A film composer turned folkie, ROLY WITHEROW follows up last year’s Ballads And Yarns album with a more back to basics five-track EP entitled Down By The River (Earnest Records) featuring both self-penned material and his interpretation of traditional ballads, mostly just voice and acoustic guitar and generally touching on themes of nature and rural vs urban life. Opening with the chiming guitar self-penned folk-blues fable of ‘The Bird And The Frog’, the story of how a frog seduces a bird, convincing her to give up her wild existence to live with him under a log. However, while they live a peaceful life, she can’t help but feel something is missing. The first of the traditional numbers comes with the mournful sea shanty ‘Johnny’s Gone To Hilo’, featuring Nick Hart of the Nest Collective on vocals with Witherow playing harmonium. A more rousing approach is taken for ‘The Poacher’s Fate’, the subject’s death set to flamenco-style strumming, the third being the fingerpicked ‘Three Butchers’ and its tale of intrigue and deception, the EP rounding off with another original, ‘Ernie’s Song’, written for his son, a swayalong cocktail of hymnal and children’s song with a hint of folk calypso, about growing up, longing for a more simple life.
Minced Pie is a six-track EP of Christmas carols and songs by TALI TROW & NIGEL THOMAS. Although the material is quite conventional – the album begins with ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ and ‘The Holly And The Ivy’ – the arrangements are not. The former has a nice funky backing and the latter, accompanied on acoustic guitar, has the feeling of a 1950s crooner trying to be hip but not too much so. You could imagine Perry Como singing it – yes, you do remember him!
‘Little Drummer Boy’ gets back to the funky feel topped off with electric lead guitar and knocks spots off Crosby and Bowie. ‘Levy Dew’ is a Welsh song, also called ‘A New Year Carol’, that isn’t terribly well known. It links to a tradition of sprinkling people with well water with evergreen sprigs and is easy to see why the practice is no longer popular. ‘We Three Kings’ is taken slowly over ringing guitar chords before going off on one and ‘Christmas Alphabet’ was a UK number one for Dickie Valentine in 1955. Yes, you remember him, too. Tali and Nigel keep admirably straight faces throughout.
Minced Pie is definitely a bit off the wall but entertaining nonetheless Have a couple of bevvies and you’ll be singing along by the end and all proceeds go to MIND, the mental health charity.
LITTLE LORE is the performing name of UK Americana singer-songwriter Tricia Duffy and also the title of her beguiling self-released solo debut EP themed around climate change and the environment and featuring producer Oli Deakin on everything save drums. It opens with the scampering guitar notes of ‘Thief’, a song that personifies the industrial revolution as a thief stealing from nature, followed by the slower waltzing ‘Skin In The Game’, an observation on the different things men and women want from relationships, and the acoustic slow waltz strum Americana of ‘Orbit’, a doomed love song about the fall after flying too high, the circling fingerpicked and strings-tinged Mitchell-esque ‘Sleep Again’ focusing on climate change, asking how anyone can rest easy once they become aware of the emergency.
Referencing 80s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, ‘Hyacinth’ has a rockier toe-tapping groove, jangling guitar to a lyric about choices made to conform to social expectations, the set ending with ‘Stars’, a lap steel-coloured slow waltz that draws on astrology references and how it supposedly influences our interactions and emotions while she sing “I know you have faith in a higher power/My faith in myself fades hour by hour”.
UK singer-songwriter ROB WHEELER also gets into the seasonal spirit with his self-released Midwinter Songs, a five-track EP that opens with fiddle and acoustic strum of The ‘Chained Oak’, a call to show kindness to others, before heading into the circling fingerpicked notes of the instrumental ‘MidWinter Song’ and his piano-accompanied wistful rendition of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’. It ends, backed by electric piano, brass and pealing bells, with a waltztime slightly Irish-flavoured snapshot of ‘Christmas In New York’ but the standout track is undoubtedly Embers, dedicated to and about his best friend Marcus who was lost to Covid, a strummed anthemic folksy swayalong about coming to terms with and making sense of such loss as he sings how “when the fire has died and the flame burns its last you will discover embers buried in the earth” with music carrying memories of better times.
SARA COLMAN describes her forthcoming album, Ink On A Pin, as a celebration of Joni Mitchell and as a taster she has released a single, ‘Amelia’. It’s a long version, initially piano-based and rather loose but with the benefit of hindsight Sara incorporates Joni’s jazz leanings with a big string arrangement and several free-flowing horn breaks. A potentially stripped-back folk song thus becomes something very different and reminiscent of the way Joni approached her songs on Travelogue.
Commissioned as part of the Greater Manchester Town of Culture programme, folk experimentalists HARP & A MONKEY release ‘Growing Together (The Orchard Song)’, a song commemorating how, in 2010, Incredible Edible, a guerrilla gardening group, took on the challenge of restoring a neglected Victorian orchard in Bury that, first planted in the 1900s, had once been part of a nunnery. Set to a carousel waltzing acoustic guitar melody, it celebrates the power of community and features the voices of some of the volunteers reciting the varieties of fruit that can now be found growing there.
‘Funny The Ones’ is the funky first single from the new EP, A Piece Of My Heart, by HANNAH BRINE. Piano by Ed Blunt, James Nall on drums, a sweet guitar break courtesy of Greg Saunders and a barrelhouse outro are crammed into three minutes of music. Hannah has a resume that includes Strictly and community choirs and A Piece Of My Heart will be launched at a gig on January 21st at The Pheasantry in Chelsea.
LENNON, LYON AND SPINA sees a coming together of Scottish singers Elaine Lennon, Yvonne Lyon and Adriana Spina, making their debut with the digital single ‘The Light’ , a mandolin-flecked Americana close harmony swayer inspired by the recent TEDx Cumbernauld Women theme for the year, WHATNOW? where they performed it as part of The Homeland Sessions, the song celebrating how they – and others – have drawn on their inner strength, friendship and respect to honour the light in each other.
www.elainelennon.com www.yvonnelyonmusic.com www.adrianaspina.com
You don’t often hear translations of Richard Thompson songs but IONA FYFE has done just that by singing ‘Poor Ditching Boy’ in Scots. Iona is accompanied by Michael Biggins on piano, Charlie Stewart, Jack McRobbie and Graham Rorie, who provides decoration on tenor, mandolin and pizzicato fiddle (if our ears do not deceive us).
Taken from his upcoming album, West Sussex folksinger ED BLUNT releases the seasonal-tinged ‘The Dome Of St Paul’s’, a sparkling falling snowflakes piano and guitar foot-tapper inspired by the last big blizzard in the City of London back when he was a student that perfectly captures the feel of a silent, snowy Christmas night.
S.T. MANVILLE releases a cover of Biffy Clyro’s ‘Christopher’s River’ as a taster for his forthcoming album, Someone Else’s Songs. He dispenses with the full arrangement of the original and its long outro, restricting himself to acoustic guitar and some minimal hand percussion.
Perhaps the best traditionally-themed Christmas song of the year comes from Irish songstress LAURA MULCAHY and her self-released ‘Once Upon A Time In The Sand Dunes’. Telling the story of the three wise men crossing the desert, it’s composed in the style of a medieval carol with the lyrics in Old English style and features a five piece Hollywood 50s choir from Ennis, organ and glockenspiel all rounded off with sleigh bells and is utterly beautiful.
‘Nocturne’ is a new release composed for English concertina by TIMOTHY JOHNSTON and performed by ROB HARBRON. It’s a long piece, heavy on the bass end, which almost falls into three sections – not distinctive enough to be called movements. Timothy admits to being influenced by Rob’s playing and it shows in the complex harmonies but there are also elements of 19th century concertina music.
BECCI WALLACE describes ‘Ghost’ as an anti-Christmas single as she casts her mind back to what seems to be the insensitivity of Christmases when she was in her twenties. It begins and end with a slightly mystical vibe built on a rumbling drone and percussion: “tiptoe over the ash tree” is a line that immediately grabs the attention. The middle section is chunky rock driven by drums.
LANDON LLOYD MILLER hails from Louisiana and was front man of The Wall Chargers before embarking on a solo career. His first release, ‘Light Is Growing’, is a toe-tapping blend of Americana influences with the optimistic message that however bad things get there is light at the end of the tunnel. We think we’d like to hear more from him.
‘Blind Missiles’ is the first digital single by LUKE SITAL-SINGH on his new label. Having decamped to Los Angeles, Luke considers questions of isolation and feeling at odds with the world and all its divisions and negativity. Not terribly festive but it’s a fine song.
CRAIG GOULD’s second single, ‘Captain Of The Seas’, arrived just too late for last month’s post but for three reasons we’ve shoehorned it in here. Firstly, the proceeds go to the mental health charity CALM, secondly it comes from Craig’s debut album which will be released next year and thirdly it’s an amazingly good, powerful song with a lush arrangement that echoes the movement of the waves. Make a note the name.