May 242018
 

emma back little world

Many prominent artists are recording “political” albums these days. But almost inevitably, the lyrics tend to paint a blurry picture. Musicians have over-learned the lessons of 1960s protest singers, who wrote songs so timely that they became dated within days. Is anyone’s favorite Dylan song really “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”? Today’s overcorrection leads to broad generalities about “the fight” and “resistance,” without speaking to the times in any direct way.

Emma Back’s fantastic new album Little World is a political album too, but Back has something specific to say. No, she’s not chronicling the Iran deal’s dissolution. There’s no “Talkin’ Bob Mueller Blues,” and the word “Trump” does not come up once. Little World succeeds where others have failed because, rather than attempting a sweeping statement about “our times,” Back drills into one specific subject: war in the Middle East. Continue reading »

Mar 302018
 

best songs march

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

Aviation – Invisible Boy


In 1980, Queen delivered one of the great superhero themes of all time with “Flash.” If the Invisible Boy were a real superhero, Aviation gave him an equally bombastic theme song, a six-minute epic complete with piano crescendoes, scorching guitar solos, and canned applause. He’s not real, though. In fact, as you discover over the course of the song, he’s not exactly a superhero after all, just a lonely kid who sits by himself at lunch. Well, now he’s a lonely kid with an epic piano-prog theme song. Continue reading »

Dec 192017
 

best vermont albums

After counting down the Best Songs and Best EPs last week, our year-end look back comes to a close with the Best Vermont Albums. This list could easily have been twice or three times as long, but for the sake of concision – and offering a brief scene intro for outsiders – I limited it to ten. The cream of the crop, the albums with not an ounce of flab or filler.

Genre-wise, they run the gamut, from instrumental bass funk to snappy power-pop, from horn-flecked Americana to roaring slacker-punk. Some tackle current events with wit and insight. Some focus more on chilling, eating sweets, or doing laundry. The only unifying characteristic here is quality. Continue reading »

Dec 152017
 

best vermont songs

Holy moly, Vermont artists released a lot of songs this year. I’m just talking sheer quantity: a lot of songs.

This may seem a blindingly obvious observation, but here’s why it struck me. When this site launched this past January, we posted Best Songs and Best Albums of 2016 lists to kick things off. The twenty selections on each were just things I’d come across in the preceding twelve months. This year, though, I made a more concerted effort to be thorough. All year I was trolling Bandcamp and Soundcloud and YouTube and Facebook, which drove the point home for me. I already knew Vermont musicians were prolific, but dear god. One songwriter alone released 36 double-sided singles!

The point being, narrowing this list down to twenty songs was brutal. That’s a testament to the bounty of great music coming out of Vermont. Some of my selections come from bands known to any Vermont music fans; others are by musicians not really plugged into “the scene,” off on their own somewhere releasing amazing stuff. There’s no overarching theme, and in a different week, this list would probably change. But these are my favorite local songs of the year – today at least. Continue reading »

Dec 122017
 

best vermont music 2017

What is an EP?

I don’t mean that as a philosophical question, but a practical one.

Back in the vinyl era, the EP had a clear reason for existing as a stand-alone format from the album. If you had enough songs to fill a 12-inch, 33RPM record, you made an album. If not, you put what you had on a 10-inch, 45RPM record and called it an EP. They looked different; they felt different; they cost different amounts.

In the digital era, free of physical limitations, the distinction has blurred. An artist’s latest collection of music can be two songs or two hundred. The idea that a 60-minute collection of music constitutes an “album” and a 15-minute one constitutes an “EP” is purely artificial.

Yet the EP hangs on, because musicians like the format. Nowhere more so than in Vermont, where the EP offers new bands a way to test the waters and experienced bands a way to toss out a few songs between “proper” albums. In a musical climate where local musicians rotate constantly around new bands and monikers, the EP offers a low-stakes way to try out a new sound or collaboration.

As a result, this list is no ugly stepchild to the Best Albums list we’ve got coming next week. There may be no more practical reason to keep the EP designation, but these ten EPs justify their own reasons for existing. Continue reading »

Oct 242017
 

vermont covers

Yesterday we began our list of the best-ever cover songs performed by Vermont bands and singers. The occasion: To promote, ahem, my book party at Phoenix Books in Burlington on November 1st for Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time. Singers from Swale and Madaila will be there on hand covering songs from the book live!

Speaking of Madaila, let’s continue our list with… Continue reading »

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 »

Sep 082017
 

michael hurley vermont

Michael Hurley is the sort of artist who inspires memorable descriptors. He’s been called “a vestige of the old, weird America” by the Boston Globe,” an “old-timey existentialist” by Robert Christgau, and “folk’s Boo Radley” by Pitchfork. My favorite, though, comes from roots-music magazine No Depression: “a crazy backwoods Vermont folkie, singing about werewolves and maids, drinking weasel piss, and enduring sausage farts.”

Hurley did not start out a “Vermont folkie” though. A lifelong traveler, he lived in California, Florida, New Orleans, Mexico, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Boston, before moving to Vermont in 1967 at age 25 – probably some other place I missed too. He remained a moving target even once he was in the state; he estimates he lived in 35 different towns in his two decades as a Vermonter (he dubs his strip of central Vermont “the insanity belt”). Hurley stayed in Vermont, but he certainly never settled.

The music he recorded and released in those 35 towns stands among his greatest, and his weirdest. There are songs about pork chops and hula hooping. There’s a song where he spents much of the time imitating a crow’s call. There are two different songs about monkeys, and one song about a werewolf that he recorded twice.

Hurley’s Vermont story is almost as strange and wondrous as Hurley’s Vermont songs, so we’re going to dive into each. Take a deep breath. It’s going to get weird. Continue reading »

Jul 282017
 

swale there's no one here

Back in 2005, guitarist Eric Olsen termed Swale “Vermont’s premiere slo-core band.” Twelve years later, this label has proven ludicrously inadequate. But it’s hard to come up with an equally pithy tagline to replace it. The quartet’s journey has taken them from their origins as a burlesque show house band recording EPs of ambient slow-burns to the sort of rock-soul-funk-pop-country hydra that can credibly cover both Sonic Youth and Tom Jones.

Not only will Swale’s third full-length record There’s No One Here easily be one of the best Vermont-made albums of the year; it’s sure to be one of the best albums period. A sprawling double-LP calls for an equally in-depth look behind the scenes, so we reached out to the band members to talk about every track. Continue reading »

Jun 222017
 

best vermont music

We’re finally at about the six-month mark at what has been a long and deeply stress-inducing year. But there’s perhaps some small comfort that 2017 has so far been a great year for music. So to celebrate being halfway through – as well as County Tracks’s own six-month birthday – we’re rounding up some of the best Vermont-made songs we’ve heard this year so far.

We narrowed the list down to a dozen for the sake of sanity, but couldn’t go without mentioning some of our other favorite tracks, which we listed at the bottom. We also rounded up as much as we could in a Spotify playlist. Enjoy! Continue reading »