SINGLES BAR 91 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 91COHEN BRAITHWAITE-KILCOYNE has moved on from being folk’s latest wunderkind to being a seasoned professional as this EP, Come Make My Bed, testifies. His voice is strong and slightly deeper and his concertina equally powerful. His version of the title song was collected in Passfield, a few scant miles from Folking Towers, and is something of a rarity. The title suggests a version of ‘Lord Randall’ but it’s nothing like that. Other sources suggest that it could be a variant of ‘Lady Maisery’ but it’s not that. The fact that it involves a dying lady, a little footman boy running to tell her lover the dreadful news and her lover dying the following day, plus the image of the rose and the briar suggests that someone sat down with a book of songs and glued lines together.

In the centre of the three tracks are two dance tunes, both collected by Cecil Sharp. The first is ‘Henry Cave’s Country Dance Tune’ and it is paired with the rather better known ‘Hunt The Squirrel’. Finally, we have a song that is creeping back into fashion, ‘Canadee I O’. This version was collected by George Gardiner and is different from the one collected by Seamus Ennis or the well-known variant by Nic Jones. Cohen’s take has a bouncy tune in keeping with the happy ending and boasts a refrain that is absent from the other versions.

LUKE SITAL-SINGH follows up last year’s Dressing Like A Stranger with Strange Weather (Nettwerk), an acoustic 5-track EP that opens with the nimbly fingerpicked rainy day title track, a musing on the impact of the pandemic as he sings of living in an “Overcrowded ghost town” where “All my favourite spots have closed down/Nowhere to go now”, his voice soaring on the refrain, piano, violin and percussive notes colouring the background. More uptempo with a thumping beat, jangling guitar and Neil Young flavours, ‘My Mind’ is, as you might surmise, about mental health and his struggle with anxieties (“I see empty glasses everywhere/I won’t even fill them halfway/A crooked smile cracked to ear to ear/I think I need that quick escape”), while, slowing the pace down again, the dreamily lilting ‘Till The Day I Die’ is a song pledging enduring love. The highpoint and one of his finest moments is ‘Hallelujah Anyway’ , first heard on TV drama ‘Station 19’, which has him playing an old sixties electric piano coloured by electric guitar, an intimately sung number about remaining optimistic even when times get hard (“I’ll keep singing like a lonely choir/Every note is lifting higher/When my voice breaks/And I can’t see straight/Something stops me giving in”) which, beyond the title, recalls Jeff Buckley. It ends with a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, muted piano and guitar behind his wearied vocal capturing the song’s strung out emotions as the drums and background wash of voices and effects kick in before it ebbs and dies away. Indispensable.

Whitsun is the second of GAVIN MARWICK’s Quarterdays EPs, this one in partnership with harpist WENDY STEWART. All six tracks are written by Marwick and definitely in keeping with the sunshine outside. The first tune, ‘St Queran’s Well’, is named after a holy well in Dumfries and Galloway and Stewart is given the honour of leading the way. Marwick leads ‘The Light Of May/The Fairy Mantle’, both light, dancing tunes. ‘Open Pasture/The Seventh Sunday’ is shared more equally and Stewart hands over to Marwick with a triumphant flourish.

Whitsun or Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter and that theme is taken up in ‘White Sunday’, a gentle, lilting duet. History continues with a set beginning with ‘Flit Friday’ which refers to the Friday after Whit Sunday when agricultural workers traditionally changed their employment. This presumably happened at ‘St Brandane’s Day Fair’, the beginning of ‘The Summer Term’. ‘Sobrach’ is Welsh for sobriety but most likely refers to ploughing. Finally, ‘Cold Sophia/Wit And Wisdom’ puts Stewart back in the box seat. This is a delightful set of tunes deeply rooted in Scottish history and traditions.

The EP title, Songs Of Hope (self-released), pretty much sums up the latest acoustic offering from Calgary’s CAROLYN HARLEY, opening with ‘Ordinary Man – A Song For Ukraine’ that, evoking thoughts of Judy Small, pays testament to the experiences and fortitude of those caught up in the war (“He’s a father, he’s a brother/He’s a husband, he’s a son/He’s a friend and a neighbour/Now he’s carrying a gun/His world has turned to ashes/Dreams are rubble in the dust/His prayers rise high above/Everything he’s lost”). The delicately classical guitar fingerpicked title track with its echoes of Baez and Carolyn Hester is what it says on the box (“It’s a song of hope/A song of peace/Promising a new day with the dawn”) while, in similar musical mood, ‘Brand New Mile’ is an encouragement to keep moving forward with a positive attitude (“Unclench your hand/Straighten up your spine/Take command/Open up your eyes/Find your smile”). The final two numbers come with religious underpinnings, ‘I Will Be Received’ an upbeat old school revivalist meeting folksy number in the all my trials will be ended tradition, while, featuring slide, ‘Echoes of Amazing Grace’ interpolates the familiar hymn into a Tammy Wynette-tinted honky tonk ballad as a woman on a barstool (“The years had etched their mark upon her face/In her glass ice was slowly melting”), as the band to play the song, joins in and “ she turned the room to silence/As that song touched every person in the crowd”, a reminder that second chances are always possible.

Tesia Mallory and Matt Shetler are Ohio-based duo THE NAUTICAL THEME and their six-track EP, Get Somewhere, is their fourth studio set and the first half of a project to be completed by Do Something next year. The first thing you notice is their voices which blend perfectly. Tesia has what seems to be a remarkable range and is capable of great power and great subtlety while Matt is more nuanced, with something of an Everly Brothers vibe when he takes the lead, but often just underpinning her. Matt plays guitar and Tesia plays piano and there is a lot more going on – but no information about who and what.

