Archive for October 2013

Covered In Folk: Robyn
(Lucy Wainwright Roche, Ellie Goulding, Brittany Ann & more!)

October 19th, 2013 — 6:06pm

In a post-Mouseketeer world, teenage pop sensations trend heavily towards the faux-innocent and inauthentic; of these, though many artists who rise too early fade into obscurity just as quickly, others, from Justin Timberlake to Miley Cyrus, manage to grow into adult artists who take claim of their own artistic output and their fame.

But just as the halls of the high school where I teach hide small pockets of moody geniuses struggling to master their own expression, anomalies exist in the world of the popular. And the best of these teenage artists emerge early: 16 year old New Zealand sensation Lorde, for example, whose recent hit Royals found double coverage in our YouTube Top 40 acoustic coverset last month, is just beginning her career, but the coy determination she brings to her songs of self-sufficiency and salvation seems a strong indicator of future success.

Those looking for a poster child for the homegrown authentic able to play the airwaves with authenticity from the get-go need look no further than Swedish dance-pop artist Robyn, who hit the international scene at the tender age of 18, when her singles Show Me Love and Do You Know (What It Takes) reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. Today, as part of our ongoing mandate to celebrate the authentic in all genres through folk coverage, we present our favorite acoustic and folk covers of this well-deserving feature subject.

Like many young pop phenoms, Robyn (born Robin Miriam Carlsson) was a rising star in childhood. The daughter of two stage actors, her voice-over and stage work began at age 9, and she recorded her first television theme song at 12; she was discovered that same year by Swedish pop sensation Meja during a school-based music workshop, and signed to RCA Records at 16.

Two years later, after her major label debut Robyn Is Here caught fire, slamming her into the global spotlight, Robyn returned to her native Sweden exhausted. For her next two albums, the autobiographical My Truth and 2002 pop-slash-R&B release Keep This Fire Burning, she and her team decided to skip an international release, in order to maintain her health and support a healthier, more cautious development as an artist. But the release of her self-titled 2005 electronic dance album made a low profile impossible. And with a Grammy nomination in her pocket, Robyn finally took her place on the world stage again, with appearances across the globe.

Now in her mid-thirties, the outspoken Robyn has established herself on the world stage as an artist of talent and poise with a clear-headed vision that is as decidedly post-feminist as it is postmodern. And although her studio output is sparse – officially, she has released just half a dozen albums, with an average of one new record every four or five years – the process and product which this body of work represents speak to a carefully tendered craft and a deliberate, well-managed sense of self that shines through her songbook.

Robyn is no stranger to coverage – her covers of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone, plus songs by Bjork, Alicia Keys, Prince, and Coldplay, reveal a sensitivity to the depths and beauty in the works of her Top 40 peers. And the world of the popular responds to Robyn, too: see, for example, Wakey Wakey’s anthemic gender-bent piano pop ballad version of Call Your Boyfriend, and Noah and the Whale’s grungy 2011 take on the same, or Kings of Leon’s recent alt-rock take on the equally well-covered Robyn hit Dancing On My Own, which turns the song on its ear, drenching it in hard-edged No Depression guitar wails and slow drumbeats.

As with so many of our Covered In Folk featured artists, stripping the synths and heavy beats from Robyn’s songbook reveals a surprisingly melancholy, pensive catalog, chock full of coherent narratives about gender politics and heartbreak at the margins of modern identity – making her work particularly attractive for those who would transform it. Our Covered In Folk collection kicks off with a brand new recording from CLD fave second-generation singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche, which debuted this week on new album There’s a Last Time for Everything, and moves on to covers from popfolk sweetheart Ellie Goulding, Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Brittany Ann, Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe, artistic polymath Aeryn Martin, and more. Listen, enjoy, and – as always – pursue the paths of those whose sound and sensibility appeal to your own tastes, the better to sustain art and artists that speak to, for, and within our communities.

Lucy Wainwright Roche: Call Your Girlfriend (2013)

Javier Dunn: Call Your Girlfriend (2012)

Ellie Goulding & Erik Hassle: Be Mine (2009)

Sarah Jaffe: Hang With Me (2011)

Aeryn Martin: With Every Heartbeat (2010)

Brittany Ann: Dancing On My Own (2013)

Gavin Beach ft. Jamie Cleaton: Dancing On My Own (2011)

Emma White: Indestructible (2011)

Vanessa Medina: Show Me Love (2012)

1 comment » | Covered In Folk, Robyn

Revisited: Mary Lou Lord Covers
Lucinda Williams, Jason Molina, Big Star, Pink Floyd & more!

October 13th, 2013 — 10:22pm

When we last checked in on Mary Lou Lord, she seemed to be on permanent hiatus following a 2005 diagnosis with a rare vocal cord affliction, though an appearance at SXSW the following year suggested she was still open to possibility. But the pixie-faced singer-songwriter who rose from the subways of Boston to indiegrunge fame through a combination of raw talent and close relationships with both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith has been on the move lately, co-founding Girls Rock Camp in Boston, embarking on a new kickstarter-driven album, hosting open mics, and playing alongside her talented teenaged daughter Annabelle in a recent live tribute to Elliott Smith alongside Rhett Miller, Chris Thile, Bob Dorough, and others that was featured in The New Yorker.

More generally, Lord’s Facebook feed is a daily dose of awesome, a delightful combination of raw human observation and the loving curation and celebration of a number of amazing musical legacies both past and present, from Joni Mitchell and Smith himself to mutual faves Elizabeth Mitchell, Haley Bonar, Teddy Thompson, and First Aid Kit. Though she is still recovering from a serious fall off a fire escape last month, that didn’t stop her from making major news in Stereogum after an “epic” Facebook response to Courtney Love’s terrible rendition of Big Star hit Thirteen wandered into a more general response to Love’s tendency to claim in public interviews that Lord snuck onto Kurt and Courtney’s porch to kill their cat – a thoughtful, emotional, coherent use of social media that only cemented our faith in the woman’s resilience, and made Courtney seem even more insane, as if such thing were possible.

As Lord noted at her recent live performance, she doesn’t perform much anymore, and a small but growing set of Soundcloud covers, including takes on Jason Molina, Dylan, and Richard Thompson, reveal an artist still struggling to vocalize, though the resulting strain has a rare intimacy, and reveals charm of its own. But if this is a comeback, we’re all for it. Read our original feature, check out our newly-expanded list of covers – including a stunning Lucinda Williams take from her newest album – and follow Mary Lou Lord on Facebook to keep up with the resurrecting career of a well-deserving superstar.

February, 2008

As far as I can tell, the only major distinction between modern folk and a certain sort of indie music seems to be how the artists choose to produce and use instruments on their songs. And though you won’t find this sort of fuzzed-out guitar on the other folkblogs, the way the modern singer-songwriter mentality seems to find voice in both indierock and folk fascinates me.

But production isn’t what makes folk, and even if it were, the distinction is often fluid. The small but growing cadre of indie artists who perform in both folk and alt-rock modes owe no small debt to a select group of artists — Evan Dando, Lou Barlow, Tanya Donelly, Jeff Tweedy, Ben Gibbard and others — who have, over the years, moved easily across the bridge between the two forms. But these artists, in turn, owe the very existence of that bridge to other, lesser-known forerunners, like Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston, who spent their entire careers building the bridge for them to cross.

As part of our ongoing exploration of this curious relationship, today we feature one underappreciated artist who is more often found among the indierock, but who has claimed folk credibility from the start: Mary Lou Lord, folksinger and cover artist.

I was a high school student in Boston during Mary Lou Lord’s busker days, and not an apt or diligent pupil; I often skipped class to head off down the T into Harvard Square with friends. Given our relative age, then, and her own preference for playing along the Red Line, I suppose I must have passed by Lord a couple of times. But back then, my ears were full of post-punk grunge, and she was just another streetcorner kid with an acoustic guitar, a ragged approach, and an innocent, little-girl voice. By the time she started recording alongside the best of the growing post-punk world, I had already moved on.

The heavy fuzz and feedback of much of her production puts the bulk of Mary Lou Lord’s recorded work squarely in line with early nineties alt-rock; if you’re looking for her in your local indie record store, you’ll find it alongside the pre-grunge of artists like The Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield. But like Beck, Lord has always had a folk heart, and worn it proudly. Though she’s famous for her catfights with Courtney Love, she toured and recorded with Elliott Smith, and opened for Cover Lay Down fave Shawn Colvin. By identifying herself with those artists and others, Lord categorizes herself as an artist straddling the bridge between singer-songwriter folk and the indie world.

The songs that Lord has chosen to cover over her two-decade career speak volumes about which artists she considers her musical peers and forefathers, and here, too, we find a curious connection with the folkworld. In and among the Magnetic Fields and Big Star covers, we find covers of Smith and Colvin, indiefolkie Daniel Johnston, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, and even oldschool pre-folkie Elizabeth Cotten. Clearly, this is a woman who listens to folk music on her own time, recognizes good songwriting regardless of original instrumentation, and takes them where she can find them.

Here’s a few of my favorite Mary Lou Lord coversongs which hit that spectrum, and then some. Most are solo acoustic, delicate and coy, but don’t be scared by the occasional guitarfuzz; this is, at heart, a form of folk. Heck, if feedback was all it took, Dylan wouldn’t be a folkie anymore, either.

    Mary Lou Lord Soundcloud Covers [2012-2013]

It’s hard to link to the collected works of Mary Lou Lord; her recorded output remains scattered across several indie labels, some of them short-lived. But some of her back catalog is still available, and it’s chock full of folk covers.

Folk fans are probably best served by starting with the cover-heavy Live City Sounds, a hard-to-come-by acoustic album with several Richard Thompson covers which sounds like the streets where I once passed Mary Lou Lord in her busking days. Alt-punk label Kill Rock Stars also still carries a split bill EP and a couple of compilations.

Though her newest album seems not to have been released yet – she leaked the new Lucinda Williams track last year herself after it started getting play on media outlets – those looking for a more recent treasure trove would be well served to bookmark Mary Lou’s Soundcloud page, which has a growing mix of living room coverage and old found studio sound, including some mid-nineties tracks of her goofing around with Elliott Smith.

Bonus tracks? Sure – here’s a couple more Big Star coversongs in the same grungefolk vein. Dando’s cover is one of my favorite coversongs ever, hands down. And doesn’t Mary Lou Lord sound like a female version of Elliott Smith?

1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Mary Lou Lord, Reposts

Everybody Hurts
(On discovering a child’s illness)

October 11th, 2013 — 7:25pm

Daddy and Elderchild

It came on slowly, back in May; stress would bring on stomach pain, and it could take hours for her to recover. By last week, my once willowy elderchild had lost 20% of her body weight; she was starving, but she said that she was afraid to eat, because it hurt her. And her doctors agreed: it was time to get some cameras in there, to see if we could figure out what the hell was going on.

It was still dark when we arrived at the hospital this morning. It was bright when we left. It didn’t seem fair.

There are worse things to hear, I know. But when a doctor has to make it a point of turning you away from the bed to tell you that your daughter will still be able to have children, and lead a normal life, and then starts her next sentence with “but…” it’s time to accept the fact that things have changed forever.

The tentative diagnosis is an autoimmune disease; it has a name, and its own foundation. Her medical team is sure enough for now to be putting her on pills, and seem carelessly unaware of how much pain they’re threatening her with when they suggest she can begin taking them four times a day, with food, right away. And although we’ve been told that she’ll be able to manage her condition with a combination of careful dietary habits and medication, if the doctor confirms her initial diagnosis when test results return on Wednesday, my daughter will spend the rest of her life teetering on the edge of pain.

My first child has been lucky enough to live to her eleventh year experiencing personal illness as a temporary state; in her heart and mind, there’s always been time and tides, Mama and medicine to make things better. Now, I see the growing realization in her eyes when she asks for a sandwich, and we suggest soup. I see the way the horror rises, and is quickly swallowed, so it does not come out to haunt her.

I am proud of how brave she has been today, and how prescient. My daughter is like me: we seek to understand the world, and we come to our realizations quickly. Rough seas sparkle on the horizon, and she can see them, too. But like any parent who discovers that their child will be forever hurt, I’m hurt, too.

We give so much to our children. We ply them with care and attention; thoughtful answers; gentleness; structure. We model and talk about the values that are important to us, so that they might develop generosity, curiosity, an appreciation for beauty and joy. We give them the safety of our homes and bodies, and the promise of bottomless, enduring, unconditional love.

But solace is not succor; bad things happen to good people, and there are some things we cannot give. And so I practice the gift of withholding, saving my tears for the other side of the doors and walls that keep me from her side.

I will never again tell her that everything will be all right. But together, we will find other ways to soothe. I will carry her forever. And we will soldier on, determined and courageous, our fingers entwined, and our heads held high.

Everybody Hurts: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]

25 comments » | Mixtapes

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