SINGLES BAR 48 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 48Yet another British-Asian who’s been drawn to British and American folk style, variously based in Oxford (where he heads a Beatles covers band) and Exeter, the smooth, treble-voiced RIAZ AHMAD makes his debut with the All At Sea EP, self-released towards the end of February but preceded by the lead single ‘Pray To God’, fingerpicked acoustic guitar blending with tabla and sitar in a fusion of his roots on a song about teenage arranged marriage and the hopes and fears of the parents.

Addressing themes of family, migration and love, elsewhere Simon Mayor contributes mandolin on the jazzy rhythmed ‘Blank Canvas’, another song about a woman transitioning to another life and unreadable emotions, the melodic 80s jazz-pop swing. ‘It’s Not A Crime’ features flugelhorn solo leading into the instrumental playout while the dreamy, piano and double bass-accompanied ‘All At Sea’ brings calm and peace, albeit ambiguous as “you leave me no choice and glide away”. Ahmad works as a singing teacher and there’s an assured relaxed confidence in his voice and delivery, while the songs are testament to his abilities as composer and lyricist. His future may well lie more jazz than folk clubs, but, either way, on this evidence it’s a very promising one

Singles Bar 48You thought that Christmas was over – not quite. SKINNER & T’WITCH got The Bells Of Christmas out in time for the festive season but we didn’t get our copy soon enough. The six songs are all by Steve Skinner and blend his familiar humour with serious messages. The opening track, ‘The Drinking Song’, falls into the former category and I doubt that taking his advice, throwing all your bills away and opening another bottle will solve your problems.

‘Silent The Night’ is a vision of the perfect Christmas and the witty ‘I Don’t Want An iPad (I Just Want World Peace)’ looks to hoped-for better times, a theme returned to in ‘Santa, Teach The World To Fly’. ‘The Winter Song’ is another slice of nostalgia and the record ends with ‘The World Carol’ which began life somewhere in the vicinity of Coventry. If you didn’t get a copy of this EP back in December buy one now and save it up for next year. It will still be topical.

Singles Bar 48Hailing from Boston, to where she’s recently returned after a ten-year stint in Toronto, indie-folk singer-songwriter LINDSAY FOOTE self-releases her Rollercoaster EP which, working with multi-instrumentalist producer Joel Schwartz, offers up six numbers reflecting the title’s theme of a life of ups and down. Opening track ‘Don’t Go Changing Without Me’ reveals a soft and tender, whispery yet slightly grained voice and a leaning towards pop inflected folk, drums and electric guitars complementing the plucked mandolin acoustic foundations. Nodding a little to Fleetwood Mac and written some three years ago, ‘New York City’ recalls a decision not to move to the Big Apple with her then boyfriend, the image of distance echoing how she was feeling about the relationship.

The EP title surfaces in the undulating rhythms of ‘Ready’, another song about a relationship going nowhere, though this time she’s the one left behind, while the remaining cuts are made up of chiming guitar and steady drumbeat midtempo ballad ‘That Won’t Do Me Any Good’, the mandolin-intro reflective slow waltz ‘For Real’ and, a personal favourite, the hymnal feel of ‘Resting Place’, its minimal backing putting the focus firmly on Foote’s emotive vocals and Belinda Corpuz’s harmonies.

Singles Bar 48AISHA BADRU is an African-American singer-songwriter who has documented her move from New York to Florida and self-sufficiency in her EP, Trancendence. Aisha has the sort of breathy voice that I don’t usually care for but here it really works because of its intensity. Her acoustic guitar is supported by piano and strings and her writing is superficially simple but incisive.

The opening track, ‘Millennial’, is a countdown to her move and you can sense the eagerness in her words. In ‘Water’ she observes that “we can’t be keepers of anyone’s keep” and looks to a future when everyone can be free. ‘Love Doesn’t Fade’ is on the one hand a personal song and, on the other, a universal one. Aisha has a lot to say and I’d like to see her do well.

Singles Bar 48Alabama cheerleader turned songwriter, with ringing, reverb electric guitars and driving drums dusky-voiced CHARLI ADAMS is on the alt-rock side of the Americana camp for her ‘Good At Being Young’ (Color Study) debut EP, opening with the synth and guitar swirling interplay of the slow march-paced Passenger Seat and closing with the alt-folk strum of the reflective ‘Cloverland Drive, the street on which she’s lived since moving to Nashville when she was 17, the song looking back on an era that embodied the invincibility of youth and the freedom of early adulthood.

In-between, things get rockier on the Stevie Nicks-like ‘Bad Caffeine’ (“it hits you that you might have/Needed me/Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya”), another track where synth figures in the mix; the chugging steady beat ‘Backseat, an anthemic ode to the tail-end of adolescence (“I’m young and I’m falling in love/With the night”) ; the pulsing rhythm and synth eddies of the unsettling ‘Black T-Shirt’; and the measured aching moving on balladry of ‘10th Avenue’ (“I can’t stay here but I’ll never love it more”). An impressive debut from a voice I suspect we’ll be hearing much more of.

Singles Bar 48‘Bourbon And The Truth’ is the first of six singles that PETE GARDINER is planning to release during 2020. His lyrics have been widely praised – here he packs more words and ideas into three and a half minutes than should be possible. Originally from Northern Ireland, Pete is now based in and around London, and his brand of Americana should really start a fire.

Singles Bar 48Already well-established, MARINA FLORANCE makes her first appearance in 2020 with the February 29 self-release of ‘Long Way Home’ which, Mark Jolley on mandolin and strings, is a suitably languid number about those times when you want to make the moment last because, as she puts it, “you are coming back to stuff that you don’t really want to do”.

Singles Bar 48A Wiltshire-based exponent of traditional folk and melodeon, JONATHAN STUART has, however, opted for one of his own as his debut single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Sing The Blues’, a warmly sung, gentle don’t break up with folk-shaded ballad accompanied by woodwind and delicate piano notes released for download.

Singles Bar 48THE COO is a duo formed by Matt Arthur and Jara Holdert after a chance encounter in Amsterdam. Their debut single, ‘Low Country Girl’, tells the story of their meeting with harmonies and mandolin over their guitars. Their sound has been likened to that of the late 60s/early 70s canyon but it’s more modern and spiky than that on this evidence.

Singles Bar 48‘Long Way Home’ is the second single taken from Just Words, the seventh solo album by LYNNE HANSON who is also one half of The LYNNeS. Lynne’s voice can be a hard-bitten, whskey-fuelled drawl or take on a smoother reflective tone. As you might expect from a singer of her calibre the arrangement and production are excellent.

Singles Bar 48CARL STREET channels Johnny Cash on his single ‘Bunking The Midnight Train’. There are some nice guitars and while there is nothing terribly new here the song is in the tradition of Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie and is entertaining enough to make us want to hear more.

Singles Bar 48IZZIE DERRY has been our way before and with this song. Her new single, ‘Learn To Grow’, is a remix of a track she released last year. The new mix is pretty meaty and Izzie mixes a country-tinged folk-rock sound with a very distinctive English voice that oozes power. The arrangement is superb and we love those drums.

SINGLES BAR 47 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 47We’ll leave Christmas until later if you don’t mind. Belle Of The Ball is the debut solo recording by AINSLEY HAMILL of Fourth Moon and Barluath. She has an amazing cast of supporters including Graham Coe, Lucy, Evan Carson and Toby Shaer but what jumps out at you is that voice. She begins with the traditional ‘Latha Dhomh ‘s Buain a’ Choirce’ – a powerful but still authentic rendering over an insistent beat.. Butter wouldn’t melt.  Then comes the title track. The instruments are mostly traditional and acoustic but Ainsley sings in a dark, smoky, bluesy voice. Where did that come from? ‘Runaways’, a delightfully hedonistic song, is performed in the same style and then it’s back to the traditional ‘Ailein Duinn’ with Ainsley keeping to the lower end of her register.. Finally we have the country-tinged ‘The Green Woods Back Home’, different again and a cracking song to wrap things up with.

Singles Bar 47THE PEOPLE VERSUS are a five-piece from Oxford who describe themselves as chamber pop but that could be a cover for posh folk-rock. The band spun off from Full Fathom Five and Ground Opening is their debut record – although they do a nice line in T-shirts as well. The EP opens with the double-header of ‘Like I’m Lonely/Driftwood’, built on a very basic drum-beat, possibly a loop, but ‘Driftwood’ gives the drummer more to do. ‘Ground Opening’ is also based on idiosyncratic percussion. Finally we have ‘Sea Monster (Charybdis)’ – you expect a touch of the classics from Oxford. The People don’t tell us much about themselves but we do know that the singer’s name is Alice and that she is blessed with a brilliantly flexible voice.

JAKE AARON certainly isn’t in a festive mood (good on you, Aaron) with ‘Here’s The Thing’. The thing is that he thinks we’re sinking and he could well be right. Jake has a nicely laconic delivery over a ringing acoustic guitar and a nice line in irony as he sings “here’s a song of hope and glory”.

In the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men DUSTY WRIGHT released ‘The Book Of Tears’ in the wake of the epidemic of mass murders in the USA this year. Americana with a soul-tinged chorus, this is a fine song that deserves a wide hearing. “Who has read the book of tears?” That’s just one of the questions he poses.

Northern Irish singer-songwriter AARON SHANLEY released ‘A Decent Apology’ just too late for last month’s post. As a post break-up song it’s one of the best. “I still don’t love you, I’m never going to. But I owe you a decent apology.” An EP is in the works.

Grungy as you could wish for, SMOKE FAIRIES release ‘Elevator’ in advance of their new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, to be released early next year. You won’t be surprised to learn that the album and this track were recorded in Seattle.

Also grungy are THE ROQUES. Their single, ‘Valdivian’ begins with growling bass under strange drones and doesn’t really fit our remit but it exerts a certain compulsion. They look far too young to be having such dark thoughts.

VARO are a traditional duo from Dublin who will release their debut album in the new year.  In the meantime they tempt us with their first single, ‘Sovay’ built on fiddle and drones supporting their close harmonies. Actually, Lucie Azconaga is French and Consuelo Nerea Breschi is Italian and their sound is more earthy than ethereal.

Christmas is still a way away for SERIOUS CHILD on ‘Brambles’. “Brambles will grow where bad people go to do unspeakable things” is the key phrase for the song is inspired by the work of forensic botanist, Mark Spencer. Can’t you just feel a TV series coming on? Alan Young, to give him his real name, occupies the same sort of musical and lyrical territory as Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Spooky but fascinating.

A final festive flurry of singles heads up with SIOBHAN MILLER and her self-released ‘At This Time Of Year’, a piano ballad bedecked with lush woodwind and strings that offers a simple message about missing those you can’t be with at this time of the year and sending them your best wishes.

The same sentiment can be found on the equally strings enrobed ‘Golden Christmas Time’ (Self-released), from TOBIAH, a song poignantly inspired by thoughts of absent friends and specifically the loss of her husband early into their marriage as she sings “See the dress I’ll wear tonight/Like the one you left for me/Placed beneath the Christmas tree”.

Taking a somewhat different tack, strumming an acoustic guitar, one of Nashville’s few Asian country artists, GABE LEE offers up ‘Christmas Day’ (Self-released), described as a “sad and sarcastic” juxtaposition of the Hallmark seasonal schmaltz with the cold, harsh nature of winter in a song about a man on the run, hiding from the law as he sings “It’s been a long, long lonely winter / It’s been a cold, hard-livin’ couple years / And it kills me to say they’re gonna lock me away / And it don’t look like I’ll be home by Christmas day”.

Taking an equally less cheery approach, alt-folk trio THICKETS offer the slow waltzing, icy auto harp tinkling ‘A Winter’s Warning’ (Self-released), a song that began life as an attempt a carol and ended up a murder ballad with Rebecca Lavery offering the ethereal vocal and Emma Hamilton providing the wintery harmonies.

Keeping it downcast, from Sweden comes SOFIA TALVIK riding on the ominous rhythms of ‘Christmas Train’ (Makaki Music), a free download from her Bandcamp site that, in keeping with her previous holiday releases, harks to the darker side with a modern take on the legend of Krampus, Santa’s evil counterpart, who most decidedly is not bringing joy and presents, here embodied in a train rolling down the track to steal dreams and lives.

Also from Sweden is BUFORD POPE telling is ‘What Christmas Ain’t’ (Unchained), a bluesy alt-country strum in which he recounts a kid preparing for Christmas with his sister and parents and then turning to a theme about those left homeless on the streets in the holiday season.

A social conscience is also at the heart of the acoustic chime of ‘Stars’ (Fretsore), a reflective new single by Scotland’s JACK HENDERSON which, opening borrowing from The Tempest’s line about we are such stuff that dreams are made on, responds to the divisiveness in today’s world with a song that, contemplating the origins of life, talks of how, in matters of substance, we are essentially the same. And that, as he puts it, there is “a real sense in which our personal stories have contributed to our collective human story”. Which, I guess, is really what Christmas is about.

What Christmas is about is at the heart of ‘Heart Of Mine’ by LADY NADE. The song is for her grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. You have to imagine what this time of year can be like for sufferers – routine is destroyed, strangers are all around and there is noise and bustle everywhere. Lady Nade simply says, “I won’t let you down”.

‘It’s Not That Cold Anymore’ also contemplates the problem of loneliness at a time when we’re supposed to be happy. YVONNE McDONNELL’s single is a lavishly arranged ode to nostalgia and lost loves. Add it to your Christmas mix-tape.

FRANK BIRTWISTLE – Volumes 1-4 (own label)

Frank Birtwistle Volume 1Frank Birtwistle is a guitarist and composer based in Sheffield who has released a set of four EPs of solo pieces – twenty-eight tracks in all. Volume 1 is played on nylon strings although the opening track ‘Flight’ sounds rather robust. You can forget Pre-Raphaelite young ladies playing delicate little pastoral pieces. Closer listening reveals the softness of tone that you don’t get with a steel-strung instrument but the recording process gives his playing a real presence. I particularly like the lightness of ‘Dreamlands’ in this set while ‘Grasmere’ evokes for me not the summer sunshine but the mist on the hills surrounding the water.

Volume 2Volume 2 is recorded on steel strings with all the brightness and sustain they bring. The second track, ‘Gossamer’, explores the richness of the bass strings with a relatively simple melody over the top – rather hypnotic. ‘Komorebi’ is a slower and slow-building track, again with emphasis on the bass notes. In contrast, ‘Seasons’ opens with a distinctly spring-like motif – almost the sound of a bubbling stream – while ‘Regret’ has a lightness overlaying its implied melancholy. I particularly like ‘Midsummer Haze’ in this set.

Volume 3The third volume continues on steel strings with Frank making more use of his instrument’s natural sustain – and maybe a touch of reverb – to leave notes hanging in the air on the opening ‘Daybreak’. The final track is ‘Sunset’ and uses the same technique so I‘m sure you get the picture. ‘Songbird’ feels a bit too heavy for the image he’s trying to convey – it’s probably right in his mind if not mine – but ‘Standing Still’ has a suitable solidity about it while ‘Nowhere’ runs hither and yon.

Volume 4The last volume is also restricted to the steel-strung guitar and I sort of wish that Frank had mixed things up a bit. Not that there is anything wrong with it – the opening ‘Riversong’ is a lovely fast-flowing piece (sorry) – but I was hoping for a touch of bottle-neck resonator or maybe something on a baritone guitar. No, Frank Birtwistle sticks to what he does best and that is very good.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:


WILLIE CAMPBELL & BAND – Dileab: A Legacy (Comhhairle Nan Eilean Siar CNES2019CD)

DileabRecorded live, Dileab sees the Western Isles singer-songwriter join forces with seven equally local musicians Jane Hepburn MacMillan, Andy Yearley, Paul Martin, DC MacMillan, Neil Johnstone, Rhona Johnstone and Graham MacLennan), variously on strings, percussion, guitars and accordion, and members of six school choirs from the islands of Barra, Uist, Harris and Lewis for an intergenerational project designed to bring local history live for the islands’ young people.

The schools set out to explore the legacy of four of the major social influences on the Outer Hebrides over the last 100 years, emigration, wartime experiences, protest and politics, and the Iolaire disaster of New Year’s Day 1919 when the ship carrying naval reservists and demobbed sailors hit the rocks outside Stornaway harbour with the loss of some 205 lives. To complement this, Campbell was commissioned to write the five songs on the EP, first up being ‘Innise Gall’, an anthemic celebration of growing up as a child amid the wild beauty of the islands. It’s followed by the lively fiddle and drums-led ‘In Honour of the Past’ which talks of the clearances of the 18th century when the people were forcibly removed from their homes to give the land over to sheep farming.

Emigration is the backdrop for the military slow march beat swayalong ‘On A Wave To The West’, recalling those who sailed from Castlebay pier to Quebec “starving and sick depending on strangers’ charity” but strengthened by their heritage and community.

The remaining two songs concern the war and the disaster, the near seven-minute ‘My Time Wasn’t At Hand’ a funereal paced, mournful account of the sinking sung in the voice of one of the few survivors and celebrating the courage of John Finlay Macleod from 14 Port Of Ness, one of the sailors, who tied a rope to his waist and swam to shore, climbing the cliffs and saving seventy lives. The second is ‘We Sleep At Peace’, a jauntily paced, fiddle-led singalong memorial to those from Uist who gave their lives in the name of freedom. Inevitably, Dileab is going to have its strongest appeal close to home, but in terms of the songs and the themes it addresses, it deserves to find a much wider audience.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘On A Wave To The West’ – live:

SINGLES BAR 45- A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 45SARAH YEO is British but she is more deeply steeped in the sounds of America than some Americans. Safe is a five track EP of original songs featuring Sarah Jory on pedal steel and Dobro with drums by Matt Butlin.

The opener, ‘I’m On My Way’, was actually written in San Diego and tells of a yearning for the big country. Next up is ‘War Of Worlds’ is described as the story of a falling out with someone close but if you want to take it as a metaphor for Brexit I certainly won’t stop you. Sarah isn’t taking sides but pleading for a cease-fire. If you’re familiar with the stage of a relationship when you’re not sure if it’s actually over or not then the title track will resonate with you.

‘Roadie 2019’ finds the singer looking for a roadie to help her with a gig in a “nice little bar in a Somerset town” but the story develops into a potential romance as Sarah observes that the hills begin to look more like California. Finally, ‘Lines’ tells of an enduring love although Sarah would seem to be singing from a viewpoint somewhere in the future. Safe is a lovely mix of themes.

Singles Bar 45A Glasgow-based country singer-songwriter, DAVID LATTO reverts to his solo soubriquet after a couple of outings as the David Latto Band for his new EP, Show Me How To Feel, although, featuring five backing musicians, it’s still very much a band work. It opens with the title track, a mid-tempo number written after a period when he felt out of touch with himself and his music, leading into the acoustic strum of ‘Blood & Whisky’, tracing similar idea of rediscovering yourself, here through reconnecting with childhood friends. Another ballad, but with a more leisurely approach, ‘Better Ways’ again draws on that feeling of running to stand still and needing to find a sense of direction and the right path to take. Stripped down to the basics with a minimal pulsing arrangement featuring John Mather on pedal steel, ‘Haunt Me’ was one of the first things he wrote after the band broke up, an impressionist nostalgic remembrance of past relationships recorded in one take while it ends with the walking beat ‘Losing You’, a song about feeling a relationship slipping away and wondering how to hold on to it before, as it builds to a crescendo, realising maybe letting go is the best thing.

Latto confesses that for a long time he felt he’d lost his creative spirit, listening here it’s clear he’s not only found it again, but it’s come with a full recharge.

Singles Bar 45No Songs comes on newly-fashionable 7” vinyl and consists of six instrumental tracks – ten tunes in all – recorded in 1967 by MARTIN CARTHY AND DAVE SWARBRICK. Martin plays guitar, of course, and Swarb plays fiddle and mandolin and as Martin says “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Some of the tunes, ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ and ‘The Ash Plant’ for example, are familiar pieces from the duo’s later repertoire but many are less well-known. The opener, ‘Gillens’ Apples/Snug In The Blanket’, shows off Swarbrick’s finger-breaking mandolin to great effect while ‘Grey Daylight’ is a fiddle tour de force. The recording is very straightforward, as you would expect from the time – no messing about: they let the music speak for itself. A newly re-discovered gem that Martin is selling at gigs.

Dove TalesBased around Scandinavian Stef Rose and Happy Mondays guitarist Johnny Evans alongside Durutti Column drummer Chris Joyce and bassist Victor Freeman, DOVE TALES are a Manchester-based quartet mixing up 60s folk rock jangle, 70s country-soul and Brit rock, stirred together on the Lamplight Sessions EP (Awal), lead track ‘Come Over Here’ taking care of the latter. Of more interest to Folking ears will be the steady slow walking bass strut of ‘Bully’ with its country coloured chorus and the bluegrassy romp of ‘M6’ while Evans sings lead on the West Coast swayalong ‘You And I’ with its instrumental workout bridge.

My Darling ClementineMY DARLING CLEMENTINE, aka Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, release Country Darkness Vol 1, interpretations of Elvis Costello’s country songs. It’s preceded by a single, ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’, and will be followed in due course by volume 2. ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ isn’t terribly country but the second track, ‘Stranger In The House’, makes up for that. ‘That Day Is Done’, a slow piano-driven number maintains the vibe while heading into blues territory. ‘I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came’ is more mainstream country but supplies a big finish. Supporting the duo is Attraction/Imposter Steve Nieve linking these new versions back to Costello.

OutsideBorn in Shropshire and based in Glasgow, MOLLY LINEN releases her debut Outside EP, (Lost Map). Lead track ‘When They Didn’t Care’ with its layered guitars nodding to psychedelic folkpop while the sparse fingerpicked, echoey whispered vocals of ‘Waited Long and the slow-paced, doomily pastoral ‘Soft As Love’ throw up Nick Drake and Cat Power shadows, although its ‘Outside’ with its double-tracked vocals, muted drum beat and watery guitars that proves the most effective.

Picture‘Picture’ is the taster single for the debut album that is due from ELIZABETH & JAMESON early next year. The album is centred around Whitby and the song was inspired by a visit to the Sutcliffe Gallery. The second track, a live recording of ‘To Mend A Broken Heart’, is the first song that Hannah Elizabeth (of Said The Maiden) and Griff Jameson worked on as a duo. Their simple style – guitar, violin and voices – suits the directness of their songwriting.

Keith JamesThe Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher wrote in 1703 “I knew a very wise man … believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” If that’s so, the world needs powerful songs as much as ever. The KEITH JAMES song ‘I Can See’, for online release on October 15th 2019, was written “in support of and on behalf of organizations and individuals currently campaigning to bring a wider and urgent awareness of global climate change“, and it certainly hits its target. Keith James clearly sees the danger of living in a post-truth, self-serving society, but he sees hope too, and that’s important.

Unwed FathersOriginally released on his 1984 album Aimless Love, JOHN PRINE revisits his classic ‘Unwed Fathers’ (Thirty Tigers) in the company of Margo Price who joins in on the second verse. The song a condemnation of the way unwed mothers are “kept under cover/like some bad dream” while the fathers “run like water through a mountain stream”, he re-recorded it as part of a fundraising effort for the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Alabama’s near-complete ban on abortion, stating “that song has always been about how women are the ones who carry, birth and sometimes are left with taking care of and raising children too. Now they want to take away their right to decide if or when they do that. Women should be the ones to make decisions about what affects their lives in such a big way”.

John MorelandMentioning Prine, JOHN MORELAND supported him on his last UK tour and now releases ‘East October’ as a taster for his upcoming Thirty Tigers album debut, a scuffed drum beat, percussive hiss and piano anchoring an achingly soulful song about trying to make it without a crutch to lean on as he sings “how am I ever gonna get by all by myself?

Alessi's ArkSacred is a lovely soft-rock download-only single by ALESSI’S ARK. Relatively simple keyboards, drums and bass support Alessi Laurent-Marke’s sweet voice with the whole thing topped off with electric guitar and some delicate touches that take time to register.

DisconnectIt’s been four years since the last SMOKE FAIRIES album, but Darkness Brings The Wonders Home is set for release in January, preceded by new single Disconnect’, a welcome reminder of their dark fecund and slightly spooked brand of folk with its jittery, guitar riff mantra and the gathering fuzzed rush as it hits the chorus hook that duly ramps up anticipation.

SINGLES BAR 44 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 44As a taster for his somewhat delayed album, From Coalfield To Battlefield, GARY MILLER releases his DLI EP. The DLI is The Durham Light Infantry and the final track, featuring Ferryhill Town Band, has previously been released as a single. The long opening track, ‘The Final Letter Of Jimmy Durham’, is the story of the first African to join the British army. He became a bandsman and a popular man in the regiment but sadly died of pneumonia in Ireland in 1908. In contrast is ‘Ballad Of Lance-Sergeant William Stones’ who was executed for cowardice in 1916. Like so many others, Stones was posthumously pardoned when it was far too late to make amends.‘Euphonium And Cornet’ is about the bandsmen who, like the Scottish pipers, put themselves in harm’s way to rally their comrades. Gary’s powerful voice and equally powerful songs are complemented by big brass arrangements. We’re looking forward to the album.

Featuring Orkney fiddler Louise Bichan alongside American colleagues guitarist Ethan Hawkins, mandolin player Ethan Setiawan and recent addition Casey Murray on cello and clawhammer banjo, Boston-based CORNER HOUSE release their second EP, Smart Folks, a collection of four originals and two contemporary Irish numbers that ranges cross Irish, Scottish, Appalachian stringband and bluegrass influences. It’s Ireland that provide the opening instrumental ‘Slip Jigs’ (‘Farewell To Whaley Range’ and ‘Soggy’s’) before they follow on with ‘Happy Now, a number about depression and family life penned, as is ‘You’re Great’, as low, minimalist spooked-mandolin ballad which briefly perks up rhythmically midway before a fiddle solo, by Hawkins. Setiawan, contributes the musically shape-shifting instrumental title track before, starting slow and gathering pace, a third instrumental, ‘Through The Snow-Covered Pines’, Murray’s clawhammer evoking the quartet’s Appalachian aspects, brings things to a close. They’re due to return to the UK in 2020 for a Spring tour, I suggest you keep a close eye out.

THE PORTLAND BROTHERS are Steven Adams and Tim Victor and their first EP is the download set First EP. Fortunately, their music is rather more imaginative than their titling. The key to their sound is their tight harmony singing over acoustic guitars sometimes bolstered by organ but the lead track, ‘Shake Off The Dust’, begins with a decidedly country vibe and it’s a while before you realise that they are from neither Oregon nor Maine but actually got together in Cambridge. They aren’t exactly informative on their web page but this is clever songwriting – deceptively simple but also complex and raising questions. Is ‘Invisible Love’ about hiding one’s sexuality or is that reading too much into it? Steve and Tim could really go somewhere.

An echo of Simon Garfunkel comes with the self-released The Kivalina EP from New England/Nashville duo JESSE TERRY & ALEX WONG, the title referring to the Alaskan village where the indigenous population have hunted whales for generations.  However, climate change and thinning ice has made both this, and indeed their very existence difficult with experts predicting Kivalina will be uninhabitable by 2025, making them the first climate change refugees.

As such the six tracks revolve around the villagers’ predicament, extending it to more personal and universal considerations, opening with the shimmering, percussion cascading, gradually swelling ‘Landfall’ and proceeding through the similarly styled ‘Nowhere’, the more musically muscular ‘Dangerous’ and the introspective, softly sung fragility of ‘Thieves’. It ends with the tumbling drums and keening harmonies of the lyrical desperation of ‘Ten More Years’ and, finally, the simple strum of the strings-coloured ‘Fight Or Flight’. A simple but beautifully crafted and performed record that delivers a timely and important narrative.

ERIN RAE adds her contribution to the current spate of covers with the download only Lagniappe Session EP (Aquarium Drunkard), opening up a dreamy 60s psychfolk reading of Gene Clark’s ‘Some Misunderstanding’. Formerly recorded by The Monkees, Carole King’s ‘As You Go Along’ here, Rae on 12-string, more recalls a slow burn Byrds, leading on to a loose late 60s West Coast vibe take of Jonathan Richman’s ‘You Must Ask The Heart’. The final cut is an ambitious interpretation of Scott Walker’s ‘Duchess’, featuring Jerry Bernhardt on fuzz guitars, 12 string acoustic and Casiotone, a fine conclusion to an excellent indulgence.

Mandolin, Violin And Saw is one of the best titles we’ve come across all year. It belongs to an EP by DAVID SQUIRE AND THE LONG LAST LOOKS and being recorded in Tennessee it’s pure(ish) country – David says the song is inspired by his maternal grandfather. To confuse things, David is actually from Bristol and despite many years living in the USA he doesn’t really have the accent – whether by chance or design is impossible to say. He is back in England now but his lyrics betray his love of all things American – ‘Savannah Days And Nights’ being a perfect example. As well as mandolin and violin there are guitar, piano, organ and drums but the band’s sound is light and gently rolling and the songwriting is excellent.

A UK Americana four-piece comprising siblings Callum on vocals and rhythm guitar, drummer Theo and lead guitarist Jack Lury with Peter Dixon on brass, THE BLUE HIGHWAYS make the running with their self-titled, self-released debut EP. An energetic four-track collection it kicks off with the Southside Johnny saloon soul swagger of ‘He Worked’, a horns-embellished song about an old man reflecting on his life now he’s retired and to the future of his kids, continuing in a similar but Stonesy blues style with piano-accompanied lying-themed ‘Blood Off Your Hands’. Co-penned with David Burn from Orphan Colours, ‘Matter Of Love’ is an upbeat swaggering Southern country pop track about not having the courage to end a relationship and they end with the reined in reflective acoustic balladry chug of ‘Have You Seen My Baby’, coloured by Henry Senior on mournful pedal steel. It doesn’t push the envelope, but it handles the staple ingredients in solid style

After a run of singles, SJ DENNEY releases a six-track EP, Forgotten Friends. The most recent of the singles is ‘A Fond Farewell’, the final track in the set while ‘Here I Am’ opens it..’(Feels Like I’m) Hearing Things’ is something of a departure in musical style, spikier than his usual material and a powerful song and the drive carries over into ‘All The Signs Were There’, the predecessor to ‘A Fond Farewell’. SJ is big on brass solos in his arrangements which give him a distinctive sound and the pounding drums on ‘The Good Times’ are equally powerful.

BANDITS ON THE RUN are a NYC-based trio consisting guitarist Adrian Enscoe, cellist Sydney Shepherd and Regina Strayhorn on percussion and xylophone, all three handling the vocals. Bandits Live At The Power Station (The MTA) is the latest EP, a four track collection of three originals and one cover kicking off a splash of Hispanic musical colours on ‘Potted Plant’ before the intertwined harmonies of the folksier, blues shaded ‘Sweet Thing’. The swayalong feckless lover-themed ‘Cowboy On The Run’ takes you to the New Mexico desert, complete with cod coyote howl, closing up with their inspired, sultgrily-sung, cello-led lurching take on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’. It certainly makes you want to check out their studio recordings too.

Folking award winner REG MEUROSS releases a new solo album, Raw, very soon but before that we have a single, ‘We Looked Away’, which has to be one of his best ever songs. There’s a delightful hint of Dylan in the melody that serves to root the track in the protest movement of the 60s and if ‘We Looked Away’ doesn’t make you question yourself and everything that is going on in the world you have no soul.

JOSHUA RADIN serves up a taster for his forthcoming new, eighth, album with ‘Here, Right Now’ (Netwerk Music Group), a fingerpicked acoustic-based, whisperingly sung number about embracing the moment that, featuring Maria Taylor, on harmonies, calls to mind early Simon & Garfunkel.

‘Mud’ is the new single from Londoner YVONNE McDONNELL. It has a beautiful, ethereal sound and according to her PR it’s an important song. Sadly, the production and stylised vocals are such that it’s impossible to make out a single word of the lyric.