Archive for November 2015

Rise Again: Returning, Rebuilding, Recovering
w/ covers of John Denver, Carole King, Steely Dan, Whitesnake & more!

November 29th, 2015 — 12:08pm

Thinking about longevity and persistence this weekend, prompted in part by Heather’s recent announcement that music blog I Am Fuel, You Are Friends, which has brought us so much honesty, joy, and discovery over the years, just celebrated its tenth anniversary on the web, and in our hearts.

But where Heather makes it look easy to tap into the joy, the history of Cover Lay Down is staggered with loss and regeneration. Like in 2008, when Blogger started to shut us down due to an inability to distinguish between fair use music-sharing and copyright theft, and we had to switch domains. Or four years later, when the company that ran our servers went awol, leaving us to rebuild from scratch – and to praise the lord for the Wayback Machine’s Internet Archives, which today hold the bulk of our first five years of posts and music.

Regular readers know, too: as it has been with the blog, so it has been with the blogger. Several times, I’ve written about my ongoing issue with tinnitus, which corrupts my ability to listen well and wholly to the music we would share and celebrate. And although home life and family were relatively stable when we first opened our virtual doors in 2007, since then, behind the scenes, capacity has reared its ugly head, as personal, professional, and social obligations have heavily impacted our ability to share the music we love so regularly.

The stress and strain of significant family illness and hospitalizations both at home and in my extended family, and the ever-increasing workload of the modern classroom teacher, were the paired tipping points that drove us to hiatus over the past year. An infestation of fleas and five feet of basement floodwaters over the summer buried us deeper, delaying our return.

And then my laptop died. A week later, so did its back-up, the side-along drive I used for music storage – locking me out of a carefully collected and categorized set of over 75 thousand songs amassed over two decades: covers, originals, rarities and live cuts, a lifetime of listening and love to big and unwieldy to store in the cloud.

The loss went almost unnoted amidst the chaos. It seemed relatively trivial at the time; family matters more than machinery. But ultimately, the loss of both primary laptop and archive back-up in a span of just a few weeks had no small impact on the decision to take some time off. And coming back without those archives is proving a bit more of a challenge than we originally anticipated.

There is no phoenix here, as there was when we returned in 2012. Losing the archives means losing both content and index – and the effect this has on our practice is ultimately quite significant. Where once a little kitchen table inspiration could be easily served by a fast search in a vast collection, already tagged by coversong and composer, today I find myself back at square one, dependent on the wider world of public media and downloadables, and the raw ability to search and find in a veritable haystack.

The result is a recentering, tipping us towards the new and the amateur, away from long-gone rarities and CD collections gone digital. But where there is loss, there is opportunity. More novelty and currency will mean more new artists features, and perhaps less comprehensive features on thematic tropes and songbooks, but that’s not terrible, in the end. We’ve covered most of the artists we love by now, and while the opportunity to share more of the new on a more regular basis may make us more like the vast majority of other music blogs, so, too, does it keep us from recycling and reshuffling, offering instead the opportunity for a renewed connection to the ongoing production of the folkways, a regained appreciation for its streams and tributaries.

As much as they offer a chance to reflect on the shifting sands that have brought us here, then, today’s covers also represent a foray into collecting from the wider world – and although it may yaw a bit wider than some of our previous sets, the result is no compromise. From new discoveries to elusive half-remembered songs, from pensive to proud, from catchy to cool and cathartic, may the songs stand as a tribute to resilience, and to our commitment to rebuilding, again and again: as long as there is you, and us, and them, to celebrate.

Rise Again: A Cover Lay Down Mix [zip!]

Cover Lay Down is proud to be back on the web thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Looking to help out in other ways? Consider spreading the word about our newly-inherited concert series, featuring amazing American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy this Friday, December 4th!

Comment » | Metablog, Mixtapes

Small Business Saturday: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Annual Holiday Gift Guide)

November 28th, 2015 — 10:42am

It’s raining a bit, but we’re off nonetheless in an hour or so, heading over the river, through the woods, and down the mountain this morning for our tiny rural New England Town’s annual crafts fair: four churches and the House of Art stuffed to their wooden rafters with the very best from local artists and craftspersons, from homespun alpaca yarn and family farm lavender salves to an endless array of jewelry, scarves and woodcarving, all made lovingly by friends and neighbors, familiar faces amidst a sea of comfort and joy.

Lunch afterwards, perhaps ham salad and soup in the church basement, or homemade bread and meat pies at the roadside breakfast joint near the equine rescue center like last year, while horses and sleighs parade past our window. And then home, with half the holiday shopping done, and nary a shopping mall in sight, while the fire burns bright and the family settles into our respective seats.

It’s days like this I love the local life the most: the four of us on the back roads, singing along to our favorite carols on the radio as we wander through an almost-winter, tires crunching over the roadside as yet unsullied by snow, soot and salt. And we’re gladdened to hear the storms of society turn around us, as the annual irritant antithesis of Buy Nothing Day turns to Small Business Saturday.

But as last year, and the year before, Black Friday and its aftermath still top our cultural discourse; the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms remains great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between.

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption.

And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the fourth year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2015 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 12.41.05 PMBlack Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.

Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.

Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.

We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.

But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.

Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.

1. Give the gift of recorded music. Though streaming models make it more and more challenging every day, music sales remain the bread and butter of the starving artist. And Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog: many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites. Or check out independent artist-friendly labels like the recently-featured Signature Sounds, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, or even Etsy.

2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones – there’s still seats available for this year’s Winterbloom holiday shows, for example, in NYC and Boston, at Robinson & Rohe shows up and down the East Coast throughout December, and at our upcoming show this Friday night with American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy in Springfield, MA. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.

3. Give the gift of access. If you can’t always get out to a show, spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or sign them up for Concert Window, which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk clubs, concert halls and living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live-on-screen performances and sessions can be viewed alone, shared over distance through skype and chat, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is an especially apt gift for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. As a bonus, just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.

So browse the folk categories on each site, or skim facebook pages for links to projects in the works that need your support. Examples we’re excited to recommend this year include an impending record from Rose Cousins, whose previous kickstarter-funded release We Have Made A Spark still spins in the car in regular rotation two years after release, and who promises both copies of that record and original haiku and handbaked cookies for supporters at various funding levels. We’re also proud supporters of HARK, the new 14-track CD from Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony, featuring the incredible talents of Boston-based singer-songwriters Jennifer Kimball, Rose Polenzani, Laura Cortese, Cousins, Jenna Moynihan, Valerie Thompson, Brittany Haas and Natalie Haas in celebration of the sixth year of putting on their holiday show at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA – many funding levels for HARK come with dear handmade ornaments and decorations to delight your holiday tree and table, and there’s only 6 days left to go in the campaign, so hit them up soon if you can.

Over at Pledge Music, Jamgrass mainstays Hot Buttered Rum are seeking funds for a three-EP series; one of the three is planned as a tribute to the songs of Ralph Stanley, a project which promises to be both transformative and authentic, as are rewards from personalized postcards to signed drumheads and private instrumental lessons from band members via the web. Meanwhile, on Patreon, recurring funding is needed for Beehive Productions’ ambitious short video series Ear To The Ground, a series about the culture and community of Roots Music which has recently featured some strong covers and originals from CLD faves Charlie Parr, Cricket Blue, Anna & Elizabeth, and Mike + Ruthy; rewards for your support range from exclusive previews and alternate takes to t-shirts, stickers, and that warm fuzzy feeling of being a patron of the folkways as they move ever onward.

5. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.

6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2015″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life.

And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

Until then, here’s a repost from year’s past: a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes

Unity House Concerts Presents: Mike + Ruthy
(Friday, December 4 @ The UU Society of Greater Springfield, MA)

November 27th, 2015 — 9:17am

Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Concerts are held monthly in our wooded sanctuary, and feature well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

Our 2015-2016 series features a diverse set of artists, including past shows with The Sea The Sea (September), Mary Lou Lord (October), and an incredible show last weekend with Matt Nakoa…upcoming shows with The Western Den (February 13), Joe Jencks (March 19) and more as-yet-to-be-confirmed singer-songwriters, duos, and bands…and our very first Friday night show, on December 4, with revered American roots duo Mike + Ruthy.

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 several 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 opening gigs for Ani DiFranco and Kate Pierson of the B-52s, a majestic new album with a full five-piece band that is rich and vast with influence and energy, a twice-yearly folk and roots festival called The Hoot which has 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, 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.

Mike 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, 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 regularly 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 with server and bandwidth costs.

1 comment » | (Re)Covered, House Concerts, Mike + Ruthy

New Artists, Old Songs: The Berklee Bluegrass Edition
(with Grey Season, Honeysuckle, The Lonely Heartstring Band & more!)

November 17th, 2015 — 6:04am


We’ve shouted from the rooftops about the Berklee College of Music throughout our 8 years here at Cover Lay Down: through features and featurettes on the careers of young and emerging students and grads like Laura Cortese, Sierra Hull, Chasing Blue, Hannah Read, Emily Elbert, and Emma Beaton; through exploration of the coverage and songbooks of popular Berklee alumni Gillian Welch, Susan Tedeschi, Patty Larkin, Aimee Mann, Natalie Maines, Bruce Cockburn, and John Mayer; through the school’s annual appearances at the Grey Fox and Joe Val Bluegrass Festivals, where we’ve been privileged to catch other artists, such as guitarist Courtney Hartman of Della Mae and Stash Wyslouch of The Deadly Gentlemen, in other incarnations and combinations as they formed their own style.

We’ve even touched on Berklee twice in November, via features on recent graduates Matt Nakoa and Molly Tuttle: Nakoa, who will play our Unity House Concert series on November 21, honed his singer-songwriter, guitar, and keyboard skills there; the video we shared of Berklee grad Molly Tuttle’s quartet The Goodbye Girls was recorded at BIRN, the college’s internet radio station.

But sometimes a deeper dig reveals still more gems. Today’s three featured-first newcomers, Grey Season, Honeysuckle, and The Lonely Heartstring Band – all discovered while sifting through student performances on the Boston school’s incredible YouTube archives – show further clean and clear evidence of success for the college’s continued good work at the bleeding-edge intersection of academia and the grassier side of the folkways via the American Roots Music program. They’re joined by Mile Twelve, a band of current students on their way up the bluegrass ladder, and followed by two bonus featurettes, both a bit beyond bluegrass but equally strong, thanks to a few peripheral sources close to the college. Kudos, as always, to Berklee for a program that is both exceptionally well run, and worth following closely.

greyseasonDon’t be lulled into complacency by the a capella verse that begins this amazing cover of Mama, You Been On My Mind; the song is about to explode into punkgrass, with a tinge of janglepop and more than a hint of country rock, thanks to 5-piece folk rock band Grey Season, a quartet on speed who recorded their debut full-length Time Will Tell You Well last year at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY, opened for Alabama Shakes, The Avett Brothers, and Hozier this September at the Boston Calling festival, and will send you a download link to Undercover, a full album of hard-edged covers of songs from Merle Travis, Father John Misty, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and more, for an email sign-up.

And wow, do we recommend both albums, especially for fans of that fertile soil where grungy Americana, roots music, grassy country, and folk rock meet. Their resurrection of Rod Stewart’s Maggie May has shades of The Band, the Beach Boys and Springsteen; their potent versions of old standards Dark as a Dungeon and Mary and the Soldier are lighthearted and rich with harmony, and their take on Up On Cripple Creek is a modern update for the electro-acoustic set which cranks the playful, funky energy of the original up to eleven. Meanwhile the band’s driving banjo-and-bass take on Richard Thompson classic 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is a fine punk pop masterpiece, with jangling strings, wailing electric guitar, and a full drum kit that would make them as perfect an opening act for The Dropkick Murphys as for Parsonsfield.

lhbBeatles-inspired quintet The Lonely Heartstring Band claims roots firmly in old-school full-band Appalachian and bluegrass music, and it shows in everything from their masterful harmonies to their tight, fluid instrumentation, complete with banjo and fiddle solos worth every lick.

The seven tracks on their mostly-Beatles covers EP (the inevitable product of their formative commission as an all-Beatles wedding band) far transcend the typical, but as those who have already caught them on the mainstage at Grey Fox or the Freight and Salvage know well, don’t dismiss them as just another bluegrass popcovers studio collaborative. As seen below in recent takes on Rambling, Gambling Willie and Paul Simon’s Graceland, together, their recent YouTube videos, their live shows, their Beatles EP, and an impending Kickstarter-driven album comprise a collection of performances so exquisitely clean and smooth, they serve as a virtual how-to for the modern melodic end of the grassy folk tradition, culminating in a growing body of work Bill Monroe himself would be proud to promote.

honeysuckleCurrent nominees for both Best Folk and Best Americana artists for this year’s Boston Music Awards alongside the aforementioned Grey Season, Honeysuckle takes on the bluegrass-Americana folk trio sound at its best, with wonderful raspy, slippery Appalachian-tinged vocals from singer Holly McGarry that layer exquisitely over loose banjo, mandolin, guitar, and harmonies, culminating in a truly American sound that reportedly thrilled the crowd along the water’s edge at Newport Folk Festival this summer.

Case in point: it’s hard to cover Gillian Welch well, but with not one but two great Welch covers among its original gems, their live recording from last November’s gig at the Rockwood Music Hall easily beats the spread. No covers on their equally strong studio EP Arrows, which was released last April, but we’ll be keeping an ear out for a full-length promised for Spring 2016.

We had to go beyond the Berklee archives to find Mile Twelve, but they were already on our radar, thanks to featured appearances at both last week’s New England Regional Folk Alliance conference and this year’s Freshgrass Festival, a fave festival held on the grounds of avant-garde art museum MassMOCA in the upper Western corner of our home state of Massachusetts, which brought raves from the crowd.

The band features current Berklee students playing the kind of raw, formative bluegrass that often typifies student work from the program: chock full of old standards and fresh, original compositions, technically strong but still exploratory, a little loose in all the right ways, but played with heart and joy. Tony Trischka is spot on when he notes that “Mile Twelve is carrying the bluegrass tradition forward with creativity and integrity”; after recent gigs at Ossipee Valley and Grey Fox, and a self-titled EP released just this summer containing five originals and a great cover of Carter Stanley’s Our Last Goodbye, the sky, as they say, seems to be the limit. Where they’ll go from here, no one knows – just a year ago, most of these kids were performing in another band, as seen below – but for now, both Mile Twelve and its individual players are well worth watching.

They’re barely bluegrass, but this pair of Joni Mitchell covers, discovered in an offshoot video archive maintained by college radio station BIRN, were certainly intriguing enough to tack on as a coda. The older of the two, an oddly moody, eminently creative cover of You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio, features Molly Tuttle herself on Guitar and lead vocals; the other, posted just a few weeks ago, features fiddler and current Berklee student Adam Iredale-Gray of newly-discovered Canadian folk band Fish & Bird, which we hope to feature soon on its own. And the intrigue? Though there appears to be no overlap in personnel between the two, both are nominally performed by the Berklee Joni Mitchell Ensemble, from which we infer that the moniker refers to a project, not a band.

Finally: Bonus points for following the threads all the way to this past Spring’s YouTube Hack project, which challenged Berklee students to learn, record, produce and distribute a finished video product in just 36 hours from start to finish – and revealed covers of Whitney Houston and Canadian electro-pop artist Lights among the ruins when the project was complete. We’ll just leave these two surprisingly good (but decidedly not bluegrass) videos here, shall we?

Looking for more evidence of Berklee College prowess, and willing to wander beyond the blue? Spend an afternoon digging through Berklee’s growing YouTube archives, with separate playlists of student originals, covers and arrangements, and the Visiting Artists at Berklee archives, a fascinating collection of over 100 videos with Jazz, Bluegrass, Big Band, Latin, Pop, World and new classical arrangements from the likes of Del McCoury, Victor Wooten, and Alejandro Sanz alongside some truly inspirational speeches and interviews with and from Jimmy Page, Annie Lennox, and more.

Comment » | New Artists Old Songs

Paris Nights and New York Mornings
(On symbols and sense in the face of tragedy)

November 14th, 2015 — 12:16pm


I’ve never been to Paris. But as a student and teacher of popular culture, and an ethnomusicologist overwhelmed today by the vast promise of those songs which pay tribute to the city of lights, I recognize its power as a symbol of all that is unfettered and alive: the intellectual late-night salon, the bright Eiffel tower, the arts and culture that live in our hearts.

As I suggest to my media literacy students when we study the tragedy of September 11, New York has long stood as a symbol of a particular cultural mindset, too, with the twin towers serving once upon a happier time as a focal point for the might and majesty of the dream. When Jon Stewart, in his incredible, tearful opening sally after a month off the air, noted that the terrorists who transformed the skyline outside his apartment window left a clear view of the Statue of Liberty in its place, he, too, was dealing in the coin of symbols – and reinforcing the connection between New York and France that lives proud in our lady of the harbor.

To visit the Statue of Liberty is not to admire the patina, but to embrace the symbolism of a country that once proudly welcomed every member of the huddled masses, promising freedom. I imagine, today, that climbing the Eiffel Tower has long served as a similar exercise: not to mount the heights, but to realize them.

Of course, the distance between symbol and streetlife is as stark in France as it is in the states. Even as the abstraction of the symbol makes it a target for those who oppose our vision, the destruction of those symbols breaks the barrier between the abstract and the alive.

And so, watching the footage of last night’s attacks, I am struck by how real everything is. The scenes from the streets and alleyways show a chaos that cannot be reconciled with our romanticism. The aftermath of tragedy is dark and sad. Hope is hard-won, here where the news streams to every corner of the frayed and tattered world, to find us weary with such attacks, and angry at those who would utilize them to speak their concern about the world-as-it-is. Our hearts are heavy, and the cries for revenge are strong and sour in our mouths.

To live in a place that is a symbol is risky business, these days. Maybe it always has been. But days like today remind us, too, how strong we must be in protecting our symbols, simply by living the dream itself, that we might continue to hope, to work for a world in which the bright days we imagine can be more than just moments too easily lost to the winds of change, the whims of chaos.

To those who suffer in the wake of tragedy, know that we stand with you in alliance to both the symbolic and the real: with freedom, to liberty, and in sorrow. And to those billions who watch from afar, may we remember our charge, and stay true to ourselves as we react to yet another attack on our values.

Paris Is Burning: A Cover Lay Down Mixtape [zip!]

Cover Lay Down shares new features and coversets here, on Facebook, and at our Unity House Concert series throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: current students and recent graduates of the Berklee College of Music take on bluegrass classics, plus covers of The Beatles, Gillian Welch, Rod Stewart, Iron & Wine and more!

2 comments » | Mixtapes

Unity House Concerts Presents: Matt Nakoa
(November 21 @ The UU Society of Greater Springfield)

November 9th, 2015 — 8:00pm


Cover Lay Down is proud to present Unity House Concerts, a folk-and-more music series hosted by yours truly and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Concerts are held in our wooded sanctuary, and feature a combination of well-beloved musicians and new folk voices committed to the UU Coffeehouse tradition of channeling the spirit of community through song.

Our 2015-2016 series features a diverse set of artists, including past shows with The Sea The Sea (September) and Mary Lou Lord (October), upcoming shows with Mike + Ruthy (December) and Joe Jencks (March), and our next offering, on November 21st, with young singer-songwriter Matt Nakoa, a Berklee-trained artist with a soaring, soulful folkpop voice sure to leave you breathless.

Matt NakoaDiscovering Matt Nakoa is like discovering air. A stunningly talented musician eminently comfortable in his skin, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter is so engaging in live performance that we stopped him the moment he walked off the Lounge Stage at this summer’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest to ask him to play our concert series – and subsequently went on to catch him six more times during the same weekend.

What’s the big deal here? For starters, Nakoa rocks, sometimes quite literally. His vocal turn on an impromptu Led Zeppelin set this summer alongside psychedelic folkrock wizards The Grand Slambovians, shared in last week’s omnibus (Re)Covered feature, rivaled the original. And, as you’ll see and hear below, his work with The Brit Pack – “the most epic semi-fictitious brit-rock cover band ever” – is searing, and the covers of Radiohead and Roxanne that he has recorded with them are spot on interpretations, transcending the facility and force of their adaptation.

But don’t let his willingness to tread the harder edge fool you. Nakoa’s trio work with fellow folk travelers Brad Cole and Robinson Treacher is catchy and percussive, bright and sunny enough to get a crowd on its feet. And, as seen in the several tender in-studio covers below from Fox Run Studios, Matt Nakoa’s got an ear for high harmony that is truly out of this world.

In sum, Matt Nakoa is a musical adept, one of those well kept secrets you just can’t help but celebrate: intimate and genuine, one of those rare performers who can simultaneously bare his soul and welcome you inside. His growing songbook is rich with metaphor and poetry, sung in praise to a complicated, emotionally present world that envelops the listener, even as his coverage runs towards the beautiful and the lighthearted. The result – on keys or guitar, in acoustic mode or full production – is an emergent body of work that is sweet and soulful, playful yet wise, with a mature depth of observational lyric and an incredible emotional range that runs from soaring to bittersweet.

Nakoa has performed in the White House and India, and is currently opening for Tom Rush on tour; we’re lucky, indeed, to have found and booked him before he gets too big for the coffeehouse circuit. Check out the videos below, dig deep into his albums at his website, then catch Matt Nakoa at a venue near you.

Matt Nakoa: Tainted Love (orig. Soft Cell)

Matt Nakoa, Jared Salvatore, and Eric Schwartz: Dancing In The Dark (orig. Bruce Springsteen)

Matt Nakoa and Eric Schwartz: I’m Only Sleeping (orig. The Beatles)

Matt Nakoa: Arise, Arise (orig. Jean Rohe)

Matt Nakoa and The Brit Pack: Roxanne (orig. The Police)

Matt Nakoa and The Brit Pack: Just (orig. Radiohead)

Matt Nakoa: Moondance/Fever (orig. Van Morrison/Peggy Lee)

Non-profit and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down posts regular features on artists and songwriters as part of its continuing mission to ply the experience of coverage as a comfortable space for discovery. As always, we encourage you to follow the links above to hear more from and about the artists we feature, the better to support and sustain the arts, the artists, and the folkways.

And, if you live within driving distance of Springfield, Massachusetts – just a hop, skip, and jump away from Hartford, Northampton, Worcester and the Berkshires – join us November 21 for a very special evening with Matt Nakoa…and then book now for our December 4 show with Americana roots duo Mike + Ruthy, who we previously hosted in our intimate carriage house concert series back in the Spring of 2013. No reservations necessary; Facebook confirmations greatly appreciated.

Comment » | House Concerts, Matt Nakoa

(Re)Covered: The Omnibus Edition
w/ Molly Tuttle, Red Molly, Nataly Dawn, Lucy Wainwright Roche & more!

November 7th, 2015 — 9:10am


We’re back in the saddle again after a long hiatus, and though the music archives are toast, the desktop is piled high with new covers from old favorites. And so we start anew with a feet-first installment of our perennial (Re)Covered series, which revisits previously featured artists through the lens of ongoing coverage: an omnibus of tasteful folk treatment of songs by Taylor Swift, Lorde, Bob Dylan, John Hartford, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Simon & Garfunkel, Cake and more that yaws wide from bluegrass to indiefolk, from tender to tempestuous, from the sharp and sassy to the sweet and sublime.

Bluegrass darling and recently crowned Flatpicker Magazine cover girl Molly Tuttle, who we first encountered on our way to the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival a few years ago, is still rising fast, as evidenced by both this sweet on-air video of the well-covered John Hartford classic Gentle On My Mind recorded for Music City Roots in mid-October, and public reception to her upcoming debut full-length, which has already topped 100% in its Pledgemusic campaign with over a hundred days left to go, and patronage gifts still available (We recommend the digital album and streaming concert combo package, a twenty dollar two-fer). She’s currently on tour down south with her band The Goodbye Girls, opening for The Milk Carton Kids; check ’em out together now, because Tuttle won’t be an opening act for much longer.

Last featured via a pair of Gillian Welch covers in our fledgeling Double Dippers series in June of 2013, Americana/Roots folk trio Red Molly is technically on hiatus after a strong, gritty 2014 release, and subsequent tour, and a new baby born to member Molly Venter and her partner Eben Pariser of acoustic “steamboat soul” band Roosevelt Dime. But that didn’t stop them from dropping a new pay-as-you-will track just today, recorded live back in April: a beautiful, unusually rich harmony-drenched take on Caledonia, a song which we covered in a tribute to Dougie MacClean back in 2011. Our pro-artist bent here pushes us to link to, rather than post, the pay-as-you-will track, the better to support a living wage for the artists we love; here’s an overdue favorite from The Red Album in its easy stead.

Speaking of Bluegrass, and Joe Val: we’ve shared plenty from newgrass quintet the Infamous Stringdusters since discovering them in 2006, when they were asked to fill in for bluegrass supergroup The Grascals on the winter festival mainstage at the last minute, celebrating their well-chosen covers as they emerged, from Police classic Walking on the Moon to John Mayer’s 3×5. These days, though we’re still waiting for a studio version of their cover of Lorde’s pop hit Royals, we’re thrilled with their new EP Undercover, which – true to its title – offers a five-piece set of well-covered delights from Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, each one warm in tone, each one rich in masterful bluegrass instrumentalism. Check out the studio recording process for Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright below.

This year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest came nigh in the midst of familial and technological chaos, leaving me unable to blog about it for the first time in ages. But the coverage lingers, thanks to hardy fans and the exquisite and cheerful board and recording skills of Scott Jones, who captures the performances at the pre-fest Lounge Stage – a fest within a fest hosted by the boys from Pesky J. Nixon, who incidentally have just wrapped up their own second covers album, fittingly titled Red Ducks 2.

Below, download frequent Falcon Ridge faves We’re About 9 taking on Radiohead under the big Lounge Stage tent, peep at Pesky J. Nixon’s mainstage take on Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door featuring Brother Sun and Susan Werner, and then stand back – way back – for the amazingly energetic Led Zeppelin coverset that closed the workshop stage this year, featuring rising star Matt Nakoa on vocals and psychedelic folk rockers The Grand Slambovians on everything else. We’ll have more coverage from the masterful Matt Nakoa later this week; for now, if you just can’t get enough, another great set of Pesky J. Nixon coverage and originals from their record release party last weekend is now available on the ‘tubes.

A wistful, innocent cover of one of my all-time favorite Cake songs? Count me in, thanks to Nataly Dawn, aka the female half of viral vid sensation Pomplamoose, who performs here with Lauren O’Connell under the moniker My Terrible Friend, and plans to keep doing so, thank god: the week-old track is subtle and stripped down, retaining the tender intimacy we cited when Pomplamoose’s Tribute To Famous People covers album tickled our fancy way back in 2010. Add a sultry, soulful cover of Wild Horses released just this weekend, featuring a duet with Nataly’s mom – a tribute to the hours they spent together harmonizing on the song in her childhood – and if you weren’t a fan before, you will be now; Follow Nataly to check out equally sultry recent coverage of Waters of March (with Carlos Cabrera), Billy Joel, and more, and to pick up more as they hit the tubes.

We’re huge fans of Lucy Wainwright Roche here, ever since featuring her early work in our very first Folk Family Feature on the Wainwright/Roche clan way back in 2007, and again in a Rising Stars (Re)Covered feature in 2010. But we’re especially eager to hear more of Songs in the Dark, the impending duet album from Lucy and sister Martha Wainwright, whose musical paths intersect less often, in part because Martha’s inheritance is more ribald, while Lucy’s is more attuned towards the rich harmonies of her mother’s side.

In keeping with the Wainwright, Roche, and McGarrigle families’ deep sense of how songs come to define us, the songs here matter much: carefully chosen to reflect the canon of songs sung to them as children, the list includes several children’s lullabies, as well as tracks by their mothers Kate McGarrigle and Suzzy Roche, and their shared father Loudon Wainwright III. And the combination is unexpectedly potent, echoey indiefolk for the most part: in this Simon and Garfunkel cover – the first release from the album – Martha’s heartier alto stabilizes the sound, while Lucy’s whisperier, lighter voice floats above thick layers of guitar and droning reeds and bass: a sultry temptress of a song, leaving us wanting more, more, more.

Finally: with over a million hits per track on YouTube alone, we’re clearly late to the party on Ryan Adams‘ full-album homage to Taylor Swift’s seminal 1989 album, but we’d be truly remiss if we didn’t acknowledge just how much the record has stuck in our ears. Adams, an early featured artist on the blog whose covers and songbook we last revisited as part of our semi-annual Carolina Coverfolk series, has an unusual knack for transforming songs from far-off genres; here, he brings the angst and emotional turmoil lurking under Swift’s pop hits to the forefront, and the result is a cohesive, magical set well worth the pursuit.

Bonus points for a tongue-in-cheek metacommentary cover from Father John Misty aka J. Tillman, who claims to be covering “the classic Ryan Adams album 1989” in the style of The Velvet Underground (and pulls it off perfectly) in his sardonic take below.

3 comments » | Infamous Stringdusters, J. Tillman, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Molly Tuttle, Nataly Dawn, Red Molly, Ryan Adams

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