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New Artists, Old Songs Week, Vol. 1: Streaming coverage from
September 7th, 2013 — 01:32 pm
Jeremy Squires, Allysen Callery, Al Lewis, Mia Dyson, Virgin Soldiers & more!
At the core, like most music blogs, Cover Lay Down aims to be a venue of exposure, that nurtures and sustains the continued viability of the folk and acoustic genres by helping connect artists and fans through the comfort of tribute and interpretation.
This week, in a set of consecutive features in service to that goal, we turn once again to our sources for the new – the mailbag, the merch table, and our favorite folk and cover bloggers – to celebrate the works of several still-emerging artists whose recent coverage has found its way into our hearts, even as their songchoices and soundsettings reveal the particulars of their growing identities as artists.
May you, too, find joy and promise in a rising generation of folk musicians, and be moved to support their craft through purchase, patronage, and pass-along.
Our 2010 Singer Song Sunday exploration of country and bluegrass standard Long Black Veil would have been well-served by this haunting recast from singer-songwriter Allysen Callery, a self-taught New England fingerpicker with a will-o-the-wisp voice whose heavy influence by her parent’s collection of British Isles Folk Revival records of the late 60′s early 70′s resonates throughout a growing number of beautiful albums, with 2011 double-EP set Winter Island and The Summer Place especially worthy of note. Callery’s style is enveloping, frail but surprisingly rich, her songs like castles in the air, all heaven and hiding places; the choruses alone give me chills. New LP Mumblin’ Sue drops next week on vinyl.
Allysen Callery: Long Black Veil (orig. Lefty Frizzell) 
Allysen Callery: Young Edwin (trad.) 
Prolific Welsh singer-songwriter Al Lewis is eminently Welsh: of four albums and 2 EPs since 2007, exactly half have been in the welsh language. But his music belies popular influences father afield, and it’s eminently accessible. The gently bouncy indiepop of Make A Little Room, off new release Battles, soothes and settles like a radio-driven summer soundtrack hit; slowed down and stripped of its poppy setting, as in this solo studio take from a Crypt Session in May, it’s beautiful, and clear as a bell. And his five-song set of equally dreamy, fluid, unadorned acoustic-with-strings covers uploaded to Soundcloud back in midsummer make for a sweet streaming EP, with a wistful Free Man In Paris, a potent Tom Waits cover filtered through Tim Buckley, and a sweet, sincere Jesus Was A Crossmaker that will endear him to folk audiences.
Self-taught North Carolina native singer-songwriter Jeremy Squires popped up on our radar several times this year with a pair of appearances on lo-fi folkblog Slowcoustic, where any artist touted twice is inherently worth a listen. Sure enough, after releasing the third in a trilogy of revelatory records designed to exorcise the demons of depression, the covers Squires has taken on in the past year – a softly melodic yet no less potent take on Sheets from Slowcoustic’s recent Damien Jurado covers project, and a pensive piano ballad transformation of a new song from Everybodyfields alum Jill Andrews perfect for fragile hipster television playback – offer equal evidence of scars and healing, even as they comfort and chill, delight and differentiate.
Reviews and interviews suggest that Grace Basement – a folk, pop and rock project from musician, engineer, and producer Kevin Buckley, who was raised in the Irish folk community at home and abroad, and continues to perform jigs and reels in sessions in and around his adopted St. Louis, Missouri – has stripped down their approach since the heavy, heady rock quartet sound of 2007 debut New Sense. If so, the shift has been to our benefit: the banjo and handclaps that accompany the predominantly singer-songwriter fare on 2013 release Wheel Within A Wheel support an intimacy that is rare as it is revelatory; the pair of recently recorded covers which Kevin sent along, which seem to come from the same sessions, comprise a spectrum analysis, with a Bob Dylan cover that fits neatly into the No Depression camp even as its arrangement echoes historic predecessors like The Mamas and The Papas and the Byrds, and a relatively faithful solo cover of a Paul Simon favorite that balances warm, echoey edge with no small hint of harmonic excellence.
From the rootsy intersection of folk, blues and rock comes Aussie singer-songwriter Mia Dyson, who tears up Lori McKenna’s I Know You with a gravely countryfolk voice and a grungy, bluesy bar-room resonator-and-drum production in a new cover (selected by a fan in her recent Pledgemusic campaign, and premiered this week via Roughstock) that echoes Kasey Chambers or Lucinda Williams at their grittiest. Four-time ARIA nominee Dyson has been on the rise Down Under for a decade, touring with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Nicks; she appeared at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2006, but I seem to have missed her, leaving her still available to our New Artists series, and the timing is good, coming as it does on the cusp of a deliberate effort to break into the American scene with an Autumn tour around new album The Moment, which has already been duly noted as a tour de force by critics galore. Her older take on Lucinda’s Can’t Let Go, shared below as a bonus, is equally raw and resonant, though couched in only an electric guitar and that wailing voice, making for an ecstatic growl that heats us up and leaves us wanting more.
The lo-fi sounds on Abandoned Covers, an archivally-sourced collection of live and studio covers recorded under the auspices of Abandoned Love Records since their establishment in 2004, come from a small stable of four label artists on the broken side of lo-fi and experimental folk; multiple covers of Big Star and The Magnetic Fields, plus Meursault, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, and Roxy Music speak aptly to a set of equally underground, alternative, and grungy influences on bands and label that collapse the waveforms of late 80s underground alternative bands such as The Bats and The Lemonheads with both the modern indiefolk movement and the slow and ragged tones of the bedroom and basement cover. Favorite finds include Austin, TX band The Lovely Sparrows, whose distinct voices and slowed approach to electro-acoustic arrangement is spare and, in its own way, quite mystical, and Virgin of the Birds, who with layered howls, drones, and electronic hums bring an atmospheric, psychedelic vibe to traditional track Fatal Flower Garden, Nico’s Evening Of Light, and Levi Fuller’s This Murder Won’t Hurt You.
Tonight You Belong To Me is an oft-covered song, but there’s something about this cover from “Acoustic Americana” Chapel Hill, NC trio A Mad Affair that caught my ear. Perhaps it’s the innocence lost: brighter than most, and rich with subtly effective harmonic flourishes, theirs is a deceptively cute but ultimately mature rendition. And the cover – the only one they’ve recorded in-studio, it seems – is aptly reflective of the fine acoustic songcraft displayed on highly-recommended debut album Retro Honey Pop: the guitar, stand up bass, ukulele and occasional fiddle are tight and delightful; the hearty, warbly, clear-as-a-bell country twang of lead singer Valerie Wood worms its way into the heart; the tracks, which range from sunny, poppy tracks to mournful harmony ballads, run the gamut of classic acoustic folk and country influence, yet come up sounding fresh as a daisy.
Bonus points for a small set of living room covers over at YouTube: a latin-tinged fireside tribute to Willy Wonka filmed last February, a sultry Suzanne Vega tune from midsummer, and a sweet take on The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues posted just this week.
- A Mad Affair: Fisherman’s Blues (orig. The Waterboys) 
- A Mad Affair: Pure Imagination (orig. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) 
- A Mad Affair: Caramel (orig. Suzanne Vega) 
Since its founding at the hands of singer/guitarist/songwriter James Beeny in 2011, UK acoustic “Strock” sextet Virgin Soldiers has shared stages with Ellie Goulding, Joan Armatrading, and Echo and The Bunnymen – strange bedfellows, indeed. And the name that the band has given their particular strain of chamber-quartet-meets-UK-folkrock sounds like something straight out of the Flintstones. But the crossover conceit of playing contemporary music on classical instruments has broad appeal in the post-millennial pastiche world, and the BBCs sustained support of the band throughout their emergence in the past two years speaks aptly to their collective talent: the equal balance of strings, synth and guitar on Numb, a transformative Linkin Park cover released last October, is but a harbinger of the majestic sonic depth and soaring fancy of debut single Moon Song, which shot to No. 3 on the Amazon Rock Chart when it hit the airwaves in August.
Virgin Soldiers: Numb (orig. Linkin Park) 
Stay tuned for a midweek second round of new and newly-found artist coverage featuring covers of The Clash, Greg Brown, The Bee Gees and more, couched in every branch of the folkstream, from Appalachian fiddlefolk to contemporary singer-songwriter fare and indiefolk; keep liking us on Facebook for ongoing previews and single-shot streams throughout the week. And thanks for your patience during our recent hiatus: it’s good to be back on the blog.
Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features, mixtapes weekly throughout the year thanks to the support of our readers and fans; DONATE before the end of September, and we’ll regift 20% of your every dollar to Sweet Relief, a non-profit founded in 1993 to support musicians who find themselves in “untenable predicaments” due to illness or disability, in memory of Chicago singer-songwriter Matt Ryd.
I will stumble, will I fall?
I’ll be humbled, will I crawl?
I am broken, will I be healed?
I am beaten, am I torn?
I’m alive, but nothing more.
I am broken, will I be healed?
- Matt Ryd, “Healed”
However comforting it might be, by its very nature, our focus on coverage can distance us from the lyrical narratives of up-and-coming folk artists and singer-songwriters. So when news came down the wires this week that 28 year old Chicago native Matt Ryd had lost his struggle with depression and stress brought on by an eating disorder, it was a harsh reminder of just how inseparable the personal and the professional lives of artists can be – and a note of caution for all of us to remember that artists are people, not just providers of song, and that even when their lyrics seem to speak loud and clear as a cry in the darkness, it’s easy to misread how truly their chosen narratives illustrate their inner demons.
When we first featured Matt Ryd in our New Artists, Old Songs series in the summer of 2010, all I knew about him was what I could see and hear through his music, and the mechanics of his chosen relationship with his fans. Both were worthy of celebration: as we noted at the time, his newly-released cover of Dire Straits classic Romeo and Juliet was “a perfect case study in how simple, deliberate arrangement and sparse instrumentation can transform an original into something deliciously sweet and new.” And though we ascribed his coverage choices to a calculated attempt to appeal to the masses, the warm acoustic popfolk reconstructions of songs from Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry and Paula Abdul he included among the gems on his mailing list exclusive cover series and his increasingly prolific YouTube sets made it clear that Ryd knew how to play, and be playful, in the 21st century marketplace.
Outwardly, Matt showed all the signs of up-and-coming success: he recorded five albums between 2008 and 2013, releasing his first full-length, “Looking for Home”, to a sold-out crowd at Schubas Tavern in late 2010; his song Healed, whose lines appear above, was featured on Scrubs. Always a champion of his fellow musicians, in 2012, he formed the production company Rydmedia to produce albums for local artists. Frequent genial-yet-humble missives to his fans sustained a likability that brought us in, and kept us coming back. And his insistence on releasing all of his music under Creative Commons licensing only underscored his embrace of the modern pass-along models that drive artistic momentum today.
But behind the music, Matt was suffering. Towards the end of 2012, he checked into an in-patient facility to address his eating disorder; when the insurance ran out, he left, which caused a spiral of anxiety and depression that would bring him back to residential treatment. He was open with his fans about this process, sharing a long message on his Facebook page in March of this year addressing the matter head on, and apologizing for the silence that it would produce.
And then, on Sunday, August 4th, Matt lost his struggle with what had become an overwhelming complex of illnesses. Obituaries and remembrances rightly refer to him as both a musician and an activist for eating disorders, in recognition of how deeply and how well he had come to share his challenges, even as they deepened over the past 18 months. As his parents noted, “our hearts are broken, but we take comfort in the knowledge that he has finally been “Healed” and will suffer no more.”
Matt was luckier than most: he had some insurance, and a strong support system of family and friends. But Matt’s story reminds us that mental and physical health is a heavy topic for artists in the US, where a lack of socialized medicine and a predominantly private-sector economic model for the arts writ large often leaves musicians bereft of the basic safety net that others take for granted.
Ethan Scott Baird of New England folk trio Pesky J. Nixon speaks fondly of Andrea Coller, a young Massachusetts songwriter of great potency and potential who fought cancer three times before her untimely passage in 2008; both Baird and Coller worked with The SAMFund, which helps young adult cancer survivors from all walks of life regain their financial footing after cancer-related illness, and her courage shines through the raw power of You And The Ghosts and Best Bad Choice, two original demos he sent along. In addition to late greats Dave Van Ronk and Richie Havens, Ethan also cites Vance Gilbert, who was out performing 24 hours after leaving the hospital with a brand new pacemaker, as examples of those from older generations whose ability to manage health issues have been challenged or undermined by the lack of a safety net. More generally, he notes,
For the group of artists that make so many of our favorite places, experiences, and the world in general so much more colorful and interesting, lack of health care, both physical and mental, has drastically reduced our expected lifespans. I see this affecting self-employed friends and entrepreneurs every where I go. Often these are our best and brightest who choose to redesign and redefine the world around them. It seems a shame that an issue like access to doctors and medicine often can be the reason why our brightest lights go out early – it really doesn’t feel like it should be a first world problem.
Though we do not always see it, evidence of the ongoing struggle to support artists in body and mind lurks behind the music we share and track here on these virtual pages. As the recent passing of indie musician Jason Molina of Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. reminded us, drug and alcohol addiction continues to haunt many in the musical world, its temptations fueled by the hard life of touring, the raw soul of the artist, and an unhealthy popular celebration of the life of excess as the price of doing business. And sadly, mental illnesses of other sorts are rife in the creative world; most famously, the list includes oft-hospitalized bipolar musician Daniel Johnston, who we covered in a Single Song Saturday back in January of 2011. Admirable non-profits such as Nuci’s Space, which aims to “prevent suicide by providing obstacle free treatment for musicians suffering from depression and other such disorders,” fill an important need, here – but it is notable that many who suffer from depression are neither able nor willing to seek out such help on their own.
Accidents and unexpected illnesses arise as frequently among artists as they do in the population at large, too. Our recent review of this summer’s tributes included If You Wait Long Enough: The Songs of Will Stratton, a benefit album for the young indie singer-songwriter and composer whose cancer diagnosis last year “illuminated the conflicted plight of artists in a world where medical bills are often unaffordable for those working outside the world of 9 to 5 employment.” And indiefolk duo Brown Bird, who have not formally recorded any covers, but whose songs are already finding substantial coverage in the pages of YouTube, remain on hiatus and functionally unemployed while lead vocalist, guitarist and lyricist Dave Lamb struggles with leukemia.
In Matt’s honor, then, and in keeping with our artist-centric focus, for the next month, 20% of all donations to Cover Lay Down will be re-gifted to Sweet Relief, a non-profit founded in 1993 to support musicians who find themselves in “untenable predicaments” due to illness or disability, such as Vic Chesnutt and Victoria Williams, both of whom benefitted from Sweet Relief tribute albums and concerts. Those who wish to honor Matt directly can also give to ANAD or NEDA, a pair of support organizations that were an important part of Matt’s life for many years; those who wish to lend their support in other ways are encouraged to consider the other causes listed above. And, as always, we urge all readers to patronize the arts by buying albums, attending shows, and giving to those projects and causes which support struggling artists, the better to ensure the health and good fortune of those who explicate the world on our behalf through song.
Some favorite covers from Matt Ryd’s Mailing List collection, in tribute…
- Matt Ryd: Romeo & Juliet (orig. Dire Straits)
- Matt Ryd: Poker Face (orig. Lady Gaga)
- Matt Ryd: Signed, Sealed, Delivered (orig. Stevie Wonder)
- Matt Ryd: King of Wishful Thinking (orig. Go West)
- Matt Ryd: The Luckiest (orig. Ben Folds)
- Matt Ryd ft. Liana Modestas: Marry You (orig. Bruno Mars)
…and from a few other folk artists and singer-songwriters mentioned above, whose voices have been silenced or stifled by illness, injury, and pain.
- Magnolia Electric Co.: Lawyers, Guns and Money (orig. Warren Zevon)
- Vic Chesnutt: Buckets Of Rain (orig. Bob Dylan)
- Vic Chesnutt and Liz Durrett: Somewhere (orig. West Side Story)
- Victoria Williams: Reckless Kind (orig. Richard Thompson)
- Dave Van Ronk: Didn’t It Rain (trad.)
Always artist-centric and ad-free, Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and coverfolk features weekly. Want to help support our mission and the artists we celebrate? Donate to Cover Lay Down before September 20th, and we’ll regift 20% of your donation to Sweet Relief!
Though the folk camp skews older, it is not irrelevant that I am older than most music bloggers. Age matters, in the intersecting world of music and homage which we inhabit. Our tastes are formed by the mass media clutter and the countercultural alternative scenes of our own individual youths; even as our collections diversify and improve in time, our touchstone foundations are always a product of the worlds of our teens and twenties. My formative years covered the emergence of MTV, and assume the three minute narrative as compass and companion; I think fondly of cassettes, and think in CD format better than any; though we cover Dylan and The Beatles here too, the songs that ring truest as tribute to me spring from the 80s and forward, and from my father’s record collection.
Generational grounding is a common thread here at Cover Lay Down – I have made no secret of the ways in which my own time-and-space history brings me to Mary Lou Lord, Nirvana, or Michael Jackson, to pick a diverse sample. But in truth, there are more personal reasons to muse on aging today: as of yesterday, my wife is 40, too; today we head North for an in-law’s retreat in the woods to celebrate, with friends and family, food and drink.
But although we exchange our trinkets, gratefully, gifts seem trivial: we are young at heart, and work hard in our own ways to model youth for our children, and to maintain a seemingly effortless and innate childlike wonder. Most days, that is blessing enough.
To be fair, it gets harder every year to be young. But there is compensation: as I have come to own the winding path that has led me here, I find myself pensive yet fearless in the face of further age. And being here, now, without fear and with curiosity intact helps me be a better parent, a better husband, a better teacher, a better me.
Some songs about growing older, and checking in on the changes, then – covering the gamut from pensive to protesting, from aging gracefully to railing against the dying of the night. May you cherish the moments in time you inhabit, and put them away carefully when they are through. May you, too, sing your histories and futures.
- Getting Older: A Coverfolk Mixtape [zip!]
Cover Lay Down is back from the summer folkfields with new features twice weekly! See you soon!
Mail Call Coverfolk: New releases from
July 7th, 2013 — 01:50 pm
The Deadly Gentlemen, Antje Duvekot, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
The mailbag is stuffed to overflowing, so we’ll take the week to dig in, starting with news of three beloved folk artists whose work we’ve covered before. As always, if you like what you hear here (hear, hear!), don’t forget to follow links to purchase works and attend shows in support of these artists, the better to support the continued production of folk as a viable outlet for artists and fans alike. Enjoy!
I’ve made it to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival a number of times over the years, and touted it on these pages almost as much as Falcon Ridge; this year’s roster is startlingly good, with double sets from The Deadly Gentlemen, Thile and Davies, Infamous Stringdusters, The Duhks, Devil Makes Three, and Carolina Chocolate Drops bringing extra energy to the usual stellar set of long-time legends. Sadly, I’ve a family obligation this summer that will keep me from its fields and stages, but this long-time winner of the IBMA’s “Best Fest” award is a delight; gates open in nine days, and if you can make it up to Oak Hill, NY the third weekend in July, I highly recommend it.
I will be making it to the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge this Wednesday, July 10 for what promises to be a smashingly funky second-night CD release party for newly signed Rounder Record recording artists and Boston Bluegrass experimentalists The Deadly Gentlemen, who we’ve been following since their founding at the hands of Crooked Still alum Greg Listz. As is made eminently obvious from first single Bored of the Raging – currently available free as a teaser – Roll Me, Tumble Me, the new album from this talented collection of young folks, is quite mature for a sophomore outing, with elements from playful jamband and jazz pushing the limits of whimsy and wit in bluegrass, resulting in a rich, crisp, substantive sound emerging from the band’s incredible mix of talent and craftsmanship. The originals it contains blow the mind, and so do these recently recorded covers; if you’re not a Bostonian but are equally eager to catch them live, either Grey Fox or their official release party in NYC Tuesday the 9th at Joe’s Pub with opening girl-group trio T.H.E.M. would serve.
- The Deadly Gentlemen: All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose (orig. Woody Guthrie)
- The Deadly Gentlemen: The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance (orig. Vampire Weekend)
- The Deadly Gentlemen: A Touch Of Grey (orig. Grateful Dead)
- The Deadly Gentlemen w/ David Grisman: Dead Flowers (orig. Rolling Stones)
As we noted to regular readers of the Cover Lay Down Facebook page back in November, Antje Duvekot’s 6-track YouTube covers series last summer featured stunningly sweet solo takes on Paul Simon, Jason Mraz, Hank Williams, and more, leaving us chagrined to find it so late in the game. Now, only three albums into a well-celebrated and highly respected rise to singer-songwriter fame, the German-born, Boston-resident artist brings the covers concept back for “Undercover with Antje“, a new monthly YouTube series featuring duets with what promises to be a strong set of fellow coffeehouse travelers. The mix currently includes collaborations with Falcon Ridge 2013 Emerging Artist Brad Yoder, Red Molly siren Molly Ventner, and young pianofolk singer-songwriter sensation Seth Glier, on some surprising choices of song; upcoming collaborations will feature Meg Hutchinson, Ellis Paul, Anne Heaton, and more luminaries from the Boston scene and beyond.
As a bonus for coverlovers and fans, Duvekot’s webpage notes an EP recorded over a May weekend, with three covers and two originals, to be released soon; her new take on Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’ alone reminds us just why we celebrate her performance. And a solo ukelele take on Richard Thompson’s Beeswing, posted just a few months ago, is gentle as the breeze.
- Antje Duvekot & Seth Glier: Fire and Rain (orig. James Taylor)
- Antje Duvekot & Brad Yoder: Mein Fahhrad (orig. Die Prinzen)
- Antje Duvekot & Molly Venter: it’s a Hard Life Wherever you Go (orig. Nanci Griffith)
Antje Duvekot: Beeswing (orig. Richard Thompson)
Among the familiar faces in the inbox this month we’re pleased as punch to find Josienne Clarke, whose small but growing body of work so impressed us when we discovered it back in 2011 on the backs of her stunning first collaboration with instrumentalist and producer Ben Walker. And we’re especially thrilled to find the two names tied together again: because pairing deepens the bond, sophomore duo albums often turn out stronger than their predecessors, and in this case, the stage is set, as Walker and Clarke have been hard on the road since we last checked in on them, touring on the strength of a small EP of originals even as they win awards abroad for their ongoing plumb of the depths of beauty in the old songs.
Sure enough, though the bar was set quite high by The Seas Are Deep – Clarke and Walker’s first take on the body of traditional music of and beyond their native British Isles – new release Fire and Fortune, which drops July 22 in the UK, and July 30 in the US on Compass Records, is easily equal to the task. Clarke’s mature, deceptively simple interpretation of timeless traditional laments and original ballads, Walker’s stunningly subtle fretwork, and inspired settings of low winds, gentle piano chords, and soaring strings combine marvelously, making a fragile atmosphere that welcomes even as it warns. The result: a tight, flowing work that remains “a perfect balance of both classical voice-and-guitar folk and traditional balladry”, “delicate, crisp, subtle and nuanced, and beautiful in every tiny moment” even as it cuts to the core. Check out the video for their title song – an eerie gospel hand-clap-and-stomp driven original that plays silence and darkness under a deceptive shell – a live track from 2011, and two tracks and an unreleased also-ran from the sessions that produced the upcoming album – then preorder here.
- Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker: The Outlandish Knight (trad.)
- Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker: Hares On The Mountain (trad.)
- Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker: My Donal (trad.)
Looking for more great coverfolk news? Stop in later this week for a huge New Artists, Old Songs feature, and a summer set of new and upcoming cover compilations and tribute albums…and don’t forget to like our Facebook page for bonus streams and videos!
I think we’ve written about The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival every year since our origin, making this a record-breaking sixth feature article on the same damn festival. But 25 years, two site changes, and one micro-burst tornado since its founding, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival remains my favorite summer experience: a guaranteed go-to event that offers some of the best, most eclectic truly folk music on the circuit, in a lazy, generous atmosphere charged with joy.
As I’ve noted before, my affection for the fest is deepened by my involvement in its infrastructure: as Crew Chief of Teen Crew, married to the co-chief for Sign Painting, we arrive a full weekend early to work, and watch with awe and wonder as the open fields are transformed slowly into the home we love, and opened to the equally appreciative masses, even as the sight lines shrink. It is our haven, our Jerusalem, after 17 years of consecutive festivaling. We’ve even raised our children there, in ten day intervals in what we half-jokingly refer to as our real homestead.
But it’s not just us, and it’s not just the volunteers who feel the closeness. Outside of our embedded camp with its white picket fence, the festival ebbs and flows with the tides of wanderers and fans. All night, the hills echo with campfire sessions and songwriter swaps. I know there is love in each circle. And those who join the fray come back, to be welcomed with open arms.
As with many festivals, Falcon Ridge has teetered on the edge of uncertainty in recent years. The move to the first weekend in August is both an attempt to avoid the weather that nibbles away at sustainability, and to cancel out any conflict with other neighboring festivals, such as Newport, which might have found favor with an overlapping fan base.
By universal consensus, however, this year’s 25th anniversary celebration pulls out all the stops. Strong past-favorites returning for the anniversary run the gamut, with well-traveled solo singer-songwriters Dar Williams, Ellis Paul, Eliza Gilkyson, Susan Werner, Vance Gilbert, Dan Navarro, and Mary Gauthier coming home to lead off a stunning roster that also includes everpresent psychedelic folkrock bands The Grand Slambovians and The Kennedys, formed-at-Falcon-Ridge trio Red Molly, tradgrass pickers Chester River Runoff, the high-energy sounds of folkband Spuyten Duyvil, and half of long-disbanded fest faves Moxy Fruvous.
And kudos to organizers, who continue to bring in great new acts from the expanding indie-traditional genre space to complement the familiar faces, and honor the vibrancy of modern folk. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Poor Old Shine, an acoustic Americana quintet whose late 2012 live album sports a vibe not unlike that of the Avett Brothers and The Low Anthem combined with The Mammals and The Band, and who earned their place on the mainstage through top audience honors in the 2012 Emerging Artist’s Showcase, alongside equally potent trio The YaYas and the gentle harmonies of Gathering Time. Also high on the don’t miss list: The Stray Birds, a sparse fiddle-and-guitar-led tradfolk trio whose harmonies are sweet and light, and who have garnered no small amount of indie cred in the last year for their newest self-titled album, a timeless, aching piece of work that hasn’t left my CD changer in months, and Roosevelt Dime, who we celebrated here way back in their early days and ours, and who will be playing the entirely festival-independent but always welcome “pop-up” Lounge Stage on Thursday atop 10 Acre Field alongside a stellar all-day pre-fest line-up.
There’s always something to discover at Falcon Ridge, of course. Kids are welcomed with playtents and sun, crafts and all-day musical acts and jugglers; themed and cover sets at the workshop stage promise song-swap intimacy and sing-along choruses. The vendors and musicians are part of the community, and genuinely happy to be there – a rarity at larger festivals, sadly.
Some of my very favorite acts were introduced to me at Falcon Ridge, from Crooked Still to Joe Crookston, from Eddie From Ohio to Moxy Fruvous. Some of my very best friends and companions live there, too. It’s the place we love, and we’d love to have you join us, if you can. And even if you can’t, enjoy this year’s preview mix.
- Vance Gilbert & Ellis Paul: May I Suggest (orig. Susan Werner)
- Vance Gilbert & Ellis Paul: Comes A Time (orig. Neil Young) 
- Dar Williams: Highway Patrolman (orig. Bruce Springsteen) 
- Dar Williams: Troubled Times (orig. Fountains of Wayne) 
- The Kennedys: When I Go (orig. Dave Carter) 
- The Kennedys: Chimes of Freedom (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Eliza Gilkyson: Sleeper (orig. Greg Brown) 
- Eliza Gilkyson: Is It Like Today (orig. World Party) 
- Susan Werner: Vincent (orig. Don McLean) 
- Susan Werner: Something So Right (orig. Paul Simon) 
- Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams: Like A Rolling Stone (orig. Bob Dylan) [unknown source]
Download the entire 21-track Falcon Ridge 25th Anniversary Preview mix!
As a bonus: a discussion of best Falcon Ridge musical moment on the FRFF Facebook Page reminded me of this collaborative Cat Stevens cover, filmed live from mainstage in 2007. Perhaps we can convince Dar and Gandalf to stage a repeat performance this summer. You won’t know if you don’t go.
New Artists, Old Songs (Re)Covered
June 9th, 2013 — 04:17 pm
Part 1: Kelley Ryan, Mikaela Davis, Angel Snow, & The Big Bright revisited!
The myriad blessings of music blogging include promotional outreach from fledgling artists, and though not all are to our taste or temperment, a surprising number have turned out to be diamonds in the rough – leaving us humbled and privileged to have been among the first to share and celebrate so many emerging singer-songwriters of promise and poise over the years.
This week, in a very special two-part thirtieth-or-so anniversary issue of our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs series, we check in on the continued rise and maturity of several musicians first featured here for their earliest work in the world of coverage – all one-time rising stars whose staying power and continued invention is evident in their ongoing careers.
Singer-songwriter and long-time frontwoman for grungy California sunshine rock band astroPuppees Kelley Ryan was in perfect-pitch popfolk mode when she came to us back in early 2010 with a Beck cover and a vibe that echoed his folk album Sea Change on her solo debut Twist. Three years later, her ear for the catchy hook remains solid, and we’re happy to see that continues to be garnering her the respect she deserves: her version of Monkey To Man, with its jangly, jumping Rickie Lee Jones meets Mary Lou Lord and Juliana Hatfield vibe, will appear alongside a crowd of equally on-the-rise artists on the ready-to-drop 50-track Elvis Costello tribute album Beyond Belief, a project to benefit the Mr. Holland’s Opus foundation.
- Kelley Ryan: Monkey To Man (orig. Elvis Costello)
Previously on Cover Lay Down
- Kelley Ryan: Lost Cause (orig. Beck Hansen)
Mikaela Davis’ solo harp-driven cover of Sufjan Stevens came to us as a one-shot ‘Tube Thursday post, putting it technically outside the New Artists feature set. But Davis, a Rochester, NY native who attends The Crane School of Music at SUNY, has since finished and released her self-titled debut album, a gorgeous collection that echoes with instrumental atmospheres, melodic tensions, and experimental indie sentiment, inviting easy comparison to indie harpist progenitor Joanna Newsome, and justifying any look back.
If the studio work proves anything beyond talent and craft, it is that Davis is no imitator: her voice is clearer and more concrete than Newsome’s, and her sentiment more pop. But her folkier side fills out nicely in her continued YouTube coverage – both in solo mode, as in the crystal-clear Elliott Smith cover first released back in October, and in live collaborations arranged for an equally atypical combination of instruments, as in the below take on Norwegian Wood recorded live last Sunday at the Bug Jar, which adds sitar and drumkit to the harp and voice for an immensely satisfying, completely psychedelic, and ultimately unsettling reinvention that flows smoothly from 4/4 mysticism to a tight jazz waltz bridge.
- Mikaela Davis: Norwegian Wood (orig. The Beatles)
- Mikaela Davis: Twilight (orig. Elliott Smith)
Previously on Cover Lay Down
- Mikaela Davis: Casimir Pulaski Day (orig. Sufjan Stevens)
If covers albums are a coverhound’s bread and butter, collaborations formed for the purpose of coverage are our just desserts: sweet with anticipation, occasionally cloying or overgenerous, but sheer delight if balanced well with bitter coffee and sincere sentiment. And so we reported on new collaboration The Big Bright with baited breath when they first emerged on the scene towards the end of last year, noting our familiarity with Ollabelle founders Fiona McBain and Glenn Patscha, and our strong affection for fellow reinventor and self-professed “neo-noir singer/songwriter” Liz Tormes – and were thrilled at the beauty in their paired arrangements of INXS and Tears For Fears, leaving us eagerly awaiting more.
Tantalizingly, I Slept Thru the 80′s, the full album of gentle New Wave Nocturnes which serves as an initial capstone for the shared love of “guilty pleasure vintage New Wave and ’80s Brit-pop” which forms the band’s raison d’etre, remains in the works, though the pre-release EP of the same name is available to New Yorkers exclusively at Little Marc Jacobs in the West Village and at live performances, and the newly-shared Walk Like An Egyptian which features on their homepage raises the bar for more sky-high. But as the tracks are completed, new video has found its way to the web, too – most recently a pair of startlingly tense, lush, echoey recordings from a Brooklyn stairwell that show the trio in fine folk harmonies and form, delivering on their promise to find the fragile in the noise, and making theirs one of the most anticipated albums of 2013.
- The Big Bright: Walk Like An Egyptian (orig. The Bangles) 
- The Big Bright: Only You (orig. Yaz)
- The Big Bright: Call Me (orig. Blondie)
Previously on Cover Lay Down
- The Big Bright: Don’t Change (orig. INXS)
- The Big Bright: Change (orig. Tears For Fears)
The singular artist featured atop the very first edition of our New Artists, Old Song discovery series sprung out of the ether on the strength of Fortune Tellers, an intimate, sweet collection of original songs that blew us away. Our 2008 interview even produced a manifesto for her coverage which seems to translate to her own work, too, saying that “I tend to crave a genuine credibility from an artist’s voice and lyrics –- songs in which I believe every word. If I’m able to put myself in the situation of a song and play the part, then I know it’s for real and I want to share it with others.”
Now, five years after we pulled her raw, jangly, surprisingly sparse live Bob Dylan cover from the mailbag and introduced her to the world, Angel Snow has become both a Nashville sensation and a songwriter to the stars, with three original compositions featured on Alison Krauss’ most recent album, and a reputation in the industry that has her performing regularly as a solo act (supported by Kraus’ brother Viktor), in collaboration with fellow circuit-travelers such as 2012 Kerrville New Folk award-winner Korby Lenker, and with fellow New Artists alumni Robby Hecht, with whom she performs some delightfully lo-fi and live covers as Marsha and the Martians. That it couldn’t be happening to a sweeter, more authentic person is merely a bonus.
- Angel Snow & Robby Hecht: Groovy Kind of Love (orig. The Mindbenders)
- Angel Snow & Robby Hecht: Take On Me (orig. A-Ha)
- Angel Snow & Korby Lenker: Tonight You Belong To Me (orig. Gene Austin)
- Korby Lenker & Angel Snow: Forever Young (orig. Alphaville)
- Angel Snow, Karyn Oliver, and Amy Speace: Can’t Find My Way Home / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (orig. Blind Faith / U2)
Previously on Cover Lay Down
- Angel Snow: Meet Me In The Morning (orig. Bob Dylan) 
Like what you hear? Don’t forget to come back later this week for part 2 of our look back at the ongoing careers in coverage of Sophie Madeleine, The Far West, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, and more of our favorite once and still-emerging artists!
Sending good wishes and lucky charms to my brother and his wife, who moved to Turkey a year ago in pursuit of the artist’s life after a long stint in Frankfurt, and haven’t really been back to the States in years. They assure us their Istanbul neighborhood is “in a very different part of town from the main center of the protests,” but watching what little news I’ve been able to track down, it’s hard not to be worried.
And yet even as I hope for more reassurance, there is also awe and wonder at the myriad ways in which the universe is interconnected. For as the school year comes to a close, my Media Literacy students and I face our final exploration – a unit on Facebook and other social media, and their potentially democratizing purpose in change agency. And on beyond my brother’s timely email, here come the tweets, and the blogs and facebook groups, to once again provide ample evidence that in the digital world, the global really is the local; that even our agency is globalized, if we know how to use it.
Two years ago this weekend, our tiny rural town was decimated by a tornado, and the way in which the community came together was a case study too immediate to ignore. The year before, it was Haiti, and the ways in which social media had shown and lent us avenues of support for the destruction. Now, since we already studied Sandy’s stormy rise and aftermath in our unit on mass media, it may well be the Turkish revolution – and the Wall Street Occupation, of course – which make the grade, allowing any news from my brother from behind what many suggest is a media bottleneck to be classroom fodder, giving me a welcome avenue to work through my worry, that I may focus on sending love and support.
When the tornado came, we rebuilt; even now, with the deserted, dangerously unsafe town hall only half demolished, hope rises anew. But as song and protest go hand in hand, so does their successor, revolution – a dangerous and often deadly precursor to the kinds of reconstructive efforts that change the world forever. And so I worry – about my brother, and his wife; about my children, whose world seems so volatile, so fragile abroad even as it feels robust and Springlike here at home. And so the digital revolution holds us close to the now and the real, and a day without news seems like a lifetime. And so our mix turns to revolution itself, and the world spins madly on.
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Double Dippers, Vol. 1: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
June 1st, 2013 — 03:06 pm
Dylan, Dawes, Guthrie, Springsteen, John Prine, and more!
As the average promotional bio can attest, many singer-songwriters and folk artists find a spark in a small, select set of early influences; part of the process of learning to take on the mantle of your own artistry involves imitation of the formative experience. I imagine the process much like that of any fan with even a small modicum of skill on any instrument, wherein the urge to reproduce and channel prompts vocalization and handwork, first tentatively and, finally, with confidence, as we learn from the hidden masters on our stereo.
It’s not the only fount of coverage, of course. Mutual respect for an artist can just as easily prompt re-creation of the heard, so can discovery, rediscovery, or merely whim. Yet we assume that artists’ tribute clusters around a weighted crowd, with some small set of heavy hitters in the mix whose songs that artist knows by heart.
Recording those songs, however, is less often done. Towards the center of folk, formal recordings of covers trend towards the vast, not the narrow – I suppose because it risks too narrow an alliance between cover artist and originator to overcover – influence is one thing, but the curse of being “another Dylan” looms large next to its implied blessing.
And so, although we’ve seen some great single-artist tribute albums in the past few years, with the exception of a few major and prolific muso-cultural influencers – the songbook of AP Carter in the tradfolk crowd, for example, of Dylan and Guthrie in the straight-up folk camp, or of Bill Monroe, who arguably established and collated the sound that would become bluegrass, thus ensuring that his songs would be ever in the hands of those who would follow – it remains relatively rare for an artist to cover another in two different stages of their career. But it does happen, and when it does, the loss of the artistic variable of authorship makes such pairings a potent lens for exploring how an artist matures, evolves, or expands creatively.
