Apr 092018
 

kelly ravin pretend

“Keep calm,” read the letters tattooed on Vermont singer-songwriter Kelly Ravin’s knuckles. In a sense, that’s the advice delivered on his new song “Pretend.” It’s advice aimed at a specific audience: soldiers overseas. And it’s not always easy to follow. Continue reading »

Mar 052018
 

dave richardson

Dave Richardson’s new album Carry Me Along includes songs about love and loss and life and death. And they’re all wonderful.

But we gotta start with the squid.

The album opens with an acoustic guitar strumming what sounds like your standard plaintive Americana ballad. Then Richardson begins crooning:

Squid, giant squid
Hanging like a hanged man
In this building right downtown
An impressive specimen

It goes on like that, talking about sperm whales and Iceland and 5,000 gallon tanks of water. Not exactly your typical folk-song subject matter. Is this the first squid song ever? I had to learn more. Continue reading »

Jan 312018
 

best songs january

I try to write about as much great music as I can here, but I inevitably fail to get to everything deserving. So I’m inaugurating a monthly-ish series rounding up Vermont’s best new songs. It’s not ranked and I’m not aiming for any firm number; it’s just some songs that were still rattling around my head as the month came to a close.

A few of these I wrote about already, but most I didn’t get to. Either way, whether you follow the site or just stumbled upon this, whether you’re a Vermonter yourself or have zero local connection, this collects some of the best music the state’s been producing recently.

Also, full disclosure: This series is starting with a lie. A few of these actually came out in December, after I’d finished my Best Songs of 2017 post. Close enough. Continue reading »

Dec 122017
 

best vermont music 2017

What is an EP?

I don’t mean that as a philosophical question, but a practical one.

Back in the vinyl era, the EP had a clear reason for existing as a stand-alone format from the album. If you had enough songs to fill a 12-inch, 33RPM record, you made an album. If not, you put what you had on a 10-inch, 45RPM record and called it an EP. They looked different; they felt different; they cost different amounts.

In the digital era, free of physical limitations, the distinction has blurred. An artist’s latest collection of music can be two songs or two hundred. The idea that a 60-minute collection of music constitutes an “album” and a 15-minute one constitutes an “EP” is purely artificial.

Yet the EP hangs on, because musicians like the format. Nowhere more so than in Vermont, where the EP offers new bands a way to test the waters and experienced bands a way to toss out a few songs between “proper” albums. In a musical climate where local musicians rotate constantly around new bands and monikers, the EP offers a low-stakes way to try out a new sound or collaboration.

As a result, this list is no ugly stepchild to the Best Albums list we’ve got coming next week. There may be no more practical reason to keep the EP designation, but these ten EPs justify their own reasons for existing. 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 »

Sep 122017
 

pete's posse

The novice listener might assume Pete’s Posse, a band blending fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, plays bluegrass. That listener would be wrong.

Guitarist Tristan Henderson gently corrects me when I blithely ask about how his band approaches bluegrass. They don’t play bluegrass music, he says, they play “old-time.” “Bluegrass is Old-Time that put on a suit and slicked up,” he adds. “Bluegrass is very clean, polished and articulate Old-Time.” 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 »

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 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 clich√© 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 »