Category: Artists


Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest (Aug 3-6)
Part 2 of 2: The Emerging Artists Showcase & The Lounge Stage

July 21st, 2017 — 4:07pm

Tuesday’s 22-track coverset featuring the diverse set of folk, world music, and roots artists slated to perform at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest in beautiful New York farm country at the foot of the Berkshires was grand, but mainstage isn’t the only scene at Falcon Ridge. Our second shot this year focuses on a pair of other artist cohorts: The Emerging Artists Showcase, which runs from noon to 4:30 on Friday on mainstage, and the Lounge Stage, a pop-up “festival within a festival” which takes place from 4-11 on Thursday under the Dance Tent. Enjoy – and as always, follow links back to learn more about each artist, even if you can’t make it to this year’s festival!


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Falcon Ridge 2013 Emerging Artists Roosevelt Dime play an impromptu set on the midway – an excellent strategy to win fans and please the crowd beyond the Friday showcase.


Simply stated, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill Emerging Artists Showcase is well known in the industry as a highly competitive proving ground: a jury-chosen selection of 24 artists on the cusp of national name-brand recognition, many of whom arrive with little more than local support and a single album or EP in their pocket, who take over mainstage for a pair of songs each as the festival begins its official performance schedule. At the end of the festival, attendee surveys poll the crowd on who they’d most like to see again; the top three vote-getters are asked to come back the following year for a mainstage Most Wanted Song Swap, ensuring a loving welcome for those who stand out among the crowd.

To be fair, there are factors out of artists control which can influence favoritism. Later placement in the line-up, and the occasional rain shower midway through the afternoon, for example, have an influence on who sees who. But truly, the showcase is just the beginning of the journey towards greater recognition and love. Artists who push their presence beyond the stage itself – into the pop-up radio station vendor venues, and the late-night campsite circles and mini-stages such as The Big Orange Tarp, Budgiedome, and Pirate Camp, with their folk radio DJ and promoter MCs, which attract and present in scheduled form a cool mix of mainstage artists, rising stars, and special guests once the stages close down for the night – tend to be those who return.

But no matter how or whether they get selected for the following year’s Most Wanted swap, diehards know that the next big thing is – quite probably – here before us on Friday afternoon at the fest. Artists who have performed in the emerging artist showcase and moved on to greatness include many of our favorites here at Cover Lay Down, including Darlingside, Erin McKeown, Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, Roosevelt Dime, Parsonsfield, Spuyten Duyvil, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Red Molly, Joe Crookston, Pesky J. Nixon, Girlyman, and more – a fine list of names, and a familiar one to those who watch the folk charts and coffeehouses.


mure2This year’s roster is unusually strong in talent, but rare in broad familiarity; as such, it behooves us not to forecast favorites. But there are a few familiar and beloved faces on this year’s list, as befits a smorgasbord – five out of 24, in fact, have been celebrated here on Cover Lay Down before, either alone or in collaboration with notable others.

Of these, two are especially familiar to Falcon Ridge audiences: Robinson Treacher, previously featured here and in the FRFF 2016 vendor zone for his trio work with Brad Cole and fest fave Matt Nakoa, an association which should garner him no small amount of interest on stage this year, and Heather Aubrey Lloyd, who is also well known to regular fest-goers for her work with one-time Most Wanted trio ILYAIMY and for solo performance at the pre-fest Lounge Stage; here, the band’s cover of Iggy Azalea’s Black Widow, recorded in 2014, offers solid evidence for why we treasure her new solo album, and her performance.

We’re especially thrilled to finally have a chance to catch NYC singer-songwriter, classically trained oboist, and composer/arranger Emily Mure live and in person after missing her first go-round at the Emerging Artists pool in 2008 (an unusually competitive year in which voting heavily favored bands and combos). Emily’s gorgeous cover of Elliott Smith’s Between The Bars made our 2016 Best Singles Mix; previously, we’d featured her delightfully orchestrated cover of Cake fave Mexico with nowhere near enough fanfare, though notably, both No Depression and Red Line Roots raved about it at the time – these two songs, alone, are enough to make sure we catch up with her, and help steer her towards the wider proving grounds beyond the stage. Her impending album Worth, a well-produced, wistful-to-wild exemplar of contemporary singer-songwriter folk, is due to drop with no small fanfare in September; we’re honored to present that album’s sole cover, a tender and utterly stunning David Bowie tribute, in today’s mix as a Cover Lay Down exclusive, with permission from Mure herself.

