When it comes to the local music scene, Connecticut doesn’t have one easily identifiable sound, but it is home to a number of talented groups working in a variety of genres. Several of these bands made significant artistic and commercial strides in 2014. Here are some of the state’s best acts that we’re sure to hear more from in the coming months and years.
Last year, singer and guitarist Becky Kessler was planning to record a solo album with producer Floyd Kellogg, but the two hit it off so well that they decided to become a band. Calling themselves Violent Mae, their eponymous debut was released late in 2013 and helped them win Best New Band at the 2013 Connecticut Music Awards. Violent Mae excels at a type of atmospheric, downtempo rock, and fans of Beth Orton will likely be attracted to Kessler’s vocals. The band spent the year promoting their album at shows throughout the Northeast and Midwest, and writing songs for its upcoming followup.
Straight To VHS
New London, CT
Straight To VHS out of New London may be the state’s greatest garage band. The trio, consisting of singer-guitarist Jon Young, bassist Tim Donnel and drummer Jay Silva, released its latest record “Weekend Weekend Weekend” this spring and watched it garner positive press and airplay on some of the top college radio stations in the East. The album includes lots of two-minute punk outbursts which the band recommends “be played at maximum volume,” but it also contains tracks like the jangly “Mountain Song,” which is reminiscent of prime Meat Puppets. They will play at the Knickerbocker Cafe in Westerly, Rhode Island on December 19.
Wess Meets West
New Haven, CT
This New Haven instrumental “post-rock” quartet Wess Meets West – guitarists Sam Stauff and Nick Robinson, guitarist Erick Alfisi and drummer Andrew Porta – had a breakthrough year in 2014. It received positive attention from national publications like Paste and Electronic Musician, and early in the year it released its most accomplished album, “When the Structures Fail.” The record contains some of the band’s most ambitious music, with electronic flourishes, and even some vocals on tracks like the single “They Burned New England To the Ground.” Wess Meets West continues to play shows in Connecticut and New York, and you can also hear the group on the new album “Live At Riverworks.”
Related: Top Choirs In Connecticut
The members of Parsonfield – vocalist-banjoist Chris Freeman, vocalist-guitarist Max Shakun, drummer Erik Hischmann, bassist Harrison Goodale and mandolinist Antonio Alcorn – formed at the University of Connecticut in 2010. They originally called themselves Poor Old Shine, which was also the name of the band’s 2013 debut album. This summer the group changed its moniker to Parsonfield and released the EP “Afterparty.” The name may be different, but Parsonfield’s loose and friendly approach to traditional folk and country music hasn’t changed. Highlights of “Afterparty” include Bert Jansch’s “Strollin’ Down the Highway” as The Band might have played it, and Huey Lewis & the News’ 1985 smash “The Power of Love” recast as an old mountain ballad.
Dave & Emma Hart
A parent-daughter duo in the tradition of The Kendalls and The Judds, composer and guitarist Dave Hart and 20-year-old Emma (a violin prodigy who has been performing since she was five) released their debut EP “Hold On” early in 2014. Produced by fiddler Jim VanCleve, “Hold On” was flagged by iTunes as a notable country release in January. Veteran Americana musicians like guitarist Bryan Sutton and drummer Kenny Malone back up the duo on original bluegrass ballads like “Hold On” and “A Shadow Behind.” But Dave and Emma also cut loose on the rousing cover of Dave Grisman’s “Opus 57″ that closes the album. They will be performing at Stamford’s Palace Theater on December 18.
Joshua Palmes is a freelance writer covering all things Connecticut. His work can be found on Examiner.com.