Spencer Lewis, Vermont Resurrection
(Woodstone Mountain, CD)
Tropical Storm Irene was among the most transformative events in Vermont history. No corner of the state, even those left relatively unscathed by its devastation, was completely untouched by its wrath. Irene both literally and figuratively changed the landscape of the Green Mountain State. Even some eight months later, it’s difficult to comprehend the destruction left in her wake. On his 22nd album, prolific local composer and multi-instrumentalist Spencer Lewis attempts to synthesize the impact and aftermath of the storm through a suite of eight impressionistic folk instrumentals titled Vermont Resurrection.
The album opens with the sublimely ethereal “Dreams.” Lewis’ violin arcs and bows over a rippling cadence of acoustic guitar and shuffling drums. It’s not hard to picture dawn breaking over some typically serene Vermont scene — perhaps rolling farmland, or a babbling mountain stream. It is soothing and refreshing, like that first cool breath of air on a crisp fall morning. It is the calm before the storm.
Ominous clouds gather on the horizon during “Break the Fall.” The song builds from a breezy acoustic guitar and violin duet into a dark maelstrom, gusting with menacing distortion guitar sustains.
On “September One,” the fury relents. It is beautiful and, at just under 90 seconds, fleeting. A lone acoustic guitar meanders as if quietly marveling at the storm’s incomprehensible carnage. For all its terrible brutality, there was something awe inspiring about the sheer force of Irene.
“Believing” sets about the task of picking up the pieces. It is bright and upbeat, implying the promise of better days over a driving rock beat, Chas Eller’s swirling Hammond and Lewis’ exultant violin.
Eller is not the only notable guest on Resurrection. Local songwriter Bow Thayer lends electric guitar muscle to the title track, a sweeping seven-minute Americana hymn that serves as the album’s beating heart. He later turns up on banjo, as well. Throughout the album, Jeff Berlin and Scott Paulson make up a crack rhythm section on drums and bass, respectively. In particular, Berlin’s inventive percussion work adds both depth and character and is a fitting complement to Lewis’ dramatic compositions.
The record closes on an optimistic note with “Change Is.” Like it or not, Vermont is forever changed by Tropical Storm Irene. But as Lewis suggests through a bright, rootsy polyphony of banjo, mandola — courtesy of Kristina Stykos — and his own swooning violin, with great change comes great opportunity.
Vermont Resurrection by Spencer Lewis is available at spencerlewismusic.com.