Category: Artists


Covered In Folk: Anais Mitchell
(with Bon Iver, Billy Bragg, Cricket Blue & new voices galore!)

March 14th, 2017 — 2:27pm


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Vermont-slash-Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell was a fast-rising star upon her 2002 arrival to the scene, with out of the gate recognition from Kerrville’s New Folk competition and early adoption onto Ani Difranco’s record label, Righteous Babe, thanks to a strong debut recorded in a single afternoon and a distinctive knack for prescient hooks and heavy subjects couched in sweepingly intimate production and a distinctively, deceptively innocent yet complex and carefully honed voice. These days, her name-recognition runs high inside the broad boundaries of folk, and her talent is in high demand, as demonstrated by tours with Bon Iver, Josh Ritter, Punch Brothers and The Low Anthem, collaborations with Jefferson Harmer and Rachel Ries, and kudos from Pitchfork, NPR, The New York Times, and more.

If fame outside the folkworld or prodigious output were a measure of success, she would remain insulated. But although it has been three years since her last release, and five since her last of all new original work, there is something essential about Anais Mitchell right now. Just a half dozen studio albums into her career, Mitchell has become a true mover and shaker in the folkworld, cited by peers and press as central to the definitive depth and honesty that typifies the nucleus of the current folk generation.

A powerhouse out on the bleeding edge, her collaborative work, including our previously-featured exploration of the Child Ballads with Jefferson Harmer, which won a BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Traditional Track, is sharp. Her output – including the epic, introspective 2012 release Young Man In America, and folk opera Hadestown, which brought folk heavyweights Greg Brown, Justin Vernon, The Haden Triplets, and Difranco together to voice the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and has since been both toured with a rotating cast and turned into a New York stageshow due to return for the 2017-2018 season – reveals an artist exploring the potential of folk to speak deeply and cohesively about the world on a scale heretofore unattempted, illuminating the world of the political and the personal into sharp relief.

The proof, of course, is in the coverage, both in its richness and in its very fact. Note notables such as Billy Bragg and Bon Iver in the mix below, taking on the Anais songbook in homage and early tribute to a truly worthy songwriter and craftsperson. Take note, as well, of the flexibility of song here, as the lo-fi acoustic and the rich mix rebuilt, the balladeer and the barroom singer, the mellow and the mean, the jamband and the celtic take their turns on the canon, and come up roses.

Listen as others come to echo the echoes – revealing a set rich in Bandcamp discoveries, and diverse in tone and tenor, as befits the deep, versatile songbook that Mitchell offers forth. Pick and choose, or download them as a single set. And then, as always, click through to go back to the source – to celebrate, as it were, the artists who continue to circle around song, and around the whole of us, from Anais Mitchell herself to those who would braid their gifts with hers, to the betterment of us all.


    An apt introduction from folk and social justice icon Billy Bragg, whose respect for Mitchell and for the power of political song frames a transcendent performance of a song originally performed by Greg Brown as the modernized king of the underworld. Put it against the bold potency of Chi-town amateur Carey Farrell, whose slowly deepening production slowly drowns us in despair, for a hell of an opening set.


    Toronto-based filmmaker and soundtrack soundscape creator Nicole Goode records tense, echoey, glitchy cover goodness, nominally with her morning coffee. And it is mesmerizing, rough and raw and bottomless.


    New York-based “folk rock Japanese band” Robin’s Egg Blue‘s sudden turn into newgrass jamband territory turns a transitional Hadestown track into a resting point reminiscent of the psychedelic Steeleye Span era, lingering in the river of madness until it seems like the struggle will never end. Epic, indeed.


    The stand-out track from a late December covers release from Jess & Alek Deva, aka The Night Owls, “a married couple living and working in beautiful White River Junction, VT.”


    Soft tender balladry from “Boston native and New York transplant” Paola Bennet, found on a well-populated Soundcloud page that offers more from the amateur delight.


    A dreamy, echolayered take on Wait For Me, a tiny fragment from the magnum opus that is Hadestown. From Irish amateur Emma Carroll, an enigma otherwise.


    A straightforward plainsong approach to a personal favorite from Soundcloud amateur Justin Paul Ortiz. Don’t underestimate this one: the lack of adornment lays the song bare, revealing strong bones at the core.


    A simple, elegant popfolk setting from prolific Ithaca, NY singer-songwriter, activist, and mindfulness practitioner Travis Knapp‘s 9th annual covers collection evokes grand pianos and candelabras as it pays homage to the tender, confessional side of Mitchell’s early canon.


    Two Anais Mitchell covers from the stark solo Saturday morning cover recordings of Soundcloud amateur Sophia Stewart, a nuanced vocalist and solo stringstrummer well worth visiting for more.


    A slightly countrified, well-produced lullaby version of Mitchell’s transposition of two West Bank refugees: one to be Jesus, the other a forgotten Palestinian. Joyce Andersen‘s hearty, heart-filled voice makes for a perfect pairing alongside Harvey Reid’s subtle pick and slide.


    Cambridge, MA duo Parsley‘s forefront harmonies lend a dustbowl honesty to this wistful, wild cut, originally penned and performed by Rachel Ries and Anais Mitchell on their duo EP Country.


    South Carolina ex-pat Garris, now living in China and preparing for a stint as a yoga teacher in India, partners with friend Kira for a four-track EP featuring a solid Tom Waits cover and this subtle slackstring soft-track, gentle, wistful, and aware of its unrefined honesty.


    If there is such a thing as perfect lo-fi experimental anti-folk in the modern marketplace, it is embedded in The Last Clarissa’s hollow covers and recordings, each one rushed and anxious, resonant as a silo sing, and honest as the night.


    Broken, flickering life from Bryan McFarland, another amateur hard to uncover. No matter: the song speaks for itself, with low recorder and layers of lush guitar pulsing around grungy octave harmonies for a dirge-like dark despair.


