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.

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Jan 242019
 
danny and the parts
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about young revivalists like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton bringing back “real” – or, at least, more traditional – country music. Add Danny LeFrancois to that list. On Driving All Alone, the new EP he recorded as Danny & the Parts, LeFrancois channels Waylon and Willie: catchy country with some heavy themes. Continue reading »
Jan 152019
 
katie trautz

Vermont multi-instrumentalist Katie Trautz has been recording other people’s music for a decade. But, until now, never her own.

She plays fiddle in a host of of local bands, from country music group Wooden Dinosaur to Cajun duo Chaque Fois. She sang in vocal choir The Bright Wings Chorus, and wrote a book a couple years ago teaching harmony singing to kids. She co-founded the Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture in Montpelier, and teaches violin in her spare time.

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Dec 202018
 

I only stepped foot in Vermont once this year.

That’s the dirty little secret of this blog (well, not that secret; it says it right on the About page): I don’t live there. Haven’t since I started doing this last year.

That’s going to change when I move back in the spring, but the aim of the site won’t. I conceived of County Tracks as helping to expose the best music created in Vermont to non-Vermonters. In the digital era, it’s easy for an expat dedicated enough to follow any local scene from afar. What’s trickier is getting great local music heard by people who have no reason to care about the category of “Vermont music.”

This ties into a broader problem. The glut of choice of streaming, rather than leveling the playing field, has mostly helped the famous get more famous. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a Billboard staffer claiming Drake was “bigger than the Beatles” because all 25 tracks on Drake’s new album appeared on the Hot 100 simultaneously. I won’t even get into the “bigger than the Beatles” nonsense (come on). The more important point is that, overwhelmed by choice, listeners are gravitating towards what they know. No matter how many times a digital music CEO says the word “discovery,” actual music discovery seems harder than ever.

I don’t know if any of the artists below are blowing up Spotify playlists, or whether any computer algorithm is pushing them on users. But they deserve attention. Great music happens beyond the big cities and big labels; it just needs exposure. In my small way, I hope these lists help a little. There’a lot of great music being made in Vermont. More people outside Vermont – people like me – need to hear it.

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Dec 182018
 
best vermont songs

I tried to discern some overarching theme with this year’s Best Songs list. One has to write something in these intros, after all. I never came up with one (other than that the songs are all, you know, good). But maybe that diversity itself offers a narrative thread.

The only thing many outsiders seem to associate with Vermont music is jam bands. Mostly one jam band, really. Now, I’m sure learning that Vermont has other genres wouldn’t surprise any outsider. But learning that the music being created in those genres is equally vibrant – and equally supported by the local music scene – might. 

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Oct 312018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best new songs october

Adam Rabin – Trains That Never Come


Is progressive rock due for a comeback? The Washington Post‘s David Weigel released a well-reviewed book on the subject last year (I still gotta read that thing), which seems like it might auger a renaissance. But other than that… let’s just say Pitchfork hasn’t started reviewing Rush reissues. Adam Rabin, of proggers Elephants of Scotland, makes his own argument for the genre on new album The Badger Flies at Dawn. He brings in pop and orchestral melodies in sweeping arrangements that nod toward Genesis and… I suppose I’m part of the problem, as I have few other points of reference. If, like me, you need a genre introduction, “Trains That Never Come” offers an easily accessible place to start. No 7/5 time signatures required. Continue reading »

Oct 012018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

A Box of Stars – Cornfields


Never before have I Googled a mixing engineer’s name, but Josh Druckman’s work feels as vital to building such a pristine, delicate beauty of a record as the actual musicians (who, for the record, are Macaulay Lerman on guitar and vocals; Claire Londagin on vocals; Jens Hybertson on violin; Eben Schumacher on bass, piano, and guitar; and Tim Halteman on drums). Take “Cornfields.” Enigmatic lyrics swirl around minimalist instrumentation, subtle percussion delicately balancing with windy violin. It’s not flashy music, and folky slowcore of this sort often lands in the background-music category. But the band’s just-so playing, presented perfectly, demands attention. Continue reading »

Sep 242018
 

bow thayer alex abraham

A Better Version of the Truth was the toughest record I have ever made,” Bow Thayer writes on Bandcamp – and that’s saying something from a man who once battled an ice storm with Levon Helm to record.

But that can’t be compared with the tragedy Thayer encountered during the three-year journey towards his latest album. First, his drummer suffered multiple strokes, rendering him unable to play during two years of physical therapy. Sadder still: This past March, his bassist Alex Abraham took his own life at just 28 years old. (Read his obituary at the Vermont Standard, which includes details about how to donate to the Alex Abraham Musical Excellence Scholarship at Woodstock High School).

Thayer writes about the tragedy quite movingly in the album’s liner notes. My paraphrase won’t do his words justice, so I’ll quote that part in full: Continue reading »

Jul 022018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs june

The Big Sip – Two Hips / One Night


When an album features the credit “Tenor Sax (Track 5),” you know I’m starting with Track 5. And the sax doesn’t disappoint when it finally arrives on this arty-jam-funk journey, but there is so much going on beforehand you forget it’s coming. Crazy keyboard sound effects, off-kilter Phish rhythms, and some insistent melodies that push through the chaos. It’s off the band’s debut EP Sip Responsibly. Continue reading »