Archive for February 2013

Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited
(with 3 exclusive tracks from the new Slowcoustic tribute album!)

February 27th, 2013 — 10:55am

By definition, a great tribute album must hit the mark in both homage and realization, proving worth and worthiness of the original artist and his canon through song selection and composition, while still demonstrating the value and validity of reinterpretation through a well-arranged and well-performed tracklist.

It’s a high standard, and in a lifetime of cover-chasing, we’ve seen less hits than misses, more also-rans than outright successes. But a rarified few aim higher still. Keeping to the same genre or subgenre narrows the parameters further, offering a particular challenge to those who could easily drift towards mere reproduction. Adding in other rules – using only independent artists, for example – makes for even higher walls, with even greater possibility of faltering. By the time we consider the possibility of the track-by-track album tribute, we find ourselves on the razor’s edge of daring: few albums attempt such a fine focus, and of those few that have tried in the past, many fall flat on one count or another.

By this standard, Long May You Run, J. Tillman Revisited, Slowcoustic’s emergent homage to Tillman’s oddly titled seminal sophomore solo album, is a triumph of curation and performance: appropriately imperfect, definitively Tillman, and shockingly diverse. The songs it contains yaw through an unexpectedly broad gamut, given their inheritance, but all are worth keeping, and a surprising number are startlingly beautiful and broken. And today, we are pleased and honored to bring you not one, but three exclusive cuts from this potent collection as part of a gradual-release experiment orchestrated by Slowcoustic host and project curator Sandy, aka Smansmith.

slowcoustic-logoThat Tillman’s album shaped Sandy’s own sensibility at “the unhurried side of Americana/Alt-Country/Folk/Indie/Down-Tempo music” is inherent in the project’s genesis; though there is an interesting diversity of interpretation here, unsurprisingly, as with the original, the mix here is almost universally lo-fi, and often quite raw; those looking for sweetly melodic, high-harmony singer-songwriter fare are missing the point.

But there are more things in heaven and earth than sweetness and light, both in and beyond the boundaries of emotional depth and qualitative excellence which the Revisited project embody. For one thing, there is more here than one might expect from an album paying tribute to a small 11-track original. The lack of physical media limitations in the digital age have brought us an increasing number of full-album tributes that go beyond the track-by-track boundaries of the original album, and Long May You Run, Revisited is no exception: there are 20 tracks here, with as much as three versions of some songs, making it possible to compare versions, or mix-and-match to make the ideal mix depending on the listener’s mood – and making the album that much more open-ended, which also, in its own way, reflects the open-ended fragility of the solo singer-songwriter approach which J. Tillman took in this early release.

The second-hand title of the original album begs for coverage in ways too obvious to mention, of course. Even the slow-leak incidence of the homage pays fitting tribute to its origins, in that like the original, which was originally recorded in a borrowed basement in the dead of winter, and released in a tiny run of 150 in 2006, the tribute is finding its way into the world in small bursts. Our own effort herein, then, becomes like one of the multiple spaces in which Tillman wrote his songs – a compliment to the several features which Slowcoustic has shared over the last several days, and will continue to mete out for the remainder of the week, until we find ourselves fully able to appreciate that rarest of tribute albums: that which lasts, and stands on its own as both tribute and celebration.

Today, then, we offer a trio of tracks which, up until now, have been heard by none save the artists, and by Smansmith himself: two which complete the first pass at the full eleven tracks on the original, and a second cover of Trouble’s Always Free, which – in that it is more rugged, and more lonely, than the Small Sur version of the same song that Slowcoustic shared yesterday in Part III of the ongoing release – seems a perfect pairing for the quiet, almost demo-quality gems from underground iconoclastic Lexington, KY-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Doc Feldman and Cover Lay Down fave and Yer Bird recording artists Pickering Pick.

All three share much in common: male voices, sparse setting, and subdued, almost heroin sentiment. But each is beautiful, proving the viability and value in the project overall. Check out the tracks below, head back to Slowcoustic to read and collect more from the project, and then keep an eye on that space over the next few days as the remaining tracks hit the web.

Pickering Pick: Jamestown Bridge (orig. J. Tillman)

Doc Feldman: Wayward Glance Blues (orig. J. Tillman)

Quarter Mile Thunder: Trouble’s Always Free (orig. J. Tillman)

Our bonus tracks today come from outside the J. Tillman catalog, where we find his own 2010 full-album tribute to the formative influencer who shares credit for the original album title of both tribute and original above. Like today’s feature, Tillman Sings ‘Tonight’s The Night’ hits the mark; pick it up, and listen alongside Long May You Run, J Tillman Revisited to close the loop of coverage and blog-born tributaries.

3 comments » | J. Tillman, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

The Phoenix Rises: On Coming Back and Moving Forward

February 25th, 2013 — 11:00pm

The last time Cover Lay Down suffered a major technological crisis, we had plenty of warning: Blogger had just started shutting down music blogs for spurious copyright claims, and in response, our mp3 file host had given us a two week window to pack up and move on. And so, after some soul searching and a huge outpouring of support from our small but committed fan base, in November of 2008, we opened the doors to a newly redesigned space here at

For the next four and a half years, the bits and bytes that represent Cover Lay Down lived on a private server in California, funded by generous donations from readers like you. Twice a week, on average, I would log on, let the muse come to me, and send the tiny essays and songsets that emerged into the ether, where they would inevitably take on a life of their own. And my biggest fear about this blog was that one day, I would run out of topics for coverage.

And then, a week ago last Sunday, everything disappeared.

If my absence from these virtual pages has been stressful, it is, in part, because we had no platform to let folks know what the hell was going on. And to be fair, for most of the week, I had no idea what was going on, either. It took a community of others who had been affected by the same shutdown to piece together the sad and gory backstory of a company owner gone both AWOL and bankrupt, his abandoned servers disconnected due to non-payment, with no chance of recovery.

In the end, after a week of dashed hopes and failed attempts to get the servers turned back on long enough to extract a database backup, I took a deep breath, and began to rebuild from scratch. I contacted BigScoots, a well-established host with a strong reputation and excellent customer service, and gave them the last of your donated dollars for them to work their magic; I spent a day and a half relearning several web development code systems, and tweaking the design until it looked like home.

And though I have come to accept that it will take weeks or months to restore 5 years worth of regular blog entries one by one using public archives from the Wayback Machine, recreating the space itself must have worked well enough. Because here we are again.

This blog is a home for me, and that’s more than ample reason to fight to recover it. But the well-wishes and notes of concern that have trickled through over the last seven days remind me that this is your space, too – a vital aspect of what makes this blog work, though one which is easy to lose sight of, here on my living room couch, alone in the night with the kids asleep upstairs. A home with open doors is a better home, indeed. And just like our first loss, way back in November of 2008, I am proud and humbled to play host to such a caring collection of individuals.

Now that we’re back, the temptation to pontificate is strong. There’s lessons lurking in the background, here: about making back-ups, especially, and about having a plan B ready to go in case of emergencies. But after eight days of stress and panic, we’ve come out the other side into acceptance, ready to move on, resolved to remember that this is a place of love, and it’s important to keep it that way.

So here’s an appropriately diverse set to get us back to our core mission: to grow and celebrate together through a shared love of music, and a mutual appreciation for the artists who craft and interpret that music on behalf of the world.

May the music speak to our hearts, and bring us the community we so crave. And may we always rise from the ashes, again and again, to stand together against the hardship and the sorrow.

An afterthought: Several of you have asked how you can help us get back on our feet, and we are grateful, as always, for the offers of assistance, and for the commitment and care such offers represent. We have always depended on support from our community. Here’s how to do your part:

  • Support the continued creation of music by purchasing artists’ work whenever possible.
  • Spread the word to friends and family by joining our Facebook page and clicking “like” on a favorite post.
  • Share the wealth by sending us your own coverfolk finds and recordings.
  • Donate to Cover Lay Down to help defray server and bandwidth costs.

7 comments » | Metablog, Mixtapes

Cover Lay Down WILL return…soon!

February 24th, 2013 — 7:06pm

We are saddened to report that, due to circumstances beyond our control, Cover Lay Down’s hosting company went down last week without warning.

Honestly, we were just as surprised as you were.

And, as the week progressed, we were shocked to learn that we had neither back-ups nor legal recourse, other than a total reconstruction from the ground up using old files and fragments.

