Nov 272017
 

near north most every night

An immediate standout on Americana trio Near North’s full-length debut Most Every Night is the holler-along brawler “Good About You.” The song channels the best of classic rock, bringing to mind bands like Thin Lizzy. But the artist that actually inspired the song couldn’t be more different: Adult-Contemporary pop singer Anna Nalick.

The song’s story begins a decade ago in frontman John Nicholls’ music class. His teacher assigned the students the task of writing a new song based on a current pop hit’s chord structure. Nicholls selected Nalick’s “Breathe (2 AM),” on constant radio rotation at the time. “I banged out a verse, pre chorus and chorus, just enough to satisfy the assignment and never thought about it [again],” Nicholls says. Continue reading »

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 »

Nov 022017
 

emma cook questionable company

Taking the bus doesn’t usually feel like a particular inspiring experience. Not enough to inspire a song, anyway. But the Beatles, Hollies, and Who all had 1960s hits about buses, and Billy Joel turned a Greyhound ride into “New York State of Mind.” Some bus rides are so good, they’re worth remembering.

Or so bad, in the case of Emma Cook. On her new album Take It Home with backing band Questionable Company, “Nashville” details a road trip gone wrong. “Slept through the night heading north / Tossing and turning, sweating and burning it out of me,” she sings. It sounds even worse than the typical bus ride, a low bar indeed. And for good reason. Continue reading »

Nov 012017
 

eastern mountain time

When I first saw the Eastern Mountain Time song title “Berlin After the War,” I wondered if it was a reference to Randy Newman’s “In Germany Before the War.” It isn’t. It doesn’t even refer to the same war. The clue comes right in the first line: “Berlin after the war / Street speed and Zeppelin IV.” You don’t have to be a music-history major to realize they probably weren’t rocking “Black Dog” at the Potsdam Conference. Continue reading »

Oct 272017
 

michael roberts wooden dinosaur

If you hear the phrase “a song about animals,” you probably think of Raffi. But I’d wager Raffi never wrote about an essay exploring how humankind’s transition from agricultural life to capitalism centuries affected our relationship to the animal kingdom (unless I am seriously misreading “Baby Beluga”).

On his new song “Something Free,” Vermont singer-songwriter Michael Roberts picks up Raffi’s slack. Roberts usually records great country-rock music under the band name Wooden Dinosaur (including one of my favorite albums and songs of 2016), but for this new single he took a $20 tape recorder and did it all himself. Which isn’t to say this is tossed off – not even close. Over what he ably terms a “laid-back lo-fi country choogler” of a tune, he sings dense lines like “I want something free I can call my own / Domesticated animals brought to my home” and “The smell of the hunt, the patience, the scenery / A blood Jackson Pollock sprayed on the leaves.” Intriguing to say the last, and I wanted more information. 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 292017
 

jack labbe

The first thing you notice at Jack Labbe’s Bandcamp page – before you even listen to the music – is the odd album description. It begins:

-Be aware that horses are mirrors. If you are angry, they will be difficult or scared.

-Some horses are difficult whether you have a good attitude or not. Sometimes this is genetics, how their mother raised them, or how a human has handled them in the past.

-Trust is everything. If you trust that you can take a wild, abused mustang from pasture and turn it into a well-mannered, happy, trusting show-horse in the next one or two years, then it will most likely happen.

Wait, what? We thought Bandcamp only sold music. They do, and the music at Labbe’s page is great, beautifully performed acoustic ruminations on love and loss. And we’ll get there. But first, what’s the deal with the horses? Continue reading »

May 192017
 

some hollow

There must be something in the water. Earlier this week, we posted a song inspired by Wren Kitz’s job at a sewage treatment facility, and now we have another killer track inspired by water work.

The song is “Via Champlain” (as in Lake Champlain, on the Vermont-NY border) by new Americana trio Some Hollow. Band frontman and songwriter Jason Lee used to work as a deckhand on the Grand Isle Ferry, shuttling passengers and commuters back and forth across the lake. Continue reading »

May 162017
 

The Bluegrass Gospel Project has been playing around Vermont for 16 years, over time becoming a lot more bluegrass than they are gospel. On their new and final album Delivered, they dig deep into their secular repertoire for some surprising covers.

Some of the songs’ origins won’t surprise anyone who listens to roots music: The Steeldrivers, Patty Griffin, Buddy and Julie Miller. But on others, they reach a little further outside the standard bluegrass repertoire.

Recorded live, Delivered dips deep into the well of country music – and not old-time country that would appease any bluegrass fan, but modern, Nashville-slick country from Miranda Lambert (“Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go”) and Alan Jackson (a gorgeous a cappella “Precious Memories”). They cover Los Lobos’ “Down On the Riverbed,” which in their hands sounds like a folk standard passed down for generations. Best of all is a revelatory bluegrass take on Jimmy Cliff’s iconic “Many Rivers to Cross,” which singer Colby Crehan imbues with a world of heartache. Continue reading »

May 122017
 

eric george

The controversy over Bob Dylan going electric seems quaint now. History has more than vindicated him, to the point that even Pete Seeger began claiming he only tried to axe through the Newport mic cable due to poor audio quality. It’s a cliché that Dylan going electric changed everything, fusing poetry with rock and roll, you know the story. So does the Nobel committee.

Dylan electrifying folk music to some degree also signaled the end of the era of the truly acoustic singer-songwriter album. Sure, there are plenty of guitar-strummers in the folk and Americana worlds today, but these days even “stripped-down” albums are rarely that stripped down. A tasteful violin here, some brushed drums there. Fewer now follow the template of Bob’s early albums – truly solo acoustic, not acoustic-plus-some-other-stuff.

On his latest album Smoke The Fire Gives though, Burlington songwriter Eric George keeps the solo-acoustic tradition alive. He told the Burlington Free-Press he road-tested these songs while busking on the street (similar to Erin Cassels-Brown’s recent EP came about). Then, when a full-band recording space fell through, just recorded them thes ame way. Continue reading »