Category: James Taylor


The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2017)
Living room covers, live cuts, in-studio sessions & more!

January 1st, 2018 — 5:29pm


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By its very nature, the cover celebrates iteration over song. And our Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos collection was originally envisioned as a way to acknowledge that, by celebrating in their “native medium” those performances which truly lose something essential when what we see is separated out from what we hear – an approach which favors live and in-studio performances over produced videographic content, and generally eschews the promotional post-recording “music video”.

How we celebrate this specific source and its coverfolk has come in and out of fashion here at Cover Lay Down, growing from a single category in our Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums features as recently as 2013 to a two-parter, with separate features for our top Coverfolk Video Singles and The best cover sessions, sets, and series, in 2015. This year, any attempt to commodify just “the native ones” is further complicated by the facts that a) we’re much later than usual, and b) despite previous-year concern that stripping the visuals from these multimedia texts potentially undermines their in-the-moment intent, we did it several times this year, most often in service to themed features where the startling-yet-intimate eye-candy atmosphere of a video might interrupt or even overwhelm the tonal focus of the writing itself.

In turn, although we tried to stick to those which stood on their own as audio-only, our trend towards flattening videos into Mp3s seems driven by a prioritization of the personal over the critical here on the blog as life grows ever more complicated, and what was once a twice weekly behemoth has become a less frequent but – we hope – in many ways a more deep ethnographic exploration of the ways in which the folkways influences both artists, and us. But this, too, is not so much a problem as an artifact of what we do, exactly: to live as a coverblogger is, after all, to embody the give-and-take ownership between artist and listener, both on a mass scale and on a very personal one.

Call it an artifact of context over convenience, then. Although a few performances we originally discovered on video (including great cuts from YouTube-to-TV stars Holly Henry and Janet Devlin, frequent-flyer and indie-slash-electrofolk genre-crosser Nataly Dawn, a lovely series of 10 covers of Canadian artists presented in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary by Bailey Pelkman, and a wonderful Outkast cover from vocal popgroup Pentatonix’ departed bass-man, all of whom will appear in our Best Singles Mix) do in the end stand up just fine as audio-only cuts, we still believe that, in the ideal sense, the very design of at least some subsection of the vast array of ‘tube-sourced recordings that populate the sharing sites beg to be experienced in their native medium. For now, anyway, and for this year.

And so – while we finish curating our Best Coverfolk Singles Mixtape of 2017 (which we intend to release soon!), and wait for the last guests to wake up, eat breakfast, and depart from for our annual early-bird New Years party – Cover Lay Down proudly presents our very subjective favorite videographic performances of 2017, an amalgamated mix of 13 favorite singles and coverset selections. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!



The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos, 2017


Kina Grannis: When You Come Back Down (orig. Nickel Creek)

Kina Grannis is welcome and well-celebrated here on Cover Lay Down; she was one of the very first YouTube stars, and one of our first YouTube discoveries. But Grannis has been on fire this year, releasing a mix of sparklingly well-produced single-shot video covers that trend towards the polar ends of coverage, the undone and the redone: this year’s gems include stripped-down recasts of rap and pop tracks such as Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, Jimmy Eat World’s In The Middle, and Khalid’s Young Dumb & Broke, and softer folk and indie sources such as Bob Dylan (Blowin’ In The Wind), Etta James (At Last), and Sting (Fields of Gold), which, although closer in tenderness to the originals, nonetheless leave us breathless. Here, in her final cover of the year, she takes on our favorite Nickel Creek song, joyfully and with eyes half-closed, as always – and we’re glad, indeed, that she knows it, and has the chops to do it so well.


Passenger: A Change Is Gonna Come (orig. Sam Cooke)

The thirteen coversongs that comprised Passenger‘s Sunday Night Sessions – a set of video occasionals, with takes on Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Tracy Chapman, Bill Withers, Don McLean, Joy Division and more, recorded and filmed on location as the artist and his band toured the world – comprise a would-be hands-down favorite this year in our annual look at the single-artist cover series. The songs have since been recast and released as a ten-track streaming-only covers album, and it was mighty tempting, indeed, to include the album in our Best Coverfolk Albums rundown earlier this week – but the site-specific energy of these covers are so potent an addition to their musicality, in the end, we saved them for fuller feature here.


Tallest Man On Earth: Both Sides Now (orig. Joni Mitchell)

The Light in Demos is a pensive and deeply personal acoustic video project after our own heart, produced, written, directed, recorded, shot and edited entirely by Swedish artist Saras Per Kristian Matsson, also known as The Tallest Man on Earth. Eight songs in, the set includes six reworked and unfinished originals which bring new life and resonance to the growing search and songbook of one of our favorite musical explorers, and two covers: A Nick Drake familiarity, and this, “the best song in the world”, performed barefoot and with ringing reverb that brings a layer of stillness and eternity to both song and setting.


Twisted Pine: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (orig. The Beatles)

Announced just last week as recipients of one of Club Passim’s newest Iguana Music Fund grant recipients, Boston-based production-house Red Line Roots’ Old Spruce Sessions are recorded largely in found spaces, in off-stage moments borrowed from touring artists. Unlike their previously-celebrated Locals Cover Locals collections, a Bandcamp-sourced product chock full of predominantly singer-songwriter and small folk duo-and-trio performances, their video series is heavy on the earthy and organic, chock full of bluegrass and old-timey stuff; lo-fi delights worth celebration include a multitude of up-and-coming artists’ originals, Billy Strings’ backstage take on Cocaine Blues, and two Beatles covers: a gentle take on Norwegian Wood filmed in the attic of a rural Vermont town hall, and this tense, terrific wonder from deconstructed bluegrass quartet Twisted Pine, recorded in the fields of this year’s Green River Festival.


Darlingside: 1979 (orig. Smashing Pumpkins)

We’ve shared versions of this cover before. And we’ve loved video of it, too, such as this 2015 Kitchen Sessions performance, which arguably maintains a bit more in-the-moment fast-paced energy. But this one is balanced and pristine – the perfect, grungy-yet-polished final cut we’ve been waiting for since we first heard Darlingside’s arrangement of this Smashing Pumpkins tune raw and barely rehearsed in the fields of Falcon Ridge, where we first discovered the band, perhaps the perfect ambassadors for what well may be the newest branch of folk. Subscribe to Under The Apple Tree for more strong video coverage, too, including a potent full-band posthumous cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ from Robert Vincent, a slow and gorgeous three-part harmony take on Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and a beautiful live take on Dire Straits tune Brothers In Arms from Xander & the Peace Pirates which almost, almost, took the place of the above.


Walk Off The Earth: Shape Of You (orig. Ed Sheeran)

Though they’re more an acoustic rock band than a folk act, the cheerful, playful work of Hawaiian video project Walk Off The Earth, whose work is almost always designed to be seen as much as heard, has thrilled us before – see, for example, their lovely cardboard video for Malvina Reynolds song Little Boxes, which we raved about five years ago, and last year’s sunny version of The Chainsmokers’ Closer. This year, tightly choreographed, highly percussive and energetic performances continued to be the norm, and along with a campfire tribute to Tom Petty, this Ed Sheeran earworm is one of their best. With over twelve million views on YouTube already, you’ve probably heard it before – but it’s catchy, gleeful, and worth hearing again.


Katie Ferrara: Tangerine (orig. Led Zeppelin)

We featured LA busker and bar-singer Katie Ferrara back in July, celebrating her “convertible-top-down folk-pop powerhouse” EP with “a well-produced, subtly sensational, and eminently summery doozy of a Creedence cover” that matched in-studio recording shots with dreamy images and video from a recent flight from Miami. But there’s something lovely and intimate about Ferrara’s new Lemon Cat cover sessions, appropriately filmed against a yellow background, and all from December. Click through for more, including an electric take on Bob Marley’s Turn Your Lights Down Low, and – as if to justify our late entry into the universe of 2017 – her sultry version of Aerosmith’s Crazy.


Jeffrey Foucault: Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (orig. Bob Dylan)

Like a few others on this year’s Best Videos list, we shared this cut first via our Facebook page – in this case, way back in February, along with another of Jeffrey Foucault’s political covers, originally by Danny O’Keefe by way of Chris Smither, which seems to exist only on the etherial social space, and thus confounds our ability to embed it here. But these stark, faceless, sepia-toned videos from the current champion of dustbowl despair ache with angst and anger, offering perfect settings for the songs themselves. They still haunt us, and they should.


Mark Broussard: Sweet Baby James (orig. James Taylor)

A slow-release February-into-March mostly-covers session with his father Ted playing alongside him converted us, instantly, into fans of the soulful Marc Broussard – and sent us scrambling to collect the entire set, including their takes on Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Loggins and Messina classic House at Pooh Corner, and a slam-dunk version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow dedicated to a very special lost soul. Simple yet nuanced, this bluesfolk is bare and bare-bones, as it should be….and should Broussard decide, after all, to record a for-charity children’s lullaby album, we’ll be one of the first in line to help push it into the world.


Rus Reppert: Fly Like An Eagle (orig. Steve Miller)

It’s dark, and cavernous – like the deserted warehouse in which it was filmed – and maybe that’s the point. And it’s a loop cover – which, for the uninitiated, means it’s built live from the ground up, just one man and a solo guitar, and a set of pedals to control it all. For all these reasons and more, this December-filmed, February-released Steve Miller cover from West Virginia songwriter Rus Reppert absolutely, positively belongs here on our Best Videos collection; strip the visuals, and you’d lose both the darkness and the intimate immediacy of it all. Follow the threads, too, to Candyrat Records, which is chock full of utterly stunning live acoustic fingerstyle covers and originals, most without lyrics.


Upstate Rubdown: I’m Looking Through You (orig. The Beatles)

We made some wonderful new discoveries and a host of great memories at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this year, but it was hard not to love Upstate Rubdown, a down-to-earth all-acoustic “big band” from New York’s Hudson Valley region whose music fuses folk, roots, funk, swing, and more, and every performance is a party and a half. We named this video one of our Year’s Best the moment we found it, and we don’t regret the early call one bit.


I’m With Her: Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (orig. Adele)

This bass-and-vox cover from indiefolk supergroup I’m With Her, recorded live on their American Acoustic tour over the summer, was released “on all streaming/downloading apps” as a benefit recording for Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based nonprofit that heals, empowers and employs survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. Switch out the video, though, and you’d miss both the intimacy of the performance, and the way the high, stark contrast of black dresses and blond wood stage reflects this every-note-counts homage to Adele.


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

A transformed Dylan tune filmed and recorded live mid-year by way of introduction to old friends (and now married couple) Chuck and Mira’s newly expanded foursome, still playing under the The Sea, The Sea moniker. A tight, controlled percussive sound and lush vocals that nonetheless retain the careful and sparse arrangements typical of their performance. After this fishbowl fantasy – and a lovely tree-side Concert Window session of holiday songs and carols that filled our own living room the night we brought our own tree home – we’re looking to have them back to our Unity House Series as soon as we can find a date.



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 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 blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

Comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Best of 2017, Darlingside, Ed Sheeran, James Taylor, Jeffrey Foucault, Kina Grannis, Passenger, The Sea The Sea, YouTube

Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 6: James Taylor covers
Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Louvin Brothers & more!

April 21st, 2013 — 8:41pm


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As in past years, I’m a bit woozy today after yesterday’s all-day drive up the East Coast from North Carolina. My head still swims with the sights of barbecue joints and crabcake stands, and roadside shacks where one can get smoked ham and sausages, local peanuts, and fireworks to celebrate it all.

But it’s good to be home, where the daffodils are in full blown bloom, even if the lawn still struggles against the moss and hemlock. The American South is a wonderful place to visit; I like seeing the world, and though I’ve been to more countries than states, the diversity of the US pleases me. But the beach-to-woods geography and seasonal shifts of the American Northeast feel right, somehow. With a few tiny stints out of bounds, I’ve been a Massachusetts-based New Englander all my life, and I expect to be one for the remainder of it.

James Taylor likes Massachusetts, too. And by the time I wrote the original feature below in 2008, I’d already been promising myself a feature post on good ol’ JT for ages. What better way to celebrate our triumphant return from a week in the Carolinas than with a resurrected 20-song megapost on the coversongs of this incredible singer-songwriter plus a 10-track Single Song Sunday bonus set of You Can Close Your Eyes – my favorite James Taylor composition? And so, ladies and gentlemen: James Taylor, Massachusetts resident and one-time North Carolina transplant.

Born in Boston, James Taylor spent his adolescence in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where his father was Dean of the UNC School of Medicine. But the family retained strong ties to Massachusetts, summering in Martha’s Vineyard; James attended boarding school at Milton Academy, and when he struggled with depression in his early adulthood, he headed for McLean’s Hospital, a stately suburban instititution just outside of Boston where I remember visiting one of my own friends in the last year of high school.

Though he has since lived in California and London, and though his signature voice retains the barest hint of southern twang under that clear-as-a-bell blueblood bostonian accent, like me, Taylor has always returned to the Massachusetts he loves. Today, he lives about thirty miles west of here, in the Berkshires, just on the other side of the Adirondack ridge. And he retains strong ties to his beloved Martha’s Vineyard, performing there each summer, sometimes with Ben and Sally, his children by ex-wife Carly Simon, who is also a Vineyard resident.

