SINGLES BAR 68 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 68Based in Fordingbridge in the New Forest, BECOMING BRANCHES are a folk-country trio comprising lead vocalist Jaz, keyboardist Hannah and guitarist/drummer Rob, who also writes the songs, their self-released, self-titled debut EP marking them out as very promising newcomers indeed.  Underpinned with a steady guitar chug, the catchy opening ‘Take You Home’ highlights Jaz’s bright and softly brushed lead vocals and the trio’s interwoven harmonies, ending as a duet with Rob, moving on to the keyboard based airy, folksy ‘Under The Waves’, a love song involving deep sea diving, again evidencing their melodic strengths.

Again nodding to folk influence, Rob takes lead on the fingerpicked ‘The Traveling Harpist’, strongly evocative of Chris Cleverley, while, more about strummed chords and steady drum beat, Jez returns for the poppily infectious ‘Never Knew What Loving Was’ with its cascading chorus hook, ending with the simple and spare acoustic notes of the love song last dance ballad ‘Live Right Here’. They’ve already made a big impression around their local stomping grounds, but this assured debut should make a sizeable mark on a much wider scale.

HUGUENOTS are Bayly Pike, responsible for all the lyrics, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Fleming together with Rich and Ben who seem to be somewhat reticent about their full identities. Their new EP, Heyford, was actually released back in 2014 but has now been remastered for the new decade. ‘Get Back To Me’, driven by Rich’s banjo, sounds like a jolly upbeat slice of country…but then you catch some of the lyrics and start to wonder. ‘Boom Boom Times’ seems to send similarly confused messages but is a brilliant song.

‘Beehive’ is a salutation to a favourite bar and its denizens which Bayly regards as a second home. There are several pubs of that name in London but the song doesn’t specify which one. ‘Easy Loving’ particularly “in the morning” is “beyond compare” especially when emphasised by harmonica but again there are some odd lyrics about him wanting to lock her up “from six o’clock to ten am” and then showing her the door. It won’t end well. ‘The Way Around Your Heart’ is thankfully more straightforward although Bayly has a very individual way of constructing the narrative of his songs – you have to listen more than once. This is a really nice record both lyrically and musically if a little weird sometimes.

Recorded in Brooklyn, Morning Heights (Babywoman Records) is a new EP from Birmingham-based ALEX LLEO, a collection of numbers drawing on earthy folk and Americana influences. It kicks off with ‘Calibrate’, a steadily-paced song about self-acceptance, inner forgiveness and moving forward, that showcases his quiveringly warm and dustily intimate warble and closes with gospel-like female harmonies. ‘405’ is more of an uptempo number with echoes of the classic Laurel Canyon sound, the pace slowing back down for the hushed slow dance groove of ‘White Water’. Built upon Fender Rhodes notes ‘Easy Way’ is an equally laid-back number that features mellow electric guitar as it slowly builds towards the end. An edgier feel opens the echoey vocals of the uptempo, organ-driven ‘Starve’, another number that recalls those early 70s American influences, closing with the breathily sung, spare and quietly melodic ‘The Old Walk’, rounding off a highly impressive release that suggests we’ll be hearing much more about Lleo in the coming months.

Released mind-July, the EP title, Me And Paul refers to folk-country singer-songwriter gut-string guitarist JON BYRD and pedal steel musical partner Paul Niehaus, the five tracks a reflection of the live shows they were playing before the pandemic struck, mixing together covers and originals. It kicks off with a Kevin Gordon co-write, the George Jones-like semi-spoken tear-stained ballad ‘I’ll Be Her Only One’ while ‘Junior And Lloyd’ is a dark tale of friendship and tragically combustible moonshine penned by best friend James Kelly. ‘Cash On The Barrelhead’ will be familiar, albeit a touch shorter than the Louvins’ original, the treatment here decidedly of an old time country persuasion, while ‘Why Must You Think of Leaving’ with its simple circling guitar line is another co-write, this time with Shannon Wright, things ending with a cover of J.J. Cale’s ‘Don’t Go to Strangers’ that draws out the bluesy soul of the melody in a manner reminiscent of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ while the steel howls behind Byrd’s vocals.

Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings fans should lend and ear to Miss’Ry Pacific (Black Country Rock Media), a new six-track EP from ERIK SHICOTTE who, when not singing country is an ironworker building fire training towers.  He has a similar deep gravelly rumble of voice to Cash, heard to good effect on the train time rhythm title track and the warbling waltzing ‘Kansas City’. Musically rooted firmly in old school outlaw territory, ‘Niners’ conjures a deeper voiced Marty Robbins, the chugging, kick drum thump ‘Flint’ shows some nimble fingerpicking, ‘Silver’ is a melancholic steel brushed slow sway and things round off with the goodtime Cash stomp of ‘Die Like A Man’ with some fine steel picking into the bargain.

SHOW OF HANDS join forces with THE FIREBRAND BAND (Edgelarks, Track Dogs and Banter – what a line-up) to celebrate July 19th with ‘The Best One Yet’ even though it may still turn out to be a case of premature emancipation. It’s a gloriously thumping song celebrating the prospect of summer festivals – the anticipation of loading up the car and the sight and smell of a field of new-mown grass. Bring it on.

Fronted by Louise Eatock on guitar and keyboards with Alex Herring on violin, Cambridge’s FLAMING JUNE trail their Hope In A Jar debut album with self-released new single ‘The Ballad Of Daniel Dawson’, a driving folk-rock number that recounts the true story of “a minnow in a big pond” who was found guilty in 1812 of poisoning horses to fix the races at Newmarket and sentenced to hang at the prison on Castle Hill in Cambridge.

BEN REEL recorded ‘When I Was A Boy’ nearly a decade ago but didn’t release it. Lockdown gave him time to rework the song and this really does seem to indulge in a little nostalgia. It’s a mighty song with some biting lyrics as we seek to shrug off the effects of the last eighteen months. Download from Bandcamp or Ben’s own website.

Having recently been inspired by the foxes that took to London’s streets during lockdown, Maz O’Connor has decided to shed her given name and to now perform and release as VULPES and, working in tandem with composer and arranger Will Gardner has remodelled her sound to combine acoustic instruments and electronic elements. To announce the transformation, she’s releasing ‘Soho’ which, opening with electronic pulses before the keys shimmer, is a melancholic hymn to London’s West End and lament for its transformation from a place of eccentricity and independent spirit to a corporate void, or, as she puts it, “They bought up all the old streets/And they priced out all the old queens/Tore the party down / And put up a burger joint”, suggesting ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ may have been at least a subconscious influence.

Fiddle, harp and what may well be step dancing underpin ‘What’s Real’, the new single by TWELFTH DAY. The song starts out gently and delicately but things quickly get out of hand, musically speaking, with a powerful mid-section but Catriona and Esther pull it back for the ending.

KATY ROSE BENNETT rings the changes with her forthcoming album Alone On A Hill which features no instruments at all, just her own interwoven and layered vocals, from which the first sample is ‘Sleep’, the lyrics of which she wrote some years ago when suffering from a bad case of insomnia while also going through process of getting divorced. Capturing that feeling of having circular conversations in your head, it’s built around a small number of repeated words and takes a vaguely jazz feel   with the background expulsions of air to her sweet up front vocals reminding me of Laurie Anderson, the track closing in a choral hymnal mode as eyelids close and Morpheus takes sway.

To celebrate a return to playing live, TALISK release a spectacularly good single, ‘Aura’. The trio’s flying fingers really outdo themselves over six and a half minutes of sparkling playing led by the concertina of Mohsen Amini with interludes from guitarist Graeme Armstrong and fiddler Hayley Keenan. It really is something special.

Fiddle player Holly Brandon takes time out from The Magpies to team with singer brother George as PAINTED SKY for a follow up to last year’s Dawn EP with their restyling of the much covered traditional murder ballad ‘The Unquiet Grave’ (The Old Barn Productions), here, featuring driving fiddle riff, subverting the narrative as the protagonist fails to mourn for his lover and is dragged down by her to his own grave as a result.

Growing up in a Birmingham family of funeral directors is probably a good grounding if you go on to make melancholic folk music, and yet there’s also a shimmering ethereal quality to ‘High On Hope’ (Universal Production Music) the debut single from Warwickshire-based BIMM mature music student JULIANNE OC who mingles acoustic guitar figures with dreamy electronica and her gorgeous airy vocals to beguiling effect. She cites Nick Cave, Eva Cassidy and Marissa Nadler among her influences, but this indicates she very much has a distinctive voice of her own, and her White Camelia album in eagerly anticipated.

‘Beyond Words’ is the new single from IAN ROLAND & THE SUBTOWN SET taken from a new album still under construction. It’s a delicate but still powerfully performed song built on acoustic guitar and drenched in strings. “Not enough poetry” sings Ian and he’s quite right.

Born in Louisiana and now based in London, KATE ELLIS trails new album Spirals with tremulously sung Americana digital download single ‘Another Way’, a poignant, autobiographical piano ballad about a daughter finding forgiveness for her and acceptance of her flawed father and understanding the connection between them.

‘Willow Tree’ is a new single from Surrey duo DRAGONFLY SKY. The song is based around piano and strings, featuring Phil Beer, and the oddly childlike voice of Amy Whiter and recounts a near-death experience and the feeling of hovering between one world and the next when Amy was seriously ill.

Kevin Brennan and Tony Regan hail from Nottingham but you wouldn’t know that to hear them. They played across the US extensively in their youth but dropped out of the music business to pursue real jobs. Now, thirty years on, they are reunited as THE COUNTY AFFAIR with a single ‘Bourbon Breakfast’ about the love-hate relationship with alcohol. “Glass of rye in the morning/That’s my Special K” they sing, but they know that they are playing the losing game.

The Grief We Gave Our Mother is the first album from MATTHEW FOWLER in seven years. ‘Been A Lover’ is the second single to be lifted from it and it’s a cracker. Almost country, a bit rock and topped off with a brass coda. The twist is the lyric that completes the title: “I’ve always been a lover of the chase”. We all know someone like that.