Category: Holiday Coverfolk


Disciples Of The Journey: A Coverfolk Passover
(On freeing ourselves of the things that hold us back)

April 1st, 2018 — 2:52pm


photo-1479513058660-ce9dbb6ba679


Back in 2007, when Cover Lay Down started up, I still identified as a Jewnitarian. We still took the kids to a nearby stream to wash away their sins in breadcrumbs in the Fall; some Fridays, we even remembered to light the candles and break bread together. And twice – in 2010, and again in 2012 – I penned Passover sets for this blog, which played off of the literal story of the Haggadah, and its commandments.

But as my family and I have come to embrace the community at our nearby UU congregation, things have changed. These days, our rituals are discursive, creative, driven by the pace and partition of the year from school year to summer: the opening night and the closing show; the planned observation; choir Sundays; the folk festival where we live in our hearts all year, and return to recreate once more each August.

Color me converted, I guess: this, too, is religion if the God you serve is the just community. Unitarian Universalism has brought an embrace of the concept of mindfulness, if not always its realization. I know what I yearn for, now. And in my best moments, when vision and faith serve love and right relationship, I suppose what I experience is holy, in its way.

These moments where I can realize that Jerusalem are fleeting, sometimes. In a world of practicality and entropic drift, we are our own enemies, arguing to win. Our screens exacerbate the inevitable distance between minds. The kids are sick again; my father ages; the world intrudes, ever challenging the sacred self.

But a friend reminds me that Passover isn’t really about the Hebrew Exodus. It is, she says, “about freeing ourselves from the things in life that are holding us back”. And I think about the elderchild, and how hard is was to drive away from the hospital again without her. I think about the wee one, on the cusp of thirteen, coming home in pain every day. I think about driving across the state every weekend to sit with my father, and how much I missed it when my weekends were too full. I think about how tired I am, sometimes, at the end of the day, after rehearsals and school committee meetings and a classroom of chaos, stuffed to stifling with a hundred kids struggling to survive.

And so we return to the figurative table, dipping bitterness into tears and wine. We tell the story of when we were slaves in Egypt, and escaped. The roadmap is retold, in song. And we become disciples of the journey, not the destination, our leavetaking plotted in the stars.

We need only take that first step. To embrace the loved things, and push away those that enslave us. The fear. The nervousness. The intimidating distance. The preferences for things-as-they-are. The entangled, leavened things we define as ourselves, and us as them.

Melancholy, maybe. But empowering too, to name it all, and still know the promised land.



Always ad-free and artist centric, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the ethnographic intersection of culture, community, and shared song since 2007.

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

Covered In Christmasfolk, 2017 (Vol. 2):
Contemporary Carols, Holiday Compilations, and More!

December 22nd, 2017 — 10:40pm


965125-christmas-dj-origami-papercraft-shure-three-turntable-vestax-vinyle-winter


It’s coming on, indeed: presents under the tree, Christmas Eve choir services all day Sunday, and a weather advisory for ice and snow tonight through the day itself across most of New England which keep us home tonight, watching the skies. School and work fritter down to the final hours, accompanied by a holiday soundtrack rich and festive with trumpets, bells, and the crooning, yearning voices of the canon on shuffleplay above the fire.

Our second and surely final installment of new and newly-found Christmas recordings is sourced almost entirely via independent digital releases, and filtered through the new season. Ribbons and bows, the lot of them – perhaps the best crop in years, and one of the biggest, too. May your stocking be as full, and your hearts as light.




From the quiet, almost tantalizingly still kick-off track O Little Town Of Bethlehem to the subtlest Joy To The World the world has seen, James Hoffman’s Advent is a gem: a coherent collection of fragile, hushed holiday hymnal reinventions, ancient and gentle, sublime, sensual, and spare, wrung forth in darkness with little more than tinkly piano, slow guitar, and intimate voice. Yeah, you could try a few sample tracks for download, but for full effect, don’t pick a favorite, just snag the whole thing.


Two perfect indiefolk tracks – a gorgeous popfolk piano arrangement of O Come O Come Emmanuel and the ringing guitar-and-shaker urgency of Blake Flattley’s Silent Night – plus a delight from last year’s archive typify the best and lightest of what is now a beautiful multi-genre regional compilation series 9 years in the running from Winter Is On My Head, an annual holiday music compilation that donates all proceeds from online sales to ABAN (aban.org) a non-profit dedicated to empowering young mothers in Ghana by selling unique, handmade products from recycled materials, and it’s worth the cost, chock full of glorious coverage and originals from power punk to electronic garage rock.



Sometimes, simple is best. Originally broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, this fine, sparse Celtic carol – transformed from front stoop to divine intimacy – came out just after our final installment of our annual holidayfolk series, but we’re glad we found it again, to let the lilt of Ben Savage‘s classical guitar and bluegrass slide pull us into co-arranger and vocalist Hannah Sanders‘ clear-as-water delivery once more at Christmas. (PS: If you like this teaser, check out their 2016 full album Before The Sun, too – it’s exquisite.)


A family affair, we assume, given the two last names among four artists listed, Rich Mountain Revival‘s beautiful minimalist gospelfolk collection With True Love & Brotherhood is another set worth pulling from the archives after missing it in 2016: wonderfully whispered, with banjo and backporch harmonies joyful and triumphant in their ragged neo-appalachian settings.


Like your holiday tunes a little more twee? Look no further than Miki Fiki and Friends’ 2017 Charity Compilation, recorded to support the Southern Poverty Law Center. The hiss, hum, harmonies and strum of Katy Kirby’s O Holy Night may be the closest to folk the album comes, but its Roches-meet-Sufjan vibe is a tug down the rabbit hole, where some quite stellar and solid originals, plus a soulful rhythm & blues version of Last Christmas, a grungy alternative countrypunk take of Pretty Paper, and more gifts galore, lurk under the hipster’s tree.


Let This Be Christmas, another wonderfully amateur Christmas benefit album – this one to provide micro-enterprise grants for families with bleeding disorders in developing countries – comes from the Utah-based LDS duo of Emma Huntington and Hunter Montgomery, about whom I can find little in the way of press or promo. Happily, as the artists note on Bandcamp, the music speaks for itself: Montgomery’s soaring viola and Huntington’s additive, distinctive voice feature highly on a surprisingly diverse arrangement of classic carols that comes off as beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.


Sometimes a band describes themselves so perfectly, it’s hard to add value when touting their sound. Forest Creatures is “an eclectic trio of siblings and friends making lo-fi folksy music with their friends”, and their full-length collection Was That Christmas? sounds like it: warm, wistful, eclectic, and languidly percussive, but overall kind of like the lo-fi alternative version of Kate Rusby, which is a good thing, indeed.


Guitar, horn, and voice combine exquisitely as they swing among Herb Alpert jazz, neo-classical pop, and soft triofolk on A Little Christmas Nog, a project spearheaded by Bach trumpet artist John Dover of Portland, Oregon. Played soft and low with close friends and family, Still Still Still is a sweet lullaby; What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve hops along lightly, a ballad for the ages.


File under hard to categorize: French and American duo Freedom Fry plays an amalgam of beat-heavy folkrock, indie and twee, with echoes of the British psychfolk revival, French folkpop, the California sixties scene, and more. Their Holiday Soundtrack EP offers four songs more for the hip set, including the oddly satisfying “la la la” lyrics and muddled spoken word of their Silent Night dreamscape.


Brooklyn’s Hoover Dam Collective offers a mixed-bag of bedroom folk on this year’s A Blue State Of Christmas – covers of popular holiday songs and settings from John Prine to The Handsome Family. But again, simple is best; in these almost entirely unadorned performances, voices imperfect and tempos impure make for a tense holiday grounded in history and uncertainty.


We close our set today with another multi-genre album, this one from Irish monthly radio programme The Co-Present, whose host Dwayne Woods has assembled a fine collection of odd and mostly acousto-and-synth alternative DIY music performances for our holiday. If this is what radio alternative truly sounds like, we’re in for the new year.




Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep into the folkways at the intersection of coverage and performance since 2007 thanks to the kind support of donors like you. Stay tuned this week ahead as we present our Year’s Best Covers Albums and Tributes, Singles, and Videos – over 100 songs in all!

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

Hearth and Candle, Snow and Star
(Wintersongs of Darkness, Loneliness, Warmth, and Light)

December 17th, 2017 — 9:31pm


pexels-photo-24639


There are moments now when Christmas is everywhere, flowing forth from the hidden speakers of the culture, lurking behind shrubbery gaily festooned with plastic holly berries and angels, stockings and Santas, and lights, lights, ever more lights to ward off the dark.

But there are moments, too, when it is just winter. When the lasting snow covers the earth and swallows all but the airiest of sounds: cars crunching over salt-strewn country roads; the bark of the dog and the low cry of the cow at the base of the hill, just through these bare trunks and evergreens. When the house gets smaller, and we retreat to the snug isolation of the living room, where the pellet stove beckons bright with flame, its intimacy a bulwark against the cold.

Which is all to say this: baby, it’s cold outside. And sometimes, like now, the snow falls out the window, closing us in.

The metaphor of in and out runs hot in our seasonal soundtrack, of course – as if fire was warmth, and warmth the heat of humanity. Safety and comfort and the eternal hope of the season’s end hold sway as the shortest day draws near, projected into a night illuminated by candle flame and woodstove smoke, the chill held at bay through thin layers of window glass and scarves.

Christmas honors this dichotomy, in its way – and so does much of the Christmas canon, from Silent Night to chestnuts roasting on an open fire. We do, too: today after dark, for example, we will drive to the local tree farm, and choose a tree in the dim and temporary glow of the same make-shift outdoor lighting, and bring it home, and take it inside, and make it festive, as if to manifest in our very living rooms the possibility of life in the holiday rituals of old.

But here, away from Christmas and the giving spirit of the season, is a quieter, more contemplative space. And there is music, here, too, if you can hear it: fragile, languid, lo-fi songs of longing and of letting go, of waiting and hope, of memory and time, which help us meditate on that which transcends the red and green poinsettia, the white of the angel choir, the silver bells.

Let ours be a humanist’s playlist for the season, then: not antidote or anti-Christian, but acknowledgement and celebration of the human spirit that calls to us beyond the religious and cultural trappings of holidays and hymn. After all, the world reminds us of what it needs of us, in the end. It is stillness and loss, death and despair, which call us so meaningfully to life and longing.



Hearth and Candle, Snow and Star
A Cover Lay Down Winter Mix

[download here!]



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Covered In Christmasfolk, 2017 (Vol. 1)
New Releases from Radiofolk to The Hymnal

December 9th, 2017 — 1:10pm





If it’s going to be Christmas this early, then the music better be pretty damn good. Happily, there’s some solid festive folk in the air, from Kate Rusby’s newest carols-and-more release to archived live performances from Aoife O’Donovan, Ruth Moody, and Dougie MacLean to a perfect roster of modern, traditional, and holiday ballads and barnburners. Today, we dig into the early holiday mailbag, coming clean with the first major snowfall of the season and a moody, marvelous set to ring in the crispness of Christmas.




Richard Thompson’s robust New Year’s anthem We Sing Hallelujah was a frequent earworm this year, thanks to a delightful live performance of the song by Low Lily at our own Unity House Concerts on the cusp of the season last December. And it seems I’m not the only one stuck on the song: new covers of the song appear on Kate Rusby’s newest carols-and-more release Angels & Men – her fourth Christmas album – in typically sweet and celebratory fashion, with rich and swelling horn-and-string instrumentation evoking a frozen landscape, and as a chanty, chains and all, to ground O’Hooley & Tidow’s earnest, majestic holiday album Winterfolk Vol. 1.



Ryanhood‘s new holiday affair On Christmas hit Bandcamp just days before the high-energy Tucson, AZ folkpop duo was announced as Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2018 Most Wanted Returning Artists, news as bright and warm and bubbly as their live shows, not to mention their new versions of Sleigh Ride and Charlie Brown classic Skating. Chock full of joy, this adept collection of classic two-string instrumentals, original holiday songs that sound like instant classics, and a pair of unusual choice covers – Leigh Nash’s Christmas Falling and Audrey Assad’s Even The Winter – is a seasonal delight well worth deeper exploration.



His Eye Is on the Sparrow: A Collection of Hymns, the new release from Tennessee harmony-driven Christian female mountainfolk duo Alathea, funded through crowdsourcing and a partnership with the Appalachia Service Project, isn’t specifically for the holidays. But the hymnal swings inevitably towards the story of the birth regardless, and so among such ringing gems as His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Amazing Grace, Wayfaring Stranger, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, this adopted Christmas anthem serves as a perfect complement to the duo’s two previous Christmas releases.



At worst, the threshold banter of Frank Loesser’s Baby, It’s Cold Out Side takes on a patina of shame in 2017. But this just-released countrified version of the song – a pond-crosser from Houstonite band Jess & the Bandits featuring special guests from the UK Country scene – is a fire under the boots, a honkytonk romp through a familiar song of the season that revives the playful innocence of the age, when demure was the name of the game, and a little protest was a true-blue mating ritual.



Tense and luscious, slippery and hopeful, Swedish neofolk singer-songwriter Sofia Talvik’s sweet take on one of our very favorite simple carols is culled from When Winter Comes, a gorgeous 2017 collection of remastered and reimagined cuts from a decade-long practice writing and releasing a free Christmas single every year. Like the song, the album is a true gift, pensive and dark yet full of inspiration and heartache, a highly recommended centerpiece for hearth and table.



Spare, masterful arrangement and angelic vocals from Berklee singer-songwriter, vocalist, musical theater producer and all-around popfolk prodigy Emma Charleston make for a pitch-perfect O Holy Night on a single released via YouTube and recently premiered on The Huffington Post. Add in her summer performance of Joni Mitchell’s holiday classic River, and you’ve got a pair that proves Charleston’s holiday spirit and performance prowess all at once.


Finally, if there was ever any doubt about the influence of long-time New England folk DJ Brian O’Donovan, this year’s archive release from 15 years of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, an annual Boston-area WGBH production which draws on Celtic, Pagan, and Christian traditions to celebrate the music of the season, proves it enow. Daughter Aoife – yes, that Aoife O’Donovan – kicks off the stellar collection with a sweet, soulful ballad from Lorenna McKennitt, followed by standout performances from Ruth Moody, Dougie MacLean, Solas, and more, that pay apt tribute to the legendary folk archivist, curator, and host, and offer the next best thing to being there this year with Jenna Moynihan, Liz Knowles, Haley Richardson and an all-star cast.



Always artist-friendly and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been serving the folk community for a decade thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Follow us on Facebook, and stay tuned for more great coverfolk, including at least one more celebration of the songs of the season, and our annual celebration of the year’s best cover and tribute albums, singles, and coverfolk videos, as December continues!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

Give A Little Bit: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Guide to Holiday Gift-Giving)

November 24th, 2017 — 11:46am


DJ Music Wallpaper (7)


We’re holed up in rural New Hampshire for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, thirteen of us cousins and in-laws from both sides of the family sprawled across the quaint rooms that populate a one-time inn turned rental property complete with woodsmoke fireplaces, stone walls, picket fences, and a half-frozen pond below the deck, keeping us nowhere near the mall culture that surely swims with frantic angst far from these Frostian environs as Black Friday takes its toll.

Here our locavore tendencies run rampant, with microbrew IPAs and our favorite small-batch maple ryes and brandies on the sideboard ready for a third tasting session tonight, and the braided bread, summer pickles, hard cheeses, and harder salamis purchased from the farm stand down the street on Wednesday before the world turned mad. Here we play trivia games and read by the fire, holding love close as our various dogs and children play by our feet. We linger in our pajamas as we revisit old discourses. And though we know, out there, strife and selfishness runs rampant, it is as if the world were back to normal, somehow – at least until Saturday comes, and we must venture out again into the world.

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. Our insistence on offering links to purchase and stream music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves, and our refusal to provide ads on this space, stem from an articulated desire to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption. And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – a position befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing-through-coverage and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the fourth iteration, we take the time to provide our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world by offering a 2017 edition of our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the holidays – a harbinger of things to come after almost two months of sparse sabbatical – and the promise of a more focused Patreon feature to follow, celebrating the new farm-share equivalent for musicians which continues to intrigue us as we search evermore for ways to support and sustain the work and craft of the musical artist in the new millennium.

Read on, then, for a reworked and revitalized treatise, plus an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit. And then join us again later this weekend, as we scour the surface of Patreon for your inner-circle listening pleasure.



Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 12.41.05 PMBlack Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.

Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.

Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.

We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.

But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.

Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.


1. Give the gift of recorded music. Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog, and many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites, independent artist-friendly labels like Signature Sounds, Compass, Waterbug, Bloodshot, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Obsolete Recordings, Yer Bird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, CD Baby, or even Etsy.

2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts; by linking directly to artist web pages, we make it as easy as possible to check out tour dates. Support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love. And if you’re in the American Northeast region, or just know someone who lives near Springfield, Northampton, Hartford, the Berkshires, or Worcester, why not plan on joining us December 9 – either yourself or by proxy, through the gift of live concert – for Cover Lay Down’s 10th anniversary celebration: an intimate mostly-covers show with Mark Erelli celebrating the pre-release of his new all-covers album MIXTAPE, featured here in October.

3. Give the gift of access. Spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or sign them up for Concert Window, which offers multiple live online concerts every night from some of our favorite folk venues and artist living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to those musicians and venues. The live performances and sessions which these subscriptions net can be viewed alone, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is especially apt for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. As noted above, we’ll be turning in a full feature on Patron, the newest subscription-only model on the web and perhaps the most sustainable way to support the ongoing work of the artist-as-developer, in the next day or three as a complement to today’s reworked repost. But other crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pledge Music help artists make art, too, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. And just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.

So browse the folk categories at Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pledgemusic, or ask around for recommendations on what to support. Some examples we’re excited to share this year: Popfolk goddess Jill Sobule is back in the studio after 9 years, looking for our support for Nostalgia Kills, an album of autobiographical short-story originals designed to prove that great artists can still produce potent songcraft after 40; pledge gifts at various levels include a comprehensive digital catalog of Sobule’s studio originals, duets, and live cuts, a night at the Museum of Natural History, a personal theme song, and private songwriting sessions over Skype. Philly-based neo-Celtic duo House Of Hamill, whose as-yet-untitled sophomore album is written but needs to be recorded with our help, offer a wonderful tee-and-hoodie design, a crazy night in NYC, and a chance to play on the album itself alongside the usual music in hard-and-soft-copy as incentives. Childsplay, an ongoing non-profit project featuring instruments exclusively crafted by Bob Childs and a cast of world-renown professional players, whose early recordings with Aoife O’Donovan and others so thrilled our listeners here at Cover Lay Down in their previous iterations, is looking for your support for their seventh and final album with Irish singer Karan Casey as Childs and company wind down what has become a stalwart of symphonic presentation of traditional American, Canadian, and Irish folk traditions.

Over at Indiegogo, long-time stalwart of the revival folkscene Reggie Harris (who, along with Greg Greenway, will be bringing their deep discussion and music of growing up white and black in the South to our Unity House Stage this January) seeks support for his first solo album after 40 years of touring with partner Kim Harris as a duo; I’ve heard some of these politically charged yet ever-so-intimate songs – both covers and originals – in the late-night tents at Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, and highly recommend both the support and the output. At Pledgemusic, impending delight from 10 String Symphony’s Generation Frustration, a neo-traditional album-to-be whose lush, fiddle-driven soundscapes haunt listeners with the angst and determination of the Millennial generation, appropriately offers home-roasted coffee and original instrumentals alongside more typical recordings and tees in the mix for pledgers. And if it’s more delicate indie-folk you’re looking for, then lend some support to the ghostly soundscapes of The Jellyman’s Daughter, a rising duo from Edinburgh, UK, whose rich, lush cello-and-voice-driven album Dead Reckoning hews close to the source, with offers of heavyweight vinyl, stickers, music lessons and handwritten lyrics alongside songs crafted for performance in stone churches and graveyards.

5. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.

6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we’ve done for the past five years, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2017″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life. And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

Until then, here’s a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.

Comment » | Donate, Holiday Coverfolk, Kickstarter Covers, Reposts

America The Beautiful:
More Coverfolk For A Thoughtful Fourth

July 4th, 2016 — 12:48pm





I had big plans to share some thoughts about my conflicted love for America in 2011 on the anniversary of our birth as a nation. But looking in the archives, I saw that I had written it before: both the previous year, when we mused upon the complexity of patriotism in a modern age, and in our first year, at a time when our national discourse was increasingly polarized by the impending presidential election.

And so I added a few songs to our original America The Beautiful feature, and let it fly like a star spangled balloon. And now, five years later, we’re back again, with a few new additions to the canon.

Our Single Song Sunday from 2010 remains archived, and we encourage you to head back in time for 10 covers of Paul Simon’s American Tune, and some thoughts on the complicated times which continue to characterize our national zeitgeist. But since it’s been a while, here’s our 2008 post revisited a second time. Its sentiment stands: may your Independence Day be thoughtful, too.


I’m not exactly the patriotic type. I’ve been to more countries than states; I prefer solitude to mall culture. Heck, we don’t even have basic cable. But all power-hungry, commercial/corporate complex, bittersweet modernity aside, I believe in the ideals which frame the constant American dialogue with itself — including first and foremost the requirement that we keep talking, lest we abdicate our role as government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And I believe that, by definition, as music which speaks of and for a people, American folk music holds a particular place in that conversation which is America. Folk focuses that conversation, making it real and vivid, whether it is through the lens of policy critique or protest cry, the immigrant experience or the internal monologue of a singer-songwriter struggling to be free.

Checks and balances and a mechanism for self-correction; fireworks and barbecue, and the right to make dumb mistakes and have to live with ‘em. Losing love, and falling in it again. Finding hope, and being scared to dream one more time. It’s the American way, all of it — and it’s been that way since inception.

Which is to say: if I may sometimes work to change the policies of those in power, through sharing song or through town meeting politics, it is because I love this country. And I hope I never lose that fluttery feeling in my stomach when we come in for a landing at the international terminal, and I know that I am home.

So let other bloggers share patriotic song today. I’d rather take the country as it is: dialogic, complex, open about its faults and favors, and always looking for a better way. And if saying so means posting songs we have posted here before, then so be it — for these are, after all, timeless songs, with messages that bear repeating.

Happy Birthday, America. Long may your contradictions endear us to you. May you never lose hope. And may we never stop singing.



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been bringing you ethnographic musings on the folkways here and abroad since 2007 thanks to the patronage of readers like you!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Reposts

Unity House Concerts presents: The Western Den
(February 20 @ UU Society of Greater Springfield, MA)

February 18th, 2016 — 11:55am


wd


Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield, featuring well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

Our 2015-2016 series features a diverse set of artists, including past shows with The Sea The Sea, Mary Lou Lord, Matt Nakoa, Antje Duvekot, and The Mike + Ruthy Band, upcoming shows with Joe Jencks (March 19) and more…and this Saturday, an intimate session with ambient folk storytellers The Western Den.




Lush harmonies, potent storytelling, and ambient folk textures typify the collaborative work of Boston-based duo Deni Hlavinka and Chris West, who formed as The Western Den just three years ago this month. Echoes of Olivia Chaney, Saintseneca, Joni Mitchell and Sufjan Stevens – all of whom the pair cited as desert island discs in a recent interview – offer apt comparison, and they’ve shared stages with Tall Heights, Paula Cole, Mark Erelli, Meg Hutchinson, The Boston Pops, and Melissa Ferrick, who was Deni’s songwriting teacher at Berklee College.

These days, though still very much grounded in the shared passion and strong sense of music as art with a purpose which Deni and Chris forged together in their earliest days, the Western Den is a true-blue band; after several years of being presented as a close couple duo “with friends”, new promo pictures released this week show a trio, with trumpet player and vocalist Alec Alabado alongside. And sure enough, although their second EP is tender and mild, as befits a holiday release, in their pair of tiny, precious, crowdfunded releases of original work, the sound is bigger, much bigger, than even three players might suggest: their studio work is rich and complex, simultaneously epic and intimate, with each song an entire journey, offering a luxurious entry into an enveloping atmosphere, and I’m eager to hear them live as a four-piece this Saturday.

Other than their Holiday EP, The Western Den has recorded no covers officially, and concert footage is scarce – though to be fair, this is a band early in their rise to greatness; their total output at this point is a tantalizing glimpse, albeit more than enough to fall in love. A quick YouTube search reveals a few recordings from Chris and Deni’s early days at Berklee, however, including a wonderfully deep, still take on Civil Wars song Poison & Wine, and this delightful cover, with Deni and Hadley Kennary taking on a Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson winter classic with warm tones to heat the heart amidst this February thaw. Listen, and join us for more on Saturday if you can; stream 2015 release All The Birds via Bandcamp regardless, and watch for upcoming shows in your neck of the woods as The Western Den grows to become a household name.







Non-profit and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down posts regular features on artists and songwriters as part of its continuing mission to ply the experience of coverage as a comfortable space for discovery. As always, we encourage you to click through to hear more from and about the artists we feature, the better to support and sustain the arts, the artists, and the folkways.

And if you live within driving distance of Springfield, Massachusetts – just a hop, skip, and jump away from Hartford, Northampton, Worcester and the Berkshires – join us February 20 for a very special evening with The Western Den. No reservations necessary; Facebook confirmations greatly appreciated.

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, House Concerts

This Christmas, Vol. 3: More New Holiday Coverfolk
from Hymns and Carols to Secular Wintersongs and Seasonals

December 21st, 2015 — 9:07pm


xmasvill


As we’ve noted in years past, Christmas carols comprise a complete and varied taxonomy. But the number of genera within the broader category is relatively finite, with several discrete types common to the form, from the hymns and traditional folk songs of a myriad of cultures to hopeful Santa, tree and present narratives.

All families have their outliers, their platypus and spiny echidna: in this case, the most modern slice of the canon, in which pop and folk artists explicitly use the setting of the Christmas season to tackle the common seasonal themes of family, hearth, peace, joy, redemption and goodwill, but make no claim to the holiday itself. The narrator of Joni Mitchell’s River, for example, could easily be someone who does not celebrate Christmas herself; indeed, it is the emotional distance between that narrator and the celebration of others which provides the song’s core conceit, and its success.

And then there are the Holiday songs that aren’t actually about the holidays at all. For there, on virtually every radio playlist, we find another genotype altogether: the accidental seasonal, in which snowy environments and December settings provide a number of common elements and themes – from the coldness of the weather to the pensive and hopeful emotions of the turn of the year itself – without any explicit mention of Christmas or its trappings.

Combine them all, and you’ve got our final mix of the 2015 Christmas season, featuring a diverse set of new music from joyful to pensive, with folkpunk, bluegrass instrumentals, sensitive singer-songwriter fare, and more delights sure to warm your heart and hearth. Enjoy, and may the spirits of joy, light, generosity, and community live forever in you throughout the year.


  • Unwaxed Rainment: The First Noel (trad.)

    Teenage sibling bluegrass duo from deep South Florida play a hopping bluegrass instrumental on their first recorded appearance as Unwaxed Rainment, released alongside a slick and slippery take on O Little Town Of Bethlehem on Emmanuel, just released via Bandcamp. Joel and Bethany also play, record, and minister through music with their parents as The Xiques Family, who have been performing since 2004, and released their own album of praise and promise this year.



  • Big Little Lions: Deck The Halls (trad.)

    Fans of indie folkpop bands like The Weepies and Mumford and Sons will love the catchy high-concept bells-and-handclap sensibility of the reinventions and originals on Together At Christmas, a five-track EP from Big Little Lions, a songwriting duo project that have picked up accolades from the 2015 Ensemble of the Year award from last year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards to Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition.


  • Fable Cry: Kidnap The Sandy Claws (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)

    Psychedelic gypsy punk band and “theatrical scamp rock quintet” Fable Cry takes on a tune from famed Tim Burton vehicle The Nightmare Before Christmas, upping the energy of the original past the limits of sanity while still managing to fit within the ever-broad boundaries of folk.


  • Anna Rose ft. Wes Hutchinson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas (orig. Bing Crosby)

    From sultry blues and jazz to true blue electropop, charity compilation Fieldhouse Presents: A Holiday Benefit 2015 runs helter-skelter across the genre map, coming together like a beautiful holiday mixtape. Most songs are originals, but this pretty album-closing duet is worth sticking with; folkfans looking for more mellow stuff will also enjoy soft samba Snow from Bird of Paradise and Wakey Wakey’s new fireside duet ballad Christmas With You.


  • Wild Child: Silent Night (trad.)

    We generally eschew links to Amazon here, preferring to support artists with more cents on the dollar through direct links to artist-preferred commercial sources. But Indie for the Holidays is an exclusive Prime Music playlist featuring 27 new songs from some pretty well-known indie pop, roots, and alternative artists, including Bhi Bhiman, Lisa Loeb, and Langhorne Slim; for them, and for this, we’ll make an exception.



  • Jaymay: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (orig. Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams)

    NYC-based singer-songwriter Jaymay Sings Christmas, alright; some of these settings in this still-growing advent calendar are a bit pitch-perfectly orchestral for that shimmery sweet voice with more than a hint of Fiona Apple in its warble. Others, though, are just right. And by dropping the male lyric entirely, this amazing music-box cover of Baby It’s Cold Outside evokes something totally new: a confident, lovely girl by the door into winter, spinning and singing to herself as she puts on her coat, hat, and scarf.



    The Once: Gabriel’s Message (trad.)

    Newfoundland collective The Once plays a swaying gypsy jazz waltz complete with horns on this track we seem to have missed way back in 2012. Other warm horn, bass, drum, and mandolin tracks in 3/4 time on This Is A Christmas Album include a nearly funerial I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.


    Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony: Joy To The World (trad.)

    We’ve been keeping you in the loop about Hark, the new album from our favorite Somerville-based collective, since last Christmas, when we noted their EP pre-release in our Albums of The Year feature. Now the album has landed after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and we’re thrilled to report it’s everything we hoped: quirky and playful, beautiful and bold, with strings and joyful voices raised in harmony.


  • Marika Hackman: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)
  • FLYTE: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)

    Finally, as promised in our Year’s Best Videos features, one more track from The Crypt Sessions, because – like a fireplace in winter – we just can’t resist a warmly-lit, brightly-voiced Christmas video. Plus an amazing new cover from FLYTE, which, like the Joni Mitchell cover, was recorded for It’s Coming On Christmas, the Daisy Digital artist compilation we mentioned in Vol. 2 of our 2015 Christmas Coverfolk series.





Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

Celebrate ALL The Christmas!
Coverfolk Mixes from Christmas Past (2008-2015)

December 11th, 2015 — 6:29am


Awesome-Christmas-Design-House-1024x640


We’ve still got a few more coverfolk seasonals on the backburner this year, thanks to the constant flow of new releases from Bandcamp, YouTube, and Soundcloud, and the occasional mailbag delight. And we’re also still spinning through a few 2014 releases, since our hearts were too heavy with grief to celebrate in true coverfolk spirit last year; the only Christmas Coverfolk we touted was a pair of holiday albums at the tail end of our Best of 2014 feature, and though both bear repeated listening – Jean Rohe and Liam Robinson’s haunting and beautiful EP The Longest Winter and Hark: Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony, a strings-and-voice project from some of our favorite Boston-based folk artists which has finally come to full fruition this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and is/was eminently worth the wait – the pair are far from a comprehensive look back.

Close readers may have also noticed a few tail-end 2014 and 2013 releases in our two recent posts to add to the pile, too, including multiple-album indiefolk holiday fare from Your Yellow Dress and Boom Forest – in both cases, merely the most recent in a growing series of annual releases, all of which are precious and worth pursuit.

But even without formal features from last Christmas in the pile, that still leaves us with seven years and 25 mixes worth of holiday and winter fare from Christmases past in our archives – and taken together, they comprise a set of holiday covers larger than our local radio station’s classics playlist. Enjoy the collection as the holiday approaches, and may the snows come soon enough to warm our hearts.



2008



2009



2010



2011



2012



2013



2015



Proudly ad-free and artist-centric since 2007, Cover Lay Down has been sharing artist features, ethnographic musings, and coverfolk collections regularly here and on our Facebook page. Donate now to help support our continuing mission, and stay tuned for more holiday coverfolk as the year winds down, plus our annual Best Of The Year double-feature, featuring covers albums, EPs, deep cuts and singles sure to warm your heart and delight your ears!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

This Christmas, Vol. 2: Alternative Holiday Coverfolk
from Leaf Pile, The Many, Tenterhook, Tides of Winter and more!

December 8th, 2015 — 6:05am


lofixmas


Folk isn’t always pretty, and neither is Christmas. But there is something both noble and needful in songs that serve to channel the complex emotions that the season brings – and thankfully, the holiday world is full of them, with new albums and singles released every day, a veritable advent calendar of the amateur and the avant-garde, the lo-fi and the low-folk among us.

Where last week’s set of new holiday coverfolk primarily served to soothe the senses, then, today’s new holiday covers come from the fringes of the folkworld, where broken voices and discordant arrangements typify the form – bringing not comfort and joy, but challenging environments and moods somehow soothing in their sheer empathic rawness, proving that sometimes it takes a good deconstruction to help us appreciate the beauty of the season.

  • The Dawn And Dew: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (trad.)
  • S.L.F.M.: I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (pop. Ella Fitzgerald)
  • Loralee Jessen Nicolay: Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella (trad.)

    A smartly representative descent into the industry’s underbelly, Homemade Holidays comes to us via Swoody Records, a label that specializes in the homemade and generally bizarre. Many of the artists featured here cross genre boundaries, and a number of tracks are not covers but brazenly odd original tunes, but our selected set – featuring simple clipped strum patterns, tootling recorder, and primitive vocals from Utah duo The Dawn and Dew, a squeaky, frenetic slack-string from Maine-based uke player S.L.F.M., and a tape hiss transformation from Loralee Jessen Nicolay – makes for a delightfully broken, eminently urgent freakfolk holiday sampler.


  • Leaf Pile: Deck The Halls (trad.)
  • Leaf Pile: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (orig. Judy Garland)
  • Leaf Pile: Feliz Navidad (orig. Jose Feliciano)

    Raw and lo-fi, conceptual album A Leaf Pile Christmas was recorded live in a small cabin in upstate New York over woodstove and wine, and it shows. But there’s something highly endearing and playful about the resulting tunes, with their transformed melodies and arrangements, melodica and harmonica, whistling and bells and electric guitar, and a cacophony of whispery, almost tuneless voices raised in companionable fa la las and feliz navidads. Especially for fans of anti-folk, and not for the faint at heart.


  • Tides Of Winter: Silver Bells (orig. Bing Crosby)
  • Tides Of Winter: Angels We Have Heard On High (trad.)

    On the surface, Faran, this year’s holiday EP from Minneapolis alt-folk four-piece Tides of Winter, is quite listenable, even as it sucks you in. But stuttery, shivery percussion, transformed minor key settings, and haunting instrumental bridges and transitions lend a hollow, grungy sheen to Silver Bells and The First Noel, bringing rare depth and novelty to familiar carols, while the footstomping riot of EP opener Hark, and the slippery slap bass, whistling chorus, and stunning harmonies that transform Angels We Have Heard On High make for a funky, chunky ride through the roots of the new indie folk tradition. Check out their 2013 Christmas EP Bairn, too, which is more fragile, but no less precious, for a comprehensive new outlook on Christmas.


  • Your Yellow Dress: Rise Up Shepherd and Follow (trad.)

    Snow Songs: A Sounds and Tones Holiday Compilation is a mixed-artist compilation from Massachusetts-based grassroots record house Sounds and Tones Records; the label goes far beyond folk, and only one track is available to stream so far, making it a bit early to celebrate the entirety of this release. But it certainly fits our bill: this emofolk take on old standard Rise Up Shepard from California DIY alt-folk band Your Yellow Dress – a band who has released a huge and wonderful set of folky Christmas albums over the past few years – is decidedly indie, all bells and banjo alongside drums and bass and horn, with strained vocal lead, monophonic chorus, and a slow, syrupy pace that doesn’t so much travel as it does wallow in the season until it drowns in a cacophony of repeated phrases. Bonus points: the album, which can be downloaded for as little as a buck, is a charity release, with all profits going to Erika’s Lighthouse, a non-profit that supports youth with depression and mental illness.


  • Tenterhook: Oh Holy Night (trad.)

    A strained and aching cover of the traditional hymn recorded live and hot off the presses from indiefolk studio-and-more The Crypt Sessions, which will put forth its own indie-and-folk Christmas sampler in partnership with UK festival coordinator and promotional house Daisy Digital this Friday; last year’s release from the partnership was darling, with beautiful tracks from the likes of Billie Marten, Rachel Sermanni, and Marika Hackman, and high praise from the hippest blogs, so you’ll excuse us if our excitement is already peaked.


  • Eli Ettien: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (orig. Brenda Lee)

    Loose, bluesy acoustic rock with a hint of twang and an undercurrent of moaning, echoing reverb from hobo traveler Eli Ettien of Montreal creates a unique effect on this holiday single, not unlike a mid-nineties unplugged session from an eighties band with an experimental jazz master at the soundboard having far too much fun multi-tracking in the studio.


  • Noah 23: Christmas In Prison (orig. John Prine)

    A single string drone and male voices an octave apart heavily filtered through auto-tune make for a tense, edgy John Prine cover, like a prisoner on speed with nowhere to go. The track is oddly soothing, once you get used to the synthetic-ness of it all, but don’t try Illuminati Christmas in its entirety unless you’re a true fan of amateur glitch-hop.


  • The Many: Hark The Herald Angels (trad.)
  • The Many: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (trad.)

    Layered vocals on It Came Upon and a fuzzy drone of synthesized bells on Hark The Herald Angels belie simple arrangements of praise with a sweetness of their own. From Advent & Christmas 2015, already chosen as one of the 6 best Christmas albums of 2015 by “Under the Radar,” a weekly syndicated radio program highlighting the top undiscovered Christian artists. The collection is a bit overproduced but nonetheless praiseful and praiseworthy, especially in originals such as Longest Night and on a number of well-organized, harmonious classic hymns, thanks to The Many, the genre-crossing house band for The Plural Guild, a Chicago-based collective of “musicians, writers and other artists creating new music and liturgy for people of faith and doubt who are trying to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and follow the Jesus who so loves the world.”


  • Boom Forest: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)
  • Boom Forest: What Child Is This (trad.)
  • Boom Forest: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)

    Newfound, not new, but Boom Forest’s 2013 album A Very Cookie Christmas Vol. 2 makes for a nice follow-up to our earlier feature, more discordant than anything, mostly recorded in single takes, from memory. Found sound and airy atmospheres sink and soar on tracks like In The Bleak Midwinter, while quirky vocal twitters pulse through What Child Is This; elsewhere, Joni Mitchell’s frozen River cracks with cold, while glitchy, frenetic drum machines shift Winter Wonderland into an anxious world. Check out the first volume from 2012 on Bandcamp, and hope for a third this year.


  • Emily Jane: Winter Song (orig. Sara Barielles)

    Last, but not least, a hearty, torn vocal coupled with primitive guitar makes for a heaviness on what was once a frozen fragility from another better-late-than-never discovery, this one a 2014 YouTube release. Emily Jane is one of those rare finds: other than an amazing 2014 Bonnie Raitt cover on YouTube, and a Facebook page with a smattering of notices of UK gig-driven posts, there’s not much out there about her. But oh, that voice will haunt us this season: if this tantalizing glimpse is an indicator of her future success, we’re happy to push the envelope.


Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

Back to top