SINGLES BAR 41 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 41It slipped out late last year with virtually no publicity, so perhaps it’s time to shine a light on Voices Of Equilibrium (Silvertone), a four-track EP of covers from three part harmony Devon trio WILDWOOD KIN, sisters Beth and Emillie Key and cousin Meghann Loney. There’s some surprising choices, though Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ Bout A Revolution’ is the least so since it at least occupies the folk genre field. That said, the arrangement with its glistening keys and subsequent heavy drums immediately rings the changes on the original.

That’s certainly true of their take on ‘The Pretender’, not the Jackson Browne one but the Foo Fighters track, which they’ve slowed down into a moody dank folk affair while still bring urgency, albeit of a different shade to the refrain. Meanwhile, shifting the goalposts once again, ‘Dream On’ was a 2006 electro pop dance floor hit for Christian Falk and Robyn, though, even with its undulating electronic beat, even they might be hard-pressed to recognise this dreamy chamber folk reimagining with its cascading harmonies and twinkling sonic snowflakes.

Stevie Wonder provides the final cut, his boogie funk ‘Higher Ground’ transformed with a single vocal and hummed backing, handclaps and a muted drum thump gospel-like intro before the instrumentation fills out for a fixed and narrow-eyed tribal rhythm groove mid-section with what sounds like distorted scuzzy bass. A superb reminder that if you’re going to do a cover, especially crossing genres, then you need to make it your own. The trio have full possession.

PoetsANNE LEITH & LES OMAN hail from Campbeltown and their EP, Poets, celebrates the work of two local writers, George Campbell Hay and Angus Martin. Anne and Les play guitars, bouzouki and keyboards but don’t overdo the accompaniments – the words are most important here. They stick to Hay’s English poetry but Martin’s ‘The Hird’s Hoose’ is in lowland Scots as far as we can judge. Anyone who thinks that they can write a “traditional” Scottish song (except Archie Fisher, who can do it) should listen to these songs – the opener, ‘The Fisherman Speaks’ is a gem.

Singles Bar 41A second taster for the upcoming self-released debut album, singer Lara Snowdon and violinist Kathryn Tremlett joined by Kev Jackson on electric guitar, Josiah Manning on keys and the rhythm section of Paddy Blight and Garry Kroll, VELVET & STONE follow-up ‘Oh Boy’ with, after a simply strummed intro, the equally fulsome sounding folk-rock ‘By The Water’, quite literally a love is blind story about confessing your feelings.

Singles Bar 41Is “Lena Kalinka, have you got space in your heart for a narcissist thinker” any way to begin a song? Absolutely. ‘Lena Kalinka’ is the first track on Poetical Resistance, the new EP by GABRIEL MORENO & THE QUIVERING POETS. Gabriel and the band combine English and Spanish musical strands and the influences of such songwriters as Leonard Cohen. He would be a perfect musical partner for Keith James. ‘Overstay Your Welcome’ is a string-drenched track with a very Cohenish structure overlaid with a Mediterranean gypsy violin and the closing ‘We Are What We Are’ is built on acoustic guitar. The chorus of ‘Silly Old Dreams’ strikes something of a false note but that is the record’s only fault.

Singles Bar 41There are eight of THE JAMESTOWN BROTHERS from Somerset although one or two of them would appear to be Jamestown Sisters and Singing For Our Supper is their debut EP. Their mixture of good-time country, folk and blues is reminiscent of the early days of The Men They Couldn’t Hang with fiddle and brass fleshing out the sound. A song like ‘Take Your Medicine’ over keyboards and horns is harder and almost mainstream while ‘Everybody Take A Drink’ has an Irish flavour. The Jamestown Brothers must be a great festival band.

AtomsBreathily-voiced Guildford-based country pop singer-songwriter EMMA STEVENS self-releases her Atoms EP, featuring two collaborations with Kevin Jeremiah from The Feeling, the jaunty strumalong ‘Because It’s You’ and the uplifting ‘Soldier On’. The title track, presumably written in response to her mother’s passing, is a gentle fingerpicked acoustic celebration of being a part of everything and how death is just another beginning, the remaining cuts being the upbeat romantic euphoria of ‘Bells And Whistles’ and the more staccato rhythms of the self-explanatory feelings of ‘Home’.

True StraysTRUE STRAYS are a blues-rock trio from Bristol although they have lots of friends helping out. Once you get past the silly introduction track, Homeward Bound is pretty good and as you listen you begin to realise that they are rather cleverer than the down-and-dirty image they like to promote. Their sound is built around a big bass played by Joe James and buzz-saw guitar by lead vocalist James Cameron, all laid over solid drums by Matt Cooke. We reckon that they must be great live.

Ghost TrainStourbridge-based acoustic bluesman SUNJAY returns to form after the well-played but soulless Black & Blues and the pointless covers set Sunjay Sings Buddy with ‘Ghost Train’ (self-released), a taster for the upcoming Devil Came Calling. Co-written with producer Eddy Morton, it’s a chugging piano and violin-coloured blues tribute to yesteryear heroes that namechecks a cast list that namechecks, among others, Holly, President Kennedy, Muddy Waters, Judy Garland, Babe Ruth, the Big Bopper Martin Luther King, and Monroe. By contrast, the flip side, ‘Too Close To The Sun’, another driving blues co-penned with Henry Priestman and Les Glover, deals with an increasingly unstable addictive relationship.

Since YesterdayKARINE POLWART releases another single from her forthcoming album, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook. ‘Since Yesterday’ is the 1984 synth-pop Strawberry Switchblade song but it begins with a crackly old recording of her grandfather singing ‘The Rose Of Tralee’. Originally about youthful angst,  Karine’s piano-led reinterpretation of the song gives it to us old-timers. We’re looking forward to the album already.

Blue Hounds‘Blue Hounds’ is the new single from REN. Superficially, it’s a gentle acoustic guitar driven song with some nice single string picking but there’s an underlying message about living in politically difficult times. No need to explain who the blue hounds are but Ren does have red roses growing in his garden.

Pete GardinerPETE GARDINER tackles the world’s problems with his new single, ‘Dangerous People’. Originally from Northern Ireland, he adopts a laconic drawl over acoustic guitar for the verses and allows the song to build up over the choruses. His words are clever, inviting comparisons with Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and his delivery seems instantly familiar without being a copy of anyone. We could use an album like this.

Siren's CallSinger and harpist KRISTIN REBECCA releases a single, ‘Siren’s Call’ which may be from a new album. Despite her being based in Maryland, you might take her for British at first – her voice is strong and clear and although her fellow New Englanders may be able to identify her accent it’s beyond us.

THE LAST DINOSAUR – The Nothing (Naim Records NAIMDD350)

NothingFunny thing, grief. There might be an immediate gut punch of loss, but the full effects are often only truly recognisable with years of hindsight. The Nothing, The Last Dinosaur’s second album, allows singer/songwriter Jamie Cameron finally to give voice to the grief of losing his closest friend in 2005 after a car accident. The band’s first album, Hooray! For Happiness, didn’t exactly shy away from tough subjects, either, featuring the emotional upheavals of parental divorce and relationship breakdowns. If this all sounds a bit grim, perhaps the most delightful aspect of this band’s sound is that they seem to intuitively handle even the darkest subjects with a light touch. Their music is engaging, moving and comforting, perhaps even a tiny bit uplifting.

The multi-talented trio of Cameron, Luke Hayden and Rachel Lanskey manage to create an ambient warmth, a lightness to the band’s sound that honours the difficult subject matter without ever being maudlin or glib. Perhaps the heavily processed vocals help disguise some weaker areas, but there’s no mistaking the sincerity. Layer upon layer of instrumentation and effects are painstakingly applied until a vivid picture emerges, painting emotions in sound. Each song is a detailed yet semi-abstract emotional landscape.

Another thing about The Nothing is that, like a film shot entirely in flashback, it’s a story told in reverse order, starting off with ‘Atoms’, a reconciliation with the inescapable fact of death. The more ephemeral ‘Grow’ allows that memories, loving and being loved, sow seeds of persistence way beyond our material selves.

Almost like acts in a play, the album seems to fall into sections, each demarcated by instrumentals, the first of which ‘The National Stage’ features rumbling drums like distant thunder over a sheeny wash of piano and synth, with faintly tinkling windchimes.

‘All My Faith’ is an ethereal and dreamy memorial, with its insistent “you will be loved” mantra and handclaps. Mirrored by a similar hypnotic lyrical repetition is ‘We’ll Greet Death’, although here the tone is more existential and insistent. A spare, jabbing start with a low-mixed vocal and skritchy strings builds up to a sax-laden jazz-psychedelia.

‘The Body Collapse’ is a strange, shimmering instrumental with its piano patterns writhing sometimes in conflict, sometimes harmoniously, until a final sonic implosion brings everything to a disquieting halt.

The tiny, intimate, half-whispered vocal of ‘I Couldn’t Wait’ seems like a heartfelt song of literal and emotional running away. There’s a raw fragility exposed here as it gives way to the hauntingly mournful ‘Wings’.

In this final and tonally darkest section of the album, the cymbal sweeps and abstract vocal chorus of ‘On Water’ provide an aural depiction of the car aquaplaning at the point of the accident. ‘The Sea’ opens to the strange arthritic-cicada of a croaky click, before its spacious, echoey sound builds over a melancholy vocal, to unleash a huge emotional catharsis.

By contrast, the final track, ‘Goodnight’, is very sparse, directly addressing the events of the crash itself. It is sad and poignant in its simplicity. It’s a bold move to end on this downbeat moment, a moment that began a totally different story from the one the friends had planned on but, like The Who said in Quadrophenia,the end is the beginning”.

Su O’Brien

Artist website:

‘Atoms’ – official video: