SINGLES BAR 39 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 39FINDLAY NAPIER & MEGAN HENWOOD don’t seem like an obvious partnership but here they are. They met at a songwriting retreat and Findlay suggested writing a song about maths. Megan, not knowing any better, agreed and so ‘End Of Numbers’ was born to be followed by the other five songs on their debut EP The Story Song Scientists.

The opener is ‘Unnamable Radio’, based on the story of DJ Bob Fass who kept a would-be suicide talking live on air while rescuers rushed to save him. The pair’s songwriting combines Findlay’s somewhat sideways view of life with Megan’s obvious humanity, ‘The Last Straw’ being a perfect example. It’s a song about plastic pollution and manages to incorporate the word “polycarbonate” quite naturally. ‘North Pond Phantom’ is about the Maine hermit Christopher Knight and like a lot of Findlay’s songs it makes perfect sense once you know the story. ‘Wild Wild Country’ is a delightful song more typical of Megan’s style of taking inspiration from her surroundings but the two blend perfectly so there isn’t really a distinction between “his” and “hers”. Findlay and Megan are currently on tour.
http://www.dharmarecords.co.uk/

Arrows StrippedDespite having three albums under her belt, Nashville’s ANGEL SNOW is still a largely unknown quantity in the UK, though many may have become more familiar with her after duetting with Ben Glover on ‘The Wound That Seeks The Arrow’ from his recent award-winning album. Ironically then, released to accompany her ten-date UK tour in March, her new acoustic EP is titled Arrows (Stripped) (Nettwerk), the title track finding her exploring the deeper end of her vocal range on a bittersweet song about two lovers who have to let each other go. Produced by Ben Kramer, it features three further tracks, the fragile, vocally double-tracked, fingerpicked ‘Window Seat’, again tracing a relationship that’s run its course, the fuller arrangement of Maze’, about trying to find your path, with its strummed guitar, piano accompanied and echoey background vocal wash arrangement, and, again featuring piano, the rippling strings adorned ‘Higher Urgency’.
http://angelsnow.net/

Darkness & AngelsRecently expanded from their Les Ray and Deirdre Murphy core to a five-piece and, in the process, a more folk-rock, bluesy sound, Cambridge’s RED VELVET launch the makeover with the self-released Darkness & The Angels EP, the title hinting at the struggles between the forces of negativity and positivity . Sung by Murphy, the anchor track, ‘Ride The Darkness’, with its carnivalesque waltzing melody, spooked piano and sparse guitar and bass backing, stems from 2011 when both she and her brother, Gerard, were diagnosed with cancer, he sadly succumbing in 2013.

It wasn’t the only tragedy to strike, Ray’s mother passing the same year as Deirdre’s brother, the sense of grief, loss and remembrance providing the lyrical bedrock for the fairground carousel-rhythm Self-Storage which, opening with church organ and sung by Les, tells of building up boxes of photos, diaries and other keepsakes that “tell of our loved ones, our lost ones, ourselves”.

Elsewhere, political notes are struck on ‘After The War’, a piano led reflection on post-WWII optimism with the election of Labour and the creation of the NHS, a period clearly held up in contrast to today’s state of the nation. Much musically heavier with its driving rhythm and snarly guitar, ‘The Fourth Freedom’, the title a reference to the EU’s Four Freedoms, is a heads-down grungy riff-driven number concerning the refugee crisis as a family sees the goods they helped manufacture able to move freely while they are denied permission to travel.

By musical contrast, opening and closing unaccompanied, ‘That’ll Never Happen’ is a jaunty, playful pub piano singalong number with Music Hall and Chas n Dave touches that, as the notes say, revisits a book, a play and a film all featuring unlikely events.
www.clunkandrattle.com

Hidden ThingsHANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE release ‘Hidden Things’, the first of a trio of singles in advance of their tour which begins next month. It’s a beautiful song inspired by the landscape of northern Sweden – how landscapes hold memories and stories. Their unplugged sound has been refined by their time spent touring and despite its apparent simplicity there is a complexity that draws the listener in.
https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

Stay AroundA lovely liquid guitar introduces ‘Stay Around’, the second single and title track from JJ CALE’s posthumous album which will be released next month. It takes its time getting to the heart of the song, rolling along lazily until JJ’s gruff voice comes in. It’s a gentle song – “stay around, let’s make love one more time” he sings and then that singing guitar comes back, rather more insistently. Gorgeous.
www.jjcale.com

Lover‘Lover’ is the second single from A Golden State, the new album by LUKE SITAL-SINGH which is released next month. It’s lyrically very clever and would be quite Californian if it wasn’t so overloaded by a big arrangement in the choruses. The verses with electric piano and drums are perfect and the song glides along in its own special groove.
www.lukesitalsingh.com

Oh BoyFronted by Lara Snowden and featuring violinist Kathryn Tremmett, with Paddy Blight and bass and Kev Jackson guitar, Essex’s VELVET & STONE tease their upcoming debut album with the self-released ‘Oh Boy’, drums and hummed vocals intro giving way to a breathy delivery underscored by a driving, urgent folk rock beat, sawing fiddle and nervy riffage that, in places calls to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’.
https://www.velvetstonemusic.com/

This Is EnglandSleeves like this can make people a bit nervous, although we can be comforted by the fact that the “wrong” sort wouldn’t get anywhere near us. ‘This Is England’, the new single by SEAN TAYLOR, has been available to download for a while but with Brexit fast approaching it’s still relevant. The song is, for want of a better term, a rap but a rap that mentions Morris dancing performed by a man who looks white and sounds black.
https://www.seantaylorsongs.com/

The introduction to ‘Holding’, the new single by Irish singer SIVE, played on what we presume to be kalimba certainly grabs the attention but before you think it’s a bit gimmicky in comes her voice which has quite a range. The chorus is brilliant and the track goes for a big finish in a big way.
https://www.facebook.com/sivemusic/

God's Little Joke‘God’s Little Joke’ is the title track from a new EP by MARTIN ANSELL & CHRIS ROWSEL. It was recorded on a mobile phone in Martin’s taxi which makes one wonder why anyone needs a recording studio. The philosophy of life’s problems an the ills of the world being just an example of divine humour is an interesting one – Roy Harper would say that God is dead, of course – and requires further discussion. Good song, though.
https://martinansell.bandcamp.com/

MIKE ROSS sounds as though he comes from the American backwoods but actually he’s British. ‘Young Man’ is a delicious slice of country blues with rumbling bass, acoustic guitar lead, fiddle and harmonica. The single comes from his forthcoming album, The Clovis Limit.
http://www.mikerossmusic.co.uk/

Here I Am‘Here I Am’ is the first genre single from  S J DENNEY, a sad love song built on acoustic guitar and drums and lots of strings with a gorgeous trumpet break. The guitar echoes behind his voice in a way that evokes a dark and desolate landscape – a wonderful mental picture.
sjsongs.co.uk

Korby Lenker – Thousand Springs

For many artists, stepping into a studio to record an album can be challenging enough. But when East Nashvillian Korby Lenker began working on his seventh album, Thousand Springs, he decided to skip the studio altogether and head to his home state of Idaho to record in places that held particular meaning for him. Venturing forth with his guitar, some recording gear and a tent, he captured his vocal and guitar parts in more than a dozen locales, including the edge of the Snake River Canyon, a cabin north of Sun Valley and his undertaker father’s mortuary.

Then he spent months driving around the country to collect vocal and instrumental contributions from nearly 30 of today’s finest folk talents, among them Nora Jane Struthers, Anthony Da Costa, Carrie Elkin, Amy Speace, Molly Tuttle, Kai Welch, Angel Snow, Becky Warren and the Punch Brothers’ Chris “Critter” Eldridge. In Madison, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin and Nashville, he recorded their work in backyards, hotel rooms and even a bookstore, then went home to edit them into Thousand Springs.

Lenker plotted his plan for Thousand Springs after Nashville-based Turner Publishing Co. released his first collection of short stories, Medium Hero, in December 2015 – an experience that, he says, helped him find his “true voice” (and earned him high praise not only from book-world luminaries including Kirkus Reviews and National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien, but Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak).

“For me, the two most important qualities of good art are originality and meaning,” Lenker explains. “You’ve got to tell your own story and not try to borrow someone else’s.”

When he moved to Nashville, he quickly discovered singer-songwriters were about as common as pickup trucks. And most of them were about as original.

“It forced me to really dig in and figure out what I did that was different than what everyone else was doing,” he says. “I spent my first three years in town parking cars at a hotel and taking a bunch of chances, creatively speaking. No one really cared about me, which turned out to be very freeing.”

During that period, he wrote many of the stories in Medium Hero, and focused on writing songs that meant something to him rather than worrying about hit potential.

“Along the way, I discovered there was an audience for this approach to telling my story,” he says. It was a thrilling, and empowering, revelation.

In the years since, he’s played everywhere from small listening rooms to Seattle’s world-renowned Bumbershoot festival, delivering what American Songwriter magazine called “huggable folk-pop” on stages shared with artists from Willie Nelson, Keith Urban and Chris Isaak to Susan Tedeschi, Amy Grant and Nickel Creek. Along the way, he’s earned nearly a dozen songwriting awards, including first-place wins at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, 2012’s Kerrville Folk Festival and 2006’s Merlefest. He also placed second in the 2017 Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest for ‘Friend and A Friend’, a beguiling Thousand Springs track co-written with Molly Tuttle, who sings harmony. Allowing life to imitate art, Lenker also has been conducting a one-man campaign of sorts, engaging strangers for conversation and shared selfies in an Instagram-hosted exercise he calls #MakeAmericaFriendsAgain. (He also touches on that subject in a new song titled ‘Let’s Just Have Supper’. Written and performed with Struthers, it’s not on this album, but the NPR-premiered video, is worth checking out.)

Ironically, while recording Thousand Springs (and making friends), Lenker lost his voice for nearly two months.

Addressing the loss of a dear family member, Lenker wrote the affecting song ‘Wherever You Are’ while his voice was gone. He also visited the Vanderbilt Voice Center, where doctors immediately started him on physical therapy. Soon, he was recording again. He did ‘Wherever You Are’ solo, in one take. It’s one of five songs he penned alone; the other seven are collaborations with a variety of musical friends including Speace, Tuttle, Robby Hecht, Jon Weisberger and Liz Longley.

Coincidentally, the song that precedes it, ‘Mermaids’, has an understated lightheartedness, almost a softer ‘Magical Mystery Tour’/’Yellow Submarine’ vibe, that would easily appeal to kids. Throughout the album, Lenker deftly shifts through a wide range of moods. He captures his love of literature with charming playfulness in ‘Book Nerd’. The opener, “Northern Lights,” is a spare, contemplative tune containing just a couple of verses, but Lenker’s vivid imagery and forlorn voice are all he needs to speak volumes about lost love.

There’s a delicacy to most of these songs, due in part to Lenker’s gentle delivery; in ‘Nothing Really Matters’, he sounds as if he’s whispering in your ear – in a voice that somehow suggests both James Taylor and Michael Franks, delivered in an Afro-bluegrass style. Driven by Jon Reischman’s outstanding mandolin, it’s reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland; Lenker cites both the artist and the album as major influences.

The hardest-rocking track, ‘Last Man Standing’, was written about Chief Sitting Bull after Lenker read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. He recorded parts of it at Standing Rock, near Sitting Bull’s grave, a month before the Dakota-Access Pipeline protests began. Musically, the song more or less references his own roots; Lenker started studying piano at age 7 and picked up guitar in his early teens, playing a lot of Neil Young and similar artists before joining the obligatory high-school rock band (his was Clockwork Orange).

“There weren’t a lot of people around me making music,” he says about growing up in Idaho’s isolation. “I had to go out and find it.” His search included attending college in Bellingham, Washington, where he studied music theory – and Phish. Reading about jazz led him to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller – and to an understanding that, as he puts it, “music had a story, a thread that went from musician to musician, through time.” “The idea of finding my place in that timeline has become more and more important to me,” he notes, adding, “Every time I play a show, I think of it as an audition for the next show. Everything for me is a slow build.”

That might explain another of the album’s delights: ‘Late Bloomers’, in which he sings, Here’s to the late bloomers/Holding on till their time arrives/Some people might have gotten there sooner/But for us, it’s gonna be right on time … No matter how hard the path was/We always knew/No dream can outlast us/When it’s coming true.

For Lenker, as for any of us, some dreams come true and some don’t. That’s just life. But on Thousand Springs, he shares those highs and lows as only an artist with a “true voice” can. And that voice, he’ll never lose.

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+ Saturday August 18 Purbeck Valley Folk Festival

Artist’s website links:

www.facebook.com/KorbyLenker