Category: Tift Merritt


Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 7:
Native Sons & Daughters from Indiefolk To Bluegrass

April 22nd, 2015 — 11:05am





We’ve been scouring the usual sources while on vacation, using the downtime to gather and soak in the ethnomusical history of the region. Having covered five Carolinian artists in our previous visits leaves us room and time to sample broadly from the archives, and happily, North Carolina offers especially rich soil for folk and coverage alike.

Today, then, a midweek dip into the talent pool, with covers of and from Ryan Adams, Steep Canyon Rangers, Ben Folds, Tift Merrit, David Wilcox and Acoustic Syndicate today, and still more to come later in the week from The Red Clay Ramblers, Delta Rae, Hiss Golden Messenger, and more native sons and daughters from old-timey and newgrass to cutting edge indie and alt-folk.




We shared Red Molly’s version of Oh My Sweet Carolina, a tributary Ryan Adams cover, several years ago for our very first Carolina Coverfolk feature. Today, a three-fer from the versatile artist himself, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, NC, formed alternative country band Whiskeytown out of Raleigh in 1994, and – especially in modern solo guise – has a knack for finding the aching heart in songs from a wide range of genres. His cover of Wonderwall, long a favorite, apparently transformed how the original band performs it. And don’t miss Strand Of Oaks with a bonus cover from WXPN’s 2014 Year In Review cover songs project.





Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt spent her own childhood in Raleigh, and went to college in Chapel Hill. We featured her exquisite collaboration with pianist Simone Dinnerstein back in 2013, and a whole mess of solo output besides, but they’re worth revisiting, alongside a new cover from a new Bessie Smith tribute – and proud to report that our affection for her has only grown since catching her as opening act for an acoustic show with Mary Chapin Carpenter last fall.





Steep Canyon Rangers simply shone when I first encountered them at the Boston-based Joe Val Festival way back in 2008; with humor, talent, and poise in equal and vast measure, it was clear this quintet was going places, and deservedly so. Since then, of course, the Brevard-based band has risen fast, and even coupled with Steve Martin for a Grammy-winning ride, but we still love their rendition of this old Grateful Dead standard, and we’re tickled pink to find a version played so close to home.







I first fell in love with Acoustic Syndicate at Winterhawk 2002, just days after becoming a father; it was the first time I had been away from her, and the glow I carried was warm in the sun, a perfect match for the mellow jams that followed. But the newgrass jamband bears up over the years, thanks to funky, twangy beats and rollicking, upbeat lyrics that conjure the heat of summer; here’s a soundboard-sourced live set to prove it, all from a single 2005 gig at Mills River, North Carolina festival Smilefest, hosted by the same Internet Archive that hosts our own blog’s archives from 2007-2012.





With or without the Ben Folds Five, which formed in Chapel Hill after his triumphant return from out of state in 1995, Winston-Salem-born native alt-rocker, pianist, and a capella fanatic Ben Folds isn’t known for folk music. But even beyond The Luckiest, which we last shared in the capable hands of Matt Ryd, his suburban angst balladry is well-covered, and well beloved, and many of his greatest hits read like contemporary narrative folksongs. Here’s a few other sweet takes from the Soundcloud cohort, plus an old, old favorite and a stellar mixed genre in-studio take on an oft-covered tune.





Though born in Ohio, contemporary folk singer songwriter David Wilcox attended college in Ashville, broke into the scene from its stages, and has lived there most of his adult life. We’ve featured Wilcox through coverage in various mixes over the years, but these songs, too, bear collecting and repeating, their gentleness and warmth a perfect match for this perfect sunset.





Looking for more coverfolk from North Carolina? Check out our compilation post from earlier this week, with links to all six of our previous Carolina Coverfolk features, with over a hundred songs of and from James Taylor, The Avett Brothers, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops…and then make sure to come back at the end of the week for more coverage in tribute to North Carolinians Ola Belle Reed, John D. Loudermilk, Jim Lauderdale and more!

2 comments » | Acoustic Syndicate, Ben Folds, David Wilcox, Ryan Adams, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tift Merritt, Vacation Coverfolk

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 1:
Tribute Albums and Covers Collections (2013)

December 29th, 2013 — 12:03am





It’s been an unusually sparse year here at Cover Lay Down, with several personal issues cutting into our awareness of the folkworld at large, and keeping us from blogging regularly. Of these, sadly, most have been ongoing: the elderchild still struggles to adapt to a life of pain and medicine; my students still struggle to take ownership of their education; my ability to remain whole as I try to balance family, work, volunteerism, and blogging remains shaky at best.

Add this to February’s unexpected server shut-down, which cost us a month of stress and five years of archives, and account for Kottke’s recent suggestion that blogs are dying, or at least, have taken a “diminished place in our informational diet,” and damn, it’s amazing that we’re still here at all, let alone ready to share our year’s best.

That we come to you at all for this annual ritual is startling enough to begin with; naming the “best” of anything is a dubious pursuit. As noted last year, we have a strong resistance to the hierarchical urge to rank and file. Though our lens may sometimes seem narrow from the outside, both coverage and folk come in many flavors and subtypes, and each can be done well; our focus on the breadth of musical expression often leans harder towards emergence, promise, and artist evolution than the next big thing because that’s the honest expression of how I think and hear. We find comfort and joy in so broad a mandate, and ultimately, take more delight in discovery than digs. There’s no true hierarchy of artistic output in my disheveled aural infrastructure, just a spectrum of successes and partial successes.

In that sense, we generally encourage others to accept the entirety of our year’s blogging as our recommendations list for the year: if it weren’t among the best things you’d hear all year, it wasn’t worth posting in the first place. If you’re not a regular reader, and you’ve been directed here by recommendation or accident, we highly recommend taking the time for your own skim of the archives sometime, the better to experience the miracle of craft and interpretation that is the modern folkways in all its glory.


To go through the motions of capturing, compiling and celebrating our favorite albums of the year after such a fragmented, disruptive pattern of listening seems like an exercise in hubris. To do so when we have always eschewed both the critical lens and the hierarchical trend seems doubly so.

But Cover Lay Down will not go gently into that goodnight – and in many ways, the larger context makes this year’s Best Of 2013 sets more needful than ever. For as long as music serves as salve and salvation, then we must also accept that the ongoing search for new artists, new collections, and new transformations is part of the human pilgrimage – and that each new discovery serves the soul both spiritually and medicinally.

In this sense, the annual archival sift that prepares us for our end-of-year pursuit is an inherent part of the journey – a recentering, that helps us revisit and recover tribute albums and cover compilations otherwise too easily lost among the detritus of a life lived in chaos. The mere act of listening closely again, and struggling to identify that which transforms the various parameters each song, album, and collection sets for itself to become something new, and wonderful, is worthy, indeed.

As a bonus, stepping back to view the year all-at-once reveals new trends, new patterns, and new paths which we may not have seen from week to week, as we steep in the new, and descend into the focused themes upon which we have set our store. In this case, such a process is especially beneficial, as it helps us reconstitute the unusually scattered plot that has resulted from an exceptionally scattershot year. And, as always, this affects the categories we use to frame and represent our favorites: this year, for example, we have decided to distinguish between multi-artist mass market tribute albums and blog-curated tributes, the better to feature larger, less polished collections which focus on lesser-known artists and decidedly lo-fi production values.

And so, though the process is corrupted, and though we still find our conflicted or even confused by the tendency of other blogs to criticize as well as celebrate, this week, we present our annual two-volume year’s end review of the best folk, roots, indie, and Americana coverfolk of 2013 – starting, today, with a comprehensive categorization of those albums, EPs, and collections which rose to the top of our playlists and hearts.


A final note, before we delve into delight: because it is borne of personal stress and sorrow, the collection that follows comprises not so much of the albums that stuck through us with the year, but a strange combination of the ones we wish we had time to listen to more often, and the ones which we played incessantly, for weeks upon end, when we most needed comfort in the midst of chaos. More than ever, it is incomplete, subjective, and in some ways, accidental; indeed, for the first time, a significant portion of the albums mentioned below went unblogged in the first place – a testament to our corrupted ability to track the release calendars, and attend to the constant mailbag stream. But the final product stands as another testament, nonetheless: to the albums and EPs which stayed with us through thick and thin, made all the more glorious for the rocky path we took to get here.

Today, then, we are proud to present Cover Lay Down’s annual compilation of the Year’s Best Coverfolk Collections, arranged into categories much like those which we would use were we in the habit of ranking, to be followed closely, as always, by a mixtape of the best coverfolk singles of the year. Both we offer with undying thanks to the labels, the artists, the fans, and you, for holding us up, and in, and close, when the world keeps spinning right round, like a record.



COVER LAY DOWN PRESENTS:
THE YEAR’S BEST TRIBUTE ALBUMS AND COVER COLLECTIONS

[DOWNLOAD HERE]


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists, CD release):
Reason To Believe: The Songs of Tim Hardin

Though other categories blossomed this year, it was a relatively sparse twelvemonth for mass market multi-artist tribute albums, with several solid collections emerging as early contenders in the first few months only to remain on top of the heap as the year trickled onwards. As is often the case for tributes, anniversaries, illnesses, and death dates were the primary drivers of artist homage, but it was also the year that Peter Gabriel reciprocal covers project I’ll Scratch Yours finally came together as a cohesive collection, legitimizing Bon Iver’s dreamy, layered take on Come Talk To Me two years after it hit the blogs…and reminding us that when it takes three years to release an album, there is often a good reason.

Live albums in this category were also less successful, though certainly just as well-intentioned; Nick Drake tribute Way To Blue and Sing Me The Songs, which records a concert celebrating the works of Kate McGarrigle, each contain a couple of tracks worth mentioning, but overall, the heavy stamp of consistent performers and the usual challenges of live soundboard mixing make for too little diversity, and too much sameness. Pity, that – though there are plenty of Drake tributes to pick from in the wider world, we’ll hold out hope that time and temper will lay a better foundation for a proper McGarrigle tribute.

But of the studio collections, two stand out for their breadth and beauty, proving the test of time after jumping early out of the proverbial gate. The first, The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver, is “a powerful addition to the canon of coverage,” with more than a few tracks standing out as achingly perfect visions and revisions of the artist’s lifework, and a solid mix of contributions from old standbys such as Evan Dando, Dave Matthews, Mary Chapin Carpenter and new, younger favorites like Barnstar, Josh Ritter, Amos Lee, and Brett Dennen bringing a yawing but startlingly successful breadth to the collection. Reason to Believe: The Songs of Tim Hardin, on the other hand, with its primary focus around a stable of artists on the indie and indiefolk line, is both beautifully broken and more consistent, making it deeper in its way – a fair measure of single artist tribute, and thus deserving of top honors.



The Year’s Best Tribute Collection (multiple artists, free/streaming):
Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited

As noted above, we’re splitting our multi-artist tribute category this year – a strategy we’d ordinarily reserve to account for an unusually bountiful harvest. But in this case, the split we’ve chosen is natural: there’s a vast difference in curation between label-driven tribute albums and blog-solicited collections. And so we turn, distinctly, to those tributes populated by relative unknowns favored by the individual blogger who envisions, solicits, and puts the compilation together; it often sprawls far past the typical size of an album intended for hard-copy release, and may include multiple versions of the same song. And our access to the two types is vastly different: the former is generally for sale, with but a sample or two available for blog posting; the latter are generally free and/or stream only, populated as they are by truly independent players on the margins of genre, giving newfound meaning to the term “indie” after years of subsumption by the mass market.

This new category is no novelty: in past years, solicited collections have appeared on Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Paste; this year’s also-rans include a well-curated double-set tribute to The Postal Service album, and arguably, the Herohill-curated tribute to Leonard Cohen, which topped our list last year, would count in this category as well. But the shift in style and sound which springs from the fan-curated album at its best is exemplified by the clear winners in this category this year, Slowcoustic’s lovingly curated double-sized tributes to J. Tillman and Damien Jurado. In our original reviews, we called Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited, Slowcoustic’s emergent homage to Tillman’s oddly titled seminal sophomore solo album, “a triumph of curation and performance: appropriately imperfect, definitively Tillman, and shockingly diverse,” and we stand by that measure, though we also highly recommend the overstuffed Jurado tribute as well, for much the same reasons; taken together, they practically define a tiny quietfolk subcommunity at the heart of modern folk experimentation.


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist):
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy, What The Brothers Sang

It was the Year of the Everly Brothers, with three full-album tributes on the docket: a sister act, two indiefolk mavericks, and Norah Jones and that guy from Green Day. Of these, we were surprised to like the Norah Jones/Billy Joe Armstrong collection, and pleased to hear favorite second-generation singer-songwriters The Chapin Sisters slick their hair down so faithfully; both, in their own way, are worthy of a second listen. But the deconstruction wrought by Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy and indie maverick Bonnie “Prince” Billy on What The Brothers Sang is too potent and too precious: Oldham’s broken baritone and McCarthy’s warm alto establish a complex tapestry of sound, and their tendency towards languid arrangement and more obscure set pieces is quite something. The album is flexible in its treatment of the songbook, with each song rebuilt as a discrete genre expression with respect and not a little experimentation, making for a diverse and deeply intimate, but often tense and broken resurrection well worth repeated listening.

Honorable mention here goes to Noam Pikelny and Chris Thile, who used their time off from Punch Brothers touring to interpret two vastly different collections from almost diametrically opposed ends of the musical spectrum. We wrote about master mandolinist Thile’s all-classical, all-Bach album in July; Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe – the banjo player and bandleader’s cover album of a cover album, which treats Baker’s seminal set of Bill Monroe tunes reverently – passed us by when it first came out, but the bluegrass purist in me loves it dearly.


The Year’s Best Tribute EP:
Nathan Edwards, The Music of Stephen Foster

With 8 tracks, Nathan Edwards’ celebration of the music of Stephen Foster is a hybrid album, almost – but not quite – too long to be an EP. But it remains a powerful high point in an otherwise sparse category, and since we put it just fine first time around, we’ll merely note that the warm vocal tones, exquisite instrumentation, and loving research which underlie this small-yet-ambitious project provide a unifying force that transcends mere songbook commonality…the result is seamless: a truly transformative yet eminently honest set that succeeds in its promise of updating the old songs for modern ears, finding the indiefolk, Americana, country and soul in songs long embedded in our national psyche. Amen.



The Year’s Best Covers Album:
The Big Bright, I Slept Thru the 80′s

We first featured two pre-release covers from The Big Bright last year, including their INXS cover in our Year’s Best Singles, and noted an EP-length pre-release floating out in the the ether more than a few months ago, making for an exceptionally long tease up to a December 2013 release for the fully realized album those smaller bursts claimed to anticipate. But in the end, the anticipation only made the final product sweeter. I Slept Through The 80′s is exactly what it promises to be – a loving deconstruction of 30 year old MTV new-wave and brit-pop hits, reimagined as soft, supple acoustic dreampop lullabies, with guitar, folk harmonies, and a hazy atmosphere of memory – and we’re thrilled to have it.

Lissa Schneckenburger’s simply titled but exquisitely sensitive Covers album, which we celebrated in May, makes for a very close runner up: every note counts, and every note lingers. Tie for third place goes to new albums from Hurray For The Riff Raff and Scott Matthew, whose broken voices and simple piano and guitar arrangements chill and comfort. And if we’re going all the way to fourth, we’ll put in a bid for Mara Levine’s Jewels And Harmony, a warm, contemporary post-revival singer-songwriter covers-with-friends folk album.

Even with five records topping our list, these favorites edge out among a surprisingly strong field. Yet another covers record from Mark Kozelek, and folkpop cellist Ben Sollee’s free Noisetrade release The Hollows Sessions, both of which went personally undiscovered until Cover Me included them in their own year’s end list, garner honorable mentions for eminently successful if increasingly formulaic approaches to coverage, mostly because we just love how Sollee and Kozelek break down and rebuild. Mud, Blood, and Beer, the third album by acoustic britfolk covers band The Bad Shepherds, is surprisingly listenable for an album of punk favorites. And although we were thrilled to find his second volume of Fan Chosen Covers in the mix, having made this list three years running, Eef Barzelay is hereby disqualified for future consideration despite the successful Kickstarter-driven promise of a Sound of Music EP to come in the early months of 2014.


The Year’s Best Covers EP:
Hannah Read and Charlie Van Kirk, Covers EP

Lots here, too – and much of it free to fans, from the joyful transformations on Levi Weaver’s mailing-list gift Antipodes to the just-released new installment in Okkervil River’s Golden Opportunities occasional covers EP series, which is a bit raucous for folk, but ends on a mellow note with a track sure to feature in Vol. 2 of our series.

In the final countdown, we ended up favoring two albums, each powerful in its own way. The Stray Birds huddle close harmonies around a single microphone to take on their favorites from the countryfolk world, and come off sounding crisp and clear, a tradfolk trio inhabiting their favorite songs to play out triumphs and tears with aplomb. And although the build on Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain is too good not to share here, Hannah Read and Charlie Van Kirk’s cover of MGMT’s Kids is truly definitive – which is really saying something, given how often the song has been covered. Add in a powerfully reconsidered, eminently deconstructed version of Nick Drake’s Riverman and an utterly haunting Radiohead cover, plus free Bandcamp download, and we’ve little choice but to give Read and Van Kirk the edge.



The Year’s Best Streaming Covers Series:
Al Lewis, The Covers EP, Vol. 1

The five-song Al Lewis soundcloud series titled “The Covers EP, Vol. 1″ would have made the EP covers category above, but sadly, it was technically ineligible, as it was released first as a series of singles, and only later retracked as a streaming EP by the artist himself, without title and in the same sequence as our own. No matter: it’s a good year for new categories, and a fair deal to acknowledge an ongoing shift in how artists release covers overall to nominate slow-release EP-length covers sets.

And though the pandora’s box that this category creates can be a slippery slope, restricting ourselves to finite sets of covers released in a single year provides a clear second place winner, too. Though the Morning Benders have changed their name to the aggressive and less memorable POP ETC since their bedroom covers collection first slammed the blogs back in 2007, the raw, organic four-set of covers posted on Soundcloud this year, started as a distraction from studio recording and ultimately touted as a series, delight as much as those long-ago covers did, reminding us just why we loved them so much to begin with. Honorable mention goes to Bess Rogers, whose pay-what-you-wish occasionals series Songs Other People Wrote drifted too far from folk after starting pure languid Kathleen Edwards-ian popfolk with a Gin Blossoms cover that rocks pretty, indeed.









The Year’s Best Kidfolk Covers Album:
Jackie Oates, Lullabies

Perennial category favorite Elizabeth Mitchell released several covers albums this year – including a co-bill with fellow kindie icon Dan Zanes and a tribute to Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Christmas collection – and both will find plenty of play in our house, though the kids have moved on to tweenpop. But Jackie Oates blew us away: the English folk singer and fiddle player was new to us, as are so many of the British-born lullabies and sleep songs she lovingly interprets on Lullabies, but the combination is rich and beautiful, delicate and sweet, with harmonies and drones echoing in the head, leaving an impression of something like the Unthanks for the slumbering set (and it turns out Jackie was a founding member, so no surprise).


The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers Album (single artist): Sam Amidon, Bright Sunny South

It was a surprisingly rich field in the tradfolk category this year, from sea shanties to civil war collections to other collections that target time and place – and so, again, we split the category three ways, presenting single artist tradfolk albums separately from multi-artist concept albums and EP-length sets, as we have done for years in other categories, the better to distinguish between single artistic visions both small and large, and curatorial cohesion unified by genre, theme, or origin.

Single artist tradfolk albums are often heavy on the traditional, and more about saving the old sounds and celebrating the hand-me-down tradition; these albums do not so much celebrate artistic vision though interpretation as they celebrate authenticity through recreation – a valid and valuable pursuit, but less interesting to us as ethnographers of the covering folkways. But though it does tuck Mariah Carey and Tim McGraw covers in among the mix, Sam Amidon takes the tradfolk vein several steps farther, winning deserving kudos for Bright Sunny South, an album that represents the full maturation of his sound, with stunningly smooth, shimmery production finally allowing the frail and often meager instrumentation that Amidon brings to his interpretations to finally sound less lo-fidelity and more deliberately broken. As we said in our original entry, call it a thinker’s album, and give him the Grammy already, for nowhere else this year have we heard such intimacy, such clear recognition of the myriad paths of shapenote hymns and old-timey folk brought forcefully into the 21st century.

Runners up honors go to indie alt-folk collective Vandaveer for their murder ballads collection Oh, Willie, Please…, a stealth record that crept up on us unawares and then…wow.


The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers Album (multiple artists):
Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War and The Beautiful Old: Turn-Of-The-Century Songs
(tie)
No pirate albums here, especially given how scattershot Hal Wilmer’s second volume was in the end. But we do have two decidedly different yet equally honest tributes to time and place in Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War and The Beautiful Old: Turn-Of-The-Century Songs. The former is more South than North in tone, and heavy on the bluegrass players, with country and folk around the edges, and an essence that’s honest and true; the latter, which catalogs its songs chronologically from 1805 to 1918, is a bit more diverse, but with some strong performances from Jolie Goodnight, Carrie Elkin, Richard Thompson and others who know.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers EP:
Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Child Ballads

In a category often populated by small sets produced on a whim, Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads stands out as a hands-down winner this year. We named the collection, a close collaboration between two exceptionally talented players already at the top of their game, the go-to winner in this category way back before Spring; since then, numerous otherblog end of year lists have cited the album among the best, period. And we were right for all the right reasons: as we noted then, the album is fluid, engaging, clear as the running streams and lakes of its myriad stanzas, and equally adept in mournful darkness and moral tale, in its exquisite treatment of both the easily recognizable (Tam Lin) and several unusually obscure and under-covered selections…rightfully on its way to being regarded as masterpiece, a showpiece for how modern solo and duet forms can still find life in the sourcebook.


