One of the things I love most about my job here at The Maine Edge is that I’m always encouraged to keep my ears tuned to find some of the best home-grown music and to introduce you to the people who create it. Some of the finest music I heard this year came from Maine artists, including some whose impact has spread to other regions.
Here are some of the exceptional Maine-based musicians and bands whose projects received love in The Maine Edge this year. Getting to know them all and writing about how and why they create music has been a true highlight of my year.
An Overnight Low – This Portland-based band formed to realize a musical travelogue conceived by leader Chad Walls. Originally a trilogy, the concept now graces five studio releases as the group plans a live set for 2022. Inspired by legendary bands from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, An Overnight Low’s focus is on consistently excellent songwriting and storytelling, and they deliver big-time in a live setting. Proceeds from the band’s new holiday single “Tilt One to your Teeth” are donated to Portland’s Center for Grieving Children.
Kurt Baker – This Portland native has developed a following around the world thanks to Steven Van Zandt’s record label and Little Steven’s Underground Garage satellite radio station. A rocker for whom melody is key, Baker’s music is inspired by some of the greats but the results are purely original. His latest full-length “After Party” is a rush of rock and roll fun powered by Baker’s musical intuition and a dedication to making every moment count.
Halley Elwell – Thanks to Kris Rodgers for tipping me off to Halley Elwell’s incredible music. Imagine Rickie Lee Jones recording with Norah Jones and Natalie Merchant and you’ll have an idea of how Elwell’s music sounds. The Augusta area artist’s EP “The Last of What I Know” is one of the records I listened to most in 2021, thanks in no small part to her addictive song “Sisters on the J Train.” It was nominated for a John Lennon songwriting award this year and is fully deserving of the big prize. Elwell is an astonishing songwriter and vocalist that will be on my radar from now on.
Dominic Lavoie – This Aroostook County native (technically he was born in Canada) has been creating his own brand of accessible melody-infused, dreamy psych-rock for 20 years. Brought up on classic rock, Lavoie incorporates a wild array of influences when creating his music which he still records the difficult and expensive way – on analog tape which he says is worth the effort and expense for the superior sound quality. You can hear an example of that on Lavoie’s latest studio LP “Wave With a Broken Arm” which offers a perfect tryst of his exemplary songwriting with innovative production courtesy of Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. Lavoie’s next album was recorded during the pandemic and should be out next year. You’ll read about it in The Maine Edge.
Jacob McCurdy – I first wrote about McCurdy’s music for The Maine Edge 10 years ago when he released his debut album “Sleepless,” a superb collection of original songs he’d recorded as a college graduate project. He’s expanded his palette impressively since then and has proven himself a wonderful vocalist, producer and arranger. McCurdy followed last year’s “For The Weekend (FTW)” EP of soulful indie folk with the powerful new single “Make a Fuss.” He happened to mention during an interview that he recently collaborated on more than 100 new songs with Boston based musician Alex Calabrese and that he plans to begin tackling them soon in his home studio.
Merther – It’s too easy to classify Merther as a jam band. Yes, they jam with boldness but they also rock out fiercely with elements of psych, funk, reggae and folk. I was blown away by one of Merther’s recent shows at Bangor Arts Exchange and can’t wait for the next one. These guys are serious musicians, but they manage to work in a little humor as a reminder that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They also keep their audience guessing with creative instrumentation (a banjo solo in the middle of a trippy jam? You bet, and it sounds amazing), unpredictable covers and seamless segues.
Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems – One of the most fun records of 2021 came from this Portland band in the form of “Still Dirty.” In my review, I described it as the sonic equivalent of opening a window on the first warm day after a long winter. “Still Dirty” has an exciting party vibe which made it such a welcome listen last summer when things began to feel like they might be returning to normal. Rodgers and his bandmates cite a number of vintage influences, from Motown to ‘60s and ‘70s rock and soul, but they create something entirely new with them. Like Kurt Baker, Rodgers has developed a global following thanks to airplay from Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on SiriusXM.
Joel Thetford – It’s been fascinating to witness the expansion of Thetford’s artistry with each release over the last six years. He followed 2020’s excellent “Jacksboro Highway” with the even stronger “January Heartbreak” this year and has already issued two singles from his next LP (due in March) which he says will be different from anything we’ve heard yet. A Texas native, Thetford has become a mainstay of the Portland music scene as a solo artist, with his band and in collaboration with some of the area’s finest players.
theWorst – This punk/grunge band from Portland says they’ve been waiting for the right moment to release their second LP “Yes Regrets,” but it’s almost here. Lead singer and guitarist Brooke Binion said her new songs all came from a deeply personal place and that the LP will be sequenced in the order of composition. “You won’t know the whole story from listening but it’s all there,” she promised, adding “It’s different, but it’s a lot more mature and I’m really proud of it.”