Category: New Artists Old Songs


New Artists, Old Songs: from indiefolk to bluegrass
with Stampede Road, Mountain Man, AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss & more!

January 25th, 2014 — 2:36pm

I’ve been too deep in the songs up in my head these past weeks, trying to call up old fragments and refrains in memory while sitting in silence marred only by the whirring pellet stove and the faint and constant ring of tinnitus. But this is a practice that is wholly the wrong way ’round: music is meant to be heard and sung, not merely echoed in the brain; we are shamed at the realization, and determined to make amends.

And so we pursue a corrective action: a dig into the mailbag, the artist blogs and facebook pages, and the various components of the digital rumor mill to celebrate the emergent coverfolk of folk, roots, and Americana artists both known and new with a New Artists, Old Songs feature today, and the promise of news to come of recordings and releases from other, more familiar voices as winter marches ever onward.

Read on for covers of Dylan, the Dead, Low Anthem, John Denver, Blondie, Traffic, tradfolk and more from new artists Stampede Road, Mountain Man, The Tuttles with AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss, and Holy Moly and the Crackers. May your ears, too, take pleasure in the new sounds, even as we cherish those in our hearts and heads.

stampedeAll I know about Edinburgh-based folk band Stampede Road is what they sent me, which wasn’t much: a pair of streaming split singles on Bandcamp, and nary a website to be found. But the lo-fi session cover of The Low Anthem’s OMGCD that accompanied the missive from this newly formed quartet led by singer songwriter Graeme Duncan is beautifully raw, intimate, timeless and weary. And following the threads to more produced tracks White Rooms, Night Terrors, and brand new 2014 single Old Town, recently featured on Largehearted Boy and Captains Dead, reveals a shimmery overlay of reverb and harmony that adds richness and flavor in the studio, making for a dreamy, delicate Appalachian-flavored folkpop with just enough originality and quirkiness to suit the indie ear.



mountainmanFans of First Aid Kit and labelmates Deer Tick and Dolorean will love this recent John Denver cover from all-girl indie group Mountain Man, with its layered voices and gentle, melodic acoustic guitar. All of us love that Mountain Man, a trio of young twenty-something singer-songwriters who met at Bennington College, and were essentially dormant in the last few years after touring around 2010 debut Made the Harbour, appear to be back on the radar for more precious, precocious quietfolk in the months and years to come, both as a band, and with solo and side projects from members Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath, who continue to share news of recordings and shows with Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun, Feist, and other well known names from the indie community on the Mountain Man Facebook page. Here’s hoping for more as the year goes on.



Skafolk isn’t a thing, but if it were, first in line for kudos and Grammy nominations this season would surely be Newcastle based band Holy Moly and the Crackers, who add celtic fiddle flavor and a Jamaican beat for a brooding cover of tradtune Ain’t No Grave to close out their upcoming three-track EP Lilly, a “re-imagining” of three traditional folk/blues songs that evokes eras of whiskey and guns on modern punk folk steroids. The band, who play “a lively, moonshine mix of Romani, Americana and contemporary British ‘folk’n’roll’”, claim broad influence from the likes of Woody Guthrie, Gogol Bordello, and Laura Marling; others hear The Pogues, Billy Bragg, and The Waterboys, too, and you can hear it all here, in some great live covers and originals on YouTube, and in full album First Avenue, which can be purchased directly from the band on their website.


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Mississippi Moonlight (orig. Buffalo Skinners)


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie (orig. Bob Dylan/trad.)


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Cocaine (trad.)



This year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival is just around the corner, putting us in mind of mandolins and stand up bass, and creating a context which leaves us especially happy to have found The Tuttles with AJ Lee; we’ve a long history of championing young tradfolk and bluegrass artists here at Cover Lay Down, and these kids have been wowing the bluegrass circuit and beyond, garnering ovations and awards since their formation in 2008. Both band and co-lead vocalist Lee are up for “Best of” awards at the Northern California Bluegrass Awards tonight, where bandfather Jack Tuttle, who teaches bluegrass and old-time instruments of all types, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his well-respected work, including his guidance and leadership of this current lineup. But the kids are the true driving force here: stunning singer-songwriter and picker Molly Tuttle, whose trio will appear on the Joe Val sidestage, is finishing up her last semester at Berklee this year; younger brothers Sullivan and Michael demonstrate chops and agility beyond their years; sweet yet hearty-voiced mandolin player AJ Lee, who is still finishing high school and trends towards Grateful Dead covers on tour, has been aptly compared to Alison Krauss or Sarah Jarosz, both of whom, we should remember, got their start as early. Listen, and we think you’ll hear the magic, too.

    The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Ripple (orig. Grateful Dead)


    The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Sugar Moon (orig. Bob Willis)


    AJ Lee: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (orig. Bob Dylan)



Finally, thanks to the ever-discerning Mary Lou Lord, who has a knack for finding and touting the best new voices, for passing along coverage from Brandi Ediss, an alto on the knife-edge of alternative pop and singer-songwriter folk who sweetly interprets beloved songs into a mellow-tinged wash of sound and riotous video effects on a weekly basis. The finished results, produced at home with digital tools or in collaboration with facebook friends from afar, sound like a band and a half, with a warm, decidedly retro california tone and luscious, sighing vocal layers sure to delight; download a bunch over at Bandcamp, and subscribe to her YouTube page for more originals and coverage in the same sweet vein.

    Brandi Ediss: Love Is Making Its Way Back Home (orig. Josh Ritter)


    Brandi Ediss: Dear Mr. Fantasy (orig. Traffic)


    Brandi Ediss: Kodachrome (orig. Paul Simon)


    Brandi Ediss: Call Me (orig. Blondie)


    Brandi Ediss: I Wish I Was The Moon (orig. Neko Case)



Looking for more streaming coverfolk throughout the week? Join the Cover Lay Down facebook page, where we’ve recently posted new coverage from YouTube stars Kina Grannis, Daniela Andrade, and Kiersten Holine!

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New Artists, Old Songs:
new and emerging folks to watch in 2014

January 2nd, 2014 — 2:12pm

The disorganized life leaves us still discovering bookmarks left behind in the detritus and lost drafts of 2013. But outside there is snow, and inside, fire; the tree still twinkles, and the holiday continues. The family is on vacation, leaving us solo and pensive And there is peace, for a few more days yet, until the worldspring is wound, and we set out into the wind and weather to once again take on the mantle of right action among the stress and chaos.

