SINGLES BAR 92 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 92From Northern Ireland but based in Oxford, Iranian-Irish DANIEL MA’ANI has an Immigrant Mentality, or at least that’s the title track of his new ‘sense of belonging’-themed self-released EP  on which, featuring whistling and jaw harp, by way of explanation he sings “You can build a wall/But you can’t stop me/And that is what you call immigrant mentality ” in addressing attitudes to immigrants (“I may look plain/But there’s mountains underneath”) with its “I’m going to England” chorus. Quaveringly sung and softly strummed, ‘In the Backseat’ speaks of the bittersweet ambiguity of not being part of the crowd (“In that backseat/Where I wasn’t lonely/I remember paying a high price… I became a watcher/In my hand a thunder/Hanging to the night”) a similar theme at the core of the sparsely picked ‘Candelabra’ (“Living in a rich man’s world/A poor heart is a blessing/Shine your light on me/I don’t know what I’m missing”). The rest of the EP is made up of ‘Carousel’ which, as the title suggests, has a fairground vibe, albeit cast in dark tones, a calypso-tinted ‘The Funny Walk’ and, taking its cue from John 18:6, the strummed 60s troubadour folk of ‘My Kingdom Not Of This World’, a sharp swipe at corporate greed , the new robber barons (“They don’t stand in rank and file/They own every shopping aisle/Mankind to them but pigs at the trough”) and a call to everyman (“I have no throne, no private jet to fly…Not my strength to destroy/But my eagerness to build”) that again references the immigrant  and specifically the slavery experience (“I was shipped from verdant shores abroad… Just like you I cherish wife and child/Yet I only held them close for a while/Just like me they’re bought and sold”) ending with another reference to the teachings of Christ in “if you’re looking for a king then you should know I am with you wherever you may go”. Impressive stuff.

There’s lovely bass and an echoey something – either synth or one of Duncan Moss’ esoteric instruments – introducing ‘Crown Of Thorns/Naughty Mary’, the opening track on The Lighthouse, a six track EP by folk-rockers TIN GIANTS. The band grew out of Shave The Monkey and their influences are legion: western European folk music (hence the hurdy-gurdy), Celtic (harp and bagpipes) and hard rock – Penni McLaren Walker once sang in a Hawkwind tribute band.

These musical strands come together at their finest in their setting of ‘The Banks Of Sweet Primroses’ which has just about everything going on in it. The band mix traditional music with their own compositions but don’t really distinguish between the two in their approach. The lengthy ‘Bishop Rock/Occam’s Razor’, a pair of tunes written by Moss and Bryan Causton, is another track with everything put into the mix from which emerges a sparkling melody. The final studio track is ‘Ride The Tide’, written by harpist Fran Broady with an oddly sinister vibe.

The final two tracks were recorded live. The first is ‘Light Tide’, written by Causton, paired with the traditional ‘Il Ya Runic’ and the second is the traditional French ‘Ami De La Bouteille’ leading into Duncan’s ‘Hill Cottage’. Tin Giants play folk-rock but not as you may know it. Their music has been compared with Mike Oldfield in his pomp which isn’t too far off the mark.

Funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and working with Good Neighbours, a Coventry-based charity that supports lonely and isolated older people by linking them with volunteer befrienders, Back In The Day (Tortoise Recordings) is a new EP from Steve Jones aka STYLUSBOY, a collection of songs inspired by six of the older people he met with and the stories of their lives. Featuring harmonies from Mississippi-born Americana songstress Alva Leigh, it opens with the steady chug of ‘Fourteen Days’ which tells of how John, a 102-year-old WWII pilot who was shot down over enemy lines and spent the next fortnight living off the land as he made his escape back to England. The line about The Caterpillar Club is a reference to an informal association of those who have successfully   parachuted out of a disabled aircraft.

The war is also the backdrop to the acoustic guitar ringing, chorus friendly ‘Lift Your Voice’, sung in the voice of a woman who worked riveting planes and who, every lunchtime, would, just as she did for her auntie as a child and later for soldiers on leave, exhorted with “come on Joan”, sing to raise everyone’s spirits. Featuring Lauren South on violin, the swaying ‘In The Morning Light’ is about Blossom, who, grafting in the factory, “Pulls out her fight as/The nine to five begins/She works all the hours/Puts bread on the table/Determined to make it/To see through the darkness/And do it all by herself”.  Referencing the Coventry Blitz, the melodically circling ‘Waiting To Say Hello’ is a lovely tale of old friends and good neighbours sharing memories (“She takes down the dusty box/Treasures just waiting to be found/The sadness of voices past/Joys of the loves she holds so dear”) and a cup of tea as “We talk and we put the world to rights”. Reminiscent of The Lilac Time,  Doreen is the inspiration for the slow balladeering ‘Days Are Made For Living’ with its chiming electric guitar chords, violin and  its message to “Take each step as it comes/Look each day in the eye/There’s always beauty in the moments you’ll find”, while the final track, the fingerpicked and puttering percussive beats five-minute ‘Take A Little More Time’ with its Nick Drake hints and harmonies from  Sam Lyon, Isabel Costa, Wes Finch and Evie Jones, taps the memories of Freda whose kind-heartedness saw her invited to tea with Queen Elizabeth II.

OLI MATTHEWS is a composer and arranger who plays saxophone and melodeon and his band’s debut EP, Summit, is out now. It’s big on brass and bass and leans heavily towards jazz but the band is tight and the tunes are catchy even with all the decoration. The lead track is rather like a fanfare and its motif is repeated with extra funk until the melodeon bursts in briefly before giving way to a screaming sax and heading towards the finish.

‘Sharpened Sea’ begins with piano underpinned by bass, then brass, then drums and circles round again. ‘Pop Up’ opens with drums and keys and turns into a very folky melodeon tune. You could dance to most of this. ‘Firefly’ is out-and-out funk complete with Hammond organ while ‘Dappled Light’ has a sort of calypso feel initially and an earworm of a melody which is developed on piano before the brass weighs in again.

Drummer Tom A Wright deserves a special mention for being powerful and restrained at the same time but the whole band is a bit special.

Northeast based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter JOHN REED has been making albums steeped in rich emotive, evocative and mindful lyrics for some time. This single ‘Coal Fires’ to be included on the new album Elevation is a rich tapestry of lyrics dreaming up images of old terraced houses with families huddling around the fire. Those cheery days. Fossil fuel of the past doing its damage to the environment and alternative fuels brought in to save us. Now these alternative fuels are very expensive, and ‘Coal Fires’ might well be the order of the day in modern times to come. This haunting and melodic track is ably assisted by Leicester based musician Matt Steady playing along on the violin, which gives this tune a jaw dropping accompaniment. We had the pleasure of hearing some of the tracks destined for John Reeds new album (coming out in October 2023) and can assure you, It’s an album to add to your collection. Check out John’s website and back catalogue, plus see where he is playing live. You can sign up for his quarterly newsletter and buy the album digitally from his website, which is the only way you will get it!

Looking to redress the bad deal parents tend to get in folk songs, HARP & A MONKEY have self-released ‘Skylarks’, a gentle, lullabying poignant ode which, drawing on traditional melodies and sketched in the narrative of a father taking his two children on a walk over the West Pennine Moors, seeks to convey the sense of joy, exhilaration and protectiveness felt by a loving parent. The songs form part of a new project (The Extraordinary Ordinary) that revisits the popular everyday themes and emotions of old songs and reworks them for modern audiences.

Coincidentally, one third of the trio, contributing harp, harmonium, guitar and viola, SIMON JONES has his own solo single also released, a taster for his upcoming second album of traditional and original songs about mortality and death, sparsely arranged for guitar, cello and organ, the haunting, sparse, dirge-like ‘Call Off The Dawn’ (self-released) explores how those experiencing loss struggle to cope with the unbearable sense of pain that each fresh day brings.

In advance of his new album, KEITH JAMES has re-recorded Nick Drake’s ‘Northern Sky’, giving it a rich, almost orchestral, arrangement built on swirling organ, solid drums and a bigger guitar sound. There are elements of Robert Kirby’s original setting and Keith’s vocals are down in the mix almost imitating Drake’s mumbling delivery. A gorgeous setting of a timeless song.

The video for ‘Golden Days’, the new single from CHRIS BRAIN, has him wandering Wharfedale in glorious sunshine. Chris is one of our finest up-and-coming singer-songwriters and the song features his accomplished guitar-picking and a voice with just enough accent to sound direct and real. You believe what he’s singing about; throw in a string backing and you have an exceptionally good song. We await his forthcoming second album, Steady Away, with keen anticipation.

Rich with piano and strings, ‘Eleven Eight’ is the new single by BOO SUTCLIFFE and also the title track of his second album. It begins like a song of lost love but suddenly there is a reference to a blood stain and it takes on a wholly different meaning – or is it just because he skinned his knee in the park? There is death mixed in here somewhere.

There are three versions of the new single, ‘Where No Shadows Fall’, by FRED ABBOTT & THE WILD UNKNOWN: the studio cut, a live version and a remix. It is taken from Fred’s new album – a lovely, melancholy song led by guitar on the studio version but driven by his piano on the live take, while the remix follows a very different route with echoey keys.

DESERT LIFE are Chris Swales and Tom Jordan and just one listen to their single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ tells you that they come from somewhere in the American south-west. Actually they hail from South Wales but sound so authentic, partly due to Jon Graboff’s pedal steel. The song relates to a familiar experience – don’t tell me she’s going out with him!

‘Come A Long Way’ is the title track and lead single from the new album by BEN REEL. It kicks off with a doomy drone and hollow drums while Ben’s first verse explains what the song is about. By the end of the second verse the arrangement is full-throated and there are echoes of Dylan here and there.

THE OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW release a raucous single, ‘Belle Meade Cockfight’, featuring Sierra Ferrell from their upcoming album, Jubilee. Take the elements of country, bluegrass and old-timey and crank them up to 11 and you’ll be there.

Reimagining a song like ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ takes nerves of steel especially when it’s reimagined exactly the way Johnny Cash didn’t but that is what THE STRING REVOLUTION have done. Don’t bother with the lyrics and pile on the guitars including former Bushwacker, Tommy Emmanuel and the production talents of John Carter Cash. It’s a cracker.

‘For Your Love’, the new single by Joe Francis aka WINTER MOUNTAIN, is not the Yardbirds number that Eric Clapton disliked but a new song. It sounds a bit countryish but Joe is from Cornwall and is able to recruit Seth Lakeman on fiddle. The song is about journeying and returning home and about steadfastness.

Strong harmonies and a soaring fiddle characterise the sound of THE HENRY GIRLS and their new single, ‘A Time To Grow’, not to mention banjo and the drone from what is possibly a harmonium. Hell, there’s lots going on here and you’d think they hailed from the southern Appalachians if you didn’t know they came from Ireland.