Sep 302020
 
best new songs september
Ariel Zevon – Witness


Before YouTube will let you play “Witness,” it flashes an ominous black warning about how the video may be inappropriate for some users. Its a misleading label that makes it seem like it’s got nudity or something offensive. To be sure, the content in the video is offensive – in the sense of it should offend anyone to see police acting this way. But knowing it is happening is a civic duty. Zevon has accompanied the upsetting footage with a moving new protest song, doing her bit to fight the power. Continue reading »

Mar 192020
 
songs to stay inside

There are a million playlists to soundtrack your social distancing. But how about a playlist of songs about social distancing?

These 20 antisocial songs from Vermont artists new and old all touch on keeping your distance and staying inside. Some of them offer good advice for our current predicament. Others offer extremely bad advice. You should never take advice from a musician. Continue reading »

Mar 102020
 
community garden

“Love Will Tear Us Apart.” “Blue Monday.” “Tell Me When It’s Over.”

As you can tell from the genre’s song titles alone, post-punk is not known for being cheery. The chorus of what might be post-punk’s most iconic song sings about being crushed by double-decker bus. And that’s one of The Smiths’ happiest songs!

But on their new album, Vermont trio Community Garden deliver the most unlikely of combinations: upbeat post-punk. “Don’t Sweat It,” says the title track. “Brush It Off,” another encouraging title. Or how about “Be Honest” – that’s just good advice! Continue reading »

Feb 282020
 
best songs feb 2020
Bad Rat? – Transitional Forest


“Transitional Forest” is billed as the lead single of Bad Rat’s upcoming album This Time Around The Sun, but it’s almost two singles in one. The first half is a bit of a feint, a meditative meander that doesn’t predict the drop to come. With little warning, Marc Kamil’s mellow ballad becomes thudding  post-punk, little more than a shared guitar line connecting the two halves. Continue reading »

Dec 182019
 
best vermont 2019

Critics of ranked lists like this see it as a bug that they’re entirely subjective and somewhat arbitrary. I see it as a feature. There’s not really any difference between #12 and #13. Frankly, there’s not all that much difference between #1 and #25. But my feeling has always been, everyone gets that. No one actually thinks you can mathematically rank works of art. But the trying offers a wonderful opportunity for music nerds to look back at the best of the year, and for the sort of vigorous debate on which such nerddom rests. Continue reading »

Dec 172019
 
best songs 2019

This Top 40 looks nothing like the actual Top 40. None of these songs charted, and I don’t think any of them aspired to. That is no knock against them, which probably goes without saying here – anyone reading music blogs knows that much. The adjectives “great” and “popular” occasionally attach themselves to the same track, but not often enough.

So just think of this as an alternate history of 2019 singles. It has no horses, and no town roads. It doesn’t teach love, patience, or pain, and isn’t 100% that anything. It also, as the headline says, only includes artists from one rather small state. But this wildly subjective, somewhat arbitrary survey of the past 12 months should serve as a small introduction to the wealth of talent in one community on the geographic fringe. There was a lot of wonderful music being made this year, much of it far from the big cities, or the Billboard charts. Duh. Continue reading »

Jul 122019
 
matthew mercury

In a career spanning 25 years, Ezra Oklan has played with everyone from Nicole Atkins to Ambulance LTD, toured opening for The Killers and the Black Keys, and graced TV studios from Conan O’Brien to Carson Daly. Throughout, he could always be found at the back of the stage, drumming (check out this killer live performance of Atkins’ “The Tower” for a taste).

Now, in his new band Matthew Mercury, the sideman becomes a frontman for the first time. And not just that, but this veteran of a million Americana, indie-rock, and jazz bands steps out front with a new genre: post-punk. Despite the other sounds on his resumé, he’s not a newcomer to the genre. Continue reading »

Jun 282019
 
best new songs june 2019
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. Continue reading »

Jan 312019
 
best new songs january
Adaline – Genese’s Song


“Genese’s Song” sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel tune recorded on the Mountain Goat’s early tape deck. Like Adaline Bancroft’s entire album, there’s a hiss and fuzz (the songs were indeed recorded on a four-track tape machine) that adds a haunting distance from the music. It feels like unearthing a dusty old recording, weathered with time, but with the tenderness and beauty shining through the decay. Fellow folkie Eric George joins on upright bass for this song, though that’s an instrument the tape recorder can’t really capture. Continue reading »

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 »