Category: Mixtapes


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

November 29th, 2014 — 3:43pm





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

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

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

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

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption.

And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the third year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2014 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.

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

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. As a bonus, just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.

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

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

6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2014″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life.

And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

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


1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

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

November 27th, 2014 — 1:00pm





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

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

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


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



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

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Lord, Protect My Child:
Songs For Our Children, Covered In Folk

October 25th, 2014 — 2:47pm




Last October, when I wrote about my struggle to recenter family and fatherhood as my older daughter encountered a newly diagnosed auto-immune disorder (Everybody Hurts: On discovering a child’s illness), many of you wrote in to lend support and solace, and I am grateful for the grace, ever thankful for the voices you bring to this kitchen-table community.

Fast forward one year, though, and the weight has not been lifted so easily. The elderchild still struggles with balance, losing sleep and schooldays to a complex web of pain real and projected. And it’s hard: hard to watch her struggle; hard not to become inured to the stress and strain the constant ache brings to our hearth and home; hard to like her, on the days when she lets the pain get to her better self.

And then there is her sister, who has captured her disease, and our attention.

At nine years old, the wee one is sensitive to others in ways her sister isn’t. And so, where the elderchild complains loudly of her stomach, her little sister is more likely to hide the pain from us so as not to call attention to herself. It took months to diagnose her; it may take years before she is truly comfortable leaving the classroom in pain or need.

Having two sick children is a million miles from having one sick child. Juggling needs is a new stressor, and it is starting to require both parents, keeping us from supporting each other by taking turns.

And two compounds one. They resent the other’s illness, and the attention it brings. Our home is rife and rotten with one-upmanship, jealousy and mistrust growing between the girls, born of pain, and the constant competition to be taken care of. Those last six days in the hospital were an amusement park of chaos, compounded by steroid rage, endless insurance company appeals, the exhaustion of shuttling between two bedsides, and the long agony of waiting for tests and trials.

Driving away from the hospital that evening without them was the hardest thing I have done in a year or more.

Normal isn’t normal anymore.

But there are moments where pride can still be found.

Three weeks ago, on the cusp of diagnosis, the wee one was scheduled for an MRI; I went to work; my wife was planning to take her into Boston after dropping the elderchild off at school. Just before noon, though, things changed, and I got the call: the elderchild was experiencing a sharp and unexplained pain that might be appendicitis; both children needed to go in, but in different directions; we would need both adults there, though both would prefer Mama and could be heard fighting about it in the background, and it would take a good half an hour to arrange sub coverage in my classroom.

The next several hours passed in a whirlwind: the interminably long ninety minute drive, the panicked search for the right room in an unfamiliar wing of a hospital constantly under construction. The pain-hobbled elderchild and I went off to meet with a frazzled specialist already trying to manage tests and find nurses for her sister; my wife stayed with the wee one, who had thrown up every time they tried to get her to drink the fluids for the MRI; one more try, and they were going to put in a feeding tube.

Doctors came in; doctors came out. Mostly, we waited, and wondered what was happening to her sister. And then suddenly, unexpectedly, on our way back from the bathroom, there she was, small and sad beside her mother and the doctor, emerging from a side room, a long yellow tube snaking out of her nose.

Something smashed to pieces in all of us. I could see it in my wife’s eyes, there at the other end of the hall; I could feel it in my heart. But only the elderchild acted, taking her hand out of mine, screaming her sister’s name across the medicine and pain, running to hug and comfort her, crying and broken.

And we pulled them away, because the doctor said “no crying, remember, we talked about this”. And I pulled the elderchild into the same room that they had just left, and her sister and her mother and the Doctor were gone.

And there I was in a tiny room with a broken heart and a child shaking with rage at the injustices of her sister’s treatment, an hour lost to calm words and stories and the slow dampening of the emotional furnace, the Boston skyline the only distraction, our voices our only distractor.

So often at home we see only the worst of them: the jostling for space, the frustration of pain. That Friday she was angry, but it was born of love, fierce and unexpected after a year of push and pull, of distance and shadows. Last week they were cellmates; now they are home, though with a calendar full of medical appointments, too-often shortened days at school, and with all other things tentative, ready to be dropped at a moment’s notice if the pain gets too great.

