Search results for ‘dylan’
To be a public school teacher in the new millennium is to be under constant scrutiny, both as a self-critic and from outside. Though the true outcomes of great teaching are essentially unmeasurable, new state-mandated evaluations pick at the edges of sheer competency and compliance by attempting to measure that which can be collected or seen.
The result is a doubling-down of stress and time, with so many hours per day given over to documentation and meetings that our time planning for and delivering instruction becomes threatened. Gone, it seems, is the teachable moment; gone, too, is the depth that brings love and true understanding: if a lesson cannot stand on its own, look like it was supposed to on paper, and correspond directly to at least one question on the state-written test that follows, the black mark will haunt forevermore.
In response, teachers are leaving the profession in droves: hardly a week goes by without yet another teacher’s early retirement condemnation going viral. In my own school, almost a fifth of our faculty has disappeared for warmer, more friendly climates since the school year began. The rest of us live in constant fear, frayed at the edges and cut to the core: too overwhelmed to do anything well, and constantly concerned that we have missed something that might make or break our careers.
But I am young enough to think I am invincible, or at least, unwilling to go without a fight. And so, despite my insistence that excellence should be evident in any moment, I found myself overthinking this Wednesday’s planned observation. And because I am ever the iconoclast, at my best on the edge, I planned something fun, if risky: a lesson on how poets use questions to call attention to the limitations of understanding, starting with Shakespeare’s Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day, and concluding with an activity analyzing Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred.
For students who have failed, and are failing. Who come to school sometimes, entering two thirds of the way into class with a swagger and a yell that distracts and disrupts, or stay home because it is too cold, or they missed the bus again. Who have been sullen, and distracted. Who have watched a score of of their classmates drop out, or just stop coming, until we hardy few – the three or four or six who show up most days – find ourselves leaning over a common table, pulling out our hair, putting away the phones over and over again, dancing around the truth as the hourglass sand threatens to drown us all.
I talk a good game in the hallways about how the new evaluation tool we use in my district: about how the tool is sound, but an inconsistent and aggressively biased application of it is a major focal point of the terror and frustration we feel as teachers. But it is also true that the threat of observation can prompt a healthy, deliberate attention to detail and self-reflection, a sort of critical, vocational soul searching which, when it works, can push us to be our best. It is a social scientist’s Heisenberg principle, in which the act of being observed changes the subject, using pressure to turn coal into diamond.
Over the last week, as I began to pay more precise attention to my practice in the class, and as our population has finally become stable, there was a change in the air. Sure, the kids and I still fought to stay on task, an activity more like wrangling cats than truly teaching. But they started asking questions in ways that reveal minds turning over, about my relationship to poetry, and about the poems themselves. And the shift towards poems that share their language and cultural lineage – of Pablo Neruda, and Martin Espada – seemed to prompt the beginnings of ownership, as if knowing that poets spoke their languages, too, was a key to the magic that evaluation tools call “student-centered learning”.
And when it works, it really works.
Yesterday, the stars aligned.
Four students showed up on time, or close to it, and to begin with, became poets, finding distinction in writing and sharing our own little poems, before moving on to the small set of poems I had chosen for their question marks and little else, making for a treasure hunt for tone and literal meaning that was more engaging than usual.
Two more arrived, and their timing was perfect, for once – in transition between idea and poem exemplar, so that they could find themselves quickly. They read poems proudly, and found brave comfort in their ability to make metaphor come alive, vivid in their heads.
And then, the six of them found recognition in critical analysis of Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred. They remembered that Hughes was plainspoken, and frustrated with racial identity in 1930s Harlem, and looked for that meaning in the similes of the poem; they embraced the ambiguity of figurative language, and thought about dreams, and raisins dying black in the sun.
And the poem came alive for them, unlocking its secrets. And they said so, and smiled, and showed us, me and the administrators lurking in the background, that they could articulate – haltingly at first, and then with more confidence – how, and why, and where.
And the bell rang. And I thanked them, and collected their work.
And sat, stunned, while the administrators slipped out, and my next class came in, catcalling and chaotic, ready to learn.
And then, afterwards, the one who sometimes comes, and cannot focus, and uses his big unassuming grin to avoid learning, found me in the hallway during lunch, and proudly showed me the thick book of Countee Cullen poems he had found in the library, and asked if I could give him a note to get back in to find more.
And later, he brought his friend, the Latino boxer, the one who refused to put pen to paper from September to December, and sat with his arms crossed or on his phone, and spun in his chair, defiant, though he knew how to see the meaning behind the words better than anyone in the class. And he said Mister, the library doesn’t have that Neruda book you talked about last week, but they did have this other one, and it’s really cool, it’s got the spanish on one side and the english on the other, and I promised I would find him more.
Your kids really understand poetry, said my evaluator when I passed her in the hallway at the end of the day.
And in my heart, I became the teacher I always wanted to be.
Now it is Thursday, a snow day. I sit on the porch in the cold and think about poetry, and words; the way literature can bring us together, and the way it can kindle the heart. Because I could not stand it, I stopped teaching from fear, and started teaching from love. In response, my 6 little irregulars finally discovered what literature is for, and why it is so much a part of being alive. And though we will need to work to keep them in this place of love, I think – for one shining hour – it made them students, in the true sense of the word, pleased to question, and find answers, and pleased, too, with their ability to do so.
As always, steeping too long in work has left me in too deep to move on quickly. My head swims still with questions, because of how deeply we considered them in our poems and analyses, because we were able to come to the higher order ones together. And I find myself pondering the world, and my place in it, after a day where everything went right, in a place where for so long I have been neither free nor safe.
And so we turn to the question as theme. And why not? As a rhetorical device, the question is broad, both in expression and purpose: it can show us ambiguity, or reveal depth and detail; it can call attention to mystery or meaning; it can reverse, or reinforce, even as it closes the gap between author and text.
And as it is in poetry, so is it in song. The selections we present below in this weekend’s coverfolk mix run the gamut from the rhetorical to the genuinely curious, from plaintive to pensive, from reflective to redirective. But all empower the listener to seek answers that may not always be clear, or even present. All offer new insights and understanding, that we may be who we are, at our best, by knowing the world. All remind us that questions are nothing to fear, but something to embrace, a natural consequence of being alive, and engaged.
May wonders never cease.
- 20 QUESTIONS: A COVERFOLK MIX [zip!]
- Kate Rusby: Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (orig. Sandy Denny) 
- The Pines: What Good Am I? (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Trampled By Turtles: Where Is My Mind? (orig. The Pixies) 
- Ron Sexsmith: Where Is My Everything? (orig. Nick Lowe) 
- Red Molly: Why Should I Cry? (orig. Mark Erelli) 
- Thomasina: How Can I Keep From Singing? (trad.) 
- Charlie Parr: Who Will Deliver Poor Me? (trad.) 
- Martin Simpson: Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (trad.) 
- Pat Wictor: What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? (trad.) 
- Billie Joe + Norah: Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet? (trad.) 
- Sarah Harmer: Will He Be Waiting For Me? (orig. Dolly Parton) 
- Natalie Merchant: Which Side Are You On? (orig. Florence Reese) 
- Crooked Still: Baby, What’s Wrong With You? (orig. Mississippi John Hurt) 
- Juju Stulbach: Have You Ever Seen The Rain? (orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival) 
- Van Walker & Liz Stringer: Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For? (orig. Nick Cave) 
- Shovels & Rope: (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding? (orig. Brinsley Schwarz) 
- The Wrights: Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning? (orig. Alan Jackson) 
- The Bird And The Bee: How Deep Is Your Love? (orig. Bee Gees) 
- Ben Taylor: How Can I Tell You? (orig. Cat Stevens) 
- Eliza Gilkyson: Is It Like Today? (orig. World Party) 
The passing last week of seminal folk revivalist, labor organizer, five-string banjo master, and champion-of-community Pete Seeger hit the folk community hard, and no wonder: though the 94 year old legend had been in failing health for a while, I think some of us just felt like Seeger would be here forever, the last scion of an ethnomusical era marching ever onward in the name of change and children.
But even as we watched grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger become his constant companion and voice over the last few fragile years of Pete’s life, we knew: Seeger’s voice will never truly die. Children of several generations, from my own to my mother, who once used Seeger’s songs as a vehicle for planting the seeds of peace and justice in both myself and in the inner city classrooms of New York City, recognize Pete’s songs, and his long-standing contribution to social, environmental, and political change though the act of singing them loud and proud. And we will sing them for a long, long time, and some of the time – maybe even most of the time – we won’t be thinking about him, but each other, just as Seeger would have wanted it to be.
And you know all this, I think. Or you wouldn’t be here.
Pete Seeger’s impact on the modern folk canon is inherent, and deeply ingrained; there is something so obvious about his legacy that it seems almost redundant to go into it on the page. And it’s hard to imagine anyone genuinely untouched by the compassionate, tireless work in the name of human dignity, empowerment, and awareness which Seeger considered his life’s work through sixty years as a recording artist and activist. Yet one trope, I think, bears note here regardless – one which befits a cover blog who aims to explore the nexuses in song which fuel folk itself. For although he has been justly feted for his politics and song on the web in the days since his passing, Seeger’s practice of the folkways became a prototype for the folk revival that followed, and continues to spread today.
The son of an ethnomusicologist and a true believer in folk as a mechanism for tying past to future, perhaps more than any artist in history, Seeger lived folk song as if it truly did belong to the community for which it speaks. And although this practice was occasionally dismissed as a form of cultural disrespect, it is this, as much as his songs, which may well prove to be the longest lasting of his influence.
Though many songs list his name as whole or partial composer and arranger, and though his sense of singability and play were unparalleled in the history of modern social justice song, like Dylan after him, Seeger didn’t so much write and perform many of his most popular songs as he did translate them for his times. Several of his best known, from Wimowe to Turn, Turn Turn to We Shall Overcome, were created from existing hymns and folk melodies from around the world, found fragments shaped towards sociopolitical aims and sing-along user-friendliness by an earnest master. And as others have taken on the songs Seeger passed forward, versions drift, as well, with new verses added and new words sung, in the spirit of communal ownership that the statesman of folk-as-justice so exemplified.
Those who have suggested that Seeger was a theft of song from the third world cultures and underclasses he so loved both unfairly denigrate a man who loved all people and, simultaneously, miss the point of how the folk tradition truly works at its most powerful and honest. And if losing Seeger hurts so much, it is because his may well have been the most powerful, honest voice that so many of us will ever have the pleasure to meet, and love, and sing with.
Paying tribute to Seeger’s songbook, then, requires covering love – specifically, that broad sense of version ownership much like that of the oral tradition, which pays tribute to the teacher while acknowledging the timeless cultural history behind the songs. Instead of trying to parse the margins of copyright and origination, then, here’s a set of personal favorites with a much simpler organizing principle: songs which other folk artists of a certain political bent learned from or associate with Pete Seeger himself, regardless of authorship, and recorded in deliberate tribute to this long-standing folk icon.
REMEMBERING PETE SEEGER [download here!]
- The Mammals: Quite Early Morning 
- Bruce Cockburn: Turn, Turn, Turn 
- Richard Shindell: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy 
- Ani DiFranco: Which Side Are You On 
- Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion: Dr. King 
- Elizabeth Mitchell: Little Bird, Little Bird 
- Tish Hinojosa: Festival Of Flowers 
- Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Little Boxes (Petites Boites) 
- Eric Bibb: Michael Row the Boat Ashore 
- Pat Flynn: If I Had A Hammer 
- Tony Trischka & Jennifer Kimball: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring 
- Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon: Living In The Country 
- Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine 
- Billy Bragg & Eliza Carthy: My Father’s Mansions 
- Indigo Girls: Letter to Eve 
- Folk Family Robinson: Reuben James 
- Joan Baez: Sagt Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind? 
- Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Lion Sleeps Tonight 
- Luka Bloom: The Water Is Wide 
- Bruce Springsteen: Pay Me My Money Down 
- Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert: Precious Friend 
Looking for more great Pete Seeger coverage? There are some great tributes out there, most notably the three sets which the activist-founded, socially conscious folklabel Appleseed Recordings has released in a scant decade of existence. Each is represented in the set list above, but I’m especially enamored of double-disc first release Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs Of Pete Seeger, which in addition to Bruce Cockburn, Indigo Girls, Tish Hinojosa, and Billy Bragg, includes a veritable who’s who of big-name inheritors of the activist folkmantle, from Springsteen to Richie Havens to Odetta. Head over for Seeger catalog gems, coverage, and great albums from other folksingers carrying the torch into the 21st century!
New Artists, Old Songs: from indiefolk to bluegrass
January 25th, 2014 — 02:36 pm
with Stampede Road, Mountain Man, AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss & more!
I’ve been too deep in the songs up in my head these past weeks, trying to call up old fragments and refrains in memory while sitting in silence marred only by the whirring pellet stove and the faint and constant ring of tinnitus. But this is a practice that is wholly the wrong way ’round: music is meant to be heard and sung, not merely echoed in the brain; we are shamed at the realization, and determined to make amends.
And so we pursue a corrective action: a dig into the mailbag, the artist blogs and facebook pages, and the various components of the digital rumor mill to celebrate the emergent coverfolk of folk, roots, and Americana artists both known and new with a New Artists, Old Songs feature today, and the promise of news to come of recordings and releases from other, more familiar voices as winter marches ever onward.
Read on for covers of Dylan, the Dead, Low Anthem, John Denver, Blondie, Traffic, tradfolk and more from new artists Stampede Road, Mountain Man, The Tuttles with AJ Lee, Brandi Ediss, and Holy Moly and the Crackers. May your ears, too, take pleasure in the new sounds, even as we cherish those in our hearts and heads.
All I know about Edinburgh-based folk band Stampede Road is what they sent me, which wasn’t much: a pair of streaming split singles on Bandcamp, and nary a website to be found. But the lo-fi session cover of The Low Anthem’s OMGCD that accompanied the missive from this newly formed quartet led by singer songwriter Graeme Duncan is beautifully raw, intimate, timeless and weary. And following the threads to more produced tracks White Rooms, Night Terrors, and brand new 2014 single Old Town, recently featured on Largehearted Boy and Captains Dead, reveals a shimmery overlay of reverb and harmony that adds richness and flavor in the studio, making for a dreamy, delicate Appalachian-flavored folkpop with just enough originality and quirkiness to suit the indie ear.
