The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2017)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Compilations & more!





Every year at around this time I take a moment to reconsider: both how we do this, and whether to do it at all.

But although the folkgenres are slippery, and the question of what and what is not folk enough for the blog continues to elude clear delineation, there is still this love inside me: for the way a song recreated can tie together the memory, the culture, the heart, and the mind. It’s like a form of meditation, an approach to wholeness. The urge remains.

And so, here we are, at year’s end again, sifting through a year of that aching in the chest, the surge of joy and gladness, the still moment by the hearth or in the sun, that sudden song on the radio that hits you so hard you have to pull over, panting and sobbing, into the nearest grassy patch, and just feel.

Which is to say: it was a wonderful year for coverage, if not always for blogging it. The soundtrack of our struggles and sorrows, our travels and triumphs, was spiked with hope and beauty, empathy and grace. And coming back to it at year’s end again brings closure, of a sorts, even as it reminds us to keep our love near and dear, and cherish that which has made us, and will make us whole once again, lest it fade into the night, and be lost to the world.

And so we embrace the pensive purpose of Winter by sharing with the world our wholly subjective pleasures, once again carefully curated and celebrated, the better to bring the community closer, and the music more sustainable.

From the smooth to the ragged, then. From the delicate to the deep. From the bringers of light to the media of our melancholy; from the hoot and holler to the hushed and harmonic. From all corners of the broad tent that spans the folkways, shading it from the harshest of weather and whim.

Cover Lay Down is proud to present our Best Of The Year, starting with our very favorite folk, roots, bluegrass and Americana tribute albums and covers compilations of 2017 – with thirty five albums and over fifty songs in all, and all beloved. May your winter, too, be filled with the light of a year gone by.



The Year’s Best Covers Album (single artist)
+ The Wailin’ Jennys, Fifteen
+ Mark Erelli, MIXTAPE!

+ The Sumner Brothers, To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf
+ Misner & Smith, Headwaters
+ Travis Knapp, Wintery Mix 2018
+ Ane Brun, Leave Me Breathless
+ Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet
+ Eric Brace, Cartes Postales

It’s nice to see familiar faces atop this year’s solo artist list. Reassuring, too, to recognize that though their sounds are distinctive in every case, all six of the artists whose covers albums lingered longest and – as a consequence -
were loved most here at Cover Lay Down in 2017 define themselves as folk in one way or another.

But after winnowing down past a strong field of honorable mentions, our final solo-artist Best Covers Albums list for 2017 is also notable in that it is representative, in its way, of the two separate threads which intersect here at Cover Lay Down. For in just four albums, we find both the vast breadth and diversity of contemporary folk – itself a mode or subgenre hard to define – and a pitch-perfect spread of the various approaches to considering source material in choosing coverage for the covers album, most especially as an increasingly de rigueur mid-career movement in the artistic community.

Call it a tie for first, then. On the one hand, The Wailin’ Jennys, still at the very peak of their sound fifteen years after their founding (and five since we featured their coverage in full): a deliberately lush, gentle, sweetly arranged trio of voices in tender treatment of well-beloved sadsongs, celebrations, and ballads from Patty Griffin, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and other beloved songwriters of the folk-and-beyond community. On the other, local hero and Americana troubadour Mark Erelli, whose Kickstarter we celebrated a few months ago, wringing raw, almost primal soul from Mixtape, his thirteenth outing, an oddly comforting spread of popular songs from Richard Thompson to Phil Collins rebuilt from the inside out – technically not fully released until mid-January, but easy to preorder, and too amazing to hold back on now. Taken as ethnographic mile markers, they offer a field tender and intimate, triumphant and torn: albums to take us anywhere, and back.

A strong second this year goes to another surprisingly representative pairing from a slightly younger generation which also matches slow and broken with upbeat precision. First, Headwaters, the fifth album from California duo Misner & Smith, and their first covers compilation; a homespun collection that finds Sam and Megan, a pair of actors-turned-folk rock/Americana band, yawing wide as they bring diverse songs and influences from The Talking Heads and Dr. Dog to Gram Parsons and The Lovin’ Spoonful into their own sharp and distinctive harmonic register. Alongside it: Vancouver alt-folk band The Sumner Brothers, whose traded vocals drip with Van Zandt heroin and dust as they meander through a host of slower alt-country songs on To Elliot: In Remembrance of Wolf, wringing hoarse depth and angst from Springsteen’s ghosts, Warren Zevon’s western saloon town, Hank Williams’ morose guitar, Jolie Holland’s timeless bluesfolk, and more. Both Headwaters and To Elliot are short – just 8 tracks – but cohesive, easily transcending the brevity of the EP format, providing a full and immersive experience for new listeners and long-time fans the respective duos.

And those honorable mentions? Almost too many to mention – it was, in the end, a banner year for coverage. Favorites include wonderful albums from Travis Knapp (whose tenth annual Wintery Mix, released just last week, offers a perfectly imperfect collection of bedroom folk covers of Anais Mitchell, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, Chris Stapleton and more, on piano, banjo, and guitar), Ane Brun (whose Leave Me Breathless does, with a dreamy folkpop vibe that fans will find both comforting and crystal clear), Eric Brace (whose Cartes Postales, released last month on Red Beet Records, is a fun, jazzy, squeezebox-and-clarinet driven croissant of a tribute to the French-language favorites of his father’s generation) and Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne (some of whose slippery country fried rockers, like the hard-edged Nirvana classic Lithium, hardly count as folk, though overall, Not Dark Yet – the first collaboration between these siblings – is a true-blue delight). Ah, such riches.




The Year’s Best Covers EP (single artist)
+ Genevieve Racette, Covers
+ Erin Drews, Caught, Kept
+ Mia Mallet, Chapter One / Chapter Two
+ The Chinworth Brothers, Six Songs
+ RM Hubbert, Recovery (EP1)
+ AJ Lee, Aj Lee

Sometimes, simple is best. Take, for example, Caught, Kept, a precious four-track released way back in February from Minnesotan amateur Erin Drews – a perfect teaser for her full album of originals, released in May – which captured our heart and ears with throaty voice, etherial harmonies, and the gentle strum of the singer-songwriter diamond in the rough. Or Montreal-based Genevieve Racette’s pitch-perfect transformations of Bonnie Raitt and Nirvana, Dylan and The Beatles, hushed and lush, tense and true, with sparse synths over floating indie guitar and sweet, supple voice. Or Parisian songstress Mia Mallet’s two tiny, gorgeous, hollow lo-fi covers EPs, with their ringing piano and airy, layered voices that leave us weak.

If it was, as they say, a very good year for the shortform covers collection, it was thanks primarily to a spate of independent Bandcamp sets like these, from a host of bright rising stars, previously undiscovered. Like The Chinworth Brothers, who turned in a six song powerhouse, split evenly among soaring-yet-earnest traditionals and startlingly non-traditional indiefolk-and-more treatments of Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, and Sashatchewan singer-songwriter Andy Shauf. Or Glaswegian RM Hubbert’s “sincere and melancholic” EP Recovery, a broken, rusted artifact from the anti-folk junkyard which broods its way into our psyche.

In the end, of all these amateur and truly indie tiny loves, it is Racette’s Covers that edges out ever so slightly over the rest – if only for the diversity of sound it packs in so tight a space, and the poise it manages to maintain between pristine and purposeful as it takes on the small canon. But all of these small albums deserve our respect and celebration, nonetheless.

