SINGLES BAR 77 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 77NINA HARRIES is a singer, composer and double bass player from Northampton. Five years ago she released her debut solo album but most of her time is spent on various ensemble projects. Now she has released a six-track EP, Water.

Nina pairs her bass with a slightly husky voice which suits her music well – more poetry than conventional song structures. The first track, ‘Bloom’, is very reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, a descriptive narrative with a slightly sinister edge but hearing that doesn’t mean you’ve heard it all and, in fact, it slips almost imperceptibly into ‘Mask’ – the two tracks like a matched pair. ‘Prayer’ highlights Nina’s vocal range and power culminating in multi-tracked vocals repeating a single line tumbling over and over.

Nina plays and sings every note here and frequently overdubs her voice and adds bowed bass over plucked bass and frequently the songs become wordless almost-instrumentals. Water is far from being conventional but it is compelling listening.

The Dream Of Peace, the new EP by JASON BAKER, appeared in the Folking in-box out of the blue. Jason comes from Vermont and has three full-length albums to his name. As well as performing solo he is a member of Folk Talk Trio and is steeped in the American tradition. He plays acoustic guitar and is blessed with a deep, rich voice with hints of Johnny Cash about it but without Cash’s edge.

The opening title track is a gentle, reflective song lamenting that the dream of peace has been largely lost. ‘Life Is Better When’ is based on Sanskrit proverb and given a kazoo and whistle accompaniment which probably made sense to Jason. It’s a clever song but the best bits actually come from the proverb. ‘If We Can Keep It’ has a tune that sounds suitably old fashioned given that it derives from the Constitutional Congress of 1787. The underlying message is that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom so, of course, the song was really inspired by the impeachment of Donald Trump! Finally, ‘I Feel A Good One Coming On’ is about finding creativity in anything.

Jason’s music is very easy to listen to but his songs are rooted somewhere back in the history of socio-political songwriting.

A taster from the upcoming album of the same name by Wiltshire duo ANTOINE & OWENA, written during lockdown and featuring Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, the measured, deep vocals and fiddle-led traditional flavoured ‘Clockwork Lens’ (self-released) is a reference to the type of lens used in old lighthouses, here used as a metaphor for the beacon shone by people as a light in dark times.

Written in response to the events in Ukraine and available as £1 or more download  from Bandcamp, MARTYN JOSEPH has released the slow strummed guitar and piano ‘I’d Take You Out’ (Pipe), his powerful mirror to Bruce Cockburn’s ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher’, on which, addressing Putin, although not by name, as a force of evil, while  pacifist and referencing how Christ on the cross forgave the thief,, the crimes committed are so heinous he can’t find mercy as he declares “I’d string you up and I’d watch you swing”, even at the cost of his own soul.

MARTIN STEPHENSON continues to follow his own path with a raft of live dates, more merchandise than you can shake a stick at and a sparkly new single, ‘Early Morning Drive’. He is supported by Niles Krieger of Assembly Lane and The Questionnaires on fiddle and mandolin and Rupert Hughes on guitar and the record has a country feel in a nicely English sort of way.

Following on from her voice only album Alone On A Hill, KATY ROSE BENNETT is positively symphonic in comparison on new single ‘Hard To Be Human’  (Little House On The Hill Records) as she draws on organ, warped piano and, yes, scissor samples to augment her vocals on a dreamily drifting number about recognising how it can sometimes be a struggle to deal with the demands of life, those days when you can’t get anything done, but accepting that those difficulties and how we cope with them are what make us who we are (“You are quite wonderful, though you can’t see it/There’s no-one like you before has been on this planet”) and that “this too shall pass”.

‘Same Old Story’ is the new single from The Losing End, the upcoming album by GARRETT HEATH. Garrett’s style is Americana-rock and this is very much a song of our times as he reflects on the distance between his dreams and his life as it really is. “Am I the man I’m meant to be? I work to feed my family; I go to work but I have dreams…” is the key opening line.

Fronted by songwriter Jessica Guise, London quartet GUISE join forces with Emily Barker for three part harmony with Laura Hanna on ‘I Know When You Leave’ (XtraMile), from forthcoming album Youngest Daughter, a stripped back song about separation recorded virtually acapella with minimal piano notes joining towards the crescendo.

‘Bookwoman’s Daughter’ is inspired by The Bookwoman’s Daughter, a novel about life in rural Appalachia by Kim Michele Richardson. The song, written and performed by RUBY FRIEDMAN accompanied by Ben Landsverk, takes the traditional sound of the Appalachians and kicks it into the 21st century. Friedman has the voice of a blues shouter and the song has the feel of ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’.

Formerly the 60s wild man of rock as the once self-proclaimed God of Hellfire approaches 80 ARTHUR BROWN is a rather more sedate folkie figure these days, his new single Long Long Road (Prophecy) an anthemic acoustic, Gaelic-coloured folk ballad about life’s never ending path, a reminder remind that we have choices and determine the stories that we listen to, what we tell ourselves, and how we act and the kind of person we are. Recorded with multi-instrumentalist Rik Patten and with Brown’s multi-octave voice sounding like a gruffer Van Morrison, it’s a precursor to the album of the same name. The fire still blazes.

The new (second) album by American indie-folkie, DEKKER, will be released next month. In the meantime the single, ‘Let’s Pretend’, is available now. Dekker’s voice is given enough echo to contrast with his bouncy acoustic guitar. The song is possibly about a failing relationship but the opening line, “Are you already anxious?” carries a weightier meaning.

Irish siblings duo YE VAGABONDS set up anticipation for next  month’s Nine Waves album with the slowly unfolding, wistfully gentle traditional flavoured ‘Go Away And Come Back Hither’ (River Lea), a song about the ebb and flow of longing and fulfilment that sees Diarmuid and Brían MacGloinn joined by  Kate Ellis and Caimin Gilmore from Crash Ensemble on cello and double bass, respectively, alongside Ryan Hargadon on piano and saxophone, Alain McFadden on harmonium and concertina player Cormac Begley.

A mix of Americana and contemporary folk spiced with country and blues, joined by Paul Anderson on fiddle and harmonies Aberdeen’s COLIN CLYNE releases ‘Wishing Winter Away’ (Royale Music), a steady swaying refrain singalong friendly number about not wishing away the dark times in life but looking forward to the hope of brighter times ahead.

Optimism, love and friendship are definitely the order of these days and not before time. ‘Daffodils’, the new single from THE LOST TRADES is a perfect example; a happy, upbeat song encompassing all these virtues. “My devil’s avocado” is a line that will stick in the memory.

FELLOW PYNINS are Oregon duo Dani Aubert (clawhammer banjo, bouzouki) and Ian George (guitar, mandolin), their music brining new interpretations to traditional Anglo-American folk tunes, as in the case of their moody, stark take on ‘Pretty Polly’ (self-released), which lyrically  draws from both different versions of the song as well as Woody Guthrie’s rewrite, ‘Pastures of Plenty’. Accompanied by double bass and featuring Aubert on vocals and George on harmonies, it’s taken from upcoming album Lady Mondegreen which will also feature horns, violins and drums and the band are touring the UK from July.

Written during the week when Partygate broke and Prince Andrew was trying to wheedle out of going to court, London-based Americana singer-songwriter LITTLE LORE (aka Tricia Duffy) takes a swipe at the hypocricy and self-serving attitudes of the supposedly great and good with ‘Shallow’ (self-released) juxtaposing  the idea of being let down by people in power with heartbreak as well as including an oblique reference to the execution of Charles I, all wrapped up in a jaunty, bob along swing vibe major chords tune with organ and echoes of Neil Young.

German/American singer-songwriter MICHAEL LANE is big in his homeland and his new single, ‘Days Can Last Forever’ is a classy up-tempo number. In the refrain the title is followed by “when you’re trying to forget” which puts the song in the context of a lost love affair. Time was this would have been an instant hit.

Comprising Bromley brother-sister duo Matthew and Julia Lowe alongside Tom Sweet and Harry Stasinopoulos, KESTON COBBLERS CLUB pull off another feat of musical magic with ‘Lullaby For The Wide Awake’ (Absolute), a suitably dreamy song taken from the upcoming Alchemy album and written by insomnia sufferer Julia to soothe away those sleepless nights, Matthew harmonising on vocals and caressed by a restful string arrangement and the closing appearance of brass.

MIRIAM JONES totes a funky, bluesy electric guitar and on her new single, ‘Room In My House’, but treats it like an acoustic. The song comes from her forthcoming album, Reach For The Morning, and is inspired by moving to a new home in London. It is partly a description and celebration of the house but contrasts that with the inhospitality of people. A very pertinent observation.

Founded by twin brothers Callum and Kieran Morgan, rising UK Americana six-piece MORGANWAY, currently the BCMA’s Group of the Year, deliver a catchy, driving slice of Fleetwood Mac-tinged country rock pop with ‘Back To Zero’ (self-released), Yve Mary B on vocals and festooned with sparkling guitar chords and pulsing keyboards.