Written last night in a rainstorm's aftermath. Posted this morning in bright dappled sunlight.
They say April showers bring May flowers, but I'm not so sure. This evening's thunderstorm was a big one, and in our end-of-the-wire rural existence, even when the power stays on, thunder knocks our 'net connectivity for a loop. Meanwhile, now that the trees have finally filled in, our newly-terraformed backyard doesn't seem to be getting more than a few hours of sun each day; as a consequence, we're having trouble getting flowers to do much of anything back there.
I've got dozens of posts half-formed and half-written, in my mind and on the screen: new and beloved artists to feature, a long-overdue return to our Covered In Kidfolk series, a few great songwriters to rediscover through folk covers. But writing this with a waning battery and no 'net access means being shut off from my usual research materials. And in the darkness, the sounds of rain pattering against the leaves, punctuated by the intermittent gutterball of thunder, are sweeter than any music I could play – so sweet, it's hard to think about anything but the world outside.
Instead, I spent the last hour watching the flowerbeds all but wash away, and the muddy water wash the fill from between the flagstones. The rain against the windows turned the yard beyond into an everchanging pointilist dream. And I lost the thread of anything but the present.
Some rainstorms disrupt; some destroy; others help things grow. All involve chaos, in their own way; even if it is only because rain challenges our default image of the world outside as inherently sunny and easily navigable. Here's a playlist compiled quickly, in the dark, and researched only afterwards: a set of coversong, from the usual wide variety of folk artists and singer-songwriters, that celebrates storms both real and metaphoric.
- Grant Lee Phillips, So. Central Rain
I've always liked this song –- the way the the storm gets entangled with the emotional distance in the lyric, the repeated cry of I'm sorry that serves as the chorus -- but the original comes off like a maudlin torch song in my ears. On his 2006 cover album nineteeneighties Grant Lee Phillips plays the song out straight, holding his emotion in check, letting the way the words trail off reveal the true heart of the damaged, emotionally tongue-tied narrator. The song is transformed.
- Cassandra Wilson, I Can't Stand The Rain
(orig. Ann Peebles)
Despite her powerful interpretive voice, Cassandra Wilson is usually billed as smooth late night Jazz. But this song is something sparse and jangled from the eye of a storm: tense, frenetic blues from a single slide guitar, a tapping foot like rain on the roof, Wilson's alto floating above it all like a howl of wind. From the surprisingly good collection The Best Smooth Jazz...Ever.
- Neko Case, Buckets of Rain
- Jimmy LaFave, Buckets of Rain
- Beth Orton and M. Ward, Buckets of Rain
(orig. Bob Dylan)
I posted Redbird's excellent version of this song at the bottom of a post on Grateful Dead rainsongs a while back. Of the three versions here, Jimmy LaFave's is loose bar-room folkrock americana, with a bit of dustbowl mixed in; Orton and Ward are lo-fi and spare, like a living room cover; Neko Case is sweetest, and oh so perfectly countrified.
- Joan Baez, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
- Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
(orig. Bob Dylan)
More Dylan. A very young Joan Baez released this surprisingly tender version of his condemnation of society and its lack of commitment to social justice in 1965 on her Dylan tribute album Farewell, Angelina. Almost forty years later, Edie and the boys bang it out like a poprock anthem.
- Northern Lights w/ Vassar Clements, Rainmaker
Newgrass pioneers Northern Lights worked with master fiddler Vassar Clements on and off for over a decade; I especially like their 2000 live album Three August Nights. This high-energy live cut is a five minute bluegrass festival, the perfect jam for a sunny summer afternoon.
- Nanci Griffith, Coming Down in the Rain
(orig. Buddy Mondlock)
Mandolin and piano, robust harmonies in little-girl voices, and a story of love lost to the sky make this one of the strongest cuts on Nanci Griffith's excellent cover album Other Voices, Other Rooms.
- Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, I Get The Blues When It Rains
Previously featured artists Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem turn this over-covered 1929 country and blues chestnut into a cheerful stroll of a song, a tight gem of acoustic folk swing music with a little sultry swagger built right in. From Cocktail Swing, which is all like that.
- Juju Stulbach, Have You Ever Seen The Rain
(orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Played as a tender, ragged waltz, a Creedence classic becomes pensive and atmospheric. This bright psychadelic indiefolk from newcomer Juju Stulbach, the Brazilian frontwoman of NYC band Mosquitos, keeps growing on me. Bonus points: it's the soundtrack to this subject-appropriate commercial for GE.
- Petty Booka, Singin' In The Rain
(orig. Gene Kelly)
This lighthearted romp with double-uke and doubled girlvoices from Japanese duo Petty Booka is bright like a rainbow at storm's end. Because, in the end, what better way to meet chaos than to smile and dance within it?
Previously on Cover Lay Down: