When you hear “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” you no doubt imagine the bucolic harmonies of “Scarborough Fair.” But Jason Cooley borrows the phrase in “Hit,” and he’s certainly no Simon or Garfunkel. The punk shouter roars the line at 11, just as he roars every line, hollering his voice hoarse in the span of a pretty short song (half of which is a guitar solo).
Though this band hailed from Vermont, you’d be forgiven for guessing they came out of Austin’s famous psych-rock scene. Loud and droney, they channel the likes of that city’s Black Angels or, from just north of their own state’s border, Montreal’s Besnard Lakes. “Head Out” caps out at 3:38, but one can imagine a song like this stretching to three or four times the length live.
On another great song of theirs, “Dead Summer,” the band Thompson Gunner incorporate a little bit of Hall & Oates. But that poppy, peppy duo couldn’t be much further from their own sound. Warren Zevon, after whom they borrowed their name, is closer, but still nowhere near gruff enough. Singer Caleb Thomas roars and growls like Lucero’s Ben Nichols, Americana-punk at his rawkiest.
Any band can cite their influences when talking about their music. Fewer cite those influences within that music itself – at least not as frequently as Dino Bravo does.
From the first verse of the first song on their first album, the just-released Blind By Midnight, the Vermont rock quartet wears their favorite bands on their sleeves. That opener, “The Aerialists,” shouts out a couple Wilco albums that were important to guitarist Chris Farnsworth. The next track, “Sugar Coated Candy Stix,” describes singer Matthew Stephen Perry taking his future wife to a My Morning Jacket show (part of the closing song, “Pass the Mark,” musically nods to the same band’s “One Big Holiday”). A few songs later, bassist Joshua Shedaker writes a love song to Thin Lizzy.
Proper dental hygiene seems an odd inspiration for a garage-rock song. But from the recurring line that gave this song its title – “My teeeeth are nice and cleeeaaaannn” – “Teeth” veers into all sorts of oddball directions. It’s a love song for a minute, then a meta song about songwriting itself.
“Foxy folk” was the genre tag Abbie Morin adopted on 2015 solo album Shadowproof. The catchy branding isn’t accurate anymore. Like bandmate Caroline Rose, Morin has recently changed sounds (band names too in this case; Morin now performs as Hammydown). But it wasn’t entirely accurate then either. “Foxy folk” doesn’t really capture a song like “Better Half.”
On the surface, “Old North Ender” would seem to offer pretty regionally-limited appeal. It’s about one specific neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont, with a population of 11,000 (one of which is James Kochalka himself). Writing a song so specifically about one’s ‘hood may create an anthem for people within a ten-block radius, but presents an impediment to a track’s wider success.
Ava Marie bills themselves as folk music – their Bandcamp handle is literally “avamariefolk” – but don’t expect any acoustic guitars on “White Hides.” This is folk music as channeled through mewithoutYou, weird and knotty and hyperliterate. Or, if a mewithoutYou comparison means nothing, try The Decemberists – this song does toss in words like “loam” and “brackish” – if someone turned the dials up on all their distortion pedals.
Anyone who doesn’t appreciate a pun as stupid-brilliant as “Medieval Knieval” needs more joy in their life. And the beauty of surf-rock music is that titling a song “Medieval Knieval” doesn’t require any daredevil-knight lyrics to live up to the billing. After all, I don’t know what “Walk, Don’t Run” had to do with strolling safely.
In my years as a music publicist, I learned how difficult it was to get one of your artists interviewed on NPR (one of the few press hits that actually might sell some records). At a bare minimum it typically requires new music. Pitching a seven-year old song would get you laughed out of the producer’s inbox.
But listeners to Weekend Edition this summer heard a new segment about a song that came out in 2012. Vermont band Swale joined host Scott Simon to discuss “If You Get Lost.” The “news peg,” such as it was: They’d submitted it to the annual NPR Music Tiny Desk contest. Though they didn’t win, they got one hell of a consolation prize.