Fans of First Aid Kit and labelmates Deer Tick and Dolorean will love this recent John Denver cover from all-girl indie group Mountain Man, with its layered voices and gentle, melodic acoustic guitar. All of us love that Mountain Man, a trio of young twenty-something singer-songwriters who met at Bennington College, and were essentially dormant in the last few years after touring around 2010 debut Made the Harbour, appear to be back on the radar for more precious, precocious quietfolk in the months and years to come, both as a band, and with solo and side projects from members Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath, who continue to share news of recordings and shows with Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun, Feist, and other well known names from the indie community on the Mountain Man Facebook page. Here’s hoping for more as the year goes on.
Skafolk isn’t a thing, but if it were, first in line for kudos and Grammy nominations this season would surely be Newcastle based band Holy Moly and the Crackers, who add celtic fiddle flavor and a Jamaican beat for a brooding cover of tradtune Ain’t No Grave to close out their upcoming three-track EP Lilly, a “re-imagining” of three traditional folk/blues songs that evokes eras of whiskey and guns on modern punk folk steroids. The band, who play “a lively, moonshine mix of Romani, Americana and contemporary British ‘folk’n’roll’”, claim broad influence from the likes of Woody Guthrie, Gogol Bordello, and Laura Marling; others hear The Pogues, Billy Bragg, and The Waterboys, too, and you can hear it all here, in some great live covers and originals on YouTube, and in full album First Avenue, which can be purchased directly from the band on their website.
- Holy Moly and the Crackers: Mississippi Moonlight (orig. Buffalo Skinners)
- Holy Moly and the Crackers: Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie (orig. Bob Dylan/trad.)
- Holy Moly and the Crackers: Cocaine (trad.)
This year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival is just around the corner, putting us in mind of mandolins and stand up bass, and creating a context which leaves us especially happy to have found The Tuttles with AJ Lee; we’ve a long history of championing young tradfolk and bluegrass artists here at Cover Lay Down, and these kids have been wowing the bluegrass circuit and beyond, garnering ovations and awards since their formation in 2008. Both band and co-lead vocalist Lee are up for “Best of” awards at the Northern California Bluegrass Awards tonight, where bandfather Jack Tuttle, who teaches bluegrass and old-time instruments of all types, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his well-respected work, including his guidance and leadership of this current lineup. But the kids are the true driving force here: stunning singer-songwriter and picker Molly Tuttle, whose trio will appear on the Joe Val sidestage, is finishing up her last semester at Berklee this year; younger brothers Sullivan and Michael demonstrate chops and agility beyond their years; sweet yet hearty-voiced mandolin player AJ Lee, who is still finishing high school and trends towards Grateful Dead covers on tour, has been aptly compared to Alison Krauss or Sarah Jarosz, both of whom, we should remember, got their start as early. Listen, and we think you’ll hear the magic, too.
- The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Ripple (orig. Grateful Dead)
- The Tuttles with AJ Lee: Sugar Moon (orig. Bob Willis)
- AJ Lee: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (orig. Bob Dylan)
Finally, thanks to the ever-discerning Mary Lou Lord, who has a knack for finding and touting the best new voices, for passing along coverage from Brandi Ediss, an alto on the knife-edge of alternative pop and singer-songwriter folk who sweetly interprets beloved songs into a mellow-tinged wash of sound and riotous video effects on a weekly basis. The finished results, produced at home with digital tools or in collaboration with facebook friends from afar, sound like a band and a half, with a warm, decidedly retro california tone and luscious, sighing vocal layers sure to delight; download a bunch over at Bandcamp, and subscribe to her YouTube page for more originals and coverage in the same sweet vein.
- Brandi Ediss: Love Is Making Its Way Back Home (orig. Josh Ritter)
- Brandi Ediss: Dear Mr. Fantasy (orig. Traffic)
- Brandi Ediss: Kodachrome (orig. Paul Simon)
- Brandi Ediss: Call Me (orig. Blondie)
- Brandi Ediss: I Wish I Was The Moon (orig. Neko Case)
Looking for more streaming coverfolk throughout the week? Join the Cover Lay Down facebook page, where we’ve recently posted new coverage from YouTube stars Kina Grannis, Daniela Andrade, and Kiersten Holine!
The Working Life: Employment songs, covered in folk
January 11th, 2014 — 03:23 pm
by Slaid Cleaves, Joshua James, Gillian Welch, Todd Snider & 16 more!
Re-entry into the working life is always tough after the holiday break, but this year has been a bit harder than most. The school where I work is struggling more than ever, trying to implement new methods and structures on the fly after being labeled failing by the state. The trickle-down effects of stress and sheer substance can make teaching less the usual tightrope, and more of a juggling act with too many balls in the air, where each choice made to serve one mandate means taking time and energy away from another, until terror becomes normative. And the turn-around time is incredible, with strategies taught to teachers in a professional development session this past Wednesday being observed in classes on Monday, even as we prepare students for district-written midterm exams received only Tuesday, and due midweek, that contain concepts and vocabulary no one knew to teach until we saw the tests themselves.
As I have said here before, I love my chosen career; love the students, and the noble struggle of reaching them; love the satisfaction of a curriculum well constructed, and those moments where teacher and students are in the zone, and epiphanies are made. But I love my family, too. And the drag that this year is putting on my best self outside the classroom is all the more apparent after two weeks on and off the road with them, with its constant reminder of how much love there is when we have each other to cherish.
Some songs about work, then, to mourn and maintain the necessity, and acknowledge the way it tears at the spirit to leave home in the darkness every day, and come home in another darkness, too late and too tired to give our best to ourselves and our families. Many are scavenged from a similar set originally posted in August of 2008, designed as a soundtrack for the job search that led me to this inner city school in the first place, but it seems fitting to uncover them, and share them anew, even as we add to their grace and gravity. For no matter how lucky we are to do what we love, there are always times when the weariness gets to us, and all we can do is sing.
- The Working Life: A Coverfolk Mix
- Jones Street Station: Tall Buildings (orig. John Hartford) 
- Slaid Cleaves: Working Stiff (orig. Melvyrn Taylor) 
- Richie Havens: Working Class Hero (orig. John Lennon) 
- Lavinia Ross: Millworker (orig. James Taylor) 
- Melissa McClelland: Factory (orig. Bruce Springsteen) 
- PoZitive Orchestra: Money For Nothing (orig. Dire Straits) 
- Ephemera: Manic Monday (orig. Prince/The Bangles) 
- The Notting Hillbillies: Railroad Worksong (trad.) 
- Joshua James: Custom Concern (orig. Modest Mouse) 
- Alison Krauss: 9 to 5 (orig. Dolly Parton) 
- Leslie King: Money (orig. Pink Floyd) 
- Tim O’Brien: Maggie’s Farm (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Pamela Means: Maggie’s Farm (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Gillian Welch: In Tall Buildings (orig. John Hartford) 
- Jeb Loy Nichols: Worried Man (orig. Johnny Cash) 
- Brett Ratliff: Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (trad.) 
- Bruce Springsteen: Pay Me My Money Down (trad.) 
- David Lindley & Wally Ingram: Do You Want My Job? (orig. John Hiatt) 
- Peter Case: A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today (orig. Merle Haggard) 
- Todd Snider: I Makes Money (Money Don’t Make Me) (orig. Jerry Jeff Walker) 
Cover Lay Down spreads the gospel of folk through coversong thanks to donors like you. As always, if you like what you hear here, please consider purchasing music from the artists we feature. After all, if it weren’t for our patronage, the music makers would be out of a job, too.
There’s a special place in my heart for Nanci Griffith‘s 1993 covers album Other Voices, Other Rooms, a Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Folk Album which came out just as I was rediscovering my own love of folk music and coverage. Indeed, the album has long been a staple of my collection, well-worn for its tender, sweet song treatments of a veritable who’s who of folk artist who influenced a generation, from Gordon Lightfoot to Kate Wolf to Ralph McTell, and with bonus points for including some of the original songwriters, including Frank Christian, John Prine, and Bob Dylan, on session instruments and harmonies. And although Other Voices, Too, released five years later, wanders wider in its search for other influence, and perhaps shows some of the strain of Griffith’s intervening years as a cancer patient, it, too, contains gems worth repeating, including a gorgeous take on Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes.
A number of Nanci Griffith’s hits have been covers: for example, although many know it as a Bette Midler song, her performance of Julie Gold’s From A Distance was decidedly definitive. But although she is well known for her interpretations of other people’s songs, Griffith is a potent singer-songwriter in her own right, too, with 35 years on the circuit and a pedigree that includes an affiliation with the 80s Fast Folk movement and a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association. Beloved on both sides of the country and folk line for her poignant portrayals of universal longing, loss, isolation, and small-town life in a big-city world, her albums were staples of my father’s collection, as well. And although some of her work swings a bit country for my taste, Griffith’s bright, little-girl voice brings a tenderness to her own compositions that makes it easy to hear why she is so revered by her peers.
Unsurprisingly, Griffith’s songbook is relatively well covered by those who, like her, have played the country and folk sides of a perforated line. Her songs have been hits for Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss; last year saw the emergence of Trouble In The Fields, a long-overdue tribute album released with little fanfare featuring the likes of Amy Rigby, John Stewart, Red Molly, Stacy Earle, long-time backing band The Kennedys, and more from a broad swath of the contemporary folk circuit; the album has several gems, and is solid throughout, though many interpretations hew close to the originals.
A deeper dig into the album cuts of a very big archive uncovers more coverage to love as well. And so, today, we present a mix of our own favorite Nanci Griffith covers, including a distinctively differentiated pair of early takes on Once In A Very Blue Moon, amazing recent interpretations from The Stray Birds and Red Molly, a Sarah Harmer rarity, a cut from Jonathan Edwards’ country album, a lullaby from Eliza Gilkyson, and more. Enjoy the set, plus a few favorite covers by Griffith herself, and then – if you haven’t heard them – pick up Griffith’s classic albums Once In A Very Blue Moon and The Last Of The True Believers, a pair considered by most critics to be the best introduction to her early work before she turned completely to “folkabilly” and Country music.
- Nanci Griffith: Comin’ Down In The Rain (orig. Buddy Mondlock)
- Nanci Griffith: From Clare To Here (orig. Ralph McTell) 
Looking for more coverfolk in your daily life? Check out the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for more streaming goodies throughout the week – including a brand new batch of coverfolk from Hurray For The Riff Raff, Juliana Hatfield, Teddy Thompson, Frontier Ruckus, The Chapin Sisters, Matt Nathanson and more in tribute to high harmonizer Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.
The Year’s Best Coverfolk, Vol. 2: The Singles (2013)
December 30th, 2013 — 11:11 am
(b-sides, deep cuts, & more one-shot coverage)
As we noted in Vol. 1 of our year’s best series, we eschew the hierarchical here at Cover Lay Down, preferring celebration to criticism. This is especially true of individual tracks – there’s so much good out there, we could spread the gospel every day, and never run out of moods or music.
Even in our own niche, at the intersection of coverage and folk – where every song is part of the folkways, and every one represents a search for new meaning and new emotion in songs heard sweetly – there is more than we can ever celebrate. But at the end of the year, there are a few songs so dear, so precious, so perfect, that we work to remember them always. And sometimes, rather than struggling to put into words just why a particular song hit us so powerfully, it is time to let the songs speak for themselves.
Music soothes the savage breast, and this year was more savage than most. The songs which we have saved and savored are a hodgepodge heavy with songs which saved us in our darkest hours, and those which spoke to and for our bruised and broken hearts, helping us remember that we were not alone even as we abandoned the blog for weeks on end. Here, too, are songs which brought us joy when we needed it most. And here, too, are the songs which amazed us, and those that simply brought the world to a standstill, stoping our hearts at their bold beauty.
Our annual Best Coverfolk Singles mixtape, then, from tradtunes to obscurities to folk, pop, rock, and country favorites: 36 covers in all, and every one sublime. It was, after all, a very good year for coverage.
The Year’s Best Singles: A 2013 Coverfolk Mix [zip!]
- Sarah Jarosz: Simple Twist Of Fate (orig. Bob Dylan) [via]
- Ruth Moody: Dancing In The Dark (orig. Bruce Springsteen) [via]
- Sleeping At Last: The Safety Dance (orig. Men Without Hats) [via]
- Okkervil River: The End Of The Innocence (orig. Don Henley) [via]
- Joy Kills Sorrow: Such Great Heights (orig. Postal Service) [via]
- Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers: As Tears Go By (orig. Rolling Stones) [via]
- The Honey Dewdrops: Across The Universe (orig. The Beatles) [via]
- Shannon Whitworth: So Far Away (orig. Dire Straits) [via]
- Betse Ellis: Straight To Hell (orig. The Clash) [via]
- Scott Cook: The Poet Game (orig. Greg Brown) [via]
- Emerald Rae: Sugar Baby (trad.) [via]
- The Wellspring: She Loves You (orig. The Beatles) [via]
- Allysen Callery: Long Black Veil (orig. Lefty Frizzel) [via]
- Pharis & Jason Romero: Truck Driver’s Blues (orig. Cliff Bruner) [via]
- Buffalo Tales: Diamonds (orig. Rhianna) [via]
- Denison Witmer: Asa (orig. Bry Webb) [via]
- Rachel Sermanni: I Want You Back (orig. Jackson 5) [via]
- Lucy Wainwright Roche: Call Your Girlfriend (orig. Robyn) [via]
- Thea Gilmore: White Winter Hymnal (orig. Fleet Foxes) [via]
- Red Tail Ring: My Heart’s Own Love (orig. Hazel Dickens) [via]
- Jeremy Squires: Rust Or Gold (orig. Jill Andrews) [via]
- Chris Denny: Bermuda Highway (orig. My Morning Jacket) [via]
- Marika Hackman: 81 (orig. Joanna Newsom) [via]
- Jones Street Station: Wayfaring Stranger (trad.) [via]
- Homesick Elephant: Waiting Room (orig. Fugazi) [via]
- Folly Rae: Tonight I’m Getting Over You (orig. Carly Rae Jepson) [via]
- Doc Feldman & the LD50: Battle Hymn (orig. Brothers Lazaroff) [via]
- Caitlin Rose: Pink Rabbits (orig. The National) [via]
- The Deadly Gentlemen: The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance (orig. Vampire Weekend) [via]
- Laura Cortese: Life Is Good Blues (orig. Laura Viers) [via]
- Arborea: Cherry Tree Carol (trad.) [via]
- Heidi Talbott: When The Roses Come Again (orig. A.P. Carter) [via]
- LP: Something (orig. The Beatles) [via]
- Bhi Bhiman: Walk Of Life (orig. Dire Straits) [via]
- Levi Weaver: The Weight Of Lies (orig. Avett Brothers) [via]
- The Crow Quill Night Owls: On The Road Again (trad.) [via]
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive and kicking.
