I didn't deliberately time the creation of this blog to coincide with the Jewish New Year, a day of celebration and renewal ordinarily commemorated through consumption of apples and honey in hopes of a sweet new year to come. Indeed, given the odd lunar cycle of the Jewish calendar, it is purely coincidental that we find ourselves here today, once again looking back and looking forward, in the midst of a more spiritual mandate to do the same.
Problematically, however, I said it all pretty clearly back at the six-month mark. Saying so here profusely would be redundant. But having spent all day in temple, it's hard to separate the very personal feelings of gratitude and mindfulness I feel at making it to my one year anniversary as a music blogger from the themes of change and community grounding which I have spent the morning pondering.
As such, where I used the half-year anniversary of Cover Lay Down as an opportunity to thank those vast and myriad influences and constituencies who have made me feel so welcome over these many months -- the artists, labels, fellow bloggers, and readers like yourself -- today, instead of merely repeating those same sentiments, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the blogger himself.
Because blogging has changed me.
My creative writing profs weren't wrong when they said that fundamentally, writers write -- that is, what makes a writer a writer, rather than just the originator of text, is not so much any innate quality but the honed craft that comes from exercise and sweat. I've heard it from songwriters, too, most recently from Kristen Andreassen: write the songs, and the best of them will emerge; write less, and less gems will hide among the lessened chaff. I do not claim to be a perfect writer, but I think I am coming to master my own flaws as an observer and chronicler of music, and how it connects to the world around us. And I am grateful, to all of you, for the continued validation of that writing which mere readership brings, let alone the kind words which artists and commenters have given me in thanks for writing.
Blogging about music, in particular, has also brought about a change in my listening habits. Where once I was content to leave things on shuffle, now I spend at least as much time making connections, searching for common threads, and immersing myself in the deep pools of a single artist's output, that I might be able to truly describe in words what "works" for me about the song.
The immersive approach means less time for novelty -- the trickle of label gems that currently finds its way to my mailbox is small by blogger standards, but more than ample enough for my habit. I've had to really push myself to attend shows and festivals these last few months, that I might discover new artists and songs to pass along to you; if it weren't for a great set of bloggers out there I have learned to trust, I'd worry that I was falling into a rut, musically speaking.
But approaching music this way engenders a kind of listening which is wonderfully deep and immersive, and treating all music as potential blogfodder also means that I live my life as if I was blessed with two choice opportunities for making the perfect themed mixtape every week. And as those who grew up in the mixtape era know, there's nothing more engrossing, no better opportunity for making connections between the soul and the music, than the quest for the perfect set of music, whether the planned motif is a single artist or a single song, a theme or a tribute.
In theory, focusing on what I know and can connect also means accepting the vast breadth of what is out there as both unknown and unknowable -- the more you know, the more you don't. For me, this has made it easier to accept the time and energy it takes to really focus on the moment granted by a single artist, sound, and song as a blessing, and be grateful for it. My recent trip to ICONS was better unplanned; by not worrying about making sure I was seeing the "right" artists, for example, I found myself in a tiny performance space, listening to a few great young artists out of the Boston fiddle-folk scene who will surely come up later here at Cover Lay Down.
If such focus is the goal, then I'll be the first to admit that I've lost a bit of my focus over the past few weeks. It's been a selfish period, I guess, what with my recent grief, and the stress of starting a new job; writing has always been easier than listening for me, and I'm afraid I've let the writing, not the song connections, become the focus a bit too often. Soon, I hope, I'll be able to return to blogging with a primary focus on songwriters and songs, rather than the themed lists which have recently overwhelmed this blog. In the coming weeks, for example, I hope to be able to bring more new artists to the table, and more features on both the songs and the performance of lesser-known folk musicians who deserve the recognition.
But though today is a day of renewal, it is also just the beginning; there's a reason why the liminal doorway opens for the next nine days in Judaism, rather than demanding that we return to our true, best selves all at once. In gratitude, then, for the opportunity, while I rewire the self for a continued focus on folk artists and their coversong, here's one more long-winded post capped by another list of sweet coverfolk songs with a common topic, in hopes and well-wishes for a sweet new year.
Please, as always, treat these songs as but a marvelous taste of the work of some great artists, each of whom deserves your full (and financial) support. Played in order, they transition smoothly from folkpop to indiefolk by way of alt-country, bluesfolk, and a little freak folk; if you like them, just imagine the three dozen songs I rejected on my way towards making this one perfect blogbirthday mixtape.
May the new year bring sweetness, change, and a return to the true self for all of us.
- Joan Osborne: How Sweet It Is (orig. Marvin Gaye)
High-production folkpop from honorary Grateful Dead member Joan Osborne via her radio-ready 2002 covers album How Sweet It Is.
- Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine (orig. The Weavers)
Pulsing folk rock with a reggae beat from old folkies and old friends Raitt and Browne. From an aforementioned Seeger tribute.
- Girlyman: My Sweet Lord (orig. George Harrison)
A reposted favorite from the exquisite harmonies of alt-folk and alt-sexual trio Girlyman's Remember Who I Am.
- Taken By Trees: Sweet Child O' Mine (orig. Guns 'n Roses)
Lovely atmospheric guitar-and-pianofolk; new "band" Taken By Trees is actually Victoria Bergsman, ex-member of the Concretes and the female vocalist from last year's indiefolk smash single Young Folks.
- Nancy Elizabeth: Sweet Jesus (orig. James Yorkston)
This gorgeous quietfolk with bells on from young UK scenester Nancy Elizabeth shines on the recent album of covers accompanying Yorkston's When The Haar Rolls In.
- 6202 Ellen Ave.: Sweet Lorraine (orig. Patty Griffin)
6206 Ellen Ave was a one-off collaborative project from Josh Ritter, Bridget Matros, and Guy Mendilow while they were all at Oberlin; covering Patty Griffin's slower work is tricky, but sophomore Matros had the chops and the right note of weariness. Sadly, after a short career on the folkscene, she has since lost her voice to acid reflux disease. (More about Matros, and some earlier covers, here.)
- Emmylou Harris: Sweet Old World (orig. Lucinda Williams)
A weary alt-country ballad from queen of country coverfolk Emmylou Harris, just one of many reasons to own 1995 Grammy-winner Wrecking Ball.
- Laura Cantrell: The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter (orig. Amy Allison)
Slow countryfolk slowdance from previously featured singer-songwriter, DJ, and equal rights activist Laura Cantrell.
- Guy Davis: Sweetheart Like You (orig. Bob Dylan)
Mellow, rich bluesfolk complete with accordian and Guy Davis' rough barroom rasp, an underrated cut from my favorite Dylan tribute album.
- Karen Dalton: Sweet Substitute (orig. Jellyroll Morton)
Wonderfully out of tune, slightly psychedelic bluesfolk in the unmistakable key of late sixties icon and folkmuse Karen Dalton.
- The Weird Weeds: Sweet Thing (orig. Van Morrison)
Eerie experimental electrofolk from free 2005 Weird Weeds EP This Is Not What You Want.