Hypnagogia is an extraordinary new EP by HANNAH ROSE PLATT and one glance at the cover should tell you all you need to know. It’s a Halloween special. The first track, ‘Bedtime’, is a creepy poem performed in a quietly matter-of-fact way by David Morrisey and definitely not a story to send the kids to sleep with. It’s followed by the rocky ‘Mara’ with creepy whispery vocals developing a similar theme. ‘Chosen’ is a short spoken interlude leading into the pretty, acoustic ‘Beast In The Water’ which turns out to be another bad dream.
Having pulled the body out of the river, ‘Goddess Of Death’ is another brief spoken interlude introducing the piano and percussion led ‘Date Night’, an upbeat, bluesy song. Can you guess where this takes us? It fades out with an atmospheric organ before the final interlude, ‘Lost To The Phosphorus Glow’, takes us to ‘Blue Lights’, quiet but densely arranged and decidedly creepy. Don’t have nightmares, now.
Taking its title from One-flowered Wintergreen, a rare plant which grows in the Cairngorms National Park. Wintergreen (Hudson) is a six-track EP from Scottish multi-instrumentalist JENNY STURGEON on which she’s joined by co-writers cellist Alice Allen and Grant Anderson on bass, keys and electric guitar. The songs sharing a theme of nature, it opens with the tentative piano and cello title track, an adaptation of ‘Song For Pyrola Uniflora’, a poem by botanist and explorer Isobel Wylie Hutchison, proceeding through the ruminative ‘Solitude’, the similarly restrained, traditional flavoured ‘Beyond The You And I’, the tranquil, meditative ‘Sycamore’ with its rippling piano notes and, the most Scottish in feel with its cello, circling guitar notes and the Shetlands field recording backdrop that weaves throughout the EP, Cut And Run. A bass-heavy, ethereally sung reworking of ‘Frost And Snow’ from her 2020 album The Living Mountain completes this hushed ebb and flow journey through its evocative dreamscapes.
Alan Young, better known as SERIOUS CHILD, releases a charity EP, Light A Candle, in aid of Save Ukraine. It is inspired in part by Alan’s brother Dave who has lived in Ukraine for fifteen years and is now working as a relief driver there. You can see that Alan has a personal stake in the war. The first track, ‘Stunt Double’, harks back to Iraq, the first war conducted on television as someone dubbed it. The song is incongruously upbeat – shot in Technicolour perhaps. Alan is joined by My Girl The River on vocals.
‘Kindness’, co-written with Andy Ruddy, considers the motivation of someone who puts themselves in harm’s way to help others. His contention is that the need to be out there doing something is like a drug: the narrator never wants to be home. The killer track, however, is ‘Light A Candle’, written with violinist David Grubb. At its heart is a prayer that Dave Young will survive the war, melodically and lyrical beautiful with so many great lines: “I pray you’ve lost your death wish” perhaps references the preceding track. “I’ve never been much for praying” he sings but in this case he makes an exception.
It’s been a long five years since there was anything new from GRAHAM ROBINS, the Watford-born singer whose rich, warm, soulful tones evoke memories of Van Morrison at his Moondance and St Dominic’s Preview peak. The drought ends now, though, with Private Moments (Soul Connected Records) which, credited to Graham Robins & His Band, which includes Mark Wynch on Flugel horn and trumpet, is a 3-track EP of soul roots that mixes up the mood and tempos. It opens, Paul Devonshire on whistles, with the slow march, brass burnished rhythm of ‘Have You Ever Fallen In Love At First Sight? the title pretty much embodying the sentiments. The title track is a more up-tempo, Hammond coloured groove about wanting to share time together while ‘Shovelling Coal’ breaks out the brass again for a swaggering, loose-limbed vintage R&B tale of how “granddaddy worked upon the railroad’, smoking 40 ciggies a day while shovelling coal that’s guaranteed to get audiences swaying along and singing back the refrain. Hopefully, this is a forerunner of a full album in the not too distant future.
Acoustic guitar and what sounds like wood-block percussion introduces ‘Whale Eyes’, the opening track from We Belong, the debut EP by Devon singer/songwriter BILLIE MAREE who is then joined by cellist Ben Roberts. Billie has a particular way with her guitar, beautifully demonstrated on the introduction to ‘Young Child’ and a strong voice which more than holds its own against the often multi-layered arrangements. The songs all follow the theme of the title track, that we all belong to each other and to the world and many, like ‘Darkest Winter’, come from Billie’s emotionally worst times. The final track, ‘Moon’, is a timeless piece reminiscent in some ways of Pentangle in its depth and intensity. We Belong is a record that takes its time.
Recently featured on Later With Jools Holland, Northumbria’s FRANKIE ARCHER brings together electronics and traditional folk for Never So Red, an EP on which she challenges outdated date and dangerous stereotypes about women in traditional music and everyday life, especially in regard to sexual violence. Produced by Jim Moray, it opens with a pulsing original take on murder-suicide ballad ‘Oxford City’, voice and spare fiddle backed by synth drones, followed by her spooked and measured revision of incest-murder-suicide ballad ‘Lucy Wan’.
Accompanied by plucked fiddle, ‘Alone Maids Do Stray’ is an Archer original about rape, the EP completed by two further traditionals, the Irish slip jig ‘Peacock Followed The Hen’, with a dancing fiddle line accompanied by synth and wordless vocals, and, opening unaccompanied before being driven by pulsing percussive synth, ‘O The Bonny Fisherlad’, a North Country ballad, with a lively swirling fiddle break underscoring its joyful celebration of innocence and expressing love.
