This year’s crop of Vermont-made CDs was small, but included several superb albums that deserved 2019 Tammie Awards, the annual Times Argus-Rutland Herald pop music honors.
In the Best Instrumental Album category we award guitarist Paul Asbell for his jazz album “Burmese Panther.” Asbell leads a fine ensemble with material he composed, but for one track. In the original review to this album we said, “He’s a preeminent jazz musician. What stands out in “Burmese Panther” is the space he leaves for his band members to perform. We never worry about what sounds Asbell will produce, they are always melodic, in the groove and intelligent. This attitude hovers over the recording. From (Gabriel) Jarrett on drums and Stats on bass to (Chris) Peterman and the other horn players we get sterling performances.”
The Best Traditional Album award goes to “Men Don’t Cry” by Aaron Marcus. Much of this album, a dozen tracks, finds Marcus’ piano dominating, with assistance from concertina, flute, guitar, cello and voice. He has composed all the music and written the lyrics to the one song and two poems that make this a soothing and thoughtful album.
The music includes a number of tunes suitable for New England contra dance with Scottish, Irish and French influences. English country dances, Swedish dances with four polkas and slängpolskas are also part of the mix. There is some art music not intended for dancing which includes two poems set to music and read by Sam Sanders. The album includes two Scottish country dance strathspeys, the title song, sung by Hollis Easter, which bridges genres, and a contemporary waltz.
The Best Rock Album is “The Book of Zoo” by David Rosane & The Zookeepers. The music might best be qualified as indie folk-rock/pop. Rosane is not a punk-rock shouter, and the music is fairly sedate for a rock album, while delving deep into environmental ideas and political currents. If there is any rock group that Zoo resembles it would be David Byrne and the Talking Heads.
We have a certified blues star living right in Montpelier, thus the Best Blues Album goes to Dave Keller for “Every Soul’s a Star,” a high-production recording that certifies that he is a full-fledged blues and soul music star. On this 11-track 42-minute album we hear a band that is every bit as good as any to come out of the blues and soul machines in Detroit, Chicago or Memphis. The songs, all catchy and danceable, also contain thoughtful lyrics, with several having a political theme. We previously awarded Keller a Tammie in 2013 for Best Album for “Soul Changes,” and this new release shows his consistently excellent albums.
This year’s Best Singer Album award goes to Taryn Noelle for “Taryn Noel Swings,” which highlights her lead vocals for the past decade as the female singer with Rick and the Ramblers. Noel previously won a Tammie for 2006’s “On My Way To You” for Best Singer. Nothing in her voice has changed to diminish her powerful performance. The songs on this new album as either lead vocalist or in harmony with Rick Norcross highlight her trained voice. While she won’t be mistaken for a down-home country chanteuse, her jazz and musical show influences give her delivery gravitas.
The Best Folk Album goes to Richard Ruane and Beth Duquette for “Notch Road.” This album is an acoustic, folk and Celtic-infused delight with traditional ballads and 1930s-style jazz songs. It covers a lot of ground on its 13 tracks. Consistency in performance, creativity and recording is rare. Musicians often change styles or explore music that may not fit their talents. With Ruane and Duquette we are treated to a wonderfully entertaining album.
The Best Song of 2018 can be found on Josh Brooks’ stream or download-only album “Catholic Blues.” The song is “Sister Mary Janthony” and it’s a dark ballad about abuse and secrecy within the Catholic Church. A song like this is difficult to listen to, but we need to hear songs that aren’t pap. This one will get you thinking about all sorts of sordid affairs and cover-ups.
This year’s Best Album award is split between three albums, “Burmese Panther” by Paul Asbell, Dave Keller’s “Every Soul’s a Star” and Josh Brooks’ “Catholic Blues.” These three albums contain the best in music creation, performance and production.
Asbell presented us with a finely honed jazz ensemble album of his own songs. It highlights just how fine his playing and writing are. With Keller, the award adds to his several previous Tammies for superb blues and soul recordings. But this one stands out for the high production values and insightful songs.
With Josh Brooks we have a performer with little money to spend on production and distribution, yet who nonetheless gives us a brilliant singer-songwriter album with just guitar and voice, and songs that are deep in content, musically interesting and profoundly thoughtful.