(Re)Covered: New Covers from Familiar Folk
Sean Watkins, Sam Gleaves, and Anais Mitchell’s new supergroup!

Yes, folk fans and cover lovers, we’re back in earnest after a slow set of tributes to the past, eager to take on the new and the novel. And where better to begin than with the truly familiar and beloved: folks we’ve heard before, like Anais Mitchell, Sean Watkins, and Sam Gleaves, and cherished; whose voices, songs, collaborations and song choices have long brought us comfort and hope in the long winter.

Today, then, in an attempt to return to normalcy, we turn to our (Re)Covered feature, in which we track recent developments in coverfolk and configuration from artists we’ve celebrated here on these pages before. Read on for new and noteworthy covers of Paul Simon, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Warren Zevon, Kate Wolf, Tom T Hall, Ola Belle Reed, and the British and Appalachian traditions. Stay tuned, as the year continues its climb towards Spring, for more news and notes from the convergence point of covers and folk. And, as always, if you like what you hear, click through to purchase from and support the musicians we feature, the better to guarantee the continued production and evolution of soul-touching music in a world too-often in need of its transformative power.


Thirteen years after their first break-up, Sean Watkins is unarguably the least well known of the three Nickel Creek co-founders; it’s hard to compete with the recent trajectories of sister Sara Watkins (whose folk collaborative I’m With Her with Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz just won a Grammy for Best American Roots Song of the year) and MacArthur Genius and NPR host Chris Thile. But even if it took him a little longer to reveal, Sean’s got a genial warmth and style all his own, and he’s found it in This Is Who We Are, his first time partnering exclusively with a band to make an entire album, and – according to press release – “the first solo record [he’s] made that fully embraces the folk/bluegrass/new acoustic sound embedded in [his] musical DNA.” It’s about time, and worth it: check out his tender, well-rounded treatments of the three covers nestled here – by Paul Simon, Warren Zevon, and Jackson Browne – among earnest originals, from ballad to barnburner.

Bonus points for that aforementioned band, founded by fiddler Tashina and cellist Tristan Clarridge, one-time sibling string section of equally-darling post-grass second wave band Crooked Still. We’ve featured The Bee Eaters here before, too, transforming the Beatles in our Double Dippers feature and, earlier, in a farewell of sorts to Crooked Still that included a cover from their very first album in 2011; we’re glad to see they’re still playing up a storm, lending zest and a newgrass sound to Sean’s guitar-driven arrangements, sweet harmony to his warm vocals, and an especially precious ring of hammered dulcimer heartbreak to the Zevon obscurity, thanks to third Bee Eaters member Simon Chrisman.

As a double-bonus, of sorts, be sure to check out two other new and closely kindred tracks before moving on: a pop cover, featuring Sean’s harmony and guitar work and sister Sara on vox and fiddle, which appears as the folkiest of three on fellow LA resident and Largo collective member Sondre Lerche‘s odd little Britney Spears tribute EP, released January first…and Sara’s own take on a Springsteen song from Born To Uke, an all-uke 2019 also-ran tribute album which features Will Kimbrough, Kai Welch, Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls, and a Weepies cover which placed on our top 50 of the year.




Astute readers may have noticed little fanfare about Bonny Light Horseman, whose namesake song appeared in our Year’s Best Coverfolk singles mix; those who range broadly round the indie outlets and folkblogs have surely already heard more. But we’re quite excited about the newly-dropped self-titled album from the new self-styled “astralfolk” supergroup formed by Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats and The Shins, and veteran multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman, who – as if they needed more pedigree – premiered live at Eaux Claires in 2018 at fest founder Bon Iver’s request. As the slow label-leak of pre-release tracks such as Jane, Jane and Deep In Love continued to demonstrate in the week leading up to last week’s release, something beautiful was coming our way; now that it has arrived, we can see that the entirety is stunning and sound, a potent, adept tribute to the traditional folk made new by those used to playing folk at the cutting edge.

Strategically, as Pitchfork aptly notes, the album is a revisitation, not a mere performance – as as such, authentically, inimitably folk, as only three such barrier-breakers could produce. Songs we’ve heard moving through the fairways of each folk revival break apart; versions merge, with new choruses added for the modern ear, and generally unsung lyrics and verses returned and traded out, making the overall effect a remix of tradition, confronting our sense of the ancient songbooks as stable and welcoming. Add in a rich musicality which yaws towards indiefolk strangeness – Deep In Love, especially, with its brush beats and hollow harmonics, is perfect for the crossover modalities of low-frequency indie-alternative college radio – and well-chosen methods of transformative performance, such as the decision to trade off verses between Mitchell and Johnson on Blackwaterside, which allows the maiden to speak for herself, and we’re sure this one will appear again at year’s end in our Best Tradfolk category.




We last featured Virginian tenor and clawhammer master Sam Gleaves in our New Artists series, way back in 2013; back then, at 19, the Blue Ridge wunderkind had two albums and several collaborations under his belt, and was already teaching and passing along fiddle tunes in pursuit of the old traditions. Now he’s back on our radar with Welcome as The Flowers In May, a duo album with Kentucky-born fiddler and long-time college-and-beyond collaborator Deborah Payne – and we’re thrilled to hear him, and both, in such fine and authentic form.

Though released in mid-December, Gleaves didn’t really start promoting his newest collaboration until early January, so it got lost a bit in the shuffle. It’s not a full covers album, either, with four sweet songs by Gleaves, and one by Payne, that fit in just fine among the tradition. No matter: the record rings true with mountain folk traditions, sweetly straddling the soft acoustic line between folk and its backcountry grassroots, rocking back and forth from fiddle instrumental to picked ballad with a rhythm and sway that is loose and laissez faire, intimate and gentle as a front porch in summer, thanks to stellar company from Michael Cleveland, Tim Lancaster, and Ruth McLain and gentle, no-frills arrangements straight out of the mountain foothills. Here’s two favorite tracks, alongside a bonus track or two from Sam’s last full-length, a 2017 collaboration with fellow Southwest Virginia native Tyler Hughes, and one from his mostly-originals 2015 solo album Ain’t We Brothers, which features collaborations with Tim O’Brien, Janis Ian, and Laurie Lewis, among others.




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So do your part. Listen, deeply. Follow the threads. Purchase the music you love, and in doing so, support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the coverfolk flowing? Please, consider a 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 2018.

Category: (Re)Covered, Anais Mitchell, Nickel Creek, Sam Gleaves, Tradfolk, Uncategorized Comment »


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