LUKE GILES is a fiddle and banjo player from Cambridge specialising in old-time Appalachian music. Just A Lonesome Holler is the first of a planned series of EPs on which Luke intends to look at a new way presenting traditional music involving archive and field recordings to which he also adds piano and programmed percussion. More than that he manipulates the archive recordings; chopping and repeating bits and sometimes adding echo.
The opener, ‘An Oaksie Caudill Selection/Flatwoods’, begins with the sound of running water and an elderly voice reminiscing before Luke’s fiddle pitches in. Caudill was a Kentucky fiddler but the voice at the end of the track is that of Tommy Jarrell. It might have been Henry Holmes singing on the second track, the title track in fact, but it’s actually Enos Canoy with Luke’s minimal piano backing. ‘Lost Girl’ is introduced by what we can deduce is an announcement from the original Library Of Congress recording and ‘Wiley Lawes’ Tune/The Story Of John Henry’ is self-explanatory. The show ends with ‘Boating Up Sandy/Nancy Blevins’: some serious fiddling and more hollering from Violet Hensley who is still going strong at the age of 116! Blevins was “a lady fiddler” as described here and ‘Boating Up Sandy’ a traditional Appalachian tune.
He first made his name in the 60s as a rock n roll star, was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1989 by Lou Reed, reinvented himself as a contemporary rock artist in the 90s and a bluesman for the ensuing decade. Today, at 84, DION is still going strong, a new album on the slate for next year. From which, released on Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive Records, comes ‘An American Hero’, a duet with Carlene Carter who also plays dulcimer, a Springsteen-flavoured, strings-stroked strummed anthemic blue collar Americana number about everyday heroes who rise above politics to work for and champion the cause of those around them and who “will stand up tall for everyone”.
With his new album, The Toothpaste And The Tube, arriving in a month, BEANS ON TOAST tempts us with a new single, ‘The Dragicorn’ which he says is about dragons, unicorns and parenting. Although his sights are often fixed on broader horizons some of Jay’s best songs come from his family and especially his daughter, now five years old, whose voice we hear first. It’s a jolly song about playing in his daughter’s fertile imagination and trying to keep up with her. ‘The Dragicorn’ has a bouncy full-band treatment and the key line goes “while we ate she became my teacher” on the subject of dragons. There’s a great video, too.
A Welsh folk-experimentalist, CERYS HAFANA musically heads up to the English-Scottish borders for a version of ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ (self-released), a traditional ballad about a wealthy woman who discovers that her three sons, have died, their ghosts returning one winter’s night before having to depart once the sun begins to rise. Originally created for the monthly Old Tunes Fresh Takes podcast during lockdown, she played every instrument herself, among them guitar, percussion, violins and violas, as well as drawing on field recordings and manipulated vocals, the end result is suitably spooked and atmospheric, though, despite her being described as someone who “mangles, mutates and transforms traditional music”, there’s nothing too overtly out there to scare away the purists.
Lifted from a forthcoming EP, ‘Read My Mind’, is a new single by HATTIE WHITEHEAD. Her recent work has been influenced by the death of her mother and this song explores loneliness and grief of such a situation. It’s a powerful song with Hattie’s guitar over muffled drums building up to an almost desperate climax.
John Peel favourites and enjoying a run of hit singles in the mid-70s, MEDICINE HEAD were a minimalist blues-rock duo comprising John Fiddler on guitar and vocals and Peter Hope-Evans on harmonica and mouth bow. They broke up in 1977, Fiddler going on to be a member of British Lions and Box Of Frogs as well as solo material. He revived the band name in 2021 for Warriors Of Love and returns now a taster for next year’s Heartbreaker album in the shape of ‘Livin’ In A Bubble’ (Living Room Records), again bluesy but with a reggae rhythm undercurrent and a spoken mid-section, a protest song about people shutting themselves away in a personal lockdown from the suffering going on in the world around them.
‘Just Like James’ is a digital single by TERENCE BLACKER. It’s a clever, witty song that begins with the singer imagining a late-night phone call from James Taylor “looking for a favour” and follows a serious of unlikely events leading to Terence being on the cover of Rolling Stone. Despite the improbability of the story it is actually a pertinent comment on the nature of fame and the pleasures of a simple life.
ALASTAIR GORDON from Sheffield is a finger-picking guitarist and singer but the first sounds we hear on his new EP, ‘Homesick Steve/The Blackwater Orchestra’ is the sound of brass as suggested on the cover. Imagine a Yorkshire brass band who have discovered jazz and you’ll be about there. There’s a banjo in there, too. The second track is based on piano but the instrumental break is played on clarinet this time. There’s a rather charming inter-war feel about the songs which fits well with Alistair’s rich voice.
A tantalising new collaboration with an album due in December, ALL THE BEES brings together Kirsty McGee, known for her work as part of the Hobopop Collective as well as a clutch of solo albums embracing folk, jazz and blues, and the lesser known Gitika Partington, albeit still with seven albums to her name and a respected choral director. Their music described as pastoral alt-folk and steeped in countryside folklore, they make their debut with the ethereally and echoingly sung, percussive and piano-based ‘Wildflowers’ (Hobopop), inspired by McGee’s childhood fascination with floriography, a Victorian tradition whereby clandestine messages were delivered using a symbolic ‘language of flowers’. Suffice to say, this is a real caladium.
DYLAN LEBLANC has a new album, Coyote, and ‘The Crowd Goes Wild’ is the latest single to be taken from it. Appropriately for these times it’s about violence and the never-ending cycle of war but, more importantly, it’s also about our fascination with violence and war and how we can’t look away from it.