Vermont is a great place to make music. Tight-knit, creative communities, breathtaking scenery and numerous venues all over the state make the region a haven for troubadours, rock bands and composers alike. But, due to Seven Days' mission of hyper-local coverage, we only publish full reviews for albums that come from currently Vermont-based creators. And that keeps us pretty darn busy.
As much as we'd love it if our favorite bands and artists stayed put in the Green Mountains forever, life often has other plans. Still, we like to keep tabs on former locals and shine a little light on their pursuits out of state when we can. Take a look at these four recently released albums from Vermont expats.
Clare Byrne, Celestials
(Self-released, vinyl, CD, digital)
Now based in Connecticut, Clare Byrne was formerly a senior lecturer in dance at the University of Vermont. But her talents extend beyond pirouettes and pas de bourrées. Following her 2017 folk-rock debut EP, Seed, Byrne recently released a far more ambitious and avant-garde double album called Celestials.
Split into two concept pieces, Sister (tracks one through eight) and Brother (nine through 16), the 71-minute work is swarming with ideas. Many of Byrne's inclinations yield captivating results, ranging from pop-folk tunes that sound like lost gems from the late '60s Laurel Canyon era to unconventional Björk-like experiments.
From Sister, highlights include the gently puttering "Wolves," an airy ballad interspersed with vibrant guitar licks, and the wispy "Who Is Your Real Love," in which Byrne's weary vocals come off like a female Tom Waits.
From Brother, "Cincinnati Lover" is the record's pinnacle. It creeps in unassumingly with lightly struck piano chords before busting out into a tambourine-shaking folk-rock anthem. Joined by a lively group of collaborators — here and throughout the record — Byrne and co. have the carefree energy of bohemian icons the Mamas and the Papas.
Another noteworthy second-side track is the artist's interpretation of the traditional tune "The Water Is Wide," or "O Waly, Waly," as it's sometimes called. Raw and emotionally charged, the tune hovers in an ethereal plane above gently plucked chords and the faint rattle of jingle bells.
Celestials is available at celestials.me.
Andrew North, Lost City
For his latest EP, Lost City, New Hampshire-based singer-songwriter Andrew Grosvenor streamlines his formerly cumbersome moniker, Andrew of the North, truncating it to simply Andrew North. Though he's an expat, the piano player can be seen regularly at the weekly jam session Family Night at SideBar in Burlington.
It's safe to assume that Grosvenor is a Phish phan. The jam-band legends have a signature warmth in their music, which Grosvenor carries over into his meandering piano pop.
The artist's last release, Ursa Verde, was created for the annual RPM challenge, which puts entrants in a race against time to record an entire album in the month of February. Stylistically, the tracks on Lost City sound like they could have come from those sessions — but the process couldn't have been more different. While Ursa Verde was cranked out quickly, the six tracks on Lost City were written over approximately 15 years.
It's easy to imagine some of the tunes exploding into near-20-minute extended jams, but Grosvenor keeps things relatively tight. Jazz influences merge with his largely rock-based tendencies throughout, especially in the final minute or so of a jangly trip titled "Back in the Shed."
"Braggadocio," the EP's solo-piano epilogue, shows off the pianist's mad chops. Creeping through layers of complicated chord changes and deft technical maneuvering, the artist closes his latest release with his greatest strengths.
Lost City is available at andrewnorth.bandcamp.com.
Little Slugger, I Want to Live Here Forever
I once heard someone say early Duran Duran albums play like a greatest-hits compilation. The person claimed that every track on Rio or Seven and the Ragged Tiger sounds like it could have topped the charts. Though Little Slugger sound nothing like the decadent new-wave Brits, their latest album, I Want to Live Here Forever, is packed with catchy songs. One could similarly claim it sounds almost like a compendium of the group's best work from its entire catalog.
Little Slugger's masterminds, Sam Bevet and Ben Chugg, now reside in New York City. We last checked in with the band in late 2016, with the release of their sophomore album Perfect Days. Their third effort picks up where the previous LP left off, offering an assemblage of honest indie rock with subtle alt-country inklings.
After rousing opener "Impossible," a string of vibrant tunes — "You're on Your Own," "Spinning" and "Baltimore" — front-load the album with visions of carefree summer afternoons. Even though unsettling feelings of longing and insecurity lie beneath the surface, the first suite of tunes bleeds sunshine.
The aptly titled "Storm" is a whirlwind of anthemic melodies and extravagant arrangements. Immediately following, "The Morning" cools off with a chilly post-punk aesthetic. Stark bass lines and Bevet's darkened vocals crackle with intense emotions.
I Want to Live Here Forever is available at littleslugger.bandcamp.com. The band makes a rare Vermont appearance this week, on Saturday, August 17, at the Monkey House in Winooski.
Violet Ultraviolet, As the World Churns
Jake Brennan, who performs and records as Violet Ultraviolet, left the Queen City several years ago for Philadelphia. He has the distinction of being one of only six artists to release music through defunct Burlington record label Section Sign Records. As the World Churns includes tunes written around the time of his 2016 Section Sign release, Pop City, as well as material composed after his move to the City of Brotherly Love.
Brennan's penchant for '70s-inspired soft rock continues on the new album. "Open Wider," the album's opening track, is a pleasant, lukewarm bath of nostalgic rock.
The artist's love of Burlington is immediately evident in the titles of the following two tracks, "Paddy Ragean" and "Texaco (beach)." The former, an even-keeled tune with melancholy to spare, nods to Brennan's former Paper Castles bandmate and Waking Windows cofounder Paddy Reagan. The latter, a punchier snapshot of summery escapism, shouts out to one of Burlington's hidden gems along Lake Champlain.
A lone cover stands among seven originals. Recorded about six months before Tom Petty's death in October 2017, Brennan's version of "Time to Move On," from the late artist's 1994 album Wildflowers, was meant to be a "living tribute." Now, the homage stands as a memorial. Brennan's version feels muddier and more dour than the sparkling original, which seems fitting in a now Petty-less world.
As the World Churns is available at violetteultraviolet.bandcamp.com.