- The Sky Blue Boys, Sky's the Limit
Dan and Willy Lindner sure do have a funny concept of "retirement." For 40 years, the central Vermont brothers were the pickin' and grinnin' faces of Green Mountain bluegrass through their locally iconic outfit Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys. In 2012, the Lindners drew the curtain on that group, bringing to a close one of the longest and most admired musical runs of any band in Vermont history.
Since then, the Lindners, now both in their seventies, have reclined into their golden years by ... well, performing and putting out nearly as much music as they always have. Lucky us.
Through various solo projects and collaborations, not to mention the inevitable rumors of a Plowboys reunion, the Lindners have very much remained in the public eye — or ear. That's largely thanks to their duo project, the Sky Blue Boys. In this setting the Lindners specialize in close harmony, à la famed old-time country duets such as the Louvin Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and their namesake, the Blue Sky Boys. But on their latest release, Sky's the Limit, the Lindners broaden their sonic scope, incorporating a cohort of musical pals who are almost as locally legendary.
Sky's the Limit unfolds over three suites. The opening act consists of four tunes performed by the Sky Blue Boys proper, including three originals and, opening the album, a cover of the Delmore Brothers' "Rollin' On." Bassist Carrie Cook, aka Cookie, joins on "Coyote Rag," giving a preview of what's to come in the album's second act.
Credited as the Sky Blue Boys & Cookie, the record's middle section highlights Cook's talents as a bassist and vocalist. She particularly shines on the trio's version of "One of Those Days," penned by local songwriter Ellen Jewell. Cook's dusky delivery, paired with breezy harmonies from the Lindners, gives the shadowy tune just the right touch of sinister foreboding.
Sky's the Limit closes on seven cuts performed as the VT Bluegrass Pioneers, a quartet featuring the Lindners, onetime Plowboy Sam Blagden on bass, and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Danny Coane. Coane is best known as the golden-throated voice of local rockabilly stalwarts the Starline Rhythm Boys. He bolsters that reputation here with some classic performances — hear his take on Buzz Busby's "Lost," especially. But he's no slouch on the banjo, either. If the moniker Banjo Dan weren't already taken, Coane might want to consider Banjo Danny.
On the whole, the record's latter half features the strongest instrumental performances of the collection as the Pioneers stretch out and flex their chops. Throw in some pitch-perfect vocal work, and it's enough to make one pine for a proper record from the quartet before too long. But in the meantime, there's little doubt the Lindners will keep local bluegrass fans on their tappin' toes.
Sky's the Limit is available at skyblueboys.com. The Sky Blue Boys & Cookie play on Friday, March 13, at the Whammy Bar in Calais. The VT Bluegrass Pioneers play on Thursday, March 19, at the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier.