May 222019
 
 Lissa Schneckenburger

Lissa Schneckenburger’s early albums feature song titles like “Lady Walpole’s Reel” and “Fair Maid by the Sea Shore.” As you’d probably guess reading those old-timey titles, these were not her own compositions. This professional fiddler has been studying and performing the traditional music of America’s Northeast ever since she was six. She even got her degree on the subject in 2001 from the New England Conservatory of Music.

On her new album Thunder in My Arms, though, this expert player of centuries-old music tried something new: recording her own songs. And not compositions that sound like old reels and jigs either, but contemporary folk-rock songs. Songs that sound like the 21st century, not the 17th. Continue reading »

May 162019
 
cricket blue album

Looking at the track list for Vermont folk duo Cricket Blue’s debut album Serotinalia, one song leaps out: “Corn King.” It’s not the title as much as the run time: 11 minutes and 57 seconds. On a folk album, one imagines a song this long must be an epic ballad comprising dozens of verses, their “Desolation Row” perhaps. The reality is much stranger.

Though quiet and acoustic in its presentation, the song’s structure leans more progressive-rock than folk. Add drums and a fretless bass solo and “Corn King” could be a Rush song. Rather than a standard verse-chorus structure, the song breaks down into six distinct parts, with melodies and motifs that interweave, some borrowed from other songs on the same album. The combination of gorgeous, string-laden acoustic music with an odd structure echoes an artist the band claims as a key influence: experimental indie-harpist Joanna Newsom. Continue reading »

Apr 302019
 
best songs april 2019
Amelia Devoid ft. Bleach Day – Afraid to Touch Her


Clouds dominate the single cover, and it’s hard to think of a more fitting image. This dreamy reverie seems the perfect soundtrack to staring into the sky and getting lost in your own thoughts. The electronic musician’s last album tackled some heavy themes (for one: genocide), but the new single seems light as a breeze. Continue reading »

Apr 232019
 
zak kline

When I first came across Vermont singer/songwriter/producer Zak Kline’s personal-empowerment single “I Will” in January, his gorgeous falsetto and intricate production immediately grabbed my attention. Like a Bon Iver song, it managed to sound intimate even buttressed by string sections, backing choirs, and huge crescendoing choruses. Compared to the earlier material I found on his Bandcamp, “I Will” leapt out. I assumed it was a bold new direction for a musician who’s been quietly releasing music for a few years. Continue reading »

Apr 112019
 
bishop lavey

Game of Thrones is constantly talking about “the old gods and the new.” So, with the final season approaching this weekend, what appropriate timing for a new song about some other old gods. It’s not about House Stark or Lannister belief systems though, but the deities of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies, and how – historically-speaking – winter did indeed come for them.

The song is “The Myth Has Broken,” by Vermont singer-songwriter Bishop LaVey (Kane Sweeney to his friends). He describes his music as “doom-folk,” a genre label that’s pretty dead on. Over spare and echoing guitar, he hollers a deep guttural roar, bringing goth-rock undertones even when the instrumentation would otherwise read as Americana. After dropping an excellent album in February, he has already followed it up with this new single. Continue reading »

Apr 032019
 
allison fay brown

At first listen, Vermont singer-songwriter Allison Fay Brown’s debut EP Cardinal is a warm and winning collection of folk-rock songs. But the EP boasts depths not immediately apparently skipping over the pleasant sonic surface. Take the title. The word “cardinal” signifies more than the arrival of spring, or the cover’s red lettering. “In astrology, cardinal signs signify the creators, and the beginning of things,” Brown says. “Myself, my mother, and my sister are all cardinal signs of different elemental zodiacs, and I wanted to pay homage to our strong feminine collective.” Continue reading »

Mar 222019
 
hallowell

Don’t call Hallowell’s debut album “Christian rock.”

For one, it’s not really rock (though, like “indie rock,” these days the term “Christian rock” encompasses an array of genres). But more importantly, the label pigeonholes the music. Joseph Pensak, the man behind Hallowell, may be a a Presbyterian pastor singing spiritual songs, but his music wouldn’t really fit on any modern CCM playlist. He says that, though he likes some of the music contained within, he disdains reductively labeling a genre simply “Christian”: “It makes my skin crawl and sadly some amazing bands got unhelpfully placed in that genre and thus didn’t get heard by the much larger audience they deserved. As Sufjan said somewhere, ‘Christian’ is a terrible adjective.” Continue reading »

Mar 052019
 

The new compilation album Live from Robot Dog Volume Two serves as an excellent introduction to the best of Vermont’s independent musicians. But it also chronicles a deeper story, one of grief and healing for the man behind it.

Local Vermont music superfan Tim Lewis hosts a weekly show on WBKM, bringing a band into Robot Dog studios every week to record a short live set. The detailed notes he posts online tend to be as good as the music, and for this batch of shows (a song from almost every session he recorded in 2018), his notes revealed a story listeners wouldn’t hear on air. 

“2018 was a tough year for me,” he begins the liner notes. His mother had gotten sick in the fall of 2017. Her health quickly declined. She moved into hospice care by February, and passed away two months later. Continue reading »

Feb 282019
 
best songs february
Barika ft. Erica T Bryan – Change Your Mind

Barika typically operates in the world-music space (leader Craig Myers plays West African string instrument the n’goni), but “Change Your Mind” points to an intriguing new direction for them. The funk and soul points more towards New Orleans than New Guinea, and the electronic production makes it sound modern, avoiding the relics-of-history feel of so much that gets marketed as “world music” these days. Continue reading »

Feb 192019
 
kristina stykos

When I first heard Kristina Stykos’ powerful new album River of Light, her singing leapt out as a highlight. Raw and plainspoken, like Lucinda Williams or John Prine, her voice presents an understated toughness. But I didn’t know the full backstory. Turns out, tough doesn’t begin to describe Stykos.

Stykos, who’s been making music since the 1970s (she used to tour with – and date – Béla Fleck), lost her voice in 2017 due to spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that singers from Linda Thompson to Alison Krauss have struggled with. She couldn’t even talk on the phone. It wasn’t the first time; she’d lost her voice for two years in the 1980s. But this time, it didn’t entirely come back.

Continue reading »