Bennett Konesni does a lot of things — farming, visual arts, and, as we’re focusing on here, music. Specifically, the folk music of the field, the forest and the sea; worksongs, as he’s sung with his wife, Edith Gawler, all around Maine and the Northeast. Konesni, a Waldo County native, has played in bands and ensembles including with his wife’s groups, the Gawler Sisters and the Gawler Family, and with Americana trio the Free Seedlings. On “In the Field, In the Dusk, In the Summer,” he plays his own songs, as well as gently reworked version of traditional folk and work songs, accompanied by musicians including many of the Gawlers, Mia Friedman, Baron Collins-Hill and producer Jeffrey Lewis. Those original songs — the rousing album opener “The Senses,” or the sweet, minimal love songs “The Postcard” and “Oak Tree” — reflect the world Konesni inhabits and loves so dearly; the land, the people, the streams, woods and hidden corners of Waldo County. That love is palpable, on both his own songs and on his versions of traditional songs, such as “God Speed the Plough,” featuring his own, updated lyrics, and a faithful rendition of bluegrass gospel song “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations.” In between those vocal songs, there’s speedy, exceptionally enjoyable, often masterfully performed instrumental compositions, inspired by bluegrass, by Scandinavian music, and — at least in this listener’s estimation — by contemporary lights of progressive bluegrass like Nickel Creek or Yonder Mountain String Band. If you want to hear the perfect soundtrack to a sunny, dappled day out in the green fields of Waldo County, you could do no better than giving this album a listen.
Waldo County also informs the music of another native, songwriter Roy Davis, previously of Roy Davis & the Dregs and still sometimes of alt-folk duo the Coloradas. But where Konesni plays love songs for this land of ours, Davis deals in a different kind of emotion — a more complicated, moodier sort, that looks outward to the rest of the nation, restless, thoughtful and with great abandon and thirst for life. Though Davis’ work with the Coloradas was more explicitly informed by folk and bluegrass, his new solo album, “The Awakening” brings in more of the roots rock Davis started writing as a younger man. Davis, who has lived in Austin, Texas for the past year, is perhaps one of the best songwriters Maine has produced in recent years, albeit a lesser known one — a smart, perceptive, witty lyricist, as much a storyteller as a dealer in abstracts, with a deceptively skilled way with melody. “The Awakening” offers up songs that would sit comfortably alongside work from people like Steve Earle or Jeff Tweedy, like the dark blues dirge “Little Boy,” the upbeat road warrior story “California Rain,” the literate rocker “Moviegoer’s Blues” or the James McMurtry-esque “Jerry’s Lucky Life.” Though Davis is not one for self-promotion, and “The Awakening” has largely flown under the radar almost two months after coming out, it is safe to say that even though Davis calls Austin home right now, he’s easily released one of the best singer-songwriter album of 2015, from this or any state.