New sounds from some veteran players: June Millington, Lonesome Brothers shine on their latest albums

  • Rocker and music educator June Millington has a new album out, “Snapshots,” offering music from various points of her career. CONTRIBUTED/Cityspace

  • June Millington’s new album features a cover photo from the 1970s from her days as part of the all-female band Fanny.

  • The Lonesome Brothers’ new album, “Hollywood,” is the ninth of their career but the first since 2013. CONTRIBUTED/BRANDI EDISS

  • For “Hollywood,” the Lonesome Brothers posed outside the former bar and club by that name in Bernardston, where they played years ago.  Photo by Brandi Ediss

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2022 6:37:13 PM
Modified: 6/17/2022 6:34:59 PM

Between its wealth of clubs and players, one thing the Valley doesn’t lack is music. Here’s a look at a couple of new albums from some of the longer-tenured musicians in the region.

Snapshots/June Millington

June Millington’s had a long and distinguished career in music, from her days in the early 1970s with Fanny, the first all-female rock group to sign with a major record label, to producing albums for other artists, to her years in the Valley teaching music to girls and young women at the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen.

More recently, Millington was inducted into the New England Music Hall of Fame — and she’s also released a new album, “Snapshots,” her 13th album overall and her first solo release in over three decades.

“Snapshots” is an apt title for a collection of songs dating back to the 1970s but including more recent work on which Millington, a native of the Philippines, reflects on current topics, such as the wave of violence Asian American women have faced in recent years.

Playing electric and acoustic guitar, bass, and a bit of keyboard and percussion, Millington also contributes lead vocals and is joined on various cuts by other musicians including bassist and drummer Lee John and guitarist Earl Slick (David Bowie, John Lennon). Several young musicians who once cut their teeth at IMA workshops also provide backing and harmony vocals on some cuts.

The result is a nice mix of bluesy rock, pop, ballads and a couple acoustic tracks, including “The Ballad of Fanny,” a live demo from the band’s archives on which Millington strums an acoustic guitar and recounts how four young women, including herself and her sister, Jean, went from teenage singers to forming a rock band in the late 1960s/early 1970s: “At high school, bars, and parties, learning all we could / Listening to music and hoping to be as good.”

On liner notes for the album, Millington writes that she composed three songs in the aftermath of the attack that Donald Trump supporters made on the U.S. Capitol Building in January 2021, including the rocking “Eagle to the Moon,” which includes some fine guitar solos and the catchy chorus “Move it to the left, move it to the right / Don’t flatter me and you won’t get in a fight.”

Another of these cuts takes the phrase “The Big Lie” that came out of the Jan. 6 insurrection — the baseless claim Trump continues to make that the 2020 election was stolen from him — and turns it around. In “The Big Lie (Girls Don’t Dream),” Millington laments the societal expectations and restrictions young women have traditionally faced — “Stay in their lane and don’t question the rules” — and demands something better, because girls have plenty of dreams.

Another track, “Fire in the Street,” adds a bit of rap; it documents the protests that erupted nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in May 2020. Millington raps harder and longer on “Eyes in the Back of Our Heads,” a cry of anger against attacks on Asian American women and the charge that somehow they’re not American (“We’re still looking for home”).

But “Snapshots” concludes on an upbeat note with “Wonder Woman,” a melodic pop tune that Millington says first came out of IMA workshops in the summer of 2017, when the film “Wonder Woman” debuted and was a hit with her students. The chorus, sung by several vocalists, offers a can-do attitude: “We’d like to save the world / We’d like to make it right / Though we’re just little girls / We’d like to do it right.”

As Millington says in her liner notes, “That’s a pretty good way to end the album, I think.”

Hollywood /Lonesome Brothers

Is there another Valley band that can match the longevity of the Lonesome Brothers? Lead guitarist Jim Armenti and bassist Ray Mason, who share songwriting duties and lead vocals, have been playing together since the mid-1980s, and drummer Keith Leverault has anchored the band for a good part of that stretch, allowing the “brothers” to hone a distinctive country rock sound.

The band has been steadily productive through the years, releasing nine studio albums and appearing on Garrison Keillor’s popular radio program “Prairie Home Companion” back in 2002. The group’s ninth and newest album, “Hollywood,” offers more good stuff, with 12 cuts — six each by Armenti and Mason — and some keyboard parts added by producer Tom Mahken.

This being a Lonesome Brothers album, the reference to Hollywood has nothing to do with California movie-making. Instead, it’s a nod to a former bar and club by that name in Bernardston where Armenti and Mason once played; the band posed in front of the derelict building and the overgrown grass around it for the album cover (the building was torn down in 2020).

Given that reference to the passage of time, “Where the Good Souls Go,” a rootsy tune by Mason, seems an appropriate opening cut for “Hollywood.” Juiced along by a jaunty dobro riff, Mason wishes for a good ending when his time is up: “Send my soul to where the good souls go / Don’t let me veer off from this track … Now it should be easy or at least a slow melt / Heading to the light, will it be more than I ever felt?”

Mason also shows off his trademark quirky arrangements on “Never See the Sun,” which begins as a taut three-chord rocker before shifting into a Carl Perkins/rockabilly beat for the chorus. It’s a funny tune about a guy who’s hiding from the world in the wake of a breakup: “I’m leaving my shoelaces untied / So what if I trip and fall? / Disconnect the phone / I’m not taking any more calls.”

Meanwhile, Armenti offers a wide range of tasty guitar solos throughout the album; some particular standouts are his electric slide work on his minor-chord blues “Poison in the Well” and his heavy riffs on the rocker “Hole in the Ground.”

Lyrically, those tunes are something of companion pieces. “Well” could stand in for a metaphor on the nation’s political polarization, or maybe the threats to the environment: “There’s poison in this well / Anyone can tell / From the color and the smell / By the bodies on the ground … There’s fever on the land / Feel it on your hand.”

“Hole in the Ground” also speaks to darkness and a sense of loss as Armenti sings “There’s a hole in the ground where a house burned down / Where once was a home there’s a house burned down.”

However, Armenti offers some better vibes on the mostly acoustic “Red Rover” and the good-time, rockabilly-flavored “I Got Mine.” And as a whole, “Hollywood” offers vintage Lonesome Brothers — a testament to a band still going strong after all those years.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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