(Epact Recordings, CD)
After more than four decades spent making music with everyone from the Arm and Hammer String Band to the Clayfoot Strutters, Vermont folk music icon Pete Sutherland has given us a bona fide musical jackpot on his new CD, Farmland: The School Songs Project. In addition to years of playing and producing acoustic music hither and yon, Sutherland has spent many fruitful hours teaching songwriting workshops and making folk music more accessible for youngsters. Collaborating with the Young Tradition Vermont Singers, Sutherland has distilled his talent for writing catchy songs about Vermont and his genius for inspiring young musicians into a collection of 10 originals. They could provide the core of outstanding elementary school music classes.
There would be a lot to learn in those classes. Who knew that Monkton — Sutherland’s hometown — had a thriving industry in the mid-20th century of mining kaolin, aka china clay, a fine-grained white clay used for everything from whitening paper to formulating Kaopectate? Or that Washington, Vt. — just south of Barre on Route 110 — was visited by a tornado in May 2009? Or that Richard Cote, a relative of one of the kids in a Sutherland songwriting class, was saved from going over Niagara Falls when his wedding ring miraculously caught on a nail?
A wealth of interesting and fun facts leap around in the songs on this collection, imbued with the wonder and excitement of the kids who worked with Sutherland to make them.
The cherry on top of this musical sundae would be the CD’s title track and “Pepper Road,” two songs that glorify and celebrate the diminishing population of farmers and others in rural Vermont. The songs are poignant, graced with Sutherland’s minimalist accompaniment on guitar, banjo or mandolin and the kids singing along on some of the refrains. This lovely collection is already a shoo-in for my vote as one of the very best Vermont recordings of 2014.
Pete Sutherland and members of Young Tradition Vermont will perform at All Souls Interfaith Gathering in Shelburne on Saturday, January 18. All proceeds from the sale of Farmland will go toward the costs of the group’s music-oriented trip to Northumberland later this year.