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A midwinter’s musical brew

By Alan Lewis | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted January 5, 2007

The music industry is in trouble. Supposedly. The countless independent artists sprinkled across the country and around the globe, fortunately, have not heard the news. Many are doing booming business, with busy concert tours and brisk CD sales online and at shows. Some of the best acts are headed to Vermont this winter, and word is out about the coming release of a few much-anticipated albums of in-state interest.

Gifted songwriter and humorist Cheryl Wheeler, a veteran independent artist, is at the Middle Earth Music Hall in Bradford on Jan. 11. Much is expected of Canadian fiddler/vocalist April Verch. Hear why at Higher Ground in South Burlington on Jan. 12.

Advance word on Jeffrey Foucault’s Jan. 13 show at Brattleboro’s Hooker-Dunham Theater is that he will be backed by David “Goody” Goodrich. Goody’s latest CD, Dust of Many Horses, is hands down one of New England’s best 2006 releases, while Foucault’s Ghost Repeater is said to be popping up on 2006 Top 10 lists.

Erin McKeown’s fifth album, Sing You Sinners, is due in stores Jan. 9, and her release tour ascends to Higher Ground on Jan. 19. Early notices have been gushy. This could be one of the big release events of the young year.

The Middle Earth is a party to a legal dispute, and the club is hosting a series of legal defense fund benefit shows. The next features Boston’s Session Americana with Jabe Beyer and Bow Thayer on Jan. 12.

Tony Trischka’s innovations have been so widely adapted by star players it can be hard to recall that banjo picking was quite different before his advent. His new CD, Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, is in stores Jan. 23. Pre-release publicity presents the disc as a rare exploration of “full-band two-banjo bluegrass.” Get a live sampling at the Middle Earth on Jan. 19.

Jazz guitarist Ben Monder’s website includes a novel “Alternate Bio,” which reports his zigzagging through the centuries, getting elected prime minister of New Zealand in 1986 only then to die in a Ulysses S. Grant-led Union offensive at Montgomery, AL, in 1864. No joke. At least the Guardian isn’t joking. After these and other time-travel adventures, Monder brings his band to Brattleboro’s Vermont Jazz Center for an evening of hot and cool jazz picking and fun on Jan. 20.

Bow Thayer and the Perfect Train Wreck make a whistle-stop at the Middle Earth on Jan. 26, in honor of Thayer’s new Spend It All CD.
Expect an entertaining night of roots music at Burlington’s Flynn Center on Jan. 26, with Buckwheat Zydeco and Marcia Ball.

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra (VSO) is at the Flynn Center on Jan. 27, for Masterworks Concert III with Leon Fleisher conducting and with himself and Katherine Jacobson Fleisher on piano, playing works by Mozart and Mussorgsky and the arrangements of Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov. VSO programs seem geared to both delight and intrigue the ear of diverse listeners.

Guitarist Scott Tournet is well known to Vermont audiences from his membership in User Shorty Patent Co. and especially Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. He leads his own Scott Tournet Band to Higher Ground on Feb. 3.

Tournet told the Guardian, “My band is kind of like Neil Young and Crazy Horse meets the Allman Brothers meets Buddy Guy meets Townes Van Zandt meets Mark Knopfler, with a little Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd thrown in.”

Joining Tournet is Nocturnals bassist Bryan Dondero. Adding perhaps a sense of mystery is Steve Sharon, Tournet’s drummer at Goddard College. Tournet says Sharon is “incredible but unknown.” Adam Frehm plays lap steel and guitar and pitches in on vocals, though he is best known as an acclaimed dobroist.

“Our shows are pretty high energy,” says Tournet. “We jam but also keep an eye on the song and make sure not to fall into self-indulgence.”

Gayle Olson of Hilltown Folk is the new kid among Windham County promoters. She says her Brattleboro shows so far have been “super well-attended.” Next up is Josh Ritter, performing solo acoustic, at the Latchis Theatre on Feb. 4. Sharing the stage will be Stephen Kellogg. Ritter’s latest album, The Animal Years, is topping many 2006 best-CD lists.

Rutland’s Brick Box is the spot to hear The Bondville Boys featuring Laura Molinelli on Feb. 7. This outfit, dating back to 1990, has shared stages with the Gibson Brothers, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and the great Del McCoury. “The five-piece group,” says Molinelli, “is currently promoting a new live CD recorded last year in Newfane, mixing traditional bluegrass with original songs and an occasional pop or country hit from the 60s and 70s.”

“When you go to see the Bondville Boys,” explained Molinelli, “expect an intimate and familiar exchange between audience and performers, with plenty of Red Sox references, in between tunes. With sweet harmonies and an eclectic song selection, including mostly originals, a Bondville Boys show is a unique and fun experience!”

Amity Front, a blues-based roots band, is at the Middle Earth on Feb. 9, while the Jimmy Greene Quartet’s tour stops at Brattleboro’s Vermont Jazz Center on Feb. 17.

The Pink Floyd Experience at Flynn Center on Feb. 17 sounds to be one of the essential experiences of the season. The Flynn website boasts of “six amazing musicians” and promises grand theatrics, blazing lights, and “20 tons of full, quadraphonic sound.” Think of it: sound volume measured in tons. Mercy!

G. Love & Special Sauce brings spicy sonics to Higher Ground on Feb. 21. Guy Davis, a coffeehouse and festival-circuit star, visits the Middle Earth on Feb. 23.

The Capitol Steps celebrate the start of the group’s second 25 years at Burlington’s Flynn Center on Feb. 24. I’m So Indicted may sound like politics as usual to a Pointer Sisters beat, but it is actually the Steps’ latest CD. Expect to snicker out loud.

Fantastic Canadian fiddle star Natalie MacMaster brings her tour to the Flynn Center on March 1. Recently, her website announced the death of her cousin, John Allan Cameron. He gave a commanding performance at West Brattleboro’s Chelsea House years ago. Cameron will be sadly missed.

Promotion for Collegiate A Cappella at Brattleboro’s Latchis Theatre on March 3 pledges, “Always a fabulous show and always a benefit for the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center.”

On the shelves
You can also expect to see some new releases from Vermont-based, or connected, musicians in the coming months.

Windham County retro-folkies Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson have totally mastered the early 60s look. Anderson has been busily mixing the duo’s next release. “I realize we have been working on the damn thing for years,” declared Hall, “but I swear that it will be done soon.”

Anais Mitchell’s new CD, The Brightness, is to be issued Feb. 13 on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label.

Winterpills members seem a bit surprised at the strong fan response following the band’s eponymous debut release. The follow-up CD, The Light Divides, is to be issued Feb. 27 on Signature Sounds.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have been in Los Angeles, “banging out a record to share with the world.” A release by summer is the hope.
Vermont clubs and stereos are sure to heat up this winter.