Category: Covered In Folk


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!]


2 comments » | Covered In Folk, Creedence Clearwater Revival

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!

2 comments » | Bon Iver, Covered In Folk

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!]


Comment » | Covered In Folk, RIP

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

Covered In Folk: Arcade Fire
(Sara Lov, Ana Egge, Ane Brun, Clare Burson, Calexico & more!)

July 28th, 2013 — 10:26am





Let’s start with the obvious: Arcade Fire isn’t folk music. And if you’re an older folk fan, or just generally not alt-Top 40 savvy, you may barely recognize the bandname, though one or two songs may sound familiar, thanks to the everpresent periphery of Starbucks soundtracks and hipster radio.

But the purpose of Cover Lay Down is to connect fans with artists through the comfort of coverage. Our Covered In Folk series has taken on the songbooks of influential artists from Dolly Parton and Jimi Hendrix to Radiohead, Pavement, and The Bee Gees; we recognize that our subjective listening histories contain volumes, and that familiarity is where you find it. And by this standard, Arcade Fire is worth knowing – both because the band is no mere footnote in the history of 21st century music, and because in just a decade, the young indie-rock influencers, built around the songwriting-partnership-turned romance of husband-and-wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, have crafted a body of songs that have caught the ears and minds of a rising generation of artists who self-define as folk.

Today, then, we turn our attention to the songs of Arcade Fire, as covered by a diverse set of young singer-songwriters from across the folk and acoustic genres. As always, if you like what you hear, follow the threads below to learn more about the artists we celebrate.



History first: although a version of Arcade Fire was formed by Butler and a few other players in Boston around the turn of the century, the band identifies as Canadian, tracing its official founding to the Montreal art gallery where Butler discovered Chassagne singing jazz standards. The band would spend the next three years honing their unusual combination of eclectic influences into “a mix of bossa nova, punk, French chanson, and classically tinged pop music,” gathering in players, and developing a local following through small venue performances and a self-pressed EP that caught the ears of Merge Records.

From there, their rise to fame was swift indeed. Pitchfork named their cathartic 2004 debut Funeral among their top ten albums of the year; they toured with U2, and played both Lollapalooza and Coachella. Subsequent albums Neon Bible (2007) and The Suburbs (2010) topped the Billboard charts. “Alternative radio” listeners and Top 40 aficionados alike became familiar with their sound and sensibility. And with a second appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2010, theirs was a household name, at least among the cool kids.

Arcade Fire is an expansive indie rock band with elements of both post-punk and baroque pop in the mix, and they’ve sounded like it all along; with but three albums under their belt, their songbook is small, though a fourth album due this October will expand their repertoire. But under all that pulsing beat and unapologetically theatrical performance, the combination of deep lyrics, dark majesty, and smart, fragile, hook-driven melodies strike a deserved chord with the disillusioned masses.


Where such broad fandom is found, tribute is bound to follow. And follow it does, in spades. The covers of Arcade Fire which catch the imagination run predominantly popfolk and indie, as befits a band that rose to prominence after the millennium, and is often hailed (ironically and unironically) for bringing indie to the mainstream, especially since winning a Grammy for Album of the Year (thus retaining their indie cred by becoming the only artist to date to win in only that category). Even on the popfolk side, the dominant players are artists on the fringe: young singer-songwriters, social-media savvy, who know how to ply the modern as a vehicle for fan base.

We’re not knocking this approach, of course: by definition, Cover Lay Down celebrates and respects coverage as a vehicle of comfort. But even as the covers run the gamut, stirring the imagination of a vast swath of styles and artists, don’t let the genre spread fool you. Arcade Fire’s lyrics are a consistent thread, socially aware, painfully personal, and thematically deep, as evidenced by the heady journeys of their albums themselves, and by their own choices of coversongs: their Talking Heads cover, heard below as a bonus track, is hoarse and heated, and shockingly sparse; their version of Games Without Frontiers, which will appear on long-awaited Peter Gabriel tribute And I’ll Scratch Yours in September, is darker and more hollow than the original, which is saying something.

The spread of their peer coverage is quite diverse, too, with several takes per original album speaking to a consistency in composition throughout the band’s wild ride to fame. A greatest hits collection, then: of Arcade Fire treated tenderly, and with passion; of modern homage, in the spirit of sharing, and of folk writ large.


Covered In Folk: Arcade Fire

  • Ana Egge: In The Backseat

    A tense, pulsing take from Lazy Days, American folk artist Ana Egge‘s slow, sunny all-covers tribute to classic pop-and-rock songs of summer.
  • Calexico: Ocean of Noise

    Indie collective Calexico brings their crashing alt-country to bear on a cover originally released by Arcade Fire themselves as a b-side for Intervention.





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3 comments » | Arcade Fire, Covered In Folk

Covered In Folk: Show Tunes
(Rosanne Cash, Mark Kozelek, Dar Williams, Colin Meloy & more!)

May 5th, 2013 — 3:14pm





I published the below feature three years ago today, anticipating a triumphant but fleeting return to the stage alongside my wife and daughters in a local production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after more than a decade away. Since then, however, the theater bug has returned, and the roles are getting juicier as I once again find my footing on the proverbial boards; auditions and musicals have me thumbing through the works of Sondheim, Hammerstein, Hart and Gershwin, and these folk versions have never seemed more alive.

This weekend, we’re all in a production of The Sound Of Music; I’m actually completing this as I sit backstage waiting for my cue. Today’s feature is especially fitting, then, as it acknowledges my distraction while including a beautiful cover of Edelweiss to honor the work. Look for another older post featuring songs based on the works of Shakespeare this summer, when I’ll be one of three actors in a Shakespeare in the Park production of one of my favorite pieces, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.


I was one of those arty middle-class music-and-theater kids – you know, the ones who spend their free periods in the band room, stay after school to paint sets, seem utterly disconnected from the mass media-driven marks of popular consumer culture, and demonstrate a complete and utter lack of coordinated ability in running shorts.

But it wasn’t just desire or common interest that kept me there. Natural talent, a strong ear, and an ADHD sufferer’s tendency to misplace my instrument had led to formal voice lessons and private choruses as a child (lose your clarinet, and mom gets pissed; lose your voice, and it comes back on its own). From there, I found myself on stage, and until I discovered that teaching could provide the same inner thrill, I fully expected to spend my life at its center, singing under the spotlight.

Thanks to this combination of talent, training, and opportunity, my adolescence was marked by more than just solos in the school chorus and lead roles in the high school play. Sure, I played Pippin in Pippin in my freshman year, losing my virginity to one of the older chorus members a few hours before opening night, but I also missed a lot of school in those years, thanks to active engagement in several major production companies in and around the Boston area before I cleared middle school. I even spent a late eighties summer at the Boston University Theater Institute, dressing like a Chorus Line extra, staying up late with the next generation of aspiring stars, burning through showtunes, improv exercises, Tennessee Williams monologues, and obscure Brecht/Weill operettas while my schoolmates got sunburned on the fields at soccer camp.


If the Internet is to be believed, many students growing up in the arts and theater crowd ultimately hew close to musical theater in their adult lives, finding preference and even pleasure in the songs of the stage. But for me, the theater was merely a means to an end – a love affair with the self, a mechanism for being at the center of attention, and a route to popularity and fame.

Though the stage was a place where I could shine, on my own time, as I’ve noted here before, my tastes ran towards the radio, the rising grunge and alt-rock movements, and the vast LP stacks of an audiophilic father heavy on the blues, jazz, folk and country. My mother’s small collection of original cast recordings of South Pacific, The Sound Of Music, and My Fair Lady may have been an endcap in our record cabinet, but just as my father never turned to those records, so did I eschew them, and groan alongside him when they came out of their sleeves for the occasional holiday.

As a result, though I recognize much of the canon of Broadway musicals – from Gershwin to Porter, Gilbert & Sullivan to Rogers & Hammerstein – unlike, say, the Top 40 of the eighties, or the East Coast alt-grunge movement, the genre does not interest me much as a fan or collector. To me, the Broadway songbook is something to sing, not something to listen to. To each his own, I guess.


In many ways, musical theater is the opposite of folk. The staging is formal; the audience is distant. The performers wear make-up, and are not themselves. And the distinct origin of song, lyric, and performance are clear, though attributed authorship is generally eschewed in favor of the shows from whence such songs came to us.

Where folk connects audience and performer within a complex of cultural feedback and communality – a sharing strategy which prioritizes emotional accessibility over pitch-perfect performance – as an ideal, the nuances of show tune performance are grand and showy, thanks to the trappings of character and grand narrative which underlie the very nature of theatrical production. Hearty where folk is delicate, melodramatic where folk is honest, stylized where folk is organic, show tunes don’t just come from a different part of the culture than folk music – they come from a very different place in the heart and the mind than the music we find and feature here.

Yet as a strand of the popular, the songs of the stage and screen quite often find their way into the folkways – most commonly via that melting pot of the popular, The Great American Songbook. Coverage, as such, is not uncommon, though it is rarer in the world of the solo singer songwriter than, say, the smoky realm of pop, jazz or blues vocalists – more common, even, for folk musicians to “go pop” or “go jazz” with these tunes, than for them to truly lend their folk sensibility to the popular songbook of musical theater.

But when it happens, it’s a beautiful thing. Given the difference in style and function between the two forms, the folk approach to the songs of Broadway and beyond tends towards the transformative, as the songs are localized, closing the vast gulf of spectacle which the stage mandates, replacing scale with intimacy. And so, as in coverage writ large, the song is born anew, with new meaning.

Here’s a broad set of coversongs, timeless and up-close, with a post-millennial focus, to help you see what I mean.




Bonus Repost Tracks (2013)


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3 comments » | Covered In Folk, Mixtapes, Reposts

Covered In Folk: George Jones
(James Taylor, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, The Proclaimers & more!)

May 4th, 2013 — 10:47am


george-jones


The threads that entwine early country music and American folk music are clear and bright in the folkways. Early country came from folk, coupled with other Southern strands that would lead to the blues; before the folk-revival canonization of radio and festival genres in the 50s and 60s, the folk community welcomed country artists as their own.

But although it is common for modern folk musicians to pay tribute to the early blues and country songs of depression-era radio and the early Grand Ole Opry, and to certain subgenres such as outlaw country, outside of a smaller subsection of folk artists playing on the periphery where swing, honky-tonk, and bluegrass elements are second nature, they don’t always acknowledge their debt to the Nashville strains of modern country music, even in those subgenres which arose simultaneous with the revival movements.

Enter George Jones, a Texan by birth who found voice in the be-suited Nashville crowd in the late fifties, and never left, even as country began to branch out into country rock, outlaw county, and rockabilly forms. With an identity closely tied to his alcoholism, a hard-livin’ attitude which caused him to miss no small share of his own shows, a penchant for overspending and lawn tractor accidents, and four wives – including a stormy “country couple” pairing with country icon Tammy Wynette at the height of his career which produced at least one seminal album – Jones lived the country life, and the way he channeled this life into music was duly celebrated in the sixties, seventies, and eighties by peers and critics who saw him pour heart and soul, hardship and struggle into his music as he did that daily life.

Jones identified himself as having been pushed aside in the nineties by a move towards younger, more pop-influenced artists, and record sales alone tell us his read is accurate. But there was nothing personal in this shift. Although Jones primarily performed on acoustic guitar, both his generational perspective and the country band-driven and orchestrated elements he favored in his recordings placed him squarely in the same camp as other true-blue Nashville-era artists of his time and place, from Johnny Paycheck to Charlie Daniels, and their audience aged with them as the world changed.

But the emotional core of his songwriting resonates nonetheless. And that inimitable voice – sad and pensive, soulful and sweet – continues to be as recognized and recognizable as the songs he wrote and interpreted, many of which have become true-blue staples of the honky tonk jukebox.

Fittingly, when Jones passed last week at 81, it was primarily those artists who had been most directly influenced by him in the country world – both of his own generation, and relative newcomers such as Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Randy Travis – who stood at the forefront of tribute, recognizing their debt even as their presence acknowledges the shift in county over time. Still, with over 150 hit records in an alcohol-fueled lifetime of touring and recording, and a knack for getting to the plain-spoken heart of the sorrow and pain inherent in the human condition, even as the world moved on, it was almost inevitable that a few of Jones’ songs – both those which he wrote, and those which he made his own – would find their way into the hands of others outside of the genre.

Today, then, we explore just a few songs from that vast periphery where the genres blur, and folk meets country, in tribute to a seminal songwriter and performer whose voice and vices were hallmarks of a bygone era. From twang to stomp, from slight to sure, from folkies-gone-country to delicate singer-songwriter and indiefolk, the breadth of coverage alone offers ample evidence for a life well interpreted. Listen individually, or download the whole set as a zip file for a tribute set that’s as country as we get.




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1 comment » | Covered In Folk, George Jones

Spring 2013: New & Impending Tributes
Part 2: Two tributes to The Everly Brothers

March 31st, 2013 — 5:00pm

We’re in the midst of a short Spring series featuring this year’s early tributes and cover compilations, thanks to an unusually strong crop of those full-album sets which so often stand as the coverlover’s archival foundation. Last Friday, we kicked off our series with a look at The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver, sharing three tracks from the album and a Covered In Folk mixtape of relatively recent folk homage for comparison; today, we explore two different approaches to The Everly Brothers from The Chapin Sisters and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy, with a bonus set of coverage from the folk archives to follow.





Single-artist tribute albums are rare enough as it is. But in what can only be considered a curious confluence of events, 2013 will see two strong full-album tributes to close harmony duo the Everly Brothers – both by by folk duos, though from opposite sides of the contemporary genre spectrum.

The first of these, What The Brothers Sang – a pairing of frequent nu-folk collaborators Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy, preceded by a teaser leading-edge holiday video cover of Christmas Eve Can Kill You that made the rounds in December – comes from the indie side of the folkworld, and sounds it, with Oldham’s broken baritone and McCarthy’s warm alto establishing a complex tapestry of sound throughout, and a tendency towards languid arrangement and more obscure set pieces that brings out the maudlin. Overall, though, with true-blue rockers, slow folk tracks, and neo-traditional settings all in the mix, the collection as a whole comes out quite flexible in its treatment of the songbook, rebuilding each song 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.




The second Everly Brothers tribute this year will come from Cover Lay Down favorite family singer-songwriter pairing The Chapin Sisters, fresh off a month-long residency singing classic country songs at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, where they paid tribute to their own sibling harmony tendencies by performing light, sparse takes of family-harmony classics from The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, and, finally, an ever-expanding series of Everly Brothers hits on banjo and guitar in suits and slicked-back hair. The experience also led to the recording of The Chapin Sisters: A Date With the Everly Brothers, a dreamy cross-gender tribute that promises to play the songs relatively straight, albeit more tender, and with more than a hint of female twang; the album isn’t finished being paid for or packaged yet, but a Kickstarter gift at the above link now will net you the disk when it’s ready; in the meantime, there’s plenty of live and promotional footage to show us how sweet this one will be.

    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain


    The Chapin Sisters: Love Hurts (live)


    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain (live)




More broadly, the influence of brothers Don and Phil is evident in both early and ongoing coverage of the Everly Brothers’ compositions throughout multiple genres, and in the ease with which songs originally recorded by them, such as B & B compositions Love Hurts, Devoted To You, and Bye Bye Love, have come to be considered popular and oft-misattributed standards – not to mention the continued misidentification of chart-topping songs performed but not originally recorded by the two, such as Gilbert Bécaud’s Let It Be Me, which came from France and traveled through the filter of American television before reaching the Everly Brothers’ ears.

And just as this year’s new tributes split the difference between the early popfolk elements and the country stylings which characterized the Everly Brothers work, so too do Today’s Bonus Tracks reveal a similar macrocosmic split in contemporary coverage writ large, with most artists adopting duo configurations to take on the close melodic harmonies of the Everlys even as their performances and arrangements yaw between delicate indiefolk and robust acoustic country and rock.

Especially dear pairings include the romantically-linked girls at the core of acoustic folkband The Ditty Bops, boyfriend and girlfriend Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, Doc and son Merle live in concert, married tradfolk pair Pharis and Jason Romero, long time folk couple Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, and Teddy Thompson’s duet with his mother Linda, who also did a great duet with Sandy Denny on another Everly Brothers hit once upon a seventies. Even sibling fiddle-and-cellofolk pair Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, aka The Bee Eaters, sing in harmony, borrowing Aoife O’Donovan’s vocals, then trading off licks on their instrumental version of Crying In The Rain as if their strings could sing. In the end, of today’s set, only Rosie Thomas and Ed Harcourt, like Oldham and McCarthy, remain unlinked by blood or marriage – and save their harmony for the final verse, perhaps in penance.


1 comment » | Covered In Folk, Everly Brothers, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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