Archive for December 2015


The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles (2015)
A-sides, B-sides, deep cuts, live takes & more!

December 29th, 2015 — 4:23pm


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Though we’re not above judging the overall conceptual cohesion of The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums, when it comes to our annual Year’s Best Singles mix, we generally eschew the hierarchical. Folk is so broad and so deep a canon, with so much potential for successful realization and transformation, it’s enough, I think, to curate the list, presenting each track as worth celebrating, a possible thread to pursue towards patronage and fandom.

But we do watch the collection for trends. This year, we see several.

Most notably, there’s a slight bump in songs which have their origin outside of the commercial realm – more links to videos, for example, and to freely released tracks. It’s tempting to treat this data point as an indicator that the line between amateur and professional continues to grow ever thin, making us watchful about the future of music as a truly realized vocation even as we celebrate the breadth of music such trending brings us.

On the other hand, of course, the wide net we cast also finds us celebrating the newest of the new, by lifting up artists who are just starting their journeys. And, although there are just a few of them, the emergent set is represented well this year by Annika Bennett, Matt Minigell, and Jamie Oshima – all twenty or under, and already bringing it on.

Other trends include one noted earlier, in our albums feature: there’s been some great collaboration this year on the margins of folk, roots, and Americana. From the continued “supergroup” partnerships of I’m With Her and My Terrible Friend to continued duo work from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman to one-off pairings between Rhiannon Giddens and Iron & Wine and The Milk Carton Kids and Shovels and Rope, the result is an emphasis on strong voices in harmony, with the pleasure of performing with friends and loved ones shining through each track.

Other than that, we’ll let the songs speak for themselves, as set and singles: after all, we’re here for the music, and so are you. And so we present our 50 favorite coverfolk singles, b-sides, live tracks and deep album cuts of 2015: from madcap to maudlin; from respectful to irreverent; from indie to traditional, and all the contemporary singer-songwriter, alt-country, ands acoustic poprock genres in between; sure to warm your heart and capture your soul.

This we offer with undying thanks to the labels, the artists, the fans, and you, for holding us up, and in, and close, when the world keeps spinning right round, like a record.

Cherish them. Let them warm your heart and capture your soul. And may you, too, experience joy and peace, lightness and love in full measure in the new year.



The Year’s Best Singles: A 2015 Coverfolk Mix [zip!]




Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, share, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking.

Got goodwill to spare? 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 donors will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of alternate favorites and rare covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give – and thanks.

Comment » | Best of 2015, Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2015)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Covers Compilations and more!

December 27th, 2015 — 7:26pm

Most of the other online folk and indieblogs out there have already shared their Best Of 2015 features by now, and that’s the way we like it. As our mandate reminds us, sharing and discovery are essential to the folkways; just as we depend on artists and producers to make the music, we depend on elseblogs, radio outlets and virtual magazines from Kithfolk to Paste, from Folk Alley to WXPN, and from I Am Fuel, You Are Friends to Timber & Steel, to curate it for us.

Our niche is unique, of course. No other blog focuses exclusively on the intersection between folk and coverage, though the threads are strong on both of the intersecting lineages that define us, and though several blogs, like Cover Me, include roots and Americana among the coversongs they share. But our dependence on those other sources was especially deep this year.

Which is to say: it was a pretty good year for coverfolk, in the end, and we’re glad. But for a while there, it looked like we wouldn’t be here to celebrate it.

As we’ve noted in previous posts, letting Cover Lay Down go dark from May to November was part of a larger withdrawal in face of a series of disasters that left us too drained to do more than just hang on. I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say: it’s hard to blog when you’re living in a camper on the lawn because the house is still recovering from fleas and flood, and harder, still, when the entire covers collection gets lost to a busted laptop and an archival hard drive failure.

Coming back, though, has been a revelation.

We’re not usually at a loss for words here at Cover Lay Down. But the outpouring of support during and after those dark months, in the end, proved its priority in a world still heavy with stress and the unknown, putting this blog at the top of our to-do list. Thanks, to all who donate and comment, who help spread the word, and who – in doing so – bring light to this kitchen table endeavor. It’s good to be back, and to be singing again.

Our eight-month musical hiatus makes looking back an especially apt mechanism for recovery this year. To account for this, in response to both marketplace factors and an attempt to broaden our gaze in the name of recovery, our Best Of series doubled in size, with video coverage getting a pair of features of its own; if you’ve not yet seen ‘em, check out The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Singles and The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Sessions, Sets, and Series once you’ve finished here today.

But our annual two-fer still serves as the main course. So join us as we count down the final hours of 2015 with our favorite coverfolk recordings of the year – with our annual omnibus album feature today, and our typically unranked, purely subjective celebration of the year’s best singles, deep cuts, and B-sides to follow sometime just before New Year’s Eve. Oh, and fair warning: there’s 59 songs on this year’s list; you might want to download them all first, and read along as you listen.





The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell, Sing Into My Mouth

+ Watkins Family Hour, The Watkins Family Hour
+ Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn
+ Robert Earl Keen, The Bluegrass Sessions
+ Grey Season, Undercover

Cover albums comprise a highly competitive category this year. Even the also-rans were strong, from Shawn Colvin’s unsurprisingly poppy but eminently listenable Uncovered to the twee, unrelentingly cheerful sounds of NYC-based 80′s cover band The Delorean Sisters on their self-titled debut. Martha and Lucy Wainwright’s sister album Songs In The Dark, which we touted last month, was ultimately a little unfocused; Shovels and Rope pushed past the boundaries of folk into alternative rock on Busted Jukebox Vol.1, and much of Tomorrow You’re Going, a kickstarter-funded collaborative effort from lifetime favorites Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky, was a little too honky-tonk for our tastes. All are highly recommended nonetheless, and contain great cuts worth pursuit; look for their choicest tracks in our upcoming Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles mix.

But the big news this year was the collaborative album. And sure enough, like Busted Jukebox, Songs In The Dark, and Kaplansky and Shindell’s Pine Hill Project, four of the five picks in the single artists covers album category share the same conceit: though released under a single name, each, in their own way, depends on musical partnership for its success.

Our highest honors goes to Sing Into My Mouth, the musical one-off collaboration of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. There’s a huge diversity of source material here, from the titular Talking Heads track to songs by Sade, JJ Cale, and Pete Seeger, but nary a skip-cut or mediocre cover on the album: the performances here are stunning, with the songs not so much transformed as translated into an atmospheric echo with an alt-country twang, and flourishes of pitch-perfect Pink Floyd psychedelics and CSNY harmonies.

Second place is shared by The Watkins Family Hour and Rhiannon Giddens project Tomorrow Is My Turn – two albums which diversify through deep collaboration of their own. In the first, Sean and Sara Watkins, plus Fiona Apple and a 4-piece house band familiar to those who have seen their frequent live shows at LA’s famed venue The Largo, took over a house for three days to record a record designed specifically to evoke their live shows; the result is broad and diverse, playful and wonderfully intimate, and well worth steeping in entirely.

Meanwhile, Giddens – a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops who has recently gone solo – weaves her beatboxing and multi-instrumentalist Chocolate Drops compatriots throughout her debut solo disc, plus members of the Punch Brothers and several strong session players, to reimagine a number of traditional and country and pop standards in her inimitable style, a process which she discusses at length on her website. The result is quite diverse, as you might expect, in influence and in sound, but the record holds beautifully, thanks to that stunning voice and potent production from T-Bone Burnett, as does “session leftovers” EP Factory Girl.

