Category: New Artists Old Songs

New Artists, Old Songs: from Indiefolk to Americana
with The Ahern Brothers, Gina Clowes, Kyle Carey & more!

February 7th, 2018 — 3:12pm

So much wonderful new music has hit the radar screen since the turning of the year, it’s hard to know just where to begin. But another snow day here in New England offers a great opportunity to pass along the good stuff ringing in our ears, making for a lovely mix to accompany the soft quiet of falling flakes.

So join us by the fire as we run down some of our favorite new covertracks and their rising star sources – a global smorgasbord of tasty treats and treatments from the wide, wide spectrum of modern folk and acoustic music. Life has never sounded as good as it does here, now, today.

aherns2Thanks to Aussie folkblog Timber & Steel for celebrating fellow down-under harmony singing folk duo The Ahern Brothers and their smashing self-titled 2017 debut in their end-of-year wrap-up – and apologies for taking so long to get to their delightful cover of Ryan Adams’ Prisoner, a video-sourced ballad that simply soars with pure, atmospheric harmonies a la The Milk Carton Kids and The Everly Brothers. It’s hard to decide which we like best: the sparse sound of this and other acoustic duo performances typical of an album that Rolling Stone called “A mesmerising contemporary folk recording: restrained, pithy, and pure”, or the crisp, lighthearted Simon-and-Garfunkel-esque studio production that typifies catchy new singles “There’s A Light” and “Passing Through”. Lucky for us, we get both.

ginaFrequent forays into the world of musical theater have me running hot for any version of a song originally written for the stage – as long as it isn’t dripping with schmaltz, that is. But where many of the folk covers we featured in our 2013 feature on showtune covers stick to the ballad-or-bombast model which so typifies the average musical theater performance, bluegrass rising star Gina Clowes’ album-closing take on Beautiful Land, a curtain-opener from mid-sixties class-consciousness musical The Roar of the Greasepaint…The Smell of the Crowd made mildly popular by Nina Simone, is a true transformation, turning what had been a b-side into a complex yet truly American neo-traditional delight that fits perfectly among the originals on September 2017 debut album True Colors, a solid survey of what’s new at the progressive crossroads of acoustic swing, gypsy jazz, and bluegrass, featuring performances from fellow members of the “absurdly talented” Furtado family and more.

kylecCeltic crossroads artist Kyle Carey‘s brand new recording is no debut – the honor belongs to 2011 release Monongah, recorded in western Ireland and produced by Donogh Hennesy of the acoustic super-group Lùnasa. But The Art of Forgetting, her third outing and her first recorded on American soil, nonetheless represents something new: a fully realized work that combines her deep reclamation of her Gaelic roots with the rich panoply of sound that typifies the contemporary integration of pan-regional folkways, supported by Dirk Powell’s stunning production and cajun-flavored studio work, Louisiana’s Sam Broussard on guitar, Scotland’s John McCusker on fiddle, Nashville’s Kai Welch on trumpet, and the warm harmonies of crossover superstar Rhiannon Giddens on a reinvented Irish tradtune. Heavenly, and highly recommended.

polhuellouIn his introductory email, Breton-based “Japanese music specialist” Pol Huellou calls his new album The Lost Agenda “kind of a musical UFO”, and that’s not so far off: his French acoustic boogie-woogie big band take on Just A Gigolo, to take just one example, is unexpected every time it comes around, as is the gentle instrumental harp-and-flute traditional that follows it; though the latter is a closer exemplar of what happens when you mix the genre-straddling Celtic, Breton, and Asian influences that typify Huellou’s panoptic ouvre, there’s little here that could truly be called typical of anything, really.

It’s complex, and often challenging, but the mix works, thanks to a dazzling and diverse set of songs, sources, and artists featuring everything from oud, sanza, and banjo on instrumental Irish tradtune-turned-arabic-melody The Star of Co. Down to his jazz-fueled chanson-style rendition of a Marlene Dietrich standard to the funky world-beat of album-closing Armenian traditional song Let’s Blues It. We actually included Huellou’s mostly-Celtic Serge Gainsboro cover on our 56-track end-of-year bonus mix, an exclusive for donors who give to support the continued existence of Cover Lay Down, but everyone should hear it; here’s a pair of the aforementioned, more Bela Fleck meets Morocco than anything, for those who, like us, just can’t get enough.

casstIf we’ve got a lot less to say about Harmless Sparks – a Tel Aviv amateur side project presumably named after the David Bazan song – it’s because all we’ve got so far is one admittedly stunning cover. But according to Israeli musician Omri Levy, whose previous covers and originals date back over a decade, and who sent it to us exclusively “since I really love your blog”, their dreamy take on Alphaville’s Big In Japan, a mournful, electro-atmospheric lullaby that leaves us breathless and wanting for more, will join three others on a soon-to-be-released EP; watch their Bandcamp page for upcoming covers of The Cure, Cyndi Lauper, and My Favorite Things.

vlcoverWe’re not above touting music before official release here at Cover Lay Down, especially when it comes from Hearth Music, one of our very favorite sources for authentic Americana, Cajun, old-timey, countryfolk, and other decidedly regional subgenres. This month’s case in point: Time Is Everything, a Pledgemusic-driven debut from surprisingly young Lexington, VA roots artist Vivian Leva, won’t drop until early March, but we’ve spent the last several weeks reveling in the deeply masterful set it presents, and now we just can’t help but pass it along, with kudos for its maturity, the rich-and-tender countryfolk-to-contemporary production that forces Leva’s heady voice and potent songwriting forward, and a sweet way with a vocal that wrings hope and heartache from a stunning survey of sentiment deeply rooted in land, loneliness, and languid country life.

2017_Sarah_McQuaid_1_LRUK-based singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid‘s fifth outing If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, its title sparked by a warning uttered to her son as he excavated an enormous hole in their backyard, offers an appropriate whirlwind of languid musings on mortality and hubris, with a thick and well-trained alto reminiscent of Annie Lennox astride ringing electric guitar and piano from McQuaid and legendary musician Michael Chapman, who lends both studio flourishes and producing credits to the effort. In the end, it’s a powerful album that simply shimmers with nuance, observational depth, and despair, just out and already named one of the top ten of the week by The Alternate Root magazine, and sure to please fans of The Unthanks, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Waits equally.

foxgloves-1LA-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumental vocalist Kristen Lynn is joined by The Foxgloves, a full fourpiece gypsy-jazz folk Americana band, on her second foray into the world of Kickstarter-funded projects, making Lonely Girl an easy fit for our diverse set today, with a haunting, sparse arrangement of Wild Mountain Thyme and a number of solid originals that romp and stomp. But it’s our very favorite cut so far that demands sharing today, an interesting experiment that really works: listen as You Are My Sunshine moves from the sweet and gentle to the dark and heady hullabaloo of a high-octane drumkick funeral rag, neatly nestling the true sentiment of the song in the shift from major to minor…and then head back in time to her 2012 debut LALA to hear it again, all sweetness and light.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 2.21.58 PMLast but not at all least: we’re hereby declaring Old Freight, a fine debut from flatpicking singer-songwriter Alan Barnosky released last November, nothing less than a new folk essential – one that doesn’t so much gather in the various influences which make modern singer-songwriter folk work as it reduces and transcends them, laying claim to the one-man, one-song center of the tent with little more than six sharp strings and warm, twangy voice, offering fair comparison to both Norman Blake and Townes Van Zandt. Barnosky also plays in a bluegrass five piece and an acoustic trio in and around his native Durham, North Carolina, and he’s played stages at Merlefest, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the IBMA’s Bluegrass Ramble. But as the timeless originals and sole traditional cover on this record amply demonstrate, sometimes, simple IS best.

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, like, donate, and follow us on Facebook for bonus tracks – including our Jan. 31 track-by-track covered-in-folk mix of Paul Simon’s Graceland album – and instant notice of new features, like a brand new Single Song Sunday feature due to drop this weekend. And above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

Comment » | New Artists Old Songs

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2017)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Compilations & more!

December 28th, 2017 — 11:44pm

Every year at around this time I take a moment to reconsider: both how we do this, and whether to do it at all.

But although the folkgenres are slippery, and the question of what and what is not folk enough for the blog continues to elude clear delineation, there is still this love inside me: for the way a song recreated can tie together the memory, the culture, the heart, and the mind. It’s like a form of meditation, an approach to wholeness. The urge remains.

And so, here we are, at year’s end again, sifting through a year of that aching in the chest, the surge of joy and gladness, the still moment by the hearth or in the sun, that sudden song on the radio that hits you so hard you have to pull over, panting and sobbing, into the nearest grassy patch, and just feel.

Which is to say: it was a wonderful year for coverage, if not always for blogging it. The soundtrack of our struggles and sorrows, our travels and triumphs, was spiked with hope and beauty, empathy and grace. And coming back to it at year’s end again brings closure, of a sorts, even as it reminds us to keep our love near and dear, and cherish that which has made us, and will make us whole once again, lest it fade into the night, and be lost to the world.

And so we embrace the pensive purpose of Winter by sharing with the world our wholly subjective pleasures, once again carefully curated and celebrated, the better to bring the community closer, and the music more sustainable.

From the smooth to the ragged, then. From the delicate to the deep. From the bringers of light to the media of our melancholy; from the hoot and holler to the hushed and harmonic. From all corners of the broad tent that spans the folkways, shading it from the harshest of weather and whim.

Cover Lay Down is proud to present our Best Of The Year, starting with our very favorite folk, roots, bluegrass and Americana tribute albums and covers compilations of 2017 – with thirty five albums and over fifty songs in all, and all beloved. May your winter, too, be filled with the light of a year gone by.

The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ The Wailin’ Jennys, Fifteen
+ Mark Erelli, MIXTAPE!

+ The Sumner Brothers, To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf
+ Misner & Smith, Headwaters
+ Travis Knapp, Wintery Mix 2018
+ Ane Brun, Leave Me Breathless
+ Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet
+ Eric Brace, Cartes Postales

It’s nice to see familiar faces atop this year’s solo artist list. Reassuring, too, to recognize that though their sounds are distinctive in every case, all six of the artists whose covers albums lingered longest and – as a consequence -
were loved most here at Cover Lay Down in 2017 define themselves as folk in one way or another.

