Category: Tributes and Cover Compilations


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

Back To The Source, Vol. 1: MOJO Magazine
(32 covers from twelve years of tribute albums)

August 28th, 2016 — 2:59pm


mojocollage


Great covers come from a myriad of sources. But the coverlover’s collection is founded on a finite set, where coverage runs fast and free: deep wells that sustain us, pouring forth the volumes that pepper our mixtapes and shore up our artist-centric features, from “homage houses” like Reimagine Music and American Laundromat Records to ongoing YouTube tour-stops like AV Undercover and the pop-up microstudios of Dutch field recorder Onder Invloed.

Back To The Source, our newest feature concept, dives deep into these wells, seeking to celebrate and reveal just what makes their waters so prolific and life-sustaining. We kick things off today with a look at MOJO, who in just over a decade has produced dozens of tributes to seminal albums and artists, sealed lovingly in plastic alongside their monthly music magazine; read on for beautiful interpretations of seminal songs from Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, and more, plus more Beatles covers than you could ever imagine.


I love used CD stores, where a quick skim of the liner notes can reveal treasures previously unnoticed or unheard, and rarities abound, from live local radio compilations to label tributes long out of print. And so, a few weekends ago, in a last gasp effort to enjoy the waning days of summer, we found ourselves in Brattleboro, VT, where Turn It Up records has recently relocated to new digs. I begged a few minutes from the end of a great meal, and headed for the stacks.

And there, in the three for five bucks tray, was a treasure trove: someone’s entire collection of Mojo Records CDs.

It was an incomplete set, to be sure – about 5 year’s worth, of a total collection that so far spans a dozen. But I walked away with ten separate tribute albums, most otherwise impossible to find. And after steeping in them for two weeks, it was just too good not to share.

A little history here: Mojo Magazine has included a free CD with almost every issue since late 2004; not all tackle covers, but many do. Two-disc set Beatlemania, which emerged in September of that year, and Cash Covered, released that November, were the first covers compilations to appear as part of a series that yaws wide enough to define the broad tastes of Mojo itself, where punk, soul, pop and indie all have their place in the pantheon, and authenticity is the name of the game.

For the first few years, Mojo’s CDs tended to compile previously recorded material, maybe with a brand new track or two; the joy here was in the collection and organization, which generally trended towards a broad genre spectrum held together marvelously, resulting in a growing cache of eminently listenable long-plays. In more recent years, Mojo has included a number of bespoke CDs in their collection, with songs solicited and recorded exclusively for their projects. Either way, their taste is impeccable: it is these collections, in fact, which have introduced me to The Staves, Neville Skelly, Jeb Loy Nichols, and other up-and-comers, while renewing my love for Woodpigeon, Phosphorescent, Yim Yames, Sam Amidon, Emily Barker, Thea Gilmore, Jim White, and many more artists pushing the envelope beyond easy genre categorization.

In the end, as a collection, the Mojo tribute CDs stand almost unparalleled – a fitting beginning for a new feature series, and a great way to celebrate the magazine and its tastemakers as they continue their search for the source in the songscape. Read on for our favorite, folkiest tracks from a close-to-complete chronology of cover albums, from that Beatlemania set to Blonde on Blonde Revisited, last month’s delight of a Dylan tribute.


Mojo Magazine’s Best Covers (2004-2016)
A Cover Lay Down Mix
[zip!]



Always artist-friendly and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been covering the changing landscape of music since 2007 thanks to the continued efforts of sources like Mojo…and the kindness of readers like you. Donate today to help us keep the servers spinning, and receive our undying thanks, PLUS a mixtape of otherwise unblogged rarities!

1 comment » | Back To The Source, Mixtapes, The Beatles, Tributes and Cover Compilations

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2015)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Covers Compilations and more!

December 27th, 2015 — 7:26pm

Most of the other online folk and indieblogs out there have already shared their Best Of 2015 features by now, and that’s the way we like it. As our mandate reminds us, sharing and discovery are essential to the folkways; just as we depend on artists and producers to make the music, we depend on elseblogs, radio outlets and virtual magazines from Kithfolk to Paste, from Folk Alley to WXPN, and from I Am Fuel, You Are Friends to Timber & Steel, to curate it for us.

Our niche is unique, of course. No other blog focuses exclusively on the intersection between folk and coverage, though the threads are strong on both of the intersecting lineages that define us, and though several blogs, like Cover Me, include roots and Americana among the coversongs they share. But our dependence on those other sources was especially deep this year.

Which is to say: it was a pretty good year for coverfolk, in the end, and we’re glad. But for a while there, it looked like we wouldn’t be here to celebrate it.

As we’ve noted in previous posts, letting Cover Lay Down go dark from May to November was part of a larger withdrawal in face of a series of disasters that left us too drained to do more than just hang on. I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say: it’s hard to blog when you’re living in a camper on the lawn because the house is still recovering from fleas and flood, and harder, still, when the entire covers collection gets lost to a busted laptop and an archival hard drive failure.

Coming back, though, has been a revelation.

We’re not usually at a loss for words here at Cover Lay Down. But the outpouring of support during and after those dark months, in the end, proved its priority in a world still heavy with stress and the unknown, putting this blog at the top of our to-do list. Thanks, to all who donate and comment, who help spread the word, and who – in doing so – bring light to this kitchen table endeavor. It’s good to be back, and to be singing again.

Our eight-month musical hiatus makes looking back an especially apt mechanism for recovery this year. To account for this, in response to both marketplace factors and an attempt to broaden our gaze in the name of recovery, our Best Of series doubled in size, with video coverage getting a pair of features of its own; if you’ve not yet seen ‘em, check out The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Singles and The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Sessions, Sets, and Series once you’ve finished here today.

But our annual two-fer still serves as the main course. So join us as we count down the final hours of 2015 with our favorite coverfolk recordings of the year – with our annual omnibus album feature today, and our typically unranked, purely subjective celebration of the year’s best singles, deep cuts, and B-sides to follow sometime just before New Year’s Eve. Oh, and fair warning: there’s 59 songs on this year’s list; you might want to download them all first, and read along as you listen.





The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell, Sing Into My Mouth

+ Watkins Family Hour, The Watkins Family Hour
+ Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn
+ Robert Earl Keen, The Bluegrass Sessions
+ Grey Season, Undercover

Cover albums comprise a highly competitive category this year. Even the also-rans were strong, from Shawn Colvin’s unsurprisingly poppy but eminently listenable Uncovered to the twee, unrelentingly cheerful sounds of NYC-based 80′s cover band The Delorean Sisters on their self-titled debut. Martha and Lucy Wainwright’s sister album Songs In The Dark, which we touted last month, was ultimately a little unfocused; Shovels and Rope pushed past the boundaries of folk into alternative rock on Busted Jukebox Vol.1, and much of Tomorrow You’re Going, a kickstarter-funded collaborative effort from lifetime favorites Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky, was a little too honky-tonk for our tastes. All are highly recommended nonetheless, and contain great cuts worth pursuit; look for their choicest tracks in our upcoming Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles mix.

But the big news this year was the collaborative album. And sure enough, like Busted Jukebox, Songs In The Dark, and Kaplansky and Shindell’s Pine Hill Project, four of the five picks in the single artists covers album category share the same conceit: though released under a single name, each, in their own way, depends on musical partnership for its success.

Our highest honors goes to Sing Into My Mouth, the musical one-off collaboration of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. There’s a huge diversity of source material here, from the titular Talking Heads track to songs by Sade, JJ Cale, and Pete Seeger, but nary a skip-cut or mediocre cover on the album: the performances here are stunning, with the songs not so much transformed as translated into an atmospheric echo with an alt-country twang, and flourishes of pitch-perfect Pink Floyd psychedelics and CSNY harmonies.

Second place is shared by The Watkins Family Hour and Rhiannon Giddens project Tomorrow Is My Turn – two albums which diversify through deep collaboration of their own. In the first, Sean and Sara Watkins, plus Fiona Apple and a 4-piece house band familiar to those who have seen their frequent live shows at LA’s famed venue The Largo, took over a house for three days to record a record designed specifically to evoke their live shows; the result is broad and diverse, playful and wonderfully intimate, and well worth steeping in entirely.

Meanwhile, Giddens – a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops who has recently gone solo – weaves her beatboxing and multi-instrumentalist Chocolate Drops compatriots throughout her debut solo disc, plus members of the Punch Brothers and several strong session players, to reimagine a number of traditional and country and pop standards in her inimitable style, a process which she discusses at length on her website. The result is quite diverse, as you might expect, in influence and in sound, but the record holds beautifully, thanks to that stunning voice and potent production from T-Bone Burnett, as does “session leftovers” EP Factory Girl.

Grey Season’s Undercover, a free download featured recently as part of our Berklee College of Music showcase, is the sole “band only” covers album in our top five, but it hardly needs the help; as noted back in November, the album is funky and fine, perfect for fans of that fertile soil where grungy Americana and roots music, grassy country, and folk rock meet. And we’d be remiss without special mention of Robert Earn Keen’s Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, a departure from the usual fare from this Texan singer-songwriter, in which Keen’s plaintive rasp pairs beautifully with a well-tuned, full-bore bluegrass session band for a delightful album that runs from gentle rambles to rambunctious jams. A good year, indeed.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artist)
+ Various Artists, Yellow Bird Project: Good People Rock
+ Various Artists, From Cover To Cover: 30 Years At Nettwerk (tie)

The multiple artist covers album is generally the wheelhouse of labels big and small; last year’s category winners included a Bloodshot Records’ 20th anniversary covers album, and sure enough, our runner-up this year celebrates 30 years of the Canadian label that made household names of Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, The Be Good Tanyas, and Barenaked Ladies.

In 2015, however, our favorite “various artists” collection comes straight from the heart of the artisanal hipster branch of the folkmarket to match one of my absolute favorite records of the year. Yep: a tie. We couldn’t be happier with the result.

For a decade, Montreal-based Yellow Bird Project has created and distributed band t-shirts for artist-selected charities in partnership with indie folk and alternative musicians like Bon Iver, CHVRCHES, Devendra Banhart, The Decemberists and The Shins, though they’ve recently branched out into tote bags, coloring books, and the occasional vinyl pressing. Producing and curating Good People Rock, a project in which YBP artists who have been featured on their shirts cover other YBP artists who have been featured on their shirts, is just as quirky a concept, and with artists like Andrew Bird, Hayden, and Elvis Perkins on the roster, we’re not surprised it works.

As noted above, Nettwerk Music Group’s January 2015 covers sampler, released in celebration of their 30th anniversary, gets an easy and triumphant share of first place honors in an unusually small category. The overall setlist here is a mixed-bag; with electro-pop and sadcore in the mix, this is hardly a folk album through and through. But several stunning covers stand out, including amazing, delicate Coldplay and Sarah McLachlan covers (we shared William Fitzsimmons’ cover of McLachlan’s Ice Cream back in January), a dreamy indie folk take on Barenaked Ladies favorite deepcut Jane, Hey Ocean! frontman Dave Beckingham’s transformation of a Be Good Tanya rambler into an atmospheric, icy folkpop gem complete with horns and organ, and Joshua Hyslop’s delightful Weepies interpretation, a track which – in many ways – sets the standard for the year in coverage.


The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Sean Rowe, Her Songs

+ William Tyler, The Lagniappe Sessions
+ Marissa Haacke, Acoustic Covers, Vol. 1
+ Infamous Stringdusters, Undercover

What could have been a lighthearted conceit by basso profundo Sean Rowe, who was recommended to me by Chuck and Mira of The Sea The Sea when they kicked off our new house concert series this Fall, offers instead a deep dive into bare-bones gender-bent coverage: tender and low, round and resonant, drowned in that booming, syrup-thick voice. The six single-take tracks and accompanying videos represent a perfect 45-to-33 who’s who of female alternative singer-songwriter fare, too, with songs from Feist, Cat Power, Neko Case, Regina Spektor, and – yes, again – Sade, who seems to be popular this year. A Troy, NY-based singer-songwriter who also offers foraging and wilderness skills classes on his website, Rowe is reportedly just as powerful in person; he also wins for best accolade of 2015: upon hearing his rendition of her “Soldiers Song,” Lucinda Williams apparently proclaimed “This is the best cover of any of my songs that anyone has ever done. I am completely moved.”

From somewhere between country rock balladry and John Fahey primitivism comes our second place set, a mostly instrumental foursome of songs originally by Ry Cooder, Blaze Foley, and Blue Oyster Cult from true-blue Nashville boy William Tyler, commissioned, recorded and released via Aquarium Drunkard as part of their Lagniappe Sessions way back in January. Tyler, who has produced a precious handful of records of his own, is best known as a member of indie blog darlings Lambchop and the Silver Jews, but as these sessions prove, he’s got chops and roots in equal measure; he’s also played with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Charlie Louvin, and Candi Staton.

Perennial favorites The Infamous Stringdusters turn in relatively faithful but entirely gleeful one-take jamgrass takes on well-known songs from Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Pink Floyd in Undercover, a fun diversion recorded while in the studio for their next big album, due in February. And finally, as its name implies, Acoustic Covers Vol. 1 is simply put: an iTunes release from September which features exceptionally young singer-songwriter Marissa Haacke solo and without airs. There’s a deceptively simple sameness to these songs, too, in part due to their sheer simplicity, and a pristine recording quality. But despite her girlish voice, as heard in her wistful, innocent take on Footloose soundtrack song Holding Out For A Hero, Haacke has depth, and shows promise enough to mention; here’s hoping that this girl from the Rocky Mountains will keep singing, and gladly.



The Year’s Best Covers EP (multiple artist)
+ Various Artists, Polaris Sessions No. 1

+ Various Artists, Decoration Day, Volume 4

Three songs recorded live in studio in 2014 but released as a 10″ in 2015 make for an unusually sparse but utterly delightful program, kicking off a new cover series from the folks who bring us the Polaris Music Prize, and in the process bringing us our favorite multiple artist covers EP of the year. The A-side is a grungy, electric roots cover of New Pornographers from Whitehorse; I’ve come back to the B-side, featuring Great Lake Swimmers covering Sarah Harmer and Sarah Harmer covering Caribou, over a dozen times since discovering it last month.

Meanwhile, on the experimental front, comes Decoration Day, Volume 4, featuring songs about home from perennial favorites Mason Jar Music, who produces a new thematically-grounded covers EP every year for Decoration Day, and hits the ball out of the park every time. As in volumes 1-3, the set yaws wider than folk allows, but a number of delights come in especially dear: Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae pull old Sam Cooke favorite Bring It On Home To Me way back into hollow living room folk, and you’ve never heard Bjork the way banjo player Taylor Ashton interprets her.


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield, …Sing Elliott Smith

+ Plainsong, Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina
+ The Hillbenders, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry
+ Girls Guns & Glory, A Tribute To Hank Williams – Live!
+ Asleep At The Wheel, Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Yes, yes; Ryan Adams’ full-album tribute to Taylor Swift is nothing short of a miracle. But it isn’t folk, truly; we’ve a separate category for mixed-genre tributes for a reason, and we’ll let Adams share top honors there.

Luckily, it was an unusually diverse year for single artist tributes in the folk, roots, and Americana realms. Honors in our single artist tribute category go to five very different projects from five sets of artists, each of whom represents a distinct branch of the folkworld.

At the top of our list, pulling back from the string-fed sounds of his work with The Avett Brothers, we find Seth Avett alongside Jessica Lea Mayfield, just bass and guitar and the hollowness of the songbook. Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith was panned by Pitchfork for its reverence, and a suspicion that these explorations do little to plumb the true depths of the songs, but we disagree – Smith’s songbook is raw enough; to imagine it plainly and gently, letting the songs speak, is an admirable approach in our book, and Avett and Mayfield’s voices mix beautifully, both on the album and in later live covers added to the set in performance, like this exquisite take on Miss Misery.

Second honors go to Plainsong, whose tribute to Richard Farina Reinventing Richard is a true homage to a seminal figure lost too soon, and a great showcase for the work of a three-piece British folk rock band whose founding members came from Fairport Convention and “poetry band” The Liverpool Scene, and still maintain strong strains of the tradition in their arrangements and harmonies. Meanwhile, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry, The Hillbenders full-album cover of The Who’s rock opera, is actually much better than it should have been; though this one could have easily yawed into the realm of self-parody or, worse, the mellow sameness of pseudo-anonymous “Pickin’ On” series, we are treated to a fun-loving session from a well-tempered band that clearly loves to hoot and holler.

Asleep At The Wheel’s playful, guest-heavy celebration of the music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys plays it straight as a true-blue Texas swing album, with uptempo hillbilly arrangements that bring the talents of Carrie Rodriguez, The Avett Brothers, Lyle Lovett, Amos Lee, Willie Nelson and more into a full-bore ensemble setting; it’s hard to hide the distinctive voices of Lee, Lovett, and Nelson, but who would want to? And the country and western blues Girls Guns and Glory and friends bring to the songs of Hank Williams is simply divine.


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Various Artists, The Joy Of Living: a Tribute to Ewan MacColl

+ Various Artists, Cold And Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins
+ Various Artists, The Brighter Side: a 25th Anniversary Tribute to Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression
+ Various Artists, Physical Graffiti Redrawn

It was a strong year for tribute albums, too, with a smashing if genre-busting Mojo Magazine tribute to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and no more than three Beatles tributes topping the mass market list. Our deeper dig reveals our own favorites, underdogs which shine next to these good but ultimately uneven releases (though we can’t help but give a nod to Hiss Golden Messenger’s Led Zeppelin cover, and in doing so, celebrate with an honorable mention a mixed Mojo freebie better than most, with cuts by Sun Kil Moon, Michael Kiwanuka, Laura Marling and others on the good-stuff radar).

As for our favorite? Two-disc tribute albums are often a risk; too broad, too long, and too heavy with deep cuts. But Ewan MacColl tribute The Joy Of Living, which mixes UK folk contemporaries Norma Waterson, Dick Gaughan, Kathryn Williams, Karine Polwart, Martin Simpson, Eliza Carthy, and others with a host of more distant musical cousins, from Bombay Bicycle Club to Steve Earle, who can claim a lineage influenced by the inimitable MacColl, is a glorious exception: it works, in spades, thanks to a seemingly endless songbook, and tender, authentic treatment given with love.

Our second place tie goes to two albums that celebrate the roots and margins of folk simultaneously. Cold and Bitter Tears, a suitably swampy, bluesy, bar-room two-step of a tribute to the legendary Venice Beach street performer Ted Hawkins, is chock full of deep-south covers from Mary Gauthier, Gurf Morlix, James McMurtry, Danny Barnes, Kasey Chambers and more. And well-tuned cover curation-house Reimagine Music’s 2015 offering, an alt-country and indie rock reinvention of seminal 1990 Uncle Tupelo debut album No Depression, is breathtaking: taking on such a genre-defining album is daring, but this set comes in swinging and doesn’t stop, proving the viability and variance of the alt-country set on today’s musical map, from the cloudlike shimmer of Mikaela Davis’ harp and voice to the mellow chill of Wooden Sky to more rugged, amped-up alt-Americana from Crow Moses, The Last Bison, and other bands you should know.



The Year’s Best Tribute EP
+ Wharfer, Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders

+ Glen Hansard, It Was Triumph We Once Proposed…Songs of Jason Molina
+ Various Artists, Unsung: Songs: Ohia Covers Compilation

For a while this year, two EP-length tributes to the works of Songs:Ohia founder Jason Molina this year – one from Glen Hansard, the other a live tribute radio show hosted by Philly wheelhouse Folkadelphia – looked like they were competing for top honors in the Tribute EP category, which often attracts the indie set. And both are worth the listen, in the end: Hansard’s awkwardly titled It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina thanks to a slow, respectful softness; Folkadelphia’s Unsung if you like grungy, metal-tinged rock, though a few exceptionally strong, haunting cuts, like the Laura Baird cover below, save the day.

But we’re not above championing the unknown. And in this case, it’s an easy decision handing the crown to Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders, a dark horse slowcoustic freebie released via Soundcloud by Wharfer, aka Brooklynite by way of Scranton Kyle Wall. Hissy, creaky, and yet perfect in its deconstruction of the Flatlanders songbook, it’s a diamond in the darkness, evoking the hours before sunrise from prairie to fire escape with tuneless whistles, a tender croak of a broken voice, and an urgent hand on a gentle guitar.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Sam Lee and Friends, The Fade In Time

+ Spuyten Duyvil, The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1
+ Anna & Elizabeth, Anna & Elizabeth
+ Gigspanner, Layers of Ages
+ Forest Mountain Hymnal, Dear Balladeer
+ Lindsay Straw, My Mind From Love Being Free

Some serious competition this year, in a category often dominated by the sparse and Appalachian – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But our top pick, Mercury Prize nominee Sam Lee and Friends’ The Fade In Time, isn’t an album so much as it is a complete experience, a journey through the gypsy traditions of rural England filtered through exotic folk strands as far-flung as Japan and Tajikistan. Singer and song-collector Lee is a master arranger, and the collage effect is potent; ultimately, the album both honors the more traditional ethnomusical exploration that informed his 2002 debut Ground Of Its Own, and plies it, gathering from the world as it travels through.

Close seconds go to Brooklyn roots revivalists Spuyten Duyvil, whose cheerful faces and rugged, ragged high energy sets are well known to denizens of the Falcon Ridge Folk crowd, and who bring the blues and then some on The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1; they’re followed closely by a tearingly sparse, gorgeous Appalachian self-titled sophomore outing from historians and song-finders Anna & Elizabeth. And runners-up honors keep our list going long, with Forest Mountain Hymnal’s ongoing project Dear Balladeer, which, although still unfinished, has delivered a deep and rejuvenating delve into the collected ballads of John Jacob Niles, a gentle debut from honey-voiced Boston-based bouzouki and guitar picker Lindsay Straw, and British psychedelic folk rocker Peter Knight and his band Gigspanner, whose album Layer Of Ages – heavy, earthy, haunting and hollow with drones and drum – isn’t beautiful, and isn’t meant to be. A rich field for the traditional set, indeed.



The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Tribute Album
+ Ryan Adams, 1989

+ Moa Holmsten, Bruised Arms And Broken Rhythm: Songs by Bruce Springsteen
+ John Vanderslice, Vanderslice Plays Diamond Dogs
+ Bill Wells & Friends, Nursery Rhymes

Ryan Adams is a no-brainer here; his track-by-track tear-down of Taylor Swift album 1989 is an accomplishment realized, with NPR feature status and over ten million hits on YouTube alone. More surprising is our second favorite: as Paste noted earlier this month in their own 10 Best Cover Songs of 2015, Moa Holmsten isn’t even a fan of Bruce Springsteen, making her fifth album, which covers his canon, an unusual choice. But the conceit works wonders: although the resulting dark, glitchy, beautiful pop album from this Swedish wunderkind has little connection to folk in its tracklist, this single sample is perfect for the contemporary folk set, with high production, shuffling drums and horns, and a mellow harmony vocal that aches with longing.

We can’t help but celebrate a last-minute contender in the form of late December release John Vanderslice Plays David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, new from cover label Reimagine Music. The album resets David Bowie’s 1974 concept album in a variety of genres and settings, from quiet to disquieting; the result is no mere diversion: psychedelic folk, alternative pop, and country rock merge in an album that totally reinvents Bowie’s original, renaming, rewriting, and reworking the arrangements to create something new and precious. (Hint: Juvenile Success is really Rebel Rebel in disguise.)

Finally, though our kidfolk category disappears this year due to a dearth of material, our mixed-genre plate is the perfect setting to mention Bill Wells & Friends’ Nursery Rhymes, which features settings of well-worn classroom and playground classics. Wells isn’t folk, and a cast of familiar experimentalists from multiple genres, from Syd Straw to Yo La Tengo, doesn’t make it so; it’s more like a slippery, sparse contemporary jazz, tightly arranged: a bit complex for kids, but a wonderful digression of an evening with friends.



The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album
+ Eef Barzelay, EP 1 (I Don’t Even Want To Know)

+ Barnstar!, Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!

Eef Barzelay just doesn’t quit. His fourth fan-chosen covers album was already a favorite; the December release of EP 1 (I don’t even want to know), with five more covers and two originals a coda to a great year, pushes him easily over the edge. Like all of Eef’s work, the songs here are raw and coarse and devotional; their tunelessness and discordance shudder in the ear, each one a live and nakedly intimately experience wired directly into the psyche; you’ve never heard a more exhausted, tender King of Carrot Flowers; when that troubled, primitive voice resolves into purity as the chorus kicks in on Don’t Dream It’s Over, the heart lifts, and the world is sunny again. Listening to one is a journey; listening to the whole EP at once risks adrenalin exhaustion, a long walk on the edge of music’s uncanny valley.

Meanwhile, Boston-based roots-and-bluegrass supergroup Barnstar! continues their trend towards half-covers albums, with perfectly summery, grassy romps on songs by Josh Ritter, The Hold Steady, Patty Griffin, Cat Stevens, and The Faces alongside sweet originals by band members Mark Erelli, Jake and Taylor Amerding, banjoist Charlie Rose, and bassist Zachariah Hickman. Just another more cover or two, and new albums from perennial cover artists Pharis and Jason Romero and Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem would have been mentioned here, too; keep an eye open for their work in our upcoming Best Singles mix.



The Year’s Best Covers TV Soundtrack
+ Various Artists, Grey’s Anatomy, Season 12

Our final category this year is a bit specious, I suppose; it’s increasingly rare for TV soundtracks to be released as full albums. But twenty-something television is a constant source for wonderful coverage, leading to constant moments where I turn a corner into a cover, and have to watch the credits to find out which artist I just heard. And through shows such as Scrubs, The OC, Parenthood, One Tree Hill, and more, the medium has served us well, as a potent showcase for indie artists looking for ways to get their songs heard.

And so, as in past years, the shiftings of the marketplace of ideas brings forth a new category for our consideration: the soundtrack collection. And no program has been so persistently great with delightful indiefolk coverage this year as Grey’s Anatomy, which my kids have begin watching religiously after their own struggles with illness lent them a new curiosity about the inner workings of hospitals. From the relentless, insistent pace of Freedom Fry’s Oops I Did It Again to the sterile, echoing piano of Scars on 45 and Sleeping At Last, it’s an indiefolk paradise of mood and meaning.





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Comment » | Best of 2015, Clem Snide, Iron & Wine, Rhiannon Giddens, Ryan Adams, Sam Lee, Sean Rowe, Spuyten Duyvil, The Avett Brothers, Tributes and Cover Compilations

New Tributes and Covers Collections, 2015 (Vol. 1)
(Forest Mountain Hymnal, The Lomax Project, and Nettwerk’s 30th!)

February 2nd, 2015 — 6:03pm

Yet another New England snowday grants us the time to sift through a surprisingly rich field of new, pending, and ongoing covers projects recently received by mail from the far reaches of the folkworld. Read on for a set of features and futures that are already setting the house on fire: a pair of ambitious tradfolk projects, and a label-driven covers collection well worth the folkfan’s attention.




It takes dedication and a unique mindset to devote a year to coverage, let alone to a single songbook – and guts, indeed, to commit to such a project in the first decade of performance.

But young husband-and-wife folk duo Jonathan and Rebecca Moody, aka Forest Mountain Hymnal, have proven themselves before, earning our respect and admiration as artists and interpreters. And so we are thrilled to name Dear Balladeer: The Moodys and the Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles, a bi-weekly project which will see them taking on 24 previously unrecorded Appalachian folksongs collected by the folk-revival’s own balladeer, a genuine gift, sure to keep giving throughout the year and beyond.

Forest Mountain Hymnal is already a staple at our table and our stereo; any news of novelty from these childhood sweethearts is inherently worthy of our attentive ears. Previous EP-length collections, an exclusive, otherwise-unreleased transformation of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, and the self-titled, newly re-collected set that serves as their first official full-length album, explicate our praise: rich, soft, deceptively simple indiefolk in the same haunting-yet-melodic vein as Cover Lay Down favorites Arborea, Sam Amidon, Jose Gonzalez, and Kings of Convenience combine with traditional sensibilities of harmony, melody and instrumentation and a pure, sweet, echoing production dynamic almost ecstatically in the band’s previously recorded versions of well-crafted originals and known songs from Pretty Polly and The Leatherwinged Bat to Burl Ives’ Buckeye Jim and Aussie children’s standard Kookaberra, making Forest Mountain Hymnal as welcome, as essential, and as awesome for year-round fare as their wonderful 2011 Christmas Hymnal EP is for the holiday season.

Meanwhile, Niles, though seminal in his influence on the folk revivalists of the fifties and sixties, is a bit of an undersung hero in the modern folkways; his most-covered compositions and reworkings, including I Wonder as I Wander, Black is the Color, and Go ‘Way From My Window, are often cited as traditional, spreading and reinforcing his influence even as the lack of attribution obscures his own contribution to the tradition. Too, as noted in Dear Balladeer’s statement of project intent, the Hollywood machine has co-opted both Niles and the songs he loved and collected, framing them as the product of a denigrated hillbilly culture in ways that deny the true complexity and intelligence of both the songs and their people.

Dear Balladeer’s aim, therefore, is as corrective as it is celebratory, with the Moodys taking on two curated “lost cuts” per month from his published ballad collections, by permission of Niles’ estate – a set which owes enough deliberate debt to the tradition that Niles organized them by Child Ballad equivalence in their original incidence. And, in keeping with the spirit of the project, all recordings for this project are being released free, as “we really feel like this music came from the people and should go back to them.”

The Moodys promise a debt paid in full, and they deliver: after spending a few days steeping in the comfort and craftwork of the first two tracks, it’s easy to crown the project a great success; if the remainder of the songs on Dear Balladeer are even half as good, their efforts should bring Niles’ name – and theirs – back to the forefront of the modern. I certainly expect to see this project again at the end of the year, both on the blogs, and here in our annual Best Of set, ’round the top of the Tradfolk categories. For now, best wishes and kudos to Forest Mountain Hymnal on a kickass start to an ambitious year; may their ways be smooth as they forge ahead, for we are eager, indeed, to hear the rest.





Diana-LP-High-Res-1Of similar ethnographic vein is banjoist, composer, and “instigator” Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, which pursues our chosen genre’s prototypical collector and celebrant with a multigenerational cohort of praiseworthy peers – Tom O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Brittany Haas, Margaret Glaspy, Eli West and more – that serves as high predictor of project success.

Touting the official nineteen-track album, and the deep-delving ethnographer’s dream of a 54 page booklet which accompanies it, is a bit premature, and somewhat of a tease. Though Stone’s Lomax Project has been in place for a while now as a live touring collaborative, playing sets and hosting sessions at all the right festivals and stages, and inviting in the process a continuation of the discovery and sharing process that Alan Lomax himself practically invented, the recorded collection isn’t scheduled to drop until March 3.

But the work of the talented Stone and his crowd of celebrated cronies under this particular umbrella is not unknown to us. Stone’s earlier albums interpreting the canons through originals and airs from Bach to Africa to Appalachia are themselves keystone components of a modern folklorist’s collection; that the names above all signed on to this project alongside Stone’s center shows their mutual respect. The stated goal here is renewal, not preservation, which is always a strong indicator of true craftspersonship. And even as live in-studio and stage takes from the project’s players have already cropped up on YouTube in the last few months, giving us more than a taste of what is to come, we needed little encouragement to share Lazy John, a just-released first listen from the album itself which showed up in our mailbox over the weekend, which simply sings with talent, love, and gleeful energy.

The merits of music, mandate and means make for a powerful trifecta; that the result is nearly perfect is not unexpected, but no less of a delight. The album earns our respect and admiration with hot sets that burn the barn and then some alongside other, more subtle interpretations of the Lomax collection, which themselves range from Appalachian fiddle tunes and Southern work songs to the African-American shanties and chants of the Bahaman and Georgia Sea Island cultures, finding joy and depth in the collections of a driven archivist, interpreter, and, in the case of the first song below, creator in vein, who in his single album in 1963 reworked familiar folk motifs and characters into a series of nominally original works. Listen and fall in love now, so you can say you were one of the first to know.

    Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project: Lazy John (orig. Alan Lomax)
    (from Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, 2015)


    Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project: Goodbye Old Paint (trad.)


    Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project: Maids When You’re Young (trad.)





Way on the other end of the folkworld, where indie and Americana cuts nestle alongside harder-edged alternatives, lies Nettwerk, a large yet still-independent Vancouver-based label and promotional house founded on electronic music that has, over three decades in the industry, provided a host of services for Canadian acts such as Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, and The Be Good Tanyas, international artists from Dido to Sinead O’Connor to Dispatch to Joshua Tillman, and – more recently – radio-ready bands and singer-songwriters like Passenger, Joshua Hyslop, and fun.

Our focus today is From Cover to Cover: 30 Years At Nettwerk, a brand-new anniversary tribute-in-coverage to the label’s own, and it’s a great one, with versions that run the gamut in selective scope and interpretive strategy. Takes on everything from Coldplay to Barenaked Ladies to Ron Sexsmith to The Be Good Tanyas call to the diversity of Nettwerk rosters past and present; the mix is solid and smooth in transition from track to track, and though only half of the album could truly be categorized under folk, the performances are consistently fine, indeed.

Regular readers have already heard from this collection; though we were holding off on celebrating it in full until now, we couldn’t help but sneak label stalwart William Fitzsimmons’ cover of Sarah McLachlan’s Ice Cream into our artist feature a few weeks ago. But we’ve been sitting on other greatness therein, from Great Lake Swimmers to Caroline Pennell, from Lily Kershaw’s strong take on modern standard Wagon Wheel to Joshua Hyslop’s stunning take on Weepies favorite The World Spins Madly On. Now, just a day before it drops officially, here’s the whole shebang. Enjoy.





Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features and songsets regularly here on the blog, with ongoing bonus tracks and streaming coverage on our Facebook page. And you can help! Donate now to support our continuing mission and receive our grateful praise…plus a select mix of over 30 otherwise-unblogged acoustic, roots, and Americana covers from 2014!

Comment » | Alan Lomax, Forest Mountain Hymnal, Jayme Stone, Tradfolk, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Signature Sounds: A Local Label Turns 20 in Style
(with new cover albums and a Chris Smither tribute!)

November 22nd, 2014 — 2:05pm



Cofounder Jim Olsen outside label Signature Sounds in Northampton, MA


After two decades as a go-to source for some of our favorite singer-songwriters, local label Signature Sounds has earned our respect and gratitude a hundred times over even as their catalog of folk, roots, Americana and acoustic indie soulpop has come to the national scene. First conceived as an extension of the Signature Sounds recording studio established by Mark Thayer in the mid-eighties, the label, which released its first album – a holiday sampler – in 1984, also runs our new favorite folk venue (The Parlor Room, a delightfully intimate venue in Northampton where one can browse and purchase from the entire Signature Sounds catalog) and sponsors one of our very favorite roots festivals (the Green River festival, where I first discovered Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch, and Erin McKeown): all just icing on the anniversary cake, a marker of their homegrown expansion and a harbinger of more to come.

Today, in praise and homage to Signature Sounds and the artists it has introduced and promoted on ever-expanding roster, we swing through a set of 2014 cover and tribute releases from the label, and add a bonus set of favorite tracks from cover albums and tributes released over 20 years in the business. Read on for samples and sentiment, and then, if you’re in the area, stop by to browse the amazing local arts scene at The Parlor Room Makers Market today and tomorrow and pick up 20% off tickets to next weekend’s birthday celebration at the Academy of Music: 4 star-studded concerts over 3 nights with Lake Street Dive, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Chris Smither, Redbird, Mark Erelli, Eilen Jewell, Winterpills, Heather Maloney, and a Crooked Still reunion – all artists featured here on these virtual pages more than once, for good reason.



Since we last wrote about them in a February (Re)Covered post, footstomping fivesome Poor Old Shine has changed their name to Parsonsfield, joined the Signature Sounds roster, and focused their approach in ways that only improve on an already exquisite neotraditional sound. Their newest EP is a playful, eclectic grab-bag of holler and harmonies, with previously YouTubed covers of old tradfolk and Huey Lewis hit The Power Of Love, a lone original (playful romp Anita Loving), and a set of newer studio recordings of tunes from the American school that bring the field to your foyer.




Link Of Chain: A Songwriter’ Tribute to Chris Smither is as much a homage to the Signature Sounds roster and its fans in the music industry as it honors the elder statesman of Northeastern American folk blues, who turned 70 last week. In the hands of Mark Erelli, Jeffrey Foucault, Tim O’Brien, Aoife O’Donovan and other familiar names on the circuit, Smithers’ songs get a masterful treatment with few low points and little sameness, offering apt survey of the label’s sound and cache all at once. Highly recommended tracks include Dave Alvin’s restrained album-opener, a typically smoky, jazz-beautiful version of Waiting On A Train from Patty Larkin, and Mary Gauthier’s chilling take on Smither standard I Feel The Same – a far cry from the funky wah wah pedal swamp blues that Bonnie Raitt used to make the song famous.




Miss Tess and the Talkbacks isn’t folk; Signature Sounds is on an electrified soulpop kick these days, thanks to the success of labelmates Lake Street Dive, whose 2014 Halloween Youtube cover of Love Shack is a poolside screamer not to be missed. But Tess’ late-2013 covers EP The Love I Have For You, which we missed last year, has a rockabilly sentiment and a country core, calling to the rootsy origins even as it frames itself squarely in modern traditions of reinvention and acoustic soul.




Winterpills aren’t folk, either, but the approach to sound on this relatively intimate new duo album hits the mark, as does the concept: totally transformed in an electronic haze by founding bandmembers Flora Reed and Philip Price while their bandmates were busy, lesser-known tracks from the alternative world and beyond specifically chosen for their potential for reinvention shimmer and strain against their original settings. The resulting album is beautiful, with songs sparse and torn, yet equally untethered and etherial.




The Sacred Shakers are a collaborative of Boston musicians, nominally led by country folk artist Eilen Jewell, whose shared love of old-time, country and blues-influenced gospel music lends itself to barn-busting performances. Discovered by Signature Sounds founder and all-around great guy Jim Olsen before they had recorded a lick, their 2014 live album on the label is like a No Depression record played on 45: upbeat, high-energy, spiritually joyful, and eminently danceable.




Signature Sounds has produced some amazing albums over the years; many of their cover and tribute albums are staples of our Cover Lay Down archival stacks. As promised, then: today’s bonus set features a treasure trove sampler from a highly recommended all-covers subsection of one of the best independent catalogs in the modern world. Click through to purchase albums direct from the source, the better to keep Signature Sounds going strong in the decades to come.

    20 Years of Coverage:
    More Cover Albums and Tributes from Signature Sounds






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1 comment » | Chris Smither, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Winterpills

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

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 1:
Tribute Albums and Covers Collections (2013)

December 29th, 2013 — 12:03am





It’s been an unusually sparse year here at Cover Lay Down, with several personal issues cutting into our awareness of the folkworld at large, and keeping us from blogging regularly. Of these, sadly, most have been ongoing: the elderchild still struggles to adapt to a life of pain and medicine; my students still struggle to take ownership of their education; my ability to remain whole as I try to balance family, work, volunteerism, and blogging remains shaky at best.

Add this to February’s unexpected server shut-down, which cost us a month of stress and five years of archives, and account for Kottke’s recent suggestion that blogs are dying, or at least, have taken a “diminished place in our informational diet,” and damn, it’s amazing that we’re still here at all, let alone ready to share our year’s best.

That we come to you at all for this annual ritual is startling enough to begin with; naming the “best” of anything is a dubious pursuit. As noted last year, we have a strong resistance to the hierarchical urge to rank and file. Though our lens may sometimes seem narrow from the outside, both coverage and folk come in many flavors and subtypes, and each can be done well; our focus on the breadth of musical expression often leans harder towards emergence, promise, and artist evolution than the next big thing because that’s the honest expression of how I think and hear. We find comfort and joy in so broad a mandate, and ultimately, take more delight in discovery than digs. There’s no true hierarchy of artistic output in my disheveled aural infrastructure, just a spectrum of successes and partial successes.

In that sense, we generally encourage others to accept the entirety of our year’s blogging as our recommendations list for the year: if it weren’t among the best things you’d hear all year, it wasn’t worth posting in the first place. If you’re not a regular reader, and you’ve been directed here by recommendation or accident, we highly recommend taking the time for your own skim of the archives sometime, the better to experience the miracle of craft and interpretation that is the modern folkways in all its glory.


To go through the motions of capturing, compiling and celebrating our favorite albums of the year after such a fragmented, disruptive pattern of listening seems like an exercise in hubris. To do so when we have always eschewed both the critical lens and the hierarchical trend seems doubly so.

But Cover Lay Down will not go gently into that goodnight – and in many ways, the larger context makes this year’s Best Of 2013 sets more needful than ever. For as long as music serves as salve and salvation, then we must also accept that the ongoing search for new artists, new collections, and new transformations is part of the human pilgrimage – and that each new discovery serves the soul both spiritually and medicinally.

In this sense, the annual archival sift that prepares us for our end-of-year pursuit is an inherent part of the journey – a recentering, that helps us revisit and recover tribute albums and cover compilations otherwise too easily lost among the detritus of a life lived in chaos. The mere act of listening closely again, and struggling to identify that which transforms the various parameters each song, album, and collection sets for itself to become something new, and wonderful, is worthy, indeed.

As a bonus, stepping back to view the year all-at-once reveals new trends, new patterns, and new paths which we may not have seen from week to week, as we steep in the new, and descend into the focused themes upon which we have set our store. In this case, such a process is especially beneficial, as it helps us reconstitute the unusually scattered plot that has resulted from an exceptionally scattershot year. And, as always, this affects the categories we use to frame and represent our favorites: this year, for example, we have decided to distinguish between multi-artist mass market tribute albums and blog-curated tributes, the better to feature larger, less polished collections which focus on lesser-known artists and decidedly lo-fi production values.

And so, though the process is corrupted, and though we still find our conflicted or even confused by the tendency of other blogs to criticize as well as celebrate, this week, we present our annual two-volume year’s end review of the best folk, roots, indie, and Americana coverfolk of 2013 – starting, today, with a comprehensive categorization of those albums, EPs, and collections which rose to the top of our playlists and hearts.


A final note, before we delve into delight: because it is borne of personal stress and sorrow, the collection that follows comprises not so much of the albums that stuck through us with the year, but a strange combination of the ones we wish we had time to listen to more often, and the ones which we played incessantly, for weeks upon end, when we most needed comfort in the midst of chaos. More than ever, it is incomplete, subjective, and in some ways, accidental; indeed, for the first time, a significant portion of the albums mentioned below went unblogged in the first place – a testament to our corrupted ability to track the release calendars, and attend to the constant mailbag stream. But the final product stands as another testament, nonetheless: to the albums and EPs which stayed with us through thick and thin, made all the more glorious for the rocky path we took to get here.

Today, then, we are proud to present Cover Lay Down’s annual compilation of the Year’s Best Coverfolk Collections, arranged into categories much like those which we would use were we in the habit of ranking, to be followed closely, as always, by a mixtape of the best coverfolk singles of the year. Both we offer with undying thanks to the labels, the artists, the fans, and you, for holding us up, and in, and close, when the world keeps spinning right round, like a record.



COVER LAY DOWN PRESENTS:
THE YEAR’S BEST TRIBUTE ALBUMS AND COVER COLLECTIONS

[DOWNLOAD HERE]


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists, CD release):
Reason To Believe: The Songs of Tim Hardin

Though other categories blossomed this year, it was a relatively sparse twelvemonth for mass market multi-artist tribute albums, with several solid collections emerging as early contenders in the first few months only to remain on top of the heap as the year trickled onwards. As is often the case for tributes, anniversaries, illnesses, and death dates were the primary drivers of artist homage, but it was also the year that Peter Gabriel reciprocal covers project I’ll Scratch Yours finally came together as a cohesive collection, legitimizing Bon Iver’s dreamy, layered take on Come Talk To Me two years after it hit the blogs…and reminding us that when it takes three years to release an album, there is often a good reason.

Live albums in this category were also less successful, though certainly just as well-intentioned; Nick Drake tribute Way To Blue and Sing Me The Songs, which records a concert celebrating the works of Kate McGarrigle, each contain a couple of tracks worth mentioning, but overall, the heavy stamp of consistent performers and the usual challenges of live soundboard mixing make for too little diversity, and too much sameness. Pity, that – though there are plenty of Drake tributes to pick from in the wider world, we’ll hold out hope that time and temper will lay a better foundation for a proper McGarrigle tribute.

But of the studio collections, two stand out for their breadth and beauty, proving the test of time after jumping early out of the proverbial gate. The first, The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver, is “a powerful addition to the canon of coverage,” with more than a few tracks standing out as achingly perfect visions and revisions of the artist’s lifework, and a solid mix of contributions from old standbys such as Evan Dando, Dave Matthews, Mary Chapin Carpenter and new, younger favorites like Barnstar, Josh Ritter, Amos Lee, and Brett Dennen bringing a yawing but startlingly successful breadth to the collection. Reason to Believe: The Songs of Tim Hardin, on the other hand, with its primary focus around a stable of artists on the indie and indiefolk line, is both beautifully broken and more consistent, making it deeper in its way – a fair measure of single artist tribute, and thus deserving of top honors.



The Year’s Best Tribute Collection (multiple artists, free/streaming):
Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited

As noted above, we’re splitting our multi-artist tribute category this year – a strategy we’d ordinarily reserve to account for an unusually bountiful harvest. But in this case, the split we’ve chosen is natural: there’s a vast difference in curation between label-driven tribute albums and blog-solicited collections. And so we turn, distinctly, to those tributes populated by relative unknowns favored by the individual blogger who envisions, solicits, and puts the compilation together; it often sprawls far past the typical size of an album intended for hard-copy release, and may include multiple versions of the same song. And our access to the two types is vastly different: the former is generally for sale, with but a sample or two available for blog posting; the latter are generally free and/or stream only, populated as they are by truly independent players on the margins of genre, giving newfound meaning to the term “indie” after years of subsumption by the mass market.

This new category is no novelty: in past years, solicited collections have appeared on Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Paste; this year’s also-rans include a well-curated double-set tribute to The Postal Service album, and arguably, the Herohill-curated tribute to Leonard Cohen, which topped our list last year, would count in this category as well. But the shift in style and sound which springs from the fan-curated album at its best is exemplified by the clear winners in this category this year, Slowcoustic’s lovingly curated double-sized tributes to J. Tillman and Damien Jurado. In our original reviews, we called Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited, Slowcoustic’s emergent homage to Tillman’s oddly titled seminal sophomore solo album, “a triumph of curation and performance: appropriately imperfect, definitively Tillman, and shockingly diverse,” and we stand by that measure, though we also highly recommend the overstuffed Jurado tribute as well, for much the same reasons; taken together, they practically define a tiny quietfolk subcommunity at the heart of modern folk experimentation.


The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist):
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy, What The Brothers Sang

It was the Year of the Everly Brothers, with three full-album tributes on the docket: a sister act, two indiefolk mavericks, and Norah Jones and that guy from Green Day. Of these, we were surprised to like the Norah Jones/Billy Joe Armstrong collection, and pleased to hear favorite second-generation singer-songwriters The Chapin Sisters slick their hair down so faithfully; both, in their own way, are worthy of a second listen. But the deconstruction wrought by Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy and indie maverick Bonnie “Prince” Billy on What The Brothers Sang is too potent and too precious: Oldham’s broken baritone and McCarthy’s warm alto establish a complex tapestry of sound, and their tendency towards languid arrangement and more obscure set pieces is quite something. The album is flexible in its treatment of the songbook, with each song rebuilt 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.

Honorable mention here goes to Noam Pikelny and Chris Thile, who used their time off from Punch Brothers touring to interpret two vastly different collections from almost diametrically opposed ends of the musical spectrum. We wrote about master mandolinist Thile’s all-classical, all-Bach album in July; Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe – the banjo player and bandleader’s cover album of a cover album, which treats Baker’s seminal set of Bill Monroe tunes reverently – passed us by when it first came out, but the bluegrass purist in me loves it dearly.


The Year’s Best Tribute EP:
Nathan Edwards, The Music of Stephen Foster

With 8 tracks, Nathan Edwards’ celebration of the music of Stephen Foster is a hybrid album, almost – but not quite – too long to be an EP. But it remains a powerful high point in an otherwise sparse category, and since we put it just fine first time around, we’ll merely note that the warm vocal tones, exquisite instrumentation, and loving research which underlie this small-yet-ambitious project provide a unifying force that transcends mere songbook commonality…the result is seamless: a truly transformative yet eminently honest set that succeeds in its promise of updating the old songs for modern ears, finding the indiefolk, Americana, country and soul in songs long embedded in our national psyche. Amen.



The Year’s Best Covers Album:
The Big Bright, I Slept Thru the 80′s

We first featured two pre-release covers from The Big Bright last year, including their INXS cover in our Year’s Best Singles, and noted an EP-length pre-release floating out in the the ether more than a few months ago, making for an exceptionally long tease up to a December 2013 release for the fully realized album those smaller bursts claimed to anticipate. But in the end, the anticipation only made the final product sweeter. I Slept Through The 80′s is exactly what it promises to be – a loving deconstruction of 30 year old MTV new-wave and brit-pop hits, reimagined as soft, supple acoustic dreampop lullabies, with guitar, folk harmonies, and a hazy atmosphere of memory – and we’re thrilled to have it.

Lissa Schneckenburger’s simply titled but exquisitely sensitive Covers album, which we celebrated in May, makes for a very close runner up: every note counts, and every note lingers. Tie for third place goes to new albums from Hurray For The Riff Raff and Scott Matthew, whose broken voices and simple piano and guitar arrangements chill and comfort. And if we’re going all the way to fourth, we’ll put in a bid for Mara Levine’s Jewels And Harmony, a warm, contemporary post-revival singer-songwriter covers-with-friends folk album.

