We give Vermont cheese, maple products and beer among other items for Christmas presents. Why not Vermont music? What follows is a listing of albums we’ve reviewed this year that would make excellent holiday gifts.
Ariel Zevon released “The Detangler,” a woman-centered album for the mature listener. Zevon, who wrote all the songs and plays acoustic guitar and piano, is not a diva vocalist, but it’s the messages here that are important. As the introduction to the CD, written by a friend, Nabou, acknowledges, “These songs mirror the journey through life of a clever and artistic woman who fights for what she believes in.”
Two Cents in the Till released “Greenland,” its first recording. Three women and a lone male comprise this string band that plays many of its own songs with a southern flavor. You hear guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass, suitable for folks who like acoustic music in the Americana style.
“Waltzing with You” by Adam Boyce, a Vermont fiddler and pianist, is a CD consisting of 15 waltzes, all his own compositions. In all there are 50 minutes of waltz music on this album, and because there are no long silences between the tracks, a couple could conceivably glide from one named waltz to the next without taking a break.
Emma Back’s “Little World” blends acoustic instrumentation with percussive loops, layers of vocal and string harmonies, and flourishes of Eastern European tonalities. The album investigates how to heal personal and global conflicts through bearing witness to issues of feminine power, racial and religious oppression, war and ancestry.
“Notch Road,” by Richard Ruane and Beth Duquette, is their third album. If you enjoy original music that is acoustic, folk and Celtic-infused along with traditional ballads and 1930s-style jazz, then this duo satisfies.
“Hunger Mountain Clay” by John Smyth is an interesting album of 11 original songs and several styles encompassing 46 minutes of entertainment. Smyth’s voice has some rough edges but there is an immediacy and sincerity in his delivery that overrides his vocal deficiencies. He’s written songs that command attention to his lyrics.
David Rosane & the Zookeepers’ “The Book of Zoo,” with Rosane writing the material and singing lead, is one of the more interesting, and some will find controversial rock music releases from a Vermont band. “Our music might best be qualified as Indie folk-rock/pop and rather ‘nerdy’ as we are academics, teachers and community activists by day (hence the library tour),” says Rosane.
“Taryn Noelle Swings” is a CD of songs from the female singer with the Rick & The All-Star Ramblers Western Swing Band. She covers tunes by Patsy Cline, “Back In Baby’s Arms,” Ricky Nelson, “There’ll Never Be Anyone Else But You,” “Wurlitzer Prize” by Waylon Jennings and “I’ll Get Over You,” a haunting Richard Leigh song originally recorded by Loretta Lynn’s kid sister, Crystal Gayle in 1976, and others in this style. She’s a great vocalist and the band cooks.
“Men Don’t Cry,” by Aaron Marcus exemplifies the diversity of traditional Celtic and New England-influenced music that has made these styles popular, especially when placed in the hands of a master pianist. The album, a dozen tracks, finds Marcus’ piano dominating, with assistance from concertina, flute, guitar, cello and voice. He has composed all the music and written the lyrics to the one song and two poems that make this a soothing and thoughtful album.
“Every Soul’s a Star” is the new CD by blues/soul guitarist and singer Dave Keller, a high-production recording that wipes away any doubt that the Montpelierite is a full-fledged blues and soul music star. On this 11-track, 42-minute album we hear a band that is every bit as good as any to come out of the blues and soul machines in Detroit, Chicago or Memphis. The songs, all catchy and danceable, also contain thoughtful lyrics, with several having a political theme.
Mark Struhsacker’s “Town & Country” is an eight-track, 25-minute EP. Guitarist/singer Struhsacker plays country music with electric guitars, some drumming and a lot of hot guitar picking, and also acoustic bluegrass guitar with acoustic band. We get to hear this exciting guitarist in both his favorite styles of music.
Josh Brooks’ “Catholic Blues” is an album you’ll have to order online — that’s the only way it’s available — at joshbrooks.bandcamp.com/album/catholic-blues-2. Don’t let that put you off. If you want to give an album of superb songwriting with a definite edge, done with solo guitar, this is the one to give. You can even preview the whole album at the bandcamp site.
Siena Facciolo’s “Dear House” is an album primarily of millennial age love songs. Facciolo plays piano with a bit of instrumental back up. It’s the type of album 20-somethings should enjoy.
Allen Lee and The Church Restoration Project’s “Letting Go While Hanging On” is an album of life songs in the folk and lite rock style. Church has a sense of humor when singing about serious issues. This is certainly a great gift for anyone from the Morrisville area where Church’s music is well known.
Paul Asbell’s “Burmese Panther” is the fourth album release from this nationally known guitarist who lives in Burlington. It’s a return to his band sound and jazz interests. He’s accompanied by some of the best in Vermont’s jazz community. This is sophisticated music for the jazz-inclined listener.