(Re)Covered: New coverage from old friends
John Statz, Caroline Herring, Poor Old Shine & more!

There comes a time in every New England winter where the endless snow begins to weigh heavy on the soul, threatening to crush the heart. Hope sputters as we teeter on the edge of resignation. Every weather report is like a curse. Spring becomes but a dream.

But it’s school vacation, and for a teacher, this means time: for children’s play, for catch-up chores, and then, finally, for the self. I’m writing poetry again, and the soundtrack is fine indeed, here alongside the roar of the pellet stove, new music snug and alive against the whispering silence of a world deadened by white.

Which is to say: the mailbag is stuffed to overflowing with the good stuff again, and we’re pleased as punch to finally have a chance to steep in it all. Today, then: news and new tracks from some of our favorite artists of yesteryear, with a second set to follow towards the end of the week. May their vibrant energy serve as a perfect antidote to the numb, dumb eternity of February.

Caroline Herring was an early favorite here on the blog, an anomalous southern voice on the Massachusetts-based Signature Sounds label whose 2007 album Lantana chilled us so powerfully with its haunting portrayals of character and place, and its perfect balance of serenity and emotional investment, that we could not help but reach out for our very first interview in celebration of follow-up CD/EP set Golden Apples Of The Sun/Silver Apples of the Moon, with its fine covers of Cyndi Lauper, Kate Wolf, and Lefty Frizzell.

The literate singer-songwriter’s newest project I Will Go Into The Day, which dropped January 11, is nominally a children’s album, one that wholly succeeds in its attempt to “set to music the magic and wonder of childhood, and celebrate the joys of imaginative play”; as long-time proponents of kidfolk, we’re excited to steep in it on those merits alone, and eager, too, to share the album’s two covers – a sweet children’s choir version of traditional song John The Rabbit and a translated take on 1940s yiddish composition Donna Donna that transforms the tune cleanly into a powerful Appalachian lullaby. But we’re equally thrilled to find this natural antidote to the bleeps and distances of the technological life simmering with more for the mature and discerning ear, with songs that call like wistful sirens to adult nostalgia and centeredness even as Herring’s gentle guitar and warm alto warble soothe at the surface.

    Caroline Herring: Donna, Donna (orig. Sholom Secunda)

    Caroline Herring: John The Rabbit (trad.)



Thanks to some sweet harmonies, timeless originals from mournful to majestic, and reverent, pitch-perfect takes on Norman Blake’s Church Street Blues and Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta, Our Lady of the Tall Trees, the debut album from “new old-time” singer-songwriters and master instrumentalists Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, was one of our favorite releases of 2012; their subsequent set at Freshgrass was the highlight of our weekend, and we said so here, in a feature that seems to have been eaten by our subsequent move from one server to another. Their brand new sophomore effort I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands finds the pair comfortable with their sound: masterful licks from mandolin, banjo and guitar twine with that lonesome duo sound exquisitely on ballads and kickers alike, making the album a fine follow-up with range and resonance, an equal mix of cowboy folk and true blue bluegrass from one of the most duly and well-celebrated young duos on the scene today. Check out upbeat original Livin’ In America, lonesome heartbreaker Down In The Lonesome Draw, swinging fiddle-and-mandolin waltz version of Louvin Brothers classic Lorene, and more over at their webpage, and then snag the album via Bandcamp.

    Cahalen Morrison & Eli West: Green Pastures (trad.)

    Cahalen Morrison & Eli West: Voices of Evening (orig. Alice Gerrard)



It’s rare for us to come back to an artist so soon after first discovery. But as noted in our most recent New Artists, Old Songs collection back in January, Molly Tuttle isn’t just a co-lead vocalist and guitar/banjo player for The Tuttles with AJ Lee, she’s also a budding Berklee-trained talent of her own – and her sets with both the Berklee Bluegrass crew and with her own sidestage trio at last weekend’s Joe Val Bluegrass Fest had the crowds nodding and smiling, leaving us looking for more. Happily, Tuttle proves her mettle and then some with a five-track self-titled duo EP released in early February with trio member and fellow Berklee-trained fiddler John Mailander, now available via Bandcamp, featuring lilting coverage of Joni Mitchell, traditional bluegrass tune Moonshiner, a fine original set from Molly and John, and a surprisingly sweet, robust take on country music singer-songwriter Keith Whitley’s I’m Over You that channels Kasey Chambers’ best country heartbreak.

    Molly Tuttle and John Mailander: Morning Morgantown (orig. Joni Mitchell)

    Molly Tuttle and John Mailander: I’m Over You (orig. Keith Whitley)



Midwestern singer-songwriter John Statz, who named his last release for the single cover among its potent narrative portraits of granite and field, was one of our favorite discoveries of 2012, and the proof, as always, is in the pursuit: since then, we’ve dug deeply into his back catalog, picking up older albums from his formative years, fallen in love with the longing and despair he brings to his live take on Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2, and found depth in his plainspoken poetry and joy in his celebration of the world as it is, leaving us eager to help spread the gospel.

Statz recently holed up in a Vermont snowstorm to record a new album, with fellow Wisconsinite and Cover Lay Down fave Jeffrey Foucault on board as producer and back-up musician; after catching the pair together at Northampton venue The Parlor Room in December, and recording a couple of covers to boot, we’re eager, indeed, to hear the results. But those looking for an early fix need look no farther than 12 August, a live duo album from Statz and fellow midwestern folk troubadour and honest storyteller Josh Harty that drops today. Minimally produced, with a live session sound that celebrates the intimacy of song and place, the album features gentle performances of originals from each artist, plus covers of Greg Brown, John Prine, and more; head over to Bandcamp for streaming, digital download, and physical copies.

    Josh Harty & John Statz: Paradise (orig. John Prine)

    Josh Harty & John Statz: Worrisome Years (orig. Greg Brown)




Finally, at least for today: they may have earned their place on the mainstage through top audience honors in the 2012 Emerging Artist’s Showcase, but their impromptu hour-long set in the sunwarmed vendor area at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival simply blew us away, with a cover of Ophelia, a couple of traditional barnstormers, and a small set of raw originals delivered with a combination of explosive energy and unceasing craftsmanship that both reinforced and transcended earlier comparisons to the Avett Brothers. Now, fresh off an onstage gig as the musical accompaniment for the American Repertory Theater’s winter production of Robin Hood, neotraditional Americana stringband Poor Old Shine are back home in their native Connecticut, and back on our radar with two holiday homages: a haunting Blind Willie McTell tune filmed by flashlight in a California cabin last Halloween, and a brand new Valentine’s Day delight that transforms 80′s Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack hit The Power Of Love into a loving living-room slowdance featuring their cosmic blend of old-time instrumentation and footstomping wail, trading off lines and harmonies like The Band in their very best bootleg days. Back To The Future, indeed: I’d say these guys are going places, but all I see is up.

    Poor Old Shine: The Power Of Love (orig. Huey Lewis and the News)


    Poor Old Shine: Lay Some Flowers On My Grave (orig. Blind Willie McTell)



Looking for more Cover Lay Down in your life? “Like” our Facebook page for new coverfolk from CLD fave Al Lewis, ongoing updates from the blog and beyond, and more bonus streams and videos shared as we find ‘em. And stay tuned for a second round of new 2014 releases and one-shot cover tunes from more artists previously celebrated here, including great new discoveries from Cheyenne Mize Marie, Amy Black, Juliana Richer Daily, and Charlie Parr.

1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, Caroline Herring, John Statz

Valentine’s Day Present: Love, Ongoing
(Plus five Valentine’s Day mixtapes from the CLD archives!)





My plans to zip over to my wife’s workplace with flowers and lunch for a Valentine’s Day surprise were overtaken by a double snow day this year, turning what might have been a romantic moment into a promise unfulfilled, leaving me without a single heart to offer save my own.

Happily, true love doesn’t fade so fast, nor does it depend on any particular trinket. Love is in every moment, if you know where to look, and choose to embrace it, and be grateful.

Every morning as I leave for work, I kiss my wife, and speak love into her day before she wakes. Every night, in the darkness, I whisper my love to her as she sleeps warm beside me. Every day I thank the universe that after over half a lifetime together, there’s still beauty and love in my life.

In her honor, then, and yours: a set of coverfolk love songs released in the last year or two, followed by links back to five mixtapes and features from our Valentine’s Days past. For love is in all ways complicated, always forever and ever new. May you find comfort and hope here, and everywhere, on this most romantic of days, and every day that follows.


Valentine’s Day Present [download here!]



Valentine’s Days Past

3 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

20 Questions: A Coverfolk Mixtape
in celebration of a life of wonder and amazement





To be a public school teacher in the new millennium is to be under constant scrutiny, both as a self-critic and from outside. Though the true outcomes of great teaching are essentially unmeasurable, new state-mandated evaluations pick at the edges of sheer competency and compliance by attempting to measure that which can be collected or seen.

The result is a doubling-down of stress and time, with so many hours per day given over to documentation and meetings that our time planning for and delivering instruction becomes threatened. Gone, it seems, is the teachable moment; gone, too, is the depth that brings love and true understanding: if a lesson cannot stand on its own, look like it was supposed to on paper, and correspond directly to at least one question on the state-written test that follows, the black mark will haunt forevermore.

In response, teachers are leaving the profession in droves: hardly a week goes by without yet another teacher’s early retirement condemnation going viral. In my own school, almost a fifth of our faculty has disappeared for warmer, more friendly climates since the school year began. The rest of us live in constant fear, frayed at the edges and cut to the core: too overwhelmed to do anything well, and constantly concerned that we have missed something that might make or break our careers.

But I am young enough to think I am invincible, or at least, unwilling to go without a fight. And so, despite my insistence that excellence should be evident in any moment, I found myself overthinking this Wednesday’s planned observation. And because I am ever the iconoclast, at my best on the edge, I planned something fun, if risky: a lesson on how poets use questions to call attention to the limitations of understanding, starting with Shakespeare’s Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day, and concluding with an activity analyzing Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred.

For students who have failed, and are failing. Who come to school sometimes, entering two thirds of the way into class with a swagger and a yell that distracts and disrupts, or stay home because it is too cold, or they missed the bus again. Who have been sullen, and distracted. Who have watched a score of of their classmates drop out, or just stop coming, until we hardy few – the three or four or six who show up most days – find ourselves leaning over a common table, pulling out our hair, putting away the phones over and over again, dancing around the truth as the hourglass sand threatens to drown us all.

thinkerI talk a good game in the hallways about how the new evaluation tool we use in my district: about how the tool is sound, but an inconsistent and aggressively biased application of it is a major focal point of the terror and frustration we feel as teachers. But it is also true that the threat of observation can prompt a healthy, deliberate attention to detail and self-reflection, a sort of critical, vocational soul searching which, when it works, can push us to be our best. It is a social scientist’s Heisenberg principle, in which the act of being observed changes the subject, using pressure to turn coal into diamond.

Over the last week, as I began to pay more precise attention to my practice in the class, and as our population has finally become stable, there was a change in the air. Sure, the kids and I still fought to stay on task, an activity more like wrangling cats than truly teaching. But they started asking questions in ways that reveal minds turning over, about my relationship to poetry, and about the poems themselves. And the shift towards poems that share their language and cultural lineage – of Pablo Neruda, and Martin Espada – seemed to prompt the beginnings of ownership, as if knowing that poets spoke their languages, too, was a key to the magic that evaluation tools call “student-centered learning”.
And when it works, it really works.

Yesterday, the stars aligned.

Four students showed up on time, or close to it, and to begin with, became poets, finding distinction in writing and sharing our own little poems, before moving on to the small set of poems I had chosen for their question marks and little else, making for a treasure hunt for tone and literal meaning that was more engaging than usual.

Two more arrived, and their timing was perfect, for once – in transition between idea and poem exemplar, so that they could find themselves quickly. They read poems proudly, and found brave comfort in their ability to make metaphor come alive, vivid in their heads.

And then, the six of them found recognition in critical analysis of Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred. They remembered that Hughes was plainspoken, and frustrated with racial identity in 1930s Harlem, and looked for that meaning in the similes of the poem; they embraced the ambiguity of figurative language, and thought about dreams, and raisins dying black in the sun.

And the poem came alive for them, unlocking its secrets. And they said so, and smiled, and showed us, me and the administrators lurking in the background, that they could articulate – haltingly at first, and then with more confidence – how, and why, and where.

And the bell rang. And I thanked them, and collected their work.

And sat, stunned, while the administrators slipped out, and my next class came in, catcalling and chaotic, ready to learn.

And then, afterwards, the one who sometimes comes, and cannot focus, and uses his big unassuming grin to avoid learning, found me in the hallway during lunch, and proudly showed me the thick book of Countee Cullen poems he had found in the library, and asked if I could give him a note to get back in to find more.

And later, he brought his friend, the Latino boxer, the one who refused to put pen to paper from September to December, and sat with his arms crossed or on his phone, and spun in his chair, defiant, though he knew how to see the meaning behind the words better than anyone in the class. And he said Mister, the library doesn’t have that Neruda book you talked about last week, but they did have this other one, and it’s really cool, it’s got the spanish on one side and the english on the other, and I promised I would find him more.

Your kids really understand poetry, said my evaluator when I passed her in the hallway at the end of the day.

And in my heart, I became the teacher I always wanted to be.

Now it is Thursday, a snow day. I sit on the porch in the cold and think about poetry, and words; the way literature can bring us together, and the way it can kindle the heart. Because I could not stand it, I stopped teaching from fear, and started teaching from love. In response, my 6 little irregulars finally discovered what literature is for, and why it is so much a part of being alive. And though we will need to work to keep them in this place of love, I think – for one shining hour – it made them students, in the true sense of the word, pleased to question, and find answers, and pleased, too, with their ability to do so.



As always, steeping too long in work has left me in too deep to move on quickly. My head swims still with questions, because of how deeply we considered them in our poems and analyses, because we were able to come to the higher order ones together. And I find myself pondering the world, and my place in it, after a day where everything went right, in a place where for so long I have been neither free nor safe.

And so we turn to the question as theme. And why not? As a rhetorical device, the question is broad, both in expression and purpose: it can show us ambiguity, or reveal depth and detail; it can call attention to mystery or meaning; it can reverse, or reinforce, even as it closes the gap between author and text.

And as it is in poetry, so is it in song. The selections we present below in this weekend’s coverfolk mix run the gamut from the rhetorical to the genuinely curious, from plaintive to pensive, from reflective to redirective. But all empower the listener to seek answers that may not always be clear, or even present. All offer new insights and understanding, that we may be who we are, at our best, by knowing the world. All remind us that questions are nothing to fear, but something to embrace, a natural consequence of being alive, and engaged.

May wonders never cease.



5 comments » | Mixtapes

RIP Pete Seeger, Humble Giant of the Folkways





The passing last week of seminal folk revivalist, labor organizer, five-string banjo master, and champion-of-community Pete Seeger hit the folk community hard, and no wonder: though the 94 year old legend had been in failing health for a while, I think some of us just felt like Seeger would be here forever, the last scion of an ethnomusical era marching ever onward in the name of change and children.

But even as we watched grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger become his constant companion and voice over the last few fragile years of Pete’s life, we knew: Seeger’s voice will never truly die. Children of several generations, from my own to my mother, who once used Seeger’s songs as a vehicle for planting the seeds of peace and justice in both myself and in the inner city classrooms of New York City, recognize Pete’s songs, and his long-standing contribution to social, environmental, and political change though the act of singing them loud and proud. And we will sing them for a long, long time, and some of the time – maybe even most of the time – we won’t be thinking about him, but each other, just as Seeger would have wanted it to be.

And you know all this, I think. Or you wouldn’t be here.

Pete Seeger’s impact on the modern folk canon is inherent, and deeply ingrained; there is something so obvious about his legacy that it seems almost redundant to go into it on the page. And it’s hard to imagine anyone genuinely untouched by the compassionate, tireless work in the name of human dignity, empowerment, and awareness which Seeger considered his life’s work through sixty years as a recording artist and activist. Yet one trope, I think, bears note here regardless – one which befits a cover blog who aims to explore the nexuses in song which fuel folk itself. For although he has been justly feted for his politics and song on the web in the days since his passing, Seeger’s practice of the folkways became a prototype for the folk revival that followed, and continues to spread today.


pete-seeger2The son of an ethnomusicologist and a true believer in folk as a mechanism for tying past to future, perhaps more than any artist in history, Seeger lived folk song as if it truly did belong to the community for which it speaks. And although this practice was occasionally dismissed as a form of cultural disrespect, it is this, as much as his songs, which may well prove to be the longest lasting of his influence.

Though many songs list his name as whole or partial composer and arranger, and though his sense of singability and play were unparalleled in the history of modern social justice song, like Dylan after him, Seeger didn’t so much write and perform many of his most popular songs as he did translate them for his times. Several of his best known, from Wimowe to Turn, Turn Turn to We Shall Overcome, were created from existing hymns and folk melodies from around the world, found fragments shaped towards sociopolitical aims and sing-along user-friendliness by an earnest master. And as others have taken on the songs Seeger passed forward, versions drift, as well, with new verses added and new words sung, in the spirit of communal ownership that the statesman of folk-as-justice so exemplified.

Those who have suggested that Seeger was a theft of song from the third world cultures and underclasses he so loved both unfairly denigrate a man who loved all people and, simultaneously, miss the point of how the folk tradition truly works at its most powerful and honest. And if losing Seeger hurts so much, it is because his may well have been the most powerful, honest voice that so many of us will ever have the pleasure to meet, and love, and sing with.

Paying tribute to Seeger’s songbook, then, requires covering love – specifically, that broad sense of version ownership much like that of the oral tradition, which pays tribute to the teacher while acknowledging the timeless cultural history behind the songs. Instead of trying to parse the margins of copyright and origination, then, here’s a set of personal favorites with a much simpler organizing principle: songs which other folk artists of a certain political bent learned from or associate with Pete Seeger himself, regardless of authorship, and recorded in deliberate tribute to this long-standing folk icon.


REMEMBERING PETE SEEGER [download here!]



Looking for more great Pete Seeger coverage? There are some great tributes out there, most notably the three sets which the activist-founded, socially conscious folklabel Appleseed Recordings has released in a scant decade of existence. Each is represented in the set list above, but I’m especially enamored of double-disc first release Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs Of Pete Seeger, which in addition to Bruce Cockburn, Indigo Girls, Tish Hinojosa, and Billy Bragg, includes a veritable who’s who of big-name inheritors of the activist folkmantle, from Springsteen to Richie Havens to Odetta. Head over for Seeger catalog gems, coverage, and great albums from other folksingers carrying the torch into the 21st century!

Comment » | Pete Seeger, RIP

New Artists, Old Songs: from indiefolk to bluegrass
with Stampede Road, Mountain Man, AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss & more!

I’ve been too deep in the songs up in my head these past weeks, trying to call up old fragments and refrains in memory while sitting in silence marred only by the whirring pellet stove and the faint and constant ring of tinnitus. But this is a practice that is wholly the wrong way ’round: music is meant to be heard and sung, not merely echoed in the brain; we are shamed at the realization, and determined to make amends.

And so we pursue a corrective action: a dig into the mailbag, the artist blogs and facebook pages, and the various components of the digital rumor mill to celebrate the emergent coverfolk of folk, roots, and Americana artists both known and new with a New Artists, Old Songs feature today, and the promise of news to come of recordings and releases from other, more familiar voices as winter marches ever onward.

Read on for covers of Dylan, the Dead, Low Anthem, John Denver, Blondie, Traffic, tradfolk and more from new artists Stampede Road, Mountain Man, The Tuttles with AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss, and Holy Moly and the Crackers. May your ears, too, take pleasure in the new sounds, even as we cherish those in our hearts and heads.

stampedeAll I know about Edinburgh-based folk band Stampede Road is what they sent me, which wasn’t much: a pair of streaming split singles on Bandcamp, and nary a website to be found. But the lo-fi session cover of The Low Anthem’s OMGCD that accompanied the missive from this newly formed quartet led by singer songwriter Graeme Duncan is beautifully raw, intimate, timeless and weary. And following the threads to more produced tracks White Rooms, Night Terrors, and brand new 2014 single Old Town, recently featured on Largehearted Boy and Captains Dead, reveals a shimmery overlay of reverb and harmony that adds richness and flavor in the studio, making for a dreamy, delicate Appalachian-flavored folkpop with just enough originality and quirkiness to suit the indie ear.



mountainmanFans of First Aid Kit and labelmates Deer Tick and Dolorean will love this recent John Denver cover from all-girl indie group Mountain Man, with its layered voices and gentle, melodic acoustic guitar. All of us love that Mountain Man, a trio of young twenty-something singer-songwriters who met at Bennington College, and were essentially dormant in the last few years after touring around 2010 debut Made the Harbour, appear to be back on the radar for more precious, precocious quietfolk in the months and years to come, both as a band, and with solo and side projects from members Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath, who continue to share news of recordings and shows with Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun, Feist, and other well known names from the indie community on the Mountain Man Facebook page. Here’s hoping for more as the year goes on.



Skafolk isn’t a thing, but if it were, first in line for kudos and Grammy nominations this season would surely be Newcastle based band Holy Moly and the Crackers, who add celtic fiddle flavor and a Jamaican beat for a brooding cover of tradtune Ain’t No Grave to close out their upcoming three-track EP Lilly, a “re-imagining” of three traditional folk/blues songs that evokes eras of whiskey and guns on modern punk folk steroids. The band, who play “a lively, moonshine mix of Romani, Americana and contemporary British ‘folk’n’roll’”, claim broad influence from the likes of Woody Guthrie, Gogol Bordello, and Laura Marling; others hear The Pogues, Billy Bragg, and The Waterboys, too, and you can hear it all here, in some great live covers and originals on YouTube, and in full album First Avenue, which can be purchased directly from the band on their website.


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Mississippi Moonlight (orig. Buffalo Skinners)


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie (orig. Bob Dylan/trad.)


    Holy Moly and the Crackers: Cocaine (trad.)



This year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival is just around the corner, putting us in mind of mandolins and stand up bass, and creating a context which leaves us especially happy to have found The Tuttles with AJ Lee; we’ve a long history of championing young tradfolk and bluegrass artists here at Cover Lay Down, and these kids have been wowing the bluegrass circuit and beyond, garnering ovations and awards since their formation in 2008. Both band and co-lead vocalist Lee are up for “Best of” awards at the Northern California Bluegrass Awards tonight, where bandfather Jack Tuttle, who teaches bluegrass and old-time instruments of all types, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his well-respected work, including his guidance and leadership of this current lineup. But the kids are the true driving force here: stunning singer-songwriter and picker Molly Tuttle, whose trio will appear on the Joe Val sidestage, is finishing up her last semester at Berklee this year; younger brothers Sullivan and Michael demonstrate chops and agility beyond their years; sweet yet hearty-voiced mandolin player AJ Lee, who is still finishing high school and trends towards Grateful Dead covers on tour, has been aptly compared to Alison Krauss or Sarah Jarosz, both of whom, we should remember, got their start as early. Listen, and we think you’ll hear the magic, too.

    The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Ripple (orig. Grateful Dead)


    The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Sugar Moon (orig. Bob Willis)


    AJ Lee: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (orig. Bob Dylan)



Finally, thanks to the ever-discerning Mary Lou Lord, who has a knack for finding and touting the best new voices, for passing along coverage from Brandi Ediss, an alto on the knife-edge of alternative pop and singer-songwriter folk who sweetly interprets beloved songs into a mellow-tinged wash of sound and riotous video effects on a weekly basis. The finished results, produced at home with digital tools or in collaboration with facebook friends from afar, sound like a band and a half, with a warm, decidedly retro california tone and luscious, sighing vocal layers sure to delight; download a bunch over at Bandcamp, and subscribe to her YouTube page for more originals and coverage in the same sweet vein.

    Brandi Ediss: Love Is Making Its Way Back Home (orig. Josh Ritter)


    Brandi Ediss: Dear Mr. Fantasy (orig. Traffic)


    Brandi Ediss: Kodachrome (orig. Paul Simon)


    Brandi Ediss: Call Me (orig. Blondie)


    Brandi Ediss: I Wish I Was The Moon (orig. Neko Case)



Looking for more streaming coverfolk throughout the week? Join the Cover Lay Down facebook page, where we’ve recently posted new coverage from YouTube stars Kina Grannis, Daniela Andrade, and Kiersten Holine!

2 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

Single Song Sunday: Wayfaring Stranger
(white spirituals and the religious origins of modern folk music)





A morning retreat with the worship associate team at our UU church yesterday, a religious education teach-in on songs as tools of social justice, and a scheduled jaunt to check out a church for sale tomorrow to see if it can be transformed into a new home have cast a non-secular sentiment over my long weekend, putting me on the lookout for the spiritual in everything. In response, we’ve gone back five years to resurrect an early Single Song Sunday feature on oft-covered traditional “white spiritual” Wayfaring Stranger, and added a whole second set of versions found and recorded since then from Gregory Paul, Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt, folk supergroups Red Horse and Red Molly, and more.

Enjoy all twenty tracks, and if you, too, need a little more spirituality in your life, check out related features on Songs From The Universalist Unitarian Hymnal and Songs of Social Justice for further musings and song.


Through much of recorded history, religion has served communities as both as a community locus and as a carrier of song; as such, it is perhaps unsurprising to find a relationship of sorts between folk music and the church itself. As with any folk form, of course, context matters; to note that several songs commonly associated with Cat Stevens can be found in the Universalist Unitarian hymnal says something very different about both artist and religious community than pointing out that a move to the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of New York’s Coney Island in the 1940s led to the recent release of a wonderful album of Woody Guthrie-penned Klezmer music.

To note that the folk song Wayfaring Stranger (or sometimes Poor Wayfaring Stranger) was first published in 1816 in the shape note tunebook Kentucky Harmony, which in turn was primarily an expansion of the work of John Wyeth and his two Repositories of Sacred Music, then, is to locate that song in the white spiritual canon — which, in turn, calls us to the American white revivalist movements of the last few centuries, to consider the common threads of a form of folk product which includes The Sacred Shakers, the work of Doc Watson, and many other works and performers with roots in New England, Appalachia, and other American church-based communities.

Though it echoes similar terminology — bluegrass gospel, most obviously — the term “white spiritual” is striking and vivid; to be honest, I’m surprised to find that Google lists only a few uses of the term, most of which seem to be part of classical choral scholarship. The conceit that white audiences had their own spriritual song, which derived its rhythm and subject from their European ancestry, illuminates folk’s origins in a way that is both new and suddenly fitting, creating a parallel path to modernity in stark contrast to the gospel folk which comes to us through african american blues music. Further, such a conceit says much about the context in which music evolved, and traveled, and spoke to and for the “folk”; exploring the term is a fine way to help reshuffle and rethink the origin of many songs which remain at the core of folk music today.

The semiotic implications of the term “white spiritual” do seem apt, when you think about it; so much of the folk which has its roots in the appalachian mountains and stark New England Shakers, after all, is about redemption, framing man’s connection to man in the context of God. And Wayfaring Stranger is an especially interesting example of the white spiritual. Though other white spirituals may be more central to the form — for example, our first Single Song Sunday subject, Amazing GraceWayfaring Stranger is notable for being a song which does not as obviously call to its spiritual nature. Which is to say: though both songs ultimately play out the relationship between the internal sinner-self and the spiritual Father, the former is a hymn of the post-redemptive self, less about the more modern folk-as-call-to-complexity and more about morality-play.

But the humble determination of the pre-redemptive self which characterizes the narrative voice of Wayfaring Stranger is not uncommon to the narrative stance of many an old British folk ballad, from the pining lass of Fair William to the besworn folkmaiden and lusty, easily swayed folklad who so often stray, only to regret it, and come back to their God. Meanwhile, the plight of the poor wayfarer remains open and non-specific, an everyman’s resolve pulling us in to folk communion. No wonder the song remains enticing; no wonder we find so many versions to pluck our fruit from.

In practice, whether or not you accept the label of “white spiritual” as applied to a song whose most famous version is in the voice of as haunted and searching a man as Johnny Cash, it is true that there is a certain emotional reverence common to all versions of the song. In fact, circularly, though there are as many ways to worship as there are men, and thus high diversity in the way different folk musicians choose to make Wayfaring Stranger their own, the question of what makes this particular song a white spiritual may be best answered by the consistent care with which all comers take on the song. To explore that commonality, and the variance in sound and tone and tempo that it nonetheless allows, here’s some interesting takes on the song, a vast array of approaches to traditional material from the very big tent that is modern folk.


WAYFARING STRANGER: A COVER LAY DOWN MIX
[download!]



Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk celebrations and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: a mailbag dip for the first covers of 2014. Plus: The Grammys!

3 comments » | Reposts, Single Song Sunday

The Working Life: Employment songs, covered in folk
by Slaid Cleaves, Joshua James, Gillian Welch, Todd Snider & 16 more!





Re-entry into the working life is always tough after the holiday break, but this year has been a bit harder than most. The school where I work is struggling more than ever, trying to implement new methods and structures on the fly after being labeled failing by the state. The trickle-down effects of stress and sheer substance can make teaching less the usual tightrope, and more of a juggling act with too many balls in the air, where each choice made to serve one mandate means taking time and energy away from another, until terror becomes normative. And the turn-around time is incredible, with strategies taught to teachers in a professional development session this past Wednesday being observed in classes on Monday, even as we prepare students for district-written midterm exams received only Tuesday, and due midweek, that contain concepts and vocabulary no one knew to teach until we saw the tests themselves.

As I have said here before, I love my chosen career; love the students, and the noble struggle of reaching them; love the satisfaction of a curriculum well constructed, and those moments where teacher and students are in the zone, and epiphanies are made. But I love my family, too. And the drag that this year is putting on my best self outside the classroom is all the more apparent after two weeks on and off the road with them, with its constant reminder of how much love there is when we have each other to cherish.

Some songs about work, then, to mourn and maintain the necessity, and acknowledge the way it tears at the spirit to leave home in the darkness every day, and come home in another darkness, too late and too tired to give our best to ourselves and our families. Many are scavenged from a similar set originally posted in August of 2008, designed as a soundtrack for the job search that led me to this inner city school in the first place, but it seems fitting to uncover them, and share them anew, even as we add to their grace and gravity. For no matter how lucky we are to do what we love, there are always times when the weariness gets to us, and all we can do is sing.




Cover Lay Down spreads the gospel of folk through coversong thanks to donors like you. As always, if you like what you hear here, please consider purchasing music from the artists we feature. After all, if it weren’t for our patronage, the music makers would be out of a job, too.

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Covered In Folk: Nanci Griffith
(with Red Molly, Stray Birds, Sarah Harmer, Chris Smither & more!)





