SINGLES BAR 30 – a round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 30Following on from 2016’s Trick Star, accompanied by Steve Mayone on mandolin and nylon string guitar, pedal steel player Chris Tarrow, Jason Mercer on upright bass and Alex Hargreaves providing fiddle, ANNIE KEATING’s latest is a five-track collection of road songs originated from last year’s European tour. It opens with the title track, ‘Ghost Of The Untraveled Road’, a Dylanish mid-tempo waltzer about listening to a song on an Italian radio station, understanding the sense if not the word, sparking ‘busy bees’ in her a thinking about how things might have turned out differently (“Should I think of you fondly, or not much at all?/Shall I cherish confessions of bury them all?”) had she taken different paths.

Reflectiveness also feeds into the gently jogging country breeze of the fiddle-accompanied ‘Forever Loved’, Hargreaves again adding colour and texture to the wearied ‘Kindness Of Strangers’, essentially a song about how the warmth and hospitality of those you meet along the way can keep you going. There’s more musing introspection about the past on ‘Sting of Hindsight’, another fiddle-led waltzer with pedal steel streaks as she ponders “Maybe I’m built for a life on the road” and concludes that all you can do is “Be here, let go of regret”. It ends all too soon with such regret riding the mournful pedal steel and fiddle tide on “Forget My Name”, the chorus shading the song’s Nanci Griffiths colours with hints of Tom Petty.

There’s a sense that the EP is about refocusing herself and reminding why she’s committed herself to making music and spending on the road, and of the grace notes that balance the times when it all seems like a weight. As such, she’s clearly emerged at the right end of the tunnel and hopefully a new full length will be on the not too distant horizon.
www.anniekeating.com

Through The FayreWe featured THE MEADOWS in these pages back in 2015. They are a young family quartet from Wales who recently sent us their debut EP, Through The Fayre, five songs about or set in fairs, although for some reason they play ‘Carrickfergus’ as an instrumental. Actually, it’s very good with Fantasia Meadows’ piano and Melody Meadows’ flute dominating a delightfully pastoral sound. They open with ‘Brigg Fair’, effectively a vocal solo by Titania Meadows, followed by ‘Scarborough Fair’. ‘She Moved Through The Fayre’ features vocal harmonies by the three sisters over Harvey Meadows’ electric guitar for a very different sound and we hear more of Harvey as he takes the lead vocal on the final ‘Star Of The Country Down’ at a cracking pace.
www.themeadowsband.co.uk

UnpluggedTHE GRAVITY DRIVE are a married couple, Elijah and Ava Wolf, from the south-west. While working on their second album, they also chose to record a back-to-basics EP, Unplugged, to showcase acoustic versions of four songs. They begin with ‘No One’s Gonna Tell You’ – a fairly basic guitar strum with minimal but perfectly judged decoration and their two voices alternating and harmonising some clever lyrics. Potential for a real ear-worm here. There is also some nice amplified acoustic lead on ‘Candle In The Dark’ and more clever lyrics (“only love can be your candle in the dark”) over a rolling country melody. ‘What Is Love’ has a very Dylanish guitar – if Elijah had gone into ‘All Along The Watchtower’ I wouldn’t have been surprised – until Ava takes over with a 1930’s feel about her share of the vocals. Finally, ‘Breakheart Hill’ has the feeling of traditional Americana – in a full arrangement it would cry out for pedal steel or mouth harp.
http://www.thegravitydrive.com/

Kete BowersLiverpool singer-songwriter KETE BOWERS has a new two self-released track single well worth seeking out. ‘Northern Town’ is a confessionally sung, spare, moody five minute strum about drinking to numb heartache, which only takes you deeper into depression, the lyrics extending to parallel this with a sketch of a town that’s sunk into the same state with “Boards on the windows and nailed shut doors/Broken benches where men sat and talked/No dreams to dream here anymore.” The same idea extends to ‘A Town With No Cheer’, which, evocative of Springsteen’s bare-bone acoustic work, spins a haunting image of broken hopes and dreams (“the ghost of banjo Harry picking out some lonesome tune/When we were young we’d shoot for the moon/Now nothing here is sacred and there’s little or no regard”) in a former ship-building town brought to its knees and the emotional numbness that has swallowed up both it and those that live there, stripped of faith and drowning in drink and despair.
https://www.ketebowers.net/

The Wind Blows ByAmerican singer/songwriter JOEY COSTELLO releases what would seem to be his debut EP, The Wind Blows By, although he has a fair number of singles to his name. What is immediately apparent is the sincerity of his approach to his music but it isn’t matched by the production. There is an unacceptable amount of guitar squeal, particularly on the lead track and a shrillness that leads to reaching for the volume control. His vocal style has been likened to those of Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne so if you like them you’ll probably like Joey too. There are some decent songs here but too much getting in the way of them.
https://joeycostello.com/

