Category: Sierra Hull

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2017)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Compilations & more!

December 28th, 2017 — 11:44pm

Every year at around this time I take a moment to reconsider: both how we do this, and whether to do it at all.

But although the folkgenres are slippery, and the question of what and what is not folk enough for the blog continues to elude clear delineation, there is still this love inside me: for the way a song recreated can tie together the memory, the culture, the heart, and the mind. It’s like a form of meditation, an approach to wholeness. The urge remains.

And so, here we are, at year’s end again, sifting through a year of that aching in the chest, the surge of joy and gladness, the still moment by the hearth or in the sun, that sudden song on the radio that hits you so hard you have to pull over, panting and sobbing, into the nearest grassy patch, and just feel.

Which is to say: it was a wonderful year for coverage, if not always for blogging it. The soundtrack of our struggles and sorrows, our travels and triumphs, was spiked with hope and beauty, empathy and grace. And coming back to it at year’s end again brings closure, of a sorts, even as it reminds us to keep our love near and dear, and cherish that which has made us, and will make us whole once again, lest it fade into the night, and be lost to the world.

And so we embrace the pensive purpose of Winter by sharing with the world our wholly subjective pleasures, once again carefully curated and celebrated, the better to bring the community closer, and the music more sustainable.

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 Best Of The Year, starting with our very favorite folk, roots, bluegrass and Americana tribute albums and covers compilations of 2017 – with thirty five albums and over fifty songs in all, and all beloved. May your winter, too, be filled with the light of a year gone by.

The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ The Wailin’ Jennys, Fifteen
+ Mark Erelli, MIXTAPE!

+ The Sumner Brothers, To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf
+ Misner & Smith, Headwaters
+ Travis Knapp, Wintery Mix 2018
+ Ane Brun, Leave Me Breathless
+ Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet
+ Eric Brace, Cartes Postales

It’s nice to see familiar faces atop this year’s solo artist list. Reassuring, too, to recognize that though their sounds are distinctive in every case, all six of the artists whose covers albums lingered longest and – as a consequence -
were loved most here at Cover Lay Down in 2017 define themselves as folk in one way or another.

But after winnowing down past a strong field of honorable mentions, our final solo-artist Best Covers Albums list for 2017 is also notable in that it is representative, in its way, of the two separate threads which intersect here at Cover Lay Down. For in just four albums, we find both the vast breadth and diversity of contemporary folk – itself a mode or subgenre hard to define – and a pitch-perfect spread of the various approaches to considering source material in choosing coverage for the covers album, most especially as an increasingly de rigueur mid-career movement in the artistic community.

Call it a tie for first, then. On the one hand, The Wailin’ Jennys, still at the very peak of their sound fifteen years after their founding (and five since we featured their coverage in full): a deliberately lush, gentle, sweetly arranged trio of voices in tender treatment of well-beloved sadsongs, celebrations, and ballads from Patty Griffin, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and other beloved songwriters of the folk-and-beyond community. On the other, local hero and Americana troubadour Mark Erelli, whose Kickstarter we celebrated a few months ago, wringing raw, almost primal soul from Mixtape, his thirteenth outing, an oddly comforting spread of popular songs from Richard Thompson to Phil Collins rebuilt from the inside out – technically not fully released until mid-January, but easy to preorder, and too amazing to hold back on now. Taken as ethnographic mile markers, they offer a field tender and intimate, triumphant and torn: albums to take us anywhere, and back.

A strong second this year goes to another surprisingly representative pairing from a slightly younger generation which also matches slow and broken with upbeat precision. First, Headwaters, the fifth album from California duo Misner & Smith, and their first covers compilation; a homespun collection that finds Sam and Megan, a pair of actors-turned-folk rock/Americana band, yawing wide as they bring diverse songs and influences from The Talking Heads and Dr. Dog to Gram Parsons and The Lovin’ Spoonful into their own sharp and distinctive harmonic register. Alongside it: Vancouver alt-folk band The Sumner Brothers, whose traded vocals drip with Van Zandt heroin and dust as they meander through a host of slower alt-country songs on To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf, wringing hoarse depth and angst from Springsteen’s ghosts, Warren Zevon’s western saloon town, Hank Williams’ morose guitar, Jolie Holland’s timeless bluesfolk, and more. Both Headwaters and To Elliot are short – just 8 tracks – but cohesive, easily transcending the brevity of the EP format, providing a full and immersive experience for new listeners and long-time fans the respective duos.