Grey Season’s Undercover, a free download featured recently as part of our Berklee College of Music showcase, is the sole “band only” covers album in our top five, but it hardly needs the help; as noted back in November, the album is funky and fine, perfect for fans of that fertile soil where grungy Americana and roots music, grassy country, and folk rock meet. And we’d be remiss without special mention of Robert Earn Keen’s Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, a departure from the usual fare from this Texan singer-songwriter, in which Keen’s plaintive rasp pairs beautifully with a well-tuned, full-bore bluegrass session band for a delightful album that runs from gentle rambles to rambunctious jams. A good year, indeed.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artist)
+ Various Artists, Yellow Bird Project: Good People Rock
+ Various Artists, From Cover To Cover: 30 Years At Nettwerk (tie)

The multiple artist covers album is generally the wheelhouse of labels big and small; last year’s category winners included a Bloodshot Records’ 20th anniversary covers album, and sure enough, our runner-up this year celebrates 30 years of the Canadian label that made household names of Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, The Be Good Tanyas, and Barenaked Ladies.

In 2015, however, our favorite “various artists” collection comes straight from the heart of the artisanal hipster branch of the folkmarket to match one of my absolute favorite records of the year. Yep: a tie. We couldn’t be happier with the result.

For a decade, Montreal-based Yellow Bird Project has created and distributed band t-shirts for artist-selected charities in partnership with indie folk and alternative musicians like Bon Iver, CHVRCHES, Devendra Banhart, The Decemberists and The Shins, though they’ve recently branched out into tote bags, coloring books, and the occasional vinyl pressing. Producing and curating Good People Rock, a project in which YBP artists who have been featured on their shirts cover other YBP artists who have been featured on their shirts, is just as quirky a concept, and with artists like Andrew Bird, Hayden, and Elvis Perkins on the roster, we’re not surprised it works.

As noted above, Nettwerk Music Group’s January 2015 covers sampler, released in celebration of their 30th anniversary, gets an easy and triumphant share of first place honors in an unusually small category. The overall setlist here is a mixed-bag; with electro-pop and sadcore in the mix, this is hardly a folk album through and through. But several stunning covers stand out, including amazing, delicate Coldplay and Sarah McLachlan covers (we shared William Fitzsimmons’ cover of McLachlan’s Ice Cream back in January), a dreamy indie folk take on Barenaked Ladies favorite deepcut Jane, Hey Ocean! frontman Dave Beckingham’s transformation of a Be Good Tanya rambler into an atmospheric, icy folkpop gem complete with horns and organ, and Joshua Hyslop’s delightful Weepies interpretation, a track which – in many ways – sets the standard for the year in coverage.


The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Sean Rowe, Her Songs

+ William Tyler, The Lagniappe Sessions
+ Marissa Haacke, Acoustic Covers, Vol. 1
+ Infamous Stringdusters, Undercover

What could have been a lighthearted conceit by basso profundo Sean Rowe, who was recommended to me by Chuck and Mira of The Sea The Sea when they kicked off our new house concert series this Fall, offers instead a deep dive into bare-bones gender-bent coverage: tender and low, round and resonant, drowned in that booming, syrup-thick voice. The six single-take tracks and accompanying videos represent a perfect 45-to-33 who’s who of female alternative singer-songwriter fare, too, with songs from Feist, Cat Power, Neko Case, Regina Spektor, and – yes, again – Sade, who seems to be popular this year. A Troy, NY-based singer-songwriter who also offers foraging and wilderness skills classes on his website, Rowe is reportedly just as powerful in person; he also wins for best accolade of 2015: upon hearing his rendition of her “Soldiers Song,” Lucinda Williams apparently proclaimed “This is the best cover of any of my songs that anyone has ever done. I am completely moved.”

From somewhere between country rock balladry and John Fahey primitivism comes our second place set, a mostly instrumental foursome of songs originally by Ry Cooder, Blaze Foley, and Blue Oyster Cult from true-blue Nashville boy William Tyler, commissioned, recorded and released via Aquarium Drunkard as part of their Lagniappe Sessions way back in January. Tyler, who has produced a precious handful of records of his own, is best known as a member of indie blog darlings Lambchop and the Silver Jews, but as these sessions prove, he’s got chops and roots in equal measure; he’s also played with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Charlie Louvin, and Candi Staton.

Perennial favorites The Infamous Stringdusters turn in relatively faithful but entirely gleeful one-take jamgrass takes on well-known songs from Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Pink Floyd in Undercover, a fun diversion recorded while in the studio for their next big album, due in February. And finally, as its name implies, Acoustic Covers Vol. 1 is simply put: an iTunes release from September which features exceptionally young singer-songwriter Marissa Haacke solo and without airs. There’s a deceptively simple sameness to these songs, too, in part due to their sheer simplicity, and a pristine recording quality. But despite her girlish voice, as heard in her wistful, innocent take on Footloose soundtrack song Holding Out For A Hero, Haacke has depth, and shows promise enough to mention; here’s hoping that this girl from the Rocky Mountains will keep singing, and gladly.



The Year’s Best Covers EP (multiple artist)
+ Various Artists, Polaris Sessions No. 1

+ Various Artists, Decoration Day, Volume 4

Three songs recorded live in studio in 2014 but released as a 10″ in 2015 make for an unusually sparse but utterly delightful program, kicking off a new cover series from the folks who bring us the Polaris Music Prize, and in the process bringing us our favorite multiple artist covers EP of the year. The A-side is a grungy, electric roots cover of New Pornographers from Whitehorse; I’ve come back to the B-side, featuring Great Lake Swimmers covering Sarah Harmer and Sarah Harmer covering Caribou, over a dozen times since discovering it last month.

Meanwhile, on the experimental front, comes Decoration Day, Volume 4, featuring songs about home from perennial favorites Mason Jar Music, who produces a new thematically-grounded covers EP every year for Decoration Day, and hits the ball out of the park every time. As in volumes 1-3, the set yaws wider than folk allows, but a number of delights come in especially dear: Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae pull old Sam Cooke favorite Bring It On Home To Me way back into hollow living room folk, and you’ve never heard Bjork the way banjo player Taylor Ashton interprets her.


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield, …Sing Elliott Smith

+ Plainsong, Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina
+ The Hillbenders, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry
+ Girls Guns & Glory, A Tribute To Hank Williams – Live!
+ Asleep At The Wheel, Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Yes, yes; Ryan Adams’ full-album tribute to Taylor Swift is nothing short of a miracle. But it isn’t folk, truly; we’ve a separate category for mixed-genre tributes for a reason, and we’ll let Adams share top honors there.

Luckily, it was an unusually diverse year for single artist tributes in the folk, roots, and Americana realms. Honors in our single artist tribute category go to five very different projects from five sets of artists, each of whom represents a distinct branch of the folkworld.

At the top of our list, pulling back from the string-fed sounds of his work with The Avett Brothers, we find Seth Avett alongside Jessica Lea Mayfield, just bass and guitar and the hollowness of the songbook. Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith was panned by Pitchfork for its reverence, and a suspicion that these explorations do little to plumb the true depths of the songs, but we disagree – Smith’s songbook is raw enough; to imagine it plainly and gently, letting the songs speak, is an admirable approach in our book, and Avett and Mayfield’s voices mix beautifully, both on the album and in later live covers added to the set in performance, like this exquisite take on Miss Misery.

