Dec 202018
 

I only stepped foot in Vermont once this year.

That’s the dirty little secret of this blog (well, not that secret; it says it right on the About page): I don’t live there. Haven’t since I started doing this last year.

That’s going to change when I move back in the spring, but the aim of the site won’t. I conceived of County Tracks as helping to expose the best music created in Vermont to non-Vermonters. In the digital era, it’s easy for an expat dedicated enough to follow any local scene from afar. What’s trickier is getting great local music heard by people who have no reason to care about the category of “Vermont music.”

This ties into a broader problem. The glut of choice of streaming, rather than leveling the playing field, has mostly helped the famous get more famous. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a Billboard staffer claiming Drake was “bigger than the Beatles” because all 25 tracks on Drake’s new album appeared on the Hot 100 simultaneously. I won’t even get into the “bigger than the Beatles” nonsense (come on). The more important point is that, overwhelmed by choice, listeners are gravitating towards what they know. No matter how many times a digital music CEO says the word “discovery,” actual music discovery seems harder than ever.

I don’t know if any of the artists below are blowing up Spotify playlists, or whether any computer algorithm is pushing them on users. But they deserve attention. Great music happens beyond the big cities and big labels; it just needs exposure. In my small way, I hope these lists help a little. There’a lot of great music being made in Vermont. More people outside Vermont – people like me – need to hear it.

Continue reading »

Oct 012018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

A Box of Stars – Cornfields


Never before have I Googled a mixing engineer’s name, but Josh Druckman’s work feels as vital to building such a pristine, delicate beauty of a record as the actual musicians (who, for the record, are Macaulay Lerman on guitar and vocals; Claire Londagin on vocals; Jens Hybertson on violin; Eben Schumacher on bass, piano, and guitar; and Tim Halteman on drums). Take “Cornfields.” Enigmatic lyrics swirl around minimalist instrumentation, subtle percussion delicately balancing with windy violin. It’s not flashy music, and folky slowcore of this sort often lands in the background-music category. But the band’s just-so playing, presented perfectly, demands attention. Continue reading »

Jul 022018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs june

The Big Sip – Two Hips / One Night


When an album features the credit “Tenor Sax (Track 5),” you know I’m starting with Track 5. And the sax doesn’t disappoint when it finally arrives on this arty-jam-funk journey, but there is so much going on beforehand you forget it’s coming. Crazy keyboard sound effects, off-kilter Phish rhythms, and some insistent melodies that push through the chaos. It’s off the band’s debut EP Sip Responsibly. Continue reading »

Jun 042018
 

xenia dunford

The pictures say it all. Xenia Dunford’s press photos for her last album featured all manner of her posing with a jaunty fedora, leaning on brick walls, sitting on train tracks. Five years later, she’s done joking around. In her new press photo, she stares straight into the lens, unsmiling in black and white.

It’s a more serious, mature look befitting a more serious, mature sound. A lot has changed in the five years since one of Vermont’s most promising young songwriters disappeared just as her career was getting going. The ensuing period, she writes, was “marked by depression, self loathing and the destruction of people and ideas I held very dear yet were completely out of my control.” Continue reading »

Feb 172017
 

soule monde

Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski have been members of the Trey Anastasio Band for over a decade, but with Anastasio busy on Phish’s never-ending tours, they may have some free time on their hands. The duo has recorded their debut album as jazz-funk duo Soule Monde, Lawton on drums and Paczkowski on Hammond B3 organ. And from the sound of the first two songs they’ve released, Must Be Nice is a corker.

In Haitian Creole, “soule monde” translates to “smashed world” (the title of their first EP), though the moniker is sort of a coincidence – “Soule” is Lawton’s middle name while “Monde” comes from Paczkowski’s first name Raymond. “Smashed world” makes a good description though. While there are definitely world-music rhythms in the mix here, they’re smashed with funk, jazz, and far-out soul. Like Booker T. jamming with Ginger Baker, Paczkowski and Lawton make instrumental music of the most exciting sort. Continue reading »

Jan 192017
 
stuart ross and the temp agency

On certain songs on Stuart Ross and the Temp Agency’s debut album Wandering In The Wild, you’d swear the band hailed from New Orleans’ second-line tradition. On other tracks, the Tex-Mex horn spurts might make you wonder if they hail from further west, sending lonesome signals from the borderlands. Well, they are in fact from a border, but it’s the one between Vermont and New Hampshire.

Though they’re closer to Canada than most of their influences, their sound pulls from musical traditions across the map. Wandering In The Wild is “Americana” in its broadest sense. It draws not just from the alt-country sphere that genre tag is often a synonym for, but from blues (“Devil’s Stomping Ground”), mariachi (the instrumental “Wandering in the Wild”), and big-band jazz (“Spiders”). Sprawling and ambitious, it’s one of the best debut albums we’ve heard in a while. Continue reading »