A round-up of recent EPs and singles
Following four independent releases, Ontario siblings THE ABRAMS BROTHERS mark their major label debut with a self-titled EP (Warner Music 237811), a six tracker collection of country tinted pop that kicks off with ‘Champion’, a number that mixes together American Football’s ‘When The Summer Ends’ and Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ in a way that echoes fellow Canadians Barenaked Ladies. The latter can also be heard on the jaunty banjo jogalong ‘Fine’, its summery vibe also washing through ‘Still In Love’ a stadium-style ballad with another lyric about sustaining romance in the face of change.
‘Perfect’ is another bouncy track that follows their template of toe-tapping melody and a big chorus rush as is the last cut, the rhythmically scampering ‘Spend Your Life With Me’, while, sandwiched in-between is the EP’s other mid-tempo love song, ‘Miracles’, it’s chorus again encouraging arms aloft swaying. They already have a solid reputation in Canada and, if this gets the international airplay it deserves, there’s no reason why they couldn’t follow in the footsteps of both BNL and that other fellow countryman, Bryan Adams.
ROBERT LANE releases a delightful summer single, ‘Right By My Side’ which is now available to preorder from iTunes. It opens with solo acoustic guitar before the band and strings join in and there is a lovely electric guitar fill towards the end. It reminds me a bit of The Kinks’ ‘Days’ although really they have nothing in common apart from the sunny feeling.
The son of the late great king of skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, PETER DONEGAN has long been fronting his own band playing a mix of his dad’s classics and his own material, releasing a debut album in the same vein back in 2009. However, it’s long been his ambition to make a full on self-penned country record, one that comes to fruition with the self-released 5-track Superman EP. Recorded in Nashville with sessioneers whose credits include Krauss, Lynn and Morrison, it’s a fine set that gets underway with the mid-tempo radio friendly jingling title track with Bob Williams on dobro. The pace is a little slower for the soulful swayer ‘I’m Yours’ with its organ backing an lyrical nod to Van’s ‘Into The Mystic’ indicating the influences at work.
With its plangent electric guitar and mandolin, ‘Ode To A Friend’ starts slow but builds to a sprightlier number with piano and marching drums, while, a song to his son, the steady Hammond-backed balladeering of ‘Little Man’ adopts a more acoustic approach.
For the five-minute closer ‘Shakin’’, the hints of hints of father’s voice are enveloped in a strong Southern blues groove with a fierce electric guitar solo that suggests this is likely to prove a bit of a live stormer.
From Portland, Oregon comes AVERY LEVINE who spent five years living in Dublin, a time which clearly had a profound effect on him to judge by his debut EP, Lonesome City. He plays bouzouki and flute and mixes traditional Irish songs and tunes with his own compositions. The flute solos, ‘Seán Ó Duibhir a Ghleanna/Statia Donnelly’s’ and ‘Patsy Hanley’s/The Boys Of Ballisodare/The Crosses Of Annagh’, are nice enough, as is ‘Herbert Park’ (about a public park in Dublin), but Avery seems to be trying too hard to sound like a Dubliner and the opener, ‘Coins On The Ground’, sounds a bit forced. His singing style is also rather intense and even on the best track, ‘Lonesome City’, it would be nice to hear him sing in his natural voice.
JEANES is essentially a vehicle for Yorkshire-based songwriter and guitarist Russell Jeanes, debut EP Sleeping Leaves (Folkstock) a four track collection of songs to do with nature, brought into being after gathering dust for thirty years and featuring three different female vocalists. Recorded in a Parisian garden, Catherine Hershey fronts the first two, the breathily sung ‘Simply Jayne’ with its courtly troubadour arrangement and the sound of blackbirds, and the similarly styled ‘Barley, Hops & Yeast’, a metaphorical love song built around the origins of alcohol with its circling guitar pattern and strings, redolent of the sun on golden country fields.
The birds chirping again, the equally breathy Emily Grace Zornado takes over for the plucked acoustic ‘Smiles With Her Eyes’, the double-tracked vocals recorded in Danielson National Park then its off to Brussels for the strings-enrobed arrangement of the pastoral headiness of ‘Trees Hug Bees’ sung in childlike tones by Lea Duncan. Bewitching stuff.
CIRCE’S DINER are Rosina Buck and Bronte Shande who met while studying in Bristol. Their new single, ‘Who Dares’, features delicate guitar and piano accompaniment (by Paul Quinn) under striking harmonies. It’s another optimistic summer song about bouncing back from setbacks and standing up for yourself.
Husband and wife duo Jools and Malcolm Heyes are RUBY MUSE, a Cambridge duo who’ve earned comparisons as diverse as Yes, Morcheeba and Fleetwood Mac, although it’s really on the latter’s influence you’ll hear on self –released EP, Just Like You, most notably on the five-minute lo fi, sultrily sung title track opener. To be honest, never deviating from the path it sets at the start, it rather outstays its welcome, but the more concise, bluesier ‘Diamonds’ with its snap percussion is a stronger proposition. However, it’s the folksier final track, the moodily acoustic fingerpicked ‘Winter Hellebore’, a song about growth through adversity, that features African drum and tambourine that leaves you wanting to hear more.
Featuring, as it does, sax, double bass, trumpet and flugelhorn, you’ll not be surprised to hear that To Gentlemen (SoDak004), the debut release by multi-instrumentalist, producer/singer-songwriter/sessioneer Rachel Ries under her new name of HER CROOKED HEART, has some clearly discernible jazz shadings. They’re at their most obvious on the opening midtempo ‘Are You Good You Are’ with its shifting rhythms and time signatures. The two tracks in the middle are folksier, the brushed drums shuffle of ‘Adrian’ with its spoken midsection and brass warmed play-out and the simple acoustic strum of the intimately-sung ‘Loving You’, the EP ending with the piano instrumental title track. Featuring lyrics that incline to poetry, it’s an interesting taster, but this jury’s going to delay the verdict until the full album offers some more supporting evidence.
JACK COOKSON comes from Devon and was a Radio 2 Young Folk Award nominee last year. He already has several recordings to his name but his single, ‘Thistles’, is the first time his music has come to our attention. One of his early tracks was ‘Nebraska’ and you can tell that he’s a Springsteen fan – if Bruce came from Plymouth rather than New Jersey, this is how he might sound. There is no information on Jack’s band but he probably did most of it himself and somebody really should help to put him on the map.
Hailing from the North-West, ROBIN ELLIOTT is a fingerpicking troubadour folkie whose new Ben Walker-produced EP is At Sunset (Textbook). The title track with its smoky, breathy vocal delivery has ragtime nods and a guitar style reminiscent of Bert Jansch while the lazily laid-back ‘Lean Times’ conjures up a sort of calypso Paul Simon. Originally released on Folkroom’s 2015 Anthology Three, but here shorn of the organ, drums and backing vocals for just voice and nervy guitar picking, the five-minute jazzier folk ‘William V’ is a storysong about an orphan set on the notorious Broadwater Farm estate. Given that number’s traditional influences, it’s appropriate that the EP concludes with an actual tradition tune, Elliott’s Nick Drake-tinged interpretation of ‘Poor Murdered Woman’, the Roud ballad that recalls the true story of how, in 1834, the Surrey Union Hunt found a woman’s body on Leatherhead Common, Elliott’s added lines about news crews and cameramen giving it a contemporary spin.