Second honors go to Plainsong, whose tribute to Richard Farina Reinventing Richard is a true homage to a seminal figure lost too soon, and a great showcase for the work of a three-piece British folk rock band whose founding members came from Fairport Convention and “poetry band” The Liverpool Scene, and still maintain strong strains of the tradition in their arrangements and harmonies. Meanwhile, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry, The Hillbenders full-album cover of The Who’s rock opera, is actually much better than it should have been; though this one could have easily yawed into the realm of self-parody or, worse, the mellow sameness of pseudo-anonymous “Pickin’ On” series, we are treated to a fun-loving session from a well-tempered band that clearly loves to hoot and holler.

Asleep At The Wheel’s playful, guest-heavy celebration of the music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys plays it straight as a true-blue Texas swing album, with uptempo hillbilly arrangements that bring the talents of Carrie Rodriguez, The Avett Brothers, Lyle Lovett, Amos Lee, Willie Nelson and more into a full-bore ensemble setting; it’s hard to hide the distinctive voices of Lee, Lovett, and Nelson, but who would want to? And the country and western blues Girls Guns and Glory and friends bring to the songs of Hank Williams is simply divine.


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Various Artists, The Joy Of Living: a Tribute to Ewan MacColl

+ Various Artists, Cold And Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins
+ Various Artists, The Brighter Side: a 25th Anniversary Tribute to Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression
+ Various Artists, Physical Graffiti Redrawn

It was a strong year for tribute albums, too, with a smashing if genre-busting Mojo Magazine tribute to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and no more than three Beatles tributes topping the mass market list. Our deeper dig reveals our own favorites, underdogs which shine next to these good but ultimately uneven releases (though we can’t help but give a nod to Hiss Golden Messenger’s Led Zeppelin cover, and in doing so, celebrate with an honorable mention a mixed Mojo freebie better than most, with cuts by Sun Kil Moon, Michael Kiwanuka, Laura Marling and others on the good-stuff radar).

As for our favorite? Two-disc tribute albums are often a risk; too broad, too long, and too heavy with deep cuts. But Ewan MacColl tribute The Joy Of Living, which mixes UK folk contemporaries Norma Waterson, Dick Gaughan, Kathryn Williams, Karine Polwart, Martin Simpson, Eliza Carthy, and others with a host of more distant musical cousins, from Bombay Bicycle Club to Steve Earle, who can claim a lineage influenced by the inimitable MacColl, is a glorious exception: it works, in spades, thanks to a seemingly endless songbook, and tender, authentic treatment given with love.

Our second place tie goes to two albums that celebrate the roots and margins of folk simultaneously. Cold and Bitter Tears, a suitably swampy, bluesy, bar-room two-step of a tribute to the legendary Venice Beach street performer Ted Hawkins, is chock full of deep-south covers from Mary Gauthier, Gurf Morlix, James McMurtry, Danny Barnes, Kasey Chambers and more. And well-tuned cover curation-house Reimagine Music’s 2015 offering, an alt-country and indie rock reinvention of seminal 1990 Uncle Tupelo debut album No Depression, is breathtaking: taking on such a genre-defining album is daring, but this set comes in swinging and doesn’t stop, proving the viability and variance of the alt-country set on today’s musical map, from the cloudlike shimmer of Mikaela Davis’ harp and voice to the mellow chill of Wooden Sky to more rugged, amped-up alt-Americana from Crow Moses, The Last Bison, and other bands you should know.



The Year’s Best Tribute EP
+ Wharfer, Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders

+ Glen Hansard, It Was Triumph We Once Proposed…Songs of Jason Molina
+ Various Artists, Unsung: Songs: Ohia Covers Compilation

For a while this year, two EP-length tributes to the works of Songs:Ohia founder Jason Molina this year – one from Glen Hansard, the other a live tribute radio show hosted by Philly wheelhouse Folkadelphia – looked like they were competing for top honors in the Tribute EP category, which often attracts the indie set. And both are worth the listen, in the end: Hansard’s awkwardly titled It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina thanks to a slow, respectful softness; Folkadelphia’s Unsung if you like grungy, metal-tinged rock, though a few exceptionally strong, haunting cuts, like the Laura Baird cover below, save the day.

But we’re not above championing the unknown. And in this case, it’s an easy decision handing the crown to Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders, a dark horse slowcoustic freebie released via Soundcloud by Wharfer, aka Brooklynite by way of Scranton Kyle Wall. Hissy, creaky, and yet perfect in its deconstruction of the Flatlanders songbook, it’s a diamond in the darkness, evoking the hours before sunrise from prairie to fire escape with tuneless whistles, a tender croak of a broken voice, and an urgent hand on a gentle guitar.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Sam Lee and Friends, The Fade In Time

+ Spuyten Duyvil, The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1
+ Anna & Elizabeth, Anna & Elizabeth
+ Gigspanner, Layers of Ages
+ Forest Mountain Hymnal, Dear Balladeer
+ Lindsay Straw, My Mind From Love Being Free

Some serious competition this year, in a category often dominated by the sparse and Appalachian – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But our top pick, Mercury Prize nominee Sam Lee and Friends’ The Fade In Time, isn’t an album so much as it is a complete experience, a journey through the gypsy traditions of rural England filtered through exotic folk strands as far-flung as Japan and Tajikistan. Singer and song-collector Lee is a master arranger, and the collage effect is potent; ultimately, the album both honors the more traditional ethnomusical exploration that informed his 2002 debut Ground Of Its Own, and plies it, gathering from the world as it travels through.

Close seconds go to Brooklyn roots revivalists Spuyten Duyvil, whose cheerful faces and rugged, ragged high energy sets are well known to denizens of the Falcon Ridge Folk crowd, and who bring the blues and then some on The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1; they’re followed closely by a tearingly sparse, gorgeous Appalachian self-titled sophomore outing from historians and song-finders Anna & Elizabeth. And runners-up honors keep our list going long, with Forest Mountain Hymnal’s ongoing project Dear Balladeer, which, although still unfinished, has delivered a deep and rejuvenating delve into the collected ballads of John Jacob Niles, a gentle debut from honey-voiced Boston-based bouzouki and guitar picker Lindsay Straw, and British psychedelic folk rocker Peter Knight and his band Gigspanner, whose album Layer Of Ages – heavy, earthy, haunting and hollow with drones and drum – isn’t beautiful, and isn’t meant to be. A rich field for the traditional set, indeed.



The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Tribute Album
+ Ryan Adams, 1989

+ Moa Holmsten, Bruised Arms And Broken Rhythm: Songs by Bruce Springsteen
+ John Vanderslice, Vanderslice Plays Diamond Dogs
+ Bill Wells & Friends, Nursery Rhymes

Ryan Adams is a no-brainer here; his track-by-track tear-down of Taylor Swift album 1989 is an accomplishment realized, with NPR feature status and over ten million hits on YouTube alone. More surprising is our second favorite: as Paste noted earlier this month in their own 10 Best Cover Songs of 2015, Moa Holmsten isn’t even a fan of Bruce Springsteen, making her fifth album, which covers his canon, an unusual choice. But the conceit works wonders: although the resulting dark, glitchy, beautiful pop album from this Swedish wunderkind has little connection to folk in its tracklist, this single sample is perfect for the contemporary folk set, with high production, shuffling drums and horns, and a mellow harmony vocal that aches with longing.

We can’t help but celebrate a last-minute contender in the form of late December release John Vanderslice Plays David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, new from cover label Reimagine Music. The album resets David Bowie’s 1974 concept album in a variety of genres and settings, from quiet to disquieting; the result is no mere diversion: psychedelic folk, alternative pop, and country rock merge in an album that totally reinvents Bowie’s original, renaming, rewriting, and reworking the arrangements to create something new and precious. (Hint: Juvenile Success is really Rebel Rebel in disguise.)