    Justin Vernon at his most tender and fragile, with gentle guitar and piano in low, tinkly parallel; Vermont bluegrass duo Cricket Blue at their tightest in sorrow, singing the fear of Icarus towards the sky and sun. And so we end as we began: vulnerable to the world, and the variances and vagrancies of song and lyric in tension: the crash impending, the loss palpable, the hope everlasting.



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Comment » | Anais Mitchell, Artists, Covered In Folk

(Re)Covered: New Covers from Old Favorites
Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey, Carrie Elkin, Parsonsfield & more!

February 21st, 2017 — 11:31pm

Our ongoing (Re)Covered series finds us touting new and newly uncovered releases from folk, roots, bluegrass and acoustic artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news and new coverage from raspy crooners Jeffrey Foucault and Peter Mulvey, sweet soul mama Carrie Elkin, a country rock-ified Stray Birds, whispery indiefolk pairing Matt Minigell and Annabelle Lord-Patey, and still-rising stringband Parsonsfield taking on Dylan, Paul Simon, Teenage Fanclub, the Episcopalian hymnal and more!




pmPeter Mulvey has been a mainstay of this blog since its birth, thanks to a fondness for coverage and a tendency to transform rather than merely channel the goods. But in the last several years, his commitment to the political reality that he shares with his fans has grown strong and evident in his practice – the man rides his bike cross-county on tour, and his protest song Take Down This Flag has been adopted, adapted, and added to by hundreds of performers.

New album Are You Listening?, produced by and on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label and due to drop late in March, is a perfect exemplar of the man’s continued prowess as a chronicler of the raw and real. Preorder here, and while you wait for its release, check out Mulvey’s recent EP Lift Every Voice, a perfect, politically-relevant timepiece with the aforementioned anthem at the forefront, released free to all who promise to donate to the social justice cause of their choice.


elkincoverI’ve been holding on to this for a while, and now I’m thrilled to share what well may be the best Paul Simon cover this decade will see: Carrie Elkin‘s haunting, resonant take on American Tune, which simply aches with the pain and hope of an America still yawing into the void. We last saw Elkin in our 2010 couples round-up; seven years later, she and Danny Schmidt have just become first-time parents. The song, a teaser from Elkin’s aching Kickstarter-driven solo album The Penny Collector, named after Elkin’s father, who recently passed, is expected to emerge on March 10, and it’s a stunning set; we’re sure you’ll want to donate now, and help the album come to full fruition as it deserves, on the strength of this little taste.


mattannabelleIn a very real way, Boston-based singer-songwriter and busker Mary Lou Lord serves as a sort of muse to this blog; she’s recommended some wonderful music over the years since I first wrote about her in 2008. Last year, she played our house concert series, and brought along daughter Annabelle Lord-Patey as an opener, who revealed herself as an artist just finding her voice; now, paired with young singer-songwriter Matt Minigell, another Lord find who graced our 2015 Year’s Best mixtape, Annabelle seems to have come into her own, with a tender, rhythmic lo-fi take on Teenage Fanclub that doesn’t just bring me back to my own moody adolescence – it helps me celebrate and make my peace with it. Kudos to the next generation, and thanks, Mary Lou, for continuing to bring it forth into the world.


parsSomewhere in the shuffle of the holiday season we missed an eleventh-hour Christmas three-fer from Parsonsfield (previously Poor Old Shine), recorded live in our hometown stomping grounds and sent as a free exclusive to all “inbox sessions” subscribers by the potent, barnburning old-timey-meets-The-Band fivesome from just down the road apiece, who we first fell in love with in the aisles of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. I’ve always thought a certain Joni Mitchell setting deserved year-round consideration; here’s the boys to prove River can last long past December.


stray-birdsWe first took note of The Stray Birds when they were coming up on Falcon Ridge, too. Here’s the string-trio-and-then-some on this past year’s Decoration Day Sampler from Brooklyn-and-Nashville-based production house Mason Jar Music – an annual compilation which usually serves as frequent flyer in our year’s end round-up – with a take on Dylan that boasts an apt slipperiness in the voice and a funky, chunky arrangement: pitch-perfect folkband folk sure to thrill those who love the country comfort of Gillian Welch, Gram Parsons, Old Crow Medicine Show and more.



Jeffrey Foucault‘s been featured here several times before: as a solo artist early in our incarnation; later as a songsmith and collaborator with Mulvey and now-spouse Kris Delmhorst. But his recent video covers are perfect, precise carriers of his craft: close your eyes, and you can still hear the rugged face bobbing in and out of the frame; the wringing, nuanced movement of body, hands and guitar barely contained by the margins of song and solace; the soothing sepia wash that ages the soul. No Depression recently named him one of six Roots Artists On The Verge, but as far as we’re concerned, Foucault is already a master, dusty with the roads of a thousand miles and more.






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Comment » | (Re)Covered, Jeffrey Foucault, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2016)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Covers Compilations and more!

December 30th, 2016 — 3:27pm


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It’s been months since we found ourselves together here, by this virtual hearth. I have missed you, my friends. And though I cannot promise what the days will bring, let us be present together, in this moment, and rejoice.

For those who ask – and we are grateful for it, when it comes – this week of holiday offers but a respite. In the days of our lives the teen elderchild and her wiry sister continue to be challenged by a life lived with illness, leaving us plagued by surgeries and hospitalizations, homeschooling adjustments, service dog training, and a reluctance to plan too far ahead. I’m a team leader now at the struggling urban school where I ply my vocation, putting in long nights and weekends leading the desperate charge to glory even as the conditions we cannot change – poverty and transience, and their symptomatic malaise – loom large in our daily deliverance. And, as the eldest son, and the only one living locally, I’ve spent every weekend across the state for most of the year, helping my father transition into a graduated living arrangement that better suits his needs.

These pursuits are important, and offered with love to the world. They are good work, and I’d not trade one for the other. But time is precious when you’re the center of the whirlwind. And sometimes, that means letting go.

Which is to say: we have blessings this year, it’s true: a growing house concert series; family and friends, and a strong and beloved community; a roof over our heads, and food on the table. But mostly, I’ve spent the latter part of 2016 in survival mode, putting aside many of the practices that have made me feel most whole, most connected to the universe and to the self, in a desperate attempt to find balance.

More often than not, the heart is heavy in the midst of this wearying, worrying life. And January offers only more uncertainty, here in the real world, where we live and breathe.

But we’re here this week, today, this hour. Because no matter how heavy the load, no matter how loud the natter and buzz of duty and despair in our ears, in the background, the music continues, as it ever does.

And so we’ve kept a list, and checked it twice – not enough by a long shot, in another year of chaos and malcontent, but enough to celebrate the discovery process, and honor those albums, songs, and videos that stuck with us, and shone through the fog and the darkness.

And here at the wire, at the long year’s end, as we have done for the last several Decembers, we curate and collate, ice melting in our hearts by the woodstove fireside as the children nestle snug in this, our humble home.

For music is a home, too. It is our home, and one of yours, too. And as we live in the music, so must we pay homage to the best of it, lest it, too, fade into the night, and be lost to the world.

From the smooth to the ragged, then. From the delicate to the deep. From the bringers of light to the media of our melancholy; from the hoot and holler to the hushed and harmonic. From all corners of the broad tent that spans the folkways, shading it from the harshest of weather and whim.

Cover Lay Down is proud to present our favorite coverfolk tribute albums, covers compilations, projects and soundtracks of 2016, featuring choice cuts from highly recommended folk, roots, bluegrass and Americana LPs and EPs.





The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ Moddi, Unsongs

+ Dustin Kensrue, Thoughts That Float on a Different Blood
+ 48 Cameras, Songs Our Mothers Taught Us
+ The Devil Makes Three, Redemption & Ruin
+ Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, Wintersong

It was a strong year for covers albums, all things considered. As always, we stand by our assessment of those releases that caught our attention early, most especially the home-grown harmonies and chutzpah of Pesky J. Nixon’s second covers album Red Ducks, Volume 2, which brought a broader sound, and a richer one, to their hearty acoustic Americana, thanks to the addition of mandolin into the mix, strong studio dynamics, and new shared lead vocals and piano from founding band member Jake Bush. Recognition remains, too, for the mostly-trad strains of Red Diesel, the newest from award-winning traditional English folk band Pilgrim’s Way, the traditional bluegrass stylings of The High Bar Gang, whose second album Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind explores the “cheating and hurting” side of bluegrass, and the drowning tones of the ever-morose Mark Kozelek, which found their way to pianofolk this year on Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, a “stunning new release featuring guest vocalists galore”.

But other than a nod to Wintersong, a new holiday collection of intimate and introspective folk from local favorites Rano Arbo & Daisy Mayhem that transcends its seasonal premise with simple joy and sweetness, our highest end-of-year praise in the general covers category is reserved for a quartet of otherwise-unblogged releases with strong conceptual grounding, each well deserving of rescue and polish after falling to the bustle and jetsam. And in the end, though three of our top four made it to fellow coverblog Cover Me’s end of year round-up as well, it’s the one we haven’t heard anything about, and got to discover on our own, that edges out the rest.

Runner’s up honors this year go to Dustin Kensrue’s live tour de force Thoughts That Float On A Different Blood, which finds the frontman of California post-hardcore band Thrice stripping down to ragged, soulful solo performance; the result is soul-crushing, and practically perfect, with covers of Patty Griffin, Milk Carton Kids, Lorde and more. From the gospel-and-blues aisle, The Devil Makes Three’s Redemption & Ruin, with its dual, titular thematic sides, mixes blues and bluegrass, transforming dark delights by Townes Van Zandt, Muddy Waters, Tampa Red, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, and other intuitively obvious influences with sidework from Emmylou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas and more. Add to this Songs Our Mothers Taught Us, a decidedly fringefolk covers project from long-time “experimental alternative” digital collaborative 48 Cameras, narcotized with spoken word layers like a lost album from Nico and Leonard Cohen, remixed subtly with haunting oboes and drums for the post-millennial indiefolk set, and you’ve got a crowd that, in any other year, could easily take top honors.

But I don’t think we’ve ever had as clear and triumphant a category closer for our bread-and-butter category than Unsongs, a labor of love that came quietly out of nowhere towards the end of the year, and seems to have made nary a splash in the American market – a wonderful concept album, lovingly executed, that comprises 12 songs censored in 12 different countries, collected and reimagined.

Here’s the blog feature I meant to post, when I first discovered it:

Norwegian folkpop singer-songwriter, activist and self-professed storyteller Moddi (aka Pål Moddi Knutsen), who is currently finishing a Masters degree at the University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment, is apparently known for his interpretations of others’ songbooks, most notably Togsang, a 2013 Norwegian-language cover of Train Song which Vashti Bunyan calls her favorite cover version of any of her songs. But Unsongs, leaked slowly and then finally released in full just a few weeks ago, represents a perfect twining of the artist’s personal bent towards social and environmental justice and his incredibly delicate indie folkpop sensibilities. The result is an epiphany, hushed, sublime and saturating: a true tour de force of unforced political songcraft, a wide-ranging survey of both western and eastern sources that manages to serve simultaneously as commentary on the counterculture and its struggles and a gorgeous set that aches with melancholy and protest. The songs – most of which will be unknown to western ears, save a pitch-perfect Strange Fruit and Kate Bush’s Army Dreamers – range from shivery and sad to cold fury; tinkly piano and slow nylon guitar, lush, tense string and horn arrangements, and a fragile, nasal voice that aches with loss and longing make for a majestic, intimate album, orchestral and tight, a bit like Colin Meloy performing a full-band acoustic set in a cathedral wearing crowns of thorns; you’ve never heard Pussy Riot so tender, or been so in love with anger.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artists)
+ Various Artists, Locals Covering Locals, Vol. 3

Most various artist covers albums this year ran the gamut past the boundaries of folk; as such, this year’s is a short category, to be followed below with a compendium of mixed-genre gems well worth our time. But we cannot help but raise a glass once more for Red Line Roots, whose third volume of Locals Covering Locals, released way back in February, adeptly uncovers the blossoming folkscene in and around the Boston area by once again featuring peer-to-peer coverage that aims to showcase both the finest in local songwriting and the best of local performance – and succeeds in spades.



The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Lotte Kestner, December Covers

+ Caleigh McGilchrist and Maria Crawford, Covers For The Cure 2
+ autumn-autumn, Cherry Patty

The covers EP is too often a throw-away, especially in an age where home recording makes it so easier to run a full-length album in a few living room sessions. Bandcamp, especially, is full of saccharine wannabes, and amateur recordings too twee, and too rough, to truly represent the best of what a year can offer.

But for a few artists, the small coverset is part and parcel of the modern digital world, an uncompromising artifact of the ongoing home recording life. Enter Lotte Kestner, the solo project of Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William, whose shimmery shoegaze coverage, delicate and frigid and perfectly romantic, has emerged throughout the year in small batches as behind the scenes she struggles to finish mixing a long overdue album of original work. Most of these tiny sets have already disappeared into the ether, and her most recent, December Covers, will disappear with the end of the month, along with Best of Requested Cover Songs, the majestic 17-track set winnowed down from the 3-year-long 60 cover kickstarter campaign promise that drives her current album. But if you hurry, you, too, can download and steep in etherial takes on The Cure, The Hollies, and a slow synth-driven version of Nothing Compares To U that ultimately owes as much to the lo-fi sensibility that pulls songs from the air like soap bubbles as it does to either Sinead or Prince.

Runners-up Caleigh McGilchrist and Maria Crawford defy expectations, coming out of Bandcamp nowhere with Covers For The Cure 2, the second of their homespun compilations, recorded in their Nashville hometown in honor of Laurel Stevens McGilchrist and dedicated to all past and present battles of breast cancer. Simple guitar, soaring harmonies in layers straight out of the First Aid Kid indiefolk songbook, and just enough strain at the edges to prove and preserve their delightful inexperience: it’s like being there, and that’s saying a lot, indeed. And a tip o’ the cap to Minsk, Belarus, home of autumn-autumn, aka Tanya Dubinskaya, whose drowned, broken 4-track covers EP Cherry Patty, complete with crackling static and hollow guitars, aptly described as whispercore, still fills our empty days.



The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Reid Jamieson, Dear Leonard: The Cohen Collection

+ Rory Block, Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute To Bukka White

Two familiar faces and voices provide a veritable sweep of this year’s solo-artist tribute album set, a labor of love project-type generally overwhelmed by tributes to the forgotten, the undersung, and the dearly departed, but this year topped by a loving tribute to a man who was still alive and performing, and well-respected, upon its release.

First, hands down kudos go to perennial Cover Lay Down favorite Reid Jamieson this year for Dear Leonard: The Cohen Collection, a prescient tribute to fellow Canadian countryman released way back in March, months before his passing. Where most choose to channel angst and darkness, Jamieson’s touch is light and lighthearted, with brushes, ukelele, guitar, fiddles, and gentle harmonies bringing a tender, almost Caribbean country lilt to these familiar songs, and the whole thing works beautifully, revealing a brighter, more optimistic soul than even the most die-hard Cohen fanatic could have envisioned.

Second place honors to Rory Block, whose ongoing series of full-album tributes to the pioneers of American acoustic blues continues this year with a tribute to Mississippi bluesman Bukka White. Keepin’ Outta Trouble is typical of Block, and of her ongoing work in paying homage to her progenitors, and that’s no denigration – listen as the sliding, slippery blues finds beauty in the hands of one of the greatest living Delta blues guitarists and voices, and then head back in time to pick up the entire six-album series.



The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Days Full of Rain: A Portland Tribute to Townes Van Zandt

+ Basket Full Of Dragons: A Tribute To Robbie Basho, Vol II
+ Dreamer: A Tribute To Kent Finlay
+ A Fast Folk Tribute To Jack Hardy

Strong contenders this year here, too. But how could we not love Days Full Of Rain, a mostly-folk tribute to Townes Van Zandt from some of our very favorite players from the Portland indiefolk scene. With Blitzen Trapper, Jolie Holland, Jim James, Blind Pilot, Black Prairie, a grungy take on Rake from The Minus 5, and the devastating vocals of Liz Vice in the mix, almost every track’s a gem. From the country rock of Denver’s Junkpiled to the country croon of Barna Howard to…um…the country soul of Portland Country Underground, the whole thing moves like a cowboy through the mist; even the subtle folktronica stutter of Castanets serves the mix. Bonus points: all proceeds go to charity, with half to fund the furtherance of roots music education in public schools, and the other half to support musicians financially in the face of illness.

Back in the world of primitivism, Basket Full of Dragons, the second Robbie Basho tribute in two years spearheaded by guitarist-singer-songwriter Buck Curran (of the duo Arborea), nets praise and proclamation for its authentic approach to the mysticism and mystery of a philosopher who firmly believed the Indian raga and the steel string represented the next iteration of truth, and the furtherance of the guitar as a serious, classical instrument. Like first volume We Are All One In The Sun, Basket Full of Dragons proves Basho right, as washes of sound drown us in eternal moments, leaving us with an unsettled peace.

Honorable mention this year goes to Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay, a solid take on the homespun songbook of career-launcher, lyric editor, venue coordinator, mentor and songwriter who shaped the careers of the likes of George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Todd Snider, and James McMurtry through his legendary Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention A Tribute To Jack Hardy, a beloved two-disc tribute chock full of familiar Fast Folk faces and next generation collaborators, from Red Molly and Anthony Da Costa to Richard Shindell, John Gorka, Rod MacDonald, Christine Lavin, Terre Roche, and more, written about and pre-released here at Cover Lay Down several summers ago, but now finally and officially available for purchase as of 2016 thanks to Smithsonian Folkways, who now owns the Fast Folk archives.



The Year’s Best Tribute EPs
+ Tom Moriarty and Katey Brooks, I Shall Be Released

+ Quinell, From The Woods: Inside Llewyn Davis

Sometimes, simple is best. And of the four little duo covers on I Shall Be Released, it’s their take on The Times They Shall Be A Changin’ – unadorned, raw, precious and plain, though Tom Moriarty’s other work is full-bore horn-and-gospel driven bluesy rock and roll, and rising-star singer-songwriter Katey Brooks trends more towards intense folkpop – which truly showcases the genius of pairing the two alongside this year’s Nobel Prize winner’s songbook. Oh sure, the organ and drumbeat layers that underpin I Shall Be Released and The Man In Me are reminiscent of Dylan’s time with The Band, or perhaps the best of Joe Cocker, and wonderfully so…but the songs remain more subtle, somehow, leaving us marveling at the power of their quietude, their presence, their directness. His weary, soulful voice, her hearty one: heaven.

Simple, too, is the soft intimacy of log cabin session From The Woods: Inside Llewyn Davis, recorded for video in the dead of winter by Pasco, Washington singer-songwriter Quinell. Just three songs, and nominally all from the same deep and murky tradition – but influenced by their presence in Inside LLewyn Davis, the folkflick based on the life and times of Dave Van Ronk, and decidedly united, too, by the soft, homespun tones of an artist embracing the weariness of these timeless tunes.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk
+ Lukas Papenfusscline, man&woman;you

+ Rachel Newton, Here’s My Heart Come Take It
+ The Lonesome Ace Stringband, Gone For Evermore
+ Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, The Willow Collection

An unusually strong turn-out in the tradfolk category this year leaves us a bit up in arms about comparison: if anything, if this trend continues, we’d be better served by splitting the category to allow for splinter subtypes, lest we forget some pretty impressive standouts. On the grassy side, split-side albums from both Eli West and Michael Daves, covered together back in a February round-up, kept our summer hot with electrifying performances and special collaborations with Dori Freeman and Bill Frisell (West), bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and Punch Brothers banjoist Noam Pikelny (Daves); more mellow, melodic approaches typify Noah Wall, whose swinging, sultry approach to 15 classic American blues numbers makes us swoon. And if it’s the cowboy life that attracts you, you’d be well served by a buy-and-listen to the Billy Bragg and Joe Henry collaboration Shine A Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad, a pairing which works even better than it should, thanks to the artists’ shared sense of labor rights and an honest, down-home directness in both performance and sparse arrangement.

But if we have to crown a conqueror this year, it’s a dark horse, indeed: man&woman;you, a late December release from classically trained pan-genre experimentalist Lukas Papenfusscline, is as weird as its name, and as open to possibility; a hallucinogenic field recording from the road, and recorded, duly, in a variety of places, some of them actually outdoors; its traditional Appalachian tunes recast into broken, almost classical compositions, as if Sam Amidon had been trained at Berklee before establishing a hermitage farm by a stream in the deep woods. Creepy, creaky, yet somehow coherent as hell, the record pulls its tradition as much from the recordings of others as it does from the primordial ooze of nature itself, with familiar songs hissed into being slowly and deliberately, faded and torn from the journey, still choked with the reality of the field and forest.

Honors go to Glaswegian Rachel Newton for April release Here’s My Heart Come Take It: purer and more vibrant than the Unthanks, but just as brooding and cavernous in its way, Newton’s harp and voice are bright as glass in the sun, and as mysterious as the dark inner worlds their reflections obscure. More go to The Willow Collection, a titularly thematic set from Nova Scotian sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, who bring piano, guitar, fiddle, and flying footwork in equal measure to a fine, polished, jaw-droppingly beautiful album, and one of several 2016 projects from prolific new fave Chris Coole, a stalwart of the Toronto bluegrass scene whose hatchet face and banjo wizardry showed up in spades this year: in a potent cover of The Band classic Stage Fright which will appear in our Singles mix, in solo narrative project The Tumbling River and other stories, and in The Lonesome Ace Stringband’s mostly-trad live-to-tape Gone For Evermore, a stunning example of the stringband subset, with masterful-yet-playful bass and fiddle besides, and high harmonies as polished as a back porch. A rich field, indeed.



The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Covers Albums & Tributes
+ Various Artists, Say Yes! A Tribute To Elliott Smith

+ Various Artists, Day of the Dead
+ Various Artists, Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97′s
+ Various Artists, God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson
+ Various Artists, Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mereza

Our own minor forays into the musicworld hewed narrower to folk this year, leaving us dependent on other blogs and songsources to uncover the category at year’s end. But a few standouts worth reiteration emerge in this coverall category nonetheless. These include Mojo’s fine bespoke Dylan tribute, which we featured here in our Mojo spectacular a few months ago; Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97′s, a Pledgemusic-driven tribute curated by the band and their webmaster and featuring, therefore, both faithful renditions and diverse deconstructions of great songs by some of the Old 97′s favorite artists, many of whom share the same Texas scene-ground, and have toured and recorded with the band; The sark brooding blues-on-fire of God Don’t Never Change, an Alligator Records tribute to Blind Willie Johnson with Lucinda Williams, Trucks and Tedeschi, Tom Waits, and the most beautiful coda from Rickie Lee Jones; the lighthearted Let All Children Boogie: A Tribute To David Bowie, which aptly proves that even as the kindie world continues to produce to robust originals of its own, the kidfolk category we once touted here may have faded – but it’s not gone for good.

Day of the Dead, for example, a sprawling. “epic” 5 disc set that represents the Red Hot Organization’s 25th release, sees 59 artists hosted by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National taking on the songs of the Grateful Dead (and the traditionals they made their own) in a broad, meandering path through modern music that befits both the long and storied history of the band and their tendency towards long, extended-play performances and recordings. The album is decidedly imperfect, with a touch too many phoned-in performances, but there’s strong tracks here galore, if you’re willing to sift through. And the record easily contains a full-sized, full-bore folk covers album in the mix, with standout tracks from Sam Amidon, Hiss Golden Messenger, Bela Fleck, Bill Callahan, and others.

Lesser known but no less stellar entries here include Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera, a darling lo-fi Nashville-by-way-of-Australia 2 disc set that makes for a mostly acoustic, if equally sprawling, nominally country album, though the downunder use of the term is closer to folk than it is here in the States, and our favorite, by a nose: American Laundromat’s tribute to Elliott Smith, Say Yes!, which – like their previous forays into the world of grungy indie coverage – spreads deep across a narrow band that runs from fuzzy electronic to soft acoustic, heavy on the solo singer-songwriter fare, with familiar songs from label frequent-flyers Lou Barlow, Julianna Hatfield, Tanya Donelly, William Fitzsimmons, Amanda Palmer, Sun Kil Moon and more.



Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2015-2016, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

Comment » | Best of 2016, Lotte Kestner, Reid Jamieson, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Covered In Folk: Blaze Foley
(The Avett Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, Timbuk 3, Ben Haggard & more!)

October 10th, 2016 — 7:32pm





As the posthumous subject of songs penned and performed by Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, and other luminaries from his own era, it’s not hard to see the influence Blaze Foley had on his scene, especially in the context of Van Zandt, with whom he traveled and performed frequently. But if you only faintly recognize his name, it is because the Texas singer-songwriter was the Daniel Johnston of his time and place: a drifter and drinker, troubled yet iconoclastic, earnest and yet just plumb weird; a difficult and often lost soul who wore duct tape on his cowboy boots and lived in a tree, wrote plain, plaintive songs about big cheeseburgers and high school heroes, got kicked out of the Kerrville Folk Festival, and died at the end of a gun in mysterious circumstances at the age of 39 over 25 years ago.

In no small part because the sandpaper influence of his personality made recording opportunities scant and scattered, if Foley is remembered, it is because of his songcraft, not his recordings. Tracking Foley’s songbook is possible, mostly, thanks to Live at the Austin Outhouse, a 15-track “greatest hits” performance from the month before his death, once out of print but rereleased at the turn of the century to find a new audience looking for the roots and branches of their underground heritage.

But this small collection contains the seeds of greatness realized. A true poet, unafraid of both the political and the personal lens, whose simple, direct images spoke loudly to universal themes of love, loneliness, leaving and loss, Foley was in many ways a songwriter’s songwriter, famously covered in his lifetime by the likes of John Prine, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, with If I Could Only Fly cited by Haggard upon his first listen as ““the best country song I’ve heard in fifteen years.” And although finding these rare original performances, to seep into them as their fumbling, couch-syrup tones rise and fall, is a visceral experience, well worth pursuit, it is Foley’s songwriting, and its continued influence – both beyond his lifespan, and beyond the world of Texas country – that interests us today.

Unsurprisingly, with a few exceptions, Foley’s songs are difficult to interpret, making coverage rare. But happily, those who have chosen to take on the challenge of reimagining them do so without trivializing, giving the lyrics and chords new voice and clarity through interpretations inevitably crisper, and more deliberately nuanced, then their original raw and dirty forms. Read on for our favorite next-generation coverage, as growled and soft-shoe traditionalists and indiefolk reinventionists alike take on the Blaze Foley songbook in all its weird, wonderful, yet still prescient north-by-northwest madness.


Covered In Folk: Blaze Foley [zip!]


Comment » | Blaze Foley, Covered In Folk

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

September 5th, 2016 — 4:30pm


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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 The Source, Vol. 1: MOJO Magazine
(32 covers from twelve years of tribute albums)

August 28th, 2016 — 2:59pm


mojocollage


Great covers come from a myriad of sources. But the coverlover’s collection is founded on a finite set, where coverage runs fast and free: deep wells that sustain us, pouring forth the volumes that pepper our mixtapes and shore up our artist-centric features, from “homage houses” like Reimagine Music and American Laundromat Records to ongoing YouTube tour-stops like AV Undercover and the pop-up microstudios of Dutch field recorder Onder Invloed.

Back To The Source, our newest feature concept, dives deep into these wells, seeking to celebrate and reveal just what makes their waters so prolific and life-sustaining. We kick things off today with a look at MOJO, who in just over a decade has produced dozens of tributes to seminal albums and artists, sealed lovingly in plastic alongside their monthly music magazine; read on for beautiful interpretations of seminal songs from Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, and more, plus more Beatles covers than you could ever imagine.


I love used CD stores, where a quick skim of the liner notes can reveal treasures previously unnoticed or unheard, and rarities abound, from live local radio compilations to label tributes long out of print. And so, a few weekends ago, in a last gasp effort to enjoy the waning days of summer, we found ourselves in Brattleboro, VT, where Turn It Up records has recently relocated to new digs. I begged a few minutes from the end of a great meal, and headed for the stacks.

And there, in the three for five bucks tray, was a treasure trove: someone’s entire collection of Mojo Records CDs.

It was an incomplete set, to be sure – about 5 year’s worth, of a total collection that so far spans a dozen. But I walked away with ten separate tribute albums, most otherwise impossible to find. And after steeping in them for two weeks, it was just too good not to share.

A little history here: Mojo Magazine has included a free CD with almost every issue since late 2004; not all tackle covers, but many do. Two-disc set Beatlemania, which emerged in September of that year, and Cash Covered, released that November, were the first covers compilations to appear as part of a series that yaws wide enough to define the broad tastes of Mojo itself, where punk, soul, pop and indie all have their place in the pantheon, and authenticity is the name of the game.

For the first few years, Mojo’s CDs tended to compile previously recorded material, maybe with a brand new track or two; the joy here was in the collection and organization, which generally trended towards a broad genre spectrum held together marvelously, resulting in a growing cache of eminently listenable long-plays. In more recent years, Mojo has included a number of bespoke CDs in their collection, with songs solicited and recorded exclusively for their projects. Either way, their taste is impeccable: it is these collections, in fact, which have introduced me to The Staves, Neville Skelly, Jeb Loy Nichols, and other up-and-comers, while renewing my love for Woodpigeon, Phosphorescent, Yim Yames, Sam Amidon, Emily Barker, Thea Gilmore, Jim White, and many more artists pushing the envelope beyond easy genre categorization.

In the end, as a collection, the Mojo tribute CDs stand almost unparalleled – a fitting beginning for a new feature series, and a great way to celebrate the magazine and its tastemakers as they continue their search for the source in the songscape. Read on for our favorite, folkiest tracks from a close-to-complete chronology of cover albums, from that Beatlemania set to Blonde on Blonde Revisited, last month’s delight of a Dylan tribute.


Mojo Magazine’s Best Covers (2004-2016)
A Cover Lay Down Mix
[zip!]



Always artist-friendly and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been covering the changing landscape of music since 2007 thanks to the continued efforts of sources like Mojo…and the kindness of readers like you. Donate today to help us keep the servers spinning, and receive our undying thanks, PLUS a mixtape of otherwise unblogged rarities!

1 comment » | Back To The Source, Mixtapes, The Beatles, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Double Dippers, Vol. IV: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
Paul Simon, Modest Mouse, Gram Parsons, The Band and Dougie MacLean!

July 24th, 2016 — 10:58am


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It’s been two years and one huge archive crash since we last revisited our Double Dippers series, in which we focus on artists who pay tribute to a favorite songwriter through coverage in two distinct phases of their careers. Our interest, as always, is in the ethnographic lens on craft and culture: if covers serve as artifacts that reveal the substance of artistic evolution, then an individual artist’s return to a common songbook is especially illuminating – both as an exploration of maturity and experimentation, and in the way it reinforces that artist’s claim to a particular musical lineage or heritage.

Previously, we took the analytical approach to paired homage from Mark Erelli, Richard Shindell, Amos Lee, Lucy Kaplansky, and Old Crow Medicine Show (Vol. 1), Kasey Chambers, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Red Molly (Vol. 2), and Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Bragg, Evan Dando, and Crooked Still alumni Aoife O’Donovan and Tristan Clarridge (Vol. 3) as they explored the works of their peers and progenitors. Today, we continue our dig into how songwriters are shaped by song and soundscapes with double-dip coverage from six distinct artists working in and around the world of folk and roots: Mark Kozelek, Whiskeytown, Susan Werner, Shawn Colvin, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Kallet, Epstein, and Cicone.

    Recorded in two subsequent incarnations of dreamy indie singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek‘s evolution from bandleader to solo act, more than anything, these two tracks show steadfast commitment to a career built at least partially on transformative coverage – before recording Modest Mouse homage Tiny Cities with Sun Kil Moon, the band released an entire album covering AC/DC; he has also contributed multiple tracks to one of our favorite John Denver tribute albums, and taken on the likes of KISS, Paul Simon, Genesis and The Cars. Eleven years later, Kozelek, now known for his ability to strip a song down to its bare essentials, has lost none of the scarred beauty of his particularly intimate slowcore approach as he matures into himself; the significant difference here is the even more spare arrangement which typifies atypically piano-driven collection Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, a stunning new release featuring guest vocalists galore, sure to feature in our end-of-year wrap-up of the Best Cover Albums of 2016.


    Shawn Colvin‘s second covers album Uncovered – released 21 years after Cover Girl, her first covers collection, wormed its way into our heart – double-dips twice, returning to the work of both Tom Waits and The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Both cover pairings are good, though Colvin’s turn towards Adult Contemporary between these two poles of her career remains evident; as with her double-take on the Beatles songbook, her return here “bear[s] the scars and strengths of that journey, though…the high production value and carefully nuanced vocals shine almost blindingly bright.” Which is to say: we like Uncovered, which was recorded with less pomp and circumstance than some of her mid-career radio-ready hits, a lot more than we expected to; in its best moments, like her subtle, slow take on Acadian Driftwood, it reminds us of the intimacy and innocence of Colvin’s earliest, rawest work, and as such, merits a second dip into her career.


    Ryan Adams is known in the coverworld for his slow reframing of Wonderwall and his triumphant retake on Taylor Swift album 1989; outside of that world, it’s hard to find a more perfect debut album than Heartbreaker. But before he was a solo artist with a penchant for covering everything from metal to pop, Adams fronted short-lived but highly influential alt-country band Whiskeytown, which covered Gram Parsons several times as they evolved from grungy post-country rockabilly to the more delicate side of the No Depression universe just before Adams and fellow founder Caitlin Cary spun off into the void. Adams has taken on Parsons plenty since – his live covers of Sin City and Streets Of Baltimore are great country ballads; his 1999 in-concert duet with Gillian Welch is legendary – but it’s the distance between these two cuts that best models how he got from here to there.


    The occasional trio of Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone have released just three albums since first coming together in 1981; we featured the last upon its release in 2008 with a celebration of Cindy Kallet’s overall output, and grew up on the first two, celebrating them in our formative years as a guidepost to a strain of hearty heartstrong vocal-led folksong particular to the New England coast, with echoes of shanties and the shapenote traditions, and the earthy delights of UK folksingers such as the Scottish MacLean. Final album Heartstrings, a return to the fold, is as tender and reminiscent as you might expect, although strong in its own right – but though recorded just five years apart, the subtle rumblings in the folkstream which would send much of the most honest forms of folk underground as folk radio turned towards Adult Contemporary show at the seams in the range between these two earlier songs.


    Her live performances and albums hew closely to the solo singer-songwriter model, with a masterful command of voice and style, and confidence and humor on stage. But Susan Werner – a classically trained composer and vocalist, and a true follower of the “album as album” school of songwriting – has reinvented herself for almost every studio release since establishing herself as a folksinger in the mid eighties. Recent collections include an atheist’s gospel album and a collection of songs exploring the voice of the modern farmer; her next collection will reportedly take on the culture and rhythms of a newly-reopened island nation, and the samples we’re heard live have been amazing. As such, the vast difference between these two Paul Simon songs is easily explicable: the former is a beautiful, maudlin piece typical of her early work in the contemporary vein, the latter, which matches a Simon & Garfunkel song to a Vivaldi-esque string setting, is a live take from the tour following 2009 release Classics, a potent genre-crossing covers collection which set standards of the sixties and seventies against precisely identified classical stylings.


    Finally, a second take on the Simon & Garfunkel songbook, this time from second-generation fringepop folk artist Lucy Wainwright Roche, paired in both cases with mother Suzzy of the Roches. Both covers are amazing, although arguably, it’s the first, a last-track coda on Lucy Wainwright Roche’s 2010 studio debut Lucy, which fills our head for days after we listen, haunting and taunting us with its rich sonic landscape. But what a difference six years makes, as the urgency of the full-length debut fades back into the soaring, delicate harmonies and ringing strings that typified Lucy’s first few tiny EPs, each one as precious as the next. If there was ever any question that Lucy is as potent a force in her own right as brother Rufus or father Loudon, this pairing should settle it.



Always artist-centric and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the folkways through cover songs since 2007 thanks to the kind generosity of patrons like you. Want to help? Give now to support our continuing mission, and we’ll send you an exclusive mix of unblogged favorites from 2014-2015 – along with our undying thanks!

Comment » | Double Dippers, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Mark Kozelek, Ryan Adams, Shawn Colvin, Susan Werner

(Re)Covered In Folk: Dave Carter, 1952 – 2002
The Legacy of a Buddhist Cowboy Poet

July 19th, 2016 — 11:59pm

Repost originally featured July 19, 2010. Dave, we miss you still.




Each year as schooldays fade into memory and the summer festival season grows close, my thoughts turn to Dave Carter. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter already well respected by critics and peers, Carter was on the road with his partner Tracy Grammer in the summer of 2002 when he was stricken down with a heart attack during an early morning run in the New England heat.

Their scheduled set at that day’s Green River Festival was taken over by Signature Sounds labelmate Mark Erelli with little fanfare. And the following weekend, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Tracy took to the stage with determination, cementing Carter’s legacy with a mainstage tribute set performed with friends and folkfamily that, surely, would have made Dave smile.

I’d like to say that I was there, as so many friends were. But this series of events comes to me secondhand, eclipsed by the miracle of parenthood, and the uncertain, overwhelming future of its sudden and everpermanent arrival. For on the day of Dave Carter’s death, in a hospital just a few blocks from where he had planned to perform on that fateful day, my wife and I were walking into the same hot summer, our newly-born child cradled carefully in our arms.

It was the one and only year we’ve missed Falcon Ridge in fifteen years of continuous attendance – the field being no place for a week-old infant – but though I have no regrets in choosing personal joy over shared wake under the circumstances, I have long wished I could have been there for the celebration of Carter’s life which took place that summer on the ridge. Instead, I am left with faint memory and eternal song, his recorded catalog of Zen mysticism and gentle cowboy poetics a permanent fixture on my playlists, his warm voice and sublime vision a constant echo of what was and could have been.

Far be it from me to claim some special bond between Carter and myself, despite the proximity of life and death which we shared; I was only privileged enough to see Dave and Tracy once in concert, and now it is too late.

But Dave Carter lives in my heart, and in the hearts of those folk musicians I love. And why not? It’s not just that Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer spent the last two years of his life atop the american folk charts, thanks to top honors at Kerrville, Napa Valley, and other festivals following their kitchen-recorded, independently released debut When I Go (1998), and the subsequent success of Tanglewood Tree (2000) and Drum Hat Buddha (2001); it’s that they earned that recognition, through unparalleled songcraft, dedicated performance, and a grateful approach to the universe that lives on in his songs, and in her life.

Perhaps Joan Baez said it best, describing Carter’s songs as folkways-ready: “There is a special gift for writing songs that are available to other people, and Dave’s songs are very available to me. It’s a kind of genius, you know, and Dylan has the biggest case of it. But I hear it in Dave’s songs, too.” Listen, and you’ll hear it too.



Tracy Grammer continues to perform the Dave Carter songbook, most often with local hero and master instrumentalist Jim Henry by her side. In 2005, she released Flower of Avalon, which included nine previously unrecorded songs written by Carter, and a single traditional tune that fits perfectly within the set.

Since then, Tracy has continued to perform and record, making a name for herself beyond that of Dave Carter’s partner and muse. But in many ways, her life continues to be as much a part of his legacy as his songs. Pick up her work, and theirs, at tracygrammer.com.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Dave Carter, Reposts

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

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