RIP: Prince
(June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)


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As a long-time coverblogger, it’s not hard to have mixed feelings about the death of rockstar Prince today at the age of 57. The eminently egotistical Artist Formerly Known As An Unpronounceable Symbol was notoriously negative about “industry” coverage, expressing frustration that the law makes it perfectly legal to cover other people’s songs as long as the piper has been paid, and raising concern time and time again in interviews that “covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore”. Prince’s legal team was infamous for issuing YouTube take-down notices, and tight-fisted about permissions, too. And there we were, pretty gun-shy after being booted off Blogger for a string of false take-down notices in our early days.

And so, with a very few notable exceptions, for 9 long years online, we’ve pretty much avoided even talking about the man, let alone sharing our favorite covers.

Until now. Because Prince Rogers Nelson’s sexy pop anthems populate our world like nobody’s business, and praise the lord. Glitchy and over-the-top anthemic as it may be, I actually prefer his version of Nothing Compares To U to Sinead O’Connor’s. And I can’t think of any version of Kiss that I like better than the original, though Richard Thompson’s tongue-in-cheek take has its own rough-hewn joy, too.

And maybe, just maybe, that – plus the sheer volume of tributes that will surely join this one in the ether in the hours and days to come – offers sufficient protection from the wrath that is Prince’s estate today, as we celebrate a man whose purply influence will surely shine on the world of music for decades to come.

To suggest that Prince’s position on coverage was extreme is not to suggest that it had some merit, of course; as someone who recently listed Tainted Love as a Soft Cell original, I’m in a particularly poor position to suggest that great covers cannot and do not sometimes obscure original recordings. We’ve touched on the definitive, transformative cover here before, too, most notably in our 2008 deep dive into the shift in sound and sensibility Jeff Buckley brought to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which proved to influence pretty much all subsequent coverage of the song.

But to prefer the Ryan Adams version of Wonderwall is one thing; to say that it somehow eradicated the original is quite another. When Noel Gallagher says in his 2008 Spin interview that he and brother Liam hate singing Wonderwall, and that he thinks Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got it right, it says more about the potential of the cover to save the song than it does about its potential to erase it. Liam may no longer want to sing Wonderwall the way it was written, but the record lives on – and as Gallagher notes in the same interview, fans still clamor for the original, too.

And so, today, in honor of Prince’s passing, we break our vow of silence on the subject to present our very favorite covers from the folkworld. It’s good crop, too, with The Blue Rubies mid-eighties cover of Prince’s When U Were Mine, which was one of my very first folk covers – a moment of early clarity in a world cluttered with postpunk, synthpop, and early grunge – The Be Good Tanyas take on When Doves Cry, which I featured in my very first music post, before Cover Lay Down was even born, and last year’s remake of Prince’s playful oddity Starfish and Coffee from kidfolk fave Renee and SNL alum Maya Rudolph.

Add in a bluesy take from an underground Norwegian tribute now otherwise lost to the great archive in the sky, James Taylor’s son on a pristine backporch kick, a soaring high-production take on a track originally posted online as Violet Rain to confound the legal team, the ragged, live and in-studio vocals of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Richard Thompson, and Martin Sexton, and a few more joys from around the block, and you’ve got a tribute set worth waiting for.

May the covers ever live on alongside, not instead of, the originals which Prince himself brought to our ears. And may we never forget to gather together, dearly beloved, to get through this thing called life.



Covered In Folk: Prince


Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down explores the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

3 comments » | Covered In Folk, RIP

Covered In Folk: Justin Bieber
(13 takes on a pop icon’s cowritten canon)


bieber


To be fair, the only thing I really knew about Justin Bieber until yesterday was that he was famous, and mostly still a kid. I could probably pick him out of a lineup, but I wasn’t really keyed in to the music. To be perfectly honest, I had to ask my students which songs of his were famous in order to complete today’s cover mix.

And yet. There’s a simple joy in the well crafted pop song, and a guilty pleasure in the adolescent bubblegum lens of confusion and longing hopped up on hormones that typifies the boy band and pop princess subgenre. And so we turn to the tabloids, and find, if not greatness, then certainly good.