Finally, though our kidfolk category disappears this year due to a dearth of material, our mixed-genre plate is the perfect setting to mention Bill Wells & Friends’ Nursery Rhymes, which features settings of well-worn classroom and playground classics. Wells isn’t folk, and a cast of familiar experimentalists from multiple genres, from Syd Straw to Yo La Tengo, doesn’t make it so; it’s more like a slippery, sparse contemporary jazz, tightly arranged: a bit complex for kids, but a wonderful digression of an evening with friends.



The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album
+ Eef Barzelay, EP 1 (I Don’t Even Want To Know)

+ Barnstar!, Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!

Eef Barzelay just doesn’t quit. His fourth fan-chosen covers album was already a favorite; the December release of EP 1 (I don’t even want to know), with five more covers and two originals a coda to a great year, pushes him easily over the edge. Like all of Eef’s work, the songs here are raw and coarse and devotional; their tunelessness and discordance shudder in the ear, each one a live and nakedly intimately experience wired directly into the psyche; you’ve never heard a more exhausted, tender King of Carrot Flowers; when that troubled, primitive voice resolves into purity as the chorus kicks in on Don’t Dream It’s Over, the heart lifts, and the world is sunny again. Listening to one is a journey; listening to the whole EP at once risks adrenalin exhaustion, a long walk on the edge of music’s uncanny valley.

Meanwhile, Boston-based roots-and-bluegrass supergroup Barnstar! continues their trend towards half-covers albums, with perfectly summery, grassy romps on songs by Josh Ritter, The Hold Steady, Patty Griffin, Cat Stevens, and The Faces alongside sweet originals by band members Mark Erelli, Jake and Taylor Amerding, banjoist Charlie Rose, and bassist Zachariah Hickman. Just another more cover or two, and new albums from perennial cover artists Pharis and Jason Romero and Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem would have been mentioned here, too; keep an eye open for their work in our upcoming Best Singles mix.



The Year’s Best Covers TV Soundtrack
+ Various Artists, Grey’s Anatomy, Season 12

Our final category this year is a bit specious, I suppose; it’s increasingly rare for TV soundtracks to be released as full albums. But twenty-something television is a constant source for wonderful coverage, leading to constant moments where I turn a corner into a cover, and have to watch the credits to find out which artist I just heard. And through shows such as Scrubs, The OC, Parenthood, One Tree Hill, and more, the medium has served us well, as a potent showcase for indie artists looking for ways to get their songs heard.

And so, as in past years, the shiftings of the marketplace of ideas brings forth a new category for our consideration: the soundtrack collection. And no program has been so persistently great with delightful indiefolk coverage this year as Grey’s Anatomy, which my kids have begin watching religiously after their own struggles with illness lent them a new curiosity about the inner workings of hospitals. From the relentless, insistent pace of Freedom Fry’s Oops I Did It Again to the sterile, echoing piano of Scars on 45 and Sleeping At Last, it’s an indiefolk paradise of mood and meaning.





Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

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 go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.

Comment » | Best of 2015, Clem Snide, Iron & Wine, Rhiannon Giddens, Ryan Adams, Sam Lee, Sean Rowe, Spuyten Duyvil, The Avett Brothers, Tributes and Cover Compilations

This Christmas, Vol. 3: More New Holiday Coverfolk
from Hymns and Carols to Secular Wintersongs and Seasonals

December 21st, 2015 — 9:07pm


xmasvill


As we’ve noted in years past, Christmas carols comprise a complete and varied taxonomy. But the number of genera within the broader category is relatively finite, with several discrete types common to the form, from the hymns and traditional folk songs of a myriad of cultures to hopeful Santa, tree and present narratives.

All families have their outliers, their platypus and spiny echidna: in this case, the most modern slice of the canon, in which pop and folk artists explicitly use the setting of the Christmas season to tackle the common seasonal themes of family, hearth, peace, joy, redemption and goodwill, but make no claim to the holiday itself. The narrator of Joni Mitchell’s River, for example, could easily be someone who does not celebrate Christmas herself; indeed, it is the emotional distance between that narrator and the celebration of others which provides the song’s core conceit, and its success.

And then there are the Holiday songs that aren’t actually about the holidays at all. For there, on virtually every radio playlist, we find another genotype altogether: the accidental seasonal, in which snowy environments and December settings provide a number of common elements and themes – from the coldness of the weather to the pensive and hopeful emotions of the turn of the year itself – without any explicit mention of Christmas or its trappings.

Combine them all, and you’ve got our final mix of the 2015 Christmas season, featuring a diverse set of new music from joyful to pensive, with folkpunk, bluegrass instrumentals, sensitive singer-songwriter fare, and more delights sure to warm your heart and hearth. Enjoy, and may the spirits of joy, light, generosity, and community live forever in you throughout the year.


  • Unwaxed Rainment: The First Noel (trad.)

    Teenage sibling bluegrass duo from deep South Florida play a hopping bluegrass instrumental on their first recorded appearance as Unwaxed Rainment, released alongside a slick and slippery take on O Little Town Of Bethlehem on Emmanuel, just released via Bandcamp. Joel and Bethany also play, record, and minister through music with their parents as The Xiques Family, who have been performing since 2004, and released their own album of praise and promise this year.



  • Big Little Lions: Deck The Halls (trad.)

    Fans of indie folkpop bands like The Weepies and Mumford and Sons will love the catchy high-concept bells-and-handclap sensibility of the reinventions and originals on Together At Christmas, a five-track EP from Big Little Lions, a songwriting duo project that have picked up accolades from the 2015 Ensemble of the Year award from last year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards to Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition.


  • Fable Cry: Kidnap The Sandy Claws (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)

    Psychedelic gypsy punk band and “theatrical scamp rock quintet” Fable Cry takes on a tune from famed Tim Burton vehicle The Nightmare Before Christmas, upping the energy of the original past the limits of sanity while still managing to fit within the ever-broad boundaries of folk.


  • Anna Rose ft. Wes Hutchinson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas (orig. Bing Crosby)

    From sultry blues and jazz to true blue electropop, charity compilation Fieldhouse Presents: A Holiday Benefit 2015 runs helter-skelter across the genre map, coming together like a beautiful holiday mixtape. Most songs are originals, but this pretty album-closing duet is worth sticking with; folkfans looking for more mellow stuff will also enjoy soft samba Snow from Bird of Paradise and Wakey Wakey’s new fireside duet ballad Christmas With You.


  • Wild Child: Silent Night (trad.)

    We generally eschew links to Amazon here, preferring to support artists with more cents on the dollar through direct links to artist-preferred commercial sources. But Indie for the Holidays is an exclusive Prime Music playlist featuring 27 new songs from some pretty well-known indie pop, roots, and alternative artists, including Bhi Bhiman, Lisa Loeb, and Langhorne Slim; for them, and for this, we’ll make an exception.



  • Jaymay: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (orig. Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams)

    NYC-based singer-songwriter Jaymay Sings Christmas, alright; some of these settings in this still-growing advent calendar are a bit pitch-perfectly orchestral for that shimmery sweet voice with more than a hint of Fiona Apple in its warble. Others, though, are just right. And by dropping the male lyric entirely, this amazing music-box cover of Baby It’s Cold Outside evokes something totally new: a confident, lovely girl by the door into winter, spinning and singing to herself as she puts on her coat, hat, and scarf.



    The Once: Gabriel’s Message (trad.)