And there is music here, too, for how can we be silent when our hearts are singing? Being snowed in for the next day or two offers a great opportunity to celebrate and clean house with another edition in our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs feature series. Read on for covers of The Cure, Rickie Lee Jones, Jason Isbell, Gram Parsons, Big Star, Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Noah Gundersen, and more from Emma Swift, Ian Johnson, Liz Frencham, Chris Ross, and The Ephemeral String Band – a quintet of recent discoveries worth a closer look-and-listen.



emma2As noted earlier today on our Facebook page, we seem to have misplaced Emma Swift’s delightfully sweet Gram Parsons cover when compiling our Best Coverfolk Singles of 2013 mixtape. Mea culpa: Swift, an Aussie radio broadcaster and music journalist turned Americana and altcountry songwriter, relocated to Nashville recently after deciding to pursue songcraft and writing more thoroughly, and she’s already captured our heart several times over through her loving coverage. Her take on Waylon Jenning heartbreaker Dreaming My Dreams With You is slow, syrupy altcountry, dripping with pedal steel and twang, but she’s equally adept at transforming Big Star’s Thirteen as she is taking on others from the country side of the world, including Parsons (A Song For You), Townes (Tower Song), 70′s altcountry group Cowboy (Please Be With Me), and downunder countryman Paul Kelly (Little Decisions). Follow her thoughts on her blog, and track her Facebook page, for more as her career on the road continues to blossom.


    Emma Swift: A Song For You (orig. Gram Parsons)




ianThis one probably should have made our favorites, too, if it hadn’t gotten lost. But oh, what a discovery: a gorgeous living room cover of Noah Gundersen’s Dying Now from North Country singer-songwriter Ian Johnson that belies the casual, beer-fueled session which brings it to life; utterly stunning, haunting indiefolk, with soft layers of harmonies and a brand new resonator guitar ringing in Gundersen’s hymn, making for a cover ripe for the likes of I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. I probably should have heard of Johnson before, though perhaps his penchant for harder-edged, anthemic, rocking Americana on his 2011 album When I Go kept him from our sights. But this bonus Tom Petty cover wouldn’t be out of place on Grey’s Anatomy, either, proving his mettle as soft indiefolk interpreter, and making for a delightful find, indeed.


    Ian Johnson: Dying Now (orig. Noah Gundersen)


    Ian Johnson: I Won’t Back Down (orig. Tom Petty)




Liz Frencham Live_2_LushpupAs a stand-up-double-bass and voice solo artist, Liz Frencham is a bit bare-bones for easy genre categorization. But the Jazz-trained singer-songwriter’s pedigree is impeccable: a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium, she’s been at the heart of several internationally-known bluegrass-infused and folkfusion bands and collaborations; her 2005 solo debut Jericho, with its haunting fiddle-and-guitar ballad title track, was a finalist for the ‘Presenter’s Choice’ award at the 2007 Australian Folk Alliance Convention. More significantly, she’s caught our ear on Soundcloud, where she hosts numerous beautiful originals and a set of covers, each equally sparse and joyous, from One – The Living Room Sessions (Vol 1), her mid-2013 Digi-EP of solo double bass/voice covers, with jazzfolk takes on songs by KT Tunstall, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Sia, and the Cure’s Lovecats as a prowling scat solo piece. As a bonus for coverhounds looking to dig a bit deeper, we’ve also provided a teaser from her equally strong, equally hard-to-categorize live duets album You & Me Vol. 1.





mutualloveI’ve been meaning to write about the “oldtime fiddle tunes and sister harmony singing” of The Ephemeral Stringband since I was stopped short by their busk session on the streets of Northampton, MA early last year. And now’s the time: even when they kick into high gear, as in the middle track below, the old shape note hymns and simple tradtunes Maggie Merrett, Maggie Shar, and friends interpret on their interchangeable banjos and fiddles are loving and gentle, like the sun-warmed sidewalks where I found them, or like Sam Amidon for the lullaby set, perfect for a snowy day in New England by the fireside. A recent gig opening for Dom Flemons of The Carolina Chocolate Drops in October raises hope of more to come, and simultaneously confirms their credibility and prowess in treating dearly the old songs with equal parts fragility and strength.

    The Ephemeral Stringband: Mutual Love (trad.)


    The Ephemeral Stringband: Sugar Babe (trad.)


    The Ephemeral Stringband: I’ll Not Be A Stranger (trad.)


    White Freight Liner (orig. Townes Van Zandt)




chrisrossFinally, I’ve had my eye out for Jason Isbell covers these last few months, with the intent of fronting a coverset sometime this year once we hit critical mass; if you know a great cover of/from the alt-country singer-songwriter, we’d love to hear it. In the meantime, I can’t help but share this quartet of Isbell covers from Maine-based singer-songwriter Chris Ross, including a broken-down Alabama Pines, a dark, tense Live Oak, and a quite solid take on Drive By Truckers song God Damn Lonely Love, penned by Isbell during his time with the band in the mid-naughts. Ross may be new at the game – he’s released but two albums, in 2011 and 2012 – but he knows how to ply his strengths to great effect: his weary voice and intensity match pitch-perfect with Isbell’s songbook, and in his YouTube covers of fellow rasp-voiced celebrants Bon Iver, Springsteen, and Ray LaMontagne; his original compositions are equally raw and timeless, speaking of and to a dusty wisdom of years belied by his under-30 exterior, and he’s just been nominated for Songwriter of the Year at The New England Music Awards, where he’s in some pretty solid company.


    Chris Ross: Alabama Pines (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: Live Oak (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: Elephant (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: God Damn Lonely Love (orig. Drive By Truckers)



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

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special 26-track gift set of alternate favorites and rare 2013 covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give.

1 comment » | Emma Swift, Jason Isbell, New Artists Old Songs

New Artists, Holiday Songs 2013:
Christmas coverfolk samplers, streams, and YouTube singles

December 21st, 2013 — 2:43pm





Just past the wreaths and windows a bout of unseasonable Solstice warmth melts the New England snow from once-glistening treetops, opening the outdoors to a final foray into woods and shopping malls as we prepare the home and heart for Christmas Day itself. Inside, the tree is up, the halls decked with boughs and mistletoe; at night, when the kids are finally in bed, we nestle snug on the couch and lift our glasses of wine and nog to toast the lights that twinkle in the darkness.

As ever, nostalgia carries us into the last gasps of the season like an old friend, accompanying us on our rounds as we wind down our shopping to shed the stresses of the year and season. The kids clamor for their favorite songs, and the heart sings for the songs of our own childhoods. But by now, many of us have exhausted the familiar carols that play ad infinitum in our ears as we bustle to find our center, our moments of peace.

For your gift-wrapping pleasure, then, our final holiday feature of the year: a stocking stuffed full of young artists on the rise, plying the intensity of the season with carols designed to catch the ear and prompt further exploration. Listen as these new and newfound Noisetrade samplers, Bandcamp and Soundcloud streams, and YouTube visions give new voice to the beloved songs of Christmas.


Newfound favorites The Western Den are a young ambient folk duo prone to narrative lyricism, hauntingly beautiful arrangements, and gentle, etherial harmonies; the pulsing carols on their tiny 3-track Midwinter EP are an apt introduction to their work, with organic instrumental undertones from brass and strings that mix with their sweet voices, piano, and guitar to frame a myriad moments that soothe, silence, and soar. But we are equally floored by their ongoing celebration of nature and community, as evidenced by the year-round celebration of their peers in the Boston folk scene, and the plethora of photos taken among the leaves of every season, that fill their Facebook page. In the case of the Midwinter EP, these trends manifest in context as much as they do in craft: a pay-as-you-wish download, hand-sewn fabric sleeves for hardcopy, and the donation of all EP proceeds to UNICEF to aid children in the Philippines affected by the recent typhoon, surround their aural honesty with cherishing light, making the collection a perfect introduction to their breadth and beauty.





There’s irony aplenty in this true-blue Americana version of White Christmas from bluegrass quartet Wood & Wire, performed outdoors in their shirtsleeves just last week at the Zilker Holiday Tree for local radio station KUTX’s Austin Music Map project, which aims to build an “interactive portrait” of the vibrant music scene in a city where the snow never falls. The hum of the crowd that surrounds them as they play the grounds lends a vibrancy to their touching rendition of the Christmas classic even as beards, bass, banjo and mandolin ground the song in its southern setting.




NYC-based Nina Yasmineh trends towards lush indiepop, lovingly delivered and layered with longing; though the bold, pulsing piano that populates her 2013 debut EP Seven Years kept her from finding footing in the folkworld, it’s a joy nonetheless, aptly celebrated by a number of blogs upon its release this Summer. Happily, however, this year’s Christmas cover is eminently folk, with echoey vocals over a frozen landscape of sparse, slow-plucked guitar that totally transforms Mariah Carey’s bombastic dance-around into something wistful, gentle, and still.





Celebrated YouTube starlet Daniela Andrade was the only artist to appear twice in the Top 40 radiopop coverset we compiled earlier this year; we’ll not dwell too much on her now, as we’re expecting to revisit her work in the next few weeks as part of our upcoming Best Of 2013 features. But her newly-released “homemade” Christmas EP – available in download form, or streamable as a video series – showcases just why we’re so delighted to have found her, with intimate performance, whispery-sweet vocals, and the sexiest Santa Baby you’ll ever hear, a perfect teaser for the good things to come.





Not all of our old, familiar carols are played sweet and light, of course – and not all should be, either. Those looking for a holiday more fully grounded in grungy, gritty roots-rock will be well-served by the syrupy, sultry ballad Canadian band Del Bel makes of John Prine classic Christmas In Prison, which turns the tune into a Day of the Dead lament with heavy, heady electric bass and guitars, wailing whiskey vocals, and a fallen angel choir of saxophones and horns. Press materials here are right on target, quoting bassist and composer Tyler Belluz as saying that he “found a depressing Christmas tune and made it more depressing.”





In addition to writing chamber, orchestral and choral music for concert and film, Connecticut composer and singer-songwriter Jonny Rodgers performs and records his own songs with a combination of electronic loops, guitar, and tuned wineglasses. The combination of glasses and strings works especially well on Every Mother’s Child: 3 Songs For Christmas, making for relatively traditional interpretations of three hymns that glisten and shimmer like tinsel in the air. In keeping with the project’s title, half of the profits will go to Project Night Night, which donates tote bags filled with a blanket, a book and a stuffed animal to homeless children living in shelters; “making sure that every mother’s child has sweet dreams, even if they’re living in trying circumstances.”





Last but never least, Tuscaloosa, Alabama singer-songwriter Joshua Hilliker and vocalist Heather Hester recorded and released their Merry Christmas EP last year, but our discovery in the midst of this year’s annual Noisetrade exploration brings comfort and joy aplenty, even if there’s little to learn about the artist’s history or craft here (Hilliker’s webpage redirects back to Noisetrade itself). Still, strong arrangement and sweet performance tell a tale of their own: Joshua and Heather’s Away in a Manger is sublime; this take on African-American spiritual Everywhere I Go (more often listed as Somebody Talking ‘Bout Jesus) simply blows me away.

For comparison’s sake, two other EPs – also released last year, but newly-found – provide a breadth of comparison. Adam Townsend’s Give & Get EP, recorded with his wife to raise money and awareness for homeless kids and teens via GA-based charity StandUp For Kids, offers weary, homegrown sentiment for the holiday homestead. Meanwhile, Floridian singer-sonqwriter Josh Gilligan’s Christmas EP, which benefits Blood:Water Mission’s fight against the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa, trends more folkpop, but his new brush-and-horn arrangement of Away In A Manger, with its echoes of Calexico and other indie Americana bands, fits the contemporary folkscene sweetly. All three EPs are available for free, but as always, donate if you can, the better to support artists (and, in Gilligan and Townsend’s cases, their chosen beneficiaries) well worth celebrating.




Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our readers – may your days be merry and bright! We’ll be back in the next few days with the first volume of our annual two-part review of the best coverfolk albums and singles of 2013!

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New Artists, Old Songs Week, Vol. 1: Streaming coverage from
Jeremy Squires, Allysen Callery, Al Lewis, Mia Dyson, Virgin Soldiers & more!

September 7th, 2013 — 1:32pm

At the core, like most music blogs, Cover Lay Down aims to be a venue of exposure, that nurtures and sustains the continued viability of the folk and acoustic genres by helping connect artists and fans through the comfort of tribute and interpretation.

This week, in a set of consecutive features in service to that goal, we turn once again to our sources for the new – the mailbag, the merch table, and our favorite folk and cover bloggers – to celebrate the works of several still-emerging artists whose recent coverage has found its way into our hearts, even as their songchoices and soundsettings reveal the particulars of their growing identities as artists.

May you, too, find joy and promise in a rising generation of folk musicians, and be moved to support their craft through purchase, patronage, and pass-along.



allysenOur 2010 Singer Song Sunday exploration of country and bluegrass standard Long Black Veil would have been well-served by this haunting recast from singer-songwriter Allysen Callery, a self-taught New England fingerpicker with a will-o-the-wisp voice whose heavy influence by her parent’s collection of British Isles Folk Revival records of the late 60′s early 70′s resonates throughout a growing number of beautiful albums, with 2011 double-EP set Winter Island and The Summer Place especially worthy of note. Callery’s style is enveloping, frail but surprisingly rich, her songs like castles in the air, all heaven and hiding places; the choruses alone give me chills. New LP Mumblin’ Sue drops next week on vinyl.


Allysen Callery: Long Black Veil (orig. Lefty Frizzell) [2013]


Allysen Callery: Young Edwin (trad.) [2011]




allewisProlific Welsh singer-songwriter Al Lewis is eminently Welsh: of four albums and 2 EPs since 2007, exactly half have been in the welsh language. But his music belies popular influences father afield, and it’s eminently accessible. The gently bouncy indiepop of Make A Little Room, off new release Battles, soothes and settles like a radio-driven summer soundtrack hit; slowed down and stripped of its poppy setting, as in this solo studio take from a Crypt Session in May, it’s beautiful, and clear as a bell. And his five-song set of equally dreamy, fluid, unadorned acoustic-with-strings covers uploaded to Soundcloud back in midsummer make for a sweet streaming EP, with a wistful Free Man In Paris, a potent Tom Waits cover filtered through Tim Buckley, and a sweet, sincere Jesus Was A Crossmaker that will endear him to folk audiences.






squiresSelf-taught North Carolina native singer-songwriter Jeremy Squires popped up on our radar several times this year with a pair of appearances on lo-fi folkblog Slowcoustic, where any artist touted twice is inherently worth a listen. Sure enough, after releasing the third in a trilogy of revelatory records designed to exorcise the demons of depression, the covers Squires has taken on in the past year – a softly melodic yet no less potent take on Sheets from Slowcoustic’s recent Damien Jurado covers project, and a pensive piano ballad transformation of a new song from Everybodyfields alum Jill Andrews perfect for fragile hipster television playback – offer equal evidence of scars and healing, even as they comfort and chill, delight and differentiate.





26Reviews and interviews suggest that Grace Basement – a folk, pop and rock project from musician, engineer, and producer Kevin Buckley, who was raised in the Irish folk community at home and abroad, and continues to perform jigs and reels in sessions in and around his adopted St. Louis, Missouri – has stripped down their approach since the heavy, heady rock quartet sound of 2007 debut New Sense. If so, the shift has been to our benefit: the banjo and handclaps that accompany the predominantly singer-songwriter fare on 2013 release Wheel Within A Wheel support an intimacy that is rare as it is revelatory; the pair of recently recorded covers which Kevin sent along, which seem to come from the same sessions, comprise a spectrum analysis, with a Bob Dylan cover that fits neatly into the No Depression camp even as its arrangement echoes historic predecessors like The Mamas and The Papas and the Byrds, and a relatively faithful solo cover of a Paul Simon favorite that balances warm, echoey edge with no small hint of harmonic excellence.






miacoloredselects-2398-682x1024From the rootsy intersection of folk, blues and rock comes Aussie singer-songwriter Mia Dyson, who tears up Lori McKenna’s I Know You with a gravely countryfolk voice and a grungy, bluesy bar-room resonator-and-drum production in a new cover (selected by a fan in her recent Pledgemusic campaign, and premiered this week via Roughstock) that echoes Kasey Chambers or Lucinda Williams at their grittiest. Four-time ARIA nominee Dyson has been on the rise Down Under for a decade, touring with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Nicks; she appeared at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2006, but I seem to have missed her, leaving her still available to our New Artists series, and the timing is good, coming as it does on the cusp of a deliberate effort to break into the American scene with an Autumn tour around new album The Moment, which has already been duly noted as a tour de force by critics galore. Her older take on Lucinda’s Can’t Let Go, shared below as a bonus, is equally raw and resonant, though couched in only an electric guitar and that wailing voice, making for an ecstatic growl that heats us up and leaves us wanting more.




abandonedcoversThe lo-fi sounds on Abandoned Covers, an archivally-sourced collection of live and studio covers recorded under the auspices of Abandoned Love Records since their establishment in 2004, come from a small stable of four label artists on the broken side of lo-fi and experimental folk; multiple covers of Big Star and The Magnetic Fields, plus Meursault, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, and Roxy Music speak aptly to a set of equally underground, alternative, and grungy influences on bands and label that collapse the waveforms of late 80s underground alternative bands such as The Bats and The Lemonheads with both the modern indiefolk movement and the slow and ragged tones of the bedroom and basement cover. Favorite finds include Austin, TX band The Lovely Sparrows, whose distinct voices and slowed approach to electro-acoustic arrangement is spare and, in its own way, quite mystical, and Virgin of the Birds, who with layered howls, drones, and electronic hums bring an atmospheric, psychedelic vibe to traditional track Fatal Flower Garden, Nico’s Evening Of Light, and Levi Fuller’s This Murder Won’t Hurt You.




avatars-000030337205-dsox4j-t200x200Tonight You Belong To Me is an oft-covered song, but there’s something about this cover from “Acoustic Americana” Chapel Hill, NC trio A Mad Affair that caught my ear. Perhaps it’s the innocence lost: brighter than most, and rich with subtly effective harmonic flourishes, theirs is a deceptively cute but ultimately mature rendition. And the cover – the only one they’ve recorded in-studio, it seems – is aptly reflective of the fine acoustic songcraft displayed on highly-recommended debut album Retro Honey Pop: the guitar, stand up bass, ukulele and occasional fiddle are tight and delightful; the hearty, warbly, clear-as-a-bell country twang of lead singer Valerie Wood worms its way into the heart; the tracks, which range from sunny, poppy tracks to mournful harmony ballads, run the gamut of classic acoustic folk and country influence, yet come up sounding fresh as a daisy.

Bonus points for a small set of living room covers over at YouTube: a latin-tinged fireside tribute to Willy Wonka filmed last February, a sultry Suzanne Vega tune from midsummer, and a sweet take on The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues posted just this week.




    A Mad Affair: Fisherman’s Blues (orig. The Waterboys) [2013]


    A Mad Affair: Pure Imagination (orig. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) [2013]


    A Mad Affair: Caramel (orig. Suzanne Vega) [2013]




8Since its founding at the hands of singer/guitarist/songwriter James Beeny in 2011, UK acoustic “Strock” sextet Virgin Soldiers has shared stages with Ellie Goulding, Joan Armatrading, and Echo and The Bunnymen – strange bedfellows, indeed. And the name that the band has given their particular strain of chamber-quartet-meets-UK-folkrock sounds like something straight out of the Flintstones. But the crossover conceit of playing contemporary music on classical instruments has broad appeal in the post-millennial pastiche world, and the BBCs sustained support of the band throughout their emergence in the past two years speaks aptly to their collective talent: the equal balance of strings, synth and guitar on Numb, a transformative Linkin Park cover released last October, is but a harbinger of the majestic sonic depth and soaring fancy of debut single Moon Song, which shot to No. 3 on the Amazon Rock Chart when it hit the airwaves in August.


Virgin Soldiers: Numb (orig. Linkin Park) [2012]


Stay tuned for a midweek second round of new and newly-found artist coverage featuring covers of The Clash, Greg Brown, The Bee Gees and more, couched in every branch of the folkstream, from Appalachian fiddlefolk to contemporary singer-songwriter fare and indiefolk; keep liking us on Facebook for ongoing previews and single-shot streams throughout the week. And thanks for your patience during our recent hiatus: it’s good to be back on the blog.




Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features, mixtapes weekly throughout the year thanks to the support of our readers and fans; DONATE before the end of September, and we’ll regift 20% of your every dollar to Sweet Relief, a non-profit founded in 1993 to support musicians who find themselves in “untenable predicaments” due to illness or disability, in memory of Chicago singer-songwriter Matt Ryd.

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Festival Coverfolk, Redux:
Emerging Artists at Falcon Ridge Folk Fest (August 1-4, 2013)

July 5th, 2013 — 7:05pm





Two consecutive features on the same festival might seem like overkill under ordinary circumstances. But Falcon Ridge Folk Festival released their alphabetized list of Emerging Artists just after we shared our previous feature, and I’m utterly floored by the amount of talent and craftsmanship included therein. Today, then, we come back to the Hillsdale, NY fields to share a few samples from the ranks of the up-and-coming. Enjoy!

The Emerging Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge is quite well-respected in the music world: it’s quite competitive, and for fans, it’s a great way to test out new acts on the rise. But there’s something special about this year’s roster. For the first time, it features both a number of artists who have been on my “must see” list for a while, and several whom we’ve featured here before, including country-folk artist turned singer-songwriter Amy Black, “roots and branches” stringband Annalivia, Tall Heights, a duo from the Boston area who have shown up on my YouTube radar several times, and urban newgrass quintet Roosevelt Dime, who we first championed way back in 2008.

Other artists on this year’s list are relatively new to me, though many come highly recommended. New find Darlingside, for example, a “string rock quartet”, promises a heady sound, with layered indiefolk harmonies and instruments from cello to mandolin over the beat. Irreverent folk reinventors Bobtown sport an eclectic folk band energy with influences that range from punkgrass to funky gospel and folkpop. Young progressive bluegrass quintet Cricket Tell The Weather are featured at a number of trusted festivals this summer, and have played with Rushad Eggleston, co-founder of Crooked Still, which is itself a strong recommendation.

And although trends in the past few years have resulted in a group that skews heavily away from solo artists, a number of strong solo singer-songwriters appear on the list, from 2013 New Folk Finalist Bethel Steele to excellently impish local heroine Carrie Ferguson, from dark and raw-voiced New Jersey caller Jonah Tolchin to Maine-based acoustic coffeehouse rising star Connor Garvey, from NYC folkpopper Rachael Sage to midwestern folkrocker Jacob Latham. I’m especially happy to have discovered Amanda Pearcey, a great choice for the folkpop set, in researching this second-round feature: her new album, streamed in full below her homepage, featuring a voice reminiscent of Ani DiFranco, and a slow burn of a Rolling Stones cover.

I’ll stop there, lest I end up leaving someone out. But by definition, each of the 24 who has made it to the showcase bears serious consideration. Here’s the total list, in alphabetical order; if you’re up on your own local scene, and live in the continental US, odds are good you might recognize a few names yourself.

Amanda Pearcy (Austin, TX)
Amy Black (Somerville, MA)
Annalivia (Boston, MA)
Bethel Steele (Boston, MA)
Bobtown (NYC)
Brad Yoder Duo (Pittsburgh, PA)
Carrie Ferguson (Northhampton, MA)
Connor Garvey (Portland, ME)
Cricket Tell the Weather (New Haven, CT)
Darlingside (Boston, MA)
Doug Allen (Stamford, CT)
Doug Kwartler (Boston, MA)
Jacob Latham (Bloomington, IN)
Jonah Tolchin (Princeton, NJ)
Martin Swinger (Augusta, ME)
Michael Braunfeld (Philadelphia, PA)
Noble Hunter (Brooklyn, NY)
Phil Henry Acoustic Trio (Rutland, VT)
Rachael Sage (NYC)
Reverend TH McGlinchey (Philadelphia, PA)
Roosevelt Dime (Brooklyn, NY)
Tall Heights (Boston, MA)
The Bones of J.R. Jones (Manilus, NY)
The Boxcar Lilies (Greenfield, MA)

Artists selected for the Emerging Artists Showcase play two songs each on mainstage on Friday between noon and 4:30; the hill is generally well-attended, and if CD sales at the “merch tent” are any indication, most artists pick up more than a few fans. But happily, the showcase isn’t the only chance you’ll have to see your newest music crush. Most artists who play Friday stay on for the weekend to play the campgrounds and vendor booths, in casual stop-as-you-can sessions and at hilltop songcircle “tent venues” run by coffeehouse promoters.

Several of these acts, in fact, including Roosevelt Dime, Darlingside, Bethel Steele, Connor Garvey, and Tall Heights, will appear on Thursday at the Lounge Stage, an unofficial platform run by previous Most Wanted Emerging Artists Pesky J. Nixon and friends, before the official festival stages go online; the roster is being leaked slowly over at the Lounge Stage Facebook page, but I’ve been given a sneak peek, and can attest to the great talent and high level of name-recognition therein. Already-announced performers also include Gathering Time, The Ya Yas, and Honor Finnegan (who toured together last month as the 2013 Falcon Ridge preview tour), crowd favorites Putnam Smith and ilyAIMY, folk duo Goodnight Moonshine (whose live debut last year was hosted by our very own Tree Falls Productions), and party-in-a-folkband Spuyten Duyvil, pictured above in a triumphant if rainy performance on Mainstage a few years ago. Last year, the Lounge Stage attracted over 400 patrons; it’s like having a small festival embedded inside a large one, and you’ll find me there for much of the day.

But I digress – the point here is to get y’all excited enough about the festival itself to make the trip for their 25th anniversary year. So scroll on for a few covers from a small but representative sample of this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artists, hit up our earlier entry for mainstage artists galore – and then head over to this Spotify list to hear full albums and more from the emerging crowd.



Cover Lay Down shares new features and coverfolk sets twice weekly thanks to the support of patrons like you. Coming soon: a CD-release party with The Deadly Gentlemen, and more from the overstuffed mailbag!

2 comments » | Festival Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs

New Artists, Old Songs (Re)Covered
Part 1: Kelley Ryan, Mikaela Davis, Angel Snow, & The Big Bright revisited!

June 9th, 2013 — 4:17pm

The myriad blessings of music blogging include promotional outreach from fledgling artists, and though not all are to our taste or temperment, a surprising number have turned out to be diamonds in the rough – leaving us humbled and privileged to have been among the first to share and celebrate so many emerging singer-songwriters of promise and poise over the years.

This week, in a very special two-part thirtieth-or-so anniversary issue of our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs series, we check in on the continued rise and maturity of several musicians first featured here for their earliest work in the world of coverage – all one-time rising stars whose staying power and continued invention is evident in their ongoing careers.


Singer-songwriter and long-time frontwoman for grungy California sunshine rock band astroPuppees Kelley Ryan was in perfect-pitch popfolk mode when she came to us back in early 2010 with a Beck cover and a vibe that echoed his folk album Sea Change on her solo debut Twist. Three years later, her ear for the catchy hook remains solid, and we’re happy to see that continues to be garnering her the respect she deserves: her version of Monkey To Man, with its jangly, jumping Rickie Lee Jones meets Mary Lou Lord and Juliana Hatfield vibe, will appear alongside a crowd of equally on-the-rise artists on the ready-to-drop 50-track Elvis Costello tribute album Beyond Belief, a project to benefit the Mr. Holland’s Opus foundation.

    Kelley Ryan: Monkey To Man (orig. Elvis Costello)



Previously on Cover Lay Down



Mikaela Davis’ solo harp-driven cover of Sufjan Stevens came to us as a one-shot ‘Tube Thursday post, putting it technically outside the New Artists feature set. But Davis, a Rochester, NY native who attends The Crane School of Music at SUNY, has since finished and released her self-titled debut album, a gorgeous collection that echoes with instrumental atmospheres, melodic tensions, and experimental indie sentiment, inviting easy comparison to indie harpist progenitor Joanna Newsome, and justifying any look back.

If the studio work proves anything beyond talent and craft, it is that Davis is no imitator: her voice is clearer and more concrete than Newsome’s, and her sentiment more pop. But her folkier side fills out nicely in her continued YouTube coverage – both in solo mode, as in the crystal-clear Elliott Smith cover first released back in October, and in live collaborations arranged for an equally atypical combination of instruments, as in the below take on Norwegian Wood recorded live last Sunday at the Bug Jar, which adds sitar and drumkit to the harp and voice for an immensely satisfying, completely psychedelic, and ultimately unsettling reinvention that flows smoothly from 4/4 mysticism to a tight jazz waltz bridge.

    Mikaela Davis: Norwegian Wood (orig. The Beatles)


    Mikaela Davis: Twilight (orig. Elliott Smith)



Previously on Cover Lay Down


If covers albums are a coverhound’s bread and butter, collaborations formed for the purpose of coverage are our just desserts: sweet with anticipation, occasionally cloying or overgenerous, but sheer delight if balanced well with bitter coffee and sincere sentiment. And so we reported on new collaboration The Big Bright with baited breath when they first emerged on the scene towards the end of last year, noting our familiarity with Ollabelle founders Fiona McBain and Glenn Patscha, and our strong affection for fellow reinventor and self-professed “neo-noir singer/songwriter” Liz Tormes – and were thrilled at the beauty in their paired arrangements of INXS and Tears For Fears, leaving us eagerly awaiting more.

Tantalizingly, I Slept Thru the 80′s, the full album of gentle New Wave Nocturnes which serves as an initial capstone for the shared love of “guilty pleasure vintage New Wave and ’80s Brit-pop” which forms the band’s raison d’etre, remains in the works, though the pre-release EP of the same name is available to New Yorkers exclusively at Little Marc Jacobs in the West Village and at live performances, and the newly-shared Walk Like An Egyptian which features on their homepage raises the bar for more sky-high. But as the tracks are completed, new video has found its way to the web, too – most recently a pair of startlingly tense, lush, echoey recordings from a Brooklyn stairwell that show the trio in fine folk harmonies and form, delivering on their promise to find the fragile in the noise, and making theirs one of the most anticipated albums of 2013.



    The Big Bright: Only You (orig. Yaz)


    The Big Bright: Call Me (orig. Blondie)



Previously on Cover Lay Down

    The Big Bright: Don’t Change (orig. INXS)

    The Big Bright: Change (orig. Tears For Fears)



The singular artist featured atop the very first edition of our New Artists, Old Song discovery series sprung out of the ether on the strength of Fortune Tellers, an intimate, sweet collection of original songs that blew us away. Our 2008 interview even produced a manifesto for her coverage which seems to translate to her own work, too, saying that “I tend to crave a genuine credibility from an artist’s voice and lyrics –- songs in which I believe every word. If I’m able to put myself in the situation of a song and play the part, then I know it’s for real and I want to share it with others.”

Now, five years after we pulled her raw, jangly, surprisingly sparse live Bob Dylan cover from the mailbag and introduced her to the world, Angel Snow has become both a Nashville sensation and a songwriter to the stars, with three original compositions featured on Alison Krauss’ most recent album, and a reputation in the industry that has her performing regularly as a solo act (supported by Kraus’ brother Viktor), in collaboration with fellow circuit-travelers such as 2012 Kerrville New Folk award-winner Korby Lenker, and with fellow New Artists alumni Robby Hecht, with whom she performs some delightfully lo-fi and live covers as Marsha and the Martians. That it couldn’t be happening to a sweeter, more authentic person is merely a bonus.


    Angel Snow & Robby Hecht: Groovy Kind of Love (orig. The Mindbenders)


    Angel Snow & Robby Hecht: Take On Me (orig. A-Ha)


    Angel Snow & Korby Lenker: Tonight You Belong To Me (orig. Gene Austin)


    Korby Lenker & Angel Snow: Forever Young (orig. Alphaville)


    Angel Snow, Karyn Oliver, and Amy Speace: Can’t Find My Way Home / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (orig. Blind Faith / U2)



Previously on Cover Lay Down


Like what you hear? Don’t forget to come back later this week for part 2 of our look back at the ongoing careers in coverage of Sophie Madeleine, The Far West, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, and more of our favorite once and still-emerging artists!

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Angel Snow, Kelley Ryan, Mikaela Davis, New Artists Old Songs, The Big Bright

New Artists, Old Songs: Soundcloud Edition
(covers of Fugazi, Metric, Carly Rae, Avett Brothers, Dire Straits & more!)

March 2nd, 2013 — 10:52am


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File under “when it rains, it pours”: since coming back from the dead, the Cover Lay Down mailbag has been inundated with new streaming folk and acoustic coverage, with the vast majority of the tracks just days old. Combine it with a few tracks gratefully received during our downtime, and our cup runneth over: today, we filter out the good stuff, leaving a solid selection of Soundcloud gems to tickle the ears until they gasp and give in.



I have a soft spot in my heart for Fugazi’s 1989 double-EP re-issue 13 Rooms, most especially the album’s violent ennui anthem of an opening track Waiting Room, which would become a key component of my formative years as an audiophile. But nowhere in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the song as beautifully haunted as Philly-bred, LA-based folk duo Homesick Elephant transform it. And if their cover is simultaneously more grandiose and more delicate than their usual fare, which otherwise trends towards the kind of tight staccato coed harmonies, rich and ringing guitar-and-mandolin settings, string-tinged chamber-folk arrangements, and wry-yet-whimsical storysong narratives that make our hearts beat that much faster, then it merely shows just how well Sara and Kevin know their source material – making the track all the more appropriate, really, for a tribute to the kings of the DC post-hardcore scene.

    Homesick Elephant: Waiting Room (orig. Fugazi)



“Intelligent yet accessible” singer-songwriter Levi Weaver loves his fans, and his brand new covers EP Antipodes is plenty of proof: the daring indie set runs from contemporary folk to grungy-and-grandiose alt-pop, though there’s a good acoustic underpinning on every track, and though the overall set ends up quite diverse for a 5-song collection, his love for his contemporary influences shimmers throughout every beat and pick. So although it was his stunningly majestic video cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism, featuring a cast of dozens in fine fettle and laughter, which hit the blogs last week, we asked to be able to share the two folkiest cuts instead, and were pleased as punch to find ourselves given exclusive rights to share ‘em. The EP is a gift for mailing list fans, and we’re sure you’ll be one once you hear its lovingly updated, joyfully transformed interpretations of hipster favorites from Dan Mangan, Damien Rice, Avett Brothers, and The Head & The Heart, so listen to the latter pair below, and then head over to his website to sign up, thus ensuring that you’ll get the full EP when it drops next week.

    Levi Weaver: The Weight Of Lies (orig. Avett Brothers)


    Levi Weaver: Rivers and Roads (orig. The Head & The Heart)



Yeah, Pitchfork got to this one first. But sometimes, you just have to keep passing it along, and this one is irresistible: Margaret Glaspy‘s sparse Lauryn Hill cover rings of Feist and Cat Power, with Karen Dalton’s soulfully broken little-girl vocals and a pulsing thread of Jeff Buckley-esque guitar atmospheres that scuttle along like a fragile hum; its live setting provides an echo that doubles the effect, lending a power to the performance that makes me ache to see her up close in some dark and smoky room. But the intensity is her own authentic self, and you can hear it in full force in if & when, the new digital-only EP the cover is designed to help carry – which is to say, the whole damn thing sounds like this – clear of adornment, raw and pain-born, bare to the soul’s core – and if that doesn’t make you want it bad, then perhaps it’s time to give up, and return to the world of pop.

    Margaret Glaspy: Ex-Factor (orig. Lauryn Hill)



No one but the most naive and jaded of pre-teens could dare accuse Carly Rae Jepsen, the young composer and performer of last year’s earworm hit Call Me Maybe, of being too dark. But as with a surprising number of female-penned popsongs, there’s real substance under all that catchy production and the radiobeat, and to prove it, here comes half English half Norwegian Folly Rae, who despite an equivalently Teen Beat backstory – apparently, the fledgling poet-turned-songwriter started turning her poetry into songs four years ago, after an “emotional split with her then boyfriend” – manages to repackage the angsty radio hit as a dark post-folk track that teeters on the edge, using a complex swirl of deep drum heartbeats, electrofolk rhythms, and layered angst vocals to transform pop into pain.

    Folly Rae: Tonight Im Getting Over You (orig. Carly Rae Jepsen)



Teaching in a bilingual district for the past five years may have helped me recover a good bit of my high-school Spanish, but I’m still somewhat stymied by the press materials and original song lyrics of LopLop, a Castellón-based folk quintet who support their contemporary melodic folkpop with the slightest hint of mellow acoustic latin strum patterns. Thankfully, over the last few weeks, Sara Ledesma, LopLop’s lead singer, has dropped some delicate uke- and guitar-driven covers in a surprisingly flawless English onto Soundcloud, proving that music is an international language, and providing entry into their other work for those who, like me, generally favor melody, harmony, presence and arrangement over lyrical narrative to begin with – all of which Sara, like her band, seem to have in spades. (Though I have to admit, The Magnetic Fields’ All My Little Words sound delightful in Spanish, especially with bells on.)

    Sara Ledesma: Breathing Underwater (orig. Metric)


    Sara Ledesma: Chasing Cars (orig. Snow Patrol)


    Sara Ledesma: Mis Pequeñas Palabras (orig. Magnetic Fields; tran. Ledesma)



We named Bring In On Home, the debut duo release from songstress Shannon Whitworth and constant bandmate Barrett Smith, our Best Covers Album of 2012, making the more-typical frontwoman hardly “new” enough for our usual New Artists, Old Songs focus. But though we were fans of the Brevard, NC painter and farm-owner’s previous work with bluegrass-and-country band The Biscuit Burners, we hadn’t really paid attention to Whitworth’s solo work until now…which turns out to have been a serious mistake.

Color us corrected. While High Tide, which comes out this Tuesday, leans more folkpop and less true-blue Americana than both her duo work with Smith and her first two solo albums, thanks to a switch from banjo to Gibson guitar, and to the supportive influence of Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) and producer Seth Kauffman – it says something that the Appalachian-trained Whitworth is reportedly a Merlefest favorite, though fresh off US and Canada tours opening for Chris Isaak and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band – the package, drenched in reverb and dripping with jazz crooner soul, practically embodies the continued viability and vibrancy of modern folk as a genre sprung from the older traditions yet eminently its own. Is Shannon Whitworth the new “it girl” of contemporary crossover folkpop? All signs point to yes.

    Shannon Whitworth: So Far Away (orig. Dire Straits)



Last, but not least, the Soundcloud-stream release of Slowcoustic’s incredible homage to J. Tillman’s Long May You Run came to a triumphant conclusion yesterday with the release of the final tracks, thus proving the entirety of the album as “a triumph of curation and performance” as previously reported earlier this week in our own feature on the slow-leak tribute. Our previous post took on Doc Feldman, who we’re pleased to learn will be releasing a new album sometime this summer, and who has some great videos at the link above, plus more “subdued, almost heroin sentiment” from Pickering Pick and Quarter Mile Thunder; I’m also loving the tracks from Lotte Kestner (Ties That Bind) and Al James of Dolorean (Fireworks), both of whom we’ve covered here before, plus a whole host of new-to-me discoveries, from Andy Oliveri to Cash Harrison and the Terrible Decision. Head over to Slowcoustic to stream and download the entire set; for now, since we’ve already posted three of the tracks, here’s a slightly older, deliciously jangly lo-fi banjo cover from Lexington singer-songwriter Pilots & Errors, whose own take on Fireworks is a stellar contribution to a stunning tribute.

    Pilots & Errors: Hickory (orig. Iron & Wine)





Looking for more streaming coverage? Check out a pair of sweet newfound YouTube tracks – a heartbreaking take on Crosby, Stills & Nash classic Helplessly Hoping from Australian duo The Falls and a sunny folkpop take on The Beatles’ She Loves You – over at the Cover Lay Down facebook page!

2 comments » | New Artists Old Songs, Soundcloud Saturday

Mailbag Monday: New and newfound coverage
from Sam Gleaves, Shakey Graves, Jack Carty, Sunday Lane & more!

February 11th, 2013 — 9:55pm

Sometimes, the world just works in your favor: after a long bout of pneumonia left me with a backlog of mailbag delights and otherblog passalongs, along comes a blizzard of historic proportions to trap me home for a four-day stretch, leaving ample opportunity to spin the discs and downloads into a sticky, stellar web of sound sure to tickle your ears out of their post-Grammy stupor.


Underground Austinite Shakey Graves looks young enough in pictures, but he can’t be that new to the scene – though the other albums it contains date from the last few years, his bandcamp page claims that Rolling Bones was recorded in 1987, aka the year I entered high school. But although the bluesy one man band approach singer-songwriter (and occasional film/TV actor) Alejandro Rose-Garcia brings to his work under the Shakey Graves moniker can yaw from true-blue retro country blues to sparse, experimental, grungy punk- and nu-folk, it’s all both delightfully lo-fi and eminently folk, as this pair of growled tunes from a quarter-century apart demonstrate. Bonus points for quick-fingered hipsters: the wonderful finger-picked Lucinda Williams cover below comes from Story Of My Lifehttp://shakeygraves.com/, a name-your-price rarities and b-sides EP which is only available for a short window surrounding “Shakey Graves Day” (Feb. 9) each year; the collection also includes a garage-band cover of Neil Young, a quite traditional-sounding Willow Garden, three originals, and an absolutely startling ska-folk take on Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl which is not to be missed. Snag it today; tomorrow will be too late.



At 19 years old, Sam Gleaves is somewhat of a wunderkind of the Appalachian traditions that surround his native Virginia; according to his bio, he’s already spent several years passing along the fiddle tunes and fretwork to a host of others. But this young tenor and clawhammer master isn’t just a teacher: two solo albums and several collaborations into what promises to be a stellar career, his output runs a complete gamut of tradfolk stylization on the full range of mountain strings – guitar, fiddle, autoharp, banjo, and dulcimer – offering both gentle beauty and a comprehensive primer on the sounds, range, and influences of Appalachia. To be honest, had I discovered his sophomore album A Little While in the Wilderness last spring when it was released, it would have tied for Best Tradfolk Album of the Year in our year’s end compilation – but the best music only ripens with age, and this is one for the ages. (Thanks to April at Common Folk Music for the hat-tip on this one!)



I posted a track from new husband and wife duo The Quiet American last week in our exploration of the Child Ballads, but going back to this one for a second glance is worth it, in part because – for this particular release, at least – context matters: their debut duo project Wild Bill Jones is a hand-crafted concept album, and as such, it is best enjoyed in its entirety. But what a concept, and what an execution, we find in this rootsy, well-curated pastiche of covers and originals which husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim have strung together to retell the myth of “original rounder” Jones, the young girl he seduces, and the mystery man who brings a dubious salvation to the pair through the death of the titular character: sweet and bittersweet, tonally rich and totally timeless, with traditional fiddle and fingerplucked tunes and a surprisingly apt album-closing take on a Daniel Johnston classic that adeptly collapses the mythos of hope and despair.



ravThe phrase “folkpop darling”, which features prominently in Raveena Aurora‘s press materials, is one of the most overused genre tags in my mailbag. But while it is eminently clear from first listen that the 18 year old Sikh Indian-American from the NYC suburbs is clearly aiming for that particularly recognizable branch of indie folkpop stardom typified by the likes of Rosie Thomas, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, there’s nothing wrong with accurate genre-grounding – and in this case, the hint of Adele and Regina Spector’s potency in her soulful, nuanced vocal delivery, and the subtle yet stirring organic feel she and her playmates bring to live, stripped down pieces such as those that comprise last year’s Rooftop Sessions, easily validate her claim. (And the streetsounds and sirens audible in the background of those session tracks, most notably in her Beirut cover below, are charming.)

The reminder that not all rising stars are created equal is warranted, and Raveena can prove it: the smaller-scale demos and in-studio pieces which she has so far released via the usual streaming media are both highly catchy and unusually delicate and tender, and among the still-innocent originals that populate her Soundcloud page, several covers stand out. Raveena’s first studio EP Where We Wander will drop February 19th, and predictably enough, its production and arrangements place it squarely within the more atmospheric, round tones of the folkpop genre, but that’s not a bad thing at all: we’ve heard it, love it, and encourage you to pick it up.



Can the world take yet another cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love? Begone, naysayers: though ragged and raw, there’s something about the warble in Sunday Lane‘s voice here which keeps us hitting replay, and the shift from male vocals to female lead with male harmonies which Lane and compatriot Max Helmerich offer here is more transformative than we might have expected. All this, despite a plethora of indie-hipster cred, from a Coachella performances to two separate appearances of her original work on indie proving ground One Tree Hill, validate our increasingly sidestream attraction to the modern music scene in one fell swoop, serving as no small apologia for this reviewer and fan: though her brand new radio-ready album From Where You Are is eminently poppy and piano-driven, there’s a clear and prominent spot on our guilty pleasures list just for Sunday.

    Sunday Lane w/ Max Helmerich: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)



I discovered Jack Carty recently, through a personal recommendation from downunder folkblog Timber and Steel; subsequently, this morning, his label rep found me through the same connection, citing head writer Gareth’s pass-along as a sort of apologia for emailing me out of the blue with a huge collection of YouTube coverage from the young star, who will cross several oceans on his way to make his way to SXSW this year to begin building critical acclaim beyond the borders of his native Australia. But apologies are never necessary when passing along the good stuff, and this is why I’ve learned to love and trust such passalongs: as heard below, Carty is a gem, clearly grounded in the traditions of the colonies yet unafraid to put his own stamp on the likes of Sufjan, Elliott Smith, and The Postal Service, and even a sweet Radiohead cover on solo banjo and vox. Don’t take my word for it: listen, and hear; odds are, you, too, will be moved to check out Carty’s two and a half studio albums afterwards.

    Jack Carty: Pitseleh (orig. Elliott Smith)


    Jack Carty: No Surprises (orig. Radiohead)


    Jack Carty w/ Packwood: Decatur (orig. Sufjan Stevens)



Last, but absolutely not least, comes Sugardrum, an acoustic storytelling project centered around musician and web designer Nigel Bunner, who both performed the music and created/directed the video for this wonderful deconstruction of New York, New York, and has played as Sugardrum both solo and with friends at a growing set of folk festivals and hip gatherings in his native UK. Our history with this musician is sparse, to date – it’s hard to move past the cover, honestly, which we offer as true testament to its power – but anyone who can find and control the ringing, fragile suspensions of Nick Drake’s brittle branch of the singer-songwriter folkstream in the bawd and blare of Sinatra’s famous paean to the city that never sleeps certainly bears watching.

    Sugardrum: New York, New York (orig. Frank Sinatra)


1 comment » | Mailbag Monday, New Artists Old Songs

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