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Looking Forward: New Coverfolk for 2018
(Laurie MacAllister, Tracy Grammer, Heather Maloney, Low Lily & more!)

January 20th, 2018 — 11:04 pm

One of the great joys and privileges of being a music blogger is the access it grants us to pre-release content, usually via promoters and artists, months or weeks before it can be celebrated officially and out loud. But add this to our increased support of Kickstarter, Pledge Music, and other crowdsourcing platforms where rewards for supporting a pending release often include exclusive early access to that music in hardcopy, download, or stream, and we’ve got a conundrum: sometimes, the best of what we’re listening to can’t be shared yet.

It was hard not to spill the beans on these early 2018 releases before the new year turned over, in other words. But we’re thrilled to be here, today, to tout and celebrate that which has been pleasuring our hearts and ears for weeks. Join us as we foray into a set of new and impending coverage from artists we love, and have shared work from here before.

liespoetsDisclaimer: I once spent a hot, humid Sunday afternoon in a shady folk-festival tent hosting Red Molly co-founder Laurie MacAllister, drinking beer and brainstorming songs for the band to cover on their next album. None of them made the cut, but I’m still pushing for the trio – now gearing up for a Spring tour as the band promotes a set of new Pledgemusic-driven solo works from each member – to take on Marc Cohn’s second album, and some deeper cuts from Patty Griffin’s debut.

But MacAllister gets high honors for her own solo disc, an all-covers affair titled The Lies The Poets Tell, a Pledgemusic reward that arrived mid-December but does not officially drop for another week or two. Sumptuous in its arrangement and instrumentation, it’s high-production contemporary folk, and as such, it takes some songs, like Lucy Kaplansky’s Ten Year Night, a bit farther than I would have thought they needed to be taken – but in the end, every track counts, and that’s a rarity we’re thrilled to welcome. Overall, The Lies The Poets Tell is a gorgeous, intensely intimate translation of favorite songs and deep cuts from a veritable who’s who of the songwriter’s songwriter’s scene, including duets with the late great Jimmy LaFave, Mark Erelli, Ellis Paul, and Richard Shindell on a Richard Shindell song. Look for it in our Best of 2018, and find it as soon as you can.



0012075037_10Tracy Grammer‘s newest record is being touted as her first true-blue solo set, and technically, that’s right, as her ten previous works were either collaborations with Dave Carter, or posthumous recordings of his work. In many ways, it’s also clearly about time: Low Tide, now available and streaming in full at Folk Alley, represents a strong next step for Grammer’s independent voice as a songwriter, with potent songcraft that reflects the tender and stubborn heart that got her here, and a way with words and images that doesn’t so much transcend the legacy of her earlier work as it marks the beginning of a new path to glory. A bold and beautiful collection, the album is equally high-production, thanks to strong Kickstarter support, Signature Sounds stalwart Mark Thayer’s strong hand in play as engineer, and Lorne Entress and Jim Henry as studio sidemen; its single cover, a reinvention of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, is both a perfect fit for the disc, and an essential teaser for a career blooming anew.



a1654650411_16We last saw local hero Heather Maloney on these pages alongside Darlingside, thanks to a split-bill EP that saw them matching wits and voices on Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock and more. The New England native’s newest EP has been listed on Bandcamp for a while, but the tracks just dropped yesterday, and we’re glad: the originals here, including straight-to-single album-opener Let Me Stay, are warm and delightful, with smart, sincere, and sassy lyrics; the closing cover is sparse and straightforward, emotionally rich and acoustically intimate, a coda for something wonderful and new.



unnamed (1)Looking farther ahead is a risk, of sorts – run the buzz out too early, and by the time a record hits, you may have forgotten about it. But although Low Lily’s newest album 10,000 Days Like These won’t hit the streets for a while yet, as Indiegogo supporters, we found the tracks in our mailbag earlier this week, and we’ve had the album on replay every day since, thanks to catchy, complex melodies, lovely harmonies, and some of the best fiddle-and-strum on the folkscene today. As coverhounds, we’re especially excited by two tracks in particular: covers of a Gillian Welch barnburner and a Dire Straits ballad which bring studio prowess and the precision of three masterful multi-instrumentalists to songs we’ve heard before in live session in our very own Unity House Concerts, and would cherish in any venue or medium. Preorder now, and hear the glory for yourself.



a1437275302_16Finally, Cover Me picked one of the earliest tracks off new Mountain Goats curated covers album I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats for it’s honorable mentions list at the end of 2017. But the one-per-podcast, track-by-track trickle-down tribute to Mountain Goats album All Hail West Texas isn’t finished, and the hits keep coming, even as we wait for the album to officially release upon completion in April. It’s been a long time since we heard from Erin McKeown, but this is a great indicator that she’s still got it, with a little more indiepop flair and all the usual swing. Eliza Rickman and Jherek Bischoff’s sharp chamberpop are worth the earworm. Even unfinished, with Carrie Elkin and Andrew Bird still waiting in the wings, the collection is already a strong contender for best mixed-genre tribute album of 2018.



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 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 contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of over 50 well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including the live versions of Low Lily covers mentioned above, and more exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

1 comment » | Dave Carter, Heather Maloney, Red Molly, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Born At The Right Time:
A Cover Lay Down Birthday Mix

January 15th, 2018 — 05:49 pm


baby feet


I was born on Superbowl Sunday 1973, in a hospital just outside Atlanta; apocryphally, the doctor praised my mother for completing her labor just in time for kickoff. It would be another decade before Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law, tying my birth to King’s, and in the process making my birthday weekend a bank holiday, and – as I have become a teacher by trade – a long weekend ripe for pensiveness.

Now I’m 45, and in many ways, I’m still finding my footing. It’s not impostor syndrome – I’m good at what I do, own my faults and habits, and work hard to do it well every day. I teach my students that life is greater with a sense of grown and growing capacity, and a honed-to-instinct sense of how and what to offer in a given situation, and I practice what I preach. But I’ve learned to embrace the moment, too: to watch, and be watchful, knowing that to account for ground conditions quickly, and adapt accordingly, is built on a foundation of trust that there is a place for me in the things to come, so that we can find it, and serve therein.

I’m not a fatalist. I’m not one of those folks that believes in destiny. I’m not sure if I was born for anything, particularly. But I do believe that the world has given me much, and I owe it the best of what I have to give. And it is this sense of grateful obligation, more than anything, that fuels my days and my choices, pushing me towards mindful motion, even on days such as this, when the cold comes, and – for a moment, at least – we have time for reflection.

So come, celebrate with me the possibility of birth and being with this haphazard mix: in honor of Reverend Doctor King, and of my own birth, and of yours, too, in an era where social justice is both needful and named. We were born for this, whatever this is. How wonderful it is to share this path together, today and in the days to come, as we work to build the world anew.





Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 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 contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of over 50 well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2017)
Living room covers, live cuts, in-studio sessions & more!

January 1st, 2018 — 05:29 pm


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By its very nature, the cover celebrates iteration over song. And our Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos collection was originally envisioned as a way to acknowledge that, by celebrating in their “native medium” those performances which truly lose something essential when what we see is separated out from what we hear – an approach which favors live and in-studio performances over produced videographic content, and generally eschews the promotional post-recording “music video”.

How we celebrate this specific source and its coverfolk has come in and out of fashion here at Cover Lay Down, growing from a single category in our Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums features as recently as 2013 to a two-parter, with separate features for our top Coverfolk Video Singles and The best cover sessions, sets, and series, in 2015. This year, any attempt to commodify just “the native ones” is further complicated by the facts that a) we’re much later than usual, and b) despite previous-year concern that stripping the visuals from these multimedia texts potentially undermines their in-the-moment intent, we did it several times this year, most often in service to themed features where the startling-yet-intimate eye-candy atmosphere of a video might interrupt or even overwhelm the tonal focus of the writing itself.

In turn, although we tried to stick to those which stood on their own as audio-only, our trend towards flattening videos into Mp3s seems driven by a prioritization of the personal over the critical here on the blog as life grows ever more complicated, and what was once a twice weekly behemoth has become a less frequent but – we hope – in many ways a more deep ethnographic exploration of the ways in which the folkways influences both artists, and us. But this, too, is not so much a problem as an artifact of what we do, exactly: to live as a coverblogger is, after all, to embody the give-and-take ownership between artist and listener, both on a mass scale and on a very personal one.

