New Artists, Old Songs: Rising Stars Reinterpret
Randy Newman, Sia, Soft Cell, Adele, The Magnetic Fields & more!
The virtual mailbag bursts at the digital seams with new submissions, and some of it is quite good, indeed. Today, we return to a perennial conceit to frame the festivities, celebrating new, newfound and still-emerging artists from Dublin to Nashville as they pay homage to their roots, their peers, and the popular. Enjoy – and as always, follow links to purchase and pursue your favorites, the better to patronize the arts, and support the folkways.
LA singer-songwriter Mike Benecke may have gotten his start touring with punk and indie bands, but as press comparisons to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Alexi Murdoch after the release of his 2012 self-titled EP suggest, his solo work strips away the grunge and grime, revealing a beautiful, slow, intimate and rich dreamfolk, with sparse clear-as-a-bell layers of smooth, haunting bass, keys, and pedal steel gently supporting an acoustic core of fingerpicked, resonant strings and an honest hoarseness in the voice that aches like wolves in the near distance. This Randy Newman cover, an outtake from brand new debut LP Call The Waves, is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, and it’s a hell of a teaser: an apt, quiet echo of an early urban morning that carries the song exquisitely.
Indie artists Lucy & La Mer caught our attention with their equally dreamy, pulsing take on Soft Cell classic Tainted Love, the sole cover from sweet folk pop EP Little Spoon, a uke-and-synth-driven collection flush and twee with bells, horns, and fingersnaps and lightly bouncy, wryly honest melody lines and lyrics just aching for a happy indie film montage. The black and white body-positive burlesque-troupe video they’ve just released to promote the song offers a response to recent sexual harassment issues in the music media; like the music itself, it’s decidedly steamy with a satirical bite, simultaneously discomforting and dear.
I keep meaning to get to a Single Song Sunday feature for Magnetic Fields classic The Book Of Love, which we’ve featured in several incarnations here on the blog since our inception in 2007. As a closer for Dubliner Gavin James‘ debut Bitter Pill – an otherwise haunting solo pop album that invites easy comparison to James Blunt and Ed Sheeran, due to drop on Tuesday – the song offers a soaring, echoing muse on the nature of love itself from an artist already filling clubs and halls on both sides of the proverbial pond, and surely on the cusp of something even bigger.
I imagine discovering Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was a bit like this: the gentle rise and fall, the etherial voices, the subtle harmonies, the purity of sound and sadness, the precision of tone, and the tiniest hint of primitive blues drone underneath it all bringing deep solace to the soul. Such is Beyond The Rain, the first major label album from duo Quiles & Cloud, produced by Grammy-winning banjo player and artist Allison Brown on the strength of two fan-funded releases, four years on tour in a VW hatchback, and the most stunning arrangements of the canon I’ve heard yet this year: an album of endless reward that will still leave you yearning for more.
Decidedly young NYC folkpop four-piece Morningsiders hasn’t even finished recording their own debut, but they’re already rising fast on the strength of a single single after it appeared in the pilot for new Amy Poehler Hulu vehicle Difficult People and subsequently rocketed to the top of the Spotify charts. This living room Sia cover that follows it is raw and resonant, a band still facing inward as it defines its sound; it’s also a true blue delight, transforming a pop original into something gentle and comforting, intimately performed with fiddle, stand-up bass, guitar and harmonies around a single microphone.
Morningsiders: Reaper (orig. Sia) 
Mandolin and bass “gutter-folk” duo Driftwood Soldier hasn’t just covered folk standard John Henry, they’ve translated it into the modern age, reframing the song as a commentary on racist corporate greed, and the titular larger-than-life character as a wage slave scion of the modern white-collar world. The chunky, funky sound they adopt here echoes that of last year’s debut Scavenger’s Joy, a wonderfully bouncy, grungy, organic collection chock full of growled vocals, howling slackstrings, and percussive found materials (including coffee cans and suitcases) that evokes both history and reinvention, with hints of early Deadhead experimentation, Leon Russell’s soul, the field recordings of Robert Johnson and Lead Belly, and the sparse, harsh deconstruction of Morphine.
Driftwood Soldier: John Henry (trad.) 
Twenty-something L.A. Edwards comes to us thanks to our recent double-feature on Tom Petty; the young Californian songwriter is a protege of Heartbreaker Ron Blair, and his manager made the connection and sent along this cover. We’re grateful, too: L.A. (aka Luke Andrew) was raised on Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Cat Stevens, but after years on the road with his brother as a duo after dropping out of high school at 15, his most recent output – as heard in this and other tracks from his recent live YouTube series The El Nino Sessions, and in this stunning four-part Soundcloud collection – is encore-ready folk rock with just the right hint of alt-country, rich in high-baritone-and-tenor harmonies and spare in all other ways, like a perfect next-generation combination of Ryan Adams, Simon & Garfunkel, and Petty himself.
L.A. Edwards: If I Needed You (orig. Townes Van Zandt) 
Adele covers are going to be big this year, for sure. But singer-songwriter Ryan Larkins, who placed third on CMT show Can You Duet in 2009, offers something special: a relatively faithful solo cover of a deep cut from her newest album that demonstrates crystal clear vocals and guitar skill and, in doing so, shows just how easily Adele’s heartache translates across gender lines. Pair it with a gorgeously hushed, soulful, slide-and-pick take on old gospel hymnal standard Pass Me Not played on an old 60′s Silvertone flat top guitar, note that this pair of covers represents a single week’s output for the Nashville-based Christian acoustic folk-rocker, and keep an eye out for more from this incredible, incredibly versatile still-rising star.
Ryan Larkins: Million Years Ago (orig. Adele) 
Ryan Larkins: Pass Me Not (orig. Fanny Crosby) 
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