Category: Mailbag Monday

Mailbag Mayhem: New covers of
The Beatles, Beyonce, Teenage Fanclub, The Grateful Dead & more!

August 11th, 2016 — 9:56pm

How lovely to return from two weeks in the folkfields soaked in sun and song and find the mailbag bulging with transformative takes on songs we love. We’ve sifted through and found the very best of a set that covers the gamut from tender indiefolk and solo singer-songwriter fare to bluegrass, roots, and Americana; now read on for some very new coverage from a diverse set of international artists working in and around the folkways – all recorded or released in the last few weeks, and all very much worth your time.

Revolver turned 50 last week; in its honor, a set of mostly Brazilian artists have spent the week performing songs from the album for a mostly-live project called BH Beatle Week, and the results are just divine. Our favorite project contribution: this bright, dreamy, gently psychedelic cover from contemporary folk duo Lindsay and Isaac (and friend Vini), perfect for wistful summer’s end. See also Junk, recorded back in January by the same trio of artists – a beautiful, tender rendition of Paul McCartney’s best post-Beatles lullaby.

Indie-slash-antifolk singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, who has been pretty quiet since her last release in 2012, covered the Beatles recently, too, for the soundtrack of new animated feature Kubo and the Two Strings. Fittingly tinged with neotraditional Japanese instrumentation over orchestral strings, the cover, which hit the ether over the weekend, is both stirring and strange, a fitting match for a film that promises much, and seems poised to deliver.

Wisconsin-based, classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter and CLD frequent flyer Anna Elizabeth Laube sent along this Beyonce cover almost a month ago, but it’s well worth bringing forward: hushed, beautiful, and truly folk, with unexpected horns and a pulsing vibe that soothes and sways. At this point, we’d listen to Laube the sing the phone book; that she’s managed to wring such depth and dynamic tension from such an unusual source is both typical and praiseworthy.

New on Noisetrade, this previously unreleased Teenage Fanclub cover serves as 1/4 of a sampler EP re-introducing the world to the throwback California country sounds of Detroit “guitar-pop” band The Legal Matters. And what an introduction it is, too: perfect for those last lazy summer afternoons, and sure to please fans of The Jayhawks, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, and other folk-pop radio hitmakers that still populate classic rock radio.

Released in June but now rising to the top, Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky, the “focus” track of Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind, was put up on Youtube at the end of July: like much of this collection of old-timey “cheatin’ and hurtin’ songs” from BC-based septet The High Bar Gang, it’s a slow piece, and gentler than the Flatt and Scruggs original. But it’s the high-driving energy of traditional album opener Silver Dagger, a translation that owes much to Dolly Parton’s 1999 take on the song yet with a bright and busty energy all its own, that grabs us and pulls us in, hard and grinning, to spin and whirl.

It’s been a while since we last featured contemporary Hudson Valley singer-songwriter Susan Kane here on these pages, naming her sly, bluesy take on the Grateful Dead classic Loser as one of our top 20 coversongs of 2012, but we’re thrilled to have her back on the radar with two new Dead covers and a set of potent originals that reveal a rich and eminently human inner world through the superimposition of the mundane and the magic. An acoustic Americana album with guest musicians galore, new album Mostly Fine is enjoying a soft release; snag it now via CD Baby before folk radio beats you to it.

Just three albums into a promising career, London ex-pat vocalist and composer Joanna Wallfisch is hard to categorize, but everything’s good about near-perfect new CD Gardens In My Mind, which yaws wide as it swings from a playful, stuttering barrelhouse pianojazz title track to lush world-and-classical folk a la Jean Rohe (Satin Grey). Though mostly comprised of vibrant, contemporary originals, the album also includes a crooner’s soft pianopop Tim Buckley cover and this completely deconstructed string-quartet take on All I Want that just blows our mind…and then does it again, in a gorgeously layered, looping a capella reprise of the same song that leaves us aching and breathless.

Most folks move from folk to Broadway, if anything. But with debut album Somebody, Ryan Vona – who appeared there in folk musical Once, and currently stars as Joey in the Cirque Du Soleil musical Paramour – isn’t so much moving backwards as he is forging ahead into new territory in pure, potent voice. New single The Letterbox is an earnest, playful newgrass revelation, with an adorable video featuring an animated grasshopper in a paper bag world; add in an arrangement of Danny Boy which dances around the “original” tune composed by his ancestor Rory Dall O’Cahan, and we’re pleased to welcome him to the folkways with open arms and accolades.

  • VIDEO: Lucy LaForge, Katie Ferrara, Kaitlin Wolfberg: Dreams (orig. Fleetwood Mac)
  • VIDEO: Lucy LaForge & Evan Blum: Just A Friend To You (orig. Meghan Trainor)

Last but certainly not least, we close today with a pair of darling YouTube covers from Lucy LaForge, the whimsical indie frontwoman of Lucy & La Mer who has already brought us such joy this year through covers of Tainted Love and Bad Blood. Dreams, a raw, ragged, sparse and oh so sweet new Fleetwood Mac cover, was mixed on the same board as Rumors, the seminal 1977 album which brought us such well-covered delights as Go Your Own Way, The Chain, Dreams and Gold Dust Woman; as a bonus, it also features fellow LA-based artist Katie Ferrara, whose absolutely delightful cover of Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes featured here just a few weeks ago in our flavor-laden Popsicle Mix. Add in one of the sweetest boy-girl uke covers I’ve heard this year, and it’s easy to see why we’ve fallen in love.

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Mailbag Monday: New and newfound coverage
from Sam Gleaves, Shakey Graves, Jack Carty, Sunday Lane & more!

February 11th, 2013 — 9:55pm

Sometimes, the world just works in your favor: after a long bout of pneumonia left me with a backlog of mailbag delights and otherblog passalongs, along comes a blizzard of historic proportions to trap me home for a four-day stretch, leaving ample opportunity to spin the discs and downloads into a sticky, stellar web of sound sure to tickle your ears out of their post-Grammy stupor.

Underground Austinite Shakey Graves looks young enough in pictures, but he can’t be that new to the scene – though the other albums it contains date from the last few years, his bandcamp page claims that Rolling Bones was recorded in 1987, aka the year I entered high school. But although the bluesy one man band approach singer-songwriter (and occasional film/TV actor) Alejandro Rose-Garcia brings to his work under the Shakey Graves moniker can yaw from true-blue retro country blues to sparse, experimental, grungy punk- and nu-folk, it’s all both delightfully lo-fi and eminently folk, as this pair of growled tunes from a quarter-century apart demonstrate. Bonus points for quick-fingered hipsters: the wonderful finger-picked Lucinda Williams cover below comes from Story Of My Life, a name-your-price rarities and b-sides EP which is only available for a short window surrounding “Shakey Graves Day” (Feb. 9) each year; the collection also includes a garage-band cover of Neil Young, a quite traditional-sounding Willow Garden, three originals, and an absolutely startling ska-folk take on Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl which is not to be missed. Snag it today; tomorrow will be too late.

At 19 years old, Sam Gleaves is somewhat of a wunderkind of the Appalachian traditions that surround his native Virginia; according to his bio, he’s already spent several years passing along the fiddle tunes and fretwork to a host of others. But this young tenor and clawhammer master isn’t just a teacher: two solo albums and several collaborations into what promises to be a stellar career, his output runs a complete gamut of tradfolk stylization on the full range of mountain strings – guitar, fiddle, autoharp, banjo, and dulcimer – offering both gentle beauty and a comprehensive primer on the sounds, range, and influences of Appalachia. To be honest, had I discovered his sophomore album A Little While in the Wilderness last spring when it was released, it would have tied for Best Tradfolk Album of the Year in our year’s end compilation – but the best music only ripens with age, and this is one for the ages. (Thanks to April at Common Folk Music for the hat-tip on this one!)

I posted a track from new husband and wife duo The Quiet American last week in our exploration of the Child Ballads, but going back to this one for a second glance is worth it, in part because – for this particular release, at least – context matters: their debut duo project Wild Bill Jones is a hand-crafted concept album, and as such, it is best enjoyed in its entirety. But what a concept, and what an execution, we find in this rootsy, well-curated pastiche of covers and originals which husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim have strung together to retell the myth of “original rounder” Jones, the young girl he seduces, and the mystery man who brings a dubious salvation to the pair through the death of the titular character: sweet and bittersweet, tonally rich and totally timeless, with traditional fiddle and fingerplucked tunes and a surprisingly apt album-closing take on a Daniel Johnston classic that adeptly collapses the mythos of hope and despair.

ravThe phrase “folkpop darling”, which features prominently in Raveena Aurora‘s press materials, is one of the most overused genre tags in my mailbag. But while it is eminently clear from first listen that the 18 year old Sikh Indian-American from the NYC suburbs is clearly aiming for that particularly recognizable branch of indie folkpop stardom typified by the likes of Rosie Thomas, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, there’s nothing wrong with accurate genre-grounding – and in this case, the hint of Adele and Regina Spector’s potency in her soulful, nuanced vocal delivery, and the subtle yet stirring organic feel she and her playmates bring to live, stripped down pieces such as those that comprise last year’s Rooftop Sessions, easily validate her claim. (And the streetsounds and sirens audible in the background of those session tracks, most notably in her Beirut cover below, are charming.)

The reminder that not all rising stars are created equal is warranted, and Raveena can prove it: the smaller-scale demos and in-studio pieces which she has so far released via the usual streaming media are both highly catchy and unusually delicate and tender, and among the still-innocent originals that populate her Soundcloud page, several covers stand out. Raveena’s first studio EP Where We Wander will drop February 19th, and predictably enough, its production and arrangements place it squarely within the more atmospheric, round tones of the folkpop genre, but that’s not a bad thing at all: we’ve heard it, love it, and encourage you to pick it up.

Can the world take yet another cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love? Begone, naysayers: though ragged and raw, there’s something about the warble in Sunday Lane‘s voice here which keeps us hitting replay, and the shift from male vocals to female lead with male harmonies which Lane and compatriot Max Helmerich offer here is more transformative than we might have expected. All this, despite a plethora of indie-hipster cred, from a Coachella performances to two separate appearances of her original work on indie proving ground One Tree Hill, validate our increasingly sidestream attraction to the modern music scene in one fell swoop, serving as no small apologia for this reviewer and fan: though her brand new radio-ready album From Where You Are is eminently poppy and piano-driven, there’s a clear and prominent spot on our guilty pleasures list just for Sunday.

    Sunday Lane w/ Max Helmerich: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)

I discovered Jack Carty recently, through a personal recommendation from downunder folkblog Timber and Steel; subsequently, this morning, his label rep found me through the same connection, citing head writer Gareth’s pass-along as a sort of apologia for emailing me out of the blue with a huge collection of YouTube coverage from the young star, who will cross several oceans on his way to make his way to SXSW this year to begin building critical acclaim beyond the borders of his native Australia. But apologies are never necessary when passing along the good stuff, and this is why I’ve learned to love and trust such passalongs: as heard below, Carty is a gem, clearly grounded in the traditions of the colonies yet unafraid to put his own stamp on the likes of Sufjan, Elliott Smith, and The Postal Service, and even a sweet Radiohead cover on solo banjo and vox. Don’t take my word for it: listen, and hear; odds are, you, too, will be moved to check out Carty’s two and a half studio albums afterwards.

    Jack Carty: Pitseleh (orig. Elliott Smith)

    Jack Carty: No Surprises (orig. Radiohead)

    Jack Carty w/ Packwood: Decatur (orig. Sufjan Stevens)

Last, but absolutely not least, comes Sugardrum, an acoustic storytelling project centered around musician and web designer Nigel Bunner, who both performed the music and created/directed the video for this wonderful deconstruction of New York, New York, and has played as Sugardrum both solo and with friends at a growing set of folk festivals and hip gatherings in his native UK. Our history with this musician is sparse, to date – it’s hard to move past the cover, honestly, which we offer as true testament to its power – but anyone who can find and control the ringing, fragile suspensions of Nick Drake’s brittle branch of the singer-songwriter folkstream in the bawd and blare of Sinatra’s famous paean to the city that never sleeps certainly bears watching.

    Sugardrum: New York, New York (orig. Frank Sinatra)

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