These Our Hymns Of Grateful Praise:
A Cover Lay Down Thanksgiving Mix





It’s Thanksgiving, and just in time, too: breakneck momentum takes over this time of year, until routines long established begin to fray around the edges; maybe we need a few days off to rethink our priorities.

We’re already grateful as we slowly settle into an unexpected off-day, here at home with our festival feast delayed by weather. Outside, the Christmas radio stations have already kicked into gear, and the world is tense with race and ruin, capitalism and the cold hard stand of conviction, but the snow-blurred landscape blocks everything out. And now the music is low, the lights are soft; children in flannel nightgowns pad barefoot in and out of the kitchen, dropping sleepy kisses in their wake; the pellet stove whirs and warms the neighbor’s borrowed dogs until they fall asleep in our laps.

The Thanksgiving hymnal is sparser than most, but we are quiet, today, and the mixed-marriage Jewnitarian tradition we practice digs deep into all corners of the earth. And oh, we have have so much to be thankful for: the world bright with promise, and ourselves with strength and love enough to work and play in it together. A collection of praise, then, from modern to mostly traditional, that we might skip the tinsel, and stick to the hope and the holy, the gravy and the grace this Thanksgiving season.


These Our Hymns Of Grateful Praise
A Thanksgiving Coverfolk Mix [download!]



Cover Lay Down shares new features and coversets here and on Facebook throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: new holiday releases, and our annual guide to shopping local in a digital world!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Signature Sounds: A Local Label Turns 20 in Style
(with new cover albums and a Chris Smither tribute!)



Cofounder Jim Olsen outside label Signature Sounds in Northampton, MA


After two decades as a go-to source for some of our favorite singer-songwriters, local label Signature Sounds has earned our respect and gratitude a hundred times over even as their catalog of folk, roots, Americana and acoustic indie soulpop has come to the national scene. First conceived as an extension of the Signature Sounds recording studio established by Mark Thayer in the mid-eighties, the label, which released its first album – a holiday sampler – in 1984, also runs our new favorite folk venue (The Parlor Room, a delightfully intimate venue in Northampton where one can browse and purchase from the entire Signature Sounds catalog) and sponsors one of our very favorite roots festivals (the Green River festival, where I first discovered Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch, and Erin McKeown): all just icing on the anniversary cake, a marker of their homegrown expansion and a harbinger of more to come.

Today, in praise and homage to Signature Sounds and the artists it has introduced and promoted on ever-expanding roster, we swing through a set of 2014 cover and tribute releases from the label, and add a bonus set of favorite tracks from cover albums and tributes released over 20 years in the business. Read on for samples and sentiment, and then, if you’re in the area, stop by to browse the amazing local arts scene at The Parlor Room Makers Market today and tomorrow and pick up 20% off tickets to next weekend’s birthday celebration at the Academy of Music: 4 star-studded concerts over 3 nights with Lake Street Dive, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Chris Smither, Redbird, Mark Erelli, Eilen Jewell, Winterpills, Heather Maloney, and a Crooked Still reunion – all artists featured here on these virtual pages more than once, for good reason.



Since we last wrote about them in a February (Re)Covered post, footstomping fivesome Poor Old Shine has changed their name to Parsonsfield, joined the Signature Sounds roster, and focused their approach in ways that only improve on an already exquisite neotraditional sound. Their newest EP is a playful, eclectic grab-bag of holler and harmonies, with previously YouTubed covers of old tradfolk and Huey Lewis hit The Power Of Love, a lone original (playful romp Anita Loving), and a set of newer studio recordings of tunes from the American school that bring the field to your foyer.




Link Of Chain: A Songwriter’ Tribute to Chris Smither is as much a homage to the Signature Sounds roster and its fans in the music industry as it honors the elder statesman of Northeastern American folk blues, who turned 70 last week. In the hands of Mark Erelli, Jeffrey Foucault, Tim O’Brien, Aoife O’Donovan and other familiar names on the circuit, Smithers’ songs get a masterful treatment with few low points and little sameness, offering apt survey of the label’s sound and cache all at once. Highly recommended tracks include Dave Alvin’s restrained album-opener, a typically smoky, jazz-beautiful version of Waiting On A Train from Patty Larkin, and Mary Gauthier’s chilling take on Smither standard I Feel The Same – a far cry from the funky wah wah pedal swamp blues that Bonnie Raitt used to make the song famous.




Miss Tess and the Talkbacks isn’t folk; Signature Sounds is on an electrified soulpop kick these days, thanks to the success of labelmates Lake Street Dive, whose 2014 Halloween Youtube cover of Love Shack is a poolside screamer not to be missed. But Tess’ late-2013 covers EP The Love I Have For You, which we missed last year, has a rockabilly sentiment and a country core, calling to the rootsy origins even as it frames itself squarely in modern traditions of reinvention and acoustic soul.




Winterpills aren’t folk, either, but the approach to sound on this relatively intimate new duo album hits the mark, as does the concept: totally transformed in an electronic haze by founding bandmembers Flora Reed and Philip Price while their bandmates were busy, lesser-known tracks from the alternative world and beyond specifically chosen for their potential for reinvention shimmer and strain against their original settings. The resulting album is beautiful, with songs sparse and torn, yet equally untethered and etherial.




The Sacred Shakers are a collaborative of Boston musicians, nominally led by country folk artist Eilen Jewell, whose shared love of old-time, country and blues-influenced gospel music lends itself to barn-busting performances. Discovered by Signature Sounds founder and all-around great guy Jim Olsen before they had recorded a lick, their 2014 live album on the label is like a No Depression record played on 45: upbeat, high-energy, spiritually joyful, and eminently danceable.




Signature Sounds has produced some amazing albums over the years; many of their cover and tribute albums are staples of our Cover Lay Down archival stacks. As promised, then: today’s bonus set features a treasure trove sampler from a highly recommended all-covers subsection of one of the best independent catalogs in the modern world. Click through to purchase albums direct from the source, the better to keep Signature Sounds going strong in the decades to come.

    20 Years of Coverage:
    More Cover Albums and Tributes from Signature Sounds






Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares songsets and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Want to help?


Comment » | Chris Smither, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Winterpills

Phosphorescent Covers
Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, George Jones, Leonard Cohen & 16 more!


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When Paste Magazine named alt-folkster Phosphorescent‘s masterful-yet-intimate album Muchaho their 2013 Album of the Year, it was easy to dismiss the long-time pseudonymous solo project as just another inner-circle seat-holder in the bearded indiefolk crowd – and easier, still, when Paste declared the image of cover artist Matthew Hoack in Mexico, where the album was composed, as definitive as Bon Iver in his isolated Wisconsin cabin.

Hoack’s personal history is almost too perfect for the sensitive hipster mythos: born in Alabama, the autobiographical artist began his career in alternative hotbed town Athens, Georgia, and later moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yards; he primarily records for Austin-based label Dead Oceans, alongside a roster including Tallest Man On Earth, John Vanderslice, and Akron/Family. Wolves, which originally appeared on his 2007 opus Pride, has been covered at least twice this decade, in solid, broken versions from similarly bandified solo artists Message To Bears and Strand of Oaks; he’s played Sasquatch and Bonnaroo, toured with The National, and will appear at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, and San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. And certainly, his placement cred is sound: though his version of theme song Little Boxes was rejected for use on Weeds, his fragile, sad work has graced several indie film soundtracks, including 2011 Kevin Spacey/Jeremy Irons vehicle Margin Call and this summer’s blockbuster The Amazing Spiderman 2, plus two MOJO Magazine cover compilations.

