(MFB Music, CD)
Vermont has long been known as a hotbed of traditional folk and bluegrass music. Must be all them pretty mountains. Though relatively new to the fold, Ripton’s Michele Fay Band prove a welcome addition with their debut full-length album,Live and Local.
The disc opens with “Take It or Leave It,” a bouncy little tune featuring nifty acoustic guitar and mandolin interplay between Fay and husband Tim Price, respectively. It’s a great intro tune, showcasing Fay’s sturdy talents as a folk songwriter.
After a less-than-inspiring version of the Burl Ives classic “Wayfaring Stranger,” MFB are back to form on “Outsider.” Once again, Fay proves a substantial lyricist. Her vocal delivery is thin but effective, and blends well with that of backing vocalist Beth Duquette.
The following track, “Street of the Widow,” is easily the album’s strongest cut. Fay has a keen appreciation of Vermont history, often accompanied by deft lyrical turns and gripping imagery. Here, she describes a period of Barre’s not-too-distant-past in which Granite City widows of deceased immigrant quarry workers opened boarding houses to make ends meet. The song offers Fay’s most engaging melodic work and a fine turn from Price on acoustic guitar.
Similarly, “On the Orphan Train” displays the songwriter’s impressive storytelling abilities, recalling a period of early 20th-century American history when homeless children were shipped from larger cities and sent to rural areas to work as farmhands, including Vermont. Again, Fay’s writing is handsomely effective. Unfortunately, the peculiarities of recording live become glaringly apparent as the singer falls victim to frequent failings in pitch. It’s a recurring problem on the disc, which, in some instances, is forgivable as a stylistic choice. But here it sullies an otherwise fine tune.
Following another uninspiring cover, Hank Williams’ “Blue Love,” the album closes with a string of three rock-solid, original folk tunes. Understandably, Fay may be more comfortable in her own skin than those of long-dead Americana icons. “The Ties That Bind” is a pleasing bluegrass-y ditty. “Bring Them Home,” the obligatory antiwar cut, is pretty and heartfelt. Album closer “What Were You Thinking” is upbeat and cheeky, in a wholesome, folksy sort of way. It’s a fine finale.
All in all, Live and Local is a solid debut from a talented writer with highly capable musical gifts. What Michele Fay lacks in polish she makes up for in spirit, suggesting her live performances are worth a listen. Find out this Saturday at Johnson’s brand-spankin’-new nightclub, The Hub Pizzeria & Pub.