In order for me to cover a song, the melody must strike me as well thought out. I can't just relate to the song personally, it must also involve the artist's emotional detail. I tend to crave a genuine credibility from an artist's voice and lyrics –- songs in which I believe every word. If I'm able to put myself in the situation of a song and play the part, then I know it's for real and I want to share it with others.
-- Angel Snow, singer-songwriter
Like many music bloggers, I have mixed feelings about becoming big enough to be noticed by the indie promoters. On the one hand, there's a lot of great folk being produced out there, and I appreciate having it show up at my doorstep. On the other hand, there's a lot of music out there, period. Some days it's hard to find my doorstep.
Happily, in my case, the potential for being overwhelmed by new music is tempered by our focus on the intersection of two relatively small niches within the music world. Though we define "folk" broadly here, much of the music I recieve is easily rejected as either not folk, or all originals. Winnowing the pile down from there is time-consuming, but it's worth it. For in and among the chaff that comes my way, a few artists have stood out as both worthy of repeated listening, and perfect for my readership.
This presents a challenge. Though many of our feature series here at Cover Lay Down focus on songs or genre, which provide plenty of opportunity for a single great track to find its way into the mix, until now, we've only done full features on artists who have enough cover songs under their proverbial belts to merit the full Cover Lay Down treatment. But some artists are so impressive right out of the gate, they merit notice even before their body of work has grown to that scale.
So today, we begin a new occasional series, in which I have the rare privilege of introducing some artists so far under the radar that most of them haven't even hit the rest of the blogosphere, so new that they haven't yet recorded more than a single cover or two, and so incredible I just couldn't wait until their next album to write about them.
We call this new series New Artists, Old Songs, and though I expect most posts in this series to be short one-shot occasionals, this weekend we kick it off on a high note with three artists to keep your ears on: Americana singer-songwriter Angel Snow, urban alt-country artist Sam Jacobs, and bluesfolk pianist Jon Regen. Someday, when these folks are as famous as they truly deserve, you and I can take some pride in recognizing genius when we first heard it.
Nashville singer-songwriter Angel Snow has recorded exactly one album, with but a single cover, but I've never been so happy to have finally been discovered by the industry as I was when I stuck Fortune Tellers into my CD player. Angel's promotional materials describe her sound as "classic Americana folk with a modern edge", and that's spot on, but it doesn't begin to capture the incredible emotive power that Angel can wring from spare, ringing guitarwork and a plaintive country vocal style versatile enough to go from the the open tonality of Natalie Merchant to the weary yet hopeful backporch intimacy of Caroline Herring.
In short, Angel Snow's music is wry and confessional, raw and open, and I've fallen in love with it. I was so eager to hear more that I asked her manager to pass along a few questions. Here's Angel's thoughts on Dylan:
Bob Dylan is a favorite of mine not only because his music continues to transcend time, but also because it was -- and is still -- so profound. His music left some flabbergasted (I love that word) and others outraged, and yet still he did what he felt he had to do. Maybe it was because he had to get his emotions out. Whatever his reasons for pushing that envelope, he still managed to keep his storytelling talent intact. Dylan's train of thought -– now that's something I'd like to dig into.
Compared to the rest of Fortune Tellers, Angel's solo Dylan cover is sparse, but no less intimate. Add a bit more open-throated power, a light application of well-produced slow bass, kit drums, and gospel organ, and some vulnerable and introspective songwriting, and you've got a total package that's already on my Best of 2008 list. Download the Dylan, check out a few more tracks at Angel Snow's myspace page, and then pick up Fortune Tellers.
- Angel Snow, Meet Me in the Morning (orig. Dylan)
NYC singer-songwriter Sam Jacobs, who writes and performs under the name Lipstik, works in multiple genres -- in addition to this raggedly stunning folk music, he's also working on "some dance stuff and some noise rock things". But his no-longer-forthcoming 4-song digital EP There Is Only One Thing, which features a cover of Tom Petty's Yer So Bad, is a collection of "sad songs with piano and cello" on the verge of No Depression alt-country, with a sense of song structure and subject aptly described as Leonard Cohen-esque. Full-length work-to-be Pain is a Reliable Signal promises more in the same vein, if a bit more Van Morrison, and that's not bad, either.
Today's track is an apt example. The aforementioned Tom Petty cover starts ragged and raw, with brushes and guitar and a voice not unlike Petty's, if a bit more melodic. The song transitions smoothly to a full-bore weary beauty once the cello comes bowing in, and the end result is pure alt-folk gold. Download below, and then Check Lipstik out here.
- Lipstik, Yer So Bad (orig. Tom Petty)
Pianist and singer-songwriter Jon Regen is already an old hand in the music industry; he accompanied and anchored tour bands for jazzmen Jimmy Scott and Kyle Eastwood for years, and cut two acclaimed albums of pianojazz in the early millenium. He's recently started recording and performing his own work, and like fellow folkblogger and impeccable taste-master Muruch, who posted the title track off Regen's promising new album Let It Go last week, I was struck by Regen's "bluesy acoustic" authenticity from the first listen. Let It Go has high folkpop credibility, with production work from the same guys who work with Teddy Thompson and Ryan Adams, and support from Martha Wainwright on vocals and the distinctive guitarwork of Andy Summers of The Police, but Regen's original songwriting and stellar performance are the real find here, and I'm glad he thought to seek us out.
Kudos to Regen for knowing his audience; Muruch may have the single, but I got a very nice personal note and an *unreleased* cover of Don't Stop Believin' which he recorded in 2005. It's a great track, soulful and well-produced, reminiscent of the best work of Marc Cohn or Bruce Hornsby, and I'm honored to be the first to bring it to light. Listen, and then stream and buy Let It Go.
- Jon Regen, Don't Stop Believin' (orig. Journey)
Finally, today's bonus coversong isn't an old song, and it's not new to the blogs, either. But young LA-based "acoustic soul" and jazz-folk crooner and songwriter John West is going places, too -- somewhere just on the soul side of Shawn Mullins, I suspect, with more than a touch of Corinne Bailey Rae. This folky, gorgeously understated take on Rihanna's Grammy-nominated and admittedly over-covered Umbrella is the only acoustic version of this song I've found which manages to retain the oozing sexiness of the original. And, dammit, it's totally stuck in my head, so maybe posting it here will help.
- John West, Umbrella (orig. Rihanna)
We'll be back Wednesday with a long-overdue return to our regular Covered in Folk feature, wherein we collect the very best folk covers of a single artist's songs.
Interested in being considered for the Cover Lay Down treatment? Please gmail for details. All serious submissions taken seriously. Please note, however, that home recordings will only be accepted from Sam Beam.