Category: Chris Thile


Covers From Home: Music In A Time Of Quarantine

March 21st, 2020 — 3:02pm




It started last Thursday, with a short set from Kris Delmhorst’s living room; her concert at Club Passim that night had been cancelled at the very last minute, in reaction to concerns about contagion in close quarters, and so she turned to the airwaves for an online set, to benefit herself, the club, and the staff that would have worked there that night.

The results were a harbinger, and a blessing: a crowd much, much larger than Passim itself can hold, and an outpouring of donations – enough to support all involved, and enough to seed what is now, just one week later, a virtual “festival” of home YouTube recordings from dozens of artists, all in support of The Passim Emergency Artist Relief Fund – aka the PEAR fund, a model that has fast become a template for a holy host of new media attempts to keep the music flowing, and support artists, in a rapidly changing world of isolation and interconnectivity.

It’s ironic, in its way: we’re all alone, and forcibly so, and yet music is everywhere, if by “everywhere” we mean Facebook, Twitch, SoundIt, YouTube, and the rest of the virtual social spaces we share desperately as we take our bodily selves out of the picture. And the silver linings are huge, for those invested in the world of folk: an outpouring of unsurprisingly sparse recordings and live events, typified by intimate settings and small home-bound performance spaces, are rapidly reshaping what is usually a much more diverse range of genre in the world at large, revealing a sound that is stripped down by necessity: bands separated from their bandmates; singer-songwriters quietly talking and singing so as not to wake their kids or roommates; performers without soundboards or speakers, save the small amplifiers of their own home recording studios, phones, and laptops.

Artists keep making art, albeit sometimes in their pajamas, or yesterday’s clothes, and it’s being shaped by something new: the distance, and the home. They have to: they’ve got time on their hands, now that they’re not on the road; the creative urge remains in the air around them, pressured by the times; many suddenly have no other way to pay the bills, unless we open our wallets from afar. And we’re here, too, lonely and eager to share and be part of something bigger, with time on our own hands to listen, and celebrate the ways that folk music can bring us together.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need these connections between us, and need the artists that need us so much, too. And so something new is born, like a diamond emerging from the detritus of being underground.

Is the model sustainable? Will the feast – this virtual folk fest, with its multiple stages throughout the day – last as long as we are apart? It’s hard to know. To some extent, the answer must be “yes”: artist tours are cancelled everywhere; the soonest I’ve heard of anyone making new plans for touring is December, and that’s a long, cold, penniless wait for the average singer-songwriter or band member looking towards spring touring and the summer festival season to feed and clothe themselves and their families, and make enough to keep the music flowing. The initial firehose effect should fade into something more manageable, I’d expect, but I’d love to pronounce that this sudden, unexpected outpouring of music – one which has left us with some difficult choices in the last few days, as some of us try to stream as many as three or four shows at once – will continue forever, and that audiences will continue to pour forth their support, making it possible for us all to get through this challenging time together. I hope it does.

But “likely” is all we get for anything right now. As Andrew Sullivan notes, “The one thing we know about epidemics is that at some point they will end. The one thing we don’t know is who we will be then.”

Welcome to the new normal, where nothing is sure.

Today, then, let us celebrate what we have, in the here and now, with a first week’s worth of coverfolk of hope, longing, and social isolation, played out loud and mostly live online since the cancellations began: three solid sets, featuring live online coverfolk concerts, a short set of Bandcamp tributes and covers collections whose release dates were pushed forward to take advantage of yesterday’s one-time offer to give 100% of the proceeds directly to artists, to help them stabilize their finances for the long quarantine ahead, and a short spate of live single-shot covers performed via stream and then archived for our viewing pleasure.

What’s happening now is history; someday, I tell my students, you will be telling these stories to your children, and your grandchildren. Here’s a soundtrack you might consider, when you do.


Set 1: Coverfolk Concerts

I’ve been meaning to write about young wunderkind siblings Chase and Sierra Eagleson for weeks; those who haven’t discovered them should absolutely head over later to their YouTube pages to check out more coverage of the likes of Bon Iver, Brandi Carlile, Fleetwood Mac, Gregory Alan Isakov, James Taylor, The Milk Carton Kids, Billie Eilish, Bruce Springsteen, Hozier Ben Howard, and Coldplay than even this 3 hour concert has to offer. Joyfully, live in session – just as in their increasingly vital collection of previous covers, pre-recorded both separately and together – the Ohio-based duo are comfortable and sweet, grateful for the company, and utterly stunning in performance of a HUGE set of cover songs, from Childish Gambino to Elvis, with truly etherial harmonies and sensitive, soft acoustic arrangements that hold us close.




Most other concerts we’ve been watching aren’t directly shareable here; Facebook, while a great medium for fast and intimate connection and recording, is inflexible about passing content off to other platforms. The good news: you can just click through. Check out, then, the first half hour or so of Ellis Paul and Laurie MacAllister’s Tiny Living Room Concert – Covers Show #1, and the growing archive of Chris from Parsonsfield’s daily 4:00 EDT live shows from his living room, which trend heavily towards coverage; each from each is a gem, and worth the visit.


Set 2: Bandcamp Coverfolk Releases (3/20/2020)

It’s hard to fault Bandcamp for only choosing to give back profits to artists for a single day: Bandcamp is a company; their staff has bills to pay, too. But a few artists took advantage of the moment to bring some wonderful tribute albums and covers collections to light earlier than intended, to take advantage of the sales boost. We’re thrilled to share the fruits of their labor, too: a wonderfully sparse and utterly sublime live set from Bluegrass kings Steep Canyon Rangers, originally performed at Merlefest last year, in tribute to North Carolina artists Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Ola Belle Reed, James Taylor, Thelonious Monk and more, a delightfully twee short set that sounds like it was recorded yesterday from stripped-down covers goddess Lauren O’Connell, and a gorgeous three-fer tribute to the Ink Spots from Cover Lay Down local fave Paola Bennett: sultry, sweet, and just what the heart needed today.









Set 3: Single Shot Coverfolk

Many of the one-shot covers recorded and released from artists in the past few days have come from Facebook, which seems to offer an especially easy way for folks to share and spread in this time of trouble; those who dwell there regularly, and follow us there as well, have by now heard a dozen samples of choice coverfolk in the past few days, most it resonant with topical angst and longing for connection.

Here’s a few of our favorites – a starter set, including the masterful Gillian Welch cover from Chris Thile, performed in his in-law’s closet, that has since kicked off a huge set of artist-to-artist challenges under the tongue-in-cheek tag #livefromhome as popular NPR music show Live From Here remains dark, a pair of the many, many wonderful videos that have followed from the prompt to Thile’s peers, a singleton from Swedish Americana duo Good Harvest, and a two-part sampler from that ever-growing list of PEARfest goodies, featuring coverage from initiator Kris Delmhorst herself, and from CLD fave (and Best Covers EP of 2019 honoree) Rachel Sumner. Head over to the Cover lay Down Facebook page for a fuller set than here, though, including Facebook-only acoustic delights from Teddy Thompson’s growing series of Beatles covers, a wonderful tradfolk tune from new faves Sound an Echo (featuring singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour and fiddler Sara Pajunen), whose recent debut EP is well worth the Bandcamp download, a ZZ Top cover from electric-acoustic duo Larkin Poe, the first of what is by now a growing collection of daily covers from Dayna Manning, and a surprisingly spare solo couch session from Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 covering (ironically) a Crowded House favorite; we’ll keep sharing ’em there as the days go on and the music keeps coming.















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So do your part: listen, and then follow links back to the sources we provide, to share your love with those who make this all happen. And though it should go without saying, as always, when you find what you love, please be a patron, too: buy the music, or the t-shirt; donate to newly-formed artist support funds, join Patreons and Kickstarters, and follow Venmo, Paypal, and Patreon links to give back if you can, the better to keep the music flowing in these troubling times.

Comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Chris Thile, Parsonsfield, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tributes and Cover Compilations

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

July 11th, 2013 — 3:17pm

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

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

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

    Nathan Edwards: Beautiful Dreamer (orig. Stephen Foster)

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

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

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

    Sam Amidon: As I Roved Out (trad.)

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

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

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

    Zachary Cale: Bluebells (orig. Will Stratton)

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

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

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

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

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

    Chris Thile: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor

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

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