Archive for March 2013

Spring 2013: New & Impending Tributes
Part 2: Two tributes to The Everly Brothers

March 31st, 2013 — 5:00pm

We’re in the midst of a short Spring series featuring this year’s early tributes and cover compilations, thanks to an unusually strong crop of those full-album sets which so often stand as the coverlover’s archival foundation. Last Friday, we kicked off our series with a look at The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver, sharing three tracks from the album and a Covered In Folk mixtape of relatively recent folk homage for comparison; today, we explore two different approaches to The Everly Brothers from The Chapin Sisters and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy, with a bonus set of coverage from the folk archives to follow.

Single-artist tribute albums are rare enough as it is. But in what can only be considered a curious confluence of events, 2013 will see two strong full-album tributes to close harmony duo the Everly Brothers – both by by folk duos, though from opposite sides of the contemporary genre spectrum.

The first of these, What The Brothers Sang – a pairing of frequent nu-folk collaborators Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy, preceded by a teaser leading-edge holiday video cover of Christmas Eve Can Kill You that made the rounds in December – comes from the indie side of the folkworld, and sounds it, with Oldham’s broken baritone and McCarthy’s warm alto establishing a complex tapestry of sound throughout, and a tendency towards languid arrangement and more obscure set pieces that brings out the maudlin. Overall, though, with true-blue rockers, slow folk tracks, and neo-traditional settings all in the mix, the collection as a whole comes out quite flexible in its treatment of the songbook, rebuilding each song as a discrete genre expression with respect and not a little experimentation, making for a diverse and deeply intimate, but often tense and broken resurrection well worth repeated listening.

The second Everly Brothers tribute this year will come from Cover Lay Down favorite family singer-songwriter pairing The Chapin Sisters, fresh off a month-long residency singing classic country songs at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, where they paid tribute to their own sibling harmony tendencies by performing light, sparse takes of family-harmony classics from The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, and, finally, an ever-expanding series of Everly Brothers hits on banjo and guitar in suits and slicked-back hair. The experience also led to the recording of The Chapin Sisters: A Date With the Everly Brothers, a dreamy cross-gender tribute that promises to play the songs relatively straight, albeit more tender, and with more than a hint of female twang; the album isn’t finished being paid for or packaged yet, but a Kickstarter gift at the above link now will net you the disk when it’s ready; in the meantime, there’s plenty of live and promotional footage to show us how sweet this one will be.

    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain

    The Chapin Sisters: Love Hurts (live)

    The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain (live)

More broadly, the influence of brothers Don and Phil is evident in both early and ongoing coverage of the Everly Brothers’ compositions throughout multiple genres, and in the ease with which songs originally recorded by them, such as B & B compositions Love Hurts, Devoted To You, and Bye Bye Love, have come to be considered popular and oft-misattributed standards – not to mention the continued misidentification of chart-topping songs performed but not originally recorded by the two, such as Gilbert Bécaud’s Let It Be Me, which came from France and traveled through the filter of American television before reaching the Everly Brothers’ ears.

And just as this year’s new tributes split the difference between the early popfolk elements and the country stylings which characterized the Everly Brothers work, so too do Today’s Bonus Tracks reveal a similar macrocosmic split in contemporary coverage writ large, with most artists adopting duo configurations to take on the close melodic harmonies of the Everlys even as their performances and arrangements yaw between delicate indiefolk and robust acoustic country and rock.

Especially dear pairings include the romantically-linked girls at the core of acoustic folkband The Ditty Bops, boyfriend and girlfriend Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, Doc and son Merle live in concert, married tradfolk pair Pharis and Jason Romero, long time folk couple Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, and Teddy Thompson’s duet with his mother Linda, who also did a great duet with Sandy Denny on another Everly Brothers hit once upon a seventies. Even sibling fiddle-and-cellofolk pair Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, aka The Bee Eaters, sing in harmony, borrowing Aoife O’Donovan’s vocals, then trading off licks on their instrumental version of Crying In The Rain as if their strings could sing. In the end, of today’s set, only Rosie Thomas and Ed Harcourt, like Oldham and McCarthy, remain unlinked by blood or marriage – and save their harmony for the final verse, perhaps in penance.

1 comment » | Covered In Folk, Everly Brothers, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Spring 2013: New & Impending Tributes
Part 1: The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver

March 29th, 2013 — 1:01pm

It’s shaping up to be another stellar year for album-length coverage, with pickings so strong we’re hard pressed to take them all on in a single feature without burying the lead. Indeed, in the few short months since the year turned, we’ve already featured close exploration of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads EP, touted Levi Weaver’s free-to-fans covers EP as a “darling indie set” well worth your time, and helped Slowcoustic’s double-length tribute to J. Tillman’s Long May You Run take flight.

But the hits just keep on coming, and we’re getting backlogged here at Cover Lay Down. And so, throughout the next week, we kick off Spring with a short series of coverage of new and impending tributes to The Everly Brothers, Tim Hardin, Nick Drake and more – starting with a close look at the newest tribute to John Denver, due to drop this Tuesday on ATO Records.

John Denver’s heyday was in the seventies, and I was born in 1973; as such, until quite recently, my primary experience with him had been through starring roles in Oh God and on my wife’s favorite Muppets holiday special, and that hazy collection of other television and film appearances which float through pop culture like echoes of past fame. But coverage will out, and The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver, which is due to drop on April 2, is a triumphant tribute to the oft-spoken singer-songwriter, one which has awakened in me an adult’s appreciation for the work that brought him to fame in the first place.

To be fair, as songwriter and composer, Denver is easy to underestimate. Many of his early, most familiar lyrics are neither complex nor emotionally disruptive; rather, they are loving and sentimental, and celebratory of the earth and its wonders both intimate and broad. His pure, warm voice and simple, flowing melodies are an especially effective mechanism for their lighthearted delivery, and it’s no wonder these are the songs that most associate with his career, and his legacy.

But a deeper look at the catalog reveals more breadth. There is heartache in Denver’s ongoing catalog of distance from his beloved mountains and family. There is anger, too, in works which address his beloved ecology, and in such political songs as Wooden Indian, in which Denver rails against the historical treatment of Native Americans. When he speaks plainly of distance, disconnection, loss and longing, Denver’s directness can pierce the heart.

Previous homage has found the appropriate balance of depth and simple poetic beauty in Denver’s delights and disappointments – see, for example, thorough coverage of the excellent tribute Take Me Home, a beautiful turn-of-the-century Mark Kozelek project featuring Red House Painters, Low, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and others on the indiefolk outsider spectrum which brought a new generation of fans to reconsider the genius of his work, over at fellow coverblog Cover Me last April. And singleton covers abound, from the ubiquitous and prototypical Leaving On A Jet Plane and Take Me Home Country Roads to the raucous cajun folk of The Decemberist’s Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas), Youth Lagoon’s dreampop Goodbye Again, new-age devotional artist Simone Vitale’s lilting Jamaican-rhythm Sunshine On My Shoulders, and Damien Jurado and Richard Swift’s lo-fi Follow Me, which transforms the song into a muddy jukebox ballad filtered through Phil Spector’s wall of sound and Roy Orbison’s heartache.

The Music Is You is a powerful addition to the canon of coverage, with performances that stir the heart even as they reinterpret and, in some cases, deconstruct the songbook. And although it is a cohesive collection, with My Morning Jacket, Dinosar Jr., Lucinda Williams, Evan Dando, Train, Emmylou Harris, and many more of the usual suspects for this generations indie tributes turning in exceptional performances, it is the newer, younger voices who stun more than anything: Brett Dennen’s cover of Annie’s Song, for example, brightens the soaring gentleness of the original to something sunnier and bouncier, and more contemporary; Amos Lee croons Some Days Are Diamonds, which Denver did not write but brought to the country charts, as a fine, soft, heartbreaking gospel blues; Josh Ritter joins old friends Mark Erelli and Jake Armerding for a sweet and gentle bluegrass take on popular Denver cover Darcy Farrow that rings of John Hartford’s, while Kathleen Edwards brings a contemporary weariness to All Of My Memories.

Add in Old Crow Medicine Show and Brandi Carlile, and you’ve got an album destined to become one of the great tributes of its age. Listen to a short set of label-approved streamers below, plus a bonus collection of other John Denver tunes covered in folk… and then stream the whole thing at NPR until the album goes live on Tuesday.

    Brett Dennen and Milow: Annie’s Song

    My Morning Jacket: Leaving On A Jet Plane

Today’s Bonus Tracks:

Cover Lay Down posts new features and coverfolk sets twice weekly thanks to readers like you. Donate now to help our ongoing efforts to support the continued existence and viability of folk, roots, and acoustic music and the artists who produce it.

1 comment » | Covered In Folk, John Denver, Tribute Albums, Tributes and Cover Compilations

(Re)Covered: New Coverfolk from
Tift Merritt, Shovels & Rope, Jones Street Station & CXCW!

March 24th, 2013 — 9:48am

Though our archives remain in limbo after our recent server troubles, new works and projects from artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down continue to spring forth into the ether and into our ears. Today, we add to the growing canon of delights with news of ongoing and newly-released projects from several yesteryear favorites, starting with an exclusive label-approved stream from Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein’s classical-meets-folk collaboration Night.

The lush, layered take on gospel tune Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from North Carolina-bred/NYC-based singer-songwriter Tift Merritt was one of many standout tracks on last year’s post-Hurricane Sandy benefit album The Storm Is Passing Over, easily strong enough on its own to find its way to our Best Tributes and Compilations Of 2012 feature as an album exemplar. And although I haven’t otherwise said so before, Merritt is a favorite, with a voice that rings of Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, a wont for lyrical prescience that speaks of loneliness and longing beautifully, and an overarching wisdom and weariness that lay waste to my heart.

But if Merritt’s previous works have been strong Americana, Night, the new collaboration from classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and nearly-legendary recording artist slash public radio host Merritt, is a vast and vindicating tour de force of artist and genre crossover. One third classical exploratives, one third folk-driven originals, one third hybrid coverage from a variety of popular sources, and 100% stunning, Night makes the journey from Wayfaring Stranger to Purcell, Bach, Schubert and Brad Mehldau via Billie Holliday’s Don’t Explain, a set of classical variations on Leonard Cohen, and a Patty Griffin-penned title track deeply personal, truly integrated, and sweetly soaring, giving us a whole and holistic album that collapses boundaries and sticks to the soul. Though it’s hard to pick a favorite track, the folk tunes call to us powerfully; listen below to an exclusive sweet-and-soulful Johnny Nash cover that may well be my favorite track of the year so far, plus a trio of older favorites from Merritt herself, then head over to Soundcloud to hear shortened samples of the rest.

  • Tift Merritt & Simone Dinnerstein: I Can See Clearly Now (orig. Johnny Nash)

    (from Night, 2013)

Up-and-coming Charleston, SC indie/folk/rock pair Shovels and Rope wowed us at the end of last year, too, with a layered, molasses-slow nu-folk take on Elvis Costello via Nick Lowe classic What’s So Funny ’bout Peace Love and Understanding that found feature placement on our Best of 2012 Mixtape. Now comes the good news that the husband-and-wife duo will release a two-track covers single on April 2 as part of Jack White’s Blue Series, continuing a meteoric rise to hipster fame; the single will sport the below sparse yet spry boogie-woogie piano take on Springsteen’s Johnny 99 on one side, and Tom Waits’ Bad As Me on the b-side, and while the result seems to be more jukebox fodder than folk, we’re not complaining one bit. Purchase now, vinyl-philes.

We featured Jones Street Station back in our early months as a blog, when they were merely the Jones Street Boys, describing their debut Overcome, which still finds regular replay in car and living room, as “lo-fi alt-country bluegrass music with a hint of midnight trainsongs and fireside song circles, a dollop of happy roots rock, and the pure infectious joy of making plumb great music.”

But boys become men, and Perennials, the project which is currently occupying their time, is a mature and masterful move towards adulthood for a band just emerging from its formative years. In it, the Brooklyn-based band is writing, recording, and releasing a new song a week for an entire year, with all proceeds going to your choice of twelve featured charities-of-the-month. (This month’s featured organization, for example, is CampInteractive, which “empowers inner-city youth through the inspiration of the outdoors and the creative power of technology”; others include lifesaving GLBQT lifesaver The Trevor Project, women’s support organization Rosie’s Place, volunteer coordinators, and music-and-culture non-profits such as The Old Town School of Folk Music and The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.)

The scope of the project is matched by its professionalism: these are no mere demos or living room recordings, but fully realized pieces by a collaborative that has been making music together for years, making the value well worth the gift. And with the project months in, and all but the below tradfolk breakdown lush original works in the vein of Wilco or The Civil Wars, a small donation to a worthy cause nets you hours of music to love and cherish.

Finally, our 2012 feature on virtual alterna-fest Couch By Couchwest touted the SXSW alternative as a joyous concept done well, and we’re thrilled to find that this year’s festival, which ended last weekend, was no exception, providing yet another opportunity for an international audience to avoid the elements, skip the lines, and drink their own cheap beer while watching scores of one-song sets in the comfort and/or squalor of their own living rooms.

The now-archived CXCW 2013 features a huge mix of roots, rock, bluegrass, country, Americana, and folk from the usual cross-section of amateur and professional participants; we can’t possibly share them all here, so check out a few favorite coverfolk takes from Steve Messina of Blow Up Hollywood, Irish singer-songwriter Grainne Hunt, Floridian acousti-country quartet Have Gun Will Travel, Sally Morgan of NPR fave tradfolk band The Black Twig Pickers, California girl Melody Walker, and CXCW faves Demolition String Band…and then click on over to check out five pages of cover-tagged videos from American folk icon Gretchen Peters, Kevin Russell of The Gourds, and many more, plus over three hundred original performances from this year’s festival contributors.

    Steve Messina: Bittersweet Symphony (orig. The Verve)

    Grainne Hunt: I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You (orig. Tom Waits)

    Have Gun Will Travel: The Rainbow Connection (orig. The Muppets)

    Demolition String Band: Loving Cup (orig. Rolling Stones)

    Sally Morgan: Your Long Journey (orig. Doc Watson)

    Melody Walker: I’m Only Sleeping (orig. The Beatles)

2 comments » | (Re)Covered, Festival Coverfolk, Jones Street Station, Shovels & Rope, Tift Merritt

Spring Has Sprung:
Soft Coversongs of Hope and Renewal

March 19th, 2013 — 9:28pm

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, and someone forgot to tell the sky.

In the morning, says the weatherman, the world will turn to slush. And if we are truly blessed, all our sins will be washed away.

Outside the snow sulks in great mounds where the plows have pushed it aside. Hard ice falls on three-inch shoots and tufts of new grass. We stay up late, and sit by the window together, and wait for the rains that do not come.

Send rain, O Lord. For it has been a hard Winter, and we are ready for Spring.

Happy Spring, everyone. May the darkness turn, and the world turn green and alive for each of us.

Originally written five years ago today, on the cusp of another Spring. Because sometimes, it’s good to look back, to see how far we’ve come.

Comment » | Mixtapes

An Intimate Evening with Mike and Ruthy
(April 6 @ Carriage House Concerts in Monson, MA)

March 17th, 2013 — 11:43pm

Our little house concert series here in rural Massachusetts has grown since we first presented Danny Schmidt in our living room in the Spring of 2009, and so has its reputation. Our current performing space, a restored hundred year old carriage house just up the road, has room for 50, and we’re eager to fill the house, the better to support artists and fans alike.

So read on for a closer look and listen to Mike + Ruthy, who we’re excited to announce will be kicking off our 2013 season. And if you’re local enough to join us for an intimate evening of song and a delicious potluck meal on the first Saturday in April, join our facebook event or email now to save your seat today.

He grew up listening to ska-punk and alternative rock radio, dreaming of becoming a songwriter on the political edge. She was raised at the intersection of folk and swing, daughter of fiddle master Jay Ungar and country songwriter Lyn Hardy. They met in NYC, just out of college, and went on to found “subversive acoustic stringband” The Mammals, one of the most popular folk rock bands of their generation. And when The Mammals split up, and they married, they spent their honeymoon in the studio, recording a debut duo album aptly called The Honeymoon Agenda.

Now, after two more full-length albums and over a decade of performance together, indie folk roots pair Mike + Ruthy, aka Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, have established a reputation for breathtaking delivery and intimate performance, with exquisite songs and songcraft that combine catchy folk-pop choruses with honest, organic tradfolk and roots elements, played out on guitars, fiddle, banjo, ukulele, and a single microphone. Heralds of an American cultural awakening that values honesty and togetherness, prefers grit to glitz, and revels in the old-fashioned telling of a story, their most recent projects include a newly minted folk and roots festival called the Winter Hoot which brought Sprit Family Reunion, Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and other Cover Lay Down favorites to the Ashokan Center near their home in upstate NY, a haunting posthumous Woody Guthrie collaboration which lends its title to their most recent EP, and a growing family, with parent and child generations that regularly join them on tour and on stage.

We featured Ruth Ungar in our early years as a blog, touching on her work with Michael and The Mammals, and with Aoife O’Donovan and Kristen Andreassen as “acoustic’n’harmonies” indiefolk trio Sometymes Why. But while it is true that, of the pair, it is Ruth who has the family connections, like many indiefolk musicians today, both Michael and Ruth perform and record in multiple modes, both within and beyond the boundaries of their core pairing. Indeed, the merging of his proto-rock radio grounding and her firm tradition has blossomed into a longstanding journey that ranges from soft blues to raucous tradfolk to grungy folkrock sets that frame them as exemplars of their age to critics and peers alike.

Michael Merenda often claims to see music as a way to both capture the world as a living, breathing organism, and to offer it love in the name of restoration; his three solo albums deliver on this adeptly, with outspoken lyrics delivered in a soft, breathy voice over stringwork and production that ranges from true-blue folk to more electrified roots rock fare. By this standard, their collaborative work together is a triumph: free and beautiful, true and sincere, and powerfully political, reflecting the quirky nuances of the world and resonating with the intimate selves we harbor within it. Which makes me all the more proud to be hosting Mike + Ruthy at our own concert series to kick-off our 2013 season, and to have the opportunity to tout their musicianship and performance through coverage today.

So check out our diverse set of covers below from their various incarnations and collaborations, and, as always, consider following the accompanying links to purchase their work, and support their shared mission. And then – geography and time permitting – contact us now to reserve your seat for a date with “one of acoustic America’s most revered musical duos” – an event that promises to thrill your senses, raise your spirits, and delve deep into your soul.

Can’t make it to the show? Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic musings bi-weekly thanks to the kind support of readers like you. 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.

1 comment » | Featured Artists, House Concerts, Mike + Ruthy

Feminist Anthems, Covered In Folk
for International Women’s Day / International Women’s Month

March 8th, 2013 — 1:18pm

It’s International Women’s Day, and International Woman’s Month: important markers of how far we’ve come in our ongoing struggle towards true gender equality, and important reminders that exploring history through the lens of the other is a key component of our ongoing growth as a humanity.

But the very fact of International Women’s Day is also an indicator of just how deeply we still suffer, and how much we still need to pause, thoughtfully, in order to explore the hidden and not-so-silent assumptions which keep us from being who we should be. And so, as a father of daughters, a husband of a wife, there’s a part of me that finds myself more than a bit frustrated that it’s 2013, and here I am raising two girls in a world where people still insist on setting aside a whole and single month to acknowledge 51% of the population.

I cherish and celebrate the women in my life – though like most men, probably not as much as I should. It is a hard-won habit, and one needful of constant reinforcement. But it’s not enough to honor. Lingering inequalities undermine all of us, and to address them, we must start by being honest with ourselves about that which we still carry in ourselves, both collectively and individually. And so I have celebrated the tomboy tendencies of the elderchild, and then later been ashamed, for unconsciously nurturing that within her which would make her able to compete with boys and men on their own turf, for forgetting that becoming the other is never the right path to consensual change. And I have struggled, mightily, with the pink princess preferences of my younger daughter, before ultimately deciding that as long as we are able to help her reach a point where she is able to make a conscious and informed choice to embrace such range of identity, girlishness should be a legitimate point on that spectrum for her or anyone to defend, and proudly.

After a lifetime coming to terms with both my own white male privilege, I consider myself a feminist, of a sort – a term which I use, in part, because it makes everything stop for a while, leaving that breathing room which can become the foundation of self-healing. And this means many things: accepting, for example, that it is not my place to decide what women need or want, but owning the idea that it is my place to both guard the rights of those whose gendered lives I cannot truly know or claim, and to confront and help illuminate the worlds of those men who – through their casual words, or their subtle actions – create discomfort without knowing.

Believing in true equality also means walking the walk in my teaching practice, too. More often than not, this means working hard to seize each teachable moment, all in the name of teaching both boys and girls that it is to their ultimate benefit to claim their role as active collaborators in the process of change, lest they find the world more confusing than it needs to be. The immediacy of my reactions to what my male students often try to defend as mere horseplay (or worse, as culturally-grounded role-play which I, as a white outsider, should respect and allow), confounds many of them, who too often spout (or worse, enact and embody) the misogyny of the naive and brash, and are too often startled by the vehemence with which I call them on their casual objectification of their female peers when I see it in the hallways and classrooms.

Working hard to use non-gendered terms, and to correct my students gently when they use them in daily practice, is an ongoing struggle: too many of the texts we use still automatically assign male pronouns to hypothetical CEOs, Chairs-of-the-Boards, and Doctors, and female terms for office assistants, nurses, and airline hosts. But I am privileged to teach a subject where such discourse can be explicit, too. For the sophomores who take my Introduction to Media Literacy class, our upcoming study of both the strict division of toy and television programming – from the Dora/Bob The Builder dichotomy to the increasingly subtle but no less present gender cues in the Disney Princess canon – will offer a more explicit lesson: that the stories we tell ourselves about who we are still limit us; that the patterns they embed in our developing minds recreate generations of disempowered girls and boys, who are ill-prepared to confront themselves, and less able to open themselves to each other in healthy ways as they find each other and themselves in adulthood.

As it is in my world, so it is in yours: as long as men and women work every moment to see themselves as equal partners and allies in the fight for true equality, and to develop the habits of mind and practice that teach others that such lenses are normative, there is hope, to pair with our frustration.

Until then, I suppose, we must reluctantly accept Women’s Day as the desperately needed touchstone that it is.

Still, it remains my hope that my daughters will one day live in a world where discourse of quotas and glass ceilings is truly moot; where strangers and grandparents do not cite my daughters for their prettiness first and foremost; where the sixteen year old adolescents I cry for in my darkest hours not only cease their grab-ass corridor ways, but accept their role as parents and partners before they impregnate their peers – and where, because we set aside every day to celebrate and reflect upon all the things we are, International Women’s Day can take its place in the cultural pantheon as just one more of those crumbling granite edifices that – like footprints in the fading snow of a warm Spring – mark the path that has taken us to where we want to be.

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Covered In Folk: Fred Eaglesmith
(12 roots and countryfolk artists interpret a Canadian storyteller)

March 3rd, 2013 — 4:34pm


Canadian alternative country singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith‘s down-to-earth approach to the universe comes from a rural farmstead childhood and a train-hopping past. And so, where other folk artists walk with their fans, Eaglesmith takes trains: both literally – Eaglesmith is known for his rail tours – and as a dominant subject, setting, and metaphor for a narrative approach more broadly grounded in engines, their various rural incarnations, and the escape they embody.

Eaglesmith’s delivery is raw as the bawdy stories he tells between songs in live performance: couched in a voice that speaks to the salt and gravel of the road, played hard and fast on fading guitars. His unreliable narrators aren’t sly; they’re just not deep thinkers, and so miss the nuances of their own stories even as those of us on the outside cannot help but empathize with their pain and ignorance.

It’s a poetic, Hemmingway-esque depth: easy to mistake as simple, more intelligent than it seems. And so, nineteen albums into a career which, like Springsteen’s or Steve Earle’s, ranges from solo acoustic performance to blasting roots rock, Eaglesmith is still not a household name, though his work is known broadly across both Canada and the US. Indeed, in many ways, Eaglesmith is a musician’s musician: not always well known to criticism, and not recognized beyond the borders of a dedicated fan-base, whose members call themselves Fredheads.

Both the pull of his songbook and the believability of his outsider stance have made Eaglesmith particularly attractive to a number of folk artists and roots rockers; of these, a surprisingly strong number, most particularly those who align themselves thematically and musically with bare-bones country music, have found their own voice inside the loneliness he paints. Our down-to-earth set of favorite coverage includes Mary Gauthier, who finds familiar demons of addiction and desperation in his street-level subjects; Kasey Chambers, whose covers of Water In The Fuel and signature song Freight Train span from gently pensive balladry to chug-a-lug barroom country; Heather Waters, whose Freight Train is equally frantic, just a little grassier, and a half-step up.

The Cowboy Junkies turn Carmelita slow and sultry alt-country, making the song inimitably their own. Todd Snider makes haunting hymn Alcohol and Pills a hard-beat country rocker for the fallen; Canadian roots rockers Blackie & The Rodeo Kings slide a rich contemporary bluesfolk tension underneath 49 Tons. Tamara Williamson strips down her usual indie alt-pop, transforming Spookin’ The Horses into a sparse, tender ballad with piano and classical guitar. Dar Williams brings an unavoidable sweetness to her version of Wilder Than Her, with Eaglesmith himself singing harmony, while Slaid Cleaves pulls post-Industrial Age poignancy from the loss of an old filling station in White Rose. We’ve even kept true-blue country artist Miranda Lambert in the mix, complete with country twang and harmonies. Together, they make an apt tribute to a grinning lifetime of gas and steel, illuminating the dark grim corners of life on the edge with laughter, grit, and precision.

Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic musings twice weekly thanks to the kind support of readers like you. 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.

9 comments » | Covered In Folk, Fred Eaglesmith

New Artists, Old Songs: Soundcloud Edition
(covers of Fugazi, Metric, Carly Rae, Avett Brothers, Dire Straits & more!)

March 2nd, 2013 — 10:52am


File under “when it rains, it pours”: since coming back from the dead, the Cover Lay Down mailbag has been inundated with new streaming folk and acoustic coverage, with the vast majority of the tracks just days old. Combine it with a few tracks gratefully received during our downtime, and our cup runneth over: today, we filter out the good stuff, leaving a solid selection of Soundcloud gems to tickle the ears until they gasp and give in.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Fugazi’s 1989 double-EP re-issue 13 Rooms, most especially the album’s violent ennui anthem of an opening track Waiting Room, which would become a key component of my formative years as an audiophile. But nowhere in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the song as beautifully haunted as Philly-bred, LA-based folk duo Homesick Elephant transform it. And if their cover is simultaneously more grandiose and more delicate than their usual fare, which otherwise trends towards the kind of tight staccato coed harmonies, rich and ringing guitar-and-mandolin settings, string-tinged chamber-folk arrangements, and wry-yet-whimsical storysong narratives that make our hearts beat that much faster, then it merely shows just how well Sara and Kevin know their source material – making the track all the more appropriate, really, for a tribute to the kings of the DC post-hardcore scene.

    Homesick Elephant: Waiting Room (orig. Fugazi)

“Intelligent yet accessible” singer-songwriter Levi Weaver loves his fans, and his brand new covers EP Antipodes is plenty of proof: the daring indie set runs from contemporary folk to grungy-and-grandiose alt-pop, though there’s a good acoustic underpinning on every track, and though the overall set ends up quite diverse for a 5-song collection, his love for his contemporary influences shimmers throughout every beat and pick. So although it was his stunningly majestic video cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism, featuring a cast of dozens in fine fettle and laughter, which hit the blogs last week, we asked to be able to share the two folkiest cuts instead, and were pleased as punch to find ourselves given exclusive rights to share ’em. The EP is a gift for mailing list fans, and we’re sure you’ll be one once you hear its lovingly updated, joyfully transformed interpretations of hipster favorites from Dan Mangan, Damien Rice, Avett Brothers, and The Head & The Heart, so listen to the latter pair below, and then head over to his website to sign up, thus ensuring that you’ll get the full EP when it drops next week.

    Levi Weaver: The Weight Of Lies (orig. Avett Brothers)

    Levi Weaver: Rivers and Roads (orig. The Head & The Heart)

Yeah, Pitchfork got to this one first. But sometimes, you just have to keep passing it along, and this one is irresistible: Margaret Glaspy‘s sparse Lauryn Hill cover rings of Feist and Cat Power, with Karen Dalton’s soulfully broken little-girl vocals and a pulsing thread of Jeff Buckley-esque guitar atmospheres that scuttle along like a fragile hum; its live setting provides an echo that doubles the effect, lending a power to the performance that makes me ache to see her up close in some dark and smoky room. But the intensity is her own authentic self, and you can hear it in full force in if & when, the new digital-only EP the cover is designed to help carry – which is to say, the whole damn thing sounds like this – clear of adornment, raw and pain-born, bare to the soul’s core – and if that doesn’t make you want it bad, then perhaps it’s time to give up, and return to the world of pop.

    Margaret Glaspy: Ex-Factor (orig. Lauryn Hill)

No one but the most naive and jaded of pre-teens could dare accuse Carly Rae Jepsen, the young composer and performer of last year’s earworm hit Call Me Maybe, of being too dark. But as with a surprising number of female-penned popsongs, there’s real substance under all that catchy production and the radiobeat, and to prove it, here comes half English half Norwegian Folly Rae, who despite an equivalently Teen Beat backstory – apparently, the fledgling poet-turned-songwriter started turning her poetry into songs four years ago, after an “emotional split with her then boyfriend” – manages to repackage the angsty radio hit as a dark post-folk track that teeters on the edge, using a complex swirl of deep drum heartbeats, electrofolk rhythms, and layered angst vocals to transform pop into pain.

    Folly Rae: Tonight Im Getting Over You (orig. Carly Rae Jepsen)

Teaching in a bilingual district for the past five years may have helped me recover a good bit of my high-school Spanish, but I’m still somewhat stymied by the press materials and original song lyrics of LopLop, a Castellón-based folk quintet who support their contemporary melodic folkpop with the slightest hint of mellow acoustic latin strum patterns. Thankfully, over the last few weeks, Sara Ledesma, LopLop’s lead singer, has dropped some delicate uke- and guitar-driven covers in a surprisingly flawless English onto Soundcloud, proving that music is an international language, and providing entry into their other work for those who, like me, generally favor melody, harmony, presence and arrangement over lyrical narrative to begin with – all of which Sara, like her band, seem to have in spades. (Though I have to admit, The Magnetic Fields’ All My Little Words sound delightful in Spanish, especially with bells on.)

    Sara Ledesma: Breathing Underwater (orig. Metric)

    Sara Ledesma: Chasing Cars (orig. Snow Patrol)

    Sara Ledesma: Mis Pequeñas Palabras (orig. Magnetic Fields; tran. Ledesma)

We named Bring In On Home, the debut duo release from songstress Shannon Whitworth and constant bandmate Barrett Smith, our Best Covers Album of 2012, making the more-typical frontwoman hardly “new” enough for our usual New Artists, Old Songs focus. But though we were fans of the Brevard, NC painter and farm-owner’s previous work with bluegrass-and-country band The Biscuit Burners, we hadn’t really paid attention to Whitworth’s solo work until now…which turns out to have been a serious mistake.

Color us corrected. While High Tide, which comes out this Tuesday, leans more folkpop and less true-blue Americana than both her duo work with Smith and her first two solo albums, thanks to a switch from banjo to Gibson guitar, and to the supportive influence of Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) and producer Seth Kauffman – it says something that the Appalachian-trained Whitworth is reportedly a Merlefest favorite, though fresh off US and Canada tours opening for Chris Isaak and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band – the package, drenched in reverb and dripping with jazz crooner soul, practically embodies the continued viability and vibrancy of modern folk as a genre sprung from the older traditions yet eminently its own. Is Shannon Whitworth the new “it girl” of contemporary crossover folkpop? All signs point to yes.

    Shannon Whitworth: So Far Away (orig. Dire Straits)

Last, but not least, the Soundcloud-stream release of Slowcoustic’s incredible homage to J. Tillman’s Long May You Run came to a triumphant conclusion yesterday with the release of the final tracks, thus proving the entirety of the album as “a triumph of curation and performance” as previously reported earlier this week in our own feature on the slow-leak tribute. Our previous post took on Doc Feldman, who we’re pleased to learn will be releasing a new album sometime this summer, and who has some great videos at the link above, plus more “subdued, almost heroin sentiment” from Pickering Pick and Quarter Mile Thunder; I’m also loving the tracks from Lotte Kestner (Ties That Bind) and Al James of Dolorean (Fireworks), both of whom we’ve covered here before, plus a whole host of new-to-me discoveries, from Andy Oliveri to Cash Harrison and the Terrible Decision. Head over to Slowcoustic to stream and download the entire set; for now, since we’ve already posted three of the tracks, here’s a slightly older, deliciously jangly lo-fi banjo cover from Lexington singer-songwriter Pilots & Errors, whose own take on Fireworks is a stellar contribution to a stunning tribute.

    Pilots & Errors: Hickory (orig. Iron & Wine)

Looking for more streaming coverage? Check out a pair of sweet newfound YouTube tracks – a heartbreaking take on Crosby, Stills & Nash classic Helplessly Hoping from Australian duo The Falls and a sunny folkpop take on The Beatles’ She Loves You – over at the Cover Lay Down facebook page!

2 comments » | New Artists Old Songs, Soundcloud Saturday

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