On the surface, “Old North Ender” would seem to offer pretty regionally-limited appeal. It’s about one specific neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont, with a population of 11,000 (one of which is James Kochalka himself). Writing a song so specifically about one’s ‘hood may create an anthem for people within a ten-block radius, but presents an impediment to a track’s wider success.
Ava Marie bills themselves as folk music – their Bandcamp handle is literally “avamariefolk” – but don’t expect any acoustic guitars on “White Hides.” This is folk music as channeled through mewithoutYou, weird and knotty and hyperliterate. Or, if a mewithoutYou comparison means nothing, try The Decemberists – this song does toss in words like “loam” and “brackish” – if someone turned the dials up on all their distortion pedals.
There’s a trick I love in a lot of pop songs. Somewhere in the back half of the song, most instruments drop out. The chorus repeats once, a cappella or close to it. An instrument or two return as the chorus repeats, then a few more more the next time around. Eventually they all joyously crash back in. It’s the pop version of a dubstep drop, and equally effective.
The only live recording on this list, Brett Hughes’ “Sweet Little Bird” has yet to be released on a studio album. The version I’ve been playing for the latter half of the decade I ripped from a Vermont Public Radio session video. I hope to replace it with a higher-fi studio take one of these days.
This is a pick where the songwriter herself might not agree with me. Caroline Rose doesn’t play “America Religious” any more, nor any of the other songs from her first two albums. The singer-songwriter drastically changed her sound on most recent album Loner, from Americana to a spunky indiepop. On the whole, her music might be better for it; Loner is the best record of her career. But even if she might just as soon forget about a roots-rock gem like “America Religious,” we shouldn’t.
Anyone who doesn’t appreciate a pun as stupid-brilliant as “Medieval Knieval” needs more joy in their life. And the beauty of surf-rock music is that titling a song “Medieval Knieval” doesn’t require any daredevil-knight lyrics to live up to the billing. After all, I don’t know what “Walk, Don’t Run” had to do with strolling safely.
Bullfighting seems an odd metaphor for love, but Alexandria Hall makes it stick in her mesmerizing dream-electropop song “Matador.” Take the opening lines: “It’s not the red. I can’t see it. All I see is you.” Right off the bat, the bullfighting comparison works better than expect – plus you learn some zoology (did you know bulls are colorblind to red? The cape hue is purely for the spectators).
In my years as a music publicist, I learned how difficult it was to get one of your artists interviewed on NPR (one of the few press hits that actually might sell some records). At a bare minimum it typically requires new music. Pitching a seven-year old song would get you laughed out of the producer’s inbox.
But listeners to Weekend Edition this summer heard a new segment about a song that came out in 2012. Vermont band Swale joined host Scott Simon to discuss “If You Get Lost.” The “news peg,” such as it was: They’d submitted it to the annual NPR Music Tiny Desk contest. Though they didn’t win, they got one hell of a consolation prize.
Two years before releasing “Don’t Let the Darkness In,” Anders Parker worked with Jim James, Jay Farrar, and Will Johnson to record an album of unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics (still enough left over after two Mermaid Avenues, apparently). One wonders if diving deep into Woody’s work affected the veteran artist’s own songwriting.
The titular echo of The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” here is surely no accident. At times, Black Rabbit sound like they could be playing one of Andy Warhol’s happenings with some sort of trippy light show projected on them. They may have rocked a little too hard for a Factory crowd though; the CBGB stage a few years later might have been the better fit. Sure enough, frontcouple Marc and Darlene Scarano used to play CBGB, sweating on the same stage as The Ramones and Dead Boys once did, albeit several decades later.