Category: Parsonsfield


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

(Re)Covered: New Covers from Old Favorites
Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey, Carrie Elkin, Parsonsfield & more!

February 21st, 2017 — 11:31pm

Our ongoing (Re)Covered series finds us touting new and newly uncovered releases from folk, roots, bluegrass and acoustic artists previously celebrated here on Cover Lay Down. Today, we delve into the mailbag with news and new coverage from raspy crooners Jeffrey Foucault and Peter Mulvey, sweet soul mama Carrie Elkin, a country rock-ified Stray Birds, whispery indiefolk pairing Matt Minigell and Annabelle Lord-Patey, and still-rising stringband Parsonsfield taking on Dylan, Paul Simon, Teenage Fanclub, the Episcopalian hymnal and more!

pmPeter Mulvey has been a mainstay of this blog since its birth, thanks to a fondness for coverage and a tendency to transform rather than merely channel the goods. But in the last several years, his commitment to the political reality that he shares with his fans has grown strong and evident in his practice – the man rides his bike cross-county on tour, and his protest song Take Down This Flag has been adopted, adapted, and added to by hundreds of performers.

New album Are You Listening?, produced by and on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label and due to drop late in March, is a perfect exemplar of the man’s continued prowess as a chronicler of the raw and real. Preorder here, and while you wait for its release, check out Mulvey’s recent EP Lift Every Voice, a perfect, politically-relevant timepiece with the aforementioned anthem at the forefront, released free to all who promise to donate to the social justice cause of their choice.

elkincoverI’ve been holding on to this for a while, and now I’m thrilled to share what well may be the best Paul Simon cover this decade will see: Carrie Elkin‘s haunting, resonant take on American Tune, which simply aches with the pain and hope of an America still yawing into the void. We last saw Elkin in our 2010 couples round-up; seven years later, she and Danny Schmidt have just become first-time parents. The song, a teaser from Elkin’s aching Kickstarter-driven solo album The Penny Collector, named after Elkin’s father, who recently passed, is expected to emerge on March 10, and it’s a stunning set; we’re sure you’ll want to donate now, and help the album come to full fruition as it deserves, on the strength of this little taste.

mattannabelleIn a very real way, Boston-based singer-songwriter and busker Mary Lou Lord serves as a sort of muse to this blog; she’s recommended some wonderful music over the years since I first wrote about her in 2008. Last year, she played our house concert series, and brought along daughter Annabelle Lord-Patey as an opener, who revealed herself as an artist just finding her voice; now, paired with young singer-songwriter Matt Minigell, another Lord find who graced our 2015 Year’s Best mixtape, Annabelle seems to have come into her own, with a tender, rhythmic lo-fi take on Teenage Fanclub that doesn’t just bring me back to my own moody adolescence – it helps me celebrate and make my peace with it. Kudos to the next generation, and thanks, Mary Lou, for continuing to bring it forth into the world.

parsSomewhere in the shuffle of the holiday season we missed an eleventh-hour Christmas three-fer from Parsonsfield (previously Poor Old Shine), recorded live in our hometown stomping grounds and sent as a free exclusive to all “inbox sessions” subscribers by the potent, barnburning old-timey-meets-The-Band fivesome from just down the road apiece, who we first fell in love with in the aisles of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. I’ve always thought a certain Joni Mitchell setting deserved year-round consideration; here’s the boys to prove River can last long past December.

stray-birdsWe first took note of The Stray Birds when they were coming up on Falcon Ridge, too. Here’s the string-trio-and-then-some on this past year’s Decoration Day Sampler from Brooklyn-and-Nashville-based production house Mason Jar Music – an annual compilation which usually serves as frequent flyer in our year’s end round-up – with a take on Dylan that boasts an apt slipperiness in the voice and a funky, chunky arrangement: pitch-perfect folkband folk sure to thrill those who love the country comfort of Gillian Welch, Gram Parsons, Old Crow Medicine Show and more.

Jeffrey Foucault‘s been featured here several times before: as a solo artist early in our incarnation; later as a songsmith and collaborator with Mulvey and now-spouse Kris Delmhorst. But his recent video covers are perfect, precise carriers of his craft: close your eyes, and you can still hear the rugged face bobbing in and out of the frame; the wringing, nuanced movement of body, hands and guitar barely contained by the margins of song and solace; the soothing sepia wash that ages the soul. No Depression recently named him one of six Roots Artists On The Verge, but as far as we’re concerned, Foucault is already a master, dusty with the roads of a thousand miles and more.

Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down has been making noise about music since 2007 thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Click here to help fund the continued promotion of authenticity and craft through coverage, and get our very own super-secret covers mix as our thanks!

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Jeffrey Foucault, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey

Signature Sounds: A Local Label Turns 20 in Style
(with new cover albums and a Chris Smither tribute!)

November 22nd, 2014 — 2:05pm


Cofounder Jim Olsen outside label Signature Sounds in Northampton, MA

After two decades as a go-to source for some of our favorite singer-songwriters, local label Signature Sounds has earned our respect and gratitude a hundred times over even as their catalog of folk, roots, Americana and acoustic indie soulpop has come to the national scene. First conceived as an extension of the Signature Sounds recording studio established by Mark Thayer in the mid-eighties, the label, which released its first album – a holiday sampler – in 1984, also runs our new favorite folk venue (The Parlor Room, a delightfully intimate venue in Northampton where one can browse and purchase from the entire Signature Sounds catalog) and sponsors one of our very favorite roots festivals (the Green River festival, where I first discovered Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch, and Erin McKeown): all just icing on the anniversary cake, a marker of their homegrown expansion and a harbinger of more to come.

Today, in praise and homage to Signature Sounds and the artists it has introduced and promoted on ever-expanding roster, we swing through a set of 2014 cover and tribute releases from the label, and add a bonus set of favorite tracks from cover albums and tributes released over 20 years in the business. Read on for samples and sentiment, and then, if you’re in the area, stop by to browse the amazing local arts scene at The Parlor Room Makers Market today and tomorrow and pick up 20% off tickets to next weekend’s birthday celebration at the Academy of Music: 4 star-studded concerts over 3 nights with Lake Street Dive, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Chris Smither, Redbird, Mark Erelli, Eilen Jewell, Winterpills, Heather Maloney, and a Crooked Still reunion – all artists featured here on these virtual pages more than once, for good reason.

Since we last wrote about them in a February (Re)Covered post, footstomping fivesome Poor Old Shine has changed their name to Parsonsfield, joined the Signature Sounds roster, and focused their approach in ways that only improve on an already exquisite neotraditional sound. Their newest EP is a playful, eclectic grab-bag of holler and harmonies, with previously YouTubed covers of old tradfolk and Huey Lewis hit The Power Of Love, a lone original (playful romp Anita Loving), and a set of newer studio recordings of tunes from the American school that bring the field to your foyer.

Link Of Chain: A Songwriter’ Tribute to Chris Smither is as much a homage to the Signature Sounds roster and its fans in the music industry as it honors the elder statesman of Northeastern American folk blues, who turned 70 last week. In the hands of Mark Erelli, Jeffrey Foucault, Tim O’Brien, Aoife O’Donovan and other familiar names on the circuit, Smithers’ songs get a masterful treatment with few low points and little sameness, offering apt survey of the label’s sound and cache all at once. Highly recommended tracks include Dave Alvin’s restrained album-opener, a typically smoky, jazz-beautiful version of Waiting On A Train from Patty Larkin, and Mary Gauthier’s chilling take on Smither standard I Feel The Same – a far cry from the funky wah wah pedal swamp blues that Bonnie Raitt used to make the song famous.

Miss Tess and the Talkbacks isn’t folk; Signature Sounds is on an electrified soulpop kick these days, thanks to the success of labelmates Lake Street Dive, whose 2014 Halloween Youtube cover of Love Shack is a poolside screamer not to be missed. But Tess’ late-2013 covers EP The Love I Have For You, which we missed last year, has a rockabilly sentiment and a country core, calling to the rootsy origins even as it frames itself squarely in modern traditions of reinvention and acoustic soul.

Winterpills aren’t folk, either, but the approach to sound on this relatively intimate new duo album hits the mark, as does the concept: totally transformed in an electronic haze by founding bandmembers Flora Reed and Philip Price while their bandmates were busy, lesser-known tracks from the alternative world and beyond specifically chosen for their potential for reinvention shimmer and strain against their original settings. The resulting album is beautiful, with songs sparse and torn, yet equally untethered and etherial.

The Sacred Shakers are a collaborative of Boston musicians, nominally led by country folk artist Eilen Jewell, whose shared love of old-time, country and blues-influenced gospel music lends itself to barn-busting performances. Discovered by Signature Sounds founder and all-around great guy Jim Olsen before they had recorded a lick, their 2014 live album on the label is like a No Depression record played on 45: upbeat, high-energy, spiritually joyful, and eminently danceable.

Signature Sounds has produced some amazing albums over the years; many of their cover and tribute albums are staples of our Cover Lay Down archival stacks. As promised, then: today’s bonus set features a treasure trove sampler from a highly recommended all-covers subsection of one of the best independent catalogs in the modern world. Click through to purchase albums direct from the source, the better to keep Signature Sounds going strong in the decades to come.

    20 Years of Coverage:
    More Cover Albums and Tributes from Signature Sounds

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1 comment » | Back To The Source, Chris Smither, Parsonsfield, Peter Mulvey, Tributes and Cover Compilations, Winterpills

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