Thursday, May 29, 2008

RIP Utah Phillips, 1935-2008

One of the last great union-organizing singer-songwriters, Utah Phillips walked the walk, spending a hobo's life on the road spreading the word on behalf of his blue collar brethren, always championing others over himself, always honest about his work as a folksinger and crafter of song.

Others have said it earlier and more thoroughly, several asking whether there are any like him left; many have shared the obvious originals in the wake of his passage. But it's never too late to say goodbye. Here's a few especially fitting coversongs from the folkworld for a short 'tween-posts tribute to one of our best voices of hope and solidarity.

Rest in peace, Utah. May your songs live on, and your dreams come to fruition.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Subgenre Coverfolk: Freak Folk
(Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, Vetiver)

copyright lauren dukoff; borrowed from

In a MySpace age of hypenated multiple genre designation, the term “folk” is increasingly used by artists and promoters as a call to a specific approach to musicmaking – usually characterized by acoustic instrumentation, and/or a sort of lo-fi confessional sensibility.

If we were cynics, we might suspect that the term is used primarily not to signify genre identity at all, but instead to call to a kind of authenticity or legitimacy, as if being “folk” was a good, organic, indie thing to be. Certainly, the sounds produced by these slash-folk-slash-other bands do sometimes contain hints of tradition, and of intimacy, and of storytelling. And sometimes, they have acoustic guitars. But the hybrid forms which this phenomenon creates are too fragmented to be true subgenres. And for most folks, they're not folk, either.

That said, there is a high potential for subgenre to appear at the intersection of one musical form and another. Previously on Cover Lay Down, we've taken a look at some other subgenres from the fringes of folk, a diverse set spanning Celtic Punk, Bluegrass, and Zydeco. Today, we look at one of the boundaries where the folk world meets something else entirely. Its nominal figurehead and unspoken leader Devendra Banhart calls it Naturalismo. Most people call it Freak Folk. And let me warn you in advance, folks: it's kind of weird.

Joanna NewsomSee, it's pretty much a given in folk music that the prevalence of singer-songwriter folk forms at the core of modern folk music traces its lineage to the folk revival of the sixties. Go to any folk festival; few are stretching the boundaries. Instead, there's something definitively sixties-esque about the ways in which, like Bob Dylan and Joni Michell before them, new artists continue to connect with an entire generation, via the intimate nature of folk music, that they might question their values and structures through lyrics which applied the personal to the political.

But though it is easy to misremember the connections between such ultimately mainstream artists and the hippie movements as if they were synonymous, it is also important to remember that the act of questioning power led the hippies to some very strange journeys and new values – which celebrated experimentation over structure, and a rejection of the trappings of coopted mainstream success which came so quickly for our beloved sixties icons.

The hippie drug culture which grew up and dropped out to embrace such values also brought forth folk forms of its own which lived outside the mainstream folkways, strange in instrumentation and intonation. They called it Freak Folk -- folk to freak out to, and folk for freaks -- and its champions included Donovan, the Incredible String Band, and even early Jefferson Airplane.

Animal CollectiveIf Josh Ritter and Ani DiFranco's latest protege are the new mainstream folk, then despite a primary fan base in the indie community, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Vetiver and Animal Collective have a legitimate claim to the Freak Folk throne. And, just as in the sixties, the mainstream camps of the folkworld haven't really noticed. And maybe it's all for the better. Call it what you will – freak folk, Nu-folk, or a particular brand of psych folk – the modern inheritors of the strange, delicate, visionary music of Donovan and Vashti Bunyan by way of Nick Drake produce a music heavy with experience and ecstasy which would, I fear, both bore and frustrate many stolid folk fans.

It took me awhile, too. Certainly, I came to freak folk slowly. I never really got into the original freak folk movement. When Joanna Newsom was all over the blogs a year or two back, I eagerly sampled, but found her grasshopper-warble voice and classical discordant harp playing kind of alienating. Now that the dust has started to settle a bit on the newest wave of the freak folk movement, I find I like it.

Even if I'm still not sure what to make of it.

It's surreal, and strange, and I guess that's part of the point. Musically, freak folk and the related genre designations Psych folk and nu-folk fall well within the "folk idiom" as one astute wikipedian puts it. But unless he was a serious hippie, this is not your father's folk record collection. Freak Folk leans heavily on the drone, combining it with an almost elizabethan sound and instrumentation, as if the players on stage in a production of As You Like It got heavy into the acid before the curtain went up on the second act.

But there's also something wonderfully delicate about the music that gets put into this category, especially in the vocalization. The voices are creaky and strange, focused on delivery more than beauty, and yet somehow, a strange and alien beauty can emerge nonetheless from the trancelike product.

VetiverIs Freak Folk folk in more than just name? Yes, I think so. The tendency toward stripped-down, acoustic performance is there; more, the music may sound like an alien's confession, but it is still confessional in its own way, strange metaphors and all.

Yet as it was in its original incarnation, Freak Folk remains a challenge to the very mainstream listening habits of the coopted folkworld. In the end, I think, this is a form of folk which is notable for how introspective it is for the performer -- and how isolated the performer is, in pose and persona and performance, from the audience itself. Where both the traditional folkforms which emerge from cultures and the confessional singer-songwriter forms which still typify the core group of performers at folk festivals work as folk because the lyrics and the simple structures of the music allow for an easy connection between listener and player, Freak Folk plays with a kind of alienating tension which reverses the traditional stance between music and masses.

Sometimes it fails -- I know plenty of folk fans who cannot listen comfortably to this music. And if this sort of folk succeeds at all for the audience, it is only by proxy, at least until we get fully drawn into the psychadelic tranceworld of the performer. But when it works, Freak Folk goes beyond connecting performers and audiences to engender shared ecstacies which can dissolve all boundaries between the music and the core emotional beings of both listener and performer. This is the psychadelic experience, after all.

Today, some cover songs from the Freak Folk scene, plus a few especially comparable songs from artists whose names keep coming up in the research. The covers approach serves us especially well today, I think: this is a form of music which is difficult in some ways, so having an entry point in the commonality of familiar lyric and melody may be a necessary component to bring some of us in far enough to even attempt the ecstatic experience. But listen deeply. There is an immense, fragile beauty here that can make you shiver.

Like most of the artists in today's feature, we here at Cover Lay Down eschew corporate culture, but these folks gotta eat, and you gotta hear 'em. Each of the artists herein produces albums; all are worth the investment, both emotionally speaking and as purchases. Click artist links above to buy work the organic, countercultural way: direct from the places where the artists best benefit.

Today's bonus coversong: though most of the Freak Folk movement is too new to have been covered, Joanna Newsom has charmed more than a few fans in the world of indie music. Here, two very different covers totally transform her original sound, while still retaining the marginal essence of freak and the delicate, deliberate approach of folk.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Single Song Sunday:
Jackson Browne / Nico, These Days

Like Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which was transformed in the popular imagination by Jeff Buckley's haunting version of John Cale's cover, there is a plurality of high-profile, popularly dominant sources for These Days, Jackson Browne's melancholy yet ultimately optimistic tribute to the general malaise and lonesome depression that characterizes the soul after a long relationship has come to an inevitable end. But where in the case of Halellujah the versions which rose to obscure the original were recorded long afterward, in the case of These Days, Nico's version was recorded first, in 1967, with Browne on acoustic guitar and Velvet Underground chums Cale and Reed on everything else -- making Jackson Browne's 1973 version a dubious original, despite real popularity in and out of his fan base.

As such, cover versions of These Days tend to fall into two camps: those that cover Nico, and those that cover Jackson Browne. The former seem more popular among a certain indiefolk crowd, especially after her version lent hipster cred to the soundtrack for The Royal Tannenbaums, calling us back to it's fragile, anxious, somewhat spacey sound; you can hear the secondhand influence of Nico in more recent covers from fringefolkers Kathryn Williams, St. Vincent, and Mates of State. Meanwhile, fellow seventies icons Gregg Allman and Kate Wolf clearly have Browne's slow, simple poetics and clear, open-hearted delivery in mind; so, a generation later, do relative newcomers Denison Witmer, Fountains of Wayne, and Tyler Ramsey.

But as others have pointed out long before me, the bifurcated trunk of the musical tree that is These Days versions is relevant to an evolution of song not only because of the curious history, but because the choices made in each version affect the meaning of the song. And here we are not just talking musical interpretation, either: Nico's version is lyrically different as well as musicially distinct, and the lost second-person subject of the penultimate line, the focus on belief (I don't think I'll risk another) over feeling (It's so hard to risk another), changes the narrator into someone more narcissistic, less historied, and -- some believe -- less believable overall.

From a coverblog perspective, then, sourcing each cover becomes merely an exercise in lyrical attention. And though a few seem to be applying Nico's lyric to Browne's tone, as in Johnny Darrell's country cover; most, such as the aforementioned, go whole hog for one side or the other. Only a very few more recent covers arguably attempt to transcend both -- most notably Barbara Manning's acoustic electronica, and Brandon Seyferth's comprehensively lo-fi musical rewrite.

But this is not to say that Nico's version, and subsequent covers of it, are less viable as song: the delicate lyrical interpretation and breathless tension compensates, making tone serve where subject had before. Or is it afterwards? Either way, here's the two prototypes -- Nico's, and a rare 1971 live recording from Browne, with his take on the song still raw and tentatively performed, plus his more familiar, more poignant 2005 live version, for diversity's sake; the 1973 produced version is easily available -- along with a hefty set of choice Single Song Sunday coversong from the usual wide assortment of folk, presented in no particular order, the better to appreciate each cover for what it is.

Enjoy, as always. Feel free to mention your favorite cover in the comments, or send it along via email if it's not already here. And if you like what you hear, follow links above and below for websites and artist-preferred-source album-purchasing.

We'll be back Wednesday, possibly with that subgenre coverfolk post I alluded to a few weeks ago. Also coming soon: more old songs from new artists, a bit of bluegrass, and a look at this year's New England folk festivals. In the meantime, stay sane, and don't forget to enter our Sarah McLachlan contest!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Elseblog: Covers of Suzanne, Rare CSN
at Star Maker Machine

Still not sure how hard to push my work over at collaborative blog Star Maker Machine, where the blogging roster just keeps getting better and this week's theme is songs named after women, a.k.a. Little Black Book. In the long run, I'm thinking maybe an ongoing sidebar sectional would be more apropos; in the meantime, I'm particularly proud of a few recent posts, including a treatise on tone and delivery as carrier of emotional narrative in Leonard Cohen's Suzanne, with covers from Peter Gabriel and Nina Simone...and a single-shot posting on demo versions which uses David Crosby's early demo of Guinnevere to continue our recent discussion on B-sides, rarities, and other untrustworthy remnants.

Wanna bonus taste before you head over? Here's a relatively recent Crosby covering Gram Parsons with Lucinda Williams on harmony, and a Leonard Cohen cover by another recently featured Suzanne. Also relevant: previous posts on Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat, female folk musicians covering Neil Young.

And speaking of Rarities and B-Sides: you have but six more days to win Sarah McLachlan's new Rarities and B-Sides collection, plus an autographed poster. Totally worth it, dude. Enter here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

WIN Sarah McLachlan's Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff, Volume 2

Being a coverfan means spending an awful lot of time scouring the universe for obscurities. Cover songs are often found outside of an artist's core output: tribute albums, radio or web exclusives, and live recordings are all rich sources for the sort of music any cover blogger counts as bread and butter. And notably, much of this material comes from labels, radio stations, and fans, rather than from the artists themselves.

So unless you're a madcap collector like myself, you've got a right to be suspicious of any artist who mines past product for pay or promotion. Greatest Hits compilations too often sacrifice hidden gems and broader sound to focus on the radioplay sameness which brought a band to power; self-tribute albums tend to come across as sappy. Rarities and B-Sides albums can go either way; though my recent feature on Cake over at Fong Songs celebrated their own release in this vein, in some cases, at least, and for many artists, there's plenty of good reasons why these songs were buried to begin with. And, as the poor recording quality of last-gasp posthumous releases from Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and Eva Cassidy can attest to, the very possibility of a second such album of such rarities practically screams "bottom of the barrel".

But it's been twelve years since Canadian pianopop songstress Sarah McLachlan released her first Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff, and she's done some fine, increasingly mature work since then, both on her own albums and in collaboration with numerous label compilations and other artists. And as a collector of the arcane and obscure, as well as a Sarah McLachlan fan since early adulthood, I've been gathering these songs in as I find them for over a decade.

As such, I already know most of the songs on Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff, Volume 2, which hit stores just a few weeks ago. And I am pleased to report that like McLachlan's first Rarities compilation, Rarities v. 2 contains very little scrap metal, and plenty of perfectly-tuned songs from the border of folk and pop, most of which lean towards the delicate sound of, say, her sweet take on the Randy Newman-penned When Somebody Loved Me from the Toy Story 2 soundtrack, rather than the pounding remixed radiopop of so many of her produced original albums. There's some great collaborative work here, with the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Emmylou Harris. And some wonderful covers, too -- of the Beatles' Blackbird, The Rainbow Connection, Joni Mitchell's River, and more -- most of which fall to the delicate, folkier side of her sonic spectrum.

Which is why I am especially excited to announce that today, in partnership with the fine folks at Filter and Artista, we are offering one lucky winner a prize package consisting of the following:

  • One CD copy of Sarah McLachlan's Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff, Volume 2

  • An autographed 11x14 high stock matte print featuring the album cover as depicted below

To be fair, though I am a long-time fan of Sarah McLachlan's work, I almost chose not to participate in today's contest offering. Sarah McLachlan prefers heavy, swirling, pulsing pop production in much of her performance; if this is folk, it is a form better suited to the Adult Alternative radio station and the large arena than the folk festival stage or coffeehouse where we spend the vast majority of our time here at Cover Lay Down.

But folk is a big umbrella, and in today's world, production alone does not make or break a folk designation. To deny Sarah even partial acceptance would require similar rejection of the produced popfolk sound of other female singer-songwriters, from Dar Williams and Shawn Colvin to Joan Osborne and Aimee Mann. And under all that production, this music is, at heart, built from the ground up, just one woman and a piano: listen to the delicate swing of Ice Cream, or the first few measures of her XTC cover Dear God, and you can hear the singer-songwriter heart coming through.

The point, of course, is moot. More than anything, genre designation is a tacit agreement between listener and artist, and I know more than enough folkfans who enjoy Sarah McLachlan's sweet alto range and soaring, powerful vocals to believe that ours is the right context for offering such an opportunity. So prove me right, folks: leave a comment below to enter the contest -- just a shout out and an email address is all it takes to qualify to win a great CD, and that special edition autographed poster.

I'd post an album teaser, but though by definition many of them have already been released elsewhere, the label has asked that we refrain from posting tracks which will be on Rarities, B-Sides, & Other Stuff Vol. II. Instead, here's a few well-tuned takes on songs from the folkworld from Sarah's "other" and earlier releases, plus a few bonus tracks to get you in the mood.

Contest will run for one week, so enter today to ensure your place in the proverbial hat full of scrap paper. Only one winner, folks, though if you act fast, you can double your bets by entering to win the album (no poster, though) over at Muruch. Of course you can also purchase the album now via Sarah's preferred source; if you win, you'll have an extra copy of the disk to pass along to a friend. And while you're there, I highly recommend picking up Sarah McLachlan's first Rarities and B-Sides album, as well.

Looking for a few rarities even the true fans may not have found? Today's bonus tracks are truly folk: a golden set of harmonies from the first Lilith Fair tour, and one of my favorite Canadian folkgroups with a cover of one of Sarah McLachlan's best known originals.

Remember, folks: to enter the contest, merely comment below with a shout-out and an email address. All entries received by midnight (EST) next Friday will be counted. Good luck to all!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guestfolk: In the clearing stands a boxer...

Hi everybody. I'm Jamie from Fong Songs, a cover blog you may know since Boyhowdy has been over once or twice (or thrice) to guest post. Unless I completely imagined it, there was an open invitation at some point for me to return the favour and guest post here on Cover Lay Down. Boyhowdy's still hampered with technical difficulties at the moment, so it's a perfect excuse for me to step into his usual Wednesday timeslot and lay down some folk covers for you. If you go back to the very first post ever on Cover Lay Down, Boyhowdy once praised my "incredible ability to compile cross-genre coverlists the likes of which [he's] never seen". That just warms my little ego, but I think what he's getting it at is that I sometimes come up with bizarre excuses to thematically link random cover songs. With the prospect of producing an all-folk cover post, I struggled to come up with an appropriately Fong Songs-esque theme of folk covers, but luckily whatever I do is inherently Fong Songs-esque.

As Boyhowdy can attest to, the definition of folk music is rather elusive with modern folk festivals pushing the boundaries of what's considered folk music. I've gone with some relatively safe bets: Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, and a couple "man and an acoustic guitar" covers. I strongly associate folk music with storytelling and that certainly applies to the following batch of cover songs... even if it's the story of Rocky Balboa.

Today on Cover Lay Down: tales of boxers as told via folk covers.

  • Ani DiFranco, Hurricane (orig. Bob Dylan)
In 1966, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a pro middleweight boxer, was arrested and later convicted for a grisly triple murder, a crime for which he steadfastly maintained his innocence. In 1974 while in prison he wrote his autobiography, which inspired Bob Dylan to take up his cause and write this protest song. Eventually he was released on appeal in 1985 after nearly 20 years in prison. Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison directed a film version of Carter's story, 1999's Hurricane, with Denzel Washington in the title role. Even though there was controversy regarding the fictional liberties taken in the film (in addition to debate of Carter's innocence in the first place), I remember it being an excellent film with strong acting as usual from Mr. Washington who seems to be drawn to these real-life roles. Just don't ask me what really happened.

  • Lucas, Harry Kein (orig. Bob Dylan)
    Here's an acoustic Spanish language cover of Hurricane by a musician that simply goes as Lucas. My Spanish is downright non-existent, so for all I know this very well may be a Spanish parody about a guy named Harry Kein.

  • Colin Linden, The Boxer (orig. Simon & Garfunkel)
    I remember taking my dad's Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits CD, lying in the dark, and cranking The Boxer on my discman. Li-la-li, kaBOOOM! Still gives me shivers when I'm in a particular mood. I first heard this cover by Colin Linden (woo, Canadian content!) during the end credits of the Coen Brothers film Intolerable Cruelty. I'm somewhat notorious among friends for lingering around to watch movie credits and sometimes it's just because I'm listening to the music (plus the song credits always come at the very end!).

  • Bob Dylan, The Boxer (orig. Simon & Garfunkel)
    I'm not particularly well-versed in the Bob Dylan canon, so needless to say I was shocked to hear this "other" voice he sometimes sings with, completely unrecognizable from the oft parodied Dylan vocals. From 1970's poorly received Self Portrait, a double album of mostly cover songs, Dylan takes on the now classic ballad by Simon & Garfunkel, though the original itself had only been recorded in the previous year. Some have speculated that Paul Simon actually wrote The Boxer about Bob Dylan, but there doesn't seem to be any solid evidence behind this claim.

  • Josh Joplin, Eye of the Tiger (orig. Survivor)
This great acoustic cover is from the Australian cover compilation Andrew Denton's Musical Challenge, which features artists covering unlikely songs. Want to hear children's group The Wiggles cover Lou Reed? Now you know where to go.

Today's bonus coversongs (and bonus non-coversongs):
  • Cassius Clay, Stand By Me (orig. Ben E. King)
    Yes, Muhammad Ali recorded an album titled I Am the Greatest under his birth name Cassius Clay in 1963 at age 21 before his name change and even before he became World Heavyweight Champion. I haven't actually heard the whole thing, but I understand it's a spoken word album with poetry readings, sketches, and him answering questions from a live audience. The track listing includes titles such as I Am the Double Greatest, Funny You Should Ask, and Will The Real Sonny Liston Please Fall Down. Luckily for our purposes, Ali also recorded a cover song of Ben E. King's classic Stand By Me.

  • Bette Midler, Boxing (orig. Ben Folds Five)
    From their debut self-titled album, Ben Folds wrote this poignant song about an imaginary conversation between Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell, in which Ali contemplates hanging up the gloves. Probably the only studio-released cover of any Ben Folds Five song is by, of all people, Bette Midler, who recorded this for her 1998 album Bathhouse Betty.

  • Friendly Rich & The Lollipop People, The Ballad of George Chuvalo
    "Meet George Chuvalo, he's from Toronto, he is the hero of this here story."

    And so begins the tale of George Chuvalo, legendary Canadian heavyweight champion who twice went toe to toe with Muhammad Ali, though lost both by decision. Known for having never been knocked down in the ring in 93 fights during a professional career that spanned over 20 years, perhaps his greatest legacy evolved outside the ring. As told in this tribute by Ontario musicians Friendly Rich & The Lollipop People, Chuvalo tragically lost three of his sons and his wife in drug-related deaths (full story in this in-depth Maclean's article). True to his stalwart nature, since 1995 Chuvalo became a tireless anti-drug advocate and today still gives talks to students, parents, and other support groups. In 1998, he was appointed to the Order of Canada for his work. Visit George Chuvalo's Fight Against Drugs for more on Chuvalo's story and cause.

  • Colin Linden, George Chuvalo
    Colin Linden, who is also one-third of folk group Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, wrote his own tribute to George Chuvalo. Little bit of trivia for you: Chuvalo took on some bit parts in films over the years including a bar patron named Marky who has an ill-fated arm wrestling match with Jeff Goldblum in David Cronenberg's The Fly. Check the CBC digital archives for numerous fascinating video and audio clips of George Chuvalo including the original CBC radio broadcast of his fight with Ali and his 1977 appearance on a CBC talk show with his thoughts on the newly released Rocky. Amusingly, when he's introduced by host Peter Gzowski, the house band plays a 15 second muzak version of The Boxer as Chuvalo walks on stage.

Thanks to Boyhowdy for letting me stop by and share some folk covers with you. Hopefully his computer issues get sorted out soon!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kathryn Williams Covers:
Tom Waits, Big Star, Velvet Underground

I first heard UK-based singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams a few years ago, when tracks from her 2004 major-label all-covers release Relations began to show up on the cover blogs. Since you, too, are a reader of music and cover blogs, you've surely heard her gorgeous, tense version of Nirvana's All Apologies from that album. And you may remember her dreamy and delicate cover of Spit on a Stranger I posted, alongside the Nickel Creek cover of the same tune a few months back, when we did a feature on Pavement; looking back, it still feels like Williams' track was the strongest of the entry.

But while cover songs provide a comfortable entry point for us to discover new artists or revisit older ones, in the best possible world, when considering the work of a performer or songwriter, a cover song is only a doorway to discovery, and not the full house. Like cover songs it contains, Relations provides both an excellent introduction to the work of an incredible artist, and to her sound, but it would be a mistake to let a few tracks from Relations remain the endpoint of an experience with Kathryn Williams.

For one thing, Relations remains one of only two major-label releases in what is otherwise a catalog of solid singer-songwriter albums produced on Caw Records, Kathryn Williams' own label. Though the differences of label-vs.-indie influence can be slight in actual performance, in this case, given the less-than-mainstream extremes we hear spilling into the margins of Williams’ penultimate release Leave to Remain -- which Kathryn herself describes as “the one where, if it wasn’t my voice, I could probably listen to it’” -- it seems safe to assume that Kathryn might consider her indie releases to be more authentic representations of her sound as she herself imagines it.

And, for another, though her body of work falls squarely within the definition of folk music, within that broad definition Kathryn Williams defies easy categorization. Her tendency towards confessional songwriting, in the style of Dylan or Joni Mitchell, is evident to all; her guitarwork is consistent with that approach, if more delicate. But hiding behind her deceptively unassuming lyrical performance and acoustic guitar style is more than a tinge of grungefolk, like predecessors Mary Lou Lord and Juliana Hatfield. And a preference for unusual instrumentation – strings, woodwinds, drumbeats among them -- and a tendency towards the use of these instruments to produce dissonance and drone effects in production, has led to legitimate comparisons with the new freak and psych folk camps.

Williams’ increasing facility in exploring the potential of such disparate elements comes to a head with Two, her new album with fellow singer-songwriter Neill MacColl. Two is presented as a duo album, but it fits squarely into the Kathryn Williams canon; on the majority of the album, Williams voice is solo, and we hear a more mature, confident expression of what has come before – sweet on the surface, with an undertone of experience (see, for example, the much more radio-friendly yet equally gorgeous sound of Come With Me.)

And though the songs are predominantly co-written, the primary voice here, too, is still hers: with the exception of a single duet on the album’s sole cover, MacColl seems to be primarily contributing harmony vocals and additional stringwork, while Kathryn's “barely there” vocals and overall sound are more prominent. Further, although in parts the album comes across as experimental, its sound is still very clearly a continuation of the musical directions in which Kathryn Williams has been moving for much of her career.

Ironically, nowhere is Kathryn's dominant hand more evident than in the only true duet on the album, a cover of Tom Waits classic Innocent When You Dream. At first listen, the song sounds weird and unfinished: instead of harmonizing, the two voices pull at each other, fighting for the listener’s attention. But by bringing forward the fragile freak-folk sound through vocal dissonance, instead of hiding it in the undertone or drone or production, the true nature of Kath's complicated vision is finally realized.

What finally becomes clear when pursuing the deeper success of Kathryn Williams work is that where most folk invites the listener, this a folk that coaxes and teases, lulling us in with a sense of familiarity, only to challenge us with tension and undertones not usually heard in singer-songwriter folk. If it took a collaboration with Neill MacColl to bring this out, so much the better, and kudos to both. But regardless of whether you think of this newer work as a solo record or a true collaboration, though it may take several listens to fully appreciate it, Two is a tour de force, one which re-establishes Kathryn Williams as a folk artist to keep watching as she continues to mature and explore.

Here's a few great but often underplayed covers from Relations to set the stage, followed by that cover of Innocent When You Dream, so you can hear for yourself how one leads to the other. In neither case, though, do one or two songs represent the beauty or breadth of the full albums; I highly recommend seeking out both Relations and Two in their entirety.

No bonus tracks today, sadly; all but a small handful of my music remain unaccessible due to previously-mentioned technical difficulties. I'm hoping to have some resolution on the computer front in the next week or so; in the meanwhile, here's some highly relevant and still-snaggable tracks previously posted on Cover Lay Down:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Elseblog: Cake Covers at Fongsongs, Sad News from Copy, Right?

I'm at work, so I'll make this quick...

Firstly, coverfans and folklovers alike may find delicious aural pleasure in a few choice covers I put up over at Fong Songs late last night: a pair of great, funked-up covers of Barry White and Black Sabbath songs from hipster-meets-mariachi-band Cake, and two wonderful, delicate acoustic folk covers -- a Cake song, and another by previously-featured master songcrafter Randy Newman -- from countryfolk singer-songwriter to the stars Kim Richey.

In other, sadder news, Liza at Copy, Right announced today that she has decided to end her tenure as a cover blogger.

I'd call for a moment of silence, but Liza likes it loud. So let me just say that Liza was a trailblazer for us coverlovers, the original maverick who set the standard for the odd and obscure. Though our musical tastes were vastly different, her love of coversong and her strong opinion about what worked, and why, was always evident in her posts, and I made it a point to stop by regularly. The hole that Liza's absence will leave in my feedreader may be small, but her strong influence will surely continue in the legacy she leaves behind -- no small part of which is evident in Cover Lay Down.

Liza, we'll miss you. Thanks for your mentorship, and for sharing your love of covers with all of us.

Finally, I wanted to let folks know that due to circumstances beyond my control, I have no home computer to blog from for a short while. It is my hope that the effect of this will be invisible to my readers; I tried to plan ahead by uploading songs for the next week before the laptop went bye-bye. But just in case, apologies in advance for any posts which might be late, or look like they were written in a hurry on a public machine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Covered in Folk: Cyndi Lauper
(Greg Laswell, Kasey Chambers, Eva Cassidy, Willie Nelson, etc.)

As an unabashed child of the 80s, I grew up with a particular image of Cyndi Lauper in my head, and it wasn't pretty: hanks of bright-colored hair, that highpitched little-girl voice, the theme song to Goonies, that weird staged event with beer-bellied wrestler Lou Albano that years later comes across as even more creepy than it was back then.

But something was in the air, even then -- something which didn't gell with that synth-heavy dance-pop production and bouncy airhead persona. It turned out other songwriters really respected Cyndi Lauper. When, in the late nineties, Cyndi began to pull away from the charts and the public eye, she remained in the industry, taking stage roles, working behind the scenes as a vocal coach. You'd still see her every once in a while, passing through the red carpet crowd at the usual run of awards shows, and the people who stepped aside for her were people whose opinion we respected.

Some of the reasons people loved Cyndi had to do with who she was as a person -- a scrappy kid who had to kick-start her career several times to get heard, only to garner a record-breaking number of singles from mid-eighties release She's So Unusual. Some had to do with sheer admiration of talent -- love it or hate it, but that unique voice has a four octave range and a flexibility that many other megastars would die for. But though Cyndi continued to tour, outside the industry, with the exception of a few VH1 appearances, and a brief flash of misty-eyed memory when a few select somebodies like Phil Collins hit the charts with a cover, most of us forgot about Cyndi.

Then, in 2005, Cyndi partnered with several contemporary artists from Shaggy to Sarah McLachlan to release The Body Acoustic, a series of gorgeous, slow interpretations of her older songs that showed just what we had missed behind the synthesizer pop. The album charted on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts, where her earliest fans, their ears mellowed with age, were ready to welcome her back. And, simultaneously, a generation that had grown up like I did, eyes glued to the early stages of MTV, began mining their own past, finding surprising sentiment in the songs of their hairspray childhood.

It turns out when you strip those songs down, and recast them as folk, they speak to the heart. And though some of today's coversongs wobble on the edge of oversentiment, it takes but a short survey - let's say, a few choice covers of just three of Cyndi Lauper's most famous songs -- to recast Cyndi once and for all as a songwriter and song interpreter who may not have been in full control of her image, but sure as folk had the chops.

So here's those mid-career covers from Willie Nelson and long-gone bluesfolk songstress Eva Cassidy, plus some choice contemporary covers of Cyndi Lauper's work from a wide variety of folk artists. From the rich, majestic pianofolk of Greg Laswell to the more atmospheric indie guitar style of Norman Palm, from Benjamin Costello's delicate pianopop to Allison Crowe's heartfelt guitarfolk to the rough live stylings of indie band Wakey! Wakey!, from Kasey Chambers' stunning acoustic folkpop to the mystical jangly jazz stylings of Cassandra Wilson, they go a long way towards explaining why Cyndi Lauper merits her success, and her praise.

Remember, kids: instead of supporting faceless megacorporations which ask artists to take the least share of their due for the greatest part of the work, all artist and album links here on Cover Lay Down go direct to label homepages and artist preferred source for purchase - the most effective way to help keep music in the hands of musicians. If you like what you hear, head over to the sites and purchase an album or three. I especially recommend Greg Laswell's new EP How The Day Sounds, the collected posthumous works of Eva Cassidy, and anything by Kasey Chambers. And cover lovers will be especially tickled by the loads of free downloads available from Wakey! Wakey!, Allison Crowe, and Benjamin Costello.

Cover Lay Down publishes regularly on Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional Friday. Coming up: a return to our exploration of folk subgenres, and a feature on a favorite young singer-songwriter and cover artist in recognition of her newest collaborative album.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mothers of the Folkworld:
Suzanne Vega, Ani DiFranco, Lori McKenna, Kris Delmhorst

Katrina, Narissa, and Amelia Nields, Clearwater Folk Festival, 2005

As a volunteer for performer check-in at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival for several years, I had the rare privilege of meeting the children of several notable folk musicians, from Lucy Kaplansky's adopted daughter to Katrina Nields' newborn. Seeing my favorite musicians up close and personal was always a treat. But seeing folk musicians in parenting mode always felt like peering behind the curtain of the public persona to something real. And once you see that part of a musician, it flavors the way you hear their songs from that day forward.

The confessional, personal nature of folk music lends itself well to songs of family and parenthood; as I've written about previously, I have a special fondness for music which speaks to that side of life. But it's got to be especially difficult to be a mother who makes her living out of music. Working mothers have it hard no matter what, but musicianship isn't like other careers: the late-night shows, the marathon recording sessions, the constant need for one more focused, childless hour crafting song, all stand in tension with the closeness and availability good parenting demands of us.

Yet the folkworld is full of female musicians who -- with or without the help of sensitive, often stay-at-home dads -- work their touring schedules around the various and sundry blessings of childrearing, from nursing and naps to school plays and graduations. Previously featured folkmothers include Caroline Herring, Lucy Kaplansky, Rani Arbo, Shawn Colvin, and Cindy Kallet: some of my favorites, and a significant percentage of the women who we've featured here on Cover Lay Down.

I can't imagine what it must be like to sing a song to your child in front of ten thousand people, or, like Dar Williams did at Falcon Ridge last year, to bring them up on stage, so they can see what you see. And I can't imagine what it must be like to give birth, or to head out on tour for a week without your child.

But I trust that the blogworld is surely swimming with songs about mothers this weekend. And in the midst of all that, I thought it was important to remind us all that the reason we're here, on Mother's Day and every day, is because a few daring, real people -- people with families, with hopes and fears, with love enough to share -- have chosen to make their living making the music that fills our world. And, notably, this is a career path where neither family health insurance nor maternity leave policies are the norm.

Today, as a tribute to working moms everywhere, we bring you some coversongs of and from a few more singer-songwriters with children of their own. As always, if you like what you hear, please support these artists and their families by purchasing their albums, heading out to their shows, and treating them as real people whenever possible.

Lori McKenna was already a mother of three when she stepped in front of her first open mic audience at the age of 27; since then, she has spent most of her career playing part-time in the local New England folk circuit, staying close to home while slowly making a name for herself with a growing set of well-crafted songs that celebrate the simple pleasures of life as a struggling middle class homemaker.

Though McKenna recently turned country, resetting her down-to-earth lyrics to a newly countrified sound and touring as an opening act for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, her long tenure in the folkworld and her constant celebration of a vividly real motherhood earns her the lead-off spot on today's list. We featured McKenna sideman Mark Erelli's cover of McKenna's Lonestar earlier this week; here's a gritty lo-fi take on Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees from The Kitchen Tapes, and a much more polished but no less authentic look back at Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes from out of print American Laundromat compilation High School Reunion.

For a while there, Suzanne Vega was on the fast track to become the most prolific and popular folk musician to come out of the second-wave Greenwich Village folk scene in the early eighties; she is probably best known for Luka, her late 80s hit about a neighbor's abused child. But if you haven't heard much from her in a decade or so, it's because she decided to curtail her touring and recording significantly in 1994 in order to focus on her family after her daughter Ruby was born. Since then, she has produced only three albums of new material; the songs have gotten even more introspective, but her quality hasn't suffered one bit.

Here's Vega's take on two delicate songs about children from Grateful Dead tribute album Deadicated, plus some great duet work with John Cale on an old Leonard Cohen standard.

Urban folk feminist Ani DiFranco is a relatively new mother and ferocious touring machine who has taken a non-traditional path to motherhood even for the musicworld; instead of taking a hiatus to focus on recording and parenting, as so many other musicians have done, Ani brings her daughter with her as she tours. The model seems to be working -- Ani and family just made the cover of the most recent issue of Mothering magazine -- but other than this concert video of new song Present/Infant from her new DVD Live at Babeville, Ani has not yet recorded any of the new songs about motherhood which she has performed at her recent shows. So here's a few random covers of Ani DiFranco songs, including a great version of Joyful Girl, a song DiFranco wrote to honor her own mother, performed by jam band Soulive with Dave Matthews.

A swollen belly and a June due date make Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter and folk producer Kris Delmhorst an impending member of the folk musician mother club, but motherhood is already starting to affect her career; she was showing when I saw her at the Iron Horse a few months ago, and these days, she's rushing through a few dates in support of her new and absolutely stunning album Shotgun Singer before she goes on family leave. We've played cuts from Delmhorst here before, in recognition of her work with Peter Mulvey and father-to-be Jeffrey Foucault as part of folk trio Redbird; today, it's Kris' turn to glow with this fine, twangy interpretation of an old spiritual tune, and a sweet collaborative turn on Tom Waits' Hold On.

Thanks to for their feature on Folk Music Moms, which served as today's writing prompt. For more about volunteering at Falcon Ridge this July, check out the festival website. Oh, and if you're reading this, Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Infamous Stringdusters, The Infamous Stringdusters
(covers of The Stanley Brothers and Deep Elem Blues)

I first heard the Infamous Stringdusters in 2006 at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, when they were asked to fill in for bluegrass supergroup The Grascals at the last minute -- a lucky break for a sextet of relative unknowns who had yet to release a single recording. But my disappointment at missing The Grascals didn't last long. The Infamous Stringdusters turned out to be my favorite kind of bluegrass band: young folks with high energy, incredible skill, and a tight yet easy newgrass sound, who lean towards fast-paced songs performed gleefully and well.

Since then, I've seen the Stringdusters a few times, and played their long-delayed first album Fork in the Road half to death. Songs:Illinois sees it too, calling them "one of the most acclaimed young groups that straddle [the] line between polished bluegrass and down to earth country." And I'm happy to report that their self-titled sophomore release The Infamous Stringdusters is more than equal to their growing reputation in both the jamband and bluegrass communities.

The Infamous Stringdusters features the strong songwriting and instrumental talents of each bandmember on a plethora of catchy bluegrass tunes; as such, it contains no covers. But it merits mention here because it comes with an tantalizing bonus: if you pre-order The Infamous Stringdusters before the June 10th release date, you get exclusive access to an incredible full-length live concert recording, which includes two strong covers.

My bias against after-the-fact live recordings is well-known; too many suffer from crowd noise, poor mixing, and muddy sound quality. But the tracks from this April 15th show at the Fox in Boulder, Colorado are exceptionally well-mastered, with a high fidelity that manages to capture the feel of an Infamous Stringdusters performance without sacrificing one bit of the instrumental wizardry and genuine pleasure in play that each artist brings to the stage. The crowd noice is there, but it's light enough to fade into the background. And that occasional hoot or holler? It's likely from the band, who are in rare form, and know it.

Here's those two covers from that show, plus a bonus version of Deep Elem Blues from Sound of the Slide Guitar, last year's solo release from Infamous Stringduster's guitarist Andy Hall.

Pre-order The Infamous Stringdusters from Sugar Hill Records today, and you'll get the rest of this amazing live show as a bonus; pick up Andy Hall's Sounds of the Slide Guitar while you're at it. If you just can't wait, or you're still on the fence, head over to Songs:Illinois for an album track to whet your whistle.

And just in case you can't remember who The Stanley Brothers are, here's today's bonus coversongs, two familiar takes on tradsong which might serve to jog your memory.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Schoolday Coverfolk:
National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6-10

In my other life, I'm a middle school teacher; I spend most of my days surrounded by twelve year olds, trying to balance entertainment with mentorship, and curriculum with life lessons. Before that, I taught in a boarding high school, tutored gifted and talented kids in a tiny rural elementary school, ran a before-school program, and did public demonstrations at a science museum.

And before that, I was a dropout. And before that, I was a goofball, who needed a little good advice now and then, but couldn't really sit still long enough in the classroom to make any teacher want to defend me.

But Mrs. Carter liked me, though I don't know why. The way she looked at me - like I had something worth watching for - made up for the fact that I was always the understudy when we were picked for the school play, always the alternate for work with the poet in residence. I learned to rise to the occasion, and to focus on doing things well, instead of doing things best; I gained confidence in my abilities. And though after that year, I turned back into the goofball for a good long time, I never forgot Mrs. Carter. And I never forgot that look.

It's a well-kept secret in educational circles that it isn't just the good kids, or the smart kids who get voted "most likely to be a teacher", who come back to school to sit on the other side of the desk (or in my case, to stand atop the desk and gesticulate wildly to make a point). We come from all the cliques, from the woodshop wannabes to the cheerleading squad, from the lit mag proto-hipsters to the band geeks. But I can't think of any teacher I have ever spoken with who is not honored and thrilled and genuinely surprised when that rare student comes out of the woodwork to say "you mattered, and now I matter."

A few years back, at a five year reunion, this kid came up to me, and thanked me. He said I was the one who changed his life; that now he was doing what I had taught him to do, and hardly a week went by where he didn't think about what I had taught him.

And I looked at him, and smiled, and was secretly joyous. But all I could think about was that this kid was the goofball. The one who was always pushing the envelope. The one who messed around in film class, though he always came through with something pretty cool when the work was due. The one who spliced thirty second of a shower scene from a Penthouse video into his remade music video for Van Halen's Hot For Teacher. And showed it on the day the Academic Dean came to observe me in my first year of teaching.

And then I remembered Mrs. Carter. And I thought about calling her up, and thanking her. But Mrs. Carter isn't around anymore.

If Jeffrey Foucault was a teacher, he'd look like thisThere are surprisingly few songs about the teaching profession which portray it in a positive light (though there are a couple of other memorable songs out there about teachers as sex objects, such as Police classic Don't Stand So Close To Me and Rufus Wainwright's The Art Teacher); of these, fewer still have been covered by folk artists. More common are songs about school as a part of adolescent or childhood experience -- songs where the teachers are there, unmentioned, just hovering in the background. But as a teacher myself, I know that no classroom feels safe unless the teacher has set a tone that makes it safe. Even without mention, as long as curriculum and classroom exist, a teacher is always there.

Today, then, in celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week (USA), we bring you a set of quirky covers of teachersongs, and some schoolsongs which touch lightly and broadly on our experience of the classroom, that childhood stew of fear and freedom where our personalities were transformed.

Together, the songs make a perfect soundtrack to a google search for that one special teacher who reached out and changed your life. Write the letter, send the email, make the call: let them know they made a difference today. You don't even have to say thanks -- just letting them know that you remember them, and that you turned out okay, is a rare and precious reward.

See also: Kate and Anna McGarrigle cover Loudon Wainwright III's Schooldays

Sunday, May 4, 2008

(Re)Covered V: More Covers of and from
Richard Shindell, Cindy Kallet, Doc Watson, James Taylor

News, new releases, and new discoveries leave us no choice but to bring you yet another long-overdue installment of our popular (Re)Covered series, wherein we recover songs that dropped through the cracks too late to make it into the posts where they belonged.

A huge news trifecta this week from Cover Lay Down inaugural-post favorite Richard Shindell: he's started a blog, he's decided to reopen sales of his recent live album as a digital download, and he's decided to try financing his next record by offering every single one of us the chance to become a producer.

Shindell's blog is already proving to be a vibrant space for thoughtful, well-written treatises on the world and how it is changing, though we'd expect nothing less from this articulate singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter; the first two entries offer a short journalistic report from his adopted homeland of Argentina, and an artist's-eye reflection on how changes in the music industry have altered the relationship between musicians and fans, primarily for the better. And the news that others will soon be able to order his well-produced and wonderfully organic live album, which I wrote about in our six-month anniversary post, is just plain great.

But I'm especially excited to see Shindell join the growing ranks of folk artists who are not only embracing the new, digital world, but tapping into its fullest potential. Album microfinancing through the fanbase is a gutsy move, but it is a viable one, as singer-songwriters Kris Delmhorst and Jill Sobule have successfully demonstrated; the multi-tiered approach Shindell is using to finance his new work seems creative, and offers real return for investors: at the entry level, you're basically buying the album in advance; from there, investment return climbs all the way up to house concerts and housepainting.

As Richard points out in his most recent blog entry, working with "big music" and the RIAA has its costs, and often require that artists work in ways which are not consistent with their own value systems. But the file-sharing landscape offers new opportunities which greatly improve the potential for the relationship between artists and fans. Fan financing is just one example of this; a second is Shindell's creation of an open guitar case, where those who have downloaded his work for free, or just appreciate it, can choose to stop by and support Shindell directly. Here's hoping that this is only the tip of a very big iceberg.

Please join me in supporting the creation of Richard's new album, and celebrating yet one more musician who has decided to leave behind the crumbling, artist-unfriendly industry. Even if you aren't interested in purchasing a full album, or participating in microfinancing at this time, if you like the songs I've included here, or enjoyed previously-posted covers from Richard Shindell, including songs by Springsteen and Ritter, Leonard Cohen, and Jeffrey Foucault and Dar Williams, please consider donating to Shindell via his open guitar case.

In other (Re)Covered-worthy news, I just recieved my review copy of Heart Walk, the new album from the trio of Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein, and Michael Cicone. As expected, it's a beautful work, full of robust harmony and sincere emotion, primarily comprised of coversongs of underappreciated folk artists who share the same social and ecological sensibilities of Kallet and co. Like the trio's previous two albums, which I wrote about in our previous feature on Cindy Kallet, Heart Walk is both an especially powerful musical experience, and a great and loving introduction to the work of other folk musicians you may not have heard of, but should. Kudos, all around.

Order Heart Walk and hear samples here; if you live in the Boston area, come join me at First Parish Church in Watertown on May 17th for the Kallet, Epstein, and Cicone CD release party, a rare opportunity to see the trio (and friends) perform live. In the meantime, these two covertracks from the new album -- a cover of an old Judy Collins tune, and an absolutely stunning cover of Peter Mayer's Holy Now featuring Michael's warm, clear lead vocals -- are a great way to whet the appetite.

Our recent vacation to North Carolina was lots of fun, but being without the bulk of my music collection meant a relative dearth of music availability for the posts I produced while on the road. Happily, since my return, my continued search for songs from fathers to daughters and more old folk song covers from Doc Watson led me to Daddies Sing Good Night, a decade-old compilation from bluegrass label Sugar Hill records. This great coveralbum, which turned up in my daughter's vanity, was the source for the Seldom Scene cover of Sweet Baby James I included in our recent James Taylor coversongs megapost; it also includes these two great father-to-son cuts from Doc Watson.

And finally, speaking of ol' JT: thanks to all my readers, especially long-time reader and fan Carol, for the many songs and suggestions that poured in after the aforementioned James Taylor megapost. Though I'm saving most of my newly-embiggened collection of Taylor covers ever-hopefully for a future post on other members of the mightily talented Taylor Family, here's that Alison Krauss and James Taylor cover of the Louvin Brothers I'd been looking for -- it's even better than I hoped it would be.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

New Artists, Old Songs:
Arrica Rose covers Tom Waits

A short one-shot occasional today, as part of our New Artists, Old Songs series -- a feature 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.

Today's featured artist: Arrica Rose and the...s

There's been plenty of buzz in the blogworld as we near the May 20 release date for the new Tom Waits cover album by Scarlett Johansson (yes, that Scarlett Johansson). Indie coverblog Blowin' Your Cover seems to like it; Muruch is reserving judgement, though she offers Holly Cole's cover album Temptation as the gold standard for Tom Waits cover albums.

I'm curious enough about the full monty here; both genre and premise seem up our alley, though it's hard to hear Scarlett in the samples I've heard. And it's no secret that I like Tom Waits covers -- I posted two covers of I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You recently, and both were worth a second listen. But like Muruch, I have a high standard in mind when it comes to Tom Waits covers. And in my case, the bar was raised that much higher just last week, when the best damn Tom Waits cover I've heard in a long, long while -- Arrica Rose and the ...s cover of I Hope That I Don't Fall -- dropped out of the sky into my mailbox.

Rose is a relative newcomer whose second album La La Lost is getting decent radioplay but not much blogpress after a mid-April release. Her version of I Hope... is the sole cover on an album which moves fluidly from lo-fi yet popgrungy singer-songwriter tunes that call to Juliana Hatfield or Mary Lou Lord to reasonably powerful indiefolk originals reminiscent of early Ani DiFranco. The sound is good, if a bit too diverse. But the big appeal here is singer-songwriter and indierock pin-up girl Arrica Rose's beautiful but broken voice: unusually hoarse and strangled, as if on the verge of tears, with a subtle and gentle delivery that gets lost in a bigger sound. And when the production steps back and lets that beautiful, broken instrument come forward, the songs really shine.

Today's coversong is one of the most intimate and most successful cuts on the album. Here, the abovementioned elements combine with the lyrical longing of the original to create a breathtaking transformation of what was already an unusually powerful song. Where Waits' original is as broken as his voice, Rose brings us a narrator who is immeasurably fragile, as if she could break any second. The stakes of the narrative dilemma are raised accordingly. The result is a stunningly beautiful, bittersweet cover which both transcends and revitalizes the original.

It's hard to imagine a better Waits cover coming at us this year. But don't take my word for it. Listen for yourself, and then pick up La La Lost for the originals:

  • Amanda Rose and the ...s, I Hope That I Don't Fall (orig. Tom Waits)
    *[UPDATE 5/29: File truncated at artist request; sample here, and then head to iTunes or buy the album for the whole song!]

    For comparison's sake, here's the way-too-poppy title track to Scarlett Johansson's impending release Anywhere I Lay My Head; a much more subtle second track is up at Blowin' Your Cover. Plus one from Holly Cole, so we can hear what Muruch hears.

  • Scarlett Johansson, Anywhere I Lay My Head (orig. Tom Waits)
  • Holly Cole, I Don't Wanna Grown Up (ibid.)

    We'll have at least one full-sized post of Tom Waits coversongs one of these days, never fear. In the meanwhile, come back Sunday for our sixth edition of (Re)Covered, in which we return to some past features, artists and themes to add a few newly discovered, uncovered, and recovered songs into the mix.