Even with five records topping our list, these favorites edge out among a surprisingly strong field. Yet another covers record from Mark Kozelek, and folkpop cellist Ben Sollee’s free Noisetrade release The Hollows Sessions, both of which went personally undiscovered until Cover Me included them in their own year’s end list, garner honorable mentions for eminently successful if increasingly formulaic approaches to coverage, mostly because we just love how Sollee and Kozelek break down and rebuild. Mud, Blood, and Beer, the third album by acoustic britfolk covers band The Bad Shepherds, is surprisingly listenable for an album of punk favorites. And although we were thrilled to find his second volume of Fan Chosen Covers in the mix, having made this list three years running, Eef Barzelay is hereby disqualified for future consideration despite the successful Kickstarter-driven promise of a Sound of Music EP to come in the early months of 2014.


The Year’s Best Covers EP:
Hannah Read and Charlie Van Kirk, Covers EP

Lots here, too – and much of it free to fans, from the joyful transformations on Levi Weaver’s mailing-list gift Antipodes to the just-released new installment in Okkervil River’s Golden Opportunities occasional covers EP series, which is a bit raucous for folk, but ends on a mellow note with a track sure to feature in Vol. 2 of our series.

In the final countdown, we ended up favoring two albums, each powerful in its own way. The Stray Birds huddle close harmonies around a single microphone to take on their favorites from the countryfolk world, and come off sounding crisp and clear, a tradfolk trio inhabiting their favorite songs to play out triumphs and tears with aplomb. And although the build on Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain is too good not to share here, Hannah Read and Charlie Van Kirk’s cover of MGMT’s Kids is truly definitive – which is really saying something, given how often the song has been covered. Add in a powerfully reconsidered, eminently deconstructed version of Nick Drake’s Riverman and an utterly haunting Radiohead cover, plus free Bandcamp download, and we’ve little choice but to give Read and Van Kirk the edge.



The Year’s Best Streaming Covers Series:
Al Lewis, The Covers EP, Vol. 1

The five-song Al Lewis soundcloud series titled “The Covers EP, Vol. 1″ would have made the EP covers category above, but sadly, it was technically ineligible, as it was released first as a series of singles, and only later retracked as a streaming EP by the artist himself, without title and in the same sequence as our own. No matter: it’s a good year for new categories, and a fair deal to acknowledge an ongoing shift in how artists release covers overall to nominate slow-release EP-length covers sets.

And though the pandora’s box that this category creates can be a slippery slope, restricting ourselves to finite sets of covers released in a single year provides a clear second place winner, too. Though the Morning Benders have changed their name to the aggressive and less memorable POP ETC since their bedroom covers collection first slammed the blogs back in 2007, the raw, organic four-set of covers posted on Soundcloud this year, started as a distraction from studio recording and ultimately touted as a series, delight as much as those long-ago covers did, reminding us just why we loved them so much to begin with. Honorable mention goes to Bess Rogers, whose pay-what-you-wish occasionals series Songs Other People Wrote drifted too far from folk after starting pure languid Kathleen Edwards-ian popfolk with a Gin Blossoms cover that rocks pretty, indeed.









The Year’s Best Kidfolk Covers Album:
Jackie Oates, Lullabies

Perennial category favorite Elizabeth Mitchell released several covers albums this year – including a co-bill with fellow kindie icon Dan Zanes and a tribute to Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Christmas collection – and both will find plenty of play in our house, though the kids have moved on to tweenpop. But Jackie Oates blew us away: the English folk singer and fiddle player was new to us, as are so many of the British-born lullabies and sleep songs she lovingly interprets on Lullabies, but the combination is rich and beautiful, delicate and sweet, with harmonies and drones echoing in the head, leaving an impression of something like the Unthanks for the slumbering set (and it turns out Jackie was a founding member, so no surprise).


The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers Album (single artist): Sam Amidon, Bright Sunny South

It was a surprisingly rich field in the tradfolk category this year, from sea shanties to civil war collections to other collections that target time and place – and so, again, we split the category three ways, presenting single artist tradfolk albums separately from multi-artist concept albums and EP-length sets, as we have done for years in other categories, the better to distinguish between single artistic visions both small and large, and curatorial cohesion unified by genre, theme, or origin.

Single artist tradfolk albums are often heavy on the traditional, and more about saving the old sounds and celebrating the hand-me-down tradition; these albums do not so much celebrate artistic vision though interpretation as they celebrate authenticity through recreation – a valid and valuable pursuit, but less interesting to us as ethnographers of the covering folkways. But though it does tuck Mariah Carey and Tim McGraw covers in among the mix, Sam Amidon takes the tradfolk vein several steps farther, winning deserving kudos for Bright Sunny South, an album that represents the full maturation of his sound, with stunningly smooth, shimmery production finally allowing the frail and often meager instrumentation that Amidon brings to his interpretations to finally sound less lo-fidelity and more deliberately broken. As we said in our original entry, call it a thinker’s album, and give him the Grammy already, for nowhere else this year have we heard such intimacy, such clear recognition of the myriad paths of shapenote hymns and old-timey folk brought forcefully into the 21st century.

Runners up honors go to indie alt-folk collective Vandaveer for their murder ballads collection Oh, Willie, Please…, a stealth record that crept up on us unawares and then…wow.


The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers Album (multiple artists):
Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War and The Beautiful Old: Turn-Of-The-Century Songs
(tie)
No pirate albums here, especially given how scattershot Hal Wilmer’s second volume was in the end. But we do have two decidedly different yet equally honest tributes to time and place in Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War and The Beautiful Old: Turn-Of-The-Century Songs. The former is more South than North in tone, and heavy on the bluegrass players, with country and folk around the edges, and an essence that’s honest and true; the latter, which catalogs its songs chronologically from 1805 to 1918, is a bit more diverse, but with some strong performances from Jolie Goodnight, Carrie Elkin, Richard Thompson and others who know.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers EP:
Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Child Ballads

In a category often populated by small sets produced on a whim, Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads stands out as a hands-down winner this year. We named the collection, a close collaboration between two exceptionally talented players already at the top of their game, the go-to winner in this category way back before Spring; since then, numerous otherblog end of year lists have cited the album among the best, period. And we were right for all the right reasons: as we noted then, the album is fluid, engaging, clear as the running streams and lakes of its myriad stanzas, and equally adept in mournful darkness and moral tale, in its exquisite treatment of both the easily recognizable (Tam Lin) and several unusually obscure and under-covered selections…rightfully on its way to being regarded as masterpiece, a showpiece for how modern solo and duet forms can still find life in the sourcebook.


The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album:
The Quiet American, Wild Bill Jones

When we created this category several years ago, we envisioned it as a way to honor those artists who saw coverage and interpretation as such a core component of their craft that they included multiple covers among the songs on a single album, the better to pay homage to their influences, and show their output as grounded in history.

Several fine albums fit the mold this year. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who found fine fortune on these pages for both their debut duet release in 2011 and this year’s Midwinter, returned with Fire & Fortune, in which Clarke’s mature, deceptively simple interpretation of timeless traditional laments and original ballads, Walker’s stunningly subtle fretwork, and inspired settings of low winds, gentle piano chords, and soaring strings combine marvelously, making a fragile atmosphere that welcomes even as it warns. And Night, a mixed-genre varietal, with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and folk artist Tift Merritt trading off genre origins from classical, pop, jazz, and original sources, is a vast and vindicating tour de force of artist and genre crossover. Both deserve year’s end recognition, and huge compliments.

But it is Wild Bill Jones, a stunning triumph from home-grown modern folk revival The Quiet American, that justifies this final category’s existence, and then some. The concept album by husband-and-wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim is a tour de force, an utterly perfect concept album that collects and transforms traditional songs, timeless originals, and Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End into a seamless sepia-toned narrative of loneliness, loss, and love so smooth, you’ll need the liner notes to piece apart the sources. Kudos to the pair for validating our ongoing pursuit of coverage as folkways so well, showing just how valid and valuable the mix of original works and tradition can become in the hands of masters.



The Year’s Best YouTube Covers Series:
Daniela Andrade

Discovered while searching for popcovers to populate a YouTube feature, young Honduran-Canadian singer-songwriter Daniella Andrade stole our heart with a perfect pure voice and a gentle way with a guitar. She’s been recording and releasing videos since 2008, but this year was a killer; most recent cuts include several amazing collaborations, and a sexy, girlish cover of Santa Baby that sends us to the showers. Someone get this girl a label.

    Daniela Andrade: The A Team (orig. Ed Sheeran)


    Daniela Andrade & Gia Margaret: Summertime Sadness (orig. Lana Del Rey)


    Daniela Andrade x Jon Lawless: Hold On, We’re Going Home (orig. Drake)



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

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

6 comments » | Amos Lee, Anais Mitchell, Bess Rogers, Best of 2013, Hannah Read, J. Tillman, Jackie Oates, Jefferson Hamer, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Lissa Schneckenburger, Nathan Edwards, Sam Amidon, The Big Bright, Tift Merritt, Tim Hardin, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Vandaveer

Holiday Cheer: New Christmas Cover Collections
from Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andrew Greer & more!

December 7th, 2013 — 4:59pm





The radio stations play Christmas music indiscriminately as if it were a genre, holding arias against Elvis, segueing neatly from crooners to choirs, cramming the droll alongside the dreck. The Amazon charts are cluttered with cloying new Christmas releases from Kelly Clarkson, Susan Boyle, and that family from Duck Dynasty. And the biggest buzz in the folkworld at the holidays this year revolves around Just One Angel v2.0, a newly-curated two-disc set of silly-to-sublime holiday originals from a cohort of contemporary singer-songwriters which – while generally strong in its own right – is hardly fodder for a coverfolk blog.

But the season brings gifts evermore, and this year is no exception. Below, a taste of new Christmas albums full of covers and carols for the folkset, from tradfolk to indiefolk to contemporary singer-songwriter fare – something for everyone, under the tree.



British tradfolk duo Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker have hit these pages several times before – most recently in July, in celebration of sophomore effort Fire & Fortune, which we praised for “Clarke’s mature, deceptively simple interpretation of timeless traditional laments and original ballads, Walker’s stunningly subtle fretwork, and inspired settings of low winds, gentle piano chords, and soaring strings combine marvelously, making a fragile atmosphere that welcomes even as it warns.”

But although the settings here are generally sparser, the simply-titled Midwinter – a December-only Bandcamp release that will give 50% of its profits to UNICEF’s Children of Syria Appeal – is only unassuming on the surface. Clarke’s poised, pure vocals soar; Walker’s classical-folk guitar treatment rings; though its most revenant cuts would not seem out of place in church, it warms our home marvelously with its timeless arrangements, from the hearty a capella duet of Shepherds Arise to the rich, woodwind-driven triplets of We Three Kings. An unapologetic Christmas album so perfect in its treatment, so pure in its performance, so potent in its intimacy, we cannot help but preemptively lament the short-lived season.



Constant companion Elizabeth Mitchell, whose kidfolk settings and recreations of popular song for the younger set have long topped our playlists, has expanded her repertoire in the past few years, most recently with Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie, a full album of Woody Guthrie kidfolk classics, released by Smithsonian Folkways in honor of Guthrie’s 100th birthday, which we celebrated upon its release in the Summer of 2012. But although we have continued to suggest that many of Mitchell’s songs are not just for children, the songs lovingly presented on The Sounding Joy, a delightful collection of sparsely set carols selected from Ruth Crawford Seeger’s 1953 songbook American Folk Songs for Christmas, represent the first full collection from this teacher-turned-artist that are truly as universally accessible as they are enjoyable.

As with many recent works by Mitchell, the majority of tracks on The Sounding Joy are sweet, reverent, gently gleeful folk treatments of the classics, led by Mitchell’s simple vocals, harmonies from John Sebastian, Aoife O’Donovan, Natalie Merchant, Amy Helm, Dan Zanes, husband Daniel Littleton, and more, and a light collection of Appalachian strings, winds, and brushes that echo their source. But some tracks are gentler than others; in this case, the soft piano duet that comes of Joseph and Mary, Seeger’s setting of The Cherry Tree Carol, is a heart-stopping lament, pulsing sorrow and joy enough to make the whole pursuit worthwhile.



Gently plucked strings and a heavenly folk tenor reminiscent of Mark Erelli or an early Paul Simon make In The Bleak Winter one of many crowning jewels of Andrew Greer‘s newest release Angel Band: The Christmas Sessions, but it’s hard to pick a favorite. Greer, a versatile Nashville singer-songwriter, has had a meteoric rise since the release of his 2009 debut Open Book, fueled in no small part by a strong fan base in the Christian music community, but don’t let the affiliation scare you off: the last album from this accomplished interpreter of Americana, an instrumental set of hymns, charted quite high on the folk charts, as did Angel Band: The Hymn Sessions, a collection of vintage hymns translated into stringforms alongside special guests like Ron Block of Alison Krauss & Union Station, Sandra McCracken, Julie Lee and The McCrary Sisters.

Snag The Hymn Sessions and a bonus EP-sized set of acoustic holiday carols for a suggested donation over at Noisetrade, and then head over to Greer’s website to order and savor Angel Band: The Christmas Sessions in all its holy glory for just five bucks.



We’ll be visiting a small but stellar collection of seasonal EPs later this week in a very special holiday edition of our New Artists, Old Songs feature series. But although with two originals and three covers in the set, it is technically not a cover collection, our list today would nonetheless be incomplete without mention of Snowed In, the newest release from singer-songwriter Mindy Smith. Snowed In keeps coming up tagged Countrypop on my playlists, which is a shame: there’s nothing to differentiate this from gentle contemporary folk in the vein of Kris Delmhorst or Lori McKenna, and everything to love in this tiny, wistful collection of winter songs both new and old.



Every Christmas since their inception in 1999, Sleeping At Last – once the name of a teenage garage band that won favor and label-distribution after notice from Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame; now the nom de plume used by suburban Chicago singer-songwriter and band-founder Ryan O’Neal in solo guise – has recorded and released a new holiday song as a gift for family and friends. Last year, for the first time, their Christmas Collection was offered as a full album available freely on Noisetrade, and this year’s soaring, uke-and-choir rendition of John Lennon’s classic Happy Xmas (War Is Over) makes for a fine addition to the canon. O’Neal gets major bonus points, too, for reimagining Men Without Hats 80′s classic The Safety Dance as a hushed, melancholic indiefolk lament for last week’s episode of The Carrie Diaries – making of both song and singer a gift, indeed.



Finally, A Rarebird In A Pear Tree, Vol. 3, the third holiday compilation from the indie label, is a typically eclectic mixed-bag of indie credibility, with dreampop, chamberfolk, and the occasional beat-driven indierock on the record, and a tip-if-you-like Noisetrade release. But the music flows, it’s all good, and the quiet, solo guitar-and-vox coverage we most crave this time of year is plentiful and pleasing. The end of the collection is especially dear: Jordan Fox’ ringing, hoarse O Little Town Of Bethlehem is a tiny gem; Shelly Gordon’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is melancholy and deceptively bare.



Download our Christmas Cover Collections 2013 mix in handy zipped format. Subscribe to our Facebook page for bonus tracks, tidbits, and more throughout the week. Buy music locally, and direct from artists’ preferred sources, always. And be sure to stay tuned for more holiday fare from the folkworld as the days continue to darken!

2 comments » | Andrew Greer, Best of 2013, Elizabeth Mitchell, Holiday Coverfolk, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Tributes and Cover Compilations, Summer 2013
(Bach, Motown, Stephen Foster, The Postal Service, Damien Jurado & more!)

July 11th, 2013 — 3:17pm

There’s a lot of great new stuff bubbling up through the ether out there. Today, we dig into a few warm-weather months of mailbag offerings to reveal a carefully vetted mid-year set of new and impending album-length coverfolk collections sure to tickle the coverlover’s fancy.



The 8 song reinterpretations on The Music of Stephen Foster, a new homage to the “Father of American Music” from midwestern “acoustic folk and electroacoustic musician” Nathan Edwards, are quite diverse, when you get down to it, ranging from James Taylor orchestral to echoey electroacoustic indiefolk. Yet the warm vocal tones, exquisite instrumentation, and loving research which underlie this small-yet-ambitious project provide a unifying force that transcends mere songbook commonality.

The result is seamless: a truly transformative yet eminently honest set that succeeds in its promise of updating the old songs for modern ears, finding the indiefolk, Americana, country and soul in songs long embedded in our national psyche. Stream two tracks below, and preorder here in digital or hardcopy for a July 16 drop date.

    Nathan Edwards: Beautiful Dreamer (orig. Stephen Foster)


    Nathan Edwards: I Would Not Die In Springtime (orig. Stephen Foster)




If we’re late to the party on Sam Amidon‘s newest covers-and-tradfolk release, it’s because Bright Sunny South is startlingly complex, with deep exploration that grates as easily as it glorifies, and a shift in tone from track to track that seems, at times, less a journey than a yawing catalog of inner voices. Indeed, at its most experimental, Bright Sunny South is hard to listen to, and maybe that’s the point: Sam’s shaky voice, like a raggedly bowed saw blade, remains creaky and primordial; most reviewers have complained about his Mariah Carey cover, which seems overly gentle and abstract for its concrete and commercial lyrics, and the smashing electric feedback session that closes the otherwise pensive tradsong He’s Taken My Feet, while compositionally adept, seems too confrontational every time.

But if Bright Sunny South is a (purposefully) mixed bag, it’s an amazingly mature one, with stunningly smooth, shimmery production finally allowing the frail and often meager instrumentation that Amidon brings to his interpretations to finally sound less lo-fidelity and more deliberately broken. Some tracks are melodic, others, like As I Roved Out, are more wholly deconstructed, – their lyrics collapsed and reshuffled, their fragments of tradition echoing through in pastiche – but each has a tension that reveals and reveres. Call it a thinker’s album, and give him the Grammy already, for nowhere else this year have we heard such intimacy, such clear recognition of the myriad paths of shapenote hymns and old-timey folk brought forcefully into the 21st century.


    Sam Amidon: As I Roved Out (trad.)




I’m still not sure how to categorize If You Wait Long Enough: Songs of Will Stratton, a benefit tribute album for the young indie singer-songwriter and composer whose cancer diagnosis last year illuminated the conflicted plight of artists in a world where medical bills are often unaffordable for those working outside the world of 9 to 5 employment. The ingredients for folk, or at least a sort of honesty generally sprung from the modern roots inheritors, are all there: though many tracks include a grungy wash of electric guitar undercurrent, most are spare and acoustic at heart, and there’s dreamscapes galore, which certainly suits Stratton’s generally witty and self-effacing lyrical phrases. But to shelve this album as even predominantly folk is to both ignore the synth-driven indie pop and rock elements of Kid in the Attic’s beat-heavy Do You Remember the Morning and Jesse Rifkin’s club-ready Katydid, and to mistake performance for genre.

Greatness will out, however. What this album decidedly is, is an honest, cohesive, organic introduction to the works of an undersung artist in need of support from a set of artists who clearly care for both that body of work, and the body of the man who produced it; as such, it stands easily among the better tributes we’ve heard this year. So check out the more primitive tracks, such as the swirling banjo-driven climb from sadness into subdued promise brought by Brattleboro-based acoustic string explorer Sam Moss and the Ineligible Bachelors (with Corey DiMario of Crooked Still on upright bass, and Amidon sibling Stefan of Sweetback Sisters on percussion), and Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-grounded songcrafter Zachary Cale‘s tender and pensive Bluebells, then stream and buy on Bandcamp to support Will’s recovery and treatment.

    Sam Moss and the Ineligible Bachelors: The Relatively Fair (orig. Will Stratton)


    Zachary Cale: Bluebells (orig. Will Stratton)


As an addendum to the above, fans of Sam Amidon and/or primitive folk would do well to check out The Parlor Is Pleasant on Sunday Night, Sam Moss and fellow Vermonster Jackson Emmer’s eminently fragile late 2012 duo collection of old-time songs of “jubilation…and defeat”: while not new, my thread-pulling discovery of the collection while researching the above made me an instant fan.




We often complain of mass market mixed-genre tribute albums, even as we celebrate the folk tracks therein. But if the approach taken by Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of The Postal Service, a new multi-artist tribute produced in honor of the joint ten-year anniversary of curating blog Independent Clauses and seminal Postal Service album Give Up, seems much more listener-friendly – with its 21 track setlist divided into discrete folk and indiepop “albums” – who are we to argue when the result is easily more than an album’s worth of great covers?

Which is to say: if not every track is to our taste on either disk, well, that’s to be expected when working with unknowns; there are more hits than misses here, with multiple coverage of well-recognized songs allowing the listener to choose sides, and hipsters to defend theirs endlessly. Perhaps that’s the point: I’m wholly in love with the ability to line ‘em up, and utterly lost in the way Venna’s hope and heavenly harmonies play against the bouncy brush, bass, fiddle and banjo Seven Handle Circus bring to their own version of well-known indie shout-out Such Great Heights, a pairing which will play consecutively in the player below. And that’s just the folk side, which says something about the hard edge on the indiepop end of things.




Suggesting strongly that blog-born coverage collections may be a bit more fan-friendly by definition, similar curative circumstances result in a similarly sprawling yet surprisingly strong Damien Jurado tribute from Slowcoustic, which, like the well-produced J. Tillman tribute Slowcoustic produced earlier this year, has been slowly released over the last week. More cohesive by design – blog host and Yer Bird label founder Sandy focuses on a much narrower spectrum of lo-fi “slow acoustic” music, making for more commonality of sound and approach in his mix – the new Jurado homage is nevertheless deliciously imperfect, and overstuffed with double and triple takes on some of the indiefolk darling’s most poignant compositions, each one rawer than the last. As always, we’re thrilled with turnouts from Cover Lay Down faves Hezekiah Jones, Doc Feldman, and Lotte Kestner, and pleased to find some new love and appreciation in the mix from Kim Janssen, Jeremy Squires, and more; for a track-by-track breakdown of contributing artists and the choices they’ve made in coverage, head directly to Slowcoustic’s 5-part treatment of the collection, without passing “go”.




Finally, from the edges of folk but still firmly grounded in the roots of American acoustic music come two genre coverage collections, one Motown soul, one eminently old-school classical. First, Chris Thile’s all-classical, all-Bach album, wherein a collection of sonatas and partitas translate into masterfully crisp mandolin tunes without losing a drop of bravado, thus proving once again just why this artist recently received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant; the album doesn’t drop ’til August, but pre-orders are ongoing, and the video below is a great teaser. And second, Decoration Day, Vol. 2, a new EP-length multi-artist covers compilation from the indiefolk collective at Mason Jar Music, which takes a funky 60′s era Motown approach on songs originally by Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Billy Taylor, and Bill Withers, plus a Beatles tune and a Willie Dixon number, bringing the collection into the millennium with an ear towards the acoustic and the “new Americana” melting pot. Fledgling NYC label Mason Jar’s mostly-Brooklyn tradfolk collection of stormsongs after Hurricane Sandy was one of our favorite albums of 2012; finding their Decoration Day EP series ongoing is a delight, especially after their first volume brought such wonderful talent and folk stylings to 200 years of popular American song; as a bonus, we get to celebrate sweet up-and-coming soul-meets-singer-songwriter Emily Elbert again, which is always wonderful.


    Chris Thile: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor



Cover Lay Down features new thematic songsets and artist-focused entries twice weekly throughout the year thanks to patrons and supporters like you. Coming soon: more mailbag coverage from up-and-coming artists, and a new Single Song Sunday collection uncovers the path a Rolling Stones tune takes in becoming an outlaw country classic.

2 comments » | Chris Thile, Sam Amidon, Tributes and Cover Compilations

New Cover Collections, Spring 2013:
Murder Ballads, Hip Hop Covers, and Top 40 Tracks

April 28th, 2013 — 1:19pm

We make a clear distinction between tribute albums and cover collections here at Cover Lay Down, with the former typified by a narrow focus on a single band or artist, and the latter a catch-all category that incorporates multitudes of subtypes, from thematic multi-artist covers albums such as last year’s Hurricane Sandy benefit project The Storm Is Passing Over to single-artist collections whose tracks share little common bond save the love of the interpreter.

As noted last month in our three-part series on New and Impending Tributes, it’s been a great year so far for the former, with strong turn-outs taking on the songbooks of John Denver, The Everly Brothers, Tim Hardin and Nick Drake already on the books and in our hearts. But there’s some strong showings emerging in the larger world of broad coverage, too – and we’d be remiss if we didn’t give our favorites a chance to shine. And so today we bring our Spring 2013 “New & Impending” series to a close with a look at some great new collections of song unified by mood, topic, and common origin from indiefolk standby Vandaveer, Cover Lay Down favorite Hannah Read, NYC singer-songwriter Bess Rogers, and folk duo Jasonrockcity.

Pulling from the radiowaves surely sells albums: as we note in our own mandate, familiarity breeds contentment, providing an entry into craft to the mutual benefit of fan and artist alike; maximizing this potential by picking only popular songs that the average listener would know is a well-hewn path to fame through coverage. But taking on the uber-popular carries risk, too – more coverage in the ether raises the competitive bar for artists, making it that much easier for single recordings to drown in a sea of commonality, and that much harder to find new meaning in songs so broadly interpreted.

By that standard, however, the newest EP from Hannah Read and Charlie Van Kirk is a triumph of tribute. Lush and layered, flowing and stunningly clear, yet ultimately less fragile and more robust than Wrapped In Lace, Read’s last EP-length outing, the gorgeous treatments Read and Van Kirk bring to the four well-known songs on their brand new Covers EP are ethnographically and sonically unifying, exposing the clear thread that runs from Fleetwood Mac (The Chain) and Nick Drake (Riverman) to Radiohead (Atoms For Peace) and MGMT (Kids) in ways that reveal the common nuances of the popular even as they transcend the originals. Frankly, I’d pay good money for this small set; that it is being released completely free gives us ample reason to download with impunity after streaming the set below.

jasonrockcityRisks abound, especially, in taking on the Hip Hop canon as folksong: as noted in our April Fool’s day feature on Gangsta rap, the tendency here is towards irony, a stance seemingly unavoidable when enacting the tensions between often-obscene lyrics and softer, more gentle production and performance choice. And doing so as a debut is essentially unheard of, in that it could too easily categorize the band as, ironically, mere interpreters.

But new folkrock band Jasonrockcity isn’t so much a debuting duo as it is a side project of Woodenhouse Records standby Jason Applin of harder-rocking post-folk indie bands Union Starr and Damn Damn Patriot and experimental-folk singer Debbie Brown. And perhaps this is why the pair transcends these potential pitfalls with aplomb in Gold Digger & Other Hip-Hop Joints of Distinction, an EP due mid-May from Woodenhouse that reconstructs originals from Missy Elliot, N.E.R.D, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Tupac, demonstrating a keen ear towards cohesiveness and a studio sound that is as deliberate as it is successful. The atmospheric tracks that result trade the heavy beats of the originals for pulsing waves of predominantly acoustic sounds, from shimmering guitar chords to summery ukelele notes and ringing glockenspiel bells, authentically shifting the tonality of these songs into heartache and hope by bringing lovingly constructed harmonic layers to songs once sparse and stuttery without a hint of irony. The result is a true homage: alternately playful and fragile, entirely etherial, truly transformative, and totally worth our time.

    Jasonrockcity: California Love (orig. Tupac Shakur)


    Jasonrockcity: Lapdance (orig. N.E.R.D.)



vandaveer1With just three albums and an EP of original work on the market since he began performing in 2006, Mark Charles Heidinger, the core guitarist, arranger, and singer-songwriter behind Washington, DC-based alt-folk project Vandaveer, has already made his name on the ragged leading edge of the modern indiefolk movement. And we trust his ability to handle the old intrinsically, having features his work twice here on the blog: after a hauntingly beautiful 2008 take on Leonard Cohen in Teach For America benefit covers project Before The Goldrush, and a version of Long Black Veil on SpliceToday’s 2009 folk mix The Old Lonesome Sound.

Taking on an entire album of murder ballads is no stretch for Heidinger and co., and Oh, Willie, Please, the album that results, doesn’t disappoint, offering a dark indiefolk survey of the canon, bringing it into the modern with handclaps, banjo, piano and bowed strings much as Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s recent survey into the Childe Ballads found nuance anew in the old songs of the folkstream. Leading single Pretty Polly is an apt indicator, with a driving urgency that builds to breathlessness and ruin; the collection, which drops April 30, promises more of the same, with takes on familiar and obscure songs from Down In The Willow Garden to Poor Edward and Omie Wise; stream the whole thing at Relix, and then pre-order from Vandaveer directly in digital or CD formats.

    Vandaveer: Pretty Polly (trad.)

Bonus Tracks:



rogersFinally, Brooklynite songstress Bess Rogers‘ new cover series Songs Other People Wrote only has one song in it so far, making it a bit early to be able to comment on its cohesiveness or its coverage. But Gin Blossoms cover Found Out About You is a perfect beginning: a song hardly covered yet eminently familiar, reconstructed as a fluid, soaring combination of Americana and contemporary popfolk elements, radio-ready and sure to make a splash. We’re eagerly awaiting next month’s song. And given Bess’ previous forays into the world of coverage on these pages, her sweet duet recording of Everly Brothers classic with frequent touring compatriot Allie Moss last year, and her ongoing work with Ingrid Michaelson and others on tour, we’re sure to love it, too.

    Bess Rogers: Found Out About You (orig. Gin Blossoms)

Bonus Tracks:

    Bess Rogers & Allie Moss: Bye Bye Love (orig The Everly Brothers)



Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk finds and feature sets biweekly on the blog…but our love for coverage doesn’t end here! Like us on Facebook to ensure frequent updates from the intersection of popular song and folk coverage throughout the week – including an incredible take on The Lumineers from an amazing young sister act, and – coming tomorrow – Sarah Blacker’s new and exclusive cover of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy, recorded by yours truly live in concert Friday night!

1 comment » | Bess Rogers, Hannah Read, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Vandaveer

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