SINGLES BAR 85 – A round-up of recent EPs, singles and Christmas cheer

Eve is a new digital EP released with Christmas and New Year in mind by DARIA KULESH. The opening track ‘Cossack Lullaby’ sounds very Christmassy with chimes (possibly synths) by Jason Emberton with Stu Hanna’s violin and Tristan Seume’s guitar. The celebration at the centre of the record is actually Orthodox Christmas Eve, January 6th, celebrated in both Russia and Ukraine. It’s really a pagan festival, described as a night when women “engage in strange and dangerous rituals to reveal their future and perhaps even bend and shape their fate”. Knowing that helps to understand where this record is coming from.

Jonny Dyer’s guitar underpins Dylan’s ‘Masters Of War’ which may seem an odd choice for Christmas but see above and consider it as a spell song sung by a young mother and it becomes clear that this version, with Daria righteously angry, is the interpretation that the song has been waiting for all these years. That leads very naturally into a modern reworking of ‘Lully Lullay’ partly written by Daria for her daughter. Joining the accompaniment are Katrina Davies and Odette Mitchell and the result is a swirling, haunting track as Daria promises to keep evil away from her child. Finally, the traditional ‘Ukrainian Lullaby’, as poignant as anything else here brings us back to where we started. The tracks are all taken from Daria’s upcoming new album, Motherland.

THE FURROW COLLECTIVE have been quiet for the past few years, but Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton, Emily Portman and Alasdair Roberts have reassembled for The Longest Night (Hudson Records), an EP of four carols, the project coming together at Halsway Manor last year and initially only available to Hudson Club members. Now commercially available, it opens with the contemporary secular ‘Halsway Carol’, Campbell taking lead on the lurching fiddle sway of the traditional ‘The Cherry Tree Carol’, Portman’s banjo providing the bedrock to Maddy Taylor’s ‘The Lambskin Carol’ and closing with the ‘The Wexford Lullaby’, John Renbourn’s 1998 setting of new words to ‘The Wexford Carol’.  Pour a mulled wine and enjoy.

Singles Bar 85Moving away from Christmas for a while (don’t worry, we’ll be back) we have the debut EP, Step Into The Light, by Skye duo Alan and Grace Murray aka MIST & WING. Their sound is folk-pop with a Scottish twist and a flourish of Americana. The title track is a nostalgic love song but even better is ‘Dance Tonight’ in which an old couple sit in a bar where they used to dance and want to again. “Tell me, what’s the finest malt you have?” is the line that endears the song to us. ‘Country Mile’ is for anyone who has driven a rough rural road in Scotland or anywhere else. Melodically ‘I Will Go’ feels traditional and the lyrics are timeless as the singer contemplates leaving home for some unknown destination. Finally, we have an instrumental, ‘Duntulm’, composed by Alan and featuring a guest appearance by Calum Munro. Duntulm is a remote township in the north of Skye and a noted viewpoint across the Hebrides and beyond.

Their name an English translation of the Anglo Saxon “Roggenwolf”, a wolf spirit that moves through the fields on summer days,  a five piece folk outfit from Reading, RYE WOLF self-release ‘Christmas Cheer’, a 3-track EP that opens with a peal of bells on the sprightly chugging title track, subsequently taking the pace down and bringing in the electric guitar for ‘The Dancing Song’, an excuse for two people to get closer and hold one another, and ending  with the best of the bunch, the more traditional sounding, five-minute plus, plucked guitar and drone-backed, descending chords of  ‘When The Snows Of Winter Fall’, a farmer’s hymnal written by Teesside songwriter Graeme Miles.

One half of Americana duo The Marriage, DAVE BURNS strikes out solo as Medium Dave (a nod to the Discworld character) with a self-titled, self-released EP of four simply strummed, sometimes piano-accompanied numbers that, sing in a dust-grained world weary voice, ebb and flow around feelings of sadness, loneliness and loss. ‘Never Did Dance’ (“I never was ready for you to take my arm/You never were ready for me to fall apart”) sets the mood, standing in the rain, imagining himself as someone else to get through the day (“When true love crashed and died I felt bad but I never cried, I just got on with my day/Ten years passed I’M crying alone into a glass at something stupid I said”).  Then, on the gradually swelling musician road song ‘Friend Of Mine’ (“show me the road and I’ll keep driving on for miles/till the next town comes/show me the stage and I’ll start singing/get those people dancing and swinging”), he sings “never had trust, never had someone, never had a best friend that I can count on” but then adds “I for one don’t feel so wrong” and that he makes friends when he needs them and “it ain’t hard to be a friend of mine”. ‘Universe’ takes a downbeat look in the mirror (“I’m in love with giving up/Running like a thief to the night/Spending all my money on getting fucked up/To forget my miserable life …Wondering how I’m ever going to make it when I’m at my worst/How my moments will become stories when I’m gone”).  Resonator guitar puts in an appearance for the slow-walking ‘Two Steps Behind’, his voice rising and  falling  on a steady strummed song about prevarication and ennui (“Been meaning to put up that picture/So long but I can’t find the time/Plant a tree in the garden/Poison the ants but I can’t find the time… Trapped in a mind so narrow/Waving the world goodbye/Like there won’t be tomorrow”) before ending  with the piano-led more hopeful ‘Real Life’ (“Through the windows of a new world /I see stars, beat upon the night sky/Pouring magic into the wild eyes/Of curious souls travelling through time”).

