(Re)covered: New Coverfolk from Old Friends
John Statz, The Watkins Family, Jeremy Squires & MUCH more!

What a month it’s been for coverfolk, with over a hundred newly-recorded live #coversfromhome posted on our Facebook page in just the last 30 days alone. Our cup runneth over, and we’re doing our part, hitting PayPal and Venmo links when we can to keep the music coming and the artists fed as the time of no touring continues; we hope you, too, are finding our daily shares fruitful and fulfilling, and doing your part to support the industry through sharing, commenting, and donating as you can.

But even as the inevitable trend towards live and lo-fi living room sets continues, so does the industry, in parallel. Artists shut into their homes are still releasing albums and other collections of studio-recorded music formally, even if they cannot tour to support their release. Paying for product, and passing it along, too, remains the very best way to support them. And with Bandcamp announcing that they will henceforth waive all profits on the first Friday of each month to support artists hit hard by the pandemic shift, there’s no better time than the present to purchase.

Today, then, we return to these virtual pages, to feature and celebrate the best studio recorded covers albums, tribute sets, and coverfolk singles that have crossed our ears since our last regular feature, way back in February. Read on for news of new releases from old friends and familiar voices – and as always, if you like what you hear, remember to do your part, as a patron and fan, to help keep the music, and the musicians, alive and thriving in a time of need.



We first featured Colorado singer-songwriter John Statz way back in 2012, and again several times afterwards, after a deep dive into his back catalog, subsequent release Tulsa, and a wonderful opening set for Jeffrey Foucault at Signature Sounds label-driven venue The Parlor Room up in Northampton revealed a few more great covers worth celebrating, and a tendency towards concrete comfort in both his songwriting and generally sparse, heartfelt performance that lingers long and serves the soul in equal measure. But nothing could have prepared us for the rich, resonant shift in sound that new album Early Riser, which drops Friday into an uncertain world, brings to the canon – and so we’re especially thrilled to be bringing forth an exclusive today, gifted by the artist himself, that typifies both his inimitable style and sensibility, and the mature cohesion of the album’s chosen production dynamic which supports it so well.

In short, Early Riser is a powerhouse: it should go far, if the new world of stay-at-home production can push it. Strong, well-calibrated arrangements and instrumentation – flush with Wurlitzer organ and pedal steel, steady drumbeats and high, distant trumpets, alto harmonies sweet and rich like an instrument up against Statz’ shaky head-voiced lyrics and lead – bring depth and balance, justifying the slow, treasured journey through verses and choruses hopeful and determined, straightforward and plainspoken, prescient as hell. Taken as a set, the album teeters on an unsettled edge of coming to terms with the world, with a stunning range and depth of emotion that collapses the lines between contemporary folk and bluesy country rock and true-blue soft Americana. And it aches with a poet’s soul as Statz struggles to simplify the world, and come to terms with the ways it challenges and holds us.

As with his previous recorded works, Early Riser includes a single cover. But where Frightened Rabbit’s Old Old Fashioned and Statz’ 2015 Radiohead waltz embedded themselves among the songwriting, offering tiny, simple comfort midway through solid sets, his take on Joni Mitchell’s Come In From The Cold is a coda steeped in longing, a long, slow build to nowhere just barely tenable at eight minutes, and deliberately so; a tease and a tension, just right for the age, and perfect for the album; a howl in the dark, leaving us safe and welcome in an unsettled world. The timing could not have been better, after all. Listen, and come in, too.




It’s been a long time since we last heard from self-taught North Carolina native Jeremy Squires here at Cover Lay Down: seven years, to be exact, since he released the delicate, softly melodic pair of lo-fi coversongs which capstone new release A Collection of Covers, which hit the streets just as they were closing down, back in mid-March. But happily, the newer tracks on the collection fit right in with the songs that brought us in to begin with, the hipster heart only that much more fulfilled by a short EP-length set of emptiness. Here you’ll find Nirvana, Jason Molina, Pedro The Lion, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and more turned haunting and hollow, raw and sultry, just out of reach in range and reason, stripped-down and steeped in an artist’s history of depression and seclusion. The fragile heart is revealed, and tenderly offered, in tinkling bells and stand-up box piano and slow strummed guitar. Devastation is wrestled from songs that once shouted anger to the world. Each melancholy movement is more precious than the last, and oh so tenderly treated – offering equal evidence of scars and healing, even as they comfort and chill, delight and differentiate.








Rachael Kilgour is a familiar voice here on Cover Lay Down, thanks to an achingly gorgeous set of solo albums that mine the depths of the torn-out soul, with themes of divorce and reconciliation and a longing for a simpler life, and an upcoming project featuring songs for her father, revealing truth and tenderness in the mining of the broken heart’s desire, and it’s need to be free. And so we were initially wary, to note that Sound an Echo, the new Rachael Kilgour duo project with fiddler Sara Pajunen, is a singer-songwriter’s tradfolk pairing, with a debut album And We’ll All Go Together short but rich with songs so carefully constructed and arranged, they hardly shift when performed live on screen from Kilgour’s foyer, as we’ve seen and shared on Facebook.

But if the songs of this new project originally come from a different, more distant heart, their performance belies how deeply that heart becomes intertwined in the right hands and voices. Paired with Pajunen, whose voice is equally strong in harmony, the singer-songwriter’s turn towards the tradition is personal as anything, and deeper than one might expect, voicing reclamation of the very heartbeat that is folk music. This set of traditional American folk songs could have been a throw-away, but it isn’t, thanks to sparse arrangements, harmonic interplay between fiddle and plaintive voice, and the innate hope, humility, and sweetness that touches everything Kilgour performs. Instead, in the duo’s hands and voices, the tradition sings itself anew. No higher compliment, nor fate, can we offer, beyond the performance itself.








We spotted Lauren O’Connell here last month, when Bandcamp’s first round of artist supportive give-backs drove her to record and release a tiny collection of Quarantine Covers; since then, she’s added several new tracks to the collection of songs recorded solo in her home in California, and her recent take on That Thing You Do is especially dear, an apt tribute to songwriter Adam Schlessinger of Fountains of Wayne, who wrote the Academy Award-nominated song for the film of the same name way back in 1996, and was, sadly, one of the first artists to pass from the coronavirus.

But if regular readers recognize the name and voice, it’s for good reason: O’Connell has been a constant companion here, with slight, spare interpretations of Neil Young, Iris Dement, David Rawlings, Randy Newman, Oh Death, and more featuring frequently in our mixtapes and songwriter features, most of them sourced back to her first covers album, released just before we moved the blog to its current home. And so the slow release of singles leading up to the eventual release of not one but TWO new covers albums, comprised of songs mostly unheard by all but a few, recorded exclusively for Patreon over the years but spiffed up a bit in the studio afterwards, is a joyous promise, indeed – as is the split between, with the first album coming in a bit more acoustic, and the second featuring a set of songs totally transformed into perfect hipster folkpop, and beautifully, achingly fleshed out in the studio, over the course of the year gone by. Take a listen to the two released so far – a lovely Jeff Tweedy number, and a take on popular Big Star cover tune Thirteen that adds much to the canon – and then either join her Patreon page to access the albums now, or wait in sufferance as the songs drop one at a time, every two weeks, on all the usual platforms, until the eventual release of both Covers II and Covers III.










One-time Nickel Creek cofounder Sean Watkins was here recently, too, thanks to a beautiful early 2020 release with neotradfolkers The Bee Eaters featured in our February (Re)Covered roundup, complete with covers of Warren Zevon and Paul Simon that rang in the head for days after we first played ’em. But Watkins has been busy this year, and new release brother sister – a partnership of sound and songs recorded with sister Sara of Grammy-winning trio I’m With Her – has its own quirky charm: sibling voices in diverse settings, from the sparse and almost unadorned to the boogie-woogie fiddle-and-kick of barnburning closer Keep It Clean, a Watkins Family Hour drawn close and intimate as its title. Here, a video version recorded at fave YouTube cover house stories recently – not on the album, but worth the Green Day vibe transcribed into smallfolk – joins our favorite album cover, another Zevon song, this one sweet and aching in its simplicity, every note a masterpiece.








Finally, news of a different kind of project: free recordings for the taking, all covers of the same song, prompted and curated by one-time teen sensation and current activist and community rabblerouser Janis Ian (yes, THAT Janis Ian) in the early stages of our communal separation. The song is new, and the mechanism as much her style as the song itself; both sheet music and songbook are offered openly, with an offer that those who record it will also share their interpretation on her own page. And happily, the song itself – appropriately titled Better Times Will Come – isn’t bad, nor inappropriate for this sort of thing: catchy, open to broad interpretation; inspirational, without being too twee or unrealistic.

When we first caught wind of Better Times Will Come, we assumed it would attract an older crowd – this is, after all, Janis Ian, whose fame was greatest decades ago, at seventeen, though her respect among her peers has only grown as she has come into her own on the folk circuit more recently, decades past the restrictions of industry and youth. But the breadth of song and coverage that is emerging as the project takes flight speaks to that broader, deeper respect within the community, both for Ian herself, and her way with words and melody. As such, the almost twenty and counting coversingers of the song shared on the webpage now include not only John Gorka, Christine Lavin, and Cliff Eberhardt with Louise Mosrey, but Natalia Zuckerman, Casey Dreissen, and even Frank Turner, in a surprisingly upbeat take complete with tambourine and a high energy base and guitar strum we could not, in good conscience, choose not to share here, as well. Listen, and then head over to the Better Times Will Come project page, to download them all.



Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been on the web since 2007, thanks to kind support from artists, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part: listen, and then follow links back to the sources we provide, to share your love with those who make this all happen. And though it should go without saying, as always, when you find what you love, please be a patron, too: buy the music, or the t-shirt, from artist-friendly sources like Bandcamp; donate to newly-formed artist support funds, join Patreons and Kickstarters, and follow Venmo and Paypal links to give back if you can, the better to keep the music flowing in these troubling times.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, John Statz, Nickel Creek, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Quarantine Interlude: #coversfromhome






Just a quick stop-in today, to let you know that we’ve been sharing live covers throughout the day on the Cover Lay Down Facebook page as we find them: living room and garden takes all, solo and without full bands for the most part, all created in the time of isolation and fear, each as beautiful as the single six-song sample found above.

Blues run the game among these #coversfromhome, for the most part – even the spate of tributes to John Prine and Bill Withers which joined the stream in the past few days have remained soft and sorrowful. But there’s joy here, too – joy in sharing, and helping keep artists afloat; in reaching out, and chatting with the crowd as the music flows by, in the livestreams. And by last count, we had posted over fifty videos in the past two weeks alone, from artists long beloved, and a few new finds, too, that give us renewed hope for the world in which we will emerge, when our chrysalis finally breaks, and we are free again.

Hope everyone’s okay with the fact that – for now at least – we’re skipping the true-blue blog entry, and favoring the short and ongoing burst that Facebook serves. It’s hard to partition time in a stay-at-home world. And as we’ve noted here previously, Facebook is proprietary, making it impossible for us to share the majority of these wonderful, intimate videos here, outside their native form.

So: click through for our Facebook page, and discover the aching, the angry, the tender and the true.

Loneliness and distance are their primary themes, for sure. But none of us are as alone as it feels.

Come join us, and see how rich the world of stay-at-home coverage can be.

2 comments » | Metablog

Covers From Home: Music In A Time Of Quarantine





It started last Thursday, with a short set from Kris Delmhorst’s living room; her concert at Club Passim that night had been cancelled at the very last minute, in reaction to concerns about contagion in close quarters, and so she turned to the airwaves for an online set, to benefit herself, the club, and the staff that would have worked there that night.

The results were a harbinger, and a blessing: a crowd much, much larger than Passim itself can hold, and an outpouring of donations – enough to support all involved, and enough to seed what is now, just one week later, a virtual “festival” of home YouTube recordings from dozens of artists, all in support of The Passim Emergency Artist Relief Fund – aka the PEAR fund, a model that has fast become a template for a holy host of new media attempts to keep the music flowing, and support artists, in a rapidly changing world of isolation and interconnectivity.

It’s ironic, in its way: we’re all alone, and forcibly so, and yet music is everywhere, if by “everywhere” we mean Facebook, Twitch, SoundIt, YouTube, and the rest of the virtual social spaces we share desperately as we take our bodily selves out of the picture. And the silver linings are huge, for those invested in the world of folk: an outpouring of unsurprisingly sparse recordings and live events, typified by intimate settings and small home-bound performance spaces, are rapidly reshaping what is usually a much more diverse range of genre in the world at large, revealing a sound that is stripped down by necessity: bands separated from their bandmates; singer-songwriters quietly talking and singing so as not to wake their kids or roommates; performers without soundboards or speakers, save the small amplifiers of their own home recording studios, phones, and laptops.

Artists keep making art, albeit sometimes in their pajamas, or yesterday’s clothes, and it’s being shaped by something new: the distance, and the home. They have to: they’ve got time on their hands, now that they’re not on the road; the creative urge remains in the air around them, pressured by the times; many suddenly have no other way to pay the bills, unless we open our wallets from afar. And we’re here, too, lonely and eager to share and be part of something bigger, with time on our own hands to listen, and celebrate the ways that folk music can bring us together.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need these connections between us, and need the artists that need us so much, too. And so something new is born, like a diamond emerging from the detritus of being underground.

Is the model sustainable? Will the feast – this virtual folk fest, with its multiple stages throughout the day – last as long as we are apart? It’s hard to know. To some extent, the answer must be “yes”: artist tours are cancelled everywhere; the soonest I’ve heard of anyone making new plans for touring is December, and that’s a long, cold, penniless wait for the average singer-songwriter or band member looking towards spring touring and the summer festival season to feed and clothe themselves and their families, and make enough to keep the music flowing. The initial firehose effect should fade into something more manageable, I’d expect, but I’d love to pronounce that this sudden, unexpected outpouring of music – one which has left us with some difficult choices in the last few days, as some of us try to stream as many as three or four shows at once – will continue forever, and that audiences will continue to pour forth their support, making it possible for us all to get through this challenging time together. I hope it does.

But “likely” is all we get for anything right now. As Andrew Sullivan notes, “The one thing we know about epidemics is that at some point they will end. The one thing we don’t know is who we will be then.”

Welcome to the new normal, where nothing is sure.

Today, then, let us celebrate what we have, in the here and now, with a first week’s worth of coverfolk of hope, longing, and social isolation, played out loud and mostly live online since the cancellations began: three solid sets, featuring live online coverfolk concerts, a short set of Bandcamp tributes and covers collections whose release dates were pushed forward to take advantage of yesterday’s one-time offer to give 100% of the proceeds directly to artists, to help them stabilize their finances for the long quarantine ahead, and a short spate of live single-shot covers performed via stream and then archived for our viewing pleasure.

What’s happening now is history; someday, I tell my students, you will be telling these stories to your children, and your grandchildren. Here’s a soundtrack you might consider, when you do.


Set 1: Coverfolk Concerts

I’ve been meaning to write about young wunderkind siblings Chase and Sierra Eagleson for weeks; those who haven’t discovered them should absolutely head over later to their YouTube pages to check out more coverage of the likes of Bon Iver, Brandi Carlile, Fleetwood Mac, Gregory Alan Isakov, James Taylor, The Milk Carton Kids, Billie Eilish, Bruce Springsteen, Hozier Ben Howard, and Coldplay than even this 3 hour concert has to offer. Joyfully, live in session – just as in their increasingly vital collection of previous covers, pre-recorded both separately and together – the Ohio-based duo are comfortable and sweet, grateful for the company, and utterly stunning in performance of a HUGE set of cover songs, from Childish Gambino to Elvis, with truly etherial harmonies and sensitive, soft acoustic arrangements that hold us close.




Most other concerts we’ve been watching aren’t directly shareable here; Facebook, while a great medium for fast and intimate connection and recording, is inflexible about passing content off to other platforms. The good news: you can just click through. Check out, then, the first half hour or so of Ellis Paul and Laurie MacAllister’s Tiny Living Room Concert – Covers Show #1, and the growing archive of Chris from Parsonsfield’s daily 4:00 EDT live shows from his living room, which trend heavily towards coverage; each from each is a gem, and worth the visit.


Set 2: Bandcamp Coverfolk Releases (3/20/2020)

It’s hard to fault Bandcamp for only choosing to give back profits to artists for a single day: Bandcamp is a company; their staff has bills to pay, too. But a few artists took advantage of the moment to bring some wonderful tribute albums and covers collections to light earlier than intended, to take advantage of the sales boost. We’re thrilled to share the fruits of their labor, too: a wonderfully sparse and utterly sublime live set from Bluegrass kings Steep Canyon Rangers, originally performed at Merlefest last year, in tribute to North Carolina artists Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Ola Belle Reed, James Taylor, Thelonious Monk and more, a delightfully twee short set that sounds like it was recorded yesterday from stripped-down covers goddess Lauren O’Connell, and a gorgeous three-fer tribute to the Ink Spots from Cover Lay Down local fave Paola Bennett: sultry, sweet, and just what the heart needed today.









Set 3: Single Shot Coverfolk

Many of the one-shot covers recorded and released from artists in the past few days have come from Facebook, which seems to offer an especially easy way for folks to share and spread in this time of trouble; those who dwell there regularly, and follow us there as well, have by now heard a dozen samples of choice coverfolk in the past few days, most it resonant with topical angst and longing for connection.

Here’s a few of our favorites – a starter set, including the masterful Gillian Welch cover from Chris Thile, performed in his in-law’s closet, that has since kicked off a huge set of artist-to-artist challenges under the tongue-in-cheek tag #livefromhome as popular NPR music show Live From Here remains dark, a pair of the many, many wonderful videos that have followed from the prompt to Thile’s peers, a singleton from Swedish Americana duo Good Harvest, and a two-part sampler from that ever-growing list of PEARfest goodies, featuring coverage from initiator Kris Delmhorst herself, and from CLD fave (and Best Covers EP of 2019 honoree) Rachel Sumner. Head over to the Cover lay Down Facebook page for a fuller set than here, though, including Facebook-only acoustic delights from Teddy Thompson’s growing series of Beatles covers, a wonderful tradfolk tune from new faves Sound an Echo (featuring singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour and fiddler Sara Pajunen), whose recent debut EP is well worth the Bandcamp download, a ZZ Top cover from electric-acoustic duo Larkin Poe, the first of what is by now a growing collection of daily covers from Dayna Manning, and a surprisingly spare solo couch session from Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 covering (ironically) a Crowded House favorite; we’ll keep sharing ’em there as the days go on and the music keeps coming.















Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been on the web since 2007, thanks to kind support from artists, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part: listen, and then follow links back to the sources we provide, to share your love with those who make this all happen. And though it should go without saying, as always, when you find what you love, please be a patron, too: buy the music, or the t-shirt; donate to newly-formed artist support funds, join Patreons and Kickstarters, and follow Venmo, Paypal, and Patreon links to give back if you can, the better to keep the music flowing in these troubling times.

1 comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Chris Thile, Parsonsfield, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Isolation Coverfolk: A Social Distancing Playlist




Looks like we’ll be home for a few weeks, thanks to late-game honest-to-goodness State of Emergency declarations at every scale of government. We’ll have time, now, for that backlog of sound. And we’re looking forward to sharing. Because we’re all going to need some good strategies to fight the loneliness, in the days to come.

For a few hours, there, we were out in it: sharing fears as we wound up teacher planning sessions for putting schoolwork online “if it happens”; chatting lovingly and too long in the parking lot with friends and neighbors stocking up on nicotine and beer at the local package store. Now it’s morning, and the truth hits hard: for the first time in weeks, we’ve got nothing to do. And we shouldn’t go out: for the first time in a lifetime, most of the world is off-limits, anyway.

Being holed up with the spouse and children isn’t a bad thing: the house desperately needs cleaning, and we need the practice at sharing close quarters after a few growing pains years. They’re high schoolers now, the elderchild and the wee one stumbling through adolescence, and the shared time together will be among our last: this, and a pending trip for one more school vacation in the Outer Banks, by the sound; the summer that follows, and then – maybe – college, and the world apart.

It’s scary, out here. But we’re blessed: we have each other. And for us, more broadly, the virtual world we’ve maintained provides endless options for staying close, if we embrace it. The more we act to fill the spaces between us, the more held we will feel, as the weeks follow.

And it’s happening. Churches are going virtual. House concerts aren’t being cancelled; they’re going online. Thursday night I joined a Facebook watchparty for Kris Delmhorst’s live living room stream, in which she raised enough money to pay herself, the venue, and all the staff who would have been working that night if her scheduled show at Club Passim had gone on as planned, and enough left over to seed a fund to support more artists and venue staff as the closures take hold. Monday, my students will hear my voice, in a short video I plan to film tomorrow introducing them to their virtual packet analyzing Martin Luther King Jr’s message of hope and responsibility as they hole up in their apartments and urban homes.

There are hundreds of ways to stay close, in spirit and in voice – to support the lonely, and the out of work and sorts. All it takes is us, to come, and be welcome, and present with each other, even here, in our screens and distances, as we work to save the world.

May our homes be havens and safe houses, not prisons. May our isolation be brief, and brave. And may these electric waves between us sustain us, in the hours and days to come.


CLD Presents: An Isolation Coverfolk Mix [zip!]



Forever ad-free and artist-focused, Cover Lay Down thrives at the intersection coversong and the folkways thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, deeply. Comment and spread the word. Follow the threads of discovery. Purchase the music you love, to support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

Connect. And stay safe, as always. The world is counting on us.

3 comments » | Mixtapes

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
(Coversongs for a growing pandemic)




There’s so much to share: a new favorite YouTube sibling duo; still-unfeatured covers albums and singles from Karine Powalt and Ruston Kelly, Rachel Kilgour and Tracy Grammer; our afternoon at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, where The Lonesome Ace Stringband rekindled our appreciation for the clawhammer and fiddle trio and young bluegrass quintet The Tinder Sweethearts wowed the crowd with a Billy Joel cover and a Billie Eilish mash-up; the way fat, lazy snowflakes tease us outside our March windows before the temperature soars once again past 40, triggering the nagging climate brainbuzz.

But there’s something urgent on the radar, crowding out the rest of the world. It’s everywhere, and everpresent, and we have skin in the game aplenty. Misinformation on social media is painful; misunderstandings hit hard.


And so, in the interests of contagion, we’re going in.

Read on for a short personal prayer, followed by a small half-set of songs of hope and longing in the darkness, that we may remember our most compassionate selves as sickness and fear wash over the world once again.




Saturdays at the assisted living facility have never been so deserted. My father blames the news – people are scared of the Coronavirus, he thinks, and staying in their small apartments, avoiding social contact. It’s hard to argue otherwise. The parking lot is much emptier than usual, as is the dining room at lunch. The halls are somber and quiet, the few residents we pass on our way to my father’s floor and back again wary and alone, unaccompanied by the families and children whose voices usually fill these spaces on weekends.

Life goes on, of course. I’m writing lesson plans today for a week in the classroom; the girls are at church today, singing in the choir. The social need is too great, too much a part of who we are, and what we have to do; so far, at least, we have not changed our trajectories, even as we study which songs to sing while we wash our hands.

But even here, the anxiety cannot fully fade. My social media feed buzzes as the politicized gives way to something more urgent and global. Artists and collaborative spirits saddened by the cancellation of their favorite music festivals and congregations chat on Facebook, debating their losses, trying to come to terms with the trade-offs of community, economic necessity, and civic commitment. Friends whose children were sent home from viral hotspots send warning emails, their terms abroad interrupted into home quarantine. Coworkers offer elbows instead of fist-bumps in greeting. Friday, two kids in my last period class came in wearing masks. Midway through the block, a custodian I’d never seen before slipped in, wiped the door handles down with something pink and caustic-looking, and then slipped out, leaving my students and I silent and thoughtful in the midst of learning.

At night my immunocompromised daughters sleep as restfully as they can in their lifetime of pain, not yet caught in the additional web of worry as a pandemic slowly spreads around us. I think of how fragile we are, and how much of our best it takes to manage the pressure of undefined crisis before us as the world keeps turning. I think about how hard it is to teach my students to care – to think critically, analytically, rationally, and empathetically – in a way that our civic body desperately needs, both in times like these and always. I think of how pain makes us stronger, and how desperately I want to believe that this is true of society as much as it is true of the individual spirit. I wonder if it’s time to stop visiting my father for a while, and try not to cry.

May we be kind, and spread ideas carefully after considering them carefully. May we not ply our fears, or our biases, but our understanding and wisdom, and act accordingly. And may we practice grace, and humility, and mindfulness – those most elusive things – in helping hold our society, and hold it together, as the world ever continues its encroachment into our communities and our lives.


Forever ad-free and artist-focused, Cover Lay Down thrives at the intersection coversong and the folkways thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, deeply. Comment and spread the word. Follow the threads of discovery to three wonderful Warren Zevon tribute albums, and more. Purchase the music you love, to support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the coverfolk flowing? Please, consider a contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2018.

1 comment » | Mixtapes, Tribute Albums, Warren Zevon

(Re)Covered: New Covers from Familiar Folk
Sean Watkins, Sam Gleaves, and Anais Mitchell’s new supergroup!

Yes, folk fans and cover lovers, we’re back in earnest after a slow set of tributes to the past, eager to take on the new and the novel. And where better to begin than with the truly familiar and beloved: folks we’ve heard before, like Anais Mitchell, Sean Watkins, and Sam Gleaves, and cherished; whose voices, songs, collaborations and song choices have long brought us comfort and hope in the long winter.

Today, then, in an attempt to return to normalcy, we turn to our (Re)Covered feature, in which we track recent developments in coverfolk and configuration from artists we’ve celebrated here on these pages before. Read on for new and noteworthy covers of Paul Simon, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Warren Zevon, Kate Wolf, Tom T Hall, Ola Belle Reed, and the British and Appalachian traditions. Stay tuned, as the year continues its climb towards Spring, for more news and notes from the convergence point of covers and folk. And, as always, if you like what you hear, click through to purchase from and support the musicians we feature, the better to guarantee the continued production and evolution of soul-touching music in a world too-often in need of its transformative power.


Thirteen years after their first break-up, Sean Watkins is unarguably the least well known of the three Nickel Creek co-founders; it’s hard to compete with the recent trajectories of sister Sara Watkins (whose folk collaborative I’m With Her with Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz just won a Grammy for Best American Roots Song of the year) and MacArthur Genius and NPR host Chris Thile. But even if it took him a little longer to reveal, Sean’s got a genial warmth and style all his own, and he’s found it in This Is Who We Are, his first time partnering exclusively with a band to make an entire album, and – according to press release – “the first solo record [he’s] made that fully embraces the folk/bluegrass/new acoustic sound embedded in [his] musical DNA.” It’s about time, and worth it: check out his tender, well-rounded treatments of the three covers nestled here – by Paul Simon, Warren Zevon, and Jackson Browne – among earnest originals, from ballad to barnburner.

Bonus points for that aforementioned band, founded by fiddler Tashina and cellist Tristan Clarridge, one-time sibling string section of equally-darling post-grass second wave band Crooked Still. We’ve featured The Bee Eaters here before, too, transforming the Beatles in our Double Dippers feature and, earlier, in a farewell of sorts to Crooked Still that included a cover from their very first album in 2011; we’re glad to see they’re still playing up a storm, lending zest and a newgrass sound to Sean’s guitar-driven arrangements, sweet harmony to his warm vocals, and an especially precious ring of hammered dulcimer heartbreak to the Zevon obscurity, thanks to third Bee Eaters member Simon Chrisman.

As a double-bonus, of sorts, be sure to check out two other new and closely kindred tracks before moving on: a pop cover, featuring Sean’s harmony and guitar work and sister Sara on vox and fiddle, which appears as the folkiest of three on fellow LA resident and Largo collective member Sondre Lerche‘s odd little Britney Spears tribute EP, released January first…and Sara’s own take on a Springsteen song from Born To Uke, an all-uke 2019 also-ran tribute album which features Will Kimbrough, Kai Welch, Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls, and a Weepies cover which placed on our top 50 of the year.




Astute readers may have noticed little fanfare about Bonny Light Horseman, whose namesake song appeared in our Year’s Best Coverfolk singles mix; those who range broadly round the indie outlets and folkblogs have surely already heard more. But we’re quite excited about the newly-dropped self-titled album from the new self-styled “astralfolk” supergroup formed by Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats and The Shins, and veteran multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman, who – as if they needed more pedigree – premiered live at Eaux Claires in 2018 at fest founder Bon Iver’s request. As the slow label-leak of pre-release tracks such as Jane, Jane and Deep In Love continued to demonstrate in the week leading up to last week’s release, something beautiful was coming our way; now that it has arrived, we can see that the entirety is stunning and sound, a potent, adept tribute to the traditional folk made new by those used to playing folk at the cutting edge.

Strategically, as Pitchfork aptly notes, the album is a revisitation, not a mere performance – as as such, authentically, inimitably folk, as only three such barrier-breakers could produce. Songs we’ve heard moving through the fairways of each folk revival break apart; versions merge, with new choruses added for the modern ear, and generally unsung lyrics and verses returned and traded out, making the overall effect a remix of tradition, confronting our sense of the ancient songbooks as stable and welcoming. Add in a rich musicality which yaws towards indiefolk strangeness – Deep In Love, especially, with its brush beats and hollow harmonics, is perfect for the crossover modalities of low-frequency indie-alternative college radio – and well-chosen methods of transformative performance, such as the decision to trade off verses between Mitchell and Johnson on Blackwaterside, which allows the maiden to speak for herself, and we’re sure this one will appear again at year’s end in our Best Tradfolk category.




We last featured Virginian tenor and clawhammer master Sam Gleaves in our New Artists series, way back in 2013; back then, at 19, the Blue Ridge wunderkind had two albums and several collaborations under his belt, and was already teaching and passing along fiddle tunes in pursuit of the old traditions. Now he’s back on our radar with Welcome as The Flowers In May, a duo album with Kentucky-born fiddler and long-time college-and-beyond collaborator Deborah Payne – and we’re thrilled to hear him, and both, in such fine and authentic form.

Though released in mid-December, Gleaves didn’t really start promoting his newest collaboration until early January, so it got lost a bit in the shuffle. It’s not a full covers album, either, with four sweet songs by Gleaves, and one by Payne, that fit in just fine among the tradition. No matter: the record rings true with mountain folk traditions, sweetly straddling the soft acoustic line between folk and its backcountry grassroots, rocking back and forth from fiddle instrumental to picked ballad with a rhythm and sway that is loose and laissez faire, intimate and gentle as a front porch in summer, thanks to stellar company from Michael Cleveland, Tim Lancaster, and Ruth McLain and gentle, no-frills arrangements straight out of the mountain foothills. Here’s two favorite tracks, alongside a bonus track or two from Sam’s last full-length, a 2017 collaboration with fellow Southwest Virginia native Tyler Hughes, and one from his mostly-originals 2015 solo album Ain’t We Brothers, which features collaborations with Tim O’Brien, Janis Ian, and Laurie Lewis, among others.




Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, deeply. Follow the threads. Purchase the music you love, and in doing so, support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the coverfolk flowing? Please, consider a contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2018.

1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Anais Mitchell, Nickel Creek, Sam Gleaves, Tradfolk, Uncategorized

RIP David Olney (1948-2020)
A songwriter’s legacy, covered in folk




It’s hard not to write about David Olney without name-dropping. When the 71 year old touring folk musician and “founding father of Nashville Americana” died quietly on stage during a performance this weekend, the world lost a songwriter’s songwriter, known at least as well in the deeper branches of the folk and bluegrass worlds for his collaborative work with Steve Earle, Del McCoury, Tim O’Brien, and Emmylou Harris as for his ongoing work as a touring and recording artist in his own right, on the circuit since arriving in Nashville in the early seventies. The bluegrass and folkhouse labels on which others have released recordings of his songs mark a strong pedigree: Rounder, Sugar Hill, Compass, Philo, Red House. And the tributes pouring forth on social media in the last few days from those who worked with him, and had plans to work with him, are a veritable who’s who of the modern folk circuit: Mary Gauthier, Amy Rigby (who was onstage with him when he passed), Amy Speace, Alejandro Escovedo, Ellis Paul, Abbie Gardner, Tom Russell, Janis Ian, Cheryl Prasker, Tom Pradasa-Rao, and more.

What made Olney’s life’s work so special? Townes Van Zandt, famously – a contemporary, though it’s harder to remember when talking about artists who died young – once listed Olney as one of his top four songwriters, next to Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Dylan. Others describe the joy of working together, collaboratively, or being in the round with him on stage, learning from a humble master. Mary Gauthier, on her personal page, notes especially his masterful choice of perspective and point of view – reconsidering the story of Jesus from the perspective of the huckster ripping people off on the next hill over, looking at the effects of WW I on soldiers from the viewpoint of a French Prostitute in 1917 – even taking on the sinking of the Titanic from the point of the iceberg, which lends a chilling randomness to death and movements alike.

Whether performing his own songs, or handing them off in whole or part to others, David Olney’s ability to take on the vivid voice of the peripheral, the powerful, the frustrated and the villainous to reveal the gritty reality of the masses was unparalleled. Today, a short list of covers, performed by contemporaries and inheritors alike, in thanks for his graceful presence – in the music, and in the lives of those he touched.

If David Olney was a household name at all, it was at least in part due to his co-write on this famous track from Emmylou Harris’ turning point album Wrecking Ball, which marked a transition in her career from Country sweetheart to an artist at the forefront of the new, lush Americana. Though Olney had recorded it several years earlier, later covers of the song – Olney’s most covered, surely – generally took on Harris’ arrangement with Daniel Lanois, and attribute the song to Harris herself; of these, several stand out: The Wailin’ Jennys‘ high-energy live harmonies, for sheer energy and beauty; Gary Peters‘ false-start banjo droner, for its slow build to mysticism; Russian bouzouki player Vassily K.’s picker’s melodrama; the military drums and country slide New Zealand roots quartet Hobnail bring to the table before slamming the thing wide open…and the only Olney cover we’ve posted here before, a tense 2017 Year’s Best Single from new-age indie-folk siren sisters Beau & Luci.

Slaid Cleaves‘ out-of-print 2006 covers album Unsung is a corrective: a song-by-song tribute to artist “friends and colleagues” in the scene whose names are not household names, but should be. Cleave’s dark, dusty take on Millionaire offers a perfect exemplar of Olney’s ability to inhabit and expose the fundamental evils of power without transforming the powerful into antiheroes; the smug braggadocio in this litany of exploitation and excess comes through loud and clear in Cleaves’ gruff, slightly queasy style – a counterpoint to the deceptively mellow, lighthearted cheer Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum brought to the same song almost a decade earlier.

Originally covered by a world-weary Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris on their sweet, stripped-down 1999 duo album Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, nestled comfortably alongside equally tender takes on songs by Springsteen, Patty Griffin, Sinead O’Connor, Leonard Cohen, and Jackson Brown. Seattle singer-songwriter and Irish traditionalist Erin McNamee‘s Celtic-tinged version, from her delightful 2010 album Whores and Fishermen, recasts the song as even more whispery and wistful – tender, even, with nary an ounce of bitterness, a whore truly mourning the soldiers who have shared her bed.

Olney’s recognition transcends borders, for sure. Though If My Eyes Were Blind was famously covered by both Steve Young and Mimi Farina in the eighties, I’m quite fond of these two takes, from prolific Netherlander singer-songwriter Ad Vanderveen and equally prolific amateur Finnish ukelele Youtuber Old Gardner Guy – the first lush and more tuneful, the second torn and ragged; both serve the longing achingly.

A cowrite with Sony staff songwriter and indie label founder Carol Elliott, whose 1995 recording of the song live from Kerrville seems to be the only official recording available, Mae Robertson‘s luxurious dreamland cover evokes the sweeter side of Olney, in partnership – one we hardly ever saw enough: the gentle, simple lullaby-crooner, sensitive to the language of love, with tender, assonant tonality, reminding us that it takes a true understanding of comfort to show it any any distance, even – perhaps especially – up close.

There’s nothing beautiful or lyrical about this pair. The original Love’s Been Linked To The Blues, off 1991 release Roses, is a pretty straightforward loose acoustic shuffle-blues, complete with trumpet solo, telling a familiar if unusually literate story of what love drives us all to, eventually, in “I saw it on the news” virus-tracking format; Garnet Rogers kicks it up a notch to electric barroom slide, a growlin’ and a moanin’. And fellow Nashville denizens Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch bring a hollow resonance to the core cautionary tale of Postcard From Mexico, a solid electrofolk groove about a dangerous woman and her aftermath officially released around the same time as Olney’s version.

A masterpiece of structure, borrowed from a Chinese poetic form in which the first and second couplets in each verse trade off disparate storylines, coming together with one story image as metaphor, resolution, or counter-image for the other in line five. The juxtaposition of wise and (deceptively) gentle women in the distance and the close-by folly of building bulwarks against the ages is as wise and poetic as Ozymandias – and the device of externalization sublime, in both Linda Ronstadt‘s contemporary folk-ballad retelling, and her brother and nephews‘ jazzed-up reconstruction.

Two years before Wrecking Ball broke the mold, Emmylou recorded another of Olney’s compositions as a decidedly more dustbowl country talksong, showing roots close to Townes’ – at least until the clarinet kicks in, that is. Bluegrass balladeer James King takes the tale of a desert huckster trying to figure out Jesus’ angle up to a drawling tenor, at the top of his range, and the strain fits the song perfectly. Mary Gauthier posted the lyrics to this one over the weekend in tribute to Olney’s passing. Great choice, Mary. We’ll miss you, David.




Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, deeply. Follow the threads. Purchase the music you love, and in doing so, support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the coverfolk flowing? Please, consider a contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2018.

Comment » | David Olney, Emmylou Harris, RIP

On the Trail of Social Justice, Redux
(More songs of place and protest)




Three summers ago, we drove together up the country on the trail of social justice, from New Orleans to the great gentrified factories at the base of the Great Lakes. The Birmingham Jail, a historical marker in a small weedy quarter-lot alcove, up against, sure enough, a modern jail and police station, just under the highway. The Maya Lin memorial chalice, at the foot of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama capitol building, all silent on a Sunday. The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the shuttered Goodwill storefront at its base. Homeless people in the park in Birmingham, begging for cigarettes and change among the stark statues of children facing police dogs and fire hoses. The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, with its reconstructed scenes of the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, with its rolling view of Kentucky, and the river that separates the American South and North.

I’m especially proud of the long essay that captures our 2017 journey, which I posted upon our return alongside a short soundtrack of social justice songs of hope and freedom. It’s a trip that everyone should take, to bring a sense of scale to our national struggle towards justice for all.

But I am less proud, and sometimes ashamed, at the ways in which the long arc of the moral universe bends so slowly, so inconsistently towards justice. And although I work hard to do my part to keep the world getting better – even through Cover Lay Down itself, which by remaining ad-free and always celebrating the artists we find and want to share, aims to walk the walk of fair compensation and cultural continuity – I am bothered, far too often and well, at how overwhelming the work can seem, when seen from a distance.

It’s hard to celebrate the triumphs of a culture when you work in a city whose white mayor just proclaimed, despite a unanimous vote to the contrary by a largely non-white city council, that our gates will remain closed to refugees seeking sanctuary. It’s hard when the national news of young immigrants caged at the border fades into the drumbeats of war and disillusionment, pushing us to forget that those cages are still full, and our fellow humans still not free. It’s hard when I see my students arrive each morning – if indeed they bother to show up at all – sullen, tired, and hungry, their yearning to be free inarticulate, buried under a well-worn, well-practiced patina of brash hostility and callousness, if indeed it exists in them at all.

I teach social justice, in my way: English teachers have to teach conviction, else their students’ language languishes, purposeless; in the urban environment, the pressure is higher, and the injustices more present, if less articulable by its struggling residents. But we do our part with readings and thematic focuses on loneliness, responsibility, injustice, and the inaccessibility of the American Dream. My ninth graders started the year with Baldwin and Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican, seeing their own hopeless streets in a ghettoized Harlem, their own otherness in Santiago’s struggles to redefine her identity after her native tongue became alien and strange in Brooklyn. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition classes, we read Swift’s call to power, and King’s call to morality; we talk fairness and equity, ideals and ethics – you have to. For years, I taught media literacy, and drama, as ways out of the mass mindset.

Empowering people is what I do, vocationally. And when you work in the inner city, there’s urgency in everything.

But there’s also an awful lot of hopelessness out here.

It’s hard to feel like we live in a just world. But we have to believe: the arc of the universe still bends towards justice. As long as we do our part, that is. As with anything, our part starts with memory, and moves to action.

And thanks to its forefathers and their inheritors – among them Seeger and Guthrie; Dylan, Holly Near and Richard Farina; Richard Shindell and Emma’s Revolution and Jean Rohe – folk, perhaps more than any genre, has long provided a potent vehicle for our articulation of these values, and this mandate. And though there are some who ask where the good protest songs are, there are others, like us, who say: here they are. Sing them with us, loudly.

Today, then, in memory of Martin Luther King Jr.: a short mix of coverfolk that call us to memory and legacy and action, just the latest in a series of long, loving songlists and musings on social justice, immigration, and hope and change shared here previously. Songs whose lyrics and strong sentiment push us ever onwards, whose stubborn persistence echoes from the mountaintops, whose continued re-performance helps fertilize hope against the cold.

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. It was true in 1963, as King’s words rang forth across the air and waters; it is true today. Yet may our voices still rise in solidarity and challenge, determination and daring, as we push back against the forces that would dam that stream. And may we know justice and equality in our lifetimes, and be proud of our labors, our protest, and our pride.


Previously on Cover Lay Down

Comment » | Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles (2019)
A-sides, b-sides, deep cuts, one-shots and more!


It was a long lonely year, and we missed plenty, we’re sure – a natural artifact of a life lived on the road more than ever, halfway between home and hospital, and work and worry, that kept us from these pages for too many months between the covers of the calendar.

Here in the boyhowdy house, the children – now teenagers, teetering on the cusp of fragile womanhood and a robust maturity – still struggle to manage their illnesses and pain; each school day is a triumph, even if they can only make it in for an hour or two; their strengths and curiosities are increasingly clear and under their control, even as their bodies and their futures remain uncertain. Two hours away, my father fails slowly but surely, his independence increasingly scaffolded by care companions and the plastic accoutrements of age as the strengths of body and brain fade into late-stage early-onset Parkinson’s.

The things we have let falter in the face of such unpredictables are those that once served our souls, and our communities. We pare down our avocations, our calendars overscheduled with check-ins and check-ups, and the forever prospect of upheaval.

January comes on cold, and its hungry fires demand our attention.

But here in the rooms where we listen and write, the new year comes on slow and hopeful nonetheless. The barred owl and kestrel that the elderchild has come to care for as she discovers her avocation remain caged, unreleasable for life, even as she struggles to fly free on her tether of pain and unpredictability. The crafts and designed artifacts the wee one – now tall of stature – brings to painstaking life in the small hours of her insomniac existence take on their own life, too, bold and beautiful, even as their maker still founders to manage the distraction of body and brain. We come to appreciate the small, perfect moments of grace and gravity in ways we could not before.

And here, in the midst of it all, we take the weekend to ourselves. We sift through the tagged and the bookmarked, marking the songs that shouldn’t fade. And in the end, we come up for air with the ones that lasted: fifty tracks, coverfolk all; an afternoon’s worth of folk, roots, and acoustic performances that still shimmer, weeks and months after our discovery.


There’s something for everyone in this year’s three-hour mix, from alternative acoustic indiefolk to Scottish traditionals, from deep roots Americana to gypsy jazzfolk to new-wave alt- and post-folk, from classic-sounding folk radio cuts to the timeless, rare and rarified strains of what folk is at its most fragile and broken. Throw in the delicate, the wild, the beautiful and the strange, and we’ve once again found ourselves looking back at a year of powerful coverage, equally definitive and boundary-stretching in its celebration of the reimagined and the reconstructed, the torn apart and the tenderly treated.

Listen through in order, and feel the set ebb and flow – or just download the zip and shuffle to your heart’s content. Make the songs yours to savor, or keep them in the background, a soundtrack to a life lived courageous and well.

But listen, regardless. Find in each carefully-selected gem a symphony, and a cry to the world that there is still beauty and worth in the consideration of our inheritance of song, and of the world that contains it. And as always, if you like what you hear, follow the threads back to the source, to purchase and share your own favorites, the better to keep the music and the music-making going – for our children, and the generations to come.

The world is good, and its music our eternal sustenance. Let us listen, and be whole again.


The Year’s Best Coverfolk Singles:
A Cover Lay Down Mix (zip!)



Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, share, and above all, follow the threads. Purchase the music you love, and in doing so, support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the coverfolk flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2018.

1 comment » | Best of 2019, Mixtapes

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums (2019)
Tributes, Tradfolk, Covers Compilations & more!



They say the turning of the year is symbolic, and to use it so: for reflection, a slate to be cleaned and set, restored, upon the walls of our living spaces.   In our time of need, there is solace, and a second chance built into our calendrical lives.  

And in the long, quiet hours to and from the adrenalin crises of our lives, music is our guide.   In the heartbreak rages and the long walks, it serves us.  In the peace of night, it sustains and soothes.  The discovery of it is joyful.  And the knowing of it, when it is at its best, and our need is greatest, is sublime.  

Such is our mandate, and our mission here: the comforting under the strange; the song of our hearts revealed or transformed.  Coverage.   The roots and branches of the music of the community, and the heart, in bloom, reborn.  

It’s hubris, perhaps, that brings us here – and no small bit of sheer stubbornness, to keep us coming back, for the past month and a bit, since our long, long hiatus through the majority of 2019.   We are humbled, practically imposters, after being away from the music for so long, and only so recently returned, in laying claim to anyone’s top ten, or five, or one…except our own. 

For although we were gone, the music still sustained us.   And here it is, at year’s end, the best still spinning on the tip of our tongues and ears.  

It’s good to be back with our 8th annual Year’s Best Coverfolk collection.  As always – and perhaps more than ever – it is neither definitive nor comprehensive, merely a celebration of the albums that have stuck, or stunned, or both, in a year where music was more important than ever. 

It is a list made with love and luck – at 35 songs, and almost two dozen albums, the soundtrack of our long hours of need and desire. 

Enjoy it.  Add its gems to your collections, the better to support the artists who serve our souls.  Come back, soon, for our celebration of the best coverfolk singles of 2019. 

And may your new year burn bright with possibility, too.  




The Year’s Best Covers EP

+ Emily Mure, Sad Songs and Waltzes
+ Rachel Sumner, The Things You Forgot
+ Margaret and Gregory, Songs for Loving and Dying
+ Moonlamb Project, Derivative Blues

The five tracks on The Things You Forgot, our tied-for-first Covers EP of the Year from Boston-based roots singer-songwriter Rachel Sumner, enjoyed a slow release throughout the year, giving us time to steep in each song as it came, from the light cowgirl bluegrass of Josh Ritter’s Temptation of Adam in April to a surprisingly faithful layered-vox-and-strum Elliott Smith cover in October; by the time the full set came together with a stunningly sweet Simple Twist of Fate four weeks ago, we were already deeply in love.  The songs on The Things You Forgot are as unforgettable in version as they are in the originals; as a full disc, their compositional potency comes into focus thanks to clear-as-a-bell production and performance, each precious note sung and strummed a single, deliberate stroke.  The end result is a simple masterpiece, still lingering long after we first featured it in November’s New Artists, Old Songs mailbag review.  Though Sumner has roots in both the bluegrass and classical worlds, this is true-blue singer-songwriter folk through and through, too: achingly clear, and wide open to the world, with twang and tenderness enough to carry us through the fire of an unusually difficult year on its own.  