Two other artists come to us with other familiarity, through their recordings. Midwesterner Josh Harty made his previous appearance on CLD in 2014, in a collaboration with CLD fave John Statz that featured covers of both Greg Brown and John Prine. And The End Of America, an otherwise-unknown-to-us trio, garnered honorable mention in our Best Video Coverfolk of 2015 for a strong 6-part winter YouTube coverseries; we’ve dug deeper today for a slightly older cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down to better feature their strong three-part harmonies.

Both our set today and the emerging artists pool it represents place these five among a strong set of peers. Notably, though, the caveats of coverage apply. Not all artists are represented here; our covers-only approach is a limiting lens, and of the original 24, a handful of artists performing this year at Falcon Ridge have no covers “out there”, or at least not those easily found. I looked hard, though, for anything to offer from John John Brown, Clint Alphin, Bruce Michael Miller, Christine Sweeney, and James Hearne, mostly because the originals posted on their YouTube pages and websites are just so damn good; as always, we encourage you, dear reader, to seek them out on your own.

A surprising number of those that did make our set feature collaboration with other artists – a generous sign, for those of us who prefer to experience our emerging artists again after hours, as they play the fields and pop-up venues into the wee hours of the festival dark with “house band” backup from the circle. Caroline Cotter, for example, a world-traveling singer-songwriter from Portland, Maine whose solo albums each focus around the folkway of a particular place, appears in trio form here, and we’ll have to wait until August to find out who, if anyone, she has brought to support her on the Falcon Ridge stage. And Letitia VanSant, a Baltimorean indie Americana artist whose sonic influences run the gamut from Hazel Dickens to Nine Simone, performs here in duet, channeling the two-voice original of a John Prine number with aplomb.

Fittingly, too, with a few notable exceptions – Mure’s cover, singer songwriter Lisa Bastoni newly-released Diane Cluck cover, which frames her return to the folkfold after a ten year hiatus, a sweet and soulful dustbowl take on Sean Brennan’s Texarkana from Monica Rizzio, a barnburner of a country bootstomper from Renee Wahl, CT-based band-man Shawn Taylor‘s grungy, bluesy folkrock Stephen Stills cover, and Mass College Of Liberal Arts student Izzy Heltai‘s gorgeous transformation of familiar O Brother Where Art Thou spiritual Down To The River – most of today’s songs find their origin in lo-fi YouTube performances, stageside captures, and other sundry non-studio sources, giving us some sense of what these artists might be like live – although intimate performance and bedroom vocals are but a teaser, and a misleading one at best, for the resonance of scalar sun and crowd that the field provides.

So listen to our artist-alphabetized list, as male folk duos Francis Luke Accord and country-and-bluegrass influenced Ryanhood take on Cat Stevens and The Beatles, respectively, turning in harmony performances that showcase their talents, while male-female pairing Ordinary Elephant comes through with an intimate banjo-and-guitar lakeside cover of I’ll Fly Away. Sit a spell, as Alice Howe strips down Sam Cooke for something delightful and sweet, and young solo artist Cubbage channels Ed Sheeran into subtlety. Enjoy, while Brooklynite Aly Tadros shocks us with an intimate unknown recorded in a tour room hotel, and countryfolk harmony trio No Good Sister challenge themselves in-studio to take on an obscurity from UK popsynth team Yaz, and come up roses.

And revel, overall, in the breadth and depth of folk, as the next generation takes the stage, and our hearts.



Falcon Ridge Folk Fest 2017: Emerging Artists Mix
—> download the mix!




lounge stage


Finally, though the Falcon Ridge Folk festival officially promotes itself as a Friday-to-Sunday affair, fest regulars know that there’s at least as much going on the day before. So be sure to hit Dodd’s Farm Thursday, August 3rd, for a local farmer’s market chock full of the best of the local bottled and corked, plus corn and dirt-grown sundries – and, of course, for the Lounge Stage, our very favorite festival-within-a-festival, which in past years has grown from an artist-collaborative production on the hill to a formal showcase that .

In addition to many acts mentioned either above or in our mainstage survey – including Abbie Gardner, Joe Crookston, Kirsten Maxwell, Bettman & Halpin, and emerging artists The End Of America, Heather Aubrey Lloyd, Alice Howe, Christine Sweeney, and Ryanhood – as shown above, the Lounge Stage 2017 will feature hosts and Lounge Stage co-founders Pesky J. Nixon, Kate Taylor of James-and-Livingston sibling fame, Americana up-and-comer Cassandra House, high-energy brother-led Long Island six-piece countryfolk band Quarter Horse, Boston bluesfolk stalwart Danielle Miraglia, long-standing Falcon Ridge house band member and folkscene sideman Radoslav Lorkovic, and fest faves Jesse Terry and Greg Klyma. Most artists will perform in the round with two others – offering a chance for collaboration and artist-to-artist showcasing, and nurturing a sense of intimacy and companionship that easily counterbalances the size of what it sure to be, once more, a spill-over crowd.

All in all, Thursday’s event promises ample reason to take the extra day off from work, and arrive to the proverbial hill on August 3rd relaxed and ready to enjoy the best that summer has to offer. Here’s our final mix, comprised of those artists whose appearance at The Lounge Stage will mark their sole “official” role at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, though many will surely find their ways into the hills and campsites as the weekend stretches on. Enjoy it, and we’ll see you soon in the folkfields.



Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2017: Lounge Stage Supplemental Mix
—>download the mix!

1 comment » | Emily Mure, Festival Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs, Pesky J. Nixon

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest (Aug. 4-6)
Part 1 of 2: Mainstage, Workshop, and Dance Stage Artists, 2017

July 18th, 2017 — 4:23pm


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We’ve written so much about the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival since we began our journey here at Cover Lay Down, it seems almost trivial to try a new angle on the place we call our true home: the fields where my children have learned to ride their bikes, become potty trained, discovered and nurtured lifetime friendships, and fallen in love with the beloved, intentional community.

But perhaps that is as it should be. This will be our own 20th anniversary year helping build that beloved community. And maybe – just maybe – the fact that we’ve not missed a year in all that time says what it needs to about how Falcon Ridge feeds the soul, and rejuvenates the heart.

It’s not just one thing, either. It’s everything. The people, like family, spread out in tent streets and camper clusters across John Dodd’s beautiful hayfield, with its natural slopes and flats, and the lines of trees which bring shade in the heat of the afternoon. The vendor aisles, with their intimate pop-up singer-songwriter venues, clothing and crafts tents, and delicious homemade food vendors, from gypsy barbecue to smoothie stands. The work, of signpainting and fencebuilding, leadership training and joy-spreading, which serves the soul and the very existence of the festival as a tangible, well-organized thing. The night, with its rich abundance of laughter and campfire sounds, beckoning us home and back again, and making us feel welcome there.

And the music, of course. For although we come for the family, it is the music we stay for – that which sustains us, and justifies our presence, together in the communion of the field.

These days music at Falcon Ridge falls into tripartite form, with distinct talent pools and promise from mainstage/dance stage artists – many of whom also appear throughout the festival at workshop stages as well in sweet harmony and songsharing sessions – plus this year’s Emerging Artist talent pool, which performs Friday afternoon in a rapid-fire showcase, and performers booked for this year’s Lounge Stage, a “festival within a festival” with its own organizers and tastemasters which takes over the Dance Tent on Thursday before the main festival begins. (Artists from all groups will populate casual but pre-programmed late-night campsite sessions and pop-up venues, too – some of the best performances in the field happen under tents in the wee hours, as beloved artists take their turn in the eternal songcircle, fading in and out into the darkness beyond.)

And so, this week, in a two-part series, we dip into the primary pool, with covers where we can find them: an apt sample of the best Falcon Ridge has to offer, and – we hope – enough to bring you to dwell with us among the guitars, the greenery, and the grace. Enjoy, and perhaps we’ll see you there.



hqdefaultThe Falcon Ridge mainstage roster isn’t known for the big names of competitors like Clearwater or – God forbid – Newport; long-timers still talk about the year Ani DiFranco captured mainstage as a year where the crowds and campsites felt a little too big, and a little less safe. But that’s not the point of a festival like Falcon Ridge: those like us who have grown to love the communal celebration recognize it not as a name-brand showcase so much as an experience, in which the broad tent of modern folk music is spread before us in celebration, and honor that choice to remain close to the people, and to let the people remain close.

There are more than a few recognizable names on the line-up, of course – including Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, whose Crossing the Bar has become a bluegrass standard and a cornerstone for hospice choirs, Greenwich Village-era standbys Rod MacDonald, David Massengill, and Eric Andersen, dobro-slinger Abbie Gardner of Red Molly fame, singer-songwriter Joe Crookston, whose Supertramp cooldown is a frequent flyer here at Cover Lay Down, returning contemporary folk supertrio Brother Sun, Contra tradfolk faves The Gaslight Tinkers, and of course, psychedelic folk rock weirdos The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, whose Friday night dance tent rave scene is not to be missed. (Missing, sadly, will be Jimmy LaFave, a beloved performer and songwriter originally booked to headline this year’s festival, whose passing we noted here a few weeks ago; in keeping with the folk-as-family approach, Saturday evening’s mainstage set will be shifted to a tribute, with artists from across the roster paying homage to his life’s work and legacy, and you better believe we’ll be on hand.)

But to say that this year’s mainstage and emerging artist platforms are otherwise heavy with novelty is no bad thing. We’ve discovered some amazing music at Falcon Ridge over the years, and seen many artists in their formative periods who went on to be big, indeed, from Darlingside to Dala, Shawn Colvin to Crooked Still, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Parsonsfield.

We’re especially excited this year to encounter several artists for the very first time, including electric Celtic folkrock combo Tempest, The Adam Ezra Group, who reportedly does a great high-energy acoustic live version of I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and Upstate Rubdown, a brassy combo behind three brash and beautiful harmony voices that comes across in studio session recording like a lushly expanded incarnation of Lake Street Dive, leaving us heavy with don’t-miss promise. And we’re eager for the return of this year’s Most Wanted – Kirsten Maxwell, Bettman & Halpin, and Kipyn Martin, whose emerging artist showcase performances last year garnered top audience votes, earning them feature billing. (Low Lily, who placed first among equals in audience voting this year, will not appear, apparently due to another festival engagement; to honor them, we’ve included an exclusive cover recorded live at our own Unity House Concert Series this December in the mix below.)

In all, a comprehensive collection of singer-songwriters, acoustic bands, contra combos and genre-busting experimentalists who will hit mainstage this year, and we’re proud to present a covermix to celebrate them today. Listen, click through, and then come back later this week as we celebrate Thursday and Friday’s musical entertainment – including the Lounge Stage and this year’s Emerging Artist pool – in a single coverall post. Enjoy!


Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2017: Mainstage Mix
—> download the mix!



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1 comment » | Festival Coverfolk, Joe Crookston, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

Covered In Folk: Aretha Franklin
(Seminal songs from the Queen of Soul)

July 10th, 2017 — 3:36pm


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My father’s record collection is split into two halves, each on its own side of the stereo cabinet: on one side, folk and Americana; on the other, blues and soul. But for most of my life, it’s been Memphis, Chicago, and New Orleans which leave the sleeve so often: Ray Charles, The Staples Singers, Marcia Ball…and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.

Legitimately born of a Memphis preacher man and an accomplished piano player and vocalist – all of which would find its way into her powerful gospel style – Aretha was an interpreter, not a songwriter. Listed first on Rolling Stone’s countdown of the greatest singers of all time, she released over 40 albums since her 1961 self-titled debut, and hit number one on the Billboard charts 20 times between 1967 (I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)) and 1985 (Freeway of Love), even though the majority of the songs we most associate with her work were either originally penned for others in the genre, or performed by them first.

But the Queen of Soul earned her name by making these songs her own. Although song co-author Carole King’s Tapestry take on (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman is historical, it follows Franklin’s in both history and the pantheon. Her version of The Weight, released the year after The Band’s original, charted much higher in the US market, and helped sustain the song’s presence as a future soundtrack staple for films set in the sixties. Before it was hers, Until You Come Back To Me was recorded first by songwriter Stevie Wonder, though not released until afterwards. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves was originally written by The Eurythmics as a duet with Tina Turner, who was unavailable. And perhaps most significantly, Respect – a pleading meditation on aspirational breadwinner masculinity in the hands of Otis Redding – became an anthem of empowerment in Aretha’s throat, thanks to the spelled-out chorus and genderbent lyrical approach; that her flourishes survive in essentially every cover known to humankind says all it needs to about her definitive success.

Appropriately, then, today’s set is a mixed bag: some classic, some transformed; some soulful, some stripped and broken. There’s country in here, as might be expected, given how much crossover already exists between the eminently American genres, but there’s also soft piano balladry, chamberfolk, contemporary popfolk and more, sourced from a hodgepodge of YouTube sessions and studio craft, as befits homage to a respected artist whose reach and influence have been so vast. And it’s all wonderful, in tribute to a true-blue queen still performing – and going strong – at 75. Enjoy.


Aretha Franklin, Covered In Folk [zip!]



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Comment » | Aretha Franklin, Covered In Folk

(Re)Covered: New Folk From Familiar Faces
Eef Barzelay, Red Molly, Rayna Gellert, The Sea The Sea, and more!

July 2nd, 2017 — 1:54pm

Yes, folk fans and coverlovers, we’re back in earnest after what has become a typically spare slide into Summer for a deep dig into the mailbox and social media sources that have accumulated over the past few months: a look at the recent work of artists we’ve celebrated here before today, and – later this week – a celebration of newcomers and new-to-us rising stars as they send forth their own coverage into the void.

Read on for new and noteworthy covers of Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Patty Griffin, Spin Doctors, the tradfolk canon, and a swansong performance from the dearly departed Jimmy LaFave. And, as always, if you like what you hear, click through to purchase from and support the musicians we feature, the better to guarantee the continued production and evolution of soul-touching music in a world too-often in need of its transformative power.


eef-barzelay1Regular readers know: we’re huge fans of prolific one-time Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay here at Cover Lay Down, featuring him back in 2011 with a mega-post on the artist’s journey, returning to him often for Best Of The Year mixtape standards from Jane’s Addiction to Elizabeth Cotten, Crowded House, The Shirelles and more. New two-track release Fan Chosen Covers (Songs We Hate), a shorter-than-average chapter an ongoing series of fan-selected favorites, offers a hazy, wistful and weary take on Breakfast At Tiffany’s that represents his best work as a lo-fi interpreter of the soul; the paired Spin Doctors cover takes a little longer to love, but it’s worth it for its playful, pensive rearrangement of a song stripped of its grief and anger.



redmollyFormed in the hills of our very favorite folk festival, Americana/Roots trio Red Molly worked their way from campfire trio to mainstage darlings via crowd support and collaboration, and that includes some from us, too. I once spent a memorable Sunday afternoon with bass-and-vocalist Laurie and fellow one-time mainstage maven Eliot Bronson under a tent with some cold beers, brainstorming songs for what would be the next Red Molly album before rushing towards mainstage for Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s famous closing sing-along. And we’ve hosted Molly Venter and her husband Eben Pariser of Roosevelt Dime in our house concert series; I play Hold It All, the song she brought to the group in her first year, when I need to cry.

Most recently, we’ve contributed via Pledgemusic to the trio’s upcoming swan song set – a final Red Molly EP, and still in-process solo albums from each of the members currently active. And why not? We’re just suckers for fine three part harmonies here at Cover Lay Down – and for great covers, which run through the Red Molly recorded canon as a mighty river. And all pledgers, no matter what level, get the full set and setlist from a never-released two-set Red Molly show recorded right off the Freight & Salvage soundboard. Here’s a strong countrified contender for our 2017 Best Of The Year singles mix from One for All & All for One, that aforementioned EP, where two originals and equally potent covers of Lori McKenna, Cole Porter, and Julie Miller make for a sweet and worthy set overall – plus an older cover from Eben and Molly, just because we love it so.



theseax2Newly-expanded into a foursome for their upcoming tour, folk act The Sea The Sea – who we’ve also hosted in concert twice as a duo – deftly reinvents within the sparse, airy side of modern percussive indie-folk, as heard and shown exquisitely in this live-take springboard cover of Dylan/Nico standard I’ll Keep It With Mine – a wonderful addition to a growing canon of deep, sensitive, sentimental songcraft from the newly-married friends who form the core of the band. Bonus points here for a very old but beloved take on Chris Smither’s No Love Today from Chuck E Costa himself, back in his pre-Mira days, recorded from alongside the soundboard by yours truly as part and parcel of hosting duties; be sure to check their tour schedule, especially if you live and around the CT/MA/NY region, to see how far he’s come with his beloved at his side.

    The Sea The Sea: I’ll Keep It With Mine (orig. Bob Dylan)


    Chuck E Costa: No Love Today (orig. Chris Smither)



raynaOne-time Uncle Earl fiddle-player Rayna Gellert‘s 2012 release Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds stunned us so much, we named it The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album, citing “how effectively Gellert packages and presents a perfectly-balanced mix of the traditional and the newly-penned in her triple-threat role as arranger, lead performer, and producer” and calling it “so unified in its timelessness, it’s often hard to tell which are the old tunes, and which the new.”

Now after a few appearances here (most recently for a sweet one-take tradfolk video with Kristen Andreassen that featured in this year’s Best Coverfolk Videos), the Appalachian stringband-trained songstress is back with Workin’s Too Hard, a tender-to-tempest seven track album that came out in January and has been sitting happily on our backburner and in rotation ever since. Disc-closer I’m Bound For The Promised Land, one of a pair of traditional numbers on the small but precious collection, is an apt exemplar of both her sound and her old-meets-new sensibility: a barn-burner blur of electric and acoustic strings, supported by a brisk train-chugging brush-and-kickdrum and forefronted by a vocal holler perfect for the prose and presence.



ktferI was disappointed to miss seeing Katie Ferrara in person during our recent trip to California; the newcomer, who we first featured for her delightful cover of Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes in a flavorful mix shared during a spate of popsicle-making last July, busks and bar-hops regularly in and around her native LA, and broadcasts regularly from these venues, offering us an unusually clear and vibrant window into the evolving heart, soul, and work of a singer-songwriter on the rise as she refines her craft. This summer’s addition to her recorded output is a well-produced, subtly sensational, and eminently summery doozy of a Creedence cover, released just this week and easily sustaining our support; to offer yours, hit up a show or the usual social media spaces to download and purchase her convertible-top-down folk-pop powerhouse EP Dream Catcher.

    Katie Ferrara: Hey Tonight (orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival)



jlf-picFinally, in tribute: We first featured Texas/Oklahoma singer-songwriter stalwart Jimmy LaFave way back in January of 2012, celebrating his hoarse and tender way with a Dylan song, the Guthrie legacy, dustbowl peers Joe Ely and Townes Van Zandt, and more. At the time, we named our discovery a revelation “to the historically-grounded poetry and achingly vivid performance of… one of the most respected songwriters and interpreters in his field”; his take on Not Dark Yet, which we’ve reposted below alongside a favorite Jackson Browne cover released since that original round-up, remains in our top ten Dylan covers of all time, and I think you’ll hear why from the very first line.

Jimmy’s passing in May after a particularly short and poignant bout with cancer left behind a legacy of life and leavetaking covered exceptionally well by Lonestar Music Magazine in its most recent issue. His death is punctuated by much love from his peers in the crossover country/folk Red Dirt community and beyond, immeasurable sadness, a final tribute performance encore broadcast live on Facebook by fellow traveler Eliza Gilkyson that chills to the bone, and high hopes for an unusually powerful tribute set at this summer’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, where he was scheduled to headline; we’ll be sure to attend, and hope to see you there, too, in celebration of a live lived well in song and sadness.


    Jimmy LaFave and Friends: Goodnight Irene (orig. Lead Belly)



1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Clem Snide, Jimmy LaFave, Rayna Gellert, Red Molly, The Sea The Sea

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

April 23rd, 2017 — 9:50pm


la-skyline


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

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