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by John Burdick | Originally published here


When Cricket Blue takes the stage, they present as a fairly ordinary indie folk project of their era and in their school. Their manner is mild, their dress tidy and modest. Their stage banter—voluminous for reasons to be discussed below—is familiar and casual, addressed as much to each other as to the audience, cultivating that “welcome to my bedroom; would you like to see something I made?” intimacy that is the shared oxygen of indie whisper folk. They are not shy but they are world-record-setting polite on stage, accommodating, on the verge of apologetic. Why?

Because they are about to ask a lot, an awful lot, from their audiences, and they know it.

While other folk artists often graft or slather baroque arrangement details atop their fundamentally standard folk songs, Cricket Blue are complex from the core on out, fancy from go. This is chamber folk with clean fingernails and a groomed, bottomless musicality. The intelligence and sophistication is matched on all levels of their craft: a harmonic richness and contrapuntal freedom in the compositions that belong to no single tradition; lyrics of hand-carved poetic glass and exacting narrative development, situated—finessed, without a single misfit phrase—in long and eventful song structures that employ the thematic and formal techniques of classical music. And they perform it in a way that is unforced, graceful, living the meanings of their tunes and seemingly untaxed by the astonishing difficulty of what they are actually writing, playing, and singing.

Between Taylor Smith and Laura Heaberlin, one can only guess who wrote what based on who delivers the pre-song precis and advance discussion. Yes, they freely violate the common songwriter code against explaining your song. They explain at length. They isolate individual lines and images for closer analysis. I think the audience—even those who would normally be put off by such self-explication—comes to appreciate the generous (and super smart, super sweet) verbosity because these dense, beautiful songs are more approachable with a map in hand. Also Taylor and Laura spend a lot of time changing tunings between songs. Preparatory talk is preferable to dead air.

They are both exceptional guitarists, playing nearly opposite sounding and complementary Taylor acoustics. Smith plays like I would if I were a fair bit better at acoustic: bright, articulate, linear as he passes through chords and counterpoint, a little percussive in his weavings, coming as close to “lead guitar” as the band ever gets. Laura Heaberlin is something else entirely. She plays a larger and deeper bodied Taylor with strings (I presume) left on to go dead by design. In this dark, round tone (not a sound ever associated with the brassy Taylor brand), she routinely grabs ridiculous five-fret chord voicings that make the players in the audience wince in admiration and feel inferior. She finger picks through baroque bass lines and swinging arpeggios, the lithe and unfaltering groove engine of this impossibly fine, effortlessly executed music. 

The band is blessed with one really good singer (Taylor) and one stone cold virtuoso (Laura, obv.). And they connect organically at all times as if they were old hats at playing the late quartets of Beethoven, every swell, every rubato, every sudden change, and all of the finely plotted musical and lyrical arcs of their songs performed as if by one swaying body with four hands and two tongues. 

They channel and reference certain styles to be sure: early and renaissance music; hymns and New England folk; some of the detached harmony of Simon and Garfunkel and the irresolute chordal colors of Nick Drake; a lightly macabre, Gorey-esque humor that might position them near The Tiger Lillies and the cult of Kurt Weil; strains of the classical art songs of Purcell, Schubert, and Britten; and perhaps they love them some Elliott Smith as well—but all of that is non-binding and unstylized. Theirs is a unique, achieved compositional voice that will madden publicists with its namelessness from here on out.

They will be called too smart, too clever for their own good. It will be said that they can’t see the forest (big emotional truths in common musical forms) for the trees (density, complexity, literary-ness, unchecked imagination). To be fair, all of those criticisms might well apply to an inferior version of Cricket Blue. Armed with music theory, great instrumental and vocal fluency, and what seem like pretty expensive liberal arts educations, they tread a fine line with all that cleverness and invention, commercially at least. I wonder if they sometimes even reprimand themselves for their inability or disinclination to settle down to the common language of their chosen idiom.

But no. All that cleverness and invention is borne out in the songs—necessary, earned. They hold up at a distance and up close. They have to be this way and no other. And they sound amazing. So it is down to you. If your world of taste, reader, is big enough to allow for genuinely elevated folk art without subtracting political points for its ambition, sophistication, and highbrow challenge, here is some of the best I have ever, ever heard.

Press quotes

"Master storytellers." – NPR

"A fresh-sounding, true delight of an album." – Folk Radio UK

"Breathtaking in its beauty and ambition." – The All Scene Eye

"Spellbinding storytelling." – Red Line Roots

"Melancholy [and] melodically whimsical." – Atwood Magazine

"Deft instrumentation . . . a brilliant, understated vocal performance." – PopMatters

(more things people have said)

Vermont indie chamber folk to make you weep into your tomatoes

NPR Music calls Laura Heaberlin and Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue “master storytellers”, and the All Scene Eye says Cricket Blue “sets a new standard for fiction-folk.” In 2019, the duo released their first full-length album, Serotinalia, to widespread praise, and were voted “Best Folk Group” in Vermont’s Seven Daysie Awards. As a response to the interruption of live music in 2020, the duo spearheaded a series of elaborately-arranged covers of songs from the Over the Garden Wall soundtrack, which have since earned a small but enthusiastic international following. Heaberlin’s songwriting has been featured on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Cricket Blue has been featured as a formal showcase artist at NERFA multiple times. They have played stages and festivals around the United States and Canada and are working on their second full-length album.

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