SINGLES BAR 31 A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 31Special Commissions is just that, a set of songs written or recorded by JIM CAUSLEY, for one-off projects and left in search of a home. ‘City Of  Trees’ is about Exeter and initially sounds very folky but Jim cleverly quotes other bits of music as he writes about wassailing and oak-apple day. Tony Deane, of ‘Following The Old ‘Oss’ fame, wrote ‘Diamond Of The Moor’ about a murder and possible miscarriage of justice on Bodmin Moor in 1844 and ‘Green Lanes’ was written to accompany a series of talks by Valerie Belsey, the country’s leading expect on the subject.

Inevitably there is a Charles Causley poem, ‘On The Border’, written for an event in Launceston. Its richness sent me for checking for the names of other musicians but this is all Jim’s work although producer Mark Tucker may have had something to do with making it so. ‘Pride Of The Moor’ concerns the Devon tin-mining industry, less celebrated than its western neighbour while ‘Glorious Devon Morning’ is a paean of praise for Jim’s native county – written by a Scot.

Finally we have ‘Unearthed Theme’ one of sixty-something songs written for the Villages In Action’s Unearth scheme. This one is used to top and tail each show to explain to audiences what these strange people are doing in their village. It also exemplifies much of Jim Causley’s work – celebrating “this wonderful place we call home”. The Special Commisions EP is available exclusively from
www.jimcausley.co.uk

DARIA KULESH continues her series of seasonal EP releases with Summer Delights which features her regular collaborators, Jonny Dyer, Marina Osman and Tristan Seume. This begins with a rather nice take on ‘Like An Old Fashioned Waltz’ –it’s hard to tell who’s doing what. Is that Jonny or Tristan on guitar; Jonny or Marina on keys? Whichever, Daria gives the song the same distant, romantic feeling that informed the best of Long Lost Home. From then on it’s all Russian. ‘Mokhnatyi Shmel’ is a piano-driven and madly operatic song … about a bumblebee; ‘Rusalka’ is a long-time favourite from Kara’s first album and still present in the new band’s repertoire and ‘Perevoz Dounya Derzhala’ is another big, vibrant song and that is definitely Marina on piano. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, it sounds wonderful. These releases are available only from Daria on subscription: visit her website to find out more.
www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

It’s funny how popular ‘Jolene’ has become over recent years and it’s the first track on The Undercover EP by MAZ O’CONNOR, a set of her favourite covers. She must have been a hell of a woman to put Dolly Parton in the shade! Second up is a gorgeous version of Paul Simon’s ‘Kathy’s Song’ with echoey fingerpicked guitar and a slight reverb on Maz’s multi-tracked vocals. Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance’ is third, opportune as the Donald flies in, followed by ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’ sung with an air of resignation that tugs at the heartstrings as she mixes old and new. Maz does the choir bit on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ which raises a smile. ‘Stay With Me’ is the Sam Smith song, not the Faces’ rocker, which would have been too much to ask for and the set closes with ‘Wonderful World, a difficult song to do anything new with but Maz just about pulls it off. This is a really nice set.
http://mazoconnor.com/

‘Air Fàir An Là ft Sian’ is a new single by folk/electronica band NITEWORKS. The words were written by Màiri nighean Alasdair Ruaidh on the Isle Of Skye in the 17th century. Sian are a trio of female Gaelic singers who specialise in the songs of female Gaelic bards which might make them something of a niche market but the addition of Niteworks’ traditional instruments and modern techno sounds opens it up to a wider audience.
www.niteworksband.com

STEAMCHICKEN are working on a new album and from it comes ‘Violet Lane’ a wonderfully off-the-wall Victorian tale of working girls who take the law into their own hands when faced with violence. A blend of folk and swing, it will available to download this week. Violet Lane is in Croydon, by the way. Who knew?
http://www.steamchicken.co.uk

‘The Ballad Of Davey Graham’ is a title to stop any music-lover in his tracks. TOM BAXTER wrote it for the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of the guitarist. It takes a gifted, and perhaps brave, man to attempt to emulate Graham’s unique guitar style and unconventional song structures and Tom rises to the challenge with considerable aplomb. The track will be found on his forthcoming album, The Other Side Of Blue.
https://www.tombaxter.com/

LOZT are a duo comprising Tom Ryder, of whom we have written before, and Lauren Scudder who is new to us. I Want You is their debut EP; a sophisticated mix of folk, pop and soulful singer-songwriter. The title track, which is third up, is decorated with treated instruments but it is dominated by acoustic guitar. The opener is ‘Change My Mind’ followed by ‘Quake’ which benefits from a remix to close the set.
https://www.loztmusic.com/

Six is the new EP from LEATHER’O, a follow-up to Five, obviously. They describe their music as alt-Celtic/Gypsy and pride themselves on their energy but someone should have pressed the loud pedal in the studio or on the mixing desk. The balance is great and Angela Gordon’s vocals don’t get lost on ‘False Lady’ or ‘Black Is The Colour’.   ‘Risipit/Bim Bim Hora’ is all gypsy fiddle and is absolutely splendid proving how well Leather’o can play as does the closing ‘Weasel Set’ but, please, turn it up a bit next time.
www.yorkcelticband.co.uk

SIMEON is a young acoustic singer-songwriter with a voice that can be soft and gentle or bend steel as the occasion demands. ‘Ground Down’ is the first single taken from her forthcoming EP A Serpentines Curve. Although she’s been working and recording for a while her profile isn’t what you’d call high. We don’t think it will stay that way for long.
http://simeonturtle.com

MATTHEW THE OXX – First Aid For The Drowning (Wild Sound WILDSOUND056)

First AidThe name Matthew The Oxx partially conceals the identity of Matthew Oldfield, son of Simon and nephew of Mike. It would have been very easy to cash in on the family name but Matthew has gone his own way and it has taken three albums for him to attract my attention. Too long perhaps.

First Aid For The Drowning is a complex album and if you’re looking for a simple explanation you’ve come to the wrong man. Matthew himself says that a lot of the album is about death, a subject open to many interpretations, but that doesn’t make it morose or depressing. You could write a thesis on the first track, ‘Beyond The Gates’. On one level it is about stepping out beyond the confines of our own lives, taking a chance on the future, ignoring the fear that holds us back. On another, it’s about the gates that lead to death and as Matthew says, “Nobody here really knows what’s out beyond the gates”.

Taken literally it’s quite mystical, conjuring up a picture of a river outside a city with a desert beyond. ‘I Want You’ and ‘I Am A Crow’ are both lyrically twisty, the former being quite jolly but shortly we get the almost conventional ‘Elizabeth Mary McCann’ about a convicted hit-and-run-driver – Mary was his victim. ‘We’re All Going To Die’ and ‘I Have Seen The Dogs’ are both pretty direct, too.

Matthew has a six-piece band with accordion, lap steel, piano and violins and he plays guitar and banjo which is a strong sound that sometimes feels at odds with the sentiments of the songs. That just gives the album an edge, despite its superficially prettiness – Matthew isn’t a singer-songwriter you’re going to get comfortable with on a summer afternoon; there are too many lines that pop up and make you think.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: http://matthewtheoxx.com/

‘I Want You’ live at The Clockwork Owl Sessions: