Still Standing: Remembering The 2011 Tornado
with covers of Springsteen, Survivor, INXS, CSNY & more!





In June of 2011 our town made national news when a tornado tore through our downtown valley and up the hill again, leaving a strip of destruction and chaos that was visible on weather satellites. For the next month, in a series of four features here on these pages, we traced the town’s slow process through the stages of community grief: from shock and heartbreak to hope and determination. And in the end, though we weren’t really healed, we moved on: back to work, and to school, and the pretense of normal which so typifies the modern condition.

But looking back with the wisdom of years, it is clear that through the forge of wind and cracking wood and crumbling stone, the fire of bent backs and open arms, something changed about us. Somewhere along the way, we had come to take for granted the closeness of the community; we had been jaded and cynical, complacent in our ways and means; now we were resolute, and banded together in the face of it all.

And so we mourned and cleared our smalltown streets, huddling together with those who had lost everything but each other. We took water and food into the worst of it all; we gathered wood from our driveways and yards, and hauled it away to keep us warm for the next two winters. We took care of our own, a town together, independent and practical, resolute and proud as only New Englanders can be. And in doing so, we learned that having each other was everything.


Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 8.48.17 PMThese days, new homes and new green lawns stand where houses once tilted and yawed into the aftermath of disaster. Town Hall has been rebuilt, fixing the hole in the center of everything which stood for years as testament to our trials. First Church has a new steeple, and it’s visible all the way down Main Street, where it proudly oversees the Memorial Day parade. Our Civil War era Memorial Hall reopened its doors last Christmas for the bazaar, and it was just like old times.

We no longer shudder at the sight of clouds. From a distance, the scar that cuts through the land has faded into a faint yellowgreen line of new trees. Last night’s high school graduation took place on time, and no one mentioned the tornado which cancelled the ceremony for their oldest brothers and sisters.

Normal has become normal again; life goes on. But in many ways, it is a better, closer life than it was before the world fell apart. We know each other better. We celebrate each other more. The town remembers, deep in its bones: we are still, after all this time, Monson Strong. And so it will be, harbored against our hearts and our bodies, until we forget, and nature calls once more to remind us of ourselves.

From the folk rock of Alana Davis to the delicate determination of Kallet, Epstein and Ciccone, then. From the sparse lo-fi indiefolk of Eye Of The Tiger to the bright summery uke stylings of Dog Days Are Over, and from delicate string-driven Springsteen to weary countrified fun. From Love Canon’s grassy, resolutely bittersweet Touch Of Gray to Chelsea Berry’s sweet, soulful take on Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day; from Sara Watkins with the frenzied fiddles of Darol Anger’s Republic Of Strings to Beck, St. Vincent, Liars and Os Mutantes as Record Club supergroup.

May this loosely-mixed set of songs of determination, aftermath and rebirth carry our deep joys and appreciation to you and yours. And may you always have your neighbors at your side, their strong backs bent and consoling arms open, when your disasters come to you.




Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Coming soon: our annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival preview…plus new artists from all corners of the folkworld cover Dylan, Lucius, The Cardigans, Jackson Browne, Big Star, Angus and Julia Stone and more!

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(Re)Covered: New Coverage From Old Friends
Allysen Callery, Coty Hogue, Amber Rubarth, Reid Jamieson and 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 “new primitive” songwriter Allysen Callery, tradfolk reinventionist Coty Hogue, orchestral folk artist Amber Rubarth, Vancouver crooner Rein Jamieson, YouTube fave Juliana Richer Daily, and beloved local folksinger and friend Mark Erelli taking on REM, Lorde, Prince, Gordon Lightfoot, Fleetwood Mac, Leonard Cohen, The 1975, the Appalachian canon and more!



Allysen Callery – a self-taught New England rising star and fingerpicker whose website proudly and accurately describes her oeuvre as “quiet music for a loud world” – first popped up on our radar in 2013, thanks to a “haunting recast” of one-time Single Song Sunday standard Long Black Veil that offered apt comparison to the very best of Sandy Denny. Since then, Callery’s star has continued to rise as her canon grows; her delicate will-o-the-wisp reinventions have featured in two consecutive year’s end “Best Of” mixtapes, we shared her recent, perfect take on Marissa Nadler in February of this year as part of our celebration of Volume 3 of Red Line Roots’ Locals Covering Locals series; we loved her tiny, precious 2014 UK folk radio session, and we’re working to get her in for a Unity House Concert soon. New CD The Song the Songbird Sings, with its ringing echoes of the 60′s British psychedelic folk revival, offers perfect proof of why we’re so thrilled to hear more, with tightly crafted, elegantly performed originals and a stunning Gordon Lightfoot cover that holds us close with dark urgency in a frozen wasteland.



It’s been 4 years since we featured American roots singer-songwriter and banjo player Coty Hogue, a fave of Alice Gerrard and others in the neotrad countryfolk school, on the release of her live album When We Get To Shore, a mostly-covers-and-traditionals album performed in front of a studio audience with fellow Bellingham musicians Aaron Guest (vocals/guitar) and Kat Bula (fiddle/vocals); since then, she’s been pretty quiet, other than a few live-tracked solo YouTube releases well worth passing along. But Hogue is back with Flight, a brand new release featuring the same core trio of players plus guest appearances from Cover Lay Down fave bluegrass duo Molly Tuttle and John Mailander and IBMA multiple award winning bass player Missy Raines, and it’s a revelation, with intimate, lightly grassy takes on Fleetwood Mac and Lucinda Williams, a tight, joyous live sound, and a fine set of catchy, fluid compositions and arrangements perfect for a gentle morning pick-me-up porch session.



Though still primarily known in and around his native Vancouver, singer-songwriter Reid Jamieson is a frequent flyer here at Cover Lay Down thanks to a grinning, gorgeous way with the songs of others and an especially prolific penchant towards interpretation: he’s previously published an album of Elvis songs and dozens of single-shot coverage tracks; in 2011, we offered his tribute to the songs of 1969, recorded for his wife’s birthday, as a release-day exclusive.

Reido’s newest homage Dear Leonard: The Cohen Collection takes on the songs of Leonard Cohen lovingly and gleefully, and we’ve been stuck on it since it dropped in March. Like most of his work, it is deceptively light; the intros hit like Caribbean elevator music, and Reido’s husky tenor is sweet and plaintive as always. But there’s a huge diversity here, and something truly triumphant about the brightening of sound in songs like Suzanne, which tingles with robust steel drum rhythms and spousal harmonies, the driving countrified romp of Tower Of Song, and Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, which gets turned on it’s ear, transforming the somber, pensive original into a bright and upbeat trainsong, chugging along light and lively with perfect layers of overdubbed harmony, gentle guitars and brushes. Elsewhere, ukes, brushes, and fiddle hold sway, adding flourishes and finishing touches to a sweet, sweet EP from somewhere under the sunniest of cowboy skies.


Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 3.11.47 PMAmber Rubarth came to our attention via a 2011 collaboration with Threeds, an oboe trio whose mellow Little Feat cover still offers solace in our darkest days. Now, ten years into a career ready to explode, the award-winning small-town California-born, weary-yet-clear-voiced singer-songwriter comes back to us with Scribbled Folk Symphonies, a nuanced and richly orchestrated singer-songwriter’s tour de force, featuring apt and adept plucked string quartet urgencies under soaring-air vocals on REM standard Losing My Religion and self-effacing Elliott Smith fave I Didn’t Understand, and we’ve been hooked since its April release.

Rubarth is already crowdsourcing next album Wildflowers In The Graveyard, a slightly more conventional contemporary popfolk guitarslinger’s lyric-driven, high-production collection of songs written around the theme of renewal and ripe for a big autumn release; support it for previews and more. But first, check out her new covertracks plus* an older but no less warm and wonderful Carter Family cover below from Rubarth’s bandcamp sampler, and then purchase Scribbled Folk Symphonies to steep in an album that already stands as one of the great folk albums of 2016.

*tracks removed by label request



Though our recent 15-track tribute to Prince made no claim to comprehensiveness, it would be even harder now; since the artist’s passing last month, musicians from across the artistic genre map have come forth to pay their own tribute, and several new favorites have emerged – including a fine live take on signature song Purple Rain from prolific Boston-based singer-songwriter Mark Erelli, recorded at a recent album-release party at Club Passim, and released via his long-standing and always-worth-checking Mp3 of the Month series. Add in a previous month’s live take on Blake Mills’ Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me, and you can see why we’re such big fans of Erelli, whose sideman work with Lori McKenna and Paula Cole and continued work as both a solo artist and a member of newgrass supergroup Barnstar! continue to earn him duly deserved accolades on and beyond the coffeehouse circuit, and whose new, clear-as-a-bell album For A Song is currently sweeping the folk charts on the strength of its stunning countryfolk title track.



Finally, for the popfolk set: Upstate New Yorker and YouTube amateur Juliana Daily, whose versatile, sweet and intimate voice we’ve featured regularly on these pages, took top honors for Best Coverfolk Video Series in our 2015 round-up on the strength of a lovely set of living-room covers recorded in support of a Kickstarter album; here she is back again to prove her chops with an aching, wonderfully sparse one-guitar, multiple-voice take on an alt-rock tune-turned-ballad with Bryce Merritt that benefits from tight production, earnest performance, and a hint of whimsy.




Comment » | (Re)Covered, Allysen Callery, Amber Rubarth, Coty Hogue, Mark Erelli, Reid Jamieson

Marissa Nadler covers:
Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath & 16 more!





The pretty, melodic, harmony-and-lyric-driven music that so often typifies the coffeehouse set permeates our love for the folkworld here at Cover Lay Down. But exploring the margins has its benefits, too. Indeed, one of the things I love about folk is its broad diversity: no matter what mood you desire, no matter what purpose you need music to serve in your ears and your soul, folk has something for you, if you’re willing to listen.

And so I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient folk music these past few weeks – a perfect pairing for an unsettled world, where inner city teaching and my children’s ongoing health struggles keep me ever on the edge of adrenalin exhaustion. And as I shift through the various twigs and brambles of this often obscure acre, one voice keeps rising to the surface: that of Marissa Nadler, who has carved out a niche all her own, one that is definitive and daring, potent and achingly beautiful.


Although born, raised, and still based in the Boston area, Marissa Nadler is more usually associated with the hipstery dreampop and indiefolk worlds than the Boston singer-songwriter crowd. Her third major studio release Songs III: Bird on the Water won her recognition as “Outstanding Singer-Songwriter of the Year” at the 2008 Boston Music Awards, beating out a young Josh Ritter two years after Paste named him one of their 100 greatest living songwriters, but label-sharing with Jose Gonzalez, Father John Misty, and David Lynch, and garnering award nominations and accolades alongside Iron and Wine, Andrew Bird, St. Vincent, and others from the soft, experimental fringes of the new folk, gives stronger evidence for her placement in the spectrum that has come to define folk in the 21st Century.

Like so many of her experimental brethren, Nadler is an artist first and foremost, formally trained in obscure illustration styles, bookbinding, and encaustic painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, and still keeper of an ongoing store of oddities at do-it-yourself site Etsy; seemingly, the same love of the old and the weird has led to refinement and redefinition as her career has evolved. Although most of her earlier work in the musical realm centers around sparse guitar and voice, adorned only slightly by lo-fi outsider accompaniment from New England experimentalists like cellist Helena Espvall, her sound on Little Hells, which followed Birds III, and was rated highly by the Pitchfork and Paste crowd, represented an expansion of sound beyond the freak-folk into something which pitched and yawed from dreampop and back again through the use of sustained organ and harmonium, circular drumming, and other production techniques that simultaneously amplified, clarified, and bloodied the gauze of her core sound.

New album Strangers – Nadler’s sixth, which dropped yesterday – continues this expansion, offering a richer, lusher mix than usual, with decidedly electronic synths and beats that lift Nadler’s etherial voice, lending it a sense of urgency heretofore unheard. But nothing can obscure the essential, delicate beauty that Marissa Nadler brings to her craft. Like her previous collections, the result is haunting and dreamy, primitive and echoey, a full set of expansive meditations built on her perennial, pensive sentimentality, the bassline drone that typifies her self-taught syncopated style on the strings, and that delicate, airy voice that slides through the staff like a bird gliding on the wing.


Although first and foremost a singer-songwriter attuned to every aspect of creation, in keeping with the way that her visual work calls back to older forms, Nadler has also peppered her career with coverage, digging into songs that reveal a broad range of genre influence.

A single Leonard Cohen favorite appears on Songs III, but more usually, a tendency to keep these covers separate from her originals has made many of them rarer: Nadler self-released two full covers collections via Etsy in 2010 and 2011, but both are out of print; she has appeared regularly on some of our favorite multi-artist tributes over the past decade, taking on the songs of Odetta, Judee Sill, Radiohead and Jason Molina alongside other fringe and freakfolk luminaries, but many of her older covers are from albums and demo collections which are also obscure.

These covers are sublime nonetheless, making year’s end lists at the usual indieblogs, and showing up in various Cover Lay Down songbook features through the years. From early and mid-career reinventions of Cohen, Neil Young, Springsteen and Duran Duran to more recent underground releases of new, narcotized takes on Danzig and Black Sabbath, Elliott Smith and Father John Misty, they reveal new depths in songs both heard and unfamiliar.

And the covers just keep coming, in the form of slow, spooky Halloween-release Soundcloud singletons and website exclusives that dredge Nadler’s personal demos and living room archives and drag them into a bleary, intimate light. Taken together, as a set, our favorite 21 covertracks offer a strong introduction to both Nadler herself, and the ambient folk tributary she represents, where the world is often hazy and unsettling, but the future is bright indeed.


Marissa Nadler Covers [zip!]



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song thanks to the kindness of patrons like you.

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RIP: Prince
(June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)


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As a long-time coverblogger, it’s not hard to have mixed feelings about the death of rockstar Prince today at the age of 57. The eminently egotistical Artist Formerly Known As An Unpronounceable Symbol was notoriously negative about “industry” coverage, expressing frustration that the law makes it perfectly legal to cover other people’s songs as long as the piper has been paid, and raising concern time and time again in interviews that “covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore”. Prince’s legal team was infamous for issuing YouTube take-down notices, and tight-fisted about permissions, too. And there we were, pretty gun-shy after being booted off Blogger for a string of false take-down notices in our early days.

And so, with a very few notable exceptions, for 9 long years online, we’ve pretty much avoided even talking about the man, let alone sharing our favorite covers.

Until now. Because Prince Rogers Nelson’s sexy pop anthems populate our world like nobody’s business, and praise the lord. Glitchy and over-the-top anthemic as it may be, I actually prefer his version of Nothing Compares To U to Sinead O’Connor’s. And I can’t think of any version of Kiss that I like better than the original, though Richard Thompson’s tongue-in-cheek take has its own rough-hewn joy, too.

And maybe, just maybe, that – plus the sheer volume of tributes that will surely join this one in the ether in the hours and days to come – offers sufficient protection from the wrath that is Prince’s estate today, as we celebrate a man whose purply influence will surely shine on the world of music for decades to come.

To suggest that Prince’s position on coverage was extreme is not to suggest that it had some merit, of course; as someone who recently listed Tainted Love as a Soft Cell original, I’m in a particularly poor position to suggest that great covers cannot and do not sometimes obscure original recordings. We’ve touched on the definitive, transformative cover here before, too, most notably in our 2008 deep dive into the shift in sound and sensibility Jeff Buckley brought to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which proved to influence pretty much all subsequent coverage of the song.

But to prefer the Ryan Adams version of Wonderwall is one thing; to say that it somehow eradicated the original is quite another. When Noel Gallagher says in his 2008 Spin interview that he and brother Liam hate singing Wonderwall, and that he thinks Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got it right, it says more about the potential of the cover to save the song than it does about its potential to erase it. Liam may no longer want to sing Wonderwall the way it was written, but the record lives on – and as Gallagher notes in the same interview, fans still clamor for the original, too.

And so, today, in honor of Prince’s passing, we break our vow of silence on the subject to present our very favorite covers from the folkworld. It’s good crop, too, with The Blue Rubies mid-eighties cover of Prince’s When U Were Mine, which was one of my very first folk covers – a moment of early clarity in a world cluttered with postpunk, synthpop, and early grunge – The Be Good Tanyas take on When Doves Cry, which I featured in my very first music post, before Cover Lay Down was even born, and last year’s remake of Prince’s playful oddity Starfish and Coffee from kidfolk fave Renee and SNL alum Maya Rudolph.

Add in a bluesy take from an underground Norwegian tribute now otherwise lost to the great archive in the sky, James Taylor’s son on a pristine backporch kick, a soaring high-production take on a track originally posted online as Violet Rain to confound the legal team, the ragged, live and in-studio vocals of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Richard Thompson, and Martin Sexton, and a few more joys from around the block, and you’ve got a tribute set worth waiting for.

May the covers ever live on alongside, not instead of, the originals which Prince himself brought to our ears. And may we never forget to gather together, dearly beloved, to get through this thing called life.



Covered In Folk: Prince


Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down explores the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

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Covered In Folk: Justin Bieber
(13 takes on a pop icon’s cowritten canon)


bieber


To be fair, the only thing I really knew about Justin Bieber until yesterday was that he was famous, and mostly still a kid. I could probably pick him out of a lineup, but I wasn’t really keyed in to the music. To be perfectly honest, I had to ask my students which songs of his were famous in order to complete today’s cover mix.

And yet. There’s a simple joy in the well crafted pop song, and a guilty pleasure in the adolescent bubblegum lens of confusion and longing hopped up on hormones that typifies the boy band and pop princess subgenre. And so we turn to the tabloids, and find, if not greatness, then certainly good.

Beiber’s work is carefully constructed, as befits a songbook written by committee and aimed carefully at the top of the preteen charts; sunny and light, it doesn’t go deep. But every genre has its high notes. Pulled from the popshelf, and translated into softer acoustic tones, the Canadian star’s songbook has an honesty of its own, grounded in zen metaphysics and a sensitivity to the concrete image as metaphor, that comes forward in coverage. And those hooks…well, it’s no wonder so many YouTube stars have taken on the north-of-the-border heartthrob with just a handful of albums under his belt.

Today’s selections are almost all amateur sourced. But their range is startling. Three takes on Love Yourself alone run the gamut, from Nataly Dawn‘s hollow, gritty bluesfolk to Dodie and Andie’s tender acoustic bedroom swing to rising star Jamie Oshima‘s newly-released mando-and-guitar cover, which switches in The Wedding Reel as a perfect instrumental break.

Peter Katz gives us a gentle electronica-tinged dreamfolk take on Sorry, while twee Parisian indiefolk foursome OAK offer sly harmonies over guitar, banjolin and bass; Amanda Law‘s What Do You Mean and Kina GrannisBaby are joyful, sweet, and pure; for a bonus treat, head over to the latter’s own percussive pop take on the former, and her collaborative version of Where Are U Now. Add in ringing acoustic dreampop from Fort Wayne artist Jonah Baker and SoCal native Rachael Cantu, soft, slippery smokehouse jazz on a dance track originally by Bieber, Skrillex, and Diplo, a punk folk seasonal, and two very different approaches to Boyfriend – acoustic alterna-pop from YouTube standby Madilyn Bailey; driving pop rock from Welsh singer-songwriter Marina and the Diamonds – and you’ll believe even pop can be redeemed.


Covered In Folk: Justin Bieber



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down explores the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

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Back To The Garden:
On The Healing Power Of Green Places


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The hospital where my daughter spends her days is one of the best in the country; a place of comfort and cheer, where cutting-edge medicine is served side by side with gentleness and joy, and mental wellness is considered a vital partner to physical health. Evidence of this is everywhere: The rooms we live in in shifts these days are bright and big, friendly and comforting, with equal access and support for patients and their families; child life specialists and kind social workers are core members of the medical teams that visit throughout the day; clowns, therapy dogs, craft-makers and musicians visit the wards regularly, and those who can move more freely throughout the hospital find a seemingly endless unfolding of spaces both large and small, staffed with volunteers and paid professionals eager to offer play, shared solace, and performance on a busy schedule aimed at filling the empty hours of those who need it most.

In the middle of this labyrinth of hallways lined with cheerful art and playful design lies Prouty Garden, a green, welcoming space that serves as the perfect symbol for the creative balance of soul and body we have experienced in the last few years as we come to frequent this sacred place. Designed by the same architects that built Boston’s Fresh Pond and New Orleans’ Audubon Park, the half-acre is subdivided into smaller shady spaces and open lawn, broken up by benches and fountains, rich with hidden statuary and small niches that offer privacy to those still struggling to accept the changes wrought by medicine, disease, and injury upon their fragile bones and flesh.

For kids whose only other access to the outside world is far too often nothing more than a half-glimpsed skyline through an upper story window, Prouty Garden is a haven in the midst of hell – the only space large enough to guarantee sunlight throughout the day to kids whose skin has grown pale from lack of exposure, and the only way to truly let them feel like they are outside, in a fully open space, surrounded by nature, with sky above and grass below.

We’ve chased squirrels and rabbits there, and hunted for eggs on two successive Easters. We’ve walked there with grandparents and friends who seem too sad to truly be themselves in hospital rooms full of medical devices and the other trappings of illness. In many ways, the garden is ours; in many ways, it is needful, as much a part of the lives of my children as the doctors and nurses that populate their days.

But this, too, must pass. As of this year, Prouty Garden is slated to be torn down, to make room for a new building that would alleviate current strain on space in the hospital – a strain we know well, having stayed overnight in the ER at least once while we wait for a bed to open up upstairs. And although public outcry, especially from those children and families who have been served directly by the garden, is loud and clear, ultimately, the hospital trustees continue to maintain that the destruction of our beloved garden is the best path forward for all of us.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, the controversy over the loss of the garden is already affecting its ability to serve children and their families. This morning I spoke with a father whose kid is here for the long haul, midway through a four-month treatment for cancer; last night when they went down after dark, he said, the security guard treated them with suspicion, and insisted on taking down their badge numbers before letting them in.

And so we went down to the garden ourselves, once the elderchild had woken up, and her nightly fever had gone down enough to travel. And found it blocked off, and swarming with security guards, who kindly informed us that until the kind and well-intentioned protesters had left their post at the front of the hospital, the garden would remain closed, just in case.

It’s true that Boston Children’s Hospital is in desperate need of more beds. It’s also true that space is dear here on the edge of downtown Boston. But how ironic, how bittersweet, that a garden designed to be a core component of the healing practice of one of the best hospitals in the country has become, like any other medicine, so carefully meted out, and so cautiously watched.

My daughter took being turned away from the garden in stride, as she does so much these days. She knows, like her father, that the time and place for protest of our own must be carefully guarded, and cautiously selected, lest we learn to live in anger at the world.

But after the protesters left, we returned and found the garden open again. We sat on a stone bench near the entrance, alongside a statue of a nurse and child dedicated the poet whose bequest still sustains it 60 years after its founding, and ate a late breakfast, throwing our crumbs to the sparrows, which clustered at our feet. The sun was bright, and the daffodils big in bloom. The long lawn was green and full of life, and all around it, small copper and marble statues of foxes and egrets, squirrels and beavers nestled in the flowerbeds and fountains, their noses red and round with evidence that the clowns had been there before us.

It was hard to miss the two security guards watching us carefully from the other end of the garden. It was hard not to look at the big Dawn Redwood that loomed above them, and over everything, and think of how much, how very much, we have lost, and will continue to lose to love in this world.

But for a moment, there in the sun and dirt, my daughter smiled, and laughed, and felt free again.

And after we returned to her room, and the couch in the corner where I will stay the weekend, and leave again on Sunday, I thought of all the garden songs I know, in which the idea of the garden, as metaphor and locus, features predominantly as a place of love, solace, growth, and reconnection to nature.

May the wild and cultivated places of our world live in our hearts and minds in our times of trial, that they may serve us in our pain and sorrow. May we too, find them in our world, and wander through them, and be free.



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round here and on Facebook thanks to the kindness of patrons like you.

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Songs of Solace, Songs Of Pain:
On becoming familiar with disease and distance


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There’s so much to write: musings stuck deep in the recesses of my mind, dams thick with foam and finesse to study whorl by whorl. And there’s so much to write about, too, as 2016 pours forth a plethora of coverfolk delights, backlogged and still disorganized in the inbox and an ever-growing infinity of open tabs.

I’ve tried, halfheartedly, to pick up the threads, and weave them into the words we’ve come to expect here. But for a month, nothing’s been coming out coherent.

And it was killing me. Until I put down the words, and rediscovered music.

I’ve written about my girls here – about their struggles, and ours – several times in the last couple of years, since the elderchild was diagnosed three years ago (Everybody Hurts: On Discovering A Child’s Illness) and then again, when the wee one took her turn (Lord Protect My Child: Songs for Our Children). I’m tired of writing about it, honestly.

But behind the blog, and the public face, their disease eats away at them, and us. Being separated across the state drains us; nothing is settled, and in some ways, even as we come to find familiarity in the routine, things are still getting worse. I go to work with my heart still at home, or worse, on the road, as my wife bounces them from appointment to appointment, together and alone, and my mind is ever on them: distracted, and dense with thoughts of what might happen next. I ache for the way things were, once, when the hardest things about life were the natural growing pains that anyone could recognize.

Today, with the wee one still sleeping through her pain upstairs, and the elderchild and her mother camped out in the hospital ward, back for drains and rest just weeks after her first emergency surgery, I find my very first chance in four full weeks to clear the brain, and begin again.

But it’s a rainy day outside: grey, and quiet. I’ve lit the fire; the dog sleeps on the couch beside me. And although I tried today to revel in the joys of the delicate and the hearty that have begun to fill my personal playlist, what I’ve really been listening to is the songs I go to when I need solace.

Other than to note that my personal collection of bittersweet music to steep in has grown a bit since 2013, there’s little to say about today’s second-round sorrowsongs. When Elvis Costello says that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, he means that criticism and analysis are removed, abstract, although sometimes illuminating, in a purely emotive way.

Ultimately, anything I could say about yet another playlist of loneliness and grief is only a shadow puppet representation of the real emotional impact of the art form done well and deep.

Sometimes you just need to feel.

May we all find solace in music, and in the world.



Everybody Hurts, Volume 2: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


5 comments » | Mixtapes

New Artists, Old Songs: Rising Stars Reinterpret
Randy Newman, Sia, Soft Cell, Adele, The Magnetic Fields & more!

The virtual mailbag bursts at the digital seams with new submissions, and some of it is quite good, indeed. Today, we return to a perennial conceit to frame the festivities, celebrating new, newfound and still-emerging artists from Dublin to Nashville as they pay homage to their roots, their peers, and the popular. Enjoy – and as always, follow links to purchase and pursue your favorites, the better to patronize the arts, and support the folkways.



mikebeneckeLA singer-songwriter Mike Benecke may have gotten his start touring with punk and indie bands, but as press comparisons to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Alexi Murdoch after the release of his 2012 self-titled EP suggest, his solo work strips away the grunge and grime, revealing a beautiful, slow, intimate and rich dreamfolk, with sparse clear-as-a-bell layers of smooth, haunting bass, keys, and pedal steel gently supporting an acoustic core of fingerpicked, resonant strings and an honest hoarseness in the voice that aches like wolves in the near distance. This Randy Newman cover, an outtake from brand new debut LP Call The Waves, is a Cover Lay Down exclusive, and it’s a hell of a teaser: an apt, quiet echo of an early urban morning that carries the song exquisitely.


lucyandIndie artists Lucy & La Mer caught our attention with their equally dreamy, pulsing take on Soft Cell classic Tainted Love, the sole cover from sweet folk pop EP Little Spoon, a uke-and-synth-driven collection flush and twee with bells, horns, and fingersnaps and lightly bouncy, wryly honest melody lines and lyrics just aching for a happy indie film montage. The black and white body-positive burlesque-troupe video they’ve just released to promote the song offers a response to recent sexual harassment issues in the music media; like the music itself, it’s decidedly steamy with a satirical bite, simultaneously discomforting and dear.



12308761_920841827951715_685359104699812121_nI keep meaning to get to a Single Song Sunday feature for Magnetic Fields classic The Book Of Love, which we’ve featured in several incarnations here on the blog since our inception in 2007. As a closer for Dubliner Gavin James‘ debut Bitter Pill – an otherwise haunting solo pop album that invites easy comparison to James Blunt and Ed Sheeran, due to drop on Tuesday – the song offers a soaring, echoing muse on the nature of love itself from an artist already filling clubs and halls on both sides of the proverbial pond, and surely on the cusp of something even bigger.



Beyond-The-Rain-Album-Cover-307x307I imagine discovering Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was a bit like this: the gentle rise and fall, the etherial voices, the subtle harmonies, the purity of sound and sadness, the precision of tone, and the tiniest hint of primitive blues drone underneath it all bringing deep solace to the soul. Such is Beyond The Rain, the first major label album from duo Quiles & Cloud, produced by Grammy-winning banjo player and artist Allison Brown on the strength of two fan-funded releases, four years on tour in a VW hatchback, and the most stunning arrangements of the canon I’ve heard yet this year: an album of endless reward that will still leave you yearning for more.



Decidedly young NYC folkpop four-piece Morningsiders hasn’t even finished recording their own debut, but they’re already rising fast on the strength of a single single after it appeared in the pilot for new Amy Poehler Hulu vehicle Difficult People and subsequently rocketed to the top of the Spotify charts. This living room Sia cover that follows it is raw and resonant, a band still facing inward as it defines its sound; it’s also a true blue delight, transforming a pop original into something gentle and comforting, intimately performed with fiddle, stand-up bass, guitar and harmonies around a single microphone.


Morningsiders: Reaper (orig. Sia) [2016]



Mandolin and bass “gutter-folk” duo Driftwood Soldier hasn’t just covered folk standard John Henry, they’ve translated it into the modern age, reframing the song as a commentary on racist corporate greed, and the titular larger-than-life character as a wage slave scion of the modern white-collar world. The chunky, funky sound they adopt here echoes that of last year’s debut Scavenger’s Joy, a wonderfully bouncy, grungy, organic collection chock full of growled vocals, howling slackstrings, and percussive found materials (including coffee cans and suitcases) that evokes both history and reinvention, with hints of early Deadhead experimentation, Leon Russell’s soul, the field recordings of Robert Johnson and Lead Belly, and the sparse, harsh deconstruction of Morphine.


