(Re)Covered: New Coverage from Old Friends
Roosevelt Dime, Mikaela Davis, Sierra Hull, Pesky J. Nixon and more!

Thanks to a spate of collections, singles and deep cuts from a vast variety of folkslingers and roots-diggers, 2016 is gearing up to be a great year for coverage. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news of newly released material from folks featured here before, from the loose, percussive American roots music of four-piece bands Roosevelt Dime and Pesky J. Nixon to the tight string-driven stylings of indiefolk harpist Mikaela Davis, bluegrass prodigy Sierra Hull, and more!

We’ve been touting NYC-based “acoustic steamboat soul” quartet Roosevelt Dime since their very first Radiohead cover, featuring their most recent full-length Full Head Of Steam on the cusp of the 2014 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and noting that we’ve since befriended the boys after hosting them for beer, shade, tent-space and a campsite jam under the hot sun – and we’re still excited to find them continuing to stretch and grow at the intersection of Louisiana Jazz, bluegrass, folk, and old-school rhythm and blues. The raw energy of their new single-shot cover of Tom Petty classic American Girl, which seems to have become the in thing to cover on the banjo circuit, is just lovely, with a funky groove and a wonderful vision of America as old, timeless, and new.


Falcon Ridge favorites Pesky J. Nixon have grown and stretched since we debuted their all-covers Red Ducks album back in 2012, adding Kara Kulpa on mandolin and vocals to their already well-established, infectious, heavily percussive folk rock trio sound, and letting accordion player and keyboardist Jake Bush take a turn on lead vocals here and there alongside guitarist and singer Ethan Scott Baird. The result, as we heard last year on the Falcon Ridge stage as the foursome prepared for newly released second-round covers album Red Ducks, Vol. 2, represents both a rich expansion and a maturation for the Boston-based band, with songs such as album kick-off Let Me Down Easy, a driving, high energy romp from fellow folkscene traveler Raina Rose that plays as well in the studio as it does on stage, and potent, melodic takes on Ryan Adams, Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Gabriel, The Band, and undersung contemporaries John Elliot and Peter Bradley Adams standing out as gems among gems, earning “Red Ducks redux” our highest recommendation.



weighted+mind+sierra+hullLong-time mandolin whiz Sierra Hull is reinventing herself as a singer-songwriter, and it’s a heck of a ride: new album Weighted Mind pulls out all the stops, echoing the transformation of Alison Krauss before her with banjomaster Bela Fleck on board as producer, a star-studded cast of studio greats (including Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens on harmony), and stunning, introspective lyrics that get right to the longing heart. There’s only one cover here (Queen of Hearts, a traditional song which Hull discovered on an old Joan Baez album, which appears here coupled with an original instrumental), but it’s a perfectly representative sample: sweet, sultry, and soaring in performance; honest and harmonic, masterful and mature in arrangement. Here’s a live take of the song recorded last year on Prairie Home Companion to whet your whistle.



We discovered the first two volumes of Boston-based labor-of-love compilation project Locals Covering Locals back in January, just a bit too late to include it in our Best of 2015 features. But right out of the gate, Volume 3 of the series, which dropped just this week, is a strong contender for this year’s best, with an aching, fluid album-closer from Dietrich Strause, gentle new primitivism from local favorite Allysen Callery taking on the Marissa Nadler songbook, and a grungy folkrock take on one of Allysen’s songs by daughter Ava alongside, standing out in another well-mixed set of otherwise new-to-us songs and songwriters.



We first featured harpist Mikaela Davis via a pair of YouTube video covers in our New Artists, Old Songs series way back in our early days, when she was still a local college student. Last week’s re-release of these old favorites and a few more as a 4-song digital covers EP via Bandcamp comes as a wonderful treat for the coverhound, with delightfully precious, surprisingly robust atmospheric takes on The Kinks (David Watts), Sufjan Stevens (Casimir Pulaski Day), Elliott Smith (Twilight), and Cass McCombs (Meet Me Here At Dawn); taken together, the four tracks, originally recorded in and around 2011-2012, showcase a broad indie influence, and serve as apt harbingers of the more nuanced and layered psychedelic folk rock-meets-chamber pop sound that typifies her more recent work as a 23 year old touring pro coming soon to a city near you as she tours both East and West coasts this Spring opening for Marco Benevento.



