New Artists, Old Songs Week, Vol. 1: Streaming coverage from
Jeremy Squires, Allysen Callery, Al Lewis, Mia Dyson, Virgin Soldiers & more!
At the core, like most music blogs, Cover Lay Down aims to be a venue of exposure, that nurtures and sustains the continued viability of the folk and acoustic genres by helping connect artists and fans through the comfort of tribute and interpretation.
This week, in a set of consecutive features in service to that goal, we turn once again to our sources for the new – the mailbag, the merch table, and our favorite folk and cover bloggers – to celebrate the works of several still-emerging artists whose recent coverage has found its way into our hearts, even as their songchoices and soundsettings reveal the particulars of their growing identities as artists.
May you, too, find joy and promise in a rising generation of folk musicians, and be moved to support their craft through purchase, patronage, and pass-along.
Our 2010 Singer Song Sunday exploration of country and bluegrass standard Long Black Veil would have been well-served by this haunting recast from singer-songwriter Allysen Callery, a self-taught New England fingerpicker with a will-o-the-wisp voice whose heavy influence by her parent’s collection of British Isles Folk Revival records of the late 60′s early 70′s resonates throughout a growing number of beautiful albums, with 2011 double-EP set Winter Island and The Summer Place especially worthy of note. Callery’s style is enveloping, frail but surprisingly rich, her songs like castles in the air, all heaven and hiding places; the choruses alone give me chills. New LP Mumblin’ Sue drops next week on vinyl.
Allysen Callery: Long Black Veil (orig. Lefty Frizzell) 
Allysen Callery: Young Edwin (trad.) 
Prolific Welsh singer-songwriter Al Lewis is eminently Welsh: of four albums and 2 EPs since 2007, exactly half have been in the welsh language. But his music belies popular influences father afield, and it’s eminently accessible. The gently bouncy indiepop of Make A Little Room, off new release Battles, soothes and settles like a radio-driven summer soundtrack hit; slowed down and stripped of its poppy setting, as in this solo studio take from a Crypt Session in May, it’s beautiful, and clear as a bell. And his five-song set of equally dreamy, fluid, unadorned acoustic-with-strings covers uploaded to Soundcloud back in midsummer make for a sweet streaming EP, with a wistful Free Man In Paris, a potent Tom Waits cover filtered through Tim Buckley, and a sweet, sincere Jesus Was A Crossmaker that will endear him to folk audiences.
Self-taught North Carolina native singer-songwriter Jeremy Squires popped up on our radar several times this year with a pair of appearances on lo-fi folkblog Slowcoustic, where any artist touted twice is inherently worth a listen. Sure enough, after releasing the third in a trilogy of revelatory records designed to exorcise the demons of depression, the covers Squires has taken on in the past year – a softly melodic yet no less potent take on Sheets from Slowcoustic’s recent Damien Jurado covers project, and a pensive piano ballad transformation of a new song from Everybodyfields alum Jill Andrews perfect for fragile hipster television playback – offer equal evidence of scars and healing, even as they comfort and chill, delight and differentiate.
Reviews and interviews suggest that Grace Basement – a folk, pop and rock project from musician, engineer, and producer Kevin Buckley, who was raised in the Irish folk community at home and abroad, and continues to perform jigs and reels in sessions in and around his adopted St. Louis, Missouri – has stripped down their approach since the heavy, heady rock quartet sound of 2007 debut New Sense. If so, the shift has been to our benefit: the banjo and handclaps that accompany the predominantly singer-songwriter fare on 2013 release Wheel Within A Wheel support an intimacy that is rare as it is revelatory; the pair of recently recorded covers which Kevin sent along, which seem to come from the same sessions, comprise a spectrum analysis, with a Bob Dylan cover that fits neatly into the No Depression camp even as its arrangement echoes historic predecessors like The Mamas and The Papas and the Byrds, and a relatively faithful solo cover of a Paul Simon favorite that balances warm, echoey edge with no small hint of harmonic excellence.
From the rootsy intersection of folk, blues and rock comes Aussie singer-songwriter Mia Dyson, who tears up Lori McKenna’s I Know You with a gravely countryfolk voice and a grungy, bluesy bar-room resonator-and-drum production in a new cover (selected by a fan in her recent Pledgemusic campaign, and premiered this week via Roughstock) that echoes Kasey Chambers or Lucinda Williams at their grittiest. Four-time ARIA nominee Dyson has been on the rise Down Under for a decade, touring with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Nicks; she appeared at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2006, but I seem to have missed her, leaving her still available to our New Artists series, and the timing is good, coming as it does on the cusp of a deliberate effort to break into the American scene with an Autumn tour around new album The Moment, which has already been duly noted as a tour de force by critics galore. Her older take on Lucinda’s Can’t Let Go, shared below as a bonus, is equally raw and resonant, though couched in only an electric guitar and that wailing voice, making for an ecstatic growl that heats us up and leaves us wanting more.
The lo-fi sounds on Abandoned Covers, an archivally-sourced collection of live and studio covers recorded under the auspices of Abandoned Love Records since their establishment in 2004, come from a small stable of four label artists on the broken side of lo-fi and experimental folk; multiple covers of Big Star and The Magnetic Fields, plus Meursault, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, and Roxy Music speak aptly to a set of equally underground, alternative, and grungy influences on bands and label that collapse the waveforms of late 80s underground alternative bands such as The Bats and The Lemonheads with both the modern indiefolk movement and the slow and ragged tones of the bedroom and basement cover. Favorite finds include Austin, TX band The Lovely Sparrows, whose distinct voices and slowed approach to electro-acoustic arrangement is spare and, in its own way, quite mystical, and Virgin of the Birds, who with layered howls, drones, and electronic hums bring an atmospheric, psychedelic vibe to traditional track Fatal Flower Garden, Nico’s Evening Of Light, and Levi Fuller’s This Murder Won’t Hurt You.
Tonight You Belong To Me is an oft-covered song, but there’s something about this cover from “Acoustic Americana” Chapel Hill, NC trio A Mad Affair that caught my ear. Perhaps it’s the innocence lost: brighter than most, and rich with subtly effective harmonic flourishes, theirs is a deceptively cute but ultimately mature rendition. And the cover – the only one they’ve recorded in-studio, it seems – is aptly reflective of the fine acoustic songcraft displayed on highly-recommended debut album Retro Honey Pop: the guitar, stand up bass, ukulele and occasional fiddle are tight and delightful; the hearty, warbly, clear-as-a-bell country twang of lead singer Valerie Wood worms its way into the heart; the tracks, which range from sunny, poppy tracks to mournful harmony ballads, run the gamut of classic acoustic folk and country influence, yet come up sounding fresh as a daisy.
Bonus points for a small set of living room covers over at YouTube: a latin-tinged fireside tribute to Willy Wonka filmed last February, a sultry Suzanne Vega tune from midsummer, and a sweet take on The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues posted just this week.
- A Mad Affair: Fisherman’s Blues (orig. The Waterboys) 
- A Mad Affair: Pure Imagination (orig. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) 
- A Mad Affair: Caramel (orig. Suzanne Vega) 
Since its founding at the hands of singer/guitarist/songwriter James Beeny in 2011, UK acoustic “Strock” sextet Virgin Soldiers has shared stages with Ellie Goulding, Joan Armatrading, and Echo and The Bunnymen – strange bedfellows, indeed. And the name that the band has given their particular strain of chamber-quartet-meets-UK-folkrock sounds like something straight out of the Flintstones. But the crossover conceit of playing contemporary music on classical instruments has broad appeal in the post-millennial pastiche world, and the BBCs sustained support of the band throughout their emergence in the past two years speaks aptly to their collective talent: the equal balance of strings, synth and guitar on Numb, a transformative Linkin Park cover released last October, is but a harbinger of the majestic sonic depth and soaring fancy of debut single Moon Song, which shot to No. 3 on the Amazon Rock Chart when it hit the airwaves in August.
Virgin Soldiers: Numb (orig. Linkin Park) 
Stay tuned for a midweek second round of new and newly-found artist coverage featuring covers of The Clash, Greg Brown, The Bee Gees and more, couched in every branch of the folkstream, from Appalachian fiddlefolk to contemporary singer-songwriter fare and indiefolk; keep liking us on Facebook for ongoing previews and single-shot streams throughout the week. And thanks for your patience during our recent hiatus: it’s good to be back on the blog.
Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features, mixtapes weekly throughout the year thanks to the support of our readers and fans; DONATE before the end of September, and we’ll regift 20% of your every dollar to Sweet Relief, a non-profit founded in 1993 to support musicians who find themselves in “untenable predicaments” due to illness or disability, in memory of Chicago singer-songwriter Matt Ryd.