New Artists, Old Songs: from bluegrass to indiefolk
with Man About A Horse, The Secret Sisters, Emily Maguire & more!




After a diverse exploration of new coverage from some of our favorite familiar voices earlier this week, our dig through the Spring-into-Summer mailbag continues today with yet another installment in our New Artists, Old Songs discovery series – a broad celebration of new and newfound artists taking on the songs of the ether around them. As always, we offer these by way of introduction, minded that one purpose of cover song is to provide a comfort zone in which to explore the novelty of folk otherwise unheard; our hope here at Cover Lay Down is that the songs and words will tickle and tempt you into pursuing the threads, to uncover and fall in love with the rich and ever-expanding panoply of emergent musicians and songs that continue to challenge and transform, comfort and afflict us all.

So read on for covers of Bright Eyes, Brandi Carlile, Jimmy Cliff, Sting, Pink, Nirvana, Dylan, Jay-Z, Paul Simon, Hall & Oates, the Gullah tradition and more – individually, a series of strong performances from every corner of the roots, Americana, bluegrass, and contemporary and traditional folkworld; collectively, a set that once again lays bare the vastness and variety of the tent that we call folk.

And then, if you can, pick a favorite or three, and use the links we provide to purchase and patronize – so the folkways, and those who create and recreate within them, may be sustained for generations to come.


twlWe start our journey through the newfound today on the folkcorner where high production meets acoustic altrock; listening to this Nirvana cover, it’s hard to believe that Long Beach, California’s This Wild Life is a duo, formed by two “outcast drummers” sprung from the punkworld, but heartening to discover that their tour upgrade package includes “intimate acoustic performance”, and promising to find that tour taking them through a huge set of sites both around North America and beyond, with Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Australia in the upcoming months after sets from LA to DC. Though they’ve played the Warped Tour – a venue not exactly known for folk of any sort – originals from 2016 release Low Tides find easy comparison to cool alternative indiefolk bands like Darlingside and Beirut; what more could you ask for, on a sunny Summer’s day?



ssistersAlabama sibling duo The Secret Sisters recently appeared as one of very few unknowns on an otherwise star-studded song-by-song tribute to Brandi Carlile’s 2007 album The Story, released in May as a benefit for the War Child UK charity with tracks from Dolly Parton, Adele, The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Shovels & Rope, Jim James, and more. Their track was one of the better ones, which says a lot, given that list of luminaries – and so, intrigued, off we went to discover more.

Happily, our timing is good. Tomorrow, real-life sisters Lydia and Laura Rogers, whose harmonies are most often and most easily compared to the Everly Brothers and First Aid Kit for good reason, release their third full-length You Don’t Own Me Anymore, a delightful slice of intimate-to-intense retro-Americana co-produced and with instruments and harmonies by Carlile and her longtime partners Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Though a little digging suggests the pair have already made a name for themselves in the country music world, the disc, which wanders from true-blue band-driven countryfolk to sultry, timeless, tight-yet-gentle backporch harmony tracks with nary a misstep, leaves us with no doubt they can hold their own among the best bombast and balladry of their mostly southern “new folk” compatriots.



emily-maguire-2017Indie English singer-songwriter and poet Emily Maguire played Glastonbury nine years ago, making her one of the most well-known artists we’ve likely ever featured here in our New Artists, Old Songs series. But here on this side of the pond, Emily’s a virtual unknown, and that’s a shame: after four albums of all originals, each one released on her own label with little fanfare, the stunning, dream-to-nightmare slur that she makes of this transformed Sandy Denny classic as a coda to her newly-released fifth – “a striking end to a haunting and sublime album”, according to independent folk-and-beyond music webzine Folk Radio UK, released in tandem with Notes From The North Pole, her second book of poems and soul-searching prose – is enough to make us dig back in time.



james-gillespie-portrait-300x300A slow, pulsing acoustic dreampop take on Top 40 Pink serves as a fine introduction to star-on-the-rise James Gillespie, whose press compares him to Ben Howard but may well fall more on the James Blunt/Justin Bieber side of the popline. No matter: stripped down soul from an acoustic base, echoing britpop vocal mannerisms, thumping handclap backbeat, and ringing electric guitar are this season’s guilty pleasure; though Gillespie is a true newcomer to the musicworld, with but a single original single out there, it’s stripped almost as dark, making prediction of things to come as easy as wanting more.



57716-RTbandPNGWay on the other side of the folktent, where traditions of various sorts meld and mingle, the sultry side of jazz and the Gullah traditions of the American South Island cultures combine marvelously in the work of new-formed roots quintet Ranky Tanky, a stunning South Carolina-educated jazz foursome plus gospel singer combo whose debut album drops in September (ours may well be an exclusive) and who will spend the preceding months on tour everywhere from Edinburgh to Telluride. The self-titled album is chock full of covers of traditional songs, but you’ve never heard ‘em like this before: described aptly by publicity materials as “bringing to light one of the most common but still overlooked forms of American folk music”, the product is bright and boisterous in turns, yet universally sparse and sweet and soulful, with trumpet brass, slow bass and subtle percussion bringing the songs of folk’s childhood forward with masterful maturity and a graceful tenderness.



rubygillLess a cover than a distillation of several songs – from Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Alicia Keys, respectively – performed with little more than lush and layered vocals and a looped acoustic guitar, this fine performance appeared in our mailbox way back in March, thanks to Melbourne-based pop experimentalist and “aspiring redhead” Ruby Gill, whose late-2016 full-length debut Older swarms with catchy, hook-laden noise and heavy beats and nothing folk at all, making both this track and Stockings For Skating, her recent, pensive single about “not wanting to adult today”, somewhat of an anomaly…but welcome ones, nonetheless.



bbcSpeaking of the hippest New York borough: Brooklyn Bluegrass Collective‘s summer of 2016 album is – as the title implies – a second pass at coverage from a loose organization of Brooklyn-based pickers and players determined to share the joys of the rich NYC Bluegrass scene through collaboration. We found them by pulling threads backwards from this delightfully hushed banjo-driven take on Bright Eyes’ alternative-turned-mainstream radio hit First Day Of My Life, which comes off as less simple than you thought, though equally heartfelt, in this new arrangement; continuing the threads back towards Volume 1 reveals homage to much more traditional bluegrass standards from the likes of Jimmy Martin and Larry Sparks, and a more traditional sound, suggesting a trajectory of modern ownership that honors the urban bluegrass movement and its wide influence quite well, indeed.



setadriftPercussive fingerstyle guitarists and singer-songwriters Daryl Kellie and Jon Hart’s late-Winter Pledgemusic campaign to release their recent work together has been either reduplicated or extended past its original deadline, and good thing, too: Set Adrift, the now-available-for-download collaboration which forms the raison d’etre for the campaign, turns out to be very much worth pursuit, for both concept and craft. Recorded over the course of five days on a houseboat on the River Thames, the originals and covers which populate the sessions yaw and pitch softly and gently like the river that spawned them, even as they echo the various British folk traditions which bore them there: this take on Sting’s exploration of place and identity is fun, but it isn’t the strongest cut on the album; head over to Pledgemusic to put your money down, and make their playful, pitch-perfect originals The Lock and High Tide, and their similarly exquisite version of instrumental Cannonball Rag, part of your summer soundtrack now. (Bonus points: this amazing take on Pink Floyd’s Money by Jon Hart is one of my favorite one-take YouTube videos ever.)



maahFinally, Philly bluegrass band Man About A Horse aren’t technically new to this blog; we featured their in-studio Beehive Productions take on traditional track Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms in February as part of our Covered In Tradfolk round-up, though we didn’t say much about the group or its tidal emotional pull at the time. But their self-titled April release is a barnstormer of a full-length debut, an exceptional exemplar of the young grassband genre that rocks with wry, green energy from the very first original track…and takes on Hall and Oates and Radiohead along the way to great effect. Add in a track from their 2015 four-track EP, which also includes a wonderful cover of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, and you can hear why we’re excited to catch them live sometime soon.



Looking for more great music for your Summer soundtrack? Then stay tuned in the days ahead as Cover Lay Down continues its exploration of the modern folkways with a return to Falcon Ridge, our very favorite folkfestival, set to sparkle amidst New York farm country August 4-6, 2017!

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