Finally, in other rerelease news: ubiquitous American primitive revivalist Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who we last heard in January thanks to a strong pseudonymous appearance on last year’s 3-disc tribute to early American folk revivalist Shirley Collins, remains busy heading into the year, releasing a collection of songs originally recorded for John Peel’s BBC radio sessions that includes a potent 1994 cover of Prince song The Cross – a deconstruction of a soaring, spiritual original into something eerie, urgent, and broken that, despite its age, still sounds fresh as a daisy.


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 coverfolk from 2014-2015.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Mikaela Davis, Pesky J. Nixon, Roosevelt Dime, Sierra Hull

Dog Songs: A Canine Coverfolk Mix
with covers of The Stooges, Harry Nilsson, Nick Drake & more!





We didn’t have a dog in my house growing up. Allergies kept me away from other people’s dogs, too. The dogs I saw on the street were always pulling at their owners, or going for my teenage crotch. And so, by the time I hit my late teens, I had formed an impression of the entire canine kingdom as a population of barely-domesticated beasts, each pet an uncontrollable burden constantly on the verge of snarling, slobbering attack.

But Zellie, a pure-bred Jack Russell Terrier who we acquired in our first few years of marriage from a breeder who let her own pups run wild in the woods, wasn’t so much a dog as our first child: raised from a tiny pup, held close through her formative year, and ultimately the calmest, sweetest Jack, the very exception that proved the rule for the breed.

I don’t like dogs. But I loved Zellie, named for the Dutch word gezellig, a descriptive term that describes the lazy, laissez-faire attitude of waiters and shopkeepers, after my wife vetoed my first choice (drempels, which is Dutch for “speedbumps”). I loved her for 16 years, ever since the day of our first encounter, when she crawled from her litter to settle in the palm of my hand, and my heart broke open. My children loved her. And my wife, who is in many ways at her best with an infant in her hands, had a loving, grateful baby that spent her days and nights snuggled up against her.

And then, one morning in June, I let her out for her usual morning walk-about, and she didn’t come back. We looked for her for days – first her, and then her body.

And then one day, we stopped looking.

It was already the summer of fleas and flood. The famine of Crohn’s disease had been ravaging our family for two years. We were tired to begin with; tired, and sick, and struggling.

The slow, subsequent understanding that she was gone broke our already fragile hearts.

I wrote this.


Gezellig

It’s been four days since you didn’t come back.
Already I’m forgetting the sweetness
of your breath; your soft belly under
my fingertips; the present tense of you.

The girls miss you terribly. We hold them close
and lose ourselves in holding them close.
Our cars become embassies of heartbreak,
safe houses from a nation of sorrow.

Yesterday we walked for hours. The girls looked
for you everywhere. I looked for your body
small in the underbrush, white against brown leaves.
I looked for your body in my heart
where nothing is ever finished or resolved:
the chaos that builds inside our bedroom;
the children’s illnesses that do not fade;
the broken things we patch or work around
because we cannot afford to fix them.

I still look for your body, driving slow
each time I come back to the street where we live:
the street that swallows us, and you, and my heart.



It takes time to move on past the greatest loves of our lives. I still look into the underbrush as I turn onto our street, on warm days when the snow has melted.

But last weekend, after a couple of false starts, with beating hearts and nervous cheer we drove up to the shelter and let a dog pick us out. We named him Chick, because he looks like a miniature version of my in-law’s lab-mix Rooster, all the way down to the frosted paws and white chest blaze, and because when we pick him up, he settles into our body heat like a freshly laid hatchling.

I wasn’t sure I was ready. It turns out I was overdue.

Losing a first pet is a terrible, necessary teachable moment, one all of us need as we move towards maturity. But if I’ve learned anything from our adventures with dogs over the last seven months, it’s that as much as it is a new beginning, finding the second pet is the second movement of loss: its capstone, and its transformation.

It was time, long past time, to move on to acceptance. And so the wee one, still an empath at ten years old, was a bit teary-eyed that first night with Chick, her growing love for our tiny black beast distracted by the thought of she-who-came-before, confronted newly with the raw truth that moving on can feel like disgracing a memory. And so all of us cried a bit, that first week, as we came to terms with the knowledge that one day, this dog, too, will move on without us.

And so we made the choice to love him more fiercely for it, instead of holding back, the better to make the most of the time we have.

As I remind my children in these past weeks, we will always love the parts of us that our own loves bring to us, and be grateful for their acceptance, care, love and grace. And we are better, much better, for the experience. For no longer will we take love for granted; no longer will we forget that every moment shared is precious, even as we learn to accept the shortness of time itself.

Thank you, Chick and Zellie, for teaching us that who we are is always greater when we share our hearts and homes. May you both find rest and love, eternal and amen.




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.

5 comments » | Mixtapes

The Folkier Side of Ed Sheeran
(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.



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!

Comment » | Ed Sheeran, The Folkier Side Of...

Unity House Concerts presents: Antje Duvekot
(January 16 @ 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, 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: 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.

1 comment » | Antje Duvekot, House Concerts

RIP: David Bowie, 1947-2016


david_bowie


I was never really a huge David Bowie fan. But as a child of the first MTV generation, it’s hard not to recognize and respect both man and myth.

Bowie’s songbook was potent, his influence as immense as his chameleon-like persona. A deliberately unreliable narrator who found universal truths in imagined worlds, he mastered the video form early, the better to spread the music, paving the way for today’s YouTube world. He spent a lifetime recording and touring on the strength of over a hundred charting singles in a career that spanned five decades.

And fittingly, two years ago, his song Space Oddity served as soundtrack for the first music video created in outer space.

So when David Bowie passed on this morning after an long struggle with cancer, just days after the release of Blackstar – his thirtieth studio album, counting soundtracks – we took a quick dip into the archives. And sure enough, there it was: our very first Covered In Folk feature, from way back in December of 2007, covering the songbook of Ziggy Stardust himself.

In memory of Bowie, then, whose songs populate our weirdest dreams, today we resurrect and rebuild that feature, adding several new and newfound recordings to the list of covers that follows. May the man himself live on through the music, as all great men.




The recent penchant towards folk interpretations of songs from the popworld is really nothing new. After all, though modern folk music has turned its eye towards confessional songwriting and urban poetry, and quite often away from its agrarian roots, traditionally, folk music is not so much about the rural as it is populated by the music of the folk, which quite literally means whatever is popular in the eyes and ears of the people.

Instead, we might suggest that it was inevitable that folk music change its tone once radio and the recording studio changed forever the hum lingering in the ears of the populace. As a result, we have urban and anti-folk, folk rock and folkpop, subgenres of folk music which often share the same production values as pop music of today. And we also get a heck of a lot of songs from the radio entering the cover repertoires of folk musicians themselves.

How else can we explain the prevalence of David Bowie covers “out there”? Certainly Bowie is nothing like folk — his stylistic pose and chameleon-like personality are antithetical to the authentic and direct relationship between artist and audience that characterizes folk music. Neither is his broken-glass poetic imagery and trope terribly folk, though I suppose one could make a case for the odd science-fiction motif as resonant with the same audience as modern folk music, and surely some of today’s choice cuts reveal some storysong structures and cultural journey motifs common to much folk music.

A few years ago, when Dar Williams asked her fan base to vote on which song she should record, Bowie’s Starman won by a landslide. I suppose it goes to show us: part of what has always made folk music folk music is the way it tries to connect with the audience. And if this means a reflection of the classic rock radio that permeates our culture, or a shared recall of that late-seventies or mid-eighties childhood, ears glued to the shimmery radio glamstars of those last pre-MTV days, then who are we to question the origin of the ultimately authentic, earnest songs and reinterpretations that result?

Today, a few choice covers from the surprisingly vast spectrum of David Bowie songs performed by folk musicians, available track by track or as a one-shot download. Play ‘em in public to watch two generation of cool kids smile as the songs in their heads come back to life, stripped down and stretched out, in spades, in style, and in beauty.

  • Dar Williams: Starman
    This Bowie-esque popfolk cover from urban folk goddess Dar Williams was produced and distributed solely via Dar Williams’ fanbase; they own her albums, and so should you.
  • The Gourds: Ziggy Stardust
    Alt-country bluegrass boys The Gourds bring their signature hoot and holler, swagger and twang to this cover, originally recorded for a March 2003 CD insert in Uncut magazine and now available on french-produced Bowie coveralbum Bowiemania.
  • M. Ward: Let’s Dance
    Though I usually prefer the stripped down nature of in-studio covers, the slow atmospheric layers of this produced version, off Transfiguration of Vincent, really set off M. Ward‘s rough-hewn vocal style.
  • Leaf Rapids: The Man Who Sold The World
    Grungy, gothic dreampop cover of a song made famous by Nirvana, and then transformed again by Leaf Rapids, the Manitoba-based husband and wife duo whose Handsome Family cover we celebrated in our 2015 lost coverage roundup just last week.
  • Seu Jorge: Rebel, Rebel
    No modern exploration of Bowie’s influence on folk would be complete without at least one selection from Seu Jorge‘s wonderful, delicate Portuguese translations of the canon, produced as part and parcel of the narrative arc for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou under the inspired direction of Wes Anderson.
  • Hezekiah Jones: Ashes To Ashes
    Hezekiah Jones, “a collection of Philadelphia-area artists orbiting around the songwriting talents of one Raphael Cutrufello”, originally recorded their sweet, creaky waltz-time banjo-and-harmony cover of Ashes To Ashes for a compilation that never came to be.
  • Keller Williams: Under Pressure (orig. David Bowie/Queen)
    Keller Williams is typically playful in this live take on Bowie/Queen collaboration Under Pressure, but listen carefully – under the surface, the song takes itself seriously, and ultimately, so does Williams.
  • Solotundra: Sound And Vision
    Lo-fi alt-country from Italian minimalists Solotundra, who use doubled voices and a guitar drone to replicate this mostly instrumental piece from Bowie’s equally minimalist, equally lo-fi 1977 album Low.
  • Dan Hardin: Heroes
    It’s hard to find folky covers of Heroes, though the song seems to have become a staple of the hard rock cover circuit, but YouTuber Dan Hardin reins in the angst, dampening the fire without losing the tension.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell: Kooks
    Fave kindie-folker Elizabeth Mitchell put this delightfully cheery cover on her 2012 album Blue Clouds, where it soars alongside a full complement of other gentle lullaby transformations.
  • Danny Michel: Young Americans
    A slowbuild backporch slackstring folk-blues; the storysong of an American awakening. My absolute favorite Bowie cover. Ladies and Gentlemen, Danny Michel, from beautiful tribute Loving The Alien: Danny Michel Sings the Songs of David Bowie.

Comment » | David Bowie, RIP

New Artists, Old Songs: 2016 Rising Stars
(with The Oh Hellos, Elle King, Elouise and more!)





We’re finally ready to look ahead to 2016, with backburner entries bubbling in the works featuring single-artist songbooks through acoustic and folk coverage and a resurrection of some wonderful songs to celebrate next Saturday’s Unity House Concert with intimate, graceful singer-songwriter Antje Duvekot.

Today, then, let’s begin our forward-looking exploration by ringing in the new with news of the now – a broad celebration of folk and roots artists with careers on the rise, from the dark and gothic to the delicate and sweet. Read on to learn more about Elouise, The Oshima Brothers, Mia Rose Lynne, The Oh Hellos, The Orphan Brigade, The Button Collective, Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear, the folkier side of Elle King, and more!



Formed complete with a soundtrack-composers-turned-album-makers mythos, new “blackgrass” collective Elouise plays a primitive, angsty, menacing form of folk that uses vintage Appalachian string instruments and gear to squeeze the raw pain out of the psyche through song.

And yes, it’s as good as that makes it sound.

Tipped off by a tense, scratchy Christmas cover of Silent Night that was anything but calm and bright, we had to go looking for more. Their forthcoming debut, the aptly-named Deep Water, drops early in 2016, and we’re eager for it: check out this beautiful whole-cloth deconstruction of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, and a pair of traditionals reborn as stunning gothic hymns, to hear why, and then click through for originals of equal delight on their website.


Speaking of taking on the tradition, here’s two vastly different versions of Paddy’s Lamentation, a Canadian tune from the 1870s that made its way to Ireland and has since been recorded by Mary Black and Sinead O’Connor, that together provide a study in range and reach in the world of up-and-comers.

The first, released in November on debut full-length Soundtrack To A Ghost Story, comes from indie folk band The Orphan Brigade, who bring us exactly the simple tour de force of haunting melody and atmosphere that history buffs could have anticipated: the band, named after a group of Confederates from Kentucky who suffered heavy losses during the war, recorded the album in an infamous house deep in Kentucky well-stocked with the ghosts of the Civil War, and it sounds like it.

Meanwhile, Australian folksters The Button Collective, who together live their sound by helping crew a 107 foot, two-mast schooner every few months, and whose new four-song EP The Lonesome Sea shows a same smashing, rollicking, heavy-on-the-downbeat sea-folk influence, take a substantively different turn on the same tune, with fiddle and flute and squeezebox and drum and a tip of the hat to the same side of the tradition that drove the sea shanty into the world of punk rock. Thanks to Timber and Steel, as always, for helping us stay on top of the Aussie folkworld, this time with a track-by-track read on the EP from frontman Brodie Buttons.



