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The best of 2017's Maine-made music

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I continue to be astonished at the high level of musical talent on display in Maine. Regardless of your preferred genre, this state has got it going on.

Some of Maine’s best artists chose to perform only in a live setting this year, while others headed into the studio (or in one case, a cottage and living room) to transform their latest ideas into a series of digital ones and zeroes.

From that latter group, here are the best homegrown musical releases I heard in 2017. 

Chris Ross and the North“Over Lonesome”

On their second album as a band, Chris Ross and the North achieved a new level of musical greatness.

Recorded at Halo Studio in Windham with producer Jon Wyman, “Over Lonesome” realized Ross’s dream of recording a ‘true band album.’

Having made a name for himself as a solo artist with his first two albums, Ross fully collaborated with guitarist Zach Bence, bassist Caleb Sweet, and drummer Ryan Curless, during the crucial writing stage for nearly every song on “Over Lonesome.”

From the hook-filled hard rocking “Just My Luck” to the tender “Every October,” every track is memorable. It’s a knockout album and one that should be in your collection. If you don’t yet own it, go see the band on New Year’s Eve at the Boom House in Old Town. Buy a copy from the band (or Bull Moose), have them sign it … and thank me later.

The Crown Vics“Hell Yeah!”

This Down East outfit gave us one of the most fun albums of the year with “Hell Yeah!”

A multi-genre affair, The Crown Vics somehow managed to incorporate retro-rockabilly, world music, Broadway, vintage country, comedy, dance, and techno, in one cohesive and super-compelling listen.

One of WERU-radio’s most played bands of the year, The Crown Vics are not content to rest on their laurels.

Just before Christmas, they released a holiday-infused country rocker titled “It’s Christmas Time in Down East Maine…Again.” It encapsulates everything about this time of year that makes us smile (and itch).

As of this writing, “Hell Yeah” is on sale at Bull Moose for under five bucks. As your attorney, I advise you to get a copy and crank it up.

I love this band and you will see them again in The Maine Edge in 2018.

Spencer Albee“Relentlessly Yours”

For his 20th career album, Albee decided to record his latest batch of infectious pop-rock earworms at home and on the road.

“I just thought ‘I have the gear, I have the space, I just moved into a house. Let’s try it,’” Albee told me during an interview featured as our cover story on June 28.

I have yet to hear a song by Albee that I don’t like. Somehow, he has the ability to pull killer melodies out of thin air, add some lyrics that would make Elvis Costello raise an eyebrow, and spin it all into gold.

Highlights include “You Swept Me Off My Feet,” recorded during a wood-shedding session in a cottage at the Wildcat Inn in Jackson, New Hampshire, and the soulful “Too Much,” a track that caused Albee much grief until he cracked it wide open with an elegant sax solo.

A solo artist for years, the former Rustic Overtone rediscovered the joy of being part of a band again when he pulled together five familiar faces to take “Relentlessly Yours” on the road this year.

An Overnight Low“Waverley”

The third album from this Portland-based sextet proved to be their best yet.

Completing bandleader Chad Walls’s musical-travel trilogy, “Waverley” (named after the railway station in Edinburgh, Scotland) is the band’s most musically varied and richly produced album.

A university professor by day, Walls splits his time between Maine and the U.K. - an area where he feels a strong kinship.

“There are many similarities between the people there and the people here in Maine. They’re tough, salt of the Earth, working class people,” Walls told me during an interview earlier this year.

“When I look at the lyrics for ‘Waverley,’ there are all sorts of songs about literally being split in two. I’m separated but trying to put myself back together,” he said.

Informed by many of the great bands of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, An Overnight Low takes that inspiration and makes it sound uniquely new on “Waverley,” one of the most musically satisfying Maine-made albums of 2017.

Joel Thetford“The Outer Bank”

Hailing from Fort Worth, Texas, Portland-based Joel Thetford released a stunning old-school country EP this year with the 5-track “The Outer Bank.”

“I have a hard time listening to country radio these days,” Thetford told me during an interview.

“I can’t write stuff like that. I grew up on guys like Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and George Strait. But that’s only a piece of what inspires me. I also love Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Chris Ross and The North and The Mallet Brothers.”

Thetford writes with the heart of an observer who spends a lot of time thinking about the reasons why people do the things they do.

There’s depth in his songs. Thetford’s lyrics are personal, literal and metaphorical – sometimes all in the same song.

He sings of taking chances, repairing romances and memories of the Texas he left behind.

Legendary Maine songwriter Dave Mallet encouraged Thetford to leave the corporate job he’d held down for a decade to pursue his dream.

“He said ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if you quit your job and made an album?’ That’s exactly what happened.”

A solo artist to date, Thetford says he is collaborating with his band for a fully collaborative album due in 2018.

“The next one is going to be different,” Thetford says. “There will be a couple of my own songs and they’ve all written songs too. The folks in my band are some of the best songwriters around.” 

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