Category: (Re)Covered


(Re)Covered: New Coverage from Old Friends
Roosevelt Dime, Mikaela Davis, Sierra Hull, Pesky J. Nixon and more!

February 5th, 2016 — 2:08pm

Thanks to a spate of collections, singles and deep cuts from a vast variety of folkslingers and roots-diggers, 2016 is gearing up to be a great year for coverage. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news of newly released material from folks featured here before, from the loose, percussive American roots music of four-piece bands Roosevelt Dime and Pesky J. Nixon to the tight string-driven stylings of indiefolk harpist Mikaela Davis, bluegrass prodigy Sierra Hull, and more!

We’ve been touting NYC-based “acoustic steamboat soul” quartet Roosevelt Dime since their very first Radiohead cover, featuring their most recent full-length Full Head Of Steam on the cusp of the 2014 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and noting that we’ve since befriended the boys after hosting them for beer, shade, tent-space and a campsite jam under the hot sun – and we’re still excited to find them continuing to stretch and grow at the intersection of Louisiana Jazz, bluegrass, folk, and old-school rhythm and blues. The raw energy of their new single-shot cover of Tom Petty classic American Girl, which seems to have become the in thing to cover on the banjo circuit, is just lovely, with a funky groove and a wonderful vision of America as old, timeless, and new.


Falcon Ridge favorites Pesky J. Nixon have grown and stretched since we debuted their all-covers Red Ducks album back in 2012, adding Kara Kulpa on mandolin and vocals to their already well-established, infectious, heavily percussive folk rock trio sound, and letting accordion player and keyboardist Jake Bush take a turn on lead vocals here and there alongside guitarist and singer Ethan Scott Baird. The result, as we heard last year on the Falcon Ridge stage as the foursome prepared for newly released second-round covers album Red Ducks, Vol. 2, represents both a rich expansion and a maturation for the Boston-based band, with songs such as album kick-off Let Me Down Easy, a driving, high energy romp from fellow folkscene traveler Raina Rose that plays as well in the studio as it does on stage, and potent, melodic takes on Ryan Adams, Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Gabriel, The Band, and undersung contemporaries John Elliot and Peter Bradley Adams standing out as gems among gems, earning “Red Ducks redux” our highest recommendation.



weighted+mind+sierra+hullLong-time mandolin whiz Sierra Hull is reinventing herself as a singer-songwriter, and it’s a heck of a ride: new album Weighted Mind pulls out all the stops, echoing the transformation of Alison Krauss before her with banjomaster Bela Fleck on board as producer, a star-studded cast of studio greats (including Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens on harmony), and stunning, introspective lyrics that get right to the longing heart. There’s only one cover here (Queen of Hearts, a traditional song which Hull discovered on an old Joan Baez album, which appears here coupled with an original instrumental), but it’s a perfectly representative sample: sweet, sultry, and soaring in performance; honest and harmonic, masterful and mature in arrangement. Here’s a live take of the song recorded last year on Prairie Home Companion to whet your whistle.



We discovered the first two volumes of Boston-based labor-of-love compilation project Locals Covering Locals back in January, just a bit too late to include it in our Best of 2015 features. But right out of the gate, Volume 3 of the series, which dropped just this week, is a strong contender for this year’s best, with an aching, fluid album-closer from Dietrich Strause, gentle new primitivism from local favorite Allysen Callery taking on the Marissa Nadler songbook, and a grungy folkrock take on one of Allysen’s songs by daughter Ava alongside, standing out in another well-mixed set of otherwise new-to-us songs and songwriters.



We first featured harpist Mikaela Davis via a pair of YouTube video covers in our New Artists, Old Songs series way back in our early days, when she was still a local college student. Last week’s re-release of these old favorites and a few more as a 4-song digital covers EP via Bandcamp comes as a wonderful treat for the coverhound, with delightfully precious, surprisingly robust atmospheric takes on The Kinks (David Watts), Sufjan Stevens (Casimir Pulaski Day), Elliott Smith (Twilight), and Cass McCombs (Meet Me Here At Dawn); taken together, the four tracks, originally recorded in and around 2011-2012, showcase a broad indie influence, and serve as apt harbingers of the more nuanced and layered psychedelic folk rock-meets-chamber pop sound that typifies her more recent work as a 23 year old touring pro coming soon to a city near you as she tours both East and West coasts this Spring opening for Marco Benevento.



Finally, in other rerelease news: ubiquitous American primitive revivalist Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who we last heard in January thanks to a strong pseudonymous appearance on last year’s 3-disc tribute to early American folk revivalist Shirley Collins, remains busy heading into the year, releasing a collection of songs originally recorded for John Peel’s BBC radio sessions that includes a potent 1994 cover of Prince song The Cross – a deconstruction of a soaring, spiritual original into something eerie, urgent, and broken that, despite its age, still sounds fresh as a daisy.


Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Mikaela Davis, Pesky J. Nixon, Roosevelt Dime, Sierra Hull

Missed in 2015: Lost Songs and Late Arrivals
featuring Jackie Oates, Meg Baird, Willie Watson, Hattie Webb & more!

January 2nd, 2016 — 12:39pm

One of the biggest challenges of late year recovery is that it inevitably fails the test of comprehensiveness. Albums released in January get short shrift in end of year lists; at the year’s other end, there’s always that late December release that doesn’t make it onto the radar screen.

And so, in a year when Cover Lay Down went on hiatus from May to November, it’s unsurprising that a few albums, sessions and songs fell through the cracks in the mad scramble to tackle the twelvemonth.

Today, as the new year embraces us, we look back one last time for a few 2015 songs and albums which slipped by us in the hustle of the season. Shelved and temporarily forgotten, or simply unearthed after our four-part Best Of The Year series hit the proverbial streets, their very existence serves as a promise of more to come from a thriving musical community.


2013 Best Kidfolk Album winner Jackie Oates returns to the older folk canon on her newest release The Spyglass & The Herringbone: the album is almost entirely comprised of “lesser known but life-affirming songs from the English tradition”, save for a couple of peer-penned originals and a single cover of 1989 The Sundays hit Can’t Be Sure that nestle in among the simple, ringing tradfolk perfectly smooth and etherial, as if they were always a part of the old ways. Spyglass was released in April, on the cusp of the difficulties which brought us to hiatus in the first place, but the record is a forgiving mistress, alive with enveloping sound from harps and droning fiddles, vibrant with a sweet layered tonality that evokes the best of Kate Rusby and The Unthanks (and no surprise; Oates was a founding member), well worth resurrection.



siPulling at the threads from Jackie Oates reveals another missed collection that should by all rights have topped our list for Best Tribute Album Of The Year: Shirley Inspired, a 3 LP collection that serves as a veritable who’s who of performers who owe their style and substance, at least in part, to the revivalist work of Shirley Collins, who turned 80 in 2015. An artifact of the kickstarter appeal for ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’ – a film that is currently being made about the life of the “First Lady of Folk Music” – Inspired serves as both a survey of the mostly traditional songs which Collins lovingly preserved and presented, and as a record of just how broadly both the tunes and the tradition have integrated themselves into the modern spectrum; the performers here spread across both the British and Appalachian traditions, with newly recorded versions of old songs alongside a strong mix of new folk traditionalists from both sides of the pond, including Oates, Meg Baird, Olivia Chaney, Sally Timms, Josephine Foster, Graham Coxon, Sam Gleaves and Bonnie Prince Billy (performing Pretty Saro as a mournful dirge under the name Bitchin’ Bonnie Billy Bajas).



adatLive 2014 double-disc concert recording Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis slipped by us twice over – first in January, when it was released, and again at the end of the year. That’s okay: the album was easy to miss, having already served as an artifact of its own, from a 2013 concert featured in a 2014 Showtime documentary which in turn was designed to promote a mass market movie which garnered little traction; unsurprisingly, although the concert and subsequent documentary were designed to renew interest in the original film, most of us had already moved way past its buzz long before 2015 began.

Too bad. Though records comprised from live tribute concerts by various artists have a tendency to go awry, with muddy board mixing and ragged house bands too often contributing to sameness and a lack of fidelity, that’s not at all the case here. Instead, Another Day, Another Time, lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, features strong performances from a generous and multi-generational roster of well-known names of the modern folkways, including Gillian Welch, Punch Brothers, Marcus Mumford, The Avett Brothers, Colin Meloy, Lake Street Dive, and many more, each of whom was asked to perform an original and a cover in salute to the songs of the sixties folk revival. In the end, the whole thing is surprisingly smooth from start to finish, demands reconsideration, and comes up roses.


lclLocals Covering Locals, a labor-of-love compilation project now in its second year and iteration, is right up our alley, conceptually-speaking: Boston-based singer-songwriters select songs that they feel “need to be heard”, and cover them, thereby facilitating the spread of the best of their own sonic environment. The songs are a well-mixed bag, with rough roots, folk, and blues music from still-struggling artists normative in the mix, but there’s plenty of rough gems for those willing to sift through it, too; paired appearances of artists covering each other are especially dear, Hayley Sabella sounds like a young Deb Talan, and it’s wonderful to hear The Lemonheads done so well. Bonus points: the album was funded by an Iguana Grant from Club Passim, making it a true community effort in every sense of the word; the grant was renewed this year for a third volume, so stay tuned.



Finally: many of the singles we left out of our Best Of series this year – some too bold or raw for folk, some just a hair on the ragged side, others that offer a second look at some favorite sessions and artists – show up on our 2015 Bonus Coverfolk Singles mix, a 38-track mix of alternate delights available only to those who donate to Cover Lay Down. But a small handful of late discoveries and remembrances shine bright enough to deserve placement here. Our favorite of the lost set comes from harpist Hattie Webb of the Webb Sisters, whose stark reinvention of James Taylor lullaby Close Your Eyes, recorded to promote a Pledgemusic campaign for her upcoming debut solo outing, was released way too late to include in our regular end of year feature. For good measure, throw in grassy goodtime music-with-an-edge from Colorado-based Telluride Band Competition winners Trout Steak Revival, gentle country dreampop from Manitoba husband-and-wife duo Leaf Rapids, another nod to Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions via Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band, and another mention of teenage trio The Onlies, whose Jubilee, like the lightly upbeat indie-slash-tradfolk album it appears on, bears repeating after oblique mention in a February mixtape feature.



As always, if you like what you hear here, click through to lend your support to the artists we celebrate, the better to ensure the continued production of new music in 2016 and beyond.

And if you, too, have a little of the giving spirit left in you after the holidays, perhaps it’s time to consider a gift in support of our mission at Cover Lay Down. All donors receive our undying thanks, that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from patronizing the arts, and an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk released in 2014 and 2015. Click here to give, and thanks.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Jackie Oates, Mixtapes, Willie Watson

Unity House Concerts Presents: Mike + Ruthy
(Friday, December 4 @ The UU Society of Greater Springfield, MA)

November 27th, 2015 — 9:17am





Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Concerts are held monthly in our wooded sanctuary, and feature well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

Our 2015-2016 series features a diverse set of artists, including past shows with The Sea The Sea (September), Mary Lou Lord (October), and an incredible show last weekend with Matt Nakoa…upcoming shows with The Western Den (February 13), Joe Jencks (March 19) and more as-yet-to-be-confirmed singer-songwriters, duos, and bands…and our very first Friday night show, on December 4, with revered American roots duo Mike + Ruthy.



He grew up listening to ska-punk and alternative rock radio, dreaming of becoming a songwriter on the political edge. She was raised at the intersection of folk and swing, daughter of fiddle master Jay Ungar and country songwriter Lyn Hardy. They met in NYC, just out of college, and went on to found “subversive acoustic stringband” The Mammals, one of the most popular folk rock bands of their generation. And when The Mammals split up, and they married, they spent their honeymoon in the studio, recording a debut duo album aptly called The Honeymoon Agenda.

Now, after several more full-length albums and over a decade of performance together, indie folk roots pair Mike + Ruthy, aka Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, have established a reputation for breathtaking delivery and intimate performance, with exquisite songs and songcraft that combine catchy folk-pop choruses with honest, organic tradfolk and roots elements, played out on guitars, fiddle, banjo, ukulele, and a single microphone. Heralds of an American cultural awakening that values honesty and togetherness, prefers grit to glitz, and revels in the old-fashioned telling of a story, their most recent projects include opening gigs for Ani DiFranco and Kate Pierson of the B-52s, a majestic new album with a full five-piece band that is rich and vast with influence and energy, a twice-yearly folk and roots festival called The Hoot which has brought Sprit Family Reunion, Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and other Cover Lay Down favorites to the Ashokan Center near their home in upstate NY, a haunting posthumous Woody Guthrie collaboration, and a growing family, with parent and child generations that regularly join them on tour and on stage.

We featured Ruth Ungar in our early years as a blog, touching on her work with Michael and The Mammals, and with Aoife O’Donovan and Kristen Andreassen as “acoustic’n'harmonies” indiefolk trio Sometymes Why. But while it is true that, of the pair, it is Ruth who has the family connections, like many indiefolk musicians today, both Michael and Ruth perform and record in multiple modes, both within and beyond the boundaries of their core pairing. Indeed, the merging of his proto-rock radio grounding and her firm tradition has blossomed into a longstanding journey that ranges from soft blues to raucous tradfolk to grungy folkrock sets that frame them as exemplars of their age to critics and peers alike.

Mike Merenda often claims to see music as a way to both capture the world as a living, breathing organism, and to offer it love in the name of restoration; his three solo albums deliver on this adeptly, with outspoken lyrics delivered in a soft, breathy voice over stringwork and production that ranges from true-blue folk to more electrified roots rock fare. By this standard, their collaborative work together is a triumph: free and beautiful, true and sincere, and powerfully political, reflecting the quirky nuances of the world and resonating with the intimate selves we harbor within it.

Which makes me all the more proud to be hosting Mike + Ruthy at our own concert series, and to have the opportunity to tout their musicianship and performance through coverage today.

So check out our diverse set of covers below from their various incarnations and collaborations, and, as always, consider following the accompanying links to purchase their work, and support their shared mission. And then – geography and time permitting – contact us now to reserve your seat for a date with “one of acoustic America’s most revered musical duos” – an event that promises to thrill your senses, raise your spirits, and delve deep into your soul.









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1 comment » | (Re)Covered, House Concerts, Mike + Ruthy

Kickstarter Covers: Tomorrow You’re Going
(help Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky make a covers album!)

July 18th, 2014 — 11:42pm





We generally eschew artist ranking here at Cover Lay Down, but you never forget your first – and in this case, it speaks volumes that our very first feature back in September of 2007 introduced Richard Shindell’s incredible, quintessential covers album South of Delia, citing it as an album so powerful and vast in scope and sequence, it prompted us to start the blog in the first place. Just a few weeks later, we did a full feature on Lucy Kaplansky, too, touting that inimitable voice, and celebrating the woman who had so captured our hearts at the Clearwater festival, we had no choice but to snag her whole catalog to date at the merch tent, and subsequently steep ourselves in it through the long drive back home to Massachusetts, and for incessant months afterwards.

The evidence is clear from our origin, then: though we cherish the new and the post-millennial here at Cover Lay Down, their very presence at our humble beginnings confirm Kaplansky and Shindell’s places atop our lifetime list of favorite singer-songwriters. News regarding new projects, releases, or tours from either of these two sensitive, literate, and sublime musicians is ever an opportunity for celebration, and – as long time readers already know – we’ve been pleased to revisit them several times since 2007, in acknowledgement of each new release and collaboration.

But although Lucy and Richard in solo mode are always a wonderment, any opportunity to hear them work together is a special treat. And happily, here, too, one need not look far to find fodder for delight.

Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell’s work together dates back to the beginning of their careers, in the early eighties, when both were emerging artists in the Greenwich Village Fast Folk coffeehouse scene, and Kaplansky was the go-to harmony singer for an entire movement. Since then, though Shindell now makes his home south of the Equator, and Lucy continues to live in her native New York City, it is quite common to find them sharing stage and studio – and thanks to their long-time friendship and a mature sense of innate, entwined performance, the combination is always a delight. Those inimitable harmonies can be found on any number of “solo” recordings for the pair; in fact, the majority of albums from each artist feature the other on background vocals. Add in other collaborations, such as their performance together at a Harmony workshop at the 2007 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and their great work with Dar Williams on the late nineties one-shot trio covers project Cry Cry Cry, and it’s no wonder their entwined voices haunt our playlists.

Which is all to introduce the wonderful news that yesterday, old friends and long-time collaborators Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell kicked off a campaign to fund an entire album of new covers entitled Tomorrow You’re Going. And in response, we’ve collected a full set of their previous collaborations, culled from studio albums and live performances, that proves just why we believe their newest project is destined to be something very, very special.


kaplansky_shindell_1Clearly, others relish the thought of Kaplansky and Shindell coming together for a full album, too: just 24 hours after the campaign opened, they’ve already reached their initial fundraising goal. But don’t let the project’s rapid climb to sustainability stop you from supporting its fulfillment. “Stretch goals” for the project include broader press promotion and production, and an expansion of the subsequent tour that makes it that much more likely that you, too, could see the pair together in your own town or city. The give-aways here are darling, and typical of Richard and Kaplansky; read together, they comprise a vision of a tour together in which in every town, they’ll sing for, guitar shop with, and dine with donors and friends.

Most importantly, the success of this project really does depend on us: Shindell’s framing of crowdsourcing’s direct fan appeal as a quid pro quo replacement for music sales lost to the digital age is both an apt and eloquently stated argument for microfinancing models, and a signifier of his own clear and persistent vision of how to make music viable for artists and fans alike in an age far-flung from their Fast Folk magazine origins.

By definition, the covers on Tomorrow You’re Going are not yet available, at least in studio-recorded form. But, as noted above, there’s at least another album’s worth of recordings featuring the two out there already. Today, we collect the lot, reshuffling our favorite covers from Shindell and Kaplansky to focus on 16 tracks that feature the voices of both together – some nominally released under one artist’s name, and others, such as a couple of dual-marquee pairings recorded live at various festival stages, and a few tracks from Cry Cry Cry, more officially from the pair in partnership – and the end result is a beautiful playlist, and a beautiful teaser for their next great collaboration to boot. Listen, enjoy, and then head over to Kickstarter to pledge your support and pick your reward for Tomorrow You’re Going.


    Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell cover… [zip!]


Comment » | (Re)Covered, Kickstarter Covers, Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest 2014 (July 31-Aug 3)
with Aoife O’Donovan, Roosevelt Dime, Darlingside, The Duhks & more!

July 3rd, 2014 — 4:42pm


front-page-collage


This year marks our twentieth consecutive year at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and although we go as much for the community as the music these days, it is a sign of the festival’s continued success in presenting a stellar, diverse line-up that even as my wife works on airing out the camper, I find myself eagerly compiling a list of don’t-miss acts – and finding plenty of fodder for it.

We’ve said so much about this festival in past years; in some ways, it seems redundant to begin again for a seventh time. As I noted last year, “Falcon Ridge…remains my favorite summer experience: a guaranteed go-to event that offers some of the best, most eclectic truly folk music on the circuit, in a lazy, generous atmosphere charged with joy,” with a perfect mix of familiar folk festival standbys, famous guests, and “great new acts from the expanding indie-traditional genre space to complement the familiar faces, and honor the vibrancy of modern folk.”

But every year is something special at Falcon Ridge, and this year promises to be a gold mine. Today, then, a short set of updates from some past favorites coming to Dodd’s Farm for summer 2014; if we’ve done our job well, you’ll be itching to join us in the fields on Hillsdale, NY the first weekend in August to see these don’t-miss artists plus John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Christine Lavin, Brother Sun, Spuyten Duyvil, Tom Paxton, The Boxcar Lillies, Connor Garvey, Tracey Grammer and more.



We tracked Crooked Still carefully throughout the long life of this blog, and noted their move towards solo and other projects recently as this 2011 feature on the band’s first decade – but bookmarking such gems as the utterly beautiful 2011 solo take on a Richard Thompson classic below left an ache for founder, bandleader, and driving force Aoife O’Donovan, and we’re thrilled to find her on the performer’s list.

Indeed, even as her sweet, airy voice finds itself in collaboration with the likes of Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny, Kate Rusby, Elizabeth Mitchell, Sam Amidon, and other favorite artists over the past few years, I’ve been dying to see Aoife live and solo, and probably longer than most; her long-awaited debut album Fossils, which dropped this past year, has been duly feted as a tour de force, but we’ve been fans of that breathy voice since our inception. If her appearance on Prairie Home Companion back in January is any indication, this it-girl of the neo-traditional movement is going to be the belle of the fest; I’ll see you in the front row.

    Aoife O’Donovan: The Lakes Of Ponchartrain (trad.)


    Aoife O’Donovan: Vincent Black Lightning 1952 (orig. Richard Thompson)




We fell in love with Roosevelt Dime‘s acoustic jug band steamboat soul way back in 2009, thanks to a beautiful Americana-style single-shot Radiohead cover on their debut album Crooked Roots. Since then, we’ve followed their progress closely, and become close; we were thrilled to host the band overnight for a campsite jam last summer on site at Falcon Ridge, and honored to have the chance to present the very first public performance for Goodnight Moonshine, string-player and singer Eben Pariser’s side project with Red Molly member Molly Ventner.

The new year brings some changes to Roosevelt Dime – a slight shift in line-up, a featured Most Wanted set at the upcoming Falcon Ridge Folk Festival after winning last year’s Emerging Artist Showcase, and a fuller, more polished sound courtesy of Full Head of Steam, a jazzy, toe-tapping March release that sticks in the feet and the ears. Boston area folks interested in a week-before-the-fest teaser should snag tickets now for the band’s Club Passim show July 25th in support of Full Head of Steam; attendees will receive a free copy of the album, which is a serious bonus. Three traditional tracks from the album bring the funk for now.




Like Roosevelt Dime, Darlingside will be all over Falcon Ridge this year; Most Wanted artists are scheduled for multiple song workshops in collaboration with other artists; some of the very best collaborations I have ever seen take place at the open-air workshop tent. Regular readers may remember that this band wowed us at the Lounge Stage, the all-day Thursday artist-run festival-within-a-festival that Falcon Ridge has taken under its wing, with an amazing acoustic take on Smashing Pumpkins hit 1979; since then, their recent cover of Joni Mitchell-slash-CSNY Woodstock, with local darling Heather Maloney, made the New York Times, bringing fame and hopefully some modicum of momentum to the eclectic folkpop band.

Of course, Darlingside has been around for a while yet, and as with many new favorites, a dig into the archives can be fruitful, indeed. I found this older video cover searching for coverage from this year’s emerging artists; Caitlin Canty, who also tours with Jefferey Foucault and will be one of the 20 acts in this year’s Friday afternoon showcase, is the real deal.

    Darlingside ft. Caitlin Canty: Volcano (orig. Damien Rice)


    Darlingside ft. Heather Maloney: Woodstock (orig. Joni Mitchell)


    Darlingside: 1979 (orig. Smashing Pumpkins)




Wherever psychedelic jamband meets mythological folk rock, The Grand Slambovians (aka The Slambovian Circus of Dreams) hold sway, and for good reason: their late night Falcon Ridge mainstage sets are the world’s best summer party under the stars; their dance tent sets are legendary roof-raisers, their at-bats under the summer sun each year at the Beatles cover workshop are always a sing-along treat; their 2007 cover of Peace Train with Dar Williams and John Gorka remains one of our favorite Falcon Ridge moments. The music video for crowd favorite Alice in Space they made on-site last year, released this March to much fanfare, offers a glimpse into the madness; if you look closely, you can catch me in the crowd shots, bouncing around with abandon. This gentle, languid electro-folk Leonard Cohen cover comes from the same set, but even their tender side is part of the ride: don’t bother bringing a chair to your own trip to Slambovia – just a glowstick suit, plenty of water, and all the energy you can muster.

    The Grand Slambovians: Suzanne (orig. Leonard Cohen)




I actually blogged about The Duhks before this blog was born, listing their cover of Tracy Chapman’s Mountains of Things as one of my favorite songs of 2006 here in the waning days of the prep school existence, and returning for a comprehensive look at their first half decade in a 2008 feature (The Duhks cover Sting, Tracey Chapman, Gillian Welch et. al). Now, several line-up changes and 13 years since their inception, the eclectic acadian-creole folkrock collective from Winnipeg emerges from a two-year recording hiatus still at the top of their game, hitting “the Ridge” on the strength of a crisp, bright, and totally rockin’ new album produced by CLD faves Mike & Ruthy, with title cut and a traditional number below. Bring on the joyful noise.


    The Duhks: Mountains of Things (orig. Tracy Chapman)




Ready to join us August 1-3 at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival? Head over to their website for more, including tickets, a complete line-up, vendor list and site map!

4 comments » | (Re)Covered, Aoife O'Donovan, Darlingside, Festival Coverfolk, Roosevelt Dime, The Duhks

Kickstarter Covers, Vol. I: Milltowns
(Mark Erelli pays adept tribute to Bill Morrissey)

June 22nd, 2014 — 7:00pm

School’s out, the fireflies have returned, and the Oxycodone has finally faded from my system after a much-needed knee surgery, leaving us free and clear to begin filling pages again after months of apology. We’ll be back more regularly over the summer with news and new projects, tributes and songbook sets galore; today we dip our toes in the water with a clock-ticking palate-cleanser from one of our very favorite artists.





Happy 40th birthday weekend and kudos to well-travelled Boston-based folk musician and sideman extraordinaire Mark Erelli, who spent the last year recording Milltowns: A Tribute to Bill Morrissey, a warm, deep, surprisingly poignant tribute to a legendary singer-songwriter featuring multi-instrumentalist Erelli at his studio best and some smashing sideline work from the likes of Peter Mulvey, Rose Cousins, Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault, Anais Mitchell, & Rose Polenzani. After hearing Mark cover Bill several times over the last few years through bootlegs, live performances, and a single cover on The Memorial Hall Sessions album way back in 2002, we’re pleased but not so very surprised to declare the as-yet-unreleased Milltowns an unqualified success “born of love, respect and gratitude”, and an eloquent tribute to one of Erelli’s heroes and mentors – and proud, too, to urge support for the project via his Kickstarter page in the last few days of the campaign.

Regular readers may recall that we hold a special place in our hearts for Erelli, who recorded The Memorial Hall Sessions in our little town, and returned a decade later to grace us with our own little house concert; we’ve celebrated him several times on our pages (most recently for his double-dip coverage of Dawes), and have constantly been impressed by his work as a songwriter and performer. But this project is an especially potent venue for our fandom. The connection between Erelli and Morrissey is strong: Mark speaks eloquently of Morrissey’s mentorship on the road; both are known for their intimate portrayals of smalltown life in New England, and both have unusually strong connections to our favorite folk festival – Erelli as a one-time Falcon Ridge Folk Fest volunteer and main stage performer; Morrissey as a headline act from the very first year. And Morrissey is a long-time favorite, too – a Fast Folk alum who was a mainstay on the coffeehouse circuit until his death in 2011, with a catalog that is strong and worthy of the project.

The Milltown Kickstarter campaign hit its target yesterday, but extra funds are always needed to promote and distribute the album effectively – word of mouth only goes so far. So check out the project video above and a pair of older samples of Mark covering Bill below, head back in time to our 2011 feature on Mark Erelli, and then hit up the Milltowns project page to give what you can to support the record’s release, and receive an early digital download, plus the usual set of goodies, from signed records and back-catalog gems to copies of Bill Morrissey’s writings.


    TWO more Bill Morrissey covers from Mark Erelli’s mp3 of the Month series!



Comment » | (Re)Covered, Bill Morrissey, Kickstarter Covers, Mark Erelli, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

(Re)Covered: New coverage from old friends
John Statz, Caroline Herring, Poor Old Shine & more!

February 18th, 2014 — 1:08pm

There comes a time in every New England winter where the endless snow begins to weigh heavy on the soul, threatening to crush the heart. Hope sputters as we teeter on the edge of resignation. Every weather report is like a curse. Spring becomes but a dream.

But it’s school vacation, and for a teacher, this means time: for children’s play, for catch-up chores, and then, finally, for the self. I’m writing poetry again, and the soundtrack is fine indeed, here alongside the roar of the pellet stove, new music snug and alive against the whispering silence of a world deadened by white.

Which is to say: the mailbag is stuffed to overflowing with the good stuff again, and we’re pleased as punch to finally have a chance to steep in it all. Today, then: news and new tracks from some of our favorite artists of yesteryear, with a second set to follow towards the end of the week. May their vibrant energy serve as a perfect antidote to the numb, dumb eternity of February.

Caroline Herring was an early favorite here on the blog, an anomalous southern voice on the Massachusetts-based Signature Sounds label whose 2007 album Lantana chilled us so powerfully with its haunting portrayals of character and place, and its perfect balance of serenity and emotional investment, that we could not help but reach out for our very first interview in celebration of follow-up CD/EP set Golden Apples Of The Sun/Silver Apples of the Moon, with its fine covers of Cyndi Lauper, Kate Wolf, and Lefty Frizzell.

The literate singer-songwriter’s newest project I Will Go Into The Day, which dropped January 11, is nominally a children’s album, one that wholly succeeds in its attempt to “set to music the magic and wonder of childhood, and celebrate the joys of imaginative play”; as long-time proponents of kidfolk, we’re excited to steep in it on those merits alone, and eager, too, to share the album’s two covers – a sweet children’s choir version of traditional song John The Rabbit and a translated take on 1940s yiddish composition Donna Donna that transforms the tune cleanly into a powerful Appalachian lullaby. But we’re equally thrilled to find this natural antidote to the bleeps and distances of the technological life simmering with more for the mature and discerning ear, with songs that call like wistful sirens to adult nostalgia and centeredness even as Herring’s gentle guitar and warm alto warble soothe at the surface.

    Caroline Herring: Donna, Donna (orig. Sholom Secunda)

    Caroline Herring: John The Rabbit (trad.)



Thanks to some sweet harmonies, timeless originals from mournful to majestic, and reverent, pitch-perfect takes on Norman Blake’s Church Street Blues and Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta, Our Lady of the Tall Trees, the debut album from “new old-time” singer-songwriters and master instrumentalists Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, was one of our favorite releases of 2012; their subsequent set at Freshgrass was the highlight of our weekend, and we said so here, in a feature that seems to have been eaten by our subsequent move from one server to another. Their brand new sophomore effort I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands finds the pair comfortable with their sound: masterful licks from mandolin, banjo and guitar twine with that lonesome duo sound exquisitely on ballads and kickers alike, making the album a fine follow-up with range and resonance, an equal mix of cowboy folk and true blue bluegrass from one of the most duly and well-celebrated young duos on the scene today. Check out upbeat original Livin’ In America, lonesome heartbreaker Down In The Lonesome Draw, swinging fiddle-and-mandolin waltz version of Louvin Brothers classic Lorene, and more over at their webpage, and then snag the album via Bandcamp.

    Cahalen Morrison & Eli West: Green Pastures (trad.)

