Four More Local Albums You (Probably) Haven't Heard | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Four More Local Albums You (Probably) Haven't Heard

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Vermont's music scene is an embarrassment of riches. If you find yourself wondering how it's possible for a state with such a small population to produce so many homegrown records per year, know that you're not alone. The number of albums Seven Days receives for review constantly amazes and overwhelms us.

To wit: 2018 is just around the corner, and we're still making our way through the 2017 submissions and likely will be well into next year. So, to help clean the slate heading into the New Year, we've collected a handful of recordings that likely flew under the radars of most local music fans. They come from all corners of the state and are worthy of your time.

Victor Tremblay, Cannabis and Caffeine

(Self-released, CD)

Singer-songwriter Victor Tremblay felt inspired to send us his EP, Cannabis and Caffeine, after Seven Days published a November 8 cover story about controversial marijuana activist and researcher Bob Melamede. In a handwritten note accompanying the submission, Tremblay expressed hopes that his brisk collection of back-porch country would "get a few smiles." Based on my reaction, I suspect he'll succeed.

Except for a stray harmonica solo, Tremblay's vocals and acoustic guitar are the only musical elements in play. But the songwriter's wry lyrics set him apart in the overpopulated dude-with-an-acoustic-guitar genre. You can tell that the Granby resident doesn't take life too seriously as he jokes about, among other foibles, the pitfalls of public sex and ways to combine mild, mind-altering substances to achieve a perfect high.

The title track is a laid-back humdinger that serves up a recipe for a super-chill buzz: "'Cause the cannabis / And the caffeine / And a little Irish cream / Will keep you from climbing the wall." Say what you will about self-medication, but the dude sounds relaxed and happy.

"Places to Almost Make Love" contains pearls of wisdom for anyone looking to get frisky in risky spaces: "But one thing's for sure / It's just a matter of fact / At home with your love's the best place to complete your act."

Tremblay's EP is a quirky and unpretentious slice of Northeast Kingdom goodness. It's full of irreverent tunes and showcases the artist as a kooky hidden gem.

To obtain a copy of Cannabis and Caffeine, send Tremblay a letter at Box 22, Granby, VT 05840.

Michael T. Jermyn, Aristocratic Peasants Unite

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

Montpelier poet, photographer and musician Michael T. Jermyn fancies himself a "reincarnated impressionist." While it's unclear exactly which impressionist the multitalented artist believes he is the reincarnation of, he seems to think he's derived of some ultrafine artistic stock. A press release accompanying the songwriter's latest album, Aristocratic Peasants Unite, references the likes of Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Paul Westerberg, Leonard Cohen and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti as inspirational touchstones.

Jermyn doesn't come close to approaching those artists' levels of greatness on his new record — nor could he reasonably be expected to. But, lofty ambition aside, he does establish himself as a songwriter with a unique voice and perspective.

The 10-track record is flush with vividly rendered tales of life, love and loss. Especially when he reins in a penchant for overwriting, Jermyn displays a poet's eye for detail. The lead track, "Suitcase Full of Denial," is particularly potent — as are the standouts "Song for the Jesuits" and "Valentino's Shoes." Like his idol Ferlinghetti, Jermyn has a subtle, raffish sense of humor.

Redolent with whiffs of early R.E.M. and Camper Van Beethoven, the album suggests an affinity for 1980s college rock. That feel suits Jermyn's enigmatic writing style — although this listener could do with fewer, or at least shorter, guitar solos.

Aristocratic Peasants Unite is available on iTunes.

Jamie Gage, Earth Turns

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

If you're in the South Royalton area, you might have heard singer-songwriter Jamie Gage cohosting "The Antidote," a weekly radio program on WFVR-LP 96.5 FM. His playlists include Neil Young, Phish and Bob Dylan, as well as locals Bow Thayer, Kelly Ravin and Kristina Stykos. Those names should offer insight about what to expect from Gage's EP, Earth Turns: straight-ahead folk, country and Americana.

Gage's songwriting can be a bit bland at times, but his musicianship, along with that of his band — trumpeter Gary Hubbard, drummer Jeff Berlin, fiddler Patrick Ross and Stykos, who contributes guitar, keys, ukulele and bass — helps to round out tracks that may have been less compelling if stripped bare. Nature references and elemental imagery root the EP in the natural landscape that inspired it.

"Old Man of the Mountain" is a stirring waltz about war and the endless cycle of humanity's self-destruction. We see through the eyes of a New Hampshire mountain — presumably Cannon Mountain, the site of the Old Man of the Mountain until it collapsed in 2003 — as people make the same mistakes over and over again. The gloomy song's centerpiece is a dramatic fiddle solo that grates and writhes in discord.

Gage paints a bewildering tapestry of political, historical and literary references on the humdrum "In the Park." The song comes to life when Hubbard's rubbery trumpet solo slices through the otherwise monotonous tune.

Stykos joins Gage on vocals for the title track, which closes the somber EP on a strong note. The melancholy duet is a waltz set primarily to ukulele that finds the singers lamenting a tragic love story.

Earth Turns is available atcdbaby.com/artist/jamiegage.

Bob Devins, An Even Dozen

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

When last we left Bob Devins, the local tunesmith was, to paraphrase his words, tuning his mental transistors to the cosmic airwaves in an attempt to divine artistic inspiration from the ether. Or something. Whatever he was doing, his description sounded good to us — as did the result of those efforts, Devins' debut album, My Destiny.

Devins is back with a follow-up, the less loftily titled An Even Dozen. Featuring — you guessed it — 12 tracks, the album picks up where Devin's freshman outing left off. It features earnest writing that charms with a lack of pretense embodied in Devins' boyish vocal tone and backed by solid, if unflashy, arrangements.

Devins composed and performed every note of the album — including playing electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and banjo. In certain moments, he has a tendency to overstuff arrangements, which obscures the immediacy of his writing. But when he composes sparingly, as on "Easy Walking Shoes," the results are compelling. The loping, banjo-tinged tune is among Devins' most likable yet, a hummable throwback that nods to a young Jay Farrar — late Uncle Tupelo or early Son Volt, take your pick.

An Even Dozen is a promising step forward for Devins, especially as a writer. One can't help but wonder what he might produce if he found a few bandmates to help with the musical heavy lifting.

An Even Dozen is available at robertjdevins.bandcamp.com.


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

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