Category: Covered In Folk


RIP: Prince
(June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)

April 21st, 2016 — 7:45pm


Prince-Nice1


As a long-time coverblogger, it’s not hard to have mixed feelings about the death of rockstar Prince today at the age of 57. The eminently egotistical Artist Formerly Known As An Unpronounceable Symbol was notoriously negative about “industry” coverage, expressing frustration that the law makes it perfectly legal to cover other people’s songs as long as the piper has been paid, and raising concern time and time again in interviews that “covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore”. Prince’s legal team was infamous for issuing YouTube take-down notices, and tight-fisted about permissions, too. And there we were, pretty gun-shy after being booted off Blogger for a string of false take-down notices in our early days.

And so, with a very few notable exceptions, for 9 long years online, we’ve pretty much avoided even talking about the man, let alone sharing our favorite covers.

Until now. Because Prince Rogers Nelson’s sexy pop anthems populate our world like nobody’s business, and praise the lord. Glitchy and over-the-top anthemic as it may be, I actually prefer his version of Nothing Compares To U to Sinead O’Connor’s. And I can’t think of any version of Kiss that I like better than the original, though Richard Thompson’s tongue-in-cheek take has its own rough-hewn joy, too.

And maybe, just maybe, that – plus the sheer volume of tributes that will surely join this one in the ether in the hours and days to come – offers sufficient protection from the wrath that is Prince’s estate today, as we celebrate a man whose purply influence will surely shine on the world of music for decades to come.

To suggest that Prince’s position on coverage was extreme is not to suggest that it had some merit, of course; as someone who recently listed Tainted Love as a Soft Cell original, I’m in a particularly poor position to suggest that great covers cannot and do not sometimes obscure original recordings. We’ve touched on the definitive, transformative cover here before, too, most notably in our 2008 deep dive into the shift in sound and sensibility Jeff Buckley brought to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which proved to influence pretty much all subsequent coverage of the song.

But to prefer the Ryan Adams version of Wonderwall is one thing; to say that it somehow eradicated the original is quite another. When Noel Gallagher says in his 2008 Spin interview that he and brother Liam hate singing Wonderwall, and that he thinks Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got it right, it says more about the potential of the cover to save the song than it does about its potential to erase it. Liam may no longer want to sing Wonderwall the way it was written, but the record lives on – and as Gallagher notes in the same interview, fans still clamor for the original, too.

And so, today, in honor of Prince’s passing, we break our vow of silence on the subject to present our very favorite covers from the folkworld. It’s good crop, too, with The Blue Rubies mid-eighties cover of Prince’s When U Were Mine, which was one of my very first folk covers – a moment of early clarity in a world cluttered with postpunk, synthpop, and early grunge – The Be Good Tanyas take on When Doves Cry, which I featured in my very first music post, before Cover Lay Down was even born, and last year’s remake of Prince’s playful oddity Starfish and Coffee from kidfolk fave Renee and SNL alum Maya Rudolph.

Add in a bluesy take from an underground Norwegian tribute now otherwise lost to the great archive in the sky, James Taylor’s son on a pristine backporch kick, a soaring high-production take on a track originally posted online as Violet Rain to confound the legal team, the ragged, live and in-studio vocals of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Richard Thompson, and Martin Sexton, and a few more joys from around the block, and you’ve got a tribute set worth waiting for.

May the covers ever live on alongside, not instead of, the originals which Prince himself brought to our ears. And may we never forget to gather together, dearly beloved, to get through this thing called life.



Covered In Folk: Prince


Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down explores 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 mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

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Covered In Folk: Justin Bieber
(13 takes on a pop icon’s cowritten canon)

April 15th, 2016 — 10:31pm


bieber


To be fair, the only thing I really knew about Justin Bieber until yesterday was that he was famous, and mostly still a kid. I could probably pick him out of a lineup, but I wasn’t really keyed in to the music. To be perfectly honest, I had to ask my students which songs of his were famous in order to complete today’s cover mix.

And yet. There’s a simple joy in the well crafted pop song, and a guilty pleasure in the adolescent bubblegum lens of confusion and longing hopped up on hormones that typifies the boy band and pop princess subgenre. And so we turn to the tabloids, and find, if not greatness, then certainly good.

Beiber’s work is carefully constructed, as befits a songbook written by committee and aimed carefully at the top of the preteen charts; sunny and light, it doesn’t go deep. But every genre has its high notes. Pulled from the popshelf, and translated into softer acoustic tones, the Canadian star’s songbook has an honesty of its own, grounded in zen metaphysics and a sensitivity to the concrete image as metaphor, that comes forward in coverage. And those hooks…well, it’s no wonder so many YouTube stars have taken on the north-of-the-border heartthrob with just a handful of albums under his belt.

Today’s selections are almost all amateur sourced. But their range is startling. Three takes on Love Yourself alone run the gamut, from Nataly Dawn‘s hollow, gritty bluesfolk to Dodie and Andie’s tender acoustic bedroom swing to rising star Jamie Oshima‘s newly-released mando-and-guitar cover, which switches in The Wedding Reel as a perfect instrumental break.

Peter Katz gives us a gentle electronica-tinged dreamfolk take on Sorry, while twee Parisian indiefolk foursome OAK offer sly harmonies over guitar, banjolin and bass; Amanda Law‘s What Do You Mean and Kina GrannisBaby are joyful, sweet, and pure; for a bonus treat, head over to the latter’s own percussive pop take on the former, and her collaborative version of Where Are U Now. Add in ringing acoustic dreampop from Fort Wayne artist Jonah Baker and SoCal native Rachael Cantu, soft, slippery smokehouse jazz on a dance track originally by Bieber, Skrillex, and Diplo, a punk folk seasonal, and two very different approaches to Boyfriend – acoustic alterna-pop from YouTube standby Madilyn Bailey; driving pop rock from Welsh singer-songwriter Marina and the Diamonds – and you’ll believe even pop can be redeemed.


Covered In Folk: Justin Bieber



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Covered In Folk: Tom Petty
(40 transformations in tribute to a truly American songbook)

February 13th, 2016 — 11:56pm





It’s only February, and it’s already been a great year for Tom Petty covers, with the newest addition – a playful take on Wildflowers from rising-star folk-circuit faves Caitlin Canty and Darlingside released just yesterday via Bandcamp – piling on alongside the wonderful American Girl cover featured last week from “acoustic steamboat soul” foursome Roosevelt Dime and Asheville-based songwriter Jane Kramer’s delightful Appalachian-influenced take on relatively obscure deep cut Down South, a trailblazer for Carnival of Hopes, a strong southern folk album due later this month, which popped up in the mailbag mid-January.

It’s no surprise to find the Tom Petty songbook riding high atop the list of common coverage sources, in the folkworld and beyond. When we first paid tribute to the native son on the last leg of a family trip to the Florida coast way back in April of 2010, we found a rich field, heavy on the singer-songwriter fare, with covers from Johnny Cash, Kasey Anderson, Kathleen Edwards, Dawn Landes, Mark Erelli with Jeffrey Foucault, and more artists whose folk comes tinged with twang and heart – overall, a set that provides ample evidence of Petty’s influence and relevance in the modern landscape. Add in a trio of upbeat covers from our Best of 2015 series – a triumphant post-cancer celebration of Learning To Fly from The Weepies and two grassy banjo-driven takes on American Girl from new discoveries Ballad Of Crows and old friends The Infamous Stringdusters – and more choice cuts collected in the last few years, and the trend becomes clear: Tom Petty’s influence is vast and varied; his songs live in the folkways, and they’re here to stay.

These warm, welcoming songs and their surprisingly tender, diverse treatment are especially apt today, in the light of this continued coverage, and on a night that promises to be one of the coldest ever recorded here in the heart of New England, leaving us dreaming of warmer climes and times. Today, then, as a kick-off to a week of school vacation leisure, we revisit and rework that earlier feature, celebrating an American icon with coverage from a set of old favorites and new discoveries that continue to forge ahead in their exploration of the American landscape.



Tom Petty is Florida’s most famous export, musically speaking. Born and raised in Gainesville – where he was inspired by a chance childhood meeting with Elvis and high school guitar lessons from Don Felder of The Eagles – the grinning, iconic frontman and singer-songwriter has sold millions of records, won three Grammys, earned a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is often presented as the typical American Rock success story.

Though he has gone deeper and a bit more experimental in his later years, Tom Petty’s most identifiable musical alliance is with Heartland Rock – a white working-class subgenre popular in the 70s and 80s, typified by “traditional” rock-band electric guitar and drums tinged with mandolin and harmonica, and accessible blue-collar lyrics that tell of the social, physical, and economic isolation experienced by those struggling to recapture the american dream in a post-industrial decline. And sure enough, like the subgenre’s other famous practitioners – Bob Seeger, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and John Fogerty among them – though he has enjoyed renewed popularity among the younger set in recent years, Petty’s laconic drawl can most commonly be heard on bar-room jukeboxes and classic rock radio, alongside southern and country rock artists such as the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Like anybody, I guess, I find Tom Petty’s vast catalog of hit songs familiar from the very first chord. And though my struggle to love what can only be called “distinctive” voices is well known to our regular readers, as a child of the eighties, a pop culture aficionado, and a fellow pursuant of the dream, though I don’t own a single Tom Petty album, I nonetheless find comfort in the constant presence of his direct and often softly cynical songbook.

I’m not alone in this. The blogs were awash with Tom Petty covers back in 2008, when his superbowl halftime show was the talk of the town – a sure indicator that both bloggers and modern singer-songwriters share my appreciation for Petty’s apt portrayal of both the American heartland and the American heart. Here, in celebration of the coincidence of American excess and Floridian paradise which I experienced in his home state, we gather in the best and folkiest, from the mellow to the madcap – many posted previously here and elsewhere; all well worth repeating, and easily downloadable as a single mix. Enjoy.

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty



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 mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

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Covered In Folk: John Hiatt
(with Patty Griffin, Carrie Rodriguez, Sam Bush, Chris Smither & more!)

April 11th, 2015 — 5:18pm




It’s been a long winter, but it’s easy to believe in spring, with the last few heaps of heavy snow finally turning to slush on the lawn and the crocus buds breaking through in the garden. Spiritually, too, the clouds are breaking: after a two-week hospital stay, the elderchild seems to have recalibrated, gaining weight on a diet of protein shakes and constant exercise; my students can see the fourth quarter end of the tunnel, and renew their vigor in discourse and deconstruction. It’s a good life, I know, but it’s been hard to see it for the fog; to know that it is lifting brings hope, slow and sure, with equal parts reluctance and relief.

Our mixed-metaphors of weather, water, and want belie the continued weight of life as it is: we’re not yet at rest, and we won’t be for at least another week, when we take our annual pilgrimage down south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the herons soar over the lagoon, and life slows down for a while every year. Until then, we’ll keep clearing the head, and the soul, readying ourselves to emerge into warmth.

Part of this, as always, is in the gathering of new songs and videos, albums and news from familiar sources – a strong and rising crop which have peppered our winter and gathered in our heart, where they threaten to burst upon us like the dam in spring snowmelt. And so we turn to the detritus of shoreline, the songs that spring upon us like buds in the snow, and cheer our hearts even as they moan and mourn for that which is lost, and those who are lonesome. A spin of the dice, and the world comes up with equal parts hope and heartache, roots and branches: the songs of John Hiatt, covered in folk.





Though still technically representative of the younger generation’s rich, reclaimed ground at the intersection of folk, Americana and bluegrass, Sara Watson, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sarah Jarosz are all beloved here at Cover Lay Down: each has been featured here before, both in collaboration and solo, for a combined respective breadth of work that has included plenty of sweet coverage along the way. Now the three artists have joined forces for a tour and a track, and the combination of the three is heavenly, with vocals sharp and soft pulling against each other, banjo and fiddle and guitar precise and sparingly, achingly melded. Their choice of song is inspired, too – a far cry from the hoarse cry of John Hiatt’s original, but with just as much longing and hope intermingled.

This continent-crossing trio are not the first women to take on the John Hiatt songbook so sweetly. Too folk for rock, too rock for folk, Hiatt is the epitome of the songwriter’s songwriter; the words “critical success but commercial failure” pepper his resume. He has been nominated for several Grammy awards, but drifted from label to label throughout his career; though he has recorded over two dozen albums studio albums in four decades, he’s never really charted that high. As such, he owes much of his early career to borrowing, most notably the 1974 release of Three Dog Night’s Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here, which rose to number 16 on the Billboard charts, and a spate of covers from his 1987 breakthrough album Bring The Family, recorded with Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder, which brought such hits as Thing Called Love, Memphis In The Meantime, and Have A Little Faith In Me to other voices and other rooms.

But his songs speak plainly of universal themes; his rock and roll is edged and catchy; his chords and melodies are eminently playable. And so, like most folk fans, I suspect, my own experience with Hiatt comes from stirring echoes on late night Americana radio, plus long play of his turn-of-the-century, predominantly acoustic record Crossing Muddy Waters, coupled with popular covers in celebration of his work from Raitt, Linda Rondstadt, Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson, and a broad swath of other folk, blues and Americana artists – and with two generally solid late-century tribute albums in the canon (2000 Telarc compilation Rollin’ Into Memphis and Vanguard’s 2003 release It’ll Come To You) there’s plenty to choose from, here.

Either way, Hiatt is worth both the coverage and the comparison to each original. His best songs delve deep into divorce, addiction, and other dire extremities; that gritty voice and guitar are inimitable, and play out his motifs and themes with pain and prescience. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions – Raitt’s take on Thing Called Love comes to mind, as does Suzxy Bogguss’ Drive South and Cliff Eberhardt’s Back Of My Mind – coverage of Hiatt’s work tends to fall into decidedly gendered camps, with his heartbreaking balladry trending towards the female side, and his gruffer, angrier or more celebratory tracks more often than not delivered in the hands of raspy bluesmen.

A split set, then, from sweet to sour, sugar to spice – seven and seven, with women on the A side, and men on the flipside – as we celebrate John Hiatt’s work, and his legacy, through coverage. Enjoy.



John Hiatt, Covered In Folk



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Covered In Folk: Creedence Clearwater Revival
(with Arborea, Thea Gilmore, Todd Snider, M. Ward +8 more!)

September 21st, 2014 — 3:40pm





I’ve been away, and I’ll be gone again; it’s busy season, after all, for those who live by the school year. But the soundtrack of our lives is everpresent, and today, I’m thinking about Fall: the way the leaves turn first on the trees with sickness; how the papers pile up, drowning the better self I became in summer.

And then, out of the ether, the bittersweet autumnal comes through in a delicate new minor-key Creedence cover from fave nufolk duo Arborea, channelling my frustrations into focus. I renew my gratefulness for the sun, and turn towards it. I remember what music is for. And here we are.





We have a special affection for bands that rise to fame through coverage here at Cover Lay Down. And Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose first top 40 single was their 1968 recording of rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins’ Susie Q, and whose later covers of Motown hit I Heard It Through The Grapevine and traditional gospel song The Midnight Special charted as well, certainly fits the bill.

But to mistake CCR as a cover band is to miss the forest for the trees. Although CCR continued to cover and reinterpret blues, soul, and rock and roll standards throughout their career, the band truly made its name with their original songs, many of which hit the number 2 spot on the charts in the late sixties and early seventies, though none made it to number 1. These, in turn, came through the pen of composer and lyricist John Fogerty, whose knack for expressing the challenges and chagrins of his time through the band’s signature “swamp rock” musical style and a vivid politically-charged working-class narrative would ultimately fuel a solo career greatly dependent upon these older protest songs.

That CCR is remembered so well reveals a surprisingly strong legacy for such a short-lived band: after all, the young foursome, who had first begun playing together in junior high school, ultimately released and recorded just 7 studio albums in a high-density career before breaking up in 1972, just four years after the release of their self-titled debut.

But there’s no denying that their subsequent hits run rampant through modern culture, serving as staples of classic rock radio and as cinematic touchstones for the heady emotions of the Vietnam era. And so it has come to pass that both Creedence and its songbook represent a time and place in US culture that is ripe for both repetition and interpretation as long as war, poverty, and other issues of social justice remain at the forefront of our national conversation.

Interpretation is broad: stripped of its signature sound, the Creedence canon is flexible, indeed. Our favorite covers of the Creedence Clearwater Revival songbook range from weary to wanton, from torchsong to tirade, from delicate to divine. Join us in the listening room today as we explore the myriad ways artists in the folk, roots, bluegrass, altcountry and indie world have made these songs their own.



Creedence Clearwater Revival: A Covered In Folk Mixtape [zip!]


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Covered In Folk: Bon Iver
(Lotte Kestner, Kina Grannis, Passenger, Catherine A.D. and 16 more!)

July 6th, 2014 — 4:21pm





It is unusual, to say the least, for us to come to a Covered In Folk feature to take on an artist whose total output officially includes but two full-length albums, a four-track EP, and a handful of appearances on tribute and compilation albums. But love him or hate him, there’s no denying the influence Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, has had on the independent music scene and its listeners since the revelation of his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago – a reinvention and rebirth, as if a decade or more of previous artistic output as a bandmate, and as a solo artist under his own name, predated his very existence.

