Tablelands is the third of the trilogy of EPs by INDIA ELECTRIC CO. that began in the city with EC1M and ends somewhere hot, red and swampy. The format is much the same as before: Cole Stacey on vocals and percussion and Joseph O’Keefe on everything else. The difference is in the sophistication and confidence shown by the duo. The songs are rich and mysterious with lines that lodge in your brain. “There’s something in the water, we all know” comes from ‘Mareeba’, which is a town in Australia, although that knowledge doesn’t really help. ‘In Absence’ is particularly good with more intriguing lines that don’t quite make sense unless you have the context. The closing ‘Gold In The North’ sums up, in a wave of nostalgia, the city/country dichotomy that has threaded its way through the trilogy. “There’s gold in the North”, they admit, “but it’s hard to leave here”.
Risen from the ashes of Merrymouth, the folk project by Ocean Colour Scene’s Simon Fowler, MERRYMAKER comprises Dan Sealey, who was a member of both (and now, alongside his dad, also part of the revived Cosmotheka which featured his last uncle) alongside Adam Barry (also ex-Merrymouth and the third Cosmotheka member), Paul McCormack and Hannah Lawson. Sealey has a similar Bee Gees-like warble to Fowler, providing a vocal continuity between the bands, and also happens to be an equally excellent songwriter.
Following on from three singles, including 2016’s ‘We Don’t Want A War’ protest against the bombing of Syria, ‘Unnatural Progression’ (self-released) is their debut EP, a five-track collection of four originals and a version of the traditional ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’. Orchestrally arranged opener ‘Evergreen’ is a majestic, soaring anthem that sets the nature theme that runs through the Harvest Moon-like Neil Young trot of ‘Rainclouds’, fiddle-driven midtempo catchy chorus stomp ‘Midst of Summertime’ and the brass-tinged and jazzy woodwind eco-warning ‘The Future Looks Back’. Can we have a whole album’s worth soon, please?
The Girl With The Cloak is a beautiful little bundle of songs by Ayrshire based musician, EMMA DURKAN. At just 25, she already has an impressive array of accolades and honours to her name, not to mention an undeniable talent. Performing on the fiddle and clarsach, the EP is made up of six tracks which are written, arranged and sung by Durkan, creating a tangible fusion between traditional and contemporary.
A majestic, fiddle-led number, titled, ‘The Truth’ kicks off the record, and flows into the equally pretty, if comparatively more stripped back ‘Green Light’. For me, it is ‘Trying’ which steals the show, dealing with the monotonies, expectations, struggles and challenges of daily life in its relatable lyrics, which sit nicely alongside Durkan’s musical arrangement. The title track is perhaps the most mournful of the EP, with its “Girl With The Cloak” protagonist being revisited and referenced in final number, ‘Stepping Stones’ creating a sense of closure, as the record bows out on a truly beautiful note.
Available from her website, DARIA KULESH offers up Autumn Delights, the final of her four seasonal EPs (available in a limited handmade sleeve edition) and a prelude to next year’s Earthly Delights album. A four track selection, it again affords an eclectic and geographically wide-ranging mix, opening with a cover of Kara’s ‘Union Street’, a waltztime song celebrating the harvest, here given a gorgeous Quartet arrangement featuring Tristan Seume on guitar, Marina Osman’s descending piano chords and, bookending the number, Kate Rouse providing shimmering hammered dulcimer.
Osman’s also on hand for ‘Boston Waltz’ which, despite the title, is actually of Russian origin, where it’s known as ‘Vals-Boston’. An autumnal vision of a young dancer whirling through the neighbourhood leaves written by Leningrad-born songwriter Alexander Rosenbaum (or, to be accurate, Aleksandr Jakovlevič Rozyenbaum), a highly significant and influential figure on the Soviet cultural scene, it’s his biggest hit though little known outside of Russia. Kulesh (who, at 16, apparently performed it at an Italian beauty pageant, winning the Miss Mystery title), naturally, sings it in her native tongue. There’s a touch of Piaf about the song, so it’s surely no accident that, backed by Jonny Dyer on guitar, she ends singing (in full smoking torch mode) in French, her choice being ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’, a song of longing, loss and decay written in 1945 by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert and, more commonly known in its translated version as‘Autumn Leaves’, first popularised by Yves Montand from whose 1951 recording Kulesh learned it, complete with the original spoken intro.
Again featuring Dyer, the remaining track, by popular request, is her achingly tender and highly emotional reading of the sad and angry ‘No Man’s Land’ (aka ‘Green Fields of France’), Eric Bogle’s classic anti-war song and as fine a recording as you could wish to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary Remembrance Day.
PILGRIM ST release The EP in advance of their debut album. Although Irish in origin their influences come from the other side of the Atlantic – bluegrass and mountain music are to the fore. ‘My Little Blackbird’ is a banjo driven foot-stomper to open the set and you might be suckered into thinking that you’re in for four tracks of rousing “yee-hah”. But…’Givin’ It Up This Time’ is entirely different. It’s slow and sad, talking about “the insomnia train” and “polluting your system”. It’s a bit grim, actually. ‘Emerald’ possibly comes from ancient Irish history but it also speaks to every invasion of one country by another that has ever happened and finally ‘Hurt People Hurt People’ goes back to Americana but without the swagger of the first track. It leaves us wondering.
Based in London, CATTY PEARSON trades in folk, country and blues on her October released debut streaming/download EP Time Tells Me (AWAL), recorded with the legendary Chris Kimsey, on which she’s joined by Ollie Clarke on the guitar, drummer Evan Jenkins, Flora Curzon on violin, and folk luminary Lukas Drinkwater on bass with Nichol Thompson and Jansen Santana providing trombone and percussion, respectively playing percussion. Likened to a folksier Norah Jones, she describes five tracks as an enquiry into materialism and the insidious creeping of technology into all areas our lives, opening with the fiddle adorned, steady rhythmic pulse of lead single ‘Electricity’, while ‘Time Tells Me This’ has a smoky late night soul feel reminiscent of Wendy Waldman and ‘Smothered Love’ steeped in prowling jazzy blues flavours. Another breathily sung ballad, this time more acoustic in nature, ‘Northern Sky’ has a suitably clear night air tone, the EP rounded off with the softly sung, circular fingerpicked patterns of ‘Moment Too’. Definitely a name to watch.
Sunlight is the debut EP from Leicester sing-songwriter TIMOTHY HOAD and it’s a delight. The title track, which opens proceedings, is an up-tempo and, indeed, uplifting song built on a drum and handclap rhythm. Timothy has a gift for both melody and lyrics and the second track, ‘The Ghost I Loved’, has a nicely twisty story and is perversely optimistic given that the singer is about to be executed – or was that his plan all along? The third track is ‘Shapeshifter’ and it just leaves us wanting a whole album.
O&O are a London-based American-Israeli duo consisting of Obadiah Jones and Orian Peled, both graduates of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Truth Comes Out being their self-released debut EP. Described as Fleetwood Mac meets the Civil Wars, they bolster the claim with the steady rolling rhythm of the blues tinged title track and the country-rock chug ‘Saturday Morning’, showing a softer side duetting on the rippling missing-you ballad ‘Tears In The Rain’ (a former single) and the slow burn, pedal-steel stained waltz ‘Rolling On’. A very fine addition to the burgeoning UK Americana scene.
Some musicians make an EP on a shoestring to get their name out there while they save up to make an album. Not so DAVID LEASK, whose Six In 6/8 was recorded with nineteen musicians in Toronto, Montreal, Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Scottish-born David lets his native country peep through with some lovely whistle on ‘Red Balloon’ but ‘Caught In The Tide’ quickly crosses the Atlantic to Canada where he now lives and grows in the crossing. Six wants to be an album when it grows up but at six regular-length tracks it doesn’t really make the cut while, at the same time, it’s too heavy duty for an EP. ‘Can’t Make It Back Home’ is probably the best song in the set but it’s swamped by the arrangement.
Another duo with Mac-influences, this time from Birmingham, GASOLINE & MATCHES are Sally Rea Morris and Steve Marks who, aside from regularly hosting local Nashville Sounds in the Round sessions for upcoming UK country names, are establishing their own solid momentum having been nominated alongside The Shires and Ward Thomas for Duo of the Year at the 2018 British CMA Awards. Produced by Gavin Monaghan, their third single is the mid-tempo but full-blooded ‘Not Into Country’, a musical differences break-up number with Morris on lead and Marks providing the muscular guitar breaks.
Everything’s Fine is the latest three-track by YVONNE LYON and, like many musicians it seems, she has chosen to be upbeat and optimistic in face of the chaos that is taking over the world. It’s a fine song but ‘Where The Poor Find Gold’ may be even better although not such an obvious lead track while ‘Hope’ rounds out the set with soulful vocals over an electronica backing.
RUSTY SHACKLE provide a taster for their upcoming new Passion, Death & Joy album with ‘Sam Hall’ (own label), a typically driving slice of folk-rock, emphasis on drums and fiddle, telling the story of the 18th century highwayman, here reflecting on his life as chimney sweep to thief to the gallows.
LICKING THE MOOSE are a Norwegian Americana band and their single ‘Murder Ballad’ is the audio equivalent of Scandi-noir television. Pained, whisky-soaked vocals sit on a rather ponderous piano-led accompaniment. It’s a strange song, probably something to do with the voice that the singer is hearing. Not a lot of laughs.
JOEY COSTELLO has previously featured in these pages and is back with a new single, ‘So High We Lose Our Minds’. Nicely simple with ringing guitar chords and backing vocals and Joey’s all-but-impossible falsetto.
Singles Bar 34
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