Oct 232017
 

vermont cover songs

County Tracks has yet to hit its first birthday, but the other blog I run, Cover Me, turns ten this month. And in a nice bit of serendipity, this month I also released a book called Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time and the early response has been fantastic. Variety called it “one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years” which, you know, who am I to argue?

Why am I awkwardly quoting my own reviews? Because I am holding a Burlington book-release event at Phoenix books on November 1st, with live music from Mark Daly of Madaila and Amanda Gustafson and Eric Olsen of Swale. And while I try to write everything on this site in a way that might interest outsiders who know nothing about Vermont or its artists, I know a decent portion of our readers are locals. If that number includes you, I hope you’ll stop by Phoenix books on November 1st! All details here.

This seemed like a perfect opportunity to blend my two passions, cover songs and Vermont music. So, to selflessly promote Vermont bands while selfishly pimping my own book party (November 1st! Phoenix! Burlington!), I’ve rounded up a couple dozen of the best covers to ever emerge from the Green Mountains. First half below, second coming tomorrow. No doubt I missed plenty, so please let me know what your own favorites are in the comments. Continue reading »

Aug 152017
 

Patrick James Maybe

Reading through Patrick James’ Genius notes to his new album Panosophy feels like trying to identify everyone on the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover. He shouts out Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Morrissey. He references Dostoevsky, Murakami, and Shakespeare. His influences on one song alone include The Cure, Felt, Aztec Camera, Blueboy, Tiger Trap, Oasis, and Nirvana.

All of which may make this music seem dense and unlistenable, like some sort of heady prog nightmare. But James, who records as Maybe (a name inspired by a favorite girl-group song), makes it work. He cites his “Brian Wilson worship” a couple times, and this album indeed reflects Wilson’s ability to place really complex orchestrations in the context of tidy pop songs. Intricate string and piano arrangements reflect James’ classical piano training, landing somewhere between the Zombies and Fairport Convention with a side of Philip Glass. Continue reading »

Jul 192017
 

jinxbox

A few months back, Vermont songwriter Tyler Daniel Bean released a music video that uses haunting imagery to show what it feels like when depression takes over. The heavy music matched the mood, loud and unrelenting like it was closing in on all sides.

New Middlebury dreampop trio Jinxbox tackles similar themes on their new album Relief, but through a very different genre. The sun-drenched melodies deliver earworm after earworm, but the lyrics stem from a much darker place. Nine Inch Nails could easily have written the opening lines of the song “Static”: Continue reading »

Jul 172017
 

jessica rabbit syndrome

If you’ve ever heard anyone end a sentence sounding like haunted house door creaking open, you’ve heard “vocal fry.” A viral Guardian article in 2015 argued young women employing the verbal tic wouldn’t be taken seriously – the same argument used against other supposedly ditzy tics like “like” and ending every sentence as if it’s a question? Half the titles on YouTube explaining vocal fry include the word “Kardashian,” which gives you some idea of the speech pattern’s reputation.

Inevitably, people criticizing the way young women speak inspired a backlash. Then a backlash to the backlash. Etc. All of which figures into the debut single by Vermont-Massachusetts “gravecore” trio Jessica Rabbit Syndrome titled, appropriately, “Vocal Fry.” Continue reading »

Jun 162017
 

amelia devoid

“Amelia Devoid” is a great handle for an electronic musician. In Devoid’s case, though, the name is no pseudonym. And discovering the history behind her unusual last name started Amelia Devoid down the path towards her magnetic new album.

Devoid’s heritage is a Native American tribe called the Abenaki. Based in New England and northeast Canada, the tribe came together during the continent’s colonization out of the splintered remains of other groups. Like so many Native tribes, their history over the past several centuries can be a painful one. Devoid even learned that her home state’s University of Vermont practiced eugenics on the tribe all the way up to the 1930s. “Researching this history has informed a large part of my identity, and has helped me in part make sense of my unusual last name,” she says.

The recent pipeline protests at Standing Rock drew Devoid back to her heritage and inspired her wonderful new electronic album, Hypogeum. Songs like “My Ancestors Died Here” and “Hopeless Call for Peace” tie directly into the recent conflict. Continue reading »

May 192017
 

some hollow

There must be something in the water. Earlier this week, we posted a song inspired by Wren Kitz’s job at a sewage treatment facility, and now we have another killer track inspired by water work.

The song is “Via Champlain” (as in Lake Champlain, on the Vermont-NY border) by new Americana trio Some Hollow. Band frontman and songwriter Jason Lee used to work as a deckhand on the Grand Isle Ferry, shuttling passengers and commuters back and forth across the lake. Continue reading »

May 122017
 

eric george

The controversy over Bob Dylan going electric seems quaint now. History has more than vindicated him, to the point that even Pete Seeger began claiming he only tried to axe through the Newport mic cable due to poor audio quality. It’s a cliché that Dylan going electric changed everything, fusing poetry with rock and roll, you know the story. So does the Nobel committee.

Dylan electrifying folk music to some degree also signaled the end of the era of the truly acoustic singer-songwriter album. Sure, there are plenty of guitar-strummers in the folk and Americana worlds today, but these days even “stripped-down” albums are rarely that stripped down. A tasteful violin here, some brushed drums there. Fewer now follow the template of Bob’s early albums – truly solo acoustic, not acoustic-plus-some-other-stuff.

On his latest album Smoke The Fire Gives though, Burlington songwriter Eric George keeps the solo-acoustic tradition alive. He told the Burlington Free-Press he road-tested these songs while busking on the street (similar to Erin Cassels-Brown’s recent EP came about). Then, when a full-band recording space fell through, just recorded them thes ame way. Continue reading »

May 032017
 

waking windows vermont

We normally don’t do concert previews here. My goal with this young blog is to spread the gospel of Vermont music to an audience beyond the state’s sometimes-confining borders. And writing about regionally-specific events generally goes against that mandate.

This weekend’s Waking Windows festival is an exception.

Waking Windows is the Vermont music scene in microcosm. In some respects the Burlington equivalent of SXSW, Waking Windows surrounds a few bigger names (Real Estate and Dan Deacon this year) with dozens of the state’s best local bands. Naming the best Vermont artists playing the festival almost doubles as naming the best Vermont artists period. And that is exactly our mandate. Continue reading »

May 012017
 

Back in 2011, the soundtrack to the Ryan Gosling movie Drive updated 1980s synth-pop for the 21st century and became a big hit doing so. Songs like “Nightcall” and “A Real Hero” brought a film-noir darkness to the genre’s supremely catchy melodies and on his new album Pax Romana, Vermont-based producer Ebn Ezra aka Ethan Wells does the same.

Though Wells calls the Drive soundtrack “iconic,” he draws from further back in the history of synthesized music. He cites as his album’s biggest influence a Japanese artist named Chinatsu Kuzuu, who recorded medieval folk songs backed by MIDI compositions (similar in a way to a recent album of electronic Gregorian chants). But Kuzuu recorded back in the early 1990s, when MIDI – a primitive form of electronic music – was a new frontier. “It sounds like the most bizarre thing,” Wells says, “English folk by way of a Japanese woman in the ’90s using no more than a computer. So I thought, if she can do it, so can I.” Continue reading »

Apr 042017
 

When Vermont quartet Saints and Liars lists their influences, a lot of them are typical for an Americana group: The Band, Waylon Jennings, and “all 3 Hank Williams.” A few, though, come a little further from left field: Motörhead. Metallica.

Though the music they make is certainly not metal – they don’t even play many instruments made of metal – you can hear the genre’s influences: high-voltage speed, raw power, and gruff hollering. Singer Jed Hughes sounds like James Hetfield at a campfire and, on songs like “Oil Slick,” the band speeds along as fast as they can smack a washboard. Just as Rodrigo y Gabriela bring their metal fandom into flamenco music, Saints and Liars headbang through bluegrass-y Americana. Call it “thrash folk.”

Saints and Liars’ self-titled debut album came out last year, but the band has just updated it with an expanded edition featuring two new tracks: “Sit and Sing” and “Drunk and Alone.” The new songs fit in seamlessly with the rest, but recording them proved a little more challenging. Continue reading »