Driftwood Soldier: John Henry (trad.) [2016]



Twenty-something L.A. Edwards comes to us thanks to our recent double-feature on Tom Petty; the young Californian songwriter is a protege of Heartbreaker Ron Blair, and his manager made the connection and sent along this cover. We’re grateful, too: L.A. (aka Luke Andrew) was raised on Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Cat Stevens, but after years on the road with his brother as a duo after dropping out of high school at 15, his most recent output – as heard in this and other tracks from his recent live YouTube series The El Nino Sessions, and in this stunning four-part Soundcloud collection – is encore-ready folk rock with just the right hint of alt-country, rich in high-baritone-and-tenor harmonies and spare in all other ways, like a perfect next-generation combination of Ryan Adams, Simon & Garfunkel, and Petty himself.


L.A. Edwards: If I Needed You (orig. Townes Van Zandt) [2016]



Adele covers are going to be big this year, for sure. But singer-songwriter Ryan Larkins, who placed third on CMT show Can You Duet in 2009, offers something special: a relatively faithful solo cover of a deep cut from her newest album that demonstrates crystal clear vocals and guitar skill and, in doing so, shows just how easily Adele’s heartache translates across gender lines. Pair it with a gorgeously hushed, soulful, slide-and-pick take on old gospel hymnal standard Pass Me Not played on an old 60′s Silvertone flat top guitar, note that this pair of covers represents a single week’s output for the Nashville-based Christian acoustic folk-rocker, and keep an eye out for more from this incredible, incredibly versatile still-rising star.


Ryan Larkins: Million Years Ago (orig. Adele) [2016]



Ryan Larkins: Pass Me Not (orig. Fanny Crosby) [2016]



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down delves deep into the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

2 comments » | New Artists Old Songs

(Re)Covered In Folk: Tom Petty
(16 more transformations in tribute to a truly American songbook)





We try to avoid revisiting feature posts so soon after their first iteration, and generally eschew dipping too often into the same thematic lens-setting. We’ve got wonderful new bluegrass, indiefolk, singer-songwriter singles and albums to celebrate, and video finds burning in our eyes and ears.

But a whirlwind weekend of family hospitalization as we struggle to find balance in the face of chronic children’s illnesses has left me still thinking about the past far too often, unable to focus on more than the here and now, and the how we got here.

I need to get away from the thinking, critical mind. I need something upbeat, something eminently freeing. I need comfort, and bittersweet understanding, that I might soak in myself. And I don’t want to have to think about it today, on the cusp on yet another workweek with the family split across the state: half of us in the hospital, half of us sleepwalking through our days, our hearts far, far down the turnpike.

But conveniently, in the two weeks since our giant feature on the Tom Petty songbook, covers of the Floridian roots rock giant have been coming out of the woodwork. And so, today, Cover Lay Down presents a few more: a list almost exclusively amateur in origin, sourced almost entirely from the world of streaming video, and almost all recorded in the last year or two.


pettyhatRest assured, coverfans: though not predominantly recorded by household names, today’s set contains no also-rans. Petty’s canon is broad and diverse, a wide river rich in silt and sediment; our working criteria for a second set of Tom Petty covers is steep, and these eminently make the cut. Stunning and sublime in turn, they represent a broad spectrum of gravitas and genre – powerful variations on a theme, in a mix comprising both some familiar songs distinctly different in interpretation from those posted previously, and a few songs previously uncovered and now brought to light and life.

Here you’ll find feel-good backporch and living room sessions (The Dead Pigeons’ stringband Listen To Her Heart; long-haired folk collective Andrew Leahey & The Homestead’s Walls; acoustic indiefolk quartet JJ and The Pillars with a holiday favorite), folk-to-funk variations (Hope & Social and Sam Airey’s incredible mashup of I Won’t Back Down with old spiritual I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free), piano-and-harmony pop balladry (Bloom’s Free Fallin’ and The Maine’s Wildflowers) and true-blue country rock ballads (Charles Kelley’s duet with Stevie Nicks on Southern Accents). The solo takes range wide, too, from the slippery honkytonk lounge reinvention of Dave Starke’s You Don’t Know How It Feels to amazingly beautiful and fluid live and in-studio covers like Jay Psaros’ Yer So Bad and Eli Noll’s Won’t Back Down to broken, distant, gravel-voiced takes from the likes of Ryan Bingham (Time to Get Going), Teitzi (A Face In The Crowd), and cult folk veteran Kath Bloom (Learning To Fly).

Together, they comprise a perfect companion to our original Tom Petty Covered In Folk feature, bringing our total coverage far past the half-century line, speaking loud and clear of Petty’s power and playability in the hands of the people. Download the newest set, and enjoy.

Covered In Folk: Tom Petty, Redux



Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down delves deep into the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Tom Petty

(Re)Covered: New coverage from old friends
Chris Stapleton, Eli West, Scott Warren, Chris Bell, Ben Sollee & more!

