Covered In Folk: Blaze Foley
(The Avett Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, Timbuk 3, Ben Haggard & more!)

As the posthumous subject of songs penned and performed by Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, and other luminaries from his own era, it’s not hard to see the influence Blaze Foley had on his scene, especially in the context of Van Zandt, with whom he traveled and performed frequently. But if you only faintly recognize his name, it is because the Texas singer-songwriter was the Daniel Johnston of his time and place: a drifter and drinker, troubled yet iconoclastic, earnest and yet just plumb weird; a difficult and often lost soul who wore duct tape on his cowboy boots and lived in a tree, wrote plain, plaintive songs about big cheeseburgers and high school heroes, got kicked out of the Kerrville Folk Festival, and died at the end of a gun in mysterious circumstances at the age of 39 over 25 years ago.

In no small part because the sandpaper influence of his personality made recording opportunities scant and scattered, if Foley is remembered, it is because of his songcraft, not his recordings. Tracking Foley’s songbook is possible, mostly, thanks to Live at the Austin Outhouse, a 15-track “greatest hits” performance from the month before his death, once out of print but rereleased at the turn of the century to find a new audience looking for the roots and branches of their underground heritage.

But this small collection contains the seeds of greatness realized. A true poet, unafraid of both the political and the personal lens, whose simple, direct images spoke loudly to universal themes of love, loneliness, leaving and loss, Foley was in many ways a songwriter’s songwriter, famously covered in his lifetime by the likes of John Prine, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, with If I Could Only Fly cited by Haggard upon his first listen as ““the best country song I’ve heard in fifteen years.” And although finding these rare original performances, to seep into them as their fumbling, couch-syrup tones rise and fall, is a visceral experience, well worth pursuit, it is Foley’s songwriting, and its continued influence – both beyond his lifespan, and beyond the world of Texas country – that interests us today.

Unsurprisingly, with a few exceptions, Foley’s songs are difficult to interpret, making coverage rare. But happily, those who have chosen to take on the challenge of reimagining them do so without trivializing, giving the lyrics and chords new voice and clarity through interpretations inevitably crisper, and more deliberately nuanced, then their original raw and dirty forms. Read on for our favorite next-generation coverage, as growled and soft-shoe traditionalists and indiefolk reinventionists alike take on the Blaze Foley songbook in all its weird, wonderful, yet still prescient north-by-northwest madness.

Covered In Folk: Blaze Foley [zip!]

Comment » | Blaze Foley, Covered In Folk

New Artists, Old Songs: Introducing
Will Cookson, Robert Nottingham, Daphne Willis, Good Harvest & more!

We’ve been in hiding for a few weeks while the school year kicks in, calibrating against the winds of change as they rail against the tide. What better time to feature the new sounds of the season? Read on for coverage of Sufjan Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash, The 1975, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and more from a set of emerging artists and newfound discoveries well worth a second listen.

cooksonWe start today with a bit of pianissimo whisperfolk with tense undertones and swells from Bristol-bred alt-folk songwriter Will Cookson, who made us cry with his take on this Sufjan Stevens cover. Cookston’s newest album Ghosts of the Morning Sun will hit the skids in October. Feature track Worthing Beach is intimate and epic, with sweeping arrangement, wistful voice and an aching heart; we’re happy to have it, and eager for more.

0008133357_10Like a fragile field recording, this amateur Bandcamp find – a secondhand cover, built by stripping down Halsey’s dreamy indie electropop b-side – lingers in the psyche, a haunting heartmurmur heard long after the last gently plucked note fades. Kudos to Bostonian singer-songwriter Maryam Raad, about whom we can find no more but this and a single single; if and when that changes, we’ll let you know.

symbolsAnd now for something completely different: a refreshing acoustic-swing jazzfunk rock take on a familiar Fleetwood Mac classic from husband and wife duo The Symbols, exclusively released here on Cover Lay Down. Equal parts Django and Hendrix, the track is a delight, with powerhouse pop in the throat and an audible grin on the lips of lead singer Mer Sal making for the perfect compliment to cymbal-crashing percussion, backup singer oohs, and Grammy-nominated hubby Jasco’s string-bending wizardry.

Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 7.43.45 AMA little pop, precisely done; a little jazz in the slippery tone, and more than a little soul have us falling in love with Daphne Willis, whose summer release Come Together takes on five Beatles songs in a set that gently combines the best of Stevie Wonder, Mazzy Star, and Imagine Dragons without losing a whit of authenticity. Willis hails from Nashville, but there’s Chicago in her history and sound, too; with a voice like that, odds are she’ll be from everywhere soon.

nottinghamIt’s over a year old, but a failed attempt at focusing a coverlook lens on the songbook of The 1975 leaves us nonetheless with this dear, raw, gently poppy track from Manchester singer-songwriter Robert Nottingham – a standout radiopop reminiscence translated into the solo, pensive mold. We’re having trouble putting this one down, and you will, too; head on over to his pages on Bandcamp and YouTube for more than forty more great coversongs performed live and at home.

okkoLA-based producer/vocalist duo OKKO‘s brand new world-beat cover of Heartbeats, originally by The Knife and famously transformed for the folkworld by indie transformationalist Jose Gonzalez, turns the secondhand into contemporary gold with sitar, synths, and eastern percussion, making the track, the first in an intended series of Indian and Yoga-inspired transformations of popular song from a duo whose previous work includes “cowrites with Cyndi Lauper, singing on Britney Spears tracks, and pop releases in Sweden,” an auspicious harbinger of what may come as they take on Nirvana, MGMT, and more.

Like the tight, aching harmonies of First Aid Kit, but prefer your Swedish vocal harmonies a little less sharp? Then it’s time to try this gorgeous new version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, which belongs in the pantheon right alongside Darlingside and Heather Maloney and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: crisp, clear, and tight as an indian drum; sort, soaring, smooth and pure as springwater, lovingly presented in its native video form as the artists intended, and with a Coldplay cover from the same barn session as a bonus. Kudos to harmony-and-guitar duo Good Harvest for a perfect pairing of song and singers – we’ll see at least one of these songs again in our best of 2016, for sure.

Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the modern folkways through coverage since 2007 thanks to supporters like you. Coming soon: our annual Fall fund drive, plus new and newfound tribute albums and cover compilations, artist features, and more!

1 comment » | New Artists Old Songs

The Towers Fell, And Then We Were Silent:
A Remembrance, In Coverfolk and Prose

Originally posted 9/11/2011. Sometimes, you get it right the first time.


I was a media specialist the morning the towers began to fall: sole captain of a prep school video collection, and proprietor of the largest viewing space on campus. And so it was that the students came to me, one by one and together, by class and by cluster, as the word spread from teacher to teacher; so it was, indeed, that I ended up presiding over a grand experiment in media literacy, as the hour passed, and the cycle of not-news – that long hour of uncertain newscaster conjectures that accompanied the static, repetitive footage on every channel – took over the broadcast universe on that fated day.

As I noted last year [2010], though we would not know until much later, we lost one of our own that morning: Chris Carstanjen, a sweet, geeky compatriot from the IT department, an almost-friend whose first drinking date we had scheduled for the following weekend, before he boarded that flight for California and never made it past downtown NYC. But what I remember most was the stunned silence of a hundred students or more, who in that moment, that sacred hour, were being born as the Terror Generation, though they would not know the deep societal scars which they would carry for a long, long time, if indeed they are still thoughtful enough to know now.

I remember, too, the Dean of Students and I deciding, finally, to turn off the screen, in the face of those somber and endless images and faces; to make a short and surely unmemorable speech about how the absence of news was not news, and commandeer the offices of librarians as impromptu counseling spaces for those who were scared, especially those who had parents and relatives in NYC and in the towers themselves, especially those who came from Muslim cultures and Muslim families, and seemed to understand, however vaguely, that they had suddenly become targets for other students’ confusion.

I remember feeling pride, for a moment, that I had managed to remember my calling in the face of disaster. And then I remember a long flash of shame, that I had somehow managed to make the day about me, thus cheapening the true scope of the disaster.

After that, I don’t remember anything at all. In my memory, it is as if turning off the television turned off the universe, too.

And ever since then, the world has been different. And I will always harbor a secret guilt, just like yours, that the world we rebuilt in the months and years that followed was not the same, even though we know, of course, that it could not have been.

Flash forward a decade, and here we are: one among a million paying tribute to the day the towers slowly fell. The world is faster, now, and more divided – two trends which spin into each other like two sides of a gyroscope, pulling at our psyches. I commute 40 minutes every morning to work with students for whom disaster is always personal and everpresent: homelessness, street violence, unemployment, the looming promise of dead-end futures. Some days it seems the only thing they own is their image, and who can fault them, then, for being so brash and sassy, peacocks with razor talons, angry at the world and taking it out on themselves without even realizing it.

I don’t know where to look for the the scars in this new generation, and I’m not sure I’d see them if I did. But their hardened hearts sadden me, sometimes.

There will be a moment of silence, come Monday’s morning announcements. And my students will speak into the air, loud against the voice of authority, unlistening and disconnected to their culture and each other, even as I am silent, and thinking of Chris, and of the moment I turned on the TV on the movie theater screen, and the smoking hole of culture flashed itself into my brain.

I can hear it, even now.

It’s been seven years, now, since I left the prep school; seven years since we lived side by side with the kids in the dormitories, and shared the pain and joys, the proms and punishments of night and day with the smart and well-bred, the resourced and the right-raised. But I often think of that day when I’m in my inner city classroom, working with the children of the downtrodden, the recent immigrants who don’t speak English, the hopeless – all categories of children whose pain is everpresent and real, and who would never have sat in silence, or even identified with the children of the towers.

Teachable moments are the lifeblood of the vocation, and I’m proud, I suppose, that we turned the TV off that day. But there is nothing so powerful as silence shared, as stunned communion. Nothing so powerful as a generation who grows up to see airport patdowns as normative rather than violation. Nothing so powerful, indeed, as the nexuses themselves, about which we try to say too much, and never truly find the words to speak of.

And so today we mourn the losses: of Chris, yes, and his airborne compatriots; of the parents and families of those who passed in fire and fall, impact and explosion – but also of the innocence of once-students now dispersed to the winds, some of them already struggling to raise children of their own. On one hand, they are and ever will be the children of privilege. On the other, they will always be the first generation, the youngest to truly understand what the world has become, without another, older sense of what it replaced.

To them, this new world is normal, for it is all they ever had.

Whether that makes them blessed or cursed is a matter for debate. And some days, I wish I knew, for it seems like it should matter very much indeed.

I miss them, those kids. I wonder about them, too. If I knew how to define okay in this instance, I’d ask them if they were, and if they remembered.

But I’m not sure I’d believe them, no matter what they said.

Comment » | Reposts

Amos Lee Covers:
John Prine, John Denver, Sam Cooke, Dylan, Madonna & more!


Amos Lee came into my life just in time to rock my second child to sleep, making it easy to mark the eleven years since Arms Of A Woman hit me in the heart like a slow motion bullet. Since then, the soulful singer-songwriter has become a go-to guy for series of strong tribute albums and covers collections – making him an easy candidate for a Cover Lay Down artist feature that gathers in 18 of our favorite live and studio covers for a set that’ll tear your heart out.

Lee was a latecomer to the craft; he received his first guitar in college, and worked as an elementary-level schoolteacher and bartender in his native Philadelphia before deciding to dedicate his life to music at the age of 25. But once determined, his rise to fame was rapid and resoundingly celebrated. Early opening act gigs for BB King and Mose Alison and a demo submission to jazz-and-more label Blue Note Records in 2004 led to tours with Norah Jones and Bob Dylan the following year, and a self-titled debut whose songs found rapid-fire exposure on a multitude of House, ER, Parenthood, and other TV shows and commercials known for showcasing the new, hip indie marketplace.

No one was surprised when Lee’s 2011 album Mission Bell, with its stark landscape, restless momentum, and guest appearances from Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Priscilla Ahn, Pieta Brown, and Sam Beam debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. The man had made his mark, and subsequent tours with everyone from Merle Haggard to Adele would only cement his influence in the post-millennial world.

In many ways, though, Amos Lee’s rapid rise was foretold by his music. It’s hard not to love Lee upon first listen; arguably, the man has more soul in his vocal delivery than anyone else in his generation and genre. But dig deeper, and his true mastery becomes clear: there’s subtle, nuanced delivery and arrangement here, and a deceptively simple way with a lyrical hook that owes as much to the formative influence of early acoustic soul balladeers like Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers as it does to the muddy, raw Delta bluesfolk at the heart of the American folkways, the gritty sounds of John Prine, and the sparse contemporary jazzfolk sounds of Joni Mitchell and labelmate and contemporary Jones.

The result is consistent: an elegantly honest portrayal of deep emotional truths, crisp and achingly framed, in clear, deep, and emotional performance; a collected output of six full-length albums of original songs, one live album, that original Blue Note EP, and a sequence of guest appearances and one-shot coversongs that evades easy genre categorization even as it stands out for its originality, its craftsmanship, and its soul.

So click below to download studio covers of John Prine, Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Madonna, an iTunes session Neil Young/Ween two-fer, collaborations with The Wood Brothers and Calexico and Iron & Wine, and the best, clearest live covers we could find, from soulful solo takes on Sam Cooke and The Commodores to majestic in-concert versions of November Rain and Fat Bottomed Girls. Come, see why Amos Lee’s interpretation of John Denver’s Some Days Are Diamonds, originally shared here in 2013, is the single most played song in our collection. Come, fall back in love with us.

Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the folkways through cover songs since 2007 thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Coming soon: our annual Fall fund drive, plus a look at new tribute albums and compilations from the end of the summer!

1 comment » | Amos Lee, Featured Artists

Back To The Source, Vol. 1: MOJO Magazine
(32 covers from twelve years of tribute albums)


Great covers come from a myriad of sources. But the coverlover’s collection is founded on a finite set, where coverage runs fast and free: deep wells that sustain us, pouring forth the volumes that pepper our mixtapes and shore up our artist-centric features, from “homage houses” like Reimagine Music and American Laundromat Records to ongoing YouTube tour-stops like AV Undercover and the pop-up microstudios of Dutch field recorder Onder Invloed.

Back To The Source, our newest feature concept, dives deep into these wells, seeking to celebrate and reveal just what makes their waters so prolific and life-sustaining. We kick things off today with a look at MOJO, who in just over a decade has produced dozens of tributes to seminal albums and artists, sealed lovingly in plastic alongside their monthly music magazine; read on for beautiful interpretations of seminal songs from Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, and more, plus more Beatles covers than you could ever imagine.

I love used CD stores, where a quick skim of the liner notes can reveal treasures previously unnoticed or unheard, and rarities abound, from live local radio compilations to label tributes long out of print. And so, a few weekends ago, in a last gasp effort to enjoy the waning days of summer, we found ourselves in Brattleboro, VT, where Turn It Up records has recently relocated to new digs. I begged a few minutes from the end of a great meal, and headed for the stacks.

And there, in the three for five bucks tray, was a treasure trove: someone’s entire collection of Mojo Records CDs.

It was an incomplete set, to be sure – about 5 year’s worth, of a total collection that so far spans a dozen. But I walked away with ten separate tribute albums, most otherwise impossible to find. And after steeping in them for two weeks, it was just too good not to share.

A little history here: Mojo Magazine has included a free CD with almost every issue since late 2004; not all tackle covers, but many do. Two-disc set Beatlemania, which emerged in September of that year, and Cash Covered, released that November, were the first covers compilations to appear as part of a series that yaws wide enough to define the broad tastes of Mojo itself, where punk, soul, pop and indie all have their place in the pantheon, and authenticity is the name of the game.

For the first few years, Mojo’s CDs tended to compile previously recorded material, maybe with a brand new track or two; the joy here was in the collection and organization, which generally trended towards a broad genre spectrum held together marvelously, resulting in a growing cache of eminently listenable long-plays. In more recent years, Mojo has included a number of bespoke CDs in their collection, with songs solicited and recorded exclusively for their projects. Either way, their taste is impeccable: it is these collections, in fact, which have introduced me to The Staves, Neville Skelly, Jeb Loy Nichols, and other up-and-comers, while renewing my love for Woodpigeon, Phosphorescent, Yim Yames, Sam Amidon, Emily Barker, Thea Gilmore, Jim White, and many more artists pushing the envelope beyond easy genre categorization.

In the end, as a collection, the Mojo tribute CDs stand almost unparalleled – a fitting beginning for a new feature series, and a great way to celebrate the magazine and its tastemakers as they continue their search for the source in the songscape. Read on for our favorite, folkiest tracks from a close-to-complete chronology of cover albums, from that Beatlemania set to Blonde on Blonde Revisited, last month’s delight of a Dylan tribute.

Mojo Magazine’s Best Covers (2004-2016)
A Cover Lay Down Mix

Always artist-friendly and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been covering the changing landscape of music since 2007 thanks to the continued efforts of sources like Mojo…and the kindness of readers like you. Donate today to help us keep the servers spinning, and receive our undying thanks, PLUS a mixtape of otherwise unblogged rarities!

Comment » | Back To The Source, Mixtapes, The Beatles, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Mailbag Mayhem: New covers of
The Beatles, Beyonce, Teenage Fanclub, The Grateful Dead & more!

How lovely to return from two weeks in the folkfields soaked in sun and song and find the mailbag bulging with transformative takes on songs we love. We’ve sifted through and found the very best of a set that covers the gamut from tender indiefolk and solo singer-songwriter fare to bluegrass, roots, and Americana; now read on for some very new coverage from a diverse set of international artists working in and around the folkways – all recorded or released in the last few weeks, and all very much worth your time.

Revolver turned 50 last week; in its honor, a set of mostly Brazilian artists have spent the week performing songs from the album for a mostly-live project called BH Beatle Week, and the results are just divine. Our favorite project contribution: this bright, dreamy, gently psychedelic cover from contemporary folk duo Lindsay and Isaac (and friend Vini), perfect for wistful summer’s end. See also Junk, recorded back in January by the same trio of artists – a beautiful, tender rendition of Paul McCartney’s best post-Beatles lullaby.

Indie-slash-antifolk singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, who has been pretty quiet since her last release in 2012, covered the Beatles recently, too, for the soundtrack of new animated feature Kubo and the Two Strings. Fittingly tinged with neotraditional Japanese instrumentation over orchestral strings, the cover, which hit the ether over the weekend, is both stirring and strange, a fitting match for a film that promises much, and seems poised to deliver.

Wisconsin-based, classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter and CLD frequent flyer Anna Elizabeth Laube sent along this Beyonce cover almost a month ago, but it’s well worth bringing forward: hushed, beautiful, and truly folk, with unexpected horns and a pulsing vibe that soothes and sways. At this point, we’d listen to Laube the sing the phone book; that she’s managed to wring such depth and dynamic tension from such an unusual source is both typical and praiseworthy.

New on Noisetrade, this previously unreleased Teenage Fanclub cover serves as 1/4 of a sampler EP re-introducing the world to the throwback California country sounds of Detroit “guitar-pop” band The Legal Matters. And what an introduction it is, too: perfect for those last lazy summer afternoons, and sure to please fans of The Jayhawks, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, and other folk-pop radio hitmakers that still populate classic rock radio.

Released in June but now rising to the top, Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky, the “focus” track of Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind, was put up on Youtube at the end of July: like much of this collection of old-timey “cheatin’ and hurtin’ songs” from BC-based septet The High Bar Gang, it’s a slow piece, and gentler than the Flatt and Scruggs original. But it’s the high-driving energy of traditional album opener Silver Dagger, a translation that owes much to Dolly Parton’s 1999 take on the song yet with a bright and busty energy all its own, that grabs us and pulls us in, hard and grinning, to spin and whirl.

It’s been a while since we last featured contemporary Hudson Valley singer-songwriter Susan Kane here on these pages, naming her sly, bluesy take on the Grateful Dead classic Loser as one of our top 20 coversongs of 2012, but we’re thrilled to have her back on the radar with two new Dead covers and a set of potent originals that reveal a rich and eminently human inner world through the superimposition of the mundane and the magic. An acoustic Americana album with guest musicians galore, new album Mostly Fine is enjoying a soft release; snag it now via CD Baby before folk radio beats you to it.

Just three albums into a promising career, London ex-pat vocalist and composer Joanna Wallfisch is hard to categorize, but everything’s good about near-perfect new CD Gardens In My Mind, which yaws wide as it swings from a playful, stuttering barrelhouse pianojazz title track to lush world-and-classical folk a la Jean Rohe (Satin Grey). Though mostly comprised of vibrant, contemporary originals, the album also includes a crooner’s soft pianopop Tim Buckley cover and this completely deconstructed string-quartet take on All I Want that just blows our mind…and then does it again, in a gorgeously layered, looping a capella reprise of the same song that leaves us aching and breathless.

Most folks move from folk to Broadway, if anything. But with debut album Somebody, Ryan Vona – who appeared there in folk musical Once, and currently stars as Joey in the Cirque Du Soleil musical Paramour – isn’t so much moving backwards as he is forging ahead into new territory in pure, potent voice. New single The Letterbox is an earnest, playful newgrass revelation, with an adorable video featuring an animated grasshopper in a paper bag world; add in an arrangement of Danny Boy which dances around the “original” tune composed by his ancestor Rory Dall O’Cahan, and we’re pleased to welcome him to the folkways with open arms and accolades.

  • VIDEO: Lucy LaForge, Katie Ferrara, Kaitlin Wolfberg: Dreams (orig. Fleetwood Mac)
  • VIDEO: Lucy LaForge & Evan Blum: Just A Friend To You (orig. Meghan Trainor)

Last but certainly not least, we close today with a pair of darling YouTube covers from Lucy LaForge, the whimsical indie frontwoman of Lucy & La Mer who has already brought us such joy this year through covers of Tainted Love and Bad Blood. Dreams, a raw, ragged, sparse and oh so sweet new Fleetwood Mac cover, was mixed on the same board as Rumors, the seminal 1977 album which brought us such well-covered delights as Go Your Own Way, The Chain, Dreams and Gold Dust Woman; as a bonus, it also features fellow LA-based artist Katie Ferrara, whose absolutely delightful cover of Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes featured here just a few weeks ago in our flavor-laden Popsicle Mix. Add in one of the sweetest boy-girl uke covers I’ve heard this year, and it’s easy to see why we’ve fallen in love.