Beiber’s work is carefully constructed, as befits a songbook written by committee and aimed carefully at the top of the preteen charts; sunny and light, it doesn’t go deep. But every genre has its high notes. Pulled from the popshelf, and translated into softer acoustic tones, the Canadian star’s songbook has an honesty of its own, grounded in zen metaphysics and a sensitivity to the concrete image as metaphor, that comes forward in coverage. And those hooks…well, it’s no wonder so many YouTube stars have taken on the north-of-the-border heartthrob with just a handful of albums under his belt.

Today’s selections are almost all amateur sourced. But their range is startling. Three takes on Love Yourself alone run the gamut, from Nataly Dawn‘s hollow, gritty bluesfolk to Dodie and Andie’s tender acoustic bedroom swing to rising star Jamie Oshima‘s newly-released mando-and-guitar cover, which switches in The Wedding Reel as a perfect instrumental break.

Peter Katz gives us a gentle electronica-tinged dreamfolk take on Sorry, while twee Parisian indiefolk foursome OAK offer sly harmonies over guitar, banjolin and bass; Amanda Law‘s What Do You Mean and Kina GrannisBaby are joyful, sweet, and pure; for a bonus treat, head over to the latter’s own percussive pop take on the former, and her collaborative version of Where Are U Now. Add in ringing acoustic dreampop from Fort Wayne artist Jonah Baker and SoCal native Rachael Cantu, soft, slippery smokehouse jazz on a dance track originally by Bieber, Skrillex, and Diplo, a punk folk seasonal, and two very different approaches to Boyfriend – acoustic alterna-pop from YouTube standby Madilyn Bailey; driving pop rock from Welsh singer-songwriter Marina and the Diamonds – and you’ll believe even pop can be redeemed.


Covered In Folk: Justin Bieber



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Back To The Garden:
On The Healing Power Of Green Places


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The hospital where my daughter spends her days is one of the best in the country; a place of comfort and cheer, where cutting-edge medicine is served side by side with gentleness and joy, and mental wellness is considered a vital partner to physical health. Evidence of this is everywhere: The rooms we live in in shifts these days are bright and big, friendly and comforting, with equal access and support for patients and their families; child life specialists and kind social workers are core members of the medical teams that visit throughout the day; clowns, therapy dogs, craft-makers and musicians visit the wards regularly, and those who can move more freely throughout the hospital find a seemingly endless unfolding of spaces both large and small, staffed with volunteers and paid professionals eager to offer play, shared solace, and performance on a busy schedule aimed at filling the empty hours of those who need it most.

In the middle of this labyrinth of hallways lined with cheerful art and playful design lies Prouty Garden, a green, welcoming space that serves as the perfect symbol for the creative balance of soul and body we have experienced in the last few years as we come to frequent this sacred place. Designed by the same architects that built Boston’s Fresh Pond and New Orleans’ Audubon Park, the half-acre is subdivided into smaller shady spaces and open lawn, broken up by benches and fountains, rich with hidden statuary and small niches that offer privacy to those still struggling to accept the changes wrought by medicine, disease, and injury upon their fragile bones and flesh.

For kids whose only other access to the outside world is far too often nothing more than a half-glimpsed skyline through an upper story window, Prouty Garden is a haven in the midst of hell – the only space large enough to guarantee sunlight throughout the day to kids whose skin has grown pale from lack of exposure, and the only way to truly let them feel like they are outside, in a fully open space, surrounded by nature, with sky above and grass below.

We’ve chased squirrels and rabbits there, and hunted for eggs on two successive Easters. We’ve walked there with grandparents and friends who seem too sad to truly be themselves in hospital rooms full of medical devices and the other trappings of illness. In many ways, the garden is ours; in many ways, it is needful, as much a part of the lives of my children as the doctors and nurses that populate their days.

But this, too, must pass. As of this year, Prouty Garden is slated to be torn down, to make room for a new building that would alleviate current strain on space in the hospital – a strain we know well, having stayed overnight in the ER at least once while we wait for a bed to open up upstairs. And although public outcry, especially from those children and families who have been served directly by the garden, is loud and clear, ultimately, the hospital trustees continue to maintain that the destruction of our beloved garden is the best path forward for all of us.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, the controversy over the loss of the garden is already affecting its ability to serve children and their families. This morning I spoke with a father whose kid is here for the long haul, midway through a four-month treatment for cancer; last night when they went down after dark, he said, the security guard treated them with suspicion, and insisted on taking down their badge numbers before letting them in.

And so we went down to the garden ourselves, once the elderchild had woken up, and her nightly fever had gone down enough to travel. And found it blocked off, and swarming with security guards, who kindly informed us that until the kind and well-intentioned protesters had left their post at the front of the hospital, the garden would remain closed, just in case.

It’s true that Boston Children’s Hospital is in desperate need of more beds. It’s also true that space is dear here on the edge of downtown Boston. But how ironic, how bittersweet, that a garden designed to be a core component of the healing practice of one of the best hospitals in the country has become, like any other medicine, so carefully meted out, and so cautiously watched.

My daughter took being turned away from the garden in stride, as she does so much these days. She knows, like her father, that the time and place for protest of our own must be carefully guarded, and cautiously selected, lest we learn to live in anger at the world.

But after the protesters left, we returned and found the garden open again. We sat on a stone bench near the entrance, alongside a statue of a nurse and child dedicated the poet whose bequest still sustains it 60 years after its founding, and ate a late breakfast, throwing our crumbs to the sparrows, which clustered at our feet. The sun was bright, and the daffodils big in bloom. The long lawn was green and full of life, and all around it, small copper and marble statues of foxes and egrets, squirrels and beavers nestled in the flowerbeds and fountains, their noses red and round with evidence that the clowns had been there before us.

It was hard to miss the two security guards watching us carefully from the other end of the garden. It was hard not to look at the big Dawn Redwood that loomed above them, and over everything, and think of how much, how very much, we have lost, and will continue to lose to love in this world.

But for a moment, there in the sun and dirt, my daughter smiled, and laughed, and felt free again.

And after we returned to her room, and the couch in the corner where I will stay the weekend, and leave again on Sunday, I thought of all the garden songs I know, in which the idea of the garden, as metaphor and locus, features predominantly as a place of love, solace, growth, and reconnection to nature.

May the wild and cultivated places of our world live in our hearts and minds in our times of trial, that they may serve us in our pain and sorrow. May we too, find them in our world, and wander through them, and be free.



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round here and on Facebook thanks to the kindness of patrons like you.

1 comment » | Mixtapes

Songs of Solace, Songs Of Pain:
On becoming familiar with disease and distance


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There’s so much to write: musings stuck deep in the recesses of my mind, dams thick with foam and finesse to study whorl by whorl. And there’s so much to write about, too, as 2016 pours forth a plethora of coverfolk delights, backlogged and still disorganized in the inbox and an ever-growing infinity of open tabs.

I’ve tried, halfheartedly, to pick up the threads, and weave them into the words we’ve come to expect here. But for a month, nothing’s been coming out coherent.

And it was killing me. Until I put down the words, and rediscovered music.

I’ve written about my girls here – about their struggles, and ours – several times in the last couple of years, since the elderchild was diagnosed three years ago (Everybody Hurts: On Discovering A Child’s Illness) and then again, when the wee one took her turn (Lord Protect My Child: Songs for Our Children). I’m tired of writing about it, honestly.

But behind the blog, and the public face, their disease eats away at them, and us. Being separated across the state drains us; nothing is settled, and in some ways, even as we come to find familiarity in the routine, things are still getting worse. I go to work with my heart still at home, or worse, on the road, as my wife bounces them from appointment to appointment, together and alone, and my mind is ever on them: distracted, and dense with thoughts of what might happen next. I ache for the way things were, once, when the hardest things about life were the natural growing pains that anyone could recognize.

Today, with the wee one still sleeping through her pain upstairs, and the elderchild and her mother camped out in the hospital ward, back for drains and rest just weeks after her first emergency surgery, I find my very first chance in four full weeks to clear the brain, and begin again.

But it’s a rainy day outside: grey, and quiet. I’ve lit the fire; the dog sleeps on the couch beside me. And although I tried today to revel in the joys of the delicate and the hearty that have begun to fill my personal playlist, what I’ve really been listening to is the songs I go to when I need solace.

Other than to note that my personal collection of bittersweet music to steep in has grown a bit since 2013, there’s little to say about today’s second-round sorrowsongs. When Elvis Costello says that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, he means that criticism and analysis are removed, abstract, although sometimes illuminating, in a purely emotive way.

Ultimately, anything I could say about yet another playlist of loneliness and grief is only a shadow puppet representation of the real emotional impact of the art form done well and deep.

Sometimes you just need to feel.

May we all find solace in music, and in the world.



Everybody Hurts, Volume 2: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


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New Artists, Old Songs: Rising Stars Reinterpret
Randy Newman, Sia, Soft Cell, Adele, The Magnetic Fields & more!

The virtual mailbag bursts at the digital seams with new submissions, and some of it is quite good, indeed. Today, we return to a perennial conceit to frame the festivities, celebrating new, newfound and still-emerging artists from Dublin to Nashville as they pay homage to their roots, their peers, and the popular. Enjoy – and as always, follow links to purchase and pursue your favorites, the better to patronize the arts, and support the folkways.



mikebeneckeLA singer-songwriter Mike Benecke may have gotten his start touring with punk and indie bands, but as press comparisons to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Alexi Murdoch after the release of his 2012 self-titled EP suggest, his solo work strips away the grunge and grime, revealing a beautiful, slow, intimate and rich dreamfolk, with sparse clear-as-a-bell layers of smooth, haunting bass, keys, and pedal steel gently supporting an acoustic core of fingerpicked, resonant strings and an honest hoarseness in the voice that aches like wolves in the near distance. This Randy Newman cover, an outtake from brand new debut LP Call The Waves, is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, and it’s a hell of a teaser: an apt, quiet echo of an early urban morning that carries the song exquisitely.


lucyandIndie artists Lucy & La Mer caught our attention with their equally dreamy, pulsing take on Soft Cell classic Tainted Love, the sole cover from sweet folk pop EP Little Spoon, a uke-and-synth-driven collection flush and twee with bells, horns, and fingersnaps and lightly bouncy, wryly honest melody lines and lyrics just aching for a happy indie film montage. The black and white body-positive burlesque-troupe video they’ve just released to promote the song offers a response to recent sexual harassment issues in the music media; like the music itself, it’s decidedly steamy with a satirical bite, simultaneously discomforting and dear.



12308761_920841827951715_685359104699812121_nI keep meaning to get to a Single Song Sunday feature for Magnetic Fields classic The Book Of Love, which we’ve featured in several incarnations here on the blog since our inception in 2007. As a closer for Dubliner Gavin James‘ debut Bitter Pill – an otherwise haunting solo pop album that invites easy comparison to James Blunt and Ed Sheeran, due to drop on Tuesday – the song offers a soaring, echoing muse on the nature of love itself from an artist already filling clubs and halls on both sides of the proverbial pond, and surely on the cusp of something even bigger.



Beyond-The-Rain-Album-Cover-307x307I imagine discovering Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was a bit like this: the gentle rise and fall, the etherial voices, the subtle harmonies, the purity of sound and sadness, the precision of tone, and the tiniest hint of primitive blues drone underneath it all bringing deep solace to the soul. Such is Beyond The Rain, the first major label album from duo Quiles & Cloud, produced by Grammy-winning banjo player and artist Allison Brown on the strength of two fan-funded releases, four years on tour in a VW hatchback, and the most stunning arrangements of the canon I’ve heard yet this year: an album of endless reward that will still leave you yearning for more.



Decidedly young NYC folkpop four-piece Morningsiders hasn’t even finished recording their own debut, but they’re already rising fast on the strength of a single single after it appeared in the pilot for new Amy Poehler Hulu vehicle Difficult People and subsequently rocketed to the top of the Spotify charts. This living room Sia cover that follows it is raw and resonant, a band still facing inward as it defines its sound; it’s also a true blue delight, transforming a pop original into something gentle and comforting, intimately performed with fiddle, stand-up bass, guitar and harmonies around a single microphone.


Morningsiders: Reaper (orig. Sia) [2016]



Mandolin and bass “gutter-folk” duo Driftwood Soldier hasn’t just covered folk standard John Henry, they’ve translated it into the modern age, reframing the song as a commentary on racist corporate greed, and the titular larger-than-life character as a wage slave scion of the modern white-collar world. The chunky, funky sound they adopt here echoes that of last year’s debut Scavenger’s Joy, a wonderfully bouncy, grungy, organic collection chock full of growled vocals, howling slackstrings, and percussive found materials (including coffee cans and suitcases) that evokes both history and reinvention, with hints of early Deadhead experimentation, Leon Russell’s soul, the field recordings of Robert Johnson and Lead Belly, and the sparse, harsh deconstruction of Morphine.


Driftwood Soldier: John Henry (trad.) [2016]



Twenty-something L.A. Edwards comes to us thanks to our recent double-feature on Tom Petty; the young Californian songwriter is a protege of Heartbreaker Ron Blair, and his manager made the connection and sent along this cover. We’re grateful, too: L.A. (aka Luke Andrew) was raised on Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Cat Stevens, but after years on the road with his brother as a duo after dropping out of high school at 15, his most recent output – as heard in this and other tracks from his recent live YouTube series The El Nino Sessions, and in this stunning four-part Soundcloud collection – is encore-ready folk rock with just the right hint of alt-country, rich in high-baritone-and-tenor harmonies and spare in all other ways, like a perfect next-generation combination of Ryan Adams, Simon & Garfunkel, and Petty himself.


L.A. Edwards: If I Needed You (orig. Townes Van Zandt) [2016]



Adele covers are going to be big this year, for sure. But singer-songwriter Ryan Larkins, who placed third on CMT show Can You Duet in 2009, offers something special: a relatively faithful solo cover of a deep cut from her newest album that demonstrates crystal clear vocals and guitar skill and, in doing so, shows just how easily Adele’s heartache translates across gender lines. Pair it with a gorgeously hushed, soulful, slide-and-pick take on old gospel hymnal standard Pass Me Not played on an old 60′s Silvertone flat top guitar, note that this pair of covers represents a single week’s output for the Nashville-based Christian acoustic folk-rocker, and keep an eye out for more from this incredible, incredibly versatile still-rising star.


Ryan Larkins: Million Years Ago (orig. Adele) [2016]



Ryan Larkins: Pass Me Not (orig. Fanny Crosby) [2016]



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down delves deep into the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

2 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

(Re)Covered In Folk: Tom Petty
(16 more transformations in tribute to a truly American songbook)





We try to avoid revisiting feature posts so soon after their first iteration, and generally eschew dipping too often into the same thematic lens-setting. We’ve got wonderful new bluegrass, indiefolk, singer-songwriter singles and albums to celebrate, and video finds burning in our eyes and ears.

But a whirlwind weekend of family hospitalization as we struggle to find balance in the face of chronic children’s illnesses has left me still thinking about the past far too often, unable to focus on more than the here and now, and the how we got here.

I need to get away from the thinking, critical mind. I need something upbeat, something eminently freeing. I need comfort, and bittersweet understanding, that I might soak in myself. And I don’t want to have to think about it today, on the cusp on yet another workweek with the family split across the state: half of us in the hospital, half of us sleepwalking through our days, our hearts far, far down the turnpike.

But conveniently, in the two weeks since our giant feature on the Tom Petty songbook, covers of the Floridian roots rock giant have been coming out of the woodwork. And so, today, Cover Lay Down presents a few more: a list almost exclusively amateur in origin, sourced almost entirely from the world of streaming video, and almost all recorded in the last year or two.


pettyhatRest assured, coverfans: though not predominantly recorded by household names, today’s set contains no also-rans. Petty’s canon is broad and diverse, a wide river rich in silt and sediment; our working criteria for a second set of Tom Petty covers is steep, and these eminently make the cut. Stunning and sublime in turn, they represent a broad spectrum of gravitas and genre – powerful variations on a theme, in a mix comprising both some familiar songs distinctly different in interpretation from those posted previously, and a few songs previously uncovered and now brought to light and life.

Here you’ll find feel-good backporch and living room sessions (The Dead Pigeons’ stringband Listen To Her Heart; long-haired folk collective Andrew Leahey & The Homestead’s Walls; acoustic indiefolk quartet JJ and The Pillars with a holiday favorite), folk-to-funk variations (Hope & Social and Sam Airey’s incredible mashup of I Won’t Back Down with old spiritual I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free), piano-and-harmony pop balladry (Bloom’s Free Fallin’ and The Maine’s Wildflowers) and true-blue country rock ballads (Charles Kelley’s duet with Stevie Nicks on Southern Accents). The solo takes range wide, too, from the slippery honkytonk lounge reinvention of Dave Starke’s You Don’t Know How It Feels to amazingly beautiful and fluid live and in-studio covers like Jay Psaros’ Yer So Bad and Eli Noll’s Won’t Back Down to broken, distant, gravel-voiced takes from the likes of Ryan Bingham (Time to Get Going), Teitzi (A Face In The Crowd), and cult folk veteran Kath Bloom (Learning To Fly).

Together, they comprise a perfect companion to our original Tom Petty Covered In Folk feature, bringing our total coverage far past the half-century line, speaking loud and clear of Petty’s power and playability in the hands of the people. Download the newest set, and enjoy.

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty, Redux



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down delves deep into the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

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(Re)Covered: New coverage from old friends
Chris Stapleton, Eli West, Scott Warren, Chris Bell, Ben Sollee & more!

Our regular (Re)Covered series finds us touting new and newly-discovered releases from well-loved folk, roots, bluegrass and acoustic artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news and new coverage from bluegrass stalwarts Eli West and Michael Daves, newly-minted Grammy winner Chris Stapleton and his singer-songwriter spouse Morgane, cello-folk experimentalists Chris Bell and Ben Sollee, and electro-coustic rock and roller Scott Warren taking on the songs of Lindsay Buckingham, Bill Monroe, Howlin’ Wolf, the American traditional canon and more!



goodloveWe first featured acoustic roots rocker Scott Warren way back in 2009 in our New Artists, Old Songs series with his “gorgeously fluid, totally atmospheric cover” of America hit Sister Golden Hair, which closed out his 2009 solo album Quick Fix Bandage; his subsequent, delightfully fuzzed-out take on The Beatles’ Blackbird hit our Best of 2014 Singles session, too. Now Warren is back with a Lindsay Buckingham cover that’s just as sweet and tenderly-treated, from Good Love, a brand new disc that runs from full-bore guitar-driven rock and roll a la Elvis Costello and The Georgia Satellites to this gentle and still-gorgeous album-ender, and we couldn’t be happier to share it.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:


bothEli West first popped up on our radar as half of string-and-harmony duo Cahalen and Eli, who took the bluegrass world by storm a few years back with a pair of albums that renewed our interest in the close harmonies and stirring songcraft of progenitors like the Louvin Brothers. Now West is back with an unusual concept album, a solo debut fittingly titled The Both, featuring twelve tracks in total: six relatively obscure traditional folk songs arranged first as warm, surprisingly complex-yet-melodic lyric-and-harmony driven songs, and then again as wholly rearranged instrumentals, offering a side-by-side comparison that allows tune and tradition to step forward in turn. Featuring a veritable who’s who of modern cutting-edge neo-trad players, from ethnomusicologists Anna & Elizabeth to rising star Dori Freeman to jazzman-turned-bluegrass session player Bill Frisell, the album, which drops this week, presents Seattle-based guitarist and multi-instrumentalist West, who has also appeared with Jayme Stone’s recent folk projects and in sessions with Tony Furtado and Tim O’Brien, as a leader and collaborator atop his game.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:


mdSimilar project parameters frame Orchids and Violence, a double-album release from Michael Daves, a high tenor stalwart of the same grassy scene based out of NYC who we first discovered at The Joe Val Bluegrass Fest a few years back and have since followed closely through pairings and collaborations with Chris Thile and others. Here, two full discs offer further side-by-side comparison of a set of mostly traditional bluegrass tracks, plus a take on Mother Love Bone track Stargazer just for the hell of it: the first collection recorded live in a 19th century church with well-known session players (bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and Punch Brothers banjo player Noam Pikelny), the second revisits those same songs with bass, drums, and electric guitar, mostly played by Daves, offering a raw, experimental rock approach to the same old-time material.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:



rustJamestown, NY singer-songwriter and sound engineer Christopher Bell has come a long, long way from the “whimsical re- and deconstruction” of cello, voice, and synthesized studio production which first brought him to our attention. Case in point: this kick-off track, a grungy take on Howlin’ Wolf classic Smokestack Lightning, which proves a harbinger of the gritty, dark sound that follows in versatile new album Rust, which was released back in September but just recently oozed its way onto our radar. Shades of blues, folk rock, and alt-country, shivers of gothic indie alternative, tar-bubbles of driving power rock, and echoes of anthemic metal balladry combine here for an unsettling ride through the psyche flavored with classical and modern instrumentation that smashes every expectation of genre adherence we might have brought to the table even as it delights at every turn. Shake, stir, and serve, hot or chilled.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:



montanadaEqually experimental cellist Ben Sollee goes spare on Montanada, a “mixtape” of carefully curated live recordings from a January tour of Big Sky Country alongside percussionist Jordan Ellis. A mixtape of songs, stories, and audience interactions as playful as its name, the collection includes a wonderfully revamped take on Paul Simon’s Obvious Child, which Sollee has covered before, and a sing-along nod to Bill Monroe which reminds us just how much the cello has transformed bluegrass music in the 21st century.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:



bfs_7752Finally, kudos to well-deserved Grammy winner Chris Stapleton, who we first featured here at Cover Lay Down way back in February of 2008 thanks to his formative work with bluegrass quintet The Steeldrivers. Stapleton has since moved on to the Country charts, but his collaborative work in the world of roots music continues with this amazingly gritty, sensual duet from Southern Family, a concept album featuring tracks by Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, Miranda Lambert and more due to drop mid-March on Low Country Sound. The interplay here between Chris and his wife Morgane, a country singer and songwriter of no small notability in her own right – she’s written number one hits for Carrie Underwood, and her pure vocals are often touted by Nashville insiders as the modern industry ideal – makes this track a perfect dark addition to our previously-compiled Single Song Sunday on You Are My Sunshine, exposing the dark underbelly of a song too often mistaken for a bright children’s ditty.





Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round here and on Facebook thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for another installment of our New Artists, Old Songs feature and a second round of Tom Petty covers to top off our recent 40-song covers collection; give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Ben Sollee, Christopher Bell, Eli West, Michael Daves, Scott Warren

Unity House Concerts presents: The Western Den
(February 20 @ UU Society of Greater Springfield, MA)


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Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield, featuring well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

Our 2015-2016 series features a diverse set of artists, including past shows with The Sea The Sea, Mary Lou Lord, Matt Nakoa, Antje Duvekot, and The Mike + Ruthy Band, upcoming shows with Joe Jencks (March 19) and more…and this Saturday, an intimate session with ambient folk storytellers The Western Den.




Lush harmonies, potent storytelling, and ambient folk textures typify the collaborative work of Boston-based duo Deni Hlavinka and Chris West, who formed as The Western Den just three years ago this month. Echoes of Olivia Chaney, Saintseneca, Joni Mitchell and Sufjan Stevens – all of whom the pair cited as desert island discs in a recent interview – offer apt comparison, and they’ve shared stages with Tall Heights, Paula Cole, Mark Erelli, Meg Hutchinson, The Boston Pops, and Melissa Ferrick, who was Deni’s songwriting teacher at Berklee College.

These days, though still very much grounded in the shared passion and strong sense of music as art with a purpose which Deni and Chris forged together in their earliest days, the Western Den is a true-blue band; after several years of being presented as a close couple duo “with friends”, new promo pictures released this week show a trio, with trumpet player and vocalist Alec Alabado alongside. And sure enough, although their second EP is tender and mild, as befits a holiday release, in their pair of tiny, precious, crowdfunded releases of original work, the sound is bigger, much bigger, than even three players might suggest: their studio work is rich and complex, simultaneously epic and intimate, with each song an entire journey, offering a luxurious entry into an enveloping atmosphere, and I’m eager to hear them live as a four-piece this Saturday.

Other than their Holiday EP, The Western Den has recorded no covers officially, and concert footage is scarce – though to be fair, this is a band early in their rise to greatness; their total output at this point is a tantalizing glimpse, albeit more than enough to fall in love. A quick YouTube search reveals a few recordings from Chris and Deni’s early days at Berklee, however, including a wonderfully deep, still take on Civil Wars song Poison & Wine, and this delightful cover, with Deni and Hadley Kennary taking on a Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson winter classic with warm tones to heat the heart amidst this February thaw. Listen, and join us for more on Saturday if you can; stream 2015 release All The Birds via Bandcamp regardless, and watch for upcoming shows in your neck of the woods as The Western Den grows to become a household name.







Non-profit and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down posts regular features on artists and songwriters as part of its continuing mission to ply the experience of coverage as a comfortable space for discovery. As always, we encourage you to click through to hear more from and about the artists we feature, the better to support and sustain the arts, the artists, and the folkways.

And if you live within driving distance of Springfield, Massachusetts – just a hop, skip, and jump away from Hartford, Northampton, Worcester and the Berkshires – join us February 20 for a very special evening with The Western Den. No reservations necessary; Facebook confirmations greatly appreciated.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, House Concerts

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty
(40 transformations in tribute to a truly American songbook)





It’s only February, and it’s already been a great year for Tom Petty covers, with the newest addition – a playful take on Wildflowers from rising-star folk-circuit faves Caitlin Canty and Darlingside released just yesterday via Bandcamp – piling on alongside the wonderful American Girl cover featured last week from “acoustic steamboat soul” foursome Roosevelt Dime and Asheville-based songwriter Jane Kramer’s delightful Appalachian-influenced take on relatively obscure deep cut Down South, a trailblazer for Carnival of Hopes, a strong southern folk album due later this month, which popped up in the mailbag mid-January.

It’s no surprise to find the Tom Petty songbook riding high atop the list of common coverage sources, in the folkworld and beyond. When we first paid tribute to the native son on the last leg of a family trip to the Florida coast way back in April of 2010, we found a rich field, heavy on the singer-songwriter fare, with covers from Johnny Cash, Kasey Anderson, Kathleen Edwards, Dawn Landes, Mark Erelli with Jeffrey Foucault, and more artists whose folk comes tinged with twang and heart – overall, a set that provides ample evidence of Petty’s influence and relevance in the modern landscape. Add in a trio of upbeat covers from our Best of 2015 series – a triumphant post-cancer celebration of Learning To Fly from The Weepies and two grassy banjo-driven takes on American Girl from new discoveries Ballad Of Crows and old friends The Infamous Stringdusters – and more choice cuts collected in the last few years, and the trend becomes clear: Tom Petty’s influence is vast and varied; his songs live in the folkways, and they’re here to stay.

These warm, welcoming songs and their surprisingly tender, diverse treatment are especially apt today, in the light of this continued coverage, and on a night that promises to be one of the coldest ever recorded here in the heart of New England, leaving us dreaming of warmer climes and times. Today, then, as a kick-off to a week of school vacation leisure, we revisit and rework that earlier feature, celebrating an American icon with coverage from a set of old favorites and new discoveries that continue to forge ahead in their exploration of the American landscape.



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 has gone 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 Lynyrd 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. Here, in celebration of the coincidence of American excess and Floridian paradise which I experienced in his home state, we gather in the best and folkiest, from the mellow to the madcap – many posted previously here and elsewhere; all well worth repeating, and easily downloadable as a single mix. Enjoy.

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

2 comments » | Covered In Folk, Tom Petty

Forever Young: A Coverfolk Mix
(with covers of MGMT, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, Wilco & more!)


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The skies are dry, but thanks to the magic of modern storm-tracking technology, it’s another snow day here in rural New England, where a midday snowfall can leave you stranded halfway up the mountain pass between work and home. And thank goodness for that, because although the kids are surely old enough to scavenge and survive for a few hours without a parent in the house, their mother’s been away at class all weekend, and she isn’t expected home until Tuesday.

The kidfolk posts that once peppered the blog are long gone; the lullabies we share here are rarer, and flavored with nostalgia. The wee one grows tall and thin and independent; the elderchild has a boyfriend, who grins and wears his hair in a ponytail, like I did in college. We leave them home alone together on Thursday nights, and have dinner out, just the two of us, before choir rehearsal.

Today, we will play together: on the sledding hill, and the Shopkins board game we worked on all weekend, and finished yesterday. This afternoon we might make meatloaf again, or omelettes, or something else that Daddy isn’t supposed to know how to make. Tomorrow, with their mother still gone, they’ll walk together to the library after school, and wait for me to pick them up. And if it hurts one or both to do it, they will have each other to lean on, and themselves.

And one day, soon and very soon…they will move on, and out, and farther still, to the stars.

I miss the small, tireless children they once were, and I always will, I think. But even as development brings joy in shared complexity, there are some things that do not fade as our children get older: the grace and gratefulness of the unexpected moment together, precious and rare; the sheer delight of shared laughter; the comfort of holding each other tight, in the midst of pain and bittersweet memory.

And as these, and more, take their place in our hearts, there is pride and connection to be found in the deep maturation of these children into these willowy almost-women. I admire them, and that admiration and love grows fiercer every day. And here in front of the fire, snuggled close against them, I ache for the passage of time, too.

Because we are human, and we can do both. And must, if we are to survive intact.

A simple set today, then, of songs for the young folks, yours, mine, and ours. May they stay forever young in our hearts, and theirs, as they wend their way through the universe with wisdom, grace, and gravity.




Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

1 comment » | Mixtapes

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