Category: The Sacred Shakers

Elseblog: Dylan Covers Week at Star Maker Machine Plus: The Sacred Shakers, Mo Pair cover Blind Willie Johnson

October 5th, 2008 — 02:07 pm

We’re going through some exciting times here at Cover Lay Down. Just yesterday we announced a thrilling new partnership with Philly folk artist Denison Witmer; today, I’m helping kick off a week-long exploration of Dylan Covers over at Star Maker Machine, where I am proud to be a regular contributor. So far, covers have included everything from Manfred Mann to U2 to Sonic Youth, not to mention not one but two Jimi Hendrix covers, neither one of which is the one you’re thinking of; not a bad early mix for a blog that usually experiences a slow Sunday kick-off before whirling into the workweek with the usual growing set of thematic song.

My own first Dylan Covers post at the collaborative this week is a doozy of an exploration of the traditional song In My Time Of Dying, which was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in the late 1920s, and made famous when Dylan recorded it for his first album. The post examines Dylan’s role in bringing older blues forms into popular music, the long-lasting effects of which continue to reverberate through the folkworld, though surely Dylan’s iconographic power in bringing such songs forward was as much a product of cultural timing as it was skill and passion. I’m pretty proud of it, and I think folks who would have liked it here will like it there just as much.

The entry over at Star Maker Machine is written with the depth and cultural grounding I aspire to here at Cover Lay Down, and yesterday’s post announcing our new partnership with Denison Witmer was pretty exhaustive, too; given the effort expended, I hope no one minds if I treat this pair of featurettes as sufficient verbiage to stand for our usual weekend feature-as-promised. I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t add some value here, if only to push the usual mp3 aggregators to pick up the post. So here’s a paired pair of covers and “first recordings” of other tunes made popular by Blind Willie Johnson, while we’re on the subject; if you like ‘em, grab the Blind Willie Johnson box set, pick up the self-titled album from new gospel swingfolkers The Sacred Shakers, and get more from Austin bluesfolker Mo Pair.

So keep an eye on Star Maker Machine this week, folks; given the vast breadth of taste represented in our little collaborative, you can expect a busy week of great music and writing, suitable for even the most avid covers collector. If you’re eager for even more Dylan covers, feel free to check out the archives here for many, many Bob Dylan covers, most notably nine separate versions of Girl from the North Country. And don’t forget to come on back Wednesday for our usual midweek feature, and Friday for our next installment in The Denison Witmer Covers Project.

Speaking of elseblog: For more covertalk and song from the broader bloggiverse, I highly recommend this lovely, highly diverse set of 80s covers over at Fong Songs, whose host has finally returned to the coverfold after several weeks of obsessing about The White Stripes, Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds, and the Large Hadron Collider. Especially noteworthy: a stellar Huey Lewis and the News cover from Cover Lay Down favorite Glen Phillips, and the wry touch radio folkstar Shawn Mullins brings to his acoustic take on Wham classic Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. Check it out: seeing Fong at his coverblogging best is a genuine joy.

826 comments » | Blind Willie Johnson, Elseblog, Mo Pair, The Sacred Shakers

New and Noteworthy Coverfolk: Carrie Rodriguez, Mark Erelli, The Sacred Shakers (w/ Eilen Jewell)

August 10th, 2008 — 09:42 am

Now that my email inbox is finally back to ground zero, it’s time to take a look at the best of the recent crop of shiny plastic that has once again begun to pile up beside the alumni mags and kitchen counter catalogues. Here’s the top tier, some new releases and a handful of exclusive, previously unblogged covers from three well-respected singer-songwriters still on the cusp of full-blown fame: Mark Erelli, Carrie Rodriguez, and Eilen Jewell’s new country gospel project The Sacred Shakers. Regular reader of the usual folkblog suspects have already heard about some of these, but good news, like good music, bears repeating.

Mark Erelli is an old favorite of mine, ever since the high-folk production of 2001 sophomore release Compass and Companion started getting radioplay back in the mid nineties; since then, he’s gone deeper into honky tonk and bluesfolk, and spent a good deal of time on the road as a guitar man, supporting the fast-rising career of old friend and coffeehouse circuit peer Lori McKenna. But his new disk Delivered, on long-time label Signature Sounds, is a triumphant return to his singer-songwriter roots, with a polished sound made even more mature and powerful by the faint hints of explorative influence from his last few outings, and it’s a wonderful place to find him.

Erelli, whose local-boy-made-good backstory and aw-shucks manner only compliment a distinctive raspy tenor with a New England twang and a fine sense of how to write an ageless political folksong, hasn’t included any covers on this newest. But like his early albums, Delivered contains a great set of well-crafted tunes with strong vocal arrangements, solid atmosphere and open, confessional lyrics, grounded in common themes of spiritualism, hope, political desire, atonement and authenticity. Alternately hushed and driving, at their best, the collection of first-rate songs that comprise Delivered rival the best and most pensive of Paul Simon’s midcareer, the most yearningly hopeful of Springsteen, or the downtrodden post-folk of Dylan’s most recent.

I’ve previously posted a few choice gems from Erelli’s vast collection of covers (see below for links). And there’s bound to be more to come, as long as Erelli continues to post a new unreleased track on his blog every month; this month’s freebie, for example, is a great bedroom cover of Greg Brown’s If I Had Known well worth the download. Here’s a few more I’ve been holding back until just the right moment, all of them well worth repeat listening; his slow, sultry campfire versions of Joni Mitchell classic Case of You and Roy Orbison classic Crying are personal favorites, both among my top covers of all time. Enjoy ‘em while you wait to buy Delivered, which is available on tour only right now, and hits the streets at Signature Sounds on September 16.

Speaking of the always-excellent Signature Sounds: though Eilen Jewell, whose chipper Texas swingfolk wowed the blogworld last year, still has just the two albums to her name as a solo artist, this month marks the release of a selftitled collection of public domain tunes and a few country classics from new group The Sacred Shakers, which builds a core of male vocals and old-timey alt-country instrumentalists around Jewell’s sweet voice and girlish energy.

Though the premise here is old-timey bible-belt country gospel, played out in a surprisingly full spectrum of settings from slow waltz to driving alt-country, the sound is not so far off from Eilen’s big splash, last year’s Letters from Sinners & Strangers. Not that this is a bad thing: just a peg looser than a classic country gospel album, The Sacred Shakers album has touches of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and even the Stray Cats, but — as songs:illinois noted while I was away — has more in common with early Sun Records era Johnny Cash and Elvis than anything.

Which is to say: mostly, The Sacred Shakers is just plumb great swingin’ countryfolk with a hint of alt-country, full of fiddle and banjo licks, country rock guitar, thumping stand-up bass and the distinctive clicketyclack of the honkytonk drumkit in its more upbeat moments, and sweet and honest-voiced when Jewell steps forward for the slower sets, like Hank Williams cover Ready to Go Home, or obscure tradtune Twelve Gates to the City (which you can hear over at songs:illinois).

Here’s an *exclusive* label-approved pair from the new release, and a fave Eilen Jewell solo cover from last year. Especially startling: Greg Glassman, in duet with Jewell on the slow, ragged waltz that transforms album closer and country gospel classic Green Pastures, sounds eerily like Ryan Adams.

Finally, for the last few years, Brooklynite fiddle player Carrie Rodriguez has been slowly working her way out from the shadow of Chip Taylor, who first discovered her a few years back. She first appeared as a Tracy Grammer-esque partner, lending her duet voice and fiddle to Taylor’s own tunes; more recently, with last year’s Seven Angels on a Bicycle, she’s come forward as frontwoman and titular performer, albeit with Taylor on board as producer and co-writer. Now, with She Ain’t Me, out just last week on EMI imprint Manhattan Records, Rodriguez finally comes into her own, trading the rough-hewn look for a shiny cover art glamour, delivering a solid set of surprisingly poppy, diverse originals that run the range from Carole King to Louisiana Swing to full-blown poprock; Twangville hears Lucinda Williams, too, and I think I agree.

Rag Doll, the album’s sole cover and another rep-approved Cover Lay Down web exclusive, is a lovely, atmospheric folkpop piece with sublime vocals, a great showcase for both Rodriguez’ increasingly confident voice and mononymic indie-folkster Sandrine’s underrated songwriting; but my favorite track on the new album is the driving countryfolk neo-fiddletune Absence, co-written with Mary Gauthier and guest-starring fellow new folk revival vocalist Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still (who also lends vocals to Mark Erelli’s release, come to think of it). Check out Muruch’s review for Absence, and then pick up She Ain’t Me for even more gorgeous high-production folk originals.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

As always, all new and as-yet-unreleased tracks shared on Cover Lay Down are posted with full permission from labels and artist representatives. For review consideration, please send CDs and sundries to the address listed on the sidebar.

1,041 comments » | Carrie Rodriguez, Eilen Jewell, Mark Erelli, The Sacred Shakers