A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 24MERRY HELL describe the title track of their new EP, Come On, England, as an alternative National Anthem. Needless to say, the song bears no resemblance to the chants of the football terraces or EDL marches. Instead Bob Kettle invokes the Diggers and the Levellers and “the spirit that will never lie down”. The song has a singalong roll that almost disguises its powerful lyrics. The second track is brother John’s ‘We Need Each Other Now’, also from the Bloodlines album, which complements ‘Come On, England’ as a rallying call. ‘Lean On Me, Love’ is a taster for the band’s forthcoming acoustic album – looking forward to that – and the set closes with a live version of ‘The War Between Ourselves’. It’s all inspiring stuff.

Singles Bar 24Based in Devon, VELVET & STONE line up as Lara Snowden and Roger Styles on vocals and guitars, Barry Muir on bass and double bass and Kathryn Tremlett providing violin and piano with producer Gareth Young on hand for percussion and Caroline Lavelle, who’se worked with Radiohead, Muse and Afro Celt Sound System on cello. The self-released ‘Raise Your Ghosts/Embers’ is a two track single taster for October’s EP and, while I’d have thought it would make more sense to release them all altogether rather than fans buying the numbers twice, it certainly whets the appetite. The first has definite mid-tempo Fleetwood Mac shades, or more specifically Stevie Nicks, while the second is a more reflective ballad, Lara’s soft vocals enrobed with strings as the song swells to a head. Nice stuff, but, as I say, waiting for the EP would seem the more sensible option.

The Things That Matter is the debut record from Irish/American duo THE 19th STREET BAND. Caolaidhe Davis and his wife Meghan are the principals, doing the singing and playing guitars, fiddle and mandolin, and are supported by Brian White, Patty Dougherty and Tom Verratti on bass, drums and banjo. Their sound is a mixture of Americana styles: ‘Jump In The Water’ is heavy bluegrass with modern lyrics while ‘Long Runs The Fox’ is sort of slide guitar blues – Meghan has a hell of a voice for that. ‘It’s True What They Say’ is a real shit-kicker; in fact, the pace barely lets up until the closing title track.

Singles Bar 24You’ve Been Away So Long is a self-released 5-track EP from Boston singer-songwriter and guitar picker  ALICE HOWE that winningly draws on such retro 60s American folk influences as Guthrie, Rambling Jack, Kate Wolff, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell, while, accompanied on dobro by Jeff Fielder, opener ‘Homeland Blues’ has definite echoes of Baez.

Described by folk singer Vance Gilbert has having a voice like “a broken angel’s bell”, she brings an emotional catch to ‘Nothing But You’, an elegy to her late father while, another Baez echo, the playful Appalachian-flavoured country waltz ‘Make A Fool Out Of Me’ pays homage to Steve Martin. Her fingers work the frets for ‘Don’t Worry Honey’, a cleverly ambiguous fatalistic love song and how “it’s always in the dark that I liked you best” that has her doing her best Joni soaring notes.

In the unlikely event you’ve not yet been won over, the closing title track makes resistance futile, Fielder on a Gibson L-1 archtop for a song about knowing yourself and being comfortable with who you are. Putting me in mind of Dar Williams’ ‘Mercy of the Fallen’, with its cascading melody lines and her wistfully dusty voice, it’s up there with the very best of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gretchen Peters and Williams herself, as well as those icons of her raising.

I confess I’d not come across her before and this is her first release in three years following an eponymous EP in 2009, her debut album in 2013 and the Tiger Lily EP a year later. I’ll be adding those to the collection and trusting a new full album will be down the road sometime soon.

Loose |EndsThe covering letter that accompanied Loose Ends, the second record from CHRIS FOX, asked if we’d consider reviewing it for fRoots. Ignoring the poor first impression, Loose Ends turns out to be pretty good. Chris does everything himself: finger-picked acoustic guitar, tasteful bass and percussion that make the record very easy to listen to. Chris wrote seven of the eight tracks and they are thoughtful, often witty – the line about lying drunk on the lawn “holding on to the grass to keep myself from falling” is particularly memorable: ‘Howl At The Moon’ is a cracking opener and says what a lot of us are probably thinking. The only non-original track is ‘Lord Franklin’, a gentle, reflective reading of the song.

Small WorldADRIAN BATES makes his recording debut with a four-track EP, Small World, of original songs supported by Chris Miley, Carl Leighton and David Leighton. The opener, ‘Hard Working Man’, is a particularly fine song, putting a 21st century spin on the age-old complaint of the put-upon worker. ‘The Apple’, featuring the Leightons’ violin and cello, is a reflective piece in which the writer laments that he has become what his father was and what he swore he would never be. In the final song, ‘Winding Wheels’, Adrian looks back on his childhood in the Yorkshire coalfields and, in doing so, laments the loss of an industry. An impressive start.

Singles Bar 24‘The Man Who Ate A Hurricane’ is the first single to be drawn from Standing Still Will Kill You, the third album from Essex based singer-songwriter OWEN WILLIAMS. It’s a gritty, hard-edged song with apocalyptic lyrics, supported by piano and backing vocals. We’re looking forward to the album.

A singer-songwriter from Swindon, ROB RICHINGS delivers a shuffle along busker-like song about not closing our eyes to the social problems around us with ‘Carry On Regardless’ (Crescent), its catchy loping crunchy percussion chorus about how “we all stick our head in the sand and carry on regardless” firmly lodging itself in those singalong neurons.

ROB RICHINGS – Parkas and Boots (Crescent CRE1601CD)

Parkas And BootsIn 2009, Swindon-born Richings, then frontman with indie outfit Sleeping With Giants, was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of colitis which eventually metastasised into cancer. Three live saving operations later, he’s doing well and is expected to live a relatively normal life. Except a normal life has now taken on something of a different meaning, as, while he was recovering, he decided to make the most of the chance he’d been given, jacked in his decorating job and started taking his music seriously. To which end, he released the Half Way Up EP last year and then set about putting together his debut solo album, Parkas And Boots, recording this time not in the New Forest, but in Sydney, with Passenger producer Chris Vallejo at the helm and featuring the Enigma Quartet on strings.

As you’d imagine, the album, a collection of troubadour folk songs, is very much informed by his illness and recovery, opening with the rhythmically shuffling reflective title track, a touch of the Simons perhaps, about childhood dreams and how time moves on and friendships wane. That same idea also informs the simple acoustic slow waltz ‘Glorious’, an older years remembrance of those brief fairy tale moments of a boyhood living in rural Ireland.

Taking a slightly funkier, more soulful turn, the organ-underpinned ‘Ten Seconds’ (reminiscent in places of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’) was written at the height of his illness, using the experience of how the day starts off fine before reality kicks in for a song about optimism. The softly fingerpicked, tinkling keys, slow swaying ‘Halfway Up’ is another number directly relating to the same experience, about adopting a glass half full attitude in the face of hardship and how what goes around comes around. The same notion that things can turn on a dime rings true of the minimal, strings-backed ‘Curse of the Lonely’, where he sings “I live on a fault line and I sleep with the lights on. I’m scared of the shadows and what’s not yet happened.”

Loss and hope go hand in hand. On the hymnal-like community spirit piano ballad ‘Give’, to the accompaniment of yearning violin he talks of hanging on to a miracle and how “maybe if we gave a little more than we did, If we all had trust, love, hope and belief… it’s all we’ve got to do if we want to live.” Likewise, having faith in things getting better is also at the heart of Jenny, a song about a fractured relationship and a woman who’s lost touch with herself, but advising her bruised heart partner to hold on because “when Jenny decides that it’s right, she’ll come back to you.” The healing power of love and connection is there too on the lap steel tinged mid-tempo ‘Mississippi’, another reflection on years passed, distances between and wisdom gained (“it’s a long way back but I’m coming. I’m hoping the years have been kind to you and maybe you still think of me too”), the tug of home and the need to settle down seeping over into the guitar rippling ‘Sunset In Tibet’ (“Been running all my life…it’s time I turned around and run home”), another number that calls Paul Simon to mind.

The remaining number is also one of my favourites; slowly gathering to a swelling finale, ‘Crossbow’ is a song about regrets, but also, drawing on the nature of bird song and the changing seasons, about the hope of redemption and salvation. Rob says he doesn’t want his illness to define what he does and who he is. It doesn’t need to, the heart and honesty of his music speaks for him.

Mike Davies

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‘Ten Seconds’ – live: