Archive for June 2016


Covered In Folk: Taylor Swift
(15 acoustic covers reveal hidden depths in a pop songbook)

June 22nd, 2016 — 5:39pm


Taylor_Swift


From afar, at 26, Taylor Swift – the youngest woman to make Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, and well on her way to becoming the best selling artist of all time – seems to have grown into a strong yet sensitive woman who is unafraid to be vulnerable, even sophomoric, as her understanding of the world slowly starts to deepen past the innocence of Love Story, You Belong With Me, and dozens more girl-meets-boy chart-toppers.

But a deeper dig suggests that this maturity is innate, not developed. Swift’s ability to tough it out among the big players as she transitioned from the world of country to the world of true-blue pop reveals the same grit and determination that drove her parents to move to the Nashville area to support her career while she was still in middle school, got her a development deal from RCA at the age of 14 – and led her to walk away from that deal later that same year, concerned that the industry would eat her alive before she had a chance to capture her early years authentically, while they were still fresh in her mind.

As Ryan Adams showed in his recent reinvention homage to Swift’s album 1989, Swift’s lyrics go much, much deeper than their pretty face. And unlike other pop icons who started out in the industry before adulthood, including several we’ve featured here in our Covered In Folk series (see, for example, our recent feature on Justin Bieber), the youngest songwriter ever signed by the Sony/ATV Tree publishing house has always written her own songs, trusting the production process to transform them into the crossover countrypop gems that have dominated the airwaves for the last decade or so.

Though Swift has a healthy understanding of the industry she serves, in other words, she is clearly a songwriter first. But she also knows coverage matters. She has recorded few of her own in the studio – a trend that surely stems from both artistic and professional concerns, and tepid reception to both a 2007 Christmas cover of Last Christmas and a 2009 take on Tom Petty’s American Girl that was, at best, merely a retread – but she does songs from all over the genre map in concert, and has good taste in those of others, too; indeed, one of the choice cuts below was featured on her Twitter feed, a high praise she has reserved for less than a score of other interpretations.

Others in our Taylor Swift mix today come from the usual wide assortment of sources: amateur uploads, tribute sessions and albums, b-side and deep cut delights. As is our wont, they span from delicate to disturbing, from joyous to somber, though they certainly trend towards the slow, the soft, and the stripped down cover; taken as a set, they are, indeed, greater than the sum of their parts. So join us as we celebrate through coverage the well-sung songbook of a woman who at 26 has already won 10 Grammy awards, recognition from the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, a fierce independence in an industry more prone to destroy young talent, and the hearts of a nation.



COVERED IN FOLK: TAYLOR SWIFT
[zip!]

  • The Man Who Fell In Buffalo: Blank Space
  • Radiochaser: Blank Space


    Raw and wry like a live Barenaked Ladies-meets-banjo rarity, our first transformative cover comes from Portland, Oregon-based multimedia art, music, and fiction experimentalist The Man Who Fell In Buffalo, who turns upbeat pop into a sinister oldtimey collage, abuzz with fraying edges and the fraying urgency of the stalker’s mind. For contrast, turn to NYC underground artist Radiochaser, first introduced to us via fellow coverblog Cover Me; the layers here are wistful, mooth and airy, with an undercurrent of urgency too deep to touch – apt for an enigmatic Soundcloud cover artist who claims that his work represents an imaginative foray into what the souls of pop songs would sound like if pop songs could die.


  • Lucy & La Mer: Bad Blood


    Slower, quieter, and both more subtle and more haunting than the Tainted Love cover we shared from Lucy & La Mer back in March, this 2015 track only reinforces our appreciation of the LA-based indie/folk/pop goddess’ high, astute sensitivity to songcraft and setting.


  • Savannah Outen: I Knew You Were Trouble


    The streaming services are stuffed full with wannabes who use coverage of Taylor’s radiopop hits to leverage a career. But Savannah Outen‘s cover stands out for vocal purity, a restrained, polished sense of tonal consistency and control, and a masterful, slippery, articulate way with lyrical articulation that makes every word meaningful. Similar prowess, if a little more percussive pop flourish, typifies covers of Everything Has Changed and Out Of The Woods recorded alongside YouTube boypop sensation Jake Coco.


  • Julia Sheer and Tyler Ward: Sparks Fly
  • Strawburry17: Sparks Fly


    A country duo lullaby with light twang, lighter guitars, and a echoing reverb that lingers, or a solo indiepop turn with innocent voice and rich synth overlays slowly drowned in that same echo? We couldn’t decide, so you get both, from ubiquitous YouTube success stories Julia Sheer and Tyler Ward (like Outen, she also does a decent cover of Ed Sheeran/Taylor Swift duet Everything Has Changed) and prolific self-professed nerd and culture vulture Strawburry17, who generally shares themed vlogs, not music, on her YouTube channel. Not bad for a song originally recorded by Swift as a bootkicking rocker.



  • Radiant Life Perspective: Love Story


    No set of Taylor Swift songs would be complete without Love Story, a reframing of the Romeo and Juliet story which I have been know to utilize in the classroom when discussing the text. Here, Trenton, NJ indie rock duo Radiant Life Perspective – a pair whose covers are twee and grungy and delightful, as heard on Gray’s Anatomy and elsewhere – pull back to a hipster acoustic urgency, complete with hollow percussion and dreamy, layered vocals, that reveals a hazy sheen of wistful uncertainty on horizons back and forward.


  • Laura Zocca: Begin Again
  • Laura Zocca: Safe and Sound (orig. Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars)


    First shared here last year in our come-back feature after a few months off the blog, prolific YouTube cover artist and rising star singer-songwriter Laura Zocca‘s stunning turn on Begin Again is the perfect way to feature both song and singer, a lovely turn on a wistful piece. Add her equally sweet-and-potent version of Safe and Sound, which Swift originally recorded with now-defunct duo The Civil Wars, to the mix – and note that it was recorded just 24 hours after the original release of the song.


  • Sumeau: Fearless


    Hollywood’s boy/girl duo Sumeau creates slowcore psychpop like you’ve never heard it before – in this case, a lazy, hazy heroin dream in which Bert Bacharach meets the summer of love. Framed around Fearless, the title track from Swift’s country-to-pop crossover sophomore album, it lends an unreal aura of mist and memory to the first date it depicts, trading innocence and hope for something deeper and more mystical.


  • James Bartholomew: Everything Has Changed (orig. Taylor Swift ft. Ed Sheeran)


    We don’t usually post covers without lyrics here at Cover Lay Down – and by definition, a cowritten duet is an unusual choice for the voiceless version. But we already shared our favorite acoustic pop take on this track way back in 2013. And this delicate delight from fingerstylist James Bartholomew fits in perfectly in the folkstream, reminding us that if John Renbourne’s masterful acoustic instrumentals count as folk, then so do covers that echo them so exquisitely.


  • Nick Mulvey: Never Getting Back Together


    A tense acoustic take from a BBC Radio Lounge session with London-based world-beat-jazzman-turned-singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey, set only with harp-strung latin guitar and longing vocals. Unsettling and unsettled, in Mulvey’s hands a song once overripe with determination and teen angst becomes tiny and dear, a baby bird struggling against the hand that holds.


  • Ryan Adams: How You Get The Girl


    Though we’ve hewed pretty closely to the amateur and underground in today’s set, we’d be remiss if we didn’t close today with something from Ryan Adams’ 1989, which garnered top honors in our Best of 2015 series. Since we shared Blank Space then, we’ll go for his cover of album deep cut How You Get The Girl now – a bit grandiose for folk, with a Springsteen-esque vibe and no small call to Adams’ early work with alt-country band Whiskeytown, but as anthemic chamberpop goes, a true tour de force, mostly overlooked by press and promotion alongside his covers of the more popular tracks from the album.



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Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, August 4-7
(with Peter Mulvey, Heather Maloney, Tom Rush, Patty Larkin & more!)

June 18th, 2016 — 3:31pm





We founded our family on the spirits of close community and adventure: it’s in our wedding contract, and one of the main reasons my wife and I both work in education is to ensure that our calendars include time to wander together. But nothing looms as large in our ongoing pursuit of the live and immersive than our annual excursion to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which this year celebrates its 28th anniversary August 4-7 at Dodd’s Farm in Hillsdale, NY, just over the border from Great Barrington, MA, at the foothills of the Berkshires.

Founded in 1988 to celebrate and sustain the nascent singer-songwriter revival, Falcon Ridge has come to embody the ideals of the modern folkworld, in which fans, artists, concert and radio hosts, and others who live their lives grounded in the diverse ideals and soundscapes of folk come together to celebrate the breadth of the movement, the music, and the community they engender. As ethnomusicologist and regular FRFF attendee Liz Carlisle wrote in her 2006 undergrad thesis on the fest,

As a well developed “state” into which “citizens” opt in, FRFF is not just summer camp for a bunch of delusional, idealistic folk music enthusiasts (folkies)…Indeed, the real-ness of FRFF is at the crux of its symbolic power. The common goal of those who attend is to make the folk music ideal – a vision of shared power and creation, uninhibited personal expression, and general acceptance and love – real through a successful music festival.

Reaching this goal every year can be a challenge, especially in a world where smaller music festivals are falling apart around us – both Clearwater and Gathering of the Vibes have been cancelled for this year, due to a combination of factors that inevitably include financial concerns. But thanks to that efficiency, and a core cohort of volunteers and organizers who work tirelessly year-round to maintain and sustain the place they love, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest continues to offer the best of both the world of intentional community, and the world of folk.


Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 12.41.31 PMThis year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest mainstage and workshop stage performers include the usual mix of well known names from three generations of American folk, representing a broad tent, from solo singer-songwriters like Tom Rush, Patty Larkin, Vance Gilbert, Matt Nakoa, Heather Maloney, Eric Schwartz and Peter Mulvey to folk rock, world music, psychedelic, country rock, Americana, and other genre-busting bands and folk supergroups like The Felice Brothers, The Gaslight Tinkers, Brother Sun, Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes, and The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Well-populated contra dance and children’s stages run throughout the festival, too, and up-and-coming performers play regularly alongside colorful tye-dye, jewelry, henna tattoo parlors, and African drumset sellers in the vendor area, and stalls selling everything from Caribbean goat stew to ice cream, sweet and savory crepes.

Camping at Falcon Ridge isn’t mandatory; only about a third of the attendees each year choose to stay overnight in the fields, and my parents – neither of whom camp – have always found themselves both fully welcome and fully sated by their own experience. But if you can do it, living on site is highly recommended. The sense of community on the farm is palpable and sweet; I have yet to meet a camper who did not discover their own site “family” in their first few hours on the farm, and wandering camp-to-camp brings an evening’s delight, full of laughter and food-sharing. Those who play and sing are always welcome to join in. And, as a bonus for nightowls, the music at Falcon Ridge continues into the wee hours in the campgrounds, where a half-dozen regular formal songcircles and stages like The Budgiedome and Pirate Camp bring together mainstage performers and up-and-coming name-brand performers from the coffeehouse circuit.

Although officially Falcon Ridge doesn’t start until Friday, August 5, Thursday offers its own special pre-fest charm, with a shaded farmer’s market and tasting day on-site that offers the best of local breweries and wineries, dairies and farms. And there’s music, too: some of the best music I’ve seen at Falcon Ridge in the past 4 or 5 years has been presented or previewed on The Lounge Stage, a one-time campsite stage that found it’s way into the main festival grounds to avoid a thunderstorm two years ago, and has since become an officially sanctioned festival-within-a-festival housed under the Dance Tent. Performers for this year’s Lounge Stage have not yet been released, but their ability to select and combine mainstage players and rising stars together for intimate sessions in the round makes the Lounge Stage a must-see; past performers include Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, We’re About Nine, John Gorka, Irish Mythen, Pat Wictor, Pesky J. Nixon, Caitlin Canty, Buskin & Batteau, hosts Pesky J. Nixon, and more.

One last note before we get to the music: while Falcon Ridge needs paying patrons to survive, as alluded to in Carlisle’s thesis, it also needs volunteers, and this year’s volunteer pool is currently thin, far below the needed thousand it takes to run the place efficiently. Volunteers get two solid meals a day, free access to campgrounds and the festival itself, and the warm satisfaction of helping build and maintain a crucial cultural locus of love and music, all for the price of a staff t-shirt and a few four-hour shifts throughout the long weekend; if you’re interested in joining up, head over to the volunteer website, and stake your claim for a spot on one of our crews.

Either way, we’d love to have you – and we’re sure you’ll love it, too. So click through below for a 21-track collection of coverfolk from a set of artists who together represent the breadth of modern folk music and the promise of an intentional nation. And then, if you can make it happen, save the date, and register now – as a volunteer or a paying patron – for the very best fest around. We’ll see you there.


Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview, 2016
[now available in mixtape format!]



Artist-centered and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk features and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to patrons like you. Coming soon: new and newly discovered tributes and cover collections take on Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, American tradfolk and more, plus our usual plethora of artist and songbook features as the summer kicks in!

Comment » | Darlingside, David Bowie, Felice Brothers, Festival Coverfolk, Gaslight Tinkers, Heather Maloney, Matt Nakoa, Mike + Ruthy, Peter Mulvey

New Artists, Old Songs: Introducing
St. Beaufort, Andrea Silva, Roniit, Jen Lane, Freddy & Francine and more!

June 11th, 2016 — 2:48pm

The mailbag’s been a bit backed up, but we’re always glad to consider both accidental encounters and unsolicited work here at Cover Lay Down, especially when it reveals such gems as today’s New Artists coverfeature. Read on for click-and-stream covers of Dylan, Lucius, The Cardigans, Jackson Browne, Big Star, Radiohead, Angus and Julia Stone and more in a set that ranges from dear, delightful countrified twang to dark electro and antifolk, with stops in Appalachia, rural Britannia, experimental piano rooms, tableside bar sessions, and the singer-songwriter’s coffeehouse along the way.




beauWell-traveled international folk/bluegrass trio St. Beaufort, who has been crossing borders on the fest and concert scene in and around Denmark, England, Germany and Switzerland since their debut EP release in 2013, bridges the gap between Appalachia and the contemporary scene like nobody’s business. They also meet regularly around the table in Berlin with a special guest and a bottle of whiskey to film a song for YouTube; it’s usually a cover of some classic folk tune, and like this rollicking fake-out featuring New Mexico friend Trevor Bahnson sent to us in honor of Dylan’s 75th birthday, it’s generally wonderful, offering an intimate and joyous glimpse into folkways as the folkways should be.




Red Diesel smallThere’s tradfolk at the core of Pilgrim’s Way, too; sure enough, most of the songs on their 2016 sophomore release Red Diesel are dug from the European tradition. But there’s a few great surprises here, too, as the band transforms more popular songs from Paul Simon and String Cheese Incident into gentle ballads with strings and guitar and piano and the potent brogue of founding lead singer Lucy Wright, who has since moved on from the band. Here, some serious reinvention turns Boy In The Bubble into a slippery, unsettling, mournful ballad, while traditional reel Boston City straddles the pond, adding jawharp and harmonica to a more traditional Celtic hoot and holler for great effect.




For more experimental tradfolk in the tradition of the Unthanks, Kate Rusby, and other unravellers of the Northern UK tradition, look no further than Glasgow’s Wildings, a newly-formed female trio of piano, fiddle, flute and voice whose two well-chosen takes on old songs The Beggarman and Handsome Cabin Boy straddle The Bellamy Suite, a 15 minute multi-movement tour de force at the core of their self-titled debut – commissioned by Live Music Now Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland and inspired by painter John Bellany’s lifelong connection to the sea – that leaves us aching for more.




Jen Lane‘s new album This Life Of Mine, released in February, contains just one cover, but it’s a strong introduction to the work of this Saskatchewan singer-songwriter: clear-as-a-bell acoustic twangfolk stylings complete with sweet, warm, wistfully gentle alto vocals, a cowboy’s harmonica and dobro, country kickdrum, and a sixties picker’s hand on the guitar that seep into you like summer’s dappled sunlight. Bonus points for Jen & John, a gentle 2014 duo EP with John Antoniuk that includes solid folkrock covers of J.J. Cale and Ryan Adams.




Independent songwriter and visual artist Roniit comes from Colorado but sounds like she emerges raw from your darkest dreams. Check out this piano cover of The Cardigans’ Lovefool, with its aching layers of octaved voices and an echoing fragility, clear and resonant, that wraps the smooth mysticism of Enya with a postmodern Rachmaninoff darkness inside a delicious indiepop world, for the perfect introduction.




Found in a random Bandcamp dive and immediately cherished, Nicolas Sales and Lydia Rose Turino‘s one-shot duet album Everything, All At Once is delightful and diverse, with shades of everything from smooth Burt Bacharach vibes to dark and unsettling indiepop. Small Hands, originally recorded by reclusive alt-rock artist Keaton Henson, echoes the early days of the high-production post-grunge indie world; their hushed, indiefolk cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days evokes Elliott Smith while beating out the other Nico’s cover for perfect Wes Anderson soundtrack placement sound.




Tape hiss and drowned, whispered vocals on Cherry Patty, a homegrown 4-track covers EP, typify the deconstructionist anti-folk aesthetic of autumn-autumn, another Bandcamp find who self-records her fragile bedroom recordings in her home in Minsk, Belarus. Original titles like while i was sleeping you were almost dead and covers that take on The Moldy Peaches and a pair of tracks by Angus and Julia Stone only reinforce her alliance and taste.




Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 2.26.41 PMSometimes the good stuff finds you; sometimes, as in the case of these chilled, shimmering takes on Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film) and John Cale’s Big White Cloud from slow-core chanteuse Kingscrossing, you find it yourself – in this case, on a wander through the coversongs community over at Reddit. A quick reach-out to the artist reveals that Kingscrossing, aka 30 year old Swedish singer-songwriter Emelie, used to be in post-rock band Killers Walk Among Us; now it’s just her and the piano, and although she’s only been putting out tracks for a month or so, both the covers and originals on her Soundcloud page are a revelation.





asilvaA ringing, reverb-drenched take on well-covered Elliott Smith tune Between The Bars and a raw, Smith-like interpretation of a song originally by Colombian band Oh’LaVille show both the range and promise of emergent indie-primitive singer-songwriter Andrea Silva, Columbian-born herself but now based in Los Angeles. The former starts sparse and solo, and builds to a rich electrofolk sound; the latter sports an equally potent home recorded acoustic vibe that drowns tired voice in a haze of guitar. Ready yourself for shivers.





freddyFinally, if you liked Reid Jamieson last week, you’ll love Freddy & Francine, aka Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso, who showcased at Folk Alliance this year and are slated to release new record Gung Ho, an Indiegogo-funded masterpiece, in just hours. Precisely articulated, with swooping harmonies and a simple strum, the stormy on-and-off-stage West Coast couple presents a fine Americana soul that echoes the work of post-millennial indiefolk duo act The Civil Wars in the studio, and the raw intimacy of the stage – which first brought them together in 2008 for a production of Hair – in such one-off performances as this luscious 2015 take on Lucius’ Go Home.





Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the modern folkways through coverage since 2007 thanks to supporters like you. Coming soon: new tribute albums and cover compilations from 2016, plus our annual Falcon Ridge Folk festival preview with songs of and from old favorites Tom Rush, Patty Larkin, Peter Mulvey, The Mike & Ruthie Band and more!

Comment » | New Artists Old Songs

Still Standing: Remembering The 2011 Tornado
with covers of Springsteen, Survivor, INXS, CSNY & more!

June 6th, 2016 — 9:13pm





In June of 2011 our town made national news when a tornado tore through our downtown valley and up the hill again, leaving a strip of destruction and chaos that was visible on weather satellites. For the next month, in a series of four features here on these pages, we traced the town’s slow process through the stages of community grief: from shock and heartbreak to hope and determination. And in the end, though we weren’t really healed, we moved on: back to work, and to school, and the pretense of normal which so typifies the modern condition.

But looking back with the wisdom of years, it is clear that through the forge of wind and cracking wood and crumbling stone, the fire of bent backs and open arms, something changed about us. Somewhere along the way, we had come to take for granted the closeness of the community; we had been jaded and cynical, complacent in our ways and means; now we were resolute, and banded together in the face of it all.

And so we mourned and cleared our smalltown streets, huddling together with those who had lost everything but each other. We took water and food into the worst of it all; we gathered wood from our driveways and yards, and hauled it away to keep us warm for the next two winters. We took care of our own, a town together, independent and practical, resolute and proud as only New Englanders can be. And in doing so, we learned that having each other was everything.


Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 8.48.17 PMThese days, new homes and new green lawns stand where houses once tilted and yawed into the aftermath of disaster. Town Hall has been rebuilt, fixing the hole in the center of everything which stood for years as testament to our trials. First Church has a new steeple, and it’s visible all the way down Main Street, where it proudly oversees the Memorial Day parade. Our Civil War era Memorial Hall reopened its doors last Christmas for the bazaar, and it was just like old times.

We no longer shudder at the sight of clouds. From a distance, the scar that cuts through the land has faded into a faint yellowgreen line of new trees. Last night’s high school graduation took place on time, and no one mentioned the tornado which cancelled the ceremony for their oldest brothers and sisters.

Normal has become normal again; life goes on. But in many ways, it is a better, closer life than it was before the world fell apart. We know each other better. We celebrate each other more. The town remembers, deep in its bones: we are still, after all this time, Monson Strong. And so it will be, harbored against our hearts and our bodies, until we forget, and nature calls once more to remind us of ourselves.

From the folk rock of Alana Davis to the delicate determination of Kallet, Epstein and Ciccone, then. From the sparse lo-fi indiefolk of Eye Of The Tiger to the bright summery uke stylings of Dog Days Are Over, and from delicate string-driven Springsteen to weary countrified fun. From Love Canon’s grassy, resolutely bittersweet Touch Of Gray to Chelsea Berry’s sweet, soulful take on Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day; from Sara Watkins with the frenzied fiddles of Darol Anger’s Republic Of Strings to Beck, St. Vincent, Liars and Os Mutantes as Record Club supergroup.

May this loosely-mixed set of songs of determination, aftermath and rebirth carry our deep joys and appreciation to you and yours. And may you always have your neighbors at your side, their strong backs bent and consoling arms open, when your disasters come to you.




Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Coming soon: our annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival preview…plus new artists from all corners of the folkworld cover Dylan, Lucius, The Cardigans, Jackson Browne, Big Star, Angus and Julia Stone and more!

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