Category: Artists


Take It Easy: California Coverfolk
with covers of The Doors, Sublime, Dawes, Jane’s Addiction & more!

April 23rd, 2017 — 9:50pm


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We’re just back from Spring Break in and around Los Angeles, where the weather was fine, indeed, after months of cold rain and thaw in our chosen home New England. When we left the garden was just buds bulging on the tips of the first green stems; California, by contrast, was in full bloom, thanks to an unusually rainy winter, and we were grateful, indeed, to find the world sunny and hot in the late mornings and afternoons, and just cool enough in the evening to keep from shivering in our shirtsleeves.

My students think LA is exotic; I thought I knew better, having been several times in the past couple of decades, both times as the first stop in a meandering drive up the coast towards San Francisco and Oregon. But this time around, we came to settle in, with an Air B&B house in the canyons, on a suburban settlement down the street from my father’s first cousin, and I think we did it right by avoiding the city. Exquisite lunches on the beach and the Malibu pier; venison steak up in the hills at an authentic 150 year old stage coach stop surrounded by bikers and the warm amplified sounds of an amateur cover artist; mornings at the zoos, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the sprawling gardens of Pasadena; lunch on the beaches and piers, and a shot at the steampunk thrift shops in Ventura; Harry Potter World on a Tuesday, and a final Friday afternoon hot and high in the desert hills at the Wolf Connections sanctuary, surrounded by the scrub of an alien landscape.

At home, the mailbag bulges with promise and the hint of summer releases. Tomorrow, the workweek begins anew, with the usual stresses and strain of the impending summer; lesson plans and grading have taken me to this afternoon, providing but little respite to write here. But here on the porch in the afternoon sun, the daffodils blooming at my feet, it’s hard not to want to just soak in the sunshine, with a bank of light coverfolk as the soundtrack to our last remaining hours.

And so we return to our Vacation Coverfolk series on the eve of the ever-intruding real world with a last gasp at Los Angeles through the songs of cross-continental coverage: a whole universe of folk artists taking on a chronology of songs penned and originally performed by bands and artists born, bred, or discovered in and around the city of angels. May they bring Spring softly, planting the surf, the sand, the hills, and the boulevards in the rich new soil of your own sunshine dreams.

L.A. Coverfolk: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]


Comment » | Clem Snide, Laura Cortese, Vacation Coverfolk

RIP Chuck Berry (1926-2017)
A tribute in folk coverage from Cajun to the country blues

March 25th, 2017 — 7:55am


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When Chuck Berry passed last Saturday at 90, the airwaves swelled with gratitude and stories of the man who brought us the duck walk and My Ding-A Ling, did gigs as a beautician and a stint as a reform school kid on the way up, and built the genre from the freestyle of the blues, the whine of the country guitar, the simple call-and-refrain verse-chorus-verse of the folksong, the beat of a rhythm and blues nation, and the definitive string-led combo.

Finding a plethora of coverage of Berry’s canon seemed inevitable: many of the long-standing artist and performer’s greatest hits were also hits for other seminal rock and rollers, both peers and inheritors, from Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis to The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles, whose classic versions of Roll Over Beethoven and Memphis helped put them on the map in the first place. Indeed, arguably, Berry’s songs are so well covered, many of them have become truly folk, part and parcel of the vast spectrum that is the modern western songbook; it says what it needs to that Johnny B. Goode is the only rock and roll song on the Voyager spacecraft, where one day, it may well establish the Earth as a cultured rest stop for the alien mind, a truly exciting and excitable space among the heavens.

Anyone truly deserving of the name “architect of rock and roll” has enough influence to cross genre lines, too. And sure enough, Berry’s songs have found their way from punk to country, where their easily translatable lyrics and eminently playable beats bring comfort to new audiences exploring the sounds of the soul. Though many of Chuck Berry’s songs are so seminal, their transformations are hard to search for, our dip into the vast realm of folk and roots coverage here today reveals a broad influence, heavy on the real and rustic but unusually diverse in subgenre, from sultry country swing to fieldhouse rhythm and blues to contemporary fingerpickin’ folk rock, with stops in everyspace from jug band blues to crackling Cajun along the way. Guess it just proves that rock and roll will never die – at least, not so long as it continues to infiltrate the sense and sensibility of the multifaceted folkways.



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3 comments » | Chuck Berry, Covered In Folk, RIP

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


amosleemag


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

2 comments » | 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


640_vinyl


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

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