SINGLES BAR 88 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 88From Ireland but based in Brittany, CALLUM HOUSTON describes himself as a neo/alternative folk singer-songwriter, Pub Poetry being his second self-released EP, he on acoustic guitar, mandolin and bass with Alban Bauduin providing drums, electric guitar, banjo, charango nd beat box. There’s seven tracks (so more mini-album, really), generally of a busker’s strum persuasion with some clattering or clanging percussion and plucked notes. Most of the numbers are of a reminiscing persuasion of times or those lost, such as the valley funeral-themed ‘Simple Sentiments’ (“On our  shoulders you do rest/Arms placed across your chest/Talking turns to move you on/Strides steady bold and strong”), the mandolin-fuelled stirrings of young love in Dublin’s ‘Camden Street’ (“That’s where we’d meet/I was young and you were too…As I tried to kiss you on the cheek/My heart it fell right at your feet/As you turned away/You laughed at me, pushed away my hand/Saying ‘What you doing you foolish man, that’s not the way’”) and ‘Streets of Pyrénées’ (“I remember the time/I was yours and you were mine/I remember the day/To you I gave my heart away”.

Elsewhere there’s  the ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely’ street cafe-styled swaying portrait of ‘Metro Man’ (“He wears a heavy jacket/Whatever the weather does bring/He passes the days with an expressionless gaze/Watching the people walk”) and of the poets who wander the city but fail to see beauty staring them in the face, and of those struggling with their thoughts and lives in the banjo, thumping drums and handclaps-powered ‘OKTFTW’ (“She’s in the kitchen and there’s clearly something missing/And she finally starts breaking down/The tears fall and the words are crawling/Out from her mind”) with the reassurance that “We can turn ourselves around pick ourselves up off the ground”. Or there’s just the simple love song to a daughter that is the nimbly picked bluegrassy ‘Until My Dying Day’ (“I need you more then you need me/I’m just happy to be in your company…A parent’s love’s an unconditional thing/With all the, troubles and toils and the joys that it brings”). And it ends more or less where it began, raising a glass to the memory of those gone in the strummed Irish barroom sway of ‘The Songs That Set Us Free’ (“From the workers on the railroads/To the boys on the docks/To those who spend all of their days/Governed by the clock/Throughout the halls and the houses/From the bars onto the streets”) and the belief in the healing power of music (“A simple melody/Could save your soul”).  I’ll take a pint or two of this.

Emerging from a period of ill-health, Scottish fiddler GAVIN MARWICK – of more bands than we can mention – has released the first of four EPs under the umbrella title Quarterdays. Each will be a series of duets with a different musical partner. Candlemas features Old Blind Dogs’ AARON JONES, here restricting himself to cittern underpinning Gavin’s tunes. The record opens with the stately ‘The Midpoint Of Winter’ paired with ‘The Candlelight Reel’, a rather more spritely composition. Aaron gets to introduce ‘The Fair Maids Of February’ but this is Gavin’s record and he soon takes over and the tune merges into ‘Jig For Winter’. Gavin and Aaron keep up the tempo with the record’s shortest tune, ‘The King’s Chair’, and then comes the year’s best title, ‘If The Day Dawns Bright And Clear Dry And Fair And Wet And Foul’ coupled with ‘Sheep’s Milk’ and ‘The Burnt Candlemas’, three sparkling, imaginative tunes. ‘The February Jig’ is another stately tune better suited to the parlour than the ceilidh floor but the pace picks up steadily with ‘Half His Corn And Half His Hay’, ‘The Birch Wand’ and ‘Jig St Bride’. Finally the record ends rather as it began with ‘A Flame Of Gold’ and ‘Prayer For Protection’, two wonderfully haunting tunes.

Formerly the mainstays of Missouri alt-country outfit Nadine, Adam Reichmann and Todd Schnitzer are now ONE ADAM ONE, making their debut with the Where Do I Begin EP (Die Trying), five tracks of fuzz guitars and acoustic in the service of their distinctive midwestern sound on songs love, longing, bewilderment and hope. The narcotic slow-paced title track gets it up and running with strummed guitar, drum thump and reverb treated vocals as Reichmann sings about, first being ‘stranded out in Boston’, the snow shutting down the airport, and then of “A starry night out in Pocatello/Forgotten home in the foothills of nowhere/The main house was abandoned/As if the family had just been playing card games there” as the track adds a more layers to build the atmosphere of being “untethered again/Trying to make sense of it all”.  The opening line “It’s a fucked up world, we’re just living in it” lays the ground for the more uptempo rhythm of ‘Living Between The Lines’ which, as you might guess is about dealing with modern life, ‘’Hollywood Ending’ taking more of a nervy loping chug with another downbeat perspective where cynicisms rules and “From the parking lot to the battlegrounds/All the serious love has gone underground”. Syncopated guitar, chiming keys and steady drumming drive along the folksier and more optimistic ‘Cold Murmurs’ (“the trees all breath in the night/And the choirs of insects/Sing so tightly/Songs for the darkness/And songs for the light”), ending with the ruminatively strummed, organ-coloured slow sway wistfully reflective ‘Platte River’ with its sha la la refrain and tints of Petty balladry.

BIRD IN THE BELLY have released Coventry Fair EP as a limited edition 7” vinyl double A-side. The title track is a fascinating song; twelve verses and a chorus describing the gardening year as recorded by horticulturalist John Whittingham, listing his failures as well as his successes. There are snippets of information about the weather throughout the year – Whittingham notes the appearance of the Aurora Borealis in September, unusually far south, one would have thought.

The B-side, ‘Employ John Day No More’, is rather more difficult to interpret in places. Again, the song is taken from Whittingham’s diary entries and the title suggests a note to self. The songs were commissioned by Food Union Coventry and The Pod, hence the singular subject matter and performed in a simple style befitting the 18th century. It’s beautifully packaged and in short supply so grab one while you can.

Hailing from Portland, KENDALL LUJAN steps into the solo spotlight after singing harmonies with Forget Me Knots (American Standard Time), her four track debut EP opening with the punchy drumming title track  as she warbles “how long will it take for you to be sitting next to me?” over the vibrato, reverb, and pedal steel guitars. In contrast, ‘Dot My I’s’ is a solo fingerpicked guitar and muted drums slow walking number about how memories can be bittersweet. ‘Getting Old’ is a more late night, blues-tinged slow dance with a handclap rhythm, the last number being ‘Another’, a strummed song about lingering desire and retracing steps to the point where love was lost, and seeking to pick up the trail in another life, her voice warbling DeMent-like over archtop guitar and strings.

Seeds is the debut release by Oxford quartet MOONAROON. Their music is driven by the twin fiddles of Josh Newman and Mitch Keeley, who also plays bouzouki, banjo and guitar, supported by Jack Evans on guitar and vocals and Dom McGann on vocals, percussion and harmonica. The six-track EP kicks off with ‘Shepherd And Shepherdess/Maiden Lane’, two old dance tunes popular in sessions. ‘Prapoutiche’ mixes up its sources beginning with an old Swedish polska followed by ‘La Prapoutiche’ by French accordion player Bruno Le Tron and again by an Irish reel, ‘Maid Behind The Bar’.

Following two lively sets, we have the first song, ‘When I Was In My Prime’ sung by Dom to Mitch’s guitar. It starts in a plaintive mood but builds to a sort of defiant power. ‘The Tilting Banjo’ is a set of three traditional Irish tunes and one written by Evans. Needless to say, it features Mitch on banjo where he remains for ‘Mystery Inch/Sussex Cotillion, an absolutely delightful pair of tunes. Finally, Moonaroon tackle Jim Moray’s ‘Lord Douglas’, his version of ‘Earl Brand’. Seeds is a very accomplished debut by a band that should have a very bright future.

A former Alabama elementary school teacher now making her twangy country mark in Nashville, JESSIE WILSON makes her debut with How ‘Bout We Find Out (self-released), the title track a duet with Sam Banks about two small town longtime friends who may be heading for a closer connection. Strummed midtempo Nashville country remains the default mode, jogging along on ‘Never Even Got to Say Goodbye’ written for a late father while providing parental balance with ‘That’s What Mamas Are For’ while ‘Leaving’s All That’s Left To Do’ and the swaggering ‘Business of Bad Decisions’ both mine break-up territory. She has an engaging southern warble, but whether that’s enough to raise her above a very similar crowd remains to be seen

Royalists look away now. BEANS ON TOAST takes a vicious swipe at the World Economic Forum on ‘The Three Stooges’ beginning with Charles III and ending with a Prime Minister who is “a tax-dodging millionaire”. Wonder who could that be. This is as close to a call for revolution as we’re likely to hear.

Trailing his forthcoming album Tuebrook, Liverpool’s JOHN JENKINS ruminates on the towns and communities that have fallen by the wayside over the course of years as people grow old, move on or pass away on the wistful, piano-backed ‘Shadows’ (Fretsore).

With pounding percussion and clanging guitar, DAVIE FUREY releases his new single, ‘Stargazer’, next month. Davie reports that it’s an old song that he rediscovered and revamped. It’s a fine power ballad.

Recording as SHY FACE TROUBADOUR, Birmingham singer-songwriter Tony Willé self-releases ‘The Train’, a folksy Americana piano and guitar ballad about the loss of his brother some years back, a musing on the previous nature of time and the realisation that when it’s up then the train is never late and “all our tears and prayers couldn’t slow it down”, the lyrics managing to reference not only The Rolling Stones but Mickey Channon, who played forward for Southampton, and represented the England national team in the 70s, scoring over 250 goals alongside the poignant refrain “I don’t have a religious bone in my body but I believe in love”.

Australian singer-songwriter JAMEY FOXTON found himself trapped in the USA during you-know-what – Australia was very strict – and wrote ‘Sydney’, a paean to his home city. It’s very Australian from the faux doo-wop introduction and belated middle eight to some mildly acerbic lyrics.

From Haiti via America and now living in Birmingham, Creole singer-songwriter GERMA ADAN has self-released ‘The Women Of Dan’, watery blues-folk guitar accompanying her softly sung vocals on lyrics taken from Audre Lorde’s poem The Women of Dan Dance with Swords in Their Hands to Mark the Time When They Were Warriors, a celebration of the female warriors of Dahomey as featured in the film The Woman King.

‘Words Were Never The Answer’ is the new single by JOSIENNE CLARKE taken from her forthcoming album Onliness. It’s about as stripped down as you could imagine, just acoustic guitar and voice and less than two minutes long. Saying what you have to say briefly and then stopping seems a brave thing to do but as the album’s final track its context may be clearer.

‘Everybody Loves The Sun’ is the first single taken from the new album by CABIN DOGS, twin brothers Rob and Rich Kwait, It’s a gently rolling country song built on acoustic guitar and banjo. Nice one.

SCOTT MATTHEWS has a distinctive voice and style that doesn’t easily fit into any classification. His new single, ‘My Selfless Moon’, is taken from his forthcoming album, Restless Lullabies, which is an acoustic reinterpretation of his electronic album, Newskin. It’s a haunting, mesmeric song that slowly pulls you in.

Hò-rò’s accordionist CALUM MACPHAIL releases a new single, ‘Oh My Darlin’’, in preparation for his debut solo album, At Last…, released next month. There’s always something of another time in Scottish love songs; in this case the couple walk home instead of calling an Uber and you can almost hear the lapping of waves and the cries of seagulls.