Archive for April 2015


Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 8:
More Native Sons & Daughters from Indiefolk To Bluegrass

April 24th, 2015 — 11:04am





The week winds down here in North Carolina. The family and friends begin to disperse. And so we, too, will pack the van and head North again, slowly driving away the sand and surf.

The sounds of the sound and the osprey’s call will fade, and so will the rest, as we stiffen into the wind of the life we left behind. But the music will linger, and hold within it the peace of place, and of our selves.

From old school to new, then, our final soundtrack of spring vacation, with covers of and from one more set of North Carolina’s native sons and daughters: John D. Loudermilk, Ola Belle Reed, The Red Clay Ramblers, Hiss Golden Messenger, Delta Rae, and Jim Lauderdale.





Formed during the early seventies at the epicenter of the Durham, North Carolina string band revival, Tony Award-winning band The Red Clay Ramblers have remained a staple of the scene for over four decades by bringing their pickin’ and grinnin’ to a multitude of media, from radio and records to film and musical theater. Originals abound in their canon, but so do old familiars – especially on Meeting In The Air, a full album of Carter Family tunes recorded and released on Flying Fish. Their roster has changed since their early years – Shawn Colvin was even a member for a short time in the late eighties – but their music continues to be a standard for the form. Hear why.





From the fringes of the alternative indiefolk world comes Hiss Golden Messenger, formed around core duo MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch, who previously performed together in both a hardcore punk band and an indie rock group named after a Joni Mitchell album before moving to North Carolina to begin their current project. As one might expect given their rich heritage and experience, their music is alt-country influenced yet entirely revelatory and rejuvenating.





John D. Loudermilk is generally considered one of the greats of the mid-century Nashville era, but he, too, was born in Durham, and graduated from college there in the early fifties before heading out to follow in the footsteps of his famous cousins Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, aka the Louvin Brothers. Predominantly known as a songwriter for others, including Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Everly Brothers, Glen Campbell, Chet Atkins, and Johnny Cash, his songs live on in one of the largest lists of notable compositions ever amassed on Wikipedia, as does he, at 81.





Equal parts tradition and presence, banjo player and Appalachian mainstay Ola Belle Reed was born in Lansing, NC, and went on to become a key influence in the early evolution of folk music before it split off into country, blues, and rock and roll. Her songbook is especially common in the blue- and newgrass realms; odds are you’ll recognize all of these tunes, though like most folks, you may think of them as unsourced standards – an indicator of just how deeply she impacted the modern canon.





Born to a minister and a church music director in the tiny town of Troutman, a distant suburb of sprawling Charlotte, and a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, Jim Lauderdale is better known in the Nashville-based industry as a session player, songwriter, and co-conspirator than a solo artist, thanks to a 2002 Grammy for a collaboration with Ralph Stanley, composer credits on songs made famous by Patty Loveless, George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, and Elvis Costello, and long-time associations with Buddy Miller and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. His participation in any project is a promise of success in my household, but as evidenced below, his solo work is quite solid, too.





Finally, we return to Durham with folk-rockers Delta Rae, who hit the scene running in 2010 with a self-titled EP that still takes its turn on our own turntable from time to time. The band on the rise tends to get more airplay on the country rock side of the dial up north, where folks don’t really know from country anyway, but after the release of their sophomore full-length After It All just a few weeks ago, they’re already crossing over into the alternative and folk charts, and we’re glad to hear it, even as they continue to turn towards a more electric, eclectic, radio-ready sound. Bonus points: it’s always a good sign to find a new band covered so well; here’s a pair of favorites from the ‘tube to complement their acoustic rock 2012 Fleetwood Mac cover.

    Delta Rae: The Chain (orig. Fleetwood Mac)


    Naked Gypsies: Bottom Of The River (orig. Delta Rae)


    Dylan Byrnes, Abby Sevcik, et. al: Holding On To Good (orig. Delta Rae)





Previously on Cover Lay Down: Carolina Coverfolk, Volumes 1-7


Comment » | Delta Rae, Hiss Golden Messenger, Jim Lauderdale, John D. Loudermilk, Ola Belle Reed, Red Clay Ramblers, Vacation Coverfolk

Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 7:
Native Sons & Daughters from Indiefolk To Bluegrass

April 22nd, 2015 — 11:05am





We’ve been scouring the usual sources while on vacation, using the downtime to gather and soak in the ethnomusical history of the region. Having covered five Carolinian artists in our previous visits leaves us room and time to sample broadly from the archives, and happily, North Carolina offers especially rich soil for folk and coverage alike.

Today, then, a midweek dip into the talent pool, with covers of and from Ryan Adams, Steep Canyon Rangers, Ben Folds, Tift Merrit, David Wilcox and Acoustic Syndicate today, and still more to come later in the week from The Red Clay Ramblers, Delta Rae, Hiss Golden Messenger, and more native sons and daughters from old-timey and newgrass to cutting edge indie and alt-folk.




