(Big Heavy World, 2-CD)
As the plaque adorning the statue of Springfield founder Jebediah Springfield from television’s “The Simpsons” reads: “A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man.” There is an odd truth to that sentiment, humorously fabricated word aside. And it is one that could well apply to our own local music do-gooders Big Heavy World — especially considering that, as we now know, Springfield is in Vermont. Ever the selfless, noble organization, the nonprofit once again embiggens our collective spirit with a new compilation, Thrufters and Throughstones: The Music of Vermont’s First 400 Years.
As the title implies, the massive comp — 41 tracks over two CDs — highlights a variety of music from the past four centuries, from Abenaki traditionals to more contemporary fare such as Anaïs Mitchell and Phish. In short, it is something akin to a hyper-localized Ken Burns documentary. For musicologists, the comp is a veritable treasure trove of discovery, further augmented by the comprehensive liner notes that help put each performance into historical context. But to dismiss these volumes as mere music-nerd curiosities would be a mistake. The wealth of material found within would likely fascinate even the most casual listener.
Disc One begins, appropriately enough, with an Abenaki “welcome” song, “Greeting on Flute,” performed by Jesse Bowman Bruchac. Shortly thereafter, the French arrive at our shores with Va-et-Vient’s “A la claire fountaine,” a relatively unknown version of the popular French traditional.
Following the historical timeline, local folk fetishists Robert Resnik and Marty Morrissey drop in with “Battle of Lake Champlain / The Beautiful Lights of Burlington.” They are not the only notable contemporary Vermont folk artists to go back to the future here. Songs from Pete and Karen Sutherland, Mayfly and Atlantic Crossing are among the disc’s numerous highlights. As is J.S. Kennison’s crackly a cappella rendition of “The Green Mountain Boys,” charmingly delivered with a genuine Vermont drawl.
Where the first volume comprises mostly traditional and folk tunes, Disc Two brings us closer to the present and is notable for the introduction of that most iconic of modern instruments: the electric guitar. Recorded in 1965, The Thunderbirds’ “Heart So Cold” represents Burlington’s early rock ’n’ roll roots. Punk rock gets a sneering nod from genre godfathers The Wards and their inflammatory GE protest song “Weapons Factory.” Phish-heads will thrill — and wiggle — to the near-19-minute live version of “Twist,” from an April 2, 1998, show in Uniondale, N.Y. Not to be left out, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals chime in with “Mr. Columbus,” from 2007’s This Is Somewhere.