There are songs you listen to when you want to pump yourself up. There are others that harmonize perfectly when tears roll down your face. Then there are the ones that make you recall a particularly happy moment—even though the song didn't exist within it. That's where Covenhoven's music falls for me. Each time I listen to Joel Van Horne's lyrical folk music, I am whisked away to summers spent with friends in Steamboat Springs. I want to lie down in the park with a book or dance under a lantern-lit sky.
Perhaps that's because Covenhoven's self-titled first album is based on Van Horne's own happy place: a cabin in Wyoming that his family visited regularly. His father christened it Covenhoven (a Dutch family name with a long story behind it). "I wanted [the CD] to be very personal and have a lot of meaning for me and for my family," Van Horne says. "I love that I’m able to take all of that, my memories and all of my family's memories, and turn it into a new story."
This may be Van Horne's first record as Covenhoven, but he's no music newbie. The Colorado native, now 33, has a degree in jazz guitar and has written and performed in Denver since he was 15 (he was a member of the band Carbon Choir). Though Covenhoven is primarily a solo project—Van Horne wrote, recorded, produced, and released the record himself (he did have a sound engineer mix it and someone else play the violin and cello parts)—the multi-instrumentalist still views it as a band project. "It's definitely not something I can just do by myself," he says. "It's evolved." For live shows, two violinists, a cellist, a drummer, a guitar/banjo player, and a background vocalist join Van Horne on stage.
The 10-track CD has some familiar folk qualities—banjo, pretty vocals, emotive lyrics—but there's a broader essence to it. Van Horne says some people have referred to it as "symphonic folk," which seems just right. "I’m really concerned with mood in what I write. I think that dictates a lot of what a song can be about—the mood and the way it hits you," he says. "I feel like the words have to elevate that. All the other things come later."
Live: Catch Covenhoven at the Hi-Dive on Friday, March 28 at 9 p.m.
—Image courtesy of Lucia DeGiovanni
Follow associate editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.