And those honorable mentions? Almost too many to mention – it was, in the end, a banner year for coverage. Favorites include wonderful albums from Travis Knapp (whose tenth annual Wintery Mix, released just last week, offers a perfectly imperfect collection of bedroom folk covers of Anais Mitchell, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, Chris Stapleton and more, on piano, banjo, and guitar), Ane Brun (whose Leave Me Breathless does, with a dreamy folkpop vibe that fans will find both comforting and crystal clear), Eric Brace (whose Cartes Postales, released last month on Red Beet Records, is a fun, jazzy, squeezebox-and-clarinet driven croissant of a tribute to the French-language favorites of his father’s generation) and Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne (some of whose slippery country fried rockers, like the hard-edged Nirvana classic Lithium, hardly count as folk, though overall, Not Dark Yet – the first collaboration between these siblings – is a true-blue delight). Ah, such riches.

The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Genevieve Racette, Covers
+ Erin Drews, Caught, Kept
+ Mia Mallet, Chapter One / Chapter Two
+ The Chinworth Brothers, Six Songs
+ RM Hubbert, Recovery (EP1)
+ AJ Lee, Aj Lee

Sometimes, simple is best. Take, for example, Caught, Kept, a precious four-track released way back in February from Minnesotan amateur Erin Drews – a perfect teaser for her full album of originals, released in May – which captured our heart and ears with throaty voice, etherial harmonies, and the gentle strum of the singer-songwriter diamond in the rough. Or Montreal-based Genevieve Racette’s pitch-perfect transformations of Bonnie Raitt and Nirvana, Dylan and The Beatles, hushed and lush, tense and true, with sparse synths over floating indie guitar and sweet, supple voice. Or Parisian songstress Mia Mallet’s two tiny, gorgeous, hollow lo-fi covers EPs, with their ringing piano and airy, layered voices that leave us weak.

If it was, as they say, a very good year for the shortform covers collection, it was thanks primarily to a spate of independent Bandcamp sets like these, from a host of bright rising stars, previously undiscovered. Like The Chinworth Brothers, who turned in a six song powerhouse, split evenly among soaring-yet-earnest traditionals and startlingly non-traditional indiefolk-and-more treatments of Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, and Sashatchewan singer-songwriter Andy Shauf. Or Glaswegian RM Hubbert’s “sincere and melancholic” EP Recovery, a broken, rusted artifact from the anti-folk junkyard which broods its way into our psyche.

In the end, of all these amateur and truly indie tiny loves, it is Racette’s Covers that edges out ever so slightly over the rest – if only for the diversity of sound it packs in so tight a space, and the poise it manages to maintain between pristine and purposeful as it takes on the small canon. But all of these small albums deserve our respect and celebration, nonetheless.

Still, let us not forget, at least in passing, our one exception to the Bandcamp trend this year: young California bluegrass breakthrough AJ Lee’s self-titled EP, an eagerly awaited delight “paying tribute to…the founding voices of [the] California cosmic country sound” via songs by Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Gillian Welch, and Bob Dylan which arrived in hard copy. Tight and highly produced alongside a four-piece band, the songs evoke the rich summery sound of the originals, with perfect Grateful Dead vibe and harmonies on Herb Pedersen’s Wait A Minute the crowning glory of a still-growing career. A rich field, indeed – like folk, and like the songs it brings together.

The Year’s Best Covers Compilation (multiple artists)
+ Burst And Bloom 50
+ Sad! A Barsuk Records Compilation for the ACLU

As has sometimes been the case – see, for example, last year’s Best Of collections, which featured covers albums from Fast Folk, tribute-house American Laundromat Records, and a third iteration of Locals Covering Locals from production house Red Line Roots – digital-only label-driven navel-gazing held sway in the world of mixed-bag covers compilations again this year, a trend which pushes the boundaries of our focus on folk, and on the very concept of album. We say this not to denigrate the category – there’s much to celebrate here – but mainly to warn those lulled into a sense of delicacy by the previous category winners that folk is a wider tent, and the alternative crowd is where the labels often live and breathe great coverage.

Enter exhibit A: Burst and Bloom, a small, independent record label and book publisher based in the increasingly hip seaside town of Portsmouth, NH, which came out of nowhere this year to blow us away. We’ll see more of their loving curatorial work in our Best Tribute Albums below, too, thanks to a 2 CD tribute to Brown Bird. But here, in our compendium of mixed-artist covers albums, it is Burst & Bloom 50, a loving tribute to the label’s own roster in celebration of their fiftieth release, which nets our highest honors, as a stunning, raw gem, with 25 covers, no more than one per original record, comprising a discomforting set which vibrates on the edge of freakfolk, alternative grunge, and other underground sounds associated with but not always squarely under the folktent.

And who cares if we don’t know the originals or recognize most of the original artists? The Burst & Bloom collection serves its purpose, sending us into the back catalog, starting with 2009 release ‘All My Friends Are Right Here With Me’, a CD compilation of fringefolk artists covering songs by the indie-folk collective Tiger Saw, 2012′s Lucky Numbers, a tribute to indie DIY rock and soul legend Viking Moses, who has toured with Jason Molina, Phosphorescent, and Devendra Banhardt, and of course Through The Static and Distance, their marvelous 2015 posthumous tribute to Jason Molina.

Barsuk’s smaller collection Sad!, a glitchy 7 song indie-slash-alt-folk collection spearheaded by Mates of State, David Bazan, Nada Surf, and Maps & Atlases covering fellow labelmates John Vanderslice, Pedro The Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Ra Ra Riot, and more, comes up roses, too – both for its strong musicality, and its unabashedly political bent, arriving as it did on the eve of a new presidential ascension, with all work donated by the artists in solidarity, and all proceeds from the dollar-a-track release going to support the ACLU ” in defense of the civil liberties of all Americans”.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Best Troubadour
+ Old Crow Medicine Show, 50 Years of Blonde On Blonde

In a year where long-awaited Dylan tributes from Joan Osborne and Old Crow Medicine Show ran closer to sultry radiopop and R&B and brash twangy roadhouse country rock than folk, respectively, it was hard to figure out whether we should collapse the single artist tribute album category or simply let it go. A sigh of relief and a tip of the hat, then, to indiefolk maverick Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose usually broken voice is surprisingly melodic and aptly troubled on his category-saving Merle Haggard tribute Best Troubador, a May 2017 release which flew under our radar for months before earworming its way in via an unexpected encounter with radioplay late at night on a fleeting local college station.

It’s a thread we’re glad to have pulled. Regular readers may note that we have long had a love-hate relationship with the artist formerly and sometimes also known as Will Oldham, though we did name his last tribute album, a tribute to the Everly Brothers recorded with Dawn McCarthy, atop this same category in 2013. But this collection is redemptive, with guest vocalist A.J. Roach, fiddler Cheyenne Mize, and singer and flautist Nuala Kennedy, and other underground luminaries lending their talents to a fitting tribute to a lost soul whose earnest honesty and iconoclastic outlook have, clearly, deeply influenced Oldham’s approach to music and the universe. The Bonnie “Prince” gets full marks for an especially intimate tribute to both Haggard himself, and to the ache of the country.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story
+ A Light I Can Feel: A Tribute To Brown Bird
+ Treasures of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard

The multi-artist tribute album is so often imperfect. Even our favorite homages generally have a weak spot: a track or two to skip as well-intentioned artists and songbooks find their mismatch. The potential for trouble doubles down when artists have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to take on recreation of a seminal album, such as Brandi Carlile’s 2007 release The Story; it triples when it is the original songwriter herself who solicits and curates the album. And surely, it’s pushing our luck to name an album featuring both Pearl Jam and Adele as a folk tribute, let alone our favorite multi-artist tribute of the year.

And yet. Adele performing Brandi Carlile’s Hiding My Heart with nothing but solo acoustic guitar is folk, for sure. The Avett Brothers, the Indigo Girls, Shovels & Rope, Old Crow Medicine Show and Dolly Parton turn in stellar performances. The Secret Sisters are now our new favorite female duo. Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story shouldn’t work, at all, but in the end, the syrup of Kris Kristofferson, the psychedelic jam of Jim James, and the fully typical fuzz of Pearl Jam are anomalies on what is otherwise a strong survey of modern Americana and Roots performance. And Brandi Carlile earns our respect over again, over a decade after we first fell in love with her – and then once again, for using this album to highlight the plight of children in war-torn regions of the world.

A close second, as noted earlier, comes by way of A Light I Can Feel, a tribute from label Burst & Bloom that simply overflows with warm friendship and respect for beloved RI-based folk duo Brown Bird, whose co-founder David Lamb passed from leukemia in 2014. Originally conceived of as a fundraising venue for Lamb’s treatment, the sprawling 32 track tribute was released posthumously in March, with proceeds to benefit others through the Sweet Relief charity organization, and “to continue to share the music of Brown Bird with the world.” Chock full of raw performances, each mesmerizing in its way, the album pulls off what it aims to, and more: a triumph of scale, and a tender homage.

Third place honors go to the predominantly country side of folk represented on Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard – not the first such folk tribute to Mark Heard, but the first in 20 years, which explains just how many newcomers appear on the album. Like previous folk tributes to this undersung, unabashedly Christian singer-songwriter who passed from an on-stage heart attack in 1992 on the cusp of greater glory, this collection offers both Buddy Miller and a mixed bag of good-to-great performances of a songbook cut short, predominantly gathered from Heard’s final three releases, with the worst suffering from a touch of the same overproduction that typified their original contemporary folk radioplay era. Still, with strong coverage by Birds of Chicago, Sean Rowe, Amy Helm, Sierra Hull, Over The Rhine and more, the collection is worth pursuit and ownership.

The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Max Godfrey, Before The Ice Melts
+ Offa Rex, Queen Of Hearts
+ Nathan Lewis Williams, Across The Water
+ Lindsay Straw, The Fairest Flower of Womankind
+ Jayme Stone, Jayme Stone’s Folklife
+ Alathea, His Eye Is On The Sparrow
+ Ranky Tanky, Ranky Tanky

As both the year’s archives and the huge list above anticipate, it was, in many ways, a gold standard year for traditional folk recordings from across the globe, from the Gullah strains of newly-formed jazz-meets-roots quintet Ranky Tanky (featured back in July, in anticipation of its well-celebrated September release) to The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney, collaborating together as Offa Rex, in a faithful but still sweet retro turn on the UK tradfolk canon, as channeled and strained through both the arrangements and the influence of the “genre heavyweights” of 60′s folk and rock revivalists Martin Carthy, Ewan MacColl, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Colin Meloy fave Shirley Collins, and more, with clear echoes of Maddy Prior, June Tabor, and Sandy Denny in the mix thanks to powerful, nuanced vocals from Chaney.

But in the end, if I prefer the polished quietude of the canon, why, here were joys enough for days: delicate, broken balladry selected and arranged to emphasize lyrical gender empowerment by Iguana Fund recipient and local hero Lindsay Straw, whom I very much hope to catch live at this year’s Boston Celtic Music Fest towards the end of January; the soft, almost faerie-found strains of Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams and Caelia Lunniss; Jayme Stone’s next generation Folklife album, a follow-up to his 2015 Lomax project, which sees the bandleader and archive revivalist taking on a wider swath of cultural catechism alongside Moira Smiley of tune-yArDs, Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Felicity Williams of Bahamas, and more luminaries on a musical journey through the Appalachians, the Sea Islands and the Caribbean; Christian folk duo Alathea’s His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a bright, often boisterous crowdsourced collection of hymns noted earlier this month in our first holiday coverfolk feature.

Our surprise frontrunner, though, comes from sifting through precious gems from the amateur set: Max Godfrey’s Before The Ice Melts, which mixes tradsongs (and one Dylan cut, and a 1920s hit later revived by Bessie Smith and others) with new lyrics and a few licks, is truly down to earth, a fine sophomore outing from an artist just now making the traditions his own. Just for fun, and because Godfrey makes them sound so…well, traditional, we’ve shared just the non-trad tracks here; download the rest to see just what that creaky, timeless voice can do with the truly traditional canon.

The Year’s Best Tradfolk EP
+ Thom Ashworth, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

English folksinger and bassist Thom Ashworth is just starting his career, but two small releases this year promise big enough things to make it worth sustaining a category despite a single entry. If the first, January 2017′s 4-track EP Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, is the feature here, it’s only because November’s second release, Hollow – also a 4-track – is a half-and-half, with two originals and two traditional songs arranged by Ashworth himself. Both are worth pursuit, however, and bookmarking, too, as we watch for Ashworth’s continued output with bated breath.

The Year’s Best Half-Covers Album
+ Laura Baird, I Wish I Were A Sparrow
+ Brock Simpson, The Gardener Child: Scots Songs Both New and Traditional
+ Red Molly, One For All & All For One

The two records which top our final folk category this year are similar in many ways: sparse neo-traditionals, perfectly balanced, with little in the way of flourish and a lot in the way of authenticity. Our by-a-hair favorite is Laura Baird’s simple, unadorned tribute to the fiddle-and-banjo tunes of her own Appalachian youth, her first full-length solo outing after years of performing with her sister Meg, and an even-steven six-and-six split of covers and originals that intermingles her own work with the songs of her Great-Grandfathers’ hills so smoothly and successfully, we had to keep the liner notes handy.

Toronto teacher-musician Brock Simpson’s The Gardener Child is a similar but blurrier halfling: simple and elegant solo stuff, framed with but a winsome, sensitive voice and gentle guitar. Here, too, unlabeled tracks had us scurrying to figure out which was which, until we realized that – as with Baird’s delight – what matters most is the sound, and the consistency of sentiment.

Our third-place finisher in the half-covers category couldn’t be more different in its approach to its respective canon, a four-and-two EP with energetic close harmonies familiar and fine recorded and released as part of Red Molly’s swan song crowdsource project, designed to drive the production of solo albums from all three band members. I’ve heard two of three of these albums so far – and am proud to announce that Laurie MacAllister’s delightful contemporary all-covers album The Lies The Poets Tell will be the first album of 2018 to grace these pages in the new year, and may well be our earliest contender for a following-year Best Of award in the history of our nominal countdown. In the meantime, we’ll include a favorite from what well may be Red Molly’s last record, at least for a while, as we bid our own list adieu.

The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Covers Album
+ Various Artists, Don’t Stop Now: A Collection of Covers
+ Love + War, Nine Lives

+ Various Artists, Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie
+ Various Artists, Failed Tribute Bands 2

If you come here for the folk and only the folk, now would be a good time to skip to the last few songs below; we’ve winnowed out the best and folkiest of this year’s mixed-genre covers collections, and if they’re all you want, we won’t hold it against you.

But true cover-lovers know that sometimes the very best tracks come from surprising sources. And so we present our annual coda: four albums which are decidedly NOT folk records, but which provide so much more in the way of breadth and beauty, we just had to mention them.

Our utter tie-for-favorite here is sprawling, indeed: a 37-track collection, released on Inauguration Day 2017 just like the aforementioned Barsuk collection, and – like it – a decidedly politicized collection, pre-emptive and angrier in its way, designed to support the ACLU. But where both Burst & Bloom and Barsuk produced covers albums which were at least nominally folk, Don’t Stop Now is unabashedly mixed-genre, with plenty of potent indiefolk tracks plus retro-alternative rock, post-punk, and hopping, hopeful otherstuff taking on songs from Joy Division to Harry Chapin.

Meanwhile in an unusual turn, a solo artist appears atop the category, at least on paper: Nine Lives, a covers collection from Nashville-based writer-producer team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson, aka love+war. Glitchy electro-soul and grungy folkpop tracks mix oddly well in this covers album, pushing it to the top of the list as a second strange bedfellow. Drowning in tape hiss and lush with click-track reverb, with pitch-perfect guest vocalists like Angel Snow – the very first artist featured here, ten years ago, in our New Artists, Old Songs series – the entire thing, from covers of Prince and Springsteen favorites to hits from Terence Trent D’Arby, Depeche Mode, and The Eurythmics, is a guilty pleasure, with emphasis on pleasure.

Honorable mention? Easily Comin’ Around Records’ lovely lo-fi tribute to the songs of Polaris Prize nominee and art school student Shotgun Jimmie – a mixed bag, but with some solid tracks from familiar North-of-the-border fringefolk standbys like Old Man Luedecke and Woodpigeon, all to raise money for the Dawson City Music Festivals’ Songwriter in Residence Program.
And Failed Tribute Bands Two!, which earns its emphatic punctuation easily: by the time you get to the fifth track, it’s hard to figure that there’s going to be anything approaching folk here…and then, suddenly, Allysen Callery, whose recently completed 12 Days of Covers Soundcloud series is a bonus trove of DIY ghost folk treasures.

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.

1 comment » | Allysen Callery, Angel Snow, Best of 2017, Infamous Stringdusters, Mark Erelli, New Artists Old Songs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Red Molly, Shovels & Rope, Sierra Hull, The Wailin' Jennys, Tributes and Cover Compilations

(Re)Covered: New Coverage from Old Friends
Roosevelt Dime, Mikaela Davis, Sierra Hull, Pesky J. Nixon and more!

February 5th, 2016 — 2:08pm

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.

weighted+mind+sierra+hullLong-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.

Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Mikaela Davis, Pesky J. Nixon, Roosevelt Dime, Sierra Hull

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