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!)


cassiadancing


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!



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1 comment » | Mixtapes

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


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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.



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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!


kid-popsicle


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 tracygrammer.com.

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

These Days: A Summer Interlude


lone-tree-horizon


I’m in the middle of a lot of things these days: booking artists for the upcoming Unity House Concerts season, boning up on poetry and plays for Drama and English classes this Fall, compiling a mid-year list of the best 2016 tributes and cover compilation albums so far.

Far off in the distance, the horizon is busy with the skyscrapers of family and work and social justice. Tomorrow morning I’m off to Louisville for a conference; just two weeks, and we’ll be on the fields of Falcon Ridge, our home away from home; one week after that, and I’m in school, if not the classroom, preparing for another year on the front lines.

But it’s a fine day, with little to do but since on the porch and listen mindfully to the birds and the hum of the air conditioner. Gypsy moths flutter by over the overgrown yard. The air is cool as yesterday, when we took my brother to Sturbridge Village, and wandered among the calves.

Nothing is urgent. It’s almost noon, but upstairs, the children are still snug in their beds.

Slow Summer is here, if just for a moment.

Let it shimmer around you, before it gets gone.


2 comments » | Mixtapes

Rising Stars in the Sun: Falcon Ridge Emerging Artists
cover Neil Young, Lorde, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Michael Jackson & more!


bubbles


We’ve already shared our love for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which takes place this year on August 4-7 in beautiful New York farm country at the foot of the Berkshires. Since our original feature, however, the festival has released its list of Emerging Artists, who will perform on the mainstage Friday, August 5 from noon to 4:30, and this year’s crop represents an exceptionally talented mix of the young and the rising. Today, then, we present a second feature in their honor; read on for news and coverage, and enjoy!


Well-known in the industry as a highly competitive proving ground for artists on the cusp of national recognition, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill Emerging Artists Showcase is not a contest, per se. Instead, it is a celebration, in which 24 performers selected by a jury of venue promoters and radio hosts perform a two song showcase, and then offer meet-and-greet opportunities by the merchandise tent. Afterwards, festival attendee surveys poll the crowd on who they’d most like to see again; the top three vote-getters are asked to come back the following year for a mainstage Song Swap, ensuring a loving welcome for those who stand out among the crowd.

To be fair, though, those who garner top votes in that poll do tend to be those whose stars are rising fastest. Fresh out of high school singer-songwriter Annika Bennett, who garnered top votes in 2015 and whose cover of Jackson 5 hit I Want You Back made our Best of 2015 collection, offers a perfect example of how successful this two-tiered selection process is: since her appearance last year, she has gone on to earn a recording contract from Sony on the strength of a single debut EP, and will be off to Nashville after joining us as a Most Wanted returnee alongside Gina Forsyth and Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes. Other beloved artists familiar to these pages who have been chosen by audiences to return to the mainstage in the just the past couple of years include Darlingside, Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, Roosevelt Dime, Parsonsfield, Spuyten Duyvil, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Red Molly, Joe Crookston, Pesky J. Nixon, and more – a fine list of names, and a familiar one to those who watch the folk charts and coffeehouses.

But even those who don’t garner top votes and honors often go on to greatness. Among others, second-generation singer-songwriter Grace Pettis, cello-and-guitar-wielding indiefolk duo Tall Heights, and Heather Maloney, who will appear on the festival mainstage this year, have graced the Emerging Artists stage in recent years, coming in as “also rans” even as their careers took flight; we’ve got our ears on Texan singer-songwriter Matt Harlan, who came in fourth in last year balloting, as a new favorite as well.

All in all, if you’ve got folk in your heart and you’re looking for a handle on what to love next, Friday afternoon by the Falcon Ridge mainstage is absolutely the place to be this summer. And we’re thrilled to be able to offer a preview tour of sorts today, as a complement to our June feature on the mainstage artists featured at this year’s festival.


Our own history with the Emerging Artists showcase is one of discovery; most years we fall in love at least twice, and as such, we’re loathe to call favorites this early in the game. But the list of artists we’re especially excited to hear this August in the showcase is richer and vaster than usual – a healthy sign of the continued relevance and vibrancy of both Falcon Ridge and the larger world of folk.

Don’t-miss standouts we know enough to recommend highly include young local artist Kirsten Maxwell, whose potent, evocative voice recently showed up on these virtual pages in perfect harmony with Matt Nakoa and Rachael Kilgour; Gloucester, MA singer-songwriter Chelsea Berry, whose gorgeous, hearty alto takes on Patty Griffin and others have found their way to these pages before; field and campsite favorite Putnam Smith, with his wry grin and masterful, evocative banjo; and Vermont duo Cricket Blue, whose warm strings and gentle harmonies have been on our radar since a Beehive Productions session last year. And we’re especially excited to hear more from Low Lily, a fiddle-and-string trio previously known and loved as Annalivia, whose sparse, delightful handclap-heavy cover of Nelly’s Nobody Knows is included below as a bonus track.

Others we’re just discovering include NYC popfolk songstresses Rachael Sage, back for a second run at the Emerging Artist mantle, whose recent duet with Judy Collins is stunning, and Kate Copeland, whose indie guitar and voice soar like a bird. Contemporary folk is well represented by folks familiar to us from local folk radio programming, like Susan Cattaneo, a local artist whose rich contemporary folk albums have featured studio work from Mark Erelli and Lorne Entress, Joni Mitchell reinterpreter and songwriter Kipyn Martin, jazzfolk explorer Lara Herscovitch, and Amy Soucy, whose take on Neil Young’s Comes A Time speaks for itself.

We’re really looking forward to hearing more from empowered Washington DC indiepop artist Heather Mae, whose voice is to die for and whose upcoming Kickstarter-driven sophomore album is surely destined for indie chart greatness, masterful guitar wizard Jacob Johnson, and Jamie Michaels, whose 2013 album Unknown Blessings – his ninth – takes on the songs of his rising star peers to great effect. Add in the rest, from rocking cowboy country bandleaders gone solo (Brad Cunningham, Marc Berger) to melodic harmony duos (The Rafters, Bettman & Halpin), from mid-career songstresses (Elaine Romanelli, Sarah Beatty) to young male singer-songwriter upstarts (Austin MacRae, Mike Herz, Paddy Mills, Will Pfrang), and the afternoon promises to be phenomenal.

Though studio recordings are a prerequisite for jury consideration, not all of these 24 artists have recorded covers, of course. But many have, offering easy opportunity for us to honor our own mandate to create comfort through coverage, and in doing so, introduce you to new voices to love. By way of that introduction, then, and to tempt you a little further, we’ve gathered in as many “good ones” as we could find; listen in, and then click through for this wonderful Spotify list to hear more originals and covers from the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Emerging Artists Showcase performers in celebration of the next generation of folkstars.



Just to prove it can be done, here’s today’s bonus track, as promised – originally recorded on Low Lily fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger’s “exquisite” 2013 covers album Covers, in which “every note counts, and every note lingers.”




Comment » | Festival Coverfolk, New Artists, Old Songs

America The Beautiful:
More Coverfolk For A Thoughtful Fourth





I had big plans to share some thoughts about my conflicted love for America in 2011 on the anniversary of our birth as a nation. But looking in the archives, I saw that I had written it before: both the previous year, when we mused upon the complexity of patriotism in a modern age, and in our first year, at a time when our national discourse was increasingly polarized by the impending presidential election.

And so I added a few songs to our original America The Beautiful feature, and let it fly like a star spangled balloon. And now, five years later, we’re back again, with a few new additions to the canon.

Our Single Song Sunday from 2010 remains archived, and we encourage you to head back in time for 10 covers of Paul Simon’s American Tune, and some thoughts on the complicated times which continue to characterize our national zeitgeist. But since it’s been a while, here’s our 2008 post revisited a second time. Its sentiment stands: may your Independence Day be thoughtful, too.


I’m not exactly the patriotic type. I’ve been to more countries than states; I prefer solitude to mall culture. Heck, we don’t even have basic cable. But all power-hungry, commercial/corporate complex, bittersweet modernity aside, I believe in the ideals which frame the constant American dialogue with itself — including first and foremost the requirement that we keep talking, lest we abdicate our role as government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And I believe that, by definition, as music which speaks of and for a people, American folk music holds a particular place in that conversation which is America. Folk focuses that conversation, making it real and vivid, whether it is through the lens of policy critique or protest cry, the immigrant experience or the internal monologue of a singer-songwriter struggling to be free.

Checks and balances and a mechanism for self-correction; fireworks and barbecue, and the right to make dumb mistakes and have to live with ‘em. Losing love, and falling in it again. Finding hope, and being scared to dream one more time. It’s the American way, all of it — and it’s been that way since inception.

Which is to say: if I may sometimes work to change the policies of those in power, through sharing song or through town meeting politics, it is because I love this country. And I hope I never lose that fluttery feeling in my stomach when we come in for a landing at the international terminal, and I know that I am home.

So let other bloggers share patriotic song today. I’d rather take the country as it is: dialogic, complex, open about its faults and favors, and always looking for a better way. And if saying so means posting songs we have posted here before, then so be it — for these are, after all, timeless songs, with messages that bear repeating.

Happy Birthday, America. Long may your contradictions endear us to you. May you never lose hope. And may we never stop singing.



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been bringing you ethnographic musings on the folkways here and abroad since 2007 thanks to the patronage of readers like you!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Reposts

Covered In Folk: Taylor Swift
(15 acoustic covers reveal hidden depths in a pop songbook)


Taylor_Swift


From afar, at 26, Taylor Swift – the youngest woman to make Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, and well on her way to becoming the best selling artist of all time – seems to have grown into a strong yet sensitive woman who is unafraid to be vulnerable, even sophomoric, as her understanding of the world slowly starts to deepen past the innocence of Love Story, You Belong With Me, and dozens more girl-meets-boy chart-toppers.

But a deeper dig suggests that this maturity is innate, not developed. Swift’s ability to tough it out among the big players as she transitioned from the world of country to the world of true-blue pop reveals the same grit and determination that drove her parents to move to the Nashville area to support her career while she was still in middle school, got her a development deal from RCA at the age of 14 – and led her to walk away from that deal later that same year, concerned that the industry would eat her alive before she had a chance to capture her early years authentically, while they were still fresh in her mind.

As Ryan Adams showed in his recent reinvention homage to Swift’s album 1989, Swift’s lyrics go much, much deeper than their pretty face. And unlike other pop icons who started out in the industry before adulthood, including several we’ve featured here in our Covered In Folk series (see, for example, our recent feature on Justin Bieber), the youngest songwriter ever signed by the Sony/ATV Tree publishing house has always written her own songs, trusting the production process to transform them into the crossover countrypop gems that have dominated the airwaves for the last decade or so.

Though Swift has a healthy understanding of the industry she serves, in other words, she is clearly a songwriter first. But she also knows coverage matters. She has recorded few of her own in the studio – a trend that surely stems from both artistic and professional concerns, and tepid reception to both a 2007 Christmas cover of Last Christmas and a 2009 take on Tom Petty’s American Girl that was, at best, merely a retread – but she does songs from all over the genre map in concert, and has good taste in those of others, too; indeed, one of the choice cuts below was featured on her Twitter feed, a high praise she has reserved for less than a score of other interpretations.

Others in our Taylor Swift mix today come from the usual wide assortment of sources: amateur uploads, tribute sessions and albums, b-side and deep cut delights. As is our wont, they span from delicate to disturbing, from joyous to somber, though they certainly trend towards the slow, the soft, and the stripped down cover; taken as a set, they are, indeed, greater than the sum of their parts. So join us as we celebrate through coverage the well-sung songbook of a woman who at 26 has already won 10 Grammy awards, recognition from the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, a fierce independence in an industry more prone to destroy young talent, and the hearts of a nation.



COVERED IN FOLK: TAYLOR SWIFT
[zip!]

  • The Man Who Fell In Buffalo: Blank Space
  • Radiochaser: Blank Space


    Raw and wry like a live Barenaked Ladies-meets-banjo rarity, our first transformative cover comes from Portland, Oregon-based multimedia art, music, and fiction experimentalist The Man Who Fell In Buffalo, who turns upbeat pop into a sinister oldtimey collage, abuzz with fraying edges and the fraying urgency of the stalker’s mind. For contrast, turn to NYC underground artist Radiochaser, first introduced to us via fellow coverblog Cover Me; the layers here are wistful, mooth and airy, with an undercurrent of urgency too deep to touch – apt for an enigmatic Soundcloud cover artist who claims that his work represents an imaginative foray into what the souls of pop songs would sound like if pop songs could die.


  • Lucy & La Mer: Bad Blood


    Slower, quieter, and both more subtle and more haunting than the Tainted Love cover we shared from Lucy & La Mer back in March, this 2015 track only reinforces our appreciation of the LA-based indie/folk/pop goddess’ high, astute sensitivity to songcraft and setting.


  • Savannah Outen: I Knew You Were Trouble


    The streaming services are stuffed full with wannabes who use coverage of Taylor’s radiopop hits to leverage a career. But Savannah Outen‘s cover stands out for vocal purity, a restrained, polished sense of tonal consistency and control, and a masterful, slippery, articulate way with lyrical articulation that makes every word meaningful. Similar prowess, if a little more percussive pop flourish, typifies covers of Everything Has Changed and Out Of The Woods recorded alongside YouTube boypop sensation Jake Coco.


  • Julia Sheer and Tyler Ward: Sparks Fly
  • Strawburry17: Sparks Fly


    A country duo lullaby with light twang, lighter guitars, and a echoing reverb that lingers, or a solo indiepop turn with innocent voice and rich synth overlays slowly drowned in that same echo? We couldn’t decide, so you get both, from ubiquitous YouTube success stories Julia Sheer and Tyler Ward (like Outen, she also does a decent cover of Ed Sheeran/Taylor Swift duet Everything Has Changed) and prolific self-professed nerd and culture vulture Strawburry17, who generally shares themed vlogs, not music, on her YouTube channel. Not bad for a song originally recorded by Swift as a bootkicking rocker.



  • Radiant Life Perspective: Love Story


    No set of Taylor Swift songs would be complete without Love Story, a reframing of the Romeo and Juliet story which I have been know to utilize in the classroom when discussing the text. Here, Trenton, NJ indie rock duo Radiant Life Perspective – a pair whose covers are twee and grungy and delightful, as heard on Gray’s Anatomy and elsewhere – pull back to a hipster acoustic urgency, complete with hollow percussion and dreamy, layered vocals, that reveals a hazy sheen of wistful uncertainty on horizons back and forward.


  • Laura Zocca: Begin Again
  • Laura Zocca: Safe and Sound (orig. Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars)


    First shared here last year in our come-back feature after a few months off the blog, prolific YouTube cover artist and rising star singer-songwriter Laura Zocca‘s stunning turn on Begin Again is the perfect way to feature both song and singer, a lovely turn on a wistful piece. Add her equally sweet-and-potent version of Safe and Sound, which Swift originally recorded with now-defunct duo The Civil Wars, to the mix – and note that it was recorded just 24 hours after the original release of the song.


  • Sumeau: Fearless


    Hollywood’s boy/girl duo Sumeau creates slowcore psychpop like you’ve never heard it before – in this case, a lazy, hazy heroin dream in which Bert Bacharach meets the summer of love. Framed around Fearless, the title track from Swift’s country-to-pop crossover sophomore album, it lends an unreal aura of mist and memory to the first date it depicts, trading innocence and hope for something deeper and more mystical.


  • James Bartholomew: Everything Has Changed (orig. Taylor Swift ft. Ed Sheeran)


    We don’t usually post covers without lyrics here at Cover Lay Down – and by definition, a cowritten duet is an unusual choice for the voiceless version. But we already shared our favorite acoustic pop take on this track way back in 2013. And this delicate delight from fingerstylist James Bartholomew fits in perfectly in the folkstream, reminding us that if John Renbourne’s masterful acoustic instrumentals count as folk, then so do covers that echo them so exquisitely.


  • Nick Mulvey: Never Getting Back Together


    A tense acoustic take from a BBC Radio Lounge session with London-based world-beat-jazzman-turned-singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey, set only with harp-strung latin guitar and longing vocals. Unsettling and unsettled, in Mulvey’s hands a song once overripe with determination and teen angst becomes tiny and dear, a baby bird struggling against the hand that holds.


  • Ryan Adams: How You Get The Girl


    Though we’ve hewed pretty closely to the amateur and underground in today’s set, we’d be remiss if we didn’t close today with something from Ryan Adams’ 1989, which garnered top honors in our Best of 2015 series. Since we shared Blank Space then, we’ll go for his cover of album deep cut How You Get The Girl now – a bit grandiose for folk, with a Springsteen-esque vibe and no small call to Adams’ early work with alt-country band Whiskeytown, but as anthemic chamberpop goes, a true tour de force, mostly overlooked by press and promotion alongside his covers of the more popular tracks from the album.



Cover Lay Down: celebrating covers and the artists who share them since 2007… thanks to patrons like you!

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Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, August 4-7
(with Peter Mulvey, Heather Maloney, Tom Rush, Patty Larkin & more!)





We founded our family on the spirits of close community and adventure: it’s in our wedding contract, and one of the main reasons my wife and I both work in education is to ensure that our calendars include time to wander together. But nothing looms as large in our ongoing pursuit of the live and immersive than our annual excursion to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which this year celebrates its 28th anniversary August 4-7 at Dodd’s Farm in Hillsdale, NY, just over the border from Great Barrington, MA, at the foothills of the Berkshires.

Founded in 1988 to celebrate and sustain the nascent singer-songwriter revival, Falcon Ridge has come to embody the ideals of the modern folkworld, in which fans, artists, concert and radio hosts, and others who live their lives grounded in the diverse ideals and soundscapes of folk come together to celebrate the breadth of the movement, the music, and the community they engender. As ethnomusicologist and regular FRFF attendee Liz Carlisle wrote in her 2006 undergrad thesis on the fest,

As a well developed “state” into which “citizens” opt in, FRFF is not just summer camp for a bunch of delusional, idealistic folk music enthusiasts (folkies)…Indeed, the real-ness of FRFF is at the crux of its symbolic power. The common goal of those who attend is to make the folk music ideal – a vision of shared power and creation, uninhibited personal expression, and general acceptance and love – real through a successful music festival.

Reaching this goal every year can be a challenge, especially in a world where smaller music festivals are falling apart around us – both Clearwater and Gathering of the Vibes have been cancelled for this year, due to a combination of factors that inevitably include financial concerns. But thanks to that efficiency, and a core cohort of volunteers and organizers who work tirelessly year-round to maintain and sustain the place they love, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest continues to offer the best of both the world of intentional community, and the world of folk.


Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 12.41.31 PMThis year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest mainstage and workshop stage performers include the usual mix of well known names from three generations of American folk, representing a broad tent, from solo singer-songwriters like Tom Rush, Patty Larkin, Vance Gilbert, Matt Nakoa, Heather Maloney, Eric Schwartz and Peter Mulvey to folk rock, world music, psychedelic, country rock, Americana, and other genre-busting bands and folk supergroups like The Felice Brothers, The Gaslight Tinkers, Brother Sun, Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes, and The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Well-populated contra dance and children’s stages run throughout the festival, too, and up-and-coming performers play regularly alongside colorful tye-dye, jewelry, henna tattoo parlors, and African drumset sellers in the vendor area, and stalls selling everything from Caribbean goat stew to ice cream, sweet and savory crepes.

Camping at Falcon Ridge isn’t mandatory; only about a third of the attendees each year choose to stay overnight in the fields, and my parents – neither of whom camp – have always found themselves both fully welcome and fully sated by their own experience. But if you can do it, living on site is highly recommended. The sense of community on the farm is palpable and sweet; I have yet to meet a camper who did not discover their own site “family” in their first few hours on the farm, and wandering camp-to-camp brings an evening’s delight, full of laughter and food-sharing. Those who play and sing are always welcome to join in. And, as a bonus for nightowls, the music at Falcon Ridge continues into the wee hours in the campgrounds, where a half-dozen regular formal songcircles and stages like The Budgiedome and Pirate Camp bring together mainstage performers and up-and-coming name-brand performers from the coffeehouse circuit.

Although officially Falcon Ridge doesn’t start until Friday, August 5, Thursday offers its own special pre-fest charm, with a shaded farmer’s market and tasting day on-site that offers the best of local breweries and wineries, dairies and farms. And there’s music, too: some of the best music I’ve seen at Falcon Ridge in the past 4 or 5 years has been presented or previewed on The Lounge Stage, a one-time campsite stage that found it’s way into the main festival grounds to avoid a thunderstorm two years ago, and has since become an officially sanctioned festival-within-a-festival housed under the Dance Tent. Performers for this year’s Lounge Stage have not yet been released, but their ability to select and combine mainstage players and rising stars together for intimate sessions in the round makes the Lounge Stage a must-see; past performers include Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, We’re About Nine, John Gorka, Irish Mythen, Pat Wictor, Pesky J. Nixon, Caitlin Canty, Buskin & Batteau, hosts Pesky J. Nixon, and more.

One last note before we get to the music: while Falcon Ridge needs paying patrons to survive, as alluded to in Carlisle’s thesis, it also needs volunteers, and this year’s volunteer pool is currently thin, far below the needed thousand it takes to run the place efficiently. Volunteers get two solid meals a day, free access to campgrounds and the festival itself, and the warm satisfaction of helping build and maintain a crucial cultural locus of love and music, all for the price of a staff t-shirt and a few four-hour shifts throughout the long weekend; if you’re interested in joining up, head over to the volunteer website, and stake your claim for a spot on one of our crews.

Either way, we’d love to have you – and we’re sure you’ll love it, too. So click through below for a 21-track collection of coverfolk from a set of artists who together represent the breadth of modern folk music and the promise of an intentional nation. And then, if you can make it happen, save the date, and register now – as a volunteer or a paying patron – for the very best fest around. We’ll see you there.


Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview, 2016
[now available in mixtape format!]



Artist-centered and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk features and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to patrons like you. Coming soon: new and newly discovered tributes and cover collections take on Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, American tradfolk and more, plus our usual plethora of artist and songbook features as the summer kicks in!

Comment » | Darlingside, David Bowie, Felice Brothers, Festival Coverfolk, Gaslight Tinkers, Heather Maloney, Matt Nakoa, Mike + Ruthy, Peter Mulvey

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