Covered In Folk: Aretha Franklin
(Seminal songs from the Queen of Soul)


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My father’s record collection is split into two halves, each on its own side of the stereo cabinet: on one side, folk and Americana; on the other, blues and soul. But for most of my life, it’s been Memphis, Chicago, and New Orleans which leave the sleeve so often: Ray Charles, The Staples Singers, Marcia Ball…and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.

Legitimately born of a Memphis preacher man and an accomplished piano player and vocalist – all of which would find its way into her powerful gospel style – Aretha was an interpreter, not a songwriter. Listed first on Rolling Stone’s countdown of the greatest singers of all time, she released over 40 albums since her 1961 self-titled debut, and hit number one on the Billboard charts 20 times between 1967 (I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)) and 1985 (Freeway of Love), even though the majority of the songs we most associate with her work were either originally penned for others in the genre, or performed by them first.

But the Queen of Soul earned her name by making these songs her own. Although song co-author Carole King’s Tapestry take on (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman is historical, it follows Franklin’s in both history and the pantheon. Her version of The Weight, released the year after The Band’s original, charted much higher in the US market, and helped sustain the song’s presence as a future soundtrack staple for films set in the sixties. Before it was hers, Until You Come Back To Me was recorded first by songwriter Stevie Wonder, though not released until afterwards. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves was originally written by The Eurythmics as a duet with Tina Turner, who was unavailable. And perhaps most significantly, Respect – a pleading meditation on aspirational breadwinner masculinity in the hands of Otis Redding – became an anthem of empowerment in Aretha’s throat, thanks to the spelled-out chorus and genderbent lyrical approach; that her flourishes survive in essentially every cover known to humankind says all it needs to about her definitive success.

Appropriately, then, today’s set is a mixed bag: some classic, some transformed; some soulful, some stripped and broken. There’s country in here, as might be expected, given how much crossover already exists between the eminently American genres, but there’s also soft piano balladry, chamberfolk, contemporary popfolk and more, sourced from a hodgepodge of YouTube sessions and studio craft, as befits homage to a respected artist whose reach and influence have been so vast. And it’s all wonderful, in tribute to a true-blue queen still performing – and going strong – at 75. Enjoy.


Aretha Franklin, Covered In Folk [zip!]



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Comment » | Aretha Franklin, Covered In Folk

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




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

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

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


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



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

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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

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

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


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



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

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



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

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


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



raynaOne-time Uncle Earl fiddle-player Rayna Gellert‘s 2012 release Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds stunned us so much, we named it The Year’s Best Mostly Covers Album, citing “how effectively Gellert packages and presents a perfectly-balanced mix of the traditional and the newly-penned in her triple-threat role as arranger, lead performer, and producer” and calling it “so unified in its timelessness, it’s often hard to tell which are the old tunes, and which the new.”

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



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

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



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

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


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



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

Vacation Coverfolk: On the Trail of Social Justice
(songs of place and protest from Montgomery to Memphis)


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Yes, it’s been a while since we turned up here, and there’s much to celebrate as we slowly return to the mailbag of the last two months, including transformative re-recordings from new artists and well-loved voices, crowdfunded campaign-driven albums promising the best of honest folk and acoustic coverage, tributes to the dearly departed, and more.

If I have been busy elsewhere, it is due in no small part to a growing mindfulness as I renew my commitment to the work of worldchanging, in my increasingly intertwined roles as a practitioner and worship leader in an engaged Unitarian Universalist congregation on one hand, and as an English teacher in a Title 1 urban high school on the other. And although the prompt to travel originally came through my spouse, who was looking for some company and an adventure on the way back from an equally transformative conference, it is this twinned sense of connection to the world around me – the vocational and the spiritual; the service and the service – that brought me to and through the last week, sustaining me deeply in mind and spirit as we traveled North from Louisiana, with stops at a series of sites and settings essential to the long struggle for all Americans to be and feel safe, free, and able to access the world-as-it-should-be.

So join us today as we dip into the experience in literary slideshow, with a set of covers tender and torn in their address of the pliancies and pilgrims of social justice work in our beloved nation. And then stay tuned, as the summer surrounds us, and the waters of music flow like the Mississippi, strengthening and serving our hearts and our minds alike.


standing-on-the-side-of-love-phoenix-768x511Lights dim and the landing gear rises on the plane to New Orleans. People all around me turn pages and flip screens, and it occurs to me that that I am both gladdened and saddened by the realization that planes represent a concentration of literacy, given how much the picture depends on affluence, and reinforces long-distance travel as a privilege unavailable to my rising 11th graders and their peers. Me, I’m reading James McBride’s The Color Of Water, in preparation for teaching it in the fall: making notes in the margins and savoring the internal dialogue of reader and text as McBride alternately confronts the nuances of growing up black with a mother who hid her history of whiteness in a veneer of standoffishness, and dances around those images, providing powerful nuance to the national dialogue of race, belief, and identity through character and connotation.

Reading slowly, savoring moment and meaning, is not all that natural to me; generally, I read for pleasure, voraciously, and am known to finish a book in an evening. But we are here, my wife and I, on a pilgrimage. Our aim is to meet up in the South to discover this dialogue together after an exhausting school year, driving slowly through the history of the social justice movement in America, with planned stops in Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, Memphis, and at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati before heading homeward to recover our children. And, in the end, my reading, deeply thought-provoking and grounding, still mostly unfinished, makes a perfect metaphor for the experience that followed.

We start, fittingly, on Sunday, at the morning service for this year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, which my wife has been attending in her role as Director of Religious Ed for our beloved UU congregation in Springfield, MA. The hall is vast, and the clarion call clear: ours is a spiritual path that calls us to love and action, continuing the good work of commitment and dialogue in service to attaining global justice in many areas, from ecology to economics, with race, gender, and class consciousness at the forefront. The service includes a reading of Naomi Shihab Nye’s Gate A-4, a powerful poem of hope and immigrant identity, which I taught last year; mention is made of two men whose sexuality is both irrelevant and noteworthy, IT professionals who serve the UU community, who were attacked the previous night in the French Quarter. The collection plate goes to Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, an organization working to challenge and change the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues our inner cities. We give what we can, and sing with tears in our eyes the hymns of commitment and claim amidst thousands.

From there to Montgomery, Alabama, where Maya Lin’s Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial fountain is a UU chalice in the afternoon sun at the foot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the giant footsteps in the crosswalk which mark the approach to the statehouse steps loom large as history in front of the Baptist church where King and others led the charge for justice. It is quiet here, being Sunday, and quieter still as we drive in reverse the long march path to Selma, where much of the town is boarded up and broken, reminding us that no matter how far we have come forward since black leaders and their white allies crossed the bridge into violence and chaos, we still have a long way to go.


Prison-Prayer-2The next day, Birmingham, where the streets radiate out from a once-bombed church and Kelly Ingram Park, a one-time central staging ground for protest and now a well-curated space featuring statues of children huddling before firehoses and snarling dogs. We walk the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail in the morning heat, tracing the original paths of marches on power both government and retail, making our slow and pensive way through sidewalks lined with plaques and textbook-familiar photographs, experiencing the expected temporal tension as 1963 comes to us superimposed over a shaded modern reality. Back in the park, a homeless woman named Beatrice, who hugged me earlier for offering her two cigarettes instead of one, sings hymns heartily into the morning air as we take our leave.

Memphis follows, where a well-designed museum experience at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, takes us slowly and with exquisite detail through the rise of the civil rights movement and culminates starkly in the rooms where MLK was transformed from leader to martyr for the cause. The National Civil Rights Museum is a deeply powerful place, with the time and space given to the shooting itself well-separated from the main site, which focuses on the long and arduous path of the proverbial movement, and features the voices and artifacts of that path adeptly and powerfully. But it is the small moments and discoveries that stand out, in the end: the low-placed photographs, almost an afterthought, that show the white mother of five who gave her life to the march from Selma to Montgomery, shot in her car for her role in ferrying march participants through a political bottleneck that allowed only 300 marchers through a long stretch of the narrow highway; the second-paragraph text that, in showing how a careful and methodical use of non-violent tactics among police and government in one site along the path to rights and justice slowed down the charge towards equality in those areas, reminds us that the use of such strategies is neither evidence of righteousness, nor exclusive to the side of love.

I am struck, especially, by tensions between then and now: by the young black men that occupy the open stools alongside serious-faced mannequins at the sit-in exhibit, texting and playing games on their phones, seemingly oblivious to the ironic gravity of the moment; by the laughter of the young patrons who line up to catch a glimpse of the balcony, and speak through Mahalia Jackson’s powerful voice as they approach. Later, stark racial divisions among the staff at the Beale St. barbecue joint we visit on our way out of the city – the constant patter of the white waitstaff as they hop from table to table, the black men manhandling heavy platters of ribs and catfish in the open kitchen, and the Latino males that emerge infrequently from the back to check on and gather up dirty dishware – will resonate that much more deeply for our path to the table.

More sit-in statues in Nashville and Louisville, though mostly by accident; our final goal is really Cincinnati, where the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will offer both a historical look at the emancipation and suffrage of slaves, women, Native Americans, and other populations and groups in the United States, and an exploration of the various ways in which these conditions still exist today in places around the globe, through sex trafficking, indentured servitude, and forced labor, all of which plague the universe, and demand our action and our attention. I take many photographs of text: The Gettysburg Address is on our reading list for next year, as is King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail; pairing these is no accident, and although I am wary of turning class into a “what I did on my summer vacation” slideshow, I am eager to consider how to make these texts, and the others we will engage in, deeply meaningful to my students through their relevance to their own shared world.

But not just yet. Now we are here: it is summer, and the grass grows high off the porch upon our return. Our homecoming finds us renewed in spirit and determination, but we know, too, that processing such an exploration of self and society properly takes time and contemplation.

For now, then: a soundtrack of song, covers all, that covers all, from the protest music of the continuing revolution to the more modern tracks of place and time that allude to the continuing struggle to be present, productive, and free.

May we be a people so bold, and so deliberate. And if peace is not to be ours in our lifetime, may we go to the mountaintop nevertheless, and do the good work that brings us ever closer to the promised land.



Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down will celebrate its 10th anniversary on the web this September thanks to the music-makers, the promoters, and YOU. Want to help keep CLD alive and streaming? Donate here and receive a very special mix of our favorite unblogged and exclusive coverage from 2015-2016!

Comment » | Mixtapes, Vacation Coverfolk

Take It Easy: California Coverfolk
with covers of The Doors, Sublime, Dawes, Jane’s Addiction & more!


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We’re just back from Spring Break in and around Los Angeles, where the weather was fine, indeed, after months of cold rain and thaw in our chosen home New England. When we left the garden was just buds bulging on the tips of the first green stems; California, by contrast, was in full bloom, thanks to an unusually rainy winter, and we were grateful, indeed, to find the world sunny and hot in the late mornings and afternoons, and just cool enough in the evening to keep from shivering in our shirtsleeves.

My students think LA is exotic; I thought I knew better, having been several times in the past couple of decades, both times as the first stop in a meandering drive up the coast towards San Francisco and Oregon. But this time around, we came to settle in, with an Air B&B house in the canyons, on a suburban settlement down the street from my father’s first cousin, and I think we did it right by avoiding the city. Exquisite lunches on the beach and the Malibu pier; venison steak up in the hills at an authentic 150 year old stage coach stop surrounded by bikers and the warm amplified sounds of an amateur cover artist; mornings at the zoos, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the sprawling gardens of Pasadena; lunch on the beaches and piers, and a shot at the steampunk thrift shops in Ventura; Harry Potter World on a Tuesday, and a final Friday afternoon hot and high in the desert hills at the Wolf Connections sanctuary, surrounded by the scrub of an alien landscape.

At home, the mailbag bulges with promise and the hint of summer releases. Tomorrow, the workweek begins anew, with the usual stresses and strain of the impending summer; lesson plans and grading have taken me to this afternoon, providing but little respite to write here. But here on the porch in the afternoon sun, the daffodils blooming at my feet, it’s hard not to want to just soak in the sunshine, with a bank of light coverfolk as the soundtrack to our last remaining hours.

And so we return to our Vacation Coverfolk series on the eve of the ever-intruding real world with a last gasp at Los Angeles through the songs of cross-continental coverage: a whole universe of folk artists taking on a chronology of songs penned and originally performed by bands and artists born, bred, or discovered in and around the city of angels. May they bring Spring softly, planting the surf, the sand, the hills, and the boulevards in the rich new soil of your own sunshine dreams.

L.A. Coverfolk: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]


Comment » | Clem Snide, Laura Cortese, Vacation Coverfolk

RIP Chuck Berry (1926-2017)
A tribute in folk coverage from Cajun to the country blues


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When Chuck Berry passed last Saturday at 90, the airwaves swelled with gratitude and stories of the man who brought us the duck walk and My Ding-A Ling, did gigs as a beautician and a stint as a reform school kid on the way up, and built the genre from the freestyle of the blues, the whine of the country guitar, the simple call-and-refrain verse-chorus-verse of the folksong, the beat of a rhythm and blues nation, and the definitive string-led combo.

Finding a plethora of coverage of Berry’s canon seemed inevitable: many of the long-standing artist and performer’s greatest hits were also hits for other seminal rock and rollers, both peers and inheritors, from Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis to The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles, whose classic versions of Roll Over Beethoven and Memphis helped put them on the map in the first place. Indeed, arguably, Berry’s songs are so well covered, many of them have become truly folk, part and parcel of the vast spectrum that is the modern western songbook; it says what it needs to that Johnny B. Goode is the only rock and roll song on the Voyager spacecraft, where one day, it may well establish the Earth as a cultured rest stop for the alien mind, a truly exciting and excitable space among the heavens.

Anyone truly deserving of the name “architect of rock and roll” has enough influence to cross genre lines, too. And sure enough, Berry’s songs have found their way from punk to country, where their easily translatable lyrics and eminently playable beats bring comfort to new audiences exploring the sounds of the soul. Though many of Chuck Berry’s songs are so seminal, their transformations are hard to search for, our dip into the vast realm of folk and roots coverage here today reveals a broad influence, heavy on the real and rustic but unusually diverse in subgenre, from sultry country swing to fieldhouse rhythm and blues to contemporary fingerpickin’ folk rock, with stops in everyspace from jug band blues to crackling Cajun along the way. Guess it just proves that rock and roll will never die – at least, not so long as it continues to infiltrate the sense and sensibility of the multifaceted folkways.



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3 comments » | Chuck Berry, Covered In Folk, RIP

Covered In Folk: Anais Mitchell
(with Bon Iver, Billy Bragg, Cricket Blue & new voices galore!)


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Vermont-slash-Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell was a fast-rising star upon her 2002 arrival to the scene, with out of the gate recognition from Kerrville’s New Folk competition and early adoption onto Ani Difranco’s record label, Righteous Babe, thanks to a strong debut recorded in a single afternoon and a distinctive knack for prescient hooks and heavy subjects couched in sweepingly intimate production and a distinctively, deceptively innocent yet complex and carefully honed voice. These days, her name-recognition runs high inside the broad boundaries of folk, and her talent is in high demand, as demonstrated by tours with Bon Iver, Josh Ritter, Punch Brothers and The Low Anthem, collaborations with Jefferson Harmer and Rachel Ries, and kudos from Pitchfork, NPR, The New York Times, and more.

If fame outside the folkworld or prodigious output were a measure of success, she would remain insulated. But although it has been three years since her last release, and five since her last of all new original work, there is something essential about Anais Mitchell right now. Just a half dozen studio albums into her career, Mitchell has become a true mover and shaker in the folkworld, cited by peers and press as central to the definitive depth and honesty that typifies the nucleus of the current folk generation.

A powerhouse out on the bleeding edge, her collaborative work, including our previously-featured exploration of the Child Ballads with Jefferson Harmer, which won a BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Traditional Track, is sharp. Her output – including the epic, introspective 2012 release Young Man In America, and folk opera Hadestown, which brought folk heavyweights Greg Brown, Justin Vernon, The Haden Triplets, and Difranco together to voice the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and has since been both toured with a rotating cast and turned into a New York stageshow due to return for the 2017-2018 season – reveals an artist exploring the potential of folk to speak deeply and cohesively about the world on a scale heretofore unattempted, illuminating the world of the political and the personal into sharp relief.

The proof, of course, is in the coverage, both in its richness and in its very fact. Note notables such as Billy Bragg and Bon Iver in the mix below, taking on the Anais songbook in homage and early tribute to a truly worthy songwriter and craftsperson. Take note, as well, of the flexibility of song here, as the lo-fi acoustic and the rich mix rebuilt, the balladeer and the barroom singer, the mellow and the mean, the jamband and the celtic take their turns on the canon, and come up roses.

Listen as others come to echo the echoes – revealing a set rich in Bandcamp discoveries, and diverse in tone and tenor, as befits the deep, versatile songbook that Mitchell offers forth. Pick and choose, or download them as a single set. And then, as always, click through to go back to the source – to celebrate, as it were, the artists who continue to circle around song, and around the whole of us, from Anais Mitchell herself to those who would braid their gifts with hers, to the betterment of us all.


    An apt introduction from folk and social justice icon Billy Bragg, whose respect for Mitchell and for the power of political song frames a transcendent performance of a song originally performed by Greg Brown as the modernized king of the underworld. Put it against the bold potency of Chi-town amateur Carey Farrell, whose slowly deepening production slowly drowns us in despair, for a hell of an opening set.


    Toronto-based filmmaker and soundtrack soundscape creator Nicole Goode records tense, echoey, glitchy cover goodness, nominally with her morning coffee. And it is mesmerizing, rough and raw and bottomless.


    New York-based “folk rock Japanese band” Robin’s Egg Blue‘s sudden turn into newgrass jamband territory turns a transitional Hadestown track into a resting point reminiscent of the psychedelic Steeleye Span era, lingering in the river of madness until it seems like the struggle will never end. Epic, indeed.


    The stand-out track from a late December covers release from Jess & Alek Deva, aka The Night Owls, “a married couple living and working in beautiful White River Junction, VT.”


    Soft tender balladry from “Boston native and New York transplant” Paola Bennet, found on a well-populated Soundcloud page that offers more from the amateur delight.


    A dreamy, echolayered take on Wait For Me, a tiny fragment from the magnum opus that is Hadestown. From Irish amateur Emma Carroll, an enigma otherwise.


    A straightforward plainsong approach to a personal favorite from Soundcloud amateur Justin Paul Ortiz. Don’t underestimate this one: the lack of adornment lays the song bare, revealing strong bones at the core.


    A simple, elegant popfolk setting from prolific Ithaca, NY singer-songwriter, activist, and mindfulness practitioner Travis Knapp‘s 9th annual covers collection evokes grand pianos and candelabras as it pays homage to the tender, confessional side of Mitchell’s early canon.


    Two Anais Mitchell covers from the stark solo Saturday morning cover recordings of Soundcloud amateur Sophia Stewart, a nuanced vocalist and solo stringstrummer well worth visiting for more.


    A slightly countrified, well-produced lullaby version of Mitchell’s transposition of two West Bank refugees: one to be Jesus, the other a forgotten Palestinian. Joyce Andersen‘s hearty, heart-filled voice makes for a perfect pairing alongside Harvey Reid’s subtle pick and slide.


    Cambridge, MA duo Parsley‘s forefront harmonies lend a dustbowl honesty to this wistful, wild cut, originally penned and performed by Rachel Ries and Anais Mitchell on their duo EP Country.


    South Carolina ex-pat Garris, now living in China and preparing for a stint as a yoga teacher in India, partners with friend Kira for a four-track EP featuring a solid Tom Waits cover and this subtle slackstring soft-track, gentle, wistful, and aware of its unrefined honesty.


    If there is such a thing as perfect lo-fi experimental anti-folk in the modern marketplace, it is embedded in The Last Clarissa’s hollow covers and recordings, each one rushed and anxious, resonant as a silo sing, and honest as the night.


    Broken, flickering life from Bryan McFarland, another amateur hard to uncover. No matter: the song speaks for itself, with low recorder and layers of lush guitar pulsing around grungy octave harmonies for a dirge-like dark despair.


    Justin Vernon at his most tender and fragile, with gentle guitar and piano in low, tinkly parallel; Vermont bluegrass duo Cricket Blue at their tightest in sorrow, singing the fear of Icarus towards the sky and sun. And so we end as we began: vulnerable to the world, and the variances and vagrancies of song and lyric in tension: the crash impending, the loss palpable, the hope everlasting.



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Comment » | Anais Mitchell, Artists, Covered In Folk

Covered In Tradfolk: New Takes on Old Songs
with Jayme Stone, Hannah Read, Allysen Callery, Leftover Cuties & more!


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Because we are a folkblog first, the essential question of whether the performance of traditional song is an act of coverage is treated as trivial here at Cover Lay Down. Indeed, as alluded to in our 2013 feature on the Child Ballads, and in Single Song Sunday features on O Death, Wayfaring Stranger, Barbara Allen and The Water Is Wide, songs so old as to have lost their origin act as the prototype for our exploration of the depth and breadth of the folkways as they continue to stretch and evolve.

Someone has to have written these, of course; neither lyric nor melody springs from the cotton of whole cloth. Songs do shift as their culture grows around them, especially those originally carried by memory and not notation, but it strains the boundaries of reason to suppose that rhyming quatrains used to emerge from the air. But in the case of songs marked not standard but traditional, by definition, the mutation through versioning is so strong, the songs belong truly to the ages, to be identified by region rather than author. And this, in turn, makes of their reinvention an ideal opportunity to meet our mandate: to discover the performer through their interpretation of the familiar, and in embracing that comfort, to discover the new through the old.

There’s some wonderful tradfolk on rotation in our ears these days, from last year’s oops-we-missed-it super-collaborative Songs of Separation project, which brought together ten well-known female folk musicians from Scotland and England (with Karine Polwart, Eliza Carthy, and Hannah Read among them) for a tribute to their own ancient traditions, to Across The Waters, a newly-released full-length traditional album by Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams & Caelia Lunniss, and the upcoming sophomore album from Jayme Stone’s Folklife project, this time with a focus on the songs of the American sea islands and mountains.

Add in a recently-discovered Child ballad from UK storyteller and folk explorer Christine Cooper and her lovely 2011 5-track traditional EP, and an older live cut from Rachel Newton, whose most recent traditional album was celebrated in our Best Covers Albums of 2016, then cross the pond again for a cut or two from the American gospel hymnal from Americana icons The Stray Birds and an upcoming debut EP from new Mexico City-based band Peregrino, much-beloved tracks from ‘ghost folk” fave Allysen Callery and fiddlefolk duo 10 String Symphony, a mystical rebuild of Scarborough Fair from Sacramento banjofolk minimalist Hannah Mayree, a hopping bluegrass number from Beehive Productions recorded live at the Caramoor American Roots Music Program in Katonah, NY, and a heavily-modified Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies from Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri‘s fine and intimate all-covers Valentine’s Duets series, recently rereleased for their well-stocked and easy-to-justify Patreon patronage project, and you’ve got a fine set indeed, with links to both artists and song origin, just for fun.



Looking for more? We’ve got two bonus tracks today, both nominally authored – the first a Bandcamp Frenchwoman’s amateur version of a popular Appalachian tune generally viewed as by Ola Belle Reed but also claimed as an original hymn by the Church of Latter Day Saints, the second a brand new live recording of a song y’all will surely recognize, originally of disputed authorship and first recorded towards the beginning of WWII – but both often attributed and treated as American standards. Check ‘em out, download the entire set, and then click through as always above and below to purchase the music, the better to support the continued effort of those who channel and celebrate the folkways in all their myriad forms.


Comment » | Mixtapes, Tradfolk

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

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




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

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


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


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


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


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



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






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

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

Teach Your Children Well: A Coverfolk Mix
In Celebration of The National Teach-In (February 17, 2017)


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Sundays mean lesson planning, in the world of public school teaching. And so, although white-out conditions outside my cozy living room window suggest another snow day tomorrow, I’m looking ahead to Friday, where – in solidarity with those currently calling for a general strike – a few fellow schoolteachers and I are spearheading a National Teach-In in response to ongoing policy concerns which we see as harmful to truth, public education, common decency, and the dignity of our students and their families.

Because a well informed electorate cannot be taken advantage of by “alternate facts”. And because as educators, we believe it is our duty to develop that informed electorate within our own communities.

Historically, teach-ins are a form of civil disobedience, in which professors stand outside the canon, plying their status and knowledge on behalf of the counterculture. But in a very important way, regaining our footing by reclaiming our classrooms and hallways as strongholds of truth and justice is a restorative act, not a political one.

Teaching about the three branches of American government, and their checks and balances, are as innate to the History curriculum as the history of protest song, and its effects and effectiveness. Exploring popularity polls and gerrymandering are perfect pursuits for the Math teacher required by administration to make connections to the real world as they teach. Covering climate change, resource management through pipelines, and other issues currently on the ground in the Sciences is cemented into the pathways we must follow. Art and Music owe themselves to explore the way in which their forms are and have been utilized to speak truth to power, in our past and in our present.

Indeed, arguably, to NOT integrate the larger on-the-ground issues of our time and temperament into the classroom is to abdicate our responsibility to the highly-politicized infrastructure in which teaching and learning currently stand.

To join the Teach-In, then, becomes merely a matter of tweaking the pacing guide, and then delivering a lesson mindfully and joyfully, knowing that others across the nation are doing the same. And if it feels subversive, then perhaps that merely means that this is what teaching should feel like.


And so – since the Common Core Standards which guide my practice as an English teacher mandate that I prepare my students to “Analyze…[the] particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature” – I will spend this Friday with my students analyzing the promise of the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and move from there to explore the particular standpoints and imagery of a series of poems by immigrants and second-generation Americans struggling with their identity, before they engage in clarifying and exposing their own cultural perspective and its expression through the creation of poems, essays, posters and more.

And so, today, here and now, we offer a set of topical songs which speak to the potential of the classroom to truly prepare students to engage politically and deliberately in a world drowning in alternate facts and social media echo chambers – both in celebrating its success, and in admonishing its failure.


There are plenty of songs with school-as-setting out there in the universe; we’ve covered them before. There’s a few songs, too, which reference learning, and the academy itself. But today’s parameters are narrow: songs which speak specifically to the act of teaching, either for its relevance to the real, in preparing our next generation for the social and civic world, or – more frequently – for its failure to connect students to that which matters most. And thanks to the crowdsource, we’ve come up with just enough for a fine mix of coverage.

So listen, and rejoice in the fact that even in the midst of a world driven by metrics and testing, there are still enough of us who remember that the essential purpose of education is prepare our students to take on the mantle of critical, deliberate, imaginative world leadership, and are determined to maintain our classrooms as spaces where mindfulness, critical thinking, and social justice aren’t just welcome, they’re part and parcel of our daily practice.

And if you are a teacher, or just know one, please share this post, or the National Teach-In Facebook page, with every teacher, student, and parent you know – both to help us spread the word about Friday, and to stand in solidarity with those who know that knowledge is power…but that only wisdom is liberty.


Teach Your Children Well: A Coverfolk Mix
…now available in handy zip format!



Artist-centric and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the makers, the mailers, and YOU. Tune in as the winter continues for new tributes, cover compilations, and coverfolk singles from 2017, plus resurrected features on Jeffrey Foucault, Randy Newman, and more!

Comment » | Mixtapes, Teaching

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