Archive for November 2012

Christmas Coverfolk, 2012: New Holiday Compilations

November 30th, 2012 — 11:24 pm

All across town and up and down the mountain, the houses begin to take on their holiday cheer. From sprawling displays that smother the lawn to simple candlelit windows, each one adds their own special spice to the bouquet that is the impending season as each yard becomes a diorama of Santas, trees, angels, strings of lights, and more. And we are glad, and merry, as we pass by in the cold.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and it’s beginning to sound a bit like it, too, what with bloggers and radio stations already jingling bells and decking halls. And the mailbox, bulging with sweets for the season, a month’s worth of folk, roots, and acoustic delights ripe for the tree, cries out for attention. And like children on Christmas morning, we can wait no more.

And so today, we check in with the first of several Christmassy features, the better to share our joy and gay apparel with the world. Because the world of lights and holly deserves its own special soundtrack. Because it’s the night before December, and it’s time.

Now in their third year, the holiday collections put forward by UK-based folkblog For Folk’s Sake just keep getting better – and this year’s is so good, I just had to put it atop our list of multi-artist collections. For Folk’s Sake It’s Christmas 2012 includes 15 new and generally sparse indie-and-nufolk holiday recordings from plenty of rising stars, with a surprisingly large number of originals among them, but classic carols by Gibson Bull and Carmen, whose beat-steady countryfolk Holly and the Ivy is an instant favorite, a twangy neo-traditional arrangement of We Three Kings from The Willows, a dark electrofolk In The Deep Midwinter from Feldspar, a delicate track from Friends of All The World that starts with a pensive neoclassical touch and swings into the familiar Greensleeves melody of The Old Year Now Is Fled, and a sweet tinkly fireside O Little Town Of Bethlehem from Stylusboy offer familiar well-scattered delights among the mix.

The fact that the vast number of artists represented here are duos and small groups is a strong indicator of the shifting sands of modern folk, and makes for a rich sound in the mix. All proceeds go to the Evelina Children’s Hospital, making purchasing a generous act, as well as an aurally pleasing one. And the accompanying interview with Gibson Bull, who we’ve been touting to the rooftops since we discovered him a few months ago, is both a reminder that For Folk’s Sake belongs at the top of any folkwatcher’s must-read list throughout the year, and a bonus well worth your time. Need I say more?

Already aching for the perfect antithesis to shiny radiopop after flipping through the radio dial? Then look no further that A Baton Rouge Acoustic Christmas. I’ve been pushing this one on other bloggers since it first came to my attention as artists I trust in the Boston folk community started dropping it on their own twitter feeds and Facebook pages a few weeks ago, and for good reason: home-recorded live last Christmas in loose, live-sounding sessions as a gift to friends and family, this quiet, consistent record is a true delight, with simple instrumentation and a small rotating group of artists who manage to combine joyful Cajun rhythms and instrumentation, gentle country-and-tradfolk voices and harmonies, and the joyous, rich sounds of traditional French and English caroling so smoothly, it practically begs us to consider the whole thing a new and fully cohesive subgenre.

From the other side of the tree comes this year’s inevitable indie samplers, with their mixed genre bag of goodies, and this year’s pile is precious, indeed. Of these, Holidays Rule – an indie sampler from Starbucks in-house label Hear Music – was one of the first out of the gate, and although it’s been on the playlist since an October 30 release, the fact that folks are still talking about it is neither accident nor mere indicator of how often Starbucks hits the mark with their increasingly solid albeit eclectic catalog.

The album offers the usual mix of indie rock, indie pop, country, and indiefolk, with solid tracks from The Shins, fun., Irma Thomas with the Preservation Jazz Hall Band, Y La Bamba, the ubiquitous Rufus Wainwright, and Holly Golightly, plus Paul McCartney, of all people, holding down the fort for those who love the heavier, weirder, kitchier, and poppier stuff. But their winsome ways, plus some surprisingly strong folk tracks, make this one worthwhile as a whole, including great tracks from The Civil Wars, The Punch Brothers, Calexico, Andrew Bird’s lively, grassy Auld Lang Syne, and a swinging, almost Disney-esque Black Prairie ft. Sallie Ford romp through Kay Starr’s 50′s pop hit (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag.

Most imperfect holiday sampler of the year award may well go to Isn’t This World Enough: A Nettwerk Christmas: predominantly comprised of originals, only half of which are newly recorded for this year, and taken in order from top to bottom, the poorly-titled album overall features an unusually bumpy ride, with a song actually called OMG It’s Christmas, Sixpence None The Richer up against Great Lake Swimmers, and the hardest players clustered oddly. There are a few redeeming qualities here: Admiral Fallow, whose dreamy, dreary original (Torrent Rain) stood out on the For Folk’s Sake collection, makes another appearance, and Jay Brannan’s Dear Santa, while not new, is worth a listen. Still, that Cover Lay Down fave Joshua Hyslop has not one but two tracks on the album – an original, and the beautiful track below – is less a case for the album itself, and more a sad argument for both single-artist blogging, and track-by-track downloading models.

The XO for the Holidays samplers of year’s past have presented a similarly mixed bag, and several of the tracks on this year’s 9-track sampler will only appear to those who love a good bit of earnest, anthemic grungerock by the tree. But the wonderful gypsyfolk original I Don’t Want Anything For Christmas from Caravan Of Thieves is easily worth the free download, as is Piney Gir’s fun pop culture exploration of the season. And on the softer side, Sophie Barker’s Winter Wonderland offers a quiet echo of tinkly childhood delights, while Robert Burnham’s post-folk White Christmas, a softly mellow, scratchy coda that slowly buries itself in an obscuring, howling wind of irony, offers nearly perfect closure for our set.

Finally, although we’re only posting songs from 2012 this weekend, those interested in multi-artist holiday collections should take note: the Rarebird Records holiday samplers A Rarebird In A Pear Tree (2010) and A Rarebird In A Pear Tree Vol. 2 (2011) are still available over at Noisetrade, as is Fireplace Songs, a solid pop-to-folk multi-genre sampler from film licensing company The Music Bed; all of these contain great acoustic and folk gems, and run heavily towards coverage and traditionals; all are free, and come highly recommended. And, after several years of Soul, Country, and mixed-bag Christmas mixes, this year’s Holiday Sampler from blogger Any Major Dude with Half A Heart comes with an acoustic theme, bringing 22 well-selected tracks from Tift Merritt, The Weepies, Rosie Thomas, Pierce Pettis, Denison Witmer, Mindy Smith, and more – head over, and download the mix onto a single CD, with his compliments.

PS: Looking for more seasonal delights to tickle your frozen ears? Stay tuned for our upcoming feature on this year’s best single-artist holiday albums and EPs, plus the usual multitude of new holiday singles from our favorite folk and acoustic sources!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

A Very Kidfolk Christmas CONTEST:
Win Renee & Jeremy’s new holiday EP and covers album!

November 25th, 2012 — 06:50 pm

For the childless outsider, the distinction we make between family-friendly kidfolk and music-for-kids may seem a false dichotomy. And, to be fair, comparison of one to the other is tricky – while children’s music is arguably a stylistic subgenre or genre set unto itself, the kindie label is applied across many genre categories to describe a family-oriented sense and sensibility, one framed by both a particular intersection of topical content-appropriateness and a particularly multi-layered approach to performance and arrangement.

But just as the difference between Barney and old Sesame Street episodes is self-evident to those who know what to look for, putting selections from each side of the kid/family playlist against each other exposes the distinction between them. Today, a comparison of brand new holiday collections from well-known kid performer Laurie Berkner and kindie favorites Renee & Jeremy makes for a case study in stylistic contrast.

A Laurie Berkner Christmas, which dropped at the end of October, is a true-blue kid’s album – and quite a decent one, on that level, with a strong mix of mostly-acoustic classic songs and carols, a smattering of cute and catchy originals, and a full reading of The Night Before Christmas at album’s end. And notably, every single one of the eleven reviews it received on Amazon since its release have given it five glowing stars.

But it isn’t designed for us. It’s designed for our children. And therein, I think, lies the challenge.

You see, while Berkner’s new holiday album might be fun for little kids, it’s not accessible to discerning adult ears. The originals focus on the commercial and toy-oriented aspects of Christmas: of the thrill of Santa’s arrival, of the way Christmas lights flash and blink, and of a character called Candy Cane Jane, who lives, inevitably, on Candy Cane Lane. The singing has that too-jolly ring of enunciated clarity which typifies albums played out for the pre-school set; the music seems typified by the same type of overly amplified pep, and the inclusion of the ubiquitous kid’s chorus, and of other slightly out-of-sync accompanying voices, is clearly designed to engender a child’s sing-along affection while sacrificing multi-generational listenability.

In this, Berkner’s holiday collection represents the limited range of her chosen subgenre – appropriate for wee ones, but narrow in scope, dubious beyond that age level, and potentially cloying to the grown-ups in the room.

Here at Cover Lay Down, we don’t underestimate our children’s capacity to see deeper meaning in the trappings of the world. Instead, we believe that good parenting means sharing content with our kids, and choosing that content carefully, with an eye towards how it represents the values we hope to pass down to them. As such, we define good family music as that which grows with our children, and that which we can enjoy sharing with them.

And unlike A Laurie Berkner Christmas, Sunny Christmas – the new holiday EP from LA-based singer-songwriters Renee & Jeremy – fits our criteria to a T.

As we’ve seen over the past few months here on the blog, Renee & Jeremy are true kindiefolk performers, whose records are designed to be enjoyed as music for all ages. Their 2012 all-covers album A Little Love is accessible to kids, but designed with families in mind; the videos which they’ve released as part of the project have been equally darling, with little stories and animated worlds that delight and tug at the heartstrings. And the songs they cover – by The Monkees, Coldplay, Simon & Garfunkel, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more – are clearly chosen for kindie parent ears, with layers of meaning that expose deep and often bittersweet themes of each song; as such, each has fit comfortably among the folk coverage in our thematic posts.

Which makes us especially happy to find that Sunny Christmas is no exception to their family-friendly approach to music. Hushed and gently upbeat without losing the essential sweetness of both the songs and the singers, totally authentic in temper and tone, the five classic seasonals and newly-penned title track which comprise the EP make for an infectious little popfolk gem of a record, a perfect gift for the kids or folk family in your life. And you’ll find nothing of the commercial side of the holidays here: the lone original, a joyously poppy exultation, plucks the community spirit of love and social gathering from the air, plants it firmly in our hearts, and urges us to take it everywhere we go.

But don’t take my word for it. By offering streaming samples of all their albums, Renee & Jeremy have made it easier to taste before you buy. And they’ve even given us a wonderful holiday gift to share: brand new copies of both of their 2012 releases, which we’re giving away as a stocking-stuffer set to a lucky reader.

To enter to win our contest, leave a comment below naming your favorite childhood holiday song, and make sure to include your email or contact information. I’ll have the kids pick a random number at the end of the week, and we’ll send the winner both A Little Love and Sunny Christmas in time for holiday gift-giving; keep it, or pass it along as a gift to kids of any age, with our highest recommendation.

In the meanwhile, we encourage folks with small children to sample tracks from A Laurie Berkner Christmas to make up their own mind, and have included Berkner’s version of Little Drummer Boy below, which is one of the more family-friendly and listenable tracks on the album. But since we’re not so objective as all that, we’ve also included a single track from Sunny Christmas, a widget to sample the entire EP, Renee & Jeremy’s 2010 single version of Little Drummer Boy, both videos from A Little Love, and a cover of Renee & Jeremy song It’s A Big World from equally-celebrated family band Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem. Because good music makes a great gift for the little ones in our life. And our love of this fine kidfolk duo is big, indeed.

Renee & Jeremy: Give It Away (orig. Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Renee & Jeremy: Yellow (orig. Coldplay)

Remember: leave a comment below naming your favorite childhood holiday song to win a 2-CD Renee & Jeremy stocking-stuffer prize package. And stay tuned later this week for more new Holiday Coverfolk from folk artists, labels, and multi-genre compilations!

23 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk, Renee & Jeremy

Give A Little Bit: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Holiday Gift Guide)

November 23rd, 2012 — 10:06 am

Black Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.

Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.

Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.

We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.

But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.

Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.

1. Give the gift of recorded music. Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog, and many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites, independent artist-friendly labels like Signature Sounds, Compass, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, and smaller artist collaboratives and blogger owned microlabels like Yer Bird, Rarebird, Waterbug, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, CD Baby, or even Etsy.

2. Give the gift of subscription. The proliferation of digital streaming services is bad, potentially career-smothering news for artists – as Damon Krukowski of Damon & Naomi recently noted, a musician needs to “sell” tens of thousands of songs on Spotify or Pandora just to recoup the cost of a single CD. But some artists offer “backstage passes” or “VIP” access to their websites, and the benefits – which can include exclusive demo tracks, concert streams, early access to new studio work, and deep discounts on product – are generally worth the cost. Our favorite model: Jake Armerding’s Music Is Food CSA project, which provides a monthly virtual “box” of art, including a new song, a watercolor rendering of the current month, and artistically-rendered liner notes, for just a dollar a month.

3. Give the gift of access. Spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($24/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or give them a subscription to Concert Window ($8.99/month), which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk venues, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live performances and sessions which these subscriptions net can be viewed alone, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is especially apt for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of time. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts; by linking directly to artist web pages, we make it as easy as possible to check out tour dates. Support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.

5. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Pledge Music and Indiegogo help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. And just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name. So browse the folk categories on each site, or ask around for recommendations on what to support. For example: Brother Sun’s second CD is getting close to deadline over at Indiegogo; preorder, or pay up for some bonuses, and both you and your gift recipient get to help ensure that the album gets the promotion and production it deserves. Josh Rouse is working on The Happiness Waltz over at Pledge Music, and giving back to Action Against Hunger in the process. And the clock is ticking on In The Lowlands, folkfiddler Laura Cortese’s second Kickstarter project in just two years; give a few bucks now, and you can have rare swag for the holidays sent to a friend, with the promise of more to come.

6. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing and meeting the crowd, and help sustain their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.

7. Stay tuned… Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2012″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life. And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

Until then, here’s a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.

Cover Lay Down returns next week with a look at this year’s first crop of Holiday Coverfolk!

3 comments » | Theme Posts

Giving Thanks: 14 Songs of Gratitude and Grace

November 20th, 2012 — 05:32 pm

Giving thanks is a reflective process, not a reflexive one – which is to say, considering all that could have been is a necessary precursor to accepting that what we have, and what we are, is worthy of our gratitude.

All good things we acknowledge, then, come at the emotional cost of recognition: both that we could have ended up with less or more, and that others may not be as fortunate. Hard times come, in space and time alike; that we are here, to celebrate and stand in awe of what is, is enough to make some of us believe in miracles.

It should also be enough to drive us to stand up, that others might have the chances we did in getting here and now.

So pay it forward, this holiday season. Give the gift of gratitude, that others might feel good about what they have given; give the gift of grace, that others less fortunate might find themselves celebrated by us, and be more able to see in themselves what good they bring to the table, and to our world. Give the gift of hubris, that we might fail, and remember to look inside ourselves the next time. Give the gift of faith, that others might see that they are loved, and step up to share in turn.

Give the gift of honesty, for others cannot see themselves in you if you will not open yourself to them. Give the gift of honor, and recognize that it doesn’t matter how you give, as long as you are sensitive to the giving, and to the recipients of your gift. Give the gifts of time, and of attention, to yourself and others, for it is these gifts, above all, which make it possible for us to give at all.

Give the gift, every day. Be generous with your lot. Sanctify your every moment, your every action. Be the miracle, and the miracles will come to you.

For oh, what gifts we have been given. And oh, what gifts we can give, when we have gratefully received.

As always, if you like what you hear, click on the links above to purchase direct from the artists. And if you’ve got a few dollars to spare afterwards, we hope you’ll consider donating to Cover Lay Down – both to help sustain our ongoing work in connecting you to the music and musicians you love, and to participate in our pay-it-forward campaign to support inner-city students.

Also, coming soon: we give away our first of several stocking-stuffer packages for the holiday season! Plus: a holiday gift guide for music-lovers and friends determined to sustain the local over the anonymous, the handmade over the mass-produced, and the craftsperson over the corporation!

3 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Theme Posts

Single Song Sunday: You Are My Sunshine
(On revisiting – and rethinking – a childhood favorite)

November 17th, 2012 — 07:50 pm

There’s a special place in my heart for You Are My Sunshine. As I noted in our very first Covered in Kidfolk feature way back in 2007, my wife and I have often sung it to our children, as my parents sung this song to me; as such, the song represents a family tradition, and its generational incidences the very heart of family life, two parents harmonizing at the bedside of their precious progeny, voices and bodies huddled close and protective in the dark, leaning into each other as their child leans into sleep.

And there is probably a place for it in your heart, as well. After Happy Birthday and White Christmas, the song is popularly considered the most widely-known song in the world. Country music giant George Jones once called it the most perfect song ever written. The odds are excellent that you know the words, and that – whether you have your own children or not – you have sung it, too.

The lingering affection so many of us feel for our subject is easy to trace. You Are My Sunshine has strong mnemonic markers – its repetitive tropes make it easy to remember; its simple melody makes it easy to sing. The bulk of the chorus is sweet and innocent, lending itself to bedtime comfort. Its incidence in popular culture crosses multiple genres, making it familiar to fans of folk, country, pop, rock, blues, and jazz. On the surface, at least, it seems prototypical of the sentimental childhood favorite.

The two covers which I have repeatedly posted in our Kidfolk features over the years reflect both my subjective history with the song, and our common collective notion of the song as a vehicle for such sentiment: though Elizabeth Mitchell‘s kidfolk version sounds more like my parents, the simple, sweet plaintive harmony from “organic country slowgrass” folkies Gray Sky Girls best parallels that which I hear in my head and heart.

But despite the ongoing inclusion of the song on for-children collections from kindie to kidpap, to consider You Are My Sunshine as a song innately suited to such childhood sentiment is to mistake popular performance for the true heart of a song. As Michael Connolly of Coyote Grace noted at a recent concert in introducing his slow, rich new arrangement of the classic song, the song is quite dark and depressing, from its surface on down. And the deeper one delves into its lyrics, the less appropriate the song becomes as a representative of parent-child love.

In its most popular verse, our narrative persona dreams of holding his subject in his arms, but holds his head and cries upon awakening to find himself mistaken. Other verses speak of broken promises; desertion and even domestic violence lurk in other verses still. In this context, the chorus is no sweet claim of familial love so deep its subject will never know how much he or she is loved. It is, instead, a mournful refrain: of loss, of loneliness, of impermanence, and of the desperation of eternal hope.

(As an aside: the song’s history is no brighter. At least two formal recordings exist from before Louisiana Governor-to-be Jimmie Davis bought the “rights” to the song from Paul Rice for $35 in late 1939 – an action which likely netted him millions of royalty dollars in his lifetime. And although Rice claimed throughout his life to have written the song, some ethnographers believe that it was actually stolen from Oliver Hood of LaGrange, Georgia, a softspoken musician with whom Rice played in the early 1930′s, and whose legacy includes over 20 verses for the song written on the back of a brown paper sack, which his children still posses.)

Darkness is no stranger to our sleepsongs: to take just one example, we need note only that Rock A Bye Baby is actually a cautionary tale of life’s inherent fragility and danger, in which an abandoned child’s cradle plummets from a treetop when the wind – which had heretofore offered solace and comfort through its gentle rocking – grows strong enough to break the bough upon which that cradle rests.

And although for much of my lifetime and yours, You Are My Sunshine has been seen and recorded popularly as an affectionate lovesong, as deeper ownership of song and ethnographic sentiment become normative in a world where transmission, ownership, and attribution become the aegis of the common man, the sinister underbelly of this childhood favorite has becomes more and more evident through versioning.

Coyote Grace has yet to record their own powerful-yet-weary Americana take, though they have promised me in person that it is forthcoming. But a sparse, haunting album-closing cover from recently-featured duo Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith rings of similar sentiment. Minor key transformations from indiefolkers The Civil Wars and Chicago-based acoustic quartet Birdy come off as equally mournful, with the former raw and distraught, and the latter oddly reminiscent of a plaintive Jewish spiritual. Samantha Martin & the Haggard go for field blues and ragged holler, evoking the stark, angry bluesfolk underbelly of the song.

Vintage acoustic band Leftover Cuties explore the gritty side of the song with wah-wah trumpet and some dirty uke-and-drum-driven swing. Freakfolkers Wooden Indian Burial Ground come on all deep and psychedelic with banjo and bass and a manic high-vibrato vocalist. Sparse experimental NYC duo The Great Republic of Rough and Ready break the tune down past its melodic core, scattering its elements to smother, like fire and ice. Julie Dawn uses tambourine, piano and fiddle to create a neo-traditional dirge, its triplets strained and subdued. And Peter Broderick‘s and Chelsea Wolfe‘s 2010 gothic dronefolk takes on the song drown us in despair and confusion even as they obscure the narrative voice under low bowed strings, bells, found noise, and eerie reverb echoes.

And once these covers become embedded in the brain, our newly-framed ears cannot help but hear an echo of that same darkness in the song as a whole, even in post-millennial versions once thought of as ultimately gentle and sweet, such as those provided by YouTube up-and-comer Patrick Dansereau, lighthearted folk couple Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule, political anti-folkster Frank Turner, Dutch-American expat singer-songwriter Signe Tollefsen, weary hushfolk picker Justin Ewart, popfolk darling Lissie, and oft-acoustic country singer Caitlin Rose.

Here, then, such takes stand as a benchmark of breadth against a curated selection of modern covers, from folk lullabies and countrified crooners to old-timey rabble-rousers and acoustic swingers, organized with the newest first, and ending with bluegrass legend Norman Blake‘s famous version from turn-of-the-century art-house-gone-mainstream film O Brother, Where Art Thou – and two bonus medley tracks: a fun gypsy swingfolk combination of Singing In The Rain and our feature song from Caravan of Thieves, and a brand new kidfolk cover of Anne Murray’s famous (and verse-less) mid-seventies mashup of the song with 1954 composition Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In) from Americana folk/pop husband-and-wife duo Martha’s Trouble. Taken in sequence, the set stands as an apt demonstration of the myriad of ways in which songs become weighted down with their histories of performance, reminding us that there is always room to reconsider the classics.

Bonus Mashups:

Looking for a way to give back as your thoughts turn towards holidays, family and home? Why not help support our ad-free and not-for-profit coverage of all songs reconsidered! Donate to Cover Lay Down before the end of November, and we’ll pay 20% of your gift forward to support inner-city students through the Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative!

[PS: Like the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for unblogged bonus tracks and more throughout the week! Now featuring two bonus YouTube covers of You Are My Sunshine, and an easy-to-download zip file of our entire 22-song set!]

6 comments » | Single Song Sunday

Veteran’s Day Coverfolk:
Even more songs for soldiers past and present

November 11th, 2012 — 04:59 pm

I’ve shared this feature several times for Memorial Day – but somehow, I skipped it this May. So here’s our traditional post in honor of those who serve, plus an ever-growing set of bonus tracks for our regular readers.

For most of my life, the military has been an abstraction. Though war itself lives everpresent in our newsdriven culture, and memorial statues and parades a recurring part of community, my concept of life in the armed forces, and the risks and stresses thereof, is based on popculture parables: fictionalized movie and television portrayals fleshed out by fleeting glimpses of men and women in uniform in airports, reporting to places I cannot imagine, to carry out tasks I could not describe.

My connection with family members who have served has been long after the fact. My father spent some portion of the sixties as a clerk typist in the Coast Guard reserves, but other than a truly dorky picture which he kept in his bedside drawer, and a few well-worn tales of short-haired inspection wigs and furloughs which I have evoked over the years, I could not identify those parts of him, if any, which were forged in service to his country.

Similarly, though my grandfather’s work developing radar in the Army is an important part of the family mythos, it was long over by the time I came to consciousness. Though I carry his dog tag in my wallet, the man I knew as Grandpa was a quiet shirtsleeved man, his service so much a part of who he had become that I never really considered how his military past had made him until it was too late to ask.

Surely, both of these men, and the usual assortment of greatuncles, met men along the way who never came back. But their stories are not mine. Their losses, if any, are their own. And so, for most of my life, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day have been secular holidays – atheistic, with no trace of sentiment.

But teaching in a school with an ROTC program means living with a daily reminder of the armed forces as peopled by real, three-dimensional human beings. Students show up in class crisp and confident in uniform; I pass them in the hallways lined up for inspection, or pacing out their cadences.

Jerome and Lori Anna, my two 2009 graduating ROTC seniors, were still just kids, off to Prom on Thursday, on the cusp of graduation. In 2010, Pam filled the same shoes, wearing her dress uniform under her graduation gown at class day; this year, the number of 9th graders who are joining the ranks continues to climb. Their lives are ahead of them, but their choices were limited. For them, service is a way out of the inner city, perhaps the only one available to them. It will pay for college, and help them focus their abilities. It will give them a future.

And so they choose to lend their bodies and hearts to the protection of our shores and skies. And their very real and present future — fighting wars, combatting terrorism — lends new credence to the need for memory.

May they serve proud, like our fathers before us, and our grandfathers before them. May their service be swift, and their burden light. Rest assured; we will remember them.

Repost Bonus Tracks, Memorial Day 2010:

Repost Bonus Tracks, Memorial Day 2011:

Repost Bonus Tracks, Veteran’s Day 2012:

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and songsets twice weekly.

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, War

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

Holiday Coverfolk: All Saints Day
(Saints in Song, from Augustine to Theresa)

November 1st, 2012 — 03:09 pm

Members of a New York Police Department tactical team rescue Haley Rombi, 3, in the Dongon Hills neighborhood of the Staten Island borough of New York, Oct. 30, 2012. (Michael Kirby Smith/The New York Times)

I try to avoid sharing two thematic posts in a row. But Halloween has come and gone with nary a fanfare in our town, making it All Saints Day – and though having grown up Jewish, I don’t really have a coherent sense of the role of the saint in the everyday life, I do know that if there is such a thing, many friends on the East Coast could use a few right now.

I remember our own saints, though they called themselves angels: those that opened their hearts and homes to the distraught and homeless when the tornado came through our town last year, and when the October snowstorm that followed brought its second round of darkness and disaster. And though the religion classes I took my freshman year in college are but a haze in the brain, I remember, too, that saints are humans, first: that the helping hand is canonized, and that God, if there is one, works through us.

And so we offer a quick mid-week tribute to the songs of the saints: that cry for heavenly assistance, and curse the absent savior; that praise the human instinct to assist or suffer. All find relevancy in a world where help is needed, and offered, and accepted gratefully. May those who need find solace, and hope, in the small kindnesses of others. May those who rise from our midst offer miracle enow.

Looking for your own path to sainthood? Cover Lay Down is a public service, connecting artists and fans for the betterment of both; we accept no ads, and pay for server and bandwidth out of our own meager pockets. Donate to Cover Lay Down any time in the month of November, and we’ll not only send you a link to download all 18 of the songs above in one convenient zip file, we’ll also re-gift 20% of that donation to the NEA Closing The Achievement Gaps Initiative, which supports local children and families by funding home visits and parent engagement programs.

Comment » | Theme Posts