Category: Tributes and Cover Compilations


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

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

April 3rd, 2013 — 11:06pm

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

    Robyn Hitchcock: Parasite (orig. Nick Drake)


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




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

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

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

March 31st, 2013 — 5:00pm

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





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

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




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

    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain


    The Chapin Sisters: Love Hurts (live)


    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain (live)




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

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

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


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

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

March 29th, 2013 — 1:01pm

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

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





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

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

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

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


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

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


    Brett Dennen and Milow: Annie’s Song


    My Morning Jacket: Leaving On A Jet Plane



Today’s Bonus Tracks:



Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets twice weekly thanks to readers like you. Donate now to help our ongoing efforts to support the continued existence and viability of folk, roots, and acoustic music and the artists who produce it.

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

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

February 27th, 2013 — 10:55am





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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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



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



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



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


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

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 1:
Tribute Albums and Covers Collections (2012)

December 28th, 2012 — 11:19am




It’s coming on 2013, and for weeks, otherbloggers and tastemakers have been touting their 2012 picks, jostling to be the best and first match for your own preferences, inviting debate over position in the ranks. And once again, here I am, after weeks of archival digging and false starts, late out of the gate and still struggling with the sheer hubris of presenting my own Year In Review.

As I noted last December atop our Best Coverfolk of 2011 feature, my reluctance to pass judgement isn’t a cop-out. I’m a relatively fickle listener, but I’m also the sort of collector who takes more delight in discovery than digs. Our focus on the breadth of music 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. There’s no true hierarchy of artistic output in my disheveled aural infrastructure, just a spectrum of successes and partial successes. (And how does one compare the sublime to the sentimental? The transformation to the faithful revisioning? The sparse to the layered? Coverage comes in as many flavors and subtypes, and each one can be done well.)

As a general policy, then, I eschew the critical lens; our mandate, as we see it, is to tout and expose. While others rank and score, we celebrate and share that which we love as we find it, believing that if it weren’t among the best things you’d hear all year, it wasn’t worth posting in the first place. In that sense, the entirety of our year’s blogging is our recommendations list for the year. To winnow it down feels, on the one hand, like a dismissal of that joy we found in any of it when we found it.


And yet there is method in the madness of the recovery of the recent in the name of hierarchical organization. Just considering a Best Of post provides a useful and productive opportunity to revisit the archives. And though this year was perhaps not quite as generous as the last in some categories of coverage, a generous and precious handful of coverfolk EPs and covers albums have emerged this year; to come back to them before they fade from the memory has its uses.

More significantly, while I abhor the very idea of ranking songs, album-length collections seem easier to rate. Hitting the mark singly, in three minutes or so of song, is itself a hard standard; providing a rich, nuanced journey through multiple tracks without stumbling is nigh impossible. Self-selection becomes the primary criteria, then: in those very rare cases where an entire album of covers comes to us as a success, the end result is well worth repeating at year’s end. And here, the successes are so few and far between, we can count on our fingers the albums which deserve not just our respect, but our awe and appreciation, and our last dollars.

And so today, as the last days of the year wane into history, we bring you our wholly subjective picks: the best folk, roots, indie, and Americana coverfolk albums of 2012, arranged into categories much like those which we would use were we in the habit of ranking. Read, download, follow links to purchase, and then stay tuned later this weekend for an unordered mix of our favorite singletons and one-offs of the year.



The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists): Leonard Cohen: The Bard of Montreal / MOJO Magazine Presents The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered(tie)

The year in multi-genre, multi-artist tribute albums started and ended badly, in our wholly subjective estimation: Chimes of Freedom, Amnesty’s gigantic 4-CD Dylan tribute, offered several duds and but a single disc’s worth of favorites; late-year Fleetwood Mac tributes from MOJO magazine and Starbucks in-house label Hear Music leaned heavily indiepop this year, though we’ll surely see a track from one or the other in our impending “best of” single-shot mixtape, and neither made for full-bore success. But a similarly paired set of tributes to Leonard Cohen – a freebie from Canadian folklabel Herohill, and a March release from MOJO now mostly only available to collectors willing to pay for back issues – were either centrally or exclusively indiefolk albums, as befits a new generation of singer-songwriters heavily influenced by the poetry and melodic genius of the inimitable Canadian bard, and both were so strong, we’ve decided to put them up as a twinned set.

Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman, a little-blogged under-the-radar release from Tompkins Square Records which came to my attention via a reader just last month, deserves second-place recognition for a comprehensively strong set of folk-and-more tracks that reveal surprising nuance from the catalog of a sadly undersung jazzfolk hero of the Cornish circuit with over 30 albums to his name; check it out for slow, dreamy interpretations from Meg Baird, Two Wings, Maddy Prior, William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger, the ubiquitous Lucinda Williams and others who shared his stage. Strong runners-up included the decidedly twangy Nick Lowe tribute Lowe Country, andLong Distance Salvation, a double-disk tribute to Springsteen’s Nebraska, which contains at least a single album’s worth of excellence, and plenty of good besides.



The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist): Rory Block, I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis

Though last year there was strong competition in this category, the reciprocal single-folk-artist tribute was much rarer this year – indeed, as noted below, since the EP category contains but a single entry, we almost abolished it entirely. In part, this is because many of the best one-artist tribute albums of 2012 lean too far away from folk to count: Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s tribute to the Nina Simone songbook, for example, is quite powerful, but far too R&B for a folkblog; indie rock duo The Rosebuds’ same-name 20-year anniversary tribute to Sade album Love Deluxe, while excellent in its own right, is truly a soul album, though it has enough elements of folk to legitimize an honorable mention. Happily, country blues counts as folk on most radio playlists, and on ours. And so despite its own issues of over-consistency, Rory Block’s otherwise excellent Rev. Gary Davis tribute, with its masterfully authentic guitarwork and more than a hint of gospel harmonies, gets the prize by default.

Also problematic, for technical reasons: David Crossland’s tribute to mentor and Kingston Trio co-founder John Stewart remains on the cusp of release as of presstime and thus will likely count as a 2013 contender. And though Love Canon’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 and Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute To The Replacements got plenty of play in my car and my house this year, both get honorable mention but no awards: the former tribute to the songs of my 80′s childhood is hugely fun and eminently sunny but, despite a strong and perfectly earnest take on Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, ultimately lacks depth (and is probably supposed to, given the tongue-in-cheek band name, Tron-parody album cover, the laughter that ends many tracks, and a playlist that includes slyly gleeful bluegrass versions of both Olivia Newton John hit Physical and Devo’sWhip It); similarly, and much less successfully, though the MTV unplugged consistency of the Replacements tribute is fun for a while, the one-take two-uke retread approach wears thin by album’s end, leaving it with little staying power.



The Year’s Best Tribute EP: Hyacinth House, A Tribute to Bob

As above. This foreign-born folk-slash-indierock throwdown – technically recorded over a sequence of years, possibly not released in 2012 in the first place, and impossible to track or label otherwise with any definitive assurance – was the only EP-length reciprocal single-artist tribute we found this year. Luckily, it’s quite good enough to stand on its own.

Honorable mention goes to the four songs of Jurado Covers, which – quite unusually, for an EP-length format – has four different yet equally strong indie singer-songwriters paying tribute to the same artist, in honor of the release of Damien Jurado’s “zenlike” 2012 release Maraqopa. Download it for free at the link below.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist): Barrett Smith and Shannon Whitworth, Bring It On Home

By contrast, we find a huge and varied set of contenders in this category this year, many of which deserve respect and admiration at year’s end, from Pesky J. Nixon’s alternately intimate and raucous living-room-recorded Red Ducks to The Chieftains’ guest-heavy collaboration Voice Of Ages, which made the rounds of many blogs upon release, thanks to guest spots from Bon Iver, The Low Anthem, et al. But if we’re looking for album-length perfection with staying power, three strong contenders shoot to the top of the list: Peter Mulvey’s ancient, raw, ragged The Good Stuff, Rickie Lee Jones’ stunningly hushed and deconstructedThe Devil You Know, which was produced by Ben Harper and sounds like it, and Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith’s amazingly heartfelt Bring It On Home. Of these, the half-acoustic soul, half-folk Bring It On Home gets the nod for top honors by a razor’s edge, because we’re suckers for both masterfully produced layers of stringwork and sweet harmonies here at Cover Lay Down, and this album has got ‘em in spades.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artists): Mason Jar Music and Friends, The Storm Is Passing Over

An incredible eleventh hour collection of songs thematically joined by the narratives of flood and storm evoked by Hurricane Sandy, The Storm Is Passing Over easily leapfrogs over all previous contenders in an otherwise lightly-populated category to make its first appearance here on Cover Lay Down atop our year’s end list, leaving us with nary a runner-up in sight. The predominantly sparse songs lean heavily towards the public domain, of both the traditional and the old-school folk, gospel, and blues canons; though Bela Fleck and Roseanne Cash make an appearance, generally speaking, the artists here, most of whom share a connection to the hard-hit borough of Brooklyn and its strong new folk scene, represent a veritable cross-section of the new folk revival, from Emily Elbert, Michael Daves, and Aoife O’Donovan to Dawn Landes, Abigail Washburn, Piers Faccini, The Gundersen Family and Tift Merritt.

A project like this, with all songs recorded in the last few weeks, could have come off as hastily contrived. But the first-rate artists here, many of whom we have been following for years, come together mightily, bringing a smooth collection of songs that range from tender to triumphant, heavy on the solo singer-songwriter and country blues – which is to say the three samples below are a true indictor; it all sounds this good from start to finish. Bonus points: it’s available on the cheap by name-your-own-donation, with all proceeds going to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, so head over to the website to stream and download now and support both scene and sorrow.



The Year’s Best Covers EP: Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, Old Gold

The short-set challengers in this category for 2012 run an especially broad gamut – so much so that it was tempting to create a hybrid-genre category just for Leftover Cuties and Lake Street Dive, both of which incorporate acoustic, big band, and indie elements in ways that truly defy genre. Other challenges, different in scope but similar in scale, face us with the Deschutes River Recordings series, which at three tracks, seems too light to compete, though each is a gem on its own, and with Laura Cortese‘s five-track Kickstarter Covers album, which, as we noted upon receipt, is technically not available to any but a handful of us who gave to last year’s Poison Oaks project crowdfunding campaign, though we have assurance from Laura herself that a slow track-by-track release over time is perfectly acceptable, allowing for our inclusion of a second track herein.

But although Ahoy!, the late-year half-pint release from newgrass pioneers the Punch Brothers, is an energetic delight of talent and folk hybridization, and although You Gotta Roll, the 5 song all-covers EP from Woody Pines, has a hopped-up ragtime-stringband-meets-rockabilly energy that evokes an era when blues, folk, jazz, and country were still intermingled on dustbowl radio, it’s the sheer warmth of Seattle countryfolk singer-songwriter Zoe Muth’s Old Gold that stands out among near-equals, with sweet, twangy vocals and a heady set of songs from her influences reimagined with richly-arranged abandon making for a true powerhouse of a coverset. Kudos to Signature Sounds, to producer Rob Mitchell, and to Muth herself, for their collaborative work in getting this tiny, precious Americana gem into the world.



The Year’s Best Kidfolk Covers Album: Renee & Jeremy, A Little Love

This was the year I truly fell in love with California singer-songwriter duo Renee & Jeremy; indeed, I’ve probably blogged about their work more times than anyone this year, and who can blame me? A Little Love is a tidy, gleeful gem of modern kindie music, apt and ample for family fare, chock full of soft-yet-infectiously reimagined songs from R.E.M., Coldplay, Queen, Supertramp, and others that celebrate the gift that is the generous and well-lived life.

Two new albums from perennial kidfolk favorite and Smithsonian songstressElizabeth Mitchell tie for second place: both her Grammy-nominated Woody Guthrie covers album Little Seed and her more recent release Blue Clouds are excellent additions to a growing body of work, further cementing her place at the core of the modern kidfolk canon. Bonus points to Jumpin’ Through Hoops, whose Rockin’ to the Fiddle is a tiny, joyous tradfolk set of fiddle tunes and kidfolk classics from Kristen Andreassen and friends which was released too late in 2011 for consideration in last year’s tongue-in-cheek awards.



The Year’s Best Tradfolk Covers Album: Charlie Parr, Keep Your Hands On The Plow

Last year, this category existed almost exclusively to acknowledge the highly-anticipated duo release from Michael Daves and Chris Thile; this year, we keep it in the mix in order to call back to Charlie Parr’s early 2012 treatment of old gospel blues songs, which has had quite solid staying power in our home and our ears as the year has progressed. As we noted way back in January, Parr’s hoarse voice and honest workmanship make for an especially strong and consistent album, sparse and heartfelt, with the right balance of ragged gospel blues harmonies and well-crafted hill-and-holler fiddle and fingerpicking bound to tempt those who find their heart in the modern neo-trad work of Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Low Anthem while still touching a nerve in lovers of the Louvin Brothers, Dave Van Ronk, Leo Kottke, and more.

A strong second-place showing from Portland’s well-respected, internationally-known Foghorn Stringband, whose 21-track 2012 release Outshine The Sun is a perfect exemplar of a classic old-timey sound, lends credence to our category even as their recent forays into Cajun and other broad roots sounds and sources adeptly widen the lens of the traditional. Though the inclusion of songs from Hazel Dickens, the Carter Family, and the Stanley Brothers in the mix of fiddle tunes, pre-WWII country, and early bluegrass technically transcends the limitations of the public domain canon, the unified sound of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, stand-up bass, and vocal harmonies around a single microphone has a warmth and an organic authenticity that is both loving and truly timeless, making the album well worth revisiting here.



The Year’s Best Rereleased Cover or Tribute Album: Lotte Kestner, Extra Covers Collection

We created this category last year as a one-shot in order to feature They Will Have Their Way, a nominally “new” release cobbled from two previous one-shot tribute albums of male and female covers of Neil and Tim Finn songs. But while technically there is some great new coverage in Trespasser’s William co-founder Lotte Kestner’s aptly if unimaginatively titled Extra Covers Collection, the majority of the slowcore collection is forged from the two 2011 EPs we discovered and touted too late to make it into last year’s “best of” feature. Both new and older tracks combine to hold up eminently well as a late night lullaby set, though we continue to wish Kestner, who trends towards covering the obscure, would include more detail in her track listing; the Billy Idol cover below is a retread, while the Gotye cover is, naturally, new, but both remain favorites.



The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album: Rayna Gellert, Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds

A kind of catch-all last year, which allowed for a nod to those albums which lean heavily on coverage, but include enough originals in the mix to knock them out of consideration as “true” covers albums. This year, consideration of such cover-heavy releases allows us to celebrate the work of several artists: a new solo outing from Uncle Earl fiddle-player Rayna Gellert, New York tradfolker Jan Bell’s well-balanced thematic soiree Dream of the Miner’s Child, bluegrass banjo wizard Bill Evans’ In Good Company, a guest-heavy album which includes a delightfully fun 4-song sequence of instrumental Beatles tunes plus coverage of John Martyn and Sarah Siskind, and Canadian crooner Reid Jamieson’s tribute to the songs of winter, which, while it garnered treatment as a covers album upon release in November, truly belongs in this category thanks to three solid original tunes.

Of these, Rayna Gellert’s Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds edges out to the top, if only because of how effectively Gellert packages and presents a perfectly-balanced mix of the traditional and the newly-penned in her triple-threat role as arranger, lead performer, and producer – indeed, the album, which finds the artist shifting from old-timey fiddle tunes to vocal-driven singer-songwriter fare, is so unified in its timelessness, it’s often hard to tell which are the old tunes, and which the new. NPR’s Bob Williams called it “an exquisite slice of Americana”, and we’re inclined to agree, recommending it to the No Depression and indiefolk crowds alike for its morphine-drip drones and atmospheres. And with its strong phrasing, Gellert’s deep alto voice, risen to new-found prominence, reminds us of none so much as Cindy Kallett’s, which is high praise indeed from this long-time fan.



The Year’s Best YouTube Covers Series: ortoPilot, 2012 YouTube Advent Calendar

Finally, our sole new category this year, and one long-overdue, as the trend towards YouTube coverage sets and series seems to reached critical mass a while ago. Old Ideas with New Friends, a previously-blogged early 2012 Vimeo project designed to raise awareness of Leonard Cohen’s then-new release Old Ideas, had a diverse set of tracks but several with staying power, while Antje Dukekot’s monthly six-song-so-far Antje Sings Covers! solo set may lack the rich instrumentation and depth of her nuanced studio albums, but her lighthearted overdubbed takes on favorite songs from Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, The Wailin’ Jennys, and others make for a fine if cutesy introduction to her live performance. But in the end, appropriately enough, it’s the native YouTuber who wins out:ortoPilot’s advent calendars are always stellar, but this year’s is nearly perfect, with masterful predominantly solo guitar-and-voice driven takes on a diverse set of modern pop and indie radio tunes from Seahorses, Kings of Convenience and Foster The People to TLC, Green Day, Stevie Wonder and Smashmouth.

  • ortoPilot: You’ve Got A Friend In Me (orig. Randy Newman) 

 

  • Antje Duvekot: Ford Econoline (orig. Nanci Griffith) 

 


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’ end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of favorite 2012 covers otherwise unblogged.

Thanks, folks. May your days be merry and bright.

4 comments » | Best of 2012, Mixtapes, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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