Spring means all things new, fresh, and exciting. If you live in a place that actually experiences spring, that is. In Vermont, mud season doesn't exactly lend itself to feeling awakened. There is usually one gloriously warm burst in March, but then we slide back into almost-not--but-basically-winter. But down here in the Carolinas, the trees are green, the flowers have bloomed, and the weather is balmy. This is the first real spring I've experienced in years, and I am loving it ...
I thought I'd share some things I've been listening to, reading, etc recently. Not all of them are related to the South, but some are. Where I am physically or geographically in life usually influences what music and books I gravitate towards. When I head to Colorado in one month (coming up fast!) I am excited to look under to hood of the music & arts scene there and post my findings.
Since I do album reviews for Seven Days, I am fortunate to get to hear a lot of new Vermont tunes. I love being able to keep a finger on the pulse of the VT music scene, even from afar. I just submitted a review for Burlington duo Cricket Blue's new EP, Io. I loved it. It is a stunning, complex piece of folk music that weaves tales old and new. It's not just a standard, boy-girl pair strumming their guitars. It's dark and rich. And man, those voices... The EP goes live on April 9th, so look for the review in next week's issue!
One thing I've learned is wherever you go, there is quality local music being made. You just have to find it. Read alternative newspapers and publications for the goings-on, hang out in coffee shops for open mic nights, or post up at a bar for late-night jams (or just post up at a bar in general, because why not?)
Since I've relocated down south, I've been consulting Blue Ridge Outdoors, an outdoor adventure magazine and website focused on the Southeast & Mid-Atlantic. The online version offers a free monthly playlist called "Trail Mix" (clever, clever.) The site also profiles up-and-coming musicians, focusing on Americana-inspired sounds. Have a listen to March's mix here. They even featured one of my favorite artists, The Suitcase Junket (one-man band made up of the weird-instrument wielding Matt Lorenz.) He performed at Otis Mountain Get Down last year, and he killed it. He recently released a new album, Dying Star. Check it!
Switching gears from rustic, rootsy sounds--- I've also been grooving to the polished, romantic beats on Fleurie's EP, Arrows. It was released in September, but I think it's perfectly dreamy for spring. Listen to the lead-off track, "Fire in My Bones." Yes, it was featured during a steamy scene on Pretty Little Liars. Yes I watch that show...moving on.
Last one. If you like 70s rock, you need to know Philly-based group, Sheer Mag. Their don't-give-a-shit attitude and infectious riffs will keep you rocking all spring. Plus, lead singer Tina Halladay is as bad-ass as they come. The band leans toward the scruffier side of punk-rock rather than the aggressive end, so their tunes are still approachable for non-head bangers. A month ago they released a third EP, sequentially titled III, which is just as catchy as their earlier ones.
I always have a rotation of three or four books that I'm reading simultaneously. I usually read half of one, put it down, pick up another, get distracted, then open another, and so on. I always get around to finishing them but it's never in a linear, normal fashion. Oh well. I like having my brain engaged in a lot of different things and switching it up.
Here are some books currently on my shelf (or, more accurately, my floor, since I don't have a bookcase...)
- 1959: The Year Everything Changed- Fred Kaplan. The mid 1960s are usually assumed to be the years of great upheaval in 20th Century American culture, politics, and life. But Slate writer Fred Kaplan posits that the seeds for the "revolution" were actually planted and nurtured in the last year of the 50s. Some of the major happenings in the year include: the invention of the microchip and the birth control pill; the advent of the space race; the rise of New Journalism, Motown, and free Jazz; the beginnings of school integration; the debate over publication of "obscene material" and banned books; the emergence of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X; the beginning of the "nuclear age" and the fallout-shelter phenomenon; the start of the Cold War; and the first casualties of the Vietnam War. All of these events would shape the latter half of the century. It's a fascinating read. Kaplan traces the circumstances of individual people, movements and events, tying them all together to make his case for why 1959 heralded a new age.
- American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation- Erik Rutkow. Rutkow is a Yale scholar who is obsessed with trees. I'm not being cheeky when I say that. His book is, literally, a treatise on how trees shaped the history of the United States, from pre-colonial times to present. He discusses everything from early stripping of the forests for timber for home construction; to Liberty Trees and the American Revolution; to the Industrial Revolution and the need for wood for mills, trains, and coal production; to Transcendentalism and other literary movements focused on nature ; to the ubiquity of paper and pulp products; to the construction of city parks; to diasters like major fires and the chestnut blight; to the national parks movement and the creation of the federal bureaucracy of the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior; to the rise of modern environmentalism. He also explains how trees were important to major historical figures like Jefferson, Washington, and Teddy Roosevelt. For such a specific topic, Rutkow keeps the writing surprisingly engaging. It flows like a story---filled with eccentric characters, power struggles, and big themes.
- Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders- Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff. Dick Lehr is a renowned journalist and professor at BU, and I actually got to meet him a few weeks ago. He kindly gave me his book, co-authored with another BU professor and former Boston Globe staffer, Mitch Zuckoff. The community of Hanover, New Hampshire was rocked by the brutal slaying of two beloved professors in 2001. When it was discovered that two teenagers from Chelsea, Vermont had committed the crime, the shock extended into the sleepy, presumably safe confines of the Green Mountain State. The authors delve into the lives of everyone involved, describing the crime and subsequent investigation and trials, ultimately painting a vivid and disturbing portrait of the events. It's a true crime book, but it's more than just a simple thriller.
Another recommendation from a book I read this fall: Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West- Bryce Andrews. I love this book. It's a memoir about Andrews' time on a Montana ranch. But it's more than just a simple meditation on "western living." Parts of the memoir deal with Andrews' daily life as a ranch hand, fixing fences, roping cattle, and tending to the land. He elegantly describes the fierce weather and often unforgiving, but undeniably breathtaking, landscape. The central focus, however, is on Andrews' relationship to one specific animal, a wolf. During his time there, wolves began to pick off members of the ranch's cattle herd. After much back-and-forth, the ranch is ultimately issued a "kill order" to eliminate the wolves responsible. Andrews dwells on his hesitant pursuit of this one wolf, interspersing his own narrative with that of the wolf's. It's haunting. The book is technically about the life-and-death dance of one man and one animal, but more broadly, it raises questions (and not simply new age platitude-ridden ones) of humanity, conservation, land-use, and our relationship to our environment.
Last note. I just picked up Kim Gordon's music autobiography, Girl in a Band, and I am looking forward to digging in! But first, I'll finish the others...