But after winnowing down past a strong field of honorable mentions, our final solo-artist Best Covers Albums list for 2017 is also notable in that it is representative, in its way, of the two separate threads which intersect here at Cover Lay Down. For in just four albums, we find both the vast breadth and diversity of contemporary folk – itself a mode or subgenre hard to define – and a pitch-perfect spread of the various approaches to considering source material in choosing coverage for the covers album, most especially as an increasingly de rigueur mid-career movement in the artistic community.

Call it a tie for first, then. On the one hand, The Wailin’ Jennys, still at the very peak of their sound fifteen years after their founding (and five since we featured their coverage in full): a deliberately lush, gentle, sweetly arranged trio of voices in tender treatment of well-beloved sadsongs, celebrations, and ballads from Patty Griffin, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and other beloved songwriters of the folk-and-beyond community. On the other, local hero and Americana troubadour Mark Erelli, whose Kickstarter we celebrated a few months ago, wringing raw, almost primal soul from Mixtape, his thirteenth outing, an oddly comforting spread of popular songs from Richard Thompson to Phil Collins rebuilt from the inside out – technically not fully released until mid-January, but easy to preorder, and too amazing to hold back on now. Taken as ethnographic mile markers, they offer a field tender and intimate, triumphant and torn: albums to take us anywhere, and back.

A strong second this year goes to another surprisingly representative pairing from a slightly younger generation which also matches slow and broken with upbeat precision. First, Headwaters, the fifth album from California duo Misner & Smith, and their first covers compilation; a homespun collection that finds Sam and Megan, a pair of actors-turned-folk rock/Americana band, yawing wide as they bring diverse songs and influences from The Talking Heads and Dr. Dog to Gram Parsons and The Lovin’ Spoonful into their own sharp and distinctive harmonic register. Alongside it: Vancouver alt-folk band The Sumner Brothers, whose traded vocals drip with Van Zandt heroin and dust as they meander through a host of slower alt-country songs on To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf, wringing hoarse depth and angst from Springsteen’s ghosts, Warren Zevon’s western saloon town, Hank Williams’ morose guitar, Jolie Holland’s timeless bluesfolk, and more. Both Headwaters and To Elliot are short – just 8 tracks – but cohesive, easily transcending the brevity of the EP format, providing a full and immersive experience for new listeners and long-time fans the respective duos.

And those honorable mentions? Almost too many to mention – it was, in the end, a banner year for coverage. Favorites include wonderful albums from Travis Knapp (whose tenth annual Wintery Mix, released just last week, offers a perfectly imperfect collection of bedroom folk covers of Anais Mitchell, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, Chris Stapleton and more, on piano, banjo, and guitar), Ane Brun (whose Leave Me Breathless does, with a dreamy folkpop vibe that fans will find both comforting and crystal clear), Eric Brace (whose Cartes Postales, released last month on Red Beet Records, is a fun, jazzy, squeezebox-and-clarinet driven croissant of a tribute to the French-language favorites of his father’s generation) and Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne (some of whose slippery country fried rockers, like the hard-edged Nirvana classic Lithium, hardly count as folk, though overall, Not Dark Yet – the first collaboration between these siblings – is a true-blue delight). Ah, such riches.

The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Genevieve Racette, Covers
+ Erin Drews, Caught, Kept
+ Mia Mallet, Chapter One / Chapter Two
+ The Chinworth Brothers, Six Songs
+ RM Hubbert, Recovery (EP1)
+ AJ Lee, Aj Lee

Sometimes, simple is best. Take, for example, Caught, Kept, a precious four-track released way back in February from Minnesotan amateur Erin Drews – a perfect teaser for her full album of originals, released in May – which captured our heart and ears with throaty voice, etherial harmonies, and the gentle strum of the singer-songwriter diamond in the rough. Or Montreal-based Genevieve Racette’s pitch-perfect transformations of Bonnie Raitt and Nirvana, Dylan and The Beatles, hushed and lush, tense and true, with sparse synths over floating indie guitar and sweet, supple voice. Or Parisian songstress Mia Mallet’s two tiny, gorgeous, hollow lo-fi covers EPs, with their ringing piano and airy, layered voices that leave us weak.

If it was, as they say, a very good year for the shortform covers collection, it was thanks primarily to a spate of independent Bandcamp sets like these, from a host of bright rising stars, previously undiscovered. Like The Chinworth Brothers, who turned in a six song powerhouse, split evenly among soaring-yet-earnest traditionals and startlingly non-traditional indiefolk-and-more treatments of Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, and Sashatchewan singer-songwriter Andy Shauf. Or Glaswegian RM Hubbert’s “sincere and melancholic” EP Recovery, a broken, rusted artifact from the anti-folk junkyard which broods its way into our psyche.

In the end, of all these amateur and truly indie tiny loves, it is Racette’s Covers that edges out ever so slightly over the rest – if only for the diversity of sound it packs in so tight a space, and the poise it manages to maintain between pristine and purposeful as it takes on the small canon. But all of these small albums deserve our respect and celebration, nonetheless.

Still, let us not forget, at least in passing, our one exception to the Bandcamp trend this year: young California bluegrass breakthrough AJ Lee’s self-titled EP, an eagerly awaited delight “paying tribute to…the founding voices of [the] California cosmic country sound” via songs by Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Gillian Welch, and Bob Dylan which arrived in hard copy. Tight and highly produced alongside a four-piece band, the songs evoke the rich summery sound of the originals, with perfect Grateful Dead vibe and harmonies on Herb Pedersen’s Wait A Minute the crowning glory of a still-growing career. A rich field, indeed – like folk, and like the songs it brings together.

The Year’s Best Covers Compilation (multiple artists)
+ Burst And Bloom 50
+ Sad! A Barsuk Records Compilation for the ACLU

As has sometimes been the case – see, for example, last year’s Best Of collections, which featured covers albums from Fast Folk, tribute-house American Laundromat Records, and a third iteration of Locals Covering Locals from production house Red Line Roots – digital-only label-driven navel-gazing held sway in the world of mixed-bag covers compilations again this year, a trend which pushes the boundaries of our focus on folk, and on the very concept of album. We say this not to denigrate the category – there’s much to celebrate here – but mainly to warn those lulled into a sense of delicacy by the previous category winners that folk is a wider tent, and the alternative crowd is where the labels often live and breathe great coverage.

Enter exhibit A: Burst and Bloom, a small, independent record label and book publisher based in the increasingly hip seaside town of Portsmouth, NH, which came out of nowhere this year to blow us away. We’ll see more of their loving curatorial work in our Best Tribute Albums below, too, thanks to a 2 CD tribute to Brown Bird. But here, in our compendium of mixed-artist covers albums, it is Burst & Bloom 50, a loving tribute to the label’s own roster in celebration of their fiftieth release, which nets our highest honors, as a stunning, raw gem, with 25 covers, no more than one per original record, comprising a discomforting set which vibrates on the edge of freakfolk, alternative grunge, and other underground sounds associated with but not always squarely under the folktent.

And who cares if we don’t know the originals or recognize most of the original artists? The Burst & Bloom collection serves its purpose, sending us into the back catalog, starting with 2009 release ‘All My Friends Are Right Here With Me’, a CD compilation of fringefolk artists covering songs by the indie-folk collective Tiger Saw, 2012′s Lucky Numbers, a tribute to indie DIY rock and soul legend Viking Moses, who has toured with Jason Molina, Phosphorescent, and Devendra Banhardt, and of course Through The Static and Distance, their marvelous 2015 posthumous tribute to Jason Molina.

Barsuk’s smaller collection Sad!, a glitchy 7 song indie-slash-alt-folk collection spearheaded by Mates of State, David Bazan, Nada Surf, and Maps & Atlases covering fellow labelmates John Vanderslice, Pedro The Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Ra Ra Riot, and more, comes up roses, too – both for its strong musicality, and its unabashedly political bent, arriving as it did on the eve of a new presidential ascension, with all work donated by the artists in solidarity, and all proceeds from the dollar-a-track release going to support the ACLU ” in defense of the civil liberties of all Americans”.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Best Troubadour
+ Old Crow Medicine Show, 50 Years of Blonde On Blonde

In a year where long-awaited Dylan tributes from Joan Osborne and Old Crow Medicine Show ran closer to sultry radiopop and R&B and brash twangy roadhouse country rock than folk, respectively, it was hard to figure out whether we should collapse the single artist tribute album category or simply let it go. A sigh of relief and a tip of the hat, then, to indiefolk maverick Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose usually broken voice is surprisingly melodic and aptly troubled on his category-saving Merle Haggard tribute Best Troubador, a May 2017 release which flew under our radar for months before earworming its way in via an unexpected encounter with radioplay late at night on a fleeting local college station.

It’s a thread we’re glad to have pulled. Regular readers may note that we have long had a love-hate relationship with the artist formerly and sometimes also known as Will Oldham, though we did name his last tribute album, a tribute to the Everly Brothers recorded with Dawn McCarthy, atop this same category in 2013. But this collection is redemptive, with guest vocalist A.J. Roach, fiddler Cheyenne Mize, and singer and flautist Nuala Kennedy, and other underground luminaries lending their talents to a fitting tribute to a lost soul whose earnest honesty and iconoclastic outlook have, clearly, deeply influenced Oldham’s approach to music and the universe. The Bonnie “Prince” gets full marks for an especially intimate tribute to both Haggard himself, and to the ache of the country.

The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story
+ A Light I Can Feel: A Tribute To Brown Bird
+ Treasures of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard

The multi-artist tribute album is so often imperfect. Even our favorite homages generally have a weak spot: a track or two to skip as well-intentioned artists and songbooks find their mismatch. The potential for trouble doubles down when artists have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to take on recreation of a seminal album, such as Brandi Carlile’s 2007 release The Story; it triples when it is the original songwriter herself who solicits and curates the album. And surely, it’s pushing our luck to name an album featuring both Pearl Jam and Adele as a folk tribute, let alone our favorite multi-artist tribute of the year.

And yet. Adele performing Brandi Carlile’s Hiding My Heart with nothing but solo acoustic guitar is folk, for sure. The Avett Brothers, the Indigo Girls, Shovels & Rope, Old Crow Medicine Show and Dolly Parton turn in stellar performances. The Secret Sisters are now our new favorite female duo. Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story shouldn’t work, at all, but in the end, the syrup of Kris Kristofferson, the psychedelic jam of Jim James, and the fully typical fuzz of Pearl Jam are anomalies on what is otherwise a strong survey of modern Americana and Roots performance. And Brandi Carlile earns our respect over again, over a decade after we first fell in love with her – and then once again, for using this album to highlight the plight of children in war-torn regions of the world.

A close second, as noted earlier, comes by way of A Light I Can Feel, a tribute from label Burst & Bloom that simply overflows with warm friendship and respect for beloved RI-based folk duo Brown Bird, whose co-founder David Lamb passed from leukemia in 2014. Originally conceived of as a fundraising venue for Lamb’s treatment, the sprawling 32 track tribute was released posthumously in March, with proceeds to benefit others through the Sweet Relief charity organization, and “to continue to share the music of Brown Bird with the world.” Chock full of raw performances, each mesmerizing in its way, the album pulls off what it aims to, and more: a triumph of scale, and a tender homage.

Third place honors go to the predominantly country side of folk represented on Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard – not the first such folk tribute to Mark Heard, but the first in 20 years, which explains just how many newcomers appear on the album. Like previous folk tributes to this undersung, unabashedly Christian singer-songwriter who passed from an on-stage heart attack in 1992 on the cusp of greater glory, this collection offers both Buddy Miller and a mixed bag of good-to-great performances of a songbook cut short, predominantly gathered from Heard’s final three releases, with the worst suffering from a touch of the same overproduction that typified their original contemporary folk radioplay era. Still, with strong coverage by Birds of Chicago, Sean Rowe, Amy Helm, Sierra Hull, Over The Rhine and more, the collection is worth pursuit and ownership.

The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Max Godfrey, Before The Ice Melts
+ Offa Rex, Queen Of Hearts
+ Nathan Lewis Williams, Across The Water
+ Lindsay Straw, The Fairest Flower of Womankind
+ Jayme Stone, Jayme Stone’s Folklife
+ Alathea, His Eye Is On The Sparrow
+ Ranky Tanky, Ranky Tanky

As both the year’s archives and the huge list above anticipate, it was, in many ways, a gold standard year for traditional folk recordings from across the globe, from the Gullah strains of newly-formed jazz-meets-roots quintet Ranky Tanky (featured back in July, in anticipation of its well-celebrated September release) to The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney, collaborating together as Offa Rex, in a faithful but still sweet retro turn on the UK tradfolk canon, as channeled and strained through both the arrangements and the influence of the “genre heavyweights” of 60′s folk and rock revivalists Martin Carthy, Ewan MacColl, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Colin Meloy fave Shirley Collins, and more, with clear echoes of Maddy Prior, June Tabor, and Sandy Denny in the mix thanks to powerful, nuanced vocals from Chaney.

But in the end, if I prefer the polished quietude of the canon, why, here were joys enough for days: delicate, broken balladry selected and arranged to emphasize lyrical gender empowerment by Iguana Fund recipient and local hero Lindsay Straw, whom I very much hope to catch live at this year’s Boston Celtic Music Fest towards the end of January; the soft, almost faerie-found strains of Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams and Caelia Lunniss; Jayme Stone’s next generation Folklife album, a follow-up to his 2015 Lomax project, which sees the bandleader and archive revivalist taking on a wider swath of cultural catechism alongside Moira Smiley of tune-yArDs, Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Felicity Williams of Bahamas, and more luminaries on a musical journey through the Appalachians, the Sea Islands and the Caribbean; Christian folk duo Alathea’s His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a bright, often boisterous crowdsourced collection of hymns noted earlier this month in our first holiday coverfolk feature.

Our surprise frontrunner, though, comes from sifting through precious gems from the amateur set: Max Godfrey’s Before The Ice Melts, which mixes tradsongs (and one Dylan cut, and a 1920s hit later revived by Bessie Smith and others) with new lyrics and a few licks, is truly down to earth, a fine sophomore outing from an artist just now making the traditions his own. Just for fun, and because Godfrey makes them sound so…well, traditional, we’ve shared just the non-trad tracks here; download the rest to see just what that creaky, timeless voice can do with the truly traditional canon.

The Year’s Best Tradfolk EP
+ Thom Ashworth, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

English folksinger and bassist Thom Ashworth is just starting his career, but two small releases this year promise big enough things to make it worth sustaining a category despite a single entry. If the first, January 2017′s 4-track EP Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, is the feature here, it’s only because November’s second release, Hollow – also a 4-track – is a half-and-half, with two originals and two traditional songs arranged by Ashworth himself. Both are worth pursuit, however, and bookmarking, too, as we watch for Ashworth’s continued output with bated breath.

The Year’s Best Half-Covers Album
+ Laura Baird, I Wish I Were A Sparrow
+ Brock Simpson, The Gardener Child: Scots Songs Both New and Traditional
+ Red Molly, One For All & All For One

The two records which top our final folk category this year are similar in many ways: sparse neo-traditionals, perfectly balanced, with little in the way of flourish and a lot in the way of authenticity. Our by-a-hair favorite is Laura Baird’s simple, unadorned tribute to the fiddle-and-banjo tunes of her own Appalachian youth, her first full-length solo outing after years of performing with her sister Meg, and an even-steven six-and-six split of covers and originals that intermingles her own work with the songs of her Great-Grandfathers’ hills so smoothly and successfully, we had to keep the liner notes handy.

Toronto teacher-musician Brock Simpson’s The Gardener Child is a similar but blurrier halfling: simple and elegant solo stuff, framed with but a winsome, sensitive voice and gentle guitar. Here, too, unlabeled tracks had us scurrying to figure out which was which, until we realized that – as with Baird’s delight – what matters most is the sound, and the consistency of sentiment.

Our third-place finisher in the half-covers category couldn’t be more different in its approach to its respective canon, a four-and-two EP with energetic close harmonies familiar and fine recorded and released as part of Red Molly’s swan song crowdsource project, designed to drive the production of solo albums from all three band members. I’ve heard two of three of these albums so far – and am proud to announce that Laurie MacAllister’s delightful contemporary all-covers album The Lies The Poets Tell will be the first album of 2018 to grace these pages in the new year, and may well be our earliest contender for a following-year Best Of award in the history of our nominal countdown. In the meantime, we’ll include a favorite from what well may be Red Molly’s last record, at least for a while, as we bid our own list adieu.

The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Covers Album
+ Various Artists, Don’t Stop Now: A Collection of Covers
+ Love + War, Nine Lives

+ Various Artists, Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie
+ Various Artists, Failed Tribute Bands 2

If you come here for the folk and only the folk, now would be a good time to skip to the last few songs below; we’ve winnowed out the best and folkiest of this year’s mixed-genre covers collections, and if they’re all you want, we won’t hold it against you.

But true cover-lovers know that sometimes the very best tracks come from surprising sources. And so we present our annual coda: four albums which are decidedly NOT folk records, but which provide so much more in the way of breadth and beauty, we just had to mention them.

Our utter tie-for-favorite here is sprawling, indeed: a 37-track collection, released on Inauguration Day 2017 just like the aforementioned Barsuk collection, and – like it – a decidedly politicized collection, pre-emptive and angrier in its way, designed to support the ACLU. But where both Burst & Bloom and Barsuk produced covers albums which were at least nominally folk, Don’t Stop Now is unabashedly mixed-genre, with plenty of potent indiefolk tracks plus retro-alternative rock, post-punk, and hopping, hopeful otherstuff taking on songs from Joy Division to Harry Chapin.

Meanwhile in an unusual turn, a solo artist appears atop the category, at least on paper: Nine Lives, a covers collection from Nashville-based writer-producer team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson, aka love+war. Glitchy electro-soul and grungy folkpop tracks mix oddly well in this covers album, pushing it to the top of the list as a second strange bedfellow. Drowning in tape hiss and lush with click-track reverb, with pitch-perfect guest vocalists like Angel Snow – the very first artist featured here, ten years ago, in our New Artists, Old Songs series – the entire thing, from covers of Prince and Springsteen favorites to hits from Terence Trent D’Arby, Depeche Mode, and The Eurythmics, is a guilty pleasure, with emphasis on pleasure.

Honorable mention? Easily Comin’ Around Records’ lovely lo-fi tribute to the songs of Polaris Prize nominee and art school student Shotgun Jimmie – a mixed bag, but with some solid tracks from familiar North-of-the-border fringefolk standbys like Old Man Luedecke and Woodpigeon, all to raise money for the Dawson City Music Festivals’ Songwriter in Residence Program.
And Failed Tribute Bands Two!, which earns its emphatic punctuation easily: by the time you get to the fifth track, it’s hard to figure that there’s going to be anything approaching folk here…and then, suddenly, Allysen Callery, whose recently completed 12 Days of Covers Soundcloud series is a bonus trove of DIY ghost folk treasures.

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.

1 comment » | Allysen Callery, Angel Snow, Best of 2017, Infamous Stringdusters, Mark Erelli, New Artists Old Songs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Red Molly, Shovels & Rope, Sierra Hull, The Wailin' Jennys, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest (Aug 3-6)
Part 2 of 2: The Emerging Artists Showcase & The Lounge Stage

July 21st, 2017 — 4:07pm

Tuesday’s 22-track coverset featuring the diverse set of folk, world music, and roots artists slated to perform at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest in beautiful New York farm country at the foot of the Berkshires was grand, but mainstage isn’t the only scene at Falcon Ridge. Our second shot this year focuses on a pair of other artist cohorts: The Emerging Artists Showcase, which runs from noon to 4:30 on Friday on mainstage, and the Lounge Stage, a pop-up “festival within a festival” which takes place from 4-11 on Thursday under the Dance Tent. Enjoy – and as always, follow links back to learn more about each artist, even if you can’t make it to this year’s festival!

Falcon Ridge 2013 Emerging Artists Roosevelt Dime play an impromptu set on the midway – an excellent strategy to win fans and please the crowd beyond the Friday showcase.

Simply stated, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill Emerging Artists Showcase is well known in the industry as a highly competitive proving ground: a jury-chosen selection of 24 artists on the cusp of national name-brand recognition, many of whom arrive with little more than local support and a single album or EP in their pocket, who take over mainstage for a pair of songs each as the festival begins its official performance schedule. At the end of the festival, attendee surveys poll the crowd on who they’d most like to see again; the top three vote-getters are asked to come back the following year for a mainstage Most Wanted Song Swap, ensuring a loving welcome for those who stand out among the crowd.

To be fair, there are factors out of artists control which can influence favoritism. Later placement in the line-up, and the occasional rain shower midway through the afternoon, for example, have an influence on who sees who. But truly, the showcase is just the beginning of the journey towards greater recognition and love. Artists who push their presence beyond the stage itself – into the pop-up radio station vendor venues, and the late-night campsite circles and mini-stages such as The Big Orange Tarp, Budgiedome, and Pirate Camp, with their folk radio DJ and promoter MCs, which attract and present in scheduled form a cool mix of mainstage artists, rising stars, and special guests once the stages close down for the night – tend to be those who return.

But no matter how or whether they get selected for the following year’s Most Wanted swap, diehards know that the next big thing is – quite probably – here before us on Friday afternoon at the fest. Artists who have performed in the emerging artist showcase and moved on to greatness include many of our favorites here at Cover Lay Down, including Darlingside, Erin McKeown, Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, Roosevelt Dime, Parsonsfield, Spuyten Duyvil, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Red Molly, Joe Crookston, Pesky J. Nixon, Girlyman, and more – a fine list of names, and a familiar one to those who watch the folk charts and coffeehouses.

mure2This year’s roster is unusually strong in talent, but rare in broad familiarity; as such, it behooves us not to forecast favorites. But there are a few familiar and beloved faces on this year’s list, as befits a smorgasbord – five out of 24, in fact, have been celebrated here on Cover Lay Down before, either alone or in collaboration with notable others.

Of these, two are especially familiar to Falcon Ridge audiences: Robinson Treacher, previously featured here and in the FRFF 2016 vendor zone for his trio work with Brad Cole and fest fave Matt Nakoa, an association which should garner him no small amount of interest on stage this year, and Heather Aubrey Lloyd, who is also well known to regular fest-goers for her work with one-time Most Wanted trio ILYAIMY and for solo performance at the pre-fest Lounge Stage; here, the band’s cover of Iggy Azalea’s Black Widow, recorded in 2014, offers solid evidence for why we treasure her new solo album, and her performance.

We’re especially thrilled to finally have a chance to catch NYC singer-songwriter, classically trained oboist, and composer/arranger Emily Mure live and in person after missing her first go-round at the Emerging Artists pool in 2008 (an unusually competitive year in which voting heavily favored bands and combos). Emily’s gorgeous cover of Elliott Smith’s Between The Bars made our 2016 Best Singles Mix; previously, we’d featured her delightfully orchestrated cover of Cake fave Mexico with nowhere near enough fanfare, though notably, both No Depression and Red Line Roots raved about it at the time – these two songs, alone, are enough to make sure we catch up with her, and help steer her towards the wider proving grounds beyond the stage. Her impending album Worth, a well-produced, wistful-to-wild exemplar of contemporary singer-songwriter folk, is due to drop with no small fanfare in September; we’re honored to present that album’s sole cover, a tender and utterly stunning David Bowie tribute, in today’s mix as a Cover Lay Down exclusive, with permission from Mure herself.

Two other artists come to us with other familiarity, through their recordings. Midwesterner Josh Harty made his previous appearance on CLD in 2014, in a collaboration with CLD fave John Statz that featured covers of both Greg Brown and John Prine. And The End Of America, an otherwise-unknown-to-us trio, garnered honorable mention in our Best Video Coverfolk of 2015 for a strong 6-part winter YouTube coverseries; we’ve dug deeper today for a slightly older cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down to better feature their strong three-part harmonies.

Both our set today and the emerging artists pool it represents place these five among a strong set of peers. Notably, though, the caveats of coverage apply. Not all artists are represented here; our covers-only approach is a limiting lens, and of the original 24, a handful of artists performing this year at Falcon Ridge have no covers “out there”, or at least not those easily found. I looked hard, though, for anything to offer from John John Brown, Clint Alphin, Bruce Michael Miller, Christine Sweeney, and James Hearne, mostly because the originals posted on their YouTube pages and websites are just so damn good; as always, we encourage you, dear reader, to seek them out on your own.

A surprising number of those that did make our set feature collaboration with other artists – a generous sign, for those of us who prefer to experience our emerging artists again after hours, as they play the fields and pop-up venues into the wee hours of the festival dark with “house band” backup from the circle. Caroline Cotter, for example, a world-traveling singer-songwriter from Portland, Maine whose solo albums each focus around the folkway of a particular place, appears in trio form here, and we’ll have to wait until August to find out who, if anyone, she has brought to support her on the Falcon Ridge stage. And Letitia VanSant, a Baltimorean indie Americana artist whose sonic influences run the gamut from Hazel Dickens to Nine Simone, performs here in duet, channeling the two-voice original of a John Prine number with aplomb.

Fittingly, too, with a few notable exceptions – Mure’s cover, singer songwriter Lisa Bastoni newly-released Diane Cluck cover, which frames her return to the folkfold after a ten year hiatus, a sweet and soulful dustbowl take on Sean Brennan’s Texarkana from Monica Rizzio, a barnburner of a country bootstomper from Renee Wahl, CT-based band-man Shawn Taylor‘s grungy, bluesy folkrock Stephen Stills cover, and Mass College Of Liberal Arts student Izzy Heltai‘s gorgeous transformation of familiar O Brother Where Art Thou spiritual Down To The River – most of today’s songs find their origin in lo-fi YouTube performances, stageside captures, and other sundry non-studio sources, giving us some sense of what these artists might be like live – although intimate performance and bedroom vocals are but a teaser, and a misleading one at best, for the resonance of scalar sun and crowd that the field provides.

So listen to our artist-alphabetized list, as male folk duos Francis Luke Accord and country-and-bluegrass influenced Ryanhood take on Cat Stevens and The Beatles, respectively, turning in harmony performances that showcase their talents, while male-female pairing Ordinary Elephant comes through with an intimate banjo-and-guitar lakeside cover of I’ll Fly Away. Sit a spell, as Alice Howe strips down Sam Cooke for something delightful and sweet, and young solo artist Cubbage channels Ed Sheeran into subtlety. Enjoy, while Brooklynite Aly Tadros shocks us with an intimate unknown recorded in a tour room hotel, and countryfolk harmony trio No Good Sister challenge themselves in-studio to take on an obscurity from UK popsynth team Yaz, and come up roses.

And revel, overall, in the breadth and depth of folk, as the next generation takes the stage, and our hearts.

Falcon Ridge Folk Fest 2017: Emerging Artists Mix
—> download the mix!

lounge stage

Finally, though the Falcon Ridge Folk festival officially promotes itself as a Friday-to-Sunday affair, fest regulars know that there’s at least as much going on the day before. So be sure to hit Dodd’s Farm Thursday, August 3rd, for a local farmer’s market chock full of the best of the local bottled and corked, plus corn and dirt-grown sundries – and, of course, for the Lounge Stage, our very favorite festival-within-a-festival, which in past years has grown from an artist-collaborative production on the hill to a formal showcase that .

In addition to many acts mentioned either above or in our mainstage survey – including Abbie Gardner, Joe Crookston, Kirsten Maxwell, Bettman & Halpin, and emerging artists The End Of America, Heather Aubrey Lloyd, Alice Howe, Christine Sweeney, and Ryanhood – as shown above, the Lounge Stage 2017 will feature hosts and Lounge Stage co-founders Pesky J. Nixon, Kate Taylor of James-and-Livingston sibling fame, Americana up-and-comer Cassandra House, high-energy brother-led Long Island six-piece countryfolk band Quarter Horse, Boston bluesfolk stalwart Danielle Miraglia, long-standing Falcon Ridge house band member and folkscene sideman Radoslav Lorkovic, and fest faves Jesse Terry and Greg Klyma. Most artists will perform in the round with two others – offering a chance for collaboration and artist-to-artist showcasing, and nurturing a sense of intimacy and companionship that easily counterbalances the size of what it sure to be, once more, a spill-over crowd.

All in all, Thursday’s event promises ample reason to take the extra day off from work, and arrive to the proverbial hill on August 3rd relaxed and ready to enjoy the best that summer has to offer. Here’s our final mix, comprised of those artists whose appearance at The Lounge Stage will mark their sole “official” role at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, though many will surely find their ways into the hills and campsites as the weekend stretches on. Enjoy it, and we’ll see you soon in the folkfields.

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2017: Lounge Stage Supplemental Mix
—>download the mix!

1 comment » | Emily Mure, Festival Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs, Pesky J. Nixon

New Artists, Old Songs: from bluegrass to indiefolk
with Man About A Horse, The Secret Sisters, Emily Maguire & more!

July 8th, 2017 — 3:01pm

After a diverse exploration of new coverage from some of our favorite familiar voices earlier this week, our dig through the Spring-into-Summer mailbag continues today with yet another installment in our New Artists, Old Songs discovery series – a broad celebration of new and newfound artists taking on the songs of the ether around them. As always, we offer these by way of introduction, minded that one purpose of cover song is to provide a comfort zone in which to explore the novelty of folk otherwise unheard; our hope here at Cover Lay Down is that the songs and words will tickle and tempt you into pursuing the threads, to uncover and fall in love with the rich and ever-expanding panoply of emergent musicians and songs that continue to challenge and transform, comfort and afflict us all.

So read on for covers of Bright Eyes, Brandi Carlile, Jimmy Cliff, Sting, Pink, Nirvana, Dylan, Jay-Z, Paul Simon, Hall & Oates, the Gullah tradition and more – individually, a series of strong performances from every corner of the roots, Americana, bluegrass, and contemporary and traditional folkworld; collectively, a set that once again lays bare the vastness and variety of the tent that we call folk.

And then, if you can, pick a favorite or three, and use the links we provide to purchase and patronize – so the folkways, and those who create and recreate within them, may be sustained for generations to come.

twlWe start our journey through the newfound today on the folkcorner where high production meets acoustic altrock; listening to this Nirvana cover, it’s hard to believe that Long Beach, California’s This Wild Life is a duo, formed by two “outcast drummers” sprung from the punkworld, but heartening to discover that their tour upgrade package includes “intimate acoustic performance”, and promising to find that tour taking them through a huge set of sites both around North America and beyond, with Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Australia in the upcoming months after sets from LA to DC. Though they’ve played the Warped Tour – a venue not exactly known for folk of any sort – originals from 2016 release Low Tides find easy comparison to cool alternative indiefolk bands like Darlingside and Beirut; what more could you ask for, on a sunny Summer’s day?

ssistersAlabama sibling duo The Secret Sisters recently appeared as one of very few unknowns on an otherwise star-studded song-by-song tribute to Brandi Carlile’s 2007 album The Story, released in May as a benefit for the War Child UK charity with tracks from Dolly Parton, Adele, The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Shovels & Rope, Jim James, and more. Their track was one of the better ones, which says a lot, given that list of luminaries – and so, intrigued, off we went to discover more.

Happily, our timing is good. Tomorrow, real-life sisters Lydia and Laura Rogers, whose harmonies are most often and most easily compared to the Everly Brothers and First Aid Kit for good reason, release their third full-length You Don’t Own Me Anymore, a delightful slice of intimate-to-intense retro-Americana co-produced and with instruments and harmonies by Carlile and her longtime partners Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Though a little digging suggests the pair have already made a name for themselves in the country music world, the disc, which wanders from true-blue band-driven countryfolk to sultry, timeless, tight-yet-gentle backporch harmony tracks with nary a misstep, leaves us with no doubt they can hold their own among the best bombast and balladry of their mostly southern “new folk” compatriots.

emily-maguire-2017Indie English singer-songwriter and poet Emily Maguire played Glastonbury nine years ago, making her one of the most well-known artists we’ve likely ever featured here in our New Artists, Old Songs series. But here on this side of the pond, Emily’s a virtual unknown, and that’s a shame: after four albums of all originals, each one released on her own label with little fanfare, the stunning, dream-to-nightmare slur that she makes of this transformed Sandy Denny classic as a coda to her newly-released fifth – “a striking end to a haunting and sublime album”, according to independent folk-and-beyond music webzine Folk Radio UK, released in tandem with Notes From The North Pole, her second book of poems and soul-searching prose – is enough to make us dig back in time.

james-gillespie-portrait-300x300A slow, pulsing acoustic dreampop take on Top 40 Pink serves as a fine introduction to star-on-the-rise James Gillespie, whose press compares him to Ben Howard but may well fall more on the James Blunt/Justin Bieber side of the popline. No matter: stripped down soul from an acoustic base, echoing britpop vocal mannerisms, thumping handclap backbeat, and ringing electric guitar are this season’s guilty pleasure; though Gillespie is a true newcomer to the musicworld, with but a single original single out there, it’s stripped almost as dark, making prediction of things to come as easy as wanting more.

57716-RTbandPNGWay on the other side of the folktent, where traditions of various sorts meld and mingle, the sultry side of jazz and the Gullah traditions of the American South Island cultures combine marvelously in the work of new-formed roots quintet Ranky Tanky, a stunning South Carolina-educated jazz foursome plus gospel singer combo whose debut album drops in September (ours may well be an exclusive) and who will spend the preceding months on tour everywhere from Edinburgh to Telluride. The self-titled album is chock full of covers of traditional songs, but you’ve never heard ‘em like this before: described aptly by publicity materials as “bringing to light one of the most common but still overlooked forms of American folk music”, the product is bright and boisterous in turns, yet universally sparse and sweet and soulful, with trumpet brass, slow bass and subtle percussion bringing the songs of folk’s childhood forward with masterful maturity and a graceful tenderness.

rubygillLess a cover than a distillation of several songs – from Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Alicia Keys, respectively – performed with little more than lush and layered vocals and a looped acoustic guitar, this fine performance appeared in our mailbox way back in March, thanks to Melbourne-based pop experimentalist and “aspiring redhead” Ruby Gill, whose late-2016 full-length debut Older swarms with catchy, hook-laden noise and heavy beats and nothing folk at all, making both this track and Stockings For Skating, her recent, pensive single about “not wanting to adult today”, somewhat of an anomaly…but welcome ones, nonetheless.

bbcSpeaking of the hippest New York borough: Brooklyn Bluegrass Collective‘s summer of 2016 album is – as the title implies – a second pass at coverage from a loose organization of Brooklyn-based pickers and players determined to share the joys of the rich NYC Bluegrass scene through collaboration. We found them by pulling threads backwards from this delightfully hushed banjo-driven take on Bright Eyes’ alternative-turned-mainstream radio hit First Day Of My Life, which comes off as less simple than you thought, though equally heartfelt, in this new arrangement; continuing the threads back towards Volume 1 reveals homage to much more traditional bluegrass standards from the likes of Jimmy Martin and Larry Sparks, and a more traditional sound, suggesting a trajectory of modern ownership that honors the urban bluegrass movement and its wide influence quite well, indeed.

setadriftPercussive fingerstyle guitarists and singer-songwriters Daryl Kellie and Jon Hart’s late-Winter Pledgemusic campaign to release their recent work together has been either reduplicated or extended past its original deadline, and good thing, too: Set Adrift, the now-available-for-download collaboration which forms the raison d’etre for the campaign, turns out to be very much worth pursuit, for both concept and craft. Recorded over the course of five days on a houseboat on the River Thames, the originals and covers which populate the sessions yaw and pitch softly and gently like the river that spawned them, even as they echo the various British folk traditions which bore them there: this take on Sting’s exploration of place and identity is fun, but it isn’t the strongest cut on the album; head over to Pledgemusic to put your money down, and make their playful, pitch-perfect originals The Lock and High Tide, and their similarly exquisite version of instrumental Cannonball Rag, part of your summer soundtrack now. (Bonus points: this amazing take on Pink Floyd’s Money by Jon Hart is one of my favorite one-take YouTube videos ever.)

maahFinally, Philly bluegrass band Man About A Horse aren’t technically new to this blog; we featured their in-studio Beehive Productions take on traditional track Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms in February as part of our Covered In Tradfolk round-up, though we didn’t say much about the group or its tidal emotional pull at the time. But their self-titled April release is a barnstormer of a full-length debut, an exceptional exemplar of the young grassband genre that rocks with wry, green energy from the very first original track…and takes on Hall and Oates and Radiohead along the way to great effect. Add in a track from their 2015 four-track EP, which also includes a wonderful cover of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, and you can hear why we’re excited to catch them live sometime soon.

Looking for more great music for your Summer soundtrack? Then stay tuned in the days ahead as Cover Lay Down continues its exploration of the modern folkways with a return to Falcon Ridge, our very favorite folkfestival, set to sparkle amidst New York farm country August 4-6, 2017!

Comment » | New Artists Old Songs

New Artists, Old Songs: Introducing
Will Cookson, Robert Nottingham, Daphne Willis, Good Harvest & more!

September 25th, 2016 — 8:10pm

We’ve been in hiding for a few weeks while the school year kicks in, calibrating against the winds of change as they rail against the tide. What better time to feature the new sounds of the season? Read on for coverage of Sufjan Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash, The 1975, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and more from a set of emerging artists and newfound discoveries well worth a second listen.

cooksonWe start today with a bit of pianissimo whisperfolk with tense undertones and swells from Bristol-bred alt-folk songwriter Will Cookson, who made us cry with his take on this Sufjan Stevens cover. Cookston’s newest album Ghosts of the Morning Sun will hit the skids in October. Feature track Worthing Beach is intimate and epic, with sweeping arrangement, wistful voice and an aching heart; we’re happy to have it, and eager for more.

0008133357_10Like a fragile field recording, this amateur Bandcamp find – a secondhand cover, built by stripping down Halsey’s dreamy indie electropop b-side – lingers in the psyche, a haunting heartmurmur heard long after the last gently plucked note fades. Kudos to Bostonian singer-songwriter Maryam Raad, about whom we can find no more but this and a single single; if and when that changes, we’ll let you know.

symbolsAnd now for something completely different: a refreshing acoustic-swing jazzfunk rock take on a familiar Fleetwood Mac classic from husband and wife duo The Symbols, exclusively released here on Cover Lay Down. Equal parts Django and Hendrix, the track is a delight, with powerhouse pop in the throat and an audible grin on the lips of lead singer Mer Sal making for the perfect compliment to cymbal-crashing percussion, backup singer oohs, and Grammy-nominated hubby Jasco’s string-bending wizardry.

Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 7.43.45 AMA little pop, precisely done; a little jazz in the slippery tone, and more than a little soul have us falling in love with Daphne Willis, whose summer release Come Together takes on five Beatles songs in a set that gently combines the best of Stevie Wonder, Mazzy Star, and Imagine Dragons without losing a whit of authenticity. Willis hails from Nashville, but there’s Chicago in her history and sound, too; with a voice like that, odds are she’ll be from everywhere soon.

nottinghamIt’s over a year old, but a failed attempt at focusing a coverlook lens on the songbook of The 1975 leaves us nonetheless with this dear, raw, gently poppy track from Manchester singer-songwriter Robert Nottingham – a standout radiopop reminiscence translated into the solo, pensive mold. We’re having trouble putting this one down, and you will, too; head on over to his pages on Bandcamp and YouTube for more than forty more great coversongs performed live and at home.

okkoLA-based producer/vocalist duo OKKO‘s brand new world-beat cover of Heartbeats, originally by The Knife and famously transformed for the folkworld by indie transformationalist Jose Gonzalez, turns the secondhand into contemporary gold with sitar, synths, and eastern percussion, making the track, the first in an intended series of Indian and Yoga-inspired transformations of popular song from a duo whose previous work includes “cowrites with Cyndi Lauper, singing on Britney Spears tracks, and pop releases in Sweden,” an auspicious harbinger of what may come as they take on Nirvana, MGMT, and more.

Like the tight, aching harmonies of First Aid Kit, but prefer your Swedish vocal harmonies a little less sharp? Then it’s time to try this gorgeous new version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, which belongs in the pantheon right alongside Darlingside and Heather Maloney and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: crisp, clear, and tight as an indian drum; sort, soaring, smooth and pure as springwater, lovingly presented in its native video form as the artists intended, and with a Coldplay cover from the same barn session as a bonus. Kudos to harmony-and-guitar duo Good Harvest for a perfect pairing of song and singers – we’ll see at least one of these songs again in our best of 2016, for sure.

Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the modern folkways through coverage since 2007 thanks to supporters like you. Coming soon: our annual Fall fund drive, plus new and newfound tribute albums and cover compilations, artist features, and more!

1 comment » | New Artists Old Songs

Mailbag Mayhem: New covers of
The Beatles, Beyonce, Teenage Fanclub, The Grateful Dead & more!

August 11th, 2016 — 9:56pm

How lovely to return from two weeks in the folkfields soaked in sun and song and find the mailbag bulging with transformative takes on songs we love. We’ve sifted through and found the very best of a set that covers the gamut from tender indiefolk and solo singer-songwriter fare to bluegrass, roots, and Americana; now read on for some very new coverage from a diverse set of international artists working in and around the folkways – all recorded or released in the last few weeks, and all very much worth your time.

Revolver turned 50 last week; in its honor, a set of mostly Brazilian artists have spent the week performing songs from the album for a mostly-live project called BH Beatle Week, and the results are just divine. Our favorite project contribution: this bright, dreamy, gently psychedelic cover from contemporary folk duo Lindsay and Isaac (and friend Vini), perfect for wistful summer’s end. See also Junk, recorded back in January by the same trio of artists – a beautiful, tender rendition of Paul McCartney’s best post-Beatles lullaby.

Indie-slash-antifolk singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, who has been pretty quiet since her last release in 2012, covered the Beatles recently, too, for the soundtrack of new animated feature Kubo and the Two Strings. Fittingly tinged with neotraditional Japanese instrumentation over orchestral strings, the cover, which hit the ether over the weekend, is both stirring and strange, a fitting match for a film that promises much, and seems poised to deliver.

Wisconsin-based, classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter and CLD frequent flyer Anna Elizabeth Laube sent along this Beyonce cover almost a month ago, but it’s well worth bringing forward: hushed, beautiful, and truly folk, with unexpected horns and a pulsing vibe that soothes and sways. At this point, we’d listen to Laube the sing the phone book; that she’s managed to wring such depth and dynamic tension from such an unusual source is both typical and praiseworthy.

New on Noisetrade, this previously unreleased Teenage Fanclub cover serves as 1/4 of a sampler EP re-introducing the world to the throwback California country sounds of Detroit “guitar-pop” band The Legal Matters. And what an introduction it is, too: perfect for those last lazy summer afternoons, and sure to please fans of The Jayhawks, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, and other folk-pop radio hitmakers that still populate classic rock radio.

Released in June but now rising to the top, Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky, the “focus” track of Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind, was put up on Youtube at the end of July: like much of this collection of old-timey “cheatin’ and hurtin’ songs” from BC-based septet The High Bar Gang, it’s a slow piece, and gentler than the Flatt and Scruggs original. But it’s the high-driving energy of traditional album opener Silver Dagger, a translation that owes much to Dolly Parton’s 1999 take on the song yet with a bright and busty energy all its own, that grabs us and pulls us in, hard and grinning, to spin and whirl.

It’s been a while since we last featured contemporary Hudson Valley singer-songwriter Susan Kane here on these pages, naming her sly, bluesy take on the Grateful Dead classic Loser as one of our top 20 coversongs of 2012, but we’re thrilled to have her back on the radar with two new Dead covers and a set of potent originals that reveal a rich and eminently human inner world through the superimposition of the mundane and the magic. An acoustic Americana album with guest musicians galore, new album Mostly Fine is enjoying a soft release; snag it now via CD Baby before folk radio beats you to it.

Just three albums into a promising career, London ex-pat vocalist and composer Joanna Wallfisch is hard to categorize, but everything’s good about near-perfect new CD Gardens In My Mind, which yaws wide as it swings from a playful, stuttering barrelhouse pianojazz title track to lush world-and-classical folk a la Jean Rohe (Satin Grey). Though mostly comprised of vibrant, contemporary originals, the album also includes a crooner’s soft pianopop Tim Buckley cover and this completely deconstructed string-quartet take on All I Want that just blows our mind…and then does it again, in a gorgeously layered, looping a capella reprise of the same song that leaves us aching and breathless.

Most folks move from folk to Broadway, if anything. But with debut album Somebody, Ryan Vona – who appeared there in folk musical Once, and currently stars as Joey in the Cirque Du Soleil musical Paramour – isn’t so much moving backwards as he is forging ahead into new territory in pure, potent voice. New single The Letterbox is an earnest, playful newgrass revelation, with an adorable video featuring an animated grasshopper in a paper bag world; add in an arrangement of Danny Boy which dances around the “original” tune composed by his ancestor Rory Dall O’Cahan, and we’re pleased to welcome him to the folkways with open arms and accolades.

  • VIDEO: Lucy LaForge, Katie Ferrara, Kaitlin Wolfberg: Dreams (orig. Fleetwood Mac)
  • VIDEO: Lucy LaForge & Evan Blum: Just A Friend To You (orig. Meghan Trainor)

Last but certainly not least, we close today with a pair of darling YouTube covers from Lucy LaForge, the whimsical indie frontwoman of Lucy & La Mer who has already brought us such joy this year through covers of Tainted Love and Bad Blood. Dreams, a raw, ragged, sparse and oh so sweet new Fleetwood Mac cover, was mixed on the same board as Rumors, the seminal 1977 album which brought us such well-covered delights as Go Your Own Way, The Chain, Dreams and Gold Dust Woman; as a bonus, it also features fellow LA-based artist Katie Ferrara, whose absolutely delightful cover of Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes featured here just a few weeks ago in our flavor-laden Popsicle Mix. Add in one of the sweetest boy-girl uke covers I’ve heard this year, and it’s easy to see why we’ve fallen in love.

Comment » | Mailbag Monday, New Artists Old Songs, Tube Thursday

Rising Stars in the Sun: Falcon Ridge Emerging Artists
cover Neil Young, Lorde, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Michael Jackson & more!

July 8th, 2016 — 11:38am


We’ve already shared our love for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which takes place this year on August 4-7 in beautiful New York farm country at the foot of the Berkshires. Since our original feature, however, the festival has released its list of Emerging Artists, who will perform on the mainstage Friday, August 5 from noon to 4:30, and this year’s crop represents an exceptionally talented mix of the young and the rising. Today, then, we present a second feature in their honor; read on for news and coverage, and enjoy!

Well-known in the industry as a highly competitive proving ground for artists on the cusp of national recognition, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill Emerging Artists Showcase is not a contest, per se. Instead, it is a celebration, in which 24 performers selected by a jury of venue promoters and radio hosts perform a two song showcase, and then offer meet-and-greet opportunities by the merchandise tent. Afterwards, festival attendee surveys poll the crowd on who they’d most like to see again; the top three vote-getters are asked to come back the following year for a mainstage Song Swap, ensuring a loving welcome for those who stand out among the crowd.

To be fair, though, those who garner top votes in that poll do tend to be those whose stars are rising fastest. Fresh out of high school singer-songwriter Annika Bennett, who garnered top votes in 2015 and whose cover of Jackson 5 hit I Want You Back made our Best of 2015 collection, offers a perfect example of how successful this two-tiered selection process is: since her appearance last year, she has gone on to earn a recording contract from Sony on the strength of a single debut EP, and will be off to Nashville after joining us as a Most Wanted returnee alongside Gina Forsyth and Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes. Other beloved artists familiar to these pages who have been chosen by audiences to return to the mainstage in the just the past couple of years include Darlingside, Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, Roosevelt Dime, Parsonsfield, Spuyten Duyvil, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Red Molly, Joe Crookston, Pesky J. Nixon, and more – a fine list of names, and a familiar one to those who watch the folk charts and coffeehouses.

But even those who don’t garner top votes and honors often go on to greatness. Among others, second-generation singer-songwriter Grace Pettis, cello-and-guitar-wielding indiefolk duo Tall Heights, and Heather Maloney, who will appear on the festival mainstage this year, have graced the Emerging Artists stage in recent years, coming in as “also rans” even as their careers took flight; we’ve got our ears on Texan singer-songwriter Matt Harlan, who came in fourth in last year balloting, as a new favorite as well.

All in all, if you’ve got folk in your heart and you’re looking for a handle on what to love next, Friday afternoon by the Falcon Ridge mainstage is absolutely the place to be this summer. And we’re thrilled to be able to offer a preview tour of sorts today, as a complement to our June feature on the mainstage artists featured at this year’s festival.

Our own history with the Emerging Artists showcase is one of discovery; most years we fall in love at least twice, and as such, we’re loathe to call favorites this early in the game. But the list of artists we’re especially excited to hear this August in the showcase is richer and vaster than usual – a healthy sign of the continued relevance and vibrancy of both Falcon Ridge and the larger world of folk.

Don’t-miss standouts we know enough to recommend highly include young local artist Kirsten Maxwell, whose potent, evocative voice recently showed up on these virtual pages in perfect harmony with Matt Nakoa and Rachael Kilgour; Gloucester, MA singer-songwriter Chelsea Berry, whose gorgeous, hearty alto takes on Patty Griffin and others have found their way to these pages before; field and campsite favorite Putnam Smith, with his wry grin and masterful, evocative banjo; and Vermont duo Cricket Blue, whose warm strings and gentle harmonies have been on our radar since a Beehive Productions session last year. And we’re especially excited to hear more from Low Lily, a fiddle-and-string trio previously known and loved as Annalivia, whose sparse, delightful handclap-heavy cover of Nelly’s Nobody Knows is included below as a bonus track.

Others we’re just discovering include NYC popfolk songstresses Rachael Sage, back for a second run at the Emerging Artist mantle, whose recent duet with Judy Collins is stunning, and Kate Copeland, whose indie guitar and voice soar like a bird. Contemporary folk is well represented by folks familiar to us from local folk radio programming, like Susan Cattaneo, a local artist whose rich contemporary folk albums have featured studio work from Mark Erelli and Lorne Entress, Joni Mitchell reinterpreter and songwriter Kipyn Martin, jazzfolk explorer Lara Herscovitch, and Amy Soucy, whose take on Neil Young’s Comes A Time speaks for itself.