But his credibility as part of the new wave of folk-tinged crossover artists worth attention from the wider world really is honestly come, whatever the backstory. Musically, Phosphorescent teeters on the imperfect indie edge, with rich atmospheres that drown the listener in layers of sound and creaky sentiment, imperfect and imperfectly performed narration, and introspective first-person lyrics that question and fog, bringing both comfort and the ache of desperation.

Yet where indie compatriot Bon Iver trends towards pop music heartbreakingly undone, Houcke’s cover choices out him as a folk musician first and foremost, almost in spite of the heavily layered, often-electrified production he increasingly favors in the studio. Over a career spanning seven records since 2003, Houck has recorded a set of covers that ground his work strongly in the folkstream, both by practice and by selection: on indie and nufolk compilations such as this year’s Sweethearts Valentine’s Day cover sampler, MOJO tributes to The Beatles and Neil Young, and, most notably, on 2009 album To Willie, an endearing yet straightforward Willie Nelson tribute, once named one of Rhapsody’s favorite cover albums, that pays homage to both the California Country movement and Nelson’s classic Lefty Frizzell tribute album From Willie To Lefty.

So listen, as our featured artist digs deep into his musical forebears, and comes up with a true 20-track survey befitting a true folksman, with versions of songs from Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, John Prine, and the American cowboy canon, plus an utterly gorgeous Leonard Cohen cover that could have come from Springsteen’s darkest hour, a short set of in-studio video covers, and a few surprises along the way. We think you’ll find the argument for Phosphorescent persuasive, and the music as divine, as sad, as beautiful, as comforting, and as soft as any broken angel’s wings.

  • Phosphorescent: If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) (orig. George Jones) [2013]

  • Phosphorescent: Far From Me (orig. John Prine) [2013]

  • Phosphorescent: Days Of Heaven (orig. Randy Newman) [2012]


  • Phosphorescent: Storms Never Last (orig. Jessi Colter) [2013]


  • Phosphorescent: I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (orig. R.L. Burnside) [2010]

  • Phosphorescent: Any Old Miracle (orig. Vern Gosdin) [2014]
    Warning: loud advert before the track, but it’s worth it…





Looking for an easy way to listen? Download the whole Phosphorescent coverset and snag our two favorite versions of Phosphorescent’s Wolves as bonus tracks!

3 comments » | Featured Artists, Phosphorescent

Lord, Protect My Child:
Songs For Our Children, Covered In Folk




Last October, when I wrote about my struggle to recenter family and fatherhood as my older daughter encountered a newly diagnosed auto-immune disorder (Everybody Hurts: On discovering a child’s illness), many of you wrote in to lend support and solace, and I am grateful for the grace, ever thankful for the voices you bring to this kitchen-table community.

Fast forward one year, though, and the weight has not been lifted so easily. The elderchild still struggles with balance, losing sleep and schooldays to a complex web of pain real and projected. And it’s hard: hard to watch her struggle; hard not to become inured to the stress and strain the constant ache brings to our hearth and home; hard to like her, on the days when she lets the pain get to her better self.

And then there is her sister, who has captured her disease, and our attention.

At nine years old, the wee one is sensitive to others in ways her sister isn’t. And so, where the elderchild complains loudly of her stomach, her little sister is more likely to hide the pain from us so as not to call attention to herself. It took months to diagnose her; it may take years before she is truly comfortable leaving the classroom in pain or need.

Having two sick children is a million miles from having one sick child. Juggling needs is a new stressor, and it is starting to require both parents, keeping us from supporting each other by taking turns.

And two compounds one. They resent the other’s illness, and the attention it brings. Our home is rife and rotten with one-upmanship, jealousy and mistrust growing between the girls, born of pain, and the constant competition to be taken care of. Those last six days in the hospital were an amusement park of chaos, compounded by steroid rage, endless insurance company appeals, the exhaustion of shuttling between two bedsides, and the long agony of waiting for tests and trials.

Driving away from the hospital that evening without them was the hardest thing I have done in a year or more.

