Seven Days receives more album submissions than we know what to do with, which speaks to the boundless creativity and tenacity of our local music scene. In addition to many submissions from Vermont-based artists, we get a fair number of albums from formerly local music makers, as well. Even though they've moved on to new frontiers, it's fun to revisit and check in with some of our favorite expat musicians.
Chris Alley All Star Band, Hippo Nose
The Wards are generally regarded as Burlington's first punk-rock band. While no longer active, they'd surely be among the first inductees to the Queen City's rock-and-roll hall of fame — if such a thing existed.
Chris Alley, guitarist for the Wards, recently came back to Vermont to pack up his life and sell his house after spending time living at Entropy Beach House, a private music and spiritual center in San Diego. The 60-year-old rocker plans to return to southern California, this time to an off-the-grid location in Joshua Tree.
Alley and a few West Coast buddies — including Doubletime Recording Studio's Jeff Forrest, known for his engineering work on Blink-182's debut, Cheshire Cat — formed a new project, Chris Alley All Star Band. The front man describes it as a union of Butthole Surfers and Tom Waits. Translation: quirky, hard-edged rock with a grizzled troubadour mystique, as heard on the group's debut, Hippo Nose.
The title track is a bluesy jaunt with bizarre spoken lyrics. Though shrouded in ambiguity, a few choice lines out of context might inform overall expectations for Alley's brand of weird: "Ridin' on a hippo nose / He was sittin' there on the damn thing / On its nose / Amblin' downtown in front of the mudslide / Snortin' and wigglin' its little fuckin' ears / And farting / A jolly hippo." Um, OK.
"Terribly Attractive" is a much more down-the-line rock song, predicated largely on a two-chord guitar pattern. In it, Alley belts out an ode to his lady love: "When she's not bald / She has hair / Her muffins won a blue ribbon at the fair / You know she's brave enough to care / And she's terribly attractive." As a rousing conclusion — presumably with fists raised to the sky — the group shouts, "Hey!" between head-banging riffs.
Hippo Nose will soon be available on Amazon. In the meantime, swing by the Monkey House in Winooski to pick up a free copy.
Hana Zara, Where Amanda Is King
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Former Burlingtonian Hana Zara traded the Green Mountains for the Great Plains a few years ago — Lincoln, Neb., to be exact. The outsider folk singer-songwriter has released a jaw-dropping new effort, Where Amanda Is King.
Preceded by stripped-down acoustic albums The North, Tatterhood and Little Doll, Zara's latest is a huge leap. It's a fully formed, highly produced masterpiece endowed with atmospheric synths, twinkling electronic beats and staggering choral harmonies. If the album were paired with visuals, a looped video of the aurora borealis over an icy landscape would be perfect.
The updated production aesthetic fits snugly with Zara's gorgeous poetry. Her writing has a classical quality and, as evidenced by the artsy lyric booklet accompanying the CD, could easily exist solely in written form.
Mechanical percussive sounds tinker behind placid acoustic guitar on "The Toy." Zara's voice splits into multipart harmony as slaphappy accordion and a watery field recording seep into the mix.
"House of Mirrors" materializes with round synth tones and electro hand claps. The song peaks with glittery arpeggios.
"Snow," one of the most outstanding cuts, feels like a bittersweet, irresolute goodbye: "And remember me well / But remember me right / Still raging like a river / Raging through the night." Its bossa nova beat glimmers in a sea of synth tones and widespread vocal harmonies.
Where Amanda Is King is available at hanazaramusic.bandcamp.com. Zara returns to Vermont to celebrate the album's release on Sunday, February 11, at Radio Bean in Burlington.
Joe Davidian Trio, Live at the Jazz Cave, Vol. 2
(Sonic Mirage Media, CD, digital download)
The Joe Davidian Trio celebrated their 15th year in 2017. The New York City-based jazz combo — which includes Davidian on piano, bassist Jamie Ousley and drummer Austin McMahon — first came together at the University of Miami. Its members have since steadily built a repertoire of originals, as well as unique arrangements of a number of jazz standards and other recognizable pop tunes.
Live at the Jazz Cave, Vol. 2, a follow-up to 2013's Live at the Jazz Cave, Vol. One, contains more selections captured in the early 2010s at the legendary Nashville Jazz Workshop's live performance space, the Jazz Cave. Soft murmurs and appreciative applause break through the hepcats' grooves, reminders that, despite the crispness of the recordings, everything was captured live in a single take.
The trio offers a sweet treat with a whimsical take on "Pure Imagination." Gene Wilder famously sang the original as the titular character in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Ousley introduces the melody before handing it off to Davidian. About four minutes in, the pianist lets his fingers wander into the dizzying heights of the upper octaves.
The trio's modern take on Tony Bennett's "A Time for Love" feels carefully orchestrated — a contrast to the looser feel of other cuts that include improvised solos. Davidian's keyboard acrobatics are as dazzling as ever as he traverses the expanse of his instrument.
Live at the Jazz Cave, Vol. 2 is available at cdbaby.com.
Simón!, Deviant Optimism
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
When last we heard from Swanton native Camille Collins Lovell, she had relocated to Honduras. While living abroad, the singer-songwriter and bandleader formed an eclectic group called Simón! Around the time Lovell left Central America in 2017 for her new home in Massachusetts, she released that band's sophomore effort, Deviant Optimism.
Lovell genre-hops throughout the new album, making more stops in the realm of dusty Americana than others. But she carves out plenty of space for rock with ska, Latin and alt-punk feels. The unifying thread among these 11 tracks is the front woman's wry and often self-deprecating lyrics. (Also, can we talk about that amazing album cover? It's literally raining cheerleaders over a stretch of desert highway. Hooray for the open road?)
The opening track, "Cougar's Lament," is a prurient requiem about desiring a younger suitor. Lovell's unbridled yearning reveals her insecurities: "I bought heels I can't walk in / And waxed everywhere / Ridiculous diets / And died my gray hair." The unhurried ballad also notes the hypocrisy of the age-inappropriate May-December romance: "If I were a man / And you were the girl / Your friends would say to give it a whirl."
Other standouts are the mariachi-infused "Fuego," the gently swung lamentation "Marsh Mellow" and the chunky bar-chord banger, "Screw Youth."
Overall, the record feels content and defiant, despite hints that it may be a breakup album.
Deviant Optimism is available at simonmusic.net.