Comment » | Mailbag Monday, New Artists Old Songs, Tube Thursday

Barefoot Dancing: A Cover Lay Down Mix
(with covers from Mumford & Sons, First Aid Kit, Luka Bloom & more!)


I learned to dance in the suburbs, a child caught in the web of projected dreams of high class living. Sessions took place in the front parlor of an ivied, stately mansion, record needles skipping us across the waxed wooden floors in waltzes and ballroom foxtrots as we held each other distantly, stiff in our navy sports coats, palms sweaty and awkward against the unknown sex in their disdainful white quarter-sized dresses.

Later, dance was a skill, useful for the stage and a gym credit in high school. I took jitterbug lessons in a downtown studio for a Merchant-Ivory production of Cinderella, learning to be led by older boys in wigs and stepsister dresses, watching my steps in a wall of mirrored glass. I learned the basic language of choreography, and the sideways look to be sure.

I learned, in other words, that dance was work.

Discovering dance as a joy – as a personal thing – was a revelation in my twenties, when the world of jam bands taught me to dance hypnotically, and Michael Franti and Tribe Called Quest taught me to jump. It became a joy to share in my thirties, when the children were small, and unaware that the world was watching. But something about the world of dance as a skill, to be polished and critiqued, still lingered in my brain. I had to work to lose myself in it, and it never lasted long.

And so I rarely dance these days. Oh, sometimes half-furtively, for the encore of an especially good band, from the back of the chapel. But the children are grown too old to dance with Daddy. The world is often watching, in my dreams and in my mind.

But you have to find your place in the world. And so, once a year, I go to where I feel most alive, and most comfortable in my own skin: offline and off the grid, deep in the green fields of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

And I dance.

I dance in the rain, when it comes, if it comes. I dance in the bright midday sunlight, alongside the stages. I dance under tents, darkness all around us; I bounce in the crowd as psychedelic strains and hot lights fill the air. Some years, I even try a round of contra dancing. Saturday night, my daughters and I make ourselves into glowstick figures, and dance up the aisles in the darkness. And Sunday morning, by the side of the main stage, I raise my hands and voice in agnostic praise for the Gospel Wake-Up Call as the spirit moves me out of my seat.

I’m not that good at it. I’m sure I look ridiculous, most of the time.

But it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is the dance.

So find your place and time, and dance with reckless abandon, with tenderness, with style. Dance like no one’s watching, with small children and old men and women if possible. Dance to the stars, and the bright morning sky on the last day of summer. Dance in the closet, or with the grass at your feet.

From slow dances to rockabilly two-steps. From here to there. We’ll be back again soon, refreshed and rejuvenated, limbs loose and ready to move.

Barefoot Dancing: A CLD Mix
…now available in one convenient download-able file!

Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down explores the folkways through coverage here and on Facebook throughout the year thanks to patrons like you.

1 comment » | Mixtapes

Double Dippers, Vol. IV: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
Paul Simon, Modest Mouse, Gram Parsons, The Band and Dougie MacLean!


It’s been two years and one huge archive crash since we last revisited our Double Dippers series, in which we focus on artists who pay tribute to a favorite songwriter through coverage in two distinct phases of their careers. Our interest, as always, is in the ethnographic lens on craft and culture: if covers serve as artifacts that reveal the substance of artistic evolution, then an individual artist’s return to a common songbook is especially illuminating – both as an exploration of maturity and experimentation, and in the way it reinforces that artist’s claim to a particular musical lineage or heritage.

Previously, we took the analytical approach to paired homage from Mark Erelli, Richard Shindell, Amos Lee, Lucy Kaplansky, and Old Crow Medicine Show (Vol. 1), Kasey Chambers, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Red Molly (Vol. 2), and Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Bragg, Evan Dando, and Crooked Still alumni Aoife O’Donovan and Tristan Clarridge (Vol. 3) as they explored the works of their peers and progenitors. Today, we continue our dig into how songwriters are shaped by song and soundscapes with double-dip coverage from six distinct artists working in and around the world of folk and roots: Mark Kozelek, Whiskeytown, Susan Werner, Shawn Colvin, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Kallet, Epstein, and Cicone.

