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.
http://nicolabeazley.weebly.com/

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.
https://josienneclarke.com/

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.
https://jaysunaway.com/

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.”
http://www.granvilleautomatic.com/

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.
https://cocoandthebutterfields.com/

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’.
www.marketsquaremusic.com

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.
https://www.facebook.com/deanmaywood/

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.
https://www.padraigjack.com/

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.
sjsongs.co.uk

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?
www.joshuaburnell.co.uk

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.
www.renofficialmusic.com

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.
http://mokenney.com/

 

Q&A. Dai Jeffries talks to Emily Smith

Emily Smith’s fifth solo album, Echoes, will be released on 24th February followed by a spring tour. While we wait, what else has been going on?

It’s pretty much all about the new album. To start off we have three dates at Celtic Connections and because they are before the album is officially released we’ll be launching an EP with two tracks from the album and two even newer tracks that people can’t get anywhere else. We recorded that at the end of December but I have an eight month old baby boy and he’s taking up most of my time!

The new record is more traditional than Traiveller’s Joy which featured your own song-writing. What prompted that move, if move it is?

We started recording this album in November and December 2012 so it’s been a long time and I just had lots of traditional songs that kept popping into my head – songs that I’d forgotten about – and I was thinking ‘I want to do something with that’. I seemed that my heart was leaning towards making a more traditional album. Traiveller’s Joy and the two before that were a 50:50 split of traditional and newly-written songs – my songs or other people’s songs. I’d written a few songs but I’ve never written every week or every day or every month – if I feel like writing a song it comes and I move on. But when I was starting to think about Echoes I had lots of traditional songs coming to the surface but I didn’t want to follow the stereotypical template in terms of instruments and arrangements. I still wanted to do something new and fresh.

Indeed. The record has a very rich sound produced by relatively few, albeit very talented, musicians. Is that down to the production, the arrangements, the playing?

I think it’s all of those. Jamie [McClennan] and I always start together. I choose the songs and have a rough idea of where we want to go and we’ll work on it a bit and gradually bring in other people. The first person to be brought in on this album was Matheu Watson, who mainly plays guitar but also fiddle and whistle. We took a lot more time to rehearse this album before we went into the studio so we rehearsed a lot with Matheu and also Signy Jakobsdottir, who we’ve worked with for several years, and the bass player Ross Hamilton.

So that’s the core band and we spent a fair bit of time playing together, going through the songs and recording live together as much as we could. In previous years we’ve had to layer things. There is still a bit of that and obviously the folks who have recorded over in the States were added on but the groundwork was done altogether.

Does working through the material before recording make a significant difference?

I think it does. The first album I made was done with a band I’d gigged with quite a lot and that came together quite quickly. You take time to settle into it and it gave time to change things. If you book someone to come in and record on a particular day and then go away that’s the part they’ve laid down. If you’ve played together you’ve got the time to change and adapt and the songs really did change. At the start I was thinking that it was going to be a more stripped-back album – I love the way it’s turned out but it’s so funny to think back to how I thought it was going to be.

There are non-Scottish instruments, like lap steel, on the album but they don’t detract from the essential Scottish feel.

That’s something I really wanted to hold on to. I do listen to a lot of American music and I’m influenced by a lot of American artists and the bluegrass scene – the Transatlantic Sessions guys; Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien and Aoife O’Donovan, who sings on the album – she’s one of my favourite singers – but I certainly didn’t want to make an album that sounded American. I wanted it to be a Scottish album with its own sound.

There is a kinship between Scottish music and some of the music of the Americas, simply because the Scots took their music with them, isn’t there?

Definitely. That’s really apparent in the songs that Aoife used to sing in Crooked Still. I could hear the Scottish versions in them. There’s a strong thread and it’s nice to be able to collaborate and we’re living in an age where you don’t even have to be on the same continent to be able to perform together.

Of the three covers on the album, Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’ seems a natural choice but how did you come across Darrell Scott’s song, ‘The Open Door’?

It’s on an album of his called The Crooked Road and we bought that the year it came out. Jamie and I have always been big Darrell Scott fans. We came across him because we knew of Tim O’Brien and they did a duo album. After that Darrell was playing in Glasgow – that must be about seven years ago – we went to see him and were totally blown away by his voice and his songs.

And ‘John O’ Dreams’?

It wasn’t Bill’s version I heard first. It was a young Irish singer called Daoirí Farrell. It was on an album he put out a couple of years ago and it just reached out and touched me – I thought it was a really beautiful song. Then you go on to find other versions. When I come across a song I like to learn it and then go and listen to other people singing it, once I’ve made my own version. Then I don’t feel like I’ve been influenced in the way I sing it.

The covers seem to fit in with the other songs that I was choosing. Jamie and I have been gigging ‘The Open Door’ for a good few years and likewise ‘John O’ Dreams’.

Who will be with you on the tour?

The bulk of the tour will be myself, Jamie and Matheu playing as a trio with the exception of the Queen’s Hall date in Edinburgh and the London show at Cecil Sharp House where we’ll also have Signy and Ross – percussion and bass. At Celtic Connections, the first gig on 28th January will also have Jerry Douglas and Aoife O’Donovan and another backing vocalist, Rory Butler.

Emily’s tour opens in Inverness on March 6th. For more details visit http://emilysmith.org/

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EMILY SMITH – Echoes (WHITE FALL RECORDS – WFRCD007)

Emily-Smith-Promo4_album_1mbWith her fifth solo album, Emily Smith has returned to traditional song. I have to say that this pleases me greatly, not because I dislike her songwriting, but because the great canon of Scottish traditional song cries out for her voice to record it.

That may be a trifle ambitious but Echoes is an excellent way to start going about it. The core band of Emily’s producer and husband Jamie McClennan, Matheu Watson, Signy Jakobsdottir and Ross Hamilton is augmented by guests including Kris Drever, Tim Edey and Jerry Douglas bringing a variety of influences to the songs without detracting from their essential Scottishness. Douglas’s slide guitar adds an entirely unexpected texture to the opener, ‘Reres Hill’ and to an inspired ‘King Orfeo’ in which Emily retains the Gaelic refrain. There’s a touch of seventies’ folk-rock in ‘My Darling Boy’ but ‘Twa Sisters’ and ‘Clerk Saunders’ contrive to sound both modern and old simultaneously. The performances are all first class and I should single out the cello of Natalie Haas as being a key element of the arrangements, majestically underlining the songs.

There are three “modern” written songs – written within the last fifty years, that is. Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’ has almost attained traditional status but Darrell Scott’s ‘The Open Door’ is essentially a country song that is presented here almost as a tale of Scots emigration to the New World. Finally we have Bill Caddick’s ‘John O’ Dreams’. It’s a song we’ve all heard many times before – because it’s a bloody good song – but Emily manages to bring something fresh to it by not trying to do anything clever. It’s probably my favourite version.

In case I’ve not made myself clear, Echoes is a brilliant album.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.emilysmith.org

New album from EMILY SMITH – Echoes

Release date 24th February 2014
White Fall Records

Emily-Smith-Promo2a_1mb_182607Having celebrated a decade as one of Scottish music’s most distinctively sublime voices, Emily Smith begins a fresh chapter in her illustrious, award-winning, TV-appearing career.

For her fifth solo album Echoes, Emily returns to her first love of traditional song. Her gift for finding a personal connection in these passed-down, anon-penned words is still at the heart of her craft. But this is a bold new phase in Emily’s music and with it comes what she describes as “a new Scottish sound”.

Recorded over the space of a year (interrupted by the arrival of a small person) Echoes expands the core group of musicians with whom she’s previously played by adding a guestlist of true greats.

Joining multi-instrumentalists Jamie McClennan and Matheu Watson, bassist Ross Hamilton and percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir are none other than Jerry Douglas, Aoife O’Donovan, Kris Drever, Tim Edey, Natalie Haas and Rory Butler.  Together they’ve created an album with one foot planted firmly in Emily’s home of Dumfries and Galloway and the other in the unspoiled heartland of Nashville. If albums can have feet, that is.

Echoes is unshakeably Scottish but with farther, wider horizons. From remembered ballads like the murdery Twa Sisters and the mythical King Orfeo to contemporary but no less timeless songs such as Bill Caddick’s gorgeous John O’Dreams and Darrell Scott’s The Open Door, Emily’s voice eases tired ears and lifts knackered souls with its simple beauty.

Time has passed ridiculously fast since Emily was named BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year back in 2002. The accolades continued as she won the USA Songwriting Competition in 2005, Scots Singer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2008, and she received two nominations in the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

In that time she’s toured the world, thrilling audiences from Cambridge Folk Festival all the way down to the National Folk Festival in Australia, via Europe, Russia, Canada and New Zealand.

Her face has been all over the telly thanks to BBC Four’s Transatlantic Sessions, BBC One’s Songs of Praise, Scotland’s Hogmanay Live, BBC Ulster’s Santer and an exclusive performance for Sky Arts Channel.

In 2013 Emily toured as part of the Transatlantic Sessions extended family, singing with the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eric Bibb and Teddy Thompson – adding to an impressive list of onstage collaborators which also includes Richard Thompson, Eddi Reader and Beth Neilson Chapman.

Her albums A Day Like Today, A Different Life, Too Long Away, Traiveller’s Joy and 2009’s sparkling take on lesser known Robert Burns compositions Adoon Winding Nith (released as a duo with husband Jamie McClennan) established Emily as both an adroit interpreter of old songs and a dazzlingly accomplished crafter of original material.

In 2013 Emily released her best-of collection Ten Years (coming up with titles is harder than it looks) marking a journey that’s already seen her described by The Guardian as Scotland’s “most impressive young songwriter”. Blimey.

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