Normal isn’t normal anymore.

But there are moments where pride can still be found.

Three weeks ago, on the cusp of diagnosis, the wee one was scheduled for an MRI; I went to work; my wife was planning to take her into Boston after dropping the elderchild off at school. Just before noon, though, things changed, and I got the call: the elderchild was experiencing a sharp and unexplained pain that might be appendicitis; both children needed to go in, but in different directions; we would need both adults there, though both would prefer Mama and could be heard fighting about it in the background, and it would take a good half an hour to arrange sub coverage in my classroom.

The next several hours passed in a whirlwind: the interminably long ninety minute drive, the panicked search for the right room in an unfamiliar wing of a hospital constantly under construction. The pain-hobbled elderchild and I went off to meet with a frazzled specialist already trying to manage tests and find nurses for her sister; my wife stayed with the wee one, who had thrown up every time they tried to get her to drink the fluids for the MRI; one more try, and they were going to put in a feeding tube.

Doctors came in; doctors came out. Mostly, we waited, and wondered what was happening to her sister. And then suddenly, unexpectedly, on our way back from the bathroom, there she was, small and sad beside her mother and the doctor, emerging from a side room, a long yellow tube snaking out of her nose.

Something smashed to pieces in all of us. I could see it in my wife’s eyes, there at the other end of the hall; I could feel it in my heart. But only the elderchild acted, taking her hand out of mine, screaming her sister’s name across the medicine and pain, running to hug and comfort her, crying and broken.

And we pulled them away, because the doctor said “no crying, remember, we talked about this”. And I pulled the elderchild into the same room that they had just left, and her sister and her mother and the Doctor were gone.

And there I was in a tiny room with a broken heart and a child shaking with rage at the injustices of her sister’s treatment, an hour lost to calm words and stories and the slow dampening of the emotional furnace, the Boston skyline the only distraction, our voices our only distractor.

So often at home we see only the worst of them: the jostling for space, the frustration of pain. That Friday she was angry, but it was born of love, fierce and unexpected after a year of push and pull, of distance and shadows. Last week they were cellmates; now they are home, though with a calendar full of medical appointments, too-often shortened days at school, and with all other things tentative, ready to be dropped at a moment’s notice if the pain gets too great.

But last night we went out without them, and it felt safe to leave them home, playing with their new sewing kit quietly on the kitchen table. Today they are at the mall with their mother, chattering excitedly about their Halloween plans while they help each other try on thrift shop costumes. And every once in a while, for no reason at all, the elderchild hugs her sister tight, embarrassing her, and in their interplay I see the crushing love I feel for them as if my children had become a mirror for my most secret and unexplainable self.

How heartbreaking to see such stubborn, violent love emerge in the strangest of places. How powerful to see them learn the things we thought we needed to give.

How fiercely we protect each other. How it hurts to love you so.

Oh, my brave, proud children, may you, too, learn to channel your anger into love.



SONGS FOR OUR CHILDREN: A COVERFOLK MIX [zip!]


8 comments » | Mixtapes

Unity House Concerts presents: Meg Hutchinson
(October 18, 2014 @ UU Society of Greater Springfield)





Cover Lay Down is proud to announce Unity House Concerts, a new folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Concerts will be held roughly two Saturdays a season in our own wooded sanctuary, and will feature a combination of well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

This year we are excited to present a set of award-winning musicians from the Northeast, including Jean Rohe, Jay Mankita, The Gaslight Tinkers, and our first show of the season with Red House Records recording artist Meg Hutchinson on October 18th.



We originally went to Meg Hutchinson for healing, in the wake of a tornado that ravaged our rural New England town in 2011. Since then, after a great run that featured Mark Erelli, Mike + Ruthy, Danny Schmidt, The Sea The Sea, and more, the converted carriage house in which we hosted Meg has gone dark – but her songbook still resonates, making her an easy choice to kick off our new coffeehouse series in style.

Long lauded by critics and fans, Boston-based, Berkshires-born contemporary acoustic singer-songwriter Meg delivers music as powerful as it is gentle. A master of the introspective ballad, her albums have made the top 10 on US folk radio, and won her numerous songwriting awards in the US, Ireland and UK, including the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, the Billboard Song Contest and prestigious competitions at Merlefest, NewSong, Kerrville, and Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. And her seasonal tour with Antje Duvekot, Anne Heaton, and Natalia Zukerman as Winterbloom has become a don’t-miss staple of the local scene.

Equally at home on piano or guitar, Meg’s pure alto is a potent carrier for her mood and message. Her influences include poet Mary Oliver, songwriters Greg Brown, Shawn Colvin, and Joni Mitchell, and mood maker David Gray, but her voice is all her own, with songs that yearn for inner peace, at once ecstatic and meditative, crafted around elegant and free-floating melodies that feel both modern and rooted. Her most recent album, Beyond That (2013), practically aches with songs – about coming home, transforming desire, and opening the heart for some greater purpose.

We are thrilled to have Meg Hutchinson opening our newest musical venture, setting the stage for what promises to be a vibrant, new, community-centered program at the UUSGS, and invite you to join us, too, if you’re local to Springfield, MA (just 30-40 minutes from Hartford and Northampton). To tempt and to celebrate, here’s a few favorite covers by Meg – including a gorgeous duet with frequent touring companion Antje Duvekot and a very special Townes Van Zandt cover recorded at her first of two visits to our previous house concert series.


    Antje Duvekot w/ Meg Hutchinson: Gypsy Life (orig. John Gorka)


    Edie Carey and Meg Hutchinson: Falling Slowly (orig. Glen Hansard)


1 comment » | Featured Artists, House Concerts, Meg Hutchinson

Banned Books Week: September 21-27, 2014
(songs by John Denver, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Kris Delmhorst & more!)





Before I discovered music, books were my salvation: a haven from the real world, where stories always resolved and heroes always played to type, except when they didn’t. And I still read voraciously, in long and shortform, genre fiction and non-fiction, though not so much as in middle school, when I would crouch secretive and sly on the carpet of my bedroom, squinting into the spellbound page by the light of the crack in the door.

My relationship with literature has diminished, albeit slightly. But it has also shifted quite a bit. For one thing, the words we read in the 21st century zip through space in memes and moments, making anything more than a skim and dash precious and rare. And although librarians have long held my deepest respect, now they are among my most valuable coworkers: the young guy with the hipster checks and the everpresent Starbucks cup who joined our school last year is my kind of guy, a true friend in a sea of stress, and I trust him intimately as a keeper of the words we cherish, watching as the graphic novel section under his thumb grows to take over the library like kudzu, and the students alongside.

Books are part and parcel of my livelihood, too. I got my start as a media specialist, working hand in hand with the library staff; I’ve weeded entire libraries down to nothing, and served my hours at the reference desk; I even spoke at the New England Association of School Librarians annual conference one year. I teach Communications, and media, and include the printed word as part and parcel of the new media package we explore; I teach English, too, some years, which means literature and language, and delving deep into more than a few of the books on the “perennially banned” list kept by the American Library Association, including 1984, Lord of the Flies, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Sherman Alexi’s magnificent coming-of-age story The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

These titles are on the tip of my tongue today: it’s the last day of Banned Books Week, in which librarians, bookstores, publishers and readers around the world celebrate the printed word, and take a yearly stand for access to all, free from the bars of censorship and obscuration. So here’s a mixtape with a topical theme to honor the week gone by; interested literature buffs are also invited to check out our older Covered in Folk features Songs Inspired By Literature and Songs Inspired By Shakespeare.


I Write The Book: A Cover Lay Down Mixtape[zip!]



Cover Lay Down posts regularly with songs and summations at the intersection of coversongs and the folkways thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Coming soon: new cover EPs and LPs from labels and artists near and far, and a very special feature on a brand new concert series hosted by yours truly!

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Covered In Folk: Creedence Clearwater Revival
(with Arborea, Thea Gilmore, Todd Snider, M. Ward +8 more!)





I’ve been away, and I’ll be gone again; it’s busy season, after all, for those who live by the school year. But the soundtrack of our lives is everpresent, and today, I’m thinking about Fall: the way the leaves turn first on the trees with sickness; how the papers pile up, drowning the better self I became in summer.

And then, out of the ether, the bittersweet autumnal comes through in a delicate new minor-key Creedence cover from fave nufolk duo Arborea, channelling my frustrations into focus. I renew my gratefulness for the sun, and turn towards it. I remember what music is for. And here we are.





We have a special affection for bands that rise to fame through coverage here at Cover Lay Down. And Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose first top 40 single was their 1968 recording of rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins’ Susie Q, and whose later covers of Motown hit I Heard It Through The Grapevine and traditional gospel song The Midnight Special charted as well, certainly fits the bill.

But to mistake CCR as a cover band is to miss the forest for the trees. Although CCR continued to cover and reinterpret blues, soul, and rock and roll standards throughout their career, the band truly made its name with their original songs, many of which hit the number 2 spot on the charts in the late sixties and early seventies, though none made it to number 1. These, in turn, came through the pen of composer and lyricist John Fogerty, whose knack for expressing the challenges and chagrins of his time through the band’s signature “swamp rock” musical style and a vivid politically-charged working-class narrative would ultimately fuel a solo career greatly dependent upon these older protest songs.

That CCR is remembered so well reveals a surprisingly strong legacy for such a short-lived band: after all, the young foursome, who had first begun playing together in junior high school, ultimately released and recorded just 7 studio albums in a high-density career before breaking up in 1972, just four years after the release of their self-titled debut.

But there’s no denying that their subsequent hits run rampant through modern culture, serving as staples of classic rock radio and as cinematic touchstones for the heady emotions of the Vietnam era. And so it has come to pass that both Creedence and its songbook represent a time and place in US culture that is ripe for both repetition and interpretation as long as war, poverty, and other issues of social justice remain at the forefront of our national conversation.

Interpretation is broad: stripped of its signature sound, the Creedence canon is flexible, indeed. Our favorite covers of the Creedence Clearwater Revival songbook range from weary to wanton, from torchsong to tirade, from delicate to divine. Join us in the listening room today as we explore the myriad ways artists in the folk, roots, bluegrass, altcountry and indie world have made these songs their own.



Creedence Clearwater Revival: A Covered In Folk Mixtape [zip!]


2 comments » | Covered In Folk, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Single Song Sunday: O Death
(15 variations on a gothic country standard)


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The American ballad O Death has enjoyed a revival of sorts in the years since Ralph Stanley’s haunted quiver reappeared in O Brother, Where Art Thou; before that, Dock Boggs had popularized the song during the Great Depression; his return to the stage in the 60′s would bring it back again for a few decades of canonical coverage. It is well known in the South, versions and variants scattered like wildflower seeds; it seems typical of the songs borne forth by the hills and hollers of the Appalachian mountains, but other early field recordings suggest African-American roots from the Georgia Sea Islands.

About the true origins of O Death we know little; the song is light on history, heavy on mystery. About death stories, we know plenty. For the deepest roots of our folk entwine love and death like yin and yang: the Ur-themes, dominant above all, in all literature.

It’s stark, this one: a plaintive prayer to death, and the hopeless litany of his cruel inevitability. Here, there is no love except in loss; though children pray, and mothers lay cool towels on fevered brows, death comes to all in time, unquestioning and all-powerful, unwilling to bargain. The conversational lyrics give the singer the impossible plea and its coldblooded response in turn, but we know the end is near; the chorus is a beggar’s howl, a whimper, even as it fades away.

And yet we pray, and croon: O Death, won’t you spare me over for another year. And in that it gives us license to rail against the dying of the light, it is, perhaps, the most human song of all.



appalachia_htmlO Death is often sung a capella in performance – perhaps because it is so fundamental, so elemental. Solo banjo coverage is common, too: raw and spare, with none so fearful and frail as Gregory Paul, none so haunted and still as Sam Amidon, none so sweet and beautiful as Ellie Bryan.

But the song has been treated more pliantly than most, from the bootstompin’ Americana of the Tarbox Ramblers to the psychedelic folk of The Horse Flies. The Sydney-based Bellyache Ben and The Steamgrass Boys come off gypsy gothic like an old-timey Tom Waits collective, while Jason Davis cuts a full-band countrygrass stepper. Farther afield, Jen Titus buries death under electronica and industrial noise; femmefolk collaborative Rising Appalachia turns in a mystical trance; Lauren O’Connell builds the song from its bones into a crashing country rocker. Tim Eriksen pares down to palpable tension with fiddle drone and chanting voice. Dawn Landes, in her earliest outing as solo artist Faun Fables, paints a sepia portrait in timbre and wood. And Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem play a sultry field gospel almost tender in its delivery.

Taken together, the songs comprise a dictionary of despair, an ethnography entire. Listen, as their sounds veer and yaw across the American map. Listen: how broad and deep our folkways run.

O Death: A Single Song Sunday Mix
[download the whole set here!]



Cover Lay Down celebrates folk through coverage and coverage through folk throughout the year thanks to the kind support of readers like you.

3 comments » | Single Song Sunday

Gone Folkin’
(A Mixtape for the Meanwhile)


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We’re off for our annual pilgrimage to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival from now until August 4: ten precious days camping, volunteering, and frolicking with friends and family in our mutual home away from home, the best, most comfortable arts-and-music-driven intentional community we’ve ever found.

As we noted in our earlier feature on this year’s Fest, the artists roster this year is excellent, with Aoife O’Donovan, The Duhks, Roosevelt Dime, Brother Sun, The Grand Slambovians, and more on our don’t miss list; since then, the artist-run Lounge Stage – a pre-fest stage hosted by the boys from Pesky J. Nixon on July 31 from 5-11 – has announced a number of great acts we’re excited to see up close, from Spuyten Duyvil, John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler and Darlingside to RJ Cowdrey and Caitlin Canty, while Budgiedome has added Cover Lay Down fave Kristin Andreassen and Connor Garvey to their latenight post-stage schedule for Friday. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Our absence also means yet another slight hiatus here at the blog, of course. Campsite rules enforce a no-phones policy for good reason. After 17 consecutive festivals, our time in the fields each year is not just a sybaritic pleasure, it’s also a necessary trial. Being fully present there (and fully absent here) clears the head for another school year, and it sends us back bubbling with life and rejuvenated joy at the state of folk music.

But we’d not leave you emptyhanded. Instead, today, a leavetaking in coverfolk: a slow, lazy mix tape of goings and goodbyes, from sorrowful lament to the hopeful promise of return. As always, if you like what you hear, click on the links beside each track to follow the artists you love to the fields and the forests of your minds and hearts.

Goodbye, Farewell: A Coverfolk Mixtape [zip!]



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down features the best covers of and from the folkworld throughout the year thanks to the kindness of readers like you. Click here to help support our continuing mission.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Double Dippers, vol. 3: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
Donovan, The Beatles, Gram Parsons, Woody Guthrie and Paul Simon!


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Born of an exercise in archival data-mining, our Double Dippers feature series finds us focusing on artists who pay tribute to favorite songwriters through coverage twice over, 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 expose the substance of artistic evolution, then the return to a common songbook is especially illuminating, both as an exploration of maturity and experimentation, and in the way it reinforces an individual 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), and an all-female cast of Kasey Chambers, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Red Molly (Vol. 2), as they explored the works of their peers and progenitors. Today, we continue our dig into how songs and songwriters are shaped by song and soundscapes with double-dip coverage from Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Bragg, Evan Dando, and Crooked Still alumni Aoife O’Donovan and Tristan Clarridge.

    Rickie Lee Jones has reinvented herself several times in a long and storied career, with tours through R&B, pop, and jazz standards along the way. But the difference has never been so vast, nor so starkly presented as it is when comparing her covers of sixties folk icon Donovan. Jones’ chipper retro-coustic folkpop take on Sunshine Superman, recorded for the hip mid-nineties television show Party Of Five, bounces with the sheer joy of its reconsidered era; her more recent effort, from the Ben Harper-produced triumph The Devil You Know, a hushed, stripped and solo album we celebrated in our 2012 year’s end review, is haunted, raw, ragged and slow, a broken whisper with timeless fragility.


    Long before Woody Guthrie’s sister and executor tapped him to join up with Wilco for the Grammy-winning Mermaid Avenue project, Billy Bragg was already a workingman’s folksinger, with a canon and craft that owe as much to the pre-revival labor movement folkbranches as they do to the post-punk political songbooks of The Clash and The Smiths (both of whom he’s also covered on studio releases). Though his work with the Guthrie notebooks on the Mermaid Avenue sessions is more posthumous collaboration than an incidence of coverage, Bragg has covered his anti-establishment tribal progenitor several times in the studio. These two tracks, recorded a quarter century apart, are quite representative: almost three decades of production dynamics distinguish the pair, and Bragg’s weariness seems to have become a driver of rhythm in the intervening years, but the bare-bones approach common to both songs, and the political nature of each, reveal nothing so much as how true Bragg’s colors really run.


    We made a case for the folkier side of Evan Dando way back in 2008; Dando’s path from Boston grunge to stripped down singer-songwriter perfectly parallels my own shift in sensibility as I approached middle age, so we’re especially fond of his work in any form. Rather than representing the artist at his heroin-folk best, or, contrariwise, with the fuzzy electrified underground tones of his beloved Lemonheads, these two Gram Parsons covers show a versatile middle ground, with gritty overtones of Americana and California Country Rock that befit the songs’ genre origins. (As a bonus triple-dip, Dando’s 1998 bootleg recording of Parsons’ Streets of Baltimore is quite good, too, if more raw and tender than the two presented here.)


    I’ve got Aoife O’Donovan on the brain this week, thanks to an upcoming set on Friday, August 1st at the best little folk festival in the American Northeast; I’ve never seen her live in solo mode, but like so many others, I’ve been in love with that gorgeous voice for years. Aoife O’Donovan’s cover of Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones is a sweet bootleg piano ballad from her school days, originally released on MySpace, but it’s a great early showpiece for her particular talent, with hints of all the power that she would refine and reveal in her decade with Crooked Still; American Tune, from Crooked Still’s 2011 swansong EP Friends of Fall, shows the rich fruits of her journey: nuanced, etherial, and free, with mastery in spades.


    As a bonus, since technically, it’s not his own voice, but the instrument that most closely approximates the male voice, which he brings to the table: Though founders and frontpersons Aoife O’Donovan and Greg Liszt generally get the lion’s share of recognition for their seminal work with Crooked Still, cellist Tristan Clarridge, who was with the band for several years before they declared an official hiatus in 2011, has arranged and covered The Beatles songbook twice over, too: on that same Friends of Fall album, and with his neo-traditional string-and-dulcimer trio The Bee Eaters, who recorded this slow-burning gem on their 2009 self-titled album.



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Comment » | Allison Krauss, Aoife O'Donovan, Billy Bragg, Crooked Still, Double Dippers, Evan Dando, Rickie Lee Jones

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