Today, in the first of what we hope will be a multi-part exploration of such re-covered incidences and accidents, we take a deeper look at how and why through the lens of some favorite double dips.
- Barnstar! When My Time Comes (orig. Dawes) 
- Mark Erelli: Moon In The Water (orig. Dawes) 
- Though the LA folkrock band who wrote this pair did not form until 2009, as he notes on his website, thanks to a well-considered and newly committed relationship with the band, Mark Erelli has already taken on the Dawes songbook in two very different incarnations: as a member of gleeful-sound folkgrass quintet Barnstar! and this month, in a slow, mournful otherwise-unreleased home-studio take on Moon On The Water which strips the band’s work down to guitar, faint marching drums, slow fiddle strokes, and that inimitable voice layered in chorus. Erelli is no stranger to double coverage, having released several live Randy Newman covers, and multiple tributes to friend and mentor Bill Morrissey, through his long-standing Mp3 of the Month series.
- Be Good Tanyas: In My Time Of Dying (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Frazey Ford: One More Cup Of Coffee (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Many have covered Dylan multiple times, but Frazey Ford’s pair beats a full house: As a founding member of Vancouver-based femmefolk trio The Be Good Tanyas, Ford was featured on 2003 Chinatown cut In My Time Of Dying; seven years later, on her debut as a post-breakup solo act, her soulful influences shine through on One More Cup Of Coffee. The versions, both transformative, share much in the way of sound, with the ragged rhythms and urgency so typical of her work and theirs, and that incredible, fragile voice, but they’re couched so differently – one layered and lush Americana, one staggered and bouncy tradfolk – it’s hard to imagine them on the same album.
- Richard Shindell: Fourth of July, Asbury Park (orig. Bruce Springsteen) 
- Richard Shindell: Born In The U.S.A. (orig. Bruce Springsteen) 
- Richard Shindell’s modus operandi shifted a bit between the 2001 concert that spawned live release Courier and South of Delia, the 2007 covers album that sparked this very blog, deepening into something more rich and layered and tinged with both indie rock and pop elements that come through loud and clear in the studio. Springsteen benefits from this major lift in both cases: the relative rawness of Shindell’s live 2001 full-band Fourth of July contrasts strongly with his deconstructed Born in the USA, making of the first the perfect plaintive love song, the second a complex treatise, and the perfect politicized anti-anthem.
- Red Horse: Sanctuary (orig. Eliza Gilkyson) 
- Lucy Kaplansky: The Beauty Way (orig. Eliza Gilkyson) 
- Like many prolific artists of various stripe, Lucy Kaplansky has covered the Beatles several times – and Steve Earle, Cliff Eberhardt, and Bill Morrissey more than once as well. But Kaplansky’s lead vocals on Eliza Gilkyson’s Sanctuary may well be my favorite cover song of the last few years – and a permanent fixture atop my personal hope-and-heartbreak mix, which reveals just why her power as a balladeer and portraiture painter is unparalleled in the eyes of father and son. Although only two years separate the release, the cover stands in strong contrast to her take on Gilkyson’s The Beauty Way, off new release Reunion, which shows the more contemporary folk sound that Kaplansky trends towards in her own solo work.
- Amos Lee: Speed of the Sound of Loneliness (orig. John Prine) 
- Amos Lee: Christmas In Prison (orig. John Prine) 
Though Amos Lee‘s beautifully controlled blues vocalisms stand at odds to the truly broken tone of John Prine, his debt to Prine is audible in their comparably evisceral delivery. The slow, powerful yearning of lyric and line-reading Lee inherits are especially evident in Christmas In Prison, recorded for an XPN-broadcast Aimee Mann Christmas special in 2008 – the live setting reveals more rawness – while the gentle, understated pain in the studio recording of Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, a b-side from 2005 single Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight is more consistent with the sparse intimacy that first made me fall in love with his soulful voice.
- Old Crow Medicine Show: Union Maid (orig. Woody Guthrie) 
- Old Crow Medicine Show: Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) (orig. Woody Guthrie) 
- Old Crow Medicine Show is a crowd on the new tradfolk line, but they pay due tribute to their singer-songwriter influences. Their treatment of Guthrie is especially illuminating: the first, a fast, raw and raucous 2006 take on Union Maid that finds the band in full-bore political party mode; the second, a next-year take on Deportee which may well have been solicited for the Songs of America compilation on the strength of the former, but bares scant resemblance, as it meanders like a cowboy’s slow roadsong, pushing harmonies and concertina over the pick and strum.
Looking for further coverage from the folkworld? Join the Cover Lay Down facebook page for ongoing one-shot stream and video postings throughout the week, and keep an eye open for news of part 2 of our series in the next few, featuring Kasey Chambers covering Lucinda Williams, Josh Ritter covering John Prine, Red Molly covering Susan Werner, Shawn Colvin covering The Beatles, either Colvin or Ani DiFranco taking on the Greg Brown songbook (we still can’t decide!), and more double-dipping coverage histories. Also coming soon: our semi-annual fund drive, new coverage from the mailbag, a third house concert with local favorite Meg Hutchinson, and more!
(Re)Covered, Vol. XXIX: New Coverfolk from
May 14th, 2013 — 10:32 pm
Lissa Schneckenburger, Clem Snide, Nell Robinson, Arborea & more!
New projects from folk artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down continue to spring forth into the ether and into our ears; with our archives permanently hosted off-site at The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, any opportunity to bring these beloved names and voices back into the mix is especially welcome. Today, we add to the growing canon of delights with new releases from several perennial favorites.
First featured here way back in 2008 as part of a look at the new tradfolk revival in the American Northeast, “New England style” fiddler and folk singer Lissa Schneckenburger has made several strong albums of traditional and dance music, and often performs with fellow local scenesters Laura Cortese and Hanneke Cassel as Halali, a fiddle trio which explores stringfolk traditions from around the world. A graduate of New England Conservatory, she is known among her peers as a talented artist, and a careful craftsperson and ethnomusicologist, whose recent exploration of the roots of the Downeast traditions which she first heard as a young girl growing up in Maine resulted in a two-part project, 2008 release Song and 2010 companion release Dance – highly recommended albums which bring new nuance and modern interpretation to the ballads and fiddle tunes of Appalachia and beyond.
Schneckenburger’s newest album Covers, which drops on CD June 6 but has just become available for purchase on Bandcamp, benefits greatly from her talent for deep study, revealing unplumbed depths in the transformative yet true reconstructions of a diverse set of songs that define the various radio-play generations that arose in the second half of the 20th century. But like many of her “new folkscene” compatriots, Schneckenburger also knows how to use the space between notes to her advantage – both the silences, and the resonant echoes as notes fade – and here this means heavenly, luscious transformations of songs otherwise known through the distinctive voices of Jim Croce, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits, Stephen Merritt and more.
Sensitive without sentimentality is a tough balance to find, but with deceptively simple settings, clear-as-a-bell fiddle strains and soundscapes, and a warm alto, Schneckenburger makes it seem effortless. The result is a potent mix, bright and soaring and sweet, that crosses genre borders from Americana and folk rock to traditional and contemporary folk. As a bonus, Aoife O’Donovan, bassist Corey DiMarino, and cellist Tristan Clarridge sing and play on several tracks, making this surprisingly sparse and airy album the closest thing we’ll get to a Crooked Still reunion for a while; other guests familiar to long-time readers include Ruth Ungar and Mike Merenda (who also recorded and mixed the album), and Stefan Amidon, brother of Sam and founding member of new countryfolk band The Sweetback Sisters. Check out two heartwrenching favorites below (plus a bonus track from tradfolk collection Song), and then head over to Bandcamp to stream the rest and download for just 7 bucks.
- Lissa Schneckenburger: Crimson & Clover (orig. Tommy James & the Shondells)
- Lissa Schneckenburger: You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (orig. Jim Croce)
(from Covers, 2013)
- Lissa Schneckenburger: The Fair Maid By The Sea Shore (trad.)
(from Song, 2008)
We championed deepwoods folkduo Arborea back in 2010 for their “echoey, delicate, almost nufolk sound”, and previously for their powerful contribution to a 2009 Odetta tribute, but as I pointed out to guitarist and songwriter Buck Curran when he contacted me about their newest release, anything new from this married couple is good news, indeed – and sure enough, Fortress of the Sun, which was released April 30 to honor NYC label ESP-Disk’s 50th anniversary, is a wallop to the senses, with fluid movements, abstract poetics, Shanti’s soaring vocals, and enough depth and atmosphere to drown in.
Arborea’s influences are evident in their coverage – in the past, we’ve heard them take on both Robbie Basho and Tim Buckley, and several traditional folk ballads, showing the straight line between the marginalized and primitive post-modernists and the vast potential of the old ways wrought anew. And Fortress is no exception: a spine-chilling Cherry Tree Carol and a newly-penned lyric for old Irish tune When I Was On Horseback that resets the song as a history of the death of Southern Calvary General JEB Stuart near Richmond in 1864 fit right in among a collection on the knife-edge of tradition and experimental delicacy that rivals the best of Sam Amidon, Devandra Banhardt, and other indiefolk inheritors of the Vashti Bunyan and Karen Dalton branches of the folkworld. Order it at ESP-Disk in LP or CD formats, and your digital download of all tracks will be filling your ears and soul in minutes.
- Arborea: Cherry Tree Carol (trad.)
- Arborea: This Little Light Of Mine (Harry Dixon Loes)
(from Beautiful Star: The Songs of Odetta, 2009)
- Arborea: Wake Up Little Sparrow (arr. Ella Jenkins)
(from Wayfaring Summer, 2006)
Our 2011 full-length feature on the folkier side of Eef Barzelay was a near inevitability, given the oddly broken tenderness with which the former leader of indie band Clem Snide had turned to the work of such artists as Christina Aguilera and Eddie Money since breaking up the band after after an ill-fated post-9/11 tour left him disillusioned with the industry; later that year, we named his under-the-radar EPs covering Journey and The Transmissionary Six the Best Tribute EPs of 2011, citing their ragged, heartfelt solo interpretations, and celebrating the way the latter collection provided an entry into the work of the obscure duo through coverage, and we’re happy to report that the Wayback Machine has all songs from both features linked above still live for your downloading delight.
But although nominally recorded under the old band moniker, the Israeli-born singer-songwriter’s recent pursuit of solo fan-funded coverage continues to focus and mature, and nothing provides better evidence than the surprisingly cohesive flow that takes us through Fan Chosen Covers, Pt. 2, a name-your-price collection built on songs chosen and funded individually by donors released April 30 on Bandcamp. From the almost medieval drone of All Tomorrow’s Parties to the plainspoken simplicity of Carole King & Gerry Goffin classic Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, the well-ordered sequence offers a journey through angst and pain into peace and possibility, with pensive, newly deconstructed takes on everything from the Indigo Girls, Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond, Paul Young, and The Church in the mix. Even a slightly tongue-in-cheek version of the theme song to Welcome Back, Mr. Kotter barely disrupts the flow of earnestness. And the new melody Barzelay has written for Bonnie Raitt tearjerker I Can’t Make You Love Me is a revelation.
Email Eef if you want to commission a cover of your very own for a very reasonable rate, or just enjoy the fruits of other fan’s requests vicariously over at Bandcamp after checking out the samples below. And if you do download, remember to give a few bucks in return, if you can: the fan-funded model only works if those who can, do.
- Clem Snide: All Tomorrow’s Parties (orig. Velvet Underground)
- Clem Snide: I Can’t Make You Love Me (orig. Bonnie Raitt)
- Clem Snide: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (orig. The Shirelles)
(from Fan Chosen Covers 2, 2013)
As we’ve noted here before, the shift from records to digital media in the past decade has led to more fleeting affection for songs and artists, over-collection, and a tendency to shuffle – all listening and archival behaviors which many have cited as a death knell for the album. But Americana singer-songwriter Nell Robinson seems to have either missed the message, or is determined to push back against the modern. Her 2011 concept album On The Brooklyn Road, which we featured back in July of 2011, raised the bar for personal and historical exploration on a grand scale, impressing us with its perfect balance of classic country covers, sepia-toned originals, and octogenarian interview clips. And her ongoing work with guitarist Jim Nunally and others channelling the stories of soldiers with music “from the Revolutionary War to the present, interwoven with 250 years of letters, stories and poetry from Nell’s Alabama family,” offers an equally powerful experience, holistic and whole, unifying the soldier’s plight across time and space.
Now Nell and Jim return with a tribute to the garden, a lighter but no less substantive subject, and unsurprisingly, though short and sweet at 13 tracks and 33 minutes, the duo project is no less comprehensive, from its plant-and-grow seed packet CD inserts to the breadth of darkness and light channelled through the sheer joys of warm sun and wind and rain, and the metaphors of dirty hands and growth, homestead and harvest. Their voices blend like old friends on a backporch, with fingerpicking that dances and an old-timey twang that invites a smile, and shades of everyone from to Kate Wolf and Patsy Cline to The Louvin Brothers and Bill Monroe himself in the echoes that linger. And to our joy, in among the originals on House & Garden, the pair channels Dolly Parton and George Jones with such grace and gentle gravity, the old songs fitting in snugly like well-curated heirloom varietals among the new blooms and the tall, cool grasses. A bounty indeed.
- Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally: Old Old House (orig. George Jones)
- Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally: My Blue Tears (orig. Dolly Parton)
(from House & Garden, 2013)
Back in the New England scene, Boston-based band Joy Kills Sorrow – one of our favorite stringfolk bands here at Cover Lay Down, helmed by Berklee grad Emma Beaton, one of our favorite folk voices, and with new members with some serious chops on acoustic guitar and stand-up bass since we last mentioned them here – releases a grand teaser of a Postal Service cover this week as a possible leading indicator of a shift in sensibilities towards an even more raucous Americana sound on their upcoming EP Wide Awake, due to drop June 4 on preeminent local label Signature Sounds. As I noted on our Facebook page late last week, I tried taping a live version of this high-energy acoustic stringband take on Such Great Heights last summer at a bluegrass fest, and failed due to crowd noise. Happily, the newly-released version is perfectly clear and crisp, a bouncy early promise of summer delight sure to thrill fans of Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. Can’t wait to hear the whole EP!
Carolina Coverfolk, Volume 6: James Taylor covers Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Louvin Brothers & more!April 21st, 2013 — 08:41 pm
As in past years, I’m a bit woozy today after yesterday’s all-day drive up the East Coast from North Carolina. My head still swims with the sights of barbecue joints and crabcake stands, and roadside shacks where one can get smoked ham and sausages, local peanuts, and fireworks to celebrate it all.
But it’s good to be home, where the daffodils are in full blown bloom, even if the lawn still struggles against the moss and hemlock. The American South is a wonderful place to visit; I like seeing the world, and though I’ve been to more countries than states, the diversity of the US pleases me. But the beach-to-woods geography and seasonal shifts of the American Northeast feel right, somehow. With a few tiny stints out of bounds, I’ve been a Massachusetts-based New Englander all my life, and I expect to be one for the remainder of it.
James Taylor likes Massachusetts, too. And by the time I wrote the original feature below in 2008, I’d already been promising myself a feature post on good ol’ JT for ages. What better way to celebrate our triumphant return from a week in the Carolinas than with a resurrected 20-song megapost on the coversongs of this incredible singer-songwriter plus a 10-track Single Song Sunday bonus set of You Can Close Your Eyes – my favorite James Taylor composition? And so, ladies and gentlemen: James Taylor, Massachusetts resident and one-time North Carolina transplant.
Born in Boston, James Taylor spent his adolescence in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where his father was Dean of the UNC School of Medicine. But the family retained strong ties to Massachusetts, summering in Martha’s Vineyard; James attended boarding school at Milton Academy, and when he struggled with depression in his early adulthood, he headed for McLean’s Hospital, a stately suburban instititution just outside of Boston where I remember visiting one of my own friends in the last year of high school.
Though he has since lived in California and London, and though his signature voice retains the barest hint of southern twang under that clear-as-a-bell blueblood bostonian accent, like me, Taylor has always returned to the Massachusetts he loves. Today, he lives about thirty miles west of here, in the Berkshires, just on the other side of the Adirondack ridge. And he retains strong ties to his beloved Martha’s Vineyard, performing there each summer, sometimes with Ben and Sally, his children by ex-wife Carly Simon, who is also a Vineyard resident.
Beyond our shared love of the beaches and woods of Massachusetts, there’s something immutably local and authentic about my experience with James Taylor. My childhood understanding of and familiarity with folk music as a genre and a recorded phenomenon was primarily driven by a strong record collection at home, but my experience of acoustic music as folk – as something singable and sharable and communal – was peppered with young camp counselors who had learned their guitar licks from the radioplay of the day. For me, Fire and Rain will always be a song for campfire singalongs, one which helps me come to terms with the bittersweet and constant state of being both in good company and away from home.
Too, James Taylor was my first concert, and you never forget your first. I remember lying on the summer grass at Great Woods (now the Tweeter Center), looking up at the stars and letting the wave of Fire and Rain wash over me. I remember peering at the stage and recognizing the way James smiled at us, at bass player Leland Sklar, at the song itself as a kind of genuine communion, one which flavored the performance with something valid and universal.
Because of that night, and the organic songs-first-performance-afterwards way I came to it, James Taylor, for me, is the standard by which I measure the authenticity of folk performance. That so many shows have not met that standard since then is a tribute to both Taylor’s gentle nature, and his way with song and performance.
James Taylor’s voice is unmistakable, almost too sweet for some, and he doesn’t fit my every mood. His loose, white-man’s-blues guitar playing is better than most people give him credit for, but it is often downplayed in his produced work. But in the back of my mind his songs are a particular form of homecoming, one intimately tied to summer song and simple times outside of the world as we usually live it. And when I sing Sweet Baby James or You Can Close Your Eyes to my children at night, there’s a part of me that’s back on that summer lawn, letting the music reach a part of me that cannot speak for itself.
We’ll have a few choice covers of Taylor’s most popular in the bonus section of today’s megapost. But first, here’s a few of the many songs which Taylor has remade in his own gentle way over the years: doo-wop standards, sweet nighttime paeans and lullabies, hopeful protest songs, and others.
Though James Taylor does have his pop side, this isn’t it. You’ve heard ‘em before, so I’ve skipped the covers which Taylor has made his own through radioplay over the years — including Carole King’s Up On The Roof and Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) — though I did keep a live version of Handy Man in the mix, and thought it worth trying the newer version of You’ve Got A Friend from Taylor’s stripped-down favorites recording One Man Band. I’ve also skipped his lite pianojazz ballad version of How I Know You, from the Aida soundtrack, and the vast bulk of his two recent saccharine-sweet covers albums: it’s not folk, and it’s not my thing.
Instead, by presenting a selection of Taylor’s rarer and lesser-known coversong all at once, it is my hope that the diversity of the source material here allows even the most jaded of us to come to what is too-often dismissed as Adult Contemporary pablum with new ears, attuned to more subtle differences of tone and undertone — to explore and even collapse the distance between bittersweet and tender, longing and acceptance, home and homesickness, which continues to make James Taylor worth listening to, and celebrating.
- James Taylor: A Change is Gonna Come (orig. Sam Cooke)
(performed on The West Wing, 2004)
- James Taylor: In My Life (orig. The Beatles)
(live on the BBC, 2010)
- James Taylor: Wasn’t That A Mighty Storm (trad.)
(live in New York, 2012)
- James Taylor: Walkin’ My Baby Back Home (Turk/Ahlert)
(from Hourglass, 1999)
- James Taylor: Second Star To The Right (orig. Disney)
(from Stay Awake: Interpretations of Music from Disney Films, 1988)
- James Taylor: You’ve Got A Friend (orig. Carole King)
(from One Man Band, 2007)
- James Taylor: Suzanne (orig. Leonard Cohen)
(from Covers, 2008)
- James Taylor: She Thinks I Still Care (orig. Dickey Lee; pop. George Jones)
- James Taylor: Handy Man (orig. Sparks of Rhythm)
(from (Live), 1993)
- James Taylor: Oh, Susannah (trad.)
(from Sweet Baby James, 1970)
- James Taylor: Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha (orig. Sam Cooke)
(from New Moon Shine, 1991)
- James Taylor: Greensleeves (trad.)
- James Taylor: On Broadway (orig. The Drifters)
(live from the Oakland Colliseum, 1972)
- James Taylor: The Water Is Wide (trad.)
(unknown live source)
- James & Kate Taylor: Auld Lang Syne (trad.)
(from a CD single, 1999)
- James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Graham Nash: The Times They Are A-Changin’ (orig. Bob Dylan)
(live from No Nukes: The Muse Concerts For a Non-Nuclear Future, 1979)
- James Taylor, Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor: Hard Times Come Again No More (orig. Stephen Foster)
(from Appalachian Journey, 2000)
- James Taylor, Mark O’Connor et al.: Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier (trad.)
(from Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology, 2001)
- Mark O’Connor & James Taylor: Old Blue (trad.)
(from An Appalachian Christmas, 2011)
- James Taylor & Allison Krauss: How’s The World Treating You (orig. Louvin Brothers)
(from Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers, 2003)
James Taylor’s works are mainstream, and distributed as such; his website sends us to amazon.com for purchase. As here at Cover Lay Down we prefer to avoid supporting the corporate middleman in favor of direct artist and label benefit, we recommend that those looking to pursue the songwriting and sound of James Taylor head out to their local record shop for purchase.
Not sure where to begin? Anything released between 1968 and 1974 provides the best introduction to JT’s core sound; I promise it’s folkier than you remember. Jaded folkies who stopped listening a while back might take a second look at Taylor’s 1977 release JT, or albums from the late eighties and nineties such as Never Die Young, New Moon Shine or Hourglass, which stand on their own as well-produced contemporary folk. 2007 DVD release One Man Band, Taylor’s return to a sparser acoustic sound, is an anomaly in the midst of an otherwise-AAA pop-trending career. And coverlovers who do embrace his smoother side are advised – with caveats – to at least consider his two post-millennial covers albums.
As for bonus tracks: for years, I’ve been saving the bulk of my collection of covers of James Taylor originals for a future Folk Family Feature on the Taylor family – including James, brother Livingston, sister Kate, son Ben, daughter Sally, and Ben and Sally’s mother Carly Simon. But I’ve been leaking them slowly and surely as time goes on, and the floodgates are open today. So here’s a full Single Song Sunday-sized set of covers of my favorite lullaby, from Mark Erelli’s tender bedtime crooning to William Fitzsimmons’ fragile indiefolk to a young and drunken Bonnie Raitt’s live heartbreaker. Download the zip file here, or pick and choose below.
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