House of Hamill: July 2022 Album of the Month




Folk Hero


Earlier in July I partook of a “Watermelon Wednesday” concert at the West Whately Chapel. The featured act was a young trio called House of Hamill. I’ve no idea why they are called that, but this ensemble consists of three superb performers: Caroline Browning (bass, harmony vocals, and mandolin); Brian Buchanan (acoustic guitar, second fiddle, banjo, foot percussion, and vocals); and Rose Baldino (first fiddle, vocals, and banjo).


If Buchanan’s name is vaguely familiar, he’s a longtime mainstay of the Canadian folk rock ensemble Enter the Haggis in which he mostly plays first fiddle and sings. House of Hamill, though, is definitely anchored by the dynamic Baldino, Buchanan’s wife. The trio is a 21st century group in more ways than one. Buchanan plays a lot in Canada, but he and Baldino live in Pennsylvania, and Browning makes her home in North Carolina. They also embody the genre-mixing penchant so prevalent these days. Their music is Celtic, but the tunes they use for songs such as “Lord Randall” and “William Taylor” are original rather than traditional and end much better for women than they do in Child ballads. (Ironically, Rose did not know much about Child ballads until we chatted!) They also do a cover of Dougie Maclean’s “Turning Away” whose tempo is accented differently than Dougie’s. In another nod to how things are done these days, the song “The Bully of Skidmore Town” is a Celtic/bluegrass hybrid.


The songs on Folk Hero, their latest recording, are solid but their instrumentals are stunners. Baldino is a dynamo on the fiddle, a delicious blend of virtuosity and attacking her instrument until it smokes. (Her style reminds me a lot of Liz Carroll.) Like a lot of Celtic fiddle tunes those of House of Hamill carry whimsical titles such as “Superb Owl,” “Cat Bacon,” and “The Sneezing Loon,” not to mention “Quarantine Reel,” which is part of the “In the Dark” set. Baldino will get your heart pumping, but then there’s the gorgeous “Canyonlands,” a reflective, and bittersweet composition. “The Stone Row” is another original that stands out.


This is a really fine album that impresses more with each listening. It’s almost as good as seeing them live, but only the latter can truly capture Baldino’s energy and the band’s synergy. You should hear what they do on stage with a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody!”



Rob Weir


Spectacles on Display at Shelburne Museum





Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education (PCA&)

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

Through October 16


I confess that the fanfare for this small show at the Shelburne Museum induced something less than enthusiasm. Call mine an error of judging an exhibit by its title. It is, if I might, a sharply focused and clever idea for a humble-sized art showcase.

If you’re like me, spectacles are a necessary evil I equate with lost youth. I don’t give them a second thought other than the annoyance of wondering wherever on Planet Earth I might have plopped them down. The PCA&E’s downstairs gallery makes one realize how often and in how many ways eyeglasses show up in art. We quickly learn that more people through the ages have appreciated the utility of their glasses than those who have sworn at them.



In case you’re wondering, they have been a corrective accessory in Western culture
since at least 1290 and are thought to have first appeared in Italy. Prior to that, a 
small number of scientists –usually Catholic clerics–experimented with optics, but it
 was quite a breakthrough for weak and aged eyes when someone got the brilliantly 
simple idea of sticking a few lenses in a frame, fashioning a way to rest them on the 
bridge of the nose, and inspiring future generations to cry out, “dove ho lasciato i 
miei stupidi occhaili?” (“Where did I leave my stupid glasses?”) 

The Shelburne Museum show confines itself to American art from the 18th to the 
21st centuries. It draws upon materials in the permanent collection and a few 
well-curated borrowed works. Charles Willison Peale appears twice, once in a 
self-portrait and again with a famous look at Benjamin Franklin, peering at us like 
he’s about to begin a lecture. We also see several optometrist trade signs from 
the 19th century.  

  The PCA&E exhibit shows the utility of eyewear, but also has the sense to be playful 
and whimsical. There is, for instance, a 1983 photograph from Tseng Kwong Chi 
that’s a backdoor nod to Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit that thawed relations between 
the US and Red China. Tseng lives in Vancouver, but he dressed himself in a Mao 
suit and sunglasses in the guise of a diplomat. And that’s not even close to being 
the most puckish depiction of specs. There is a droll surrealist-style skeletal 
sculpture, but the Grand Nosepiece Award is a tossup between a 1952 
Life Magazine shot from the appropriately named J. R. Eyerman, and a 
Cindy Sherman image from 2016. Look closely at what Sherman has done; 
every person in the frame is she.  

  You will also find work from William Wegman, Howardeena Pindell, and the 
underappreciated Edwin Romanzo Elmer. But let’s go for humor once again; 
Richard Caton Woodville’s 1851 “Magic Glasses” tickles funny bones for several 
reasons. First, the figures in the painting are oddballs and the man in the dark 
glasses (which would have been rare back then) looks like some madcap 
Sherlock Holmes trying to blend into the woodwork. Maybe he is. Check out
the name of the publication he’s reading.
I recommend dropping into this show, which can be viewed in 15 minutes or fewer. 
Of course, that’s assuming you remember where you left your glasses.

Rob Weir