2008 proved to be yet another intriguing year in the evolution of Vermont-made music. For some time now, a stunning array of styles has emerged from all corners of the Green Mountain State. But it’s likely that at no point in the state’s history has the sheer variety of localvore music been so dynamic. To wit . . .
Americana has held significant sway in the hearts and minds of Vermonters since forever. And with stellar releases from the likes of bluegrass outfit Big Spike, folksy trio Bread & Bones, newcomers Erin McDermott & The Dixie Red Delights, “cosmic Americans” Red Hot Juba and a host of others, there was plenty of hot pickin’ and sweet harmony to choose from this year. A trio of releases — a “Best Of,” a live album and a nifty 45 — from rockabilly stalwarts Starline Rhythm Boys didn’t hurt, either. Nor did excellent indie-folk and singer-songwriter fare from the likes of Paddy Reagan, Shawn Grady, Jenny Montana, Jay Ekis and expats Avi & Celia.
Similarly, jazz has long been a Vermont staple. In particular, works from psychotropical collective Gua Gua, legendary avant-garde trumpeter Bill Dixon, improv provocateurs Ari Diaconis & Anthony Santor, and a pair of offerings from the Patton clan — Will and daughter Anna — kept hepcats and purists alike groovin’ through Jazz Fest and beyond. The best new “Vermont” band not actually from Vermont, Afro-funk ingénues Rubblebucket Orchestra, checked in with a top-notch debut as well.
Hip-hop — in Vermont? Yes. Get over it already — continued to thrive as VT Union and Burnt MD & Tha Professor both released superb followups to their 2007 releases. And a heady EP from The Algorhythms made us long for the return of prodigal MC Thirtyseven.
As remarkable as the wealth of releases in those genres — and others — was, the real story this year was the triumphant return of capital “R” Rock to the Green Mountains. The volume in Vermont hasn’t been turned this high since Burlington’s halcyon alt-rock heyday in the 1990s and — sacrilege alert! — maybe not even then. In both quantity and quality, rock music dominated in 2008. And with an unprecedented breadth of stylistic variety, the rejuvenated rock scene served as a microcosm for the entirety of Vermont music.
From the straight-ahead forays of Elephantbear and Maneuvers to devilish outings from harmonicore hooligans Cccome?, subversive aesthete Mickey Western and ironic-metal newbies Cherry Cassette, there was nary a, um, rock unturned. Indie-pop? How ’bout some Smittens? Punk? Pop-punk (Hello Control) or old school (Y69)? Dirty, retro psychedelia? King Tuff, Blues & Lasers. Alt-rock? The New Year. Prog-rock? Bad Suit. Alt-country? (Yeah, it’s still rock.) Lonestar Chain. And that’s to say nothing of striking releases from expats (Pretty & Nice) and pseudo-Vermont acts (The Powder Kegs).
To quote Ol’ Blue Eyes: For rock fans, it was a very good year, indeed. And with impending releases from the likes of The Cush, Cannon Fodder and Husbands AKA, 2009 looks to continue the trend. Rock on.
This “Top 10” list represents some of the finest recorded material released this year, according to this critic and this critic alone. I’m sure most regular readers and local music connoisseurs will have their own. And that’s the great thing about our cozy but increasingly broad music scene: There’s something to please almost anyone. These are merely the discs — and downloads! and records! — that pleased me.
As always, the selections are presented in no particular order; they’re just 10 great recordings from a sparkling year in Vermont music. Thanks for listening.