    Newfoundland collective The Once plays a swaying gypsy jazz waltz complete with horns on this track we seem to have missed way back in 2012. Other warm horn, bass, drum, and mandolin tracks in 3/4 time on This Is A Christmas Album include a nearly funerial I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.


    Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony: Joy To The World (trad.)

    We’ve been keeping you in the loop about Hark, the new album from our favorite Somerville-based collective, since last Christmas, when we noted their EP pre-release in our Albums of The Year feature. Now the album has landed after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and we’re thrilled to report it’s everything we hoped: quirky and playful, beautiful and bold, with strings and joyful voices raised in harmony.


  • Marika Hackman: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)
  • FLYTE: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)

    Finally, as promised in our Year’s Best Videos features, one more track from The Crypt Sessions, because – like a fireplace in winter – we just can’t resist a warmly-lit, brightly-voiced Christmas video. Plus an amazing new cover from FLYTE, which, like the Joni Mitchell cover, was recorded for It’s Coming On Christmas, the Daisy Digital artist compilation we mentioned in Vol. 2 of our 2015 Christmas Coverfolk series.





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 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 donors will receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2015)
Part 2: Best Cover Sessions, Sets, and Series

December 19th, 2015 — 10:24pm


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Today, in the second installment of our new Best Videos of the Year series, we turn to our favorite audiovisual cover collections, sets, and series, with over 20 genre-bending reinventions in three broad categories from our favorite living rooms, home studios, and production houses: a set that brings the intimacy of the live take into focus, far beyond the field recording and the bootleg documentation, framing both song and coverage as portable, personal, and eminently folk.

So feast your eyes and ears on video covers of Bon Jovi, Jason Isbell, Bobbie Gentry, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, and more, from tradfolk to b-sides to the pop hits of yesteryear. Click back to watch and marvel at The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Singles, featuring our favorite single-shot video covers of the year. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for our annual look back at The Year’s Best Cover and Tribute Albums, and our always-unranked collection of The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles. Remember, as always, to click through to pursue and support favorites where you find ‘em, the better to ensure the continued creation of music into the new year and beyond. And may your days, as you find them, be blessed with song: familiar, exquisite, and yours.






Best Video Series
+ Juliana, Thank You
+ Billy The Kid, 31 Cover Videos in 31 Days (tie)


The artist-driven cover series is an exercise as much as it is a packaging tool for fans, one that offers a focused path towards distribution and craft – much in the same way, I imagine, that the sonnet series that I wrote in March of my senior year in high school allowed me to think in iambic pentameter on demand. Artists who have done this several times often experience a huge jump in quality of performance from the beginning of one series to the end of the next; it seems the practice, over time, of producing the equivalent of an album via video proffers the same opportunity to delve deep.

There’s more polish than ever before, out there; the tubes are filled, after all, with young folks who have honed their craft, and we’ll see precision enough in our Best Ongoing Video Coverage category below. But we’ve been in a pensive mood as we regain our footing in the folkworld, and looking back to the raw and unrefined has been our wont as we collect our thoughts as the year comes to a close. The result, this this category, at least: a split bill tie, with living room coverage crisp and clear from YouTubers Juliana and Billy The Kid, plus an honorable mention to a series that has just begun.


Thank You, Juliana’s YouTube cover series, was prompted by a summer Kickstarter campaign; donors at a particular level chose songs, and Juliana covered ‘em. The result is a fan-driven set of ballads and soft transformations that ranges wide, from Lori Lieberman, Bonnie Raitt and Jim Croce to Stone Ponies, Daft Punk, and the most crushingly simple, smashingly beautiful Bon Jovi cover ever; that her donors have such a good instinct towards matching that versatile, sweet and intimate voice with just the right songs suggests a growing fan base that falls fully in love, as we did. Bonus tracks from outside of the series just lend credence to the impression of mature talent in this young singer-songwriter formerly known as Juliana Richer Daily: a two year old Lorde cover with overdubbed harmony every bit as gorgeous as her current work, a sweet duet on Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather, an essential Starry Starry Night, and an achingly delicate new Adele cover, promise more to come, and we’re thrilled.

    Juliana: Killing Me Softly (orig. Lori Lieberman)


    Juliana: Blood Money (orig. Bon Jovi)


    Juliana: Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands (orig. Bob Dylan)


    Juliana: When We Were Young (orig. Adele)




Heavily tattooed Vancouver-based indie-grrl Billy The Kid, who recently released an album with anti-folk artist Frank Turner, holes up each January for a daily series of raw, unadorned solo recordings that dig deep into the soul; favorites from this year’s 31 Covers In 31 Days playlist include a devastating cover of Jason Isbell’s Elephant, subtly and suitably wistful takes on songs by Taylor Swift and Kathleen Edwards, a restrained, echoey version of Gin Blossoms hit Found Out About You, and a hushed Ryan Adams cover to die for. Bonus points: last year, she covered 31 Ryan Adams songs in 31 days.

    Billy The Kid: Elephant (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Billy The Kid: Found Out About You (orig. Gin Blossoms)


    Billy The Kid: Wrecking Ball (orig. Ryan Adams)


    Billy The Kid: Malibu (orig. Hole)




If all we can offer The End of America in our Best Video Cover Series of 2015 is an honorable mention, it’s only because The Decade Sessions is a monthly series as yet unfinished. Just three songs in, though, and it’s already clear that the three-piece act is about to cross into the New Year strong and steady, with high-energy folk harmonies and a knack for raucous transformation that transcends the mere audio.


    The End Of America: Act Appalled (orig. Circa Survive)




Call it a lifetime achievement award: year’s past honorees which would fit in this category still work hard to bring us the best in coverage; we’re especially enamored of this year’s advent calendar from ortoPilot, whose annual December cover series topped the Best Video category in 2011. Watch the series for more goodies as it continues towards Christmas.


    ortoPilot: Trouble (Ray Lamontaigne)


    ortoPilot: No Diggity (orig. Blackstreet)






Best Ongoing Video Coverage
+ Daniela Andrade

Not all YouTube cover artists release their work as part of a discrete set; much more commonly, young musicians come back to coverage throughout the year, either as a primary vehicle of fan-base building or merely as an offshoot of a determined trajectory towards the world of The Voice. Much of the work in this category is more acoustic pop or rock than folk – a bit too precious, and a bit too twee – and although high-production YouTube artists like Boyce Avenue, Future Sunsets, Tyler Ward, Madilyn Bailey and others may still find their occasional way into our themed sets, with or without drums and bass, it’s hard to argue that these popular voices are performing in the folk tradition.

But when it comes to true-blue contemporary folkpop coverage in instrumentation and voice, no one does it better than Daniela Andrade, a regular here on Cover Lay Down; her YouTube work has appeared in several thematic features over the past few years, and topped our lone video category in our 2013 Albums of the Year collection. The Canadian singer-songwriter has diversified her approach this year, partnering with beatboxer KRNFX and popstar Shakira, and creating layered versions of herself; this, a growing maturity in production, a refined aptitude in a broad array of instruments, and stellar takes from fragile to forceful on songs from Gorillaz, Regina Spector, and more place her easily atop our list of favorites for ongoing coverage in 2015.


    Daniela Andrade: Back Home (orig. Caribou)


    Daniela Andrade: Us (orig. Regina Spector)


    Daniela Andrade: Feel Good Inc. (orig. Gorillaz)




Second place in our ongoing coverage category goes to Leeds-based song interpreter and singer-songwriter Jemma Johnson, an emerging artist who we recently featured in our Holiday Coverfolk series. Unlike Andrade, Johnson has only been posting covers on the web for a couple of years, and she’s released just six original songs, four of them via Enough, an EP which hit Bandcamp this summer. But both these dear originals and this year’s cover delights – including takes on Elvis, Radiohead, Sia, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Oasis, Sam Smith, and other well-covered pop artists beloved in the YouTube community – warrant further listening and subscribing.


    Jemma Johnson: Can’t Help Falling In Love (orig. Elvis Presley)


    Jemma Johnson: Your Song (orig. Elton John)


    Jemma Johnson: No Surprises (orig Radiohead)


    Jemma Johnson: Wonderwall (orig. Oasis)






Best Studio Video Coverage
+ Beehive Productions

The production house cover series premise is simple: gather artists for a song or three around a couple of microphones when they come through town, and include a cover in the mix. The result, taken as a single stream, serves as a crowdsourced version of the nearest modern equivalent to the Allan Lomax project, documenting the songs of the ages as they are found in the wild. And it works: there are dozens of these sources, from The AV Club to the BBC, and more every year – enough to justify an awards category all their own, focused around the curation and production process, and those who practice it.

Many of these sources bulge far past folk in their collective capturing; scouring for softer coverage in The AV Club annals, for example, can be an all-afternoon affair. But in a set this vast, it’s relatively easy to find a few that focus on the world of folk and roots. Our favorite this year: upstate New York production house Beehive Productions, who we first found via a black-and-white video cover of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning shared last month as part of our feature on Mike + Ruthy, and whose precision and ethnographic notation bespeaks the crystal clarity of sessions with Charlie Parr, The Murphy Beds, The Bombadils, Anna and Elizabeth, Catlin Canty, Old Man Luedeke, The Steel Wheels and more.


    Charlie Parr: Delia (orig. Blind Willie McTell)


    Cricket Blue: Ode to Billy Joe (orig. Bobbie Gentry)


    Murphy Beds: Blackwater Slide (trad.)




Honorable Mention in this category goes to three favorite hosts and houses: Onder Invloed, Root Down In The Shadow’s Cover Club, and The Crypt Sessions. We’ve already featured The Crypt Sessions in our Best Video Singles category earlier this week; the North London studio that specializes in intimate, precisely captured lo-fi performances will show up again in our final 2015 Christmas-themed feature, suffice it to say, we’re big fans.

Onder Invloed, aka Under The Influence, is an ongoing covers project by Dutch journalist Matthijs van der Ven, who hosts artists in various joints and settings around his home in the Netherlands, and records them playing covers. The settings aren’t always perfect, acoustically speaking, but the diverse match between artist and performance space often produces beauty – as in these very divergent samples from the broken voiced Small Houses and folk harmony trio The Staves, whose live 2015 cover of I’m On Fire with Justin Vernon for The Take is a genuine contender for live cover of the year.


    Small Houses: I’m Always In Love (orig. Wilco)


    The Staves: Chicago (orig. Sufjan Stevens)




Philly-based Root Down In The Shadow goes for diverse settings, too; Small Houses plays a great cover in a stream. The focus is on the local, but it’s a rich scene, and broadly defined, with a stunner from Hezekiah Jones that almost made our Best Singles mix, and a mellow front porch Strand Of Oaks cover from Max Garcia Conover.


    Hezekiah Jones: Sailors (orig. Johnny Miles)


    Max García Conover: Leave Ruin (orig. Strand of Oaks)






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 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 donors will receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.

Comment » | Best of 2015, YouTube

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2015)
Part 1: Best Single-shot Living Room Covers & Live Cuts

December 14th, 2015 — 9:38pm





Last year we acknowledged our favorite video-sourced covers of the year as an afterthought, dropping ten of our favorites into our Facebook feed as New Year’s approached. This year, we’re bring it all home. For if the mp3 or streaming audio track represents a particular type of approach to folk, and the live performance another – in that both mediate between song, artist, fan in a fundamentally different way – so is it equally true that the video offers a third approach to the continuation of the folkways, well worth the singular focus we can provide here on Cover Lay Down.

There’s a distinction to be made here between the increasingly common studio recording video and the living room coversong, of course. The former, simply, offers a peek into the recording process; as such, some of the songs which we first featured here on the blog in video form, such as Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and Aoife O’Donovan’s amazing live version of John Hiatt’s Crossing Muddy Water, will still find their way to our Best of 2015 singles mix, instead of here, as a consequence of their intent.

(Also worth noting: we’re unapologetic strippers here at Cover Lay Down, which is to say that many of the singles we have posted in the past have a videographic origin, crunched down to mp3 for easier distribution on the blog. There are times when this makes sense, structurally; it would be jarring, for example, to have muddled the textual purpose of our recent Paris mix by crossing between studio tracks and videos, a distraction to be looking back and forth between subject and interpretation.)

But context matters more when we celebrate the performance of song for itself. Songs intended to be seen and heard the first time are designed and developed as multisensory experiences. In these cases, even as pulling a video from the eyes allows us to focus on its sonic interpretation, it does so by flattening the artist’s intent, a result that challenges and changes the relationship between listener and the music-maker.

And so, in our ongoing attempt to live our vision by serving and supporting artist and fans as directly and honestly as possible, this week we present our Best Video Coverfolk of the year: a two-parter, with an unranked set of our favorite 2015 video singles first, and our favorite ongoing, new, and studio-hosted 2015 YouTube series following. Enjoy – and remember to stay tuned in the weeks ahead for our Best Albums and Best Singles of 2015!



The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos, Part 1: The Singles



Taylor Ashton: Never For Nothing (orig. Stray Birds)

Recorded live in the underground, with what appears to be a busking sax player; the echo is perfect for this cover from Taylor Ashton, lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for BC fusion-folk band Fish & Bird, who also appears in the video for the original song.


Eaves: Girl From The North Country (orig. Bob Dylan)

Two covers from The Crypt Sessions with 23 year old British grungefolk newcomer Eaves offer a perfect case study in how video can help and hurt a song: here, the tortured artist in pale sepia wrings the soul, while the more formal setting of his duet cover of Mountain Man’s Animal Tracks makes it ideal for our forthcoming Best of 2015 singles mix. See also Eaves and Nick Mulvey covering Gillian Welch in a crowd – it’s priceless.


Ryan Hobler: Harvest Moon (orig. Neil Young)

Layered, transcendent, and yet oh so spare. If Neil Young was a high, wavery, dulcet-toned falsetto tenor who played guitar delicately and gently, he’d be Ryan Hobler, a 2014 NewSong finalist whose well-written popfolk debut album The Elusive Yes was released to great fanfare this Spring.



Dana Williams: Wave Of Mutilation (orig. Pixies)

Powerful-yet-sweet pipes often compared to Ella Fitzgerald, a slippery voice in full control of her sound, a simple, gently percussive style on the guitar, and a rooftop setting complete with the shush of traffic typify the early work of Dana Williams; other covers, from Meghan Trainor’s Close Your Eyes to an appropriately lo-fi Chris Bell classic You & Your Sister, show sweetness and light in equal measure.



Kathryn Joseph: Street Spirit (orig. Radiohead)

Chilling and broken cover transforms a tense, ticking original into a taut, tragic ballad. Another “stark, cinematic journey” from experimental UK singer-songwriter Kathryn Joseph, whose debut bones you have thrown me and blood I’ve spilled emerged in January after a successful Kickstarter campaign.



Charles Gosme: House of the Rising Sun (trad.)

Classically-trained multi-instrumental pan-European musician and lyricist Charles Gosme reaches back past Alan Lomax and The Animals and into the primordial soup for this gritty, atmospheric cello and voice cover.



