Category: Aoife O’Donovan


The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2019)
Living room covers, live cuts, in-studio sessions & more!

December 30th, 2019 — 1:18pm


For a good portion of the last century, the audio recording held sway as the primary source of song for the masses. Radio helped, of course – but from a financial perspective, at least, if we wanted to control what we heard, we had to buy the record, tape, or CD, and settle in to listen, with nary but a sleeve or insert to help us picture the performance.

The birth and rise of MTV in our respective youth reshaped exposure through audio-visual means, of course. And as long as home instruments and music venues have remained a steadfast part of the landscape, live performance has always been there for us – though the re-establishment of the small hall and house concert as a viable means of connecting physically with artist and fans add a layer of intimacy and access which have helped sustain the journey of the small label performer, and the amateur. But like radio, these venues retain playlist control – there, the artist, and/or the DJ, determines what is worth playing. And behind it all, we knew, the rubrics of the popular and in-demand influenced the choice of song, and setlist, stifling the listener, prioritizing the produced and played over the player, leaving us nothing but the archival mixtape to control our own soundscape.

Which is to say: Once we listened in our bedrooms, on record players in bright colors of our choosing; once we listened in cars, accompanied by the visuality of the drive. Once we listened, period, in ways determined, for the most part, by the tastemakers, and their raw technology, and the industry of style. Finally, we watched, but vastly: our watching was voyeuristic, and still not ours to mod or mood.

But the post-millennial rise of YouTube shifts time and space. We become privy to the artist’s home, if they so choose; we can access the concert hall from states away; we can see and enjoy “live” sessions from the radio, which once would have been lost to the ages, in streaming real-time and – perhaps more importantly – in archival form. The visual playlist is ours to compile, giving us new access to performance – not just recording – as a means for our own expression. Versioning – in which an artist can demonstrate and display the demo-level cut, and show the evolution of a particular song in their mind and hands – becomes an artifact of the new tech: when it is that easy to spread each individual performance, the same song comes at us in ways that echo the many spaces and moods in which it is performed, making the beloved not just discoverable, but mutable, to match our own needs and desires.

How lucky we are to have lived in a decade where the performance of song can be shaped by the artist, and driven into our living room, to curate and shuffle as the listener wills it. How lucky to be able to choose which take, and which performance, we might prefer to loop into infinity. How lucky, indeed, to have the privilege of replay for the whole performance, eyes and ears together, at our fingertips – and in doing so, to rebuild, reframe, and retain the intimacy that once existed between and among singer, song, community, and listener.

Not all video performance is created alike, of course. Although all offer a glimpse into the world of their craft beyond the audible studio or rare live recording, we are most interested, in our year’s end reflection, with those videos that close the gap through the video portrayal, giving us not just insight, but relationship, with the artist as they play. As we’ve said for years: to strip these latter performances of their native multi-medium is to miss something essential about their incidence. And thus, correlatively, to celebrate them is to celebrate the space between us all.

Join us today, then, as we celebrate the very best native video performances, sets, sources and series from the wide and wonderful world of 2019, framed in a loose compilation of arbitrary categories designed only to best hold and hearken to the good stuff in a semblance of manage-ability. Let the performances herein offer insight, and a close companion, as the year comes to a close. And fear not, as we enter the new millennium: we’ll be back soon – give or take a day or two – with more coverfolk from the wide-open world, including our annual compilation of favorite cover albums and tributes from the year gone by.




Best Ongoing Live Video Series: Live From Here

Now in his third year at the helm of the now-rechristened radio series originally established by writer Garrison Keillor in the previous millennium, mandolin prodigy and all-around nice guy Chris Thile, rightly named one of just four artists of the decade over at a newly-revived No Depression magazine, has absolutely found his footing in Live From Here, a weekly set of songs, musical guests, stories, and loose comedic play which he celebrates with the same respect, awe, engagement and delight that made Keillor’s original hosting voice such a perfect medium for our own close connection. Not all of it is coverage, of course, but regular features keep ’em coming – including shortform covers and full-length tributes to great artists from all genres in his weekly survey of Musician Birthdays, and a penchant towards “everyone on stage” coverage a la previous Year’s Best Videos celebrant e-Town to end the show.

The video connection is strong here, too. Though produced first and foremost for the radio, Thile’s delightful Live From Here sessions are now all recorded and archived for the web in what has become a trademark blue-wash light; you can hear the glee on NPR, of course, but watching him grin that trademark grin through each act adds a whole new layer of love to performances from ongoing regulars Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive, a house band made from members of Punch Brothers and other wonderful newgrass compatriots, and other co-conspirators both rare and wonderful (including, recently, a Crooked Still reunion, and guest spots from John Prine, Paul Simon, They Might Be Giants, The Pixies, Dawes, The Tallest Man On Earth, and Sara Bareilles). Here’s a sampling to get you started: O’Donovan paying tribute to a Joni Mitchell classic, and Jarosz with just one of many, many sweet covers performed over the last year or two with her long-time mentor and friend Thile.








Best One-shot Video Series: Songs for Winter Walk 2019

Boston’s annual Winter Walk, a stroll-for-action which takes place in the cold of early February, is an anomaly even in the kind world of worthy causes: the event itself raises money and awareness of and for the Greater Boston homeless community not just through the distant celebration of those lucky enough to be able to help, but through companionship, as homeless folks and families march the two miles to Copley Square side by side with over a thousand supporters, ending with a shared meal and stories of the streets. Last year, as the date grew close, a playlist of contributing Boston-area musicians playing “original songs or versions of beloved songs of compassion, togetherness, community, and action” grew to help raise awareness of the walk and the community it supports; all are videos, most are covers, and the vast majority are filmed in intimate spaces – artist homes, snowy glades, and small dark studios – making for a set of performances just stunning in their solidarity, tenderness and pain.

Listen to a pair of favorites below from singer-songwriter Dan Mills and Naseem Khuri of Boston-based band Kingsley Flood, and then click through to the Songs for Winter Walk 2019 archives for more – including Lake Street Dive covering Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend, both Lori McKenna and Mark Erelli and Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards covering REM’s Everybody Hurts, Parsonsfield covering a traditional hymn by the woods’ edge, Anais Mitchell singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow cold in the snow, originals from Josh Ritter and Session Americana, and a host of other arrangements and reinventions from some of our very favorite locals gone or going big enough to matter to the world.




Best Small Studio Video Covers Series: stories

A house “band” of acoustic six-stringers and a rotating set of both up-and-coming and more established YouTube stars such as Nataly Dawn and Çasey Abrams reinterpret popular songs and standards from Drake and Billie Eilish to John Denver, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith and more in decidedly low-key folk ballad mode in stories, a new yet highly prolific series which sprung up in late October and has been filling our ears with regular delights ever since. It’s hard to find a flaw, here; though the settings remain the same, each artist is given the space to create their own mood and moment amidst the sepia tones that characterize the recording space, and we’ve enjoyed pulling the threads as we go, making of the series a who’s who survey of what’s new and noteworthy among the wonderful world of native online artistry. We’ve chosen a familiar voice and a pair of new ones, to represent the spectrum, but there’s dozens more where that came from, and the whole rabbit-hole is worth the hours.










Best Independent “Living Room” Cover Videos: Josh Turner/ Carson McKee / Reina del Cid

A Cantor friend turned us on to both Josh Turner (the guitarist, not the country singer) and Minneapolis-based independent artist-and-band Reina del Cid early this year, and we’re glad he did – and equally glad that from there, we followed the tracks to Turner collaborator Carson McKee, who sealed the deal with a growing number of songs recorded under his own name and channel, both with and without the aforementioned. Though of the three YouTube cross-posters, Turner & McKee are more typically on the same screen, if only due to geographical proximity and their work together as “The Other Favorites”, it’s no shame to celebrate the three artists all together, both for their ongoing association and collaborations and for their solo work, and claim their path to glory as central to our mandate: together, they represent a movement, and (as with our previous-year’s celebrations of Boyce Avenue, Nataly Dawn, Kina Grannis, Megan Davies, and Walk Off The Earth) the best of yet another crop of newly-hot, not-so-fast-to-fame singer-songwriters plying their work as interpreters and songwriters on the back of the streaming service via coverage – in many ways the core reason why we began posting year’s end covers to begin with.

Here’s a triplet of full trio collaborations from the year, each nominally fronted by a different artist, plus a duo set, a rare solo cut from del Cid’s long-running “Sunday Morning” covers series, and a late-entry solo track from McKee just released last week to whet the proverbial whistle for much, much more; listen, and then 1) dig deep into the archives for many more covers from all three and each, and 2) join the crowd by subscribing to their prospective YouTube pages so you’ll never miss a cover.
















Best Produced Cover Video: Jacob Collier ft. dodie, Here Comes The Sun

We could have easily included an audio-only version of this Beatles cover in our year’s end compilation of single-shot coverage, instead of here; after all, there’s nothing “live” about the delightfully rich performance of Here Comes The Sun, a one-shot collab from rising star wunderkinds dodie and Jacob Collier which was officially released as the second track from Collier’s stunning Djesse Vol. 2, which also features Sam Amidon, Herbie Hancock, members of Take 6, and an incredible micro-tonal a capella cover of Moon River which is in the running for a Grammy this year. But two videographic aspects say otherwise: the jumpy outdoor garden-play of the singers themselves, which so aptly mirrors the song and its arrangement, and the split-screen portrayal of vocal layering, which doesn’t just measure up to the complex vocality of the performance, but portrays it, making real our potent introduction to Collier’s nuanced and new genre-smashing sound…and serving as a perfect companion to the delicate quietude of dodie’s own near-perfect 2019 bedroom Beatles cover, which we’ve included for comparison.








Honorable Mention: The Year’s Best Single-shot Live Coverfolk Videos

All in all, it was a wonderful year for the videographic acoustic-and-roots coverlover: far too much for us to manage here, though surely, as always, a few more video-origin tracks may well find their way onto compilations and mixtapes as the years progress. We’ll leave you today, then, with an unranked clearinghouse of 12 favorites from the vast panoply of sound that rings with delight in our ears at year’s end, all grounded firmly in the audiovisual creative process, which come to us from new and familiar artists, channels, and collaboratives whose ongoing coverage brings joy to our feed throughout the year. Enjoy – and, as always, if you like what you hear, follow through to hear more from and pay tribute to each and every one of these artists and production houses, in thanks and praise for a job well done.


























Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the ethnographic intersection of folk and coversong since 2007 thanks to the ongoing support of artists, promoters, and readers like YOU. So if you like what you hear, do your part: listen deeply, like us on Facebook, come back often to keep abreast of new features, including our ongoing New Artists, Old Songs series, and our upcoming end-of-year feature covering The Year’s Best Coverfolk… and above all, share and purchase the music as you find it, the better to keep the arts alive.

Comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Best of 2019, Kina Grannis, New Artists Old Songs, YouTube

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos (2017)
Living room covers, live cuts, in-studio sessions & more!

January 1st, 2018 — 5:29pm

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By its very nature, the cover celebrates iteration over song. And our Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos collection was originally envisioned as a way to acknowledge that, by celebrating in their “native medium” those performances which truly lose something essential when what we see is separated out from what we hear – an approach which favors live and in-studio performances over produced videographic content, and generally eschews the promotional post-recording “music video”.

How we celebrate this specific source and its coverfolk has come in and out of fashion here at Cover Lay Down, growing from a single category in our Year’s Best Coverfolk Albums features as recently as 2013 to a two-parter, with separate features for our top Coverfolk Video Singles and The best cover sessions, sets, and series, in 2015. This year, any attempt to commodify just “the native ones” is further complicated by the facts that a) we’re much later than usual, and b) despite previous-year concern that stripping the visuals from these multimedia texts potentially undermines their in-the-moment intent, we did it several times this year, most often in service to themed features where the startling-yet-intimate eye-candy atmosphere of a video might interrupt or even overwhelm the tonal focus of the writing itself.

In turn, although we tried to stick to those which stood on their own as audio-only, our trend towards flattening videos into Mp3s seems driven by a prioritization of the personal over the critical here on the blog as life grows ever more complicated, and what was once a twice weekly behemoth has become a less frequent but – we hope – in many ways a more deep ethnographic exploration of the ways in which the folkways influences both artists, and us. But this, too, is not so much a problem as an artifact of what we do, exactly: to live as a coverblogger is, after all, to embody the give-and-take ownership between artist and listener, both on a mass scale and on a very personal one.

Call it an artifact of context over convenience, then. Although a few performances we originally discovered on video (including great cuts from YouTube-to-TV stars Holly Henry and Janet Devlin, frequent-flyer and indie-slash-electrofolk genre-crosser Nataly Dawn, a lovely series of 10 covers of Canadian artists presented in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary by Bailey Pelkman, and a wonderful Outkast cover from vocal popgroup Pentatonix’ departed bass-man, all of whom will appear in our Best Singles Mix) do in the end stand up just fine as audio-only cuts, we still believe that, in the ideal sense, the very design of at least some subsection of the vast array of ‘tube-sourced recordings that populate the sharing sites beg to be experienced in their native medium. For now, anyway, and for this year.

And so – while we finish curating our Best Coverfolk Singles Mixtape of 2017 (which we intend to release soon!), and wait for the last guests to wake up, eat breakfast, and depart from for our annual early-bird New Years party – Cover Lay Down proudly presents our very subjective favorite videographic performances of 2017, an amalgamated mix of 13 favorite singles and coverset selections. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

The Year’s Best Coverfolk Videos, 2017

Kina Grannis: When You Come Back Down (orig. Nickel Creek)

Kina Grannis is welcome and well-celebrated here on Cover Lay Down; she was one of the very first YouTube stars, and one of our first YouTube discoveries. But Grannis has been on fire this year, releasing a mix of sparklingly well-produced single-shot video covers that trend towards the polar ends of coverage, the undone and the redone: this year’s gems include stripped-down recasts of rap and pop tracks such as Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, Jimmy Eat World’s In The Middle, and Khalid’s Young Dumb & Broke, and softer folk and indie sources such as Bob Dylan (Blowin’ In The Wind), Etta James (At Last), and Sting (Fields of Gold), which, although closer in tenderness to the originals, nonetheless leave us breathless. Here, in her final cover of the year, she takes on our favorite Nickel Creek song, joyfully and with eyes half-closed, as always – and we’re glad, indeed, that she knows it, and has the chops to do it so well.

Passenger: A Change Is Gonna Come (orig. Sam Cooke)

The thirteen coversongs that comprised Passenger‘s Sunday Night Sessions – a set of video occasionals, with takes on Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Tracy Chapman, Bill Withers, Don McLean, Joy Division and more, recorded and filmed on location as the artist and his band toured the world – comprise a would-be hands-down favorite this year in our annual look at the single-artist cover series. The songs have since been recast and released as a ten-track streaming-only covers album, and it was mighty tempting, indeed, to include the album in our Best Coverfolk Albums rundown earlier this week – but the site-specific energy of these covers are so potent an addition to their musicality, in the end, we saved them for fuller feature here.

Tallest Man On Earth: Both Sides Now (orig. Joni Mitchell)

The Light in Demos is a pensive and deeply personal acoustic video project after our own heart, produced, written, directed, recorded, shot and edited entirely by Swedish artist Saras Per Kristian Matsson, also known as The Tallest Man on Earth. Eight songs in, the set includes six reworked and unfinished originals which bring new life and resonance to the growing search and songbook of one of our favorite musical explorers, and two covers: A Nick Drake familiarity, and this, “the best song in the world”, performed barefoot and with ringing reverb that brings a layer of stillness and eternity to both song and setting.

Twisted Pine: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (orig. The Beatles)

Announced just last week as recipients of one of Club Passim’s newest Iguana Music Fund grant recipients, Boston-based production-house Red Line Roots’ Old Spruce Sessions are recorded largely in found spaces, in off-stage moments borrowed from touring artists. Unlike their previously-celebrated Locals Cover Locals collections, a Bandcamp-sourced product chock full of predominantly singer-songwriter and small folk duo-and-trio performances, their video series is heavy on the earthy and organic, chock full of bluegrass and old-timey stuff; lo-fi delights worth celebration include a multitude of up-and-coming artists’ originals, Billy Strings’ backstage take on Cocaine Blues, and two Beatles covers: a gentle take on Norwegian Wood filmed in the attic of a rural Vermont town hall, and this tense, terrific wonder from deconstructed bluegrass quartet Twisted Pine, recorded in the fields of this year’s Green River Festival.

Darlingside: 1979 (orig. Smashing Pumpkins)

We’ve shared versions of this cover before. And we’ve loved video of it, too, such as this 2015 Kitchen Sessions performance, which arguably maintains a bit more in-the-moment fast-paced energy. But this one is balanced and pristine – the perfect, grungy-yet-polished final cut we’ve been waiting for since we first heard Darlingside’s arrangement of this Smashing Pumpkins tune raw and barely rehearsed in the fields of Falcon Ridge, where we first discovered the band, perhaps the perfect ambassadors for what well may be the newest branch of folk. Subscribe to Under The Apple Tree for more strong video coverage, too, including a potent full-band posthumous cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ from Robert Vincent, a slow and gorgeous three-part harmony take on Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and a beautiful live take on Dire Straits tune Brothers In Arms from Xander & the Peace Pirates which almost, almost, took the place of the above.

Walk Off The Earth: Shape Of You (orig. Ed Sheeran)

Though they’re more an acoustic rock band than a folk act, the cheerful, playful work of Hawaiian video project Walk Off The Earth, whose work is almost always designed to be seen as much as heard, has thrilled us before – see, for example, their lovely cardboard video for Malvina Reynolds song Little Boxes, which we raved about five years ago, and last year’s sunny version of The Chainsmokers’ Closer. This year, tightly choreographed, highly percussive and energetic performances continued to be the norm, and along with a campfire tribute to Tom Petty, this Ed Sheeran earworm is one of their best. With over twelve million views on YouTube already, you’ve probably heard it before – but it’s catchy, gleeful, and worth hearing again.

Katie Ferrara: Tangerine (orig. Led Zeppelin)

We featured LA busker and bar-singer Katie Ferrara back in July, celebrating her “convertible-top-down folk-pop powerhouse” EP with “a well-produced, subtly sensational, and eminently summery doozy of a Creedence cover” that matched in-studio recording shots with dreamy images and video from a recent flight from Miami. But there’s something lovely and intimate about Ferrara’s new Lemon Cat cover sessions, appropriately filmed against a yellow background, and all from December. Click through for more, including an electric take on Bob Marley’s Turn Your Lights Down Low, and – as if to justify our late entry into the universe of 2017 – her sultry version of Aerosmith’s Crazy.

Jeffrey Foucault: Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (orig. Bob Dylan)

Like a few others on this year’s Best Videos list, we shared this cut first via our Facebook page – in this case, way back in February, along with another of Jeffrey Foucault’s political covers, originally by Danny O’Keefe by way of Chris Smither, which seems to exist only on the etherial social space, and thus confounds our ability to embed it here. But these stark, faceless, sepia-toned videos from the current champion of dustbowl despair ache with angst and anger, offering perfect settings for the songs themselves. They still haunt us, and they should.

Mark Broussard: Sweet Baby James (orig. James Taylor)

A slow-release February-into-March mostly-covers session with his father Ted playing alongside him converted us, instantly, into fans of the soulful Marc Broussard – and sent us scrambling to collect the entire set, including their takes on Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Loggins and Messina classic House at Pooh Corner, and a slam-dunk version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow dedicated to a very special lost soul. Simple yet nuanced, this bluesfolk is bare and bare-bones, as it should be….and should Broussard decide, after all, to record a for-charity children’s lullaby album, we’ll be one of the first in line to help push it into the world.

Rus Reppert: Fly Like An Eagle (orig. Steve Miller)

It’s dark, and cavernous – like the deserted warehouse in which it was filmed – and maybe that’s the point. And it’s a loop cover – which, for the uninitiated, means it’s built live from the ground up, just one man and a solo guitar, and a set of pedals to control it all. For all these reasons and more, this December-filmed, February-released Steve Miller cover from West Virginia songwriter Rus Reppert absolutely, positively belongs here on our Best Videos collection; strip the visuals, and you’d lose both the darkness and the intimate immediacy of it all. Follow the threads, too, to Candyrat Records, which is chock full of utterly stunning live acoustic fingerstyle covers and originals, most without lyrics.

Upstate Rubdown: I’m Looking Through You (orig. The Beatles)

We made some wonderful new discoveries and a host of great memories at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this year, but it was hard not to love Upstate Rubdown, a down-to-earth all-acoustic “big band” from New York’s Hudson Valley region whose music fuses folk, roots, funk, swing, and more, and every performance is a party and a half. We named this video one of our Year’s Best the moment we found it, and we don’t regret the early call one bit.

I’m With Her: Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (orig. Adele)

This bass-and-vox cover from indiefolk supergroup I’m With Her, recorded live on their American Acoustic tour over the summer, was released “on all streaming/downloading apps” as a benefit recording for Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based nonprofit that heals, empowers and employs survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. Switch out the video, though, and you’d miss both the intimacy of the performance, and the way the high, stark contrast of black dresses and blond wood stage reflects this every-note-counts homage to Adele.

The Sea The Sea: I’ll Keep It With Mine (orig. Bob Dylan)

A transformed Dylan tune filmed and recorded live mid-year by way of introduction to old friends (and now married couple) Chuck and Mira’s newly expanded foursome, still playing under the The Sea, The Sea moniker. A tight, controlled percussive sound and lush vocals that nonetheless retain the careful and sparse arrangements typical of their performance. After this fishbowl fantasy – and a lovely tree-side Concert Window session of holiday songs and carols that filled our own living room the night we brought our own tree home – we’re looking to have them back to our Unity House Series as soon as we can find a date.

Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been digging deep at the ethnographic intersection of folkways and coversong since 2007 thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, like, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2016-2017, including exclusive live covers from our very own Unity House Concert series.

Comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Best of 2017, Darlingside, Ed Sheeran, James Taylor, Jeffrey Foucault, Kina Grannis, Passenger, The Sea The Sea, YouTube

Double Dippers, vol. 3: Singer-songwriters visit & revisit
Donovan, The Beatles, Gram Parsons, Woody Guthrie and Paul Simon!

July 20th, 2014 — 8:39pm

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Born of an exercise in archival data-mining, our Double Dippers feature series finds us focusing on artists who pay tribute to favorite songwriters through coverage twice over, in two distinct phases of their careers. Our interest, as always, is in the ethnographic lens on craft and culture: if covers serve as artifacts that expose the substance of artistic evolution, then the return to a common songbook is especially illuminating, both as an exploration of maturity and experimentation, and in the way it reinforces an individual artist’s claim to a particular musical lineage or heritage.

Previously, we took the analytical approach to paired homage from Mark Erelli, Richard Shindell, Amos Lee, Lucy Kaplansky, and Old Crow Medicine Show (Vol. 1), and an all-female cast of Kasey Chambers, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Red Molly (Vol. 2), as they explored the works of their peers and progenitors. Today, we continue our dig into how songs and songwriters are shaped by song and soundscapes with double-dip coverage from Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Bragg, Evan Dando, and Crooked Still alumni Aoife O’Donovan and Tristan Clarridge.

    Rickie Lee Jones has reinvented herself several times in a long and storied career, with tours through R&B, pop, and jazz standards along the way. But the difference has never been so vast, nor so starkly presented as it is when comparing her covers of sixties folk icon Donovan. Jones’ chipper retro-coustic folkpop take on Sunshine Superman, recorded for the hip mid-nineties television show Party Of Five, bounces with the sheer joy of its reconsidered era; her more recent effort, from the Ben Harper-produced triumph The Devil You Know, a hushed, stripped and solo album we celebrated in our 2012 year’s end review, is haunted, raw, ragged and slow, a broken whisper with timeless fragility.

    Long before Woody Guthrie’s sister and executor tapped him to join up with Wilco for the Grammy-winning Mermaid Avenue project, Billy Bragg was already a workingman’s folksinger, with a canon and craft that owe as much to the pre-revival labor movement folkbranches as they do to the post-punk political songbooks of The Clash and The Smiths (both of whom he’s also covered on studio releases). Though his work with the Guthrie notebooks on the Mermaid Avenue sessions is more posthumous collaboration than an incidence of coverage, Bragg has covered his anti-establishment tribal progenitor several times in the studio. These two tracks, recorded a quarter century apart, are quite representative: almost three decades of production dynamics distinguish the pair, and Bragg’s weariness seems to have become a driver of rhythm in the intervening years, but the bare-bones approach common to both songs, and the political nature of each, reveal nothing so much as how true Bragg’s colors really run.

    We made a case for the folkier side of Evan Dando way back in 2008; Dando’s path from Boston grunge to stripped down singer-songwriter perfectly parallels my own shift in sensibility as I approached middle age, so we’re especially fond of his work in any form. Rather than representing the artist at his heroin-folk best, or, contrariwise, with the fuzzy electrified underground tones of his beloved Lemonheads, these two Gram Parsons covers show a versatile middle ground, with gritty overtones of Americana and California Country Rock that befit the songs’ genre origins. (As a bonus triple-dip, Dando’s 1998 bootleg recording of Parsons’ Streets of Baltimore is quite good, too, if more raw and tender than the two presented here.)

    I’ve got Aoife O’Donovan on the brain this week, thanks to an upcoming set on Friday, August 1st at the best little folk festival in the American Northeast; I’ve never seen her live in solo mode, but like so many others, I’ve been in love with that gorgeous voice for years. Aoife O’Donovan’s cover of Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones is a sweet bootleg piano ballad from her school days, originally released on MySpace, but it’s a great early showpiece for her particular talent, with hints of all the power that she would refine and reveal in her decade with Crooked Still; American Tune, from Crooked Still’s 2011 swansong EP Friends of Fall, shows the rich fruits of her journey: nuanced, etherial, and free, with mastery in spades.

    As a bonus, since technically, it’s not his own voice, but the instrument that most closely approximates the male voice, which he brings to the table: Though founders and frontpersons Aoife O’Donovan and Greg Liszt generally get the lion’s share of recognition for their seminal work with Crooked Still, cellist Tristan Clarridge, who was with the band for several years before they declared an official hiatus in 2011, has arranged and covered The Beatles songbook twice over, too: on that same Friends of Fall album, and with his neo-traditional string-and-dulcimer trio The Bee Eaters, who recorded this slow-burning gem on their 2009 self-titled album.

Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down shares new songsets and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to the kind support of readers like you. Want to help?

Comment » | Allison Krauss, Aoife O'Donovan, Billy Bragg, Crooked Still, Double Dippers, Evan Dando, Rickie Lee Jones

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest 2014 (July 31-Aug 3)
with Aoife O’Donovan, Roosevelt Dime, Darlingside, The Duhks & more!

July 3rd, 2014 — 4:42pm

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This year marks our twentieth consecutive year at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and although we go as much for the community as the music these days, it is a sign of the festival’s continued success in presenting a stellar, diverse line-up that even as my wife works on airing out the camper, I find myself eagerly compiling a list of don’t-miss acts – and finding plenty of fodder for it.

We’ve said so much about this festival in past years; in some ways, it seems redundant to begin again for a seventh time. As I noted last year, “Falcon Ridge…remains my favorite summer experience: a guaranteed go-to event that offers some of the best, most eclectic truly folk music on the circuit, in a lazy, generous atmosphere charged with joy,” with a perfect mix of familiar folk festival standbys, famous guests, and “great new acts from the expanding indie-traditional genre space to complement the familiar faces, and honor the vibrancy of modern folk.”

But every year is something special at Falcon Ridge, and this year promises to be a gold mine. Today, then, a short set of updates from some past favorites coming to Dodd’s Farm for summer 2014; if we’ve done our job well, you’ll be itching to join us in the fields on Hillsdale, NY the first weekend in August to see these don’t-miss artists plus John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Christine Lavin, Brother Sun, Spuyten Duyvil, Tom Paxton, The Boxcar Lillies, Connor Garvey, Tracey Grammer and more.


We tracked Crooked Still carefully throughout the long life of this blog, and noted their move towards solo and other projects recently as this 2011 feature on the band’s first decade – but bookmarking such gems as the utterly beautiful 2011 solo take on a Richard Thompson classic below left an ache for founder, bandleader, and driving force Aoife O’Donovan, and we’re thrilled to find her on the performer’s list.

Indeed, even as her sweet, airy voice finds itself in collaboration with the likes of Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny, Kate Rusby, Elizabeth Mitchell, Sam Amidon, and other favorite artists over the past few years, I’ve been dying to see Aoife live and solo, and probably longer than most; her long-awaited debut album Fossils, which dropped this past year, has been duly feted as a tour de force, but we’ve been fans of that breathy voice since our inception. If her appearance on Prairie Home Companion back in January is any indication, this it-girl of the neo-traditional movement is going to be the belle of the fest; I’ll see you in the front row.

    Aoife O’Donovan: The Lakes Of Ponchartrain (trad.)

    Aoife O’Donovan: Vincent Black Lightning 1952 (orig. Richard Thompson)


We fell in love with Roosevelt Dime‘s acoustic jug band steamboat soul way back in 2009, thanks to a beautiful Americana-style single-shot Radiohead cover on their debut album Crooked Roots. Since then, we’ve followed their progress closely, and become close; we were thrilled to host the band overnight for a campsite jam last summer on site at Falcon Ridge, and honored to have the chance to present the very first public performance for Goodnight Moonshine, string-player and singer Eben Pariser’s side project with Red Molly member Molly Ventner.

The new year brings some changes to Roosevelt Dime – a slight shift in line-up, a featured Most Wanted set at the upcoming Falcon Ridge Folk Festival after winning last year’s Emerging Artist Showcase, and a fuller, more polished sound courtesy of Full Head of Steam, a jazzy, toe-tapping March release that sticks in the feet and the ears. Boston area folks interested in a week-before-the-fest teaser should snag tickets now for the band’s Club Passim show July 25th in support of Full Head of Steam; attendees will receive a free copy of the album, which is a serious bonus. Three traditional tracks from the album bring the funk for now.


Like Roosevelt Dime, Darlingside will be all over Falcon Ridge this year; Most Wanted artists are scheduled for multiple song workshops in collaboration with other artists; some of the very best collaborations I have ever seen take place at the open-air workshop tent. Regular readers may remember that this band wowed us at the Lounge Stage, the all-day Thursday artist-run festival-within-a-festival that Falcon Ridge has taken under its wing, with an amazing acoustic take on Smashing Pumpkins hit 1979; since then, their recent cover of Joni Mitchell-slash-CSNY Woodstock, with local darling Heather Maloney, made the New York Times, bringing fame and hopefully some modicum of momentum to the eclectic folkpop band.

Of course, Darlingside has been around for a while yet, and as with many new favorites, a dig into the archives can be fruitful, indeed. I found this older video cover searching for coverage from this year’s emerging artists; Caitlin Canty, who also tours with Jefferey Foucault and will be one of the 20 acts in this year’s Friday afternoon showcase, is the real deal.

    Darlingside ft. Caitlin Canty: Volcano (orig. Damien Rice)

    Darlingside ft. Heather Maloney: Woodstock (orig. Joni Mitchell)

    Darlingside: 1979 (orig. Smashing Pumpkins)


Wherever psychedelic jamband meets mythological folk rock, The Grand Slambovians (aka The Slambovian Circus of Dreams) hold sway, and for good reason: their late night Falcon Ridge mainstage sets are the world’s best summer party under the stars; their dance tent sets are legendary roof-raisers, their at-bats under the summer sun each year at the Beatles cover workshop are always a sing-along treat; their 2007 cover of Peace Train with Dar Williams and John Gorka remains one of our favorite Falcon Ridge moments. The music video for crowd favorite Alice in Space they made on-site last year, released this March to much fanfare, offers a glimpse into the madness; if you look closely, you can catch me in the crowd shots, bouncing around with abandon. This gentle, languid electro-folk Leonard Cohen cover comes from the same set, but even their tender side is part of the ride: don’t bother bringing a chair to your own trip to Slambovia – just a glowstick suit, plenty of water, and all the energy you can muster.

    The Grand Slambovians: Suzanne (orig. Leonard Cohen)


I actually blogged about The Duhks before this blog was born, listing their cover of Tracy Chapman’s Mountains of Things as one of my favorite songs of 2006 here in the waning days of the prep school existence, and returning for a comprehensive look at their first half decade in a 2008 feature (The Duhks cover Sting, Tracey Chapman, Gillian Welch et. al). Now, several line-up changes and 13 years since their inception, the eclectic acadian-creole folkrock collective from Winnipeg emerges from a two-year recording hiatus still at the top of their game, hitting “the Ridge” on the strength of a crisp, bright, and totally rockin’ new album produced by CLD faves Mike & Ruthy, with title cut and a traditional number below. Bring on the joyful noise.

    The Duhks: Mountains of Things (orig. Tracy Chapman)


Ready to join us August 1-3 at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival? Head over to their website for more, including tickets, a complete line-up, vendor list and site map!

4 comments » | (Re)Covered, Aoife O'Donovan, Darlingside, Festival Coverfolk, Roosevelt Dime, The Duhks

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