Category: Featured Artists


Amos Lee Covers:
John Prine, John Denver, Sam Cooke, Dylan, Madonna & more!

September 5th, 2016 — 4:30pm


amosleemag


Amos Lee came into my life just in time to rock my second child to sleep, making it easy to mark the eleven years since Arms Of A Woman hit me in the heart like a slow motion bullet. Since then, the soulful singer-songwriter has become a go-to guy for series of strong tribute albums and covers collections – making him an easy candidate for a Cover Lay Down artist feature that gathers in 18 of our favorite live and studio covers for a set that’ll tear your heart out.

Lee was a latecomer to the craft; he received his first guitar in college, and worked as an elementary-level schoolteacher and bartender in his native Philadelphia before deciding to dedicate his life to music at the age of 25. But once determined, his rise to fame was rapid and resoundingly celebrated. Early opening act gigs for BB King and Mose Alison and a demo submission to jazz-and-more label Blue Note Records in 2004 led to tours with Norah Jones and Bob Dylan the following year, and a self-titled debut whose songs found rapid-fire exposure on a multitude of House, ER, Parenthood, and other TV shows and commercials known for showcasing the new, hip indie marketplace.

No one was surprised when Lee’s 2011 album Mission Bell, with its stark landscape, restless momentum, and guest appearances from Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Priscilla Ahn, Pieta Brown, and Sam Beam debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. The man had made his mark, and subsequent tours with everyone from Merle Haggard to Adele would only cement his influence in the post-millennial world.

In many ways, though, Amos Lee’s rapid rise was foretold by his music. It’s hard not to love Lee upon first listen; arguably, the man has more soul in his vocal delivery than anyone else in his generation and genre. But dig deeper, and his true mastery becomes clear: there’s subtle, nuanced delivery and arrangement here, and a deceptively simple way with a lyrical hook that owes as much to the formative influence of early acoustic soul balladeers like Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers as it does to the muddy, raw Delta bluesfolk at the heart of the American folkways, the gritty sounds of John Prine, and the sparse contemporary jazzfolk sounds of Joni Mitchell and labelmate and contemporary Jones.

The result is consistent: an elegantly honest portrayal of deep emotional truths, crisp and achingly framed, in clear, deep, and emotional performance; a collected output of six full-length albums of original songs, one live album, that original Blue Note EP, and a sequence of guest appearances and one-shot coversongs that evades easy genre categorization even as it stands out for its originality, its craftsmanship, and its soul.

So click below to download studio covers of John Prine, Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Madonna, an iTunes session Neil Young/Ween two-fer, collaborations with The Wood Brothers and Calexico and Iron & Wine, and the best, clearest live covers we could find, from soulful solo takes on Sam Cooke and The Commodores to majestic in-concert versions of November Rain and Fat Bottomed Girls. Come, see why Amos Lee’s interpretation of John Denver’s Some Days Are Diamonds, originally shared here in 2013, is the single most played song in our collection. Come, fall back in love with us.



Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the folkways through cover songs since 2007 thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Coming soon: our annual Fall fund drive, plus a look at new tribute albums and compilations from the end of the summer!

1 comment » | Amos Lee, Featured Artists

Marissa Nadler covers:
Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath & 16 more!

May 21st, 2016 — 3:30pm





The pretty, melodic, harmony-and-lyric-driven music that so often typifies the coffeehouse set permeates our love for the folkworld here at Cover Lay Down. But exploring the margins has its benefits, too. Indeed, one of the things I love about folk is its broad diversity: no matter what mood you desire, no matter what purpose you need music to serve in your ears and your soul, folk has something for you, if you’re willing to listen.

And so I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient folk music these past few weeks – a perfect pairing for an unsettled world, where inner city teaching and my children’s ongoing health struggles keep me ever on the edge of adrenalin exhaustion. And as I shift through the various twigs and brambles of this often obscure acre, one voice keeps rising to the surface: that of Marissa Nadler, who has carved out a niche all her own, one that is definitive and daring, potent and achingly beautiful.


Although born, raised, and still based in the Boston area, Marissa Nadler is more usually associated with the hipstery dreampop and indiefolk worlds than the Boston singer-songwriter crowd. Her third major studio release Songs III: Bird on the Water won her recognition as “Outstanding Singer-Songwriter of the Year” at the 2008 Boston Music Awards, beating out a young Josh Ritter two years after Paste named him one of their 100 greatest living songwriters, but label-sharing with Jose Gonzalez, Father John Misty, and David Lynch, and garnering award nominations and accolades alongside Iron and Wine, Andrew Bird, St. Vincent, and others from the soft, experimental fringes of the new folk, gives stronger evidence for her placement in the spectrum that has come to define folk in the 21st Century.

Like so many of her experimental brethren, Nadler is an artist first and foremost, formally trained in obscure illustration styles, bookbinding, and encaustic painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, and still keeper of an ongoing store of oddities at do-it-yourself site Etsy; seemingly, the same love of the old and the weird has led to refinement and redefinition as her career has evolved. Although most of her earlier work in the musical realm centers around sparse guitar and voice, adorned only slightly by lo-fi outsider accompaniment from New England experimentalists like cellist Helena Espvall, her sound on Little Hells, which followed Birds III, and was rated highly by the Pitchfork and Paste crowd, represented an expansion of sound beyond the freak-folk into something which pitched and yawed from dreampop and back again through the use of sustained organ and harmonium, circular drumming, and other production techniques that simultaneously amplified, clarified, and bloodied the gauze of her core sound.

New album Strangers – Nadler’s sixth, which dropped yesterday – continues this expansion, offering a richer, lusher mix than usual, with decidedly electronic synths and beats that lift Nadler’s etherial voice, lending it a sense of urgency heretofore unheard. But nothing can obscure the essential, delicate beauty that Marissa Nadler brings to her craft. Like her previous collections, the result is haunting and dreamy, primitive and echoey, a full set of expansive meditations built on her perennial, pensive sentimentality, the bassline drone that typifies her self-taught syncopated style on the strings, and that delicate, airy voice that slides through the staff like a bird gliding on the wing.


Although first and foremost a singer-songwriter attuned to every aspect of creation, in keeping with the way that her visual work calls back to older forms, Nadler has also peppered her career with coverage, digging into songs that reveal a broad range of genre influence.

A single Leonard Cohen favorite appears on Songs III, but more usually, a tendency to keep these covers separate from her originals has made many of them rarer: Nadler self-released two full covers collections via Etsy in 2010 and 2011, but both are out of print; she has appeared regularly on some of our favorite multi-artist tributes over the past decade, taking on the songs of Odetta, Judee Sill, Radiohead and Jason Molina alongside other fringe and freakfolk luminaries, but many of her older covers are from albums and demo collections which are also obscure.

These covers are sublime nonetheless, making year’s end lists at the usual indieblogs, and showing up in various Cover Lay Down songbook features through the years. From early and mid-career reinventions of Cohen, Neil Young, Springsteen and Duran Duran to more recent underground releases of new, narcotized takes on Danzig and Black Sabbath, Elliott Smith and Father John Misty, they reveal new depths in songs both heard and unfamiliar.

And the covers just keep coming, in the form of slow, spooky Halloween-release Soundcloud singletons and website exclusives that dredge Nadler’s personal demos and living room archives and drag them into a bleary, intimate light. Taken together, as a set, our favorite 21 covertracks offer a strong introduction to both Nadler herself, and the ambient folk tributary she represents, where the world is often hazy and unsettling, but the future is bright indeed.


Marissa Nadler Covers [zip!]



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song thanks to the kindness of patrons like you.

1 comment » | Featured Artists, Marissa Nadler

William Fitzsimmons covers:
Nirvana, Katy Perry, James Taylor, Kanye West, The Smiths & more!

January 24th, 2015 — 10:44pm




There’s something fun finding a song that people don’t take to be that serious …
is actually kind of heartbreaking and sweet and poignant. (William Fitzsimmons, 2009)



Pittsburg-bred artist William Fitzsimmons became an easy posterchild of the sensitive indiefolk movement in 2005 with a home-recorded debut that brought him MySpace popularity, early blog recognition from the hushfolk crowd, and tours with fellow social media-driven folkstars Cary Brothers and Ingrid Michaelson. But in many ways, his music was made for the loneliness and disconnectedness of the kitchen-table digital age: his performances are heartbreak incarnate, and a history of coveted soundtrack spots on indiefolk touchstones such as One Tree Hill and Gray’s Anatomy speak to the essence of quiet honesty in his work.

And Fitzsimmons – a gentle giant with a majestic hipster beard and a comfortably self-effacing demeanor on stage – comes by his heartbreak honestly. A multi-instrumentalist born to blind parents whose marriage fell apart in his adolescence, his 2006 sophomore effort explored their divorce, and his 2008 release The Sparrow and the Crow, which was lauded by critics, is an intensely personal exploration of his own.

Fitzsimmons knows emotion by trade, too, having left a budding career as a mental health specialist to pursue his music; if anything, his songs are an extension of the therapeutic urge, healing as they expose the pain. Add in his distinctive husky voice and pulsing, shimmery style, and the result is a constant comfort, reverent and hushed, as he caresses each song, offering little adornment and great reserve.

We’ve shared most of Fitzsimmons’ covers here in one mix or another; most recently, his take on Cat Stevens, recorded for last year’s tribute to the films of Wes Anderson, topped our Best Coverfolk of 2014 list. His take on James Taylor’s lullaby You Can Close Your Eyes is an oft-resurrected addition to our kidfolk compilations. And we highly recommend his original work, most especially 2014 release Lions, and The Sparrow and The Crow, both of which delve deep into introspection, and unsettles the soul.

But while the short arrangements Fitzsimmons prefers in performance makes each song a fleeting moment of quietude and respect, gathering his coverage in together allows for a steeping perfect for the first real snow outside, and the hush of winter. Click through for an EP-length compilation of our favorite studio covers, and then stick around for a trio of live-in-concert video covers, including a sublime take on Wonderwall, and a Tom Petty cover that will have you checking his tour schedule for more.



    William Fitzsimmons: Wonderwall (orig. Oasis)


    William Fitzsimmons ft. Gungor: Wildflowers (orig. Tom Petty)


    William Fitzsimmons, David Bazan, Abby & Noah Gundersen, Chris Carraba: I Shall Be Released (orig. Bob Dylan)



Proudly ad-free and artist-centric since 2007, Cover Lay Down shares artist features, and coverfolk collections regularly here and on our Facebook page. Donate now to help support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of over thirty otherwise-unblogged folk, roots, and acoustic covers from our 2014 archives as our gift to you!

2 comments » | Featured Artists, William Fitzsimmons

Phosphorescent Covers
Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, George Jones, Leonard Cohen & 16 more!

November 11th, 2014 — 3:10pm


muchachomatt624


When Paste Magazine named alt-folkster Phosphorescent‘s masterful-yet-intimate album Muchaho their 2013 Album of the Year, it was easy to dismiss the long-time pseudonymous solo project as just another inner-circle seat-holder in the bearded indiefolk crowd – and easier, still, when Paste declared the image of cover artist Matthew Hoack in Mexico, where the album was composed, as definitive as Bon Iver in his isolated Wisconsin cabin.

Hoack’s personal history is almost too perfect for the sensitive hipster mythos: born in Alabama, the autobiographical artist began his career in alternative hotbed town Athens, Georgia, and later moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yards; he primarily records for Austin-based label Dead Oceans, alongside a roster including Tallest Man On Earth, John Vanderslice, and Akron/Family. Wolves, which originally appeared on his 2007 opus Pride, has been covered at least twice this decade, in solid, broken versions from similarly bandified solo artists Message To Bears and Strand of Oaks; he’s played Sasquatch and Bonnaroo, toured with The National, and will appear at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, and San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. And certainly, his placement cred is sound: though his version of theme song Little Boxes was rejected for use on Weeds, his fragile, sad work has graced several indie film soundtracks, including 2011 Kevin Spacey/Jeremy Irons vehicle Margin Call and this summer’s blockbuster The Amazing Spiderman 2, plus two MOJO Magazine cover compilations.

But his credibility as part of the new wave of folk-tinged crossover artists worth attention from the wider world really is honestly come, whatever the backstory. Musically, Phosphorescent teeters on the imperfect indie edge, with rich atmospheres that drown the listener in layers of sound and creaky sentiment, imperfect and imperfectly performed narration, and introspective first-person lyrics that question and fog, bringing both comfort and the ache of desperation.

Yet where indie compatriot Bon Iver trends towards pop music heartbreakingly undone, Houcke’s cover choices out him as a folk musician first and foremost, almost in spite of the heavily layered, often-electrified production he increasingly favors in the studio. Over a career spanning seven records since 2003, Houck has recorded a set of covers that ground his work strongly in the folkstream, both by practice and by selection: on indie and nufolk compilations such as this year’s Sweethearts Valentine’s Day cover sampler, MOJO tributes to The Beatles and Neil Young, and, most notably, on 2009 album To Willie, an endearing yet straightforward Willie Nelson tribute, once named one of Rhapsody’s favorite cover albums, that pays homage to both the California Country movement and Nelson’s classic Lefty Frizzell tribute album From Willie To Lefty.

So listen, as our featured artist digs deep into his musical forebears, and comes up with a true 20-track survey befitting a true folksman, with versions of songs from Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, John Prine, and the American cowboy canon, plus an utterly gorgeous Leonard Cohen cover that could have come from Springsteen’s darkest hour, a short set of in-studio video covers, and a few surprises along the way. We think you’ll find the argument for Phosphorescent persuasive, and the music as divine, as sad, as beautiful, as comforting, and as soft as any broken angel’s wings.

  • Phosphorescent: If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) (orig. George Jones) [2013]

  • Phosphorescent: Far From Me (orig. John Prine) [2013]

  • Phosphorescent: Days Of Heaven (orig. Randy Newman) [2012]


  • Phosphorescent: Storms Never Last (orig. Jessi Colter) [2013]


  • Phosphorescent: I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (orig. R.L. Burnside) [2010]

  • Phosphorescent: Any Old Miracle (orig. Vern Gosdin) [2014]
    Warning: loud advert before the track, but it’s worth it…





Looking for an easy way to listen? Download the whole Phosphorescent coverset and snag our two favorite versions of Phosphorescent’s Wolves as bonus tracks!

3 comments » | Featured Artists, Phosphorescent

Unity House Concerts presents: Meg Hutchinson
(October 18, 2014 @ UU Society of Greater Springfield)

September 28th, 2014 — 3:29pm





Cover Lay Down is proud to announce Unity House Concerts, a new folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Concerts will be held roughly two Saturdays a season in our own wooded sanctuary, and will feature a combination of well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

This year we are excited to present a set of award-winning musicians from the Northeast, including Jean Rohe, Jay Mankita, The Gaslight Tinkers, and our first show of the season with Red House Records recording artist Meg Hutchinson on October 18th.



We originally went to Meg Hutchinson for healing, in the wake of a tornado that ravaged our rural New England town in 2011. Since then, after a great run that featured Mark Erelli, Mike + Ruthy, Danny Schmidt, The Sea The Sea, and more, the converted carriage house in which we hosted Meg has gone dark – but her songbook still resonates, making her an easy choice to kick off our new coffeehouse series in style.

Long lauded by critics and fans, Boston-based, Berkshires-born contemporary acoustic singer-songwriter Meg delivers music as powerful as it is gentle. A master of the introspective ballad, her albums have made the top 10 on US folk radio, and won her numerous songwriting awards in the US, Ireland and UK, including the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, the Billboard Song Contest and prestigious competitions at Merlefest, NewSong, Kerrville, and Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. And her seasonal tour with Antje Duvekot, Anne Heaton, and Natalia Zukerman as Winterbloom has become a don’t-miss staple of the local scene.

Equally at home on piano or guitar, Meg’s pure alto is a potent carrier for her mood and message. Her influences include poet Mary Oliver, songwriters Greg Brown, Shawn Colvin, and Joni Mitchell, and mood maker David Gray, but her voice is all her own, with songs that yearn for inner peace, at once ecstatic and meditative, crafted around elegant and free-floating melodies that feel both modern and rooted. Her most recent album, Beyond That (2013), practically aches with songs – about coming home, transforming desire, and opening the heart for some greater purpose.

We are thrilled to have Meg Hutchinson opening our newest musical venture, setting the stage for what promises to be a vibrant, new, community-centered program at the UUSGS, and invite you to join us, too, if you’re local to Springfield, MA (just 30-40 minutes from Hartford and Northampton). To tempt and to celebrate, here’s a few favorite covers by Meg – including a gorgeous duet with frequent touring companion Antje Duvekot and a very special Townes Van Zandt cover recorded at her first of two visits to our previous house concert series.


    Antje Duvekot w/ Meg Hutchinson: Gypsy Life (orig. John Gorka)


    Edie Carey and Meg Hutchinson: Falling Slowly (orig. Glen Hansard)


1 comment » | Featured Artists, House Concerts, Meg Hutchinson

The Wailin’ Jennys cover:
Neil Young, John Hiatt, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris & more!

July 20th, 2013 — 7:03pm

Plus new solo coverage from Cara Luft and Ruth Moody!




We’re suckers for sweet girl-group harmonies here at Cover Lay Down, with previous features on Red Molly, Be Good Tanyas, and others offering ample evidence of our long history with the sweetest – and we love a good “how the band met” backstory. So if it took us a while to turn our full attention to Canadian folk-and-roots trio The Wailin’ Jennys, it is no slur on their talent, or their coverage – merely a symptom of how smoothly their songs slide into the modern folk canon, and perhaps a function of their origin in distant Winnipeg less than a decade ago.

No matter: The Wailin’ Jennys are eminently worthy of our South-of-the-border attention. Named punnishly after the country icon Waylon Jennings, founded – like Red Molly – by three singer-songwriters who discovered their particular magic in what was supposed to be a one-shot co-performance in a small, causal venue, the group and its members, each of whom continues to record and explore as a solo artist and with other collaborators, has released four full albums and two EPs since 2004 debut 40 Days won them a Juno award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year and a coveted spot on Prairie Home Companion. And with 2006 release Firecracker rising to the #2 spot on the Billboard Bluegrass charts, and their most recent album, 2011 release Bright Stars, earning them a second Album of the Year Juno and a mainstage set at Newport Folk Festival, it’s hard to argue that the band has not yet reached its prime.


PromotwjIndeed: ten years in, The Wailin’ Jennys are deserved stars in the modern folk and Americana scene. And though the 2013 release dates of two recent projects from trio members – soprano singer-songwriter Ruth Moody’s delightfully chamberfolk-influenced These Wilder Things and alto Heather Masse’s Lock My Heart, an album of jazz standards and originals with pianist Dick Hyman – might suggest that they have been focusing their attention on their individual careers in the intervening years, a healthy tour schedule which sees them crossing the US over the next several months lends credence to the artistic balancing act of solo and communal agency that the band promises its membership.

Original songwriting rests at the core of The Wailin’ Jennys work; each member is a strong singer-songwriter in her own right, with a distinct voice and multiple writing credits on each album. The broad diversity of career paths and training which each performer brings to the group makes for a rich and satisfying melding of styles, with stand-up bass, guitar, fiddle, and the occasional uke, drums or banjo gently supporting the outcome, whether the trend is towards fluid contemporary popfolk or funky acoustic world beat. The agency this collaboration provides for each member seems potent: several Jennys compositions have been heavily covered in the folk world, most notably One Voice, which is fast becoming a feminist anthem of empowerment.

The current line-up of The Wailin’ Jennys reflects a historical shift in personnel, with original members Moody and indie-pop aficionado mezzo Nicky Mehta most recently joined by New England Conservatory Jazz trained singer-songwriter Heather Masse – founding alto Cara Luft left the band for Montreal singer-songwriter Annabelle Chvostek in 2005; Chovstek stepped aside for Masse in 2007. But throughout, their core sound has not shifted from its broad foundation. As performers, The Wailin’ Jennys tend towards the sparse, letting the braid of their strong, entwined vocals carry the songs – each in its turn as a lead instrument, and in blend divine.

As with so many folk artists, the award-winning trio pays apt and adept tribute to its influencers in and among the originals. And their takes on the music of their Canadian peers, from Bruce Cockburn to Neil Young, and of the traditional songbook, are generally sweet and strong, with several of today’s exemplars serving permanently in my favorite coverfolk mixtapes. Below, an album-by-album exploration of The Wailin’ Jennys through coverage, followed by a short coda celebration of a pair of new solo works from band members past and present.



Solo work from The Wailin’ Jennys ranges broad into the genres; Heather Masse‘s piano jazz collaborations, for example, are strong, if out of place on a folk blog; Annabelle Chvostek‘s bouncy 2013 “indiefolk-meets-Occupy” record RISE was nominated for a Juno of its own. Nicky Mehta has fronted rock, indie, and folk projects previously, too, but her website and solo career seem to be on hold after giving birth to twins in 2009.

But two of the founding Jennys have released exceptionally strong folk albums in the last few months: Cara Luft‘s Darlingford – a tour de force of contemporary folk; alternately urgent and delicate, with potent laments and triumphs, and strong with the hearty strains of multiple roots traditions – and Ruth Moody‘s abovementioned chamberfolk collection These Wilder Things, which is as deep as it is etherial. Both come highly recommended. Here’s a few bonus tracks to prove it.



Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features and songsets twice weekly thanks to the kind support of readers like you.

3 comments » | Cara Luft, Featured Artists, The Wailin' Jennys

Laura Cortese Moves Into The Dark
with exclusive covers of Laura Veirs, Emmylou Harris, and more!

April 23rd, 2013 — 6:49pm





Although she’s only been recording for a decade, Boston-based fiddler, singer-songwriter, Berklee College of Music graduate and Boston Celtic Music Fest co-founder Laura Cortese has earned our respect and fandom dozens of times over, thanks to vibrant, voracious, and versatile output we described back in 2011 as “grounded in the lush, joyous, gleeful sound of the collaborative at work and play, and built around Cortese’s full-bodied, percussive, lusty fiddlework, her hearty yet oh-so-feminine vocals, and her playful, surprisingly deep songwriting.”

Indeed, one of Cortese’s great strengths as an artist is her willingness to build each new project from the ground up, letting each incidence find its own voice anew, with partners or in solo guise. As such, Cortese’s solo work, and her legendary collaborations with Jefferson Hamer, indietrad stars Aoife O’Donovan and Sam Amidon, pubfolk band Session Americana, Michael Franti, Pete Seeger, and numerous fellow fiddlefolk have run the gamut from sparse singer-songwriter to full-bore tradfolk, modern folk rock and folkpop, and chamberfolk, making for a surprisingly diverse canon for such a young musician.

Cortese’s newest project Into The Dark, which drops today, finds her performing and touring under her own name with a chamberfolk trio of equally adept stringplayers – cellist Natalie Haas, and Brittany Haas and Mariel Vandersteel on fiddles – plus plenty of special guests, and the results are sublime: hearty vocals over rich, poppy layers of fiddlefolk, kickdrums, and harmony that make the heart sing and the feet ache to move, with a contemporary mix of traditional, classical, and indie elements that speak to Cortese’s easy confidence at the crossroads of what modern folk is, and can be, at its best. Her promotional tour will take her from coast to coast over the next few months, with shows in NY, VT, ME & MA in the week ahead, and I’m thrilled to note that it will include a stop this Friday in The Parlor Room, a hip, intimate folkvenue recently established by Signature Sounds founder Jim Olsen in the heart of Northampton, with tickets still available as of presstime.

Here’s a pair of exclusive tracks to whet your whistle for the tour and album – a Laura Veirs cover from Into The Dark, and another trickle from that secret Kickstarter covers EP granted to a hardy few who gave to make her last album happen – plus a few previously-posted favorites to remind us of just why Laura Cortese remains atop our list of perennial favorites here at Cover Lay Down. Check ‘em out, hit up Laura’s website for tour dates, and purchase Into The Dark today.


1 comment » | Featured Artists, Laura Cortese, Tidbit Tuesday

Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 6: James Taylor covers
Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Louvin Brothers & more!

April 21st, 2013 — 8:41pm


James_Taylor


As in past years, I’m a bit woozy today after yesterday’s all-day drive up the East Coast from North Carolina. My head still swims with the sights of barbecue joints and crabcake stands, and roadside shacks where one can get smoked ham and sausages, local peanuts, and fireworks to celebrate it all.

But it’s good to be home, where the daffodils are in full blown bloom, even if the lawn still struggles against the moss and hemlock. The American South is a wonderful place to visit; I like seeing the world, and though I’ve been to more countries than states, the diversity of the US pleases me. But the beach-to-woods geography and seasonal shifts of the American Northeast feel right, somehow. With a few tiny stints out of bounds, I’ve been a Massachusetts-based New Englander all my life, and I expect to be one for the remainder of it.

James Taylor likes Massachusetts, too. And by the time I wrote the original feature below in 2008, I’d already been promising myself a feature post on good ol’ JT for ages. What better way to celebrate our triumphant return from a week in the Carolinas than with a resurrected 20-song megapost on the coversongs of this incredible singer-songwriter plus a 10-track Single Song Sunday bonus set of You Can Close Your Eyes – my favorite James Taylor composition? And so, ladies and gentlemen: James Taylor, Massachusetts resident and one-time North Carolina transplant.

Born in Boston, James Taylor spent his adolescence in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where his father was Dean of the UNC School of Medicine. But the family retained strong ties to Massachusetts, summering in Martha’s Vineyard; James attended boarding school at Milton Academy, and when he struggled with depression in his early adulthood, he headed for McLean’s Hospital, a stately suburban instititution just outside of Boston where I remember visiting one of my own friends in the last year of high school.

Though he has since lived in California and London, and though his signature voice retains the barest hint of southern twang under that clear-as-a-bell blueblood bostonian accent, like me, Taylor has always returned to the Massachusetts he loves. Today, he lives about thirty miles west of here, in the Berkshires, just on the other side of the Adirondack ridge. And he retains strong ties to his beloved Martha’s Vineyard, performing there each summer, sometimes with Ben and Sally, his children by ex-wife Carly Simon, who is also a Vineyard resident.

Beyond our shared love of the beaches and woods of Massachusetts, there’s something immutably local and authentic about my experience with James Taylor. My childhood understanding of and familiarity with folk music as a genre and a recorded phenomenon was primarily driven by a strong record collection at home, but my experience of acoustic music as folk – as something singable and sharable and communal – was peppered with young camp counselors who had learned their guitar licks from the radioplay of the day. For me, Fire and Rain will always be a song for campfire singalongs, one which helps me come to terms with the bittersweet and constant state of being both in good company and away from home.

Too, James Taylor was my first concert, and you never forget your first. I remember lying on the summer grass at Great Woods (now the Tweeter Center), looking up at the stars and letting the wave of Fire and Rain wash over me. I remember peering at the stage and recognizing the way James smiled at us, at bass player Leland Sklar, at the song itself as a kind of genuine communion, one which flavored the performance with something valid and universal.

Because of that night, and the organic songs-first-performance-afterwards way I came to it, James Taylor, for me, is the standard by which I measure the authenticity of folk performance. That so many shows have not met that standard since then is a tribute to both Taylor’s gentle nature, and his way with song and performance.

James Taylor’s voice is unmistakable, almost too sweet for some, and he doesn’t fit my every mood. His loose, white-man’s-blues guitar playing is better than most people give him credit for, but it is often downplayed in his produced work. But in the back of my mind his songs are a particular form of homecoming, one intimately tied to summer song and simple times outside of the world as we usually live it. And when I sing Sweet Baby James or You Can Close Your Eyes to my children at night, there’s a part of me that’s back on that summer lawn, letting the music reach a part of me that cannot speak for itself.



We’ll have a few choice covers of Taylor’s most popular in the bonus section of today’s megapost. But first, here’s a few of the many songs which Taylor has remade in his own gentle way over the years: doo-wop standards, sweet nighttime paeans and lullabies, hopeful protest songs, and others.

Though James Taylor does have his pop side, this isn’t it. You’ve heard ‘em before, so I’ve skipped the covers which Taylor has made his own through radioplay over the years — including Carole King’s Up On The Roof and Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) — though I did keep a live version of Handy Man in the mix, and thought it worth trying the newer version of You’ve Got A Friend from Taylor’s stripped-down favorites recording One Man Band. I’ve also skipped his lite pianojazz ballad version of How I Know You, from the Aida soundtrack, and the vast bulk of his two recent saccharine-sweet covers albums: it’s not folk, and it’s not my thing.

Instead, by presenting a selection of Taylor’s rarer and lesser-known coversong all at once, it is my hope that the diversity of the source material here allows even the most jaded of us to come to what is too-often dismissed as Adult Contemporary pablum with new ears, attuned to more subtle differences of tone and undertone — to explore and even collapse the distance between bittersweet and tender, longing and acceptance, home and homesickness, which continues to make James Taylor worth listening to, and celebrating.



James Taylor’s works are mainstream, and distributed as such; his website sends us to amazon.com for purchase. As here at Cover Lay Down we prefer to avoid supporting the corporate middleman in favor of direct artist and label benefit, we recommend that those looking to pursue the songwriting and sound of James Taylor head out to their local record shop for purchase.

Not sure where to begin? Anything released between 1968 and 1974 provides the best introduction to JT’s core sound; I promise it’s folkier than you remember. Jaded folkies who stopped listening a while back might take a second look at Taylor’s 1977 release JT, or albums from the late eighties and nineties such as Never Die Young, New Moon Shine or Hourglass, which stand on their own as well-produced contemporary folk. 2007 DVD release One Man Band, Taylor’s return to a sparser acoustic sound, is an anomaly in the midst of an otherwise-AAA pop-trending career. And coverlovers who do embrace his smoother side are advised – with caveats – to at least consider his two post-millennial covers albums.

As for bonus tracks: for years, I’ve been saving the bulk of my collection of covers of James Taylor originals for a future Folk Family Feature on the Taylor family – including James, brother Livingston, sister Kate, son Ben, daughter Sally, and Ben and Sally’s mother Carly Simon. But I’ve been leaking them slowly and surely as time goes on, and the floodgates are open today. So here’s a full Single Song Sunday-sized set of covers of my favorite lullaby, from Mark Erelli’s tender bedtime crooning to William Fitzsimmons’ fragile indiefolk to a young and drunken Bonnie Raitt’s live heartbreaker. Download the zip file here, or pick and choose below.



Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic musings bi-weekly thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Here’s how to do your part:

  • Support the continued creation of music by purchasing artists’ work whenever possible.
  • Spread the word to friends and family by joining our Facebook page and clicking “like” on a favorite post.
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings.
  • Donate to Cover Lay Down to help defray server and bandwidth costs.


Comment » | Featured Artists, James Taylor, Reposts, Single Song Sunday

Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 5: The Avett Brothers
take on Jason Molina, Jim Croce, Paul Simon, Elliott Smith & more!

April 19th, 2013 — 4:40pm





For the first four volumes of our Vacation Coverfolk series, we pulled from the archives to bring you features on the songs and coverage of Elizabeth Cotten, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Doc Watson, and a mixtape of coverfolk songs with Carolina in the title.

Today, we turn to a new subject: Concord, North Carolina natives The Avett Brothers, whose rise to fame over the past decade has represented a coalescing of neo-traditional elements from the region and beyond. Read on for a look at one of the newest bands to pay tribute to the past and present of the great state in sound and sentiment, plus a full set of covers that speaks soundly to their history and inspiration.



Early harbingers of the same modern tendency towards mixing tradfolk elements into acoustic singer-songwriter almost-rock that brought a Grammy to British-Americana band Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers – currently a five-piece formed around banjo-wielding elder brother Scott, guitar-picking younger brother Seth, and their constant third man, bass player Bob Crawford – have risen through the ranks of the indiefolk world by making intimate, self-effacing music that tears into the soul. Honest hipsters who enact the tensions between the cultural expectations of strong, silent masculinity and the deep urge to feel, their appropriately broad songbook ranges from ballads to full-blown raucous romps, each one a tip of the hat to the myriad of guises and gazes that modern men must straddle to remain whole.

Which is a big part of why fans of their more acoustic sound, with its obvious bluegrass, country, Americana and folk elements, are often startled to find that the brothers, who have been playing together since childhood, got their start in “thrashing” rock bands, which merged in the late nineties when Seth was in high school and Scott was in college, and released three albums together under the name Nemo before breaking up to pursue more traditional American musical forms, allowing what had started as a back-porch side project exploring the potential in acoustic music to become their primary outlet.

The deconstruction reveals roots that reflect their Piedmont origins, with the exploratory paths and soundscapes of hybridized forebears from proto-country banjoist Charlie Poole to early bluesman Blind Boy Fuller echoing throughout, though their own admitted influences run wider still – incorporating, as one 2007 critic put it, “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, [and] the raw energy of the Ramones.” And although their subsequent rise to fame has seen them shift back and forth from subtle folk-Americana to a more country rock sound, and from rougher, homespun acoustic studio origins to a recorded and highly produced modality more recently refined by inimitable producer Rick Rubin and distributed by in-house kingmaker Starbucks, their common narrative themes, and their preference for the organic, collaborative one-mic performance that supports their grounded and well-populated narratives, have been strong threads throughout a still-growing career.

In the studio, The Avett Brothers reserve their time for sensitive originals – seven albums, four EPs, and twelve years past their 2000 EP debut, not a single cover appears in their major studio release catalog. But the North Carolina natives appreciate good coverage, and clearly recognize its value as a driver of attention and affection in the post-millennial world of viral pass-along; as a promotion for their last album The Carpenter, they asked fans to take on single Live And Die via YouTube, and the result was exactly as one might expect: a series of amateur takes on the song which contained several nice interpretations and a glut of also-rans which took fairly straightforward shots at what turned out to be an almost prototypical track from the brother-led band.

More significantly, at least for our own purposes today, The Avett Brothers’ coverage of the songs of others is both legendary and equally diverse, transcending their songbook. A survey of YouTube reveals hundreds of wryly and well-chosen full-band and solo takes from radio stations, home studios, and live shows, including a large collection of tender solo living room and green room covers from Seth and Scott paying tribute to a broad set of influences – from country classics to rock and Americana standards to touching songs written and originally performed by their peers in and beyond the indiefolk borderlands.

Stripping these songs from their visual component flattens them out a bit, so in addition to a small set of too-good-to-resist favorites, we’ve included a “selected best” playlist as well, with HUGE thanks to visual artist Mike Beyer, aka Crackerfarm, who has been photographing and videorecording Avett Brothers coverage backstage, on stage, and in small on-site sessions since at least 2007; it is Crackerfarm who provides the vast bulk of our live coverage today, and there’s scores more covers and originals where that came from over at the Crackerfarm YouTube page. Also well worth sharing: The Avett’s contribution to the 2010 Starbucks Valentine compilation, a track or two from the Avett’s earliest live album, The Avett Brothers covering Dylan on Jimmy Fallon, the boys taking on a John Prine cover for 2010 tribute Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, and Scott & Seth’s appearance as both producers and sidemen on folk-hopster G Love’s 2011 release Fixin’ To Die that boils both an old Paul Simon talkie and a Velvet Underground classic into ragged Americana glory.









Stay tuned for a weekend feature on James Taylor, who – like us – moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina and back again…followed by a return home, and a feature on new and impending EP-length coverage sure to knock your proverbial socks off!

1 comment » | Featured Artists, The Avett Brothers, Vacation Coverfolk

An Intimate Evening with Mike and Ruthy
(April 6 @ Carriage House Concerts in Monson, MA)

March 17th, 2013 — 11:43pm





Our little house concert series here in rural Massachusetts has grown since we first presented Danny Schmidt in our living room in the Spring of 2009, and so has its reputation. Our current performing space, a restored hundred year old carriage house just up the road, has room for 50, and we’re eager to fill the house, the better to support artists and fans alike.

So read on for a closer look and listen to Mike + Ruthy, who we’re excited to announce will be kicking off our 2013 season. And if you’re local enough to join us for an intimate evening of song and a delicious potluck meal on the first Saturday in April, join our facebook event or email now to save your seat today.


He grew up listening to ska-punk and alternative rock radio, dreaming of becoming a songwriter on the political edge. She was raised at the intersection of folk and swing, daughter of fiddle master Jay Ungar and country songwriter Lyn Hardy. They met in NYC, just out of college, and went on to found “subversive acoustic stringband” The Mammals, one of the most popular folk rock bands of their generation. And when The Mammals split up, and they married, they spent their honeymoon in the studio, recording a debut duo album aptly called The Honeymoon Agenda.

Now, after two more full-length albums and over a decade of performance together, indie folk roots pair Mike + Ruthy, aka Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, have established a reputation for breathtaking delivery and intimate performance, with exquisite songs and songcraft that combine catchy folk-pop choruses with honest, organic tradfolk and roots elements, played out on guitars, fiddle, banjo, ukulele, and a single microphone. Heralds of an American cultural awakening that values honesty and togetherness, prefers grit to glitz, and revels in the old-fashioned telling of a story, their most recent projects include a newly minted folk and roots festival called the Winter Hoot which brought Sprit Family Reunion, Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and other Cover Lay Down favorites to the Ashokan Center near their home in upstate NY, a haunting posthumous Woody Guthrie collaboration which lends its title to their most recent EP, and a growing family, with parent and child generations that regularly join them on tour and on stage.

We featured Ruth Ungar in our early years as a blog, touching on her work with Michael and The Mammals, and with Aoife O’Donovan and Kristen Andreassen as “acoustic’n'harmonies” indiefolk trio Sometymes Why. But while it is true that, of the pair, it is Ruth who has the family connections, like many indiefolk musicians today, both Michael and Ruth perform and record in multiple modes, both within and beyond the boundaries of their core pairing. Indeed, the merging of his proto-rock radio grounding and her firm tradition has blossomed into a longstanding journey that ranges from soft blues to raucous tradfolk to grungy folkrock sets that frame them as exemplars of their age to critics and peers alike.

Michael Merenda often claims to see music as a way to both capture the world as a living, breathing organism, and to offer it love in the name of restoration; his three solo albums deliver on this adeptly, with outspoken lyrics delivered in a soft, breathy voice over stringwork and production that ranges from true-blue folk to more electrified roots rock fare. By this standard, their collaborative work together is a triumph: free and beautiful, true and sincere, and powerfully political, reflecting the quirky nuances of the world and resonating with the intimate selves we harbor within it. Which makes me all the more proud to be hosting Mike + Ruthy at our own concert series to kick-off our 2013 season, and to have the opportunity to tout their musicianship and performance through coverage today.

So check out our diverse set of covers below from their various incarnations and collaborations, and, as always, consider following the accompanying links to purchase their work, and support their shared mission. And then – geography and time permitting – contact us now to reserve your seat for a date with “one of acoustic America’s most revered musical duos” – an event that promises to thrill your senses, raise your spirits, and delve deep into your soul.







Can’t make it to the show? Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic musings bi-weekly thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Here’s how to do your part:

  • Support the continued creation of music by purchasing artists’ work whenever possible.
  • Spread the word to friends and family by joining our Facebook page and clicking “like” on a favorite post.
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings.
  • Donate to Cover Lay Down to help defray server and bandwidth costs.


1 comment » | Featured Artists, House Concerts, Mike + Ruthy

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