Archive for July 2013

Covered In Folk: Arcade Fire
(Sara Lov, Ana Egge, Ane Brun, Clare Burson, Calexico & more!)

July 28th, 2013 — 10:26am

Let’s start with the obvious: Arcade Fire isn’t folk music. And if you’re an older folk fan, or just generally not alt-Top 40 savvy, you may barely recognize the bandname, though one or two songs may sound familiar, thanks to the everpresent periphery of Starbucks soundtracks and hipster radio.

But the purpose of Cover Lay Down is to connect fans with artists through the comfort of coverage. Our Covered In Folk series has taken on the songbooks of influential artists from Dolly Parton and Jimi Hendrix to Radiohead, Pavement, and The Bee Gees; we recognize that our subjective listening histories contain volumes, and that familiarity is where you find it. And by this standard, Arcade Fire is worth knowing – both because the band is no mere footnote in the history of 21st century music, and because in just a decade, the young indie-rock influencers, built around the songwriting-partnership-turned romance of husband-and-wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, have crafted a body of songs that have caught the ears and minds of a rising generation of artists who self-define as folk.

Today, then, we turn our attention to the songs of Arcade Fire, as covered by a diverse set of young singer-songwriters from across the folk and acoustic genres. As always, if you like what you hear, follow the threads below to learn more about the artists we celebrate.

History first: although a version of Arcade Fire was formed by Butler and a few other players in Boston around the turn of the century, the band identifies as Canadian, tracing its official founding to the Montreal art gallery where Butler discovered Chassagne singing jazz standards. The band would spend the next three years honing their unusual combination of eclectic influences into “a mix of bossa nova, punk, French chanson, and classically tinged pop music,” gathering in players, and developing a local following through small venue performances and a self-pressed EP that caught the ears of Merge Records.

From there, their rise to fame was swift indeed. Pitchfork named their cathartic 2004 debut Funeral among their top ten albums of the year; they toured with U2, and played both Lollapalooza and Coachella. Subsequent albums Neon Bible (2007) and The Suburbs (2010) topped the Billboard charts. “Alternative radio” listeners and Top 40 aficionados alike became familiar with their sound and sensibility. And with a second appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2010, theirs was a household name, at least among the cool kids.

Arcade Fire is an expansive indie rock band with elements of both post-punk and baroque pop in the mix, and they’ve sounded like it all along; with but three albums under their belt, their songbook is small, though a fourth album due this October will expand their repertoire. But under all that pulsing beat and unapologetically theatrical performance, the combination of deep lyrics, dark majesty, and smart, fragile, hook-driven melodies strike a deserved chord with the disillusioned masses.

Where such broad fandom is found, tribute is bound to follow. And follow it does, in spades. The covers of Arcade Fire which catch the imagination run predominantly popfolk and indie, as befits a band that rose to prominence after the millennium, and is often hailed (ironically and unironically) for bringing indie to the mainstream, especially since winning a Grammy for Album of the Year (thus retaining their indie cred by becoming the only artist to date to win in only that category). Even on the popfolk side, the dominant players are artists on the fringe: young singer-songwriters, social-media savvy, who know how to ply the modern as a vehicle for fan base.

We’re not knocking this approach, of course: by definition, Cover Lay Down celebrates and respects coverage as a vehicle of comfort. But even as the covers run the gamut, stirring the imagination of a vast swath of styles and artists, don’t let the genre spread fool you. Arcade Fire’s lyrics are a consistent thread, socially aware, painfully personal, and thematically deep, as evidenced by the heady journeys of their albums themselves, and by their own choices of coversongs: their Talking Heads cover, heard below as a bonus track, is hoarse and heated, and shockingly sparse; their version of Games Without Frontiers, which will appear on long-awaited Peter Gabriel tribute And I’ll Scratch Yours in September, is darker and more hollow than the original, which is saying something.

The spread of their peer coverage is quite diverse, too, with several takes per original album speaking to a consistency in composition throughout the band’s wild ride to fame. A greatest hits collection, then: of Arcade Fire treated tenderly, and with passion; of modern homage, in the spirit of sharing, and of folk writ large.

Covered In Folk: Arcade Fire

  • Ana Egge: In The Backseat

    A tense, pulsing take from Lazy Days, American folk artist Ana Egge‘s slow, sunny all-covers tribute to classic pop-and-rock songs of summer.

  • Calexico: Ocean of Noise

    Indie collective Calexico brings their crashing alt-country to bear on a cover originally released by Arcade Fire themselves as a b-side for Intervention.

Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk songsets and ethnographic explorations throughout the year thanks to the generous patronage of readers like you. Want to help? Here’s how:

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3 comments » | Arcade Fire, Covered In Folk

Oceanfolk 2013: Covers for Sand, Surf and Sound

July 25th, 2013 — 6:20pm

Originally posted, with slight modifications, in August 2009, and again in 2011. Because it’s one of my favorite sets – and because bloggers need vacations, too.


We’ve just got back from a short week in Truro, in the same rented beachhouse high on the dunes above the Cape Cod sound. It’s peaceful out there on the bluff: wakeless trawlers and shore fishermen, beach wanderers and bathers are few and far between, mere specks on an otherwise natural landscape that fills the sense with color: green grasses, faded yellow sand, the variable blues of sky and water.

At night the lights of Provincetown shone brightly just on the edge of the vista, a line of stars marking the difference between pitch-black sea and an invisible sky. The first year we were here a shooting star dropped towards them while I watched, as if longing to join the tourists and summer people in their shared debauchery. This year, the full moon showed its evidentiary head only once through the after-dark clouds, its tidal effect was visible in the disappearance of the dunes and meadows at dusk. I stayed up late reading the usual borrowed beachhouse paperback, the autobiography of an island lobsterwoman, and fell asleep before eleven.

The weeks ahead burn and roil on the horizon like sunset: crew chiefdom and a chance to steep in the community of music next week at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, a two week run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Hampshire Shakespeare Company up in Amherst, and then back to work, with new students to greet, new courses to teach, and new classrooms to maintain from then until eternity. But sitting there on the deck in the shade of the house, the marsh below me, the ocean beyond, this browngrey hawk drawing lazy circles in the blue overhead, I was reminded once again how vital it is to sit in stillness at the edge of it all, how centering it is to squeeze peace from the last fleeting weeks of summer.

It’s a good life. Here’s a soundtrack for it.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and commentary twice weekly throughout the year thanks to the support of readers like you.

Comment » | Mixtapes, Reposts

The Wailin’ Jennys cover:
Neil Young, John Hiatt, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris & more!

July 20th, 2013 — 7:03pm

Plus new solo coverage from Cara Luft and Ruth Moody!

We’re suckers for sweet girl-group harmonies here at Cover Lay Down, with previous features on Red Molly, Be Good Tanyas, and others offering ample evidence of our long history with the sweetest – and we love a good “how the band met” backstory. So if it took us a while to turn our full attention to Canadian folk-and-roots trio The Wailin’ Jennys, it is no slur on their talent, or their coverage – merely a symptom of how smoothly their songs slide into the modern folk canon, and perhaps a function of their origin in distant Winnipeg less than a decade ago.

No matter: The Wailin’ Jennys are eminently worthy of our South-of-the-border attention. Named punnishly after the country icon Waylon Jennings, founded – like Red Molly – by three singer-songwriters who discovered their particular magic in what was supposed to be a one-shot co-performance in a small, causal venue, the group and its members, each of whom continues to record and explore as a solo artist and with other collaborators, has released four full albums and two EPs since 2004 debut 40 Days won them a Juno award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year and a coveted spot on Prairie Home Companion. And with 2006 release Firecracker rising to the #2 spot on the Billboard Bluegrass charts, and their most recent album, 2011 release Bright Stars, earning them a second Album of the Year Juno and a mainstage set at Newport Folk Festival, it’s hard to argue that the band has not yet reached its prime.

PromotwjIndeed: ten years in, The Wailin’ Jennys are deserved stars in the modern folk and Americana scene. And though the 2013 release dates of two recent projects from trio members – soprano singer-songwriter Ruth Moody’s delightfully chamberfolk-influenced These Wilder Things and alto Heather Masse’s Lock My Heart, an album of jazz standards and originals with pianist Dick Hyman – might suggest that they have been focusing their attention on their individual careers in the intervening years, a healthy tour schedule which sees them crossing the US over the next several months lends credence to the artistic balancing act of solo and communal agency that the band promises its membership.

Original songwriting rests at the core of The Wailin’ Jennys work; each member is a strong singer-songwriter in her own right, with a distinct voice and multiple writing credits on each album. The broad diversity of career paths and training which each performer brings to the group makes for a rich and satisfying melding of styles, with stand-up bass, guitar, fiddle, and the occasional uke, drums or banjo gently supporting the outcome, whether the trend is towards fluid contemporary popfolk or funky acoustic world beat. The agency this collaboration provides for each member seems potent: several Jennys compositions have been heavily covered in the folk world, most notably One Voice, which is fast becoming a feminist anthem of empowerment.

The current line-up of The Wailin’ Jennys reflects a historical shift in personnel, with original members Moody and indie-pop aficionado mezzo Nicky Mehta most recently joined by New England Conservatory Jazz trained singer-songwriter Heather Masse – founding alto Cara Luft left the band for Montreal singer-songwriter Annabelle Chvostek in 2005; Chovstek stepped aside for Masse in 2007. But throughout, their core sound has not shifted from its broad foundation. As performers, The Wailin’ Jennys tend towards the sparse, letting the braid of their strong, entwined vocals carry the songs – each in its turn as a lead instrument, and in blend divine.

As with so many folk artists, the award-winning trio pays apt and adept tribute to its influencers in and among the originals. And their takes on the music of their Canadian peers, from Bruce Cockburn to Neil Young, and of the traditional songbook, are generally sweet and strong, with several of today’s exemplars serving permanently in my favorite coverfolk mixtapes. Below, an album-by-album exploration of The Wailin’ Jennys through coverage, followed by a short coda celebration of a pair of new solo works from band members past and present.

Solo work from The Wailin’ Jennys ranges broad into the genres; Heather Masse‘s piano jazz collaborations, for example, are strong, if out of place on a folk blog; Annabelle Chvostek‘s bouncy 2013 “indiefolk-meets-Occupy” record RISE was nominated for a Juno of its own. Nicky Mehta has fronted rock, indie, and folk projects previously, too, but her website and solo career seem to be on hold after giving birth to twins in 2009.

But two of the founding Jennys have released exceptionally strong folk albums in the last few months: Cara Luft‘s Darlingford – a tour de force of contemporary folk; alternately urgent and delicate, with potent laments and triumphs, and strong with the hearty strains of multiple roots traditions – and Ruth Moody‘s abovementioned chamberfolk collection These Wilder Things, which is as deep as it is etherial. Both come highly recommended. Here’s a few bonus tracks to prove it.

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

3 comments » | Cara Luft, Featured Artists, The Wailin' Jennys

Burning Up, 2013: More Songs for a Heat Wave
(from Ring Of Fire to Heat of the Moment, covered in folk)

July 17th, 2013 — 6:08pm

It’s been one of the hottest summers on record here in New England, with temperatures in the nineties for almost a dozen days since early June – so intolerably hot, in fact, that for the first time since the kids were born, my wife dragged out the air conditioner.

But this tiny, futile rail against the tide is not enough to make the difference. Outdoor obligations have been excruciating, and they are numerous; the rooms where we sleep remain restless torture chambers of sweat and stillness. By day, the driveway scorches, and the grass burns dry with sun. Shade offers no solace; cold showers provide but quick-fading comfort. The night is a swamp: we wilt, and nothing seems to bring us back to ourselves.

Amidst it all, I’ve been trying to put together a feature post on some great new emerging artists, but the hot, still air puts me in a stupor that stifles both the creative urge and any initiative I might have. And so we turn to the old standby: a thematic set of songs for a heat have, rebuilt around a set originally shared in May of 2010, shaken and stirred with a second round of new-found tracks, a lone concession to the creative urge. And then we’re off to the dam, to soak in the cool waters as long as we can stand it.

Listen, as the metaphors of heat – from friction to fire to the lazy lethargy of summer – stretch out in song, encompassing passion on the one hand, tempting fate on the other.

Heat Wave Coverfolk (2013) [zip!]

Previously on Cover lay Down:

4 comments » | Mixtapes, Reposts

Single Song Sunday: Dead Flowers
(From “appalling” original to countryfolk standard)

July 14th, 2013 — 10:48am

Critics seem to agree that the original version of Dead Flowers is a bit of a mess, though like most older Rolling Stones tracks, it still shows up on classic rock radio from time to time. Mostly, its weakness springs from irreparable tensions between the song’s performance and its innate compositional character: a co-write from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, born of Richards’ continued friendship with Gram Parsons, the song is eminently countrified, which makes it ill-suited to both Jagger’s voice and the band’s overall performance trends at the time.

Indeed, Rolling Stone magazine, in its review of 1971 origin album Sticky Fingers, panned the recording, writing that “the mere thought of the Stones doing straight country music is simply appalling. And they do it so poorly, especially the lead guitar.” And although they would later go on to include a version of the song on 1995 small-venue retrospective Stripped, a close review of live takes from the era of its birth, such as this 1971 performance, seem to show Jagger bored with the verses, and a ragged acceleration into the chorus that suggests everyone on stage is eager to get the damn thing over with.

But as a composition, Dead Flowers is decidedly redeemable: a simply organized, deliciously dark first-person country song framed as a bitter and dismissive parting shot from a tainted self-effacing narrator to an insufferable rich girl who’s been proudly slumming in the “ragged company” of the heroin rock underclass, with the titular arrangement and its live graveside complement a beautiful and potent symbol of the complex connections that can linger under regret and resentment. No wonder, then, that the song has gone on to become one of the most covered Stones songs in recent memory – at least in those several genres which pull from rock towards country, and for artists who dip into the Country Rock canon.

As with several of our previous Single Song Sunday subjects, although nominally born in rock, Dead Flowers has gone on to become a switched-genre standard through coverage – most notably, we suspect, through the influence of Townes Van Zandt, whose reinvention, released on live covers album Roadsongs in 1993 but played in concert for years beforehand, turns the song into a pensive solo picker, trading the high country rock bombast of the original for a slow, ragged syrupy mourning that brings the bitter darkness of its heroin lyrics into focus. Van Zandt’s take would go on to be used in The Big Lebowski, and sure enough, that placement, and the general resurgence of his popularity in the modern Americana and roots camps, seem to have prompted several recent covers which clearly owe their intonation to his drawling cowboy countryfolk – see, for example, the in-studio solo take from Northampton, MA singer-songwriter Erik Alan, or from John McCauley of Deer Tick, whose own 2012 solo video version only benefits from the lazy lowbrow outdoor setting, from his slouched posture to the cans of beer at his feet.

But Townes’ version comes from secondhand sources, too – and even as they must have influenced his own tired take, those who took on Dead Flowers in the early years pushed the song into other developing genres as well. Tracing this summer’s newest live covers – both Wilco’s recent version from their now-famous all-covers festival set and the Deadly Gentlemen cover I recorded on Wednesday at their CD release show – through the newgrass and jamgrass movements all the way back to the version recorded in 1976 by psychedelic country rock Grateful Dead spin-off New Riders of the Purple Sage is a neatly linear exercise in inheritance and songsourcing.

Hard rockers, too, have often nodded to the song when they cross into country. The infamous Guns & Roses “unplugged” cover is too far from folk, but Uncle Tupelo‘s hard-edged roots rock seems to nod to that bombast without straying too far from the No Depression camp, even as it anticipates Townes’ recording. Even anti-popstar Ke$ha has covered it without much irony – and though it seems a bit anomalous for a crowd of young emo kids to enact the song’s narrative, she and her friends pull it off reasonably well in their YouTube hallway session.

The result of this braided path is a set of covers that tend to split between countrified rock and bluegrass on the one hand, and slow solo guitar takes on the other, allowing us to play the folk side of each camp broadly, while still acknowledging other covers that fall outside our focus. But variants exist beyond those poles, too. Though the slow, sunshiny lyrical delivery seems a bit too fluffy, for example, Brooklyn artist Batja‘s grungy genre-crossing version brings a refreshing acoustic reggaepop sound to the song, transcending mere curiosity. Electrograss jamband supergroup Stir Fried comes through with a live session that rocks hard even as it shows its bluegrass and folk roots. And Steve Earle‘s version, recorded live in Calgary and released on the 2008 bonus disc of his seminal “power twang” album Copperhead Road, eschews the rock’n’roll error of the original for punkgrass sentiment that flavors the lyrics with an appropriate anger.

On the slower side, Cowboy Junkies translate the song into something inevitably, almost dismally their own, with mandolin, slide, and accordion riffs that fill the stretched-out spaces in a version that surprisingly predates Townes’ release by a few years. Bluegrass pickers The Brothers Comatose take it slow, too, putting harmonies against wistful, sparse banjo to great effect. A brand new take from the lead singer of Reno, Nevada country bar-band Hellbound Glory puts acoustic countryrock vocal mannerisms against gentle solo guitar strums, trading heroin for whiskey as it collapses the waveforms of the song’s history into a tender backporch intimacy, while The Record Low, in a 2007 Hear Ya session coda, wail broken pain into the night. And seemingly defunct old-timey stringband revivalists The Powder Kegs find a different middle ground, with fiddle strains and a mournful twang that seems perfectly suited to the song.

In the end, though confounding when couched in pure rock and roll, the class criticism and countrified sound Mick and Keith found in Dead Flowers continue to resonate among a wide swath of American artists with a better sense of how to play it straight, offering redemption to song and sentiment. Below, as evidence: a bouquet of our favorites, from roots rock to singer-songwriter solo takes to true-blue bluegrass and beyond – download en masse, or hit ’em up separately to consider the beauty of each bud and blossom.

Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic exploration bi-weekly thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Here’s how to do your part:

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3 comments » | Single Song Sunday

Tributes and Cover Compilations, Summer 2013
(Bach, Motown, Stephen Foster, The Postal Service, Damien Jurado & more!)

July 11th, 2013 — 3:17pm

There’s a lot of great new stuff bubbling up through the ether out there. Today, we dig into a few warm-weather months of mailbag offerings to reveal a carefully vetted mid-year set of new and impending album-length coverfolk collections sure to tickle the coverlover’s fancy.

The 8 song reinterpretations on The Music of Stephen Foster, a new homage to the “Father of American Music” from midwestern “acoustic folk and electroacoustic musician” Nathan Edwards, are quite diverse, when you get down to it, ranging from James Taylor orchestral to echoey electroacoustic indiefolk. Yet the warm vocal tones, exquisite instrumentation, and loving research which underlie this small-yet-ambitious project provide a unifying force that transcends mere songbook commonality.

The result is seamless: a truly transformative yet eminently honest set that succeeds in its promise of updating the old songs for modern ears, finding the indiefolk, Americana, country and soul in songs long embedded in our national psyche. Stream two tracks below, and preorder here in digital or hardcopy for a July 16 drop date.

    Nathan Edwards: Beautiful Dreamer (orig. Stephen Foster)

    Nathan Edwards: I Would Not Die In Springtime (orig. Stephen Foster)

If we’re late to the party on Sam Amidon‘s newest covers-and-tradfolk release, it’s because Bright Sunny South is startlingly complex, with deep exploration that grates as easily as it glorifies, and a shift in tone from track to track that seems, at times, less a journey than a yawing catalog of inner voices. Indeed, at its most experimental, Bright Sunny South is hard to listen to, and maybe that’s the point: Sam’s shaky voice, like a raggedly bowed saw blade, remains creaky and primordial; most reviewers have complained about his Mariah Carey cover, which seems overly gentle and abstract for its concrete and commercial lyrics, and the smashing electric feedback session that closes the otherwise pensive tradsong He’s Taken My Feet, while compositionally adept, seems too confrontational every time.

But if Bright Sunny South is a (purposefully) mixed bag, it’s an amazingly mature one, with stunningly smooth, shimmery production finally allowing the frail and often meager instrumentation that Amidon brings to his interpretations to finally sound less lo-fidelity and more deliberately broken. Some tracks are melodic, others, like As I Roved Out, are more wholly deconstructed, – their lyrics collapsed and reshuffled, their fragments of tradition echoing through in pastiche – but each has a tension that reveals and reveres. Call it a thinker’s album, and give him the Grammy already, for nowhere else this year have we heard such intimacy, such clear recognition of the myriad paths of shapenote hymns and old-timey folk brought forcefully into the 21st century.

    Sam Amidon: As I Roved Out (trad.)

I’m still not sure how to categorize If You Wait Long Enough: Songs of Will Stratton, a benefit tribute album for the young indie singer-songwriter and composer whose cancer diagnosis last year illuminated the conflicted plight of artists in a world where medical bills are often unaffordable for those working outside the world of 9 to 5 employment. The ingredients for folk, or at least a sort of honesty generally sprung from the modern roots inheritors, are all there: though many tracks include a grungy wash of electric guitar undercurrent, most are spare and acoustic at heart, and there’s dreamscapes galore, which certainly suits Stratton’s generally witty and self-effacing lyrical phrases. But to shelve this album as even predominantly folk is to both ignore the synth-driven indie pop and rock elements of Kid in the Attic’s beat-heavy Do You Remember the Morning and Jesse Rifkin’s club-ready Katydid, and to mistake performance for genre.

Greatness will out, however. What this album decidedly is, is an honest, cohesive, organic introduction to the works of an undersung artist in need of support from a set of artists who clearly care for both that body of work, and the body of the man who produced it; as such, it stands easily among the better tributes we’ve heard this year. So check out the more primitive tracks, such as the swirling banjo-driven climb from sadness into subdued promise brought by Brattleboro-based acoustic string explorer Sam Moss and the Ineligible Bachelors (with Corey DiMario of Crooked Still on upright bass, and Amidon sibling Stefan of Sweetback Sisters on percussion), and Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-grounded songcrafter Zachary Cale‘s tender and pensive Bluebells, then stream and buy on Bandcamp to support Will’s recovery and treatment.

    Sam Moss and the Ineligible Bachelors: The Relatively Fair (orig. Will Stratton)

    Zachary Cale: Bluebells (orig. Will Stratton)

As an addendum to the above, fans of Sam Amidon and/or primitive folk would do well to check out The Parlor Is Pleasant on Sunday Night, Sam Moss and fellow Vermonster Jackson Emmer’s eminently fragile late 2012 duo collection of old-time songs of “jubilation…and defeat”: while not new, my thread-pulling discovery of the collection while researching the above made me an instant fan.

We often complain of mass market mixed-genre tribute albums, even as we celebrate the folk tracks therein. But if the approach taken by Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of The Postal Service, a new multi-artist tribute produced in honor of the joint ten-year anniversary of curating blog Independent Clauses and seminal Postal Service album Give Up, seems much more listener-friendly – with its 21 track setlist divided into discrete folk and indiepop “albums” – who are we to argue when the result is easily more than an album’s worth of great covers?

Which is to say: if not every track is to our taste on either disk, well, that’s to be expected when working with unknowns; there are more hits than misses here, with multiple coverage of well-recognized songs allowing the listener to choose sides, and hipsters to defend theirs endlessly. Perhaps that’s the point: I’m wholly in love with the ability to line ’em up, and utterly lost in the way Venna’s hope and heavenly harmonies play against the bouncy brush, bass, fiddle and banjo Seven Handle Circus bring to their own version of well-known indie shout-out Such Great Heights, a pairing which will play consecutively in the player below. And that’s just the folk side, which says something about the hard edge on the indiepop end of things.

Suggesting strongly that blog-born coverage collections may be a bit more fan-friendly by definition, similar curative circumstances result in a similarly sprawling yet surprisingly strong Damien Jurado tribute from Slowcoustic, which, like the well-produced J. Tillman tribute Slowcoustic produced earlier this year, has been slowly released over the last week. More cohesive by design – blog host and Yer Bird label founder Sandy focuses on a much narrower spectrum of lo-fi “slow acoustic” music, making for more commonality of sound and approach in his mix – the new Jurado homage is nevertheless deliciously imperfect, and overstuffed with double and triple takes on some of the indiefolk darling’s most poignant compositions, each one rawer than the last. As always, we’re thrilled with turnouts from Cover Lay Down faves Hezekiah Jones, Doc Feldman, and Lotte Kestner, and pleased to find some new love and appreciation in the mix from Kim Janssen, Jeremy Squires, and more; for a track-by-track breakdown of contributing artists and the choices they’ve made in coverage, head directly to Slowcoustic’s 5-part treatment of the collection, without passing “go”.

Finally, from the edges of folk but still firmly grounded in the roots of American acoustic music come two genre coverage collections, one Motown soul, one eminently old-school classical. First, Chris Thile’s all-classical, all-Bach album, wherein a collection of sonatas and partitas translate into masterfully crisp mandolin tunes without losing a drop of bravado, thus proving once again just why this artist recently received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant; the album doesn’t drop ’til August, but pre-orders are ongoing, and the video below is a great teaser. And second, Decoration Day, Vol. 2, a new EP-length multi-artist covers compilation from the indiefolk collective at Mason Jar Music, which takes a funky 60’s era Motown approach on songs originally by Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Billy Taylor, and Bill Withers, plus a Beatles tune and a Willie Dixon number, bringing the collection into the millennium with an ear towards the acoustic and the “new Americana” melting pot. Fledgling NYC label Mason Jar’s mostly-Brooklyn tradfolk collection of stormsongs after Hurricane Sandy was one of our favorite albums of 2012; finding their Decoration Day EP series ongoing is a delight, especially after their first volume brought such wonderful talent and folk stylings to 200 years of popular American song; as a bonus, we get to celebrate sweet up-and-coming soul-meets-singer-songwriter Emily Elbert again, which is always wonderful.

    Chris Thile: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor

Cover Lay Down features new thematic songsets and artist-focused entries twice weekly throughout the year thanks to patrons and supporters like you. Coming soon: more mailbag coverage from up-and-coming artists, and a new Single Song Sunday collection uncovers the path a Rolling Stones tune takes in becoming an outlaw country classic.

2 comments » | Chris Thile, Sam Amidon, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Mail Call Coverfolk: New releases from
The Deadly Gentlemen, Antje Duvekot, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker

July 7th, 2013 — 1:50pm


The mailbag is stuffed to overflowing, so we’ll take the week to dig in, starting with news of three beloved folk artists whose work we’ve covered before. As always, if you like what you hear here (hear, hear!), don’t forget to follow links to purchase works and attend shows in support of these artists, the better to support the continued production of folk as a viable outlet for artists and fans alike. Enjoy!

I’ve made it to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival a number of times over the years, and touted it on these pages almost as much as Falcon Ridge; this year’s roster is startlingly good, with double sets from The Deadly Gentlemen, Thile and Davies, Infamous Stringdusters, The Duhks, Devil Makes Three, and Carolina Chocolate Drops bringing extra energy to the usual stellar set of long-time legends. Sadly, I’ve a family obligation this summer that will keep me from its fields and stages, but this long-time winner of the IBMA’s “Best Fest” award is a delight; gates open in nine days, and if you can make it up to Oak Hill, NY the third weekend in July, I highly recommend it.

I will be making it to the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge this Wednesday, July 10 for what promises to be a smashingly funky second-night CD release party for newly signed Rounder Record recording artists and Boston Bluegrass experimentalists The Deadly Gentlemen, who we’ve been following since their founding at the hands of Crooked Still alum Greg Listz. As is made eminently obvious from first single Bored of the Raging – currently available free as a teaser – Roll Me, Tumble Me, the new album from this talented collection of young folks, is quite mature for a sophomore outing, with elements from playful jamband and jazz pushing the limits of whimsy and wit in bluegrass, resulting in a rich, crisp, substantive sound emerging from the band’s incredible mix of talent and craftsmanship. The originals it contains blow the mind, and so do these recently recorded covers; if you’re not a Bostonian but are equally eager to catch them live, either Grey Fox or their official release party in NYC Tuesday the 9th at Joe’s Pub with opening girl-group trio T.H.E.M. would serve.

    The Deadly Gentlemen: All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose (orig. Woody Guthrie)

    The Deadly Gentlemen: The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance (orig. Vampire Weekend)

    The Deadly Gentlemen: A Touch Of Grey (orig. Grateful Dead)

    The Deadly Gentlemen w/ David Grisman: Dead Flowers (orig. Rolling Stones)

As we noted to regular readers of the Cover Lay Down Facebook page back in November, Antje Duvekot’s 6-track YouTube covers series last summer featured stunningly sweet solo takes on Paul Simon, Jason Mraz, Hank Williams, and more, leaving us chagrined to find it so late in the game. Now, only three albums into a well-celebrated and highly respected rise to singer-songwriter fame, the German-born, Boston-resident artist brings the covers concept back for “Undercover with Antje“, a new monthly YouTube series featuring duets with what promises to be a strong set of fellow coffeehouse travelers. The mix currently includes collaborations with Falcon Ridge 2013 Emerging Artist Brad Yoder, Red Molly siren Molly Ventner, and young pianofolk singer-songwriter sensation Seth Glier, on some surprising choices of song; upcoming collaborations will feature Meg Hutchinson, Ellis Paul, Anne Heaton, and more luminaries from the Boston scene and beyond.

As a bonus for coverlovers and fans, Duvekot’s webpage notes an EP recorded over a May weekend, with three covers and two originals, to be released soon; her new take on Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’ alone reminds us just why we celebrate her performance. And a solo ukelele take on Richard Thompson’s Beeswing, posted just a few months ago, is gentle as the breeze.

    Antje Duvekot & Seth Glier: Fire and Rain (orig. James Taylor)

    Antje Duvekot & Brad Yoder: Mein Fahhrad (orig. Die Prinzen)

    Antje Duvekot & Molly Venter: it’s a Hard Life Wherever you Go (orig. Nanci Griffith)

    Antje Duvekot: Beeswing (orig. Richard Thompson)

Among the familiar faces in the inbox this month we’re pleased as punch to find Josienne Clarke, whose small but growing body of work so impressed us when we discovered it back in 2011 on the backs of her stunning first collaboration with instrumentalist and producer Ben Walker. And we’re especially thrilled to find the two names tied together again: because pairing deepens the bond, sophomore duo albums often turn out stronger than their predecessors, and in this case, the stage is set, as Walker and Clarke have been hard on the road since we last checked in on them, touring on the strength of a small EP of originals even as they win awards abroad for their ongoing plumb of the depths of beauty in the old songs.

Sure enough, though the bar was set quite high by The Seas Are Deep – Clarke and Walker’s first take on the body of traditional music of and beyond their native British Isles – new release Fire and Fortune, which drops July 22 in the UK, and July 30 in the US on Compass Records, is easily equal to the task. Clarke’s mature, deceptively simple interpretation of timeless traditional laments and original ballads, Walker’s stunningly subtle fretwork, and inspired settings of low winds, gentle piano chords, and soaring strings combine marvelously, making a fragile atmosphere that welcomes even as it warns. The result: a tight, flowing work that remains “a perfect balance of both classical voice-and-guitar folk and traditional balladry”, “delicate, crisp, subtle and nuanced, and beautiful in every tiny moment” even as it cuts to the core. Check out the video for their title song – an eerie gospel hand-clap-and-stomp driven original that plays silence and darkness under a deceptive shell – a live track from 2011, and two tracks and an unreleased also-ran from the sessions that produced the upcoming album – then preorder here.

    Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker: The Outlandish Knight (trad.)

    Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker: Hares On The Mountain (trad.)

    Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker: My Donal (trad.)

Looking for more great coverfolk news? Stop in later this week for a huge New Artists, Old Songs feature, and a summer set of new and upcoming cover compilations and tribute albums…and don’t forget to like our Facebook page for bonus streams and videos!

1 comment » | Antje Duvekot, Deadly Gentlemen, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker

Festival Coverfolk, Redux:
Emerging Artists at Falcon Ridge Folk Fest (August 1-4, 2013)

July 5th, 2013 — 7:05pm

Two consecutive features on the same festival might seem like overkill under ordinary circumstances. But Falcon Ridge Folk Festival released their alphabetized list of Emerging Artists just after we shared our previous feature, and I’m utterly floored by the amount of talent and craftsmanship included therein. Today, then, we come back to the Hillsdale, NY fields to share a few samples from the ranks of the up-and-coming. Enjoy!

The Emerging Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge is quite well-respected in the music world: it’s quite competitive, and for fans, it’s a great way to test out new acts on the rise. But there’s something special about this year’s roster. For the first time, it features both a number of artists who have been on my “must see” list for a while, and several whom we’ve featured here before, including country-folk artist turned singer-songwriter Amy Black, “roots and branches” stringband Annalivia, Tall Heights, a duo from the Boston area who have shown up on my YouTube radar several times, and urban newgrass quintet Roosevelt Dime, who we first championed way back in 2008.

Other artists on this year’s list are relatively new to me, though many come highly recommended. New find Darlingside, for example, a “string rock quartet”, promises a heady sound, with layered indiefolk harmonies and instruments from cello to mandolin over the beat. Irreverent folk reinventors Bobtown sport an eclectic folk band energy with influences that range from punkgrass to funky gospel and folkpop. Young progressive bluegrass quintet Cricket Tell The Weather are featured at a number of trusted festivals this summer, and have played with Rushad Eggleston, co-founder of Crooked Still, which is itself a strong recommendation.

And although trends in the past few years have resulted in a group that skews heavily away from solo artists, a number of strong solo singer-songwriters appear on the list, from 2013 New Folk Finalist Bethel Steele to excellently impish local heroine Carrie Ferguson, from dark and raw-voiced New Jersey caller Jonah Tolchin to Maine-based acoustic coffeehouse rising star Connor Garvey, from NYC folkpopper Rachael Sage to midwestern folkrocker Jacob Latham. I’m especially happy to have discovered Amanda Pearcey, a great choice for the folkpop set, in researching this second-round feature: her new album, streamed in full below her homepage, featuring a voice reminiscent of Ani DiFranco, and a slow burn of a Rolling Stones cover.

I’ll stop there, lest I end up leaving someone out. But by definition, each of the 24 who has made it to the showcase bears serious consideration. Here’s the total list, in alphabetical order; if you’re up on your own local scene, and live in the continental US, odds are good you might recognize a few names yourself.

Amanda Pearcy (Austin, TX)
Amy Black (Somerville, MA)
Annalivia (Boston, MA)
Bethel Steele (Boston, MA)
Bobtown (NYC)
Brad Yoder Duo (Pittsburgh, PA)
Carrie Ferguson (Northhampton, MA)
Connor Garvey (Portland, ME)
Cricket Tell the Weather (New Haven, CT)
Darlingside (Boston, MA)
Doug Allen (Stamford, CT)
Doug Kwartler (Boston, MA)
Jacob Latham (Bloomington, IN)
Jonah Tolchin (Princeton, NJ)
Martin Swinger (Augusta, ME)
Michael Braunfeld (Philadelphia, PA)
Noble Hunter (Brooklyn, NY)
Phil Henry Acoustic Trio (Rutland, VT)
Rachael Sage (NYC)
Reverend TH McGlinchey (Philadelphia, PA)
Roosevelt Dime (Brooklyn, NY)
Tall Heights (Boston, MA)
The Bones of J.R. Jones (Manilus, NY)
The Boxcar Lilies (Greenfield, MA)

Artists selected for the Emerging Artists Showcase play two songs each on mainstage on Friday between noon and 4:30; the hill is generally well-attended, and if CD sales at the “merch tent” are any indication, most artists pick up more than a few fans. But happily, the showcase isn’t the only chance you’ll have to see your newest music crush. Most artists who play Friday stay on for the weekend to play the campgrounds and vendor booths, in casual stop-as-you-can sessions and at hilltop songcircle “tent venues” run by coffeehouse promoters.

Several of these acts, in fact, including Roosevelt Dime, Darlingside, Bethel Steele, Connor Garvey, and Tall Heights, will appear on Thursday at the Lounge Stage, an unofficial platform run by previous Most Wanted Emerging Artists Pesky J. Nixon and friends, before the official festival stages go online; the roster is being leaked slowly over at the Lounge Stage Facebook page, but I’ve been given a sneak peek, and can attest to the great talent and high level of name-recognition therein. Already-announced performers also include Gathering Time, The Ya Yas, and Honor Finnegan (who toured together last month as the 2013 Falcon Ridge preview tour), crowd favorites Putnam Smith and ilyAIMY, folk duo Goodnight Moonshine (whose live debut last year was hosted by our very own Tree Falls Productions), and party-in-a-folkband Spuyten Duyvil, pictured above in a triumphant if rainy performance on Mainstage a few years ago. Last year, the Lounge Stage attracted over 400 patrons; it’s like having a small festival embedded inside a large one, and you’ll find me there for much of the day.

But I digress – the point here is to get y’all excited enough about the festival itself to make the trip for their 25th anniversary year. So scroll on for a few covers from a small but representative sample of this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artists, hit up our earlier entry for mainstage artists galore – and then head over to this Spotify list to hear full albums and more from the emerging crowd.

Cover Lay Down shares new features and coverfolk sets twice weekly thanks to the support of patrons like you. Coming soon: a CD-release party with The Deadly Gentlemen, and more from the overstuffed mailbag!

2 comments » | Festival Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs

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