Though we are pleased that so many in the Internet community have stepped up to offer support and comfort, fully rebuilding the blog is turning out to be a herculean task.

Which is to say: I’m working on it, folks.

Thanks to all who frequent the blog for your ongoing support and your eternal patience.  Things will be back to normal as soon as possible, I promise. Until then, stay cool, and keep listening to and sharing the good stuff.

9 comments » | Metablog

Single Song Sunday: I’m On Fire
(featuring 21 folk covers of Springsteen’s accidental gem)

February 17th, 2013 — 9:50pm

A chance encounter with Asheville bluegrass quintet Town Mountain and their twangy, countrified cover of I’m On Fire at this weekend’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival – a dark and yet surprisingly charming version of the Bruce Springsteen classic song that chugs along like a train through the psyche – reminded me how deeply this particular classic is embedded in our national songbook. And a check back at our own archives confirms it: in the last twelve months alone, we’ve posted no less than four separate covers of the song, from Shakey Graves‘ bedraggled grungefolk cover, found last week despite a nominal 1987 release, to Coty Hogue‘s live, sweetly yet hauntingly resonant banjo-driven take, which made our Best of 2012 mixtape for its rootsy, raw Americana, with rich and stellar bounce and harmony from contemporary folk trio Coyote Grace and a gentle late-night YouTube rip from singer-songwriter Robby Hecht along the way.

Add in four other, earlier favorites from our first few years on the web – Swati‘s aching, ringing suspension and wail, which we featured in our first Valentine’s mix back in 2008; Alex Cornell‘s home-recorded sentimentalism; Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule‘s relative faithfulness; a frozen, fragile gypsyfolk take from Brooklyn-based indie quintet The Snow – and we’ve practically proven its relevance without touching on the song itself. And, as always in our Single Song Sunday surveyances, such a common thread begs the question of why the song is so well beloved, and so often taken on by others.

I’m On Fire has a good backstory: according to reliable sources, its original recording was the accidental result of an improvisational studio session during the first wave of Born in the U.S.A. sessions in February of 1982, in which Springsteen, playing around with a few stray lyrics and an impromptu melody, was joined by drummer Max Weinberg and keyboardist Roy Bittan for what turned out to be a song for the ages. Subsequently released amidst stadium rockers on what would become Springsteen’s best-selling album ever, the song would nonetheless climb its way to the top ten of several charts; a generation later, the continued presence of the original on late-night radio and in Springsteen setlists validates any claim that it is, undeniably, a staple, from one of the most recognizable canons of the modern era.

But there’s much more in and about today’s feature subject to recommend it to other artists than sheer availability. As Aquarium Drunkard notes in their 2011 song analysis, I’m On Fire “is the first song in [Springsteen’s] catalog to express the anxiety of unrequited love as a kind of suffering, rather than a kind of freedom”, making it especially attractive to younger musicians looking to dig back towards the prototypical origin of that which makes Springsteen’s last several decades of work so stunning, and so folk.

Even more significant is the song’s merit as an object of coverage on the structural level. From the openness of its slight and fragmented lyrics and easily sung melody to the universality of the mood and madness it contains, the sparseness of the two and a half minute song allows for surprisingly broad variance, making our stream of recent coverage but the tip of a vast iceberg that chills and cools the soul in its various guises.

And so, today, we flesh out our study of the single song in coverage both new and old, offering a broad set of diverse and favorite covers alongside each other, that we might once again see the breadth of possibility in the single song.

Popfolk hipster charmer Sara Bareilles deconstructs, repeating and losing lyrics until live piano and vox become a ricochet of mental health; Bat For Lashes breaks the song down musically, building it up again with pulsing shards of plucked strings, hammered dulcimer, and hollow bass notes. AA Bondy‘s 2009 version is smoothly note-bent and curiously Dylanesque alongside Kate Tucker‘s haunted, lingering take, a version of which would appear on that same year’s Starbucks Valentine’s Day love song sampler. The playful little girl harmonies and the start-and-stop loops of Swedish solo singer-songwriter (and wonderful cover artist) Sea Lion collapse the mystery of the lyrics, while Scottish folk-rockers Big Country trade the mystery altogether for an urgent, almost Zydeco feel, with bright mandolin and fiddle nuances.

Though the band trends indie rock in their typical fare, Dubliners The Dirty 9s offer a plucky ballad take which is easily sparse enough for folk. The Airborne Toxic Event bring in a stuttering, raucous acoustic session with high-energy fiddle and Appalachian living room aplomb. Harry Manx adds sitar and Indian drums, creating a world-beat immigrant’s angst. John Mayer mostly plays it straight, though as Aquarium Drunkard notes, the combination of his own stamp and song make for something quite akin to the Paul Simon songbook in the end. And like Alex Cornell and Robby Hecht above, singer-songwriters Catherine Feeny and Luke Doucet bring passion and pain to guitar-and-voice-driven solo takes and subtleties.

Listen, as yet another American classic wends its way through the folkstream, offering nuance and substance to the lives it speaks of, for, and to even as it pays tribute to the softer side of Springsteen himself. Seek out others where you find them, too, even if they pass the genre line; versions from elder statesman Johnny Cash, pop-rockers The Morning Birds, alt-rock hipster Octoberman, and dream-pop band The Chromatics, for example, are well worth the pursuit, though none are truly folk enough for our usual fare. And, as always, if you’ve got a favorite cover we didn’t mention, feel free to add your voice in the comments below.

Cover Lay Down features new coverfolk recordings and new-found folkversions twice weekly, with bonus tracks and extras throughout the week on Facebook and extra karma to all who donate to support our ongoing work connecting artists and fans through the comfort of coverage. Stay tuned later this week for exclusive pre-release tracks from a brand new J. Tillman tribute!

2 comments » | Bruce Springsteen, Single Song Sunday

Mailbag Monday: New and newfound coverage
from Sam Gleaves, Shakey Graves, Jack Carty, Sunday Lane & more!

February 11th, 2013 — 9:55pm

Sometimes, the world just works in your favor: after a long bout of pneumonia left me with a backlog of mailbag delights and otherblog passalongs, along comes a blizzard of historic proportions to trap me home for a four-day stretch, leaving ample opportunity to spin the discs and downloads into a sticky, stellar web of sound sure to tickle your ears out of their post-Grammy stupor.

Underground Austinite Shakey Graves looks young enough in pictures, but he can’t be that new to the scene – though the other albums it contains date from the last few years, his bandcamp page claims that Rolling Bones was recorded in 1987, aka the year I entered high school. But although the bluesy one man band approach singer-songwriter (and occasional film/TV actor) Alejandro Rose-Garcia brings to his work under the Shakey Graves moniker can yaw from true-blue retro country blues to sparse, experimental, grungy punk- and nu-folk, it’s all both delightfully lo-fi and eminently folk, as this pair of growled tunes from a quarter-century apart demonstrate. Bonus points for quick-fingered hipsters: the wonderful finger-picked Lucinda Williams cover below comes from Story Of My Life, a name-your-price rarities and b-sides EP which is only available for a short window surrounding “Shakey Graves Day” (Feb. 9) each year; the collection also includes a garage-band cover of Neil Young, a quite traditional-sounding Willow Garden, three originals, and an absolutely startling ska-folk take on Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl which is not to be missed. Snag it today; tomorrow will be too late.

At 19 years old, Sam Gleaves is somewhat of a wunderkind of the Appalachian traditions that surround his native Virginia; according to his bio, he’s already spent several years passing along the fiddle tunes and fretwork to a host of others. But this young tenor and clawhammer master isn’t just a teacher: two solo albums and several collaborations into what promises to be a stellar career, his output runs a complete gamut of tradfolk stylization on the full range of mountain strings – guitar, fiddle, autoharp, banjo, and dulcimer – offering both gentle beauty and a comprehensive primer on the sounds, range, and influences of Appalachia. To be honest, had I discovered his sophomore album A Little While in the Wilderness last spring when it was released, it would have tied for Best Tradfolk Album of the Year in our year’s end compilation – but the best music only ripens with age, and this is one for the ages. (Thanks to April at Common Folk Music for the hat-tip on this one!)