We’re really looking forward to hearing more from empowered Washington DC indiepop artist Heather Mae, whose voice is to die for and whose upcoming Kickstarter-driven sophomore album is surely destined for indie chart greatness, masterful guitar wizard Jacob Johnson, and Jamie Michaels, whose 2013 album Unknown Blessings – his ninth – takes on the songs of his rising star peers to great effect. Add in the rest, from rocking cowboy country bandleaders gone solo (Brad Cunningham, Marc Berger) to melodic harmony duos (The Rafters, Bettman & Halpin), from mid-career songstresses (Elaine Romanelli, Sarah Beatty) to young male singer-songwriter upstarts (Austin MacRae, Mike Herz, Paddy Mills, Will Pfrang), and the afternoon promises to be phenomenal.

Though studio recordings are a prerequisite for jury consideration, not all of these 24 artists have recorded covers, of course. But many have, offering easy opportunity for us to honor our own mandate to create comfort through coverage, and in doing so, introduce you to new voices to love. By way of that introduction, then, and to tempt you a little further, we’ve gathered in as many “good ones” as we could find; listen in, and then click through for this wonderful Spotify list to hear more originals and covers from the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Emerging Artists Showcase performers in celebration of the next generation of folkstars.

Just to prove it can be done, here’s today’s bonus track, as promised – originally recorded on Low Lily fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger’s “exquisite” 2013 covers album Covers, in which “every note counts, and every note lingers.”

Comment » | Festival Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs

New Artists, Old Songs: Introducing
St. Beaufort, Andrea Silva, Roniit, Jen Lane, Freddy & Francine and more!

June 11th, 2016 — 2:48pm

The mailbag’s been a bit backed up, but we’re always glad to consider both accidental encounters and unsolicited work here at Cover Lay Down, especially when it reveals such gems as today’s New Artists coverfeature. Read on for click-and-stream covers of Dylan, Lucius, The Cardigans, Jackson Browne, Big Star, Radiohead, Angus and Julia Stone and more in a set that ranges from dear, delightful countrified twang to dark electro and antifolk, with stops in Appalachia, rural Britannia, experimental piano rooms, tableside bar sessions, and the singer-songwriter’s coffeehouse along the way.

beauWell-traveled international folk/bluegrass trio St. Beaufort, who has been crossing borders on the fest and concert scene in and around Denmark, England, Germany and Switzerland since their debut EP release in 2013, bridges the gap between Appalachia and the contemporary scene like nobody’s business. They also meet regularly around the table in Berlin with a special guest and a bottle of whiskey to film a song for YouTube; it’s usually a cover of some classic folk tune, and like this rollicking fake-out featuring New Mexico friend Trevor Bahnson sent to us in honor of Dylan’s 75th birthday, it’s generally wonderful, offering an intimate and joyous glimpse into folkways as the folkways should be.

Red Diesel smallThere’s tradfolk at the core of Pilgrim’s Way, too; sure enough, most of the songs on their 2016 sophomore release Red Diesel are dug from the European tradition. But there’s a few great surprises here, too, as the band transforms more popular songs from Paul Simon and String Cheese Incident into gentle ballads with strings and guitar and piano and the potent brogue of founding lead singer Lucy Wright, who has since moved on from the band. Here, some serious reinvention turns Boy In The Bubble into a slippery, unsettling, mournful ballad, while traditional reel Boston City straddles the pond, adding jawharp and harmonica to a more traditional Celtic hoot and holler for great effect.

For more experimental tradfolk in the tradition of the Unthanks, Kate Rusby, and other unravellers of the Northern UK tradition, look no further than Glasgow’s Wildings, a newly-formed female trio of piano, fiddle, flute and voice whose two well-chosen takes on old songs The Beggarman and Handsome Cabin Boy straddle The Bellamy Suite, a 15 minute multi-movement tour de force at the core of their self-titled debut – commissioned by Live Music Now Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland and inspired by painter John Bellany’s lifelong connection to the sea – that leaves us aching for more.

Jen Lane‘s new album This Life Of Mine, released in February, contains just one cover, but it’s a strong introduction to the work of this Saskatchewan singer-songwriter: clear-as-a-bell acoustic twangfolk stylings complete with sweet, warm, wistfully gentle alto vocals, a cowboy’s harmonica and dobro, country kickdrum, and a sixties picker’s hand on the guitar that seep into you like summer’s dappled sunlight. Bonus points for Jen & John, a gentle 2014 duo EP with John Antoniuk that includes solid folkrock covers of J.J. Cale and Ryan Adams.

Independent songwriter and visual artist Roniit comes from Colorado but sounds like she emerges raw from your darkest dreams. Check out this piano cover of The Cardigans’ Lovefool, with its aching layers of octaved voices and an echoing fragility, clear and resonant, that wraps the smooth mysticism of Enya with a postmodern Rachmaninoff darkness inside a delicious indiepop world, for the perfect introduction.

Found in a random Bandcamp dive and immediately cherished, Nicolas Sales and Lydia Rose Turino‘s one-shot duet album Everything, All At Once is delightful and diverse, with shades of everything from smooth Burt Bacharach vibes to dark and unsettling indiepop. Small Hands, originally recorded by reclusive alt-rock artist Keaton Henson, echoes the early days of the high-production post-grunge indie world; their hushed, indiefolk cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days evokes Elliott Smith while beating out the other Nico’s cover for perfect Wes Anderson soundtrack placement sound.

Tape hiss and drowned, whispered vocals on Cherry Patty, a homegrown 4-track covers EP, typify the deconstructionist anti-folk aesthetic of autumn-autumn, another Bandcamp find who self-records her fragile bedroom recordings in her home in Minsk, Belarus. Original titles like while i was sleeping you were almost dead and covers that take on The Moldy Peaches and a pair of tracks by Angus and Julia Stone only reinforce her alliance and taste.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 2.26.41 PMSometimes the good stuff finds you; sometimes, as in the case of these chilled, shimmering takes on Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film) and John Cale’s Big White Cloud from slow-core chanteuse Kingscrossing, you find it yourself – in this case, on a wander through the coversongs community over at Reddit. A quick reach-out to the artist reveals that Kingscrossing, aka 30 year old Swedish singer-songwriter Emelie, used to be in post-rock band Killers Walk Among Us; now it’s just her and the piano, and although she’s only been putting out tracks for a month or so, both the covers and originals on her Soundcloud page are a revelation.

asilvaA ringing, reverb-drenched take on well-covered Elliott Smith tune Between The Bars and a raw, Smith-like interpretation of a song originally by Colombian band Oh’LaVille show both the range and promise of emergent indie-primitive singer-songwriter Andrea Silva, Columbian-born herself but now based in Los Angeles. The former starts sparse and solo, and builds to a rich electrofolk sound; the latter sports an equally potent home recorded acoustic vibe that drowns tired voice in a haze of guitar. Ready yourself for shivers.

freddyFinally, if you liked Reid Jamieson last week, you’ll love Freddy & Francine, aka Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso, who showcased at Folk Alliance this year and are slated to release new record Gung Ho, an Indiegogo-funded masterpiece, in just hours. Precisely articulated, with swooping harmonies and a simple strum, the stormy on-and-off-stage West Coast couple presents a fine Americana soul that echoes the work of post-millennial indiefolk duo act The Civil Wars in the studio, and the raw intimacy of the stage – which first brought them together in 2008 for a production of Hair – in such one-off performances as this luscious 2015 take on Lucius’ Go Home.

Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the modern folkways through coverage since 2007 thanks to supporters like you. Coming soon: new tribute albums and cover compilations from 2016, plus our annual Falcon Ridge Folk festival preview with songs of and from old favorites Tom Rush, Patty Larkin, Peter Mulvey, The Mike & Ruthie Band and more!

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New Artists, Old Songs: Rising Stars Reinterpret
Randy Newman, Sia, Soft Cell, Adele, The Magnetic Fields & more!

March 5th, 2016 — 9:16pm

The virtual mailbag bursts at the digital seams with new submissions, and some of it is quite good, indeed. Today, we return to a perennial conceit to frame the festivities, celebrating new, newfound and still-emerging artists from Dublin to Nashville as they pay homage to their roots, their peers, and the popular. Enjoy – and as always, follow links to purchase and pursue your favorites, the better to patronize the arts, and support the folkways.

mikebeneckeLA singer-songwriter Mike Benecke may have gotten his start touring with punk and indie bands, but as press comparisons to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Alexi Murdoch after the release of his 2012 self-titled EP suggest, his solo work strips away the grunge and grime, revealing a beautiful, slow, intimate and rich dreamfolk, with sparse clear-as-a-bell layers of smooth, haunting bass, keys, and pedal steel gently supporting an acoustic core of fingerpicked, resonant strings and an honest hoarseness in the voice that aches like wolves in the near distance. This Randy Newman cover, an outtake from brand new debut LP Call The Waves, is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, and it’s a hell of a teaser: an apt, quiet echo of an early urban morning that carries the song exquisitely.

lucyandIndie artists Lucy & La Mer caught our attention with their equally dreamy, pulsing take on Soft Cell classic Tainted Love, the sole cover from sweet folk pop EP Little Spoon, a uke-and-synth-driven collection flush and twee with bells, horns, and fingersnaps and lightly bouncy, wryly honest melody lines and lyrics just aching for a happy indie film montage. The black and white body-positive burlesque-troupe video they’ve just released to promote the song offers a response to recent sexual harassment issues in the music media; like the music itself, it’s decidedly steamy with a satirical bite, simultaneously discomforting and dear.

12308761_920841827951715_685359104699812121_nI keep meaning to get to a Single Song Sunday feature for Magnetic Fields classic The Book Of Love, which we’ve featured in several incarnations here on the blog since our inception in 2007. As a closer for Dubliner Gavin James‘ debut Bitter Pill – an otherwise haunting solo pop album that invites easy comparison to James Blunt and Ed Sheeran, due to drop on Tuesday – the song offers a soaring, echoing muse on the nature of love itself from an artist already filling clubs and halls on both sides of the proverbial pond, and surely on the cusp of something even bigger.

Beyond-The-Rain-Album-Cover-307x307I imagine discovering Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was a bit like this: the gentle rise and fall, the etherial voices, the subtle harmonies, the purity of sound and sadness, the precision of tone, and the tiniest hint of primitive blues drone underneath it all bringing deep solace to the soul. Such is Beyond The Rain, the first major label album from duo Quiles & Cloud, produced by Grammy-winning banjo player and artist Allison Brown on the strength of two fan-funded releases, four years on tour in a VW hatchback, and the most stunning arrangements of the canon I’ve heard yet this year: an album of endless reward that will still leave you yearning for more.

Decidedly young NYC folkpop four-piece Morningsiders hasn’t even finished recording their own debut, but they’re already rising fast on the strength of a single single after it appeared in the pilot for new Amy Poehler Hulu vehicle Difficult People and subsequently rocketed to the top of the Spotify charts. This living room Sia cover that follows it is raw and resonant, a band still facing inward as it defines its sound; it’s also a true blue delight, transforming a pop original into something gentle and comforting, intimately performed with fiddle, stand-up bass, guitar and harmonies around a single microphone.

Morningsiders: Reaper (orig. Sia) [2016]

Mandolin and bass “gutter-folk” duo Driftwood Soldier hasn’t just covered folk standard John Henry, they’ve translated it into the modern age, reframing the song as a commentary on racist corporate greed, and the titular larger-than-life character as a wage slave scion of the modern white-collar world. The chunky, funky sound they adopt here echoes that of last year’s debut Scavenger’s Joy, a wonderfully bouncy, grungy, organic collection chock full of growled vocals, howling slackstrings, and percussive found materials (including coffee cans and suitcases) that evokes both history and reinvention, with hints of early Deadhead experimentation, Leon Russell’s soul, the field recordings of Robert Johnson and Lead Belly, and the sparse, harsh deconstruction of Morphine.

Driftwood Soldier: John Henry (trad.) [2016]

Twenty-something L.A. Edwards comes to us thanks to our recent double-feature on Tom Petty; the young Californian songwriter is a protege of Heartbreaker Ron Blair, and his manager made the connection and sent along this cover. We’re grateful, too: L.A. (aka Luke Andrew) was raised on Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Cat Stevens, but after years on the road with his brother as a duo after dropping out of high school at 15, his most recent output – as heard in this and other tracks from his recent live YouTube series The El Nino Sessions, and in this stunning four-part Soundcloud collection – is encore-ready folk rock with just the right hint of alt-country, rich in high-baritone-and-tenor harmonies and spare in all other ways, like a perfect next-generation combination of Ryan Adams, Simon & Garfunkel, and Petty himself.

L.A. Edwards: If I Needed You (orig. Townes Van Zandt) [2016]

Adele covers are going to be big this year, for sure. But singer-songwriter Ryan Larkins, who placed third on CMT show Can You Duet in 2009, offers something special: a relatively faithful solo cover of a deep cut from her newest album that demonstrates crystal clear vocals and guitar skill and, in doing so, shows just how easily Adele’s heartache translates across gender lines. Pair it with a gorgeously hushed, soulful, slide-and-pick take on old gospel hymnal standard Pass Me Not played on an old 60′s Silvertone flat top guitar, note that this pair of covers represents a single week’s output for the Nashville-based Christian acoustic folk-rocker, and keep an eye out for more from this incredible, incredibly versatile still-rising star.

Ryan Larkins: Million Years Ago (orig. Adele) [2016]

Ryan Larkins: Pass Me Not (orig. Fanny Crosby) [2016]

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

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New Artists, Old Songs: 2016 Rising Stars
(with The Oh Hellos, Elle King, Elouise and more!)

January 10th, 2016 — 3:00pm

We’re finally ready to look ahead to 2016, with backburner entries bubbling in the works featuring single-artist songbooks through acoustic and folk coverage and a resurrection of some wonderful songs to celebrate next Saturday’s Unity House Concert with intimate, graceful singer-songwriter Antje Duvekot.

Today, then, let’s begin our forward-looking exploration by ringing in the new with news of the now – a broad celebration of folk and roots artists with careers on the rise, from the dark and gothic to the delicate and sweet. Read on to learn more about Elouise, The Oshima Brothers, Mia Rose Lynne, The Oh Hellos, The Orphan Brigade, The Button Collective, Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear, the folkier side of Elle King, and more!

Formed complete with a soundtrack-composers-turned-album-makers mythos, new “blackgrass” collective Elouise plays a primitive, angsty, menacing form of folk that uses vintage Appalachian string instruments and gear to squeeze the raw pain out of the psyche through song.

And yes, it’s as good as that makes it sound.

Tipped off by a tense, scratchy Christmas cover of Silent Night that was anything but calm and bright, we had to go looking for more. Their forthcoming debut, the aptly-named Deep Water, drops early in 2016, and we’re eager for it: check out this beautiful whole-cloth deconstruction of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, and a pair of traditionals reborn as stunning gothic hymns, to hear why, and then click through for originals of equal delight on their website.

Speaking of taking on the tradition, here’s two vastly different versions of Paddy’s Lamentation, a Canadian tune from the 1870s that made its way to Ireland and has since been recorded by Mary Black and Sinead O’Connor, that together provide a study in range and reach in the world of up-and-comers.

The first, released in November on debut full-length Soundtrack To A Ghost Story, comes from indie folk band The Orphan Brigade, who bring us exactly the simple tour de force of haunting melody and atmosphere that history buffs could have anticipated: the band, named after a group of Confederates from Kentucky who suffered heavy losses during the war, recorded the album in an infamous house deep in Kentucky well-stocked with the ghosts of the Civil War, and it sounds like it.

Meanwhile, Australian folksters The Button Collective, who together live their sound by helping crew a 107 foot, two-mast schooner every few months, and whose new four-song EP The Lonesome Sea shows a same smashing, rollicking, heavy-on-the-downbeat sea-folk influence, take a substantively different turn on the same tune, with fiddle and flute and squeezebox and drum and a tip of the hat to the same side of the tradition that drove the sea shanty into the world of punk rock. Thanks to Timber and Steel, as always, for helping us stay on top of the Aussie folkworld, this time with a track-by-track read on the EP from frontman Brodie Buttons.

There’s only one cover on Dear Wormwood, the October release from Texas-based brother-and-sister duo The Oh Hellos, and it’s a bit of an anomaly, a classical instrumental piece from the public domain turned into a gypsy barnraiser on the lathe of modern folk rock. But the album it contains is delightful: a catchy, sweet-to-resolute journey through a psyche tracing the dissolution of a relationship, framed as a series of letters and couched in a comprehensive soundscape that will linger in your ears for days. Regular readers may recognize the band from a few Christmases ago, when we featured their wonderful holiday EP; their debut dates back to 2012, and just over 50 thousand likes on their Facebook page make “new artist” labels a stretch, but we’re still watching the meteor rise, and so should you.

Bonus points for Johnnycake Street, a fledgling all-female four-piece string band, who covers The Oh Hellos like a shy southern cul-de-sac on this brand new video-sourced take on Hello My Old Heart, just the first of several covers on a YouTube page that is still just starting out. Discovered via the team at Billsville House Concerts, who feature amazing national touring acts in their Manchester, VT living room; even if you don’t live near enough to make it to a show, their schedule alone provides a potent who’s who of other voices to watch carefully.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 2.31.49 PMJamie Oshima‘s roughcut cover of Ed Sheeran’s Tenerife Sea came to our attention – and ultimately found its way onto our Best Singles of 2015 mixtape – thanks to a mention from fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger, whose year-end emails are always chock full of wonderful things. But where Tenerife Sea suffered from amateur recording quality, and this gleefully looped slowpop take on Happy from Jamie and his brother Sean leaned more on youthful, amateur exuberance, this new Passenger cover represents a huge jump forward for the sibling pair: pure as silk, and just as dear, with gentle harmonies and guitars and a perfect tonality for a song which celebrates the mystery of youthful encounters with the heart.

MWMB-BWWe started feeling the buzz for Missouri-based mother-son duo Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear midway through last year, thanks to a wonderful mid-summer debut that led to prime coverage on both local and international public radio – and rightfully so: though sibling harmonies are common enough in the folk marketplace, parent-child harmonies are much less so; even then, they typically form as one-shot or occasional matches featuring second-gen artists from Sam Grisman to Lucy Wainwright Roche backing up more famous parentage, not emerging artist pairings in which the son is the songwriter, though he learned his stagecraft from watching mom perform covers in local coffeehouses.

But the joy here is in the song, not the situation. Once the novelty of the generational pairing wears off, we’re left with a strong impression of tenderness and talent, with warm, soulful vocals and skillful hands on the guitar from Madisen and Mama Ruth, whose closeness shines through the music and its intimate one-take production. Even if all we could find by way of recorded coverage from the soul-folk duo was a February 2015 take on Fleetwood Mac from a SiriusXM session, this is their year, I think.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 2.27.06 PMElle King is on the rise, for sure, with two Grammy Nominations for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song after last year’s excellent (and platinum-selling) Ex’s and Oh’s. But those familiar with her produced alternative sound, as in her rockin’ take on Tom Petty’s American Girl, may not have realized that she is at heart a student of the folkways, using banjo as a compositional tool, and producing bluesy stripped down covers like this one, from SiriusXM’s Alt Nation.

Finally, simple, sincere California-grown and Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mia Rose Lynne hasn’t done much in the way of coverage in the studio, but a holy host of sweet, ringing, hopeful bedroom covers on her YouTube page make for a depth of canon and influence sure to delight and lead us to sophomore album Follow Me Moon, which drops this Friday and is already being touted as a tour de force by UK Folk Radio. The singer-songwriter is often compared to Allison Krauss and Joni Mitchell, but the nuances here are lustier, and more her own, as heard and seen in last year’s cover of I Will – which Krauss has covered with much more fanfare and much less delicacy – and further takes on Fionn Regan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, and other bittersweet balladeers of modernity.

  • Mia Rose Lynne: Be Good Or Be Gone (orig. Fionn Regan) [2015]

  • Mia Rose Lynne: I Will (orig. The Beatles) [2015]

Cover Lay Down shares ethnographic musings and coverfolk throughout the year thanks to the kindness and support of patrons like you. Give now, and receive an exclusive 38-track mix of unblogged folk covers from 2014-2015!

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