I am of the belief that if you know of some great music you should spread the word. Too many artists slip through the cracks and I feel like their music fades into the abyss while many people miss out on stellar songs. I’m here to spread the word on some good tunes by a songwriter you may have missed.
In February of 2000 I was a Freshman at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and about 2 years into my musical journey of writing songs. My CD collection ranged from Willie Nelson to Presidents of the United States and I was playing in my first band called Exit 15. We were an alternative rock band playing house shows and we were convinced it was only a matter of time before we were on MTV.(spoiler- we were wrong)
Now, if you’ve ever spent February in Winooski Vermont you know that there is not much to do for a 19 year old other than drink illegally in your dorm room. Its about 3 degrees and gray all the time. This particular night my roommate John invited me over to his sister’s room to watch her friend play some folk songs. I accepted and my first thought was that hopefully I’d get to play some of my own material.
We showed up with a 12 pack of Natural Light and sat on the couch in a crowded room while a guy sitting in a chair swilled some wine with a guitar in his lap. He started to play the first song and about two bars in I was praying no one asked me to play a song that night for I would surely be exposed as a fraud. He was like a Vermont Neil Young, Springsteen and John Prine all rolled into one. That was my first introduction to Josh Brooks and I was blown away.
The way I looked at music and I approached songwriting changed after that night. I always thought that folk singers for the most part were sappy and boring. Josh was the antithesis of that. He sang about tough people in rural Vermont with real problems and small victories while infusing that subject matter with some laughs along the way. A master songwriter in my opinion.
Over the next 3 years I caught him wherever I could, even going so far as to live tape a show on a handheld tape player so that I could really delve into the songs. We passed some polite hellos and such but we were not close friends. I just had such a deep appreciation for what he was doing and the level at which he was writing. I was pretty sure it was only a matter of time before he became a national folk sensation.
Time moves on and eventually I lost track of Josh as he stayed in Vermont and I moved back down to Boston. Finally he resurfaced on the internet with some new music and I devoured every CD he put out. We got in contact and shared a couple of shows in Boston around 2005 but he did most of his playing in the Taverns of Vermont.
Josh is busy now being a teacher and raising a family but last year he found time to put out his most recent album “Tall Tales” which is just Josh and his guitar and its absolutely terrific. It also confirms my belief that if you give a great songwriter a guitar and microphone you can get a great record. Songs like “The Ballad of Heather Home Wrecker” about a gold digging woman turning a town upside down showcase Josh’s ability to infuse his work with some satire. The highlight for me is “Tommy” which gives us an up close look at the effect of war on an unstable veteran.
I think when people picture Vermont they think of green mountains, streams and skiing. I think if someone wants to get a real feel for life in Vermont they should listen to all of Josh Brooks’ records. Do yourself a favor and pour some whiskey in your glass and settle in with some of Josh’s music. I’ll let the music speak for itself and here’s a quick top 5 from me:
Check out his entire catalog here bandcamp