SINGLES BAR 59 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 59JOHN NAPIER follows up his Give Us Some Money EP with the self-released Bandcamp download Things Are Much Worse Than We Had Thought, opening with the jaunty ukulele strummed, bass drum thumping, handclapping title track, a jaunty downbeat singalong to join in with as we all plunge into the abyss. Definitely one for Beans On Toast fans. Switching to strummed and fingerpicked guitars, the whistling ‘Heard It On The Radio’ is another cheery little number about infringement of liberties as he sings “we are not blind, were just not tough enough this time”, of replenishing empathy with apathy because “our hearts’ not big enough this time”.

It’s back to uke for the jogalong ‘New Frontiersman Part 1’ which, like the banjo-backed ‘Part 2’ where he adopts an Elvis-like speak-sing approach before Johnny Cash takes over turns its attention to supposed technological progress of “a new and better age” where “what we thought was a well spring might just be a money pit” and those who would “destroy what we’re trying to pull off”. Finally, there’s the guitar and knocking percussion accompanied, backing harmonies and cascading hymnal cum calypso chords of the slow walk rhythm, acoustic anthemic ‘Lately’, leaving it on another downbeat note of ennui as he sings “no one seems to know the reason why we carry on. I  feel like life is passing me by, and I can’t wake up, but I don’t know why”. Great stuff

Fifty years ago IAN A ANDERSON was a co-founder of the legendary Village Thing label built around the Bristol contemporary folk scene and which played host to the likes of Wizz Jones, Fred Wedlock, Derroll Adams and Tucker Zimmerman. That same year Ian released his third album, Royal York Crescent, named after the street where he lived and from which these four tracks are taken.

The opening track, ‘Hero’, is a belter featuring some lovely second guitar by Ian Hunt. The song would appear to be a tribute to a musician hero of Ian’s but that is never specified.  After the instrumental, ‘Goblets & Elms’ comes ‘Shining Grey’, Ian’s attack on the education system as he experienced it. The argument that the education system stifles imagination and creativity is still ongoing. Finally comes a second instrumental, ‘The Worm’.

The EP comes with some tasty memorabilia – it’s all very well done – and the photograph on the back shows Ian live at the first Glastonbury Festival. Just think on that.

Following on from the two singles, the EP Sweet Wild Lily (Proper) is BEN GLOVER’s first new material in two years, the gentle strummed ballad title track leading off with a new Americana touch to the sound while still veined with his Irish soul. Another previous single ‘Arguing With Ghosts’ is his (and duet partner Kim Richey’s) version of the co-write with Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg featured on the former’s Dancing With The Beasts album. It’s completed with the uptempo rolling rhythm and echoey vocals of the bluegrassy ‘Broke Down’ and, closing on a more hushed note, the atmospheric ‘Fireflies Dancing’, its mood kindred to’ Kindness’

ROBBIE BANKES is a Canadian/Norwegian singer-songwriter who recorded his EP, The Way My Feet Fall, in a snowy Toronto with support from multi-instrumentalist Sam Gleason who also co-produced. There is a lightness about the opener, ‘Words’, which comes to a clever and unexpected dead stop. Gleason piles synth strings onto ‘Quiet Days’ and almost does the same with ‘Pictures’ but ends up giving it a harder edge in keeping with its sentiments.

Bankes gives ‘Snow Came Early’ a nicely languid vocal but there’s a lot going in the background – almost too much – the guitar driven ‘So I Might’ works better as it leaves the heavy-duty instrumental work for the breaks. The songs are good but perhaps the production needs a lighter touch.

Having spent the greater part of his musical career as a writer or as part of bands, now in his late 40s, Hampshire’s PAUL ALEXANDER LOW makes his solo debut with the self-released Hell Yeah, the title track a poppy, folk-inflected number about how he hoped his fiancée would react to his proposal. The other tracks follow a similar musical path, hints of Don Henley here and there perhaps, with the bluesy underpinned strum of ‘Feel Your Heart Come Alive’, the more laid back fingerpicked swayer ‘Fisherman’s Heart’, the five-minute delicacy of ‘Autumn Breeze’ with piano notes complementing his fingerpicking, and the friskier ‘Heart Of Stone’ with its combined bubbling and handclapping echoes of Paul Simon and Cat Stevens

Hailing from Georgia and based in Nashville, MOLLY PARDEN releases her first full-fledged collection of new material since her 2011 debut with Rosemary, a six-track EP of indie folk-country that kicks off with the rippling plucked guitar, strings and puttering drums of the tenderly sung ‘Feel Alive Again’, described as a plea for peace written after a disconnected and confusing New Year’s Eve. Shaded by keys ‘Kitchen Table’ is a whispering, dreamy post-break up number while ‘Who Are We Kiddin’’ has more of a vintage Motown soul pop mellow groove augmented sax and violin, both instruments adding their emotive tones to further break-up heartache on ‘I Know You Can’. Arranged for acoustic guitar, violin and cello, ‘Within A Dream’ is just a simple and lovely sentimental come back to me love song, the final track being her ‘I only think of you sometimes’ Chet Baker tribute ‘These Are the Times’, from whence comes the EP title, with its slow plod percussion beat anchoring the airy vocals and shaded by Wurlitzer, trumpet, flugelhorn and lap steel- lap steel. All rather lovely

Brooklyn-based actress BRITTAIN ASHFORD AND MATT BAUER join musical forces for Day Inside A Night, a self-released 4-track EP about “introspection, mild optimism, and facing personal demons with grace”. Opening with the lush strings orchestration of ‘Ugly’, her quivering Janis Ian-ish vocals brushing across a song about love and compassion, it picks up the pacing with his dusky vocals taking lead on the soft rock ‘Nights In Saguaro’, Ashford back in the spotlight, he harmonising, on the quietly pulsing but gradually building ‘What Would You Say’ about that WTF moment when you realise all your friends are married with kids and you’re looking for hand to hold. Bauer again up front, it ends with the softly brushed, tinkling keys ‘Sun Through The Breakers’ capturing that magic when day and night gently touch as they pass each other

SUNJAY has a two track digital single available very soon. The A-side, ‘London Road’, is about homelessness with the title referring to the route people take in search of whatever they’re looking for as much as a physical place. It’s typical of Sunjay’s powerful fingerpicking with a chugging beat. The other side, ‘Street Riot’, could refer to the result of what is described in ‘London Road’ but is also about just about everything that s happening today. Both tracks feature fiddle from Katriona Gilmore and Josh Clark on drums. Good stuff.

Birmingham’s CHRIS TYE is in a relaxed, shrug and shuffle mood with new download love song single ‘Must Be Crazy’ (Epizootic) featuring Jayne Powell on backing vocals, one to soothe those missing the sunshine-kissed sounds of early Jack Johnson.

FRANKIE ARMSTRONG turns 80 in January and is still going strong – so much so that she is releasing a new album, Cats Of Coven Lawn, to mark the occasion. It grew out of a project to produce a book of women’s songs and the first single from it, ‘A Life Lived Well’ is one of the songs collected. The accompaniment is stripped down with just Flowers Tannenbaum on piano and over-dubbed vocals done in such a way that both Frankies are easily discerned.

Following on from their recent EP, FAELAND return with ‘Easier’, a digital single taster for next year’s album, I Close My Eyes, Jacob Morrison providing the fingerpicked guitar behind Rebecca Nelson’s relaxed vocalsm stretching out the yah at the end of the word on a song scampering through a fantasy world and coloured with shuffling drums and charango. It’s backed with another album teaser, ‘Made To Love You’ shifting from sparse piano ballad to a climax that encompasses banjo and strings

Looking forward to his new album, BARRY ALLEN has released a single, ‘Stay’ – no jokes about it being available in a flash, please. Barry and producer Mike Cliffe produce a big sound with a lot going on and he claims the singer-songwriters of the late 60s and 70s who went for big productions as an influence. The song is about missing someone but with an up-tempo vibe as though the singer is determined to hold on.

Recorded during lockdown at their Dartmoor village home and featuring Annie Baylis on violin and backing vocals, HARBOTTLE AND JONAS offer ‘The Beacon’ a digitally available title track taster from their forthcoming album, due in Spring 2021. The title refers to local landmark Ugborough Beacon, an ancient site that looms over South Brent, the song a celebration of our connection to nature and the calm it can bring, David singing lead and playing bass, guitar and cittern with Freya on concertina, harmonium and piano, she and Baylis providing the swelling backing vocals as it reaches the climax.

ED DUPAS, Michigan-based singer-songwriter has a new single, ‘This Old Heart’. It’s rolling Americana informed by Ed’s lockdown experience and with a line that inevitably drags Creedence Clearwater Revival to mind. Ed manages to bring some positivity to the situation with “when something gets knocked over I just reach for the Hoover”.

The result of a post-break-up journey across America, ‘Home Is Your Shoulder’ (Haven) is a folk-tinged pop single from Norwich singer-songwriter HOLLY LERSKI, her first new music in five years, about longing, heartache and seeking comfort and support on which she’s joined by Bonnie Raitt bassist James ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson.

JENNIFER CROOK has released a single, ‘Precious Time’, for all of us who think that there isn’t enough of it to go round. It opens with a lovely bass guitar riff by Stuart Bruce and is decorated with Joe Coombs’ electric guitar. Jennifer slips into a nice groove as she thinks on souvenirs from the past when we had all the time in the world.

An LA-based Americana rock‘n’roll outfit, ASHLEIGH FLYNN & THE RIVETERS draw on Biblical references for ‘The Lion & The Lamb’ (Home Perm Records), a mid-tempo chiming guitar and organ-backed gospel-infused swagger with a guitar solo and anthemic-chorus that looks at an America wracked by civil unrest, domestic terrorist groups and climate change destruction and speaks of how inherent goodness will heal the nation from the beats tearing it apart

SILVERBACK COLONY are a sort of alt-country collective from the vicinity of Minneapolis led by Gabriel Douglas. In lockdown they seem to be duo at the moment and they have just released a dark monster of a single, ‘I Want More’ which clocks in at eleven minutes. The length gives them time to develop musical ideas most of which can be laid at the feet of the other half of the duo, Kai Brewster.

Talking of dark, VANESSA ANNE REDD has released a powerful new single ‘Dark Minds’ taken from her forthcoming album, Sweet Way Around. Play it on an acoustic guitar and it might be a folk song but that’s not the way Vanessa sings it, inviting comparisons with Nick Cave.