Category: Tribute Albums


The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2016)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Covers Compilations and more!

December 30th, 2016 — 3:27pm


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It’s been months since we found ourselves together here, by this virtual hearth. I have missed you, my friends. And though I cannot promise what the days will bring, let us be present together, in this moment, and rejoice.

For those who ask – and we are grateful for it, when it comes – this week of holiday offers but a respite. In the days of our lives the teen elderchild and her wiry sister continue to be challenged by a life lived with illness, leaving us plagued by surgeries and hospitalizations, homeschooling adjustments, service dog training, and a reluctance to plan too far ahead. I’m a team leader now at the struggling urban school where I ply my vocation, putting in long nights and weekends leading the desperate charge to glory even as the conditions we cannot change – poverty and transience, and their symptomatic malaise – loom large in our daily deliverance. And, as the eldest son, and the only one living locally, I’ve spent every weekend across the state for most of the year, helping my father transition into a graduated living arrangement that better suits his needs.

These pursuits are important, and offered with love to the world. They are good work, and I’d not trade one for the other. But time is precious when you’re the center of the whirlwind. And sometimes, that means letting go.

Which is to say: we have blessings this year, it’s true: a growing house concert series; family and friends, and a strong and beloved community; a roof over our heads, and food on the table. But mostly, I’ve spent the latter part of 2016 in survival mode, putting aside many of the practices that have made me feel most whole, most connected to the universe and to the self, in a desperate attempt to find balance.

More often than not, the heart is heavy in the midst of this wearying, worrying life. And January offers only more uncertainty, here in the real world, where we live and breathe.

But we’re here this week, today, this hour. Because no matter how heavy the load, no matter how loud the natter and buzz of duty and despair in our ears, in the background, the music continues, as it ever does.

And so we’ve kept a list, and checked it twice – not enough by a long shot, in another year of chaos and malcontent, but enough to celebrate the discovery process, and honor those albums, songs, and videos that stuck with us, and shone through the fog and the darkness.

And here at the wire, at the long year’s end, as we have done for the last several Decembers, we curate and collate, ice melting in our hearts by the woodstove fireside as the children nestle snug in this, our humble home.

For music is a home, too. It is our home, and one of yours, too. And as we live in the music, so must we pay homage to the best of it, lest it, too, fade into the night, and be lost to the world.

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

Cover Lay Down is proud to present our favorite coverfolk tribute albums, covers compilations, projects and soundtracks of 2016, featuring choice cuts from highly recommended folk, roots, bluegrass and Americana LPs and EPs.





The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ Moddi, Unsongs

+ Dustin Kensrue, Thoughts That Float on a Different Blood
+ 48 Cameras, Songs Our Mothers Taught Us
+ The Devil Makes Three, Redemption & Ruin
+ Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, Wintersong

It was a strong year for covers albums, all things considered. As always, we stand by our assessment of those releases that caught our attention early, most especially the home-grown harmonies and chutzpah of Pesky J. Nixon’s second covers album Red Ducks, Volume 2, which brought a broader sound, and a richer one, to their hearty acoustic Americana, thanks to the addition of mandolin into the mix, strong studio dynamics, and new shared lead vocals and piano from founding band member Jake Bush. Recognition remains, too, for the mostly-trad strains of Red Diesel, the newest from award-winning traditional English folk band Pilgrim’s Way, the traditional bluegrass stylings of The High Bar Gang, whose second album Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind explores the “cheating and hurting” side of bluegrass, and the drowning tones of the ever-morose Mark Kozelek, which found their way to pianofolk this year on Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, a “stunning new release featuring guest vocalists galore”.

But other than a nod to Wintersong, a new holiday collection of intimate and introspective folk from local favorites Rano Arbo & Daisy Mayhem that transcends its seasonal premise with simple joy and sweetness, our highest end-of-year praise in the general covers category is reserved for a quartet of otherwise-unblogged releases with strong conceptual grounding, each well deserving of rescue and polish after falling to the bustle and jetsam. And in the end, though three of our top four made it to fellow coverblog Cover Me’s end of year round-up as well, it’s the one we haven’t heard anything about, and got to discover on our own, that edges out the rest.

Runner’s up honors this year go to Dustin Kensrue’s live tour de force Thoughts That Float On A Different Blood, which finds the frontman of California post-hardcore band Thrice stripping down to ragged, soulful solo performance; the result is soul-crushing, and practically perfect, with covers of Patty Griffin, Milk Carton Kids, Lorde and more. From the gospel-and-blues aisle, The Devil Makes Three’s Redemption & Ruin, with its dual, titular thematic sides, mixes blues and bluegrass, transforming dark delights by Townes Van Zandt, Muddy Waters, Tampa Red, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, and other intuitively obvious influences with sidework from Emmylou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas and more. Add to this Songs Our Mothers Taught Us, a decidedly fringefolk covers project from long-time “experimental alternative” digital collaborative 48 Cameras, narcotized with spoken word layers like a lost album from Nico and Leonard Cohen, remixed subtly with haunting oboes and drums for the post-millennial indiefolk set, and you’ve got a crowd that, in any other year, could easily take top honors.

But I don’t think we’ve ever had as clear and triumphant a category closer for our bread-and-butter category than Unsongs, a labor of love that came quietly out of nowhere towards the end of the year, and seems to have made nary a splash in the American market – a wonderful concept album, lovingly executed, that comprises 12 songs censored in 12 different countries, collected and reimagined.

Here’s the blog feature I meant to post, when I first discovered it:

Norwegian folkpop singer-songwriter, activist and self-professed storyteller Moddi (aka Pål Moddi Knutsen), who is currently finishing a Masters degree at the University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment, is apparently known for his interpretations of others’ songbooks, most notably Togsang, a 2013 Norwegian-language cover of Train Song which Vashti Bunyan calls her favorite cover version of any of her songs. But Unsongs, leaked slowly and then finally released in full just a few weeks ago, represents a perfect twining of the artist’s personal bent towards social and environmental justice and his incredibly delicate indie folkpop sensibilities. The result is an epiphany, hushed, sublime and saturating: a true tour de force of unforced political songcraft, a wide-ranging survey of both western and eastern sources that manages to serve simultaneously as commentary on the counterculture and its struggles and a gorgeous set that aches with melancholy and protest. The songs – most of which will be unknown to western ears, save a pitch-perfect Strange Fruit and Kate Bush’s Army Dreamers – range from shivery and sad to cold fury; tinkly piano and slow nylon guitar, lush, tense string and horn arrangements, and a fragile, nasal voice that aches with loss and longing make for a majestic, intimate album, orchestral and tight, a bit like Colin Meloy performing a full-band acoustic set in a cathedral wearing crowns of thorns; you’ve never heard Pussy Riot so tender, or been so in love with anger.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artists)
+ Various Artists, Locals Covering Locals, Vol. 3

Most various artist covers albums this year ran the gamut past the boundaries of folk; as such, this year’s is a short category, to be followed below with a compendium of mixed-genre gems well worth our time. But we cannot help but raise a glass once more for Red Line Roots, whose third volume of Locals Covering Locals, released way back in February, adeptly uncovers the blossoming folkscene in and around the Boston area by once again featuring peer-to-peer coverage that aims to showcase both the finest in local songwriting and the best of local performance – and succeeds in spades.



The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Lotte Kestner, December Covers

+ Caleigh McGilchrist and Maria Crawford, Covers For The Cure 2
+ autumn-autumn, Cherry Patty

The covers EP is too often a throw-away, especially in an age where home recording makes it so easier to run a full-length album in a few living room sessions. Bandcamp, especially, is full of saccharine wannabes, and amateur recordings too twee, and too rough, to truly represent the best of what a year can offer.

But for a few artists, the small coverset is part and parcel of the modern digital world, an uncompromising artifact of the ongoing home recording life. Enter Lotte Kestner, the solo project of Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William, whose shimmery shoegaze coverage, delicate and frigid and perfectly romantic, has emerged throughout the year in small batches as behind the scenes she struggles to finish mixing a long overdue album of original work. Most of these tiny sets have already disappeared into the ether, and her most recent, December Covers, will disappear with the end of the month, along with Best of Requested Cover Songs, the majestic 17-track set winnowed down from the 3-year-long 60 cover kickstarter campaign promise that drives her current album. But if you hurry, you, too, can download and steep in etherial takes on The Cure, The Hollies, and a slow synth-driven version of Nothing Compares To U that ultimately owes as much to the lo-fi sensibility that pulls songs from the air like soap bubbles as it does to either Sinead or Prince.

Runners-up Caleigh McGilchrist and Maria Crawford defy expectations, coming out of Bandcamp nowhere with Covers For The Cure 2, the second of their homespun compilations, recorded in their Nashville hometown in honor of Laurel Stevens McGilchrist and dedicated to all past and present battles of breast cancer. Simple guitar, soaring harmonies in layers straight out of the First Aid Kid indiefolk songbook, and just enough strain at the edges to prove and preserve their delightful inexperience: it’s like being there, and that’s saying a lot, indeed. And a tip o’ the cap to Minsk, Belarus, home of autumn-autumn, aka Tanya Dubinskaya, whose drowned, broken 4-track covers EP Cherry Patty, complete with crackling static and hollow guitars, aptly described as whispercore, still fills our empty days.



The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Reid Jamieson, Dear Leonard: The Cohen Collection

+ Rory Block, Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute To Bukka White

Two familiar faces and voices provide a veritable sweep of this year’s solo-artist tribute album set, a labor of love project-type generally overwhelmed by tributes to the forgotten, the undersung, and the dearly departed, but this year topped by a loving tribute to a man who was still alive and performing, and well-respected, upon its release.

First, hands down kudos go to perennial Cover Lay Down favorite Reid Jamieson this year for Dear Leonard: The Cohen Collection, a prescient tribute to fellow Canadian countryman released way back in March, months before his passing. Where most choose to channel angst and darkness, Jamieson’s touch is light and lighthearted, with brushes, ukelele, guitar, fiddles, and gentle harmonies bringing a tender, almost Caribbean country lilt to these familiar songs, and the whole thing works beautifully, revealing a brighter, more optimistic soul than even the most die-hard Cohen fanatic could have envisioned.

Second place honors to Rory Block, whose ongoing series of full-album tributes to the pioneers of American acoustic blues continues this year with a tribute to Mississippi bluesman Bukka White. Keepin’ Outta Trouble is typical of Block, and of her ongoing work in paying homage to her progenitors, and that’s no denigration – listen as the sliding, slippery blues finds beauty in the hands of one of the greatest living Delta blues guitarists and voices, and then head back in time to pick up the entire six-album series.



The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Days Full of Rain: A Portland Tribute to Townes Van Zandt

+ Basket Full Of Dragons: A Tribute To Robbie Basho, Vol II
+ Dreamer: A Tribute To Kent Finlay
+ A Fast Folk Tribute To Jack Hardy

Strong contenders this year here, too. But how could we not love Days Full Of Rain, a mostly-folk tribute to Townes Van Zandt from some of our very favorite players from the Portland indiefolk scene. With Blitzen Trapper, Jolie Holland, Jim James, Blind Pilot, Black Prairie, a grungy take on Rake from The Minus 5, and the devastating vocals of Liz Vice in the mix, almost every track’s a gem. From the country rock of Denver’s Junkpiled to the country croon of Barna Howard to…um…the country soul of Portland Country Underground, the whole thing moves like a cowboy through the mist; even the subtle folktronica stutter of Castanets serves the mix. Bonus points: all proceeds go to charity, with half to fund the furtherance of roots music education in public schools, and the other half to support musicians financially in the face of illness.

Back in the world of primitivism, Basket Full of Dragons, the second Robbie Basho tribute in two years spearheaded by guitarist-singer-songwriter Buck Curran (of the duo Arborea), nets praise and proclamation for its authentic approach to the mysticism and mystery of a philosopher who firmly believed the Indian raga and the steel string represented the next iteration of truth, and the furtherance of the guitar as a serious, classical instrument. Like first volume We Are All One In The Sun, Basket Full of Dragons proves Basho right, as washes of sound drown us in eternal moments, leaving us with an unsettled peace.

Honorable mention this year goes to Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay, a solid take on the homespun songbook of career-launcher, lyric editor, venue coordinator, mentor and songwriter who shaped the careers of the likes of George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Todd Snider, and James McMurtry through his legendary Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention A Tribute To Jack Hardy, a beloved two-disc tribute chock full of familiar Fast Folk faces and next generation collaborators, from Red Molly and Anthony Da Costa to Richard Shindell, John Gorka, Rod MacDonald, Christine Lavin, Terre Roche, and more, written about and pre-released here at Cover Lay Down several summers ago, but now finally and officially available for purchase as of 2016 thanks to Smithsonian Folkways, who now owns the Fast Folk archives.



The Year’s Best Tribute EPs
+ Tom Moriarty and Katey Brooks, I Shall Be Released

+ Quinell, From The Woods: Inside Llewyn Davis

Sometimes, simple is best. And of the four little duo covers on I Shall Be Released, it’s their take on The Times They Shall Be A Changin’ – unadorned, raw, precious and plain, though Tom Moriarty’s other work is full-bore horn-and-gospel driven bluesy rock and roll, and rising-star singer-songwriter Katey Brooks trends more towards intense folkpop – which truly showcases the genius of pairing the two alongside this year’s Nobel Prize winner’s songbook. Oh sure, the organ and drumbeat layers that underpin I Shall Be Released and The Man In Me are reminiscent of Dylan’s time with The Band, or perhaps the best of Joe Cocker, and wonderfully so…but the songs remain more subtle, somehow, leaving us marveling at the power of their quietude, their presence, their directness. His weary, soulful voice, her hearty one: heaven.

Simple, too, is the soft intimacy of log cabin session From The Woods: Inside Llewyn Davis, recorded for video in the dead of winter by Pasco, Washington singer-songwriter Quinell. Just three songs, and nominally all from the same deep and murky tradition – but influenced by their presence in Inside LLewyn Davis, the folkflick based on the life and times of Dave Van Ronk, and decidedly united, too, by the soft, homespun tones of an artist embracing the weariness of these timeless tunes.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk
+ Lukas Papenfusscline, man&woman;you

+ Rachel Newton, Here’s My Heart Come Take It
+ The Lonesome Ace Stringband, Gone For Evermore
+ Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, The Willow Collection

An unusually strong turn-out in the tradfolk category this year leaves us a bit up in arms about comparison: if anything, if this trend continues, we’d be better served by splitting the category to allow for splinter subtypes, lest we forget some pretty impressive standouts. On the grassy side, split-side albums from both Eli West and Michael Daves, covered together back in a February round-up, kept our summer hot with electrifying performances and special collaborations with Dori Freeman and Bill Frisell (West), bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and Punch Brothers banjoist Noam Pikelny (Daves); more mellow, melodic approaches typify Noah Wall, whose swinging, sultry approach to 15 classic American blues numbers makes us swoon. And if it’s the cowboy life that attracts you, you’d be well served by a buy-and-listen to the Billy Bragg and Joe Henry collaboration Shine A Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad, a pairing which works even better than it should, thanks to the artists’ shared sense of labor rights and an honest, down-home directness in both performance and sparse arrangement.

But if we have to crown a conqueror this year, it’s a dark horse, indeed: man&woman;you, a late December release from classically trained pan-genre experimentalist Lukas Papenfusscline, is as weird as its name, and as open to possibility; a hallucinogenic field recording from the road, and recorded, duly, in a variety of places, some of them actually outdoors; its traditional Appalachian tunes recast into broken, almost classical compositions, as if Sam Amidon had been trained at Berklee before establishing a hermitage farm by a stream in the deep woods. Creepy, creaky, yet somehow coherent as hell, the record pulls its tradition as much from the recordings of others as it does from the primordial ooze of nature itself, with familiar songs hissed into being slowly and deliberately, faded and torn from the journey, still choked with the reality of the field and forest.

Honors go to Glaswegian Rachel Newton for April release Here’s My Heart Come Take It: purer and more vibrant than the Unthanks, but just as brooding and cavernous in its way, Newton’s harp and voice are bright as glass in the sun, and as mysterious as the dark inner worlds their reflections obscure. More go to The Willow Collection, a titularly thematic set from Nova Scotian sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, who bring piano, guitar, fiddle, and flying footwork in equal measure to a fine, polished, jaw-droppingly beautiful album, and one of several 2016 projects from prolific new fave Chris Coole, a stalwart of the Toronto bluegrass scene whose hatchet face and banjo wizardry showed up in spades this year: in a potent cover of The Band classic Stage Fright which will appear in our Singles mix, in solo narrative project The Tumbling River and other stories, and in The Lonesome Ace Stringband’s mostly-trad live-to-tape Gone For Evermore, a stunning example of the stringband subset, with masterful-yet-playful bass and fiddle besides, and high harmonies as polished as a back porch. A rich field, indeed.



The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Covers Albums & Tributes
+ Various Artists, Say Yes! A Tribute To Elliott Smith

+ Various Artists, Day of the Dead
+ Various Artists, Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97′s
+ Various Artists, God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson
+ Various Artists, Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mereza

Our own minor forays into the musicworld hewed narrower to folk this year, leaving us dependent on other blogs and songsources to uncover the category at year’s end. But a few standouts worth reiteration emerge in this coverall category nonetheless. These include Mojo’s fine bespoke Dylan tribute, which we featured here in our Mojo spectacular a few months ago; Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97′s, a Pledgemusic-driven tribute curated by the band and their webmaster and featuring, therefore, both faithful renditions and diverse deconstructions of great songs by some of the Old 97′s favorite artists, many of whom share the same Texas scene-ground, and have toured and recorded with the band; The sark brooding blues-on-fire of God Don’t Never Change, an Alligator Records tribute to Blind Willie Johnson with Lucinda Williams, Trucks and Tedeschi, Tom Waits, and the most beautiful coda from Rickie Lee Jones; the lighthearted Let All Children Boogie: A Tribute To David Bowie, which aptly proves that even as the kindie world continues to produce to robust originals of its own, the kidfolk category we once touted here may have faded – but it’s not gone for good.

Day of the Dead, for example, a sprawling. “epic” 5 disc set that represents the Red Hot Organization’s 25th release, sees 59 artists hosted by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National taking on the songs of the Grateful Dead (and the traditionals they made their own) in a broad, meandering path through modern music that befits both the long and storied history of the band and their tendency towards long, extended-play performances and recordings. The album is decidedly imperfect, with a touch too many phoned-in performances, but there’s strong tracks here galore, if you’re willing to sift through. And the record easily contains a full-sized, full-bore folk covers album in the mix, with standout tracks from Sam Amidon, Hiss Golden Messenger, Bela Fleck, Bill Callahan, and others.

Lesser known but no less stellar entries here include Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera, a darling lo-fi Nashville-by-way-of-Australia 2 disc set that makes for a mostly acoustic, if equally sprawling, nominally country album, though the downunder use of the term is closer to folk than it is here in the States, and our favorite, by a nose: American Laundromat’s tribute to Elliott Smith, Say Yes!, which – like their previous forays into the world of grungy indie coverage – spreads deep across a narrow band that runs from fuzzy electronic to soft acoustic, heavy on the solo singer-songwriter fare, with familiar songs from label frequent-flyers Lou Barlow, Julianna Hatfield, Tanya Donelly, William Fitzsimmons, Amanda Palmer, Sun Kil Moon and more.



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

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2015-2016, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

Comment » | Best of 2016, Lotte Kestner, Reid Jamieson, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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

Spring 2013: New & Impending Tributes
Part 3: Tim Hardin & Nick Drake, Revisited

April 3rd, 2013 — 11:06pm

Last week, we kicked off our exploration of this year’s new and impending tribute albums with feature-length posts on John Denver and The Everly Brothers, both of whom are enjoying strong homage in 2013. Today we continue our series, moving on to tributes to Nick Drake and Tim Hardin, a pair of artists who lived in the shadows and died young, leaving legacies of pain and poetics still open to interpretation.

Although it sports a cutting-edge roster of both British and American indie talent, at first glance, Reason To Believe: The Songs of Tim Hardin is surprisingly mainstream, at least as tribute albums go. Indicators include the range of sound, which covers the usual “alternative” tribute genre gamut from dreampop to grunge to neo-folk, and the fact that the album itself is named after the singer-songwriter’s most familiar song, with a title track that does little more than rehash earlier alt-country covers from Ron Sexsmith et al.

But looks can be deceiving – especially when considering an auditory medium – and the fact that we’re still coming back to this tribute despite a mid-February release speaks to the fact that, as a comprehensive package, Reason To Believe transcends its limitations, just as its honoree did, toiling in relative obscurity after an early stint at Woodstock until his untimely death at age 39. Cuts from Okkervil River (a languidly buzzy It’ll Never Happen Again) and The Phoenix Foundation (a richly layered and pulsing piano-and-vox ballad Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep), for example, offer appropriately up-to-date atmospheric explorations of what were originally envisioned as sparse acoustic songs, grounding the overall album in a tone which calls to mind both Neil Young’s more abstract soundtrack work and Fleet Foxes’ majesty, causing more popular pages from Hardin’s songbook such as a post-rock If I Were A Carpenter to come off as barely recognizable transformations that challenge us to rethink and re-imagine.

The folkier cuts on the album linger. Mark Lanegan’s Red Balloon and Alela Diane’s How Can We Hang On to a Dream, especially, capture the fragility of Hardin’s original work without disrupting the moody, maudlin flow; both are included here, with encouragement for readers to buy the album to hear them in context. For comparison’s sake, we’ve also included older covers of Hardin’s work from Okkervil River and Lanegan, the aforementioned Ron Sexsmith tune, a broken version of the same from Rickie Lee Jones’ triumphantly fragile covers album of 2012, and a cover of Hang On To A Dream by down-to-earth britfolk songstress Kathryn Williams which has long been a personal favorite. To hear more coverage, and read more about Tim Hardin and his legacy, head back in time to the Wayback Machine, where to our immense surprise, the 17 tracks originally posted in our 2012 Tim Hardin Covered In Folk feature remain live and downloadable.



waytoblueLive albums created from tribute concerts run a huge risk of mediocrity or worse, both because of how poorly playing to the crowd can come across in aftermath, and because such meager rehearsal time is generally afforded the performers beforehand, causing a sort of default “concert sound” with little variation to emerge – the inevitable result of averaging out a large set of musicians’ most normative playing styles over decidedly unrevolutionary interpretations of familiar songs. As such, also-rans abound in this particular sub-category: recent examples include, sadly, this year’s live DVD/CD tribute to Levon Helm, which – although it featured a few strong cuts from My Morning Jacket and John Mayer – was so weighted down by star power, it overwhelmed any chance at bringing the world the well-crafted tribute that Levon and his Band-mates truly deserve.

But although much of the video from a recent pair of live tribute concerts to Nick Drake suffers from an overabundance of strings and syrup, the tracklist released from the close-to-the-chest Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake album that resulted – compiled from 2010 performances in London, Melbourne, and New York – demonstrate that not all live-recorded tribute albums are created equal. In part, this is because the Brits seem to have a better handle on how to throw a good tribute album than the average American mega-venue: mix a small population of diverse artists together, go light on back-up band, err on the side of sparse, and save the collaborations for an encore. And Joe Boyd, a friend of the legendarily fragile, withdrawn folksinger who produced both concert and album, gets a lion’s share of the kudos as well, for knowing that “a unity of sound and spirit” among the players can matter, even if he goes a bit overboard in suggesting that such unity is “the only way to make a tribute record work”.

Still, if the album trumps the concert, it is also because curation matters more than the average listener might imagine. And there’s no need to simply take my word for it: the London concert is scheduled to be shown on BBC4 over the next several weeks, making it possible to hear exactly why a number of tracks were left off the recording; for US readers willing to suffer a bit of degradation in order to make the same comparison, and to save time and effort, I’ve included a somewhat audio-compromised version of the same concert on YouTube below Robyn Hitchcock’s single; listen, especially, for Lisa Hannigan’s haunting Black Eyed Dog, and Krystle Warren’s beautifully flowing Time Has Told Me, both of which made the album for obvious reasons.

Of course, many others have visited Nick Drake in depth before now, and so have we: regular readers may remember an 18-track Covered In Folk tribute to Nick Drake here on the blog a few Decembers ago; though the archived feature remains available via the Wayback Machine, in this case, unlike the Tim Hardin set referenced above, the songs are no longer live. Our bonus tracks, then, are the covers with staying power: a small handful of favorites from Denison Witmer, The Books w/ Jose Gonzalez, Lucinda Williams, and Lamya, plus a newer track from Josienne Clarke, released in the intervening years, that is pure and sweet and golden like the sun.

    Robyn Hitchcock: Parasite (orig. Nick Drake)


    Way To Blue: A Tribute to Nick Drake (London concert)




Cover Lay Down posts coverfolk features and songsets twice weekly, with bonus tracks throughout the week at our Facebook page. Coming soon: a look at some great new and impending cover EPs, including a 7″ & CD single package giveaway!

4 comments » | Nick Drake, Tim Hardin, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Spring 2013: New & Impending Tributes
Part 2: Two tributes to The Everly Brothers

March 31st, 2013 — 5:00pm

We’re in the midst of a short Spring series featuring this year’s early tributes and cover compilations, thanks to an unusually strong crop of those full-album sets which so often stand as the coverlover’s archival foundation. Last Friday, we kicked off our series with a look at The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver, sharing three tracks from the album and a Covered In Folk mixtape of relatively recent folk homage for comparison; today, we explore two different approaches to The Everly Brothers from The Chapin Sisters and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy, with a bonus set of coverage from the folk archives to follow.





Single-artist tribute albums are rare enough as it is. But in what can only be considered a curious confluence of events, 2013 will see two strong full-album tributes to close harmony duo the Everly Brothers – both by by folk duos, though from opposite sides of the contemporary genre spectrum.

The first of these, What The Brothers Sang – a pairing of frequent nu-folk collaborators Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy, preceded by a teaser leading-edge holiday video cover of Christmas Eve Can Kill You that made the rounds in December – comes from the indie side of the folkworld, and sounds it, with Oldham’s broken baritone and McCarthy’s warm alto establishing a complex tapestry of sound throughout, and a tendency towards languid arrangement and more obscure set pieces that brings out the maudlin. Overall, though, with true-blue rockers, slow folk tracks, and neo-traditional settings all in the mix, the collection as a whole comes out quite flexible in its treatment of the songbook, rebuilding each song as a discrete genre expression with respect and not a little experimentation, making for a diverse and deeply intimate, but often tense and broken resurrection well worth repeated listening.




The second Everly Brothers tribute this year will come from Cover Lay Down favorite family singer-songwriter pairing The Chapin Sisters, fresh off a month-long residency singing classic country songs at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, where they paid tribute to their own sibling harmony tendencies by performing light, sparse takes of family-harmony classics from The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, and, finally, an ever-expanding series of Everly Brothers hits on banjo and guitar in suits and slicked-back hair. The experience also led to the recording of The Chapin Sisters: A Date With the Everly Brothers, a dreamy cross-gender tribute that promises to play the songs relatively straight, albeit more tender, and with more than a hint of female twang; the album isn’t finished being paid for or packaged yet, but a Kickstarter gift at the above link now will net you the disk when it’s ready; in the meantime, there’s plenty of live and promotional footage to show us how sweet this one will be.

    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain


    The Chapin Sisters: Love Hurts (live)


    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain (live)




More broadly, the influence of brothers Don and Phil is evident in both early and ongoing coverage of the Everly Brothers’ compositions throughout multiple genres, and in the ease with which songs originally recorded by them, such as B & B compositions Love Hurts, Devoted To You, and Bye Bye Love, have come to be considered popular and oft-misattributed standards – not to mention the continued misidentification of chart-topping songs performed but not originally recorded by the two, such as Gilbert Bécaud’s Let It Be Me, which came from France and traveled through the filter of American television before reaching the Everly Brothers’ ears.

And just as this year’s new tributes split the difference between the early popfolk elements and the country stylings which characterized the Everly Brothers work, so too do Today’s Bonus Tracks reveal a similar macrocosmic split in contemporary coverage writ large, with most artists adopting duo configurations to take on the close melodic harmonies of the Everlys even as their performances and arrangements yaw between delicate indiefolk and robust acoustic country and rock.

Especially dear pairings include the romantically-linked girls at the core of acoustic folkband The Ditty Bops, boyfriend and girlfriend Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, Doc and son Merle live in concert, married tradfolk pair Pharis and Jason Romero, long time folk couple Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, and Teddy Thompson’s duet with his mother Linda, who also did a great duet with Sandy Denny on another Everly Brothers hit once upon a seventies. Even sibling fiddle-and-cellofolk pair Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, aka The Bee Eaters, sing in harmony, borrowing Aoife O’Donovan’s vocals, then trading off licks on their instrumental version of Crying In The Rain as if their strings could sing. In the end, of today’s set, only Rosie Thomas and Ed Harcourt, like Oldham and McCarthy, remain unlinked by blood or marriage – and save their harmony for the final verse, perhaps in penance.


1 comment » | Covered In Folk, Everly Brothers, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Spring 2013: New & Impending Tributes
Part 1: The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver

March 29th, 2013 — 1:01pm

It’s shaping up to be another stellar year for album-length coverage, with pickings so strong we’re hard pressed to take them all on in a single feature without burying the lead. Indeed, in the few short months since the year turned, we’ve already featured close exploration of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads EP, touted Levi Weaver’s free-to-fans covers EP as a “darling indie set” well worth your time, and helped Slowcoustic’s double-length tribute to J. Tillman’s Long May You Run take flight.

But the hits just keep on coming, and we’re getting backlogged here at Cover Lay Down. And so, throughout the next week, we kick off Spring with a short series of coverage of new and impending tributes to The Everly Brothers, Tim Hardin, Nick Drake and more – starting with a close look at the newest tribute to John Denver, due to drop this Tuesday on ATO Records.





John Denver’s heyday was in the seventies, and I was born in 1973; as such, until quite recently, my primary experience with him had been through starring roles in Oh God and on my wife’s favorite Muppets holiday special, and that hazy collection of other television and film appearances which float through pop culture like echoes of past fame. But coverage will out, and The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver, which is due to drop on April 2, is a triumphant tribute to the oft-spoken singer-songwriter, one which has awakened in me an adult’s appreciation for the work that brought him to fame in the first place.

To be fair, as songwriter and composer, Denver is easy to underestimate. Many of his early, most familiar lyrics are neither complex nor emotionally disruptive; rather, they are loving and sentimental, and celebratory of the earth and its wonders both intimate and broad. His pure, warm voice and simple, flowing melodies are an especially effective mechanism for their lighthearted delivery, and it’s no wonder these are the songs that most associate with his career, and his legacy.

But a deeper look at the catalog reveals more breadth. There is heartache in Denver’s ongoing catalog of distance from his beloved mountains and family. There is anger, too, in works which address his beloved ecology, and in such political songs as Wooden Indian, in which Denver rails against the historical treatment of Native Americans. When he speaks plainly of distance, disconnection, loss and longing, Denver’s directness can pierce the heart.

Previous homage has found the appropriate balance of depth and simple poetic beauty in Denver’s delights and disappointments – see, for example, thorough coverage of the excellent tribute Take Me Home, a beautiful turn-of-the-century Mark Kozelek project featuring Red House Painters, Low, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and others on the indiefolk outsider spectrum which brought a new generation of fans to reconsider the genius of his work, over at fellow coverblog Cover Me last April. And singleton covers abound, from the ubiquitous and prototypical Leaving On A Jet Plane and Take Me Home Country Roads to the raucous cajun folk of The Decemberist’s Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas), Youth Lagoon’s dreampop Goodbye Again, new-age devotional artist Simone Vitale’s lilting Jamaican-rhythm Sunshine On My Shoulders, and Damien Jurado and Richard Swift’s lo-fi Follow Me, which transforms the song into a muddy jukebox ballad filtered through Phil Spector’s wall of sound and Roy Orbison’s heartache.


The Music Is You is a powerful addition to the canon of coverage, with performances that stir the heart even as they reinterpret and, in some cases, deconstruct the songbook. And although it is a cohesive collection, with My Morning Jacket, Dinosar Jr., Lucinda Williams, Evan Dando, Train, Emmylou Harris, and many more of the usual suspects for this generations indie tributes turning in exceptional performances, it is the newer, younger voices who stun more than anything: Brett Dennen’s cover of Annie’s Song, for example, brightens the soaring gentleness of the original to something sunnier and bouncier, and more contemporary; Amos Lee croons Some Days Are Diamonds, which Denver did not write but brought to the country charts, as a fine, soft, heartbreaking gospel blues; Josh Ritter joins old friends Mark Erelli and Jake Armerding for a sweet and gentle bluegrass take on popular Denver cover Darcy Farrow that rings of John Hartford’s, while Kathleen Edwards brings a contemporary weariness to All Of My Memories.

Add in Old Crow Medicine Show and Brandi Carlile, and you’ve got an album destined to become one of the great tributes of its age. Listen to a short set of label-approved streamers below, plus a bonus collection of other John Denver tunes covered in folk… and then stream the whole thing at NPR until the album goes live on Tuesday.


    Brett Dennen and Milow: Annie’s Song


    My Morning Jacket: Leaving On A Jet Plane



Today’s Bonus Tracks:



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1 comment » | Covered In Folk, John Denver, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited
(with 3 exclusive tracks from the new Slowcoustic tribute album!)

February 27th, 2013 — 10:55am





By definition, a great tribute album must hit the mark in both homage and realization, proving worth and worthiness of the original artist and his canon through song selection and composition, while still demonstrating the value and validity of reinterpretation through a well-arranged and well-performed tracklist.

It’s a high standard, and in a lifetime of cover-chasing, we’ve seen less hits than misses, more also-rans than outright successes. But a rarified few aim higher still. Keeping to the same genre or subgenre narrows the parameters further, offering a particular challenge to those who could easily drift towards mere reproduction. Adding in other rules – using only independent artists, for example – makes for even higher walls, with even greater possibility of faltering. By the time we consider the possibility of the track-by-track album tribute, we find ourselves on the razor’s edge of daring: few albums attempt such a fine focus, and of those few that have tried in the past, many fall flat on one count or another.

By this standard, Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited, Slowcoustic’s emergent homage to Tillman’s oddly titled seminal sophomore solo album, is a triumph of curation and performance: appropriately imperfect, definitively Tillman, and shockingly diverse. The songs it contains yaw through an unexpectedly broad gamut, given their inheritance, but all are worth keeping, and a surprising number are startlingly beautiful and broken. And today, we are pleased and honored to bring you not one, but three exclusive cuts from this potent collection as part of a gradual-release experiment orchestrated by Slowcoustic host and project curator Sandy, aka Smansmith.


slowcoustic-logoThat Tillman’s album shaped Sandy’s own sensibility at “the unhurried side of Americana/Alt-Country/Folk/Indie/Down-Tempo music” is inherent in the project’s genesis; though there is an interesting diversity of interpretation here, unsurprisingly, as with the original, the mix here is almost universally lo-fi, and often quite raw; those looking for sweetly melodic, high-harmony singer-songwriter fare are missing the point.

But there are more things in heaven and earth than sweetness and light, both in and beyond the boundaries of emotional depth and qualitative excellence which the Revisited project embody. For one thing, there is more here than one might expect from an album paying tribute to a small 11-track original. The lack of physical media limitations in the digital age have brought us an increasing number of full-album tributes that go beyond the track-by-track boundaries of the original album, and Long May You Run, Revisited is no exception: there are 20 tracks here, with as much as three versions of some songs, making it possible to compare versions, or mix-and-match to make the ideal mix depending on the listener’s mood – and making the album that much more open-ended, which also, in its own way, reflects the open-ended fragility of the solo singer-songwriter approach which J. Tillman took in this early release.

The second-hand title of the original album begs for coverage in ways too obvious to mention, of course. Even the slow-leak incidence of the homage pays fitting tribute to its origins, in that like the original, which was originally recorded in a borrowed basement in the dead of winter, and released in a tiny run of 150 in 2006, the tribute is finding its way into the world in small bursts. Our own effort herein, then, becomes like one of the multiple spaces in which Tillman wrote his songs – a compliment to the several features which Slowcoustic has shared over the last several days, and will continue to mete out for the remainder of the week, until we find ourselves fully able to appreciate that rarest of tribute albums: that which lasts, and stands on its own as both tribute and celebration.

Today, then, we offer a trio of tracks which, up until now, have been heard by none save the artists, and by Smansmith himself: two which complete the first pass at the full eleven tracks on the original, and a second cover of Trouble’s Always Free, which – in that it is more rugged, and more lonely, than the Small Sur version of the same song that Slowcoustic shared yesterday in Part III of the ongoing release – seems a perfect pairing for the quiet, almost demo-quality gems from underground iconoclastic Lexington, KY-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Doc Feldman and Cover Lay Down fave and Yer Bird recording artists Pickering Pick.

All three share much in common: male voices, sparse setting, and subdued, almost heroin sentiment. But each is beautiful, proving the viability and value in the project overall. Check out the tracks below, head back to Slowcoustic to read and collect more from the project, and then keep an eye on that space over the next few days as the remaining tracks hit the web.


Pickering Pick: Jamestown Bridge (orig. J. Tillman)



Doc Feldman: Wayward Glance Blues (orig. J. Tillman)



Quarter Mile Thunder: Trouble’s Always Free (orig. J. Tillman)



Our bonus tracks today come from outside the J. Tillman catalog, where we find his own 2010 full-album tribute to the formative influencer who shares credit for the original album title of both tribute and original above. Like today’s feature, Tillman Sings ‘Tonight’s The Night’ hits the mark; pick it up, and listen alongside Long May You Run, J Tillman Revisited to close the loop of coverage and blog-born tributaries.


3 comments » | J. Tillman, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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