Lovell Sisters on Mountain Stage, covering Jimi Hendrix, Massive Attack’s Teardrop (aka the theme to House, MD), and In My Time of Dyin’.

Oh, and as a total afterthought: legendary Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio passed away today after a long battle with cancer. War Pigs predates his work with the seminal heavy metal band, but here’s a Hayseed Dixie cover in tribute anyway:

1,430 comments » | bluegrass, Crooked Still, Keller Williams, The Farewell Drifters