Twinned honors go to Emily Mure, another solo artist we’ve touted here before for her delightful covers of Cake’s Mexico and Bowie’s As The World Falls Down.  But Sad Songs and Waltzes catapults her to the top of any list: from the first warm chord to the rich wistful harmonies floating in air, the EP – named after a Willie Nelson classic that melts like butter in this songstress’ supple hands and voice – offers an enveloping journey through the transformed songbook of modern radio, sweet and subtle and oh so cool.  It’s the tender covers album Kate Wolf would have made, if she had been born a half century later, and raised on Radiohead, Wilco, and The Cranberries, all of whom are covered softly and well; even Coldplay’s Yellow, which has been so over-covered in the last decade, takes on new shape and meaning here, once captured in Mure’s capable, enrapturing gaze.  Listen deeply, and be comforted anew.  

Honorable mention this year goes to Margaret and Gregory, whose small, homespun, oddly diverse lo-fi folk-and-indie-rock Songs for Loving and Dying takes on Dylan, Gillian Welch, John Prine, AP Carter, and a Mr. Rogers classic: a short ride, yet wide ranging, both full of death and life-affirming; the imperfections are delightful, too, making for a delicate yet definitive celebration of the bedroom antifolk subgenre.  And although it, too, is amateur at heart, Belgian’s Moonlamb Project – a duo – has a great concept in Derivative Blues, a five-track released on Bandcamp back in May.  There’s nothing polished here: raw grit, growling accented vocals, and a grungy barroom guitar-and-harmonica blues mood lend sparse verisimilitude to tracks originally by Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Robert Plant, and gone-before-his-time Delta Bluesman Napoleon Washington, leaving us a potent reminder that the good stuff observes no boundaries.  




The Year’s Best Covers Album

+ Ben Lee, Quarter Century Classix
+ S.T. Manville, Somebody Else’s Songs
+ Unwoman, Uncovered Volumes 4 & 5
+ Corb Lund, Cover Your Tracks
+ Greg Laswell, Covers II
+ Angel Black-Orchid, Classic Beauty
+ Becky and Cloud, Decade

Relatively few full-length mass-market covers albums hit the radar this year; as such, our Year’s Best Covers Albums this year come sourced primarily from deep dives into Bandcamp and Soundcloud, where the primacy of home recording, musicians-as-producers, and indie sensibility hold sway.   But our by-a-nose favorite is one of the the exceptions: like us, Aussie indie pop rocker Ben Lee came to maturity amidst the alternative indie punk rock scene of the early nineties, even touring with Sebadoh in his late teens as part of his first band, and Quarter Century Classix, his dreamy snowed-in post-pop celebration of the soundtrack of our respective youths – Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr., Guided By Voices, Pavement, and Sonic Youth among them – offers a surprisingly tender, eminently professional retelling of songs obscure yet seminal to those who share our origin story.   Session play from William Tyler and a guest spot from Petra Hayden only serve to cement Lee’s collection’s place in the great pantheon of honest, poignant tributes to a generation’s lost youth and deep influence.  And anyone unsure about whether this is folk need only check out his Daniel Johnston cover, which hits the essential sound of Dylan and the Byrds square on.

Lee’s tribute stands strong against two other 2019 collections heavy with similar trends towards the interpretation of the loud and the electric in our category this year.   The softer of these, ex-punk-rocker S. T. Manville‘s Somebody Else’s Songs, drops a dozen more modern pop punk tunes into hushed tones and a sparse, lower fidelity modality for a hazy acoustic ride through classics from Green Day, Jimmy Eats World, The Offspring and others; as we noted in November, it’s “pretty and pensive in performance”, and delightfully delicate from cover to cover, thanks to an understated approach: “quiet vocal and slow picking drone, with occasional light accents from accordion, banjo, and violin” still fill our ears, and serve us well.   

The other end of the spectrum runs raucous, and broader in its range.  Those who prefer their cover “folk” on the far edge of high stepping countrified barroom roots rock a la Wilco, Buddy Miller, or Steve Earle need look no farther than Canadian country roots artist Corb Lund, whose Cover Your Tracks – his first album in several years – is a bootkickin’ alt-country romp through some serious classics, most of which add twang and slide and otherwise hew relatively close to the energy of an unusually cohesive set of almost random originals –  from Dylan and Lee Hazelwood to ACDC and, most oddly, Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me.   

We could have put experimental acousto-electric cellist, producer, and composer Unwoman, aka San Franciscan steampunk singer-songwriter Erica Mulkey, in our EP category this year, simply on the strength of November 7-track release Just Go Away, with simply shines with glitchy drumtrack joy as it celebrates Blondie, Hole, Bowie, and more.  But that smaller set was just a coda to something much, much greater: double album Uncovered Volumes 4 & 5, which covers 30 amazing soundscapes originally released and recorded for (and in many cases, chosen by) the artist’s Patreon and Bandcamp supporters over the past several years.  It’s grand and at times even orchestral, but there’s little to skip through here: the set shows an artist with poise, balance, and a sense of the complex made real and personal, celebrating and worth celebrating at year’s end and beyond.  And although it’s a little overly dramatic for our daily tastes, we’d be remiss in skipping San Diego singer-songwriter Greg Laswell, last seen on these pages over a decade ago for his cross-gender Cyndi Lauper cover, who returns to the world of coverage this year with Covers II – a dark folkpop piece, with thudding piano, stimulating strings, and the strong addition of co-vocalist Molly Jenson throughout, to capture our own darker moments. 

Honorable mention even farther beyond the punk sourcebook goes to a pair of Bandcamp-only releases: Classic Beauty, an album of oft-covered, relatively faithful reproductions of 60s and 70s classics from self-admitted session singer and circus show collaborator Angel Black-Orchid that reminds us that authentic, brashy playback is its own form of apt tribute, and Decade, which offers well-articulated folk pop fare from French duo Becky and Cloud, celebrating their tenth anniversary with aptly titled covers album taking on a familiar indiefolk sourcebook head on: hits from Poison & Wine, Damien Rice, The Weepies and The Innocence Mission up against equally familiar songs from Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Beatles.  Neither album is truly transformative, but both offer bright voices clearly articulated, bright song choices, and a brighter sound, thanks to production choices which trend towards faithful reproduction of songs generally framed in wider berth: it’s the buskers you’d miss your bus for, and that’s a good thing, too. 




The Year’s Best Tribute Album (multiple artists)

+ Various Artists, Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits
+ Mercury Rev ft. Various Artists, Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited

For a while there, it was looking like 2019 would be a bust for compilation tribute records, at least as far as our softer roots-and-folk focus would allow: Mojo magazine, usually a go-to source for genre-pushing compilations in tribute, stuck to originals; 2014 follow-up This Is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson (Volume 2) turned up with Cheap Trick sounding like Cheap Trick, Martha Wainwright channeling the sixties, and even Mikaela Davis in hopping poprock flashiness; the recorded release of 2018’s live Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration concert came in far too slick; several micro-labels and collaboratives released underground tributes to outsider’s artist outsider artist Daniel Johnston after his death in early September, but they were all just as weird as the original.  

Psychedelic moodmakers Mercury Rev‘s tribute to Bobbie Gentry’s countryfolk classic The Delta Sweete gets a nod here, and not in our single artist tribute category, primarily because of how dependent the album is on a wonderfully-selected set of track-by-track guest female indiefolk vocalists, including turns from Norah Jones, Vashti Bunyan, Hope Sandoval, Lucinda Williams and others worth hearing. Still, Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited, however wonderful, is genre-pushing, tenuously folk at best, even in its lighter moments, most notably Laura Marling’s tense, chiming, crescendoing dream of Refractions, and the soaring wall-of-gospel Beth Orton piece that follows; the rest sounds more like a remix of U2’s Achtung Baby as filtered through the majesty of both the Moody Blues and Thompson Twins production engineers.  (Although that’s not bad, necessarily – the band pulls the whole thing off really, really well.)  

Happily, Cover Me was on the ball when they covered Warren Zanes-produced tribute Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits twice this year: first in a short teaser post in August, then in a track by track five star review after the album’s release that claimed “instant classic” status for the record.  They’re right, of course: it’s all good, and quite good at that, from end to end a solid, strong tribute to a well-deserved gravel-voiced crooner of the downtrodden, with some of our favorite moods and voices – Patty Griffin, Aimee Mann, Roseanne Cash, Iris Dement – familiar to this type of project on the roster, and truly a canon of coverage in homage overall.  We’re especially loving the selections from newer artists, too: the simple grandeur of sister act Joseph’s title cut, which comes on so much more static, and then turns up so much more tense, when held up against Sarah Jarosz’ seemingly seminal cover of the same; Courtney Marie Andrews’ driving, high-countrified Downtown Train; Phoebe Bridger’s slow, mournful Appalachian-Celtic gospel hymn reinvention of Georgia Lee.    




The Year’s Best Tribute Album (single artist)

+ Steve Earle, Guy
+ Sudhananda with Lucia Lilikoi, Golden Slumbers
+
Janileigh Cohen, Bird on a Wire

We figured Steve Earle‘s tribute to Guy Clark – a quickly-recorded and heartfelt tribute to one-time mentor and friend, and thus, in its way, a companion piece to his previous end-of-the-decade tribute, 2009’s Townes – was going to slam this category, as long as it didn’t go too hard for folk.   Sure enough, though it certainly teeters on the edge in its louder, more bombastic tracks, the simply-titled Guy comes in loving, generous, gritty, and heartstrong in the end – a solid choice for those already invested in the world of No Depression, a high point in the alt-country roots range, and a fine reminder that Earle is still atop his own game.  

Our runners-up lie not far behind, though vastly different in sound.   First up: Golden Slumbers, a collection of Beatles covers originally intended to be instrumental lullabies, until long-haired project visionary, multi-instrumentalist, and long-time children’s music producer Sudhananda met Spanish vocalist Lucia Lilikoi.   Slow and syrupy, recorded at 432 hertz for warmth, and driven throughout by classical-sounding layers of guitar, harp, and keys, Golden Slumbers comes across as a delicate contemporary folk album – not just for kids at all, but perfect for those looking to wind down at the end of day with something that aims to be perfect, and comes damn close, from a master mixer, engineer, producer, artist, and arranger who has previously worked with Maria Muldaur and Donovan.   

Second, although its title points to but one of its subjects, we celebrate Janileigh Cohen‘s album Bird On A Wire, a tribute to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan – an odd pairing that works.  Simple, quiet guitar (or, sometimes, piano) and sweet, aching vocals go back and forth among a second string of less-and-better-covered tracks from both songbooks, revealing range and a depth of understanding that closes a gap we never knew hid in our brains, unveiling the common underpinnings of two poet-lyricist masters with delicacy and care.   It’s not complex, but it doesn’t have to be: If It Be Your Will has never felt more satisfied, or more brave; One Too Many Mornings has never sounded sadder.




The Year’s Best Tradfolk Collection

+ Tui, Pretty Little Mister
+ Thirty Pounds of Bone & Phillip Reeder, Still Everywhere They Went
+ Sam Amidon, Fatal Flower Garden

Appropriately sparse, almost atonal fiddle-and-banjo play hold sway on Pretty Little Mister, a raw collection from young old time duo Tui, whose transformation of the old sound and lyrics ring strong with timeless sorrow and Appalachian alliance.  It’s short, but so are the songs; it’s authentic, to be sure, but in a familiar, intimate neo-traditionalist mode, learned through scholarship and close collaboration with Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops fame, just right for the modern tradfolk crowd that surrounds the likes of Anna & Elizabeth, Andrew Bird, and Sam Amdion, albeit with a few more instrumentals in the mix than we generally share and celebrate.  No matter: those looking for their tradfolk to sound traditional, yet looking for something new and wonderful in the stark combination of voices and instruments, could easily stop and linger here for days.  

The drowning sounds of creaking hull and deck, droning engine, surf, gulls, wind, and a passing Coast Guard helicopter on Still Everywhere They Went, a set of well-chosen traditional British fishing and maritime songs made modern and strange by performers and fellow university lecturers in ethnomusicology Johny Lamb (aka lo-fi recording artist Thirty Pounds of Bone) and Phillip Reeder, are as authentic as they come: originally recorded aboard a moving, working 1974 fishing boat out of Cornwall, the collection of eight songs – a “mini-album”, if anything, justifying a blur in this year’s category between long and short form releases – push the shanty form into its context, making for a unique yet wonderful journey not so much crossing past and present as collapsing them into deep, crowded, almost futuristic fathoms. 

And speaking of Sam Amidon: though it’s hard for a four-track to compete with something so sprawling, his short EP release Fatal Flower Garden (officially released on 7″ vinyl) offers a small collector’s gem for year’s end: four perfect tracks, each on their own and altogether precious and fragile, warm and weary as anything.   It’s been a few years since we last saw Sam, but this tiny teaser is a potent reminder that he is at the top of his game – and the top of the craft – as a vessel and interpreter: Amidon first arranged these songs for a concert in tribute to Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, and though they yaw wide, indeed, each is just perfect in its way, leaving us hopeful about the tradition and its continued survival through the respectful evolution of the masters among us.   Bonus points: with a single exception – EP-ending instrumental Train on the Island, which churns fiddle wonderfully throughout – these songs would fit just perfectly alongside aching favorites from Bon Iver, Ray LaMontagne, Iron and Wine, and the rest of the moody indiefolk crowd; indiebloggers and radio runners, take note and spread the word.    




The Year’s Best Mostly/Half-Covers Album

+ Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, There Is No Other
+ BAILEN, Mixtape
+ Nicolette Macleod, Love and Gold

Every year, we toy with collapsing this category, and just letting individual tracks come through in our collection of Year’s Best Singles.  But the placement of covers up against original work is its own kind of tribute, and nowhere is this more evident than in our main honorees for this year’s half-covers albums – three artists, and/or artist collaborations, who approach the issue in entirely different ways.     

First up: There Is No Other, from Rhiannon Giddens with pianist and percussionist Francesco Turrisi – an expert in the often-unacknowledged influence of Arabic and Middle Eastern music on the European “sound” which together trace and recreate a common thread among a clean and fluid mix of songs, pulling from the Appalachian tradition and far beyond, to Nina Simone, opera, and more, plus two original songs that fit so perfectly among the old, you’d have to know them to identify them as other.  The diversity of sources is enough to make There Is No Other a non-contender as a full covers or a truly traditional album – where it would have easily tied for top honors, to be sure – but it remains, as reviewers have said since its Spring release, a handbook for both the evolution of popular music, and the universality of folk, with banjo, frame drum, and cello settings, coupled with Giddens’ huge talent for song resurrection, making for something well worth celebrating everywhere.   

Meanwhile, as promised in our previous celebration of their Holiday fare, BAILEN‘s Mixtape offers an aptly titled mix of album cuts, previously-unreleased originals, and four wonderful covers which together serve to map the influences of the NYC-based trio’s hard-to-categorize, vastly diverse sound: a wonderful and surprisingly faithful live Joni Mitchell cover, a stripped down song from Billie Eilish, a soft, dreamy, high-harmony-rich cover of The Sugarcubes’ Hit, and a June Taboresque take on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, all of whom can be heard in the rich echoes of their folk-to-pop-and-back-again recordings and live shows.   And finally, from across the pond: though its covers and originals stand out as heavily vocally-driven, and in many cases a capella through and through, the soundscape created by Glaswegian “singer/songwriter, sound-designer, performer & live improvised sound maker” Nicolette Macleod on April’s Love and Gold is exquisite and fully-formed, weaving traditional British Isle folksongs with her own compositions to create a rich tapestry of song that soars and swoops like birds in a landscape otherwise ominous and still.  


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

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a New Year’s contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2018.

1 comment » | Best of 2019, Emily Mure, Rhiannon Giddens, Sam Amidon, Tradfolk, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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