Our regular (Re)Covered series finds us touting new and newly-discovered releases from well-loved 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 bluegrass stalwarts Eli West and Michael Daves, newly-minted Grammy winner Chris Stapleton and his singer-songwriter spouse Morgane, cello-folk experimentalists Chris Bell and Ben Sollee, and electro-coustic rock and roller Scott Warren taking on the songs of Lindsay Buckingham, Bill Monroe, Howlin’ Wolf, the American traditional canon and more!



goodloveWe first featured acoustic roots rocker Scott Warren way back in 2009 in our New Artists, Old Songs series with his “gorgeously fluid, totally atmospheric cover” of America hit Sister Golden Hair, which closed out his 2009 solo album Quick Fix Bandage; his subsequent, delightfully fuzzed-out take on The Beatles’ Blackbird hit our Best of 2014 Singles session, too. Now Warren is back with a Lindsay Buckingham cover that’s just as sweet and tenderly-treated, from Good Love, a brand new disc that runs from full-bore guitar-driven rock and roll a la Elvis Costello and The Georgia Satellites to this gentle and still-gorgeous album-ender, and we couldn’t be happier to share it.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:


bothEli West first popped up on our radar as half of string-and-harmony duo Cahalen and Eli, who took the bluegrass world by storm a few years back with a pair of albums that renewed our interest in the close harmonies and stirring songcraft of progenitors like the Louvin Brothers. Now West is back with an unusual concept album, a solo debut fittingly titled The Both, featuring twelve tracks in total: six relatively obscure traditional folk songs arranged first as warm, surprisingly complex-yet-melodic lyric-and-harmony driven songs, and then again as wholly rearranged instrumentals, offering a side-by-side comparison that allows tune and tradition to step forward in turn. Featuring a veritable who’s who of modern cutting-edge neo-trad players, from ethnomusicologists Anna & Elizabeth to rising star Dori Freeman to jazzman-turned-bluegrass session player Bill Frisell, the album, which drops this week, presents Seattle-based guitarist and multi-instrumentalist West, who has also appeared with Jayme Stone’s recent folk projects and in sessions with Tony Furtado and Tim O’Brien, as a leader and collaborator atop his game.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:


mdSimilar project parameters frame Orchids and Violence, a double-album release from Michael Daves, a high tenor stalwart of the same grassy scene based out of NYC who we first discovered at The Joe Val Bluegrass Fest a few years back and have since followed closely through pairings and collaborations with Chris Thile and others. Here, two full discs offer further side-by-side comparison of a set of mostly traditional bluegrass tracks, plus a take on Mother Love Bone track Stargazer just for the hell of it: the first collection recorded live in a 19th century church with well-known session players (bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and Punch Brothers banjo player Noam Pikelny), the second revisits those same songs with bass, drums, and electric guitar, mostly played by Daves, offering a raw, experimental rock approach to the same old-time material.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:



rustJamestown, NY singer-songwriter and sound engineer Christopher Bell has come a long, long way from the “whimsical re- and deconstruction” of cello, voice, and synthesized studio production which first brought him to our attention. Case in point: this kick-off track, a grungy take on Howlin’ Wolf classic Smokestack Lightning, which proves a harbinger of the gritty, dark sound that follows in versatile new album Rust, which was released back in September but just recently oozed its way onto our radar. Shades of blues, folk rock, and alt-country, shivers of gothic indie alternative, tar-bubbles of driving power rock, and echoes of anthemic metal balladry combine here for an unsettling ride through the psyche flavored with classical and modern instrumentation that smashes every expectation of genre adherence we might have brought to the table even as it delights at every turn. Shake, stir, and serve, hot or chilled.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:



montanadaEqually experimental cellist Ben Sollee goes spare on Montanada, a “mixtape” of carefully curated live recordings from a January tour of Big Sky Country alongside percussionist Jordan Ellis. A mixtape of songs, stories, and audience interactions as playful as its name, the collection includes a wonderfully revamped take on Paul Simon’s Obvious Child, which Sollee has covered before, and a sing-along nod to Bill Monroe which reminds us just how much the cello has transformed bluegrass music in the 21st century.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:



bfs_7752Finally, kudos to well-deserved Grammy winner Chris Stapleton, who we first featured here at Cover Lay Down way back in February of 2008 thanks to his formative work with bluegrass quintet The Steeldrivers. Stapleton has since moved on to the Country charts, but his collaborative work in the world of roots music continues with this amazingly gritty, sensual duet from Southern Family, a concept album featuring tracks by Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, Miranda Lambert and more due to drop mid-March on Low Country Sound. The interplay here between Chris and his wife Morgane, a country singer and songwriter of no small notability in her own right – she’s written number one hits for Carrie Underwood, and her pure vocals are often touted by Nashville insiders as the modern industry ideal – makes this track a perfect dark addition to our previously-compiled Single Song Sunday on You Are My Sunshine, exposing the dark underbelly of a song too often mistaken for a bright children’s ditty.





Ad-free and artist-friendly since 2007, Cover Lay Down features musings on the modern folkways through the performance of popular song year-round here and on Facebook thanks to the kindness of patrons like you. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for another installment of our New Artists, Old Songs feature and a second round of Tom Petty covers to top off our recent 40-song covers collection; give now to support our continuing mission, and receive an exclusive mix of otherwise-unblogged coverfolk from 2014-2015.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Ben Sollee, Christopher Bell, Eli West, Michael Daves, Scott Warren

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