What is the titular castle the characters in Lowell Thompson’s Americana gem “Castle” plan to meet at? A music video – which might be fan-made, his website doesn’t include it – takes the word literally, using old footage of a knight and princess dancing in front of a castle (albeit one only two feet taller than they are). I doubt that’s what Thompson had in mind.
Bow Thayer – Looney Brook Road
The first song we featured from songwriting vet Bow Thayer’s latest album found him right in his bluesy Americana pocket. “Looney Brook Road,” also off the just-released A Better Version of the Truth, pushes him in some quite different directions. Ambient and spacious, this sonic tour de force takes its meandering time getting to anything like a lyric. When words finally arrive, they sound like the Beatles at their trippy late-period peak, part Sgt Pepper and part White Album and part Paul side-eyeing Yoko in the corner.
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.
Last weekend, Fantastic Negrito won his first Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” It’s a safe bet that few Grammy voters would have ever heard of him had he not won another award two years prior: the NPR Tiny Desk Contest. And if the future is just, last year’s winner, the wonderful violinist Gaelynn Lea, will soon be collecting Grammy statues of her own.
Fantastic Negrito hails from California, and Lea from Minnesota. So as this year’s contest continues, we think it’s time for the Northeast to – to quote Lea’s winning song – linger in the sun. To aid in that effort, out of dozens of locally-made videos, we’ve picked our favorite Vermont entries in the 2017 contest.
The only real rules for a Tiny Desk Contest video are that the song has to be an original and a desk should somehow figure in (it doesn’t even need to be tiny). But many of the state’s finest musicians went beyond the bare minimum, one dragging a not-so-tiny desk to a mountain summit, another finding a tiny church to match the desk. The songs span from folk to prog, soul to punk to classical piano. There’s also a song about dinosaurs, and a special celebrity entrant: Officer Clemmons from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood!
So read on to discover our dozen-plus favorite Vermont entries. Then head to the Tiny Desk Contest website to browse other entries from Vermont and beyond. Our favorite non-Vermont find: this bizarre David Lynch fever-dream masked performer.
On a day that is scary for many people, we thought we’d post one of the more uplifting and hopeful pieces of music to come out of Vermont last year. It’s a gorgeous cover of “This Land Is Your Land” featuring a host of local musicians. Though originally recorded to support the state’s own Bernie Sanders, as Donald Trump prepares to get sworn in, the song stands above its original context as a plea for understanding and tolerance. It’s also a whole lot better than Bernie’s own foray into local music.
Soul singer Kat Wright, who recorded one of our favorite albums last year, sings lead on the bold gospel-soul arrangement. Backing Wright are (deep breath): singers Dwight & Nicole, Francesca Blanchard, Marie Claire Johnson, Smooth Antics’ Stephanie Lynn Heaghney, and Waylon Speed’s Kelly Ravin plus Wright’s Indomitable Soul Band (Bob Wagner on guitar, Josh Weinstein on bass, Ezra Oklan on drums, and Shane Hardiman on keys) with guitarists Lowell Thompson and Brett Hughes.
Whether you’ve heard of any of those names or not, this is a beautiful, moving cover of Woody Guthrie’s timeless song. And today we just might need it more than ever.