SINGLES BAR 42 – The meaning of life, the universe and everything

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 42Echoes is the first solo work from Sheffield’s NICOLA BEAZLEY. Nicola plays five-string fiddle which she blends with her brass band background into an intriguing EP of tunes. The opening track, ‘Cutting The Rushes’, is jig but with a slow mournful start. It was written by Nicola for Oakenhoof’s rushbearing and is paired with ‘Cross Of Honour’. Nicola’s brass section, Tom Hurst, Georgia Woodhead and Matthew Beazley, allow her fiddle, supported by Katie Williamson, to take the dominant role – for now.

The title set begins with ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’, led off by Andy Watson’s guitar but ‘Echoes’ is northern variant of ‘The Floral Dance’, and the brass really takes hold before ‘Dennis Crowther’s No 3’, which includes excerpts from the Britannia Coconut Dancers’ tune.  The EP continues its interplay between string and brass and several more of Nicola’s own tunes over four more tracks – ‘Damflask’ is particularly good.

Singles Bar 42Putting aside her chamber folk style, Things I Didn’t Need (Rough Trade) is a new stripped back EP from JOSIENNE CLARKE, the title track of which, on which she accompanies herself with moody, resonant guitar, she describes as “A love song to myself from the perspective of the fragile male ego; something I’ve come to know better than I’d care to.” It comes with two further numbers, the Nick Drake referencing ‘Season And Time’ with its watery pastoral acoustic guitar about the frustration and futility in communicating through song, and the gossamer-delicate ‘Never Lie’, which serves as a response to the self-delusion of the title track.

Singles Bar 42‘Rocks’ is the first single taken from sparrowfeather, the debut EP by JAY SUNAWAY. Now it gets complicated because Jay Sunaway is a they, not a he, a five piece collective led by Joe Woods. ‘Rocks’ is about subterranean London, its lost rivers and its denizens and if you’re a fan of China Miéville you’ll immediately feel at home here. The band combine folk instruments, accordion and fiddle, with bass and drums but without going all folk-rock.  In fact, their music displays great subtlety. The other two tracks, ‘Kittiwake Cry’, about a couple arguing on a beach amid the seabirds’ calls, and ‘Sparrowfeather’, both have a mystery about them: “sparrowfeather or neutron star, I can’t say how good you are”. ‘Rocks’ is available digitally now with ‘Kittiwake Cry’ being released next month and other tracks later. Jay Sunaway is a band we want to hear more from.

Singles Bar 42Following on from last year’s Radio Hymns album, Nashville duo GRANVILLE AUTOMATIC, Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins, return with the all new ‘You Can Go To Hell, I’m Going To Texas’ (own label), a twangily sung, big guitars number that sounds like it’s about a woman giving her lover the heave but is in fact about Davy Crockett’s kiss-off to Tennessee as he headed out west after failing to get elected to the U.S. Congress. In the interest of historical accuracy, however, it should be noted that what he apparently actually said was “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

Singles Bar 42Monsters is the new EP by COCO AND THE BUTTERFIELDS. The opening track, ‘Five Bells’, begins with a fast strummed acoustic guitar before the band kicks with a rocking track that’s pretty restrained by their standards. ‘Warriors’ isn’t so laid-back but clever production keeps the vocals high in the mix even when the rest of the Butterfields go into full-on headbanger mode. There are two versions of the title track, the full take and the radio edit, a surprisingly folky sound, at least in the long version, which has a melody that inexplicably brings images of Scottish islands to mind. ‘Battlegrounds’ completes the martial theme.

Singles Bar 42‘LONESOME’ CHRIS TODD is an Irish blues performer, front man of The Hardchargers who released their debut album last year. Now Chris has gone out on a vintage acoustic limb with a debut EP, Dark Horses. Not that there’s anything quiet or wimpy about it. ‘Red Lion Yard’ benefits from an insistent guitar pattern suitable for a song written in the pub car-park where Chris was living in his van. It’s the second of his own songs, the title track being the first, and these are paired with two covers. First is Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘Lonesome Dog Blues’ and if that’s still an acoustic guitar, it’s undergone some hefty post-production. That’s followed by Bukka White’s ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’.