Alice Boman: Reason To Believe (orig. Tim Hardin)

Piano and voice echo like Winter inside this empty Switzerland hall on a well-covered classic turned skeletal and thin. From Swedish songstress Alice Boman, whose precise accent is practically a third instrument; the fourth, a shuffling in the hall somewhere behind the camera, lends its own layer of presence magnificently.



Megan Davies ft. Jaclyn : See You Again / Love Me Like You Do / Sugar
(orig. Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth / Ellie Goulding / Maroon 5)

YouTube star Megan Davies, sister Jaclyn Davies, and friend Tasha combine for a supernova of an acoustic mashup already liked over twenty million times by YouTube popwatchers, but likely still a novelty for our folky crowd. Also recommended for true-blue acoustic pop fans: an Eminem/Avicci cover with Megan and “Jac” from 2014, and a recent duet with Luke Preston on Drake’s Hotline Bling.



Hidden Roots Collective: Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover)

A literally off-the-floor cover of a Fleetwood Mac favorite from The Hidden Roots Collective, four Canadian indie singer-songwriters (Annie Sumi, Rose-Erin Stokes, Brigitte Lebel, Holly Cunningham) who have plans to record an album together next spring, thank goodness.



John Moreland: Thunder Road (orig. Bruce Springsteen)

Oklahoma-based John Moreland went big this year, and for good reason: the soulful singer-songwriter – who cites Steve Earle as his inspiration to switch from hardcore to folk – embodies the raw acoustic side of modern roots music, has opened for Jason Isbell, Dawes, and Patty Griffin, writes a hook like nobody’s business, and does Springsteen right.



Dawes & a random fan: Lay Lady Lay (orig. Bob Dylan)

…and this is why live YouTube coverage exists: Dawes holds a lip-sync contest in Paris, and come to the home of this random French fan to sing a cover with her when she wins. And she can sing!

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 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 donors will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of favorite 2014 and 2015 covers otherwise unblogged.

Comment » | Best of 2015, YouTube

Celebrate ALL The Christmas!
Coverfolk Mixes from Christmas Past (2008-2015)

December 11th, 2015 — 6:29am


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We’ve still got a few more coverfolk seasonals on the backburner this year, thanks to the constant flow of new releases from Bandcamp, YouTube, and Soundcloud, and the occasional mailbag delight. And we’re also still spinning through a few 2014 releases, since our hearts were too heavy with grief to celebrate in true coverfolk spirit last year; the only Christmas Coverfolk we touted was a pair of holiday albums at the tail end of our Best of 2014 feature, and though both bear repeated listening – Jean Rohe and Liam Robinson’s haunting and beautiful EP The Longest Winter and Hark: Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony, a strings-and-voice project from some of our favorite Boston-based folk artists which has finally come to full fruition this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and is/was eminently worth the wait – the pair are far from a comprehensive look back.

Close readers may have also noticed a few tail-end 2014 and 2013 releases in our two recent posts to add to the pile, too, including multiple-album indiefolk holiday fare from Your Yellow Dress and Boom Forest – in both cases, merely the most recent in a growing series of annual releases, all of which are precious and worth pursuit.

But even without formal features from last Christmas in the pile, that still leaves us with seven years and 25 mixes worth of holiday and winter fare from Christmases past in our archives – and taken together, they comprise a set of holiday covers larger than our local radio station’s classics playlist. Enjoy the collection as the holiday approaches, and may the snows come soon enough to warm our hearts.



2008



2009



2010



2011



2012



2013



2015



Proudly ad-free and artist-centric since 2007, Cover Lay Down has been sharing artist features, ethnographic musings, and coverfolk collections regularly here and on our Facebook page. Donate now to help support our continuing mission, and stay tuned for more holiday coverfolk as the year winds down, plus our annual Best Of The Year double-feature, featuring covers albums, EPs, deep cuts and singles sure to warm your heart and delight your ears!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

This Christmas, Vol. 2: Alternative Holiday Coverfolk
from Leaf Pile, The Many, Tenterhook, Tides of Winter and more!

December 8th, 2015 — 6:05am


lofixmas


Folk isn’t always pretty, and neither is Christmas. But there is something both noble and needful in songs that serve to channel the complex emotions that the season brings – and thankfully, the holiday world is full of them, with new albums and singles released every day, a veritable advent calendar of the amateur and the avant-garde, the lo-fi and the low-folk among us.

Where last week’s set of new holiday coverfolk primarily served to soothe the senses, then, today’s new holiday covers come from the fringes of the folkworld, where broken voices and discordant arrangements typify the form – bringing not comfort and joy, but challenging environments and moods somehow soothing in their sheer empathic rawness, proving that sometimes it takes a good deconstruction to help us appreciate the beauty of the season.

  • The Dawn And Dew: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (trad.)
  • S.L.F.M.: I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (pop. Ella Fitzgerald)
  • Loralee Jessen Nicolay: Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella (trad.)

    A smartly representative descent into the industry’s underbelly, Homemade Holidays comes to us via Swoody Records, a label that specializes in the homemade and generally bizarre. Many of the artists featured here cross genre boundaries, and a number of tracks are not covers but brazenly odd original tunes, but our selected set – featuring simple clipped strum patterns, tootling recorder, and primitive vocals from Utah duo The Dawn and Dew, a squeaky, frenetic slack-string from Maine-based uke player S.L.F.M., and a tape hiss transformation from Loralee Jessen Nicolay – makes for a delightfully broken, eminently urgent freakfolk holiday sampler.


  • Leaf Pile: Deck The Halls (trad.)
  • Leaf Pile: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (orig. Judy Garland)
  • Leaf Pile: Feliz Navidad (orig. Jose Feliciano)

    Raw and lo-fi, conceptual album A Leaf Pile Christmas was recorded live in a small cabin in upstate New York over woodstove and wine, and it shows. But there’s something highly endearing and playful about the resulting tunes, with their transformed melodies and arrangements, melodica and harmonica, whistling and bells and electric guitar, and a cacophony of whispery, almost tuneless voices raised in companionable fa la las and feliz navidads. Especially for fans of anti-folk, and not for the faint at heart.


  • Tides Of Winter: Silver Bells (orig. Bing Crosby)
  • Tides Of Winter: Angels We Have Heard On High (trad.)

    On the surface, Faran, this year’s holiday EP from Minneapolis alt-folk four-piece Tides of Winter, is quite listenable, even as it sucks you in. But stuttery, shivery percussion, transformed minor key settings, and haunting instrumental bridges and transitions lend a hollow, grungy sheen to Silver Bells and The First Noel, bringing rare depth and novelty to familiar carols, while the footstomping riot of EP opener Hark, and the slippery slap bass, whistling chorus, and stunning harmonies that transform Angels We Have Heard On High make for a funky, chunky ride through the roots of the new indie folk tradition. Check out their 2013 Christmas EP Bairn, too, which is more fragile, but no less precious, for a comprehensive new outlook on Christmas.


  • Your Yellow Dress: Rise Up Shepherd and Follow (trad.)

    Snow Songs: A Sounds and Tones Holiday Compilation is a mixed-artist compilation from Massachusetts-based grassroots record house Sounds and Tones Records; the label goes far beyond folk, and only one track is available to stream so far, making it a bit early to celebrate the entirety of this release. But it certainly fits our bill: this emofolk take on old standard Rise Up Shepard from California DIY alt-folk band Your Yellow Dress – a band who has released a huge and wonderful set of folky Christmas albums over the past few years – is decidedly indie, all bells and banjo alongside drums and bass and horn, with strained vocal lead, monophonic chorus, and a slow, syrupy pace that doesn’t so much travel as it does wallow in the season until it drowns in a cacophony of repeated phrases. Bonus points: the album, which can be downloaded for as little as a buck, is a charity release, with all profits going to Erika’s Lighthouse, a non-profit that supports youth with depression and mental illness.


