Covered In Tradfolk: New Takes on Old Songs
with Jayme Stone, Hannah Read, Allysen Callery, Leftover Cuties & more!
Because we are a folkblog first, the essential question of whether the performance of traditional song is an act of coverage is treated as trivial here at Cover Lay Down. Indeed, as alluded to in our 2013 feature on the Child Ballads, and in Single Song Sunday features on O Death, Wayfaring Stranger, Barbara Allen and The Water Is Wide, songs so old as to have lost their origin act as the prototype for our exploration of the depth and breadth of the folkways as they continue to stretch and evolve.
Someone has to have written these, of course; neither lyric nor melody springs from the cotton of whole cloth. Songs do shift as their culture grows around them, especially those originally carried by memory and not notation, but it strains the boundaries of reason to suppose that rhyming quatrains used to emerge from the air. But in the case of songs marked not standard but traditional, by definition, the mutation through versioning is so strong, the songs belong truly to the ages, to be identified by region rather than author. And this, in turn, makes of their reinvention an ideal opportunity to meet our mandate: to discover the performer through their interpretation of the familiar, and in embracing that comfort, to discover the new through the old.
There’s some wonderful tradfolk on rotation in our ears these days, from last year’s oops-we-missed-it super-collaborative Songs of Separation project, which brought together ten well-known female folk musicians from Scotland and England (with Karine Polwart, Eliza Carthy, and Hannah Read among them) for a tribute to their own ancient traditions, to Across The Waters, a newly-released full-length traditional album by Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams & Caelia Lunniss, and the upcoming sophomore album from Jayme Stone’s Folklife project, this time with a focus on the songs of the American sea islands and mountains.
Add in a recently-discovered Child ballad from UK storyteller and folk explorer Christine Cooper and her lovely 2011 5-track traditional EP, and an older live cut from Rachel Newton, whose most recent traditional album was celebrated in our Best Covers Albums of 2016, then cross the pond again for a cut or two from the American gospel hymnal from Americana icons The Stray Birds and an upcoming debut EP from new Mexico City-based band Peregrino, much-beloved tracks from ‘ghost folk” fave Allysen Callery and fiddlefolk duo 10 String Symphony, a mystical rebuild of Scarborough Fair from Sacramento banjofolk minimalist Hannah Mayree, a hopping bluegrass number from Beehive Productions recorded live at the Caramoor American Roots Music Program in Katonah, NY, and a heavily-modified Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies from Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri‘s fine and intimate all-covers Valentine’s Duets series, recently rereleased for their well-stocked and easy-to-justify Patreon patronage project, and you’ve got a fine set indeed, with links to both artists and song origin, just for fun.
- Songs of Separation: It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King
(Scottish Robert Burns setting, 2016)
- Songs of Separation: Echo Mocks The Corncrake
(Round 2736, Irish/Scottish, 2016)
Looking for more? We’ve got two bonus tracks today, both nominally authored – the first a Bandcamp Frenchwoman’s amateur version of a popular Appalachian tune generally viewed as by Ola Belle Reed but also claimed as an original hymn by the Church of Latter Day Saints, the second a brand new live recording of a song y’all will surely recognize, originally of disputed authorship and first recorded towards the beginning of WWII – but both often attributed and treated as American standards. Check ‘em out, download the entire set, and then click through as always above and below to purchase the music, the better to support the continued effort of those who channel and celebrate the folkways in all their myriad forms.