Category: Mixtapes


Still Standing: Remembering The 2011 Tornado
with covers of Springsteen, Survivor, INXS, CSNY & more!

June 6th, 2016 — 9:13pm





In June of 2011 our town made national news when a tornado tore through our downtown valley and up the hill again, leaving a strip of destruction and chaos that was visible on weather satellites. For the next month, in a series of four features here on these pages, we traced the town’s slow process through the stages of community grief: from shock and heartbreak to hope and determination. And in the end, though we weren’t really healed, we moved on: back to work, and to school, and the pretense of normal which so typifies the modern condition.

But looking back with the wisdom of years, it is clear that through the forge of wind and cracking wood and crumbling stone, the fire of bent backs and open arms, something changed about us. Somewhere along the way, we had come to take for granted the closeness of the community; we had been jaded and cynical, complacent in our ways and means; now we were resolute, and banded together in the face of it all.

And so we mourned and cleared our smalltown streets, huddling together with those who had lost everything but each other. We took water and food into the worst of it all; we gathered wood from our driveways and yards, and hauled it away to keep us warm for the next two winters. We took care of our own, a town together, independent and practical, resolute and proud as only New Englanders can be. And in doing so, we learned that having each other was everything.


Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 8.48.17 PMThese days, new homes and new green lawns stand where houses once tilted and yawed into the aftermath of disaster. Town Hall has been rebuilt, fixing the hole in the center of everything which stood for years as testament to our trials. First Church has a new steeple, and it’s visible all the way down Main Street, where it proudly oversees the Memorial Day parade. Our Civil War era Memorial Hall reopened its doors last Christmas for the bazaar, and it was just like old times.

We no longer shudder at the sight of clouds. From a distance, the scar that cuts through the land has faded into a faint yellowgreen line of new trees. Last night’s high school graduation took place on time, and no one mentioned the tornado which cancelled the ceremony for their oldest brothers and sisters.

Normal has become normal again; life goes on. But in many ways, it is a better, closer life than it was before the world fell apart. We know each other better. We celebrate each other more. The town remembers, deep in its bones: we are still, after all this time, Monson Strong. And so it will be, harbored against our hearts and our bodies, until we forget, and nature calls once more to remind us of ourselves.

From the folk rock of Alana Davis to the delicate determination of Kallet, Epstein and Ciccone, then. From the sparse lo-fi indiefolk of Eye Of The Tiger to the bright summery uke stylings of Dog Days Are Over, and from delicate string-driven Springsteen to weary countrified fun. From Love Canon’s grassy, resolutely bittersweet Touch Of Gray to Chelsea Berry’s sweet, soulful take on Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day; from Sara Watkins with the frenzied fiddles of Darol Anger’s Republic Of Strings to Beck, St. Vincent, Liars and Os Mutantes as Record Club supergroup.

May this loosely-mixed set of songs of determination, aftermath and rebirth carry our deep joys and appreciation to you and yours. And may you always have your neighbors at your side, their strong backs bent and consoling arms open, when your disasters come to you.




Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Coming soon: our annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival preview…plus new artists from all corners of the folkworld cover Dylan, Lucius, The Cardigans, Jackson Browne, Big Star, Angus and Julia Stone and more!

Comment » | Mixtapes

Back To The Garden:
On The Healing Power Of Green Places

April 9th, 2016 — 2:22pm


0817_prouty-620x406


The hospital where my daughter spends her days is one of the best in the country; a place of comfort and cheer, where cutting-edge medicine is served side by side with gentleness and joy, and mental wellness is considered a vital partner to physical health. Evidence of this is everywhere: The rooms we live in in shifts these days are bright and big, friendly and comforting, with equal access and support for patients and their families; child life specialists and kind social workers are core members of the medical teams that visit throughout the day; clowns, therapy dogs, craft-makers and musicians visit the wards regularly, and those who can move more freely throughout the hospital find a seemingly endless unfolding of spaces both large and small, staffed with volunteers and paid professionals eager to offer play, shared solace, and performance on a busy schedule aimed at filling the empty hours of those who need it most.

In the middle of this labyrinth of hallways lined with cheerful art and playful design lies Prouty Garden, a green, welcoming space that serves as the perfect symbol for the creative balance of soul and body we have experienced in the last few years as we come to frequent this sacred place. Designed by the same architects that built Boston’s Fresh Pond and New Orleans’ Audubon Park, the half-acre is subdivided into smaller shady spaces and open lawn, broken up by benches and fountains, rich with hidden statuary and small niches that offer privacy to those still struggling to accept the changes wrought by medicine, disease, and injury upon their fragile bones and flesh.

For kids whose only other access to the outside world is far too often nothing more than a half-glimpsed skyline through an upper story window, Prouty Garden is a haven in the midst of hell – the only space large enough to guarantee sunlight throughout the day to kids whose skin has grown pale from lack of exposure, and the only way to truly let them feel like they are outside, in a fully open space, surrounded by nature, with sky above and grass below.

We’ve chased squirrels and rabbits there, and hunted for eggs on two successive Easters. We’ve walked there with grandparents and friends who seem too sad to truly be themselves in hospital rooms full of medical devices and the other trappings of illness. In many ways, the garden is ours; in many ways, it is needful, as much a part of the lives of my children as the doctors and nurses that populate their days.

But this, too, must pass. As of this year, Prouty Garden is slated to be torn down, to make room for a new building that would alleviate current strain on space in the hospital – a strain we know well, having stayed overnight in the ER at least once while we wait for a bed to open up upstairs. And although public outcry, especially from those children and families who have been served directly by the garden, is loud and clear, ultimately, the hospital trustees continue to maintain that the destruction of our beloved garden is the best path forward for all of us.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, the controversy over the loss of the garden is already affecting its ability to serve children and their families. This morning I spoke with a father whose kid is here for the long haul, midway through a four-month treatment for cancer; last night when they went down after dark, he said, the security guard treated them with suspicion, and insisted on taking down their badge numbers before letting them in.

And so we went down to the garden ourselves, once the elderchild had woken up, and her nightly fever had gone down enough to travel. And found it blocked off, and swarming with security guards, who kindly informed us that until the kind and well-intentioned protesters had left their post at the front of the hospital, the garden would remain closed, just in case.

It’s true that Boston Children’s Hospital is in desperate need of more beds. It’s also true that space is dear here on the edge of downtown Boston. But how ironic, how bittersweet, that a garden designed to be a core component of the healing practice of one of the best hospitals in the country has become, like any other medicine, so carefully meted out, and so cautiously watched.

My daughter took being turned away from the garden in stride, as she does so much these days. She knows, like her father, that the time and place for protest of our own must be carefully guarded, and cautiously selected, lest we learn to live in anger at the world.

But after the protesters left, we returned and found the garden open again. We sat on a stone bench near the entrance, alongside a statue of a nurse and child dedicated the poet whose bequest still sustains it 60 years after its founding, and ate a late breakfast, throwing our crumbs to the sparrows, which clustered at our feet. The sun was bright, and the daffodils big in bloom. The long lawn was green and full of life, and all around it, small copper and marble statues of foxes and egrets, squirrels and beavers nestled in the flowerbeds and fountains, their noses red and round with evidence that the clowns had been there before us.

It was hard to miss the two security guards watching us carefully from the other end of the garden. It was hard not to look at the big Dawn Redwood that loomed above them, and over everything, and think of how much, how very much, we have lost, and will continue to lose to love in this world.

But for a moment, there in the sun and dirt, my daughter smiled, and laughed, and felt free again.

And after we returned to her room, and the couch in the corner where I will stay the weekend, and leave again on Sunday, I thought of all the garden songs I know, in which the idea of the garden, as metaphor and locus, features predominantly as a place of love, solace, growth, and reconnection to nature.

May the wild and cultivated places of our world live in our hearts and minds in our times of trial, that they may serve us in our pain and sorrow. May we too, find them in our world, and wander through them, and be free.



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

1 comment » | Mixtapes

Songs of Solace, Songs Of Pain:
On becoming familiar with disease and distance

April 2nd, 2016 — 12:05pm


distance


There’s so much to write: musings stuck deep in the recesses of my mind, dams thick with foam and finesse to study whorl by whorl. And there’s so much to write about, too, as 2016 pours forth a plethora of coverfolk delights, backlogged and still disorganized in the inbox and an ever-growing infinity of open tabs.

I’ve tried, halfheartedly, to pick up the threads, and weave them into the words we’ve come to expect here. But for a month, nothing’s been coming out coherent.

And it was killing me. Until I put down the words, and rediscovered music.

I’ve written about my girls here – about their struggles, and ours – several times in the last couple of years, since the elderchild was diagnosed three years ago (Everybody Hurts: On Discovering A Child’s Illness) and then again, when the wee one took her turn (Lord Protect My Child: Songs for Our Children). I’m tired of writing about it, honestly.

But behind the blog, and the public face, their disease eats away at them, and us. Being separated across the state drains us; nothing is settled, and in some ways, even as we come to find familiarity in the routine, things are still getting worse. I go to work with my heart still at home, or worse, on the road, as my wife bounces them from appointment to appointment, together and alone, and my mind is ever on them: distracted, and dense with thoughts of what might happen next. I ache for the way things were, once, when the hardest things about life were the natural growing pains that anyone could recognize.

Today, with the wee one still sleeping through her pain upstairs, and the elderchild and her mother camped out in the hospital ward, back for drains and rest just weeks after her first emergency surgery, I find my very first chance in four full weeks to clear the brain, and begin again.

But it’s a rainy day outside: grey, and quiet. I’ve lit the fire; the dog sleeps on the couch beside me. And although I tried today to revel in the joys of the delicate and the hearty that have begun to fill my personal playlist, what I’ve really been listening to is the songs I go to when I need solace.

Other than to note that my personal collection of bittersweet music to steep in has grown a bit since 2013, there’s little to say about today’s second-round sorrowsongs. When Elvis Costello says that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, he means that criticism and analysis are removed, abstract, although sometimes illuminating, in a purely emotive way.

Ultimately, anything I could say about yet another playlist of loneliness and grief is only a shadow puppet representation of the real emotional impact of the art form done well and deep.

Sometimes you just need to feel.

May we all find solace in music, and in the world.



Everybody Hurts, Volume 2: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


5 comments » | Mixtapes

Forever Young: A Coverfolk Mix
(with covers of MGMT, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, Wilco & more!)

February 8th, 2016 — 3:38pm


wbeach3


The skies are dry, but thanks to the magic of modern storm-tracking technology, it’s another snow day here in rural New England, where a midday snowfall can leave you stranded halfway up the mountain pass between work and home. And thank goodness for that, because although the kids are surely old enough to scavenge and survive for a few hours without a parent in the house, their mother’s been away at class all weekend, and she isn’t expected home until Tuesday.

The kidfolk posts that once peppered the blog are long gone; the lullabies we share here are rarer, and flavored with nostalgia. The wee one grows tall and thin and independent; the elderchild has a boyfriend, who grins and wears his hair in a ponytail, like I did in college. We leave them home alone together on Thursday nights, and have dinner out, just the two of us, before choir rehearsal.

Today, we will play together: on the sledding hill, and the Shopkins board game we worked on all weekend, and finished yesterday. This afternoon we might make meatloaf again, or omelettes, or something else that Daddy isn’t supposed to know how to make. Tomorrow, with their mother still gone, they’ll walk together to the library after school, and wait for me to pick them up. And if it hurts one or both to do it, they will have each other to lean on, and themselves.

And one day, soon and very soon…they will move on, and out, and farther still, to the stars.

I miss the small, tireless children they once were, and I always will, I think. But even as development brings joy in shared complexity, there are some things that do not fade as our children get older: the grace and gratefulness of the unexpected moment together, precious and rare; the sheer delight of shared laughter; the comfort of holding each other tight, in the midst of pain and bittersweet memory.

And as these, and more, take their place in our hearts, there is pride and connection to be found in the deep maturation of these children into these willowy almost-women. I admire them, and that admiration and love grows fiercer every day. And here in front of the fire, snuggled close against them, I ache for the passage of time, too.

Because we are human, and we can do both. And must, if we are to survive intact.

A simple set today, then, of songs for the young folks, yours, mine, and ours. May they stay forever young in our hearts, and theirs, as they wend their way through the universe with wisdom, grace, and gravity.




Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

1 comment » | Mixtapes

Dog Songs: A Canine Coverfolk Mix
with covers of The Stooges, Harry Nilsson, Nick Drake & more!

January 28th, 2016 — 3:30pm





We didn’t have a dog in my house growing up. Allergies kept me away from other people’s dogs, too. The dogs I saw on the street were always pulling at their owners, or going for my teenage crotch. And so, by the time I hit my late teens, I had formed an impression of the entire canine kingdom as a population of barely-domesticated beasts, each pet an uncontrollable burden constantly on the verge of snarling, slobbering attack.

But Zellie, a pure-bred Jack Russell Terrier who we acquired in our first few years of marriage from a breeder who let her own pups run wild in the woods, wasn’t so much a dog as our first child: raised from a tiny pup, held close through her formative year, and ultimately the calmest, sweetest Jack, the very exception that proved the rule for the breed.

I don’t like dogs. But I loved Zellie, named for the Dutch word gezellig, a descriptive term that describes the lazy, laissez-faire attitude of waiters and shopkeepers, after my wife vetoed my first choice (drempels, which is Dutch for “speedbumps”). I loved her for 16 years, ever since the day of our first encounter, when she crawled from her litter to settle in the palm of my hand, and my heart broke open. My children loved her. And my wife, who is in many ways at her best with an infant in her hands, had a loving, grateful baby that spent her days and nights snuggled up against her.

And then, one morning in June, I let her out for her usual morning walk-about, and she didn’t come back. We looked for her for days – first her, and then her body.

And then one day, we stopped looking.

It was already the summer of fleas and flood. The famine of Crohn’s disease had been ravaging our family for two years. We were tired to begin with; tired, and sick, and struggling.

The slow, subsequent understanding that she was gone broke our already fragile hearts.

I wrote this.


Gezellig

It’s been four days since you didn’t come back.
Already I’m forgetting the sweetness
of your breath; your soft belly under
my fingertips; the present tense of you.

The girls miss you terribly. We hold them close
and lose ourselves in holding them close.
Our cars become embassies of heartbreak,
safe houses from a nation of sorrow.

Yesterday we walked for hours. The girls looked
for you everywhere. I looked for your body
small in the underbrush, white against brown leaves.
I looked for your body in my heart
where nothing is ever finished or resolved:
the chaos that builds inside our bedroom;
the children’s illnesses that do not fade;
the broken things we patch or work around
because we cannot afford to fix them.

I still look for your body, driving slow
each time I come back to the street where we live:
the street that swallows us, and you, and my heart.



It takes time to move on past the greatest loves of our lives. I still look into the underbrush as I turn onto our street, on warm days when the snow has melted.

But last weekend, after a couple of false starts, with beating hearts and nervous cheer we drove up to the shelter and let a dog pick us out. We named him Chick, because he looks like a miniature version of my in-law’s lab-mix Rooster, all the way down to the frosted paws and white chest blaze, and because when we pick him up, he settles into our body heat like a freshly laid hatchling.

I wasn’t sure I was ready. It turns out I was overdue.

Losing a first pet is a terrible, necessary teachable moment, one all of us need as we move towards maturity. But if I’ve learned anything from our adventures with dogs over the last seven months, it’s that as much as it is a new beginning, finding the second pet is the second movement of loss: its capstone, and its transformation.

It was time, long past time, to move on to acceptance. And so the wee one, still an empath at ten years old, was a bit teary-eyed that first night with Chick, her growing love for our tiny black beast distracted by the thought of she-who-came-before, confronted newly with the raw truth that moving on can feel like disgracing a memory. And so all of us cried a bit, that first week, as we came to terms with the knowledge that one day, this dog, too, will move on without us.

And so we made the choice to love him more fiercely for it, instead of holding back, the better to make the most of the time we have.

As I remind my children in these past weeks, we will always love the parts of us that our own loves bring to us, and be grateful for their acceptance, care, love and grace. And we are better, much better, for the experience. For no longer will we take love for granted; no longer will we forget that every moment shared is precious, even as we learn to accept the shortness of time itself.

Thank you, Chick and Zellie, for teaching us that who we are is always greater when we share our hearts and homes. May you both find rest and love, eternal and amen.




Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged folk covers from 2014-2015.

5 comments » | Mixtapes

Missed in 2015: Lost Songs and Late Arrivals
featuring Jackie Oates, Meg Baird, Willie Watson, Hattie Webb & more!

January 2nd, 2016 — 12:39pm

One of the biggest challenges of late year recovery is that it inevitably fails the test of comprehensiveness. Albums released in January get short shrift in end of year lists; at the year’s other end, there’s always that late December release that doesn’t make it onto the radar screen.

And so, in a year when Cover Lay Down went on hiatus from May to November, it’s unsurprising that a few albums, sessions and songs fell through the cracks in the mad scramble to tackle the twelvemonth.

Today, as the new year embraces us, we look back one last time for a few 2015 songs and albums which slipped by us in the hustle of the season. Shelved and temporarily forgotten, or simply unearthed after our four-part Best Of The Year series hit the proverbial streets, their very existence serves as a promise of more to come from a thriving musical community.


2013 Best Kidfolk Album winner Jackie Oates returns to the older folk canon on her newest release The Spyglass & The Herringbone: the album is almost entirely comprised of “lesser known but life-affirming songs from the English tradition”, save for a couple of peer-penned originals and a single cover of 1989 The Sundays hit Can’t Be Sure that nestle in among the simple, ringing tradfolk perfectly smooth and etherial, as if they were always a part of the old ways. Spyglass was released in April, on the cusp of the difficulties which brought us to hiatus in the first place, but the record is a forgiving mistress, alive with enveloping sound from harps and droning fiddles, vibrant with a sweet layered tonality that evokes the best of Kate Rusby and The Unthanks (and no surprise; Oates was a founding member), well worth resurrection.



siPulling at the threads from Jackie Oates reveals another missed collection that should by all rights have topped our list for Best Tribute Album Of The Year: Shirley Inspired, a 3 LP collection that serves as a veritable who’s who of performers who owe their style and substance, at least in part, to the revivalist work of Shirley Collins, who turned 80 in 2015. An artifact of the kickstarter appeal for ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’ – a film that is currently being made about the life of the “First Lady of Folk Music” – Inspired serves as both a survey of the mostly traditional songs which Collins lovingly preserved and presented, and as a record of just how broadly both the tunes and the tradition have integrated themselves into the modern spectrum; the performers here spread across both the British and Appalachian traditions, with newly recorded versions of old songs alongside a strong mix of new folk traditionalists from both sides of the pond, including Oates, Meg Baird, Olivia Chaney, Sally Timms, Josephine Foster, Graham Coxon, Sam Gleaves and Bonnie Prince Billy (performing Pretty Saro as a mournful dirge under the name Bitchin’ Bonnie Billy Bajas).



adatLive 2014 double-disc concert recording Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis slipped by us twice over – first in January, when it was released, and again at the end of the year. That’s okay: the album was easy to miss, having already served as an artifact of its own, from a 2013 concert featured in a 2014 Showtime documentary which in turn was designed to promote a mass market movie which garnered little traction; unsurprisingly, although the concert and subsequent documentary were designed to renew interest in the original film, most of us had already moved way past its buzz long before 2015 began.

Too bad. Though records comprised from live tribute concerts by various artists have a tendency to go awry, with muddy board mixing and ragged house bands too often contributing to sameness and a lack of fidelity, that’s not at all the case here. Instead, Another Day, Another Time, lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, features strong performances from a generous and multi-generational roster of well-known names of the modern folkways, including Gillian Welch, Punch Brothers, Marcus Mumford, The Avett Brothers, Colin Meloy, Lake Street Dive, and many more, each of whom was asked to perform an original and a cover in salute to the songs of the sixties folk revival. In the end, the whole thing is surprisingly smooth from start to finish, demands reconsideration, and comes up roses.


lclLocals Covering Locals, a labor-of-love compilation project now in its second year and iteration, is right up our alley, conceptually-speaking: Boston-based singer-songwriters select songs that they feel “need to be heard”, and cover them, thereby facilitating the spread of the best of their own sonic environment. The songs are a well-mixed bag, with rough roots, folk, and blues music from still-struggling artists normative in the mix, but there’s plenty of rough gems for those willing to sift through it, too; paired appearances of artists covering each other are especially dear, Hayley Sabella sounds like a young Deb Talan, and it’s wonderful to hear The Lemonheads done so well. Bonus points: the album was funded by an Iguana Grant from Club Passim, making it a true community effort in every sense of the word; the grant was renewed this year for a third volume, so stay tuned.



Finally: many of the singles we left out of our Best Of series this year – some too bold or raw for folk, some just a hair on the ragged side, others that offer a second look at some favorite sessions and artists – show up on our 2015 Bonus Coverfolk Singles mix, a 38-track mix of alternate delights available only to those who donate to Cover Lay Down. But a small handful of late discoveries and remembrances shine bright enough to deserve placement here. Our favorite of the lost set comes from harpist Hattie Webb of the Webb Sisters, whose stark reinvention of James Taylor lullaby Close Your Eyes, recorded to promote a Pledgemusic campaign for her upcoming debut solo outing, was released way too late to include in our regular end of year feature. For good measure, throw in grassy goodtime music-with-an-edge from Colorado-based Telluride Band Competition winners Trout Steak Revival, gentle country dreampop from Manitoba husband-and-wife duo Leaf Rapids, another nod to Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions via Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band, and another mention of teenage trio The Onlies, whose Jubilee, like the lightly upbeat indie-slash-tradfolk album it appears on, bears repeating after oblique mention in a February mixtape feature.



As always, if you like what you hear here, click through to lend your support to the artists we celebrate, the better to ensure the continued production of new music in 2016 and beyond.

And if you, too, have a little of the giving spirit left in you after the holidays, perhaps it’s time to consider a gift in support of our mission at Cover Lay Down. All donors receive our undying thanks, that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from patronizing the arts, and an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk released in 2014 and 2015. Click here to give, and thanks.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Jackie Oates, Mixtapes, Willie Watson

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles (2015)
A-sides, B-sides, deep cuts, live takes & more!

December 29th, 2015 — 4:23pm


Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 9.32.18 AM


Though we’re not above judging the overall conceptual cohesion of The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums, when it comes to our annual Year’s Best Singles mix, we generally eschew the hierarchical. Folk is so broad and so deep a canon, with so much potential for successful realization and transformation, it’s enough, I think, to curate the list, presenting each track as worth celebrating, a possible thread to pursue towards patronage and fandom.

But we do watch the collection for trends. This year, we see several.

Most notably, there’s a slight bump in songs which have their origin outside of the commercial realm – more links to videos, for example, and to freely released tracks. It’s tempting to treat this data point as an indicator that the line between amateur and professional continues to grow ever thin, making us watchful about the future of music as a truly realized vocation even as we celebrate the breadth of music such trending brings us.

On the other hand, of course, the wide net we cast also finds us celebrating the newest of the new, by lifting up artists who are just starting their journeys. And, although there are just a few of them, the emergent set is represented well this year by Annika Bennett, Matt Minigell, and Jamie Oshima – all twenty or under, and already bringing it on.

Other trends include one noted earlier, in our albums feature: there’s been some great collaboration this year on the margins of folk, roots, and Americana. From the continued “supergroup” partnerships of I’m With Her and My Terrible Friend to continued duo work from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman to one-off pairings between Rhiannon Giddens and Iron & Wine and The Milk Carton Kids and Shovels and Rope, the result is an emphasis on strong voices in harmony, with the pleasure of performing with friends and loved ones shining through each track.

Other than that, we’ll let the songs speak for themselves, as set and singles: after all, we’re here for the music, and so are you. And so we present our 50 favorite coverfolk singles, b-sides, live tracks and deep album cuts of 2015: from madcap to maudlin; from respectful to irreverent; from indie to traditional, and all the contemporary singer-songwriter, alt-country, ands acoustic poprock genres in between; sure to warm your heart and capture your soul.

This we offer with undying thanks to the labels, the artists, the fans, and you, for holding us up, and in, and close, when the world keeps spinning right round, like a record.

Cherish them. Let them warm your heart and capture your soul. And may you, too, experience joy and peace, lightness and love in full measure in the new year.



The Year’s Best Singles: A 2015 Coverfolk Mix [zip!]




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

Got goodwill to spare? 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 an exclusive download code for a special gift set of alternate favorites and rare covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give – and thanks.

Comment » | Best of 2015, Mixtapes

Rise Again: Returning, Rebuilding, Recovering
w/ covers of John Denver, Carole King, Steely Dan, Whitesnake & more!

November 29th, 2015 — 12:08pm





Thinking about longevity and persistence this weekend, prompted in part by Heather’s recent announcement that music blog I Am Fuel, You Are Friends, which has brought us so much honesty, joy, and discovery over the years, just celebrated its tenth anniversary on the web, and in our hearts.

But where Heather makes it look easy to tap into the joy, the history of Cover Lay Down is staggered with loss and regeneration. Like in 2008, when Blogger started to shut us down due to an inability to distinguish between fair use music-sharing and copyright theft, and we had to switch domains. Or four years later, when the company that ran our servers went awol, leaving us to rebuild from scratch – and to praise the lord for the Wayback Machine’s Internet Archives, which today hold the bulk of our first five years of posts and music.

Regular readers know, too: as it has been with the blog, so it has been with the blogger. Several times, I’ve written about my ongoing issue with tinnitus, which corrupts my ability to listen well and wholly to the music we would share and celebrate. And although home life and family were relatively stable when we first opened our virtual doors in 2007, since then, behind the scenes, capacity has reared its ugly head, as personal, professional, and social obligations have heavily impacted our ability to share the music we love so regularly.

The stress and strain of significant family illness and hospitalizations both at home and in my extended family, and the ever-increasing workload of the modern classroom teacher, were the paired tipping points that drove us to hiatus over the past year. An infestation of fleas and five feet of basement floodwaters over the summer buried us deeper, delaying our return.

And then my laptop died. A week later, so did its back-up, the side-along drive I used for music storage – locking me out of a carefully collected and categorized set of over 75 thousand songs amassed over two decades: covers, originals, rarities and live cuts, a lifetime of listening and love to big and unwieldy to store in the cloud.

The loss went almost unnoted amidst the chaos. It seemed relatively trivial at the time; family matters more than machinery. But ultimately, the loss of both primary laptop and archive back-up in a span of just a few weeks had no small impact on the decision to take some time off. And coming back without those archives is proving a bit more of a challenge than we originally anticipated.


There is no phoenix here, as there was when we returned in 2012. Losing the archives means losing both content and index – and the effect this has on our practice is ultimately quite significant. Where once a little kitchen table inspiration could be easily served by a fast search in a vast collection, already tagged by coversong and composer, today I find myself back at square one, dependent on the wider world of public media and downloadables, and the raw ability to search and find in a veritable haystack.

The result is a recentering, tipping us towards the new and the amateur, away from long-gone rarities and CD collections gone digital. But where there is loss, there is opportunity. More novelty and currency will mean more new artists features, and perhaps less comprehensive features on thematic tropes and songbooks, but that’s not terrible, in the end. We’ve covered most of the artists we love by now, and while the opportunity to share more of the new on a more regular basis may make us more like the vast majority of other music blogs, so, too, does it keep us from recycling and reshuffling, offering instead the opportunity for a renewed connection to the ongoing production of the folkways, a regained appreciation for its streams and tributaries.

As much as they offer a chance to reflect on the shifting sands that have brought us here, then, today’s covers also represent a foray into collecting from the wider world – and although it may yaw a bit wider than some of our previous sets, the result is no compromise. From new discoveries to elusive half-remembered songs, from pensive to proud, from catchy to cool and cathartic, may the songs stand as a tribute to resilience, and to our commitment to rebuilding, again and again: as long as there is you, and us, and them, to celebrate.



Rise Again: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]



Cover Lay Down is proud to be back on the web thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Looking to help out in other ways? Consider spreading the word about our newly-inherited concert series, featuring amazing American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy this Friday, December 4th!

Comment » | Metablog, Mixtapes

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

Paris Nights and New York Mornings
(On symbols and sense in the face of tragedy)

November 14th, 2015 — 12:16pm


parispeace

I’ve never been to Paris. But as a student and teacher of popular culture, and an ethnomusicologist overwhelmed today by the vast promise of those songs which pay tribute to the city of lights, I recognize its power as a symbol of all that is unfettered and alive: the intellectual late-night salon, the bright Eiffel tower, the arts and culture that live in our hearts.

As I suggest to my media literacy students when we study the tragedy of September 11, New York has long stood as a symbol of a particular cultural mindset, too, with the twin towers serving once upon a happier time as a focal point for the might and majesty of the dream. When Jon Stewart, in his incredible, tearful opening sally after a month off the air, noted that the terrorists who transformed the skyline outside his apartment window left a clear view of the Statue of Liberty in its place, he, too, was dealing in the coin of symbols – and reinforcing the connection between New York and France that lives proud in our lady of the harbor.

To visit the Statue of Liberty is not to admire the patina, but to embrace the symbolism of a country that once proudly welcomed every member of the huddled masses, promising freedom. I imagine, today, that climbing the Eiffel Tower has long served as a similar exercise: not to mount the heights, but to realize them.

Of course, the distance between symbol and streetlife is as stark in France as it is in the states. Even as the abstraction of the symbol makes it a target for those who oppose our vision, the destruction of those symbols breaks the barrier between the abstract and the alive.

And so, watching the footage of last night’s attacks, I am struck by how real everything is. The scenes from the streets and alleyways show a chaos that cannot be reconciled with our romanticism. The aftermath of tragedy is dark and sad. Hope is hard-won, here where the news streams to every corner of the frayed and tattered world, to find us weary with such attacks, and angry at those who would utilize them to speak their concern about the world-as-it-is. Our hearts are heavy, and the cries for revenge are strong and sour in our mouths.

To live in a place that is a symbol is risky business, these days. Maybe it always has been. But days like today remind us, too, how strong we must be in protecting our symbols, simply by living the dream itself, that we might continue to hope, to work for a world in which the bright days we imagine can be more than just moments too easily lost to the winds of change, the whims of chaos.

To those who suffer in the wake of tragedy, know that we stand with you in alliance to both the symbolic and the real: with freedom, to liberty, and in sorrow. And to those billions who watch from afar, may we remember our charge, and stay true to ourselves as we react to yet another attack on our values.



Paris Is Burning: A Cover Lay Down Mixtape [zip!]



Cover Lay Down shares new features and coversets here, on Facebook, and at our Unity House Concert series throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: current students and recent graduates of the Berklee College of Music take on bluegrass classics, plus covers of The Beatles, Gillian Welch, Rod Stewart, Iron & Wine and more!

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Back to top