Yee-ha, Rudolph! BET SMITH & THE CURRIE BROTHERS bring us some western swing/country/bluegrass with ‘That Christmas Train’. As Christmas songs it’s pretty good and races along at a real lick with a nice guitar break in the middle. Build up the fire, switch on the lights, look out at the snow and pass the cranberries.

Having already released two albums this year, DAN WHITEHOUSE offers up his first Christmas recording with a fine piano-based cover of David Essex’s seasonal chestnut, ‘A Winter’s Tale’ (Want To Know) to bring a glow to all those bruised hearts out there.

Who buys a jacket from a gun-maker?” is the attention-grabbing opening line from the new single ‘Money’, by HAMISH HAWK which is a precursor to his forthcoming album, Angel Numbers. This is a great Christmas song if you’re of a bah-humbug temperament although that may be coincidental. It is certainly a clever put-down of our wealth obsessed society.

NILSENS SOUTHERN HARMONY is the name under which Sweden’s Bjoern Nilsen trades as a solo Americana-based musician. A prolific writer who also regularly offers up cover versions, he wraps up the year with a downbeat along at Christmas number, the slow waltzing, piano-accompanied, harmonica-stained ‘Late December Low’ (Coastal Sounds)

Fresh from his outstanding Quaalude Lullabies album, CHRIS CANTERBURY turns to John Prine for a seasonal single, a mandolin-backed swayalong through his unconventional but sweetly sentimental 1973 ‘Christmas In Prison’ (Rancho Deluxe Records)

Ten years ago TERRY EMM released his Christmas single, ‘Gently’. Now he has re-released it and it still sounds fresh. Based on acoustic guitar with keyboards that sound like jingling bells, Terry’s voice drifts gently across it all.

Playing six-string banjo and guitar, MARINA FLORANCE duets with Pauline Alexander for her piano-backed Christmas ballad offering, ‘Love Came Down At Christmas’, a setting of Christine Rossetti’s poem by herself and Del Osei-Owusu that ends with a violin solo from with Mark Jolley. It’s free from her Bandcamp site, but food bank donations are requested if possible.

ROBIN JAMES HURT takes ‘The Galway Shawl’ very slowly in his rough-and-ready voice which rather emphasises the line about her father being six feet tall and gives the feeling that he’s playing for his life or at least his health. He gives the song a powerful arrangement with big drums but you can’t help wondering why he didn’t stay and court the girl properly. Perhaps it was her father’s doing.

Rising new Yorkshire female duo BRYONY GRIFFITH & ALICE JONES offer up a traditional Christmas tune from the streets of Ripon with the squeezebox swaying ‘Early Pearly’ (self-released), a Victorian tune that was still being sung by local children in the 1940s, the version here a hybrid of ‘Haley Paley’ from Dave Hillery and Harry Boardman’s 1971 ‘Transpennine’ and Hull singer Margaret Gardham’s ‘Early Pearly’ on the Yorkshire Garland website.

‘I Love Christmas’ has stately brass and nice jingly bits. Cornish singer-songwriter THE GLEEMAN sounds deadly serious about his expectations and plans for the festive season; roasting chestnuts, his “Santa Stop Here” sign, mince pies and wine etc. He does seem a bit old for the excitement of a 10 year old, though.

Not a Christmas single but the sentiments fit nicely, LARRY CAMPBELL & TERESA WILLIAMS have released a live version of The Lovin’ Spoonful classic ‘Darlin’ Be Home Soon’ (Royal Potato Family), a song about separation and longing written by John Sebastian for the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1966 film, You’re a Big Boy Now and which the band performed Woodstock, Williams singing lead with Campbell on harmonies, backed by organ and a piano solo bridge.