Because the space in which a song is performed matters. Because the close intimacy of camera and performer changes everything. Because the video re-presents a new yet very old branch of the folkways, one eminently modern and obviously ancient, a live performance frozen in time for all eternity.
Video-watching, in others words, provides something entirely different from the eyes-closed experience of the mp3 or compact disc. And although stripping a song from its space and time is an innate aspect of recording, when it matters – when an artist’s vision includes the visual and the audible – we owe it to artist and ourselves to consider that source as the song.
As noted last year, 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, today, Cover Lay Down is proud to present our picks for the Best Video-sourced Coverfolk of the year – a fave fifteen, with embedded links to several newly-discovered ongoing video series well worth watching.
Call it an interlude, then, sweet and strong, between yesterday’s omnibus collection of the Year’s Best Tributes and Cover Compilations and our ever-popular Year’s Best Singles Mix, which looks to emerge in the next few days. Look and listen, as artists offer the communion of their hands, their voices, their facial expression. Let their multimedia mindset awe and inspire, lingering lush in our ears and eyes.
The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos, 2016
Chris Coole & Ivan Rosenberg: Stage Fright (orig. The Band)
As mentioned yesterday, Toronto clawhammer wizard and bluegrass scenester Chris Coole was all over our radar this year, both with and without frequent companion Ivan Rosenberg, an equally adept player with whom Coole has recorded a pair of dobro-and-claw duo albums. This masterful, prescient cover, dark and delightful, recorded in-studio in our own nation’s capitol a month after the election, only cements our love for these stalwarts of the northern scene.
Rayna Gellert and Kristen Andreassen: Sleepy Desert (trad.)
Simple and soulful, like the fancy couch on the front lawn where it was recorded, two of our favorite down-to-earth roots-folk take on a traditional tune on the cusp of a short Uncle Earl reunion tour – no small feat, given how much momentum its members, which also include Abigail Washburn and KC Groves, have had as solo artists in the decade since their last album was released.
Good Harvest: Woodstock (orig. Joni Mitchell)
We shared this dreamy, discordant vision from Swedish “musical sisters” Hanna Enlöf & Ylva Eriksson, aka Good Harvest, back in September, alongside a take on Coldplay’s Clocks filmed in the same barn session. Since then, we’ve heard their new single Charly; now we’re hooked and ready for a full-length.
The Moon Loungers: Mr. Blue Sky (orig. E.L.O.)
What I like best about this playful little video is just how satisfied The Moon Loungers – an award-winning Bristol-based wedding trio – seem to be as they perform this old chestnut with little more than a box, a cymbal, a pair of guitars, and their own versatile voices. Check out their YouTube page for a holy host of acoustic covers by Vanilla Ice, Yazoo, Starship, Toto, The Black Eyed Peas, and more fun fare.
Ashley Stevenson: Landslide (orig. Fleetwood Mac)
After five years in “the tunnels”, Chicago subway performer Ashley Stevenson, aka Slim Mils, went viral this year when a crowd video of her playing this song for change in the Chicago subway made national news. 3 million Youtube hits later, she’ll be performing a show at The Embassy on January 14, and we couldn’t be happier for her.
Jamie Oshima: Love Yourself (orig. Justin Bieber)
We featured brothers Jamie and Sean Oshima‘s fine, earnest cover of Passenger’s Hearts On Fire back in January, when it was released, and stand by its prominent placement. But we buried Jamie’s stunning, slippery, filmed-twice-and-spliced solo cover of Love Yourself in a midyear exploration of Justin Bieber’s songbook, and in the end, it’s this, light and airy, that sticks in our ears, in no small part due to the precious, precise traditional wedding reel at the instrumental break.
Lori Lieberman: Last Thing On My Mind (orig. Tom Paxton)
Streaming video is a young person’s game almost by definition; it’s atypical, I know, to have older-generation coverage show up in our video sets. But Lori Lieberman – yes, the one who wrote Killing Me Softly – looks truly honored to be performing this Tom Paxton song, doesn’t she? Kudos to Onder Invloed, past-featured covers collector and videographer, for this and many more sessions as the years creep ever onward.
The Stray Birds: Down In The Lonesome Draw (orig. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West)
It’s a little hollow, but that’s about right, for the stained glass church setting chosen by the folks at The Sawyer Sessions, a NC-based studio house whose Youtube channel is chock full of great performances, most of them more roots and alt-rock than folk – and many including coverage. I saw The Stray Birds take on this one live in the fading summer sun, and it was just as stunning.
L.A. Edwards: If I Needed You (orig. Townes Van Zandt)
Gentle, almost delicately countrified, and according to the promotional material we received early in 2016 from songwriter L.A. Edwards, recorded in his native Southern California during the largest downpour in over a decade. You can’t hear the rain, but you can hear the hazy, lazy harmonies huddle together, warm and dry in their close proximity.
Virginia Gavazzi: I Want To Write You A Song (orig. One Direction)
Slippery, nocturnal production dynamics, darkened rooms, and an unusual lapside perspective provide an intimacy you’d never expect from One Direction. Youtube amateur Virginia‘s got a few more, and a strong and growing following; joining up with both is highly recommended.
St. Beaufort’s Table ft. Dan Wall: Let Me Fall (trad.)
Dark as pub whiskey, and just as strong, this indoors-outdoors feel-good entry from St. Beaufort’s Table – a series of covers and traditionals which sees international folk/bluegrass trio St. Beaufort gathered, usually with a friend or three, usually around a table, with a bottle and a song – lingers in the throat, the ears, and the heart. See also their take on Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, featured here in June.
Applewood Road: Losing My Religion (orig. R.E.M.)
Concert recordings aren’t usually this pure. But Nashville supertrio Applewood Road, featuring Cover Lay Down faves Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace, in a set performed live late in 2015 but released on video Jan 1 of 2016, blow us away, as they seem to have done to the audience. Bonus points: we’ve been asked not to share Amber Rubarth’s own recording of this song, from this year’s stellar Scribbled Folk Symphonies, but even without the plucked and bowed strings that feature on her solo version, her chilling arrangement is potent, and eminently available.
Sam Amdion w/ Bill Frisell: Your Lone Journey (orig. Doc & Rosa Lee Watson)
It takes a while to get started, as do so many of the otherwise fine covers shared on the e-Town webstream – a series generally recorded as multiple-artist encores for the popular radio program, but interrupted in broadcast by credits and a premature fade-out. But this earthy performance is especially apt, given that: a song that never truly resolves, like the past it evokes.
Ryan Larkins: Pass Me Not (trad.)
“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” from Nashville-based Christian acoustic folk-rocker Ryan Larkins, an incredible, incredibly versatile still-rising star whose love shines through every heartwrenching chord and chorus.
Sam Kelly: Sultans of Swing (orig. Dire Straits)
We could have picked any number of great covers from this year, or year’s past, from The Big Comfy Sessions, a twice-monthly series that features local and itinerant musicians playing on the giant red squashy couches of Coventry’s Big Comfy Bookshop. All artists perform a cover of their choice, and the gems are sweet, bright and casual; see also, Adrian Roye’s recent Yazoo cover, older entries from Vena Portae (Young Folks) and Roxanne de Bastion (Real Love), and a live version of Gillian Welch’s Dark Turn Of Mind from Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – the recorded version of which will appear in our Year’s Best Singles mix.
As always, if you like what you hear here, click through to YouTube channels to lend your support to the artists we celebrate, the better to ensure the continued production of new music in 2016 and beyond.
And if you, too, have a little of the giving spirit left in you after the holidays, perhaps it’s time to consider a gift in support of our mission at Cover Lay Down. All donors receive our undying thanks, that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from patronizing the arts, and an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk released in 2015 and 2016. Click here to give, and thanks.