One of the blessings of the local music scene is its magnitude and bounty. It's also a curse — Seven Days receives so many album submissions, we often don't find space to review in a timely fashion everything that comes our way.
Here are four local albums that maybe flew under your radar in 2016. Some of them are from formerly local music makers who are now pursuing their passions elsewhere; others just slipped through the cracks. All merit a listen.
Ben Patton, The Chantry
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
On his sixth album, The Chantry, master of quirk-pop Ben Patton churns out a brief but powerful collection of rich, harmonic nuggets that showcase his affection for classic-era pop music. As the son of gypsy-jazz virtuoso Will Patton and brother of clarinetist Anna Patton — who's featured on the album — Ben is a member of a Vermont musical dynasty. Though he currently resides in the Philippines, Patton is a Vermont expat who remains worth our notice.
Patton's songwriting and arrangements warrant comparisons to Electric Light Orchestra, the Beach Boys, They Might Be Giants and Elvis Costello. His songs thrive on bouncy, joyful melodies and teetering, intricate harmonies. He strays into a jazzy tangent on "Put It in a Pan and Fry It" and meanders into homespun Americana on "I Feel Like Breaking Into Song," which features vocalist Michelle Sudarsono. "Blow the Man Down" is a winky reinvention of the traditional sea chanty of the same name, which Patton presents as a beach blanket swinger.
While The Chantry blows by in a mere 28 minutes, Patton crams the power of an album twice its length into a collection of tunes that mostly don't crack the three-minute mark. His wry observations feel contemporary while his style feels rooted in the glory of yesteryear.
Elle Carpenter, Sincerely Yours
(Travianna Records, CD, digital download)
Another Vermont expat, Elle Carpenter, recently traded the Green Mountains for the Rockies — specifically Durango, Colo. Carpenter also recently traded the brash pop-rock stylings of earlier records Simple Girl and The Best for the folksy, Americana vibe introduced on With Open Hands and fully synthesized on Life Just Happens to You.
Carpenter has been writing and recording music since she was a teenager. It's somewhat astonishing that she didn't start her career in her current modus operandi, since she seems at home nestled in the sweet spot between folk and country. Though questions of authenticity often arise when an artist moves chameleon-like through various incarnations, it seems that Carpenter has simply been looking for the right stylistic fit for her own pathos.
Sincerely Yours is, well, a wholly sincere effort. It's full of soul-bearing songs that feel familiar without wearing out their welcome. Throughout the album's tearjerkers ("Broken"), self-deprecating stompers ("Classic Me") and inspirational anthems ("Brave Girl"), Carpenter's voice is healthily balanced between saccharine and wholesome. Assuming she puts down roots in her newfound territory and doesn't skip town to greener pastures, Carpenter's dalliance into Americana will likely become even stronger on future records.
Jerichovox, Jerichovox 7
Yikes. I know this is supposed to be a 2016 roundup, but this one is actually from 2015. We're not kidding when we say it's hard to get to everyone's submissions in a timely manner.
Formerly a quartet, the Jericho-based progressive rock band Jerichovox now operates as a trio consisting of Gary Beal, Jim Magnant and Brian Little. Their demo album, Jerichovox 7, is a seven-track explosion of arena-ready powerhouse tunes, which they recorded in one day at West Street Digital in St. Albans.
Rousing, spacious rock drives Jerichovox 7's songs, which feel like they've traveled through time and space to greet us. Channeling the clean, bright days of 1980s production, the songs refer to the fantastical, grandiose reaches of the imagination, even the wordless ones, such as "Azure Beyond." They're frequently peppered with an influence or two from elsewhere in the music galaxy, such as glittery, airy synth or Latin percussion.
The songs often incorporate dreamy and hallucinatory imagery. "Through the crystal city / We shall dance and sing / And fly off through the night," sings Beal on "Dancing in Dreamtime." His voice is sometimes reminiscent of David Byrne and David Bowie at once.
The album is currently available only at Jerichovox's live performances. So you'll have to go to one of their shows if you want to grab it. Or maybe you should reach out to Jerichovox online. I bet they'll hook you up.
Stephen Saunders and the Starlighters, Garage Rocking
This feature typically covers overlooked Vermont releases that are likely to have escaped the attention of even the most ardent local-music fans. It was essentially created for artists like Stephen Saunders.
Saunders was an active musician on the local scene throughout the 1980s. After the death of his brother, Doug, in 1991, he retreated from making music. He did not, however, stop writing. In the years following, Saunders penned some 200 songs. A few years ago he set about recording them at his home in Essex Junction. Starting in 2013, he released a string of self-made albums, one per year, almost like clockwork.
Despite the limitations of Saunders' home-recording rig, each release showed talent and progression — not to mention an overt affinity for the peppy melodies of the Beatles. Most featured his longtime musical partner Richard Crabtree on guitar. I reviewed them all, generally favorably. My main critique was a desire for Saunders to do his material justice by recording with a full band — in particular with a drummer rather than a drum machine.
Saunders passed away from a heart attack last May at age 65. But before he died, he recorded Garage Rocking, his first and, sadly, last record with a band. It was released posthumously in August. And it proves what I had suspected all along: Stephen Saunders' music reached a new level with a band.
Saunders never sought to break new ground in his writing. Though hardly rote recitation, his tunes suggest he was well schooled in the works of the Fab Four and the Kinks, among other Britpop and rock icons. His final album is loaded with 14 tunes that bristle with vitality. The Starlighters provide exactly the musical muscle car that this material deserves. Garage Rocking is the album Saunders was always meant to make. Though it's a shame it's his final one, you couldn't ask for a much better musical eulogy.
Rock in peace, Stephen.
To inquire about Garage Rocking by Stephen Saunders and the Starlighters, email firstname.lastname@example.org.