To be fair, no small modicum of Bon Iver’s claim to hipster fame is grounded in its perfectly twee backstory: a three month post-breakup solitude in a Wisconsin cabin, with mononucleosis and a small set of recording equipment, produces an itch to compose, from which the heavily layered album tracks emerged wholesale and complete like a ten commandments of the Indie age. Delicate as a demo, For Emma would ultimately be distributed in a small batch to blogs, who raved Bon Iver’s way to small label distribution, television placement, and best-of-the-decade listings in Stereogum, Metacritic, and other major tastemaker publications online and off. This, in turn, would lead to a second self-titled album in 2011, recorded with others as a band of the same moniker, that received Grammy wins for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album, became Pitchfork’s #1 album of the year, and cemented the bearded artist’s place at the top of the hipster heart.



boniIntricate, authentic, deep and enveloping, the music Vernon has composed under the Bon Iver name is deserving of its critical reception. As a songwriter, Vernon favors the poetic, with longing and angst communicated through a litany of observations which come off as something between metaphor or vision; he’s been compared to Robert Creeley, which in this poet’s heart says something about a trend towards clear imagery and a particularly vivid use of figurative language. It is telling, indeed, that our set today includes coverage of almost every Bon Iver song ever recorded; something about these songs catches the heart, mind, and soul.

But although his lyrical authenticity is duly touted and taken on by his indiefolk peers, Vernon’s power as Bon Iver is more truly in the process, and the sound it creates: one that begins with wordless melody, which he listens to and then adds words to to match the syllabic nature of the music. This signature “music first” approach to arrangement and performance grounds his songs deeply in their rhythm and melody, elevating them past the limitations of live solo performance and demanding performance that generally includes a full band and sing-along audience choir.

The sound of Bon Iver – that shimmery overdubbed breathiness, evoking the haze of mono and isolation – dominates the canon, making for lyrics that are themselves part and parcel of the sonic atmosphere. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, to find that sound so often a primary driver of coverage, with that inimitable layered falsetto finding similarly soaring, echoing voice in versions from a score of artists growing up and finding their own success in the indiefolk scene. The merely unadorned solo isn’t rare, but it seems somehow startling, even as it finds and exposes a simpler beauty in the songs and melodies themselves.

Our favorite cases of each populate our 20-song tribute set today. Join us, as the loneliness and heartache of Bon Iver finds voice in the other, and then stick around for a bonus EP-length set of Bon Iver covering his own peers and influences.



COVERED IN FOLK: BON IVER [zip!]

  • HATS: Re:Stacks

    Scottish indierock brothers John & Garry aka HATS put a driving drumthrum-and-piano heartbeat behind sibling harmonies for stunning atmospheric effect, a gorgeous tension that never truly resolves.
  • Enna: Michicant

    A glitchy cover, heavy with lead and gold. German musician Enna also covers Flume; of the covers assembled here, it’s closest to the original, but sweet nonetheless.
  • Dress Rehearsal: Beth/Rest

    Quite lo-fi; retro-primitive, with a hint of grunge guitar bridge lending an edge like the Lemonheads at their lightest. Check out more of Dress Rehearsal‘s living room covers and originals at bandcamp.
  • Fort DeClare: Beach Baby

    Young amateur Fort DeClare stunned us back in 2010 with this delightful bedroom approach to lo-fi indie electrofolk, with thick, layered atmosphere and gentle repetitive elements.
  • Juliana: Calgary

    Previously celebrated rising star Juliana Richer Daily – who now goes by her first name only – turns in an emotional yet relatively faithful singer-songwriter take on an undersung favorite.
  • Amarise Carreras: Roslyn (orig. Bon Iver w/ St. Vincent)

    New Noisetrade discovery Amarise Carreras plays gentle lo-fi covers as endearing and raw as Karen Dalton or Vashti Bunyan – a perfect fit for this Twilight saga soundtrack original.
  • Chamberlain: Lost In The Woods (orig. Kanye West ft. Bon Iver)

    An indiecoustic soul number which builds into a jam, as befits this Kanye/Bon Iver collaboration; expect to see this track pop up again on a future Covered In Folk: Kanye West feature.
  • Daughter: Perth (orig. Bon Iver) vs. Ready For The Floor (orig. Hot Chip)

    A lush, shimmery mash-up that crosses jazz, trance, and dreampop lines – sparse for the genre, perfect for the close of today’s Bon Iver covers collection.



Looking for more Bon Iver? Though he is reportedly reluctant to perform his own songs without the richness of vocal harmony and band, Vernon does some pretty sweet covers himself. Today’s Bonus Tracks feature the Wisconsin artist taking on the folk canon both new and old, live and in-studio – a strong introduction to his original, inimitable style.



Always original and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down offers new themed sets, songwriter features and coverfolk finds throughout the year thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Find us on Facebook for bonus discoveries and streaming multimedia coverage, too!