But last night we went out without them, and it felt safe to leave them home, playing with their new sewing kit quietly on the kitchen table. Today they are at the mall with their mother, chattering excitedly about their Halloween plans while they help each other try on thrift shop costumes. And every once in a while, for no reason at all, the elderchild hugs her sister tight, embarrassing her, and in their interplay I see the crushing love I feel for them as if my children had become a mirror for my most secret and unexplainable self.

How heartbreaking to see such stubborn, violent love emerge in the strangest of places. How powerful to see them learn the things we thought we needed to give.

How fiercely we protect each other. How it hurts to love you so.

Oh, my brave, proud children, may you, too, learn to channel your anger into love.



SONGS FOR OUR CHILDREN: A COVERFOLK MIX [zip!]


8 comments » | Mixtapes

Banned Books Week: September 21-27, 2014
(songs by John Denver, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Kris Delmhorst & more!)

September 27th, 2014 — 9:44am





Before I discovered music, books were my salvation: a haven from the real world, where stories always resolved and heroes always played to type, except when they didn’t. And I still read voraciously, in long and shortform, genre fiction and non-fiction, though not so much as in middle school, when I would crouch secretive and sly on the carpet of my bedroom, squinting into the spellbound page by the light of the crack in the door.

My relationship with literature has diminished, albeit slightly. But it has also shifted quite a bit. For one thing, the words we read in the 21st century zip through space in memes and moments, making anything more than a skim and dash precious and rare. And although librarians have long held my deepest respect, now they are among my most valuable coworkers: the young guy with the hipster checks and the everpresent Starbucks cup who joined our school last year is my kind of guy, a true friend in a sea of stress, and I trust him intimately as a keeper of the words we cherish, watching as the graphic novel section under his thumb grows to take over the library like kudzu, and the students alongside.

Books are part and parcel of my livelihood, too. I got my start as a media specialist, working hand in hand with the library staff; I’ve weeded entire libraries down to nothing, and served my hours at the reference desk; I even spoke at the New England Association of School Librarians annual conference one year. I teach Communications, and media, and include the printed word as part and parcel of the new media package we explore; I teach English, too, some years, which means literature and language, and delving deep into more than a few of the books on the “perennially banned” list kept by the American Library Association, including 1984, Lord of the Flies, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Sherman Alexi’s magnificent coming-of-age story The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

These titles are on the tip of my tongue today: it’s the last day of Banned Books Week, in which librarians, bookstores, publishers and readers around the world celebrate the printed word, and take a yearly stand for access to all, free from the bars of censorship and obscuration. So here’s a mixtape with a topical theme to honor the week gone by; interested literature buffs are also invited to check out our older Covered in Folk features Songs Inspired By Literature and Songs Inspired By Shakespeare.


I Write The Book: A Cover Lay Down Mixtape[zip!]



Cover Lay Down posts regularly with songs and summations at the intersection of coversongs and the folkways thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Coming soon: new cover EPs and LPs from labels and artists near and far, and a very special feature on a brand new concert series hosted by yours truly!

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Gone Folkin’
(A Mixtape for the Meanwhile)

July 23rd, 2014 — 1:33pm


w_dance5


We’re off for our annual pilgrimage to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival from now until August 4: ten precious days camping, volunteering, and frolicking with friends and family in our mutual home away from home, the best, most comfortable arts-and-music-driven intentional community we’ve ever found.

As we noted in our earlier feature on this year’s Fest, the artists roster this year is excellent, with Aoife O’Donovan, The Duhks, Roosevelt Dime, Brother Sun, The Grand Slambovians, and more on our don’t miss list; since then, the artist-run Lounge Stage – a pre-fest stage hosted by the boys from Pesky J. Nixon on July 31 from 5-11 – has announced a number of great acts we’re excited to see up close, from Spuyten Duyvil, John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler and Darlingside to RJ Cowdrey and Caitlin Canty, while Budgiedome has added Cover Lay Down fave Kristin Andreassen and Connor Garvey to their latenight post-stage schedule for Friday. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Our absence also means yet another slight hiatus here at the blog, of course. Campsite rules enforce a no-phones policy for good reason. After 17 consecutive festivals, our time in the fields each year is not just a sybaritic pleasure, it’s also a necessary trial. Being fully present there (and fully absent here) clears the head for another school year, and it sends us back bubbling with life and rejuvenated joy at the state of folk music.

