Oct 272017
 

michael roberts wooden dinosaur

If you hear the phrase “a song about animals,” you probably think of Raffi. But I’d wager Raffi never wrote about an essay exploring how humankind’s transition from agricultural life to capitalism centuries affected our relationship to the animal kingdom (unless I am seriously misreading “Baby Beluga”).

On his new song “Something Free,” Vermont singer-songwriter Michael Roberts picks up Raffi’s slack. Roberts usually records great country-rock music under the band name Wooden Dinosaur (including one of my favorite albums and songs of 2016), but for this new single he took a $20 tape recorder and did it all himself. Which isn’t to say this is tossed off – not even close. Over what he ably terms a “laid-back lo-fi country choogler” of a tune, he sings dense lines like “I want something free I can call my own / Domesticated animals brought to my home” and “The smell of the hunt, the patience, the scenery / A blood Jackson Pollock sprayed on the leaves.” Intriguing to say the last, and I wanted more information. 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 152017
 

wren kitz

NNA Tapes is probably Vermont’s best-known record label, an über-hip curator that has helped spearhead the recent cassette revival. Their catalog of experimentally-minded musicians extends from the out-there to the way-out-there. And their latest signing, fellow Vermonter Wren Kitz, can operate in both modes.

His first release with the label, Dancing on Soda Lake (out June 2), counts as relatively conventional – for him. Unlike some of his more experimental releases of ambient rumbles or Eraserhead nightmares, Dancing on Soda Lake is reasonably song-based. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t weird. 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 242017
 

concrete jumpers

In the early 2000s, “emo” was a label that few musicians wanted stuck to them. Even Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carraba – as much the poster boy for the genre as anyone – disavowed it. “I didn’t think it was an appropriate name for grouping us together, but it stuck,” he said a few years back. “It’s like the term ‘hipster’ that was very cool but is now meant as an insult. That’s what happened with ’emo.'”

Carrabba prefers the less charged “singer-songwriter,” which would also apply to Vermont musician Sam Wiehe – but he doesn’t mind if you call him emo. “I know it has a certain stigma and can be attached to ‘sad boys’, but to me, emo music just means music that is emotional,” Wiehe says. “And that really is all I wanna make.”

The 20-year old Wiehe records as Concrete Jumpers – or, rather, recorded. His new album Dear Madison is his last under that name. It’s a breakup album filled with heart-on-sleeve emotion and sometimes devastatingly personal lyrics. So…emo. 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 »

Jan 062017
 

When I launched this blog last month, I kicked things off with The Best Vermont Albums of 2016. I said after that I’d move on to what’s next, not just what already happened. Which I will, I swear (and I have a bit, highlighting great new material from Vultures of Cult (R.I.P.), The New Line, and 1881). But first, one final retrospective.

When putting together the Best Albums list, I realized many of my favorite 2016 songs were not on proper albums. They were from EPs, singles, preview tracks from 2017 albums, covers, or other one-offs. So, for one last look back, we’re counting down our favorite Vermont-made songs of the past year. Then onto 2017. Promise. Continue reading »