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Covered In Folk: Jesse Winchester (1944-2014)
(with Roseanne Cash, Chris Smither, Mark Erelli, The McGarrigles +8 more!)

June 30th, 2014 — 4:36pm





I started this entry towards the end of March, an early thaw that revealed a fertile earth ready for Spring even as insanity reigned in my personal life, and many drafts went unfinished. Since then, southern-born musician and songwriter Jesse Winchester has succumbed to the bladder cancer that plagued him for the better half of a decade – but the deceptively simple, direct lyrics and tunes that brought him a modicum of fame and no small counterpart of peer recognition through a long and storied career linger in the air, soothing mind and body as the world slows down to summer heat.

I first wrote about Winchester’s work over at Star Maker Machine back in 2009. Today we take the more comprehensive approach with a long-overdue Covered In Folk feature in tribute to Winchester’s songbook, featuring coverage from a company of contemporaries, including Emmylou Harris, Chris Smither, Pierce Pettis and more.


The musician’s musician, the singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter: even as we overuse such terms through our criticism and praise, it remains both trope and truism that some of the best artists make their name through the works of others. And although he produced and released his songbook almost entirely through his own performances, Jesse Winchester is one of those artists whose name is all over the liner notes of his generation. His work has been recorded and celebrated by Tom Rush, Emmylou Harris (x2), Lyle Lovett, The Everly Brothers, Jimmy Buffett (x3), Elvis Costello, Little Feat, Wilson Pickett, and a host of well-known Country artists; many of those same stars, plus James Taylor, Lucinda Williams, Allen Toussaint and more, came together in 2012 for a tribute album after the gentle interpreter of the human condition fell ill with cancer.

Winchester deserves the attention. In his own voice, he was a contemporary polymath of genre, with folk and blues elements that cross boundaries even as they dig deep into the soul. Rolling Stone named him The Greatest Voice of the Decade after a 1977 performance that marked a triumphant return to the US after a draft-dodging decade in Quebec.

And although the bulk of his work dates back to the seventies, Winchester continued to write and record throughout his life, albeit sparingly, and in a career ever hampered by a reluctance to play the popstar game. His 2009 appearance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, where he performed Sham-A-Ling-Ding-Dong – a song that American Songwriter aptly called “an ode to both the triumph of true love over time and to the profundity of nonsensical doo-wop lyrics, all delivered by Winchester in a fragile croon that transmits all of the deep emotions hiding between the lines” – is a stunning example of a true master at the end of a too-short career, in a performance that brought Neko Case – and me – to tears.

What makes a musician’s influence so strong that his work affects his peers so well? Mostly, the ability to put into words those universal sentiments that songwriters have long struggled to make. Winchester’s work is often thick with nostalgia, and rich with first person sentiment, but it is, in the end, stunning in its simplicity, with plain lines bare and carefully constructed, pitch-perfect hidden depths that shimmer under seemingly straightforward lyrics. Listen, as his songs shine through the voices that celebrate him – from Mark Erelli’s tender folk lullaby to Chris Smithers’ stomping, driving blues, Emmylou’s inimitable balladry, and the countrygrass sounds of New Grass Revival.


COVERED IN FOLK: JESSE WINCHESTER [zip!]


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Covered In Folk: Nanci Griffith
(with Red Molly, Stray Birds, Sarah Harmer, Chris Smither & more!)

January 5th, 2014 — 5:02pm





There’s a special place in my heart for Nanci Griffith‘s 1993 covers album Other Voices, Other Rooms, a Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Folk Album which came out just as I was rediscovering my own love of folk music and coverage. Indeed, the album has long been a staple of my collection, well-worn for its tender, sweet song treatments of a veritable who’s who of folk artist who influenced a generation, from Gordon Lightfoot to Kate Wolf to Ralph McTell, and with bonus points for including some of the original songwriters, including Frank Christian, John Prine, and Bob Dylan, on session instruments and harmonies. And although Other Voices, Too, released five years later, wanders wider in its search for other influence, and perhaps shows some of the strain of Griffith’s intervening years as a cancer patient, it, too, contains gems worth repeating, including a gorgeous take on Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes.

A number of Nanci Griffith’s hits have been covers: for example, although many know it as a Bette Midler song, her performance of Julie Gold’s From A Distance was decidedly definitive. But although she is well known for her interpretations of other people’s songs, Griffith is a potent singer-songwriter in her own right, too, with 35 years on the circuit and a pedigree that includes an affiliation with the 80s Fast Folk movement and a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association. Beloved on both sides of the country and folk line for her poignant portrayals of universal longing, loss, isolation, and small-town life in a big-city world, her albums were staples of my father’s collection, as well. And although some of her work swings a bit country for my taste, Griffith’s bright, little-girl voice brings a tenderness to her own compositions that makes it easy to hear why she is so revered by her peers.

Unsurprisingly, Griffith’s songbook is relatively well covered by those who, like her, have played the country and folk sides of a perforated line. Her songs have been hits for Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss; last year saw the emergence of Trouble In The Fields, a long-overdue tribute album released with little fanfare featuring the likes of Amy Rigby, John Stewart, Red Molly, Stacy Earle, long-time backing band The Kennedys, and more from a broad swath of the contemporary folk circuit; the album has several gems, and is solid throughout, though many interpretations hew close to the originals.

A deeper dig into the album cuts of a very big archive uncovers more coverage to love as well. And so, today, we present a mix of our own favorite Nanci Griffith covers, including a distinctively differentiated pair of early takes on Once In A Very Blue Moon, amazing recent interpretations from The Stray Birds and Red Molly, a Sarah Harmer rarity, a cut from Jonathan Edwards’ country album, a lullaby from Eliza Gilkyson, and more. Enjoy the set, plus a few favorite covers by Griffith herself, and then – if you haven’t heard them – pick up Griffith’s classic albums Once In A Very Blue Moon and The Last Of The True Believers, a pair considered by most critics to be the best introduction to her early work before she turned completely to “folkabilly” and Country music.





Looking for more coverfolk in your daily life? Check out the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for more streaming goodies throughout the week – including a brand new batch of coverfolk from Hurray For The Riff Raff, Juliana Hatfield, Teddy Thompson, Frontier Ruckus, The Chapin Sisters, Matt Nathanson and more in tribute to high harmonizer Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.

4 comments » | Covered In Folk, Nanci Griffith

The World Spins Madly On:
Deb Talan of the Weepies announces breast cancer diagnosis

December 17th, 2013 — 7:31pm




In days to come when your heart feels undone
may you always find an open hand
and take comfort wherever you can…

- Deb Talan, Comfort


Before she became half of popular folkpop duo The Weepies, Deb Talan was a singer-songwriter whose early solo albums overflowed with surprisingly touching acoustic guitar-playing and plaintive, sincere, literate lyrics sung in a sweet little-girl voice – a combination which blew us away when we first found her, entirely by accident, at a tiny basement coffeehouse in Northampton, MA just after the release of her first studio album Something Burning, and we fell head over heels in love.

Since we love indiefolk beats and close harmonies, and harbor no hipster sentiment here at Cover Lay Down, we were thrilled when her subsequent duo work with Steve Tannen – a life-and-music partnership built on mutual appreciation, and the common motifs of nature and sensitive souls – began to take flight in the alt and indie worlds, making The Weepies soft and well-deserved darlings of the early blogging community. And though it’s hard to stay in love with a band that has generally eschewed touring for family (officially, the duo has only toured twice since 2006), we were happy, too, to hear of the births of their three sons after their marriage – happy, that is, to hear of such happiness, in those who had given the world so much, and so well.

Talan and Tannen’s successes on the charts and at home make yesterday’s revelation that Deb has been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer all the more poignant. But in typical fashion, the couple seems upbeat about their prospects, noting that the unexpected side effects of diagnosis include “feeling very grateful to be living in the 21st century, having a lot more patience when our boys get crazy, REALLY enjoying making music right now”, and following their original post with a second note, today, thanking their fans and friends for their support, inviting folks to send Deb a love note or care package or a few words of encouragement via snail mail, and encouraging everyone to “make an appointment for yourself to get your yearly cancer screening, right now.”

Though we find ourselves saddened by the news, Talan’s songwriting provides its own solace, in its way, with lyrics that speak to, and comfort, the heart. And although I daresay Talan and Tanner are most often the better interpreters of their own songs – pretty much every song they have ever produced is a gem, eminently worth purchasing and savoring ad infinitum – there’s a few covers out there which manage to make these precious songs vibrant and new without sullying their reputation or burying the lede. Here to prove it: a small set of coverfolk versions, from tender to triumphant, that aptly reflect the couple’s strength and wisdom, with our best wishes and neverending kudos to Deb, Steve, Theo, Alex, and Nicholas for keeping their heads high and their spirits clear as they plan for an uncertain future.



6 comments » | Covered In Folk, The Weepies, Tidbit Tuesday

Covered In Folk: Robyn
(Lucy Wainwright Roche, Ellie Goulding, Brittany Ann & more!)

October 19th, 2013 — 6:06pm





In a post-Mouseketeer world, teenage pop sensations trend heavily towards the faux-innocent and inauthentic; of these, though many artists who rise too early fade into obscurity just as quickly, others, from Justin Timberlake to Miley Cyrus, manage to grow into adult artists who take claim of their own artistic output and their fame.

But just as the halls of the high school where I teach hide small pockets of moody geniuses struggling to master their own expression, anomalies exist in the world of the popular. And the best of these teenage artists emerge early: 16 year old New Zealand sensation Lorde, for example, whose recent hit Royals found double coverage in our YouTube Top 40 acoustic coverset last month, is just beginning her career, but the coy determination she brings to her songs of self-sufficiency and salvation seems a strong indicator of future success.

Those looking for a poster child for the homegrown authentic able to play the airwaves with authenticity from the get-go need look no further than Swedish dance-pop artist Robyn, who hit the international scene at the tender age of 18, when her singles Show Me Love and Do You Know (What It Takes) reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. Today, as part of our ongoing mandate to celebrate the authentic in all genres through folk coverage, we present our favorite acoustic and folk covers of this well-deserving feature subject.

Like many young pop phenoms, Robyn (born Robin Miriam Carlsson) was a rising star in childhood. The daughter of two stage actors, her voice-over and stage work began at age 9, and she recorded her first television theme song at 12; she was discovered that same year by Swedish pop sensation Meja during a school-based music workshop, and signed to RCA Records at 16.

Two years later, after her major label debut Robyn Is Here caught fire, slamming her into the global spotlight, Robyn returned to her native Sweden exhausted. For her next two albums, the autobiographical My Truth and 2002 pop-slash-R&B release Keep This Fire Burning, she and her team decided to skip an international release, in order to maintain her health and support a healthier, more cautious development as an artist. But the release of her self-titled 2005 electronic dance album made a low profile impossible. And with a Grammy nomination in her pocket, Robyn finally took her place on the world stage again, with appearances across the globe.

Now in her mid-thirties, the outspoken Robyn has established herself on the world stage as an artist of talent and poise with a clear-headed vision that is as decidedly post-feminist as it is postmodern. And although her studio output is sparse – officially, she has released just half a dozen albums, with an average of one new record every four or five years – the process and product which this body of work represents speak to a carefully tendered craft and a deliberate, well-managed sense of self that shines through her songbook.

Robyn is no stranger to coverage – her covers of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone, plus songs by Bjork, Alicia Keys, Prince, and Coldplay, reveal a sensitivity to the depths and beauty in the works of her Top 40 peers. And the world of the popular responds to Robyn, too: see, for example, Wakey Wakey’s anthemic gender-bent piano pop ballad version of Call Your Boyfriend, and Noah and the Whale’s grungy 2011 take on the same, or Kings of Leon’s recent alt-rock take on the equally well-covered Robyn hit Dancing On My Own, which turns the song on its ear, drenching it in hard-edged No Depression guitar wails and slow drumbeats.

As with so many of our Covered In Folk featured artists, stripping the synths and heavy beats from Robyn’s songbook reveals a surprisingly melancholy, pensive catalog, chock full of coherent narratives about gender politics and heartbreak at the margins of modern identity – making her work particularly attractive for those who would transform it. Our Covered In Folk collection kicks off with a brand new recording from CLD fave second-generation singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche, which debuted this week on new album There’s a Last Time for Everything, and moves on to covers from popfolk sweetheart Ellie Goulding, Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Brittany Ann, Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe, artistic polymath Aeryn Martin, and more. Listen, enjoy, and – as always – pursue the paths of those whose sound and sensibility appeal to your own tastes, the better to sustain art and artists that speak to, for, and within our communities.



Lucy Wainwright Roche: Call Your Girlfriend (2013)




Javier Dunn: Call Your Girlfriend (2012)




Ellie Goulding & Erik Hassle: Be Mine (2009)




Sarah Jaffe: Hang With Me (2011)




Aeryn Martin: With Every Heartbeat (2010)




Brittany Ann: Dancing On My Own (2013)




Gavin Beach ft. Jamie Cleaton: Dancing On My Own (2011)




Emma White: Indestructible (2011)




Vanessa Medina: Show Me Love (2012)



1 comment » | Covered In Folk, Robyn

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