(Self-released, CD, vinyl, digital)
It's hard to believe that Used to Be the Next Big Thing is Maple Run Band's sophomore effort. It can take groups many years and albums to find the cohesive sound and natural chemistry that this four-piece Americana band from northern Vermont has achieved in two records.
The album opens with the title track, an energetic country-rock throwback that's as catchy and classic as John Fogerty's "Centerfield." Lead guitarist Bill Mullins threads riffs seamlessly in and out of the keys and rhythm guitar. Drummer Nicole Valcour carries a fast rhythm while also singing strong harmonies. John Spencer's bass groove gives the song soul. The combined result is a textured, layered and balanced sound.
The record's throwback vibe was intentional. In an email to Seven Days, songwriter, lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Trevor Crist wrote that "our first album was very acoustic guitar driven, but this one was really built on keyboards. We wanted to really tap into that retro-vintage country sound but produce it almost like a '70s soft-rock album." If this was the aim, they hit the nail on the head.
Crist has a gift for writing poetic lyrics that fit snugly into the instrumentation of the track. Each song on the album is a fictional vignette, and Crist thrives on the freedom and creativity that this approach offers. The characters he creates have a playfulness that, coupled with the retro vibe, makes for some fun music.
Take the third track, "Damned Old Song," in which Crist sings from the perspective of someone who has gone through a breakup. The title refers to a song that reminds the character of better days: "There's that damned old song again / the one we used to sing / the one we danced to cheek to cheek / when you still wore my ring." But this tune itself, a slow ballad featuring melancholy Hammond organ and helplessly yearning vocals, sounds a lot like the "damned old song" that Crist describes. If my uncle told me he slow danced to this song at the Missisquoi Valley Union High School's 1978 prom, I wouldn't bat an eye.
Used to Be the Next Big Thing is a timeless Americana record. Maple Run Band continue to establish themselves as "one of the 802's foremost practitioners of the genre," as Justin Boland called them in his 2020 Seven Days review of their debut LP. These tunes will be playing in the Green Mountains and beyond for many years to come.
Used to Be the Next Big Thing is available on Friday, November 18, on all major streaming platforms. Maple Run Band play an album-release party the same night at Radio Bean in Burlington.