This Christmas, Vol. 3: More New Holiday Coverfolk
from Hymns and Carols to Secular Wintersongs and Seasonals


As we’ve noted in years past, Christmas carols comprise a complete and varied taxonomy. But the number of genera within the broader category is relatively finite, with several discrete types common to the form, from the hymns and traditional folk songs of a myriad of cultures to hopeful Santa, tree and present narratives.

All families have their outliers, their platypus and spiny echidna: in this case, the most modern slice of the canon, in which pop and folk artists explicitly use the setting of the Christmas season to tackle the common seasonal themes of family, hearth, peace, joy, redemption and goodwill, but make no claim to the holiday itself. The narrator of Joni Mitchell’s River, for example, could easily be someone who does not celebrate Christmas herself; indeed, it is the emotional distance between that narrator and the celebration of others which provides the song’s core conceit, and its success.

And then there are the Holiday songs that aren’t actually about the holidays at all. For there, on virtually every radio playlist, we find another genotype altogether: the accidental seasonal, in which snowy environments and December settings provide a number of common elements and themes – from the coldness of the weather to the pensive and hopeful emotions of the turn of the year itself – without any explicit mention of Christmas or its trappings.

Combine them all, and you’ve got our final mix of the 2015 Christmas season, featuring a diverse set of new music from joyful to pensive, with folkpunk, bluegrass instrumentals, sensitive singer-songwriter fare, and more delights sure to warm your heart and hearth. Enjoy, and may the spirits of joy, light, generosity, and community live forever in you throughout the year.

  • Unwaxed Rainment: The First Noel (trad.)

    Teenage sibling bluegrass duo from deep South Florida play a hopping bluegrass instrumental on their first recorded appearance as Unwaxed Rainment, released alongside a slick and slippery take on O Little Town Of Bethlehem on Emmanuel, just released via Bandcamp. Joel and Bethany also play, record, and minister through music with their parents as The Xiques Family, who have been performing since 2004, and released their own album of praise and promise this year.

  • Big Little Lions: Deck The Halls (trad.)

    Fans of indie folkpop bands like The Weepies and Mumford and Sons will love the catchy high-concept bells-and-handclap sensibility of the reinventions and originals on Together At Christmas, a five-track EP from Big Little Lions, a songwriting duo project that have picked up accolades from the 2015 Ensemble of the Year award from last year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards to Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition.

  • Fable Cry: Kidnap The Sandy Claws (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)

    Psychedelic gypsy punk band and “theatrical scamp rock quintet” Fable Cry takes on a tune from famed Tim Burton vehicle The Nightmare Before Christmas, upping the energy of the original past the limits of sanity while still managing to fit within the ever-broad boundaries of folk.

  • Anna Rose ft. Wes Hutchinson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas (orig. Bing Crosby)

    From sultry blues and jazz to true blue electropop, charity compilation Fieldhouse Presents: A Holiday Benefit 2015 runs helter-skelter across the genre map, coming together like a beautiful holiday mixtape. Most songs are originals, but this pretty album-closing duet is worth sticking with; folkfans looking for more mellow stuff will also enjoy soft samba Snow from Bird of Paradise and Wakey Wakey’s new fireside duet ballad Christmas With You.

  • Wild Child: Silent Night (trad.)

    We generally eschew links to Amazon here, preferring to support artists with more cents on the dollar through direct links to artist-preferred commercial sources. But Indie for the Holidays is an exclusive Prime Music playlist featuring 27 new songs from some pretty well-known indie pop, roots, and alternative artists, including Bhi Bhiman, Lisa Loeb, and Langhorne Slim; for them, and for this, we’ll make an exception.

  • Jaymay: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (orig. Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams)

    NYC-based singer-songwriter Jaymay Sings Christmas, alright; some of these settings in this still-growing advent calendar are a bit pitch-perfectly orchestral for that shimmery sweet voice with more than a hint of Fiona Apple in its warble. Others, though, are just right. And by dropping the male lyric entirely, this amazing music-box cover of Baby It’s Cold Outside evokes something totally new: a confident, lovely girl by the door into winter, spinning and singing to herself as she puts on her coat, hat, and scarf.

    The Once: Gabriel’s Message (trad.)

    Newfoundland collective The Once plays a swaying gypsy jazz waltz complete with horns on this track we seem to have missed way back in 2012. Other warm horn, bass, drum, and mandolin tracks in 3/4 time on This Is A Christmas Album include a nearly funerial I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.

    Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony: Joy To The World (trad.)

    We’ve been keeping you in the loop about Hark, the new album from our favorite Somerville-based collective, since last Christmas, when we noted their EP pre-release in our Albums of The Year feature. Now the album has landed after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and we’re thrilled to report it’s everything we hoped: quirky and playful, beautiful and bold, with strings and joyful voices raised in harmony.

