Search results for ‘dylan’
The pretty, melodic, harmony-and-lyric-driven music that so often typifies the coffeehouse set permeates our love for the folkworld here at Cover Lay Down. But exploring the margins has its benefits, too. Indeed, one of the things I love about folk is its broad diversity: no matter what mood you desire, no matter what purpose you need music to serve in your ears and your soul, folk has something for you, if you’re willing to listen.
And so I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient folk music these past few weeks – a perfect pairing for an unsettled world, where inner city teaching and my children’s ongoing health struggles keep me ever on the edge of adrenalin exhaustion. And as I shift through the various twigs and brambles of this often obscure acre, one voice keeps rising to the surface: that of Marissa Nadler, who has carved out a niche all her own, one that is definitive and daring, potent and achingly beautiful.
Although born, raised, and still based in the Boston area, Marissa Nadler is more usually associated with the hipstery dreampop and indiefolk worlds than the Boston singer-songwriter crowd. Her third major studio release Songs III: Bird on the Water won her recognition as “Outstanding Singer-Songwriter of the Year” at the 2008 Boston Music Awards, beating out a young Josh Ritter two years after Paste named him one of their 100 greatest living songwriters, but label-sharing with Jose Gonzalez, Father John Misty, and David Lynch, and garnering award nominations and accolades alongside Iron and Wine, Andrew Bird, St. Vincent, and others from the soft, experimental fringes of the new folk, gives stronger evidence for her placement in the spectrum that has come to define folk in the 21st Century.
Like so many of her experimental brethren, Nadler is an artist first and foremost, formally trained in obscure illustration styles, bookbinding, and encaustic painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, and still keeper of an ongoing store of oddities at do-it-yourself site Etsy; seemingly, the same love of the old and the weird has led to refinement and redefinition as her career has evolved. Although most of her earlier work in the musical realm centers around sparse guitar and voice, adorned only slightly by lo-fi outsider accompaniment from New England experimentalists like cellist Helena Espvall, her sound on Little Hells, which followed Birds III, and was rated highly by the Pitchfork and Paste crowd, represented an expansion of sound beyond the freak-folk into something which pitched and yawed from dreampop and back again through the use of sustained organ and harmonium, circular drumming, and other production techniques that simultaneously amplified, clarified, and bloodied the gauze of her core sound.
New album Strangers – Nadler’s sixth, which dropped yesterday – continues this expansion, offering a richer, lusher mix than usual, with decidedly electronic synths and beats that lift Nadler’s etherial voice, lending it a sense of urgency heretofore unheard. But nothing can obscure the essential, delicate beauty that Marissa Nadler brings to her craft. Like her previous collections, the result is haunting and dreamy, primitive and echoey, a full set of expansive meditations built on her perennial, pensive sentimentality, the bassline drone that typifies her self-taught syncopated style on the strings, and that delicate, airy voice that slides through the staff like a bird gliding on the wing.
Although first and foremost a singer-songwriter attuned to every aspect of creation, in keeping with the way that her visual work calls back to older forms, Nadler has also peppered her career with coverage, digging into songs that reveal a broad range of genre influence.
A single Leonard Cohen favorite appears on Songs III, but more usually, a tendency to keep these covers separate from her originals has made many of them rarer: Nadler self-released two full covers collections via Etsy in 2010 and 2011, but both are out of print; she has appeared regularly on some of our favorite multi-artist tributes over the past decade, taking on the songs of Odetta, Judee Sill, Radiohead and Jason Molina alongside other fringe and freakfolk luminaries, but many of her older covers are from albums and demo collections which are also obscure.
These covers are sublime nonetheless, making year’s end lists at the usual indieblogs, and showing up in various Cover Lay Down songbook features through the years. From early and mid-career reinventions of Cohen, Neil Young, Springsteen and Duran Duran to more recent underground releases of new, narcotized takes on Danzig and Black Sabbath, Elliott Smith and Father John Misty, they reveal new depths in songs both heard and unfamiliar.
And the covers just keep coming, in the form of slow, spooky Halloween-release Soundcloud singletons and website exclusives that dredge Nadler’s personal demos and living room archives and drag them into a bleary, intimate light. Taken together, as a set, our favorite 21 covertracks offer a strong introduction to both Nadler herself, and the ambient folk tributary she represents, where the world is often hazy and unsettling, but the future is bright indeed.
Marissa Nadler Covers [zip!]
- Marissa Nadler: Ordinary World (orig. Duran Duran)
- Marissa Nadler: Devil Town (orig. Daniel Johnston) 
- Marissa Nadler and Angel Olsen: My Dreams Have Withered And Died (orig. Richard and Linda Thompson) 
- Marissa Nadler: The River (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
- Marissa Nadler: Farewell Angelina (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Marissa Nadler: Our Mother The Mountain (orig. Townes Van Zandt)
- Marissa Nadler: Cactus Tree (orig. Joni Mitchell) 
- Marissa Nadler: Clowne Towne (orig. Xiu Xiu)
- Marissa Nadler: Cortez The Killer (orig. Neil Young) 
Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song thanks to the kindness of patrons like you.
New Artists, Old Songs: Rising Stars Reinterpret
March 5th, 2016 — 09:16 pm
Randy Newman, Sia, Soft Cell, Adele, The Magnetic Fields & more!
The virtual mailbag bursts at the digital seams with new submissions, and some of it is quite good, indeed. Today, we return to a perennial conceit to frame the festivities, celebrating new, newfound and still-emerging artists from Dublin to Nashville as they pay homage to their roots, their peers, and the popular. Enjoy – and as always, follow links to purchase and pursue your favorites, the better to patronize the arts, and support the folkways.
LA singer-songwriter Mike Benecke may have gotten his start touring with punk and indie bands, but as press comparisons to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Alexi Murdoch after the release of his 2012 self-titled EP suggest, his solo work strips away the grunge and grime, revealing a beautiful, slow, intimate and rich dreamfolk, with sparse clear-as-a-bell layers of smooth, haunting bass, keys, and pedal steel gently supporting an acoustic core of fingerpicked, resonant strings and an honest hoarseness in the voice that aches like wolves in the near distance. This Randy Newman cover, an outtake from brand new debut LP Call The Waves, is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, and it’s a hell of a teaser: an apt, quiet echo of an early urban morning that carries the song exquisitely.
Indie artists Lucy & La Mer caught our attention with their equally dreamy, pulsing take on Soft Cell classic Tainted Love, the sole cover from sweet folk pop EP Little Spoon, a uke-and-synth-driven collection flush and twee with bells, horns, and fingersnaps and lightly bouncy, wryly honest melody lines and lyrics just aching for a happy indie film montage. The black and white body-positive burlesque-troupe video they’ve just released to promote the song offers a response to recent sexual harassment issues in the music media; like the music itself, it’s decidedly steamy with a satirical bite, simultaneously discomforting and dear.
I keep meaning to get to a Single Song Sunday feature for Magnetic Fields classic The Book Of Love, which we’ve featured in several incarnations here on the blog since our inception in 2007. As a closer for Dubliner Gavin James‘ debut Bitter Pill – an otherwise haunting solo pop album that invites easy comparison to James Blunt and Ed Sheeran, due to drop on Tuesday – the song offers a soaring, echoing muse on the nature of love itself from an artist already filling clubs and halls on both sides of the proverbial pond, and surely on the cusp of something even bigger.
I imagine discovering Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was a bit like this: the gentle rise and fall, the etherial voices, the subtle harmonies, the purity of sound and sadness, the precision of tone, and the tiniest hint of primitive blues drone underneath it all bringing deep solace to the soul. Such is Beyond The Rain, the first major label album from duo Quiles & Cloud, produced by Grammy-winning banjo player and artist Allison Brown on the strength of two fan-funded releases, four years on tour in a VW hatchback, and the most stunning arrangements of the canon I’ve heard yet this year: an album of endless reward that will still leave you yearning for more.
Decidedly young NYC folkpop four-piece Morningsiders hasn’t even finished recording their own debut, but they’re already rising fast on the strength of a single single after it appeared in the pilot for new Amy Poehler Hulu vehicle Difficult People and subsequently rocketed to the top of the Spotify charts. This living room Sia cover that follows it is raw and resonant, a band still facing inward as it defines its sound; it’s also a true blue delight, transforming a pop original into something gentle and comforting, intimately performed with fiddle, stand-up bass, guitar and harmonies around a single microphone.
Morningsiders: Reaper (orig. Sia) 
Mandolin and bass “gutter-folk” duo Driftwood Soldier hasn’t just covered folk standard John Henry, they’ve translated it into the modern age, reframing the song as a commentary on racist corporate greed, and the titular larger-than-life character as a wage slave scion of the modern white-collar world. The chunky, funky sound they adopt here echoes that of last year’s debut Scavenger’s Joy, a wonderfully bouncy, grungy, organic collection chock full of growled vocals, howling slackstrings, and percussive found materials (including coffee cans and suitcases) that evokes both history and reinvention, with hints of early Deadhead experimentation, Leon Russell’s soul, the field recordings of Robert Johnson and Lead Belly, and the sparse, harsh deconstruction of Morphine.
Driftwood Soldier: John Henry (trad.) 
Twenty-something L.A. Edwards comes to us thanks to our recent double-feature on Tom Petty; the young Californian songwriter is a protege of Heartbreaker Ron Blair, and his manager made the connection and sent along this cover. We’re grateful, too: L.A. (aka Luke Andrew) was raised on Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Cat Stevens, but after years on the road with his brother as a duo after dropping out of high school at 15, his most recent output – as heard in this and other tracks from his recent live YouTube series The El Nino Sessions, and in this stunning four-part Soundcloud collection – is encore-ready folk rock with just the right hint of alt-country, rich in high-baritone-and-tenor harmonies and spare in all other ways, like a perfect next-generation combination of Ryan Adams, Simon & Garfunkel, and Petty himself.
L.A. Edwards: If I Needed You (orig. Townes Van Zandt) 
Adele covers are going to be big this year, for sure. But singer-songwriter Ryan Larkins, who placed third on CMT show Can You Duet in 2009, offers something special: a relatively faithful solo cover of a deep cut from her newest album that demonstrates crystal clear vocals and guitar skill and, in doing so, shows just how easily Adele’s heartache translates across gender lines. Pair it with a gorgeously hushed, soulful, slide-and-pick take on old gospel hymnal standard Pass Me Not played on an old 60′s Silvertone flat top guitar, note that this pair of covers represents a single week’s output for the Nashville-based Christian acoustic folk-rocker, and keep an eye out for more from this incredible, incredibly versatile still-rising star.
Ryan Larkins: Million Years Ago (orig. Adele) 
Ryan Larkins: Pass Me Not (orig. Fanny Crosby) 
Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down delves deep into the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.
The skies are dry, but thanks to the magic of modern storm-tracking technology, it’s another snow day here in rural New England, where a midday snowfall can leave you stranded halfway up the mountain pass between work and home. And thank goodness for that, because although the kids are surely old enough to scavenge and survive for a few hours without a parent in the house, their mother’s been away at class all weekend, and she isn’t expected home until Tuesday.
The kidfolk posts that once peppered the blog are long gone; the lullabies we share here are rarer, and flavored with nostalgia. The wee one grows tall and thin and independent; the elderchild has a boyfriend, who grins and wears his hair in a ponytail, like I did in college. We leave them home alone together on Thursday nights, and have dinner out, just the two of us, before choir rehearsal.
Today, we will play together: on the sledding hill, and the Shopkins board game we worked on all weekend, and finished yesterday. This afternoon we might make meatloaf again, or omelettes, or something else that Daddy isn’t supposed to know how to make. Tomorrow, with their mother still gone, they’ll walk together to the library after school, and wait for me to pick them up. And if it hurts one or both to do it, they will have each other to lean on, and themselves.
And one day, soon and very soon…they will move on, and out, and farther still, to the stars.
I miss the small, tireless children they once were, and I always will, I think. But even as development brings joy in shared complexity, there are some things that do not fade as our children get older: the grace and gratefulness of the unexpected moment together, precious and rare; the sheer delight of shared laughter; the comfort of holding each other tight, in the midst of pain and bittersweet memory.
And as these, and more, take their place in our hearts, there is pride and connection to be found in the deep maturation of these children into these willowy almost-women. I admire them, and that admiration and love grows fiercer every day. And here in front of the fire, snuggled close against them, I ache for the passage of time, too.
Because we are human, and we can do both. And must, if we are to survive intact.
A simple set today, then, of songs for the young folks, yours, mine, and ours. May they stay forever young in our hearts, and theirs, as they wend their way through the universe with wisdom, grace, and gravity.
- Taken By Trees: Sweet Child O’ Mine (orig. Guns ‘n Roses) 
- The Hemlock Gorge Boys: Sweet Child O’ Mine (ibid.) 
Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.
The Folkier Side of Ed Sheeran
January 18th, 2016 — 01:28 pm
(covers of tradfolk, Dylan, Nina Simone, Elton John, Jay Z and more!)
If you’ve heard pop radio in the last few years, you’ve certainly heard Ed Sheeran. At just 24, the boyish songwriter who learned to love Dylan, Clapton, and Van Morrison as he traveled into London in the family van on weekends is already a multi-platinum-seller, nominated for Best New Song and Best New Album Grammys in subsequent years; he’s sold out Madison Square Garden, and performed at the closing ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics.
Sure, he’s written for One Direction and Taylor Swift, and performed with Elton John. He cites Eminem and British folk/hip-hop duo Nizlopi as influences alongside The Beatles and Damien Rice. His second EP featured a set of pairings with artists from the grime genre, showing an early penchant for exploration and collaboration.
But listened to with the folk ear, especially in his frequent live in-studio performances on the BBC and elsewhere, Sheeran comes off as a modern-day Tracy Chapman, slippery and soulful, albeit with a hint of youthful exuberance and bounce. Fluid strum and pick patterns typify his solo work, with lusty yet tender vocals that fade in and out of song. The boy simply exudes authenticity, humility, and generosity, in persona and in song, as he works to tap into the universal sentiments of his world.
Whether he’s taking on the traditional folk canon, fellow folk artists from Dylan to Bon Iver, or just stripping down popular songs such as Hit Me Baby One More Time or We Found Love, both of which we’ve heard covered in folk here before, Sheeran brings boyish charm and a playful reverence to the lyrics and songs of others, exposing a mature sense of his own influence, and of the culture of music that surrounds him. And his talent for interpretation is facile and quick: his creative transformation of Lorde’s Royals, for example, was learned in 2 and a half minutes while the original played in the studio, and recorded immediately afterwards, live and on-air; the layered, looped beatbox takes on Wayfaring Stranger and Nina Simone’s Be My Husband in today’s set were captured live, in one take.
Sheeran’s rich, gentle take on Elton John’s Candle In The Wind, released in 2013 as part of an album of covers honoring the 40th anniversary of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, echoes the best of the California folk rock movement of the seventies. And although only two cover songs appear on his own records – the a capella version of traditional Irish folksong The Parting Glass which appears as a hidden track on his debut full-length, and the gentle solo piano-driven version of Planxty’s The West Coast Of Clare that caps off 2007 self-released EP Want Some – there’s literally dozens of intimate, eminently listenable covers out there. Here’s our favorites, from traditional to modern; download them all in one set, or listen independently below.
- Ed Sheeran: Wayfaring Stranger (trad.)
- Ed Sheeran: Wild Mountain Thyme (trad.)
- Ed Sheeran: The Parting Glass (trad.)
- Ed Sheeran: The West Coast Of Clare (orig. Planxty)
- Ed Sheeran: Don’t Think Twice (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Ed Sheeran: Masters Of War (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Ed Sheeran: Make You Feel My Love (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Ed Sheeran: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)
- Ed Sheeran: Candle In The Wind (orig. Elton John)
- Ed Sheeran: Be My Husband (orig. Nina Simone)
- Ed Sheeran: Ain’t No Sunshine (orig. Bill Withers)
- Ed Sheeran: In My Life (orig. The Beatles)
- Ed Sheeran: Wish You Were Here (orig. Pink Floyd)
- Ed Sheeran: Empire State Of Mind (orig. Jay Z)
- Ed Sheeran: Royals (orig. Lorde)
- Ed Sheeran: Wonderwall (orig. Oasis)
- Ed Sheeran: Someone Like You (orig. Adele)
- Ed Sheeran: We Found Love (orig. Rihanna)
- Ed Sheeran: Dirrty (orig. Christian Aguilera)
- Ed Sheeran: Hit Me Baby One More Time (orig. Britney Spears)
- Ed Sheeran ft. Gary Lightbody: Chasing Cars (orig. Snow Patrol)
- Ed Sheeran and Passenger: No Diggity / Thrift Shop (orig. Blackstreet / Macklemore & Ryan Lewis)
Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged folk covers from 2014-2015!
Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield, featuring well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.
Our 2015-2016 series features a diverse set of artists, including past shows with The Sea The Sea, Mary Lou Lord, Matt Nakoa and The Mike + Ruthy Band, upcoming shows with The Western Den (February 13) and Joe Jencks (March 19)…and our very first show of the year, on January 16, with introspective singer-songwriter Antje Duvekot.
If you want to truly appreciate Antje Duvekot, then be prepared to put aside everything to listen. Her songcraft is searing, her performance honest, graceful, and divine. And although her recorded output is relatively slight, with just three studio albums to her name, it is pitch-perfect and precise: every song matters, and each is a gem.
If her songs sound therapeutic, that’s because they are. Duvekot comes by her sorrow honestly, having been kicked out of her family at 19 for recording her own folk songs against their wishes. But where others might have given up, the German-born, Boston-resident artist only dug deeper, channeling pain into the music. Today, at 40, she is a master craftsperson of fearless, primarily first-person narratives, simultaneously intimate and existential, that speak of deeply personal journeys through growth, risk and courage. And she plays them perfectly, in subtle settings that shape every moment effortlessly towards the heart, with a whispery, sensual voice and graceful fingers on piano and guitar.
For all this and more, Duvekot is well respected by her peers and fans, both in and beyond the boundaries of folk. She took the grand prize in the rock category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2000, six long years before her debut studio album Big Dream Boulevard won her both #1 on the folk charts and Kerrville’s coveted New Folk competition. She’s played across the US and Europe, headlining at Mountain Stage, Kerrville, and the Newport Folk Fest, The Celtic Connections Festival in Scotland and the Tonder Festival in Denmark. Five of her songs have been recorded by the Irish-American band Solas, with whom she has also toured and performed; her two more recent studio albums were produced by Richard Shindell, lion of the Fast Folk singer-songwriter movement, and feature performances from Shindell, John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky, and Mark Erelli.
Which is to say: Antje Duvekot is a stunning songwriter and a potent performer, and people know it; you should, too. And happily for us, although none of it is studio-born, there’s plenty of coverage to love in her canon, too – including a solo all-covers YouTube sequence from 2012 featuring stunningly sweet takes on Paul Simon, Jason Mraz, Hank Williams, and more, and Undercover with Antje, a YouTube series featuring collaborations with a strong set of fellow coffeehouse travelers, including Red Molly siren Molly Ventner, fellow Winterbloom seasonal collaborative member Meg Hutchinson, young pianofolk singer-songwriter sensation Seth Glier, and more luminaries from the Boston scene and beyond.
Add in Esther Golton’s dulcimer-driven version of of Antje’s tune Reasonland, and a handful more from our featured artist – most notably a take on Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’ that singlehandedly reminds us just why we celebrate her performance – and you’ve got a set that’s got us aching for Saturday. Check out the videos and songs below, dig deep into her albums at her website or skim the surface with her Noisetrade sampler The Best Of…So Far, then catch Antje Duvekot at a venue near you.
- Antje Duvekot: You’re Gonna make Me Lonesome When You Go (orig. Bob Dylan) 
Antje Duvekot: Famous Blue Raincoat (orig. Leonard Cohen)
- Antje Duvekot: Kathy’s Song (orig. Paul Simon)
- Antje Duvekot: Deportee (orig. Woody Guthrie)
- Antje Duvekot w/ Sara Milonovich: Sounds Of Silence (orig. Simon & Garfunkel)
- Antje Duvekot and Meg Hutchinson: The Gypsy Life (orig. John Gorka)
Non-profit and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down posts regular features on artists and songwriters as part of its continuing mission to ply the experience of coverage as a comfortable space for discovery. As always, we encourage you to click through to hear more from and about the artists we feature, the better to support and sustain the arts, the artists, and the folkways.
And if you live within driving distance of Springfield, Massachusetts – just a hop, skip, and jump away from Hartford, Northampton, Worcester and the Berkshires – join us January 16 for a very special evening with Antje Duvekot. No reservations necessary; Facebook confirmations greatly appreciated.
Missed in 2015: Lost Songs and Late Arrivals
January 2nd, 2016 — 12:39 pm
featuring Jackie Oates, Meg Baird, Willie Watson, Hattie Webb & more!
One of the biggest challenges of late year recovery is that it inevitably fails the test of comprehensiveness. Albums released in January get short shrift in end of year lists; at the year’s other end, there’s always that late December release that doesn’t make it onto the radar screen.
And so, in a year when Cover Lay Down went on hiatus from May to November, it’s unsurprising that a few albums, sessions and songs fell through the cracks in the mad scramble to tackle the twelvemonth.
Today, as the new year embraces us, we look back one last time for a few 2015 songs and albums which slipped by us in the hustle of the season. Shelved and temporarily forgotten, or simply unearthed after our four-part Best Of The Year series hit the proverbial streets, their very existence serves as a promise of more to come from a thriving musical community.
2013 Best Kidfolk Album winner Jackie Oates returns to the older folk canon on her newest release The Spyglass & The Herringbone: the album is almost entirely comprised of “lesser known but life-affirming songs from the English tradition”, save for a couple of peer-penned originals and a single cover of 1989 The Sundays hit Can’t Be Sure that nestle in among the simple, ringing tradfolk perfectly smooth and etherial, as if they were always a part of the old ways. Spyglass was released in April, on the cusp of the difficulties which brought us to hiatus in the first place, but the record is a forgiving mistress, alive with enveloping sound from harps and droning fiddles, vibrant with a sweet layered tonality that evokes the best of Kate Rusby and The Unthanks (and no surprise; Oates was a founding member), well worth resurrection.
- Jackie Oates: Can’t Be Sure (orig. The Sundays)
- Jackie Oates: Doffing Mistress (trad.)
(from The Spyglass & The Herringbone, 2015)
Pulling at the threads from Jackie Oates reveals another missed collection that should by all rights have topped our list for Best Tribute Album Of The Year: Shirley Inspired, a 3 LP collection that serves as a veritable who’s who of performers who owe their style and substance, at least in part, to the revivalist work of Shirley Collins, who turned 80 in 2015. An artifact of the kickstarter appeal for ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’ – a film that is currently being made about the life of the “First Lady of Folk Music” – Inspired serves as both a survey of the mostly traditional songs which Collins lovingly preserved and presented, and as a record of just how broadly both the tunes and the tradition have integrated themselves into the modern spectrum; the performers here spread across both the British and Appalachian traditions, with newly recorded versions of old songs alongside a strong mix of new folk traditionalists from both sides of the pond, including Oates, Meg Baird, Olivia Chaney, Sally Timms, Josephine Foster, Graham Coxon, Sam Gleaves and Bonnie Prince Billy (performing Pretty Saro as a mournful dirge under the name Bitchin’ Bonnie Billy Bajas).
- Bitchin’ Bonnie Billy Bajas: Pretty Saro (trad.)
- Meg Baird: Locks and Bolts (trad.)
- Bonnie Dobson and The Lords Of Thyme: Hares On The Mountain (trad.)
(from Shirley Inspired, 2015)
Live 2014 double-disc concert recording Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis slipped by us twice over – first in January, when it was released, and again at the end of the year. That’s okay: the album was easy to miss, having already served as an artifact of its own, from a 2013 concert featured in a 2014 Showtime documentary which in turn was designed to promote a mass market movie which garnered little traction; unsurprisingly, although the concert and subsequent documentary were designed to renew interest in the original film, most of us had already moved way past its buzz long before 2015 began.
Too bad. Though records comprised from live tribute concerts by various artists have a tendency to go awry, with muddy board mixing and ragged house bands too often contributing to sameness and a lack of fidelity, that’s not at all the case here. Instead, Another Day, Another Time, lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, features strong performances from a generous and multi-generational roster of well-known names of the modern folkways, including Gillian Welch, Punch Brothers, Marcus Mumford, The Avett Brothers, Colin Meloy, Lake Street Dive, and many more, each of whom was asked to perform an original and a cover in salute to the songs of the sixties folk revival. In the end, the whole thing is surprisingly smooth from start to finish, demands reconsideration, and comes up roses.
- Marcus Mumford: I Was Young When I Left Home (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Willie Watson w/ Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings: The Midnight Special (trad.)
- Dave Rawlings w/ Gillian Welch and Willie Watson: I Hear Them All / This Land Is Your Land (orig. Old Crow Medicine Show / Woody Guthrie)
(from Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, 2015)
Locals Covering Locals, a labor-of-love compilation project now in its second year and iteration, is right up our alley, conceptually-speaking: Boston-based singer-songwriters select songs that they feel “need to be heard”, and cover them, thereby facilitating the spread of the best of their own sonic environment. The songs are a well-mixed bag, with rough roots, folk, and blues music from still-struggling artists normative in the mix, but there’s plenty of rough gems for those willing to sift through it, too; paired appearances of artists covering each other are especially dear, Hayley Sabella sounds like a young Deb Talan, and it’s wonderful to hear The Lemonheads done so well. Bonus points: the album was funded by an Iguana Grant from Club Passim, making it a true community effort in every sense of the word; the grant was renewed this year for a third volume, so stay tuned.
- Sarah Borges: Ride With Me (orig. The Lemonheads)
- Hayley Sabella: Simple Alicia (orig. Jake Hill)
- The Whiskey Boys: This Town (orig. Brian Carroll)
(from Locals Covering Locals, Volume 2, 2015)
Finally: many of the singles we left out of our Best Of series this year – some too bold or raw for folk, some just a hair on the ragged side, others that offer a second look at some favorite sessions and artists – show up on our 2015 Bonus Coverfolk Singles mix, a 38-track mix of alternate delights available only to those who donate to Cover Lay Down. But a small handful of late discoveries and remembrances shine bright enough to deserve placement here. Our favorite of the lost set comes from harpist Hattie Webb of the Webb Sisters, whose stark reinvention of James Taylor lullaby Close Your Eyes, recorded to promote a Pledgemusic campaign for her upcoming debut solo outing, was released way too late to include in our regular end of year feature. For good measure, throw in grassy goodtime music-with-an-edge from Colorado-based Telluride Band Competition winners Trout Steak Revival, gentle country dreampop from Manitoba husband-and-wife duo Leaf Rapids, another nod to Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions via Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band, and another mention of teenage trio The Onlies, whose Jubilee, like the lightly upbeat indie-slash-tradfolk album it appears on, bears repeating after oblique mention in a February mixtape feature.
- Trout Steak Revival: Where Do My Bluebird Fly (orig. The Tallest Man On Earth)
(from Brighter Every Day, 2015)
- Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band: The Israelites (orig. Desmond Decker)
(from The Lagniappe Sessions, 2015)
As always, if you like what you hear here, click through to lend your support to the artists we celebrate, the better to ensure the continued production of new music in 2016 and beyond.
And if you, too, have a little of the giving spirit left in you after the holidays, perhaps it’s time to consider a gift in support of our mission at Cover Lay Down. All donors receive our undying thanks, that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from patronizing the arts, and an exclusive 38-track mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk released in 2014 and 2015. Click here to give, and thanks.
Though we’re not above judging the overall conceptual cohesion of The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums, when it comes to our annual Year’s Best Singles mix, we generally eschew the hierarchical. Folk is so broad and so deep a canon, with so much potential for successful realization and transformation, it’s enough, I think, to curate the list, presenting each track as worth celebrating, a possible thread to pursue towards patronage and fandom.
But we do watch the collection for trends. This year, we see several.
Most notably, there’s a slight bump in songs which have their origin outside of the commercial realm – more links to videos, for example, and to freely released tracks. It’s tempting to treat this data point as an indicator that the line between amateur and professional continues to grow ever thin, making us watchful about the future of music as a truly realized vocation even as we celebrate the breadth of music such trending brings us.
On the other hand, of course, the wide net we cast also finds us celebrating the newest of the new, by lifting up artists who are just starting their journeys. And, although there are just a few of them, the emergent set is represented well this year by Annika Bennett, Matt Minigell, and Jamie Oshima – all twenty or under, and already bringing it on.
Other trends include one noted earlier, in our albums feature: there’s been some great collaboration this year on the margins of folk, roots, and Americana. From the continued “supergroup” partnerships of I’m With Her and My Terrible Friend to continued duo work from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman to one-off pairings between Rhiannon Giddens and Iron & Wine and The Milk Carton Kids and Shovels and Rope, the result is an emphasis on strong voices in harmony, with the pleasure of performing with friends and loved ones shining through each track.
Other than that, we’ll let the songs speak for themselves, as set and singles: after all, we’re here for the music, and so are you. And so we present our 50 favorite coverfolk singles, b-sides, live tracks and deep album cuts of 2015: from madcap to maudlin; from respectful to irreverent; from indie to traditional, and all the contemporary singer-songwriter, alt-country, ands acoustic poprock genres in between; sure to warm your heart and capture your soul.
This we offer with undying thanks to the labels, the artists, the fans, and you, for holding us up, and in, and close, when the world keeps spinning right round, like a record.
Cherish them. Let them warm your heart and capture your soul. And may you, too, experience joy and peace, lightness and love in full measure in the new year.
The Year’s Best Singles: A 2015 Coverfolk Mix [zip!]
- I’m With Her: Crossing Muddy Waters (orig. John Hiatt) [via]
- My Terrible Friend: Mexico (orig. Cake) [via]
- Jason Isbell: Play A Train Song (orig Todd Snider) [via]
- The Milk Carton Kids: Wish You Were Here (orig. Pink Floyd) [via]
- Eaves: Animal Tracks (orig. Mountain Man) [via]
- Rhiannon Giddens & Iron & Wine: Forever Young (orig. Bob Dylan) [via]
- Tim O’Brien: Get Up Offa That Thing (orig. James Brown) [via]
- Fabian Holland: Nobody’s Fault But Mine (orig. Blind Willie Johnson) [via]
- Lucero: I’m In Love With A Girl (orig. Big Star) [via]
- The Pine Hill Project: Farewell To St. Dolores (orig. Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer) [via]
- Gill Sandell & Chris T-T: If I Should Fall Behind (orig. Bruce Springsteen) [via]
- Douglas Firs: Home Again (orig. Carole King) [via]
- Annika Bennett: I Want You Back (orig. Jackson 5) [via]
- Brandi Carlile: Murder In The City (orig. Avett Brothers) [via]
- My Bubba: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (orig. Bob Dylan) [via]
- Father John Misty: Heart Shaped Box (orig. Nirvana) [via]
- The Weepies: Learning To Fly (orig. Tom Petty) [via]
- John Statz: Motion Picture Soundtrack (orig. Radiohead) [via]
- Shovels & Rope with The Milk Carton Kids: Patience (orig. Guns & Roses) [via]
- Couer De Pirate: Take Shelter (orig. Years and Years) [via]
- William Fitzsimmons: Ice Cream (orig. Sarah McLachlan) [via]
- Anna Laube: Satisfied Mind (orig. Porter Wagoner) [via]
- Caitlin Canty: Unknown Legend (orig. Neil Young) [via]
- Joan Shelley: Here In California (orig. Kate Wolf) [via]
- Gretchen Peters: Nashville (orig. David Mead) [via]
- Ballad Of Crows: American Girl (orig. Tom Petty) [via]
- Jeremy Bass: Julia (orig. The Beatles) [via]
- Chris Cleverley: I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground (trad.) [via]
- Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman: Child Owlet (trad.) [via]
- Matt Minigell: Oh Yoko (orig. John Lennon) [via]
- Smoke Fairies: So Much Wine (orig. Handsome Family) [via]
- Little Wings: Eyes Without A Face (orig. Billy Idol) [via]
- Punch Brothers: Clementine (orig. Elliott Smith) [via]
- Philip Murray Warson: Wild Mountain Thyme (trad.) [via]
- Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem: I’m Satisfied With You (orig. Hank Williams) [via]
- Boxcar Lilies: Freight Train (orig. Fred Eaglesmith) [via]
- Tin Bird Choir: Sway (orig. Rolling Stones) [via]
- Boondock Radio: Stay With Me (orig. Sam Smith) [via]
- Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires: I Follow Rivers (orig. Lykke Li) [via]
- Della Mae: To Ohio (orig. Low Anthem) [via]
- Gregory Alan Isakov: Trapeze Swinger (orig. Iron & Wine) [via]
- The Morning Tree: Tá Na Báid (trad.) [via]
- Olivia Chaney: There’s Not A Swain (trad.) [via]
- Jamie Oshima: Tenerife Sea (orig. Ed Sheeran) [via]
- The Unthanks: Magpie (orig. David Dodds) [via]
- Shawn Colvin: Tougher Than The Rest (orig. Bruce Springsteen) [via]
- Bon Iver: Inside Out (orig. Spoon) [via]
- Gurrumul ft. Paul Kelly: Amazing Grace (trad.) [via]
- Jayme Stone ft. Margaret Glaspy: Lazy John (trad.) [via]
- Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck: The Final Countdown (orig. Europe) [via]
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year 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.
Got goodwill to spare? Want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of alternate favorites and rare covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give – and thanks.
Most of the other online folk and indieblogs out there have already shared their Best Of 2015 features by now, and that’s the way we like it. As our mandate reminds us, sharing and discovery are essential to the folkways; just as we depend on artists and producers to make the music, we depend on elseblogs, radio outlets and virtual magazines from Kithfolk to Paste, from Folk Alley to WXPN, and from I Am Fuel, You Are Friends to Timber & Steel, to curate it for us.
Our niche is unique, of course. No other blog focuses exclusively on the intersection between folk and coverage, though the threads are strong on both of the intersecting lineages that define us, and though several blogs, like Cover Me, include roots and Americana among the coversongs they share. But our dependence on those other sources was especially deep this year.
Which is to say: it was a pretty good year for coverfolk, in the end, and we’re glad. But for a while there, it looked like we wouldn’t be here to celebrate it.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, letting Cover Lay Down go dark from May to November was part of a larger withdrawal in face of a series of disasters that left us too drained to do more than just hang on. I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say: it’s hard to blog when you’re living in a camper on the lawn because the house is still recovering from fleas and flood, and harder, still, when the entire covers collection gets lost to a busted laptop and an archival hard drive failure.
Coming back, though, has been a revelation.
We’re not usually at a loss for words here at Cover Lay Down. But the outpouring of support during and after those dark months, in the end, proved its priority in a world still heavy with stress and the unknown, putting this blog at the top of our to-do list. Thanks, to all who donate and comment, who help spread the word, and who – in doing so – bring light to this kitchen table endeavor. It’s good to be back, and to be singing again.
Our eight-month musical hiatus makes looking back an especially apt mechanism for recovery this year. To account for this, in response to both marketplace factors and an attempt to broaden our gaze in the name of recovery, our Best Of series doubled in size, with video coverage getting a pair of features of its own; if you’ve not yet seen ‘em, check out The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Singles and The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Sessions, Sets, and Series once you’ve finished here today.
But our annual two-fer still serves as the main course. So join us as we count down the final hours of 2015 with our favorite coverfolk recordings of the year – with our annual omnibus album feature today, and our typically unranked, purely subjective celebration of the year’s best singles, deep cuts, and B-sides to follow sometime just before New Year’s Eve. Oh, and fair warning: there’s 59 songs on this year’s list; you might want to download them all first, and read along as you listen.
The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell, Sing Into My Mouth
+ Watkins Family Hour, The Watkins Family Hour
+ Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn
+ Robert Earl Keen, The Bluegrass Sessions
+ Grey Season, Undercover
Cover albums comprise a highly competitive category this year. Even the also-rans were strong, from Shawn Colvin’s unsurprisingly poppy but eminently listenable Uncovered to the twee, unrelentingly cheerful sounds of NYC-based 80′s cover band The Delorean Sisters on their self-titled debut. Martha and Lucy Wainwright’s sister album Songs In The Dark, which we touted last month, was ultimately a little unfocused; Shovels and Rope pushed past the boundaries of folk into alternative rock on Busted Jukebox Vol.1, and much of Tomorrow You’re Going, a kickstarter-funded collaborative effort from lifetime favorites Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky, was a little too honky-tonk for our tastes. All are highly recommended nonetheless, and contain great cuts worth pursuit; look for their choicest tracks in our upcoming Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles mix.
But the big news this year was the collaborative album. And sure enough, like Busted Jukebox, Songs In The Dark, and Kaplansky and Shindell’s Pine Hill Project, four of the five picks in the single artists covers album category share the same conceit: though released under a single name, each, in their own way, depends on musical partnership for its success.
Our highest honors goes to Sing Into My Mouth, the musical one-off collaboration of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. There’s a huge diversity of source material here, from the titular Talking Heads track to songs by Sade, JJ Cale, and Pete Seeger, but nary a skip-cut or mediocre cover on the album: the performances here are stunning, with the songs not so much transformed as translated into an atmospheric echo with an alt-country twang, and flourishes of pitch-perfect Pink Floyd psychedelics and CSNY harmonies.
Second place is shared by The Watkins Family Hour and Rhiannon Giddens project Tomorrow Is My Turn – two albums which diversify through deep collaboration of their own. In the first, Sean and Sara Watkins, plus Fiona Apple and a 4-piece house band familiar to those who have seen their frequent live shows at LA’s famed venue The Largo, took over a house for three days to record a record designed specifically to evoke their live shows; the result is broad and diverse, playful and wonderfully intimate, and well worth steeping in entirely.
Meanwhile, Giddens – a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops who has recently gone solo – weaves her beatboxing and multi-instrumentalist Chocolate Drops compatriots throughout her debut solo disc, plus members of the Punch Brothers and several strong session players, to reimagine a number of traditional and country and pop standards in her inimitable style, a process which she discusses at length on her website. The result is quite diverse, as you might expect, in influence and in sound, but the record holds beautifully, thanks to that stunning voice and potent production from T-Bone Burnett, as does “session leftovers” EP Factory Girl.
Grey Season’s Undercover, a free download featured recently as part of our Berklee College of Music showcase, is the sole “band only” covers album in our top five, but it hardly needs the help; as noted back in November, the album is funky and fine, perfect for fans of that fertile soil where grungy Americana and roots music, grassy country, and folk rock meet. And we’d be remiss without special mention of Robert Earn Keen’s Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, a departure from the usual fare from this Texan singer-songwriter, in which Keen’s plaintive rasp pairs beautifully with a well-tuned, full-bore bluegrass session band for a delightful album that runs from gentle rambles to rambunctious jams. A good year, indeed.
- Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell: This Must Be The Place (orig. Talking Heads)
- Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell: Bullet Proof Soul (orig. Sade)
(from Sing Into My Mouth, 2015)
- The Watkins Family: Brokedown Palace (orig. Grateful Dead)
- The Watkins Family: Steal Your Heart Away (orig. Fleetwood Mac)
(from The Watkins Family Hour, 2015)
- Rhiannon Giddens: Last Kind Words (orig. Geeshie Wiley)
- Rhiannon Giddens: Shake Sugaree (orig. Elizabeth Cotten)
(from Tomorrow Is My Turn, 2015)
- Robert Earl Keen: Long Black Veil (orig. Lefty Frizzell)
(from Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, 2015)
- Grey Season: Maggie May (orig. Rod Stewart)
- Grey Season: Up On Cripple Creek (orig. The Band)
(from Undercover, 2015)
The Year’s Best Covers Album (multiple artist)
+ Various Artists, Yellow Bird Project: Good People Rock
+ Various Artists, From Cover To Cover: 30 Years At Nettwerk (tie)
The multiple artist covers album is generally the wheelhouse of labels big and small; last year’s category winners included a Bloodshot Records’ 20th anniversary covers album, and sure enough, our runner-up this year celebrates 30 years of the Canadian label that made household names of Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, The Be Good Tanyas, and Barenaked Ladies.
In 2015, however, our favorite “various artists” collection comes straight from the heart of the artisanal hipster branch of the folkmarket to match one of my absolute favorite records of the year. Yep: a tie. We couldn’t be happier with the result.
For a decade, Montreal-based Yellow Bird Project has created and distributed band t-shirts for artist-selected charities in partnership with indie folk and alternative musicians like Bon Iver, CHVRCHES, Devendra Banhart, The Decemberists and The Shins, though they’ve recently branched out into tote bags, coloring books, and the occasional vinyl pressing. Producing and curating Good People Rock, a project in which YBP artists who have been featured on their shirts cover other YBP artists who have been featured on their shirts, is just as quirky a concept, and with artists like Andrew Bird, Hayden, and Elvis Perkins on the roster, we’re not surprised it works.
As noted above, Nettwerk Music Group’s January 2015 covers sampler, released in celebration of their 30th anniversary, gets an easy and triumphant share of first place honors in an unusually small category. The overall setlist here is a mixed-bag; with electro-pop and sadcore in the mix, this is hardly a folk album through and through. But several stunning covers stand out, including amazing, delicate Coldplay and Sarah McLachlan covers (we shared William Fitzsimmons’ cover of McLachlan’s Ice Cream back in January), a dreamy indie folk take on Barenaked Ladies favorite deepcut Jane, Hey Ocean! frontman Dave Beckingham’s transformation of a Be Good Tanya rambler into an atmospheric, icy folkpop gem complete with horns and organ, and Joshua Hyslop’s delightful Weepies interpretation, a track which – in many ways – sets the standard for the year in coverage.
- Joshua Hyslop: World Spins Madly On (orig. The Weepies)
- Dave Beckingham: In Spite Of All The Damage (orig. Be Good Tanyas)
- Caroline Pennell: Yellow (orig. Coldplay)
(from From Cover To Cover: 30 Years At Nettwerk, 2015)
The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Sean Rowe, Her Songs
+ William Tyler, The Lagniappe Sessions
+ Marissa Haacke, Acoustic Covers, Vol. 1
+ Infamous Stringdusters, Undercover
What could have been a lighthearted conceit by basso profundo Sean Rowe, who was recommended to me by Chuck and Mira of The Sea The Sea when they kicked off our new house concert series this Fall, offers instead a deep dive into bare-bones gender-bent coverage: tender and low, round and resonant, drowned in that booming, syrup-thick voice. The six single-take tracks and accompanying videos represent a perfect 45-to-33 who’s who of female alternative singer-songwriter fare, too, with songs from Feist, Cat Power, Neko Case, Regina Spektor, and – yes, again – Sade, who seems to be popular this year. A Troy, NY-based singer-songwriter who also offers foraging and wilderness skills classes on his website, Rowe is reportedly just as powerful in person; he also wins for best accolade of 2015: upon hearing his rendition of her “Soldiers Song,” Lucinda Williams apparently proclaimed “This is the best cover of any of my songs that anyone has ever done. I am completely moved.”
From somewhere between country rock balladry and John Fahey primitivism comes our second place set, a mostly instrumental foursome of songs originally by Ry Cooder, Blaze Foley, and Blue Oyster Cult from true-blue Nashville boy William Tyler, commissioned, recorded and released via Aquarium Drunkard as part of their Lagniappe Sessions way back in January. Tyler, who has produced a precious handful of records of his own, is best known as a member of indie blog darlings Lambchop and the Silver Jews, but as these sessions prove, he’s got chops and roots in equal measure; he’s also played with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Charlie Louvin, and Candi Staton.
Perennial favorites The Infamous Stringdusters turn in relatively faithful but entirely gleeful one-take jamgrass takes on well-known songs from Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Pink Floyd in Undercover, a fun diversion recorded while in the studio for their next big album, due in February. And finally, as its name implies, Acoustic Covers Vol. 1 is simply put: an iTunes release from September which features exceptionally young singer-songwriter Marissa Haacke solo and without airs. There’s a deceptively simple sameness to these songs, too, in part due to their sheer simplicity, and a pristine recording quality. But despite her girlish voice, as heard in her wistful, innocent take on Footloose soundtrack song Holding Out For A Hero, Haacke has depth, and shows promise enough to mention; here’s hoping that this girl from the Rocky Mountains will keep singing, and gladly.
- Sean Rohe: Let It Die (orig. Feist)
- Sean Rohe: Soldier’s Song (orig. Lucinda Williams)
(from Her Songs, 2015)
- William Tyler: She’s As Beautiful As a Foot (orig. Blue Oyster Cult)
(from The Lagniappe Sessions, 2015)
The Year’s Best Covers EP (multiple artist)
+ Various Artists, Polaris Sessions No. 1
+ Various Artists, Decoration Day, Volume 4
Three songs recorded live in studio in 2014 but released as a 10″ in 2015 make for an unusually sparse but utterly delightful program, kicking off a new cover series from the folks who bring us the Polaris Music Prize, and in the process bringing us our favorite multiple artist covers EP of the year. The A-side is a grungy, electric roots cover of New Pornographers from Whitehorse; I’ve come back to the B-side, featuring Great Lake Swimmers covering Sarah Harmer and Sarah Harmer covering Caribou, over a dozen times since discovering it last month.
Meanwhile, on the experimental front, comes Decoration Day, Volume 4, featuring songs about home from perennial favorites Mason Jar Music, who produces a new thematically-grounded covers EP every year for Decoration Day, and hits the ball out of the park every time. As in volumes 1-3, the set yaws wider than folk allows, but a number of delights come in especially dear: Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae pull old Sam Cooke favorite Bring It On Home To Me way back into hollow living room folk, and you’ve never heard Bjork the way banjo player Taylor Ashton interprets her.
- Taylor Ashton: Hyperballad (orig. Bjork)
- Flearoy: Over The Hill (orig. John Martyn)
(from Decoration Day Volume 4, 2015)
The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield, …Sing Elliott Smith
+ Plainsong, Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina
+ The Hillbenders, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry
+ Girls Guns & Glory, A Tribute To Hank Williams – Live!
+ Asleep At The Wheel, Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
Yes, yes; Ryan Adams’ full-album tribute to Taylor Swift is nothing short of a miracle. But it isn’t folk, truly; we’ve a separate category for mixed-genre tributes for a reason, and we’ll let Adams share top honors there.
Luckily, it was an unusually diverse year for single artist tributes in the folk, roots, and Americana realms. Honors in our single artist tribute category go to five very different projects from five sets of artists, each of whom represents a distinct branch of the folkworld.
At the top of our list, pulling back from the string-fed sounds of his work with The Avett Brothers, we find Seth Avett alongside Jessica Lea Mayfield, just bass and guitar and the hollowness of the songbook. Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith was panned by Pitchfork for its reverence, and a suspicion that these explorations do little to plumb the true depths of the songs, but we disagree – Smith’s songbook is raw enough; to imagine it plainly and gently, letting the songs speak, is an admirable approach in our book, and Avett and Mayfield’s voices mix beautifully, both on the album and in later live covers added to the set in performance, like this exquisite take on Miss Misery.
Second honors go to Plainsong, whose tribute to Richard Farina Reinventing Richard is a true homage to a seminal figure lost too soon, and a great showcase for the work of a three-piece British folk rock band whose founding members came from Fairport Convention and “poetry band” The Liverpool Scene, and still maintain strong strains of the tradition in their arrangements and harmonies. Meanwhile, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry, The Hillbenders full-album cover of The Who’s rock opera, is actually much better than it should have been; though this one could have easily yawed into the realm of self-parody or, worse, the mellow sameness of pseudo-anonymous “Pickin’ On” series, we are treated to a fun-loving session from a well-tempered band that clearly loves to hoot and holler.
Asleep At The Wheel’s playful, guest-heavy celebration of the music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys plays it straight as a true-blue Texas swing album, with uptempo hillbilly arrangements that bring the talents of Carrie Rodriguez, The Avett Brothers, Lyle Lovett, Amos Lee, Willie Nelson and more into a full-bore ensemble setting; it’s hard to hide the distinctive voices of Lee, Lovett, and Nelson, but who would want to? And the country and western blues Girls Guns and Glory and friends bring to the songs of Hank Williams is simply divine.
- Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield: Between The Bars (orig. Elliott Smith)
- Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield: Pitseleh (orig. Elliott Smith)
(from Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, 2015)
- Plainsong: Another Country (orig. Richard Farina)
(from Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina, 2015)
- Girls Guns and Glory ft. Miss Tess: Your Cheating Heart (orig. Hank Williams)
(from A Tribute To Hank Williams – Live!, 2015)
- Asleep At The Wheel ft. Carrie Rodriguez: A Good Man Is Hard To Find (orig. Bob Wills)
- Asleep At The Wheel ft. The Devil Makes Three: Bubbles In My Beer (orig. Bob Wills)
(from Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, 2015)
The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Various Artists, The Joy Of Living: a Tribute to Ewan MacColl
+ Various Artists, Cold And Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins
+ Various Artists, The Brighter Side: a 25th Anniversary Tribute to Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression
+ Various Artists, Physical Graffiti Redrawn
It was a strong year for tribute albums, too, with a smashing if genre-busting Mojo Magazine tribute to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and no more than three Beatles tributes topping the mass market list. Our deeper dig reveals our own favorites, underdogs which shine next to these good but ultimately uneven releases (though we can’t help but give a nod to Hiss Golden Messenger’s Led Zeppelin cover, and in doing so, celebrate with an honorable mention a mixed Mojo freebie better than most, with cuts by Sun Kil Moon, Michael Kiwanuka, Laura Marling and others on the good-stuff radar).
As for our favorite? Two-disc tribute albums are often a risk; too broad, too long, and too heavy with deep cuts. But Ewan MacColl tribute The Joy Of Living, which mixes UK folk contemporaries Norma Waterson, Dick Gaughan, Kathryn Williams, Karine Polwart, Martin Simpson, Eliza Carthy, and others with a host of more distant musical cousins, from Bombay Bicycle Club to Steve Earle, who can claim a lineage influenced by the inimitable MacColl, is a glorious exception: it works, in spades, thanks to a seemingly endless songbook, and tender, authentic treatment given with love.
Our second place tie goes to two albums that celebrate the roots and margins of folk simultaneously. Cold and Bitter Tears, a suitably swampy, bluesy, bar-room two-step of a tribute to the legendary Venice Beach street performer Ted Hawkins, is chock full of deep-south covers from Mary Gauthier, Gurf Morlix, James McMurtry, Danny Barnes, Kasey Chambers and more. And well-tuned cover curation-house Reimagine Music’s 2015 offering, an alt-country and indie rock reinvention of seminal 1990 Uncle Tupelo debut album No Depression, is breathtaking: taking on such a genre-defining album is daring, but this set comes in swinging and doesn’t stop, proving the viability and variance of the alt-country set on today’s musical map, from the cloudlike shimmer of Mikaela Davis’ harp and voice to the mellow chill of Wooden Sky to more rugged, amped-up alt-Americana from Crow Moses, The Last Bison, and other bands you should know.
- Steve James: Whole Lotta Women (orig. Ted Hawkins)
- Gurf Morlix: I Gave Up All I Had (orig Ted Hawkins)
(from Cold And Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins, 2015)
- Bombay Bicycle Club: The Young Birds (orig. Ewan MacColl)
- Steve Earle: Dirty Old Town (orig. Ewan MacColl)
(from The Joy Of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl, 2015)
- Mikaela Davis: So Called Friend (orig. Uncle Tupelo)
- Beta Radio: John Hardy (orig. Uncle Tupelo)
(from The Brighter Side: A 25th Anniversary Tribute to Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, 2015)
- Hiss Golden Messenger: Black Country Woman (orig. Led Zeppelin)
(from Physical Graffiti Redrawn, 2015)
The Year’s Best Tribute EP
+ Wharfer, Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders
+ Glen Hansard, It Was Triumph We Once Proposed…Songs of Jason Molina
+ Various Artists, Unsung: Songs: Ohia Covers Compilation
For a while this year, two EP-length tributes to the works of Songs:Ohia founder Jason Molina this year – one from Glen Hansard, the other a live tribute radio show hosted by Philly wheelhouse Folkadelphia – looked like they were competing for top honors in the Tribute EP category, which often attracts the indie set. And both are worth the listen, in the end: Hansard’s awkwardly titled It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina thanks to a slow, respectful softness; Folkadelphia’s Unsung if you like grungy, metal-tinged rock, though a few exceptionally strong, haunting cuts, like the Laura Baird cover below, save the day.
But we’re not above championing the unknown. And in this case, it’s an easy decision handing the crown to Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders, a dark horse slowcoustic freebie released via Soundcloud by Wharfer, aka Brooklynite by way of Scranton Kyle Wall. Hissy, creaky, and yet perfect in its deconstruction of the Flatlanders songbook, it’s a diamond in the darkness, evoking the hours before sunrise from prairie to fire escape with tuneless whistles, a tender croak of a broken voice, and an urgent hand on a gentle guitar.
- Wharfer: Jole Blon (orig. The Flatlanders)
- Wharfer: Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown (orig. The Flatlanders)
(from Broken Land: Songs of the Flatlanders, 2015)
- Laura Baird: Blue Chicago Moon (orig. Songs: Ohia)
(from Unsung: Songs:Ohia Covers Compilation, 2015)
- Glen Hansard: Farewell Transmission (orig. Songs: Ohia)
(from It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina, 2015)
The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Sam Lee and Friends, The Fade In Time
+ Spuyten Duyvil, The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1
+ Anna & Elizabeth, Anna & Elizabeth
+ Gigspanner, Layers of Ages
+ Forest Mountain Hymnal, Dear Balladeer
+ Lindsay Straw, My Mind From Love Being Free
Some serious competition this year, in a category often dominated by the sparse and Appalachian – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But our top pick, Mercury Prize nominee Sam Lee and Friends’ The Fade In Time, isn’t an album so much as it is a complete experience, a journey through the gypsy traditions of rural England filtered through exotic folk strands as far-flung as Japan and Tajikistan. Singer and song-collector Lee is a master arranger, and the collage effect is potent; ultimately, the album both honors the more traditional ethnomusical exploration that informed his 2002 debut Ground Of Its Own, and plies it, gathering from the world as it travels through.
Close seconds go to Brooklyn roots revivalists Spuyten Duyvil, whose cheerful faces and rugged, ragged high energy sets are well known to denizens of the Falcon Ridge Folk crowd, and who bring the blues and then some on The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1; they’re followed closely by a tearingly sparse, gorgeous Appalachian self-titled sophomore outing from historians and song-finders Anna & Elizabeth. And runners-up honors keep our list going long, with Forest Mountain Hymnal’s ongoing project Dear Balladeer, which, although still unfinished, has delivered a deep and rejuvenating delve into the collected ballads of John Jacob Niles, a gentle debut from honey-voiced Boston-based bouzouki and guitar picker Lindsay Straw, and British psychedelic folk rocker Peter Knight and his band Gigspanner, whose album Layer Of Ages – heavy, earthy, haunting and hollow with drones and drum – isn’t beautiful, and isn’t meant to be. A rich field for the traditional set, indeed.
- Sam Lee and Friends: Blackbird (trad.)
- Sam Lee and Friends: Lord Gregory (trad.)
(from The Fade In Time, 2015)
- Spuyten Duyvil: Barbara Allen (trad.)
- Spuyten Duyvil: Make Me A Pallet (trad.)
(from The Social Music Hour, Vol. 1, 2015)
The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Tribute Album
+ Ryan Adams, 1989
+ Moa Holmsten, Bruised Arms And Broken Rhythm: Songs by Bruce Springsteen
+ John Vanderslice, Vanderslice Plays Diamond Dogs
+ Bill Wells & Friends, Nursery Rhymes
Ryan Adams is a no-brainer here; his track-by-track tear-down of Taylor Swift album 1989 is an accomplishment realized, with NPR feature status and over ten million hits on YouTube alone. More surprising is our second favorite: as Paste noted earlier this month in their own 10 Best Cover Songs of 2015, Moa Holmsten isn’t even a fan of Bruce Springsteen, making her fifth album, which covers his canon, an unusual choice. But the conceit works wonders: although the resulting dark, glitchy, beautiful pop album from this Swedish wunderkind has little connection to folk in its tracklist, this single sample is perfect for the contemporary folk set, with high production, shuffling drums and horns, and a mellow harmony vocal that aches with longing.
We can’t help but celebrate a last-minute contender in the form of late December release John Vanderslice Plays David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, new from cover label Reimagine Music. The album resets David Bowie’s 1974 concept album in a variety of genres and settings, from quiet to disquieting; the result is no mere diversion: psychedelic folk, alternative pop, and country rock merge in an album that totally reinvents Bowie’s original, renaming, rewriting, and reworking the arrangements to create something new and precious. (Hint: Juvenile Success is really Rebel Rebel in disguise.)
Finally, though our kidfolk category disappears this year due to a dearth of material, our mixed-genre plate is the perfect setting to mention Bill Wells & Friends’ Nursery Rhymes, which features settings of well-worn classroom and playground classics. Wells isn’t folk, and a cast of familiar experimentalists from multiple genres, from Syd Straw to Yo La Tengo, doesn’t make it so; it’s more like a slippery, sparse contemporary jazz, tightly arranged: a bit complex for kids, but a wonderful digression of an evening with friends.
- Moa Holmsten: The River (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
(from Bruised Arms And Broken Rhythm: Songs by Bruce Springsteen, 2015)
- John Vanderslice: Juvenile Success (orig. David Bowie)
(from John Vanderslice Plays David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, 2015)
The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album
+ Eef Barzelay, EP 1 (I Don’t Even Want To Know)
+ Barnstar!, Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!
Eef Barzelay just doesn’t quit. His fourth fan-chosen covers album was already a favorite; the December release of EP 1 (I don’t even want to know), with five more covers and two originals a coda to a great year, pushes him easily over the edge. Like all of Eef’s work, the songs here are raw and coarse and devotional; their tunelessness and discordance shudder in the ear, each one a live and nakedly intimately experience wired directly into the psyche; you’ve never heard a more exhausted, tender King of Carrot Flowers; when that troubled, primitive voice resolves into purity as the chorus kicks in on Don’t Dream It’s Over, the heart lifts, and the world is sunny again. Listening to one is a journey; listening to the whole EP at once risks adrenalin exhaustion, a long walk on the edge of music’s uncanny valley.
Meanwhile, Boston-based roots-and-bluegrass supergroup Barnstar! continues their trend towards half-covers albums, with perfectly summery, grassy romps on songs by Josh Ritter, The Hold Steady, Patty Griffin, Cat Stevens, and The Faces alongside sweet originals by band members Mark Erelli, Jake and Taylor Amerding, banjoist Charlie Rose, and bassist Zachariah Hickman. Just another more cover or two, and new albums from perennial cover artists Pharis and Jason Romero and Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem would have been mentioned here, too; keep an eye open for their work in our upcoming Best Singles mix.
- Eef Barzelay: Freight Train (orig. Elizabeth Cotten)
- Eef Barzelay: Don’t Dream It’s Over (orig. Crowded House)
(from EP 1 (I Don’t Even Want To Know), 2015)
- Barnstar!: Darling (orig. Josh Ritter)
- Barnstar!: Stay With Me (orig. The Faces)
(from Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!, 2015)
The Year’s Best Covers TV Soundtrack
+ Various Artists, Grey’s Anatomy, Season 12
Our final category this year is a bit specious, I suppose; it’s increasingly rare for TV soundtracks to be released as full albums. But twenty-something television is a constant source for wonderful coverage, leading to constant moments where I turn a corner into a cover, and have to watch the credits to find out which artist I just heard. And through shows such as Scrubs, The OC, Parenthood, One Tree Hill, and more, the medium has served us well, as a potent showcase for indie artists looking for ways to get their songs heard.
And so, as in past years, the shiftings of the marketplace of ideas brings forth a new category for our consideration: the soundtrack collection. And no program has been so persistently great with delightful indiefolk coverage this year as Grey’s Anatomy, which my kids have begin watching religiously after their own struggles with illness lent them a new curiosity about the inner workings of hospitals. From the relentless, insistent pace of Freedom Fry’s Oops I Did It Again to the sterile, echoing piano of Scars on 45 and Sleeping At Last, it’s an indiefolk paradise of mood and meaning.
- Scars on 45: Wrecking Ball (orig. Miley Cyrus)
- Freedom Fry: Oops I Did It Again (orig. Britney Spears)
- Jenny O: Waterfalls (orig. TLC)
- Sleeping At Last: As Long As You Love Me (orig. Backstreet Boys)
(from Grey’s Anatomy, Season 12, 2015)
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.
And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.
Today, in the second installment of our new Best Videos of the Year series, we turn to our favorite audiovisual cover collections, sets, and series, with over 20 genre-bending reinventions in three broad categories from our favorite living rooms, home studios, and production houses: a set that brings the intimacy of the live take into focus, far beyond the field recording and the bootleg documentation, framing both song and coverage as portable, personal, and eminently folk.
So feast your eyes and ears on video covers of Bon Jovi, Jason Isbell, Bobbie Gentry, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, and more, from tradfolk to b-sides to the pop hits of yesteryear. Click back to watch and marvel at The Year’s Best Coverfolk Video Singles, featuring our favorite single-shot video covers of the year. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for our annual look back at The Year’s Best Cover and Tribute Albums, and our always-unranked collection of The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles. Remember, as always, to click through to pursue and support favorites where you find ‘em, the better to ensure the continued creation of music into the new year and beyond. And may your days, as you find them, be blessed with song: familiar, exquisite, and yours.
Best Video Series
+ Juliana, Thank You
+ Billy The Kid, 31 Cover Videos in 31 Days (tie)
The artist-driven cover series is an exercise as much as it is a packaging tool for fans, one that offers a focused path towards distribution and craft – much in the same way, I imagine, that the sonnet series that I wrote in March of my senior year in high school allowed me to think in iambic pentameter on demand. Artists who have done this several times often experience a huge jump in quality of performance from the beginning of one series to the end of the next; it seems the practice, over time, of producing the equivalent of an album via video proffers the same opportunity to delve deep.
There’s more polish than ever before, out there; the tubes are filled, after all, with young folks who have honed their craft, and we’ll see precision enough in our Best Ongoing Video Coverage category below. But we’ve been in a pensive mood as we regain our footing in the folkworld, and looking back to the raw and unrefined has been our wont as we collect our thoughts as the year comes to a close. The result, this this category, at least: a split bill tie, with living room coverage crisp and clear from YouTubers Juliana and Billy The Kid, plus an honorable mention to a series that has just begun.
Thank You, Juliana’s YouTube cover series, was prompted by a summer Kickstarter campaign; donors at a particular level chose songs, and Juliana covered ‘em. The result is a fan-driven set of ballads and soft transformations that ranges wide, from Lori Lieberman, Bonnie Raitt and Jim Croce to Stone Ponies, Daft Punk, and the most crushingly simple, smashingly beautiful Bon Jovi cover ever; that her donors have such a good instinct towards matching that versatile, sweet and intimate voice with just the right songs suggests a growing fan base that falls fully in love, as we did. Bonus tracks from outside of the series just lend credence to the impression of mature talent in this young singer-songwriter formerly known as Juliana Richer Daily: a two year old Lorde cover with overdubbed harmony every bit as gorgeous as her current work, a sweet duet on Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather, an essential Starry Starry Night, and an achingly delicate new Adele cover, promise more to come, and we’re thrilled.
Juliana: Killing Me Softly (orig. Lori Lieberman)
- Juliana: Blood Money (orig. Bon Jovi)
- Juliana: Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Juliana: When We Were Young (orig. Adele)
Heavily tattooed Vancouver-based indie-grrl Billy The Kid, who recently released an album with anti-folk artist Frank Turner, holes up each January for a daily series of raw, unadorned solo recordings that dig deep into the soul; favorites from this year’s 31 Covers In 31 Days playlist include a devastating cover of Jason Isbell’s Elephant, subtly and suitably wistful takes on songs by Taylor Swift and Kathleen Edwards, a restrained, echoey version of Gin Blossoms hit Found Out About You, and a hushed Ryan Adams cover to die for. Bonus points: last year, she covered 31 Ryan Adams songs in 31 days.
- Billy The Kid: Elephant (orig. Jason Isbell)
- Billy The Kid: Found Out About You (orig. Gin Blossoms)
- Billy The Kid: Wrecking Ball (orig. Ryan Adams)
- Billy The Kid: Malibu (orig. Hole)
If all we can offer The End of America in our Best Video Cover Series of 2015 is an honorable mention, it’s only because The Decade Sessions is a monthly series as yet unfinished. Just three songs in, though, and it’s already clear that the three-piece act is about to cross into the New Year strong and steady, with high-energy folk harmonies and a knack for raucous transformation that transcends the mere audio.
- The End Of America: Act Appalled (orig. Circa Survive)
Call it a lifetime achievement award: year’s past honorees which would fit in this category still work hard to bring us the best in coverage; we’re especially enamored of this year’s advent calendar from ortoPilot, whose annual December cover series topped the Best Video category in 2011. Watch the series for more goodies as it continues towards Christmas.
- ortoPilot: Trouble (Ray Lamontaigne)
- ortoPilot: No Diggity (orig. Blackstreet)
Best Ongoing Video Coverage
+ Daniela Andrade
Not all YouTube cover artists release their work as part of a discrete set; much more commonly, young musicians come back to coverage throughout the year, either as a primary vehicle of fan-base building or merely as an offshoot of a determined trajectory towards the world of The Voice. Much of the work in this category is more acoustic pop or rock than folk – a bit too precious, and a bit too twee – and although high-production YouTube artists like Boyce Avenue, Future Sunsets, Tyler Ward, Madilyn Bailey and others may still find their occasional way into our themed sets, with or without drums and bass, it’s hard to argue that these popular voices are performing in the folk tradition.
But when it comes to true-blue contemporary folkpop coverage in instrumentation and voice, no one does it better than Daniela Andrade, a regular here on Cover Lay Down; her YouTube work has appeared in several thematic features over the past few years, and topped our lone video category in our 2013 Albums of the Year collection. The Canadian singer-songwriter has diversified her approach this year, partnering with beatboxer KRNFX and popstar Shakira, and creating layered versions of herself; this, a growing maturity in production, a refined aptitude in a broad array of instruments, and stellar takes from fragile to forceful on songs from Gorillaz, Regina Spector, and more place her easily atop our list of favorites for ongoing coverage in 2015.
- Daniela Andrade: Back Home (orig. Caribou)
- Daniela Andrade: Us (orig. Regina Spector)
- Daniela Andrade: Feel Good Inc. (orig. Gorillaz)
Second place in our ongoing coverage category goes to Leeds-based song interpreter and singer-songwriter Jemma Johnson, an emerging artist who we recently featured in our Holiday Coverfolk series. Unlike Andrade, Johnson has only been posting covers on the web for a couple of years, and she’s released just six original songs, four of them via Enough, an EP which hit Bandcamp this summer. But both these dear originals and this year’s cover delights – including takes on Elvis, Radiohead, Sia, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Oasis, Sam Smith, and other well-covered pop artists beloved in the YouTube community – warrant further listening and subscribing.
- Jemma Johnson: Can’t Help Falling In Love (orig. Elvis Presley)
- Jemma Johnson: Your Song (orig. Elton John)
- Jemma Johnson: No Surprises (orig Radiohead)
- Jemma Johnson: Wonderwall (orig. Oasis)
Best Studio Video Coverage
+ Beehive Productions
The production house cover series premise is simple: gather artists for a song or three around a couple of microphones when they come through town, and include a cover in the mix. The result, taken as a single stream, serves as a crowdsourced version of the nearest modern equivalent to the Allan Lomax project, documenting the songs of the ages as they are found in the wild. And it works: there are dozens of these sources, from The AV Club to the BBC, and more every year – enough to justify an awards category all their own, focused around the curation and production process, and those who practice it.
Many of these sources bulge far past folk in their collective capturing; scouring for softer coverage in The AV Club annals, for example, can be an all-afternoon affair. But in a set this vast, it’s relatively easy to find a few that focus on the world of folk and roots. Our favorite this year: upstate New York production house Beehive Productions, who we first found via a black-and-white video cover of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning shared last month as part of our feature on Mike + Ruthy, and whose precision and ethnographic notation bespeaks the crystal clarity of sessions with Charlie Parr, The Murphy Beds, The Bombadils, Anna and Elizabeth, Catlin Canty, Old Man Luedeke, The Steel Wheels and more.
- Charlie Parr: Delia (orig. Blind Willie McTell)
- Cricket Blue: Ode to Billy Joe (orig. Bobbie Gentry)
- Murphy Beds: Blackwater Slide (trad.)
Honorable Mention in this category goes to three favorite hosts and houses: Onder Invloed, Root Down In The Shadow’s Cover Club, and The Crypt Sessions. We’ve already featured The Crypt Sessions in our Best Video Singles category earlier this week; the North London studio that specializes in intimate, precisely captured lo-fi performances will show up again in our final 2015 Christmas-themed feature, suffice it to say, we’re big fans.
Onder Invloed, aka Under The Influence, is an ongoing covers project by Dutch journalist Matthijs van der Ven, who hosts artists in various joints and settings around his home in the Netherlands, and records them playing covers. The settings aren’t always perfect, acoustically speaking, but the diverse match between artist and performance space often produces beauty – as in these very divergent samples from the broken voiced Small Houses and folk harmony trio The Staves, whose live 2015 cover of I’m On Fire with Justin Vernon for The Take is a genuine contender for live cover of the year.
- Small Houses: I’m Always In Love (orig. Wilco)
- The Staves: Chicago (orig. Sufjan Stevens)
Philly-based Root Down In The Shadow goes for diverse settings, too; Small Houses plays a great cover in a stream. The focus is on the local, but it’s a rich scene, and broadly defined, with a stunner from Hezekiah Jones that almost made our Best Singles mix, and a mellow front porch Strand Of Oaks cover from Max Garcia Conover.
- Hezekiah Jones: Sailors (orig. Johnny Miles)
- Max García Conover: Leave Ruin (orig. Strand of Oaks)
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.
And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.
Last year we acknowledged our favorite video-sourced covers of the year as an afterthought, dropping ten of our favorites into our Facebook feed as New Year’s approached. This year, we’re bring it all home. For if the mp3 or streaming audio track represents a particular type of approach to folk, and the live performance another – in that both mediate between song, artist, fan in a fundamentally different way – so is it equally true that the video offers a third approach to the continuation of the folkways, well worth the singular focus we can provide here on Cover Lay Down.
There’s a distinction to be made here between the increasingly common studio recording video and the living room coversong, of course. The former, simply, offers a peek into the recording process; as such, some of the songs which we first featured here on the blog in video form, such as Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and Aoife O’Donovan’s amazing live version of John Hiatt’s Crossing Muddy Water, will still find their way to our Best of 2015 singles mix, instead of here, as a consequence of their intent.
(Also worth noting: we’re unapologetic strippers here at Cover Lay Down, which is to say that many of the singles we have posted in the past have a videographic origin, crunched down to mp3 for easier distribution on the blog. There are times when this makes sense, structurally; it would be jarring, for example, to have muddled the textual purpose of our recent Paris mix by crossing between studio tracks and videos, a distraction to be looking back and forth between subject and interpretation.)
But context matters more when we celebrate the performance of song for itself. Songs intended to be seen and heard the first time are designed and developed as multisensory experiences. In these cases, even as pulling a video from the eyes allows us to focus on its sonic interpretation, it does so by flattening the artist’s intent, a result that challenges and changes the relationship between listener and the music-maker.
And so, in our ongoing attempt to live our vision by serving and supporting artist and fans as directly and honestly as possible, this week we present our Best Video Coverfolk of the year: a two-parter, with an unranked set of our favorite 2015 video singles first, and our favorite ongoing, new, and studio-hosted 2015 YouTube series following. Enjoy – and remember to stay tuned in the weeks ahead for our Best Albums and Best Singles of 2015!
The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos, Part 1: The Singles
Taylor Ashton: Never For Nothing (orig. Stray Birds)
Recorded live in the underground, with what appears to be a busking sax player; the echo is perfect for this cover from Taylor Ashton, lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for BC fusion-folk band Fish & Bird, who also appears in the video for the original song.
Eaves: Girl From The North Country (orig. Bob Dylan)
Two covers from The Crypt Sessions with 23 year old British grungefolk newcomer Eaves offer a perfect case study in how video can help and hurt a song: here, the tortured artist in pale sepia wrings the soul, while the more formal setting of his duet cover of Mountain Man’s Animal Tracks makes it ideal for our forthcoming Best of 2015 singles mix. See also Eaves and Nick Mulvey covering Gillian Welch in a crowd – it’s priceless.
Ryan Hobler: Harvest Moon (orig. Neil Young)
Layered, transcendent, and yet oh so spare. If Neil Young was a high, wavery, dulcet-toned falsetto tenor who played guitar delicately and gently, he’d be Ryan Hobler, a 2014 NewSong finalist whose well-written popfolk debut album The Elusive Yes was released to great fanfare this Spring.
Dana Williams: Wave Of Mutilation (orig. Pixies)
Powerful-yet-sweet pipes often compared to Ella Fitzgerald, a slippery voice in full control of her sound, a simple, gently percussive style on the guitar, and a rooftop setting complete with the shush of traffic typify the early work of Dana Williams; other covers, from Meghan Trainor’s Close Your Eyes to an appropriately lo-fi Chris Bell classic You & Your Sister, show sweetness and light in equal measure.
Kathryn Joseph: Street Spirit (orig. Radiohead)
Chilling and broken cover transforms a tense, ticking original into a taut, tragic ballad. Another “stark, cinematic journey” from experimental UK singer-songwriter Kathryn Joseph, whose debut bones you have thrown me and blood I’ve spilled emerged in January after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Charles Gosme: House of the Rising Sun (trad.)
Classically-trained multi-instrumental pan-European musician and lyricist Charles Gosme reaches back past Alan Lomax and The Animals and into the primordial soup for this gritty, atmospheric cello and voice cover.
Alice Boman: Reason To Believe (orig. Tim Hardin)
Piano and voice echo like Winter inside this empty Switzerland hall on a well-covered classic turned skeletal and thin. From Swedish songstress Alice Boman, whose precise accent is practically a third instrument; the fourth, a shuffling in the hall somewhere behind the camera, lends its own layer of presence magnificently.
Megan Davies ft. Jaclyn : See You Again / Love Me Like You Do / Sugar
(orig. Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth / Ellie Goulding / Maroon 5)
YouTube star Megan Davies, sister Jaclyn Davies, and friend Tasha combine for a supernova of an acoustic mashup already liked over twenty million times by YouTube popwatchers, but likely still a novelty for our folky crowd. Also recommended for true-blue acoustic pop fans: an Eminem/Avicci cover with Megan and “Jac” from 2014, and a recent duet with Luke Preston on Drake’s Hotline Bling.
Hidden Roots Collective: Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover)
A literally off-the-floor cover of a Fleetwood Mac favorite from The Hidden Roots Collective, four Canadian indie singer-songwriters (Annie Sumi, Rose-Erin Stokes, Brigitte Lebel, Holly Cunningham) who have plans to record an album together next spring, thank goodness.
John Moreland: Thunder Road (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
Oklahoma-based John Moreland went big this year, and for good reason: the soulful singer-songwriter – who cites Steve Earle as his inspiration to switch from hardcore to folk – embodies the raw acoustic side of modern roots music, has opened for Jason Isbell, Dawes, and Patty Griffin, writes a hook like nobody’s business, and does Springsteen right.
Dawes & a random fan: Lay Lady Lay (orig. Bob Dylan)
…and this is why live YouTube coverage exists: Dawes holds a lip-sync contest in Paris, and come to the home of this random French fan to sing a cover with her when she wins. And she can sing!
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.
And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift set of favorite 2014 and 2015 covers otherwise unblogged.