- Pete's Posse, Ya Know, Ya Never Know
(Self-released, CD, digital, flash drive)
Contra dancing is a popular pastime in the Green Mountains. And yet, unless you know to look for it, it's almost completely invisible. There's no dress code, no teenagers walking around Burlington blasting fiddle reels on their phone speakers. Pre-pandemic, its fans convened at town halls and barns, not clubs and bars. If not for the packed parking lots at rural granges, you'd hardly know they were there.
So if you've never heard of Pete's Posse, it ain't necessarily your fault. The multigenerational "trad roots power trio" is built around the tutelage of master fiddler and local legend Pete Sutherland. A musician, educator and prolific producer, Sutherland's résumé spans decades of accomplishments and acclaim. He's also mentored some dynamite talent over the years, including multi-instrumentalists Tristan Henderson and Oliver Scanlon, who round out his handpicked Posse.
Their latest release, Ya Know, Ya Never Know, is a career milestone. Double albums are often indulgences, but in this case it was the only way to do justice to the crew's roots as well as its horizons. While many of the medleys featured here are dancehall-ready, this is hardly a live contra dance reproduced in a studio. (If that interests you, however, check out Pete's Posse's earlier Dance Party! project.)
The new album's 23 tracks wind through folkways from New England to Appalachia, touching on ballads, gospel and stories older than America. There are also a few a cappella numbers, a nod to the group's 2020 Acapella EP.
Opener "Fine Times" is a ripping fiddle showcase that establishes the band's chops and sets a jubilant tone. The record is not all upbeat whimsy, however. Heavy, mournful moments abound, befitting trad music's emotional weight.
The album also honors the band's extensive collaborative network. It features guest vocals from folk luminary Patti Casey, cello work from Vermont Symphony Orchestra mainstay John Dunlop and vibrant accordion courtesy of Jeremiah McLane, Sutherland's longtime partner in the Clayfoot Strutters. Baltimore bass virtuoso Alex Lacquement is a steady presence on his five tracks. The lineup also nods toward the future with young fiddle prodigy Romy Munkres, who tears through one of her own compositions on the lovely "Three Bird."
Despite that packed guest list, the bonds among Sutherland, Henderson and Scanlon are evident on every song. Colin McCaffrey's engineering and mixing are the perfect complement to the unvarnished glory of these performances — he simply captures the magic. He confines his meticulous touch to the margins, and the result is simultaneously polished and transparent.
Ya Know, Ya Never Know is a blender full of original and traditional songs and styles. Where Pete's Posse's mastery really shines, though, is how effortlessly the tracks mix together. The careful pacing and arrangements are a testament to Sutherland's legacy and proof positive that contra dance music will thrive for generations to come.
Ya Know, Ya Never Know by Pete's Posse is available at petesposse.com/store.