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Top 10 Vermont Recordings of 2010

Seven Days’ music editor picks the best of the year


Published December 29, 2010 at 7:03 a.m.

Something of a transitional year for Vermont music, 2010 was notable for what appears to be a changing of the guard. We said goodbye to a number of longtime favorites, including the Cush, the Jazz Guys and In Memory of Pluto. In their place, several rising talents stepped to the forefront, while the next generation of potential local greats introduced themselves to the Vermont scene at large. Call it the dawn of a new era.

Recent years have seen rock reassert itself as the state’s dominant genre. In many respects, that trend held true in 2010, as scads of new releases filed under rock’s numerous offshoots flooded our shelves and iTunes libraries.

The Vacant Lots continued their ascension with yet another mind-altering garage-psych effort. Death-offspring Rough Francis grew into a dynamic outfit in their own right behind a scintillating EP of original material. Metal chaps Amadis showcased sinister virtuosity on an all-too-brief EP of their own. And Waylon Speed proved worthy heirs to the throne vacated by late, great speedwestern outfit Chuch.

As always, indie music was well represented, especially in Burlington, as releases from Let’s Whisper, Nyiko Beguin, tooth ache. and Lady Lioness upped our collective, if mopey, cool. Fortunately, a dance remix album from indie-pop darlings the Smittens helped turned those frowns upside down.

Rock was also the state’s most visible genre on a national level, due to the much-ballyhooed, self-titled effort from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. A swampy effort from GPN-offshoot Blues and Lasers turned heads, as well. And speaking of blues-rock and GPN, Nocturnals’ drummer Matt Burr lent his chops to the latest excellent offering from mountain blues mysteriosos the Eames Brothers Band.

But perhaps even more noteworthy than rock and roll’s revival was the sheer variety of music being created in and around the Green Mountains. And no genre experienced more of a creative boom than hip-hop.

With a transcendent release, BURNTmd established himself as arguably the 802’s marquee MC. However, the Aztext resurfaced with the first in a series of new EPs, suggesting they might not be ready to relinquish local hip-hop’s Fitid crown. We bid a fond farewell to VT Union, but welcomed new rhyme-slinging talents such as Colby Stiltz and Aleck Woog. If there was any doubt remaining, VT hip-hop has arrived.

It was a relatively lean year for jazz, at least in terms of volume. But the contributions made by local hepcats suffered no shortage of quality or variety. Psychotropical stalwarts Guagua transported us south of the border, while father-and-son gypsy-jazz duo They Might Be Gypsies took us back in time to smoky French cafés. All-star outfit Fragile Zoe served up a squeaky-clean treatise on jazz flute. And the ever-expanding umbrella of “jazz” grew even wider with intriguing releases from neo-soul songstress Tiffany Pfeiffer and hip-pop progenitors Strength in Numbers.

Experimental music, alternately dismissed or hailed as a bastard offspring of improvisational jazz, truly blossomed in 2010. Under the watchful eye of “other music” mavens Aether Everywhere and newly launched Mars Pyramid Records, adventurous local ears were treated to challenging releases from the likes of the le duo and Neon Magus. Though their early-2010 release was critically maligned in these pages, Lawrence Welks & Our Bear to Cross caused quite a stir, especially on the blogosphere, where they were hailed as “the future of pop music.”

Of course, folk and Americana figured prominently in our rural landscape, as well. On the twangier end of the spectrum, Bow Thayer delivered a breakout record. Kelly Ravin corralled his considerable talents into what may be his signature release. Vermonter/Texan Ethan Azarian delivered delightfully offbeat ruminations on livin’ and dyin’. And new additions Cash Is King and the Creaky Trees proved that alt-country is alive and well, while fingerpickin’-good outfit Gold Town introduced us to “whiskeygrass.”

The singer-songwriter scene also continues to impress. Andrew Parker-Renga fulfilled his long-simmering promise with his finest effort to date. Seth Gallant delivered still more humble brilliance. Kris Gruen cemented his status as one of the region’s sturdiest tunesmiths. Sideman Brian Clark finally stepped out of the shadows long enough to make us wonder why he doesn’t do so more often. And Joshua Panda staked his claim as the region’s most compelling front man.

More traditional strains of folk music reverberated throughout the area, too, including rootsy goodness from the likes of Katie Trautz, Patti Casey and PossumHaw, an Emerald Isle excursion from Longford Row and a French connection through Va-et -Vient, as well as vocalist Michèle Choinère.

Indeed, it was a fascinating musical year round these parts. Arguably, any of the Vermont recordings mentioned here are among the year’s best. Yet, it is Seven Days’ tradition at year’s end to select the top 10. So, here they are, in no particular order. As always, thanks for listening.

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