We went through our first difficult winter of COVID-19 in 2020-21, and a considerable amount of music was produced by Vermonters who had plenty of free time and decided to use that time to record their music. In this 16th edition of The Times Argus-Rutland Herald Tammie Awards, we applaud their efforts.
We found two albums worthy of the Tammie Award for Best Traditional Album, “The Bird’s Flight” and “Cabot Old Time Jam Session Repertoire Vol. 1. “
“The Bird’s Flight” with Tim Cummings, Pete Sutherland and Brad Kolodner makes the connection between Scottish music and old time music by marrying the Scottish pipes with the banjo and the claw violin. You can’t get better musicality than Cummings on pipes, Sutherland on violin, and Marylander Kolodner on banjo.
With this new CD we have an album of authentic, interesting and good listening Appalachian music. Kolodner’s game is the link that unites the two bodies of music.
Dana and Susan Robinson have been running Cabot’s Old Fashioned Jam at Harry’s Hardware store from the start. They also run Cabot Arts. The repertoire “Cabot Old Time Jam Session Vol. A CD of 1”, with 20 tracks, was recorded at home as a way to get jammers and friends playing and as a fundraiser.
Dana Robinson plays just about all instruments with Susan Robinson on the banjo. They both sing. What started as a COVID-19 stay-at-home project is so well done it deserves an award. This is music created in the studio thanks to a lot of overdubs, but it sounds very live, like the jam sessions that it tries to promote.
Karen McFeeters wins the award for best female singer. We waited a dozen years for another McFeeters album and “Bonfire” found her voice as good as ever. She has a no-frills, honey-flavored delivery aided by the direction of producer Colin McCaffrey. The clarity of her voice and near perfect diction as well as a warm friendliness are strong points. It doesn’t hurt that in her day job she is a medical speech therapist specializing in voice therapy.
Mark LeGrand, originally from Montpellier, has performed in Vermont for over 50 years as a bassist and later singer-songwriter. He has built a solid fan base with his country-flavored music that often tackles the hard core of life and the many social ills we face.
LeGrand’s Best Country Album “Retrospective” is based on recordings dating back to 1997’s “Mischievous Angel”. There are also tracks from 2002 “All Dressed Up”, “Cold New England Town” from 2006 and “Tigers Above, Tigers Below” from 2016. Three tracks from the EP “Wrong Turn” from 2017 complete the program. This album is not LeGrand’s swan song but the one that reminds us of how talented he is. We expect a lot more new music from him in the future.
Jed Hughes wins Best Male Vocalist for Saints & Liars’ Thes Times. He has an easily recognizable voice with elements of Kenny Rogers and Waylon Jennings setting the tone and delivery. He may sound gruff or sweet depending on the song.
Hughes’ vocals and songwriting ability propel the group’s second album “The Times”. Saints & Liars is a bar group that performs regularly in the Killington and Ludlow areas. With the excellent material of their album and the voice of Hughes giving seriousness to the group. This quartet deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
Best Singer-Songwriter Album
From Windsor, Dave Richardson’s “Palms to Pines” is the winner for Best Singer-Songwriter Album. We found the lyrics and music to be generally positive with little of the negativity that has gripped the country in recent years. His songs are about his relationship, his house and even his garden. He seems comfortable with his place in life.
Richardson counts among his musical influences Neko Case and Caitlin Canty. Collectors and re-performers of songs like Jean Ritchie and Martin Carthy and Archie Fisher also influence him. He writes catchy melodies reminiscent of Paul Simon and James Taylor.
Richardson might not write the deepest lyrics or dazzle with a sophisticated guitar style, but there is something important about heartfelt songs that express basic human feelings in a way that we can all identify with each other.
This year we received two albums which are difficult to classify but which deserve to be recognized.
“Garden Dreams”, by Aaron Marcus and Sam Sanders, combines poetry reading and piano. Sanders reads the works of seven Vermont poets and Marcus plays a variety of musical styles ranging from traditional to classical.
Marcus’ playing is familiar to audiences in Vermont and New England. He plays banjo, concertina and piano with a variety of groups while dancing with English Revival and Celtic inspired material. Sanders is a fluent operator. As a former sound engineer and VPR reader, speech is spoken with ease, grace, and subtle humor. The pitch of the voice never feels strained, the words are spaced out as if they were written in a word and music script with a fair amount of thought time between sentences.
The album “Hashkiveinu”, produced by the Jewish community of Greater Stowe and performed by its rabbi, David Fainsilber, and two of his friends, caught our attention. We haven’t seen an album of religious material yet, but this album, Jewish in its material, has caught our attention. We are not aware of any other albums of this type produced in Vermont.
The album highlights the growing trend to recast traditional Jewish liturgical music into a more modern and accessible form. We see both those of the Jewish faith and others interested in similar musical forms find this CD refreshing and very listenable. Rabbi Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg’s lead voice on the album’s title track was inspiring. This is one of the best vocal performances of 2021.