CORRIE SHELLEY has released a digital only EP, Ghost Light. It begins with the unaccompanied ‘Mother Earth’ sung live in an otherwise empty church to provide just enough atmospheric echo. It’s almost a hymn to our planet coupled with a plea to stop screwing it up. ‘Wedgwood’s Daughter’ is the story of Eliza Wedgwood who was disowned by her family for falling in love with a miner from Wigan. It’s dedicated to Corrie’s mother’s husband who is Eliza’s great, great grandson.
The title track, with its lovely shimmering guitar, is for all the theatres now dark except for a single “ghost light” placed as a statement of faith. Finally we have Corrie’s second lockdown song, ‘See You On The Other Side’ distinguished by one killer line: “everyone’s an expert on things they know nowt about”. Well said, Corrie, and it will be all over one day.
Now DÀIMH (pronounced “dive” for those that don’t have the Gaelic) had just started work on their new album when lockdown put the mockers on their plans. They had recorded three songs and have now released them as an EP – Stopped In Our Tracks. First is ‘Dómhnail An Dannsair’, a pretty springtime-sounding song punctuated with odd staccato beats just to keep you on your toes. The song translates as ‘Donald The Dancer’ and I believe it’s by Roddy Campbell.
Next up for Donald to dance to come ‘Triangle Reels’, opening with a delicate acoustic guitar and fiddle which builds almost imperceptibly with Angus MacKenzie’s whistle to a satisfying conclusion without ever going over the top. Finally we have ‘Òran Elle Do’n Phrionnsa’ – the words from an 18th century poem celebrating Charles Edward Stuart. What is really good about all three tracks is their restraint – tight arrangements and lovely vocals from Ellen MacDonald.
We haven’t heard from FRED’S HOUSE for a while but they are back bigger and stronger with a new EP, Walls And Ceilings. With Prue Ward now on violin they have an extra layer of sound to work with but the lead track is dominated by Lachlan Golder’s chunky guitar driving a song obliquely referencing the limited views available during lockdown although it’s really about something else entirely. ‘World’s Apart’ is another powerful song with a slight bluesy feel under Vikki Gavin’s voice and piano with a guitar break to die for.
The relationships detailed in ‘Steal The Night’ and ‘Only The Sun’ fall into the dysfunctional category, the latter again built on Vikki’s piano. It’s about guitarist (and Vikki’s former fiancé) Griff Jameson leaving the band and having to accept the whole messy break-up thing. Despite the underlying misery it’s probably the best song in the set.
Having released ‘Hold Space’ earlier in the year, WARD THOMAS now have the full EP, The Space Between (Sony Music) which, in addition to that kissing cousin of Natalie Inbrugila’s ‘Torn’, includes a lovely fingerpicked cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’, the poignant rippling ‘Painted Legacy’, written after the passing of their uncle as a daughter’s ode to her dying father and about children carrying on the legacy of their parents, and the similarly styled ‘Someone To Someone’, a collaboration and duet with Dan Owen, about suicide as a result of verbal bullying.
IN THE FOREST are a quartet from Hertfordshire comprising two couples: Bob and Rachel Harwood-Stamper and Alex and Becky Lee-Richards and two sisters. Their eponymous debut EP is released today. With four vocalists and original songs built on guitars and keyboards, their sound is rich and soaring; sometimes ethereal.
The lead track, ‘Means To An End’, is one of those songs that seeks to enfold you and one that you can go back to again and again. ‘White Wash’ is deliberately different, opening with Rachel’s jaunty ukulele with lead vocals by one of the chaps and a nice a cappella passage and the record finishes with the big sound of ‘On The Run’ and some heavy guitar. They do make a gorgeous sound but the lyrics can get lost in there from time to time.
CASEY NOEL, originally from North Carolina, got her real break at Richard Thompson’s Frets And Refrains songwriting camp in 2017 and the result is her debut EP, Not Just Pretty Words. Casey’s music blends country and pop with a bluesy edge. She’s up-beat and up-tempo in defiance of adverse circumstances as in ‘Pretty Words’ where she tells us that “a better man will come along”. Actually she slows things down a bit with ‘Marsh Girl’ a story of tragedy sung over a growling bowed bass inspired by the book Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
The opening ‘The Hang-Up’ is the perfect lead track for the set and ‘Prove Me Wrong’ isn’t far behind with its grin-inducing stuttering guitar breaks. Drums and fiddle give ‘You And Me’ a hoedown feel while a simple guitar pick accompanies the closing ‘Seasons’.
Singer-songwriter HENRY DEREK ELIS of Cave Flowers releases All The Pretty Little Horses, an EP of what he describes as “covers and curiosities”. You only have to look at the cover to appreciate the truth of that. Henry lays his gravelly voice over drones that maintain a sense of doom and the title track – also his first single – is decidedly odd. Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’ is cheerful by comparison, but Glenn Danzig’s ‘Heart Of The Devil’ hits Beefheart blues territory and ‘Alabama Highway’ would make Tom Waits sit up and take notice. You can decide for yourselves where Henry sits on the musical spectrum.
KRIS DREVER releases a digital single, ‘Where The World Is Thin’. It’s a big song with piano, strings and backing vocals over his acoustic guitar but with no indication as to who is playing alongside him. Kris says that the world’s “thin places” are responsible for our spiritual moments – they may be associated with a painting or a sculpture; a piece of music or even a photograph – and the song is also about leaving something for the future.
Trading as CHALK HORSE MUSIC, Sussex-based husband and wife neo-folk duo Liz and Darren Pearson release their first new music since their 2018 EP with the vinyl and download single ‘Hegemony’. Breathily sung against David Asher’s scratchy guitar, with Richard Walder on tea chest bass, Ben Clennell providing percussion and Pearson on horns and keys, it’s a spirited, funky folk cover of the early Scritti Polliti track which links the lyrics back to the tune of ‘Sweet Lemeney’, the traditional classic that was Green Gartside’s inspiration, rather than the original staccato art-rock sound. It’s twinned with the Sussex traditional number, ‘The Devil & The Farmer’, given the duo’s trademark reinvention styling with guitar weaving around the pulsing rhythm and repeated hollow, knocking percussion pattern to hypnotic effect, the ending speaking Mrs. Jasper’s charm to raise the fairies as reported in the Sussex County Magazine in 1952 from a woman who said her nanny was a Mrs. Jasper, with Liz providing the drone melody.
Also from Sussex, in his indie folk persona as SERIOUS CHILD, Alan Young releases ‘A Little Space’ (Four Left Feet), a harmonium drone-based slow-paced collaboration with American pianist Steven Bucher and featuring Beth Porter on cello, from his recent album Time In The Trees, a love song about balancing sense of self with a closeness to your partner that’s taken on new resonance in the current climate. It’s twinned with the similarly themed, previously unreleased ‘I Shall Take My Time’, a baroque love song co-penned with The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain and Gareth Rhys Jones about being with the same person for a long time.
BEANS ON TOAST has got plenty of material to occupy his thoughts at the moment and the songs are just tumbling out of him. His latest track is ‘Chessington World Of Adventures’ and here’s the key line “You know you’re living in a zombie apocalypse when that theme park’s closed because they’re using it as a corporate medical testing facility” to which he then adds “sounds like bullshit to me”. Jay says what he means and does that here over a simple three-chord guitar pick. He admits he doesn’t have any answers but he certainly throws up a lot of questions.
Gearing up for her new album, Are You Listening? the first of two for The Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation, Inc., SASKIA GRIFFITHS-MOORE releases a taster with ‘Best Of You’, a dreamily lovely number about embracing self-worth and not hiding your light away or listening to others’ unkind words that shines with early Joni Mitchell colours.
‘Take A Leap’ is something of a comeback single for Northern Irish singer AMANDA ST JOHN. After a family tragedy she discovered serious damage to her vocal chords and was forced to give her voice a complete rest. This is a rather lovely song about turning your back on the past and just going for it. “I can’t live without trying” is just one of the great lines.
June 18 would have been Jackie Leven’s 70th birthday, and to honour his memory RACHEL TAYLOR-BEALES has recorded ‘Jackie’s Coming Around’ (Hushland), a Bandcamp download single that interlaces elements of her own journey as a songwriter with a musical biography that includes references to tracks from Leven’s 2007 album Oh What A Blow That Phantom Dealt Me. With Rachel on guitar, banjo, harmonica, soprano saxophone and keyboard and husband Bill playing slide, electric, bass and percussion, opening with a memory of how a blackbird crashed into their conservatory and died at the same moment she read about Leven’s passing, it’s a suitably atmospheric but musically vibrant number, delivered in her hushed, understated voice as she recalls his advice to “keep following that muse” and reminds that while he’s gone, his music lives and on “Jackie’s coming round to play”.
‘Kenneth The Hedge’, with ‘The Bog Oak Bourée’ on the virtual B-side, is the new single from RICHARD DURRANT. It’s about the loss of rural hedgerows and sounds very jolly – almost silly – until you really start to listen and discover that it’s a protest song delivered with a spoonful of honey. The bourée is the little tune written by J S Bach that Jethro Tull pinched played here on a guitar made from old English oak. A new album will follow.
Conjuring thoughts of Tom Paxton, GREGORY PAGE joins vocal forces with Jason Mraz with Enrique Platas on drums and featuring Steve Peavy’s mandolin for the upbeat and uplifting self-released ‘Green Lights & Blue Skies’, the opening number from their shared Live In Stereo tour across North America last year. Looking to a brighter tomorrow, it comes with a particular current relevance.
Oxford-based singer-songwriter PATRICK GRIFFIN has a new single, ‘Love Is Cruel’, a subject which requires very little explanation. Built on two acoustic guitar parts, the song has Patrick in the depths of despair and blaming himself for his situation: “blunder through my feelings” he sings at one point. We’ve all been there.
Recorded in lockdown on keys and acoustic guitar, ‘Hope’ is a lovely slow waltz from Winchester’s ANDY COMLEY. The melody and the lyrics simple, but, sung in the voice of a sailor, his path home guided by dreams, love, hope and the light from the stars and on the headland, it’s a hymn for the times.
MELISSA BEL releases a single ‘Can’t Go Home’ which, despite the title is quite upbeat. Originally from Toronto, Melissa now lives in England and brings her big voice and country leanings to a song about not forgiving but at least forgetting when even the highway isn’t long enough.
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