Category: 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.

3 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

Jesus, Transformed: A Coverfolk Mixtape
featuring Norah Jones, The Wood Brothers, U2 and more!

March 28th, 2015 — 1:16pm





A familiar conversation last night over dinner with the church choir director, in which the old trope of wondering why our choir is so oversensitive to the Catholic liturgy turns quickly to the larger questions of why Unitarian Universalists as a general case are so often afraid of this particular text and source. And there is unusual urgency, this evening, as holy week approaches; tonight, our kids choir takes the stage in an especially non-canonical production of Godspell, the musical, and although we believe strongly that ours is a vision truly realized, there is no way to anticipate whether or not that vision will offend at least a few of the parents and family friends who will attend our production this evening.

My first college major was religious studies, and I attended a liberal high school that required a course in Bible As Literature; to claim ownership of the name and meaning of Jesus in the pure textual sense is honest and easy for me. But as a native Jew, and a convert of sorts to the sort of Unitarian Universalism that holds the gospels at arms length, my lifelong understanding of Jesus has been almost exclusively literary and historical, not spiritual.

There’s some use in this, I think: for years, a combination of iconoclastic playfulness and a coincidental look-alike comparison to the classic image of the Catholic cross – long hair, beaked nose, and reddish beard – let me play Jesus at Halloween for years; I have worn the crown of thorns, and the robe, and even the stigmata, several times, and reveled in the glee and discomfort it produced.

But as I wrote in my director’s note for the program, the Gospels as portrayed in Godspell are daunting, from both religious and theatrical perspectives. I’ve performed it, and found it a risky show by design; I’ve studied it, and know that the character of Jesus is heavy, indeed, in our history, both as Unitarian Universalists, and as denizens of a 21st century world.


And so to frame Godspell in the terms of Unitarian Universalist practice seemed especially challenging, at first. And then I started working with our kids. And suddenly, making this production into a true reflection of their growing vision of what it means to be UU was natural and humbling.

As part of this realization, I decided that being authentic about the communal ownership of text and source was best served by finding a way to cast the character of Jesus as more of a rotating facilitator’s role than a prophetic voice – or at least, an opportunity to give all who are ready to do so the chance to model and find comfort in leadership.

Yes, in our production of Godspell, Jesus is a role, a costume to don, through the seriousness of play. Eight children, my daughter among them, take their turn in the robe as the play progresses, each revealing their own interpretation of leadership as they model the multivocal lay-led facilitation that lies at the heart of our UU practice.

And so, through our exploration of Jesus as man and myth, we enact the larger questions of the culture these twelve to fourteen year olds have inherited. And so, as is so often the case, my thoughts turn to the world of music, and coverage, to find solace and insight in the way others have done so, too.


Love it or hate it, Jesus the character floats troubled above our modern mythology, ripe and ready for transformation and memetic use. For some, he stands for love; for others, hope; for still others, a focus for frustration, a lens into the troubled metrics of the most rigid trappings of the modern world.

And so throughout the past half decade, our everquesting culture and its craftspersons have come to produces artifacts which our forefathers would have considered the worst of heresies. Sacrilegious and strained, the songs we find in our folk and rock genres are neither hymns nor carols, but borrow from the gospels and the cross to criticize and calm, making as they go new ownership of the character of Jesus: as everyman, as savior, as lost boy, as teacher.

Listen, as the robe becomes flesh in song. Listen, as our favorite songsmiths transform the world anew, their treatments tender and caustic in turn. Listen, for he is risen in our hearts and souls.

Listen, and rejoice.


Transforming Jesus: A Coverfolk Mix [zip!]



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features and songsets regularly throughout the year, with bonus tracks and streaming coverage on our Facebook page.

Want to help in our continuing mission? Donate now and receive our grateful praise…plus a select mix of over 30 beloved but otherwise-unblogged acoustic, roots, folk and Americana covers from 2014!

5 comments » | Mixtapes

Waiting To Be Restored:
Searching For Home In The Paul Simon Songbook

March 9th, 2015 — 9:38pm





Daylight savings time notwithstanding, the nearness of Spring makes for a brighter world when I leave my children to their sleep. Most mornings, it is not enough to lift the heaviness I feel, here in the breakneck days of March, when the various components of my life – teaching, directing, serving on the local school board – come to a head all at once, and me with my children continuing to struggle with chronic illness.

But the soundtracks of life are everpresent, and they say music soothes the savage breast. And so I make and listen to my own playlists in the car, trading NPR awareness away for just a few moments to feel each day, before the car stops, and I walk into the confusion and stress of what is increasingly an unsettlingly precarious new normal.

Recently, that’s meant a lot of Paul Simon covers; in both his incarnations – alongside Art Garfunkel, and as a solo act – Paul Simon serves the yearning soul better than most, in these days on the edge of grief. There are many reasons for this, from the continued primacy of Simon’s songbook in the popcult airwaves to the recent televisory reminder that he was a key player on the early days of Saturday Night Life to the constant renewal of his songs through evermore coverage. But mostly, to say that Simon is a better speaker on behalf of my soul is to acknowledge the sheer potency of that particular subset of his canon that speaks directly to the unmoored sense of self which typifies my own uneasy days.

Simon’s everyman, restlessly longing for stability in the storm, is legendary. His descriptors of distance and domain are unparalleled among the chroniclers of the heart. And a full complement of songs serves to prove our case; their diversity – of situation, and of interpretation – validates our dreams.

Simon’s recipe is potent: lead with a crisply envisioned moment, widen the lens to capture the leavetaking of home, end with the setting sun, a question on the horizon. Pilgrims and immigrants, travelers and tour-mates, our narrators search their own stories, looking back on love affairs and road trips, trying to make sense of the lost and found, the detritus that floated them here, finding temporary solace and stillness in wistful memories of seventh avenue whores, store-bought pies, and other simple, concrete pleasures. United in their plight, they stand for all of us, awed by the world that whizzes by from the windows of our trains and cars, humbled by the poignancy and precariousness of love and the gritty imperfections of our broken promises, always, always, grateful for the memories.

Listen as the nirvana of Simon’s searchlight songbook of hope grants grace in gravity. Listen, as like a magician, Simon reveals motion itself to be the human condition, and celebrates it.

Listen, that our hearts and bones remain true, and not come undone.

Listen, and be still in the whirlwind of your life, too.




Looking for more Paul Simon coverage? Check out alternate takes on Homeward Bound and America from Red Molly and First Aid Kit in our Best of 2014 Singles Mix!

3 comments » | Mixtapes, Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel

Perfect, Heavenly, Beautiful Day: A Coverfolk Mixtape
featuring Zee Avi, Warren Zevon, The Onlies, Laura Cortese and more!

February 15th, 2015 — 11:46am


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Back early from a weekend in Boston with my father, where I got to experience firsthand a city besieged as never before, its streets narrowed into a byzantine maze of snow-carved tunnels.

It was tempting to stay. The fireside was warm and welcoming in the Sheraton Tara, home of the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival; the hotel’s nooks and crannies buzzed with jams and impromptu sessions; the mainstage shone with talent. But a record amount of snow has fallen in Massachusetts this winter. And so we cut short our annual pilgrimage when the flakes started to fly midday, and good thing, too: by the time I made it home to join my spouse and children by our own Valentine’s Day fire, it was blizzard conditions.

Over five feet of snow in less than three weeks, and it’s still falling – enough to cancel church today; enough to block entire our view of the driveway from couch, chair, and bed. But snow doesn’t scare us out in the woods. After a week of hospital visits and chaos, the girls teeter on the edge of well, with school vacation ahead. And so we’re settling in, watching movies and cuddling into the morning, saving our plans for another day.

It’s a good life. Here’s a celebration of it, from my family to yours – nothing focused, just a loose set of optimism just right for a lazy snowed-in Sunday.

Perfect, Heavenly, Beautiful Day: A Coverfolk Mixtape [zip!]

    Though we often feature kidfolk duo Renee & Jeremy’s equally sweet version of this Queen favorite, The Once‘s warm harmonies and gentle fingerpicking make for a grassy, mellow antidote to February.

    We first wrote about singer-songwriter Mae Robertson six or seven years ago, but her warm kid-friendly covers and originals still delight.

    From Zee Avi’s Nightlight, our 2014 kidfolk pick of the year: a playful, island-percussive head-nodder perfect for sleepytime or morning.

    Interdisciplinary Performance Studies prof Barbara Browning plays the ukelele and sings divinely. Her Soundcloud series is an extension of her lifework, each song as sparse and beautiful as the next.

    An upbeat feel-good number. Sure, Mister Kanish is a wedding band…but that doesn’t keep their hipster-friendly gypsy folk rock from sticking in the ears.

    A classic cover worth revisiting, Zevon’s dying take on Back In The High Life is poignant and triumphant.

    Hello lamppost. From fave kidfolk cover album A Little Love, which offers a lot of it.

    I love this fiddle-driven jam, with its crisp arrangement and heady strings. Laura Cortese can do no wrong in our book.

    A delicate amateur YouTube recital strips down a Patty Griffin gospel number to its intimate essentials.

    More YouTube finds, this one from the international folkrock community; Rusted Root rhythms give Malta-based band RiSE an organic alt-acoustic sound.

    A generation-spanning pair of tradsongs: gently upbeat celebration from high school bluegrass prodigies The Onlies on the one hand; sweet, slow singer-songwriter folk from cowboy countryfolk favorite Kimmie Rhodes on the other.


1 comment » | Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, vol. 2: The Singles (2014)
(b-sides, deep cuts, & more one-shot coverage)

January 1st, 2015 — 1:21pm





So much of what we have to offer went unblogged this year, though it lived in our hearts. And although those precious songs that remain when the detritus of the year is sifted through are an honest bunch, so are they a needful one, tainted by proximity to the pain of life that drove us to them, and back to them again.

And so there’s blues here, and frivolity, too, for when we needed the escape. Crooners, for holding; achers, for the empathy. Joy, to remind us what to cherish, in our darkest hours, and our brightest.

The songs that lasted, and stayed. The songs that sang in our hearts.

To sift through them again is to live the year over again in music. Words fail us. Better, as always, to let the music speak for itself.

And so we come to this, Cover Lay Down’s annual end-of-year coverfolk mix: not the best of an objective universe, but the songs that mattered, greatly, in our greatest need.

From madcap to maudlin, then. From respectful to irreverent, in their treatment of the songs of the air. From indie to traditional, and all the contemporary singer-songwriter, alt-country, and acoustic poprock genres in between.

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.

May the music go on forever. May the best of 2014 ring in our ears, and our hearts. May the new year bring comfort, and joy evermore.



The Year’s Best Singles: A 2014 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, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking.

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 giftees 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.

2 comments » | Best of 2014, Mixtapes

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