When Paste Magazine named alt-folkster Phosphorescent‘s masterful-yet-intimate album Muchaho their 2013 Album of the Year, it was easy to dismiss the long-time pseudonymous solo project as just another inner-circle seat-holder in the bearded indiefolk crowd – and easier, still, when Paste declared the image of cover artist Matthew Hoack in Mexico, where the album was composed, as definitive as Bon Iver in his isolated Wisconsin cabin.
Hoack’s personal history is almost too perfect for the sensitive hipster mythos: born in Alabama, the autobiographical artist began his career in alternative hotbed town Athens, Georgia, and later moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yards; he primarily records for Austin-based label Dead Oceans, alongside a roster including Tallest Man On Earth, John Vanderslice, and Akron/Family. Wolves, which originally appeared on his 2007 opus Pride, has been covered at least twice this decade, in solid, broken versions from similarly bandified solo artists Message To Bears and Strand of Oaks; he’s played Sasquatch and Bonnaroo, toured with The National, and will appear at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, and San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. And certainly, his placement cred is sound: though his version of theme song Little Boxes was rejected for use on Weeds, his fragile, sad work has graced several indie film soundtracks, including 2011 Kevin Spacey/Jeremy Irons vehicle Margin Call and this summer’s blockbuster The Amazing Spiderman 2, plus two MOJO Magazine cover compilations.
But his credibility as part of the new wave of folk-tinged crossover artists worth attention from the wider world really is honestly come, whatever the backstory. Musically, Phosphorescent teeters on the imperfect indie edge, with rich atmospheres that drown the listener in layers of sound and creaky sentiment, imperfect and imperfectly performed narration, and introspective first-person lyrics that question and fog, bringing both comfort and the ache of desperation.
Yet where indie compatriot Bon Iver trends towards pop music heartbreakingly undone, Houcke’s cover choices out him as a folk musician first and foremost, almost in spite of the heavily layered, often-electrified production he increasingly favors in the studio. Over a career spanning seven records since 2003, Houck has recorded a set of covers that ground his work strongly in the folkstream, both by practice and by selection: on indie and nufolk compilations such as this year’s Sweethearts Valentine’s Day cover sampler, MOJO tributes to The Beatles and Neil Young, and, most notably, on 2009 album To Willie, an endearing yet straightforward Willie Nelson tribute, once named one of Rhapsody’s favorite cover albums, that pays homage to both the California Country movement and Nelson’s classic Lefty Frizzell tribute album From Willie To Lefty.
So listen, as our featured artist digs deep into his musical forebears, and comes up with a true 20-track survey befitting a true folksman, with versions of songs from Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, John Prine, and the American cowboy canon, plus an utterly gorgeous Leonard Cohen cover that could have come from Springsteen’s darkest hour, a short set of in-studio video covers, and a few surprises along the way. We think you’ll find the argument for Phosphorescent persuasive, and the music as divine, as sad, as beautiful, as comforting, and as soft as any broken angel’s wings.
- Phosphorescent: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Phosphorescent: Big Red Sun Blues (orig. Lucinda Williams) 
- Phosphorescent: Can I Sleep In Your Arms (orig. Willie Nelson)
- Phosphorescent: Ready To Quit (orig. Willie Nelson) 
- Phosphorescent: Little Boxes (orig. Malvina Reynolds) [2007}
- Phosphorescent: Ya Hey (orig. Vampire Weekend) 
- Phosphorescent: Right Now I Am A-Roamin’ (orig. Nick Cave) 
- Phosphorescent: Across The Universe (orig. The Beatles) 
- Phosphorescent: Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (orig. Leonard Cohen) 
- Phosphorescent: Are You Ready For The Country? (orig. Neil Young) 
- Phosphorescent: If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) (orig. George Jones) 
- Phosphorescent: Far From Me (orig. John Prine) 
- Phosphorescent: Days Of Heaven (orig. Randy Newman) 
- Phosphorescent: Storms Never Last (orig. Jessi Colter) 
- Phosphorescent: I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (orig. R.L. Burnside) 
- Phosphorescent: Any Old Miracle (orig. Vern Gosdin) 
Warning: loud advert before the track, but it’s worth it…
Looking for an easy way to listen? Download the whole Phosphorescent coverset and snag our two favorite versions of Phosphorescent’s Wolves as bonus tracks!