Singles Bar 42There isn’t a lot we can tell you about DEAN MAYWOOD other than the fact that he’s Irish and has just released an eponymous EP. The five tracks are acoustic Americana with guitar and harmonica and some clever work going on in the background. The heart-breaking ‘Louisiana’ is probably the best track although ‘Knowing & Lying’ is pretty good, too. Sometimes that clever work gets too clever and there is far too much going on to give the songs a chance.

Singles Bar 42Hailing from the largest of the Aran islands, Irish singer-songwriter PADRAIG JACK gears up for his debut album with new single ‘Minnie’ (Good Deeds Music), a strummed folksy pop tale of a woman in an unhappy marriage who falls for a younger man (who serves as the song’s narrator) and realises there might be love and happiness waiting for her elsewhere. Being a folk song, her new love gets cold feet and does a runner, but she’s now liberated and ultimately ends up finding happiness with someone else.

Singles Bar 42We’re a bit late in reviewing ‘All The Signs Were There’, the latest single by S J DENNEY, his follow-up to ‘Here I Am’ – sorry S J. This time he’s rather more urgent with the drums well up in the mix, a nice rumbling bass and trumpet interventions culminating in a solo break at the end. Someone really should fund S J to make a full album – one song every two months doesn’t give the full picture.

Singles Bar 42JOSHUA BURNELL follows his very fine album, The Road To Horn Fair, with a single, ‘Skylark & The Oak’ featuring his wife, Frances Sladen. Acoustic guitar and harmonies backed by strings recreate the sound of the 60s, at least as we remember it, without imitating anyone. The lyrics have a mystic quality but Joshua insists that it isn’t a love song. Really?

Singles Bar 42‘Spencer Street’ is in Newcastle and is where REN once lived with a girl called Sophie. It begins with just acoustic guitar and slightly bluesy vibe, then a second guitar and a rather tasty lead come in. It’s a lovely nostalgic song and we should hear more of him.

Singles Bar 42MO KENNEY released ‘Ahead Of Myself’ a while ago but he’s touring the UK in July and August so we thought we should mention it. Mo is from Nova Scotia but doesn’t really sound Canadian and the song starts out as folk-rock (more or less) with clever lyrics but gives up pretending and becomes pop.


SINGLES BAR 38 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 38Founder member of criminally overlooked cult mid-80s outfit Penelope’s Web with their weaving together of classic English pastoral folk, blues, jazz and progressive folk-rock, these days DOMINIC SILVANI trades under his own name, his speak-sing vocals (a sort of warm, huskier early Al Stewart with a hint of Noel Harrison and a softer Nick Cave) still among the most distinctive I’ve ever heard, He has a new self-released EP, The Impatience Of A Sinner, comprising four tracks, opening with the Eastern European kletzmer-shades of the love in need ‘Roman Road’ with Henni Saarela’s yearning fiddle, Adam Beattie’s upright bass and fingerpicked drone. Introducing John Hess on piano to complement the strings, ‘Secrets’ is woven round a suitably furtive and shadowy melody, a similar mood informing the regret and reflection-stained ‘Always You’ with its circling guitar pattern, double bass and string caresses, Maya McCourt on cello. Maintaining the melancholic ambience, swathed in Barbara Bartz’s fiddle and “situated way past hopeless”, the 90 second end of relationship Focus brings things to a close as he sings “out in the open I still can’t breathe”. Too often the flickering lights of genius are lost in the glare of lesser but brighter burning torches fanned by the oxygen of media exposure and carried aloft on bandwagons. It would be nice to think that somewhere in today’s folk constellations, Silvani would find the place he deserves to shine.

Singles Bar 38LOUISE DISTRAS has an EP, Street Revolution, in advance of a new album later in the year. Louise doesn’t fit easily into the music business which is no bad thing. Essentially she is an acoustic singer/songwriter/guitarist and if you see her live that’s probably how she’ll be. The third track is Alfred Reed’s ‘Poor Man’ (‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’) folky in a way but Springsteen covered it. Her punk style and politics have endeared her to the metal fraternity – she is supported by Kerrang – and several genres try to claim her.

The title track is a really big song with a full band and brass behind her, a bit of a rabble-rouser, but she tones it down a bit with ‘New World In Our Heart’, celebrating the International Brigades. It begins a capella but doesn’t stay that way for long. Finally we have ‘Solidarity’, trumpet led, pleading for, well, solidarity because we all want the same things and find the same things annoying. Don’t we?

Singles Bar 38Formerly part of the acclaimed folk-jazz outfit Grand Union, these days SIMON O’GRADY keeps things simpler with open tunings and fingerpicked guitar, four fine examples of which can be found on his self-released debut solo EP, Sleep Tight. Playing guitar and flute and accompanied by Hannah Cope on double bass, Ed Gallagher on dobro, mandolinist Julian Marshall and drummer Gerry Wood (the latter two also former GU alumni) with Ed Hopwood supplying harmonica, it opens with ‘New Year Shoes’, a song about dealing with the loss of a loved one and how the well-meaning consolations of others can more often exacerbate the hurt than help heal.

Continuing the theme of transitions, ‘The Sun Wakes The New Horizon’ is a suitably sleepy-eyed stay with me ‘til dawn love song that invites tranquillity and calm and has, perhaps, just a melodic hint of ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’ squirrelled away in the background. It closes with ‘Your Eyes Turn Up’, a dobro-flecked waltzer about a shared journey that was originally titled ‘Over The River’, an unrecorded Grand Union song, but my personal favourite is ‘The Coming Of The Snow’, a Celtic-shaded number about joining together and raising our voices high to brave the hardships ahead on which, while again it may be my imagination, I get a scent of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ here as well as Dylan’s ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’. Very pleasant dreams, indeed.

The Saturn ChapterTHE SATURN CHAPTER are from Yorkshire and call themselves alt-folk but, in truth, very little is known. Their eponymous debut EP was intended to be a side project but has grown rather. It’s a bit strange but if you’re into Tunng or Trembling Bells you’re on the way. The opening track, ‘Butterflies On Fire’ has several kitchen sinks thrown into it but ‘If I Be Your Shadow’ is a lot tighter. The short ‘A Funny Kind Of Rain’ returns to oddness and ‘My New Sundial’ is an eerie, atmospheric piece decorated with birdsong and other field recordings.

Borrowed SeedComprising singer Iona Zajaz, Sam Grassie on acoustic guitar and Herbie Loening playing double bass, AVOCET are a folk-blues trio from Glasgow who take their musical cues from the UK psychedelic folk scene of the 60s and 70s. Following their debut mini-album, Borrowed Seed, they return with a two-track single on Mink Records, ‘Cheating Monday’ a smokily sung, jazz-infused languid love song over simple piano notes reverie and ‘Sirens’ a drivingly rhythmic fingerpicked based number that harks to traditional folk and blues influences as well as conjuring echoes of Pentangle.

Jane‘Jane’ is the lead single from a forthcoming EP by DEAN MAYWOOD. Jangly, echoey acoustic guitar makes for a languid start before the song breaks in. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes providing a feeling of wide open spaces and a rather British style of Americana. We’re looking forward to the EP.

From the new album, Carousel, by CARSON McHONE comes a single, ‘Drugs’. Carson says that it isn’t really about drugs but about anything we feel a desperate need for. She’s essentially a country singer but here she breaks the rules performing over drums and a deliciously languid lead guitar.

Hattie WhiteheadHATTIE WHITEHEAD leads off her new EP, Old Soul, with a single ‘More Than That’. It’s a deeply emotional song coming from a dark time in Hattie’s life but her voice and an excellent production lift it from a song of regret to one of defiance in the face of whatever the world may throw at her.