Black FeathersCurrently working on their new album, BLACK FEATHERS offer a taster of things to come with ‘The Ghosts Have Eaten Well’ (own label) Sian Bradley and Ray Hughes duetting on a catchy acoustic uptempo rootsy Americana number, the evocative title a metaphor for the dangers of being consumed a constant reflection on regret and guilt that cannot be changed but which prevent you from moving on.
https://theblackfeathers.com/

Last SwallowVeteran singer-songwriter, guitarist and sound engineer ROSS PALMER has a new four-track EP, Last Swallow. The lead track is a wistful, acoustic reflection on lost love but ‘Make It Last’ picks up the pace a bit with a bigger arrangement including electric guitar and drums. There’s no indication as to who is playing what but Ross is probably doing most of it although Melanie Crew is prime suspect for the female voice. Ross doesn’t really do rock’n’roll so ‘Separated By Water’ and ‘Ghosts & Echoes’ are very much in the same style. An album is expected later this year.
https://www.rosspalmermusic.co.uk/

HengistburyUK country duo HENGISTBURY have released their debut single, ‘What Folks Don’t Know’ available as a download with a limited number of CDs. There’s sprightly banjo under Jessie Mary’s vocals while the ‘B-side’, ‘My Body Ain’t A Temple’ boasts a bigger arrangement with piano. It’s all very nice but quoting “shining like a National guitar” is a bit naughty.
https://www.facebook.com/hengistburymusic/

SINGLES BAR 29 – a round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 29VIRGINIA KETTLE is one of Merry Hell’s front line as songwriter and singer and formerly a successful soloist around the clubs. This eponymous EP with The Dreamcatchers (who are not named but who look suspiciously familiar) is, we’re told, the precursor to a solo album. Her songs tend to be human stories, often with a twist, some of which scale up for the band but these would not.

‘The Butter Song’, which opens the set, begins with the brilliant lines “Ever considered someone like me to spread the butter on your bread” and is sung over hand percussion. ‘More Than This’ sees The Dreamcatchers joining in, initially gently pastoral then building up and finally slipping away. As I’ve come to expect the songs are clever; sometimes quirky like ‘Little Warm’ or deceptively deep like ‘Freedom (The Sweetest Taste)’. We’re looking forward to the album already.
www.vkandthedreamkeepers.com

A collaboration between Brighton songwriters, Rebecca Brandler and Scott Booth, PAPER HAWK make their debut with The Tide, a four track download EP via local label Folklore Sessions recorded in the living room of their flat. The opening track, ‘Trails’, a number about the death throes of a volatile relationship, is what you’d probably call psych-folk with whispery-sung ethereal, echoey vocals, shimmering keyboard swirls, understated drum beat and skitterings of guitars. It’s a mood sustained with the watery finger picked acoustic guitar work accompanying Booth’s vocals on the breathily-sung and rather positive and idealistic ‘The Fourteenth Floor’, clattering percussion and a thumping drum beat gathering for the instrumental play out.

Underscored by spare bass guitar notes and plucked acoustic guitar, ‘Northern Sky’ is another airy piece from Brandler and, largely down to producer Josh Trinnaman, again builds the soundscape towards the close. That bass drum thump also underpins the final number, ‘Written In The Lines’, an electronic ambience enfolding Booth’s hushed vocals on a song that bookends the EP by both returning to the theme of a relationship past its use by date and with the outro mirroring the opening wordless ululation on ‘Trails’. An impressive debut that leaves you wanting to hear what else they can do.
https://www.facebook.com/paperhawkmusic/

Forget About You is a new EP by FINE LINES, a duo founded by singer-songwriter David Boardman and vocalist Zoe Blyth with a cast of supporting musicians – Mark Radclffe has been known to turn out on drums with them. The lead track and ‘Feet Don’t Touch The Ground’ both come from last year’s album, Hour Of Need while ‘Who Do You Love?’ and ‘Begging You’ are new songs. Their sound is acoustic rock with a slight country edge that sometimes forgets that it is supposed to be acoustic but it’s classy stuff.
www.wearefinelines.com

Book SongsANNE-MARIE SANDERSON is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – guitar, cello and clarinet are among her accomplishments. Book Songs Volume 1 is her third EP and it will presumably be followed by a second volume in time. The five songs here are all inspired by novels, authors including such literary giants as Ian McEwan and Doris Lessing. As befits such inspirations, the songs are musically and lyrically complex. ‘Haweswater’ covers the same ground as Mike Turnbull’s ‘Drowning Valley’ and is a particularly fine song. ‘Mara’s Song’ is even better and like ‘Poisonwood’ is set in Africa – two very different Africas actually – one in the distant future and the other in the mid twentieth century. Anne-Marie plays every note on this EP and has fine voice with a hint of wildness in it that many critics have worked hard to describe.
https://www.annemariesanderson.com/

ShardsEVAN CARSON is the folk scene’s go-to percussion at the moment but now we learn that he is also a composer of no mean talent. ‘Shards’ is the first part of what is intended to be a musical story of his grandfather, George Ocipinski, who escaped from a labour camp and travelled west to join the French Resistance in time for the Normandy landings.

Lead vocals are by Georgia Lewis and the music is built up by the piano of Gleb Kolyadin, Karl James Pestka’s strings and Toby Shaer’s flutes. The nine-and-a-half minutes composition begins with the sound of the wind underneath glockenspiel or chimes – or possibly both – played by Evan himself. Then it rocks a bit with percussion that, to judge from the later lyrics, might be intended to imitate a train as George makes his escape. ‘Shards’ is a dramatic piece of work and there is an EP in the offing. We can’t wait.
www.evancarsondrums.com

MILTON HIDE – Little Fish (Howdy Records HOWDY 3)

Little FishEastbourne husband and wife duo Jim Tipler and Josie Tipler began their musical lives busking in the town centre, he on piano accordion, she on clarinet. Marriage and family, ruled her out of the equation for some years until, the kids having left home, the acoustic duo reformed, taking their name from some local woodland, and starting doing the folk club circuit, reworking material Jim had written for his previous bands and Josie penning her own lyrics to his new tunes.

Now, produced by one of their sons, they’ve embarked on a six-track debut EP, kicking off with ‘Home Is Where Your Heart Is’, a lively strum that, written as a wedding gift, has its sentiments succinctly summed up in the title and comes with a guitar line reminiscent of the twang from ‘Ring Of Fire’. They ring the musical changes over the collection, ‘Monkyn Pyn’ very much in the style of a traditional English folk ballad about murderous travellers and fair maids while ‘Better Off Dead’, an anti-austerity ditty, heads into banjo and percussive thump accompanied jug band territory. On a connected theme, ‘Perfect Place To Hang’ is a hushed and intimately sung, gypsy violin adorned melancholic ballad about life being a bit miserable that could well be seen as a commentary on life post-Brexit.

Piano makes an appearance on the barroom slow waltzer as the pair share her and him verses for ‘Love Is A Bitch (Then You Die)’, another song summed up by its heart-bruised title, before rounding everything off with the piscine-themed title track, fingerpicked and occidental-tinted song bookended by tranquil birdsong, sung by Jill and inspired by Kodomo no Hi, a Japanese Children’s Day involving the flying of carp kites, parents wishing for their kids to grow up the determination of the fish. I don’t know if the couple gig much out of East Sussex, but this should help spread the name.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.miltonhide.com

‘Home Is Where Your Heart Is’ – official video:

SINGLES BAR 28 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 28Leviathan! by BLACKBEARD’S TEA PARTY is an energetic and accomplished recording by these York-based folk-rockers that did strike some nostalgic (power) chords, with electric guitar, bass and two drummers driving the folkier fiddle and melodeon. There are versions of two traditional songs – ‘The Bonny Ship The Diamond’ and ‘The Weary Whaling Grounds’ – that you may remember from Bert Lloyd’s similarly entitled whaling song collection from 1967, but the tone here is very different. Also featured are two home-brewed instrumentals – ‘DFLN’ and ‘The Lost Triangle/The Lone Pancake’, both highly reminiscent of 60s-70s folk rock – and the very effective song ‘Leviathan’, based on the story of albino sperm whale Mocha Dick that partly inspired Moby Dick. Not for purists, but well worth a listen.
www.blackbeardsteaparty.com

Brother WindGNOSS, once a duo, is now a four-piece hailing from Glasgow’s fertile hotbed of fine musicians, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Their four-track EP, Brother Wind, provides a pleasingly versatile balance of two songs and two tunes. The title track hits with an immediate Disney-soundtrack catchiness before opening up its folky heart with some terrific harmonies. From the snaking groove of ‘The Closet Bodhrán’ to the vigorous reels of ‘Moul Head’ via the sensitive rendering of ‘My Ship’, it’s very easy to understand why this band is being so hotly tipped as one to watch.
www.gnossmusic.com

Amy GoddardA self-released EP of songs connected to mining, at the heart of Welsh singer-songwriter AMY GODDARD’s Green Is The Colour lies her six-minute Remembering Aberfan, a charity single released in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster when a slag heap in the Merythr valley slid killing 116 children and 28 adults in the nearby school and neighbouring buildings. A stark, acoustic number with a mournful backing choir, it’s a haunting listen.

However, the tracks that surround it are no less strong. Initially sung unaccompanied, the title track was inspired by the arsenic mines of Devon and Cornwall, the biggest of which was owned by the family of William Morris, its poisonous green pigment used in his iconic wallpapers. There’s a brace of well-known covers, the first being ‘North Country Blues’, an early Dylan number about the closure of the iron ore mines and the effect on the mining community, a history repeated in Wales in the 1980s, the other a chiming acoustic guitar waltz through Merle Travis’ ‘Dark As A Dungeon’.

The perils of working underground inform the sprightly self-penned folksy strum ‘Underground Road’ which, featuring Hannah Fisher on fiddle, charts the life of a mining community. Sharing a poisoning theme with the opening number, sung with just hand percussion accompaniment, the final track has Goddard has duetting with Andy Adams on ‘Blue Murder’, an Alistair Hulett song about asbestos mining.
http://www.amygoddardmusic.co.uk/

Al ShieldsNow backed with The Delahayes, Edinburgh-based troubadour, AL SHIELDS returns with a new collection of freshly squeezed Americana, in the form of the Fire On Holy Ground EP, due for release on Shields’ own label, Al Shields Music (ASM004), on April 30th.

The band-backed electric sound is a slight deviation from Shields previous all-acoustic efforts, but with the same old glimmers and shades of Ryan Adams and co. it is a most enjoyable listen. From the disc’s half-dozen numbers, ‘Counting the Hours’, ‘Kick Your Feet Up’ and ‘The Boys in the Band’ are among the stand outs, but then, there is very little to dislike about this record.
https://www.alshields.com/

Rag’N’Bone (And The Coal Rippers Daughter) is an upcoming EP from singer-songwriter NEIL BROPHY. So far only a single comprising two versions of the title track has been released. The song is set in 19th century London: Rag’N’Bone is obvious and apparently a coal ripper is or was a man who dug out the rock above a coal seam and shored up the walls and roof. Who knew? The story is of a love story set among the squalor – “my dog died, too, and you can have his bones” – as two young people set out for a life among the mudlarks at Blackfriars. The acoustic version features Neil on guitar, harmonica and kick-drum while the radio edit is a full band version with a Levellers feel about it.
www.neilbrophy.co.uk

KIM LOWINGS & THE GREENWOOD have a new single in the form of the five-minute plus ‘New Moon’, a track that doesn’t feature on the recent Wild & Wicked Youth album,. Driven by a persistent repeated drum pattern from Tim Rogers and Dave Sutherland’s throbbing upright bass with a hypnotic circling guitar line by Andrew Lowings and Kim on dulcimer, it’s a nod towards late 60s/early 70s progressive folk rock of outfits like The Trees, Bread Love and Dreams and the pre-epic Renaissance rather than the more traditional inclinations of her other material.
https://www.kimlowings.com/

Jake AaronThat’s a great cover picture. ‘Give Me Your Horse’ is the new single from genre-bending guitarist JAKE AARON. The guitar is somewhat submerged here with Steve Lodder’s Hammond and Steve Waterman’s trumpet taking the lead over the bass and drums of Guy Pratt and Marc Parnell. You’re forever expecting a vocal line to appear but for all that it remains resolutely instrumental.
www.jakeaaron.com

SINGLES BAR 27

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 27MERRY HELL will launch their eagerly awaited acoustic album, Anthems To The Wind, in a couple of months. Forget Costa del Folk, Wigan will be the place to be! To whet our appetites they have an EP, Bury Me Naked, led of by one of our favourite songs. The acoustic line-up has given them the opportunity to completely rearrange the song with Virginia Kettle’s voice well out front and what sounds like a barrel organ giving it a jolly lift. ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is based on acoustic guitar and ‘Drunken Serenade’ is given a ceilidh feel with Neil McCartney’s fiddle driving the song. The set is finished off with an anthemic ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’. Brilliant from start to finish.
www.merryhell.co.uk

Gary Miller‘The Durham Light Infantry’ is an old song by the mighty Whisky Priests. It has now been re-recorded by writer GARY MILLER and is now the lead single from his new project, From Coalfield To Battlefield. In this version Gary is accompanied by The Ferryhill Town Band brilliantly scored by Sam Lord and producer Iain Petrie. The single includes vocal and instrumental versions and is one of the very few occasions when an instrumental is the equal of the vocal version. There’s a gorgeous riff, if that’s the right word, that serves as a fill in the song and decorates the second version. Lovely stuff.
www.whippetrecords.com

Ben Morgan-BrownHaving self-produced his first two EPs, BEN MORGAN-BROWN has enlisted Josh Clark to oversee his third, Cold Rooms. You might think that a solo voice and guitar doesn’t require a huge amount of production but Josh has certainly got the best out of the Exeter based singer songwriter. The opening title track begins gently enough but Ben’s guitar rings underneath his voice while building up to a big finish. The instrumental, ‘I See That You’, is gorgeous with an almost retro feel as Ben finger-picks a low continuo while striking plangent top notes. There are some nice synth tones at the end of ‘No More Fooling’, too.
www.benmorganbrown.co.uk

The DarkDARWIN’S DAUGHTER is better known to her family as Fiona Ruth Hannon. She lives in Ireland and The Dark is her first EP. The first thing to say is that she has one hell of a voice which stands up well to the orchestra that tries to dominate the opening track, ‘Dark Fires’. It’s better when the production takes its foot off the gas and lets us hear the trio of Anthony Gibney, Max Greenwood and Kim V Porcelli – Greenwood’s piano played at the top end of the keyboard decorates beautifully.
https://www.darwinsdaughtermusic.com/what-we-do-1/

Inni-KEithne Ní Chatháin goes by the INNI-K which is a blessing for those of us who don’t have the Gaelic. Following her debut album, The King Has Two Horse’s Ears she releases a single, ‘Edges’, before going on tour. She’s impossible to categorise with her powerful voice, fiddle and electric guitar supported by double bass and percussion. We need to hear more.
http://www.inni-k.com/

I Am A BoyKRIS WOODBIRD is something of an enigma. He lives n Stockholm and has released a number of singles over the last year of which ‘I Am A Boy’ is the latest. Very simple: just one voice and one voice, it’s desperately fragile with self-destructive overtones. He talks about smashing his head against a wall, being unworthy and living far away from home. A new album is expected this year.
https://www.kriswoodbird.com/

CAITLIN KING – Flower Crown (SoSlam)

Flower CrownMusicians, like policemen, are looking younger and there is a new young musician on the beat.  Southend-on-Sea based Caitlin King has only just turned 16 and has released a début EP Flower Crown which shows a lot of promise.

Caitlin has been writing since she was 12 and it’s encouraging to see that all five tracks on the EP are her own compositions.  That’s a brave choice as the temptation must be to put a couple of well known covers in, but it also means that the performer has a chance to establish their own identity and not bind themselves to a particular genre.

I would pitch this album in the folk realm, as the songs are very personal, but it certainly isn’t just a folk album.  It has to be mentioned that Caitlin may lack years but has experienced loss in her life, which influences two of the tracks in particular.

‘Metaphor’, the opening number, is about facing loss and having to deal with that the time leading towards it where hope begins to fade and praying for the best doesn’t work. This track is quite pop orientated and is the only one that has a drum accompaniment.

‘In The Wilderness’, which follows it, is musically a much simpler track with just voice and guitar and is very much a song of somebody whose life is starting to take on a new direction and with new distractions such as relationships.  It has more of a folk feel and is rather beautiful.

‘Heal your Heart’ is a song that also refers back to Caitlin’s loss but what this song has in common with ‘Metaphor’ is that it has a positive message that throughout everything love remains and that love becomes part of the healing process.

For ‘Flower Crown’ Caitlin accompanies herself on piano. There a blues feel in a song about basically about love and being there for people and has an impressive build before ending with a gentle outro.

‘Like You Once Did’ returns back to the folk idiom and can also be considered a love song although the love isn’t happy and fulfilling.  Interestingly this song also includes spoken words, which is something not often heard in songs and yet it works very well here.  Hearing Caitlin’s real voice, with even a few “you know’s” thrown in for good measure, does bring home how young she is.

Caitlin’s voice, as with the songs, can vary across the tracks.  She’s certainly capable of putting on an accent that would not be out of place in a jazz bar but she also has a simpler and, for me, more natural sound that is very pleasant.  As a début this EP does exactly what it should.  Caitlin has set out her stall and showcased her talents well.  There’s a good range of skills on display and she’s not afraid to experiment, but also manages to avoid the trap of attempting to over-complicate things for effect. It’s a very promising start, from somebody learning their trade the right way, and I think there is more to come.

The album was released at the end of 2017 and is now available to download or stream through various platforms including iTunes and Amazon.

Tony Birch

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Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/caitlinkingmusic/

‘Flower Crown’ – official video: