Central Vermont trio Mark LeGrand & the Lovesick Bandits have been the Friday night house band at Montpelier's Langdon Street Café for some time. By all accounts, they're local favorites; listening to Cold New England Town, it's easy to see why.
Leader LeGrand has been playing music in the Green Mountains since the late '60s. Armed with his trusty acoustic guitar and affable voice, he channels the ghosts of country music's past. Backing him are bassist Noah Hahn and lead guitarist/harmony man Dan Haley. The three create a vintage sound that calls to mind ghost towns and half-empty bottles of sour mash.
While many Western-styled acts trade in up-tempo foot-stompers, the Lovesick Bandits favor moodier material. There's a Southern Gothic vibe throughout the disc, with reverbed electric guitar and minor-key melodies trailing like smoke from an abandoned campfire. This kind of twang wouldn't sound out of place in a David Lynch flick.
Opener "Hillbilly Hollywood" sets the tone with ghostly, single-note pickin' and a shady bass line. LeGrand sings of dashed dreams as silvery volume swells color the song's periphery.
"Shooting Star" is a compelling slice of cowboy noir. "I seen comets in the night / But this one boy, she's a meteorite," LeGrand sings of a self-destructive beauty. "In a hillbilly town on a Saturday night / She looks a little softer in the neon light / No one here's gonna bring her no harm / She numbs 'em out through a hole in her arm," he continues. Doubtful the gal makes her home in Montpelier.
The mood shifts with "Lonesome Daddy Blues," which chronicles a father's sad disbelief at his daughter's tawdry behavior. Its breezy musicality nicely contrasts with the record's darker-sounding cuts.
What would a country recording be without a quick dash across the border? No, I'm not talking about Québec. "Mexico" features all the hallmarks of a classic Southwestern ballad, from its tumbleweed bass line to the sun-baked guitar solos.
The disc wraps up with "Let's Go Downtown Tonight." On it, LeGrand drawls like a brokenhearted Romeo for whom booze provides no remedy. "Trying to satisfy all our desires is like drying our clothes in the rain," he balefully sings. Haley's slide guitar solo makes a great companion to LeGrand's weary yodel.
Cold New England Town is a charming record through and through. The band celebrates its release at the Langdon Street Café on Friday, September 8. Expect special guest appearances by Anaïs Mitchell and Burlington twang-meister Brett Hughes. Should be a real hootenanny.