Utah and Vermont seem to have a lot in common – area codes 801 & 802, their adjacent positions in alphabetized lists of states, cool mountains, and great skiing. In spite of the similarities, Vermont definitely one-ups Utah as “God’s country.” We have Ben and Jerry’s, awesome maple syrup, green mountains, the best sharp cheddar cheese east of Wisconsin, and heck, even Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were born in the state. What really puts Vermont over the top, however, is one of the greatest, young, underground jam bands around, Twiddle. If you like bands like Phish, String Cheese Incident, and the Disco Biscuits you’ll love these kids from Castleton, Vermont. Jam band music is a bona fide cultural institution in the Green Mountain State – most of the teenagers I know have their iPods packed with music from groups like the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and contemporary acts like Phish (another Vermont band), and locals cram into big and small venues all over the state for jam band music festivals and shows.
Like their predecessors Phish, Twiddle is quickly becoming Vermont music legends. Twiddle is all about the live show and offers their tunes (most of them live recordings) for free on mtheir website (www.twiddlemusic.com). Up until a few months ago, I had only heard a few Twiddle tracks on a local radio station, but finally caught them live at a ski resort bar where I work (Grizzly’s at Stratton Mountain). Similar to other acts that fall under the rubric “jam band,” The guys craft songs drawing upon several genres (sometimes all in one piece). This style amounts to a mish mash of funk, reggae, jazz, hip hop, bluegrass and progressive rock, and they often express the genre crossover during the bridge within their songs.
Twiddle is composed of a four college buds from Castleton State University in Vermont. They are fronted by Mickey Savoulidis on guitar and vocals, Ryan Dempsey on keys, Brook Jordan on drums and bassist Zdenek Gubb. While all of these guys are exceptionally capable musicians, Gubb’s bass grooves really set the tone for Twiddle’s compositions. Their live sets are akin to Jazz club sessions and each member has space to develop and contribute a mood to any given piece. Through it all, Gubb keeps their tunes tight and interesting.
The band recorded its latest (second) album, “Somewhere on the Mountain,” in 2011 and released it last Halloween. The recording consists of five songs and clocks in at a little more than thirty minutes brilliantly exemplifying the musicians’ capabilities. A noteworthy illustration is the ten minute epic, “Beethoven and Greene.” The song begins as a catchy rock tune with some infectious lyrics, which after a few minutes transitions into a Sublime-sounding reggae affair (Sublime is an obvious influence on this band), then back to the original song structure. Moments later the floodgates open and the band rips into a “zydeco-esque,” rock-jazz jam (does this make any sense?) for nearly the remainder of the cut, until they slow it down again returning to the reggae riff to finish up the piece.
Many locals don’t pay too much attention to Twiddle’s studio albums because their shows and live recordings are so good. Although I loved seeing them live, I find some of the cuts on the new album to be just as compelling as their concert performance. My favorite song on the album is “Doinkinbonk!!!” which possesses all of the energy and creativity that makes Twiddle’s live sets so popular. The song is led by Dempsey’s piano and keys through the first half, building the piece until it collides with the other instruments at about the half-way mark. The fallout initiates a guitar solo and an all-out jam through most of the remainder. I’ve heard the song live, and the band airs out the jam section much longer than the studio version, but the recording still captures its magic.
Okay, if it isn’t already obvious, I’m shamelessly promoting this band. Twiddle is embarking on a Rocky Mountain tour in March (hitting Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana), and I was disappointed to see they weren’t making a stop in my hometown SLC. So if this stuff sounds like your cup of tea, check out their website, download some tunes, and get your Twiddle on (and pray this big taste of Vermont – the real Zion – comes to Utah someday).