But we’d not leave you emptyhanded. Instead, today, a leavetaking in coverfolk: a slow, lazy mix tape of goings and goodbyes, from sorrowful lament to the hopeful promise of return. As always, if you like what you hear, click on the links beside each track to follow the artists you love to the fields and the forests of your minds and hearts.

Goodbye, Farewell: A Coverfolk Mixtape [zip!]



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down features the best covers of and from the folkworld throughout the year thanks to the kindness of readers like you. Click here to help support our continuing mission.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Summersongs: Coverfolk for the Lazy Season

July 8th, 2014 — 4:12pm


sunnytree


A teacher’s summer in smalltown New England goes by like an infinity of lazy, hazy afternoons. Midweek and weekend blur together like the hours: we forget what day it is, and laugh when we check the mail on Sunday.

Most mornings I find myself here on the porch in the late morning sun, laptop and coffee and old dog at my feet, before the wife and kids wake into the heat of the day. Maybe later we’ll pull the other camper up and freshen it up for festival season; maybe not.

Yesterday we took the kids to Six Flags, and it rained just in time to cool us down. We found a darling new Italian place for supper afterwards, and stuffed ourselves on homemade pasta and cannoli. And then, although it was late and the kids were tired, we sang in the car the whole way home, gleeful and alive, the four of us off for the summer, and together.

We are more than lucky. We are blessed: by the smalltown and its July fourth parade, the barbecues with friends while the kids splash happily in the newer, bigger pool, fireworks at Old Sturbridge Village and the tailgate party afterwards in the dark, while the fireflies blink in the bushes.

A summerset, then, from ragtag and rousing to soft and sentimental folk, with Kris Delmhorst’s sultry Cars cover, The National and St. Vincent’s indiepop, a soulcoustic Jason Mraz taking on a Seals & Crofts classic, and Teddy Thompson’s tender torchsong in tribute to Kate McGarrigle along the way. Plus Mark Kozelek’s delicate and dreamy heavy metal coverage, Ana Egge’s lush folkpop, Lisa Loeb’s rockin’ kidscamp take on the theme song to Meatballs, and more. Because every summer needs a soundtrack, and it’s been five years since we posted one here.



Summersongs: a coverfolk mix [zip!]


Previously on Cover Lay Down: Our Single Song Sunday feature on Gershwin classic “Summertime”.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

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

February 14th, 2014 — 2:29pm





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

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

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

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


Valentine’s Day Present [download here!]



Valentine’s Days Past

3 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

20 Questions: A Coverfolk Mixtape
in celebration of a life of wonder and amazement

February 13th, 2014 — 2:03pm





To be a public school teacher in the new millennium is to be under constant scrutiny, both as a self-critic and from outside. Though the true outcomes of great teaching are essentially unmeasurable, new state-mandated evaluations pick at the edges of sheer competency and compliance by attempting to measure that which can be collected or seen.

The result is a doubling-down of stress and time, with so many hours per day given over to documentation and meetings that our time planning for and delivering instruction becomes threatened. Gone, it seems, is the teachable moment; gone, too, is the depth that brings love and true understanding: if a lesson cannot stand on its own, look like it was supposed to on paper, and correspond directly to at least one question on the state-written test that follows, the black mark will haunt forevermore.

In response, teachers are leaving the profession in droves: hardly a week goes by without yet another teacher’s early retirement condemnation going viral. In my own school, almost a fifth of our faculty has disappeared for warmer, more friendly climates since the school year began. The rest of us live in constant fear, frayed at the edges and cut to the core: too overwhelmed to do anything well, and constantly concerned that we have missed something that might make or break our careers.

But I am young enough to think I am invincible, or at least, unwilling to go without a fight. And so, despite my insistence that excellence should be evident in any moment, I found myself overthinking this Wednesday’s planned observation. And because I am ever the iconoclast, at my best on the edge, I planned something fun, if risky: a lesson on how poets use questions to call attention to the limitations of understanding, starting with Shakespeare’s Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day, and concluding with an activity analyzing Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred.

For students who have failed, and are failing. Who come to school sometimes, entering two thirds of the way into class with a swagger and a yell that distracts and disrupts, or stay home because it is too cold, or they missed the bus again. Who have been sullen, and distracted. Who have watched a score of of their classmates drop out, or just stop coming, until we hardy few – the three or four or six who show up most days – find ourselves leaning over a common table, pulling out our hair, putting away the phones over and over again, dancing around the truth as the hourglass sand threatens to drown us all.

thinkerI talk a good game in the hallways about how the new evaluation tool we use in my district: about how the tool is sound, but an inconsistent and aggressively biased application of it is a major focal point of the terror and frustration we feel as teachers. But it is also true that the threat of observation can prompt a healthy, deliberate attention to detail and self-reflection, a sort of critical, vocational soul searching which, when it works, can push us to be our best. It is a social scientist’s Heisenberg principle, in which the act of being observed changes the subject, using pressure to turn coal into diamond.

Over the last week, as I began to pay more precise attention to my practice in the class, and as our population has finally become stable, there was a change in the air. Sure, the kids and I still fought to stay on task, an activity more like wrangling cats than truly teaching. But they started asking questions in ways that reveal minds turning over, about my relationship to poetry, and about the poems themselves. And the shift towards poems that share their language and cultural lineage – of Pablo Neruda, and Martin Espada – seemed to prompt the beginnings of ownership, as if knowing that poets spoke their languages, too, was a key to the magic that evaluation tools call “student-centered learning”.
And when it works, it really works.

Yesterday, the stars aligned.

Four students showed up on time, or close to it, and to begin with, became poets, finding distinction in writing and sharing our own little poems, before moving on to the small set of poems I had chosen for their question marks and little else, making for a treasure hunt for tone and literal meaning that was more engaging than usual.

Two more arrived, and their timing was perfect, for once – in transition between idea and poem exemplar, so that they could find themselves quickly. They read poems proudly, and found brave comfort in their ability to make metaphor come alive, vivid in their heads.

And then, the six of them found recognition in critical analysis of Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred. They remembered that Hughes was plainspoken, and frustrated with racial identity in 1930s Harlem, and looked for that meaning in the similes of the poem; they embraced the ambiguity of figurative language, and thought about dreams, and raisins dying black in the sun.

And the poem came alive for them, unlocking its secrets. And they said so, and smiled, and showed us, me and the administrators lurking in the background, that they could articulate – haltingly at first, and then with more confidence – how, and why, and where.

And the bell rang. And I thanked them, and collected their work.

And sat, stunned, while the administrators slipped out, and my next class came in, catcalling and chaotic, ready to learn.

And then, afterwards, the one who sometimes comes, and cannot focus, and uses his big unassuming grin to avoid learning, found me in the hallway during lunch, and proudly showed me the thick book of Countee Cullen poems he had found in the library, and asked if I could give him a note to get back in to find more.

And later, he brought his friend, the Latino boxer, the one who refused to put pen to paper from September to December, and sat with his arms crossed or on his phone, and spun in his chair, defiant, though he knew how to see the meaning behind the words better than anyone in the class. And he said Mister, the library doesn’t have that Neruda book you talked about last week, but they did have this other one, and it’s really cool, it’s got the spanish on one side and the english on the other, and I promised I would find him more.

Your kids really understand poetry, said my evaluator when I passed her in the hallway at the end of the day.

And in my heart, I became the teacher I always wanted to be.

Now it is Thursday, a snow day. I sit on the porch in the cold and think about poetry, and words; the way literature can bring us together, and the way it can kindle the heart. Because I could not stand it, I stopped teaching from fear, and started teaching from love. In response, my 6 little irregulars finally discovered what literature is for, and why it is so much a part of being alive. And though we will need to work to keep them in this place of love, I think – for one shining hour – it made them students, in the true sense of the word, pleased to question, and find answers, and pleased, too, with their ability to do so.



As always, steeping too long in work has left me in too deep to move on quickly. My head swims still with questions, because of how deeply we considered them in our poems and analyses, because we were able to come to the higher order ones together. And I find myself pondering the world, and my place in it, after a day where everything went right, in a place where for so long I have been neither free nor safe.

And so we turn to the question as theme. And why not? As a rhetorical device, the question is broad, both in expression and purpose: it can show us ambiguity, or reveal depth and detail; it can call attention to mystery or meaning; it can reverse, or reinforce, even as it closes the gap between author and text.

And as it is in poetry, so is it in song. The selections we present below in this weekend’s coverfolk mix run the gamut from the rhetorical to the genuinely curious, from plaintive to pensive, from reflective to redirective. But all empower the listener to seek answers that may not always be clear, or even present. All offer new insights and understanding, that we may be who we are, at our best, by knowing the world. All remind us that questions are nothing to fear, but something to embrace, a natural consequence of being alive, and engaged.

May wonders never cease.



5 comments » | Mixtapes

The Working Life: Employment songs, covered in folk
by Slaid Cleaves, Joshua James, Gillian Welch, Todd Snider & 16 more!

January 11th, 2014 — 3:23pm





Re-entry into the working life is always tough after the holiday break, but this year has been a bit harder than most. The school where I work is struggling more than ever, trying to implement new methods and structures on the fly after being labeled failing by the state. The trickle-down effects of stress and sheer substance can make teaching less the usual tightrope, and more of a juggling act with too many balls in the air, where each choice made to serve one mandate means taking time and energy away from another, until terror becomes normative. And the turn-around time is incredible, with strategies taught to teachers in a professional development session this past Wednesday being observed in classes on Monday, even as we prepare students for district-written midterm exams received only Tuesday, and due midweek, that contain concepts and vocabulary no one knew to teach until we saw the tests themselves.

As I have said here before, I love my chosen career; love the students, and the noble struggle of reaching them; love the satisfaction of a curriculum well constructed, and those moments where teacher and students are in the zone, and epiphanies are made. But I love my family, too. And the drag that this year is putting on my best self outside the classroom is all the more apparent after two weeks on and off the road with them, with its constant reminder of how much love there is when we have each other to cherish.

Some songs about work, then, to mourn and maintain the necessity, and acknowledge the way it tears at the spirit to leave home in the darkness every day, and come home in another darkness, too late and too tired to give our best to ourselves and our families. Many are scavenged from a similar set originally posted in August of 2008, designed as a soundtrack for the job search that led me to this inner city school in the first place, but it seems fitting to uncover them, and share them anew, even as we add to their grace and gravity. For no matter how lucky we are to do what we love, there are always times when the weariness gets to us, and all we can do is sing.




Cover Lay Down spreads the gospel of folk through coversong thanks to donors like you. As always, if you like what you hear here, please consider purchasing music from the artists we feature. After all, if it weren’t for our patronage, the music makers would be out of a job, too.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 2: The Singles (2013)
(b-sides, deep cuts, & more one-shot coverage)

December 30th, 2013 — 11:11am





As we noted in Vol. 1 of our year’s best series, we eschew the hierarchical here at Cover Lay Down, preferring celebration to criticism. This is especially true of individual tracks – there’s so much good out there, we could spread the gospel every day, and never run out of moods or music.

Even in our own niche, at the intersection of coverage and folk – where every song is part of the folkways, and every one represents a search for new meaning and new emotion in songs heard sweetly – there is more than we can ever celebrate. But at the end of the year, there are a few songs so dear, so precious, so perfect, that we work to remember them always. And sometimes, rather than struggling to put into words just why a particular song hit us so powerfully, it is time to let the songs speak for themselves.

Music soothes the savage breast, and this year was more savage than most. The songs which we have saved and savored are a hodgepodge heavy with songs which saved us in our darkest hours, and those which spoke to and for our bruised and broken hearts, helping us remember that we were not alone even as we abandoned the blog for weeks on end. Here, too, are songs which brought us joy when we needed it most. And here, too, are the songs which amazed us, and those that simply brought the world to a standstill, stoping our hearts at their bold beauty.

Our annual Best Coverfolk Singles mixtape, then, from tradtunes to obscurities to folk, pop, rock, and country favorites: 36 covers in all, and every one sublime. It was, after all, a very good year for coverage.


The Year’s Best Singles: A 2013 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 26-track gift set of alternate favorites and rare 2013 covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give.

3 comments » | Best of 2013, Mixtapes

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