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.