    Cahalen Morrison & Eli West: Voices of Evening (orig. Alice Gerrard)



It’s rare for us to come back to an artist so soon after first discovery. But as noted in our most recent New Artists, Old Songs collection back in January, Molly Tuttle isn’t just a co-lead vocalist and guitar/banjo player for The Tuttles with AJ Lee, she’s also a budding Berklee-trained talent of her own – and her sets with both the Berklee Bluegrass crew and with her own sidestage trio at last weekend’s Joe Val Bluegrass Fest had the crowds nodding and smiling, leaving us looking for more. Happily, Tuttle proves her mettle and then some with a five-track self-titled duo EP released in early February with trio member and fellow Berklee-trained fiddler John Mailander, now available via Bandcamp, featuring lilting coverage of Joni Mitchell, traditional bluegrass tune Moonshiner, a fine original set from Molly and John, and a surprisingly sweet, robust take on country music singer-songwriter Keith Whitley’s I’m Over You that channels Kasey Chambers’ best country heartbreak.

    Molly Tuttle and John Mailander: Morning Morgantown (orig. Joni Mitchell)

    Molly Tuttle and John Mailander: I’m Over You (orig. Keith Whitley)



Midwestern singer-songwriter John Statz, who named his last release for the single cover among its potent narrative portraits of granite and field, was one of our favorite discoveries of 2012, and the proof, as always, is in the pursuit: since then, we’ve dug deeply into his back catalog, picking up older albums from his formative years, fallen in love with the longing and despair he brings to his live take on Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2, and found depth in his plainspoken poetry and joy in his celebration of the world as it is, leaving us eager to help spread the gospel.

Statz recently holed up in a Vermont snowstorm to record a new album, with fellow Wisconsinite and Cover Lay Down fave Jeffrey Foucault on board as producer and back-up musician; after catching the pair together at Northampton venue The Parlor Room in December, and recording a couple of covers to boot, we’re eager, indeed, to hear the results. But those looking for an early fix need look no farther than 12 August, a live duo album from Statz and fellow midwestern folk troubadour and honest storyteller Josh Harty that drops today. Minimally produced, with a live session sound that celebrates the intimacy of song and place, the album features gentle performances of originals from each artist, plus covers of Greg Brown, John Prine, and more; head over to Bandcamp for streaming, digital download, and physical copies.

    Josh Harty & John Statz: Paradise (orig. John Prine)

    Josh Harty & John Statz: Worrisome Years (orig. Greg Brown)




Finally, at least for today: they may have earned their place on the mainstage through top audience honors in the 2012 Emerging Artist’s Showcase, but their impromptu hour-long set in the sunwarmed vendor area at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival simply blew us away, with a cover of Ophelia, a couple of traditional barnstormers, and a small set of raw originals delivered with a combination of explosive energy and unceasing craftsmanship that both reinforced and transcended earlier comparisons to the Avett Brothers. Now, fresh off an onstage gig as the musical accompaniment for the American Repertory Theater’s winter production of Robin Hood, neotraditional Americana stringband Poor Old Shine are back home in their native Connecticut, and back on our radar with two holiday homages: a haunting Blind Willie McTell tune filmed by flashlight in a California cabin last Halloween, and a brand new Valentine’s Day delight that transforms 80′s Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack hit The Power Of Love into a loving living-room slowdance featuring their cosmic blend of old-time instrumentation and footstomping wail, trading off lines and harmonies like The Band in their very best bootleg days. Back To The Future, indeed: I’d say these guys are going places, but all I see is up.

    Poor Old Shine: The Power Of Love (orig. Huey Lewis and the News)


    Poor Old Shine: Lay Some Flowers On My Grave (orig. Blind Willie McTell)



Looking for more Cover Lay Down in your life? “Like” our Facebook page for new coverfolk from CLD fave Al Lewis, ongoing updates from the blog and beyond, and more bonus streams and videos shared as we find ‘em. And stay tuned for a second round of new 2014 releases and one-shot cover tunes from more artists previously celebrated here, including great new discoveries from Cheyenne Mize Marie, Amy Black, Juliana Richer Daily, and Charlie Parr.

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, Caroline Herring, John Statz

Revisited: Mary Lou Lord Covers
Lucinda Williams, Jason Molina, Big Star, Pink Floyd & more!

October 13th, 2013 — 10:22pm





When we last checked in on Mary Lou Lord, she seemed to be on permanent hiatus following a 2005 diagnosis with a rare vocal cord affliction, though an appearance at SXSW the following year suggested she was still open to possibility. But the pixie-faced singer-songwriter who rose from the subways of Boston to indiegrunge fame through a combination of raw talent and close relationships with both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith has been on the move lately, co-founding Girls Rock Camp in Boston, embarking on a new kickstarter-driven album, hosting open mics, and playing alongside her talented teenaged daughter Annabelle in a recent live tribute to Elliott Smith alongside Rhett Miller, Chris Thile, Bob Dorough, and others that was featured in The New Yorker.

More generally, Lord’s Facebook feed is a daily dose of awesome, a delightful combination of raw human observation and the loving curation and celebration of a number of amazing musical legacies both past and present, from Joni Mitchell and Smith himself to mutual faves Elizabeth Mitchell, Haley Bonar, Teddy Thompson, and First Aid Kit. Though she is still recovering from a serious fall off a fire escape last month, that didn’t stop her from making major news in Stereogum after an “epic” Facebook response to Courtney Love’s terrible rendition of Big Star hit Thirteen wandered into a more general response to Love’s tendency to claim in public interviews that Lord snuck onto Kurt and Courtney’s porch to kill their cat – a thoughtful, emotional, coherent use of social media that only cemented our faith in the woman’s resilience, and made Courtney seem even more insane, as if such thing were possible.

As Lord noted at her recent live performance, she doesn’t perform much anymore, and a small but growing set of Soundcloud covers, including takes on Jason Molina, Dylan, and Richard Thompson, reveal an artist still struggling to vocalize, though the resulting strain has a rare intimacy, and reveals charm of its own. But if this is a comeback, we’re all for it. Read our original feature, check out our newly-expanded list of covers – including a stunning Lucinda Williams take from her newest album – and follow Mary Lou Lord on Facebook to keep up with the resurrecting career of a well-deserving superstar.



February, 2008

As far as I can tell, the only major distinction between modern folk and a certain sort of indie music seems to be how the artists choose to produce and use instruments on their songs. And though you won’t find this sort of fuzzed-out guitar on the other folkblogs, the way the modern singer-songwriter mentality seems to find voice in both indierock and folk fascinates me.

But production isn’t what makes folk, and even if it were, the distinction is often fluid. The small but growing cadre of indie artists who perform in both folk and alt-rock modes owe no small debt to a select group of artists — Evan Dando, Lou Barlow, Tanya Donelly, Jeff Tweedy, Ben Gibbard and others — who have, over the years, moved easily across the bridge between the two forms. But these artists, in turn, owe the very existence of that bridge to other, lesser-known forerunners, like Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston, who spent their entire careers building the bridge for them to cross.

As part of our ongoing exploration of this curious relationship, today we feature one underappreciated artist who is more often found among the indierock, but who has claimed folk credibility from the start: Mary Lou Lord, folksinger and cover artist.


I was a high school student in Boston during Mary Lou Lord’s busker days, and not an apt or diligent pupil; I often skipped class to head off down the T into Harvard Square with friends. Given our relative age, then, and her own preference for playing along the Red Line, I suppose I must have passed by Lord a couple of times. But back then, my ears were full of post-punk grunge, and she was just another streetcorner kid with an acoustic guitar, a ragged approach, and an innocent, little-girl voice. By the time she started recording alongside the best of the growing post-punk world, I had already moved on.

The heavy fuzz and feedback of much of her production puts the bulk of Mary Lou Lord’s recorded work squarely in line with early nineties alt-rock; if you’re looking for her in your local indie record store, you’ll find it alongside the pre-grunge of artists like The Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield. But like Beck, Lord has always had a folk heart, and worn it proudly. Though she’s famous for her catfights with Courtney Love, she toured and recorded with Elliott Smith, and opened for Cover Lay Down fave Shawn Colvin. By identifying herself with those artists and others, Lord categorizes herself as an artist straddling the bridge between singer-songwriter folk and the indie world.

The songs that Lord has chosen to cover over her two-decade career speak volumes about which artists she considers her musical peers and forefathers, and here, too, we find a curious connection with the folkworld. In and among the Magnetic Fields and Big Star covers, we find covers of Smith and Colvin, indiefolkie Daniel Johnston, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, and even oldschool pre-folkie Elizabeth Cotten. Clearly, this is a woman who listens to folk music on her own time, recognizes good songwriting regardless of original instrumentation, and takes them where she can find them.

Here’s a few of my favorite Mary Lou Lord coversongs which hit that spectrum, and then some. Most are solo acoustic, delicate and coy, but don’t be scared by the occasional guitarfuzz; this is, at heart, a form of folk. Heck, if feedback was all it took, Dylan wouldn’t be a folkie anymore, either.


    Mary Lou Lord Soundcloud Covers [2012-2013]



It’s hard to link to the collected works of Mary Lou Lord; her recorded output remains scattered across several indie labels, some of them short-lived. But some of her back catalog is still available, and it’s chock full of folk covers.

Folk fans are probably best served by starting with the cover-heavy Live City Sounds, a hard-to-come-by acoustic album with several Richard Thompson covers which sounds like the streets where I once passed Mary Lou Lord in her busking days. Alt-punk label Kill Rock Stars also still carries a split bill EP and a couple of compilations.

Though her newest album seems not to have been released yet – she leaked the new Lucinda Williams track last year herself after it started getting play on media outlets – those looking for a more recent treasure trove would be well served to bookmark Mary Lou’s Soundcloud page, which has a growing mix of living room coverage and old found studio sound, including some mid-nineties tracks of her goofing around with Elliott Smith.


Bonus tracks? Sure – here’s a couple more Big Star coversongs in the same grungefolk vein. Dando’s cover is one of my favorite coversongs ever, hands down. And doesn’t Mary Lou Lord sound like a female version of Elliott Smith?


1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Mary Lou Lord, Reposts

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

(Re)Covered, Vol. XXIX: New Coverfolk from
Lissa Schneckenburger, Clem Snide, Nell Robinson, Arborea & more!

May 14th, 2013 — 10:32pm

New projects from folk artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down continue to spring forth into the ether and into our ears; with our archives permanently hosted off-site at The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, any opportunity to bring these beloved names and voices back into the mix is especially welcome. Today, we add to the growing canon of delights with new releases from several perennial favorites.


coversFirst featured here way back in 2008 as part of a look at the new tradfolk revival in the American Northeast, “New England style” fiddler and folk singer Lissa Schneckenburger has made several strong albums of traditional and dance music, and often performs with fellow local scenesters Laura Cortese and Hanneke Cassel as Halali, a fiddle trio which explores stringfolk traditions from around the world. A graduate of New England Conservatory, she is known among her peers as a talented artist, and a careful craftsperson and ethnomusicologist, whose recent exploration of the roots of the Downeast traditions which she first heard as a young girl growing up in Maine resulted in a two-part project, 2008 release Song and 2010 companion release Dance – highly recommended albums which bring new nuance and modern interpretation to the ballads and fiddle tunes of Appalachia and beyond.

Schneckenburger’s newest album Covers, which drops on CD June 6 but has just become available for purchase on Bandcamp, benefits greatly from her talent for deep study, revealing unplumbed depths in the transformative yet true reconstructions of a diverse set of songs that define the various radio-play generations that arose in the second half of the 20th century. But like many of her “new folkscene” compatriots, Schneckenburger also knows how to use the space between notes to her advantage – both the silences, and the resonant echoes as notes fade – and here this means heavenly, luscious transformations of songs otherwise known through the distinctive voices of Jim Croce, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits, Stephen Merritt and more.

Sensitive without sentimentality is a tough balance to find, but with deceptively simple settings, clear-as-a-bell fiddle strains and soundscapes, and a warm alto, Schneckenburger makes it seem effortless. The result is a potent mix, bright and soaring and sweet, that crosses genre borders from Americana and folk rock to traditional and contemporary folk. As a bonus, Aoife O’Donovan, bassist Corey DiMarino, and cellist Tristan Clarridge sing and play on several tracks, making this surprisingly sparse and airy album the closest thing we’ll get to a Crooked Still reunion for a while; other guests familiar to long-time readers include Ruth Ungar and Mike Merenda (who also recorded and mixed the album), and Stefan Amidon, brother of Sam and founding member of new countryfolk band The Sweetback Sisters. Check out two heartwrenching favorites below (plus a bonus track from tradfolk collection Song), and then head over to Bandcamp to stream the rest and download for just 7 bucks.



fortressWe championed deepwoods folkduo Arborea back in 2010 for their “echoey, delicate, almost nufolk sound”, and previously for their powerful contribution to a 2009 Odetta tribute, but as I pointed out to guitarist and songwriter Buck Curran when he contacted me about their newest release, anything new from this married couple is good news, indeed – and sure enough, Fortress of the Sun, which was released April 30 to honor NYC label ESP-Disk’s 50th anniversary, is a wallop to the senses, with fluid movements, abstract poetics, Shanti’s soaring vocals, and enough depth and atmosphere to drown in.

Arborea’s influences are evident in their coverage – in the past, we’ve heard them take on both Robbie Basho and Tim Buckley, and several traditional folk ballads, showing the straight line between the marginalized and primitive post-modernists and the vast potential of the old ways wrought anew. And Fortress is no exception: a spine-chilling Cherry Tree Carol and a newly-penned lyric for old Irish tune When I Was On Horseback that resets the song as a history of the death of Southern Calvary General JEB Stuart near Richmond in 1864 fit right in among a collection on the knife-edge of tradition and experimental delicacy that rivals the best of Sam Amidon, Devandra Banhardt, and other indiefolk inheritors of the Vashti Bunyan and Karen Dalton branches of the folkworld. Order it at ESP-Disk in LP or CD formats, and your digital download of all tracks will be filling your ears and soul in minutes.

  • Arborea: Cherry Tree Carol (trad.)

  • Arborea: Blue Crystal Fire (orig. Robbie Basho)

    (from We Are All One, Under The Sun, 2009)
  • Arborea: Phantasmagoria In Two (orig. Tim Buckley)

    (unreleased single, 2009)



Clem_Snide_-_Fan_Chosen_Covers_4x4-300x300Our 2011 full-length feature on the folkier side of Eef Barzelay was a near inevitability, given the oddly broken tenderness with which the former leader of indie band Clem Snide had turned to the work of such artists as Christina Aguilera and Eddie Money since breaking up the band after after an ill-fated post-9/11 tour left him disillusioned with the industry; later that year, we named his under-the-radar EPs covering Journey and The Transmissionary Six the Best Tribute EPs of 2011, citing their ragged, heartfelt solo interpretations, and celebrating the way the latter collection provided an entry into the work of the obscure duo through coverage, and we’re happy to report that the Wayback Machine has all songs from both features linked above still live for your downloading delight.

But although nominally recorded under the old band moniker, the Israeli-born singer-songwriter’s recent pursuit of solo fan-funded coverage continues to focus and mature, and nothing provides better evidence than the surprisingly cohesive flow that takes us through Fan Chosen Covers, Pt. 2, a name-your-price collection built on songs chosen and funded individually by donors released April 30 on Bandcamp. From the almost medieval drone of All Tomorrow’s Parties to the plainspoken simplicity of Carole King & Gerry Goffin classic Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, the well-ordered sequence offers a journey through angst and pain into peace and possibility, with pensive, newly deconstructed takes on everything from the Indigo Girls, Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond, Paul Young, and The Church in the mix. Even a slightly tongue-in-cheek version of the theme song to Welcome Back, Mr. Kotter barely disrupts the flow of earnestness. And the new melody Barzelay has written for Bonnie Raitt tearjerker I Can’t Make You Love Me is a revelation.

Email Eef if you want to commission a cover of your very own for a very reasonable rate, or just enjoy the fruits of other fan’s requests vicariously over at Bandcamp after checking out the samples below. And if you do download, remember to give a few bucks in return, if you can: the fan-funded model only works if those who can, do.


housegardenAs we’ve noted here before, the shift from records to digital media in the past decade has led to more fleeting affection for songs and artists, over-collection, and a tendency to shuffle – all listening and archival behaviors which many have cited as a death knell for the album. But Americana singer-songwriter Nell Robinson seems to have either missed the message, or is determined to push back against the modern. Her 2011 concept album On The Brooklyn Road, which we featured back in July of 2011, raised the bar for personal and historical exploration on a grand scale, impressing us with its perfect balance of classic country covers, sepia-toned originals, and octogenarian interview clips. And her ongoing work with guitarist Jim Nunally and others channelling the stories of soldiers with music “from the Revolutionary War to the present, interwoven with 250 years of letters, stories and poetry from Nell’s Alabama family,” offers an equally powerful experience, holistic and whole, unifying the soldier’s plight across time and space.

Now Nell and Jim return with a tribute to the garden, a lighter but no less substantive subject, and unsurprisingly, though short and sweet at 13 tracks and 33 minutes, the duo project is no less comprehensive, from its plant-and-grow seed packet CD inserts to the breadth of darkness and light channelled through the sheer joys of warm sun and wind and rain, and the metaphors of dirty hands and growth, homestead and harvest. Their voices blend like old friends on a backporch, with fingerpicking that dances and an old-timey twang that invites a smile, and shades of everyone from to Kate Wolf and Patsy Cline to The Louvin Brothers and Bill Monroe himself in the echoes that linger. And to our joy, in among the originals on House & Garden, the pair channels Dolly Parton and George Jones with such grace and gentle gravity, the old songs fitting in snugly like well-curated heirloom varietals among the new blooms and the tall, cool grasses. A bounty indeed.



DSC_1669Back in the New England scene, Boston-based band Joy Kills Sorrow – one of our favorite stringfolk bands here at Cover Lay Down, helmed by Berklee grad Emma Beaton, one of our favorite folk voices, and with new members with some serious chops on acoustic guitar and stand-up bass since we last mentioned them here – releases a grand teaser of a Postal Service cover this week as a possible leading indicator of a shift in sensibilities towards an even more raucous Americana sound on their upcoming EP Wide Awake, due to drop June 4 on preeminent local label Signature Sounds. As I noted on our Facebook page late last week, I tried taping a live version of this high-energy acoustic stringband take on Such Great Heights last summer at a bluegrass fest, and failed due to crowd noise. Happily, the newly-released version is perfectly clear and crisp, a bouncy early promise of summer delight sure to thrill fans of Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. Can’t wait to hear the whole EP!


1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Arborea, Clem Snide, Joy Kills Sorrow, Lissa Schneckenburger, Nell Robinson

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