CHRIS TAVENER opens his new EP, Easy Ways To Be Happy, talking about existential dread but discovers that the adverts on social media provide ‘All I Need’. Yes, Chris has a wonderfully cross-threaded view of the world, which is something we need right now. He follows this song with another recipe for success with ‘How To Truly Win At Life’ and you immediately recognise the self-help con artists who will teach you to be a ‘Worldwide Superstar’.
Despite a vaguely American vibe, Chris is actually from Cheshire, which may go some way to explaining his rather jaundiced outlook on life. His signature sound is ringing guitars and Chris has a band for live work but what you hear on this set is all him. ‘Right Back Again’ opens with an acoustic riff and this is the set’s serious song about a lost love and reveals a tender side but it doesn’t last. ‘Bill Gates (And Other Thoughts)’ contemplates the success of those figures who made it when they were barely out of their teens and compares them with his own life. Negatively, of course.
Chris has released one full album, the live Is He Joking?, and this is the latest in a series of EPs. Some of us do wish he could become a worldwide superstar.
Devotees of late 60s pub rock may well recall MICKEY JUPP, the Southend singer who, in 1968, formed Legend, a cult outfit who signed to Bell Records and released a debut acoustic collection of pop rockabilly and blues rock, before splitting up, then reforming with a new line-up and signing to Vertigo to release a second eponymously titled album, usually referred to as The Red Boot album on account of its cover. They broke up in 1972 and, with the arrival of pub rock, he signed to Stiff to release Juppanese, part of which had him backed by Rockpile. Jupp also wrote ‘Down At The Doctors’ for Dr Feelgood and released a further eight albums while living in self-imposed exile in the Lake District for nearly forty years.
During that time he wrote some 250 songs, some of which will form his forthcoming album Up Snakes, Down Ladders, preceded by the digital only I’d Love To Boogie EP (Conquest Music), the self-describing title track taken from the album alongside four exclusive others, the mid-tempo piano blues ‘Bad News Can Travel Slow’, Stonesy swagger ‘Like You Don’t Love Him’, the slow burn older man younger girl ballad ‘The Nature Of The Beast’ and the honky swayer ‘Why Don’t You Don’t’. It’s good to have him back.
GEORGE BRANDON, already known to us as half of Painted Sky, releases a solo EP of his own songs, Plenty More Songs In The Sea. The best place to start a discussion of the record is with the second track, ‘Rock & Roll Soul’, a wonderful slice of country rock in which George considers the dangers of writing a song about a perfect partner. Most of the set concerns songwriting and the life of a musician – something he knows plenty about – so the opening track, ‘See You In My Next Song’, deliberately contradicts ‘Rock & Roll Soul’.
The pattern is broken by ‘Kings Of The Buffalo’ and that’s a clever move – we’ve all laughed about rock stars writing songs about how tough fame and wealth and life on the road can be. Even more cleverly, George subverts that idea with ‘Punktual’ about how he’s not suited for the musician’s life and would rather stay at home in front of the TV and go to bed early. He “confesses” that he would have liked to have a mohawk but he’s “scared of hairdressers” – I ask you! All this leads to the darkness of ‘Growing Up’ in which he bitterly questions the whole music business.
Plenty More Songs In The Sea is a remarkable set of songs and is highly recommended.
Anno is the solo debut EP by DOMINIE HOOPER of Band Of Burns. The opening track, ‘Lungful’ is almost enough for one listening. It’s a gorgeously complex song which was initially designed as an a cappella composition but actually begins with a long drawn out on Dominie’s cello and ends in an almost choral passage which has slightly Scottish lilt. Again, ‘Seed’ is another complex song referencing ancestral guilt and female inequality among its themes.
‘Dandelion’, the debut single, is about love gone wrong with its metaphor of clocks blowing away on the wind while ‘Fuel’ suggests that Dominie loves too easily – oh to be so young again – but at least she’s happy now. Although the instrumentation is conventional enough the way the elements are put together isn’t which makes for compelling listening.
Funny how creativity comes from many sources. The (mostly) Lincolnshire band DUIR have written and released a new single and video: ‘Rest Your Weary Head’. The village of Potterhanworth in Lincolnshire has a population of less than a thousand, but a history which goes back pre-Doomsday Book, probably to Roman times and possibly to the Stone Age before that. A few weeks ago, the Potterhanworth Parish Council decided they would like to commission a song for the coming Jubilee weekend and, as a result of some chance connections, asked Duir to write it.
The commission became ‘Rest Your Weary Head (Song for Potterhanworth)’. It has lyrics instantly recognisable as the work of Duir – mention of heathen trails, the dangers of Lincoln Heath and the bell in Potterhanworth which tolled to guide travellers to a safe resting place for the night. There are references to the potter’s wheel, the old windmill, the Roman dyke, but, above all, “the legacy of the ringing bell [which] will save lost souls from dread”. The music is bright, lively, a blend of the English folk and acoustic prog (yes, I know….) that those who have already come across Duir’s unique style will recognise.
The video’s quite fun as well.
Utah’s a long way from her Dorset home, but EMMA GALE has recorded ‘Great Salt Lake’, (Example Records) a lovely waltzing and tinkling number commissioned to accompany The As & Bs of Our Inland Sea by American children’s author Nicole Anderson to educate early readers about the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, the song celebrating the beauty of the lake and the diversity of its wildlife as well as discussing environmental issues (the lake reached an all-time low water level last year) and encouraging listeners to conserve water.
Scottish born, formerly Montreal based but now back on his native soil, former Southern Tenant Folk Union singer EWAN MACINTYRE has a new single taken from his forthcoming album, 21st Century Fools. ‘What In The World’ is a big band number and the title line is followed by “do you want from me?”, a question we’ve all asked the world. ‘Any Doubt’ is a slow burning song heavy on accordion in which Ewan contemplates his return to Scotland.
“How many ways is it possible to fall in love?” ask Berkshire acoustic duo stEm (Steve Hollister/Emma Baldwin) on new self-released gently strummed, soothingly sung single ‘Another Night’, her voice reminding me slightly of Cherlene Walmsley from Vision Thing, which is no bad thing.
It’s been a while since we heard from AMY GODDARD but she is back with ‘Cornish Mist’, an absolutely gorgeous digital single featuring Odette Michell and Zoe Wren (aka The Honeybees). If you’re looking for the perfect summer song, look no further.
Having included it as a staple of their live set for some time, Highland folk duo CÀRNAN, Kintail accordionist Louden Mackay and Isle of Skye guitarist and vocalist Arthur Brook, have finally recorded their version of John Martyn’s homecoming song ‘Over the Hill’ (Wee Studio Records) as a lightly fingerpicked blues sung in a raw, peaty burr.
‘Cod Liver Oil And Orange Juice’ is a classic Glasgow anthem, written by Ron Clark and Carl McDougall and made famous by Hamish Imlach way back when. This single version by MESKEREM MEES develops Imlach’s rhythmic guitar part and adds keyboards and angelic backing vocals but it does sound rather odd sung in a polite female voice. Meskerem is Belgian and doesn’t mess about with the words although sometimes her pronunciation is a bit wayward.
A folk/Americana artist from Burton on Trent, CRAIG GOULD gears up for his debut album Songs from the Campfire with new self-released single ‘Burned’, a two-sided tale of a Friday night’s after work drinking session down the pub and trying to pick up a girl who’s “prevailed by currency” with a sound that perfectly captures that image as he sings “She’ll accord the eye, but she’s far from shy, and he can’t afford the price/She’ll crack your heart with ease, and when you smile it’s all she needs, as you believe that fortune favours the old fool”. All profits will be donated to mental health charity CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably.
‘In The Dark’ is the second single from the upcoming debut album by THE FRITILLARIES. Bristol duo Gabriel and Hannah have been paying their dues for a few years and their experience comes through in this song. Performed on guitar, mandolin and banjo it’s a sophisticated English-sounding Americana that bodes well for their album.
London-based Dubliner LOUIS BRENNAN joins forces with MICHELE STODART from The Magic Numbers for ‘A Full House’ (self-released), a classic styled country duet which, backed by Fender Rhodes, relates the domestic drama of a long-term relationship breaking down as both parties offer their perspectives on the situation.
TERRY EMM has released a rather lovely single, ‘Wish You Were Here’, his first new release since 2018. The song is a reworking of a track from his album, Petals Falling Off The Sun, with new contributions from Lukas Drinkwater. It has the vibe of singer-songwriters from forty-odd years ago with acoustic guitar giving way to shimmering organ and a laid-back guitar solo.
We know LEWIS BARFOOT from her album, Glenaphuca. Her new single, ‘Lullaby’, composed with Kerry Andrew is not a bedtime song for a child but a lament for the death of a close friend. Her acoustic guitar is echoed by the found sound of a gently lapping sea and dressed by the beautiful harmonies of Juice Vocal Ensemble.
In advance of her new album, Crazy Town, BETH NIELSEN CHAPMAN releases a single, ‘Hey Girl (We Can Deal With It)’, a hefty chunk of country gospel blues screaming with positivity.
Gentle rippling piano introduces ‘Moon Karaoke’, the new single by KATHRYN WILLIAMS, from her forthcoming album, Night Drives. “Everyone is having fun but me” sums up the mood of the song rather well.
Finally. Liverpudlian singer-songwriter SIMON HOWARD releases a new single, ‘Not Like Superman’. It’s a complicated composition opening with acoustic and slightly hesitant sounding vocals but it’s quickly expanded with strings and drums and Simon displays the full range of his vocal powers. Just past the halfway point, the song drops back to just acoustic guitar and then heads for a big finish.