Sunday, September 30, 2007

All Folked Up, Part 1:
Richard Shindell's South of Delia

Welcome to Cover Lay Down, folks! Hope you found us okay. For a short letter of introduction/explanation covering why the world needs another cover blog, and why this just might be it, click here.

Our inaugural cover set below trumpets Richard Shindell's recent South of Delia, a full album of covers released earlier this year. In presenting it, I'm trying to establish a posting template of sorts, wherein posts will include (wherever possible) both a featured cover and one or more bonus covers which are related to the feature in some way. Enjoy the music!

Richard Shindell is no stranger to cover songs. Many of the new generation discovered him through Cry Cry Cry, a one-shot folk supergroup which brought Richard, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky together for an covers album and a short tour a few years back before tension between the two women in the group brought the collaboration to an end. And his cover of Dar's Calling the Moon gives me shivers.

But it says what it needs to, I think, that though Dar was surely the most widely known of the three, Cry Cry Cry only included one song by one of their own members on that single, seminal album -- Shindell's Ballad of Mary Magdalen.

Shindell is a singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter, a member of the same second-gen folk movement that brought forth Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, and John Gorka, and a man who is just as happy to play guitar along with them as he is to share his own well-written songs. He is known among his peers as a slightly shy, somewhat reclusive genius who hides deep insight in a plethora of storysongs ranging in subject and imagery from catholicism to the refugee's plight. Ask any folksinger of a certain age to list the ten best lyrics they've ever heard, and you can bet Shindell's work will be up near the top.

So many of us were left scratching our heads when we heard that his next release would be a full set of covers. And wondered, as well, what was up with the lack of press, and the release on the living-room label "Richard Shindell Recordings". Was this merely a labor of love?

Naysayers fear not: South of Delia is a rich tribute indeed. Shindell manages to reassess and reimagine a broad set of tunes, bringing a new poignancy to deepcuts from the familiar (Dylan's Tales of Yankee Power, Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street, The Band's Acadian Driftwood) to the neofolk (the Josh Ritter and Jeffrey Foucault covers are especially well done, and let me say here: it takes both guts and grace to cover the younger generation, and to do it well.) His choices of song well fit his own songwriter's bent, telling tales of the downtrodden, the refugee, the lovelorn, the lost -- an especially masterful tactic in the case of songs which were, in their original form, produced to emphasize music and mood more than lyrics.

But don't take my word for it. Here, take a listen to the deep yearning for place and racial acceptance Shindell brings to Born in the USA, which many folks consider Bruce Springsteen's least meaningful song. I promise you'll never hear it the same way again.

South of Delia is Shindell's first album on the "Richard Shindell Recordings" label. You can get it in the usual places, but I prefer purchase through the artist websites whenever possible, so buy Richard Shindell's South of Delia here.

Today's bonus coversongs:

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Welcome to Cover Lay Down, a new music-posting blog devoted to the art of the cover song.

Sure, there are plenty of other cover blogs out there, but I think there's still room in the niche. Specifically, though I must confess some dozen gigabytes of my currently full-to-the-gills pre-video iPod are covers from across the vast genre spectrum, here at CLD we're folkies first and foremost, and -- despite the fact that folk music could be said to have invented the very premise of songsharing and covering -- I've noticed a dearth of both covers of folk songs, and folk covers of non-folks songs, cropping up on the usual coverblog suspects.

Don't get me wrong -- I love those guys. I'm not knocking Copy, Right's fondness for the eighties, or Fong's incredible ability to compile cross-genre coverlists the likes of which I've never seen. And the broader tendency in the blogosphere towards promoting what I like to think of as the indie music mutual admiration society produces great collections -- for example, my wonderful playlist of several dozen covers of Feist's Mushaboom. I love this stuff in any flavor, visit the "other cover blogs" at least once a week, and could not stand here before you today were it not for those giant shoulders muscling their way forward over the past few years.

But I hope to embark herein on a journey that focuses on the acoustic and the stripped down, the singer-songwriter paying tribute to their influences, and the influenced paying tribute to the old folk standard.

There will surely be some duplication -- this would be the place to find Nina Gordon's folk cover of Straight Out of Compton, were it not already out there -- and there will surely be the usual genre-stretching, especially since the folk realm overlaps so much with the rest of the music world these days.

But I think there's a new angle here, and I'm ready to share.

So let’s get on to the music, shall we?