Category: Holiday Coverfolk


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

February 18th, 2016 — 11:55am


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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.

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


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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


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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


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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

This Christmas: New Holiday Coverfolk
from Kate Rusby, Stylusboy, Alathea, Aurora, Boom Forest & more!

December 5th, 2015 — 3:59pm





No snow yet here in the wilds of evergreen New England, but Santa’s been through town on a firetruck, so I suppose the holidays are upon us. Whether you’re shopping locally for the ones you love or just cuddled up by the fire, here’s a few holiday finds to get you into the spirit of the season: new Christmas coverage from delicate carols to indie folk rock masterpieces, the perfect antidote to the overplayed chestnuts of the holiday radio dial.

  • Kate Rusby: Bradfield

    Any new work from Kate Rusby is a cause for rejoicing, and this year’s Christmas album The Frost Is All Over – her third, after While Mortals Sleep (2011) and Sweet Bells (2008) – is no exception. A deep dig into the history of regional folk from the British isles means that most of these carols will be new for listeners, especially on this side of the pond, but never fear: Rusby could make the morning paper sound pure and sweet as well water, and the local focus brings an unparalleled intimacy to the songs even as their horn arrangements bring a full, rich sound to the Christmas traditions of South Yorkshire and beyond.
  • Stylusboy: Oh Little Town

    Darling lo-fi indiefolk with a Coventry lilt from the Christmas Light EP, an upbeat five-track whose physical incarnation comes complete with handmade cover adorned with individual trees cut from world maps by UK rising star Stylusboy, aka singer-songwriter Steve Jones. Click through for a wonderful sing-along Jingle Bells, too.
  • Lindsay Straw: The Forlorn Queen/The Christ Child Lullaby

    As if we needed another reason to hew close to the Boston scene, singer-songwriter Lindsay Straw’s new Winter EP is tender and mild, a safe space by the holiday fire simply set with elegance, in which soft string arrangements and a voice as earnest as Kate Wolf or Cindy Kallet with a hint of winter whisper make for a four-song set perfect for the quiet moments of the season.
  • Boom Forest: The Holly & The Ivy

    A stunningly powerful rearrangement of the classic carol from Daytrotter darling Boom Forest, aka Nashville-via-Wisconsin’s John Paul Roney, released in February of 2015 to not a whit of fanfare as part of a darling, ambient 4-song mixed-bag EP of Christmas songs called Coal: A Winter Split from Bread King Records, a Wisconsin-based record label that claims it specializes in cassette tapes and seems to produce mainly edgy folktronica from the margins of genre.
  • Kate Thomas: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

    Her tiny Holiday EP If The Fates Allow was released on the cusp of Christmas 2014, so we’d be excused if we’re a year late in celebrating Denver’s own Kate Thomas, whose bright and hearty voice rings true as Christmas bells. But bringing her into this season is an easy choice: the songs here are name-your-price, and worth more, with a loving take on new Christian seasonal Mary Did You Know and a gently, playfully countrified White Christmas that will lift your spirits.
  • Smoke Fairies: So Much Wine (orig. The Handsome Family)
  • Smoke Fairies: Steal Softly Through Snow (orig. Captain Beefheart)

    British dream pop duo Smoke Fairies take on the season adeptly in 2014 release Wild Winter, which we seem to have missed last year but is getting good press as the 2015 holidays approach. The album is aptly titled, with mostly original tracks, plus today’s two-fer: a droning, dreamy cover of The Handsome Family’s depressing So Much Wine, and a grungy psychedelic take on Captain Beefheart’s Steal Softly Through Snow that comes off like Fairport Convention in a snowstorm.



Cover Lay Down shares ethnographic musings and coverfolk throughout the year thanks to the kindness and support of patrons like you, so please keep us mind as you consider gift-giving this year…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

Small Business Saturday: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Annual Holiday Gift Guide)

November 28th, 2015 — 10:42am





It’s raining a bit, but we’re off nonetheless in an hour or so, heading over the river, through the woods, and down the mountain this morning for our tiny rural New England Town’s annual crafts fair: four churches and the House of Art stuffed to their wooden rafters with the very best from local artists and craftspersons, from homespun alpaca yarn and family farm lavender salves to an endless array of jewelry, scarves and woodcarving, all made lovingly by friends and neighbors, familiar faces amidst a sea of comfort and joy.

Lunch afterwards, perhaps ham salad and soup in the church basement, or homemade bread and meat pies at the roadside breakfast joint near the equine rescue center like last year, while horses and sleighs parade past our window. And then home, with half the holiday shopping done, and nary a shopping mall in sight, while the fire burns bright and the family settles into our respective seats.

It’s days like this I love the local life the most: the four of us on the back roads, singing along to our favorite carols on the radio as we wander through an almost-winter, tires crunching over the roadside as yet unsullied by snow, soot and salt. And we’re gladdened to hear the storms of society turn around us, as the annual irritant antithesis of Buy Nothing Day turns to Small Business Saturday.

But as last year, and the year before, Black Friday and its aftermath still top our cultural discourse; the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms remains great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between.

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. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring 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 – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the fourth year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2015 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, 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.



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. Though streaming models make it more and more challenging every day, music sales remain the bread and butter of the starving artist. And Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog: 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. Or check out independent artist-friendly labels like the recently-featured Signature Sounds, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, 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, 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. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones – there’s still seats available for this year’s Winterbloom holiday shows, for example, in NYC and Boston, at Robinson & Rohe shows up and down the East Coast throughout December, and at our upcoming show this Friday night with American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy in Springfield, MA. 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.

3. Give the gift of access. If you can’t always get out to a show, spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) 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 live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk clubs, concert halls and living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live-on-screen performances and sessions can be viewed alone, shared over distance through skype and chat, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is an especially apt gift for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Pledge Music help artists make art, 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. As a bonus, 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 on each site, or skim facebook pages for links to projects in the works that need your support. Examples we’re excited to recommend this year include an impending record from Rose Cousins, whose previous kickstarter-funded release We Have Made A Spark still spins in the car in regular rotation two years after release, and who promises both copies of that record and original haiku and handbaked cookies for supporters at various funding levels. We’re also proud supporters of HARK, the new 14-track CD from Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony, featuring the incredible talents of Boston-based singer-songwriters Jennifer Kimball, Rose Polenzani, Laura Cortese, Cousins, Jenna Moynihan, Valerie Thompson, Brittany Haas and Natalie Haas in celebration of the sixth year of putting on their holiday show at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA – many funding levels for HARK come with dear handmade ornaments and decorations to delight your holiday tree and table, and there’s only 6 days left to go in the campaign, so hit them up soon if you can.

Over at Pledge Music, Jamgrass mainstays Hot Buttered Rum are seeking funds for a three-EP series; one of the three is planned as a tribute to the songs of Ralph Stanley, a project which promises to be both transformative and authentic, as are rewards from personalized postcards to signed drumheads and private instrumental lessons from band members via the web. Meanwhile, on Patreon, recurring funding is needed for Beehive Productions’ ambitious short video series Ear To The Ground, a series about the culture and community of Roots Music which has recently featured some strong covers and originals from CLD faves Charlie Parr, Cricket Blue, Anna & Elizabeth, and Mike + Ruthy; rewards for your support range from exclusive previews and alternate takes to t-shirts, stickers, and that warm fuzzy feeling of being a patron of the folkways as they move ever onward.

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 did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2015″ 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 repost from year’s past: a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.


Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Small Business Saturday: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Holiday Gift Guide)

November 29th, 2014 — 3:43pm





Over the river, through the woods, and down the mountain this morning for our tiny rural New England Town’s annual crafts fair: four churches and the House of Art stuffed to their wooden rafters with the very best from local artists and craftspersons, from homespun alpaca yarn and family farm lavender salves to an endless array of jewelry, scarves and woodcarving, all made lovingly by friends and neighbors, familiar faces amidst a sea of comfort and joy.

Lunch afterwards, homemade bread and meat pies at the roadside breakfast joint near the equine rescue center, while horses and sleighs paraded past our window. And now home, with half the holiday shopping done, and nary a shopping mall in sight, while the fire burns bright and the family settles into our respective seats.

It’s days like this I love the local life the most: the four of us on the back roads, singing along to our favorite carols on the radio as we wander through an already-white winter, tires crunching over the roadside snow as yet unsullied by soot and salt. And we’re gladdened to hear the storms of society turn around us, as the annual irritant antithesis of Buy Nothing Day turns to Small Business Saturday.

But as last year, and the year before, Black Friday and its aftermath still top our cultural discourse; the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms remains great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between.

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. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring 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 – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the third year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2014 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, 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.



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. Though streaming models made it more and more challenging every day, music sales remain the bread and butter of the starving artist. And Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog: 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. Or check out independent artist-friendly labels like the recently-featured Signature Sounds, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, 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, 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. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and 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.

3. Give the gift of access. If you can’t always get out to a show, spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) 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, a free-for-trial service which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk clubs, concert halls and living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live-on-screen performances and sessions can be viewed alone, shared over distance through skype and chat, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is an especially apt gift for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledge Music help artists make art, 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. As a bonus, 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 on each site, or skim facebook pages for links to projects in the works that need your support. Examples we’re excited to recommend this year include this cover-laden campaign from singer-songwriter Dawn Landes, who is promoting a package deal including a tour and a covers EP, and Denver-based singer-songwriter John Statz, who is currently raising funds for the release of Tulsa, the album he recorded with Jeffrey Foucault back in January when we caught him at fave local venue The Parlor Room; funding levels for the latter include the usual preorder of what promises to be a strong and soulful Americana album, and an option for backstage and schmooze passes for two that seems to be going fast. And we’re really looking forward to Amy Black’s upcoming project The Muscle Shoals Sessions, an expansion of her previously recorded 4-track EP into “a full-length album of classic Muscle Shoals soul music” backed by Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham, Will Kimbrough, The McCrary Sisters, and more, sure to feature some great Alabama soul classics.

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 did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2014″ 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 repost from last year: a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.


1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

These Our Hymns Of Grateful Praise:
A Cover Lay Down Thanksgiving Mix

November 27th, 2014 — 1:00pm





It’s Thanksgiving, and just in time, too: breakneck momentum takes over this time of year, until routines long established begin to fray around the edges; maybe we need a few days off to rethink our priorities.

We’re already grateful as we slowly settle into an unexpected off-day, here at home with our festival feast delayed by weather. Outside, the Christmas radio stations have already kicked into gear, and the world is tense with race and ruin, capitalism and the cold hard stand of conviction, but the snow-blurred landscape blocks everything out. And now the music is low, the lights are soft; children in flannel nightgowns pad barefoot in and out of the kitchen, dropping sleepy kisses in their wake; the pellet stove whirs and warms the neighbor’s borrowed dogs until they fall asleep in our laps.

The Thanksgiving hymnal is sparser than most, but we are quiet, today, and the mixed-marriage Jewnitarian tradition we practice digs deep into all corners of the earth. And oh, we have have so much to be thankful for: the world bright with promise, and ourselves with strength and love enough to work and play in it together. A collection of praise, then, from modern to mostly traditional, that we might skip the tinsel, and stick to the hope and the holy, the gravy and the grace this Thanksgiving season.


These Our Hymns Of Grateful Praise
A Thanksgiving Coverfolk Mix [download!]



Cover Lay Down shares new features and coversets here and on Facebook throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: new holiday releases, and our annual guide to shopping local in a digital world!

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Spring Awakening: Rabbitsongs, Covered In Folk

April 20th, 2014 — 10:39pm


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Yes, it’s been two months since we last checked in with a new feature here on Cover Lay Down. And although the thaw is new here in New England, the long winter of our hours still presses upon us.

Tomorrow we’re off chaperoning the Senior Class Trip to Cape Cod; we’ll return on Wednesday, just in time to don a dress for a two-week run of Hairspray. Work beckons, come Monday, with year-end evaluations and a holy host of the usual stresses of state testing and final exams to prepare for with my students.

In the works, and almost finished, lie fertile features on new CDs and singles, tributes to Will Oldham and Jackson Browne, and the songs of Jesse Winchester, in memoriam. But today it’s Easter, an especially fitting day to rise again.

Let it be rabbits, then. Soft, warm, and reassuring, thieves and harbingers of garden and grass; symbols of growth and rebirth, and the proliferation that is sure to follow.


4 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

Valentine’s Day Present: Love, Ongoing
(Plus five Valentine’s Day mixtapes from the CLD archives!)

February 14th, 2014 — 2:29pm





My plans to zip over to my wife’s workplace with flowers and lunch for a Valentine’s Day surprise were overtaken by a double snow day this year, turning what might have been a romantic moment into a promise unfulfilled, leaving me without a single heart to offer save my own.

Happily, true love doesn’t fade so fast, nor does it depend on any particular trinket. Love is in every moment, if you know where to look, and choose to embrace it, and be grateful.

Every morning as I leave for work, I kiss my wife, and speak love into her day before she wakes. Every night, in the darkness, I whisper my love to her as she sleeps warm beside me. Every day I thank the universe that after over half a lifetime together, there’s still beauty and love in my life.

In her honor, then, and yours: a set of coverfolk love songs released in the last year or two, followed by links back to five mixtapes and features from our Valentine’s Days past. For love is in all ways complicated, always forever and ever new. May you find comfort and hope here, and everywhere, on this most romantic of days, and every day that follows.


Valentine’s Day Present [download here!]



Valentine’s Days Past

3 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

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