Category: Mixtapes


Little Sparrow: A Cover Lay Down Mix

January 23rd, 2018 — 8:31pm


sparrow


The sparrow: a symbol of fragility, and a semaphore for desperation and despair. In our case, though, the term is literal: the elderchild’s been rehabilitating one in a small cage in her room after finding it trapped in a coal grate in one of the coldest days of winter, its tailfeathers mostly missing, its mate picking at it in a vain attempt to startle it into freedom. It’s been there a month, and sometimes, I forget she has it.

But Saturday night, in a rare moment of hubris, she brought it downstairs to show our dinner guests, and suddenly, it sprang free. What followed was more reality television show than sitcom: two and a half hours of climbing up furniture and taking apart Ikea bookshelves, punctuated by frantic minutes chasing a tiny, terrified bird as it skimmed the ceiling from room to room, occasionally touching down on window dressings too high to reach, or diving into piles of boxes and wrapping paper, inviting us to uncover it time and again through intense intervention and careful disarray.

Eventually, we managed to chase it into the elderchild’s room, where the door could be closed, and the still-wobbly flier coaxed into its rehabilitative cage. And because we are who we are – easily exhausted, generally busy, prone to procrastination – today, the place remains a disaster: childhood photo albums piled high on the playroom daybed, the pantry undone, half the bookcase disassembled, pink screwdrivers and boxcutters scattered around it.

Our house is often messy. Our inner lives are, too. We are too easily goaded into self-celebration, and risk the sanctity of our service in the name of pride. But if this fragility is made of our own foibles, then we are wise to attend to it, indeed.

And so we turn to the songs of the sparrow. In the name of our children, and the fears we harbor within.


Little Sparrow: A Cover Lay Down Mix



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of over 50 well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

2 comments » | Mixtapes, William Fitzsimmons

Born At The Right Time:
A Cover Lay Down Birthday Mix

January 15th, 2018 — 5:49pm


baby feet


I was born on Superbowl Sunday 1973, in a hospital just outside Atlanta; apocryphally, the doctor praised my mother for completing her labor just in time for kickoff. It would be another decade before Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law, tying my birth to King’s, and in the process making my birthday weekend a bank holiday, and – as I have become a teacher by trade – a long weekend ripe for pensiveness.

Now I’m 45, and in many ways, I’m still finding my footing. It’s not impostor syndrome – I’m good at what I do, own my faults and habits, and work hard to do it well every day. I teach my students that life is greater with a sense of grown and growing capacity, and a honed-to-instinct sense of how and what to offer in a given situation, and I practice what I preach. But I’ve learned to embrace the moment, too: to watch, and be watchful, knowing that to account for ground conditions quickly, and adapt accordingly, is built on a foundation of trust that there is a place for me in the things to come, so that we can find it, and serve therein.

I’m not a fatalist. I’m not one of those folks that believes in destiny. I’m not sure if I was born for anything, particularly. But I do believe that the world has given me much, and I owe it the best of what I have to give. And it is this sense of grateful obligation, more than anything, that fuels my days and my choices, pushing me towards mindful motion, even on days such as this, when the cold comes, and – for a moment, at least – we have time for reflection.

So come, celebrate with me the possibility of birth and being with this haphazard mix: in honor of Reverend Doctor King, and of my own birth, and of yours, too, in an era where social justice is both needful and named. We were born for this, whatever this is. How wonderful it is to share this path together, today and in the days to come, as we work to build the world anew.





Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of over 50 well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles (2017)
A-sides, b-sides, deep cuts, one-shots and more!

January 4th, 2018 — 1:14pm


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We’re later that usual this year with our annual singles mix, but it’s not for lack of trying. For several weeks, behind the scenes, we’ve been involved in the process of sifting and surveying, mining bookmarks, tags, and the archives for this year’s best coverfolk.

It’s a joyful process. Heartbreaking, sometimes, but always joyful, too. And if we’ve rediscovered anything, it’s that great music demands listening to.

Through Christmas and the long, slow days afterwards, the conversation among us – future and past – that the resurrected and reformulated song represents served its purpose, leaving us breathless at the scope of it all, and the sheer diversity. And in the end, we emerged refreshed, reinvigorated, and triumphant with yet another 52 track mix – one for every week gone by, and as last year, a whisper in the wings of what wonders are to come.

Now it’s snowing here, and the hiss of the falling snow and the whine of the pellet stove mask the tinnitus perfectly. The children are sleeping, and will be for hours; in the corner, the tree slowly settles as it dries, branch and bauble slowly bending towards the floor. Those of us on the East Coast, at least, hunker down against a growing storm, the first of a new year, taking comfort in the fact that we are here, together, safe and ready, and sure of reinforcements.

So, take a long afternoon and shuffle through the mix with us. Savor the delight and despair, the raucous and the resonant: our subjective best of the realm that is folk, and the vast diversity of sources reinvented for our pleasure; each reinvention a gem, borne up against the world-that-is like a torch; each burning performance exquisite, and beautiful in its own way.

Download it all, that the songs might linger, and bear repeating. And if you like what you hear, follow the links, as always, to purchase and share your own favorites, the better to keep the music and the music-making going for our children, and theirs.



The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles (2017)
A Cover Lay Down mixtape




Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

Comment » | Best of 2017, Mixtapes

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

December 17th, 2017 — 9:31pm


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

[download here!]



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Friday, In The Fall: A Triptych Concludes

September 2nd, 2017 — 10:29am


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Cover Lay Down will celebrate its tenth anniversary on the web this month, and behind the scenes, we’re just starting to gather in news, fragments, and new and beloved tracks for a series of September features honoring the folkways that got us here, and keeps us moving ever forward, as culture and community.

But today, as I sit on the porch watching the sun come up through the still-green trees, I find myself not yet ready to dive into the songs and artists that have sustained us, and helped us stay sane and present through the rise and fall of life as it comes.

Instead, I’m still thinking about Aida, after meeting her husband and infant at Thursday’s somber wake. About my own marriage, now the same age as Aida was when she passed on from this world. About all the times I have written here about the stress and triumphs of the students I teach, and our struggle together. About my father, and our Saturdays across the state. About my children, and their ongoing struggle with their imperfect bodies, and the stress that brings them pain.

I’ve been thinking about history, in case you couldn’t tell: mine, and the earth’s, especially the way the nights turn colder this time of year, and it’s Autumn again, kids laughing and learning how to learn. The elderchild and her sister are back in school, a day at a time; my own work is deeply satisfying, though ever imperfect, and always exhausting. My Drama class takes their first tentative steps bravely, stretching and walking into neutral as they prepare for a term exploring body and voice as the tools of the trade; my Advanced Placement students dive in to rigor, testing their capacity, and my own, as we raise the bar for rigorous analysis of speeches and essays.

Somewhere past these trees, our little rural town is holding its annual yard sale. Sidewalks and driveways once covered in the detritus of the tornado that ripped through our homes sport furniture and books, lamps and tools, restored to shabby, weathered glory, ready for use in another home. Life happens, and here we are, sifting through it, thinking ahead about what we might need as we take then next steps in our continued journey.

We’re rising to the challenge of the world that needs it. We’re dancing about architecture, and making it work. We’re navigating the impeded waters, singing. The not-so-wee one went home early from school on her second day, but she made it, and that’s something. The elderchild finds a small group in the lunchroom, determined to stay out of the drama she sees in her adolescent cohort, lest it distract from her academic development. My father hangs his pictures in the dining room, six months after moving in to his new assisted living apartment. The kid who locked the laptop cart lock to his backpack comes respectfully, without headphones, to ask to be released. He still won’t stay the entire block. But he came again today, and he’ll come again tomorrow, too.

Here. We’ve made it to the end of another week, the end of the endless summer once again. Let us dwell not in words, save those which are sung in reverence and glee. Let us speak our piece and move on, in honor of the respite we’ve earned a hundredfold. Let us celebrate the fruits of labor, and the work it takes to get there: the hard work of play, and letting go, to be present in the moment, and the music, and the self.

Happy Labor Day, dear readers. May your work, too, be employed joyfully, when it comes.