We shared Red Molly’s version of Oh My Sweet Carolina, a tributary Ryan Adams cover, several years ago for our very first Carolina Coverfolk feature. Today, a three-fer from the versatile artist himself, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, NC, formed alternative country band Whiskeytown out of Raleigh in 1994, and – especially in modern solo guise – has a knack for finding the aching heart in songs from a wide range of genres. His cover of Wonderwall, long a favorite, apparently transformed how the original band performs it. And don’t miss Strand Of Oaks with a bonus cover from WXPN’s 2014 Year In Review cover songs project.





Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt spent her own childhood in Raleigh, and went to college in Chapel Hill. We featured her exquisite collaboration with pianist Simone Dinnerstein back in 2013, and a whole mess of solo output besides, but they’re worth revisiting, alongside a new cover from a new Bessie Smith tribute – and proud to report that our affection for her has only grown since catching her as opening act for an acoustic show with Mary Chapin Carpenter last fall.





Steep Canyon Rangers simply shone when I first encountered them at the Boston-based Joe Val Festival way back in 2008; with humor, talent, and poise in equal and vast measure, it was clear this quintet was going places, and deservedly so. Since then, of course, the Brevard-based band has risen fast, and even coupled with Steve Martin for a Grammy-winning ride, but we still love their rendition of this old Grateful Dead standard, and we’re tickled pink to find a version played so close to home.







I first fell in love with Acoustic Syndicate at Winterhawk 2002, just days after becoming a father; it was the first time I had been away from her, and the glow I carried was warm in the sun, a perfect match for the mellow jams that followed. But the newgrass jamband bears up over the years, thanks to funky, twangy beats and rollicking, upbeat lyrics that conjure the heat of summer; here’s a soundboard-sourced live set to prove it, all from a single 2005 gig at Mills River, North Carolina festival Smilefest, hosted by the same Internet Archive that hosts our own blog’s archives from 2007-2012.





With or without the Ben Folds Five, which formed in Chapel Hill after his triumphant return from out of state in 1995, Winston-Salem-born native alt-rocker, pianist, and a capella fanatic Ben Folds isn’t known for folk music. But even beyond The Luckiest, which we last shared in the capable hands of Matt Ryd, his suburban angst balladry is well-covered, and well beloved, and many of his greatest hits read like contemporary narrative folksongs. Here’s a few other sweet takes from the Soundcloud cohort, plus an old, old favorite and a stellar mixed genre in-studio take on an oft-covered tune.





Though born in Ohio, contemporary folk singer songwriter David Wilcox attended college in Ashville, broke into the scene from its stages, and has lived there most of his adult life. We’ve featured Wilcox through coverage in various mixes over the years, but these songs, too, bear collecting and repeating, their gentleness and warmth a perfect match for this perfect sunset.





Looking for more coverfolk from North Carolina? Check out our compilation post from earlier this week, with links to all six of our previous Carolina Coverfolk features, with over a hundred songs of and from James Taylor, The Avett Brothers, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops…and then make sure to come back at the end of the week for more coverage in tribute to North Carolinians Ola Belle Reed, John D. Loudermilk, Jim Lauderdale and more!

2 comments » | Acoustic Syndicate, Ben Folds, David Wilcox, Ryan Adams, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tift Merritt, Vacation Coverfolk

Carolina Coverfolk, Redux:
James Taylor, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, The Avett Brothers & more!

April 19th, 2015 — 9:56am


beachincorolla


Forever this will be the year we cut it almost too fine, working ourselves too close to exhaustion trying to juggle illness, worklife, the desperate hobbies of the well-intentioned. The week came and went in a blur, and suddenly there we were, just across the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel, taking turns at the wheel despite shared exhaustion, both of us struggling to stay awake as the rain came and went in the dead miles of Virginia, past fields and factories we’ve passed a dozen times, but never seen in daylight.

We made it, of course: to the beach for sunrise, breakfast in the tiny village of Corolla, through the long tired hours before the rental property delivers the keys. Now we are in the house on the lagoon, the same one we have rented for almost a decade. The osprey wheels just yards from this porch, his spiral hypnotic and soothing; the turtles snooze in the sun; across the lagoon, something – a beaver? a fish? – splashes by the bank. The day slows. The soul lags, even as we ply the day with moments, ice cream, beach walks, the children struggle with the buzz that makes boredom of stillness. But the bright horizon brims with the peace we need, and the shared communion we crave.

Soon the others will come: my father, and his companion; my brother; two families of friends next door. Until then, the stress of the world lifts slowly, like the fog burning off the beach at dawn. Here’s a soundtrack to ease us into it: over a hundred songs in all, contained within our six previous collections of songbook coverage by, from and about The Carolinas and their rich history of artists and musicians.

Carolina Coverfolk, Volumes 1-6



Bonus track: North Carolina native Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield take on Miss Misery live on World Cafe in celebration of their new (and quite excellent) Elliott Smith tribute album.



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1 comment » | Reposts, Vacation Coverfolk

Covered In Folk: John Hiatt
(with Patty Griffin, Carrie Rodriguez, Sam Bush, Chris Smither & more!)

April 11th, 2015 — 5:18pm




It’s been a long winter, but it’s easy to believe in spring, with the last few heaps of heavy snow finally turning to slush on the lawn and the crocus buds breaking through in the garden. Spiritually, too, the clouds are breaking: after a two-week hospital stay, the elderchild seems to have recalibrated, gaining weight on a diet of protein shakes and constant exercise; my students can see the fourth quarter end of the tunnel, and renew their vigor in discourse and deconstruction. It’s a good life, I know, but it’s been hard to see it for the fog; to know that it is lifting brings hope, slow and sure, with equal parts reluctance and relief.

Our mixed-metaphors of weather, water, and want belie the continued weight of life as it is: we’re not yet at rest, and we won’t be for at least another week, when we take our annual pilgrimage down south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the herons soar over the lagoon, and life slows down for a while every year. Until then, we’ll keep clearing the head, and the soul, readying ourselves to emerge into warmth.

Part of this, as always, is in the gathering of new songs and videos, albums and news from familiar sources – a strong and rising crop which have peppered our winter and gathered in our heart, where they threaten to burst upon us like the dam in spring snowmelt. And so we turn to the detritus of shoreline, the songs that spring upon us like buds in the snow, and cheer our hearts even as they moan and mourn for that which is lost, and those who are lonesome. A spin of the dice, and the world comes up with equal parts hope and heartache, roots and branches: the songs of John Hiatt, covered in folk.





Though still technically representative of the younger generation’s rich, reclaimed ground at the intersection of folk, Americana and bluegrass, Sara Watson, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sarah Jarosz are all beloved here at Cover Lay Down: each has been featured here before, both in collaboration and solo, for a combined respective breadth of work that has included plenty of sweet coverage along the way. Now the three artists have joined forces for a tour and a track, and the combination of the three is heavenly, with vocals sharp and soft pulling against each other, banjo and fiddle and guitar precise and sparingly, achingly melded. Their choice of song is inspired, too – a far cry from the hoarse cry of John Hiatt’s original, but with just as much longing and hope intermingled.

This continent-crossing trio are not the first women to take on the John Hiatt songbook so sweetly. Too folk for rock, too rock for folk, Hiatt is the epitome of the songwriter’s songwriter; the words “critical success but commercial failure” pepper his resume. He has been nominated for several Grammy awards, but drifted from label to label throughout his career; though he has recorded over two dozen albums studio albums in four decades, he’s never really charted that high. As such, he owes much of his early career to borrowing, most notably the 1974 release of Three Dog Night’s Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here, which rose to number 16 on the Billboard charts, and a spate of covers from his 1987 breakthrough album Bring The Family, recorded with Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder, which brought such hits as Thing Called Love, Memphis In The Meantime, and Have A Little Faith In Me to other voices and other rooms.

But his songs speak plainly of universal themes; his rock and roll is edged and catchy; his chords and melodies are eminently playable. And so, like most folk fans, I suspect, my own experience with Hiatt comes from stirring echoes on late night Americana radio, plus long play of his turn-of-the-century, predominantly acoustic record Crossing Muddy Waters, coupled with popular covers in celebration of his work from Raitt, Linda Rondstadt, Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson, and a broad swath of other folk, blues and Americana artists – and with two generally solid late-century tribute albums in the canon (2000 Telarc compilation Rollin’ Into Memphis and Vanguard’s 2003 release It’ll Come To You) there’s plenty to choose from, here.

Either way, Hiatt is worth both the coverage and the comparison to each original. His best songs delve deep into divorce, addiction, and other dire extremities; that gritty voice and guitar are inimitable, and play out his motifs and themes with pain and prescience. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions – Raitt’s take on Thing Called Love comes to mind, as does Suzxy Bogguss’ Drive South and Cliff Eberhardt’s Back Of My Mind – coverage of Hiatt’s work tends to fall into decidedly gendered camps, with his heartbreaking balladry trending towards the female side, and his gruffer, angrier or more celebratory tracks more often than not delivered in the hands of raspy bluesmen.

A split set, then, from sweet to sour, sugar to spice – seven and seven, with women on the A side, and men on the flipside – as we celebrate John Hiatt’s work, and his legacy, through coverage. Enjoy.



John Hiatt, Covered In Folk



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