Category: Shawn Colvin

Double Dippers, Vol. IV: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
Paul Simon, Modest Mouse, Gram Parsons, The Band and Dougie MacLean!

July 24th, 2016 — 10:58am


It’s been two years and one huge archive crash since we last revisited our Double Dippers series, in which we focus on artists who pay tribute to a favorite songwriter through coverage in two distinct phases of their careers. Our interest, as always, is in the ethnographic lens on craft and culture: if covers serve as artifacts that reveal the substance of artistic evolution, then an individual artist’s return to a common songbook is especially illuminating – both as an exploration of maturity and experimentation, and in the way it reinforces that artist’s claim to a particular musical lineage or heritage.

Previously, we took the analytical approach to paired homage from Mark Erelli, Richard Shindell, Amos Lee, Lucy Kaplansky, and Old Crow Medicine Show (Vol. 1), Kasey Chambers, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Red Molly (Vol. 2), and Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Bragg, Evan Dando, and Crooked Still alumni Aoife O’Donovan and Tristan Clarridge (Vol. 3) as they explored the works of their peers and progenitors. Today, we continue our dig into how songwriters are shaped by song and soundscapes with double-dip coverage from six distinct artists working in and around the world of folk and roots: Mark Kozelek, Whiskeytown, Susan Werner, Shawn Colvin, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Kallet, Epstein, and Cicone.

    Recorded in two subsequent incarnations of dreamy indie singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek‘s evolution from bandleader to solo act, more than anything, these two tracks show steadfast commitment to a career built at least partially on transformative coverage – before recording Modest Mouse homage Tiny Cities with Sun Kil Moon, the band released an entire album covering AC/DC; he has also contributed multiple tracks to one of our favorite John Denver tribute albums, and taken on the likes of KISS, Paul Simon, Genesis and The Cars. Eleven years later, Kozelek, now known for his ability to strip a song down to its bare essentials, has lost none of the scarred beauty of his particularly intimate slowcore approach as he matures into himself; the significant difference here is the even more spare arrangement which typifies atypically piano-driven collection Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, a stunning new release featuring guest vocalists galore, sure to feature in our end-of-year wrap-up of the Best Cover Albums of 2016.

    Shawn Colvin‘s second covers album Uncovered – released 21 years after Cover Girl, her first covers collection, wormed its way into our heart – double-dips twice, returning to the work of both Tom Waits and The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Both cover pairings are good, though Colvin’s turn towards Adult Contemporary between these two poles of her career remains evident; as with her double-take on the Beatles songbook, her return here “bear[s] the scars and strengths of that journey, though…the high production value and carefully nuanced vocals shine almost blindingly bright.” Which is to say: we like Uncovered, which was recorded with less pomp and circumstance than some of her mid-career radio-ready hits, a lot more than we expected to; in its best moments, like her subtle, slow take on Acadian Driftwood, it reminds us of the intimacy and innocence of Colvin’s earliest, rawest work, and as such, merits a second dip into her career.

    Ryan Adams is known in the coverworld for his slow reframing of Wonderwall and his triumphant retake on Taylor Swift album 1989; outside of that world, it’s hard to find a more perfect debut album than Heartbreaker. But before he was a solo artist with a penchant for covering everything from metal to pop, Adams fronted short-lived but highly influential alt-country band Whiskeytown, which covered Gram Parsons several times as they evolved from grungy post-country rockabilly to the more delicate side of the No Depression universe just before Adams and fellow founder Caitlin Cary spun off into the void. Adams has taken on Parsons plenty since – his live covers of Sin City and Streets Of Baltimore are great country ballads; his 1999 in-concert duet with Gillian Welch is legendary – but it’s the distance between these two cuts that best models how he got from here to there.

    The occasional trio of Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone have released just three albums since first coming together in 1981; we featured the last upon its release in 2008 with a celebration of Cindy Kallet’s overall output, and grew up on the first two, celebrating them in our formative years as a guidepost to a strain of hearty heartstrong vocal-led folksong particular to the New England coast, with echoes of shanties and the shapenote traditions, and the earthy delights of UK folksingers such as the Scottish MacLean. Final album Heartstrings, a return to the fold, is as tender and reminiscent as you might expect, although strong in its own right – but though recorded just five years apart, the subtle rumblings in the folkstream which would send much of the most honest forms of folk underground as folk radio turned towards Adult Contemporary show at the seams in the range between these two earlier songs.

    Her live performances and albums hew closely to the solo singer-songwriter model, with a masterful command of voice and style, and confidence and humor on stage. But Susan Werner – a classically trained composer and vocalist, and a true follower of the “album as album” school of songwriting – has reinvented herself for almost every studio release since establishing herself as a folksinger in the mid eighties. Recent collections include an atheist’s gospel album and a collection of songs exploring the voice of the modern farmer; her next collection will reportedly take on the culture and rhythms of a newly-reopened island nation, and the samples we’re heard live have been amazing. As such, the vast difference between these two Paul Simon songs is easily explicable: the former is a beautiful, maudlin piece typical of her early work in the contemporary vein, the latter, which matches a Simon & Garfunkel song to a Vivaldi-esque string setting, is a live take from the tour following 2009 release Classics, a potent genre-crossing covers collection which set standards of the sixties and seventies against precisely identified classical stylings.

    Finally, a second take on the Simon & Garfunkel songbook, this time from second-generation fringepop folk artist Lucy Wainwright Roche, paired in both cases with mother Suzzy of the Roches. Both covers are amazing, although arguably, it’s the first, a last-track coda on Lucy Wainwright Roche’s 2010 studio debut Lucy, which fills our head for days after we listen, haunting and taunting us with its rich sonic landscape. But what a difference six years makes, as the urgency of the full-length debut fades back into the soaring, delicate harmonies and ringing strings that typified Lucy’s first few tiny EPs, each one as precious as the next. If there was ever any question that Lucy is as potent a force in her own right as brother Rufus or father Loudon, this pairing should settle it.

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Comment » | Double Dippers, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Mark Kozelek, Ryan Adams, Shawn Colvin, Susan Werner

Double Dippers, Vol. 2: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, The Beatles, Paul Simon & Greg Brown!

June 20th, 2013 — 1:16pm


Welcome back to Cover Lay Down, where we remain in the midst of a short fund-raising drive to support the server costs and sundries which allow us to serve our core mission of connecting artists and fans like you. Thanks to an early surge of donors, we are now paid up through the next couple of months, but we’d rather not come to you with hat in hand so often; if you, too, appreciate the work we’re doing, and can find it in your heart to toss a few coins in the busker’s hat, we’d be eternally grateful.

On our end, as part of the rejuvenation efforts that we commit to each year as summer arrives, we’re picking up the pace with a set of new and favorite thematic approaches to the ethnographic exercise of tracking craft and culture through coverage. Our newest feature series finds us focusing on artists who pay tribute to favorite songwriters through coverage twice over, in two distinct phases of their careers. Previously, in our inaugural edition, we took the analytical lens to homage from Mark Erelli, Richard Shindell, Amos Lee, Lucy Kaplansky, and Old Crow Medicine Show; today, we find an all-female cast of Kasey Chambers, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Red Molly exploring the works of their own peers and progenitors, revealing along the way the substance of their own artistic evolutions.

    We introduced Aussie alt-country firebrand Kasey Chambers through coverage way back in our first few months on the web via her tender, raw, tear-enducing take on Crowded House hit Better Be Home Soon. But Chamber’s penchant for coverage pre-dates our own: her wailing version of Lucinda Williams’ Changed The Locks may not come off as folk, but it has been a staple of her set since the turn of the century, and for good reason, as multiple live recordings can attest to. And the recording of Lucinda’s Just Wanted to See You So Bad from her early days with Chambers family band the Dead Ringer Band is delightful on its own merits, with a potent country beat and a lighthearted youthfulness of its own that’ll make you want to two-step.

    Red Molly – a trio formed in the wee-hour campfire hills of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and long celebrated by its membership – channel the fan coverage of the fields more than anything; in addition to a single-album Mark Erelli double-dip on 2011 release Light In The Sky, they’ve covered Gillian Welch four times on three albums, and Susan Werner twice again, making them easy pickings for our series. The retirement of founding member Carolann Solebello two years ago, and the subsequent addition of one-time opening act Molly Venter, was bittersweet, but it also marked a key moment in the band’s ongoing evolution from raw and real to pure and sweet; though it’s somewhat anomalous in a folk canon, it’s their a capella version of Dear Someone that best reveals the shift in blend, especially when put up against their earliest live harmonies.

    Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin‘s move towards Adult Contemporary both before and since 1998 Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammy wins for Sunny Came Home has taken her far from the tiny stage of Cambridge, MA folk club Passim where I first saw her in my high school days, and farther, still, from her origins in the Greenwich Village Fast Folk crowd alongside Suzanne Vega, John Gorka, Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, and others often touted on these virtual pages. Her two Beatles covers bear the scars and strengths of that journey; though in each case, the high production value and carefully nuanced vocals shine almost blindingly bright, the slow, layered minor-key atmospheres of I’ll Be Back stand in stark contrast with the melodic pop promise she revived for In My Life.

    If the point of this series is to show artistic evolution over time, then selecting two covers released in the same year seems anathema to our cause; better, perhaps, to try to justify Ani DiFranco’s Which Side Are You On as a cover of Pete Seeger greatest hit despite its origin in the union-supportive work of Florence Reece, and compare her 2011 title track with the less acoustically challenging tack she took in 1998 in covering My Name Is Lisa Kalvelage, another of Seeger’s political anthems, on a two-disc tribute to the godfather of participatory sing-along banjofolk. But the equally politicized Ani DiFranco has long embraced her folk roots, and hearing Ani live has always been a wholly different experience from hearing her studio work: though it’s rarer, today, to hear the edgy folkrock sharpness she brought to her earlier albums, we still get the same little girl wryness, with the slow ebb and flow of rhythmic elements making way for something more fluid and experimental, perhaps even less stable, on stage, as in the 2002 DVD release cut above. That Greg Brown himself is known for the wink-and-nod approach makes his songbook and her performance a perfect pairing, too.

    Amy Ray and Emily Saliers met in elementary school, started playing together in high school, and took the name Indigo Girls while attending Emory University together in the eighties; given their shared history, it would be odd indeed if their influences did not overlap significantly. But their choices of song are especially notable here in exploring the nuanced revelations of the double-dip: though the later coverage calls back to Simon’s youthful duo work on the fringes of his own early pop experimentation, its high production, cheerfully upbeat tone, and driving folk-pop momentum aptly represent the duo’s later turn towards the celebratory in sound and sentiment, standing in strong contrast to the hoarse, stripped-down suffering that so characterized their early work.

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Comment » | Ani DiFranco, Double Dippers, Indigo Girls, Kasey Chambers, Red Molly, Shawn Colvin

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