These are big songs with big arrangements. They tell stories about personal relationships full of drama. The opener, ‘Sun Won’t Rise’, is about finding a way home and links to the closer, ‘Something That You Needed’ in a satisfying way, bookending the set. Second is the rather enigmatic ‘Trouble Tonight’ with more heading down the highway. There’s a brief explanation in the middle of the song but we’re really left to puzzle it out for ourselves. ‘Young And Free’ suggests that those attributes may not be all they are cracked up to be while ‘Enough Is Enough’ pretty much speaks for itself. We note with some pride that a member of our team coined the description “wild open harmony folk music” which takes pride of place in their bio. Couldn’t agree more.

BLAME BETTY are a trio from the San Diego area who play in a style somewhere between rockabilly and surf. One their live videos you can hear versions of standards like ‘Matchbox’ and ‘Mystery Train’ but the six songs on their EP, Big Betty’s Alright!, are all originals. Pay particular attention to ‘706’, written by bassist Bobby Villa which, of course, references the home of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis. That tells you pretty much all you need to know.

Their recording set-up is nowhere near as basic as Phillips’ was so the sound is richer, particularly in the bass, but for the most part they maintain the ethos of the 1950s. ‘RockaBetty Boogie’ seems a bit out of place but the closing instrumental, ‘Smoked Paella’ channels Duane Eddy although rather more loudly. It’s all great fun.

London based singer/songwriter ANDY SMYTHE has once again penned a fabulous track entitled ‘Prodigal Son’ which attracted our attention immediately.  His distinctive, melodic voice brings its own haunting quality to his songs.  Due to be released on June 23rd we were lucky enough to have a preview of his latest single. Hot on the heels of Andy’s last album – Hard To Be Human – ‘Prodigal Son’ is a taster of what is to come as Andy is working on a new album likely to be released later on in 2023. Prodigal Son is a tale of returning home and reflecting on what to do next with their life.  The artwork on the single cover is what inspired Andy to write this track.  Found on a Jain Temple in the middle of a desert in Ragasthan whilst riding a camel! Check out summer dates on his website and visit his shop to buy his music.

Leading up her debut album, Sub Nubibus Margarita, LAURA MULCAHY joins with Stevo Timothy (providing the spoken words) for the self-released deliberate slow walking rhythm ‘Just An Old Sinner’, a song about trying to repress guilt and conscience (“Hide me away in your airtight shaft/Inside the tiny box/Within the walls of your lies/And your secrets/And your unwillingness to honour the dead …You will never escape, do you hear me?/You will never escape your guilt!/Just you try and lock me up in the /Tiny box in the airtight shaft – /I will haunt you with my shrieks”) and, perhaps conjuring a haunted Irish history,  the ever-present reminders captured in the lines “I am you,/I am your neighbour,/I am your friend/Your daughter/Your son/I am your grandchildren/Your sister and brother/And your cousins”.

You can be anything you wanna be” is the take-home message in ‘Marie’, the new single by Cornish singer/songwriter THE GLEEMAN. It’s an up-tempo, uplifting track decorated with brass and comes as a taster for The Gleeman’s imminent debut album, Something To Say. We are looking forward to it.

After nearly a decade’s sabbatical to raise a family, Tipperary-born GEMMA HAYES returns to making music with the whispery atmospheric self-released ‘High And Low’ which, featuring producer David  Odlum on bass, guitarist  Sam Killeen and drummer Adam Marcello, is  about loss mood swings (“How can I go home?/When you’re not waiting for me”) , though whether the lines “We lived in between the days/In the kitchen writing songs to ease the pain/How were we to know/It would set our walls on fire?/As the people became your choir/Calling out your name” are autobiographical is open to question.

If there is such a thing as Australiana then FANNY LUMSDEN, who is playing Glastonbury any time now, must be its leading exponent. In her new single, ‘When I Die’, taken from her upcoming album Hey Dawn she describes herself as “a little rough around the edges” which is harsh or maybe she’s talking about her music. The song is a country-ish rocker, long enough to support a proper guitar break that sweeps you along very nicely.

JACK BROWNING looks rather like a wild mountain man from the backwoods of Dakota but he’s actually from London. As well as being a musician Jack is a painter and his love of the American west is the focus of both his songs and his art. ‘Kerosene’ is the first single from his forthcoming debut album, Red Eye Radio, and is drenched with pedal steel by Pat Lyons. You can almost feel that prairie wind.

BETH NEILSEN CHAPMAN has a new album and UK tour on the horizon but that might be a secret so perhaps we shouldn’t have mentioned it. She also has a single, ‘Back To This Moment’, which is private but won’t be by the time you read this. It’s a wonderfully funky sort-of love song longing for past, better times which covers a lot of philosophical ground in its two-and-a-half minutes.

‘Down On The Barrier’ is the new festival-ready single from folk-punks SKINNY LISTER. It has a strangely spiritual feel, a thumping tune and a big “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” chorus. Oddly, they pronounce “barrier” as “barrio”, an entirely different concept. Does that mean something?

‘Comfort You’ is a sweet Americana ballad by JENNY JAMES written by Jack Tempchin. Jenny has a fine voice and the song is given a lush piano and strings arrangement to support the power of her delivery. It could be a radio hit, particularly if your taste runs to Radio 2.

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