Call it an artifact of context over convenience, then. Although a few performances we originally discovered on video (including great cuts from YouTube-to-TV stars Holly Henry and Janet Devlin, frequent-flyer and indie-slash-electrofolk genre-crosser Nataly Dawn, a lovely series of 10 covers of Canadian artists presented in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary by Bailey Pelkman, and a wonderful Outkast cover from vocal popgroup Pentatonix’ departed bass-man, all of whom will appear in our Best Singles Mix) do in the end stand up just fine as audio-only cuts, we still believe that, in the ideal sense, the very design of at least some subsection of the vast array of ‘tube-sourced recordings that populate the sharing sites beg to be experienced in their native medium. For now, anyway, and for this year.

And so – while we finish curating our Best Coverfolk Singles Mixtape of 2017 (which we intend to release soon!), and wait for the last guests to wake up, eat breakfast, and depart from for our annual early-bird New Years party – Cover Lay Down proudly presents our very subjective favorite videographic performances of 2017, an amalgamated mix of 13 favorite singles and coverset selections. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!



The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos, 2017


Kina Grannis: When You Come Back Down (orig. Nickel Creek)

Kina Grannis is welcome and well-celebrated here on Cover Lay Down; she was one of the very first YouTube stars, and one of our first YouTube discoveries. But Grannis has been on fire this year, releasing a mix of sparklingly well-produced single-shot video covers that trend towards the polar ends of coverage, the undone and the redone: this year’s gems include stripped-down recasts of rap and pop tracks such as Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, Jimmy Eat World’s In The Middle, and Khalid’s Young Dumb & Broke, and softer folk and indie sources such as Bob Dylan (Blowin’ In The Wind), Etta James (At Last), and Sting (Fields of Gold), which, although closer in tenderness to the originals, nonetheless leave us breathless. Here, in her final cover of the year, she takes on our favorite Nickel Creek song, joyfully and with eyes half-closed, as always – and we’re glad, indeed, that she knows it, and has the chops to do it so well.


Passenger: A Change Is Gonna Come (orig. Sam Cooke)

The thirteen coversongs that comprised Passenger‘s Sunday Night Sessions – a set of video occasionals, with takes on Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Tracy Chapman, Bill Withers, Don McLean, Joy Division and more, recorded and filmed on location as the artist and his band toured the world – comprise a would-be hands-down favorite this year in our annual look at the single-artist cover series. The songs have since been recast and released as a ten-track streaming-only covers album, and it was mighty tempting, indeed, to include the album in our Best Coverfolk Albums rundown earlier this week – but the site-specific energy of these covers are so potent an addition to their musicality, in the end, we saved them for fuller feature here.


Tallest Man On Earth: Both Sides Now (orig. Joni Mitchell)

The Light in Demos is a pensive and deeply personal acoustic video project after our own heart, produced, written, directed, recorded, shot and edited entirely by Swedish artist Saras Per Kristian Matsson, also known as The Tallest Man on Earth. Eight songs in, the set includes six reworked and unfinished originals which bring new life and resonance to the growing search and songbook of one of our favorite musical explorers, and two covers: A Nick Drake familiarity, and this, “the best song in the world”, performed barefoot and with ringing reverb that brings a layer of stillness and eternity to both song and setting.


Twisted Pine: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (orig. The Beatles)

Announced just last week as recipients of one of Club Passim’s newest Iguana Music Fund grant recipients, Boston-based production-house Red Line Roots’ Old Spruce Sessions are recorded largely in found spaces, in off-stage moments borrowed from touring artists. Unlike their previously-celebrated Locals Cover Locals collections, a Bandcamp-sourced product chock full of predominantly singer-songwriter and small folk duo-and-trio performances, their video series is heavy on the earthy and organic, chock full of bluegrass and old-timey stuff; lo-fi delights worth celebration include a multitude of up-and-coming artists’ originals, Billy Strings’ backstage take on Cocaine Blues, and two Beatles covers: a gentle take on Norwegian Wood filmed in the attic of a rural Vermont town hall, and this tense, terrific wonder from deconstructed bluegrass quartet Twisted Pine, recorded in the fields of this year’s Green River Festival.


Darlingside: 1979 (orig. Smashing Pumpkins)

We’ve shared versions of this cover before. And we’ve loved video of it, too, such as this 2015 Kitchen Sessions performance, which arguably maintains a bit more in-the-moment fast-paced energy. But this one is balanced and pristine – the perfect, grungy-yet-polished final cut we’ve been waiting for since we first heard Darlingside’s arrangement of this Smashing Pumpkins tune raw and barely rehearsed in the fields of Falcon Ridge, where we first discovered the band, perhaps the perfect ambassadors for what well may be the newest branch of folk. Subscribe to Under The Apple Tree for more strong video coverage, too, including a potent full-band posthumous cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ from Robert Vincent, a slow and gorgeous three-part harmony take on Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and a beautiful live take on Dire Straits tune Brothers In Arms from Xander & the Peace Pirates which almost, almost, took the place of the above.


Walk Off The Earth: Shape Of You (orig. Ed Sheeran)

Though they’re more an acoustic rock band than a folk act, the cheerful, playful work of Hawaiian video project Walk Off The Earth, whose work is almost always designed to be seen as much as heard, has thrilled us before – see, for example, their lovely cardboard video for Malvina Reynolds song Little Boxes, which we raved about five years ago, and last year’s sunny version of The Chainsmokers’ Closer. This year, tightly choreographed, highly percussive and energetic performances continued to be the norm, and along with a campfire tribute to Tom Petty, this Ed Sheeran earworm is one of their best. With over twelve million views on YouTube already, you’ve probably heard it before – but it’s catchy, gleeful, and worth hearing again.


Katie Ferrara: Tangerine (orig. Led Zeppelin)

We featured LA busker and bar-singer Katie Ferrara back in July, celebrating her “convertible-top-down folk-pop powerhouse” EP with “a well-produced, subtly sensational, and eminently summery doozy of a Creedence cover” that matched in-studio recording shots with dreamy images and video from a recent flight from Miami. But there’s something lovely and intimate about Ferrara’s new Lemon Cat cover sessions, appropriately filmed against a yellow background, and all from December. Click through for more, including an electric take on Bob Marley’s Turn Your Lights Down Low, and – as if to justify our late entry into the universe of 2017 – her sultry version of Aerosmith’s Crazy.


Jeffrey Foucault: Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (orig. Bob Dylan)

Like a few others on this year’s Best Videos list, we shared this cut first via our Facebook page – in this case, way back in February, along with another of Jeffrey Foucault’s political covers, originally by Danny O’Keefe by way of Chris Smither, which seems to exist only on the etherial social space, and thus confounds our ability to embed it here. But these stark, faceless, sepia-toned videos from the current champion of dustbowl despair ache with angst and anger, offering perfect settings for the songs themselves. They still haunt us, and they should.


Mark Broussard: Sweet Baby James (orig. James Taylor)

A slow-release February-into-March mostly-covers session with his father Ted playing alongside him converted us, instantly, into fans of the soulful Marc Broussard – and sent us scrambling to collect the entire set, including their takes on Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Loggins and Messina classic House at Pooh Corner, and a slam-dunk version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow dedicated to a very special lost soul. Simple yet nuanced, this bluesfolk is bare and bare-bones, as it should be….and should Broussard decide, after all, to record a for-charity children’s lullaby album, we’ll be one of the first in line to help push it into the world.


Rus Reppert: Fly Like An Eagle (orig. Steve Miller)

It’s dark, and cavernous – like the deserted warehouse in which it was filmed – and maybe that’s the point. And it’s a loop cover – which, for the uninitiated, means it’s built live from the ground up, just one man and a solo guitar, and a set of pedals to control it all. For all these reasons and more, this December-filmed, February-released Steve Miller cover from West Virginia songwriter Rus Reppert absolutely, positively belongs here on our Best Videos collection; strip the visuals, and you’d lose both the darkness and the intimate immediacy of it all. Follow the threads, too, to Candyrat Records, which is chock full of utterly stunning live acoustic fingerstyle covers and originals, most without lyrics.


Upstate Rubdown: I’m Looking Through You (orig. The Beatles)

We made some wonderful new discoveries and a host of great memories at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this year, but it was hard not to love Upstate Rubdown, a down-to-earth all-acoustic “big band” from New York’s Hudson Valley region whose music fuses folk, roots, funk, swing, and more, and every performance is a party and a half. We named this video one of our Year’s Best the moment we found it, and we don’t regret the early call one bit.


I’m With Her: Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (orig. Adele)

This bass-and-vox cover from indiefolk supergroup I’m With Her, recorded live on their American Acoustic tour over the summer, was released “on all streaming/downloading apps” as a benefit recording for Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based nonprofit that heals, empowers and employs survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. Switch out the video, though, and you’d miss both the intimacy of the performance, and the way the high, stark contrast of black dresses and blond wood stage reflects this every-note-counts homage to Adele.


The Sea The Sea: I’ll Keep It With Mine (orig. Bob Dylan)

A transformed Dylan tune filmed and recorded live mid-year by way of introduction to old friends (and now married couple) Chuck and Mira’s newly expanded foursome, still playing under the The Sea, The Sea moniker. A tight, controlled percussive sound and lush vocals that nonetheless retain the careful and sparse arrangements typical of their performance. After this fishbowl fantasy – and a lovely tree-side Concert Window session of holiday songs and carols that filled our own living room the night we brought our own tree home – we’re looking to have them back to our Unity House Series as soon as we can find a date.



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 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 blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

Comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Best of 2017, Darlingside, Ed Sheeran, James Taylor, Jeffrey Foucault, Kina Grannis, Passenger, The Sea The Sea, YouTube

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2017)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Compilations & more!

December 28th, 2017 — 11:44 pm





Every year at around this time I take a moment to reconsider: both how we do this, and whether to do it at all.

But although the folkgenres are slippery, and the question of what and what is not folk enough for the blog continues to elude clear delineation, there is still this love inside me: for the way a song recreated can tie together the memory, the culture, the heart, and the mind. It’s like a form of meditation, an approach to wholeness. The urge remains.

And so, here we are, at year’s end again, sifting through a year of that aching in the chest, the surge of joy and gladness, the still moment by the hearth or in the sun, that sudden song on the radio that hits you so hard you have to pull over, panting and sobbing, into the nearest grassy patch, and just feel.

Which is to say: it was a wonderful year for coverage, if not always for blogging it. The soundtrack of our struggles and sorrows, our travels and triumphs, was spiked with hope and beauty, empathy and grace. And coming back to it at year’s end again brings closure, of a sorts, even as it reminds us to keep our love near and dear, and cherish that which has made us, and will make us whole once again, lest it fade into the night, and be lost to the world.

And so we embrace the pensive purpose of Winter by sharing with the world our wholly subjective pleasures, once again carefully curated and celebrated, the better to bring the community closer, and the music more sustainable.

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 Best Of The Year, starting with our very favorite folk, roots, bluegrass and Americana tribute albums and covers compilations of 2017 – with thirty five albums and over fifty songs in all, and all beloved. May your winter, too, be filled with the light of a year gone by.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ The Wailin’ Jennys, Fifteen
+ Mark Erelli, MIXTAPE!

+ The Sumner Brothers, To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf
+ Misner & Smith, Headwaters
+ Travis Knapp, Wintery Mix 2018
+ Ane Brun, Leave Me Breathless
+ Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet
+ Eric Brace, Cartes Postales

It’s nice to see familiar faces atop this year’s solo artist list. Reassuring, too, to recognize that though their sounds are distinctive in every case, all six of the artists whose covers albums lingered longest and – as a consequence -
were loved most here at Cover Lay Down in 2017 define themselves as folk in one way or another.

But after winnowing down past a strong field of honorable mentions, our final solo-artist Best Covers Albums list for 2017 is also notable in that it is representative, in its way, of the two separate threads which intersect here at Cover Lay Down. For in just four albums, we find both the vast breadth and diversity of contemporary folk – itself a mode or subgenre hard to define – and a pitch-perfect spread of the various approaches to considering source material in choosing coverage for the covers album, most especially as an increasingly de rigueur mid-career movement in the artistic community.

Call it a tie for first, then. On the one hand, The Wailin’ Jennys, still at the very peak of their sound fifteen years after their founding (and five since we featured their coverage in full): a deliberately lush, gentle, sweetly arranged trio of voices in tender treatment of well-beloved sadsongs, celebrations, and ballads from Patty Griffin, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and other beloved songwriters of the folk-and-beyond community. On the other, local hero and Americana troubadour Mark Erelli, whose Kickstarter we celebrated a few months ago, wringing raw, almost primal soul from Mixtape, his thirteenth outing, an oddly comforting spread of popular songs from Richard Thompson to Phil Collins rebuilt from the inside out – technically not fully released until mid-January, but easy to preorder, and too amazing to hold back on now. Taken as ethnographic mile markers, they offer a field tender and intimate, triumphant and torn: albums to take us anywhere, and back.

A strong second this year goes to another surprisingly representative pairing from a slightly younger generation which also matches slow and broken with upbeat precision. First, Headwaters, the fifth album from California duo Misner & Smith, and their first covers compilation; a homespun collection that finds Sam and Megan, a pair of actors-turned-folk rock/Americana band, yawing wide as they bring diverse songs and influences from The Talking Heads and Dr. Dog to Gram Parsons and The Lovin’ Spoonful into their own sharp and distinctive harmonic register. Alongside it: Vancouver alt-folk band The Sumner Brothers, whose traded vocals drip with Van Zandt heroin and dust as they meander through a host of slower alt-country songs on To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf, wringing hoarse depth and angst from Springsteen’s ghosts, Warren Zevon’s western saloon town, Hank Williams’ morose guitar, Jolie Holland’s timeless bluesfolk, and more. Both Headwaters and To Elliot are short – just 8 tracks – but cohesive, easily transcending the brevity of the EP format, providing a full and immersive experience for new listeners and long-time fans the respective duos.

And those honorable mentions? Almost too many to mention – it was, in the end, a banner year for coverage. Favorites include wonderful albums from Travis Knapp (whose tenth annual Wintery Mix, released just last week, offers a perfectly imperfect collection of bedroom folk covers of Anais Mitchell, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, Chris Stapleton and more, on piano, banjo, and guitar), Ane Brun (whose Leave Me Breathless does, with a dreamy folkpop vibe that fans will find both comforting and crystal clear), Eric Brace (whose Cartes Postales, released last month on Red Beet Records, is a fun, jazzy, squeezebox-and-clarinet driven croissant of a tribute to the French-language favorites of his father’s generation) and Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne (some of whose slippery country fried rockers, like the hard-edged Nirvana classic Lithium, hardly count as folk, though overall, Not Dark Yet – the first collaboration between these siblings – is a true-blue delight). Ah, such riches.




The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Genevieve Racette, Covers
+ Erin Drews, Caught, Kept
+ Mia Mallet, Chapter One / Chapter Two
+ The Chinworth Brothers, Six Songs
+ RM Hubbert, Recovery (EP1)
+ AJ Lee, Aj Lee

Sometimes, simple is best. Take, for example, Caught, Kept, a precious four-track released way back in February from Minnesotan amateur Erin Drews – a perfect teaser for her full album of originals, released in May – which captured our heart and ears with throaty voice, etherial harmonies, and the gentle strum of the singer-songwriter diamond in the rough. Or Montreal-based Genevieve Racette’s pitch-perfect transformations of Bonnie Raitt and Nirvana, Dylan and The Beatles, hushed and lush, tense and true, with sparse synths over floating indie guitar and sweet, supple voice. Or Parisian songstress Mia Mallet’s two tiny, gorgeous, hollow lo-fi covers EPs, with their ringing piano and airy, layered voices that leave us weak.

If it was, as they say, a very good year for the shortform covers collection, it was thanks primarily to a spate of independent Bandcamp sets like these, from a host of bright rising stars, previously undiscovered. Like The Chinworth Brothers, who turned in a six song powerhouse, split evenly among soaring-yet-earnest traditionals and startlingly non-traditional indiefolk-and-more treatments of Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, and Sashatchewan singer-songwriter Andy Shauf. Or Glaswegian RM Hubbert’s “sincere and melancholic” EP Recovery, a broken, rusted artifact from the anti-folk junkyard which broods its way into our psyche.

In the end, of all these amateur and truly indie tiny loves, it is Racette’s Covers that edges out ever so slightly over the rest – if only for the diversity of sound it packs in so tight a space, and the poise it manages to maintain between pristine and purposeful as it takes on the small canon. But all of these small albums deserve our respect and celebration, nonetheless.

Still, let us not forget, at least in passing, our one exception to the Bandcamp trend this year: young California bluegrass breakthrough AJ Lee’s self-titled EP, an eagerly awaited delight “paying tribute to…the founding voices of [the] California cosmic country sound” via songs by Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Gillian Welch, and Bob Dylan which arrived in hard copy. Tight and highly produced alongside a four-piece band, the songs evoke the rich summery sound of the originals, with perfect Grateful Dead vibe and harmonies on Herb Pedersen’s Wait A Minute the crowning glory of a still-growing career. A rich field, indeed – like folk, and like the songs it brings together.




The Year’s Best Covers Compilation (multiple artists)
+ Burst And Bloom 50
+ Sad! A Barsuk Records Compilation for the ACLU

As has sometimes been the case – see, for example, last year’s Best Of collections, which featured covers albums from Fast Folk, tribute-house American Laundromat Records, and a third iteration of Locals Covering Locals from production house Red Line Roots – digital-only label-driven navel-gazing held sway in the world of mixed-bag covers compilations again this year, a trend which pushes the boundaries of our focus on folk, and on the very concept of album. We say this not to denigrate the category – there’s much to celebrate here – but mainly to warn those lulled into a sense of delicacy by the previous category winners that folk is a wider tent, and the alternative crowd is where the labels often live and breathe great coverage.

Enter exhibit A: Burst and Bloom, a small, independent record label and book publisher based in the increasingly hip seaside town of Portsmouth, NH, which came out of nowhere this year to blow us away. We’ll see more of their loving curatorial work in our Best Tribute Albums below, too, thanks to a 2 CD tribute to Brown Bird. But here, in our compendium of mixed-artist covers albums, it is Burst & Bloom 50, a loving tribute to the label’s own roster in celebration of their fiftieth release, which nets our highest honors, as a stunning, raw gem, with 25 covers, no more than one per original record, comprising a discomforting set which vibrates on the edge of freakfolk, alternative grunge, and other underground sounds associated with but not always squarely under the folktent.

And who cares if we don’t know the originals or recognize most of the original artists? The Burst & Bloom collection serves its purpose, sending us into the back catalog, starting with 2009 release ‘All My Friends Are Right Here With Me’, a CD compilation of fringefolk artists covering songs by the indie-folk collective Tiger Saw, 2012′s Lucky Numbers, a tribute to indie DIY rock and soul legend Viking Moses, who has toured with Jason Molina, Phosphorescent, and Devendra Banhardt, and of course Through The Static and Distance, their marvelous 2015 posthumous tribute to Jason Molina.

Barsuk’s smaller collection Sad!, a glitchy 7 song indie-slash-alt-folk collection spearheaded by Mates of State, David Bazan, Nada Surf, and Maps & Atlases covering fellow labelmates John Vanderslice, Pedro The Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Ra Ra Riot, and more, comes up roses, too – both for its strong musicality, and its unabashedly political bent, arriving as it did on the eve of a new presidential ascension, with all work donated by the artists in solidarity, and all proceeds from the dollar-a-track release going to support the ACLU ” in defense of the civil liberties of all Americans”.




The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Best Troubadour
+ Old Crow Medicine Show, 50 Years of Blonde On Blonde

In a year where long-awaited Dylan tributes from Joan Osborne and Old Crow Medicine Show ran closer to sultry radiopop and R&B and brash twangy roadhouse country rock than folk, respectively, it was hard to figure out whether we should collapse the single artist tribute album category or simply let it go. A sigh of relief and a tip of the hat, then, to indiefolk maverick Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose usually broken voice is surprisingly melodic and aptly troubled on his category-saving Merle Haggard tribute Best Troubador, a May 2017 release which flew under our radar for months before earworming its way in via an unexpected encounter with radioplay late at night on a fleeting local college station.

It’s a thread we’re glad to have pulled. Regular readers may note that we have long had a love-hate relationship with the artist formerly and sometimes also known as Will Oldham, though we did name his last tribute album, a tribute to the Everly Brothers recorded with Dawn McCarthy, atop this same category in 2013. But this collection is redemptive, with guest vocalist A.J. Roach, fiddler Cheyenne Mize, and singer and flautist Nuala Kennedy, and other underground luminaries lending their talents to a fitting tribute to a lost soul whose earnest honesty and iconoclastic outlook have, clearly, deeply influenced Oldham’s approach to music and the universe. The Bonnie “Prince” gets full marks for an especially intimate tribute to both Haggard himself, and to the ache of the country.




The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story
+ A Light I Can Feel: A Tribute To Brown Bird
+ Treasures of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard

The multi-artist tribute album is so often imperfect. Even our favorite homages generally have a weak spot: a track or two to skip as well-intentioned artists and songbooks find their mismatch. The potential for trouble doubles down when artists have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to take on recreation of a seminal album, such as Brandi Carlile’s 2007 release The Story; it triples when it is the original songwriter herself who solicits and curates the album. And surely, it’s pushing our luck to name an album featuring both Pearl Jam and Adele as a folk tribute, let alone our favorite multi-artist tribute of the year.

And yet. Adele performing Brandi Carlile’s Hiding My Heart with nothing but solo acoustic guitar is folk, for sure. The Avett Brothers, the Indigo Girls, Shovels & Rope, Old Crow Medicine Show and Dolly Parton turn in stellar performances. The Secret Sisters are now our new favorite female duo. Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story shouldn’t work, at all, but in the end, the syrup of Kris Kristofferson, the psychedelic jam of Jim James, and the fully typical fuzz of Pearl Jam are anomalies on what is otherwise a strong survey of modern Americana and Roots performance. And Brandi Carlile earns our respect over again, over a decade after we first fell in love with her – and then once again, for using this album to highlight the plight of children in war-torn regions of the world.

A close second, as noted earlier, comes by way of A Light I Can Feel, a tribute from label Burst & Bloom that simply overflows with warm friendship and respect for beloved RI-based folk duo Brown Bird, whose co-founder David Lamb passed from leukemia in 2014. Originally conceived of as a fundraising venue for Lamb’s treatment, the sprawling 32 track tribute was released posthumously in March, with proceeds to benefit others through the Sweet Relief charity organization, and “to continue to share the music of Brown Bird with the world.” Chock full of raw performances, each mesmerizing in its way, the album pulls off what it aims to, and more: a triumph of scale, and a tender homage.

Third place honors go to the predominantly country side of folk represented on Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard – not the first such folk tribute to Mark Heard, but the first in 20 years, which explains just how many newcomers appear on the album. Like previous folk tributes to this undersung, unabashedly Christian singer-songwriter who passed from an on-stage heart attack in 1992 on the cusp of greater glory, this collection offers both Buddy Miller and a mixed bag of good-to-great performances of a songbook cut short, predominantly gathered from Heard’s final three releases, with the worst suffering from a touch of the same overproduction that typified their original contemporary folk radioplay era. Still, with strong coverage by Birds of Chicago, Sean Rowe, Amy Helm, Sierra Hull, Over The Rhine and more, the collection is worth pursuit and ownership.




The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Max Godfrey, Before The Ice Melts
+ Offa Rex, Queen Of Hearts
+ Nathan Lewis Williams, Across The Water
+ Lindsay Straw, The Fairest Flower of Womankind
+ Jayme Stone, Jayme Stone’s Folklife
+ Alathea, His Eye Is On The Sparrow
+ Ranky Tanky, Ranky Tanky

As both the year’s archives and the huge list above anticipate, it was, in many ways, a gold standard year for traditional folk recordings from across the globe, from the Gullah strains of newly-formed jazz-meets-roots quintet Ranky Tanky (featured back in July, in anticipation of its well-celebrated September release) to The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney, collaborating together as Offa Rex, in a faithful but still sweet retro turn on the UK tradfolk canon, as channeled and strained through both the arrangements and the influence of the “genre heavyweights” of 60′s folk and rock revivalists Martin Carthy, Ewan MacColl, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Colin Meloy fave Shirley Collins, and more, with clear echoes of Maddy Prior, June Tabor, and Sandy Denny in the mix thanks to powerful, nuanced vocals from Chaney.

But in the end, if I prefer the polished quietude of the canon, why, here were joys enough for days: delicate, broken balladry selected and arranged to emphasize lyrical gender empowerment by Iguana Fund recipient and local hero Lindsay Straw, whom I very much hope to catch live at this year’s Boston Celtic Music Fest towards the end of January; the soft, almost faerie-found strains of Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams and Caelia Lunniss; Jayme Stone’s next generation Folklife album, a follow-up to his 2015 Lomax project, which sees the bandleader and archive revivalist taking on a wider swath of cultural catechism alongside Moira Smiley of tune-yArDs, Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Felicity Williams of Bahamas, and more luminaries on a musical journey through the Appalachians, the Sea Islands and the Caribbean; Christian folk duo Alathea’s His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a bright, often boisterous crowdsourced collection of hymns noted earlier this month in our first holiday coverfolk feature.

Our surprise frontrunner, though, comes from sifting through precious gems from the amateur set: Max Godfrey’s Before The Ice Melts, which mixes tradsongs (and one Dylan cut, and a 1920s hit later revived by Bessie Smith and others) with new lyrics and a few licks, is truly down to earth, a fine sophomore outing from an artist just now making the traditions his own. Just for fun, and because Godfrey makes them sound so…well, traditional, we’ve shared just the non-trad tracks here; download the rest to see just what that creaky, timeless voice can do with the truly traditional canon.




The Year’s Best Tradfolk EP
+ Thom Ashworth, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

English folksinger and bassist Thom Ashworth is just starting his career, but two small releases this year promise big enough things to make it worth sustaining a category despite a single entry. If the first, January 2017′s 4-track EP Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, is the feature here, it’s only because November’s second release, Hollow – also a 4-track – is a half-and-half, with two originals and two traditional songs arranged by Ashworth himself. Both are worth pursuit, however, and bookmarking, too, as we watch for Ashworth’s continued output with bated breath.




The Year’s Best Half-Covers Album
+ Laura Baird, I Wish I Were A Sparrow
+ Brock Simpson, The Gardener Child: Scots Songs Both New and Traditional
+ Red Molly, One For All & All For One

The two records which top our final folk category this year are similar in many ways: sparse neo-traditionals, perfectly balanced, with little in the way of flourish and a lot in the way of authenticity. Our by-a-hair favorite is Laura Baird’s simple, unadorned tribute to the fiddle-and-banjo tunes of her own Appalachian youth, her first full-length solo outing after years of performing with her sister Meg, and an even-steven six-and-six split of covers and originals that intermingles her own work with the songs of her Great-Grandfathers’ hills so smoothly and successfully, we had to keep the liner notes handy.

Toronto teacher-musician Brock Simpson’s The Gardener Child is a similar but blurrier halfling: simple and elegant solo stuff, framed with but a winsome, sensitive voice and gentle guitar. Here, too, unlabeled tracks had us scurrying to figure out which was which, until we realized that – as with Baird’s delight – what matters most is the sound, and the consistency of sentiment.

Our third-place finisher in the half-covers category couldn’t be more different in its approach to its respective canon, a four-and-two EP with energetic close harmonies familiar and fine recorded and released as part of Red Molly’s swan song crowdsource project, designed to drive the production of solo albums from all three band members. I’ve heard two of three of these albums so far – and am proud to announce that Laurie MacAllister’s delightful contemporary all-covers album The Lies The Poets Tell will be the first album of 2018 to grace these pages in the new year, and may well be our earliest contender for a following-year Best Of award in the history of our nominal countdown. In the meantime, we’ll include a favorite from what well may be Red Molly’s last record, at least for a while, as we bid our own list adieu.




The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Covers Album
+ Various Artists, Don’t Stop Now: A Collection of Covers
+ Love + War, Nine Lives

+ Various Artists, Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie
+ Various Artists, Failed Tribute Bands 2

If you come here for the folk and only the folk, now would be a good time to skip to the last few songs below; we’ve winnowed out the best and folkiest of this year’s mixed-genre covers collections, and if they’re all you want, we won’t hold it against you.

But true cover-lovers know that sometimes the very best tracks come from surprising sources. And so we present our annual coda: four albums which are decidedly NOT folk records, but which provide so much more in the way of breadth and beauty, we just had to mention them.

Our utter tie-for-favorite here is sprawling, indeed: a 37-track collection, released on Inauguration Day 2017 just like the aforementioned Barsuk collection, and – like it – a decidedly politicized collection, pre-emptive and angrier in its way, designed to support the ACLU. But where both Burst & Bloom and Barsuk produced covers albums which were at least nominally folk, Don’t Stop Now is unabashedly mixed-genre, with plenty of potent indiefolk tracks plus retro-alternative rock, post-punk, and hopping, hopeful otherstuff taking on songs from Joy Division to Harry Chapin.

Meanwhile in an unusual turn, a solo artist appears atop the category, at least on paper: Nine Lives, a covers collection from Nashville-based writer-producer team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson, aka love+war. Glitchy electro-soul and grungy folkpop tracks mix oddly well in this covers album, pushing it to the top of the list as a second strange bedfellow. Drowning in tape hiss and lush with click-track reverb, with pitch-perfect guest vocalists like Angel Snow – the very first artist featured here, ten years ago, in our New Artists, Old Songs series – the entire thing, from covers of Prince and Springsteen favorites to hits from Terence Trent D’Arby, Depeche Mode, and The Eurythmics, is a guilty pleasure, with emphasis on pleasure.

Honorable mention? Easily Comin’ Around Records’ lovely lo-fi tribute to the songs of Polaris Prize nominee and art school student Shotgun Jimmie – a mixed bag, but with some solid tracks from familiar North-of-the-border fringefolk standbys like Old Man Luedecke and Woodpigeon, all to raise money for the Dawson City Music Festivals’ Songwriter in Residence Program.
And Failed Tribute Bands Two!, which earns its emphatic punctuation easily: by the time you get to the fifth track, it’s hard to figure that there’s going to be anything approaching folk here…and then, suddenly, Allysen Callery, whose recently completed 12 Days of Covers Soundcloud series is a bonus trove of DIY ghost folk treasures.




Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 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 blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

1 comment » | Allysen Callery, Angel Snow, Best of 2017, Infamous Stringdusters, Mark Erelli, New Artists Old Songs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Red Molly, Shovels & Rope, Sierra Hull, The Wailin' Jennys, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Kickstarter Covers: Mark Erelli’s MIXTAPE
with covers of Don Henley, The Band, and more!

October 7th, 2017 — 09:37 am


Mark-Erelli


Regular readers may recall that we hold a special place in our hearts for Boston-based singer-songwriter and sideman extraordinaire Mark Erelli, who recorded his 2001 album The Memorial Hall Recordings in a stately Civil-War-era edifice in our little town, and returned a decade later to grace us with our own little house concert. Indeed, we’ve written so much about Erelli here at Cover Lay Down since our humble beginnings ten years ago – most recently for his double-dip coverage of Dawes, a posthumous homage to Prince, and his previous covers album, a tribute to folk icon Bill Morrissey – it’s hard to know where to begin again.

But MIXTAPE, Mark’s newest project, now in its final days of a crowdsourced campaign over at Kickstarter, offers the perfect coincidence for our love of both Mark Erelli and the celebration of song and culture through coverage. And so, today, we turn once again to one of our very favorite artists, in the hopes that you, too, might lend your patronage to its release.




mixtapeThough his original recordings are themselves both revered and well-covered by his peers and fans, Mark Erelli’s penchant for covers is well-known in the folkworld. His long-standing and always-worth-checking Mp3 of the Month series, released through his website, has long fed our hunger for great live and lo-fi demo recordings, and currently features a wonderful live take on Roy Orbison’s Crying; his work with bluegrass-tinged collaborative Barnstar! gave us raucous, rollicking takes on Dawes, Josh Ritter, and more. His soft and mostly-solo acoustic lullabies album Innocent When You Dream, recorded originally as a gift for family and friends, is tender and sweet, perfect for the mellow hours with or without children. And we celebrated Milltowns, his 2014 tribute to Bill Morrissey, as a warm, deep, surprisingly poignant tribute to a legendary singer-songwriter featuring multi-instrumentalist and performer-and-interpreter extraordinaire 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 – all artists we’ve featured on these pages before.

MIXTAPE, which will not officially drop until January of 2018, adds something new and exciting to these collected works: a tribute to both that broader, diverse culture that influences us, and to his perennially sold-out Under The Covers concert sessions, hosted at Club Passim in Cambridge by Erelli and a host of famous friends each December for the past 14 years, that have for years offered joyous celebration of the songs and songwriters that have influenced them, their cultural upbringing, and their craft.

Recorded live at Great North Sound Society up in Maine with a small group of friends (and fellow members of Josh Ritter’s band), all indicators suggest that MIXTAPE is a comprehensive fulfillment of the promise of catchy songcraft, tender and gleeful homage, and deft, detailed, delightful musicianship that has come to represent the hallmark of Erelli’s career and coverage. The tracklisting, which includes songs from the Grateful Dead, Phil Collins, Neko Case, Patty Griffin, Arcade Fire, Solomon Burke, and more, is a temptress, indeed; his cover of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, a haunting, soulful studio track released earlier this week over at Cover Me, and the live video of the recording session for The Band classic Ophelia, which you can hear and see below, lend substance to that promise, and fuel our excitement.




Mark’s own words regarding this high-energy take on Ophelia are especially revealing, and fit neatly with both our celebration of the impending collection and of our ongoing exploration of the ethnographic function of coverage as integral to the communality of the folkways:

When I think of how music should ideally sound —soulful, melodic, restrained virtuosity over a serious groove — I keep circling back to The Band. I’m not sure that anyone, anyone, has done music better than this group on its first two records. On this masterpiece from their later years, I wanted to evoke a bit of all those things I love most about playing music. A lofty goal for sure, but Ray Rizzo’s rimshot-heavy groove and the New Orleans bounce in Sam Kassirer’s piano took me most of the way there. That’s Jake Armerding, 14-year veteran of the annual Under The Covers shows and fellow Barnstar! member, tearing it up on the fiddle.

In short, then: we’re eager to hear MIXTAPE in full, especially because the above-mentioned tracks, and all previous indicators, suggest that the Kickstarter campaign – now in its last six days – is not kidding when it refers to the album as a true opportunity to hear Mark Erelli’s potent, inimitable voice unleashed.

But to truly unleash MIXTAPE, Erelli needs our support.

So click on through to the Mark Erelli Made You A MIXTAPE Kickstarter to lend your patronage now, before the clock runs out. Snag a patronage gift, from signed and downloadable copies of the album in your mailbox two whole months before its official release to bonus covertracks, out of print records, bootlegs, concert tickets, cover song recordings of your choice, and more.

And then, while you wait for your album and patronage incentives to arrive – since we’ve shared so many of Mark’s own covers before – click back through a foursome of our previous features on Erelli’s coverage below, the better to anticipate the gift that MIXTAPE represents.


Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 9.12.58 AMBut first, a total bonus: We are thrilled to announce that Mark Erelli will be helping us celebrate Cover Lay Down’s 10th anniversary with a pre-album-release show at our very own Unity House Concerts in Springfield, MA, on December 9, just a week before his 14th annual Passim show with bassman Zachariah Hickman and fiddle player Jake Amerding. We’ll be announcing ticket sales in the next few weeks on our Facebook page, so stay tuned; Mark has promised to use the set as an opportunity to test out some of his newest covers for this year’s Passim sets, so the coverage should be thick on the ground.

As an extra incentive to our readers and fans, all who contribute to Mark Erelli’s MIXTAPE Kickstarter at the $25 level or above will receive an exclusive invitation to an appetizers-and-drinks reception before the show, and a soundboard recording of three carefully-chosen covers from that show, with our grateful thanks for your support of both the artist and his art.



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


Looking for more? Today’s bonus tracks feature a sextet of contemporaries taking on the Mark Erelli songbook.



Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down celebrates ten years on the web this year thanks to the ongoing support of readers like you.

Comment » | House Concerts, Kickstarter Covers, Mark Erelli

New Artists, Old Songs: from bluegrass to indiefolk
with Man About A Horse, The Secret Sisters, Emily Maguire & more!

July 8th, 2017 — 03:01 pm




After a diverse exploration of new coverage from some of our favorite familiar voices earlier this week, our dig through the Spring-into-Summer mailbag continues today with yet another installment in our New Artists, Old Songs discovery series – a broad celebration of new and newfound artists taking on the songs of the ether around them. As always, we offer these by way of introduction, minded that one purpose of cover song is to provide a comfort zone in which to explore the novelty of folk otherwise unheard; our hope here at Cover Lay Down is that the songs and words will tickle and tempt you into pursuing the threads, to uncover and fall in love with the rich and ever-expanding panoply of emergent musicians and songs that continue to challenge and transform, comfort and afflict us all.

So read on for covers of Bright Eyes, Brandi Carlile, Jimmy Cliff, Sting, Pink, Nirvana, Dylan, Jay-Z, Paul Simon, Hall & Oates, the Gullah tradition and more – individually, a series of strong performances from every corner of the roots, Americana, bluegrass, and contemporary and traditional folkworld; collectively, a set that once again lays bare the vastness and variety of the tent that we call folk.

And then, if you can, pick a favorite or three, and use the links we provide to purchase and patronize – so the folkways, and those who create and recreate within them, may be sustained for generations to come.


twlWe start our journey through the newfound today on the folkcorner where high production meets acoustic altrock; listening to this Nirvana cover, it’s hard to believe that Long Beach, California’s This Wild Life is a duo, formed by two “outcast drummers” sprung from the punkworld, but heartening to discover that their tour upgrade package includes “intimate acoustic performance”, and promising to find that tour taking them through a huge set of sites both around North America and beyond, with Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Australia in the upcoming months after sets from LA to DC. Though they’ve played the Warped Tour – a venue not exactly known for folk of any sort – originals from 2016 release Low Tides find easy comparison to cool alternative indiefolk bands like Darlingside and Beirut; what more could you ask for, on a sunny Summer’s day?



ssistersAlabama sibling duo The Secret Sisters recently appeared as one of very few unknowns on an otherwise star-studded song-by-song tribute to Brandi Carlile’s 2007 album The Story, released in May as a benefit for the War Child UK charity with tracks from Dolly Parton, Adele, The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Shovels & Rope, Jim James, and more. Their track was one of the better ones, which says a lot, given that list of luminaries – and so, intrigued, off we went to discover more.

Happily, our timing is good. Tomorrow, real-life sisters Lydia and Laura Rogers, whose harmonies are most often and most easily compared to the Everly Brothers and First Aid Kit for good reason, release their third full-length You Don’t Own Me Anymore, a delightful slice of intimate-to-intense retro-Americana co-produced and with instruments and harmonies by Carlile and her longtime partners Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Though a little digging suggests the pair have already made a name for themselves in the country music world, the disc, which wanders from true-blue band-driven countryfolk to sultry, timeless, tight-yet-gentle backporch harmony tracks with nary a misstep, leaves us with no doubt they can hold their own among the best bombast and balladry of their mostly southern “new folk” compatriots.



emily-maguire-2017Indie English singer-songwriter and poet Emily Maguire played Glastonbury nine years ago, making her one of the most well-known artists we’ve likely ever featured here in our New Artists, Old Songs series. But here on this side of the pond, Emily’s a virtual unknown, and that’s a shame: after four albums of all originals, each one released on her own label with little fanfare, the stunning, dream-to-nightmare slur that she makes of this transformed Sandy Denny classic as a coda to her newly-released fifth – “a striking end to a haunting and sublime album”, according to independent folk-and-beyond music webzine Folk Radio UK, released in tandem with Notes From The North Pole, her second book of poems and soul-searching prose – is enough to make us dig back in time.



james-gillespie-portrait-300x300A slow, pulsing acoustic dreampop take on Top 40 Pink serves as a fine introduction to star-on-the-rise James Gillespie, whose press compares him to Ben Howard but may well fall more on the James Blunt/Justin Bieber side of the popline. No matter: stripped down soul from an acoustic base, echoing britpop vocal mannerisms, thumping handclap backbeat, and ringing electric guitar are this season’s guilty pleasure; though Gillespie is a true newcomer to the musicworld, with but a single original single out there, it’s stripped almost as dark, making prediction of things to come as easy as wanting more.



57716-RTbandPNGWay on the other side of the folktent, where traditions of various sorts meld and mingle, the sultry side of jazz and the Gullah traditions of the American South Island cultures combine marvelously in the work of new-formed roots quintet Ranky Tanky, a stunning South Carolina-educated jazz foursome plus gospel singer combo whose debut album drops in September (ours may well be an exclusive) and who will spend the preceding months on tour everywhere from Edinburgh to Telluride. The self-titled album is chock full of covers of traditional songs, but you’ve never heard ‘em like this before: described aptly by publicity materials as “bringing to light one of the most common but still overlooked forms of American folk music”, the product is bright and boisterous in turns, yet universally sparse and sweet and soulful, with trumpet brass, slow bass and subtle percussion bringing the songs of folk’s childhood forward with masterful maturity and a graceful tenderness.



rubygillLess a cover than a distillation of several songs – from Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Alicia Keys, respectively – performed with little more than lush and layered vocals and a looped acoustic guitar, this fine performance appeared in our mailbox way back in March, thanks to Melbourne-based pop experimentalist and “aspiring redhead” Ruby Gill, whose late-2016 full-length debut Older swarms with catchy, hook-laden noise and heavy beats and nothing folk at all, making both this track and Stockings For Skating, her recent, pensive single about “not wanting to adult today”, somewhat of an anomaly…but welcome ones, nonetheless.



bbcSpeaking of the hippest New York borough: Brooklyn Bluegrass Collective‘s summer of 2016 album is – as the title implies – a second pass at coverage from a loose organization of Brooklyn-based pickers and players determined to share the joys of the rich NYC Bluegrass scene through collaboration. We found them by pulling threads backwards from this delightfully hushed banjo-driven take on Bright Eyes’ alternative-turned-mainstream radio hit First Day Of My Life, which comes off as less simple than you thought, though equally heartfelt, in this new arrangement; continuing the threads back towards Volume 1 reveals homage to much more traditional bluegrass standards from the likes of Jimmy Martin and Larry Sparks, and a more traditional sound, suggesting a trajectory of modern ownership that honors the urban bluegrass movement and its wide influence quite well, indeed.



setadriftPercussive fingerstyle guitarists and singer-songwriters Daryl Kellie and Jon Hart’s late-Winter Pledgemusic campaign to release their recent work together has been either reduplicated or extended past its original deadline, and good thing, too: Set Adrift, the now-available-for-download collaboration which forms the raison d’etre for the campaign, turns out to be very much worth pursuit, for both concept and craft. Recorded over the course of five days on a houseboat on the River Thames, the originals and covers which populate the sessions yaw and pitch softly and gently like the river that spawned them, even as they echo the various British folk traditions which bore them there: this take on Sting’s exploration of place and identity is fun, but it isn’t the strongest cut on the album; head over to Pledgemusic to put your money down, and make their playful, pitch-perfect originals The Lock and High Tide, and their similarly exquisite version of instrumental Cannonball Rag, part of your summer soundtrack now. (Bonus points: this amazing take on Pink Floyd’s Money by Jon Hart is one of my favorite one-take YouTube videos ever.)



maahFinally, Philly bluegrass band Man About A Horse aren’t technically new to this blog; we featured their in-studio Beehive Productions take on traditional track Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms in February as part of our Covered In Tradfolk round-up, though we didn’t say much about the group or its tidal emotional pull at the time. But their self-titled April release is a barnstormer of a full-length debut, an exceptional exemplar of the young grassband genre that rocks with wry, green energy from the very first original track…and takes on Hall and Oates and Radiohead along the way to great effect. Add in a track from their 2015 four-track EP, which also includes a wonderful cover of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, and you can hear why we’re excited to catch them live sometime soon.



Looking for more great music for your Summer soundtrack? Then stay tuned in the days ahead as Cover Lay Down continues its exploration of the modern folkways with a return to Falcon Ridge, our very favorite folkfestival, set to sparkle amidst New York farm country August 4-6, 2017!

Comment » | New Artists Old Songs

(Re)Covered: New Folk From Familiar Faces
Eef Barzelay, Red Molly, Rayna Gellert, The Sea The Sea, and more!

July 2nd, 2017 — 01:54 pm

Yes, folk fans and coverlovers, we’re back in earnest after what has become a typically spare slide into Summer for a deep dig into the mailbox and social media sources that have accumulated over the past few months: a look at the recent work of artists we’ve celebrated here before today, and – later this week – a celebration of newcomers and new-to-us rising stars as they send forth their own coverage into the void.

Read on for new and noteworthy covers of Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Patty Griffin, Spin Doctors, the tradfolk canon, and a swansong performance from the dearly departed Jimmy LaFave. And, as always, if you like what you hear, click through to purchase from and support the musicians we feature, the better to guarantee the continued production and evolution of soul-touching music in a world too-often in need of its transformative power.


eef-barzelay1Regular readers know: we’re huge fans of prolific one-time Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay here at Cover Lay Down, featuring him back in 2011 with a mega-post on the artist’s journey, returning to him often for Best Of The Year mixtape standards from Jane’s Addiction to Elizabeth Cotten, Crowded House, The Shirelles and more. New two-track release Fan Chosen Covers (Songs We Hate), a shorter-than-average chapter an ongoing series of fan-selected favorites, offers a hazy, wistful and weary take on Breakfast At Tiffany’s that represents his best work as a lo-fi interpreter of the soul; the paired Spin Doctors cover takes a little longer to love, but it’s worth it for its playful, pensive rearrangement of a song stripped of its grief and anger.



redmollyFormed in the hills of our very favorite folk festival, Americana/Roots trio Red Molly worked their way from campfire trio to mainstage darlings via crowd support and collaboration, and that includes some from us, too. I once spent a memorable Sunday afternoon with bass-and-vocalist Laurie and fellow one-time mainstage maven Eliot Bronson under a tent with some cold beers, brainstorming songs for what would be the next Red Molly album before rushing towards mainstage for Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s famous closing sing-along. And we’ve hosted Molly Venter and her husband Eben Pariser of Roosevelt Dime in our house concert series; I play Hold It All, the song she brought to the group in her first year, when I need to cry.

Most recently, we’ve contributed via Pledgemusic to the trio’s upcoming swan song set – a final Red Molly EP, and still in-process solo albums from each of the members currently active. And why not? We’re just suckers for fine three part harmonies here at Cover Lay Down – and for great covers, which run through the Red Molly recorded canon as a mighty river. And all pledgers, no matter what level, get the full set and setlist from a never-released two-set Red Molly show recorded right off the Freight & Salvage soundboard. Here’s a strong countrified contender for our 2017 Best Of The Year singles mix from One for All & All for One, that aforementioned EP, where two originals and equally potent covers of Lori McKenna, Cole Porter, and Julie Miller make for a sweet and worthy set overall – plus an older cover from Eben and Molly, just because we love it so.



theseax2Newly-expanded into a foursome for their upcoming tour, folk act The Sea The Sea – who we’ve also hosted in concert twice as a duo – deftly reinvents within the sparse, airy side of modern percussive indie-folk, as heard and shown exquisitely in this live-take springboard cover of Dylan/Nico standard I’ll Keep It With Mine – a wonderful addition to a growing canon of deep, sensitive, sentimental songcraft from the newly-married friends who form the core of the band. Bonus points here for a very old but beloved take on Chris Smither’s No Love Today from Chuck E Costa himself, back in his pre-Mira days, recorded from alongside the soundboard by yours truly as part and parcel of hosting duties; be sure to check their tour schedule, especially if you live and around the CT/MA/NY region, to see how far he’s come with his beloved at his side.

    The Sea The Sea: I’ll Keep It With Mine (orig. Bob Dylan)


    Chuck E Costa: No Love Today (orig. Chris Smither)



raynaOne-time Uncle Earl fiddle-player Rayna Gellert‘s 2012 release Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds stunned us so much, we named it The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album, citing “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” and calling it “so unified in its timelessness, it’s often hard to tell which are the old tunes, and which the new.”

Now after a few appearances here (most recently for a sweet one-take tradfolk video with Kristen Andreassen that featured in this year’s Best Coverfolk Videos), the Appalachian stringband-trained songstress is back with Workin’s Too Hard, a tender-to-tempest seven track album that came out in January and has been sitting happily on our backburner and in rotation ever since. Disc-closer I’m Bound For The Promised Land, one of a pair of traditional numbers on the small but precious collection, is an apt exemplar of both her sound and her old-meets-new sensibility: a barn-burner blur of electric and acoustic strings, supported by a brisk train-chugging brush-and-kickdrum and forefronted by a vocal holler perfect for the prose and presence.



ktferI was disappointed to miss seeing Katie Ferrara in person during our recent trip to California; the newcomer, who we first featured for her delightful cover of Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes in a flavorful mix shared during a spate of popsicle-making last July, busks and bar-hops regularly in and around her native LA, and broadcasts regularly from these venues, offering us an unusually clear and vibrant window into the evolving heart, soul, and work of a singer-songwriter on the rise as she refines her craft. This summer’s addition to her recorded output is a well-produced, subtly sensational, and eminently summery doozy of a Creedence cover, released just this week and easily sustaining our support; to offer yours, hit up a show or the usual social media spaces to download and purchase her convertible-top-down folk-pop powerhouse EP Dream Catcher.

    Katie Ferrara: Hey Tonight (orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival)



jlf-picFinally, in tribute: We first featured Texas/Oklahoma singer-songwriter stalwart Jimmy LaFave way back in January of 2012, celebrating his hoarse and tender way with a Dylan song, the Guthrie legacy, dustbowl peers Joe Ely and Townes Van Zandt, and more. At the time, we named our discovery a revelation “to the historically-grounded poetry and achingly vivid performance of… one of the most respected songwriters and interpreters in his field”; his take on Not Dark Yet, which we’ve reposted below alongside a favorite Jackson Browne cover released since that original round-up, remains in our top ten Dylan covers of all time, and I think you’ll hear why from the very first line.

Jimmy’s passing in May after a particularly short and poignant bout with cancer left behind a legacy of life and leavetaking covered exceptionally well by Lonestar Music Magazine in its most recent issue. His death is punctuated by much love from his peers in the crossover country/folk Red Dirt community and beyond, immeasurable sadness, a final tribute performance encore broadcast live on Facebook by fellow traveler Eliza Gilkyson that chills to the bone, and high hopes for an unusually powerful tribute set at this summer’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, where he was scheduled to headline; we’ll be sure to attend, and hope to see you there, too, in celebration of a live lived well in song and sadness.


