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Four Albums From 2017 You (Probably) Missed

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We can't imagine life in Vermont without its vibrant music community and the never-ending outpouring of recorded music it produces. The sheer magnitude of records is truly staggering. 

The state's output is so prolific that Seven Days doesn't always have enough time (or space) to review every submission we receive in a timely fashion. While we do our best to keep up, inevitably a year can come to a close with a handful of albums still sitting on the music desk, waiting for their due.

With that in mind, take a moment to check out four albums from local musicians that may have flown under your radar in 2017. These diverse entries come from disparate corners of the state — and slightly beyond. All deserve your attention.

The Blind Owl Band, Skeezy Patty

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

It's possible that Skeezy Patty, the latest album from Saranac Lake, N.Y., Americana group the Blind Owl Band, sat on the 7D music desk for so long because of its wholly unappetizing title. Honestly, "skeezy patty" sounds like something a methed-up SpongeBob SquarePants would have conceived of at the Krusty Krab in a banned episode of the popular Nickelodeon series. But we shouldn't judge an album by its icky-sounding name.

Skeezy Patty actually refers to the trusty touring van that has transported the group to hundreds of shows throughout its lifetime. And if that's the real van on the album's cover — witness the band member fully extending his leg through a hole in the vehicle's floor — Patty definitely lives up to her ramshackle name.

Self-described as "freight train string music," the Blind Owl Band juxtapose bluegrass, gypsy swing, rock, blues and all manner of Americana styles — often within the same song. Lead singer Arthur Beuzo's voice is so raspy, it sounds like he starts each day by gargling gravel. And that's a good thing, musically speaking. Together with his nimble cohorts, the group plays with swift agility and giddy abandon.

"Electric Chair" is a breakneck ballad with a palpable sense of dread and foreboding. Rich swells of strings ebb and flow before the group unleashes a whirlwind of picking and strumming.

Another vaguely murder-y song is the chameleonic "Reloading," which shifts between a sinister Tom Waits-ish vibe and rootin'-tootin' hillbilly energy.

Anyone hot on grizzled mountain-man music should throw this one on their pile.

Skeezy Patty is available at theblindowlband.bandcamp.com.

Julian Gerstin Sextet, The One Who Makes You Happy

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

A retiree of New Hampshire's Keene State College, Julian Gerstin is now an instructor at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro and the Northampton Community Music Center across the border in Massachusetts. The percussionist and bandleader is a compositional wizard, fusing elements from all over the world into a cohesive, Latin-leaning assemblage of music on his sextet's album, The One Who Makes You Happy.

"Apprendiendo Como Amar," the only vocal piece included in the otherwise instrumental album, begins with a clattering of clave, hand-beaten congas and other percussion instruments. In Castilian Spanish, call-and-response chanting overlays a message of pure love for humanity and planet Earth.

About 90 seconds into "I Remember It Differently," a slinky ditty with heavy syncopation and Mesopotamian influence, clarinetist Anna Patton throws down a mind-boggling, serpentine solo. A similarly notable solo is trumpeter Don Anderson's berserk, elephantine blasts at the conclusion of "Kaiman Ka Modé"

The record's title track is a languid, dreamy number. Percussion and piano dance around each other, occasionally in lockstep for emphasis. Trumpet and clarinet grapevine in forlorn union.

Gerstin and his players form an expert ensemble on these tight, richly arranged tunes.

The One Who Makes You Happy is available on iTunes.

Stephen Fish, Starting Over Again

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

You're not likely to see Portland, Ore., transplant Stephen Fish performing at a café near you anytime soon. The enigmatic, self-professed "extreme introvert" relocated to a forested, undisclosed location in the Northeast Kingdom in 2014, where he recorded his latest EP, Starting Over Again. Thematically, the title of the seven-track collection speaks as clearly and unambiguously as do the singer-songwriter's somber, acoustic tunes. Everyone needs a fresh start now and then, right?

Bright, bottle-rocket electric guitar licks ascend behind a foundation of softly strummed acoustic on the album's title track. Moaning cow samples remind the listener that this record comes from the outskirts of civilization.

"Under the Stars" creeps in with seesawing harmonica and slow-dripping acoustic. Fish ponders big, existential questions as he sings, "Maybe time is not a straight line / Maybe things aren't what they seem / Maybe we're neither here nor there / But somewhere in between." Fish's voice trembles under the weight of intimacy on the cosmically minded track.

Piano takes the lead on tearjerker "Blink an Eye." The lo-fi recording is one of the EP's most intimate. Earnest and full of sorrow, Fish mourns a missed opportunity. Perhaps situations such as these were the impetus for his relocation from metropolis to nowheresville.

Starting Over Again is available on iTunes.

OSABA, The OSABA EP

(Self-released, digital download)

'Twas a sad day in 2017 when Brattleboro teen rockers the Snaz called it quits. Cranking out three albums while mostly still in high school, the band was a young force to be reckoned with — especially leader Dharma Ramirez. But, as the Snaz fades into obscurity, Ramirez forges on with her grunge-rock project OSABA.

With barely an eight-minute run time, The OSABA EP begins and concludes nearly as quickly as the teenage years fly by. Despite its hastened pace, the recording packs as mean a punch as any full-length, thanks to the front woman's chain-saw riffs and desperate vocals.

In a near-spoken chant, Ramirez opens the EP with a full-force, commanding statement: "I'm gonna be so cool / Gonna be like you / Gonna fuckin' tear you down to shreds." She drop-kicks barbed guitar lashes over beat keeper and bassist Jonah Siegel's deafening drum work.

The shape-shifting "I'll Scream" zigzags through several changes in tempo, never lingering on one for more than a few bars.

A rubbery lick precedes the sledgehammer riffs of "Mama Sweet Home." The sludgy banger also features some of Ramirez's most lightning-fingered picking.

A 30-second fury of roiling toms, rattling cymbals and bluesy guitar improvisation is a fake-out at the beginning of the final track, "Sleep With Eachother." When the cut begins in earnest, between vigorous, chucka-chucka bar chords, Ramirez unleashes an age-old question: "Why do all my friends gotta sleep with each other?"

Ramirez is still a force to be reckoned with, and this EP suggests that she's just warming up.

The OSABA EP is available at osaba.bandcamp.com.

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The original print version of this article was headlined "File Under '2017'"

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