There’s only one cover on Dear Wormwood, the October release from Texas-based brother-and-sister duo The Oh Hellos, and it’s a bit of an anomaly, a classical instrumental piece from the public domain turned into a gypsy barnraiser on the lathe of modern folk rock. But the album it contains is delightful: a catchy, sweet-to-resolute journey through a psyche tracing the dissolution of a relationship, framed as a series of letters and couched in a comprehensive soundscape that will linger in your ears for days. Regular readers may recognize the band from a few Christmases ago, when we featured their wonderful holiday EP; their debut dates back to 2012, and just over 50 thousand likes on their Facebook page make “new artist” labels a stretch, but we’re still watching the meteor rise, and so should you.

Bonus points for Johnnycake Street, a fledgling all-female four-piece string band, who covers The Oh Hellos like a shy southern cul-de-sac on this brand new video-sourced take on Hello My Old Heart, just the first of several covers on a YouTube page that is still just starting out. Discovered via the team at Billsville House Concerts, who feature amazing national touring acts in their Manchester, VT living room; even if you don’t live near enough to make it to a show, their schedule alone provides a potent who’s who of other voices to watch carefully.



Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 2.31.49 PMJamie Oshima‘s roughcut cover of Ed Sheeran’s Tenerife Sea came to our attention – and ultimately found its way onto our Best Singles of 2015 mixtape – thanks to a mention from fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger, whose year-end emails are always chock full of wonderful things. But where Tenerife Sea suffered from amateur recording quality, and this gleefully looped slowpop take on Happy from Jamie and his brother Sean leaned more on youthful, amateur exuberance, this new Passenger cover represents a huge jump forward for the sibling pair: pure as silk, and just as dear, with gentle harmonies and guitars and a perfect tonality for a song which celebrates the mystery of youthful encounters with the heart.



MWMB-BWWe started feeling the buzz for Missouri-based mother-son duo Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear midway through last year, thanks to a wonderful mid-summer debut that led to prime coverage on both local and international public radio – and rightfully so: though sibling harmonies are common enough in the folk marketplace, parent-child harmonies are much less so; even then, they typically form as one-shot or occasional matches featuring second-gen artists from Sam Grisman to Lucy Wainwright Roche backing up more famous parentage, not emerging artist pairings in which the son is the songwriter, though he learned his stagecraft from watching mom perform covers in local coffeehouses.

But the joy here is in the song, not the situation. Once the novelty of the generational pairing wears off, we’re left with a strong impression of tenderness and talent, with warm, soulful vocals and skillful hands on the guitar from Madisen and Mama Ruth, whose closeness shines through the music and its intimate one-take production. Even if all we could find by way of recorded coverage from the soul-folk duo was a February 2015 take on Fleetwood Mac from a SiriusXM session, this is their year, I think.


Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 2.27.06 PMElle King is on the rise, for sure, with two Grammy Nominations for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song after last year’s excellent (and platinum-selling) Ex’s and Oh’s. But those familiar with her produced alternative sound, as in her rockin’ take on Tom Petty’s American Girl, may not have realized that she is at heart a student of the folkways, using banjo as a compositional tool, and producing bluesy stripped down covers like this one, from SiriusXM’s Alt Nation.


Finally, simple, sincere California-grown and Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mia Rose Lynne hasn’t done much in the way of coverage in the studio, but a holy host of sweet, ringing, hopeful bedroom covers on her YouTube page make for a depth of canon and influence sure to delight and lead us to sophomore album Follow Me Moon, which drops this Friday and is already being touted as a tour de force by UK Folk Radio. The singer-songwriter is often compared to Allison Krauss and Joni Mitchell, but the nuances here are lustier, and more her own, as heard and seen in last year’s cover of I Will – which Krauss has covered with much more fanfare and much less delicacy – and further takes on Fionn Regan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, and other bittersweet balladeers of modernity.

  • Mia Rose Lynne: Be Good Or Be Gone (orig. Fionn Regan) [2015]

  • Mia Rose Lynne: I Will (orig. The Beatles) [2015]



Cover Lay Down shares ethnographic musings and coverfolk throughout the year thanks to the kindness and support of patrons like you. Give now, and receive an exclusive 38-track mix of unblogged folk covers from 2014-2015!

Comment » | New Artists Old Songs

Missed in 2015: Lost Songs and Late Arrivals
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.



siPulling 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).



adatLive 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.


lclLocals 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.



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.



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.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Jackie Oates, Mixtapes, Willie Watson

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles (2015)
A-sides, B-sides, deep cuts, live takes & more!


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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!]




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.

Comment » | Best of 2015, Mixtapes

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

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

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

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

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

Coming back, though, has been a revelation.

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

+ Various Artists, Decoration Day, Volume 4

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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





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.

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

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


xmasvill


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

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