Nov 032017
 

As anyone who read last week’s Best Vermont Cover Songs posts knows, I held an event in Burlington this week to promote my new book Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time (locals who missed it: I left a bunch of signed copies at Phoenix Books!). And rather than give a dry book talk, I recruited some of Vermont’s finest musicians to cover songs from the book alongside conversation with expert moderator Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free-Press.

I wrote about the event at length over at Cover Me, so here I will just say that both Swale and Madaila frontman Mark Daly delivered some truly amazing covers. Swale kicked off the event with a beautiful acoustic version of “Unchained Melody,” followed by Daly nailing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and a “Gin and Juice” both hilarious and haunting. Watch videos of all three below. [Update November 8: Plus a long video of the full thing, including my conversations with Brent] 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 142017
 

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings aren’t an obvious music-video setting; people talking in a circle hardly screams “dynamic visuals.” But most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings don’t feature an interpretive dancer.

In Vermont rock band Swale’s song “Drug Laws,” off their fantastic new album There’s No One Here, songwriter and singer Eric Olsen looks back on a darker chapter in his life: drugs, theft, jail time. But a whiff of nostalgia colors the regret. “I used to break drug laws, but now I make in-laws,” the song begins. “You wouldn’t know by looking at me that I did time for forgery and larceny. That was an awesome me.”

“I don’t think I initially started writing like a laundry list of my personal drug incidents,” Olsen says. “Where I started was talking about being older and being different. The joke of the song is that back when you were a mudslide of a shitshow, you might have been cooler. It’s nostalgia for a time that fucking sucked. Like the lyric ‘You should have seen me then / Don’t look at me now.’ Now I’m a good citizen. No one wants to write about that. They want to write about a hot mess.”

Translating that idea into a music video proved tricky. Rather than going full Trainspotting with a bunch of druggie-debauchery set pieces, director Nate Beaman conceived of a surreal AA meeting where an interpretive dancer leaps out of the circle. 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 »

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 »

Apr 112017
 

Madaila

We named Madaila’s “Secret” the Second Best Song of 2016. “Realization,” off the same album Traces, is almost as good. Though Traces can get spacey and psyched-out at times, both tracks showcase the new-wave pop songwriting chops of frontman Mark Daly, a man who knows his way around a catchy hook.

The band just released a new music video for the track, taking over Burlington, Vermont costume shop Old Gold for a fashion show. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened to musical thrift shops since Macklemore. And if the video’s intro music sounds appealing, it appears to be a MIDI version of one of Madaila’s other great songs, “Give Me All Your Love”. Continue reading »

Mar 162017
 

Cricket Blue

Roots music fans know that when you’re listening to an album by “Gillian Welch,” you’re really listening to the musical partnership of Welch and her longtime collaborator David Rawlings. Ditto for an album released under the name “Dave Rawlings Machine.” Rawlings and Welch share one of the strongest and most enduring musical partnerships in Americana music. Their albums arrive infrequently though, so Welch and Rawlings fans impatient for more would do well to discover Vermont-based duo Cricket Blue.

Last year we named Cricket Blue’s “Angela Carter” one of the Best Vermont Songs of 2016 and they’re already back with a best-of-2017 contender. Though they haven’t released a studio version yet, “The Milkman” is available via a beautiful live video (below). Continue reading »

Feb 222017
 

tyler daniel bean

Tyler Daniel Bean describes his first music video’s concept succinctly: “When you try to make a video about what happens when depression takes over the house and you decide the best way to show it is by dancing around in your underwear for 9 hours and then cutting it down to the length of a song.”

Like certain David Lynch films, the video for “Willow II” gives a series of everyday scenes – a man making coffee, eating breakfast, aforementioned underwear dancing – an ominous tone once you notice the protagonist’s empty stare. He appears to be living in a picturesque forest-cabin setting without noticing or engaging. As the images progressively get less mundane – his bandmates begin rocking out around him, most notably – his blank gaze remains the same.

Like the record it comes from, On Days Soon To Pass (one of our favorite albums of 2016), the “Willow II” video explores Bean’s struggles with depression. In this case, the video concept came from a metaphor he learned in therapy: Continue reading »