SINGLES BAR 90 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 90One half of the wonderfully named Canadian duo The Goddamsels, MALLORY CHIPMAN steps out solo for As Though I Had Wings (Tunnel Mountain), an EP which, featuring Jon Guenter on drums and both bassist Nico Humby and Esther Forseth on backing vocals, reflects her love of nature, and, specifically, birdcalls with all four songs based on sounds of birds native to Alberta, all of which are endangered or threatened. As such, it opens with the bluesy midtempo lope ‘Cradle Me’ inspired by the call of the Burrowing Owl and a city girl’s longing for the rural life (“I’ve been raised by the subterranean highway/And I may never hear the song of the dove winged white/Or hear blackbirds singing in the life of the night…cradle me/Safe in the ground ‘neath the sheaths glowing gold as August’s bounty… Where otters go and badgers dig under the fruits”).

The fingerpicked acoustic waltzing blues ‘Mother’ is dedicated to and about an ageing peregrine named Radisson, who, despite illness, still made long daily flights to gather food for her offspring with its clear message about nurturing (“Weaving tapestries of care/Upon foot or feathered in the air/Shepherding the way/Where to fly and what to say/How to love and when to stray”).

More of a strum, the bass heavy, moody ‘Oh Blackbird’ incorporates her love of mythology, the titular bird being associated with the Welsh goddess Rhiannon and said to guard the border between the living and spiritual worlds, the track exploring the fragile nature of life (“I can bring the dead to life/Just hang on to my feathers tight/And fly with me into the night”).  The fourth and final number, the more folksy country ‘Diving’ with its repeated nimble picking pattern, takes its cue from the black tern and is more of a descriptive number (“Diving, head first, you looked so free/Thriving, head strong, to what you needed/Diving for fare diving with flair out of the air to where the rushes grow, yeah you were diving to the water below”), capturing the exhilaration of that freedom where “Some cannonballed/

One did trapeze/Some pirouetted, twirling on the breeze” with a touch of Yeats to the wistful “Now I wait and yearn for those diving birds midst the dragonflies … I hear you call/And I reply/Hoping that maybe then you’ll stay a while… Down with me by the water”).

Nigerian-American singer-songwriter, AISHA BADRU, has a new EP, Learning To Love Again. Her arrangements are a fascinating blend of modern western instruments with sounds rooted in Africa. The lead track and single, ‘Lazy River’, has those lovely rolling guitar figures that marked out the music of Ali Farka Touré while ‘Moving On’ is punctuated by little guitar breaks that could have been played on a kora.

Make no mistake, though, Aisha is more American than African these days. ‘Path Of Least Resistance’ is a smoky nightclub number that begins with electric guitar that has just a hint of the Bhundu Boys but doesn’t sustain that vibe. The EP ends with ‘Moving On’ which seems to be what Aisha is about. Not too far, we hope, those African roots are important.

Again working with Martin Stephenson on guitar and behind the desk, EMMA GEE FLOWERS serves up an EP taster of her forthcoming self-released Algorithm & Blues album with Humans. Right! Working with folk, blues and Americana colours, the bluesy strummed ‘Something in the Air’ with its electric guitar solo casts an eye on manipulative self-serving politicians while the more countrified ‘What You See (Acoustic Mix)’ is backed by slide concerns how things are reduced to the lowest common denominator, trivialising people’s lives in the process and also comes in an electric Stratocaster ‘Hit The Streets’ mix. The smoky midtempo country blues ‘I Gotta Know’ keeps the political edge with its lyrics about corruption and greed while, again with resonator, the gently jogging ‘A Better Way’ offers an update rewrite on her first recorded song imparting a late 60s folksy pop feel. The standout, though, is the CD only seven-minute bonus track ‘Beyond the Quays’ which, with tin whistle, bouzouki, 50s inspired guitar and traditional Irish waltzing lilt tells the story of her grandfather, Thomas John Higgins, who, in wartime Ireland first stowed away on a ship at 13 in the Dublin Quays before, years later eventually emigrating with his family to England.

In advance of an album of covers DUSTY WRIGHT releases The Dylan EP. EP is a bit of a stretch as it contains just two tracks, ‘Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ and ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’, but we’ll be charitable. Dusty takes a suitably laid-back approach to the songs and they sound very Nashville with just bass and percussion in support but he lets his harmonica do a lot of the heavy lifting – not unlike a heavy John Wesley Harding. Written during Dylan’s sojourn at Big Pink, they both have the feeling of lyrics scribbled down on a lazy afternoon. Better songs came out of that period but these two caught the popular imagination.

Named for the patron saint of eloquent women, ST CATHERINE’S CHILD is the recording name for warblingly-voiced Liverpool-based singer-songwriter Ilana Zsigmond, her new EP Every Generation (Ki An Projects) featuring four tracks which find her spreading her folk wings into more indie and Americana territory. The drum machine underpinned  walking  beat opener ‘I Know Nothing’ with its chiming guitar is the folksier end of the spectrum while, accompanied by keys,  addressing the value in the fragile and the fleeting, ‘Holy’ has a suitably more meditative feel and, written for her late father, the title track, an exploration of what we inherit,  flies the Americana flag while the closing  Courtney Marie Andrews-tinged leaving son ‘No More Pictures’ marches steadily to the sound of loud guitars and   gradually soaring vocals and backing. Impressive stuff and a second alternate versions EP is due at the end of June.

ANNIE BARTHOLOMEW is a singer-songwriter from Alaska and, as a taster for her forthcoming album, Sisters Of White Chapel, she has released the lead track, ‘White Chapel Woman’ as a single. The album tells the stories of sex workers in the Yukon at the end of the 19th century. The song rolls along, driven by Annie’s banjo and topped off with barrelhouse piano as she sings “gonna work this room until I get a better deal” and “welcome to the demi-monde” while vowing to change her ways. It’s a knockout track and we look forward to the album.

Amusingly named so as to avoid confusion (or legal issues), NOT THOSE CARPENTERS are family outfit from the Canadian wilds who have been described as The Partridge Family meets Slayer. Fortunately, there’s little evidence of the latter on self-released new single ‘Flowers’, a rather lovely walking beat song with tick-tocking percussion and chiming guitars about hope, strength and perseverance featuring Tamara Carpenter on lead vocals that will have you feeling on top of the world.

HANNAH ALDRIDGE gives us another taster for her new album, Dream Of America, with a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’. Instead of the rather frenetic vocals of the original, Hannah whispers the song and retains much of the original arrangement in a similarly muted way. We’re looking forward to the album.

An early taster for their next album, CHRISTINA ALDEN & ALEX PATTERSON self-release ‘The Starless Sea’, a nimbly fingerpicked guitar riff and accompanying violin solo carrying a song of love and companionship inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s book of the same name, its theme of love prevailing over rough seas resonating with Alden’s imminent journey of motherhood.

We all need a laugh these days and LARRY CORDLE provides one on with ‘The Abduction Of Antonio Villas-Boas’. It’s not a tale of crime or politics – Antonio was a Brazilian farmer who was taken by aliens in 1957 to repopulate their planet, Buffalo. Larry takes it at a country swing with banjo and bottleneck guitar and it’s all great fun. What do you mean? Of course it’s a true story.

Dutch singer-songwriter MICHAEL J. BENJAMIN channels Johnny Cash – vocally, at least – on his single, ‘The Same Again’, from his forthcoming debut EP. His voice is warm and soothing over a simple fingerpicked guitar. His could be a name to watch.

‘Danny’s Waltz’ is a new single from Glaswegian band SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR. Produced by Mattie Foulds, it boasts a big orchestral arrangement with Kat Orr’s sweet voice rising above it as she sings about the hurt of modern living. ‘Danny’s Waltz’ is another taster for their upcoming debut album.

A nice, complex acoustic guitar and gentle percussion introduce ‘Written On The Wall’, the new single by IVAN MOULT taken from his just released third album, Songs From Severn Grove. Ivan’s vocal style is in the John Martyn mould and the words can be difficult to decipher but it all sounds nice.

‘Hardwired Blues’ is the third single to be taken from Come A Long Way, the imminent new album from BEN REEL. It channels the mid-sixties sound of Bob Dylan with a ringing guitar and wailing harmonica and lyrics that could have come from the man himself. Nice one.

‘Time Comes Around’, the new single by LIAM FENDER, is a homage to the north-east. Beginning with solo acoustic guitar it develops into a towering, anthemic arrangement. The video features two ballet dancers doing their thing around his home town of North Shields although it doesn’t start that way.