Archive for November 2014


Small Business Saturday: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Holiday Gift Guide)

November 29th, 2014 — 3:43pm





Over the river, through the woods, and down the mountain this morning for our tiny rural New England Town’s annual crafts fair: four churches and the House of Art stuffed to their wooden rafters with the very best from local artists and craftspersons, from homespun alpaca yarn and family farm lavender salves to an endless array of jewelry, scarves and woodcarving, all made lovingly by friends and neighbors, familiar faces amidst a sea of comfort and joy.

Lunch afterwards, homemade bread and meat pies at the roadside breakfast joint near the equine rescue center, while horses and sleighs paraded past our window. And now home, with half the holiday shopping done, and nary a shopping mall in sight, while the fire burns bright and the family settles into our respective seats.

It’s days like this I love the local life the most: the four of us on the back roads, singing along to our favorite carols on the radio as we wander through an already-white winter, tires crunching over the roadside snow as yet unsullied by soot and salt. And we’re gladdened to hear the storms of society turn around us, as the annual irritant antithesis of Buy Nothing Day turns to Small Business Saturday.

But as last year, and the year before, Black Friday and its aftermath still top our cultural discourse; the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms remains great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between.

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption.

And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the third year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2014 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.



Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 12.41.05 PMBlack Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.

Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.

Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.

We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.

But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.

Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.


1. Give the gift of recorded music. Though streaming models made it more and more challenging every day, music sales remain the bread and butter of the starving artist. And Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog: many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites. Or check out independent artist-friendly labels like the recently-featured Signature Sounds, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, or even Etsy.

2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.

3. Give the gift of access. If you can’t always get out to a show, spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or sign them up for Concert Window, a free-for-trial service which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk clubs, concert halls and living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live-on-screen performances and sessions can be viewed alone, shared over distance through skype and chat, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is an especially apt gift for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. As a bonus, just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.

So browse the folk categories on each site, or skim facebook pages for links to projects in the works that need your support. Examples we’re excited to recommend this year include this cover-laden campaign from singer-songwriter Dawn Landes, who is promoting a package deal including a tour and a covers EP, and Denver-based singer-songwriter John Statz, who is currently raising funds for the release of Tulsa, the album he recorded with Jeffrey Foucault back in January when we caught him at fave local venue The Parlor Room; funding levels for the latter include the usual preorder of what promises to be a strong and soulful Americana album, and an option for backstage and schmooze passes for two that seems to be going fast. And we’re really looking forward to Amy Black’s upcoming project The Muscle Shoals Sessions, an expansion of her previously recorded 4-track EP into “a full-length album of classic Muscle Shoals soul music” backed by Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham, Will Kimbrough, The McCrary Sisters, and more, sure to feature some great Alabama soul classics.

5. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.

6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2014″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life.

And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

Until then, here’s a repost from last year: a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.


1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

These Our Hymns Of Grateful Praise:
A Cover Lay Down Thanksgiving Mix

November 27th, 2014 — 1:00pm





It’s Thanksgiving, and just in time, too: breakneck momentum takes over this time of year, until routines long established begin to fray around the edges; maybe we need a few days off to rethink our priorities.

We’re already grateful as we slowly settle into an unexpected off-day, here at home with our festival feast delayed by weather. Outside, the Christmas radio stations have already kicked into gear, and the world is tense with race and ruin, capitalism and the cold hard stand of conviction, but the snow-blurred landscape blocks everything out. And now the music is low, the lights are soft; children in flannel nightgowns pad barefoot in and out of the kitchen, dropping sleepy kisses in their wake; the pellet stove whirs and warms the neighbor’s borrowed dogs until they fall asleep in our laps.

The Thanksgiving hymnal is sparser than most, but we are quiet, today, and the mixed-marriage Jewnitarian tradition we practice digs deep into all corners of the earth. And oh, we have have so much to be thankful for: the world bright with promise, and ourselves with strength and love enough to work and play in it together. A collection of praise, then, from modern to mostly traditional, that we might skip the tinsel, and stick to the hope and the holy, the gravy and the grace this Thanksgiving season.


These Our Hymns Of Grateful Praise
A Thanksgiving Coverfolk Mix [download!]



Cover Lay Down shares new features and coversets here and on Facebook throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: new holiday releases, and our annual guide to shopping local in a digital world!

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes, Tradfolk

Signature Sounds: A Local Label Turns 20 in Style
(with new cover albums and a Chris Smither tribute!)

November 22nd, 2014 — 2:05pm



Cofounder Jim Olsen outside label Signature Sounds in Northampton, MA


After two decades as a go-to source for some of our favorite singer-songwriters, local label Signature Sounds has earned our respect and gratitude a hundred times over even as their catalog of folk, roots, Americana and acoustic indie soulpop has come to the national scene. First conceived as an extension of the Signature Sounds recording studio established by Mark Thayer in the mid-eighties, the label, which released its first album – a holiday sampler – in 1984, also runs our new favorite folk venue (The Parlor Room, a delightfully intimate venue in Northampton where one can browse and purchase from the entire Signature Sounds catalog) and sponsors one of our very favorite roots festivals (the Green River festival, where I first discovered Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch, and Erin McKeown): all just icing on the anniversary cake, a marker of their homegrown expansion and a harbinger of more to come.

Today, in praise and homage to Signature Sounds and the artists it has introduced and promoted on ever-expanding roster, we swing through a set of 2014 cover and tribute releases from the label, and add a bonus set of favorite tracks from cover albums and tributes released over 20 years in the business. Read on for samples and sentiment, and then, if you’re in the area, stop by to browse the amazing local arts scene at The Parlor Room Makers Market today and tomorrow and pick up 20% off tickets to next weekend’s birthday celebration at the Academy of Music: 4 star-studded concerts over 3 nights with Lake Street Dive, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Chris Smither, Redbird, Mark Erelli, Eilen Jewell, Winterpills, Heather Maloney, and a Crooked Still reunion – all artists featured here on these virtual pages more than once, for good reason.



Since we last wrote about them in a February (Re)Covered post, footstomping fivesome Poor Old Shine has changed their name to Parsonsfield, joined the Signature Sounds roster, and focused their approach in ways that only improve on an already exquisite neotraditional sound. Their newest EP is a playful, eclectic grab-bag of holler and harmonies, with previously YouTubed covers of old tradfolk and Huey Lewis hit The Power Of Love, a lone original (playful romp Anita Loving), and a set of newer studio recordings of tunes from the American school that bring the field to your foyer.




Link Of Chain: A Songwriter’ Tribute to Chris Smither is as much a homage to the Signature Sounds roster and its fans in the music industry as it honors the elder statesman of Northeastern American folk blues, who turned 70 last week. In the hands of Mark Erelli, Jeffrey Foucault, Tim O’Brien, Aoife O’Donovan and other familiar names on the circuit, Smithers’ songs get a masterful treatment with few low points and little sameness, offering apt survey of the label’s sound and cache all at once. Highly recommended tracks include Dave Alvin’s restrained album-opener, a typically smoky, jazz-beautiful version of Waiting On A Train from Patty Larkin, and Mary Gauthier’s chilling take on Smither standard I Feel The Same – a far cry from the funky wah wah pedal swamp blues that Bonnie Raitt used to make the song famous.




Miss Tess and the Talkbacks isn’t folk; Signature Sounds is on an electrified soulpop kick these days, thanks to the success of labelmates Lake Street Dive, whose 2014 Halloween Youtube cover of Love Shack is a poolside screamer not to be missed. But Tess’ late-2013 covers EP The Love I Have For You, which we missed last year, has a rockabilly sentiment and a country core, calling to the rootsy origins even as it frames itself squarely in modern traditions of reinvention and acoustic soul.




Winterpills aren’t folk, either, but the approach to sound on this relatively intimate new duo album hits the mark, as does the concept: totally transformed in an electronic haze by founding bandmembers Flora Reed and Philip Price while their bandmates were busy, lesser-known tracks from the alternative world and beyond specifically chosen for their potential for reinvention shimmer and strain against their original settings. The resulting album is beautiful, with songs sparse and torn, yet equally untethered and etherial.




The Sacred Shakers are a collaborative of Boston musicians, nominally led by country folk artist Eilen Jewell, whose shared love of old-time, country and blues-influenced gospel music lends itself to barn-busting performances. Discovered by Signature Sounds founder and all-around great guy Jim Olsen before they had recorded a lick, their 2014 live album on the label is like a No Depression record played on 45: upbeat, high-energy, spiritually joyful, and eminently danceable.




