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.