    Jimmy LaFave and Friends: Goodnight Irene (orig. Lead Belly)



1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Clem Snide, Jimmy LaFave, Rayna Gellert, Red Molly, The Sea The Sea

(Re)Covered: New Covers from Old Favorites
Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey, Carrie Elkin, Parsonsfield & more!

February 21st, 2017 — 11:31 pm

Our ongoing (Re)Covered series finds us touting new and newly uncovered releases from folk, roots, bluegrass and acoustic artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news and new coverage from raspy crooners Jeffrey Foucault and Peter Mulvey, sweet soul mama Carrie Elkin, a country rock-ified Stray Birds, whispery indiefolk pairing Matt Minigell and Annabelle Lord-Patey, and still-rising stringband Parsonsfield taking on Dylan, Paul Simon, Teenage Fanclub, the Episcopalian hymnal and more!




pmPeter Mulvey has been a mainstay of this blog since its birth, thanks to a fondness for coverage and a tendency to transform rather than merely channel the goods. But in the last several years, his commitment to the political reality that he shares with his fans has grown strong and evident in his practice – the man rides his bike cross-county on tour, and his protest song Take Down This Flag has been adopted, adapted, and added to by hundreds of performers.

New album Are You Listening?, produced by and on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label and due to drop late in March, is a perfect exemplar of the man’s continued prowess as a chronicler of the raw and real. Preorder here, and while you wait for its release, check out Mulvey’s recent EP Lift Every Voice, a perfect, politically-relevant timepiece with the aforementioned anthem at the forefront, released free to all who promise to donate to the social justice cause of their choice.


elkincoverI’ve been holding on to this for a while, and now I’m thrilled to share what well may be the best Paul Simon cover this decade will see: Carrie Elkin‘s haunting, resonant take on American Tune, which simply aches with the pain and hope of an America still yawing into the void. We last saw Elkin in our 2010 couples round-up; seven years later, she and Danny Schmidt have just become first-time parents. The song, a teaser from Elkin’s aching Kickstarter-driven solo album The Penny Collector, named after Elkin’s father, who recently passed, is expected to emerge on March 10, and it’s a stunning set; we’re sure you’ll want to donate now, and help the album come to full fruition as it deserves, on the strength of this little taste.


mattannabelleIn a very real way, Boston-based singer-songwriter and busker Mary Lou Lord serves as a sort of muse to this blog; she’s recommended some wonderful music over the years since I first wrote about her in 2008. Last year, she played our house concert series, and brought along daughter Annabelle Lord-Patey as an opener, who revealed herself as an artist just finding her voice; now, paired with young singer-songwriter Matt Minigell, another Lord find who graced our 2015 Year’s Best mixtape, Annabelle seems to have come into her own, with a tender, rhythmic lo-fi take on Teenage Fanclub that doesn’t just bring me back to my own moody adolescence – it helps me celebrate and make my peace with it. Kudos to the next generation, and thanks, Mary Lou, for continuing to bring it forth into the world.


parsSomewhere in the shuffle of the holiday season we missed an eleventh-hour Christmas three-fer from Parsonsfield (previously Poor Old Shine), recorded live in our hometown stomping grounds and sent as a free exclusive to all “inbox sessions” subscribers by the potent, barnburning old-timey-meets-The-Band fivesome from just down the road apiece, who we first fell in love with in the aisles of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. I’ve always thought a certain Joni Mitchell setting deserved year-round consideration; here’s the boys to prove River can last long past December.


stray-birdsWe first took note of The Stray Birds when they were coming up on Falcon Ridge, too. Here’s the string-trio-and-then-some on this past year’s Decoration Day Sampler from Brooklyn-and-Nashville-based production house Mason Jar Music – an annual compilation which usually serves as frequent flyer in our year’s end round-up – with a take on Dylan that boasts an apt slipperiness in the voice and a funky, chunky arrangement: pitch-perfect folkband folk sure to thrill those who love the country comfort of Gillian Welch, Gram Parsons, Old Crow Medicine Show and more.



Jeffrey Foucault‘s been featured here several times before: as a solo artist early in our incarnation; later as a songsmith and collaborator with Mulvey and now-spouse Kris Delmhorst. But his recent video covers are perfect, precise carriers of his craft: close your eyes, and you can still hear the rugged face bobbing in and out of the frame; the wringing, nuanced movement of body, hands and guitar barely contained by the margins of song and solace; the soothing sepia wash that ages the soul. No Depression recently named him one of six Roots Artists On The Verge, but as far as we’re concerned, Foucault is already a master, dusty with the roads of a thousand miles and more.






Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been making noise about music since 2007 thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Click here to help fund the continued promotion of authenticity and craft through coverage, and get our very own super-secret covers mix as our thanks!

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Jeffrey Foucault, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey

Arise! Arise!
Coversongs for change on the edge of a new era

January 21st, 2017 — 02:28 pm



Vermont folk artists come together for a performance of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land


My students were more restless than usual yesterday. And though it’s tempting to conflate their behavior with the unrest and uncertainty that has surrounded President Trump’s ascension, and the ending of an era for another, more humble President, one that looked more like them than ever before, I know better. In the inner city, students spend what little energy and attention they can muster on the lowest tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; end-of-term hopelessness, mingled with the daily grind of poverty and impossibility, is enough to explain their malaise, and empathize with it enough to double down on the markers of care and comfort I work to bring to my daily practice with each of them, and with all.

It’s a volatile time in America. Yesterday’s destructive attacks on the symbols of high capitalism kept me up late; last week’s cabinet hearings did, too. Our discourse is fragmented, and too often tinged with anger, even as, across the globe, we raise our voices in hopeful determination, even as we worry that only we are listening to ourselves.

I’m not marching today; though we had originally hoped to make it to Boston, family illness, kids far behind in their coursework, and end of term grading weigh heavily on the mind and soul. We are not ashamed, for living out loud in America proudly and well is as important as protest, in the end. But we are tracking, carefully, those who are: in Washington, Boston, New York; in smaller communities across the nation. Their smiles and pink hats fill our Facebook feed; their joy and purpose flowing like a mighty river in video posts and status updates as they converge on the centers of their communities, and raise their signs.

Our spirit is lifted as America unfolds before us. There is hope here, the candlefire of the determined spirit magnified a millionfold as the power of the people, gathered together, burns bright.

There’s new songs on the backburner, an undiscovered coverfolk country on the horizon. But today, we put aside the new and novel to embrace history in our midst with a soundtrack of sorts, with songs determined and patriotic, melancholy and uplifting in equal measure.

May those who march today find their journey light, their voices heard, their stamina great and their conviction strong. May love prevail across this great land we love.




The Avett Brothers take on George Harrison’s Give Me Love



Ad-free and artist-centric since 2007, Cover Lay Down thrives thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part: listen, love, share, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking. And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, we hope you’ll consider a new year’s contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of alternate favorites and rare covers from 2015 and 2016. Click here to give…and thanks.

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Wintersongs: A Cover Lay Down Mix

January 7th, 2017 — 02:03 pm


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


If the holidays are over, then so is our respite from the day-to-day of work and school. No longer does the cold and snow bring hopes of friends and good cheer; instead, it drives us inwards: to our minds and our houses, the detritus still lingering after the burning of the old year.

We were going to see my father in Boston today, but the snow is coming: as much as a foot, out where he is. Here in the rural middle of the state we’re on the edge of the storm, looking at a shut-in day by the pellet stove, writing lesson plans and playing charades with the family while the blizzard whirls outside the window.

A day by the fire, then. And appropriately so, for it’s the time of year where we hunker down, huddling against the cold.

We’ve shared several relevant coversets over the years: on snow itself, and on the nondenominational seasonal songs so easily showcased among the holiday, thanks to a resonance with the hopeful spirit of the season.

But there are also wintersongs that are quiet, still, notes and voices resonating hollow against the shimmery white world, their voices soaring into empty, grey skies. In which each new day adds but a minute of daylight, not fast enough to slow the pace of deep introspection. In which Spring is present at a distance: a dubious promise, made muffled by the snow.

Themes of withdrawal and stillness typify the songs of this, the second season of winter. The longing for light we hear in these sounds is less golden, less joyful; more wistful, more weary. There is comfort, here, of a sorts, knowing that such states are temporary. But it is one that we must bring, ourselves, to complete the emotive loop.


Wintersongs: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]



Ad-free and artist-centric since 2007, Cover Lay Down continues to thrive thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part: listen, love, share, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking. And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, we hope you’ll consider a new year’s contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of alternate favorites and rare covers from 2015 and 2016. Click here to give…and thanks.

1 comment » | Mixtapes

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