Still, let us not forget, at least in passing, our one exception to the Bandcamp trend this year: young California bluegrass breakthrough AJ Lee’s self-titled EP, an eagerly awaited delight “paying tribute to…the founding voices of [the] California cosmic country sound” via songs by Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Gillian Welch, and Bob Dylan which arrived in hard copy. Tight and highly produced alongside a four-piece band, the songs evoke the rich summery sound of the originals, with perfect Grateful Dead vibe and harmonies on Herb Pedersen’s Wait A Minute the crowning glory of a still-growing career. A rich field, indeed – like folk, and like the songs it brings together.




The Year’s Best Covers Compilation (multiple artists)
+ Burst And Bloom 50
+ Sad! A Barsuk Records Compilation for the ACLU

As has sometimes been the case – see, for example, last year’s Best Of collections, which featured covers albums from Fast Folk, tribute-house American Laundromat Records, and a third iteration of Locals Covering Locals from production house Red Line Roots – digital-only label-driven navel-gazing held sway in the world of mixed-bag covers compilations again this year, a trend which pushes the boundaries of our focus on folk, and on the very concept of album. We say this not to denigrate the category – there’s much to celebrate here – but mainly to warn those lulled into a sense of delicacy by the previous category winners that folk is a wider tent, and the alternative crowd is where the labels often live and breathe great coverage.

Enter exhibit A: Burst and Bloom, a small, independent record label and book publisher based in the increasingly hip seaside town of Portsmouth, NH, which came out of nowhere this year to blow us away. We’ll see more of their loving curatorial work in our Best Tribute Albums below, too, thanks to a 2 CD tribute to Brown Bird. But here, in our compendium of mixed-artist covers albums, it is Burst & Bloom 50, a loving tribute to the label’s own roster in celebration of their fiftieth release, which nets our highest honors, as a stunning, raw gem, with 25 covers, no more than one per original record, comprising a discomforting set which vibrates on the edge of freakfolk, alternative grunge, and other underground sounds associated with but not always squarely under the folktent.

And who cares if we don’t know the originals or recognize most of the original artists? The Burst & Bloom collection serves its purpose, sending us into the back catalog, starting with 2009 release ‘All My Friends Are Right Here With Me’, a CD compilation of fringefolk artists covering songs by the indie-folk collective Tiger Saw, 2012′s Lucky Numbers, a tribute to indie DIY rock and soul legend Viking Moses, who has toured with Jason Molina, Phosphorescent, and Devendra Banhardt, and of course Through The Static and Distance, their marvelous 2015 posthumous tribute to Jason Molina.

Barsuk’s smaller collection Sad!, a glitchy 7 song indie-slash-alt-folk collection spearheaded by Mates of State, David Bazan, Nada Surf, and Maps & Atlases covering fellow labelmates John Vanderslice, Pedro The Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Ra Ra Riot, and more, comes up roses, too – both for its strong musicality, and its unabashedly political bent, arriving as it did on the eve of a new presidential ascension, with all work donated by the artists in solidarity, and all proceeds from the dollar-a-track release going to support the ACLU ” in defense of the civil liberties of all Americans”.




The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)
+ Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Best Troubadour
+ Old Crow Medicine Show, 50 Years of Blonde On Blonde

In a year where long-awaited Dylan tributes from Joan Osborne and Old Crow Medicine Show ran closer to sultry radiopop and R&B and brash twangy roadhouse country rock than folk, respectively, it was hard to figure out whether we should collapse the single artist tribute album category or simply let it go. A sigh of relief and a tip of the hat, then, to indiefolk maverick Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose usually broken voice is surprisingly melodic and aptly troubled on his category-saving Merle Haggard tribute Best Troubador, a May 2017 release which flew under our radar for months before earworming its way in via an unexpected encounter with radioplay late at night on a fleeting local college station.

It’s a thread we’re glad to have pulled. Regular readers may note that we have long had a love-hate relationship with the artist formerly and sometimes also known as Will Oldham, though we did name his last tribute album, a tribute to the Everly Brothers recorded with Dawn McCarthy, atop this same category in 2013. But this collection is redemptive, with guest vocalist A.J. Roach, fiddler Cheyenne Mize, and singer and flautist Nuala Kennedy, and other underground luminaries lending their talents to a fitting tribute to a lost soul whose earnest honesty and iconoclastic outlook have, clearly, deeply influenced Oldham’s approach to music and the universe. The Bonnie “Prince” gets full marks for an especially intimate tribute to both Haggard himself, and to the ache of the country.




The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)
+ Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story
+ A Light I Can Feel: A Tribute To Brown Bird
+ Treasures of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard

The multi-artist tribute album is so often imperfect. Even our favorite homages generally have a weak spot: a track or two to skip as well-intentioned artists and songbooks find their mismatch. The potential for trouble doubles down when artists have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to take on recreation of a seminal album, such as Brandi Carlile’s 2007 release The Story; it triples when it is the original songwriter herself who solicits and curates the album. And surely, it’s pushing our luck to name an album featuring both Pearl Jam and Adele as a folk tribute, let alone our favorite multi-artist tribute of the year.

And yet. Adele performing Brandi Carlile’s Hiding My Heart with nothing but solo acoustic guitar is folk, for sure. The Avett Brothers, the Indigo Girls, Shovels & Rope, Old Crow Medicine Show and Dolly Parton turn in stellar performances. The Secret Sisters are now our new favorite female duo. Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story shouldn’t work, at all, but in the end, the syrup of Kris Kristofferson, the psychedelic jam of Jim James, and the fully typical fuzz of Pearl Jam are anomalies on what is otherwise a strong survey of modern Americana and Roots performance. And Brandi Carlile earns our respect over again, over a decade after we first fell in love with her – and then once again, for using this album to highlight the plight of children in war-torn regions of the world.

A close second, as noted earlier, comes by way of A Light I Can Feel, a tribute from label Burst & Bloom that simply overflows with warm friendship and respect for beloved RI-based folk duo Brown Bird, whose co-founder David Lamb passed from leukemia in 2014. Originally conceived of as a fundraising venue for Lamb’s treatment, the sprawling 32 track tribute was released posthumously in March, with proceeds to benefit others through the Sweet Relief charity organization, and “to continue to share the music of Brown Bird with the world.” Chock full of raw performances, each mesmerizing in its way, the album pulls off what it aims to, and more: a triumph of scale, and a tender homage.

Third place honors go to the predominantly country side of folk represented on Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard – not the first such folk tribute to Mark Heard, but the first in 20 years, which explains just how many newcomers appear on the album. Like previous folk tributes to this undersung, unabashedly Christian singer-songwriter who passed from an on-stage heart attack in 1992 on the cusp of greater glory, this collection offers both Buddy Miller and a mixed bag of good-to-great performances of a songbook cut short, predominantly gathered from Heard’s final three releases, with the worst suffering from a touch of the same overproduction that typified their original contemporary folk radioplay era. Still, with strong coverage by Birds of Chicago, Sean Rowe, Amy Helm, Sierra Hull, Over The Rhine and more, the collection is worth pursuit and ownership.




The Year’s Best Tradfolk Album
+ Max Godfrey, Before The Ice Melts
+ Offa Rex, Queen Of Hearts
+ Nathan Lewis Williams, Across The Water
+ Lindsay Straw, The Fairest Flower of Womankind
+ Jayme Stone, Jayme Stone’s Folklife
+ Alathea, His Eye Is On The Sparrow
+ Ranky Tanky, Ranky Tanky

As both the year’s archives and the huge list above anticipate, it was, in many ways, a gold standard year for traditional folk recordings from across the globe, from the Gullah strains of newly-formed jazz-meets-roots quintet Ranky Tanky (featured back in July, in anticipation of its well-celebrated September release) to The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney, collaborating together as Offa Rex, in a faithful but still sweet retro turn on the UK tradfolk canon, as channeled and strained through both the arrangements and the influence of the “genre heavyweights” of 60′s folk and rock revivalists Martin Carthy, Ewan MacColl, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Colin Meloy fave Shirley Collins, and more, with clear echoes of Maddy Prior, June Tabor, and Sandy Denny in the mix thanks to powerful, nuanced vocals from Chaney.

But in the end, if I prefer the polished quietude of the canon, why, here were joys enough for days: delicate, broken balladry selected and arranged to emphasize lyrical gender empowerment by Iguana Fund recipient and local hero Lindsay Straw, whom I very much hope to catch live at this year’s Boston Celtic Music Fest towards the end of January; the soft, almost faerie-found strains of Glastonbury’s Nathan Lewis Williams and Caelia Lunniss; Jayme Stone’s next generation Folklife album, a follow-up to his 2015 Lomax project, which sees the bandleader and archive revivalist taking on a wider swath of cultural catechism alongside Moira Smiley of tune-yArDs, Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Felicity Williams of Bahamas, and more luminaries on a musical journey through the Appalachians, the Sea Islands and the Caribbean; Christian folk duo Alathea’s His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a bright, often boisterous crowdsourced collection of hymns noted earlier this month in our first holiday coverfolk feature.

Our surprise frontrunner, though, comes from sifting through precious gems from the amateur set: Max Godfrey’s Before The Ice Melts, which mixes tradsongs (and one Dylan cut, and a 1920s hit later revived by Bessie Smith and others) with new lyrics and a few licks, is truly down to earth, a fine sophomore outing from an artist just now making the traditions his own. Just for fun, and because Godfrey makes them sound so…well, traditional, we’ve shared just the non-trad tracks here; download the rest to see just what that creaky, timeless voice can do with the truly traditional canon.




The Year’s Best Tradfolk EP
+ Thom Ashworth, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

English folksinger and bassist Thom Ashworth is just starting his career, but two small releases this year promise big enough things to make it worth sustaining a category despite a single entry. If the first, January 2017′s 4-track EP Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, is the feature here, it’s only because November’s second release, Hollow – also a 4-track – is a half-and-half, with two originals and two traditional songs arranged by Ashworth himself. Both are worth pursuit, however, and bookmarking, too, as we watch for Ashworth’s continued output with bated breath.




The Year’s Best Half-Covers Album
+ Laura Baird, I Wish I Were A Sparrow
+ Brock Simpson, The Gardener Child: Scots Songs Both New and Traditional
+ Red Molly, One For All & All For One

The two records which top our final folk category this year are similar in many ways: sparse neo-traditionals, perfectly balanced, with little in the way of flourish and a lot in the way of authenticity. Our by-a-hair favorite is Laura Baird’s simple, unadorned tribute to the fiddle-and-banjo tunes of her own Appalachian youth, her first full-length solo outing after years of performing with her sister Meg, and an even-steven six-and-six split of covers and originals that intermingles her own work with the songs of her Great-Grandfathers’ hills so smoothly and successfully, we had to keep the liner notes handy.

Toronto teacher-musician Brock Simpson’s The Gardener Child is a similar but blurrier halfling: simple and elegant solo stuff, framed with but a winsome, sensitive voice and gentle guitar. Here, too, unlabeled tracks had us scurrying to figure out which was which, until we realized that – as with Baird’s delight – what matters most is the sound, and the consistency of sentiment.

Our third-place finisher in the half-covers category couldn’t be more different in its approach to its respective canon, a four-and-two EP with energetic close harmonies familiar and fine recorded and released as part of Red Molly’s swan song crowdsource project, designed to drive the production of solo albums from all three band members. I’ve heard two of three of these albums so far – and am proud to announce that Laurie MacAllister’s delightful contemporary all-covers album The Lies The Poets Tell will be the first album of 2018 to grace these pages in the new year, and may well be our earliest contender for a following-year Best Of award in the history of our nominal countdown. In the meantime, we’ll include a favorite from what well may be Red Molly’s last record, at least for a while, as we bid our own list adieu.




The Year’s Best Mixed Genre Covers Album
+ Various Artists, Don’t Stop Now: A Collection of Covers
+ Love + War, Nine Lives

+ Various Artists, Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie
+ Various Artists, Failed Tribute Bands 2

If you come here for the folk and only the folk, now would be a good time to skip to the last few songs below; we’ve winnowed out the best and folkiest of this year’s mixed-genre covers collections, and if they’re all you want, we won’t hold it against you.

But true cover-lovers know that sometimes the very best tracks come from surprising sources. And so we present our annual coda: four albums which are decidedly NOT folk records, but which provide so much more in the way of breadth and beauty, we just had to mention them.

Our utter tie-for-favorite here is sprawling, indeed: a 37-track collection, released on Inauguration Day 2017 just like the aforementioned Barsuk collection, and – like it – a decidedly politicized collection, pre-emptive and angrier in its way, designed to support the ACLU. But where both Burst & Bloom and Barsuk produced covers albums which were at least nominally folk, Don’t Stop Now is unabashedly mixed-genre, with plenty of potent indiefolk tracks plus retro-alternative rock, post-punk, and hopping, hopeful otherstuff taking on songs from Joy Division to Harry Chapin.

Meanwhile in an unusual turn, a solo artist appears atop the category, at least on paper: Nine Lives, a covers collection from Nashville-based writer-producer team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson, aka love+war. Glitchy electro-soul and grungy folkpop tracks mix oddly well in this covers album, pushing it to the top of the list as a second strange bedfellow. Drowning in tape hiss and lush with click-track reverb, with pitch-perfect guest vocalists like Angel Snow – the very first artist featured here, ten years ago, in our New Artists, Old Songs series – the entire thing, from covers of Prince and Springsteen favorites to hits from Terence Trent D’Arby, Depeche Mode, and The Eurythmics, is a guilty pleasure, with emphasis on pleasure.

Honorable mention? Easily Comin’ Around Records’ lovely lo-fi tribute to the songs of Polaris Prize nominee and art school student Shotgun Jimmie – a mixed bag, but with some solid tracks from familiar North-of-the-border fringefolk standbys like Old Man Luedecke and Woodpigeon, all to raise money for the Dawson City Music Festivals’ Songwriter in Residence Program.
And Failed Tribute Bands Two!, which earns its emphatic punctuation easily: by the time you get to the fifth track, it’s hard to figure that there’s going to be anything approaching folk here…and then, suddenly, Allysen Callery, whose recently completed 12 Days of Covers Soundcloud series is a bonus trove of DIY ghost folk treasures.




Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

1 comment » | Allysen Callery, Angel Snow, Best of 2017, Infamous Stringdusters, Mark Erelli, New Artists Old Songs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Red Molly, Shovels & Rope, Sierra Hull, The Wailin' Jennys, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Covered In Christmasfolk, 2017 (Vol. 2):
Contemporary Carols, Holiday Compilations, and More!


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It’s coming on, indeed: presents under the tree, Christmas Eve choir services all day Sunday, and a weather advisory for ice and snow tonight through the day itself across most of New England which keep us home tonight, watching the skies. School and work fritter down to the final hours, accompanied by a holiday soundtrack rich and festive with trumpets, bells, and the crooning, yearning voices of the canon on shuffleplay above the fire.

Our second and surely final installment of new and newly-found Christmas recordings is sourced almost entirely via independent digital releases, and filtered through the new season. Ribbons and bows, the lot of them – perhaps the best crop in years, and one of the biggest, too. May your stocking be as full, and your hearts as light.




From the quiet, almost tantalizingly still kick-off track O Little Town Of Bethlehem to the subtlest Joy To The World the world has seen, James Hoffman’s Advent is a gem: a coherent collection of fragile, hushed holiday hymnal reinventions, ancient and gentle, sublime, sensual, and spare, wrung forth in darkness with little more than tinkly piano, slow guitar, and intimate voice. Yeah, you could try a few sample tracks for download, but for full effect, don’t pick a favorite, just snag the whole thing.


Two perfect indiefolk tracks – a gorgeous popfolk piano arrangement of O Come O Come Emmanuel and the ringing guitar-and-shaker urgency of Blake Flattley’s Silent Night – plus a delight from last year’s archive typify the best and lightest of what is now a beautiful multi-genre regional compilation series 9 years in the running from Winter Is On My Head, an annual holiday music compilation that donates all proceeds from online sales to ABAN (aban.org) a non-profit dedicated to empowering young mothers in Ghana by selling unique, handmade products from recycled materials, and it’s worth the cost, chock full of glorious coverage and originals from power punk to electronic garage rock.



Sometimes, simple is best. Originally broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, this fine, sparse Celtic carol – transformed from front stoop to divine intimacy – came out just after our final installment of our annual holidayfolk series, but we’re glad we found it again, to let the lilt of Ben Savage‘s classical guitar and bluegrass slide pull us into co-arranger and vocalist Hannah Sanders‘ clear-as-water delivery once more at Christmas. (PS: If you like this teaser, check out their 2016 full album Before The Sun, too – it’s exquisite.)


A family affair, we assume, given the two last names among four artists listed, Rich Mountain Revival‘s beautiful minimalist gospelfolk collection With True Love & Brotherhood is another set worth pulling from the archives after missing it in 2016: wonderfully whispered, with banjo and backporch harmonies joyful and triumphant in their ragged neo-appalachian settings.


Like your holiday tunes a little more twee? Look no further than Miki Fiki and Friends’ 2017 Charity Compilation, recorded to support the Southern Poverty Law Center. The hiss, hum, harmonies and strum of Katy Kirby’s O Holy Night may be the closest to folk the album comes, but its Roches-meet-Sufjan vibe is a tug down the rabbit hole, where some quite stellar and solid originals, plus a soulful rhythm & blues version of Last Christmas, a grungy alternative countrypunk take of Pretty Paper, and more gifts galore, lurk under the hipster’s tree.


Let This Be Christmas, another wonderfully amateur Christmas benefit album – this one to provide micro-enterprise grants for families with bleeding disorders in developing countries – comes from the Utah-based LDS duo of Emma Huntington and Hunter Montgomery, about whom I can find little in the way of press or promo. Happily, as the artists note on Bandcamp, the music speaks for itself: Montgomery’s soaring viola and Huntington’s additive, distinctive voice feature highly on a surprisingly diverse arrangement of classic carols that comes off as beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.


Sometimes a band describes themselves so perfectly, it’s hard to add value when touting their sound. Forest Creatures is “an eclectic trio of siblings and friends making lo-fi folksy music with their friends”, and their full-length collection Was That Christmas? sounds like it: warm, wistful, eclectic, and languidly percussive, but overall kind of like the lo-fi alternative version of Kate Rusby, which is a good thing, indeed.


Guitar, horn, and voice combine exquisitely as they swing among Herb Alpert jazz, neo-classical pop, and soft triofolk on A Little Christmas Nog, a project spearheaded by Bach trumpet artist John Dover of Portland, Oregon. Played soft and low with close friends and family, Still Still Still is a sweet lullaby; What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve hops along lightly, a ballad for the ages.


File under hard to categorize: French and American duo Freedom Fry plays an amalgam of beat-heavy folkrock, indie and twee, with echoes of the British psychfolk revival, French folkpop, the California sixties scene, and more. Their Holiday Soundtrack EP offers four songs more for the hip set, including the oddly satisfying “la la la” lyrics and muddled spoken word of their Silent Night dreamscape.


Brooklyn’s Hoover Dam Collective offers a mixed-bag of bedroom folk on this year’s A Blue State Of Christmas – covers of popular holiday songs and settings from John Prine to The Handsome Family. But again, simple is best; in these almost entirely unadorned performances, voices imperfect and tempos impure make for a tense holiday grounded in history and uncertainty.


We close our set today with another multi-genre album, this one from Irish monthly radio programme The Co-Present, whose host Dwayne Woods has assembled a fine collection of odd and mostly acousto-and-synth alternative DIY music performances for our holiday. If this is what radio alternative truly sounds like, we’re in for the new year.




Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep into the folkways at the intersection of coverage and performance since 2007 thanks to the kind support of donors like you. Stay tuned this week ahead as we present our Year’s Best Covers Albums and Tributes, Singles, and Videos – over 100 songs in all!

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

Hearth and Candle, Snow and Star
(Wintersongs of Darkness, Loneliness, Warmth, and Light)


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There are moments now when Christmas is everywhere, flowing forth from the hidden speakers of the culture, lurking behind shrubbery gaily festooned with plastic holly berries and angels, stockings and Santas, and lights, lights, ever more lights to ward off the dark.

But there are moments, too, when it is just winter. When the lasting snow covers the earth and swallows all but the airiest of sounds: cars crunching over salt-strewn country roads; the bark of the dog and the low cry of the cow at the base of the hill, just through these bare trunks and evergreens. When the house gets smaller, and we retreat to the snug isolation of the living room, where the pellet stove beckons bright with flame, its intimacy a bulwark against the cold.

Which is all to say this: baby, it’s cold outside. And sometimes, like now, the snow falls out the window, closing us in.

The metaphor of in and out runs hot in our seasonal soundtrack, of course – as if fire was warmth, and warmth the heat of humanity. Safety and comfort and the eternal hope of the season’s end hold sway as the shortest day draws near, projected into a night illuminated by candle flame and woodstove smoke, the chill held at bay through thin layers of window glass and scarves.

Christmas honors this dichotomy, in its way – and so does much of the Christmas canon, from Silent Night to chestnuts roasting on an open fire. We do, too: today after dark, for example, we will drive to the local tree farm, and choose a tree in the dim and temporary glow of the same make-shift outdoor lighting, and bring it home, and take it inside, and make it festive, as if to manifest in our very living rooms the possibility of life in the holiday rituals of old.

But here, away from Christmas and the giving spirit of the season, is a quieter, more contemplative space. And there is music, here, too, if you can hear it: fragile, languid, lo-fi songs of longing and of letting go, of waiting and hope, of memory and time, which help us meditate on that which transcends the red and green poinsettia, the white of the angel choir, the silver bells.

Let ours be a humanist’s playlist for the season, then: not antidote or anti-Christian, but acknowledgement and celebration of the human spirit that calls to us beyond the religious and cultural trappings of holidays and hymn. After all, the world reminds us of what it needs of us, in the end. It is stillness and loss, death and despair, which call us so meaningfully to life and longing.



Hearth and Candle, Snow and Star
A Cover Lay Down Winter Mix

[download here!]



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Covered In Christmasfolk, 2017 (Vol. 1)
New Releases from Radiofolk to The Hymnal





If it’s going to be Christmas this early, then the music better be pretty damn good. Happily, there’s some solid festive folk in the air, from Kate Rusby’s newest carols-and-more release to archived live performances from Aoife O’Donovan, Ruth Moody, and Dougie MacLean to a perfect roster of modern, traditional, and holiday ballads and barnburners. Today, we dig into the early holiday mailbag, coming clean with the first major snowfall of the season and a moody, marvelous set to ring in the crispness of Christmas.




Richard Thompson’s robust New Year’s anthem We Sing Hallelujah was a frequent earworm this year, thanks to a delightful live performance of the song by Low Lily at our own Unity House Concerts on the cusp of the season last December. And it seems I’m not the only one stuck on the song: new covers of the song appear on Kate Rusby’s newest carols-and-more release Angels & Men – her fourth Christmas album – in typically sweet and celebratory fashion, with rich and swelling horn-and-string instrumentation evoking a frozen landscape, and as a chanty, chains and all, to ground O’Hooley & Tidow’s earnest, majestic holiday album Winterfolk Vol. 1.



Ryanhood‘s new holiday affair On Christmas hit Bandcamp just days before the high-energy Tucson, AZ folkpop duo was announced as Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2018 Most Wanted Returning Artists, news as bright and warm and bubbly as their live shows, not to mention their new versions of Sleigh Ride and Charlie Brown classic Skating. Chock full of joy, this adept collection of classic two-string instrumentals, original holiday songs that sound like instant classics, and a pair of unusual choice covers – Leigh Nash’s Christmas Falling and Audrey Assad’s Even The Winter – is a seasonal delight well worth deeper exploration.



His Eye Is on the Sparrow: A Collection of Hymns, the new release from Tennessee harmony-driven Christian female mountainfolk duo Alathea, funded through crowdsourcing and a partnership with the Appalachia Service Project, isn’t specifically for the holidays. But the hymnal swings inevitably towards the story of the birth regardless, and so among such ringing gems as His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Amazing Grace, Wayfaring Stranger, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, this adopted Christmas anthem serves as a perfect complement to the duo’s two previous Christmas releases.



At worst, the threshold banter of Frank Loesser’s Baby, It’s Cold Out Side takes on a patina of shame in 2017. But this just-released countrified version of the song – a pond-crosser from Houstonite band Jess & the Bandits featuring special guests from the UK Country scene – is a fire under the boots, a honkytonk romp through a familiar song of the season that revives the playful innocence of the age, when demure was the name of the game, and a little protest was a true-blue mating ritual.



Tense and luscious, slippery and hopeful, Swedish neofolk singer-songwriter Sofia Talvik’s sweet take on one of our very favorite simple carols is culled from When Winter Comes, a gorgeous 2017 collection of remastered and reimagined cuts from a decade-long practice writing and releasing a free Christmas single every year. Like the song, the album is a true gift, pensive and dark yet full of inspiration and heartache, a highly recommended centerpiece for hearth and table.



Spare, masterful arrangement and angelic vocals from Berklee singer-songwriter, vocalist, musical theater producer and all-around popfolk prodigy Emma Charleston make for a pitch-perfect O Holy Night on a single released via YouTube and recently premiered on The Huffington Post. Add in her summer performance of Joni Mitchell’s holiday classic River, and you’ve got a pair that proves Charleston’s holiday spirit and performance prowess all at once.


Finally, if there was ever any doubt about the influence of long-time New England folk DJ Brian O’Donovan, this year’s archive release from 15 years of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, an annual Boston-area WGBH production which draws on Celtic, Pagan, and Christian traditions to celebrate the music of the season, proves it enow. Daughter Aoife – yes, that Aoife O’Donovan – kicks off the stellar collection with a sweet, soulful ballad from Lorenna McKennitt, followed by standout performances from Ruth Moody, Dougie MacLean, Solas, and more, that pay apt tribute to the legendary folk archivist, curator, and host, and offer the next best thing to being there this year with Jenna Moynihan, Liz Knowles, Haley Richardson and an all-star cast.



Always artist-friendly and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been serving the folk community for a decade thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Follow us on Facebook, and stay tuned for more great coverfolk, including at least one more celebration of the songs of the season, and our annual celebration of the year’s best cover and tribute albums, singles, and coverfolk videos, as December continues!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

Back To The Source, Vol. 2: Patreon
(On supporting the muse in an age of commercialism)


patreon


Great covers come from a myriad of sources. But the coverlover’s collection is founded on a finite set, where coverage runs fast and free: deep wells that sustain us, pouring forth the volumes that pepper our mixtapes and shore up our artist-centric features, from “homage houses” like Reimagine Music and American Laundromat Records to ongoing YouTube tour-stops like AV Undercover, Beehive Productions, and the pop-up microstudios of Dutch field recorder Onder Invloed.

Our Back To The Source features dive deep into these wells, seeking to celebrate and reveal just what makes their waters so prolific and life-sustaining. Today, in honor of Small Business Saturday, and as a follow-up to yesterday’s semi-annual guide to Buying Local in a Global World, we pick up the threads with a look at Patreon – a truly artisanal subscription-only source for coverage and originals alike – and covers of Fleetwood Mac, Khalid, Neil Young, Terre Roche, Iris Dement, Townes Van Zandt and more from the content-creators who bring forth the goodness there.


Shop_Small_Logo_2015More than anything, the Patreon model reminds me of the Renaissance. Where the Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, and Indiegogo crowdfunding platforms we celebrate focus on a single product – generally an album, and often one which is already written or recorded – the Patreon model asks those who truly support an artist to commit to their ongoing production, making each of us a Medici in miniature, as if e pluribus, unum was a way to skip the state altogether, and go right to an artist’s doorstep, cash in hand.

These are not competitive models, of course. Artists who use Patreon use it to test out new ideas, to dream; those same artists, when considering a more formal product of album-scale, are likely to turn to Kickstarter to raise funds, for any or all of the various steps in the process – recording, mixing, promotion, even touring – which support the development of such a product. And both models involve faith and trust; although both promise product and reward, ultimately, crowdsourcing depends on an innate instinct towards paying it forward, not back.

But where Kickstarter campaigns are ultimately project-centric, Patreon is the most stable solution currently in play for those who want to support humans being human, in the most creative sense. Because in Patreon, you pay by the product – committing in advance to a dollar or three every time the artists shares something new – and that incentivizes artists to produce regularly, which may well be one reason why artists turn to it.

And what do you get for your subscriber’s commitment? Mostly, a deeper look into the artist as artist…and a wonderful, ongoing set of unexpected delights, both musical and otherwise, as the months progress.

The intimacy Patreon provides manifests in many ways. Most artists include commentary on their songs, offering deeper insight into both product and process as they share throughout the year. Many release raw, unrefined tracks as they come, a look behind the curtain. Many more offer collaboration, as evidenced by the below playlist, Rebecca Loebe’s recent use of her own Patreon account to announce her upcoming trio tour with Grace Pettis and Betty Soo via a wonderful cover of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and the delightful collaborative work of Nataly Dawn and Lauren O’Connell which populates both of their own individual Patreon spaces. Some offer live access, and other special sundries, too – Kina Grannis, for example, does monthly “Coffee Date Hangouts” for her patrons; Rachel Ries (aka Her Crooked Heart) offers portrait drawing and cooking classes alongside demos, live sessions, and – most recently – unfinished harmony arrangements of songs by Feist, Arthur Russell, and others for her new community choir Kith and Kin.

And then there’s the knowing: that patronage matters, in that it allows the artist to make art. That instead of leaving them to eke out a living dreaming, you are making the dreams realizable.

Patreon isn’t all covers, of course. But with very few exceptions, the artists we’ve discovered or rediscovered through the crowdfunding platform release coverage as part and parcel of their ongoing engagement. And so, today, we present sample Patreon-sourced coverage from some of our favorite artists, many seen and heard here before, from old hats to the newest of the new – and all, by definition, just the tip of a deep iceberg of authentic, artist-sourced delights.

If you truly like what you hear, we hope you’ll pick one or several and commit yourself as a patron to the artists of Patreon. Or perhaps, since it is the giving season after all, you’ll consider gifting a subscription for a friend and fellow music lover eager to grow closer to the core of the productive process?

Either way: may the music play on.



Cover Lay Down was founded in 2007 as an entirely ad-free and artist-centric space for exploring the folkways through modern folk and roots coverage…and is proudly chugging along ten years later thanks to the support of readers like you! Click here to find out how to lend YOUR support to our ongoing pursuit of the best in acoustic coverage!

Comment » | Back To The Source, Nataly Dawn

Give A Little Bit: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Guide to Holiday Gift-Giving)


DJ Music Wallpaper (7)


We’re holed up in rural New Hampshire for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, thirteen of us cousins and in-laws from both sides of the family sprawled across the quaint rooms that populate a one-time inn turned rental property complete with woodsmoke fireplaces, stone walls, picket fences, and a half-frozen pond below the deck, keeping us nowhere near the mall culture that surely swims with frantic angst far from these Frostian environs as Black Friday takes its toll.

Here our locavore tendencies run rampant, with microbrew IPAs and our favorite small-batch maple ryes and brandies on the sideboard ready for a third tasting session tonight, and the braided bread, summer pickles, hard cheeses, and harder salamis purchased from the farm stand down the street on Wednesday before the world turned mad. Here we play trivia games and read by the fire, holding love close as our various dogs and children play by our feet. We linger in our pajamas as we revisit old discourses. And though we know, out there, strife and selfishness runs rampant, it is as if the world were back to normal, somehow – at least until Saturday comes, and we must venture out again into the world.

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. Our insistence on offering links to purchase and stream music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves, and our refusal to provide ads on this space, stem from an articulated desire to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption. And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – a position befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing-through-coverage and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the fourth iteration, we take the time to provide our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world by offering a 2017 edition of our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the holidays – a harbinger of things to come after almost two months of sparse sabbatical – and the promise of a more focused Patreon feature to follow, celebrating the new farm-share equivalent for musicians which continues to intrigue us as we search evermore for ways to support and sustain the work and craft of the musical artist in the new millennium.

Read on, then, for a reworked and revitalized treatise, plus an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit. And then join us again later this weekend, as we scour the surface of Patreon for your inner-circle listening pleasure.



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts; by linking directly to artist web pages, we make it as easy as possible to check out tour dates. Support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love. And if you’re in the American Northeast region, or just know someone who lives near Springfield, Northampton, Hartford, the Berkshires, or Worcester, why not plan on joining us December 9 – either yourself or by proxy, through the gift of live concert – for Cover Lay Down’s 10th anniversary celebration: an intimate mostly-covers show with Mark Erelli celebrating the pre-release of his new all-covers album MIXTAPE, featured here in October.

3. Give the gift of access. Spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or sign them up for Concert Window, which offers multiple live online concerts every night from some of our favorite folk venues and artist living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to those musicians and venues. The live performances and sessions which these subscriptions net can be viewed alone, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is especially apt for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. As noted above, we’ll be turning in a full feature on Patron, the newest subscription-only model on the web and perhaps the most sustainable way to support the ongoing work of the artist-as-developer, in the next day or three as a complement to today’s reworked repost. But other crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pledge Music help artists make art, too, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. And just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.

So browse the folk categories at Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pledgemusic, or ask around for recommendations on what to support. Some examples we’re excited to share this year: Popfolk goddess Jill Sobule is back in the studio after 9 years, looking for our support for Nostalgia Kills, an album of autobiographical short-story originals designed to prove that great artists can still produce potent songcraft after 40; pledge gifts at various levels include a comprehensive digital catalog of Sobule’s studio originals, duets, and live cuts, a night at the Museum of Natural History, a personal theme song, and private songwriting sessions over Skype. Philly-based neo-Celtic duo House Of Hamill, whose as-yet-untitled sophomore album is written but needs to be recorded with our help, offer a wonderful tee-and-hoodie design, a crazy night in NYC, and a chance to play on the album itself alongside the usual music in hard-and-soft-copy as incentives. Childsplay, an ongoing non-profit project featuring instruments exclusively crafted by Bob Childs and a cast of world-renown professional players, whose early recordings with Aoife O’Donovan and others so thrilled our listeners here at Cover Lay Down in their previous iterations, is looking for your support for their seventh and final album with Irish singer Karan Casey as Childs and company wind down what has become a stalwart of symphonic presentation of traditional American, Canadian, and Irish folk traditions.

Over at Indiegogo, long-time stalwart of the revival folkscene Reggie Harris (who, along with Greg Greenway, will be bringing their deep discussion and music of growing up white and black in the South to our Unity House Stage this January) seeks support for his first solo album after 40 years of touring with partner Kim Harris as a duo; I’ve heard some of these politically charged yet ever-so-intimate songs – both covers and originals – in the late-night tents at Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, and highly recommend both the support and the output. At Pledgemusic, impending delight from 10 String Symphony’s Generation Frustration, a neo-traditional album-to-be whose lush, fiddle-driven soundscapes haunt listeners with the angst and determination of the Millennial generation, appropriately offers home-roasted coffee and original instrumentals alongside more typical recordings and tees in the mix for pledgers. And if it’s more delicate indie-folk you’re looking for, then lend some support to the ghostly soundscapes of The Jellyman’s Daughter, a rising duo from Edinburgh, UK, whose rich, lush cello-and-voice-driven album Dead Reckoning hews close to the source, with offers of heavyweight vinyl, stickers, music lessons and handwritten lyrics alongside songs crafted for performance in stone churches and graveyards.

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

6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we’ve done for the past five years, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2017″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life. And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

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

Comment » | Donate, Holiday Coverfolk, Kickstarter Covers, Reposts

Kickstarter Covers: Mark Erelli’s MIXTAPE
with covers of Don Henley, The Band, and more!


Mark-Erelli


Regular readers may recall that we hold a special place in our hearts for Boston-based singer-songwriter and sideman extraordinaire Mark Erelli, who recorded his 2001 album The Memorial Hall Recordings in a stately Civil-War-era edifice in our little town, and returned a decade later to grace us with our own little house concert. Indeed, we’ve written so much about Erelli here at Cover Lay Down since our humble beginnings ten years ago – most recently for his double-dip coverage of Dawes, a posthumous homage to Prince, and his previous covers album, a tribute to folk icon Bill Morrissey – it’s hard to know where to begin again.

But MIXTAPE, Mark’s newest project, now in its final days of a crowdsourced campaign over at Kickstarter, offers the perfect coincidence for our love of both Mark Erelli and the celebration of song and culture through coverage. And so, today, we turn once again to one of our very favorite artists, in the hopes that you, too, might lend your patronage to its release.




mixtapeThough his original recordings are themselves both revered and well-covered by his peers and fans, Mark Erelli’s penchant for covers is well-known in the folkworld. His long-standing and always-worth-checking Mp3 of the Month series, released through his website, has long fed our hunger for great live and lo-fi demo recordings, and currently features a wonderful live take on Roy Orbison’s Crying; his work with bluegrass-tinged collaborative Barnstar! gave us raucous, rollicking takes on Dawes, Josh Ritter, and more. His soft and mostly-solo acoustic lullabies album Innocent When You Dream, recorded originally as a gift for family and friends, is tender and sweet, perfect for the mellow hours with or without children. And we celebrated Milltowns, his 2014 tribute to Bill Morrissey, as a warm, deep, surprisingly poignant tribute to a legendary singer-songwriter featuring multi-instrumentalist and performer-and-interpreter extraordinaire Erelli at his studio best and some smashing sideline work from the likes of Peter Mulvey, Rose Cousins, Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault, Anais Mitchell, & Rose Polenzani – all artists we’ve featured on these pages before.

MIXTAPE, which will not officially drop until January of 2018, adds something new and exciting to these collected works: a tribute to both that broader, diverse culture that influences us, and to his perennially sold-out Under The Covers concert sessions, hosted at Club Passim in Cambridge by Erelli and a host of famous friends each December for the past 14 years, that have for years offered joyous celebration of the songs and songwriters that have influenced them, their cultural upbringing, and their craft.

Recorded live at Great North Sound Society up in Maine with a small group of friends (and fellow members of Josh Ritter’s band), all indicators suggest that MIXTAPE is a comprehensive fulfillment of the promise of catchy songcraft, tender and gleeful homage, and deft, detailed, delightful musicianship that has come to represent the hallmark of Erelli’s career and coverage. The tracklisting, which includes songs from the Grateful Dead, Phil Collins, Neko Case, Patty Griffin, Arcade Fire, Solomon Burke, and more, is a temptress, indeed; his cover of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, a haunting, soulful studio track released earlier this week over at Cover Me, and the live video of the recording session for The Band classic Ophelia, which you can hear and see below, lend substance to that promise, and fuel our excitement.




Mark’s own words regarding this high-energy take on Ophelia are especially revealing, and fit neatly with both our celebration of the impending collection and of our ongoing exploration of the ethnographic function of coverage as integral to the communality of the folkways:

When I think of how music should ideally sound —soulful, melodic, restrained virtuosity over a serious groove — I keep circling back to The Band. I’m not sure that anyone, anyone, has done music better than this group on its first two records. On this masterpiece from their later years, I wanted to evoke a bit of all those things I love most about playing music. A lofty goal for sure, but Ray Rizzo’s rimshot-heavy groove and the New Orleans bounce in Sam Kassirer’s piano took me most of the way there. That’s Jake Armerding, 14-year veteran of the annual Under The Covers shows and fellow Barnstar! member, tearing it up on the fiddle.

In short, then: we’re eager to hear MIXTAPE in full, especially because the above-mentioned tracks, and all previous indicators, suggest that the Kickstarter campaign – now in its last six days – is not kidding when it refers to the album as a true opportunity to hear Mark Erelli’s potent, inimitable voice unleashed.

But to truly unleash MIXTAPE, Erelli needs our support.

So click on through to the Mark Erelli Made You A MIXTAPE Kickstarter to lend your patronage now, before the clock runs out. Snag a patronage gift, from signed and downloadable copies of the album in your mailbox two whole months before its official release to bonus covertracks, out of print records, bootlegs, concert tickets, cover song recordings of your choice, and more.

And then, while you wait for your album and patronage incentives to arrive – since we’ve shared so many of Mark’s own covers before – click back through a foursome of our previous features on Erelli’s coverage below, the better to anticipate the gift that MIXTAPE represents.


Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 9.12.58 AMBut first, a total bonus: We are thrilled to announce that Mark Erelli will be helping us celebrate Cover Lay Down’s 10th anniversary with a pre-album-release show at our very own Unity House Concerts in Springfield, MA, on December 9, just a week before his 14th annual Passim show with bassman Zachariah Hickman and fiddle player Jake Amerding. We’ll be announcing ticket sales in the next few weeks on our Facebook page, so stay tuned; Mark has promised to use the set as an opportunity to test out some of his newest covers for this year’s Passim sets, so the coverage should be thick on the ground.

As an extra incentive to our readers and fans, all who contribute to Mark Erelli’s MIXTAPE Kickstarter at the $25 level or above will receive an exclusive invitation to an appetizers-and-drinks reception before the show, and a soundboard recording of three carefully-chosen covers from that show, with our grateful thanks for your support of both the artist and his art.



Previously on Cover Lay Down:


Looking for more? Today’s bonus tracks feature a sextet of contemporaries taking on the Mark Erelli songbook.



Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down celebrates ten years on the web this year thanks to the ongoing support of readers like you.

Comment » | House Concerts, Kickstarter Covers, Mark Erelli

Covered In Folk: Steely Dan
(RIP Walter Becker, 1950-2017)





I’ve always felt rather connected to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the core and founding membership of long-time classic rock staples and multiple Grammy winners Steely Dan. Like them, I dropped out of Bard College; like them, my tastes run vast, past the boundaries of genre, and through it, to where the intricacies of meaning shrink down to playful, tight nuance, layered complexity, and more than a little dissonant swing.

Too, though their heyday started while we were still too short to care, the band’s influence on my own generation cannot be denied. Theirs is the accidental summer soundtrack of our youth, the pop and crackle of a car radio, the windows rolled down and the sun streaming in. The sharp horns and sharper arrangements from the yard sale records that kept me up at night before I knew what to do with it all, like The Little Prince and the sharp taste of espresso. The thoughtful, innovative playlist for our long miles driving North through unknown country, equal parts soul, rock, jazz, pop, and something new: a music deliberately designed to celebrate and serve the alienated, discomforted soul.

So to honor guitarist, bassist, composer and co-arranger Becker, who passed yesterday at 67 due to an undisclosed illness and was still touring as recently as last Spring, I went looking for coverage. And more than anything, I found it hard to find.

I suppose this should be no surprise: covering Steely Dan offers no small challenge to the folkworld. We’re talking about a collaboration that produces intimidatingly complex landscapes beyond the ken of most cover artists; a name brand whose high-lexile lyrical wordplay, like that of John Ashbury (a mentor of mine at Bard, who also passed yesterday) and the rest of the New York School of poets so en vogue at Bard College during all our shortened tenures, serves as percussive instrument as much as – and sometimes more than – a carrier of sizzling, irony-laden, image-heady narrative; a band aptly described as “the most sonically sophisticated pop act of the 21st Century“, fully in control of its faculties.

Add to this the band’s tendency to name their songs simply, making them hard to search for, and the result is a lean but no less stunning tribute in postmillennial acoustic and roots transformations, ranging from Wilco‘s faithful turn on Any Major Dude to familiar jazzfolk from Rickie Lee Jones and Jemma Mammina to live bluegrass settings from Mountain Heart and The Barefoot Movement, with the ragged, grungy treacle of British throwback folkrock foursome Turin BrakesRikki Don’t Lose That Number, instrumental gypsy Jazz from New York electric violinist Joe Deninzon, deceptively crisp chamberfolk from Heartscore with Jamie Rivera, a truly amateur but no less loving solo acoustic cover from YouTuber Enormously Small, and – just for good measure – Nik Hunt, The National Pool, and Michael Rand‘s decidedly weird and entirely different deconstructions of Do It Again, Home At Last, and Reelin’ In The Years.

Somewhere, Walter Becker is explaining chords to the heavenly choir, their heads nodding in rhythm as they listen. May they sing as precisely for him as they did on his records, and in our dreams.


Any Major Dude: The Songs Of Steely Dan
A Cover Lay Down Tribute Mix
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Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down celebrates its tenth year in the ether this month with grateful thanks to our donors, our readers, and the musicians that make it all happen. Stay tuned for mailbag marvels, Kickstarter previews, new covers and tribute albums, and more as September stretches out before us!

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Friday, In The Fall: A Triptych Concludes


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Cover Lay Down will celebrate its tenth anniversary on the web this month, and behind the scenes, we’re just starting to gather in news, fragments, and new and beloved tracks for a series of September features honoring the folkways that got us here, and keeps us moving ever forward, as culture and community.

But today, as I sit on the porch watching the sun come up through the still-green trees, I find myself not yet ready to dive into the songs and artists that have sustained us, and helped us stay sane and present through the rise and fall of life as it comes.

Instead, I’m still thinking about Aida, after meeting her husband and infant at Thursday’s somber wake. About my own marriage, now the same age as Aida was when she passed on from this world. About all the times I have written here about the stress and triumphs of the students I teach, and our struggle together. About my father, and our Saturdays across the state. About my children, and their ongoing struggle with their imperfect bodies, and the stress that brings them pain.

I’ve been thinking about history, in case you couldn’t tell: mine, and the earth’s, especially the way the nights turn colder this time of year, and it’s Autumn again, kids laughing and learning how to learn. The elderchild and her sister are back in school, a day at a time; my own work is deeply satisfying, though ever imperfect, and always exhausting. My Drama class takes their first tentative steps bravely, stretching and walking into neutral as they prepare for a term exploring body and voice as the tools of the trade; my Advanced Placement students dive in to rigor, testing their capacity, and my own, as we raise the bar for rigorous analysis of speeches and essays.

Somewhere past these trees, our little rural town is holding its annual yard sale. Sidewalks and driveways once covered in the detritus of the tornado that ripped through our homes sport furniture and books, lamps and tools, restored to shabby, weathered glory, ready for use in another home. Life happens, and here we are, sifting through it, thinking ahead about what we might need as we take then next steps in our continued journey.

We’re rising to the challenge of the world that needs it. We’re dancing about architecture, and making it work. We’re navigating the impeded waters, singing. The not-so-wee one went home early from school on her second day, but she made it, and that’s something. The elderchild finds a small group in the lunchroom, determined to stay out of the drama she sees in her adolescent cohort, lest it distract from her academic development. My father hangs his pictures in the dining room, six months after moving in to his new assisted living apartment. The kid who locked the laptop cart lock to his backpack comes respectfully, without headphones, to ask to be released. He still won’t stay the entire block. But he came again today, and he’ll come again tomorrow, too.

Here. We’ve made it to the end of another week, the end of the endless summer once again. Let us dwell not in words, save those which are sung in reverence and glee. Let us speak our piece and move on, in honor of the respite we’ve earned a hundredfold. Let us celebrate the fruits of labor, and the work it takes to get there: the hard work of play, and letting go, to be present in the moment, and the music, and the self.

Happy Labor Day, dear readers. May your work, too, be employed joyfully, when it comes.


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Passages: For Aida, And A Thousand Stars


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Aida was an outlier in my very first English class, a summer school test-run after years teaching media and instructional technology. Bright, beautiful, articulate, and quietly confident at just thirteen years old, she didn’t really belong in the remedial program, but she had lost most of a year to hearing issues and poor health, and now, recovering from implant surgery, she was mostly just there for the credit, to justify her existence in high school.

So while other students struggled to focus, to read, and to care, Aida wrote volumes, and shared with me the fruits of her blossoming awareness and skill. I gave her my copy of The Poet’s Dictionary, and spoke quietly to her in passing and after class about sestinas and pantoums, rhythm and language as a path to the self. She could talk literature and heartache with a wisdom far beyond the capacity of most adults I know. And that smile was the sweetest ever – grateful, knowing, wry; one that lingers in the memory, even now.

I’ve taught thousands of students in over two decades in education. In a very real way, I’ve loved them all. But once a year or so, if you’re lucky, you get a couple of students that connect on a much deeper level – the kind of kids you happily break the rules for, and drive them to work in the shampoo warehouse on the other side of the city because you just want a chance to chat with another bright, vibrant human being, and to be a part of their climb out of the city, to the stars.

Aida wasn’t the first of these kids, and she wasn’t the only one from her year – being a class advisor tends to bring you closer to the cohort, I think. But she was something special all the same. Hers was a smile that could light up a room, one that never faded, and always seemed authentic. Even in sorrow or stress, she was positive and proud. Her cheerful, unapologetic arrival at prom, solo and shimmering and hours late after her hair took too long to come together, lives as a high point in my year. Watching her walk across the stage three years ago as a graduate made my heart jump.

And today, struggling to define that inimitable something, I know that more than almost any student I have ever had, a shining star among thousands, Aida knew herself joyfully, like a natural-born Buddha, having discovered earlier than most that hers was truly a self worth knowing, and worth waiting for.




I last saw Aida in person purely by accident, a year ago this week; she was working as a cashier at Target to pay for school; we were there to buy school supplies for my classroom, and for the kids. Afterwards, as before, social media provided an opportunity to watch her from a distance, as the precocious, beautiful child I had first encountered continued to grow, into an increasingly articulate and determined career-minded adult, spouse, and very recently, just this summer, a mother, loved by and loving to so many of us.

But in the end, Aida’s health was her undoing. A car crash with her infant son a few weeks ago left her shaken and in pain, and stirred up old injuries. For a while, she was recovering, alive and proud of her struggle, as always. And then, this morning, we awoke to the news that after a seizure, Aida had passed in the night.

There’s a video on Aida’s husband’s Facebook page from just three days ago, a short clip featuring her beautiful son, wailing for mama while her father coos reassuringly behind the camera. Aida was alive when this was filmed, just working – on the last course for her degree, on her health, and on her ever-changing beauty, a rare trifecta among our inner city youth. Forever, that clip, and every other artifact of Aida’s life that lives on in so many of us, will break my heart.

I owe Aida so much, and I think I never told her. She was the right kid, in the right place, at the right time: the one who reminded me, way back when I needed it most, that teaching has both love and friendship in it, even – maybe especially – in the darkest of communities, and the most sullen of crowds. She will forever exemplify the positive attitude, kindness, and grit I wish of every student I teach. I will treasure the memory of that smile forever, even if it were not all I have to remember her by – that, the company of her friends and schoolmates, and the space on the bookshelf where my Poet’s Dictionary used to live.

May there always be those among us us who bring us joy, however brief, and remind us that we are in the right place in the world. May those we serve go from this life as they found us in it: alive and kicking, determined and bright, at peace with the world even as they push themselves for more.

May we love, fiercely, those who bring out our best.

And may there always be Aidas, that we may remember ourselves.



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