Archive for January 2014


New Artists, Old Songs: from indiefolk to bluegrass
with Stampede Road, Mountain Man, AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss & more!

January 25th, 2014 — 2:36pm

I’ve been too deep in the songs up in my head these past weeks, trying to call up old fragments and refrains in memory while sitting in silence marred only by the whirring pellet stove and the faint and constant ring of tinnitus. But this is a practice that is wholly the wrong way ’round: music is meant to be heard and sung, not merely echoed in the brain; we are shamed at the realization, and determined to make amends.

And so we pursue a corrective action: a dig into the mailbag, the artist blogs and facebook pages, and the various components of the digital rumor mill to celebrate the emergent coverfolk of folk, roots, and Americana artists both known and new with a New Artists, Old Songs feature today, and the promise of news to come of recordings and releases from other, more familiar voices as winter marches ever onward.

Read on for covers of Dylan, the Dead, Low Anthem, John Denver, Blondie, Traffic, tradfolk and more from new artists Stampede Road, Mountain Man, The Tuttles with AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss, and Holy Moly and the Crackers. May your ears, too, take pleasure in the new sounds, even as we cherish those in our hearts and heads.

stampedeAll I know about Edinburgh-based folk band Stampede Road is what they sent me, which wasn’t much: a pair of streaming split singles on Bandcamp, and nary a website to be found. But the lo-fi session cover of The Low Anthem’s OMGCD that accompanied the missive from this newly formed quartet led by singer songwriter Graeme Duncan is beautifully raw, intimate, timeless and weary. And following the threads to more produced tracks White Rooms, Night Terrors, and brand new 2014 single Old Town, recently featured on Largehearted Boy and Captains Dead, reveals a shimmery overlay of reverb and harmony that adds richness and flavor in the studio, making for a dreamy, delicate Appalachian-flavored folkpop with just enough originality and quirkiness to suit the indie ear.



mountainmanFans of First Aid Kit and labelmates Deer Tick and Dolorean will love this recent John Denver cover from all-girl indie group Mountain Man, with its layered voices and gentle, melodic acoustic guitar. All of us love that Mountain Man, a trio of young twenty-something singer-songwriters who met at Bennington College, and were essentially dormant in the last few years after touring around 2010 debut Made the Harbour, appear to be back on the radar for more precious, precocious quietfolk in the months and years to come, both as a band, and with solo and side projects from members Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath, who continue to share news of recordings and shows with Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun, Feist, and other well known names from the indie community on the Mountain Man Facebook page. Here’s hoping for more as the year goes on.



Skafolk isn’t a thing, but if it were, first in line for kudos and Grammy nominations this season would surely be Newcastle based band Holy Moly and the Crackers, who add celtic fiddle flavor and a Jamaican beat for a brooding cover of tradtune Ain’t No Grave to close out their upcoming three-track EP Lilly, a “re-imagining” of three traditional folk/blues songs that evokes eras of whiskey and guns on modern punk folk steroids. The band, who play “a lively, moonshine mix of Romani, Americana and contemporary British ‘folk’n’roll’”, claim broad influence from the likes of Woody Guthrie, Gogol Bordello, and Laura Marling; others hear The Pogues, Billy Bragg, and The Waterboys, too, and you can hear it all here, in some great live covers and originals on YouTube, and in full album First Avenue, which can be purchased directly from the band on their website.


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Mississippi Moonlight (orig. Buffalo Skinners)


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie (orig. Bob Dylan/trad.)


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Cocaine (trad.)



This year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival is just around the corner, putting us in mind of mandolins and stand up bass, and creating a context which leaves us especially happy to have found The Tuttles with AJ Lee; we’ve a long history of championing young tradfolk and bluegrass artists here at Cover Lay Down, and these kids have been wowing the bluegrass circuit and beyond, garnering ovations and awards since their formation in 2008. Both band and co-lead vocalist Lee are up for “Best of” awards at the Northern California Bluegrass Awards tonight, where bandfather Jack Tuttle, who teaches bluegrass and old-time instruments of all types, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his well-respected work, including his guidance and leadership of this current lineup. But the kids are the true driving force here: stunning singer-songwriter and picker Molly Tuttle, whose trio will appear on the Joe Val sidestage, is finishing up her last semester at Berklee this year; younger brothers Sullivan and Michael demonstrate chops and agility beyond their years; sweet yet hearty-voiced mandolin player AJ Lee, who is still finishing high school and trends towards Grateful Dead covers on tour, has been aptly compared to Alison Krauss or Sarah Jarosz, both of whom, we should remember, got their start as early. Listen, and we think you’ll hear the magic, too.

    The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Ripple (orig. Grateful Dead)


    The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Sugar Moon (orig. Bob Willis)


    AJ Lee: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (orig. Bob Dylan)



Finally, thanks to the ever-discerning Mary Lou Lord, who has a knack for finding and touting the best new voices, for passing along coverage from Brandi Ediss, an alto on the knife-edge of alternative pop and singer-songwriter folk who sweetly interprets beloved songs into a mellow-tinged wash of sound and riotous video effects on a weekly basis. The finished results, produced at home with digital tools or in collaboration with facebook friends from afar, sound like a band and a half, with a warm, decidedly retro california tone and luscious, sighing vocal layers sure to delight; download a bunch over at Bandcamp, and subscribe to her YouTube page for more originals and coverage in the same sweet vein.

    Brandi Ediss: Love Is Making Its Way Back Home (orig. Josh Ritter)


    Brandi Ediss: Dear Mr. Fantasy (orig. Traffic)


    Brandi Ediss: Kodachrome (orig. Paul Simon)


    Brandi Ediss: Call Me (orig. Blondie)


    Brandi Ediss: I Wish I Was The Moon (orig. Neko Case)



Looking for more streaming coverfolk throughout the week? Join the Cover Lay Down facebook page, where we’ve recently posted new coverage from YouTube stars Kina Grannis, Daniela Andrade, and Kiersten Holine!

2 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Single Song Sunday: Wayfaring Stranger
(white spirituals and the religious origins of modern folk music)

January 19th, 2014 — 7:24pm





A morning retreat with the worship associate team at our UU church yesterday, a religious education teach-in on songs as tools of social justice, and a scheduled jaunt to check out a church for sale tomorrow to see if it can be transformed into a new home have cast a non-secular sentiment over my long weekend, putting me on the lookout for the spiritual in everything. In response, we’ve gone back five years to resurrect an early Single Song Sunday feature on oft-covered traditional “white spiritual” Wayfaring Stranger, and added a whole second set of versions found and recorded since then from Gregory Paul, Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt, folk supergroups Red Horse and Red Molly, and more.

Enjoy all twenty tracks, and if you, too, need a little more spirituality in your life, check out related features on Songs From The Universalist Unitarian Hymnal and Songs of Social Justice for further musings and song.


Through much of recorded history, religion has served communities as both as a community locus and as a carrier of song; as such, it is perhaps unsurprising to find a relationship of sorts between folk music and the church itself. As with any folk form, of course, context matters; to note that several songs commonly associated with Cat Stevens can be found in the Universalist Unitarian hymnal says something very different about both artist and religious community than pointing out that a move to the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of New York’s Coney Island in the 1940s led to the recent release of a wonderful album of Woody Guthrie-penned Klezmer music.

To note that the folk song Wayfaring Stranger (or sometimes Poor Wayfaring Stranger) was first published in 1816 in the shape note tunebook Kentucky Harmony, which in turn was primarily an expansion of the work of John Wyeth and his two Repositories of Sacred Music, then, is to locate that song in the white spiritual canon — which, in turn, calls us to the American white revivalist movements of the last few centuries, to consider the common threads of a form of folk product which includes The Sacred Shakers, the work of Doc Watson, and many other works and performers with roots in New England, Appalachia, and other American church-based communities.

Though it echoes similar terminology — bluegrass gospel, most obviously — the term “white spiritual” is striking and vivid; to be honest, I’m surprised to find that Google lists only a few uses of the term, most of which seem to be part of classical choral scholarship. The conceit that white audiences had their own spriritual song, which derived its rhythm and subject from their European ancestry, illuminates folk’s origins in a way that is both new and suddenly fitting, creating a parallel path to modernity in stark contrast to the gospel folk which comes to us through african american blues music. Further, such a conceit says much about the context in which music evolved, and traveled, and spoke to and for the “folk”; exploring the term is a fine way to help reshuffle and rethink the origin of many songs which remain at the core of folk music today.

The semiotic implications of the term “white spiritual” do seem apt, when you think about it; so much of the folk which has its roots in the appalachian mountains and stark New England Shakers, after all, is about redemption, framing man’s connection to man in the context of God. And Wayfaring Stranger is an especially interesting example of the white spiritual. Though other white spirituals may be more central to the form — for example, our first Single Song Sunday subject, Amazing GraceWayfaring Stranger is notable for being a song which does not as obviously call to its spiritual nature. Which is to say: though both songs ultimately play out the relationship between the internal sinner-self and the spiritual Father, the former is a hymn of the post-redemptive self, less about the more modern folk-as-call-to-complexity and more about morality-play.

But the humble determination of the pre-redemptive self which characterizes the narrative voice of Wayfaring Stranger is not uncommon to the narrative stance of many an old British folk ballad, from the pining lass of Fair William to the besworn folkmaiden and lusty, easily swayed folklad who so often stray, only to regret it, and come back to their God. Meanwhile, the plight of the poor wayfarer remains open and non-specific, an everyman’s resolve pulling us in to folk communion. No wonder the song remains enticing; no wonder we find so many versions to pluck our fruit from.

In practice, whether or not you accept the label of “white spiritual” as applied to a song whose most famous version is in the voice of as haunted and searching a man as Johnny Cash, it is true that there is a certain emotional reverence common to all versions of the song. In fact, circularly, though there are as many ways to worship as there are men, and thus high diversity in the way different folk musicians choose to make Wayfaring Stranger their own, the question of what makes this particular song a white spiritual may be best answered by the consistent care with which all comers take on the song. To explore that commonality, and the variance in sound and tone and tempo that it nonetheless allows, here’s some interesting takes on the song, a vast array of approaches to traditional material from the very big tent that is modern folk.


WAYFARING STRANGER: A COVER LAY DOWN MIX
[download!]



Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk celebrations and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: a mailbag dip for the first covers of 2014. Plus: The Grammys!

4 comments » | Reposts, Single Song Sunday, Tradfolk

The Working Life: Employment songs, covered in folk
by Slaid Cleaves, Joshua James, Gillian Welch, Todd Snider & 16 more!

January 11th, 2014 — 3:23pm





Re-entry into the working life is always tough after the holiday break, but this year has been a bit harder than most. The school where I work is struggling more than ever, trying to implement new methods and structures on the fly after being labeled failing by the state. The trickle-down effects of stress and sheer substance can make teaching less the usual tightrope, and more of a juggling act with too many balls in the air, where each choice made to serve one mandate means taking time and energy away from another, until terror becomes normative. And the turn-around time is incredible, with strategies taught to teachers in a professional development session this past Wednesday being observed in classes on Monday, even as we prepare students for district-written midterm exams received only Tuesday, and due midweek, that contain concepts and vocabulary no one knew to teach until we saw the tests themselves.

As I have said here before, I love my chosen career; love the students, and the noble struggle of reaching them; love the satisfaction of a curriculum well constructed, and those moments where teacher and students are in the zone, and epiphanies are made. But I love my family, too. And the drag that this year is putting on my best self outside the classroom is all the more apparent after two weeks on and off the road with them, with its constant reminder of how much love there is when we have each other to cherish.

Some songs about work, then, to mourn and maintain the necessity, and acknowledge the way it tears at the spirit to leave home in the darkness every day, and come home in another darkness, too late and too tired to give our best to ourselves and our families. Many are scavenged from a similar set originally posted in August of 2008, designed as a soundtrack for the job search that led me to this inner city school in the first place, but it seems fitting to uncover them, and share them anew, even as we add to their grace and gravity. For no matter how lucky we are to do what we love, there are always times when the weariness gets to us, and all we can do is sing.




Cover Lay Down spreads the gospel of folk through coversong thanks to donors like you. As always, if you like what you hear here, please consider purchasing music from the artists we feature. After all, if it weren’t for our patronage, the music makers would be out of a job, too.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Covered In Folk: Nanci Griffith
(with Red Molly, Stray Birds, Sarah Harmer, Chris Smither & more!)

January 5th, 2014 — 5:02pm





There’s a special place in my heart for Nanci Griffith‘s 1993 covers album Other Voices, Other Rooms, a Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Folk Album which came out just as I was rediscovering my own love of folk music and coverage. Indeed, the album has long been a staple of my collection, well-worn for its tender, sweet song treatments of a veritable who’s who of folk artist who influenced a generation, from Gordon Lightfoot to Kate Wolf to Ralph McTell, and with bonus points for including some of the original songwriters, including Frank Christian, John Prine, and Bob Dylan, on session instruments and harmonies. And although Other Voices, Too, released five years later, wanders wider in its search for other influence, and perhaps shows some of the strain of Griffith’s intervening years as a cancer patient, it, too, contains gems worth repeating, including a gorgeous take on Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes.

