Vermont suffers no shortage of talented singer-songwriters. Perhaps more than any other genre, rootsy folk seems to grow like trees in these Green Mountains. And among that sparkling cadre of tunesmiths, few are more highly regarded than Karen McFeeters. Since arriving on the scene in 2002 with Bachelor Girl, the St. Albans native has garnered a considerable amount of critical praise. Publications from the Burlington Free Press to the Times Argus — and, of course, Seven Days — have heralded McFeeters as the total package, with a rare combination of poetic grace, compositional ingenuity and remarkable vocal prowess. With her latest effort, Here and Now, a follow-up to 2004’s Maybe Day, she exhibits all those qualities, cementing her place among the state’s finest performers.
I’ll admit to a degree of trepidation as I headed into my first listen — I generally avoid all things “adult contemporary.” The album’s cover depicts a typical Vermont pastoral scene, conjuring images of L.L. Bean catalogues and Subaru Outbacks emblazoned with VPR stickers. But my anxieties evaporated within the first few seconds of the disc’s title track, and I was carried away by McFeeters’ impossibly soothing tone. It’s been said that Sinatra could sing the phone book and make it sound good. For me, the corollary might be a clothing catalogue, and if McFeeters ever sings it, I’ll listen.
But Karen McFeeters is more than just a pretty voice. She is also a strong lyricist, capturing a range of emotions throughout the album with impressive dexterity and tact. From the breezy peacefulness of the aforementioned title cut to the looming heartache of “Fall Back on Love” and the wistful pop-rock of “Growing Pains,” McFeeters proves a subtly sturdy wordsmith. She is at her best in introspective moments, as on “Letting Go” or “Ila’s Moon.” But even on more upbeat tunes such as “This Love I’m In,” she handles herself well, balancing potentially Hallmark-esque sentiments with touching earnestness.
Noted multi-instrumentalist Colin McCaffrey recorded and produced the album. As always, his work is top notch. He also added numerous instrumental and backing vocal tracks, rounding out the disc’s richly full sound.
McFeeters included two cover songs with her nine originals, both by fellow Vermont songwriters. Carol Abair’s “Chelsea” and Susannah Clifford Blachly’s “Hope Begins in the Dark” both provide perfect vehicles for McFeeters’ signature croon.
Refreshingly direct and honest, Here and Now is simply a fine recording from a truly gifted local talent.