2 comments » | Mixtapes

Passages: For Aida, And A Thousand Stars

August 22nd, 2017 — 11:02pm


aida


Aida was an outlier in my very first English class, a summer school test-run after years teaching media and instructional technology. Bright, beautiful, articulate, and quietly confident at just thirteen years old, she didn’t really belong in the remedial program, but she had lost most of a year to hearing issues and poor health, and now, recovering from implant surgery, she was mostly just there for the credit, to justify her existence in high school.

So while other students struggled to focus, to read, and to care, Aida wrote volumes, and shared with me the fruits of her blossoming awareness and skill. I gave her my copy of The Poet’s Dictionary, and spoke quietly to her in passing and after class about sestinas and pantoums, rhythm and language as a path to the self. She could talk literature and heartache with a wisdom far beyond the capacity of most adults I know. And that smile was the sweetest ever – grateful, knowing, wry; one that lingers in the memory, even now.

I’ve taught thousands of students in over two decades in education. In a very real way, I’ve loved them all. But once a year or so, if you’re lucky, you get a couple of students that connect on a much deeper level – the kind of kids you happily break the rules for, and drive them to work in the shampoo warehouse on the other side of the city because you just want a chance to chat with another bright, vibrant human being, and to be a part of their climb out of the city, to the stars.

Aida wasn’t the first of these kids, and she wasn’t the only one from her year – being a class advisor tends to bring you closer to the cohort, I think. But she was something special all the same. Hers was a smile that could light up a room, one that never faded, and always seemed authentic. Even in sorrow or stress, she was positive and proud. Her cheerful, unapologetic arrival at prom, solo and shimmering and hours late after her hair took too long to come together, lives as a high point in my year. Watching her walk across the stage three years ago as a graduate made my heart jump.

And today, struggling to define that inimitable something, I know that more than almost any student I have ever had, a shining star among thousands, Aida knew herself joyfully, like a natural-born Buddha, having discovered earlier than most that hers was truly a self worth knowing, and worth waiting for.




I last saw Aida in person purely by accident, a year ago this week; she was working as a cashier at Target to pay for school; we were there to buy school supplies for my classroom, and for the kids. Afterwards, as before, social media provided an opportunity to watch her from a distance, as the precocious, beautiful child I had first encountered continued to grow, into an increasingly articulate and determined career-minded adult, spouse, and very recently, just this summer, a mother, loved by and loving to so many of us.

But in the end, Aida’s health was her undoing. A car crash with her infant son a few weeks ago left her shaken and in pain, and stirred up old injuries. For a while, she was recovering, alive and proud of her struggle, as always. And then, this morning, we awoke to the news that after a seizure, Aida had passed in the night.

There’s a video on Aida’s husband’s Facebook page from just three days ago, a short clip featuring her beautiful son, wailing for mama while her father coos reassuringly behind the camera. Aida was alive when this was filmed, just working – on the last course for her degree, on her health, and on her ever-changing beauty, a rare trifecta among our inner city youth. Forever, that clip, and every other artifact of Aida’s life that lives on in so many of us, will break my heart.

I owe Aida so much, and I think I never told her. She was the right kid, in the right place, at the right time: the one who reminded me, way back when I needed it most, that teaching has both love and friendship in it, even – maybe especially – in the darkest of communities, and the most sullen of crowds. She will forever exemplify the positive attitude, kindness, and grit I wish of every student I teach. I will treasure the memory of that smile forever, even if it were not all I have to remember her by – that, the company of her friends and schoolmates, and the space on the bookshelf where my Poet’s Dictionary used to live.

May there always be those among us us who bring us joy, however brief, and remind us that we are in the right place in the world. May those we serve go from this life as they found us in it: alive and kicking, determined and bright, at peace with the world even as they push themselves for more.

May we love, fiercely, those who bring out our best.

And may there always be Aidas, that we may remember ourselves.



8 comments » | Mixtapes

And Both Shall Row: A Wedding Anniversary Mix

August 18th, 2017 — 11:27pm


jbowl


The kids are away at summer camp. It’s Friday, which matters, now that school is starting up again.

And it’s the 18th of August, which matters most. Because today is our anniversary, and as much as we are going grey, ours is a love that is worth the work.

My wife has named this anniversary as the one where “our marriage is finally old enough to drink”. She also claims we met the first day of college, though I remember another night, when we played that game of Pictionary, and stayed up until the sun rose again for the very first time.

Either way: it’s been a long time. And I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

It’s good to have something to share, and someone to share it with. It’s good to have a partner in crime, happy to be a Mary Magdalene to your Jesus even when she’s a stranger at your party, willing to sit in a hayfield sewing and then resewing a hat for your crazy garden gnome costume.

It’s good to have this, and a thousand moments, really: harmonizing in empty churches; the duck in the bathtub; Disney World in a drizzle; the Christmas Eve where we drove out into the cold and ended up across state lines, eating gingerbread and drinking wine in the last open bar for a hundred miles, just to put a ring on her finger, even though we had picked it out together.

And I am grateful for all of it, and the chance to be grateful every morning when I wake, and find her by my side once again.

For this, and the longing to be together and stay together through these last few years of sickness and health, and the early years of motion and uncertainty. This, and the hard work of marriage-as-verb, the constant reflection and sharing and listening that we have learned to do better, at least, as time goes on, and life lays opportunity at our feet. This, and the polished gold seams, the thousand places where we have been tested and tried together, and healed more beautiful than before, like one of those Japanese bowls.

This, and the home we hold, committed to light, laughter, and the spirit of adventure, or so it says on the ketubah, and oh, on most days, it’s still the perfect trifecta, the top of the roller coaster, the cornerstone of a love deeper than the dark.

Because this I remember: 21 years ago today we made ham sandwiches with the rabbi. Your sister fainted holding the chupah. Your grandmother set fire to the reception table. My friends got high in the parking lot.

And then, when the last guest had wandered into the sunset, we went home together, you and I, to the house we had lived in before, above the swan pond. And the next morning, we drove off into the bright new dawning day, comfortable and joyful in silence and in conversation, ready for every next adventure.

May there be a thousand more.



7 comments » | Mixtapes

Vacation Coverfolk: On the Trail of Social Justice
(songs of place and protest from Montgomery to Memphis)

June 30th, 2017 — 5:10pm


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Yes, it’s been a while since we turned up here, and there’s much to celebrate as we slowly return to the mailbag of the last two months, including transformative re-recordings from new artists and well-loved voices, crowdfunded campaign-driven albums promising the best of honest folk and acoustic coverage, tributes to the dearly departed, and more.

If I have been busy elsewhere, it is due in no small part to a growing mindfulness as I renew my commitment to the work of worldchanging, in my increasingly intertwined roles as a practitioner and worship leader in an engaged Unitarian Universalist congregation on one hand, and as an English teacher in a Title 1 urban high school on the other. And although the prompt to travel originally came through my spouse, who was looking for some company and an adventure on the way back from an equally transformative conference, it is this twinned sense of connection to the world around me – the vocational and the spiritual; the service and the service – that brought me to and through the last week, sustaining me deeply in mind and spirit as we traveled North from Louisiana, with stops at a series of sites and settings essential to the long struggle for all Americans to be and feel safe, free, and able to access the world-as-it-should-be.

So join us today as we dip into the experience in literary slideshow, with a set of covers tender and torn in their address of the pliancies and pilgrims of social justice work in our beloved nation. And then stay tuned, as the summer surrounds us, and the waters of music flow like the Mississippi, strengthening and serving our hearts and our minds alike.


standing-on-the-side-of-love-phoenix-768x511Lights dim and the landing gear rises on the plane to New Orleans. People all around me turn pages and flip screens, and it occurs to me that that I am both gladdened and saddened by the realization that planes represent a concentration of literacy, given how much the picture depends on affluence, and reinforces long-distance travel as a privilege unavailable to my rising 11th graders and their peers. Me, I’m reading James McBride’s The Color Of Water, in preparation for teaching it in the fall: making notes in the margins and savoring the internal dialogue of reader and text as McBride alternately confronts the nuances of growing up black with a mother who hid her history of whiteness in a veneer of standoffishness, and dances around those images, providing powerful nuance to the national dialogue of race, belief, and identity through character and connotation.

Reading slowly, savoring moment and meaning, is not all that natural to me; generally, I read for pleasure, voraciously, and am known to finish a book in an evening. But we are here, my wife and I, on a pilgrimage. Our aim is to meet up in the South to discover this dialogue together after an exhausting school year, driving slowly through the history of the social justice movement in America, with planned stops in Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, Memphis, and at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati before heading homeward to recover our children. And, in the end, my reading, deeply thought-provoking and grounding, still mostly unfinished, makes a perfect metaphor for the experience that followed.

We start, fittingly, on Sunday, at the morning service for this year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, which my wife has been attending in her role as Director of Religious Ed for our beloved UU congregation in Springfield, MA. The hall is vast, and the clarion call clear: ours is a spiritual path that calls us to love and action, continuing the good work of commitment and dialogue in service to attaining global justice in many areas, from ecology to economics, with race, gender, and class consciousness at the forefront. The service includes a reading of Naomi Shihab Nye’s Gate A-4, a powerful poem of hope and immigrant identity, which I taught last year; mention is made of two men whose sexuality is both irrelevant and noteworthy, IT professionals who serve the UU community, who were attacked the previous night in the French Quarter. The collection plate goes to Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, an organization working to challenge and change the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues our inner cities. We give what we can, and sing with tears in our eyes the hymns of commitment and claim amidst thousands.

From there to Montgomery, Alabama, where Maya Lin’s Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial fountain is a UU chalice in the afternoon sun at the foot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the giant footsteps in the crosswalk which mark the approach to the statehouse steps loom large as history in front of the Baptist church where King and others led the charge for justice. It is quiet here, being Sunday, and quieter still as we drive in reverse the long march path to Selma, where much of the town is boarded up and broken, reminding us that no matter how far we have come forward since black leaders and their white allies crossed the bridge into violence and chaos, we still have a long way to go.


Prison-Prayer-2The next day, Birmingham, where the streets radiate out from a once-bombed church and Kelly Ingram Park, a one-time central staging ground for protest and now a well-curated space featuring statues of children huddling before firehoses and snarling dogs. We walk the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail in the morning heat, tracing the original paths of marches on power both government and retail, making our slow and pensive way through sidewalks lined with plaques and textbook-familiar photographs, experiencing the expected temporal tension as 1963 comes to us superimposed over a shaded modern reality. Back in the park, a homeless woman named Beatrice, who hugged me earlier for offering her two cigarettes instead of one, sings hymns heartily into the morning air as we take our leave.

Memphis follows, where a well-designed museum experience at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, takes us slowly and with exquisite detail through the rise of the civil rights movement and culminates starkly in the rooms where MLK was transformed from leader to martyr for the cause. The National Civil Rights Museum is a deeply powerful place, with the time and space given to the shooting itself well-separated from the main site, which focuses on the long and arduous path of the proverbial movement, and features the voices and artifacts of that path adeptly and powerfully. But it is the small moments and discoveries that stand out, in the end: the low-placed photographs, almost an afterthought, that show the white mother of five who gave her life to the march from Selma to Montgomery, shot in her car for her role in ferrying march participants through a political bottleneck that allowed only 300 marchers through a long stretch of the narrow highway; the second-paragraph text that, in showing how a careful and methodical use of non-violent tactics among police and government in one site along the path to rights and justice slowed down the charge towards equality in those areas, reminds us that the use of such strategies is neither evidence of righteousness, nor exclusive to the side of love.

I am struck, especially, by tensions between then and now: by the young black men that occupy the open stools alongside serious-faced mannequins at the sit-in exhibit, texting and playing games on their phones, seemingly oblivious to the ironic gravity of the moment; by the laughter of the young patrons who line up to catch a glimpse of the balcony, and speak through Mahalia Jackson’s powerful voice as they approach. Later, stark racial divisions among the staff at the Beale St. barbecue joint we visit on our way out of the city – the constant patter of the white waitstaff as they hop from table to table, the black men manhandling heavy platters of ribs and catfish in the open kitchen, and the Latino males that emerge infrequently from the back to check on and gather up dirty dishware – will resonate that much more deeply for our path to the table.

More sit-in statues in Nashville and Louisville, though mostly by accident; our final goal is really Cincinnati, where the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will offer both a historical look at the emancipation and suffrage of slaves, women, Native Americans, and other populations and groups in the United States, and an exploration of the various ways in which these conditions still exist today in places around the globe, through sex trafficking, indentured servitude, and forced labor, all of which plague the universe, and demand our action and our attention. I take many photographs of text: The Gettysburg Address is on our reading list for next year, as is King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail; pairing these is no accident, and although I am wary of turning class into a “what I did on my summer vacation” slideshow, I am eager to consider how to make these texts, and the others we will engage in, deeply meaningful to my students through their relevance to their own shared world.

But not just yet. Now we are here: it is summer, and the grass grows high off the porch upon our return. Our homecoming finds us renewed in spirit and determination, but we know, too, that processing such an exploration of self and society properly takes time and contemplation.

For now, then: a soundtrack of song, covers all, that covers all, from the protest music of the continuing revolution to the more modern tracks of place and time that allude to the continuing struggle to be present, productive, and free.

May we be a people so bold, and so deliberate. And if peace is not to be ours in our lifetime, may we go to the mountaintop nevertheless, and do the good work that brings us ever closer to the promised land.



Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down will celebrate its 10th anniversary on the web this September thanks to the music-makers, the promoters, and YOU. Want to help keep CLD alive and streaming? Donate here and receive a very special mix of our favorite unblogged and exclusive coverage from 2015-2016!

Comment » | Mixtapes, Vacation Coverfolk

Covered In Tradfolk: New Takes on Old Songs
with Jayme Stone, Hannah Read, Allysen Callery, Leftover Cuties & more!

February 24th, 2017 — 3:39pm


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Because we are a folkblog first, the essential question of whether the performance of traditional song is an act of coverage is treated as trivial here at Cover Lay Down. Indeed, as alluded to in our 2013 feature on the Child Ballads, and in Single Song Sunday features on O Death, Wayfaring Stranger, Barbara Allen and The Water Is Wide, songs so old as to have lost their origin act as the prototype for our exploration of the depth and breadth of the folkways as they continue to stretch and evolve.

Someone has to have written these, of course; neither lyric nor melody springs from the cotton of whole cloth. Songs do shift as their culture grows around them, especially those originally carried by memory and not notation, but it strains the boundaries of reason to suppose that rhyming quatrains used to emerge from the air. But in the case of songs marked not standard but traditional, by definition, the mutation through versioning is so strong, the songs belong truly to the ages, to be identified by region rather than author. And this, in turn, makes of their reinvention an ideal opportunity to meet our mandate: to discover the performer through their interpretation of the familiar, and in embracing that comfort, to discover the new through the old.

There’s some wonderful tradfolk on rotation in our ears these days, from last year’s oops-we-missed-it super-collaborative Songs of Separation project, which brought together ten well-known female folk musicians from Scotland and England (with Karine Polwart, Eliza Carthy, and Hannah Read among them) for a tribute to their own ancient traditions, to Across The Waters, a newly-released full-length traditional album by Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams & Caelia Lunniss, and the upcoming sophomore album from Jayme Stone’s Folklife project, this time with a focus on the songs of the American sea islands and mountains.

Add in a recently-discovered Child ballad from UK storyteller and folk explorer Christine Cooper and her lovely 2011 5-track traditional EP, and an older live cut from Rachel Newton, whose most recent traditional album was celebrated in our Best Covers Albums of 2016, then cross the pond again for a cut or two from the American gospel hymnal from Americana icons The Stray Birds and an upcoming debut EP from new Mexico City-based band Peregrino, much-beloved tracks from ‘ghost folk” fave Allysen Callery and fiddlefolk duo 10 String Symphony, a mystical rebuild of Scarborough Fair from Sacramento banjofolk minimalist Hannah Mayree, a hopping bluegrass number from Beehive Productions recorded live at the Caramoor American Roots Music Program in Katonah, NY, and a heavily-modified Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies from Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri‘s fine and intimate all-covers Valentine’s Duets series, recently rereleased for their well-stocked and easy-to-justify Patreon patronage project, and you’ve got a fine set indeed, with links to both artists and song origin, just for fun.



Looking for more? We’ve got two bonus tracks today, both nominally authored – the first a Bandcamp Frenchwoman’s amateur version of a popular Appalachian tune generally viewed as by Ola Belle Reed but also claimed as an original hymn by the Church of Latter Day Saints, the second a brand new live recording of a song y’all will surely recognize, originally of disputed authorship and first recorded towards the beginning of WWII – but both often attributed and treated as American standards. Check ‘em out, download the entire set, and then click through as always above and below to purchase the music, the better to support the continued effort of those who channel and celebrate the folkways in all their myriad forms.


Comment » | Mixtapes, Tradfolk

Teach Your Children Well: A Coverfolk Mix
In Celebration of The National Teach-In (February 17, 2017)

February 12th, 2017 — 4:32pm


nationalteachin


Sundays mean lesson planning, in the world of public school teaching. And so, although white-out conditions outside my cozy living room window suggest another snow day tomorrow, I’m looking ahead to Friday, where – in solidarity with those currently calling for a general strike – a few fellow schoolteachers and I are spearheading a National Teach-In in response to ongoing policy concerns which we see as harmful to truth, public education, common decency, and the dignity of our students and their families.

Because a well informed electorate cannot be taken advantage of by “alternate facts”. And because as educators, we believe it is our duty to develop that informed electorate within our own communities.

Historically, teach-ins are a form of civil disobedience, in which professors stand outside the canon, plying their status and knowledge on behalf of the counterculture. But in a very important way, regaining our footing by reclaiming our classrooms and hallways as strongholds of truth and justice is a restorative act, not a political one.

Teaching about the three branches of American government, and their checks and balances, are as innate to the History curriculum as the history of protest song, and its effects and effectiveness. Exploring popularity polls and gerrymandering are perfect pursuits for the Math teacher required by administration to make connections to the real world as they teach. Covering climate change, resource management through pipelines, and other issues currently on the ground in the Sciences is cemented into the pathways we must follow. Art and Music owe themselves to explore the way in which their forms are and have been utilized to speak truth to power, in our past and in our present.

Indeed, arguably, to NOT integrate the larger on-the-ground issues of our time and temperament into the classroom is to abdicate our responsibility to the highly-politicized infrastructure in which teaching and learning currently stand.

To join the Teach-In, then, becomes merely a matter of tweaking the pacing guide, and then delivering a lesson mindfully and joyfully, knowing that others across the nation are doing the same. And if it feels subversive, then perhaps that merely means that this is what teaching should feel like.


And so – since the Common Core Standards which guide my practice as an English teacher mandate that I prepare my students to “Analyze…[the] particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature” – I will spend this Friday with my students analyzing the promise of the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and move from there to explore the particular standpoints and imagery of a series of poems by immigrants and second-generation Americans struggling with their identity, before they engage in clarifying and exposing their own cultural perspective and its expression through the creation of poems, essays, posters and more.

And so, today, here and now, we offer a set of topical songs which speak to the potential of the classroom to truly prepare students to engage politically and deliberately in a world drowning in alternate facts and social media echo chambers – both in celebrating its success, and in admonishing its failure.


There are plenty of songs with school-as-setting out there in the universe; we’ve covered them before. There’s a few songs, too, which reference learning, and the academy itself. But today’s parameters are narrow: songs which speak specifically to the act of teaching, either for its relevance to the real, in preparing our next generation for the social and civic world, or – more frequently – for its failure to connect students to that which matters most. And thanks to the crowdsource, we’ve come up with just enough for a fine mix of coverage.

So listen, and rejoice in the fact that even in the midst of a world driven by metrics and testing, there are still enough of us who remember that the essential purpose of education is prepare our students to take on the mantle of critical, deliberate, imaginative world leadership, and are determined to maintain our classrooms as spaces where mindfulness, critical thinking, and social justice aren’t just welcome, they’re part and parcel of our daily practice.

And if you are a teacher, or just know one, please share this post, or the National Teach-In Facebook page, with every teacher, student, and parent you know – both to help us spread the word about Friday, and to stand in solidarity with those who know that knowledge is power…but that only wisdom is liberty.


Teach Your Children Well: A Coverfolk Mix
…now available in handy zip format!



Artist-centric and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the makers, the mailers, and YOU. Tune in as the winter continues for new tributes, cover compilations, and coverfolk singles from 2017, plus resurrected features on Jeffrey Foucault, Randy Newman, and more!

Comment » | Mixtapes, Teaching

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