Archive for September 2016


New Artists, Old Songs: Introducing
Will Cookson, Robert Nottingham, Daphne Willis, Good Harvest & more!

September 25th, 2016 — 8:10pm

We’ve been in hiding for a few weeks while the school year kicks in, calibrating against the winds of change as they rail against the tide. What better time to feature the new sounds of the season? Read on for coverage of Sufjan Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash, The 1975, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and more from a set of emerging artists and newfound discoveries well worth a second listen.

cooksonWe start today with a bit of pianissimo whisperfolk with tense undertones and swells from Bristol-bred alt-folk songwriter Will Cookson, who made us cry with his take on this Sufjan Stevens cover. Cookston’s newest album Ghosts of the Morning Sun will hit the skids in October. Feature track Worthing Beach is intimate and epic, with sweeping arrangement, wistful voice and an aching heart; we’re happy to have it, and eager for more.


0008133357_10Like a fragile field recording, this amateur Bandcamp find – a secondhand cover, built by stripping down Halsey’s dreamy indie electropop b-side – lingers in the psyche, a haunting heartmurmur heard long after the last gently plucked note fades. Kudos to Bostonian singer-songwriter Maryam Raad, about whom we can find no more but this and a single single; if and when that changes, we’ll let you know.


symbolsAnd now for something completely different: a refreshing acoustic-swing jazzfunk rock take on a familiar Fleetwood Mac classic from husband and wife duo The Symbols, exclusively released here on Cover Lay Down. Equal parts Django and Hendrix, the track is a delight, with powerhouse pop in the throat and an audible grin on the lips of lead singer Mer Sal making for the perfect compliment to cymbal-crashing percussion, backup singer oohs, and Grammy-nominated hubby Jasco’s string-bending wizardry.


Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 7.43.45 AMA little pop, precisely done; a little jazz in the slippery tone, and more than a little soul have us falling in love with Daphne Willis, whose summer release Come Together takes on five Beatles songs in a set that gently combines the best of Stevie Wonder, Mazzy Star, and Imagine Dragons without losing a whit of authenticity. Willis hails from Nashville, but there’s Chicago in her history and sound, too; with a voice like that, odds are she’ll be from everywhere soon.


nottinghamIt’s over a year old, but a failed attempt at focusing a coverlook lens on the songbook of The 1975 leaves us nonetheless with this dear, raw, gently poppy track from Manchester singer-songwriter Robert Nottingham – a standout radiopop reminiscence translated into the solo, pensive mold. We’re having trouble putting this one down, and you will, too; head on over to his pages on Bandcamp and YouTube for more than forty more great coversongs performed live and at home.


okkoLA-based producer/vocalist duo OKKO‘s brand new world-beat cover of Heartbeats, originally by The Knife and famously transformed for the folkworld by indie transformationalist Jose Gonzalez, turns the secondhand into contemporary gold with sitar, synths, and eastern percussion, making the track, the first in an intended series of Indian and Yoga-inspired transformations of popular song from a duo whose previous work includes “cowrites with Cyndi Lauper, singing on Britney Spears tracks, and pop releases in Sweden,” an auspicious harbinger of what may come as they take on Nirvana, MGMT, and more.


Like the tight, aching harmonies of First Aid Kit, but prefer your Swedish vocal harmonies a little less sharp? Then it’s time to try this gorgeous new version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, which belongs in the pantheon right alongside Darlingside and Heather Maloney and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: crisp, clear, and tight as an indian drum; sort, soaring, smooth and pure as springwater, lovingly presented in its native video form as the artists intended, and with a Coldplay cover from the same barn session as a bonus. Kudos to harmony-and-guitar duo Good Harvest for a perfect pairing of song and singers – we’ll see at least one of these songs again in our best of 2016, for sure.










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: our annual Fall fund drive, plus new and newfound tribute albums and cover compilations, artist features, and more!


1 comment » | New Artists Old Songs

The Towers Fell, And Then We Were Silent:
A Remembrance, In Coverfolk and Prose

September 10th, 2016 — 9:05am

Originally posted 9/11/2011. Sometimes, you get it right the first time.


911foot


I was a media specialist the morning the towers began to fall: sole captain of a prep school video collection, and proprietor of the largest viewing space on campus. And so it was that the students came to me, one by one and together, by class and by cluster, as the word spread from teacher to teacher; so it was, indeed, that I ended up presiding over a grand experiment in media literacy, as the hour passed, and the cycle of not-news – that long hour of uncertain newscaster conjectures that accompanied the static, repetitive footage on every channel – took over the broadcast universe on that fated day.

As I noted last year [2010], though we would not know until much later, we lost one of our own that morning: Chris Carstanjen, a sweet, geeky compatriot from the IT department, an almost-friend whose first drinking date we had scheduled for the following weekend, before he boarded that flight for California and never made it past downtown NYC. But what I remember most was the stunned silence of a hundred students or more, who in that moment, that sacred hour, were being born as the Terror Generation, though they would not know the deep societal scars which they would carry for a long, long time, if indeed they are still thoughtful enough to know now.

I remember, too, the Dean of Students and I deciding, finally, to turn off the screen, in the face of those somber and endless images and faces; to make a short and surely unmemorable speech about how the absence of news was not news, and commandeer the offices of librarians as impromptu counseling spaces for those who were scared, especially those who had parents and relatives in NYC and in the towers themselves, especially those who came from Muslim cultures and Muslim families, and seemed to understand, however vaguely, that they had suddenly become targets for other students’ confusion.

I remember feeling pride, for a moment, that I had managed to remember my calling in the face of disaster. And then I remember a long flash of shame, that I had somehow managed to make the day about me, thus cheapening the true scope of the disaster.

After that, I don’t remember anything at all. In my memory, it is as if turning off the television turned off the universe, too.

And ever since then, the world has been different. And I will always harbor a secret guilt, just like yours, that the world we rebuilt in the months and years that followed was not the same, even though we know, of course, that it could not have been.


Flash forward a decade, and here we are: one among a million paying tribute to the day the towers slowly fell. The world is faster, now, and more divided – two trends which spin into each other like two sides of a gyroscope, pulling at our psyches. I commute 40 minutes every morning to work with students for whom disaster is always personal and everpresent: homelessness, street violence, unemployment, the looming promise of dead-end futures. Some days it seems the only thing they own is their image, and who can fault them, then, for being so brash and sassy, peacocks with razor talons, angry at the world and taking it out on themselves without even realizing it.

I don’t know where to look for the the scars in this new generation, and I’m not sure I’d see them if I did. But their hardened hearts sadden me, sometimes.

There will be a moment of silence, come Monday’s morning announcements. And my students will speak into the air, loud against the voice of authority, unlistening and disconnected to their culture and each other, even as I am silent, and thinking of Chris, and of the moment I turned on the TV on the movie theater screen, and the smoking hole of culture flashed itself into my brain.

I can hear it, even now.


It’s been seven years, now, since I left the prep school; seven years since we lived side by side with the kids in the dormitories, and shared the pain and joys, the proms and punishments of night and day with the smart and well-bred, the resourced and the right-raised. But I often think of that day when I’m in my inner city classroom, working with the children of the downtrodden, the recent immigrants who don’t speak English, the hopeless – all categories of children whose pain is everpresent and real, and who would never have sat in silence, or even identified with the children of the towers.

Teachable moments are the lifeblood of the vocation, and I’m proud, I suppose, that we turned the TV off that day. But there is nothing so powerful as silence shared, as stunned communion. Nothing so powerful as a generation who grows up to see airport patdowns as normative rather than violation. Nothing so powerful, indeed, as the nexuses themselves, about which we try to say too much, and never truly find the words to speak of.

