These days, composer and guitarist Michael Chorney is probably best known for his work with Anaïs Mitchell on her recent Broadway hit Hadestown, for which he won a Tony Award earlier this year (he plays in the band every night too). But a dive into his extensive discography wouldn’t uncover many other numbers meant for the stage. Half of his albums are ambient guitar instrumentals, and even the ones with “songs” tend toward the weird and woolly.
When you hear “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” you no doubt imagine the bucolic harmonies of “Scarborough Fair.” But Jason Cooley borrows the phrase in “Hit,” and he’s certainly no Simon or Garfunkel. The punk shouter roars the line at 11, just as he roars every line, hollering his voice hoarse in the span of a pretty short song (half of which is a guitar solo).
Though this band hailed from Vermont, you’d be forgiven for guessing they came out of Austin’s famous psych-rock scene. Loud and droney, they channel the likes of that city’s Black Angels or, from just north of their own state’s border, Montreal’s Besnard Lakes. “Head Out” caps out at 3:38, but one can imagine a song like this stretching to three or four times the length live.
The song titled “I Don’t Want to Go to Heaven” comes off an album titled Bury Me Not. Sensing a theme here? A lot preemptive belligerence about their postmortem affairs, especially given that all Pariah Beat’s band members appeared to be in their 20s at the time.
On another great song of theirs, “Dead Summer,” the band Thompson Gunner incorporate a little bit of Hall & Oates. But that poppy, peppy duo couldn’t be much further from their own sound. Warren Zevon, after whom they borrowed their name, is closer, but still nowhere near gruff enough. Singer Caleb Thomas roars and growls like Lucero’s Ben Nichols, Americana-punk at his rawkiest.
What is the titular castle the characters in Lowell Thompson’s Americana gem “Castle” plan to meet at? A music video – which might be fan-made, his website doesn’t include it – takes the word literally, using old footage of a knight and princess dancing in front of a castle (albeit one only two feet taller than they are). I doubt that’s what Thompson had in mind.
As a former New York City resident, I can think of few neighborhoods I’d rather live in than the Upper West Side. Old money and overpriced, overprecious grocery stores every block – no thanks. But the Smittens’ gloriously catchy indiepop song almost makes the UWS appealing.
In anyone else’s hands, the “bojotar” might be a pricey parlor trick. The inventor of this hybrid instrument, Vermont singer-songwriter Bow Thayer, combined a banjo, resonator guitar, and electric guitar into one axe. But this is a far cry from one of those one-man bands busking in the subway with some ramshackle contraption strapped to his back. The bojotar doesn’t look or sound particularly strange, but it gives Thayer a twangy slide/picking combo impossible to achieve with a traditional instrument.
Proper dental hygiene seems an odd inspiration for a garage-rock song. But from the recurring line that gave this song its title – “My teeeeth are nice and cleeeaaaannn” – “Teeth” veers into all sorts of oddball directions. It’s a love song for a minute, then a meta song about songwriting itself.
“Foxy folk” was the genre tag Abbie Morin adopted on 2015 solo album Shadowproof. The catchy branding isn’t accurate anymore. Like bandmate Caroline Rose, Morin has recently changed sounds (band names too in this case; Morin now performs as Hammydown). But it wasn’t entirely accurate then either. “Foxy folk” doesn’t really capture a song like “Better Half.”