  • Marika Hackman: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)
  • FLYTE: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)

    Finally, as promised in our Year’s Best Videos features, one more track from The Crypt Sessions, because – like a fireplace in winter – we just can’t resist a warmly-lit, brightly-voiced Christmas video. Plus an amazing new cover from FLYTE, which, like the Joni Mitchell cover, was recorded for It’s Coming On Christmas, the Daisy Digital artist compilation we mentioned in Vol. 2 of our 2015 Christmas Coverfolk series.

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.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2015)
Part 2: Best Cover Sessions, Sets, and Series

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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.

Comment » | Best of 2015, YouTube

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2015)
Part 1: Best Single-shot Living Room Covers & Live Cuts

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.

Comment » | Best of 2015, YouTube

Celebrate ALL The Christmas!
Coverfolk Mixes from Christmas Past (2008-2015)


We’ve still got a few more coverfolk seasonals on the backburner this year, thanks to the constant flow of new releases from Bandcamp, YouTube, and Soundcloud, and the occasional mailbag delight. And we’re also still spinning through a few 2014 releases, since our hearts were too heavy with grief to celebrate in true coverfolk spirit last year; the only Christmas Coverfolk we touted was a pair of holiday albums at the tail end of our Best of 2014 feature, and though both bear repeated listening – Jean Rohe and Liam Robinson’s haunting and beautiful EP The Longest Winter and Hark: Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony, a strings-and-voice project from some of our favorite Boston-based folk artists which has finally come to full fruition this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and is/was eminently worth the wait – the pair are far from a comprehensive look back.

Close readers may have also noticed a few tail-end 2014 and 2013 releases in our two recent posts to add to the pile, too, including multiple-album indiefolk holiday fare from Your Yellow Dress and Boom Forest – in both cases, merely the most recent in a growing series of annual releases, all of which are precious and worth pursuit.

But even without formal features from last Christmas in the pile, that still leaves us with seven years and 25 mixes worth of holiday and winter fare from Christmases past in our archives – and taken together, they comprise a set of holiday covers larger than our local radio station’s classics playlist. Enjoy the collection as the holiday approaches, and may the snows come soon enough to warm our hearts.








Proudly ad-free and artist-centric since 2007, Cover Lay Down has been sharing artist features, ethnographic musings, and coverfolk collections regularly here and on our Facebook page. Donate now to help support our continuing mission, and stay tuned for more holiday coverfolk as the year winds down, plus our annual Best Of The Year double-feature, featuring covers albums, EPs, deep cuts and singles sure to warm your heart and delight your ears!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

This Christmas, Vol. 2: Alternative Holiday Coverfolk
from Leaf Pile, The Many, Tenterhook, Tides of Winter and more!


Folk isn’t always pretty, and neither is Christmas. But there is something both noble and needful in songs that serve to channel the complex emotions that the season brings – and thankfully, the holiday world is full of them, with new albums and singles released every day, a veritable advent calendar of the amateur and the avant-garde, the lo-fi and the low-folk among us.

Where last week’s set of new holiday coverfolk primarily served to soothe the senses, then, today’s new holiday covers come from the fringes of the folkworld, where broken voices and discordant arrangements typify the form – bringing not comfort and joy, but challenging environments and moods somehow soothing in their sheer empathic rawness, proving that sometimes it takes a good deconstruction to help us appreciate the beauty of the season.

  • The Dawn And Dew: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (trad.)
  • S.L.F.M.: I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (pop. Ella Fitzgerald)
  • Loralee Jessen Nicolay: Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella (trad.)

    A smartly representative descent into the industry’s underbelly, Homemade Holidays comes to us via Swoody Records, a label that specializes in the homemade and generally bizarre. Many of the artists featured here cross genre boundaries, and a number of tracks are not covers but brazenly odd original tunes, but our selected set – featuring simple clipped strum patterns, tootling recorder, and primitive vocals from Utah duo The Dawn and Dew, a squeaky, frenetic slack-string from Maine-based uke player S.L.F.M., and a tape hiss transformation from Loralee Jessen Nicolay – makes for a delightfully broken, eminently urgent freakfolk holiday sampler.

  • Leaf Pile: Deck The Halls (trad.)
  • Leaf Pile: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (orig. Judy Garland)
  • Leaf Pile: Feliz Navidad (orig. Jose Feliciano)

    Raw and lo-fi, conceptual album A Leaf Pile Christmas was recorded live in a small cabin in upstate New York over woodstove and wine, and it shows. But there’s something highly endearing and playful about the resulting tunes, with their transformed melodies and arrangements, melodica and harmonica, whistling and bells and electric guitar, and a cacophony of whispery, almost tuneless voices raised in companionable fa la las and feliz navidads. Especially for fans of anti-folk, and not for the faint at heart.

  • Tides Of Winter: Silver Bells (orig. Bing Crosby)
  • Tides Of Winter: Angels We Have Heard On High (trad.)

    On the surface, Faran, this year’s holiday EP from Minneapolis alt-folk four-piece Tides of Winter, is quite listenable, even as it sucks you in. But stuttery, shivery percussion, transformed minor key settings, and haunting instrumental bridges and transitions lend a hollow, grungy sheen to Silver Bells and The First Noel, bringing rare depth and novelty to familiar carols, while the footstomping riot of EP opener Hark, and the slippery slap bass, whistling chorus, and stunning harmonies that transform Angels We Have Heard On High make for a funky, chunky ride through the roots of the new indie folk tradition. Check out their 2013 Christmas EP Bairn, too, which is more fragile, but no less precious, for a comprehensive new outlook on Christmas.

  • Your Yellow Dress: Rise Up Shepherd and Follow (trad.)

    Snow Songs: A Sounds and Tones Holiday Compilation is a mixed-artist compilation from Massachusetts-based grassroots record house Sounds and Tones Records; the label goes far beyond folk, and only one track is available to stream so far, making it a bit early to celebrate the entirety of this release. But it certainly fits our bill: this emofolk take on old standard Rise Up Shepard from California DIY alt-folk band Your Yellow Dress – a band who has released a huge and wonderful set of folky Christmas albums over the past few years – is decidedly indie, all bells and banjo alongside drums and bass and horn, with strained vocal lead, monophonic chorus, and a slow, syrupy pace that doesn’t so much travel as it does wallow in the season until it drowns in a cacophony of repeated phrases. Bonus points: the album, which can be downloaded for as little as a buck, is a charity release, with all profits going to Erika’s Lighthouse, a non-profit that supports youth with depression and mental illness.

  • Tenterhook: Oh Holy Night (trad.)

    A strained and aching cover of the traditional hymn recorded live and hot off the presses from indiefolk studio-and-more The Crypt Sessions, which will put forth its own indie-and-folk Christmas sampler in partnership with UK festival coordinator and promotional house Daisy Digital this Friday; last year’s release from the partnership was darling, with beautiful tracks from the likes of Billie Marten, Rachel Sermanni, and Marika Hackman, and high praise from the hippest blogs, so you’ll excuse us if our excitement is already peaked.

  • Eli Ettien: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (orig. Brenda Lee)

    Loose, bluesy acoustic rock with a hint of twang and an undercurrent of moaning, echoing reverb from hobo traveler Eli Ettien of Montreal creates a unique effect on this holiday single, not unlike a mid-nineties unplugged session from an eighties band with an experimental jazz master at the soundboard having far too much fun multi-tracking in the studio.

  • Noah 23: Christmas In Prison (orig. John Prine)

    A single string drone and male voices an octave apart heavily filtered through auto-tune make for a tense, edgy John Prine cover, like a prisoner on speed with nowhere to go. The track is oddly soothing, once you get used to the synthetic-ness of it all, but don’t try Illuminati Christmas in its entirety unless you’re a true fan of amateur glitch-hop.

  • The Many: Hark The Herald Angels (trad.)
  • The Many: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (trad.)

    Layered vocals on It Came Upon and a fuzzy drone of synthesized bells on Hark The Herald Angels belie simple arrangements of praise with a sweetness of their own. From Advent & Christmas 2015, already chosen as one of the 6 best Christmas albums of 2015 by “Under the Radar,” a weekly syndicated radio program highlighting the top undiscovered Christian artists. The collection is a bit overproduced but nonetheless praiseful and praiseworthy, especially in originals such as Longest Night and on a number of well-organized, harmonious classic hymns, thanks to The Many, the genre-crossing house band for The Plural Guild, a Chicago-based collective of “musicians, writers and other artists creating new music and liturgy for people of faith and doubt who are trying to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and follow the Jesus who so loves the world.”

  • Boom Forest: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)
  • Boom Forest: What Child Is This (trad.)
  • Boom Forest: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)

    Newfound, not new, but Boom Forest’s 2013 album A Very Cookie Christmas Vol. 2 makes for a nice follow-up to our earlier feature, more discordant than anything, mostly recorded in single takes, from memory. Found sound and airy atmospheres sink and soar on tracks like In The Bleak Midwinter, while quirky vocal twitters pulse through What Child Is This; elsewhere, Joni Mitchell’s frozen River cracks with cold, while glitchy, frenetic drum machines shift Winter Wonderland into an anxious world. Check out the first volume from 2012 on Bandcamp, and hope for a third this year.

  • Emily Jane: Winter Song (orig. Sara Barielles)

    Last, but not least, a hearty, torn vocal coupled with primitive guitar makes for a heaviness on what was once a frozen fragility from another better-late-than-never discovery, this one a 2014 YouTube release. Emily Jane is one of those rare finds: other than an amazing 2014 Bonnie Raitt cover on YouTube, and a Facebook page with a smattering of notices of UK gig-driven posts, there’s not much out there about her. But oh, that voice will haunt us this season: if this tantalizing glimpse is an indicator of her future success, we’re happy to push the envelope.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

This Christmas: New Holiday Coverfolk
from Kate Rusby, Stylusboy, Alathea, Aurora, Boom Forest & more!

No snow yet here in the wilds of evergreen New England, but Santa’s been through town on a firetruck, so I suppose the holidays are upon us. Whether you’re shopping locally for the ones you love or just cuddled up by the fire, here’s a few holiday finds to get you into the spirit of the season: new Christmas coverage from delicate carols to indie folk rock masterpieces, the perfect antidote to the overplayed chestnuts of the holiday radio dial.

  • Kate Rusby: Bradfield

    Any new work from Kate Rusby is a cause for rejoicing, and this year’s Christmas album The Frost Is All Over – her third, after While Mortals Sleep (2011) and Sweet Bells (2008) – is no exception. A deep dig into the history of regional folk from the British isles means that most of these carols will be new for listeners, especially on this side of the pond, but never fear: Rusby could make the morning paper sound pure and sweet as well water, and the local focus brings an unparalleled intimacy to the songs even as their horn arrangements bring a full, rich sound to the Christmas traditions of South Yorkshire and beyond.
  • Stylusboy: Oh Little Town

    Darling lo-fi indiefolk with a Coventry lilt from the Christmas Light EP, an upbeat five-track whose physical incarnation comes complete with handmade cover adorned with individual trees cut from world maps by UK rising star Stylusboy, aka singer-songwriter Steve Jones. Click through for a wonderful sing-along Jingle Bells, too.
  • Lindsay Straw: The Forlorn Queen/The Christ Child Lullaby

    As if we needed another reason to hew close to the Boston scene, singer-songwriter Lindsay Straw’s new Winter EP is tender and mild, a safe space by the holiday fire simply set with elegance, in which soft string arrangements and a voice as earnest as Kate Wolf or Cindy Kallet with a hint of winter whisper make for a four-song set perfect for the quiet moments of the season.
  • Boom Forest: The Holly & The Ivy

    A stunningly powerful rearrangement of the classic carol from Daytrotter darling Boom Forest, aka Nashville-via-Wisconsin’s John Paul Roney, released in February of 2015 to not a whit of fanfare as part of a darling, ambient 4-song mixed-bag EP of Christmas songs called Coal: A Winter Split from Bread King Records, a Wisconsin-based record label that claims it specializes in cassette tapes and seems to produce mainly edgy folktronica from the margins of genre.
  • Kate Thomas: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

    Her tiny Holiday EP If The Fates Allow was released on the cusp of Christmas 2014, so we’d be excused if we’re a year late in celebrating Denver’s own Kate Thomas, whose bright and hearty voice rings true as Christmas bells. But bringing her into this season is an easy choice: the songs here are name-your-price, and worth more, with a loving take on new Christian seasonal Mary Did You Know and a gently, playfully countrified White Christmas that will lift your spirits.
  • Smoke Fairies: So Much Wine (orig. The Handsome Family)
  • Smoke Fairies: Steal Softly Through Snow (orig. Captain Beefheart)

    British dream pop duo Smoke Fairies take on the season adeptly in 2014 release Wild Winter, which we seem to have missed last year but is getting good press as the 2015 holidays approach. The album is aptly titled, with mostly original tracks, plus today’s two-fer: a droning, dreamy cover of The Handsome Family’s depressing So Much Wine, and a grungy psychedelic take on Captain Beefheart’s Steal Softly Through Snow that comes off like Fairport Convention in a snowstorm.

Cover Lay Down shares ethnographic musings and coverfolk throughout the year thanks to the kindness and support of patrons like you, so please keep us mind as you consider gift-giving this year…and stay tuned for more holiday coverfolk as the year winds down, plus our annual Best Of The Year double-feature, featuring covers albums, EPs, deep cuts and singles sure to warm your heart and delight your ears!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

Rise Again: Returning, Rebuilding, Recovering
w/ covers of John Denver, Carole King, Steely Dan, Whitesnake & more!

Thinking about longevity and persistence this weekend, prompted in part by Heather’s recent announcement that music blog I Am Fuel, You Are Friends, which has brought us so much honesty, joy, and discovery over the years, just celebrated its tenth anniversary on the web, and in our hearts.

But where Heather makes it look easy to tap into the joy, the history of Cover Lay Down is staggered with loss and regeneration. Like in 2008, when Blogger started to shut us down due to an inability to distinguish between fair use music-sharing and copyright theft, and we had to switch domains. Or four years later, when the company that ran our servers went awol, leaving us to rebuild from scratch – and to praise the lord for the Wayback Machine’s Internet Archives, which today hold the bulk of our first five years of posts and music.

Regular readers know, too: as it has been with the blog, so it has been with the blogger. Several times, I’ve written about my ongoing issue with tinnitus, which corrupts my ability to listen well and wholly to the music we would share and celebrate. And although home life and family were relatively stable when we first opened our virtual doors in 2007, since then, behind the scenes, capacity has reared its ugly head, as personal, professional, and social obligations have heavily impacted our ability to share the music we love so regularly.

The stress and strain of significant family illness and hospitalizations both at home and in my extended family, and the ever-increasing workload of the modern classroom teacher, were the paired tipping points that drove us to hiatus over the past year. An infestation of fleas and five feet of basement floodwaters over the summer buried us deeper, delaying our return.

And then my laptop died. A week later, so did its back-up, the side-along drive I used for music storage – locking me out of a carefully collected and categorized set of over 75 thousand songs amassed over two decades: covers, originals, rarities and live cuts, a lifetime of listening and love to big and unwieldy to store in the cloud.

The loss went almost unnoted amidst the chaos. It seemed relatively trivial at the time; family matters more than machinery. But ultimately, the loss of both primary laptop and archive back-up in a span of just a few weeks had no small impact on the decision to take some time off. And coming back without those archives is proving a bit more of a challenge than we originally anticipated.

There is no phoenix here, as there was when we returned in 2012. Losing the archives means losing both content and index – and the effect this has on our practice is ultimately quite significant. Where once a little kitchen table inspiration could be easily served by a fast search in a vast collection, already tagged by coversong and composer, today I find myself back at square one, dependent on the wider world of public media and downloadables, and the raw ability to search and find in a veritable haystack.

The result is a recentering, tipping us towards the new and the amateur, away from long-gone rarities and CD collections gone digital. But where there is loss, there is opportunity. More novelty and currency will mean more new artists features, and perhaps less comprehensive features on thematic tropes and songbooks, but that’s not terrible, in the end. We’ve covered most of the artists we love by now, and while the opportunity to share more of the new on a more regular basis may make us more like the vast majority of other music blogs, so, too, does it keep us from recycling and reshuffling, offering instead the opportunity for a renewed connection to the ongoing production of the folkways, a regained appreciation for its streams and tributaries.

As much as they offer a chance to reflect on the shifting sands that have brought us here, then, today’s covers also represent a foray into collecting from the wider world – and although it may yaw a bit wider than some of our previous sets, the result is no compromise. From new discoveries to elusive half-remembered songs, from pensive to proud, from catchy to cool and cathartic, may the songs stand as a tribute to resilience, and to our commitment to rebuilding, again and again: as long as there is you, and us, and them, to celebrate.

Rise Again: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]

Cover Lay Down is proud to be back on the web thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Looking to help out in other ways? Consider spreading the word about our newly-inherited concert series, featuring amazing American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy this Friday, December 4th!

Comment » | Metablog, Mixtapes

Small Business Saturday: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Annual Holiday Gift Guide)

It’s raining a bit, but we’re off nonetheless in an hour or so, heading over the river, through the woods, and down the mountain this morning for our tiny rural New England Town’s annual crafts fair: four churches and the House of Art stuffed to their wooden rafters with the very best from local artists and craftspersons, from homespun alpaca yarn and family farm lavender salves to an endless array of jewelry, scarves and woodcarving, all made lovingly by friends and neighbors, familiar faces amidst a sea of comfort and joy.

Lunch afterwards, perhaps ham salad and soup in the church basement, or homemade bread and meat pies at the roadside breakfast joint near the equine rescue center like last year, while horses and sleighs parade past our window. And then home, with half the holiday shopping done, and nary a shopping mall in sight, while the fire burns bright and the family settles into our respective seats.

It’s days like this I love the local life the most: the four of us on the back roads, singing along to our favorite carols on the radio as we wander through an almost-winter, tires crunching over the roadside as yet unsullied by snow, soot and salt. And we’re gladdened to hear the storms of society turn around us, as the annual irritant antithesis of Buy Nothing Day turns to Small Business Saturday.

But as last year, and the year before, Black Friday and its aftermath still top our cultural discourse; the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms remains great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between.

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption.

And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the fourth year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2015 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 12.41.05 PMBlack Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.

Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.

Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.

We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.

But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.

Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.

1. Give the gift of recorded music. Though streaming models make it more and more challenging every day, music sales remain the bread and butter of the starving artist. And Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog: many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites. Or check out independent artist-friendly labels like the recently-featured Signature Sounds, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, or even Etsy.

2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones – there’s still seats available for this year’s Winterbloom holiday shows, for example, in NYC and Boston, at Robinson & Rohe shows up and down the East Coast throughout December, and at our upcoming show this Friday night with American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy in Springfield, MA. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.

3. Give the gift of access. If you can’t always get out to a show, spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or sign them up for Concert Window, which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk clubs, concert halls and living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live-on-screen performances and sessions can be viewed alone, shared over distance through skype and chat, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is an especially apt gift for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. As a bonus, just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.

So browse the folk categories on each site, or skim facebook pages for links to projects in the works that need your support. Examples we’re excited to recommend this year include an impending record from Rose Cousins, whose previous kickstarter-funded release We Have Made A Spark still spins in the car in regular rotation two years after release, and who promises both copies of that record and original haiku and handbaked cookies for supporters at various funding levels. We’re also proud supporters of HARK, the new 14-track CD from Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony, featuring the incredible talents of Boston-based singer-songwriters Jennifer Kimball, Rose Polenzani, Laura Cortese, Cousins, Jenna Moynihan, Valerie Thompson, Brittany Haas and Natalie Haas in celebration of the sixth year of putting on their holiday show at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA – many funding levels for HARK come with dear handmade ornaments and decorations to delight your holiday tree and table, and there’s only 6 days left to go in the campaign, so hit them up soon if you can.

Over at Pledge Music, Jamgrass mainstays Hot Buttered Rum are seeking funds for a three-EP series; one of the three is planned as a tribute to the songs of Ralph Stanley, a project which promises to be both transformative and authentic, as are rewards from personalized postcards to signed drumheads and private instrumental lessons from band members via the web. Meanwhile, on Patreon, recurring funding is needed for Beehive Productions’ ambitious short video series Ear To The Ground, a series about the culture and community of Roots Music which has recently featured some strong covers and originals from CLD faves Charlie Parr, Cricket Blue, Anna & Elizabeth, and Mike + Ruthy; rewards for your support range from exclusive previews and alternate takes to t-shirts, stickers, and that warm fuzzy feeling of being a patron of the folkways as they move ever onward.

5. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.

6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2015″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life.

And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

Until then, here’s a repost from year’s past: a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Unity House Concerts Presents: Mike + Ruthy
(Friday, December 4 @ The UU Society of Greater Springfield, MA)

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. Concerts are held monthly in our wooded sanctuary, and feature 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 (September), Mary Lou Lord (October), and an incredible show last weekend with Matt Nakoa…upcoming shows with The Western Den (February 13), Joe Jencks (March 19) and more as-yet-to-be-confirmed singer-songwriters, duos, and bands…and our very first Friday night show, on December 4, with revered American roots duo Mike + Ruthy.

He grew up listening to ska-punk and alternative rock radio, dreaming of becoming a songwriter on the political edge. She was raised at the intersection of folk and swing, daughter of fiddle master Jay Ungar and country songwriter Lyn Hardy. They met in NYC, just out of college, and went on to found “subversive acoustic stringband” The Mammals, one of the most popular folk rock bands of their generation. And when The Mammals split up, and they married, they spent their honeymoon in the studio, recording a debut duo album aptly called The Honeymoon Agenda.

Now, after several more full-length albums and over a decade of performance together, indie folk roots pair Mike + Ruthy, aka Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, have established a reputation for breathtaking delivery and intimate performance, with exquisite songs and songcraft that combine catchy folk-pop choruses with honest, organic tradfolk and roots elements, played out on guitars, fiddle, banjo, ukulele, and a single microphone. Heralds of an American cultural awakening that values honesty and togetherness, prefers grit to glitz, and revels in the old-fashioned telling of a story, their most recent projects include opening gigs for Ani DiFranco and Kate Pierson of the B-52s, a majestic new album with a full five-piece band that is rich and vast with influence and energy, a twice-yearly folk and roots festival called The Hoot which has brought Sprit Family Reunion, Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and other Cover Lay Down favorites to the Ashokan Center near their home in upstate NY, a haunting posthumous Woody Guthrie collaboration, and a growing family, with parent and child generations that regularly join them on tour and on stage.

We featured Ruth Ungar in our early years as a blog, touching on her work with Michael and The Mammals, and with Aoife O’Donovan and Kristen Andreassen as “acoustic’n'harmonies” indiefolk trio Sometymes Why. But while it is true that, of the pair, it is Ruth who has the family connections, like many indiefolk musicians today, both Michael and Ruth perform and record in multiple modes, both within and beyond the boundaries of their core pairing. Indeed, the merging of his proto-rock radio grounding and her firm tradition has blossomed into a longstanding journey that ranges from soft blues to raucous tradfolk to grungy folkrock sets that frame them as exemplars of their age to critics and peers alike.

Mike Merenda often claims to see music as a way to both capture the world as a living, breathing organism, and to offer it love in the name of restoration; his three solo albums deliver on this adeptly, with outspoken lyrics delivered in a soft, breathy voice over stringwork and production that ranges from true-blue folk to more electrified roots rock fare. By this standard, their collaborative work together is a triumph: free and beautiful, true and sincere, and powerfully political, reflecting the quirky nuances of the world and resonating with the intimate selves we harbor within it.

Which makes me all the more proud to be hosting Mike + Ruthy at our own concert series, and to have the opportunity to tout their musicianship and performance through coverage today.

So check out our diverse set of covers below from their various incarnations and collaborations, and, as always, consider following the accompanying links to purchase their work, and support their shared mission. And then – geography and time permitting – contact us now to reserve your seat for a date with “one of acoustic America’s most revered musical duos” – an event that promises to thrill your senses, raise your spirits, and delve deep into your soul.

Can’t make it to the show? Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic musings regularly thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Here’s how to do your part:

  • Support the continued creation of music by purchasing artists’ work whenever possible.
  • Spread the word to friends and family by joining our Facebook page and clicking “like” on a favorite post.
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings.
  • Donate to Cover Lay Down to help with server and bandwidth costs.

1 comment » | (Re)Covered, House Concerts, Mike + Ruthy

New Artists, Old Songs: The Berklee Bluegrass Edition
(with Grey Season, Honeysuckle, The Lonely Heartstring Band & more!)


We’ve shouted from the rooftops about the Berklee College of Music throughout our 8 years here at Cover Lay Down: through features and featurettes on the careers of young and emerging students and grads like Laura Cortese, Sierra Hull, Chasing Blue, Hannah Read, Emily Elbert, and Emma Beaton; through exploration of the coverage and songbooks of popular Berklee alumni Gillian Welch, Susan Tedeschi, Patty Larkin, Aimee Mann, Natalie Maines, Bruce Cockburn, and John Mayer; through the school’s annual appearances at the Grey Fox and Joe Val Bluegrass Festivals, where we’ve been privileged to catch other artists, such as guitarist Courtney Hartman of Della Mae and Stash Wyslouch of The Deadly Gentlemen, in other incarnations and combinations as they formed their own style.

We’ve even touched on Berklee twice in November, via features on recent graduates Matt Nakoa and Molly Tuttle: Nakoa, who will play our Unity House Concert series on November 21, honed his singer-songwriter, guitar, and keyboard skills there; the video we shared of Berklee grad Molly Tuttle’s quartet The Goodbye Girls was recorded at BIRN, the college’s internet radio station.

But sometimes a deeper dig reveals still more gems. Today’s three featured-first newcomers, Grey Season, Honeysuckle, and The Lonely Heartstring Band – all discovered while sifting through student performances on the Boston school’s incredible YouTube archives – show further clean and clear evidence of success for the college’s continued good work at the bleeding-edge intersection of academia and the grassier side of the folkways via the American Roots Music program. They’re joined by Mile Twelve, a band of current students on their way up the bluegrass ladder, and followed by two bonus featurettes, both a bit beyond bluegrass but equally strong, thanks to a few peripheral sources close to the college. Kudos, as always, to Berklee for a program that is both exceptionally well run, and worth following closely.

greyseasonDon’t be lulled into complacency by the a capella verse that begins this amazing cover of Mama, You Been On My Mind; the song is about to explode into punkgrass, with a tinge of janglepop and more than a hint of country rock, thanks to 5-piece folk rock band Grey Season, a quartet on speed who recorded their debut full-length Time Will Tell You Well last year at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY, opened for Alabama Shakes, The Avett Brothers, and Hozier this September at the Boston Calling festival, and will send you a download link to Undercover, a full album of hard-edged covers of songs from Merle Travis, Father John Misty, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and more, for an email sign-up.