I posted a track from new husband and wife duo The Quiet American last week in our exploration of the Child Ballads, but going back to this one for a second glance is worth it, in part because – for this particular release, at least – context matters: their debut duo project Wild Bill Jones is a hand-crafted concept album, and as such, it is best enjoyed in its entirety. But what a concept, and what an execution, we find in this rootsy, well-curated pastiche of covers and originals which husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim have strung together to retell the myth of “original rounder” Jones, the young girl he seduces, and the mystery man who brings a dubious salvation to the pair through the death of the titular character: sweet and bittersweet, tonally rich and totally timeless, with traditional fiddle and fingerplucked tunes and a surprisingly apt album-closing take on a Daniel Johnston classic that adeptly collapses the mythos of hope and despair.

ravThe phrase “folkpop darling”, which features prominently in Raveena Aurora‘s press materials, is one of the most overused genre tags in my mailbag. But while it is eminently clear from first listen that the 18 year old Sikh Indian-American from the NYC suburbs is clearly aiming for that particularly recognizable branch of indie folkpop stardom typified by the likes of Rosie Thomas, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, there’s nothing wrong with accurate genre-grounding – and in this case, the hint of Adele and Regina Spector’s potency in her soulful, nuanced vocal delivery, and the subtle yet stirring organic feel she and her playmates bring to live, stripped down pieces such as those that comprise last year’s Rooftop Sessions, easily validate her claim. (And the streetsounds and sirens audible in the background of those session tracks, most notably in her Beirut cover below, are charming.)

The reminder that not all rising stars are created equal is warranted, and Raveena can prove it: the smaller-scale demos and in-studio pieces which she has so far released via the usual streaming media are both highly catchy and unusually delicate and tender, and among the still-innocent originals that populate her Soundcloud page, several covers stand out. Raveena’s first studio EP Where We Wander will drop February 19th, and predictably enough, its production and arrangements place it squarely within the more atmospheric, round tones of the folkpop genre, but that’s not a bad thing at all: we’ve heard it, love it, and encourage you to pick it up.

Can the world take yet another cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love? Begone, naysayers: though ragged and raw, there’s something about the warble in Sunday Lane‘s voice here which keeps us hitting replay, and the shift from male vocals to female lead with male harmonies which Lane and compatriot Max Helmerich offer here is more transformative than we might have expected. All this, despite a plethora of indie-hipster cred, from a Coachella performances to two separate appearances of her original work on indie proving ground One Tree Hill, validate our increasingly sidestream attraction to the modern music scene in one fell swoop, serving as no small apologia for this reviewer and fan: though her brand new radio-ready album From Where You Are is eminently poppy and piano-driven, there’s a clear and prominent spot on our guilty pleasures list just for Sunday.

    Sunday Lane w/ Max Helmerich: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)

I discovered Jack Carty recently, through a personal recommendation from downunder folkblog Timber and Steel; subsequently, this morning, his label rep found me through the same connection, citing head writer Gareth’s pass-along as a sort of apologia for emailing me out of the blue with a huge collection of YouTube coverage from the young star, who will cross several oceans on his way to make his way to SXSW this year to begin building critical acclaim beyond the borders of his native Australia. But apologies are never necessary when passing along the good stuff, and this is why I’ve learned to love and trust such passalongs: as heard below, Carty is a gem, clearly grounded in the traditions of the colonies yet unafraid to put his own stamp on the likes of Sufjan, Elliott Smith, and The Postal Service, and even a sweet Radiohead cover on solo banjo and vox. Don’t take my word for it: listen, and hear; odds are, you, too, will be moved to check out Carty’s two and a half studio albums afterwards.

    Jack Carty: Pitseleh (orig. Elliott Smith)

    Jack Carty: No Surprises (orig. Radiohead)

    Jack Carty w/ Packwood: Decatur (orig. Sufjan Stevens)

Last, but absolutely not least, comes Sugardrum, an acoustic storytelling project centered around musician and web designer Nigel Bunner, who both performed the music and created/directed the video for this wonderful deconstruction of New York, New York, and has played as Sugardrum both solo and with friends at a growing set of folk festivals and hip gatherings in his native UK. Our history with this musician is sparse, to date – it’s hard to move past the cover, honestly, which we offer as true testament to its power – but anyone who can find and control the ringing, fragile suspensions of Nick Drake’s brittle branch of the singer-songwriter folkstream in the bawd and blare of Sinatra’s famous paean to the city that never sleeps certainly bears watching.

    Sugardrum: New York, New York (orig. Frank Sinatra)

1 comment » | Mailbag Monday, New Artists Old Songs

Coverfolk Traditions: Child Ballads in the 21st Century, pt.1
(w/ Brand New Balladry from Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer!)

February 8th, 2013 — 8:10am

A highly anticipated new release from Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer is starting to make the rounds, and though it’s only early February, we’re going to go out on a limb and declare Child Ballads an early contender for best tradfolk album of the year. And we’re not going to be alone, either: with 6 weeks left to its March 19th US release date, the seven track album has already garnered high and well-deserved praise from Pitchfork, and a full-page feature in today’s edition of The Sun seems a harbinger of loud and voluminious praise to come in the major media on the cusp of a February 11th UK release.

Child Ballads being what they are, its tempting to call this one an LP; five of the tracks come in at between five and seven minutes long, and it’s easy to imagine the sequence filling both sides of a vinyl package. But however we categorize its size, for culture vultures of a particularly coverfolk bent, the meeting of these two modern indiefolk sirens and their centuries-old subject comes as especially wonderful news. Indeed, the viability of folk as an eternal and looping thread is proved so well and so warmly here, as much as the album cements the stature of Hamer and Mitchell, it reminds us of the import of the Child Ballads themselves.

A little history, for the uninitiated: as an enthomuscologist and archivist, Francis James Child provides the protogenesis of more recent folk collectors from Seeger to Lomax, collecting and publishing 305 ballads in ten volumes between 1882 and 1898 under the title Popular English and Scottish Ballads, and in the process single-handedly creating the concordance which would serve as guide and touchstone for the folk revolutions that would follow throughout the 20th century. And though it is the comprehensive nature of his collection which is generally cited as so significant, Child’s timing should not be denied: though the ballads were, as their title implies, already at the core of popular English-language folk music, the advent of recording technology would speed and solidify their spread, canonizing their narratives and their collector alike, and fueling further exploration of their potential.

Variants abound, even in Child’s collection: as differentiated from more modern coverage, where lyrics are often treated as sacred text, the treatment of the popular ballad is heavily influenced by regionalism, and Child duly noted significant shifts where he found them. The result is a canon which, while definitive, is one nonetheless accurately dubbed “fluid and almost endlessly mutable” by the Guardian. In our sample set below, for example – neither comprehensive nor cautious, but merely a set of favorites from ballads 1-100 released by relative youngsters in the last decade – Jim Moray’s Lord Douglas bears clear but vastly shifted ground in Child Ballad 7, more typically called Earl Brand; Annalivia’s lively False Sir John counts as a variant of Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, also known in some regionalisms as May Colvin, while Shady Grove represents an Americanized take on Matty Groves, in which the violence of the original has been boiled out for the more puritanical audience which typifies much of the Appalachian traditions.

Similar shifts and reformations abound in the American folkways. Leadbelly’s 1939 recording of The Gallis Pole, which would later be picked up by Judy Collins, Dylan, and Led Zeppelin under similar nomenclature, traces its ancestry to Child Ballad 95; here, it finds voice in a brand new version from husband and wife tradfolk duo The Quiet American. Wind & Rain, which Crooken Still revives so achingly, is but one of almost two dozen “standard” variants of a ballad whose recorded nomenclature includes multiple versions called either Two Sisters or Cruel Sister. And Sam Amidon’s How Come That Blood, erroneously attributed to Bessie Smith upon its release, is in fact an Irish variant of Child Ballad 17, which Child simply lists as Edward.

As the above list suggests, though my father’s American generation met most of these songs through the britfolk revival of Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Pentangle, and Fairport Convention (and such later popular folk rock hybridizers as Traffic and Jethro Tull), the ballads which Child collected remain vibrant in the hands of a new generation on both sides of the proverbial pond. As such, today’s mix aims solely to address the first hundred of ballads from the Child collection, with the assumption that other albums yet-to-be will prompt further exploration of House Carpenter, The Golden Vanity, The Raggle Taggle Gypsy, The Great Silkie, Mary Hamilton, and other favorites from the later parts of the multi-volume set.

Though our own collection of post-millennial takers of the tradition trends towards greatness even before now, the addition of Mitchell and Hamer’s Child Ballads to the vast and varied is an apt kick-off to such a survey, and a special delight to boot. Fluid, engaging, clear as the running streams and lakes of its myriad stanzas, and equally adept in mournful darkness and moral tale, in its exquisite treatment of both the easily recognizable (Tam Lin) and several unusually obscure and under-covered selections, this new collection is rightfully on its way to being regarded as masterpiece, a showpiece for how modern solo and duet forms can still find life in the sourcebook.

As Timber & Steel noted earlier this week, a pair of Mitchell and Hamer’s seven tracks had already hit the web in one form or another; we’ve shared Child 100 below in streaming form to kick off an otherwise-sequential set. But our recent acquisition of the EP in full assures us that the real joy here is in the scope and sequence; this is one for the ages, and we highly recommend pre-order via Mitchell’s website. And we note, too: though the Mitchell’s grand classical folk opus Hadestown made her appropriately name-brand enough to make her the central addressee of most early reviews, and though her voice throughout is achingly sweet and tender, Hamer’s contribution here is equal to hers, and equally essential; for example, though we’ve taken it down at label request, their take on Riddles Wildly Expounded (Child #1), which represents but one of the two tracks on this incredibly perfect EP which feature his voice first, brings his lead vocals into the public mix, lending a new chord of credence to all arguments for why and how this simply produced, stunningly clear duo recording sets the sterling standard for folk music in the modern era.

Child Ballads in the 21st Century, Volume 1 [zip!]

  • Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer: Willie of Winsbury (Child #100)

Looking for more coverfolk to liven up your ears? Like the Cover Lay Down Facebook page for streaming samples, video finds, and more bonus tracks throughout the week!

1 comment » | Anais Mitchell, Jefferson Hamer, Mixtapes, Tradfolk

The Blogger’s Illness: On Writing Through the Fog
(Plus: a Get Well Mixtape!)

February 3rd, 2013 — 6:09am

It starts on a Wednesday, with a faint feeling of not-rightness about the head, as if the senses were secretly, suddenly drunk. And you can’t teach like this, so you check yourself out early from work, a pre-emptive strike that gives false hope Thursday morning but ultimately fails: by Thursday night the throat begins to swell and catch, shrugging itself into place like a cachet of blankets, and the body remembers: this is how it begins, and it’s not going to be fun.

Friday morning marks the first of 5 days of high fever that swells your back until it pulses pain. Freezing in your clothes in front of the pellet stove fire, you give up, and see a nurse in the clinic, who treats you roughly, shoving a stick up your nose to swab for the flu and sending you home with medicines that seem, somehow, wholly inappropriate for your described symptoms.

It’s not better. You move to the couch, because your coughing in the night keeps a household from sleeping. You cough so much it leaves starburst headaches above one eye, and explodes a red vessel all over the white of the other. By Monday last you find yourself in the hospital having chest X-rays. Pneumonia, the doctor says; go home, because it’s going to be a while.

If you’re me – and I suppose we write as everyman so often, it seems odder not to assume so – then the slight hump of guilt and regret which accompany removing oneself from the human race never go away. The pain and woolen-headedness engender not so much laziness as a comprehensive malaise. Once or twice, I must admit, I encountered a coverbloggable something, recognized faintly in my haze as that which generally fits the rubric; each time, I merely put it aside for when the mind was working, and the body clear.

The ears don’t work when the body is so broken: they plug up, and the tinnitus ricochets loud like a shut-in. And illness stifles the linguist in me, too. The fever dreams of a week gone by turn what is ordinarily a rapid-paced flash of clear phrasing into a muddy fishpond, its pearls of bespoke wisdom faintly seen, if at all, and never that clearly. Even if I could hear and listen, I could not properly muse, at least in those regions where objectivity is a necessary companion.

And so, with no voice for a half-score of days, we plant the signpost: yes, we are still here, a mind under reconstruction, exhausted and sore, still planning to go back to work tomorrow despite strong reservations about whether it is even possible to maintain order in the inner city classroom with the flag at half mast. The grim spectre of several days to come loom, but there are a few hours yet to document the damage before we leave behind these hydrocodone dreams. And so we struggle to fix our tenses, and collapse the prismed multiples into the stable self, and rise again like Lazarus; to coalesce and be unbroken once again.

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