The Barre Times Argus & Rutland Herald
Features | A&E/InVite | November 17, 2016
CD Review: Texas swing with a Vermont accent
By Art Edelstein
Music can be a cure-all for what ails you. This was certainly true a week ago as this writer was suffering the loss of a close friend and a close election. With a new CD to review, I put “Green Mountain Standard Time” in the car CD player and headed out to work. It took less than a minute to get a smile on.
The first track on this new album by Rick Norcross and his band the All-Star Ramblers Swing Band, “Fly Trouble,” is a silly song about flies annoying a variety of life forms. Done up in Texas swing style with Doug Reid’s buzzing fiddle and Charlie MacFadyen’s expressive lap steel guitar, and sounding much like the old standard, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette,” the song began wiping away days of gloom.
It’s virtually impossible not to smile, tap your feet, and let the cares of life melt under the two-step beat of this style of music, especially when Norcross and his crew are performing.
Norcross and the Ramblers are staples of the music scene in Vermont and have been for several decades. Norcross has established himself as a fine vocalist, songwriter, raconteur and all-around good guy. In Vermont music circles, Norcross is the benevolent grandpa, wearing a broad-brimmed cowboy hat and sporting white mutton chops. He’s kept Texas swing alive in this state and done a lot of performing for good causes.
Writer Stephen Russell Payne wrote Norcross’s biography a few years ago in “Riding My Guitar,” and acquainted us with the Vermont native, former resident of Hardwick and Shelburne, who often writes songs about his small town upbringing.
Norcross is no slouch at picking band members either. For his most recent albums, Norcross has surrounded his voice and the music with superb players. MacFadyen on keyboards and lap steel, Dono Schabner on guitar, Dave Rowell on bass and lead vocals, and Ian Koeller on drums are a solid ensemble, and despite their Vermont zip codes, these guys play as if they grew up in Fort Worth. Taryn Noelle adds lead and harmony vocals, and she has the perfect voice, sultry, sweet and powerful. Amber deLaurentis added harmony vocals to the sound filling out the ensemble sound.
Five of the 11 songs on “Green Mountain Standard Time,” along with two additional co-writes, were written by Norcross. They continue his signature and slightly off-center approach with songs like “Don’t Do Me like That with Your Cowboy Hat” and “I’m Gonna Take It with Me When I Go.” Norcross continues writing history-themed songs. “Shelburne Yesterday” is a sharply focused snapshot of a small Vermont town in the 1950s. “I Love Western Swing” is a tribute to the founders of the western swing genre that began in Fort Worth in the early 1930s.
There are four covers, including Hank Williams’ only western swing recording, his 1947 dismal failure, “Fly Trouble.” The Ramblers show their instrumental prowess on “Texoma Bound,” a finger-bender. Noelle delivers a solid vocal performance on “I’ll Get Over You,” a song originally recorded by Loretta Lynn’s sister, Crystal Gayle, in 1976. Noelle also nails the classic “I’m A Blue Baby Now,” released in the early ’80s by The Whites. Longtime Rambler vocalist and bass player Rowell delivers the gospel-tinged “They Say You Can’t Take It with You (when You Go),” which features a Hammond B-3 organ accompaniment.
The title track, “Green Mountain Standard Time,” was co-written with Grant Heywood. The retro-sounding track tells the story of the 54-year long music career of Norcross and what it means to sing in Green Mountain Standard Time.
It didn’t take the 37 minutes of this CD to wipe the gloom away from this writer’s mind. That happened by the end of the first track. The rest of the album was a filling — music to make you smile — dessert.
Rick Norcross and the Ramblers are releasing “Green Mountain Standard Time” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27, in Juniper Hall at Burlington’s Hotel Vermont. It’s also the last band performance of their 2016 touring season. According to promotional material, this show will be the first time the Ramblers have played the album front to back.