A number of Nanci Griffith’s hits have been covers: for example, although many know it as a Bette Midler song, her performance of Julie Gold’s From A Distance was decidedly definitive. But although she is well known for her interpretations of other people’s songs, Griffith is a potent singer-songwriter in her own right, too, with 35 years on the circuit and a pedigree that includes an affiliation with the 80s Fast Folk movement and a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association. Beloved on both sides of the country and folk line for her poignant portrayals of universal longing, loss, isolation, and small-town life in a big-city world, her albums were staples of my father’s collection, as well. And although some of her work swings a bit country for my taste, Griffith’s bright, little-girl voice brings a tenderness to her own compositions that makes it easy to hear why she is so revered by her peers.

Unsurprisingly, Griffith’s songbook is relatively well covered by those who, like her, have played the country and folk sides of a perforated line. Her songs have been hits for Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss; last year saw the emergence of Trouble In The Fields, a long-overdue tribute album released with little fanfare featuring the likes of Amy Rigby, John Stewart, Red Molly, Stacy Earle, long-time backing band The Kennedys, and more from a broad swath of the contemporary folk circuit; the album has several gems, and is solid throughout, though many interpretations hew close to the originals.

A deeper dig into the album cuts of a very big archive uncovers more coverage to love as well. And so, today, we present a mix of our own favorite Nanci Griffith covers, including a distinctively differentiated pair of early takes on Once In A Very Blue Moon, amazing recent interpretations from The Stray Birds and Red Molly, a Sarah Harmer rarity, a cut from Jonathan Edwards’ country album, a lullaby from Eliza Gilkyson, and more. Enjoy the set, plus a few favorite covers by Griffith herself, and then – if you haven’t heard them – pick up Griffith’s classic albums Once In A Very Blue Moon and The Last Of The True Believers, a pair considered by most critics to be the best introduction to her early work before she turned completely to “folkabilly” and Country music.





Looking for more coverfolk in your daily life? Check out the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for more streaming goodies throughout the week – including a brand new batch of coverfolk from Hurray For The Riff Raff, Juliana Hatfield, Teddy Thompson, Frontier Ruckus, The Chapin Sisters, Matt Nathanson and more in tribute to high harmonizer Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.

4 comments » | Covered In Folk, Nanci Griffith

New Artists, Old Songs:
new and emerging folks to watch in 2014

January 2nd, 2014 — 2:12pm

The disorganized life leaves us still discovering bookmarks left behind in the detritus and lost drafts of 2013. But outside there is snow, and inside, fire; the tree still twinkles, and the holiday continues. The family is on vacation, leaving us solo and pensive And there is peace, for a few more days yet, until the worldspring is wound, and we set out into the wind and weather to once again take on the mantle of right action among the stress and chaos.

And there is music here, too, for how can we be silent when our hearts are singing? Being snowed in for the next day or two offers a great opportunity to celebrate and clean house with another edition in our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs feature series. Read on for covers of The Cure, Rickie Lee Jones, Jason Isbell, Gram Parsons, Big Star, Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Noah Gundersen, and more from Emma Swift, Ian Johnson, Liz Frencham, Chris Ross, and The Ephemeral String Band – a quintet of recent discoveries worth a closer look-and-listen.



emma2As noted earlier today on our Facebook page, we seem to have misplaced Emma Swift’s delightfully sweet Gram Parsons cover when compiling our Best Coverfolk Singles of 2013 mixtape. Mea culpa: Swift, an Aussie radio broadcaster and music journalist turned Americana and altcountry songwriter, relocated to Nashville recently after deciding to pursue songcraft and writing more thoroughly, and she’s already captured our heart several times over through her loving coverage. Her take on Waylon Jenning heartbreaker Dreaming My Dreams With You is slow, syrupy altcountry, dripping with pedal steel and twang, but she’s equally adept at transforming Big Star’s Thirteen as she is taking on others from the country side of the world, including Parsons (A Song For You), Townes (Tower Song), 70′s altcountry group Cowboy (Please Be With Me), and downunder countryman Paul Kelly (Little Decisions). Follow her thoughts on her blog, and track her Facebook page, for more as her career on the road continues to blossom.


    Emma Swift: A Song For You (orig. Gram Parsons)




ianThis one probably should have made our favorites, too, if it hadn’t gotten lost. But oh, what a discovery: a gorgeous living room cover of Noah Gundersen’s Dying Now from North Country singer-songwriter Ian Johnson that belies the casual, beer-fueled session which brings it to life; utterly stunning, haunting indiefolk, with soft layers of harmonies and a brand new resonator guitar ringing in Gundersen’s hymn, making for a cover ripe for the likes of I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. I probably should have heard of Johnson before, though perhaps his penchant for harder-edged, anthemic, rocking Americana on his 2011 album When I Go kept him from our sights. But this bonus Tom Petty cover wouldn’t be out of place on Grey’s Anatomy, either, proving his mettle as soft indiefolk interpreter, and making for a delightful find, indeed.


    Ian Johnson: Dying Now (orig. Noah Gundersen)


    Ian Johnson: I Won’t Back Down (orig. Tom Petty)




Liz Frencham Live_2_LushpupAs a stand-up-double-bass and voice solo artist, Liz Frencham is a bit bare-bones for easy genre categorization. But the Jazz-trained singer-songwriter’s pedigree is impeccable: a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium, she’s been at the heart of several internationally-known bluegrass-infused and folkfusion bands and collaborations; her 2005 solo debut Jericho, with its haunting fiddle-and-guitar ballad title track, was a finalist for the ‘Presenter’s Choice’ award at the 2007 Australian Folk Alliance Convention. More significantly, she’s caught our ear on Soundcloud, where she hosts numerous beautiful originals and a set of covers, each equally sparse and joyous, from One – The Living Room Sessions (Vol 1), her mid-2013 Digi-EP of solo double bass/voice covers, with jazzfolk takes on songs by KT Tunstall, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Sia, and the Cure’s Lovecats as a prowling scat solo piece. As a bonus for coverhounds looking to dig a bit deeper, we’ve also provided a teaser from her equally strong, equally hard-to-categorize live duets album You & Me Vol. 1.





mutualloveI’ve been meaning to write about the “oldtime fiddle tunes and sister harmony singing” of The Ephemeral Stringband since I was stopped short by their busk session on the streets of Northampton, MA early last year. And now’s the time: even when they kick into high gear, as in the middle track below, the old shape note hymns and simple tradtunes Maggie Merrett, Maggie Shar, and friends interpret on their interchangeable banjos and fiddles are loving and gentle, like the sun-warmed sidewalks where I found them, or like Sam Amidon for the lullaby set, perfect for a snowy day in New England by the fireside. A recent gig opening for Dom Flemons of The Carolina Chocolate Drops in October raises hope of more to come, and simultaneously confirms their credibility and prowess in treating dearly the old songs with equal parts fragility and strength.

    The Ephemeral Stringband: Mutual Love (trad.)


    The Ephemeral Stringband: Sugar Babe (trad.)


    The Ephemeral Stringband: I’ll Not Be A Stranger (trad.)


    White Freight Liner (orig. Townes Van Zandt)




chrisrossFinally, I’ve had my eye out for Jason Isbell covers these last few months, with the intent of fronting a coverset sometime this year once we hit critical mass; if you know a great cover of/from the alt-country singer-songwriter, we’d love to hear it. In the meantime, I can’t help but share this quartet of Isbell covers from Maine-based singer-songwriter Chris Ross, including a broken-down Alabama Pines, a dark, tense Live Oak, and a quite solid take on Drive By Truckers song God Damn Lonely Love, penned by Isbell during his time with the band in the mid-naughts. Ross may be new at the game – he’s released but two albums, in 2011 and 2012 – but he knows how to ply his strengths to great effect: his weary voice and intensity match pitch-perfect with Isbell’s songbook, and in his YouTube covers of fellow rasp-voiced celebrants Bon Iver, Springsteen, and Ray LaMontagne; his original compositions are equally raw and timeless, speaking of and to a dusty wisdom of years belied by his under-30 exterior, and he’s just been nominated for Songwriter of the Year at The New England Music Awards, where he’s in some pretty solid company.


    Chris Ross: Alabama Pines (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: Live Oak (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: Elephant (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: God Damn Lonely Love (orig. Drive By Truckers)



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2 comments » | Emma Swift, Jason Isbell, New Artists Old Songs

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