Musical Gifts: 7 Local Albums to Give this Season

For the music lover in your life, consider one of these new records by Raleigh, Triangle and North Carolina musicians for a unique holiday gift.
by David Menconi 

Give the gift of music for the holidays — and go the extra mile to make it a little piece of home, too. North Carolina has one of the most vibrant music scenes in America, much of it centered right here in the Triangle. Here are seven recent albums by locals to put under the tree. 

Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina Mud by Boulevards

All of Raleigh native Jamil “Boulevards” Rashad’s records have been excellent. But 2022’s Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina Mud stands out — a wide-ranging set with pop and psychedelic flourishes alongside his deep-groove funk in songs like “Together,” “Time” and “God Bless Ya (Be Thankful).” It even has an unexpected guest, alternative-country siren Nikki Lane, who lends her voice to the song “Better Off Dead.”

Ring by The Connells

A bona fide Raleigh institution, The Connells will mark 40 years of existence in 2024. And while they’re still making records, this one stands as their signature: 1993’s Ring, an unlikely overseas hit with the “’74-’75” single and video. That single was a top-10 hit in 10 different European countries, spawning a cult following that lingers to this day in the form of tribute video remakes. This year’s Ring reissue puts it on vinyl in America for the first time, with a CD version featuring a bonus disc of outtakes and demos.

Good Thing Goin’ by Dex Romweber

The former frontman of Chapel Hill’s Flat Duo Jets, Dex Romweber is a local legend who ought to be a lot more famous beyond the Triangle than he is. But despite tastemakers like Jack White and Neko Case singing his praises, he still toils in relative obscurity. To his credit, Romweber just keeps right on doing what he does so well. His latest album, Good Thing Goin’, is another stellar roots-rock collection featuring songs by the likes of Las Vegas showman Engelbert Humperdinck, pianist Nina Simone and even German easy-listening orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert. Somehow, he makes it all rock.

Epoch by DeYarmond Edison

In many ways, DeYarmond Edison was the Triangle music scene’s equivalent to Buffalo Springfield, a 1960s-vintage country-rock band that launched multiple Hall of Fame careers. Transplanted from Wisconsin, DeYarmond Edison lasted about a year in North Carolina before imploding. After the group’s 2006 breakup, members went on to fame with groups like Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun and Watchhouse. The tensions of clashing directions leading to DeYarmond Edison’s breakup are there to hear in the 83 tracks on seven discs of Epoch, a lavish box set. The package includes voluminous liner notes in the form of a 114-page book, written by former Indy Week music critic Grayson Haver Currin, who also served as executive producer.

Book of Fools by Mipso

Mipso formed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013, and the group started out with a sound close enough to bluegrass to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s bluegrass album chart a couple of times over the past decade. They’ve wandered far afield since then, from each other as well as stylistically, to the point that all four members put out solo releases this year before reconvening for Book of Fools, an album that bears no relation to bluegrass or even Americana. It’s atmospheric and highly sophisticated pop, especially Joseph Terrell’s guitar tones.

Live at Bond Brothers Eastside, Vol 1 by Peter Lamb and the Wolves

Raleigh may be the City of Oaks, but it feels a lot like New Orleans whenever and wherever Peter Lamb and the Wolves fire it up. A fine ensemble of local jazz veterans, Lamb and company have been working their magic for years, developing a particular affinity for cutting hot live albums in local eateries. After 2013’s Humble Pie (recorded at the late, lamented downtown Raleigh restaurant) comes an album made at Cary’s Bond Brothers Beer Company that covers a lot of ground: swinging renditions of songs by Cole Porter, The Meters, Randy Newman and more, with the album-closing cover of the Lead Belly classic “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” as a cherry on top.

Black Banjo by Tray Wellington

A veteran of the Deep Gap bluegrass ensemble Cane Mill Road, Raleigh banjo player Tray Wellington has always been a musical polyglot. He’s the sort of bluegrass player who can cover fashion-plate rapper Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” and in his hands it makes perfect sense. Wellington’s 2022 album Black Banjo adroitly threads the needle between Béla Fleck’s eclectic worldliness and Kruger Brothers’ old-world classical bluegrass, with the historical smarts of Rhiannon Giddens.   

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.