(Re)Covered: New Coverage from Old Friends
Roosevelt Dime, Mikaela Davis, Sierra Hull, Pesky J. Nixon and more!
Thanks to a spate of collections, singles and deep cuts from a vast variety of folkslingers and roots-diggers, 2016 is gearing up to be a great year for coverage. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news of newly released material from folks featured here before, from the loose, percussive American roots music of four-piece bands Roosevelt Dime and Pesky J. Nixon to the tight string-driven stylings of indiefolk harpist Mikaela Davis, bluegrass prodigy Sierra Hull, and more!
We’ve been touting NYC-based “acoustic steamboat soul” quartet Roosevelt Dime since their very first Radiohead cover, featuring their most recent full-length Full Head Of Steam on the cusp of the 2014 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and noting that we’ve since befriended the boys after hosting them for beer, shade, tent-space and a campsite jam under the hot sun – and we’re still excited to find them continuing to stretch and grow at the intersection of Louisiana Jazz, bluegrass, folk, and old-school rhythm and blues. The raw energy of their new single-shot cover of Tom Petty classic American Girl, which seems to have become the in thing to cover on the banjo circuit, is just lovely, with a funky groove and a wonderful vision of America as old, timeless, and new.
Falcon Ridge favorites Pesky J. Nixon have grown and stretched since we debuted their all-covers Red Ducks album back in 2012, adding Kara Kulpa on mandolin and vocals to their already well-established, infectious, heavily percussive folk rock trio sound, and letting accordion player and keyboardist Jake Bush take a turn on lead vocals here and there alongside guitarist and singer Ethan Scott Baird. The result, as we heard last year on the Falcon Ridge stage as the foursome prepared for newly released second-round covers album Red Ducks, Vol. 2, represents both a rich expansion and a maturation for the Boston-based band, with songs such as album kick-off Let Me Down Easy, a driving, high energy romp from fellow folkscene traveler Raina Rose that plays as well in the studio as it does on stage, and potent, melodic takes on Ryan Adams, Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Gabriel, The Band, and undersung contemporaries John Elliot and Peter Bradley Adams standing out as gems among gems, earning “Red Ducks redux” our highest recommendation.
- Pesky J. Nixon: Americans In Corduroys (orig. Jeffrey Foucault)
- Pesky J. Nixon: Let Me Down Easy (orig. Raina Rose)
(from Red Ducks, Vol. 2, 2016)
Long-time mandolin whiz Sierra Hull is reinventing herself as a singer-songwriter, and it’s a heck of a ride: new album Weighted Mind pulls out all the stops, echoing the transformation of Alison Krauss before her with banjomaster Bela Fleck on board as producer, a star-studded cast of studio greats (including Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens on harmony), and stunning, introspective lyrics that get right to the longing heart. There’s only one cover here (Queen of Hearts, a traditional song which Hull discovered on an old Joan Baez album, which appears here coupled with an original instrumental), but it’s a perfectly representative sample: sweet, sultry, and soaring in performance; honest and harmonic, masterful and mature in arrangement. Here’s a live take of the song recorded last year on Prairie Home Companion to whet your whistle.
We discovered the first two volumes of Boston-based labor-of-love compilation project Locals Covering Locals back in January, just a bit too late to include it in our Best of 2015 features. But right out of the gate, Volume 3 of the series, which dropped just this week, is a strong contender for this year’s best, with an aching, fluid album-closer from Dietrich Strause, gentle new primitivism from local favorite Allysen Callery taking on the Marissa Nadler songbook, and a grungy folkrock take on one of Allysen’s songs by daughter Ava alongside, standing out in another well-mixed set of otherwise new-to-us songs and songwriters.
We first featured harpist Mikaela Davis via a pair of YouTube video covers in our New Artists, Old Songs series way back in our early days, when she was still a local college student. Last week’s re-release of these old favorites and a few more as a 4-song digital covers EP via Bandcamp comes as a wonderful treat for the coverhound, with delightfully precious, surprisingly robust atmospheric takes on The Kinks (David Watts), Sufjan Stevens (Casimir Pulaski Day), Elliott Smith (Twilight), and Cass McCombs (Meet Me Here At Dawn); taken together, the four tracks, originally recorded in and around 2011-2012, showcase a broad indie influence, and serve as apt harbingers of the more nuanced and layered psychedelic folk rock-meets-chamber pop sound that typifies her more recent work as a 23 year old touring pro coming soon to a city near you as she tours both East and West coasts this Spring opening for Marco Benevento.
Finally, in other rerelease news: ubiquitous American primitive revivalist Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who we last heard in January thanks to a strong pseudonymous appearance on last year’s 3-disc tribute to early American folk revivalist Shirley Collins, remains busy heading into the year, releasing a collection of songs originally recorded for John Peel’s BBC radio sessions that includes a potent 1994 cover of Prince song The Cross – a deconstruction of a soaring, spiritual original into something eerie, urgent, and broken that, despite its age, still sounds fresh as a daisy.
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