And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special 26-track gift set of alternate favorites and rare 2013 covers otherwise unblogged. Click here to give.
The season is well upon us, and the snow is falling on the trees, making a white world of what was green and brown. After school, the wee one takes the sled out; though the scant inch or two that’s fallen is too soft for traction, she seems happy enough playing on the driveway. And I am happy, too: at the fire which warms our house, and the blankets which beckon beside it; at the freedom of an afternoon shut in by snow; at the happiness of children at play.
Like the snow – and like the fleeting calm that permeates its moments – holiday favorites tend to fall, stick for a week or two, and then melt away; though their ephemeral nature makes them precious, so, too, do the songs of every season fade too easily into the haze of memory, like Dylan’s blur of childhood Christmases in Wales. And yet just as one season’s gems hardly represent the total canon of any of the artists we feature, to spend one’s time going back and forth between the public pap of the radio dial and this year’s newest holiday soundtrack is to dwell on the popular and new – a trend which neither honors the stillnesses of the season nor the comfort of its rituals and traditions.
This week and next, our coverfolk advent calendar will feature a seasonal set of new artist EPs, and single-shot videos and streaming tracks to make the spirits bright; as always, we urge pursuit of all artists through and after the holidays, that the present might lead to support and fandom, the better to keep the fires of folk alight. For now, though, we’ve dug through the archives to bring you our Christmases past – a set of seasonal mixtapes from the secular to the sublime, and the silly to the sane, curated and shared here on the blog between 2008 and 2012. Enjoy the archives, and may the spirit of the season find you in good health and good humor.
- New Artists, Old Songs: A Holiday in My Inbox (New takes on Joni Mitchell’s River; Joel Rakes does Xmas Classics)
- Holiday Coverfolk, 2009: New Christmas Covers from Joel Rakes, Sam Phillips, Tori Amos, A Fine Frenzy, and more!
- Holiday Coverfolk 2010, Vol. 1: Christmas, (Re)Covered (New and newly-found holiday songs from familiar faces)
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Holiday Coverfolk 2010, Vol. 3 (Songs of holiday longing and loneliness)
- Secular Seasonals and Nonedenominational Carols: Snow Songs, Sleighrides, and More Folk Covers for a Winter’s Night
- Christmas Coverfolk, 2012: New Tracks from Old Friends
[individual tracks no longer available; download the mix here]
When we last checked in on Mary Lou Lord, she seemed to be on permanent hiatus following a 2005 diagnosis with a rare vocal cord affliction, though an appearance at SXSW the following year suggested she was still open to possibility. But the pixie-faced singer-songwriter who rose from the subways of Boston to indiegrunge fame through a combination of raw talent and close relationships with both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith has been on the move lately, co-founding Girls Rock Camp in Boston, embarking on a new kickstarter-driven album, hosting open mics, and playing alongside her talented teenaged daughter Annabelle in a recent live tribute to Elliott Smith alongside Rhett Miller, Chris Thile, Bob Dorough, and others that was featured in The New Yorker.
More generally, Lord’s Facebook feed is a daily dose of awesome, a delightful combination of raw human observation and the loving curation and celebration of a number of amazing musical legacies both past and present, from Joni Mitchell and Smith himself to mutual faves Elizabeth Mitchell, Haley Bonar, Teddy Thompson, and First Aid Kit. Though she is still recovering from a serious fall off a fire escape last month, that didn’t stop her from making major news in Stereogum after an “epic” Facebook response to Courtney Love’s terrible rendition of Big Star hit Thirteen wandered into a more general response to Love’s tendency to claim in public interviews that Lord snuck onto Kurt and Courtney’s porch to kill their cat – a thoughtful, emotional, coherent use of social media that only cemented our faith in the woman’s resilience, and made Courtney seem even more insane, as if such thing were possible.
As Lord noted at her recent live performance, she doesn’t perform much anymore, and a small but growing set of Soundcloud covers, including takes on Jason Molina, Dylan, and Richard Thompson, reveal an artist still struggling to vocalize, though the resulting strain has a rare intimacy, and reveals charm of its own. But if this is a comeback, we’re all for it. Read our original feature, check out our newly-expanded list of covers – including a stunning Lucinda Williams take from her newest album – and follow Mary Lou Lord on Facebook to keep up with the resurrecting career of a well-deserving superstar.
As far as I can tell, the only major distinction between modern folk and a certain sort of indie music seems to be how the artists choose to produce and use instruments on their songs. And though you won’t find this sort of fuzzed-out guitar on the other folkblogs, the way the modern singer-songwriter mentality seems to find voice in both indierock and folk fascinates me.
But production isn’t what makes folk, and even if it were, the distinction is often fluid. The small but growing cadre of indie artists who perform in both folk and alt-rock modes owe no small debt to a select group of artists — Evan Dando, Lou Barlow, Tanya Donelly, Jeff Tweedy, Ben Gibbard and others — who have, over the years, moved easily across the bridge between the two forms. But these artists, in turn, owe the very existence of that bridge to other, lesser-known forerunners, like Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston, who spent their entire careers building the bridge for them to cross.
As part of our ongoing exploration of this curious relationship, today we feature one underappreciated artist who is more often found among the indierock, but who has claimed folk credibility from the start: Mary Lou Lord, folksinger and cover artist.
I was a high school student in Boston during Mary Lou Lord’s busker days, and not an apt or diligent pupil; I often skipped class to head off down the T into Harvard Square with friends. Given our relative age, then, and her own preference for playing along the Red Line, I suppose I must have passed by Lord a couple of times. But back then, my ears were full of post-punk grunge, and she was just another streetcorner kid with an acoustic guitar, a ragged approach, and an innocent, little-girl voice. By the time she started recording alongside the best of the growing post-punk world, I had already moved on.
The heavy fuzz and feedback of much of her production puts the bulk of Mary Lou Lord’s recorded work squarely in line with early nineties alt-rock; if you’re looking for her in your local indie record store, you’ll find it alongside the pre-grunge of artists like The Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield. But like Beck, Lord has always had a folk heart, and worn it proudly. Though she’s famous for her catfights with Courtney Love, she toured and recorded with Elliott Smith, and opened for Cover Lay Down fave Shawn Colvin. By identifying herself with those artists and others, Lord categorizes herself as an artist straddling the bridge between singer-songwriter folk and the indie world.
The songs that Lord has chosen to cover over her two-decade career speak volumes about which artists she considers her musical peers and forefathers, and here, too, we find a curious connection with the folkworld. In and among the Magnetic Fields and Big Star covers, we find covers of Smith and Colvin, indiefolkie Daniel Johnston, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, and even oldschool pre-folkie Elizabeth Cotten. Clearly, this is a woman who listens to folk music on her own time, recognizes good songwriting regardless of original instrumentation, and takes them where she can find them.
Here’s a few of my favorite Mary Lou Lord coversongs which hit that spectrum, and then some. Most are solo acoustic, delicate and coy, but don’t be scared by the occasional guitarfuzz; this is, at heart, a form of folk. Heck, if feedback was all it took, Dylan wouldn’t be a folkie anymore, either.
- Mary Lou Lord: Jump (orig. Van Halen)
- Mary Lou Lord: Shake Sugaree (orig. Elizabeth Cotten)
- Mary Lou Lord: Speeding Motorcycle (orig. Daniel Johnston)
- Mary Lou Lord: Fearless (orig. Pink Floyd)
- Mary Lou Lord: Thirteen (orig. Big Star)
- Mary Lou Lord: Hard Road (orig. Lucinda Williams)
- Mary Lou Lord: I Don’t Want To Get Over You (orig. Magnetic Fields)
- Sara Radle w/ Mary Lou Lord: Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (orig. Ed Bruce) 
- Mary Lou Lord Soundcloud Covers [2012-2013]
It’s hard to link to the collected works of Mary Lou Lord; her recorded output remains scattered across several indie labels, some of them short-lived. But some of her back catalog is still available, and it’s chock full of folk covers.
Folk fans are probably best served by starting with the cover-heavy Live City Sounds, a hard-to-come-by acoustic album with several Richard Thompson covers which sounds like the streets where I once passed Mary Lou Lord in her busking days. Alt-punk label Kill Rock Stars also still carries a split bill EP and a couple of compilations.
Though her newest album seems not to have been released yet – she leaked the new Lucinda Williams track last year herself after it started getting play on media outlets – those looking for a more recent treasure trove would be well served to bookmark Mary Lou’s Soundcloud page, which has a growing mix of living room coverage and old found studio sound, including some mid-nineties tracks of her goofing around with Elliott Smith.
Bonus tracks? Sure – here’s a couple more Big Star coversongs in the same grungefolk vein. Dando’s cover is one of my favorite coversongs ever, hands down. And doesn’t Mary Lou Lord sound like a female version of Elliott Smith?
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!