There’s a special place in my heart for Nanci Griffith‘s 1993 covers album Other Voices, Other Rooms, a Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Folk Album which came out just as I was rediscovering my own love of folk music and coverage. Indeed, the album has long been a staple of my collection, well-worn for its tender, sweet song treatments of a veritable who’s who of folk artist who influenced a generation, from Gordon Lightfoot to Kate Wolf to Ralph McTell, and with bonus points for including some of the original songwriters, including Frank Christian, John Prine, and Bob Dylan, on session instruments and harmonies. And although Other Voices, Too, released five years later, wanders wider in its search for other influence, and perhaps shows some of the strain of Griffith’s intervening years as a cancer patient, it, too, contains gems worth repeating, including a gorgeous take on Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes.

A number of Nanci Griffith’s hits have been covers: for example, although many know it as a Bette Midler song, her performance of Julie Gold’s From A Distance was decidedly definitive. But although she is well known for her interpretations of other people’s songs, Griffith is a potent singer-songwriter in her own right, too, with 35 years on the circuit and a pedigree that includes an affiliation with the 80s Fast Folk movement and a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association. Beloved on both sides of the country and folk line for her poignant portrayals of universal longing, loss, isolation, and small-town life in a big-city world, her albums were staples of my father’s collection, as well. And although some of her work swings a bit country for my taste, Griffith’s bright, little-girl voice brings a tenderness to her own compositions that makes it easy to hear why she is so revered by her peers.

Unsurprisingly, Griffith’s songbook is relatively well covered by those who, like her, have played the country and folk sides of a perforated line. Her songs have been hits for Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss; last year saw the emergence of Trouble In The Fields, a long-overdue tribute album released with little fanfare featuring the likes of Amy Rigby, John Stewart, Red Molly, Stacy Earle, long-time backing band The Kennedys, and more from a broad swath of the contemporary folk circuit; the album has several gems, and is solid throughout, though many interpretations hew close to the originals.

A deeper dig into the album cuts of a very big archive uncovers more coverage to love as well. And so, today, we present a mix of our own favorite Nanci Griffith covers, including a distinctively differentiated pair of early takes on Once In A Very Blue Moon, amazing recent interpretations from The Stray Birds and Red Molly, a Sarah Harmer rarity, a cut from Jonathan Edwards’ country album, a lullaby from Eliza Gilkyson, and more. Enjoy the set, plus a few favorite covers by Griffith herself, and then – if you haven’t heard them – pick up Griffith’s classic albums Once In A Very Blue Moon and The Last Of The True Believers, a pair considered by most critics to be the best introduction to her early work before she turned completely to “folkabilly” and Country music.





Looking for more coverfolk in your daily life? Check out the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for more streaming goodies throughout the week – including a brand new batch of coverfolk from Hurray For The Riff Raff, Juliana Hatfield, Teddy Thompson, Frontier Ruckus, The Chapin Sisters, Matt Nathanson and more in tribute to high harmonizer Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.

4 comments » | Covered In Folk, Nanci Griffith

New Artists, Old Songs:
new and emerging folks to watch in 2014

The disorganized life leaves us still discovering bookmarks left behind in the detritus and lost drafts of 2013. But outside there is snow, and inside, fire; the tree still twinkles, and the holiday continues. The family is on vacation, leaving us solo and pensive And there is peace, for a few more days yet, until the worldspring is wound, and we set out into the wind and weather to once again take on the mantle of right action among the stress and chaos.

And there is music here, too, for how can we be silent when our hearts are singing? Being snowed in for the next day or two offers a great opportunity to celebrate and clean house with another edition in our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs feature series. Read on for covers of The Cure, Rickie Lee Jones, Jason Isbell, Gram Parsons, Big Star, Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Noah Gundersen, and more from Emma Swift, Ian Johnson, Liz Frencham, Chris Ross, and The Ephemeral String Band – a quintet of recent discoveries worth a closer look-and-listen.



emma2As noted earlier today on our Facebook page, we seem to have misplaced Emma Swift’s delightfully sweet Gram Parsons cover when compiling our Best Coverfolk Singles of 2013 mixtape. Mea culpa: Swift, an Aussie radio broadcaster and music journalist turned Americana and altcountry songwriter, relocated to Nashville recently after deciding to pursue songcraft and writing more thoroughly, and she’s already captured our heart several times over through her loving coverage. Her take on Waylon Jenning heartbreaker Dreaming My Dreams With You is slow, syrupy altcountry, dripping with pedal steel and twang, but she’s equally adept at transforming Big Star’s Thirteen as she is taking on others from the country side of the world, including Parsons (A Song For You), Townes (Tower Song), 70′s altcountry group Cowboy (Please Be With Me), and downunder countryman Paul Kelly (Little Decisions). Follow her thoughts on her blog, and track her Facebook page, for more as her career on the road continues to blossom.


    Emma Swift: A Song For You (orig. Gram Parsons)




ianThis one probably should have made our favorites, too, if it hadn’t gotten lost. But oh, what a discovery: a gorgeous living room cover of Noah Gundersen’s Dying Now from North Country singer-songwriter Ian Johnson that belies the casual, beer-fueled session which brings it to life; utterly stunning, haunting indiefolk, with soft layers of harmonies and a brand new resonator guitar ringing in Gundersen’s hymn, making for a cover ripe for the likes of I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. I probably should have heard of Johnson before, though perhaps his penchant for harder-edged, anthemic, rocking Americana on his 2011 album When I Go kept him from our sights. But this bonus Tom Petty cover wouldn’t be out of place on Grey’s Anatomy, either, proving his mettle as soft indiefolk interpreter, and making for a delightful find, indeed.


    Ian Johnson: Dying Now (orig. Noah Gundersen)


    Ian Johnson: I Won’t Back Down (orig. Tom Petty)




Liz Frencham Live_2_LushpupAs a stand-up-double-bass and voice solo artist, Liz Frencham is a bit bare-bones for easy genre categorization. But the Jazz-trained singer-songwriter’s pedigree is impeccable: a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium, she’s been at the heart of several internationally-known bluegrass-infused and folkfusion bands and collaborations; her 2005 solo debut Jericho, with its haunting fiddle-and-guitar ballad title track, was a finalist for the ‘Presenter’s Choice’ award at the 2007 Australian Folk Alliance Convention. More significantly, she’s caught our ear on Soundcloud, where she hosts numerous beautiful originals and a set of covers, each equally sparse and joyous, from One – The Living Room Sessions (Vol 1), her mid-2013 Digi-EP of solo double bass/voice covers, with jazzfolk takes on songs by KT Tunstall, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Sia, and the Cure’s Lovecats as a prowling scat solo piece. As a bonus for coverhounds looking to dig a bit deeper, we’ve also provided a teaser from her equally strong, equally hard-to-categorize live duets album You & Me Vol. 1.





mutualloveI’ve been meaning to write about the “oldtime fiddle tunes and sister harmony singing” of The Ephemeral Stringband since I was stopped short by their busk session on the streets of Northampton, MA early last year. And now’s the time: even when they kick into high gear, as in the middle track below, the old shape note hymns and simple tradtunes Maggie Merrett, Maggie Shar, and friends interpret on their interchangeable banjos and fiddles are loving and gentle, like the sun-warmed sidewalks where I found them, or like Sam Amidon for the lullaby set, perfect for a snowy day in New England by the fireside. A recent gig opening for Dom Flemons of The Carolina Chocolate Drops in October raises hope of more to come, and simultaneously confirms their credibility and prowess in treating dearly the old songs with equal parts fragility and strength.

    The Ephemeral Stringband: Mutual Love (trad.)


    The Ephemeral Stringband: Sugar Babe (trad.)


    The Ephemeral Stringband: I’ll Not Be A Stranger (trad.)


    White Freight Liner (orig. Townes Van Zandt)




chrisrossFinally, I’ve had my eye out for Jason Isbell covers these last few months, with the intent of fronting a coverset sometime this year once we hit critical mass; if you know a great cover of/from the alt-country singer-songwriter, we’d love to hear it. In the meantime, I can’t help but share this quartet of Isbell covers from Maine-based singer-songwriter Chris Ross, including a broken-down Alabama Pines, a dark, tense Live Oak, and a quite solid take on Drive By Truckers song God Damn Lonely Love, penned by Isbell during his time with the band in the mid-naughts. Ross may be new at the game – he’s released but two albums, in 2011 and 2012 – but he knows how to ply his strengths to great effect: his weary voice and intensity match pitch-perfect with Isbell’s songbook, and in his YouTube covers of fellow rasp-voiced celebrants Bon Iver, Springsteen, and Ray LaMontagne; his original compositions are equally raw and timeless, speaking of and to a dusty wisdom of years belied by his under-30 exterior, and he’s just been nominated for Songwriter of the Year at The New England Music Awards, where he’s in some pretty solid company.


    Chris Ross: Alabama Pines (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: Live Oak (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: Elephant (orig. Jason Isbell)


    Chris Ross: God Damn Lonely Love (orig. Drive By Truckers)



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 kicking.

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 giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special 26-track gift set of alternate favorites and rare 2013 covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give.

2 comments » | Emma Swift, Jason Isbell, New Artists Old Songs

The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 2: The Singles (2013)
(b-sides, deep cuts, & more one-shot coverage)





As we noted in Vol. 1 of our year’s best series, we eschew the hierarchical here at Cover Lay Down, preferring celebration to criticism. This is especially true of individual tracks – there’s so much good out there, we could spread the gospel every day, and never run out of moods or music.

Even in our own niche, at the intersection of coverage and folk – where every song is part of the folkways, and every one represents a search for new meaning and new emotion in songs heard sweetly – there is more than we can ever celebrate. But at the end of the year, there are a few songs so dear, so precious, so perfect, that we work to remember them always. And sometimes, rather than struggling to put into words just why a particular song hit us so powerfully, it is time to let the songs speak for themselves.

Music soothes the savage breast, and this year was more savage than most. The songs which we have saved and savored are a hodgepodge heavy with songs which saved us in our darkest hours, and those which spoke to and for our bruised and broken hearts, helping us remember that we were not alone even as we abandoned the blog for weeks on end. Here, too, are songs which brought us joy when we needed it most. And here, too, are the songs which amazed us, and those that simply brought the world to a standstill, stoping our hearts at their bold beauty.

Our annual Best Coverfolk Singles mixtape, then, from tradtunes to obscurities to folk, pop, rock, and country favorites: 36 covers in all, and every one sublime. It was, after all, a very good year for coverage.


The Year’s Best Singles: A 2013 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, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, 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 giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special 26-track gift set of alternate favorites and rare 2013 covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give.

3 comments » | Best of 2013, Mixtapes

Back to top