Archive for June 2014


Covered In Folk: Jesse Winchester (1944-2014)
(with Roseanne Cash, Chris Smither, Mark Erelli, The McGarrigles +8 more!)

June 30th, 2014 — 4:36pm





I started this entry towards the end of March, an early thaw that revealed a fertile earth ready for Spring even as insanity reigned in my personal life, and many drafts went unfinished. Since then, southern-born musician and songwriter Jesse Winchester has succumbed to the bladder cancer that plagued him for the better half of a decade – but the deceptively simple, direct lyrics and tunes that brought him a modicum of fame and no small counterpart of peer recognition through a long and storied career linger in the air, soothing mind and body as the world slows down to summer heat.

I first wrote about Winchester’s work over at Star Maker Machine back in 2009. Today we take the more comprehensive approach with a long-overdue Covered In Folk feature in tribute to Winchester’s songbook, featuring coverage from a company of contemporaries, including Emmylou Harris, Chris Smither, Pierce Pettis and more.


The musician’s musician, the singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter: even as we overuse such terms through our criticism and praise, it remains both trope and truism that some of the best artists make their name through the works of others. And although he produced and released his songbook almost entirely through his own performances, Jesse Winchester is one of those artists whose name is all over the liner notes of his generation. His work has been recorded and celebrated by Tom Rush, Emmylou Harris (x2), Lyle Lovett, The Everly Brothers, Jimmy Buffett (x3), Elvis Costello, Little Feat, Wilson Pickett, and a host of well-known Country artists; many of those same stars, plus James Taylor, Lucinda Williams, Allen Toussaint and more, came together in 2012 for a tribute album after the gentle interpreter of the human condition fell ill with cancer.

Winchester deserves the attention. In his own voice, he was a contemporary polymath of genre, with folk and blues elements that cross boundaries even as they dig deep into the soul. Rolling Stone named him The Greatest Voice of the Decade after a 1977 performance that marked a triumphant return to the US after a draft-dodging decade in Quebec.

And although the bulk of his work dates back to the seventies, Winchester continued to write and record throughout his life, albeit sparingly, and in a career ever hampered by a reluctance to play the popstar game. His 2009 appearance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, where he performed Sham-A-Ling-Ding-Dong – a song that American Songwriter aptly called “an ode to both the triumph of true love over time and to the profundity of nonsensical doo-wop lyrics, all delivered by Winchester in a fragile croon that transmits all of the deep emotions hiding between the lines” – is a stunning example of a true master at the end of a too-short career, in a performance that brought Neko Case – and me – to tears.

What makes a musician’s influence so strong that his work affects his peers so well? Mostly, the ability to put into words those universal sentiments that songwriters have long struggled to make. Winchester’s work is often thick with nostalgia, and rich with first person sentiment, but it is, in the end, stunning in its simplicity, with plain lines bare and carefully constructed, pitch-perfect hidden depths that shimmer under seemingly straightforward lyrics. Listen, as his songs shine through the voices that celebrate him – from Mark Erelli’s tender folk lullaby to Chris Smithers’ stomping, driving blues, Emmylou’s inimitable balladry, and the countrygrass sounds of New Grass Revival.


COVERED IN FOLK: JESSE WINCHESTER [zip!]


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Kickstarter Covers, Vol. I: Milltowns
(Mark Erelli pays adept tribute to Bill Morrissey)

June 22nd, 2014 — 7:00pm

School’s out, the fireflies have returned, and the Oxycodone has finally faded from my system after a much-needed knee surgery, leaving us free and clear to begin filling pages again after months of apology. We’ll be back more regularly over the summer with news and new projects, tributes and songbook sets galore; today we dip our toes in the water with a clock-ticking palate-cleanser from one of our very favorite artists.





Happy 40th birthday weekend and kudos to well-travelled Boston-based folk musician and sideman extraordinaire Mark Erelli, who spent the last year recording Milltowns: A Tribute to Bill Morrissey, a warm, deep, surprisingly poignant tribute to a legendary singer-songwriter featuring multi-instrumentalist Erelli at his studio best and some smashing sideline work from the likes of Peter Mulvey, Rose Cousins, Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault, Anais Mitchell, & Rose Polenzani. After hearing Mark cover Bill several times over the last few years through bootlegs, live performances, and a single cover on The Memorial Hall Sessions album way back in 2002, we’re pleased but not so very surprised to declare the as-yet-unreleased Milltowns an unqualified success “born of love, respect and gratitude”, and an eloquent tribute to one of Erelli’s heroes and mentors – and proud, too, to urge support for the project via his Kickstarter page in the last few days of the campaign.

Regular readers may recall that we hold a special place in our hearts for Erelli, who recorded The Memorial Hall Sessions in our little town, and returned a decade later to grace us with our own little house concert; we’ve celebrated him several times on our pages (most recently for his double-dip coverage of Dawes), and have constantly been impressed by his work as a songwriter and performer. But this project is an especially potent venue for our fandom. The connection between Erelli and Morrissey is strong: Mark speaks eloquently of Morrissey’s mentorship on the road; both are known for their intimate portrayals of smalltown life in New England, and both have unusually strong connections to our favorite folk festival – Erelli as a one-time Falcon Ridge Folk Fest volunteer and main stage performer; Morrissey as a headline act from the very first year. And Morrissey is a long-time favorite, too – a Fast Folk alum who was a mainstay on the coffeehouse circuit until his death in 2011, with a catalog that is strong and worthy of the project.

The Milltown Kickstarter campaign hit its target yesterday, but extra funds are always needed to promote and distribute the album effectively – word of mouth only goes so far. So check out the project video above and a pair of older samples of Mark covering Bill below, head back in time to our 2011 feature on Mark Erelli, and then hit up the Milltowns project page to give what you can to support the record’s release, and receive an early digital download, plus the usual set of goodies, from signed records and back-catalog gems to copies of Bill Morrissey’s writings.


    TWO more Bill Morrissey covers from Mark Erelli’s mp3 of the Month series!



Comment » | (Re)Covered, Bill Morrissey, Kickstarter Covers, Mark Erelli, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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