Several years ago, I had a major epiphany: I’d spent the majority of my life worshipping bands full of dudes, and it was high time that I changed my ways. So, with just a few key exceptions, I’ve really only been listening to women musicians over the past decade. The first artist I really got into was Canadian alt-countrywoman Kathleen Edwards, who’s now semi-retired; and then Lucinda Williams, Alison Krauss, The Weepies and Kacey Musgraves. In between that, I dusted off my Joni Mitchell, Gloria Gaynor and Carole King LPs and many others just like them. Recently, I’ve been binge-listening to everything by Phantogram, Billie Eilish, Jenny Lewis and Phoebe Bridgers, and I’ve gotten into a bunch of great artists—Damhnait Doyle, Lori McKenna, Brandi Carlile and supergroup The Highwomen—thanks to the DJs at WEXT 97.7/106.1.
Last month, on basically its one-year anniversary, Caffè Lena tweeted out my story about the “top women musicians” in the Capital Region, which has since become one of the most shared stories in saratogaliving.com’s two-year history. A few locals, including the DJs at WEXT, @-replied to the post, offering up additional choices. And that’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me: I definitely needed to compile another mixtape, this time around, diving even deeper into the local scene.
As always, I can’t include every talented local woman musician on this list, but I’ve done my best to highlight the ones I think are worth more than a single spin. This time around, I’ve also expanded the list to include not just rock, punk and folk, but also funk, jazz and the “wordless” genre of modern classical music.
Jocelyn & Chris Arndt – Fort Plain
I’m not sure how this Harvard-educated triple threat (singer-pianist-songwriter) escaped my attention on the first list. She’s one-half of a sibling duo she formed with her brother called, aptly, Jocelyn & Chris Arndt (he’s also a Harvard grad), which plays a concoction of blues, classic and mainstream rock. And while I love a good, chunky guitar lick, the real focus of this band is Jocelyn’s next-level pipes, which at times, remind me of a garage-band version of Norah Jones and at others, an Ann Wilson-in-the-making. Either way, the world has taken notice: The combo has been featured on NBC’s Today show and rocked Mountain Jam in Hunter, NY. The brother-sister duo is playing a sold-out show at Caffè Lena on February 29.
Emily Mitchell – Albany
Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Emily Mitchell’s debut full-length album, Retrospect, has been out on the interwebs since 2017, and while some artists’ early work has an immature, not-fully-realized quality to it—because naturally, their work evolves over time—Mitchell’s has a real timelessness to it. (You can stream or buy the whole shebang on her Bandcamp page.) Last year, she followed that up with a single, “Heed the Signs,” which is more of the same great stuff. Spend some time with Mitchell’s music, Capital Region. It’ll be well worth your while.
Campo – Saratoga Springs
When I was growing up in Saratoga, there was always a nice crop of bands from Skidmore College tearing the roof off the motha-sucka (see: The Figgs and Throwdown Bouquet). The college also had some great bands swing through, including Wilco and Parliament Funkadelic (where I swiped that line). Speaking of the latter, funk music is one of those genres that, if done correctly, can lift your spirits sky high and get even the worst dancer’s feet, inexplicably, moving around. (When I saw P-Funk at the Skidmore Field House in the ’90s, I couldn’t help but get movin’.) Skidmore quintet Campo have done their homework—and a big reason why their funkiness works is due to lead vocalist Emie Nathan’s broad vocal range. But pigeonholing the band in one genre would be wrong; Campo’s also got jazzy, noodle-y jam-band-y vibes, which has made it a good fit at local venues such as Putnam Place.
Sophia Subbayya Vastek – Troy
A recent study found that, despite some popular assumptions—’cause when you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”—classical music has a sizable audience of younger listeners, who gravitate towards streaming services to get their wordless fix. To that end, you can find pianist/keyboardist Sophia Subbayya Vastek’s mesmerizing album, Histories (2017), on Spotify (and Bandcamp, where you can stream and purchase the eight tracks for a nominal fee). However, she’s not just in the music-making business: Vastek, and her partner, Sam Torres, have spearheaded a burgeoning (young) modern classical scene in Troy, under the auspices of their Organ Colossal brand, helping to launch Troy Savings Bank Music Hall’s popular Lift series, among other concert series. (Plus, my own band, Turnover Mule, has Sam on loan as our bassist.)
Half Waif – Williamstown, MA
You might not think of The Berkshires as part of the Capital Region, but as far as we’re concerned, it is. (It’s basically an honorary part of Upstate New York, even though it’s in Massachusetts.) And that’s why we, too, can lay claim to über-talented artists such as Darlingside, who formed at Williams College; and Williamstown native Nandi Rose, the lead vocalist/keyboardist/e-percussionist of Half Waif, who’s very much cut from the same cloth as Saratoga’s latest, biggest draw, Phantogram (Rose also pens her own songs and produces her own music). If any of that sounds enticing, you need to go directly to her Bandcamp page and pre-order her latest album, The Caretaker, set for release on March 27. In the meantime, if you’re a Spotify subscriber, you’ll find a nice catalog of Rose’s music, including 2018’s Lavender (think: the Stranger Things‘ theme song but with a sung-words part).
Ashley Bathgate (cellist) – Saratoga Springs
Bathgate’s not the type of last name you come across all that often—unless, of course, you’re a Saratogian, who might remember the 1991 movie, Billy Bathgate, which was shot on location in and around the city. But cellist-wunderkind Ashley Bathgate is not a fictional character by any stretch of the imagination; she’s about as real (and real-time) as they come. And well, it’s a rarity, at least in the classical world, to come across someone with so much talent and think-outside-of-the-box-ness. Plus, we have a few eerie connections, despite our differing vocations: Ashley and I both took cello lessons from the great Ann Alton, who used to be Skidmore College’s resident cellist; and she studied under the late Aldo Parisot at Yale University, who was my college cello teacher’s teacher (both are, sadly, gone). While my cello’s collecting dust in my Troy home’s closet, Ashley’s is catching fire all over the damned place. Check out her highly inventive latest album, Ash, which dropped last year.
Ashley Sofia – Ticonderoga
I included Ashley Sofia, sequentially, after Ashley Bathgate on this list, because, yes, they both have the same first name. But, if, say, you happened to be streaming a track from Ash and then struck up the lead track, “Slowing Down,” from Sofia’s latest set, Shades of Blue (2019), it’s as though you melt from one sonic reality to another, seamlessly. The first instrument you hear on Sofia’s first song? A cello. Sofia’s clearly listened to a lot of classic country and folk, and her old-soul voice pairs well with her well-crafted songs. Now based in Nashville, she hasn’t forgotten about her upstate roots (see: “Adirondack Dreams”).
Angelina Valente – Saratoga Springs
The first time I met Jim Mastrianni, who ended up becoming a friend and producing Turnover Mule’s debut EP, he was hard at work on tracking Angelina Valente‘s first EP, You and Me, a soaring debut that mixes bluesy vocals with grand piano licks that tip their cap to Carole King and other vinyl-era greats. She’s since been painting the town, up and down Broadway in Saratoga; at Galway’s venerable Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant, which has booked some pretty big-time acts in recent years such as Molly Tuttle and Caitlin Canty; as well as a host of other spots locally, in Vermont and as far off as Philadelphia. Speaking of the Cock ‘n Bull, she’ll be releasing her forthcoming album, one recorded live there, soon.
Maddy Hicks – Charlton
Man, do I love a new discovery—and especially one that comes to me in a cool, random way. When Caffè Lena tweeted out that link to my previous “top women” list, a user named @AprilHicks_BHBL @-replied the following:
Maddy Hicks! Saratoga county native now studying songwriting @BelmontUniv @CurbCollege in Nashville. Her debut album “The Bliss You Missed” just came out & is getting airtime on @WEXTRadio & @HITS959WCQL. Longtime @SaratogaArts First Night artist & @CaffeLena Open Mic performer!
— April Hicks (@AprilHicks_BHBL) January 23, 2020
It turns out that the handle belongs to the mother of Charlton native and now Nashville-based singer-songwriter Maddy Hicks (the “BHBL” in her mom’s handle refers to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, where Maddy graduated from high school). Soon after seeing the reply, I discovered Maddy’s The Bliss You Missed (2019) on Spotify, and a wave-like stream of consciousness came over me: Ingrid Michaelson Sara Bareilles Susan Vega Vanessa Carlton. Maddy’s music will worm its way into your ears and refuse to leave. The only antidote? Listening to it more.
Laveda – Albany
I was *this close* to putting Billie Eilish’s debut on my decade-ending best-of list in the final issue of saratoga living last year—I even had the blurb written up—but I chickened out at the last minute. I’m now thoroughly embarrassed by my actions. Eilish can literally do no wrong, in my opinion, and all you have to do is turn on the radio to realize it. She crosses over between alternative and pop, seamlessly, and hell, she recently knocked it out of the park with the latest James Bond theme song. And she recorded the entire damned thing in her bedroom with her brother! I get Eilish-esque, humming-pink-green-neon feels when I hear Albany’s Laveda, whose debut album, What Happens After, is set to drop on April 24 (you can pre-order it on their Bandcamp page). The “bedroom recording project” (hence my Eilish comparisons), which features sonic strands of indie pop, dream pop and shoegaze, is just two vocalists—Ali Genevich and Jacob Brooks—trading breath-y, Auto-Tune-y goodness wrapped in textured keys and guitars. To swipe a line from A Clockwork Orange, it’s gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.