SINGLES BAR 102 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 102BRIAR & BRAMBLE is a new duo comprising Mike Turnbull, who has graced these pages several times before, and Kate Hewson. Their debut EP, Rum Tales, contains five of Mike’s songs rooted, as always, in the landscape and legends of the Lake District.

The opening track, ‘Flashing Lane’, is inspired by Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gathering of travellers in Westmorland – sights and sounds that Mike surely grew up with. From a still contemporary event we move to myth and legend with ‘Betsy Jane’, the story of a slave ship which sank, reputedly laden with gold, in the 18th century. The Betsy Jane is supposed to be seen approaching Whitehaven Harbour around Christmas time. The song is typical of Mike, powerful with lots going on and a catchy refrain.

‘Crimson Banners’ is derived from a poem which tells of a phantom army seen in 1735 on Southern Fell while ‘Rum Tales’ is a story of smugglers from Maryport – a group which included a priest. It all happens in the Lake District! Finally, Mike considers the origin of ‘Burnt Horse Ridge’ on Skiddaw. Rum Tales is typical of Mike’s writing – inventive and entertaining.

Bristol trio PLAY MISTY (Ryan McMurtry, I-Sha-Vii and Sophie Jones) make their EP debut with the self-released At The Cube, recorded live at the Cube music venue in their hometown with the addition of double bass, drums mandolin and violin. A four tracker, it opens with the brushed snares and trilling mandolin of the you missed your chance prairie country jogalong ‘It’s Too Late Now’, the double bass and weaving flute providing the colouring on the metronomic percussion driven nodalong ‘Like A Cloud’. Wordless cooing harmonies introduce ‘All The Pain, All The Joy’, which, conjuring thoughts of an Appalachian First Aid Kit, poignantly captures the child-parent dynamic (“My mother used to say to me/That I could be whomever I wanted to be/I chose to be me/She didn’t seem too happy/I guess there were wrong answers after all/I am all the pain, I am all the joy”). Finally, with a slightly tropical lilt and another circling melody ‘You’ve Been Around’ wouldn’t be out of place on a McGarrigles album even if the underlying influence is more John Prine. A hugely impressive debut, great things are surely in store in the months ahead.

Trees is an EP by PAUL ARMFIELD commissioned by Gift To Nature and describing five species of tree growing in a copse on the Isle of Wight. Inevitably rather bucolic resting on Paul’s acoustic guitar, soaked in strings and decorated by field recordings, the record is very listenable.

The opening track, ‘Oak Tree’, includes a measure of bitterness with its “woodsman, spare the axe” refrain. ‘Beech Tree’ is a love song embedded in a rural idyll but ‘Hazel Tree’ is so clever, centred on a conversation between a dormouse and the titular tree wrangling over a filbert. The use of contemporary language is particularly effective here. ‘Silver Birch’ and ‘Crab Apple Tree’ are both impressionistic descriptions of their subjects.

Usually to be found as one half of married Warwickshire duo KC Jones, KAREN KILLEEN-JONES steps out solo for the self-released A Woman’s Work, a six track EP of women’s songs, traditional and self-penned. It opens with the former, a rendition of ‘The Blacksmith’ set to the tune of ‘Our Captain Cried All Hands/He Who Would Valiant Be’, the other traditional being a wheezing shruti box and double tracked vocals arrangement of ‘All Things Are Quiet Silent’ (which she first sang aged 16 at a Sidmouth Folk Festival. competition judged by Shirley Collins). The first original, with a Music Hall jauntiness, is ‘Mad Mary’, a sweet looking female variant of Sweeney Todd who lures unsuspecting strangers to their death. Seagulls open the circling swayalong melody of ‘Home To Me’, a familiar lament for a press ganged lover away at sea while, with cajon and given a percussive fingersnapping beat ‘Poor Polly Button’ recounts the tragic tale of the murder of the pregnant Mary Green by her lover John Danks near Abbey Green, Nuneaton in 18 February 1832, the song inspired by Karen appearing in Katherine Fear’s folk opera “The Undoing Of Polly Button”. It ends, reminiscent of Judy Small, with the quietly anthemic Celtic-stained title track about the trials and tribulations endured under the thumb of household drudgery and abusive husbands.  A triumphant debut, hopefully a full album’s in the works.

After a long break, Los Angeles neo-psych band RAIN PARADE return with an EP, Last Stop On The Underground.  Think of The Byrds updated for the 21st century and you won’t be far off – all jangly guitars and tight harmonies.

The opener, ‘Surprise, Surprise’, is gently restful but it’s followed by ‘Didn’t Know What Not To Say’ has a lot more going on with more drums and lead guitar. The title track is even bigger and the instrumental sounds which emerged on the second track are even more in evidence. Finally, ‘Happy To Leave’ brings the EP to a gentle conclusion but with powerful lead guitar.

An early trailer for their upcoming album, CHRISTINA ALDEN & ALEX PATERSON embark on ‘Safe Travels’ (Self-released), a gently banjo and guitar rippling number melded with double bass and strings about love, loss and a longing for safe passage for those left behind while their loved ones are travelling across land and sea.

LUAS is the Dublin tram system and a very good way to travel round the city. But in this case it’s a Celtic instrumental band who have teamed up with piper MALIN LEWIS for their new single, ‘Wonky Driveway’. The track is a glorious whirlwind of notes chasing each other out of your speakers with a mighty break on the great pipes. Little seems to be known about them but their website defaults to German which may be a clue.

Glasgow-based band DLÙ release a single, ‘Mhic Iain ‘ic Sheumais’ from their new album, Close To. The song, about the wounding of the chief of the MacDonald clan during a battle in 1601, opens with a low pulsing beat which sustains throughout under a big modern arrangement. Classy stuff.

‘Old Timer’, the new single by gravelly-voiced singer ELLIOTT MURPHY, begins with the rhythm of a train slowing down – well, Elliott is celebrating his 75th birthday. He also celebrates his longevity and boldly states that his ambition is to reach 100 and is proud to be “a stone cold rock and roll survivor”. Basically an acoustic guitar track with just enough augmentation to enrich it, it boasts simple but evocative lyrics.

BRENDAN MELIA releases a quite extraordinary new single, ‘Danu My Bride’. War horn and a spoken Gaelic introduction plus drums, banjo, squeezebox and several other hard to identify instruments create a haunting, powerful track sung from the viewpoint of The Dagda, the foremost of the ancient Irish gods, who is trying to protect Danu, the earth mother, from the depredations of mankind. Quite stunning.

From his forthcoming album, My Favorite Place, JIM LAUDERDALE admits that ‘I’m A Lucky Loser’ on his new single, a raw slice of old-fashioned country. Jim has assembled a big band who play with laid-back restraint – Pat Bubert’s percussion and Will Van Horn’s pedal steel stand out but there are also some remarkable vibes coming out of the basement.

Tired Old Town, the third single by ROB JONES & THE RESTLESS DREAM is a reflection on life in the post-industrial north of England. It opens with solo acoustic guitar and piano but quickly builds up to a powerful arrangement with pedal steel guitar giving it a country edge and just listen to that piano figure just before the end.

LUKE CONCANNON joins forces with DARIUS CHRISTIAN on their new single, ‘Brother’. The song takes the form of a dialogue between a Ukrainian and a Russian soldier and isn’t quite like anything you’ll have heard before. It doesn’t sound eastern European or Russian nor does it sound particularly British, in fact it is almost rap but not quite. Brilliant lyrics and a big sound that will hit you where you live.

EUAN BLACKMAN introduces an electro-pop vibe with his new single, ‘I Don’t Think About It (Too Much)’. He describes it as a song for his generation trying to keep life’s stresses at bay. Were the music business not so compartmentalised it could be a hit and would deserve to be one.

A band called L.A.S.H. with a single called ‘Wasted’ conjures up entirely the wrong image of a band that probably wouldn’t know a power chord to save their lives. They are three vocalists with acoustic guitar and violin from Macclesfield and their single is sensitive without being wimpy and is taken from their second EP.
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