  • Tenterhook: Oh Holy Night (trad.)

    A strained and aching cover of the traditional hymn recorded live and hot off the presses from indiefolk studio-and-more The Crypt Sessions, which will put forth its own indie-and-folk Christmas sampler in partnership with UK festival coordinator and promotional house Daisy Digital this Friday; last year’s release from the partnership was darling, with beautiful tracks from the likes of Billie Marten, Rachel Sermanni, and Marika Hackman, and high praise from the hippest blogs, so you’ll excuse us if our excitement is already peaked.


  • Eli Ettien: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (orig. Brenda Lee)

    Loose, bluesy acoustic rock with a hint of twang and an undercurrent of moaning, echoing reverb from hobo traveler Eli Ettien of Montreal creates a unique effect on this holiday single, not unlike a mid-nineties unplugged session from an eighties band with an experimental jazz master at the soundboard having far too much fun multi-tracking in the studio.


  • Noah 23: Christmas In Prison (orig. John Prine)

    A single string drone and male voices an octave apart heavily filtered through auto-tune make for a tense, edgy John Prine cover, like a prisoner on speed with nowhere to go. The track is oddly soothing, once you get used to the synthetic-ness of it all, but don’t try Illuminati Christmas in its entirety unless you’re a true fan of amateur glitch-hop.


  • The Many: Hark The Herald Angels (trad.)
  • The Many: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (trad.)

    Layered vocals on It Came Upon and a fuzzy drone of synthesized bells on Hark The Herald Angels belie simple arrangements of praise with a sweetness of their own. From Advent & Christmas 2015, already chosen as one of the 6 best Christmas albums of 2015 by “Under the Radar,” a weekly syndicated radio program highlighting the top undiscovered Christian artists. The collection is a bit overproduced but nonetheless praiseful and praiseworthy, especially in originals such as Longest Night and on a number of well-organized, harmonious classic hymns, thanks to The Many, the genre-crossing house band for The Plural Guild, a Chicago-based collective of “musicians, writers and other artists creating new music and liturgy for people of faith and doubt who are trying to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and follow the Jesus who so loves the world.”


  • Boom Forest: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)
  • Boom Forest: What Child Is This (trad.)
  • Boom Forest: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)

    Newfound, not new, but Boom Forest’s 2013 album A Very Cookie Christmas Vol. 2 makes for a nice follow-up to our earlier feature, more discordant than anything, mostly recorded in single takes, from memory. Found sound and airy atmospheres sink and soar on tracks like In The Bleak Midwinter, while quirky vocal twitters pulse through What Child Is This; elsewhere, Joni Mitchell’s frozen River cracks with cold, while glitchy, frenetic drum machines shift Winter Wonderland into an anxious world. Check out the first volume from 2012 on Bandcamp, and hope for a third this year.


  • Emily Jane: Winter Song (orig. Sara Barielles)

    Last, but not least, a hearty, torn vocal coupled with primitive guitar makes for a heaviness on what was once a frozen fragility from another better-late-than-never discovery, this one a 2014 YouTube release. Emily Jane is one of those rare finds: other than an amazing 2014 Bonnie Raitt cover on YouTube, and a Facebook page with a smattering of notices of UK gig-driven posts, there’s not much out there about her. But oh, that voice will haunt us this season: if this tantalizing glimpse is an indicator of her future success, we’re happy to push the envelope.


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This Christmas: New Holiday Coverfolk
from Kate Rusby, Stylusboy, Alathea, Aurora, Boom Forest & more!

December 5th, 2015 — 3:59pm





No snow yet here in the wilds of evergreen New England, but Santa’s been through town on a firetruck, so I suppose the holidays are upon us. Whether you’re shopping locally for the ones you love or just cuddled up by the fire, here’s a few holiday finds to get you into the spirit of the season: new Christmas coverage from delicate carols to indie folk rock masterpieces, the perfect antidote to the overplayed chestnuts of the holiday radio dial.

  • Kate Rusby: Bradfield

    Any new work from Kate Rusby is a cause for rejoicing, and this year’s Christmas album The Frost Is All Over – her third, after While Mortals Sleep (2011) and Sweet Bells (2008) – is no exception. A deep dig into the history of regional folk from the British isles means that most of these carols will be new for listeners, especially on this side of the pond, but never fear: Rusby could make the morning paper sound pure and sweet as well water, and the local focus brings an unparalleled intimacy to the songs even as their horn arrangements bring a full, rich sound to the Christmas traditions of South Yorkshire and beyond.
  • Stylusboy: Oh Little Town

    Darling lo-fi indiefolk with a Coventry lilt from the Christmas Light EP, an upbeat five-track whose physical incarnation comes complete with handmade cover adorned with individual trees cut from world maps by UK rising star Stylusboy, aka singer-songwriter Steve Jones. Click through for a wonderful sing-along Jingle Bells, too.
  • Lindsay Straw: The Forlorn Queen/The Christ Child Lullaby

    As if we needed another reason to hew close to the Boston scene, singer-songwriter Lindsay Straw’s new Winter EP is tender and mild, a safe space by the holiday fire simply set with elegance, in which soft string arrangements and a voice as earnest as Kate Wolf or Cindy Kallet with a hint of winter whisper make for a four-song set perfect for the quiet moments of the season.
  • Boom Forest: The Holly & The Ivy

    A stunningly powerful rearrangement of the classic carol from Daytrotter darling Boom Forest, aka Nashville-via-Wisconsin’s John Paul Roney, released in February of 2015 to not a whit of fanfare as part of a darling, ambient 4-song mixed-bag EP of Christmas songs called Coal: A Winter Split from Bread King Records, a Wisconsin-based record label that claims it specializes in cassette tapes and seems to produce mainly edgy folktronica from the margins of genre.
  • Kate Thomas: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

    Her tiny Holiday EP If The Fates Allow was released on the cusp of Christmas 2014, so we’d be excused if we’re a year late in celebrating Denver’s own Kate Thomas, whose bright and hearty voice rings true as Christmas bells. But bringing her into this season is an easy choice: the songs here are name-your-price, and worth more, with a loving take on new Christian seasonal Mary Did You Know and a gently, playfully countrified White Christmas that will lift your spirits.
  • Smoke Fairies: So Much Wine (orig. The Handsome Family)
  • Smoke Fairies: Steal Softly Through Snow (orig. Captain Beefheart)

    British dream pop duo Smoke Fairies take on the season adeptly in 2014 release Wild Winter, which we seem to have missed last year but is getting good press as the 2015 holidays approach. The album is aptly titled, with mostly original tracks, plus today’s two-fer: a droning, dreamy cover of The Handsome Family’s depressing So Much Wine, and a grungy psychedelic take on Captain Beefheart’s Steal Softly Through Snow that comes off like Fairport Convention in a snowstorm.



Cover Lay Down shares ethnographic musings and coverfolk throughout the year thanks to the kindness and support of patrons like you, so please keep us mind as you consider gift-giving this year…and stay tuned for more holiday coverfolk as the year winds down, plus our annual Best Of The Year double-feature, featuring covers albums, EPs, deep cuts and singles sure to warm your heart and delight your ears!

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