Critics of ranked lists like this see it as a bug that they’re entirely subjective and somewhat arbitrary. I see it as a feature. There’s not really any difference between #12 and #13. Frankly, there’s not all that much difference between #1 and #25. But my feeling has always been, everyone gets that. No one actually thinks you can mathematically rank works of art. But the trying offers a wonderful opportunity for music nerds to look back at the best of the year, and for the sort of vigorous debate on which such nerddom rests.
This Top 40 looks nothing like the actual Top 40. None of these songs charted, and I don’t think any of them aspired to. That is no knock against them, which probably goes without saying here – anyone reading music blogs knows that much. The adjectives “great” and “popular” occasionally attach themselves to the same track, but not often enough.
So just think of this as an alternate history of 2019 singles. It has no horses, and no town roads. It doesn’t teach love, patience, or pain, and isn’t 100% that anything. It also, as the headline says, only includes artists from one rather small state. But this wildly subjective, somewhat arbitrary survey of the past 12 months should serve as a small introduction to the wealth of talent in one community on the geographic fringe. There was a lot of wonderful music being made this year, much of it far from the big cities, or the Billboard charts. Duh.
Bishop LaVey – Romulus
Kane Sweeney’s last single addressed ancient mythology, and his follow-up stays in that old world, this time riffing on the Roman Empire. His thundering wail of a voice suits the subject, as does his “doom-folk” genre styling. If Game of Thrones were still going, he would have fit right in with the wildlings north of The Wall.
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.
Allison Fay Brown – Summit
I’m going to try to write something longer about Allison Fay Brown’s marvelous new EP later this week, so I’ll just leave the lead track here as a teaser. Like a good short-story writer, Brown offers just enough narrative details to intrigue while leaving plenty of gaps to fill in yourself. For instance…what’s in that box on the doorstep??
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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).