Beyond our shared love of the beaches and woods of Massachusetts, there’s something immutably local and authentic about my experience with James Taylor. My childhood understanding of and familiarity with folk music as a genre and a recorded phenomenon was primarily driven by a strong record collection at home, but my experience of acoustic music as folk – as something singable and sharable and communal – was peppered with young camp counselors who had learned their guitar licks from the radioplay of the day. For me, Fire and Rain will always be a song for campfire singalongs, one which helps me come to terms with the bittersweet and constant state of being both in good company and away from home.

Too, James Taylor was my first concert, and you never forget your first. I remember lying on the summer grass at Great Woods (now the Tweeter Center), looking up at the stars and letting the wave of Fire and Rain wash over me. I remember peering at the stage and recognizing the way James smiled at us, at bass player Leland Sklar, at the song itself as a kind of genuine communion, one which flavored the performance with something valid and universal.

Because of that night, and the organic songs-first-performance-afterwards way I came to it, James Taylor, for me, is the standard by which I measure the authenticity of folk performance. That so many shows have not met that standard since then is a tribute to both Taylor’s gentle nature, and his way with song and performance.

James Taylor’s voice is unmistakable, almost too sweet for some, and he doesn’t fit my every mood. His loose, white-man’s-blues guitar playing is better than most people give him credit for, but it is often downplayed in his produced work. But in the back of my mind his songs are a particular form of homecoming, one intimately tied to summer song and simple times outside of the world as we usually live it. And when I sing Sweet Baby James or You Can Close Your Eyes to my children at night, there’s a part of me that’s back on that summer lawn, letting the music reach a part of me that cannot speak for itself.



We’ll have a few choice covers of Taylor’s most popular in the bonus section of today’s megapost. But first, here’s a few of the many songs which Taylor has remade in his own gentle way over the years: doo-wop standards, sweet nighttime paeans and lullabies, hopeful protest songs, and others.

Though James Taylor does have his pop side, this isn’t it. You’ve heard ‘em before, so I’ve skipped the covers which Taylor has made his own through radioplay over the years — including Carole King’s Up On The Roof and Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) — though I did keep a live version of Handy Man in the mix, and thought it worth trying the newer version of You’ve Got A Friend from Taylor’s stripped-down favorites recording One Man Band. I’ve also skipped his lite pianojazz ballad version of How I Know You, from the Aida soundtrack, and the vast bulk of his two recent saccharine-sweet covers albums: it’s not folk, and it’s not my thing.

Instead, by presenting a selection of Taylor’s rarer and lesser-known coversong all at once, it is my hope that the diversity of the source material here allows even the most jaded of us to come to what is too-often dismissed as Adult Contemporary pablum with new ears, attuned to more subtle differences of tone and undertone — to explore and even collapse the distance between bittersweet and tender, longing and acceptance, home and homesickness, which continues to make James Taylor worth listening to, and celebrating.



James Taylor’s works are mainstream, and distributed as such; his website sends us to amazon.com for purchase. As here at Cover Lay Down we prefer to avoid supporting the corporate middleman in favor of direct artist and label benefit, we recommend that those looking to pursue the songwriting and sound of James Taylor head out to their local record shop for purchase.

Not sure where to begin? Anything released between 1968 and 1974 provides the best introduction to JT’s core sound; I promise it’s folkier than you remember. Jaded folkies who stopped listening a while back might take a second look at Taylor’s 1977 release JT, or albums from the late eighties and nineties such as Never Die Young, New Moon Shine or Hourglass, which stand on their own as well-produced contemporary folk. 2007 DVD release One Man Band, Taylor’s return to a sparser acoustic sound, is an anomaly in the midst of an otherwise-AAA pop-trending career. And coverlovers who do embrace his smoother side are advised – with caveats – to at least consider his two post-millennial covers albums.

As for bonus tracks: for years, I’ve been saving the bulk of my collection of covers of James Taylor originals for a future Folk Family Feature on the Taylor family – including James, brother Livingston, sister Kate, son Ben, daughter Sally, and Ben and Sally’s mother Carly Simon. But I’ve been leaking them slowly and surely as time goes on, and the floodgates are open today. So here’s a full Single Song Sunday-sized set of covers of my favorite lullaby, from Mark Erelli’s tender bedtime crooning to William Fitzsimmons’ fragile indiefolk to a young and drunken Bonnie Raitt’s live heartbreaker. Download the zip file here, or pick and choose below.



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Comment » | Featured Artists, James Taylor, Reposts, Single Song Sunday

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