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 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 »

May 032017
 

waking windows vermont

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. Continue reading »

Mar 282017
 

Though he’s only 22 years-old, Vermont songwriter Erin Cassels-Brown has packed in a lot of living since he nearly died.

When he was in college, a burst appendix sent his body into septic shock, landing him in the hospital for an extended stay – he says he left “12 pounds lighter and a million life thoughts heavier.” His brush with death made him reevaluate his purpose, dropping out of college and leaving work at his father’s solar company to pursue music full time.

“I decided to get on a bus and try to be a street performer for a while,” he says. “I went to Asheville, North Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia. I didn’t make much money, but I made some amazing friends and it gave me a new lease on life, both physically and emotionally.”

Cassels-Brown traveling around busking on the street, trying to scrape together a life from tips tossed into his guitar case. On his debut EP Northern Lights, Vol. 1, the song “Virginia, Bring Me Light” traces his Kerouac-ian journey. “That might be the saddest song on the album,” he says. “It certainly doesn’t include the happy ending of the real life adventure, but I was trying to write from the place I was in right before I got on the southbound bus.” Continue reading »

Mar 162017
 

Cricket Blue

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). Continue reading »

Feb 212017
 

sam morris

The night Leonard Cohen died, Vermont songwriter Sam Morris wrote two songs. Heartbroken at the passing of his favorite songwriter, Morris channelled his grief into lyrics that recall Cohen’s earliest albums.

“He has been number one in my book for quite a while,” Morris says of Cohen’s death. “It was a lot like getting kicked in the face. I went on a binge for about a week afterwards, listening to nothing but New Skin For the Old Ceremony and Songs of Love and Hate. I wrote the last two songs the night he died, with the first one nagging at me for a few more days.”

Titled Songs to Help You Sleep – a nod to Cohen’s early album titles – Morris’s new EP offers a musical balm to those similarly mourning the loss of one of music’s greatest songwriters. The Cohen influence is clear throughout, but Morris’s songs stand up beyond mere homage (for one, he has way more “gift of a golden voice” than Cohen ever did). Standout track “Left the Candle Burning” channels Cohen’s gift for blending darkness and light, Leonard-esque lyrics like “I touched the clouds of murky night / From which the day is born / I left the candle burning / As the beast tore off its horn” segueing into a softly melodic sing-along chorus. Continue reading »