The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album:
The Quiet American, Wild Bill Jones

When we created this category several years ago, we envisioned it as a way to honor those artists who saw coverage and interpretation as such a core component of their craft that they included multiple covers among the songs on a single album, the better to pay homage to their influences, and show their output as grounded in history.

Several fine albums fit the mold this year. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who found fine fortune on these pages for both their debut duet release in 2011 and this year’s Midwinter, returned with Fire & Fortune, in which Clarke’s mature, deceptively simple interpretation of timeless traditional laments and original ballads, Walker’s stunningly subtle fretwork, and inspired settings of low winds, gentle piano chords, and soaring strings combine marvelously, making a fragile atmosphere that welcomes even as it warns. And Night, a mixed-genre varietal, with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and folk artist Tift Merritt trading off genre origins from classical, pop, jazz, and original sources, is a vast and vindicating tour de force of artist and genre crossover. Both deserve year’s end recognition, and huge compliments.

But it is Wild Bill Jones, a stunning triumph from home-grown modern folk revival The Quiet American, that justifies this final category’s existence, and then some. The concept album by husband-and-wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim is a tour de force, an utterly perfect concept album that collects and transforms traditional songs, timeless originals, and Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End into a seamless sepia-toned narrative of loneliness, loss, and love so smooth, you’ll need the liner notes to piece apart the sources. Kudos to the pair for validating our ongoing pursuit of coverage as folkways so well, showing just how valid and valuable the mix of original works and tradition can become in the hands of masters.



The Year’s Best YouTube Covers Series:
Daniela Andrade

Discovered while searching for popcovers to populate a YouTube feature, young Honduran-Canadian singer-songwriter Daniella Andrade stole our heart with a perfect pure voice and a gentle way with a guitar. She’s been recording and releasing videos since 2008, but this year was a killer; most recent cuts include several amazing collaborations, and a sexy, girlish cover of Santa Baby that sends us to the showers. Someone get this girl a label.

    Daniela Andrade: The A Team (orig. Ed Sheeran)


    Daniela Andrade & Gia Margaret: Summertime Sadness (orig. Lana Del Rey)


    Daniela Andrade x Jon Lawless: Hold On, We’re Going Home (orig. Drake)



Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, 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 will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of favorite 2013 covers otherwise unblogged.

6 comments » | Amos Lee, Anais Mitchell, Bess Rogers, Best of 2013, Hannah Read, J. Tillman, Jackie Oates, Jefferson Hamer, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Lissa Schneckenburger, Nathan Edwards, Sam Amidon, The Big Bright, Tift Merritt, Tim Hardin, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Vandaveer

(Re)Covered: New Coverfolk from
Tift Merritt, Shovels & Rope, Jones Street Station & CXCW!

March 24th, 2013 — 9:48am

Though our archives remain in limbo after our recent server troubles, new works and projects from artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down continue to spring forth into the ether and into our ears. Today, we add to the growing canon of delights with news of ongoing and newly-released projects from several yesteryear favorites, starting with an exclusive label-approved stream from Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein’s classical-meets-folk collaboration Night.



The lush, layered take on gospel tune Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from North Carolina-bred/NYC-based singer-songwriter Tift Merritt was one of many standout tracks on last year’s post-Hurricane Sandy benefit album The Storm Is Passing Over, easily strong enough on its own to find its way to our Best Tributes and Compilations Of 2012 feature as an album exemplar. And although I haven’t otherwise said so before, Merritt is a favorite, with a voice that rings of Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, a wont for lyrical prescience that speaks of loneliness and longing beautifully, and an overarching wisdom and weariness that lay waste to my heart.

But if Merritt’s previous works have been strong Americana, Night, the new collaboration from classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and nearly-legendary recording artist slash public radio host Merritt, is a vast and vindicating tour de force of artist and genre crossover. One third classical exploratives, one third folk-driven originals, one third hybrid coverage from a variety of popular sources, and 100% stunning, Night makes the journey from Wayfaring Stranger to Purcell, Bach, Schubert and Brad Mehldau via Billie Holliday’s Don’t Explain, a set of classical variations on Leonard Cohen, and a Patty Griffin-penned title track deeply personal, truly integrated, and sweetly soaring, giving us a whole and holistic album that collapses boundaries and sticks to the soul. Though it’s hard to pick a favorite track, the folk tunes call to us powerfully; listen below to an exclusive sweet-and-soulful Johnny Nash cover that may well be my favorite track of the year so far, plus a trio of older favorites from Merritt herself, then head over to Soundcloud to hear shortened samples of the rest.

  • Tift Merritt & Simone Dinnerstein: I Can See Clearly Now (orig. Johnny Nash)

    (from Night, 2013)



Up-and-coming Charleston, SC indie/folk/rock pair Shovels and Rope wowed us at the end of last year, too, with a layered, molasses-slow nu-folk take on Elvis Costello via Nick Lowe classic What’s So Funny ’bout Peace Love and Understanding that found feature placement on our Best of 2012 Mixtape. Now comes the good news that the husband-and-wife duo will release a two-track covers single on April 2 as part of Jack White’s Blue Series, continuing a meteoric rise to hipster fame; the single will sport the below sparse yet spry boogie-woogie piano take on Springsteen’s Johnny 99 on one side, and Tom Waits’ Bad As Me on the b-side, and while the result seems to be more jukebox fodder than folk, we’re not complaining one bit. Purchase now, vinyl-philes.


We featured Jones Street Station back in our early months as a blog, when they were merely the Jones Street Boys, describing their debut Overcome, which still finds regular replay in car and living room, as “lo-fi alt-country bluegrass music with a hint of midnight trainsongs and fireside song circles, a dollop of happy roots rock, and the pure infectious joy of making plumb great music.”

But boys become men, and Perennials, the project which is currently occupying their time, is a mature and masterful move towards adulthood for a band just emerging from its formative years. In it, the Brooklyn-based band is writing, recording, and releasing a new song a week for an entire year, with all proceeds going to your choice of twelve featured charities-of-the-month. (This month’s featured organization, for example, is CampInteractive, which “empowers inner-city youth through the inspiration of the outdoors and the creative power of technology”; others include lifesaving GLBQT lifesaver The Trevor Project, women’s support organization Rosie’s Place, volunteer coordinators Evacuteer.org, and music-and-culture non-profits such as The Old Town School of Folk Music and The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.)

The scope of the project is matched by its professionalism: these are no mere demos or living room recordings, but fully realized pieces by a collaborative that has been making music together for years, making the value well worth the gift. And with the project months in, and all but the below tradfolk breakdown lush original works in the vein of Wilco or The Civil Wars, a small donation to a worthy cause nets you hours of music to love and cherish.


Finally, our 2012 feature on virtual alterna-fest Couch By Couchwest touted the SXSW alternative as a joyous concept done well, and we’re thrilled to find that this year’s festival, which ended last weekend, was no exception, providing yet another opportunity for an international audience to avoid the elements, skip the lines, and drink their own cheap beer while watching scores of one-song sets in the comfort and/or squalor of their own living rooms.

The now-archived CXCW 2013 features a huge mix of roots, rock, bluegrass, country, Americana, and folk from the usual cross-section of amateur and professional participants; we can’t possibly share them all here, so check out a few favorite coverfolk takes from Steve Messina of Blow Up Hollywood, Irish singer-songwriter Grainne Hunt, Floridian acousti-country quartet Have Gun Will Travel, Sally Morgan of NPR fave tradfolk band The Black Twig Pickers, California girl Melody Walker, and CXCW faves Demolition String Band…and then click on over to check out five pages of cover-tagged videos from American folk icon Gretchen Peters, Kevin Russell of The Gourds, and many more, plus over three hundred original performances from this year’s festival contributors.

    Steve Messina: Bittersweet Symphony (orig. The Verve)


    Grainne Hunt: I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You (orig. Tom Waits)


    Have Gun Will Travel: The Rainbow Connection (orig. The Muppets)


    Demolition String Band: Loving Cup (orig. Rolling Stones)


    Sally Morgan: Your Long Journey (orig. Doc Watson)


    Melody Walker: I’m Only Sleeping (orig. The Beatles)


2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Festival Coverfolk, Jones Street Station, Shovels & Rope, Tift Merritt

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