Category: Soundcloud Saturday

New Artists, Holiday Songs 2013:
Christmas coverfolk samplers, streams, and YouTube singles

December 21st, 2013 — 2:43pm

Just past the wreaths and windows a bout of unseasonable Solstice warmth melts the New England snow from once-glistening treetops, opening the outdoors to a final foray into woods and shopping malls as we prepare the home and heart for Christmas Day itself. Inside, the tree is up, the halls decked with boughs and mistletoe; at night, when the kids are finally in bed, we nestle snug on the couch and lift our glasses of wine and nog to toast the lights that twinkle in the darkness.

As ever, nostalgia carries us into the last gasps of the season like an old friend, accompanying us on our rounds as we wind down our shopping to shed the stresses of the year and season. The kids clamor for their favorite songs, and the heart sings for the songs of our own childhoods. But by now, many of us have exhausted the familiar carols that play ad infinitum in our ears as we bustle to find our center, our moments of peace.

For your gift-wrapping pleasure, then, our final holiday feature of the year: a stocking stuffed full of young artists on the rise, plying the intensity of the season with carols designed to catch the ear and prompt further exploration. Listen as these new and newfound Noisetrade samplers, Bandcamp and Soundcloud streams, and YouTube visions give new voice to the beloved songs of Christmas.

Newfound favorites The Western Den are a young ambient folk duo prone to narrative lyricism, hauntingly beautiful arrangements, and gentle, etherial harmonies; the pulsing carols on their tiny 3-track Midwinter EP are an apt introduction to their work, with organic instrumental undertones from brass and strings that mix with their sweet voices, piano, and guitar to frame a myriad moments that soothe, silence, and soar. But we are equally floored by their ongoing celebration of nature and community, as evidenced by the year-round celebration of their peers in the Boston folk scene, and the plethora of photos taken among the leaves of every season, that fill their Facebook page. In the case of the Midwinter EP, these trends manifest in context as much as they do in craft: a pay-as-you-wish download, hand-sewn fabric sleeves for hardcopy, and the donation of all EP proceeds to UNICEF to aid children in the Philippines affected by the recent typhoon, surround their aural honesty with cherishing light, making the collection a perfect introduction to their breadth and beauty.

There’s irony aplenty in this true-blue Americana version of White Christmas from bluegrass quartet Wood & Wire, performed outdoors in their shirtsleeves just last week at the Zilker Holiday Tree for local radio station KUTX’s Austin Music Map project, which aims to build an “interactive portrait” of the vibrant music scene in a city where the snow never falls. The hum of the crowd that surrounds them as they play the grounds lends a vibrancy to their touching rendition of the Christmas classic even as beards, bass, banjo and mandolin ground the song in its southern setting.

NYC-based Nina Yasmineh trends towards lush indiepop, lovingly delivered and layered with longing; though the bold, pulsing piano that populates her 2013 debut EP Seven Years kept her from finding footing in the folkworld, it’s a joy nonetheless, aptly celebrated by a number of blogs upon its release this Summer. Happily, however, this year’s Christmas cover is eminently folk, with echoey vocals over a frozen landscape of sparse, slow-plucked guitar that totally transforms Mariah Carey’s bombastic dance-around into something wistful, gentle, and still.

Celebrated YouTube starlet Daniela Andrade was the only artist to appear twice in the Top 40 radiopop coverset we compiled earlier this year; we’ll not dwell too much on her now, as we’re expecting to revisit her work in the next few weeks as part of our upcoming Best Of 2013 features. But her newly-released “homemade” Christmas EP – available in download form, or streamable as a video series – showcases just why we’re so delighted to have found her, with intimate performance, whispery-sweet vocals, and the sexiest Santa Baby you’ll ever hear, a perfect teaser for the good things to come.

Not all of our old, familiar carols are played sweet and light, of course – and not all should be, either. Those looking for a holiday more fully grounded in grungy, gritty roots-rock will be well-served by the syrupy, sultry ballad Canadian band Del Bel makes of John Prine classic Christmas In Prison, which turns the tune into a Day of the Dead lament with heavy, heady electric bass and guitars, wailing whiskey vocals, and a fallen angel choir of saxophones and horns. Press materials here are right on target, quoting bassist and composer Tyler Belluz as saying that he “found a depressing Christmas tune and made it more depressing.”

In addition to writing chamber, orchestral and choral music for concert and film, Connecticut composer and singer-songwriter Jonny Rodgers performs and records his own songs with a combination of electronic loops, guitar, and tuned wineglasses. The combination of glasses and strings works especially well on Every Mother’s Child: 3 Songs For Christmas, making for relatively traditional interpretations of three hymns that glisten and shimmer like tinsel in the air. In keeping with the project’s title, half of the profits will go to Project Night Night, which donates tote bags filled with a blanket, a book and a stuffed animal to homeless children living in shelters; “making sure that every mother’s child has sweet dreams, even if they’re living in trying circumstances.”

Last but never least, Tuscaloosa, Alabama singer-songwriter Joshua Hilliker and vocalist Heather Hester recorded and released their Merry Christmas EP last year, but our discovery in the midst of this year’s annual Noisetrade exploration brings comfort and joy aplenty, even if there’s little to learn about the artist’s history or craft here (Hilliker’s webpage redirects back to Noisetrade itself). Still, strong arrangement and sweet performance tell a tale of their own: Joshua and Heather’s Away in a Manger is sublime; this take on African-American spiritual Everywhere I Go (more often listed as Somebody Talking ‘Bout Jesus) simply blows me away.

For comparison’s sake, two other EPs – also released last year, but newly-found – provide a breadth of comparison. Adam Townsend’s Give & Get EP, recorded with his wife to raise money and awareness for homeless kids and teens via GA-based charity StandUp For Kids, offers weary, homegrown sentiment for the holiday homestead. Meanwhile, Floridian singer-sonqwriter Josh Gilligan’s Christmas EP, which benefits Blood:Water Mission’s fight against the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa, trends more folkpop, but his new brush-and-horn arrangement of Away In A Manger, with its echoes of Calexico and other indie Americana bands, fits the contemporary folkscene sweetly. All three EPs are available for free, but as always, donate if you can, the better to support artists (and, in Gilligan and Townsend’s cases, their chosen beneficiaries) well worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our readers – may your days be merry and bright! We’ll be back in the next few days with the first volume of our annual two-part review of the best coverfolk albums and singles of 2013!

Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs, Soundcloud Saturday

New Artists, Old Songs: Soundcloud Edition
(covers of Fugazi, Metric, Carly Rae, Avett Brothers, Dire Straits & more!)

March 2nd, 2013 — 10:52am


File under “when it rains, it pours”: since coming back from the dead, the Cover Lay Down mailbag has been inundated with new streaming folk and acoustic coverage, with the vast majority of the tracks just days old. Combine it with a few tracks gratefully received during our downtime, and our cup runneth over: today, we filter out the good stuff, leaving a solid selection of Soundcloud gems to tickle the ears until they gasp and give in.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Fugazi’s 1989 double-EP re-issue 13 Rooms, most especially the album’s violent ennui anthem of an opening track Waiting Room, which would become a key component of my formative years as an audiophile. But nowhere in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the song as beautifully haunted as Philly-bred, LA-based folk duo Homesick Elephant transform it. And if their cover is simultaneously more grandiose and more delicate than their usual fare, which otherwise trends towards the kind of tight staccato coed harmonies, rich and ringing guitar-and-mandolin settings, string-tinged chamber-folk arrangements, and wry-yet-whimsical storysong narratives that make our hearts beat that much faster, then it merely shows just how well Sara and Kevin know their source material – making the track all the more appropriate, really, for a tribute to the kings of the DC post-hardcore scene.

    Homesick Elephant: Waiting Room (orig. Fugazi)

“Intelligent yet accessible” singer-songwriter Levi Weaver loves his fans, and his brand new covers EP Antipodes is plenty of proof: the daring indie set runs from contemporary folk to grungy-and-grandiose alt-pop, though there’s a good acoustic underpinning on every track, and though the overall set ends up quite diverse for a 5-song collection, his love for his contemporary influences shimmers throughout every beat and pick. So although it was his stunningly majestic video cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism, featuring a cast of dozens in fine fettle and laughter, which hit the blogs last week, we asked to be able to share the two folkiest cuts instead, and were pleased as punch to find ourselves given exclusive rights to share ’em. The EP is a gift for mailing list fans, and we’re sure you’ll be one once you hear its lovingly updated, joyfully transformed interpretations of hipster favorites from Dan Mangan, Damien Rice, Avett Brothers, and The Head & The Heart, so listen to the latter pair below, and then head over to his website to sign up, thus ensuring that you’ll get the full EP when it drops next week.

    Levi Weaver: The Weight Of Lies (orig. Avett Brothers)

    Levi Weaver: Rivers and Roads (orig. The Head & The Heart)

Yeah, Pitchfork got to this one first. But sometimes, you just have to keep passing it along, and this one is irresistible: Margaret Glaspy‘s sparse Lauryn Hill cover rings of Feist and Cat Power, with Karen Dalton’s soulfully broken little-girl vocals and a pulsing thread of Jeff Buckley-esque guitar atmospheres that scuttle along like a fragile hum; its live setting provides an echo that doubles the effect, lending a power to the performance that makes me ache to see her up close in some dark and smoky room. But the intensity is her own authentic self, and you can hear it in full force in if & when, the new digital-only EP the cover is designed to help carry – which is to say, the whole damn thing sounds like this – clear of adornment, raw and pain-born, bare to the soul’s core – and if that doesn’t make you want it bad, then perhaps it’s time to give up, and return to the world of pop.

    Margaret Glaspy: Ex-Factor (orig. Lauryn Hill)

No one but the most naive and jaded of pre-teens could dare accuse Carly Rae Jepsen, the young composer and performer of last year’s earworm hit Call Me Maybe, of being too dark. But as with a surprising number of female-penned popsongs, there’s real substance under all that catchy production and the radiobeat, and to prove it, here comes half English half Norwegian Folly Rae, who despite an equivalently Teen Beat backstory – apparently, the fledgling poet-turned-songwriter started turning her poetry into songs four years ago, after an “emotional split with her then boyfriend” – manages to repackage the angsty radio hit as a dark post-folk track that teeters on the edge, using a complex swirl of deep drum heartbeats, electrofolk rhythms, and layered angst vocals to transform pop into pain.

    Folly Rae: Tonight Im Getting Over You (orig. Carly Rae Jepsen)

Teaching in a bilingual district for the past five years may have helped me recover a good bit of my high-school Spanish, but I’m still somewhat stymied by the press materials and original song lyrics of LopLop, a Castellón-based folk quintet who support their contemporary melodic folkpop with the slightest hint of mellow acoustic latin strum patterns. Thankfully, over the last few weeks, Sara Ledesma, LopLop’s lead singer, has dropped some delicate uke- and guitar-driven covers in a surprisingly flawless English onto Soundcloud, proving that music is an international language, and providing entry into their other work for those who, like me, generally favor melody, harmony, presence and arrangement over lyrical narrative to begin with – all of which Sara, like her band, seem to have in spades. (Though I have to admit, The Magnetic Fields’ All My Little Words sound delightful in Spanish, especially with bells on.)

    Sara Ledesma: Breathing Underwater (orig. Metric)

    Sara Ledesma: Chasing Cars (orig. Snow Patrol)

    Sara Ledesma: Mis Pequeñas Palabras (orig. Magnetic Fields; tran. Ledesma)

We named Bring In On Home, the debut duo release from songstress Shannon Whitworth and constant bandmate Barrett Smith, our Best Covers Album of 2012, making the more-typical frontwoman hardly “new” enough for our usual New Artists, Old Songs focus. But though we were fans of the Brevard, NC painter and farm-owner’s previous work with bluegrass-and-country band The Biscuit Burners, we hadn’t really paid attention to Whitworth’s solo work until now…which turns out to have been a serious mistake.

Color us corrected. While High Tide, which comes out this Tuesday, leans more folkpop and less true-blue Americana than both her duo work with Smith and her first two solo albums, thanks to a switch from banjo to Gibson guitar, and to the supportive influence of Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) and producer Seth Kauffman – it says something that the Appalachian-trained Whitworth is reportedly a Merlefest favorite, though fresh off US and Canada tours opening for Chris Isaak and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band – the package, drenched in reverb and dripping with jazz crooner soul, practically embodies the continued viability and vibrancy of modern folk as a genre sprung from the older traditions yet eminently its own. Is Shannon Whitworth the new “it girl” of contemporary crossover folkpop? All signs point to yes.

    Shannon Whitworth: So Far Away (orig. Dire Straits)

Last, but not least, the Soundcloud-stream release of Slowcoustic’s incredible homage to J. Tillman’s Long May You Run came to a triumphant conclusion yesterday with the release of the final tracks, thus proving the entirety of the album as “a triumph of curation and performance” as previously reported earlier this week in our own feature on the slow-leak tribute. Our previous post took on Doc Feldman, who we’re pleased to learn will be releasing a new album sometime this summer, and who has some great videos at the link above, plus more “subdued, almost heroin sentiment” from Pickering Pick and Quarter Mile Thunder; I’m also loving the tracks from Lotte Kestner (Ties That Bind) and Al James of Dolorean (Fireworks), both of whom we’ve covered here before, plus a whole host of new-to-me discoveries, from Andy Oliveri to Cash Harrison and the Terrible Decision. Head over to Slowcoustic to stream and download the entire set; for now, since we’ve already posted three of the tracks, here’s a slightly older, deliciously jangly lo-fi banjo cover from Lexington singer-songwriter Pilots & Errors, whose own take on Fireworks is a stellar contribution to a stunning tribute.

    Pilots & Errors: Hickory (orig. Iron & Wine)

Looking for more streaming coverage? Check out a pair of sweet newfound YouTube tracks – a heartbreaking take on Crosby, Stills & Nash classic Helplessly Hoping from Australian duo The Falls and a sunny folkpop take on The Beatles’ She Loves You – over at the Cover Lay Down facebook page!

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