In anyone else’s hands, the “bojotar” might be a pricey parlor trick. The inventor of this hybrid instrument, Vermont singer-songwriter Bow Thayer, combined a banjo, resonator guitar, and electric guitar into one axe. But this is a far cry from one of those one-man bands busking in the subway with some ramshackle contraption strapped to his back. The bojotar doesn’t look or sound particularly strange, but it gives Thayer a twangy slide/picking combo impossible to achieve with a traditional instrument.
The only live recording on this list, Brett Hughes’ “Sweet Little Bird” has yet to be released on a studio album. The version I’ve been playing for the latter half of the decade I ripped from a Vermont Public Radio session video. I hope to replace it with a higher-fi studio take one of these days.
“Day of the Dead” is as much a short story as a song. And like many good short story writers, Hana Zara offers enough evocative details to sketch a few narrative outlines while leaving much of the specifics to the imagination.
Ali T – Electric Haze
Alison Turner is an artist out of time. She’s a singer-songwriter, but not with the folky connotations the phrase often takes on. Rather, something like “Electric Haze” sounds made for radio. Late-’90s radio, that is, when artist like Jewel and Meredith Brooks were racking up top-ten hits. It wouldn’t have a chance today, but “Electric Haze” ably walks to tricky line of engaging with nostalgia while creating something new.
Abby Sherman – Hand with the Devil
If the only Satan-themed violin song you’ve heard is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Abby Sherman’s “Hand with the Devil” might throw you for a loop. Rather than rollickin’ fiddlin’, Abby Sherman and violinist Katie Trautz create something truly spooky, like the sort of Gillian Welch track you don’t play in the dark.
Adam Rabin – The Other Room
You’re going to want to sing along to “The Other Room” after a listen or two – but I wouldn’t. The sketches of plot offered sound like a sci-fi family dystopia, a Black Mirror episode for children.
The Cheyenne Brando – Samsonite
So thoroughly does Endtime Hymns evoke certain bands that one begins looking for echoes everywhere. Is the title “My Jean Sebring” a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie”? Does “Poisonhead” reference ABC’s “Poison Arrow”? Was “Privacy of Lucy” inspired by The Cure’s “Pictures of You”? Each connection a greater stretch than the last, and likely none intentional. Christian Hahn does explicitly cite the heyday of post-punk and new-wave in his bio though, and, sonically, the comparisons are everywhere. His next song might as well be titled “Bizarre Love Triangle Will Tear Us Apart.”
The opening notes of Erin Cassels-Brown’s new album signal his Dylan-goes-electric moment.
A former street busker, Cassels-Brown has spent the last few years building a reputation around his Burlington, Vermont home as a folk singer and guitar-strummer around town. But on Dreamin’ on Overdrive, he joins the long lineage of former folkies who plugged in and amped up. While it’s hard to imagine Pete Seeger swinging an axe to cut the cable, it shows Cassels-Brown deliberately shaking off his local acoustic-troubadour reputation, and opening himself up to a broader national audience.
In addition to County Tracks, I oversee another site all about cover songs. Vermont band The Smittens made our year-end list in 2016 with a cover of a short-lived band I’d never heard of called Go Sailor.
On their new covers collection Stay Gold, The Smittens cover a number of artists like Go Sailor: pioneers and peers in their chosen genre, which sometimes is termed “twee-pop” (not everyone loves the “twee” moniker, but The Smittens include it right there on their website). They also twee-ify a few songs from very different genres, including The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” and, in an old studio recording getting its first ever release here, the Oasis classic “Live Forever.”
Abby Sherman – Dreamcatcher
Abby Sherman released one of 2018’s best folk songs with “Wanting to Run,” and she’s returned with a catchy new single. Mandolin features prominently, joining her vocals to front a tight roots band on a song about looking back and accepting one’s own history.
Romeo and Juliet has inspired many songs over the years, the Dire Straits hit first among them. The latest addition to the canon, simply titled “Romeo,” comes from Vermont singer-songwriter Sabrina Comellas on her debut EP. Despite Comellas’ serious background in Shakespeare (she graduated from Emerson in 2017 with a theater degree), her Romeo and Juliet song doesn’t actually center on either character. She narrates from the point of view of an invented third party looking to the doomed duo for answers. The unnamed protagonist, a hopeless romantic removed from the Elizabethan trappings, offers a relatable way into the narrative and avoids the song becoming a sonic CliffsNotes.