And so today we mourn the losses: of Chris, yes, and his airborne compatriots; of the parents and families of those who passed in fire and fall, impact and explosion – but also of the innocence of once-students now dispersed to the winds, some of them already struggling to raise children of their own. On one hand, they are and ever will be the children of privilege. On the other, they will always be the first generation, the youngest to truly understand what the world has become, without another, older sense of what it replaced.

To them, this new world is normal, for it is all they ever had.

Whether that makes them blessed or cursed is a matter for debate. And some days, I wish I knew, for it seems like it should matter very much indeed.

I miss them, those kids. I wonder about them, too. If I knew how to define okay in this instance, I’d ask them if they were, and if they remembered.

But I’m not sure I’d believe them, no matter what they said.


1 comment » | Reposts

Amos Lee Covers:
John Prine, John Denver, Sam Cooke, Dylan, Madonna & more!

September 5th, 2016 — 4:30pm


amosleemag


Amos Lee came into my life just in time to rock my second child to sleep, making it easy to mark the eleven years since Arms Of A Woman hit me in the heart like a slow motion bullet. Since then, the soulful singer-songwriter has become a go-to guy for series of strong tribute albums and covers collections – making him an easy candidate for a Cover Lay Down artist feature that gathers in 18 of our favorite live and studio covers for a set that’ll tear your heart out.

Lee was a latecomer to the craft; he received his first guitar in college, and worked as an elementary-level schoolteacher and bartender in his native Philadelphia before deciding to dedicate his life to music at the age of 25. But once determined, his rise to fame was rapid and resoundingly celebrated. Early opening act gigs for BB King and Mose Alison and a demo submission to jazz-and-more label Blue Note Records in 2004 led to tours with Norah Jones and Bob Dylan the following year, and a self-titled debut whose songs found rapid-fire exposure on a multitude of House, ER, Parenthood, and other TV shows and commercials known for showcasing the new, hip indie marketplace.

No one was surprised when Lee’s 2011 album Mission Bell, with its stark landscape, restless momentum, and guest appearances from Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Priscilla Ahn, Pieta Brown, and Sam Beam debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. The man had made his mark, and subsequent tours with everyone from Merle Haggard to Adele would only cement his influence in the post-millennial world.

In many ways, though, Amos Lee’s rapid rise was foretold by his music. It’s hard not to love Lee upon first listen; arguably, the man has more soul in his vocal delivery than anyone else in his generation and genre. But dig deeper, and his true mastery becomes clear: there’s subtle, nuanced delivery and arrangement here, and a deceptively simple way with a lyrical hook that owes as much to the formative influence of early acoustic soul balladeers like Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers as it does to the muddy, raw Delta bluesfolk at the heart of the American folkways, the gritty sounds of John Prine, and the sparse contemporary jazzfolk sounds of Joni Mitchell and labelmate and contemporary Jones.

The result is consistent: an elegantly honest portrayal of deep emotional truths, crisp and achingly framed, in clear, deep, and emotional performance; a collected output of six full-length albums of original songs, one live album, that original Blue Note EP, and a sequence of guest appearances and one-shot coversongs that evades easy genre categorization even as it stands out for its originality, its craftsmanship, and its soul.

So click below to download studio covers of John Prine, Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Madonna, an iTunes session Neil Young/Ween two-fer, collaborations with The Wood Brothers and Calexico and Iron & Wine, and the best, clearest live covers we could find, from soulful solo takes on Sam Cooke and The Commodores to majestic in-concert versions of November Rain and Fat Bottomed Girls. Come, see why Amos Lee’s interpretation of John Denver’s Some Days Are Diamonds, originally shared here in 2013, is the single most played song in our collection. Come, fall back in love with us.



Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the folkways through cover songs since 2007 thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Coming soon: our annual Fall fund drive, plus a look at new tribute albums and compilations from the end of the summer!

1 comment » | Amos Lee, Featured Artists

Back to top