And wow, do we recommend both albums, especially for fans of that fertile soil where grungy Americana, roots music, grassy country, and folk rock meet. Their resurrection of Rod Stewart’s Maggie May has shades of The Band, the Beach Boys and Springsteen; their potent versions of old standards Dark as a Dungeon and Mary and the Soldier are lighthearted and rich with harmony, and their take on Up On Cripple Creek is a modern update for the electro-acoustic set which cranks the playful, funky energy of the original up to eleven. Meanwhile the band’s driving banjo-and-bass take on Richard Thompson classic 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is a fine punk pop masterpiece, with jangling strings, wailing electric guitar, and a full drum kit that would make them as perfect an opening act for The Dropkick Murphys as for Parsonsfield.

lhbBeatles-inspired quintet The Lonely Heartstring Band claims roots firmly in old-school full-band Appalachian and bluegrass music, and it shows in everything from their masterful harmonies to their tight, fluid instrumentation, complete with banjo and fiddle solos worth every lick.

The seven tracks on their mostly-Beatles covers EP (the inevitable product of their formative commission as an all-Beatles wedding band) far transcend the typical, but as those who have already caught them on the mainstage at Grey Fox or the Freight and Salvage know well, don’t dismiss them as just another bluegrass popcovers studio collaborative. As seen below in recent takes on Rambling, Gambling Willie and Paul Simon’s Graceland, together, their recent YouTube videos, their live shows, their Beatles EP, and an impending Kickstarter-driven album comprise a collection of performances so exquisitely clean and smooth, they serve as a virtual how-to for the modern melodic end of the grassy folk tradition, culminating in a growing body of work Bill Monroe himself would be proud to promote.

honeysuckleCurrent nominees for both Best Folk and Best Americana artists for this year’s Boston Music Awards alongside the aforementioned Grey Season, Honeysuckle takes on the bluegrass-Americana folk trio sound at its best, with wonderful raspy, slippery Appalachian-tinged vocals from singer Holly McGarry that layer exquisitely over loose banjo, mandolin, guitar, and harmonies, culminating in a truly American sound that reportedly thrilled the crowd along the water’s edge at Newport Folk Festival this summer.

Case in point: it’s hard to cover Gillian Welch well, but with not one but two great Welch covers among its original gems, their live recording from last November’s gig at the Rockwood Music Hall easily beats the spread. No covers on their equally strong studio EP Arrows, which was released last April, but we’ll be keeping an ear out for a full-length promised for Spring 2016.

We had to go beyond the Berklee archives to find Mile Twelve, but they were already on our radar, thanks to featured appearances at both last week’s New England Regional Folk Alliance conference and this year’s Freshgrass Festival, a fave festival held on the grounds of avant-garde art museum MassMOCA in the upper Western corner of our home state of Massachusetts, which brought raves from the crowd.

The band features current Berklee students playing the kind of raw, formative bluegrass that often typifies student work from the program: chock full of old standards and fresh, original compositions, technically strong but still exploratory, a little loose in all the right ways, but played with heart and joy. Tony Trischka is spot on when he notes that “Mile Twelve is carrying the bluegrass tradition forward with creativity and integrity”; after recent gigs at Ossipee Valley and Grey Fox, and a self-titled EP released just this summer containing five originals and a great cover of Carter Stanley’s Our Last Goodbye, the sky, as they say, seems to be the limit. Where they’ll go from here, no one knows – just a year ago, most of these kids were performing in another band, as seen below – but for now, both Mile Twelve and its individual players are well worth watching.

They’re barely bluegrass, but this pair of Joni Mitchell covers, discovered in an offshoot video archive maintained by college radio station BIRN, were certainly intriguing enough to tack on as a coda. The older of the two, an oddly moody, eminently creative cover of You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio, features Molly Tuttle herself on Guitar and lead vocals; the other, posted just a few weeks ago, features fiddler and current Berklee student Adam Iredale-Gray of newly-discovered Canadian folk band Fish & Bird, which we hope to feature soon on its own. And the intrigue? Though there appears to be no overlap in personnel between the two, both are nominally performed by the Berklee Joni Mitchell Ensemble, from which we infer that the moniker refers to a project, not a band.

Finally: Bonus points for following the threads all the way to this past Spring’s YouTube Hack project, which challenged Berklee students to learn, record, produce and distribute a finished video product in just 36 hours from start to finish – and revealed covers of Whitney Houston and Canadian electro-pop artist Lights among the ruins when the project was complete. We’ll just leave these two surprisingly good (but decidedly not bluegrass) videos here, shall we?

Looking for more evidence of Berklee College prowess, and willing to wander beyond the blue? Spend an afternoon digging through Berklee’s growing YouTube archives, with separate playlists of student originals, covers and arrangements, and the Visiting Artists at Berklee archives, a fascinating collection of over 100 videos with Jazz, Bluegrass, Big Band, Latin, Pop, World and new classical arrangements from the likes of Del McCoury, Victor Wooten, and Alejandro Sanz alongside some truly inspirational speeches and interviews with and from Jimmy Page, Annie Lennox, and more.

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