    Recorded in two subsequent incarnations of dreamy indie singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek‘s evolution from bandleader to solo act, more than anything, these two tracks show steadfast commitment to a career built at least partially on transformative coverage – before recording Modest Mouse homage Tiny Cities with Sun Kil Moon, the band released an entire album covering AC/DC; he has also contributed multiple tracks to one of our favorite John Denver tribute albums, and taken on the likes of KISS, Paul Simon, Genesis and The Cars. Eleven years later, Kozelek, now known for his ability to strip a song down to its bare essentials, has lost none of the scarred beauty of his particularly intimate slowcore approach as he matures into himself; the significant difference here is the even more spare arrangement which typifies atypically piano-driven collection Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, a stunning new release featuring guest vocalists galore, sure to feature in our end-of-year wrap-up of the Best Cover Albums of 2016.

    Shawn Colvin‘s second covers album Uncovered – released 21 years after Cover Girl, her first covers collection, wormed its way into our heart – double-dips twice, returning to the work of both Tom Waits and The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Both cover pairings are good, though Colvin’s turn towards Adult Contemporary between these two poles of her career remains evident; as with her double-take on the Beatles songbook, her return here “bear[s] the scars and strengths of that journey, though…the high production value and carefully nuanced vocals shine almost blindingly bright.” Which is to say: we like Uncovered, which was recorded with less pomp and circumstance than some of her mid-career radio-ready hits, a lot more than we expected to; in its best moments, like her subtle, slow take on Acadian Driftwood, it reminds us of the intimacy and innocence of Colvin’s earliest, rawest work, and as such, merits a second dip into her career.

    Ryan Adams is known in the coverworld for his slow reframing of Wonderwall and his triumphant retake on Taylor Swift album 1989; outside of that world, it’s hard to find a more perfect debut album than Heartbreaker. But before he was a solo artist with a penchant for covering everything from metal to pop, Adams fronted short-lived but highly influential alt-country band Whiskeytown, which covered Gram Parsons several times as they evolved from grungy post-country rockabilly to the more delicate side of the No Depression universe just before Adams and fellow founder Caitlin Cary spun off into the void. Adams has taken on Parsons plenty since – his live covers of Sin City and Streets Of Baltimore are great country ballads; his 1999 in-concert duet with Gillian Welch is legendary – but it’s the distance between these two cuts that best models how he got from here to there.

    The occasional trio of Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone have released just three albums since first coming together in 1981; we featured the last upon its release in 2008 with a celebration of Cindy Kallet’s overall output, and grew up on the first two, celebrating them in our formative years as a guidepost to a strain of hearty heartstrong vocal-led folksong particular to the New England coast, with echoes of shanties and the shapenote traditions, and the earthy delights of UK folksingers such as the Scottish MacLean. Final album Heartstrings, a return to the fold, is as tender and reminiscent as you might expect, although strong in its own right – but though recorded just five years apart, the subtle rumblings in the folkstream which would send much of the most honest forms of folk underground as folk radio turned towards Adult Contemporary show at the seams in the range between these two earlier songs.

    Her live performances and albums hew closely to the solo singer-songwriter model, with a masterful command of voice and style, and confidence and humor on stage. But Susan Werner – a classically trained composer and vocalist, and a true follower of the “album as album” school of songwriting – has reinvented herself for almost every studio release since establishing herself as a folksinger in the mid eighties. Recent collections include an atheist’s gospel album and a collection of songs exploring the voice of the modern farmer; her next collection will reportedly take on the culture and rhythms of a newly-reopened island nation, and the samples we’re heard live have been amazing. As such, the vast difference between these two Paul Simon songs is easily explicable: the former is a beautiful, maudlin piece typical of her early work in the contemporary vein, the latter, which matches a Simon & Garfunkel song to a Vivaldi-esque string setting, is a live take from the tour following 2009 release Classics, a potent genre-crossing covers collection which set standards of the sixties and seventies against precisely identified classical stylings.

    Finally, a second take on the Simon & Garfunkel songbook, this time from second-generation fringepop folk artist Lucy Wainwright Roche, paired in both cases with mother Suzzy of the Roches. Both covers are amazing, although arguably, it’s the first, a last-track coda on Lucy Wainwright Roche’s 2010 studio debut Lucy, which fills our head for days after we listen, haunting and taunting us with its rich sonic landscape. But what a difference six years makes, as the urgency of the full-length debut fades back into the soaring, delicate harmonies and ringing strings that typified Lucy’s first few tiny EPs, each one as precious as the next. If there was ever any question that Lucy is as potent a force in her own right as brother Rufus or father Loudon, this pairing should settle it.

Always artist-centric and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the folkways through cover songs since 2007 thanks to the kind generosity of patrons like you. Want to help? Give now to support our continuing mission, and we’ll send you an exclusive mix of unblogged favorites from 2014-2015 – along with our undying thanks!

Comment » | Double Dippers, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Mark Kozelek, Ryan Adams, Shawn Colvin, Susan Werner

32 Flavors And Then Some: A Popsicle Mix
with covers of Tom Waits, Lovin’ Spoonful, Hozier, The 1975 & more!


On Monday, in a rare lull between too many things, we decided to make popsicles: the elderchild who appreciates food deeply, and understands its complexities, and the father who has taught her to create joy in all its flavors, in moments when we are together, and alone.

And so we mashed watermelon and picked out the seeds. We squeezed lemons, stirred sugar into water. We minced basil and muddled mint, and took out that bottle of smoked maple syrup we picked up at a crafts fair on the way back from a week of sea and high-bluff living. We mixed and measured, tasted and poured.

For four days now, they’ve been waiting in the freezer, welcoming when the heat rolls in. Each one we take and savor is a delight; a connection between us, a moment in the sun together in heart and body. And as their numbers slowly dwindle, we talk cucumber peach, smoked grapefruit, tomato and tarragon, strawberry lime: the sweet and the savory, like the way we are becoming, as she comes into fourteen, and the woman begins to show itself.

Let the world ring with flavor: gentle and tart, sharp on the palate, refreshing and slow. It’s summer, and the warm sun sings to the meadows and the woods beyond.

32 Flavors: A CLD Mix
[download here!]

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1 comment » | Mixtapes

(Re)Covered In Folk: Dave Carter, 1952 – 2002
The Legacy of a Buddhist Cowboy Poet

Repost originally featured July 19, 2010. Dave, we miss you still.

Each year as schooldays fade into memory and the summer festival season grows close, my thoughts turn to Dave Carter. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter already well respected by critics and peers, Carter was on the road with his partner Tracy Grammer in the summer of 2002 when he was stricken down with a heart attack during an early morning run in the New England heat.

Their scheduled set at that day’s Green River Festival was taken over by Signature Sounds labelmate Mark Erelli with little fanfare. And the following weekend, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Tracy took to the stage with determination, cementing Carter’s legacy with a mainstage tribute set performed with friends and folkfamily that, surely, would have made Dave smile.

I’d like to say that I was there, as so many friends were. But this series of events comes to me secondhand, eclipsed by the miracle of parenthood, and the uncertain, overwhelming future of its sudden and everpermanent arrival. For on the day of Dave Carter’s death, in a hospital just a few blocks from where he had planned to perform on that fateful day, my wife and I were walking into the same hot summer, our newly-born child cradled carefully in our arms.

It was the one and only year we’ve missed Falcon Ridge in fifteen years of continuous attendance – the field being no place for a week-old infant – but though I have no regrets in choosing personal joy over shared wake under the circumstances, I have long wished I could have been there for the celebration of Carter’s life which took place that summer on the ridge. Instead, I am left with faint memory and eternal song, his recorded catalog of Zen mysticism and gentle cowboy poetics a permanent fixture on my playlists, his warm voice and sublime vision a constant echo of what was and could have been.

Far be it from me to claim some special bond between Carter and myself, despite the proximity of life and death which we shared; I was only privileged enough to see Dave and Tracy once in concert, and now it is too late.

But Dave Carter lives in my heart, and in the hearts of those folk musicians I love. And why not? It’s not just that Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer spent the last two years of his life atop the american folk charts, thanks to top honors at Kerrville, Napa Valley, and other festivals following their kitchen-recorded, independently released debut When I Go (1998), and the subsequent success of Tanglewood Tree (2000) and Drum Hat Buddha (2001); it’s that they earned that recognition, through unparalleled songcraft, dedicated performance, and a grateful approach to the universe that lives on in his songs, and in her life.

Perhaps Joan Baez said it best, describing Carter’s songs as folkways-ready: “There is a special gift for writing songs that are available to other people, and Dave’s songs are very available to me. It’s a kind of genius, you know, and Dylan has the biggest case of it. But I hear it in Dave’s songs, too.” Listen, and you’ll hear it too.

Tracy Grammer continues to perform the Dave Carter songbook, most often with local hero and master instrumentalist Jim Henry by her side. In 2005, she released Flower of Avalon, which included nine previously unrecorded songs written by Carter, and a single traditional tune that fits perfectly within the set.

Since then, Tracy has continued to perform and record, making a name for herself beyond that of Dave Carter’s partner and muse. But in many ways, her life continues to be as much a part of his legacy as his songs. Pick up her work, and theirs, at

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Dave Carter, Reposts

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