Signature Sounds has produced some amazing albums over the years; many of their cover and tribute albums are staples of our Cover Lay Down archival stacks. As promised, then: today’s bonus set features a treasure trove sampler from a highly recommended all-covers subsection of one of the best independent catalogs in the modern world. Click through to purchase albums direct from the source, the better to keep Signature Sounds going strong in the decades to come.

    20 Years of Coverage:
    More Cover Albums and Tributes from Signature Sounds






Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares songsets and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Want to help?


1 comment » | Chris Smither, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Winterpills

Phosphorescent Covers
Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, George Jones, Leonard Cohen & 16 more!

November 11th, 2014 — 3:10pm


muchachomatt624


When Paste Magazine named alt-folkster Phosphorescent‘s masterful-yet-intimate album Muchaho their 2013 Album of the Year, it was easy to dismiss the long-time pseudonymous solo project as just another inner-circle seat-holder in the bearded indiefolk crowd – and easier, still, when Paste declared the image of cover artist Matthew Hoack in Mexico, where the album was composed, as definitive as Bon Iver in his isolated Wisconsin cabin.

Hoack’s personal history is almost too perfect for the sensitive hipster mythos: born in Alabama, the autobiographical artist began his career in alternative hotbed town Athens, Georgia, and later moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yards; he primarily records for Austin-based label Dead Oceans, alongside a roster including Tallest Man On Earth, John Vanderslice, and Akron/Family. Wolves, which originally appeared on his 2007 opus Pride, has been covered at least twice this decade, in solid, broken versions from similarly bandified solo artists Message To Bears and Strand of Oaks; he’s played Sasquatch and Bonnaroo, toured with The National, and will appear at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, and San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. And certainly, his placement cred is sound: though his version of theme song Little Boxes was rejected for use on Weeds, his fragile, sad work has graced several indie film soundtracks, including 2011 Kevin Spacey/Jeremy Irons vehicle Margin Call and this summer’s blockbuster The Amazing Spiderman 2, plus two MOJO Magazine cover compilations.

But his credibility as part of the new wave of folk-tinged crossover artists worth attention from the wider world really is honestly come, whatever the backstory. Musically, Phosphorescent teeters on the imperfect indie edge, with rich atmospheres that drown the listener in layers of sound and creaky sentiment, imperfect and imperfectly performed narration, and introspective first-person lyrics that question and fog, bringing both comfort and the ache of desperation.

Yet where indie compatriot Bon Iver trends towards pop music heartbreakingly undone, Houcke’s cover choices out him as a folk musician first and foremost, almost in spite of the heavily layered, often-electrified production he increasingly favors in the studio. Over a career spanning seven records since 2003, Houck has recorded a set of covers that ground his work strongly in the folkstream, both by practice and by selection: on indie and nufolk compilations such as this year’s Sweethearts Valentine’s Day cover sampler, MOJO tributes to The Beatles and Neil Young, and, most notably, on 2009 album To Willie, an endearing yet straightforward Willie Nelson tribute, once named one of Rhapsody’s favorite cover albums, that pays homage to both the California Country movement and Nelson’s classic Lefty Frizzell tribute album From Willie To Lefty.

So listen, as our featured artist digs deep into his musical forebears, and comes up with a true 20-track survey befitting a true folksman, with versions of songs from Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, John Prine, and the American cowboy canon, plus an utterly gorgeous Leonard Cohen cover that could have come from Springsteen’s darkest hour, a short set of in-studio video covers, and a few surprises along the way. We think you’ll find the argument for Phosphorescent persuasive, and the music as divine, as sad, as beautiful, as comforting, and as soft as any broken angel’s wings.

  • Phosphorescent: If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) (orig. George Jones) [2013]

  • Phosphorescent: Far From Me (orig. John Prine) [2013]

  • Phosphorescent: Days Of Heaven (orig. Randy Newman) [2012]


  • Phosphorescent: Storms Never Last (orig. Jessi Colter) [2013]


  • Phosphorescent: I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (orig. R.L. Burnside) [2010]

  • Phosphorescent: Any Old Miracle (orig. Vern Gosdin) [2014]
    Warning: loud advert before the track, but it’s worth it…





Looking for an easy way to listen? Download the whole Phosphorescent coverset and snag our two favorite versions of Phosphorescent’s Wolves as bonus tracks!

3 comments » | Featured Artists, Phosphorescent

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