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.
As 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)
This 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)
As 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.
I’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)
Finally, 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)
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking.
And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special 26-track gift set of alternate favorites and rare 2013 covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give.