SINGLES BAR 47 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 47We’ll leave Christmas until later if you don’t mind. Belle Of The Ball is the debut solo recording by AINSLEY HAMILL of Fourth Moon and Barluath. She has an amazing cast of supporters including Graham Coe, Lucy, Evan Carson and Toby Shaer but what jumps out at you is that voice. She begins with the traditional ‘Latha Dhomh ‘s Buain a’ Choirce’ – a powerful but still authentic rendering over an insistent beat.. Butter wouldn’t melt.  Then comes the title track. The instruments are mostly traditional and acoustic but Ainsley sings in a dark, smoky, bluesy voice. Where did that come from? ‘Runaways’, a delightfully hedonistic song, is performed in the same style and then it’s back to the traditional ‘Ailein Duinn’ with Ainsley keeping to the lower end of her register.. Finally we have the country-tinged ‘The Green Woods Back Home’, different again and a cracking song to wrap things up with.
www.ainsleyhamill.com

Singles Bar 47THE PEOPLE VERSUS are a five-piece from Oxford who describe themselves as chamber pop but that could be a cover for posh folk-rock. The band spun off from Full Fathom Five and Ground Opening is their debut record – although they do a nice line in T-shirts as well. The EP opens with the double-header of ‘Like I’m Lonely/Driftwood’, built on a very basic drum-beat, possibly a loop, but ‘Driftwood’ gives the drummer more to do. ‘Ground Opening’ is also based on idiosyncratic percussion. Finally we have ‘Sea Monster (Charybdis)’ – you expect a touch of the classics from Oxford. The People don’t tell us much about themselves but we do know that the singer’s name is Alice and that she is blessed with a brilliantly flexible voice.
https://www.thepeopleversusmusic.com/

JAKE AARON certainly isn’t in a festive mood (good on you, Aaron) with ‘Here’s The Thing’. The thing is that he thinks we’re sinking and he could well be right. Jake has a nicely laconic delivery over a ringing acoustic guitar and a nice line in irony as he sings “here’s a song of hope and glory”.
https://jakeaaron.com/

In the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men DUSTY WRIGHT released ‘The Book Of Tears’ in the wake of the epidemic of mass murders in the USA this year. Americana with a soul-tinged chorus, this is a fine song that deserves a wide hearing. “Who has read the book of tears?” That’s just one of the questions he poses.
www.dustywright.com

Northern Irish singer-songwriter AARON SHANLEY released ‘A Decent Apology’ just too late for last month’s post. As a post break-up song it’s one of the best. “I still don’t love you, I’m never going to. But I owe you a decent apology.” An EP is in the works.
http://www.facebook.com/aaronshanley

Grungy as you could wish for, SMOKE FAIRIES release ‘Elevator’ in advance of their new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, to be released early next year. You won’t be surprised to learn that the album and this track were recorded in Seattle.
https://www.musicglue.com/smokefairies

Also grungy are THE ROQUES. Their single, ‘Valdivian’ begins with growling bass under strange drones and doesn’t really fit our remit but it exerts a certain compulsion. They look far too young to be having such dark thoughts.
https://www.facebook.com/theroquesmusic/

VARO are a traditional duo from Dublin who will release their debut album in the new year.  In the meantime they tempt us with their first single, ‘Sovay’ built on fiddle and drones supporting their close harmonies. Actually, Lucie Azconaga is French and Consuelo Nerea Breschi is Italian and their sound is more earthy than ethereal.
https://www.facebook.com/Varo.Dublin/

Christmas is still a way away for SERIOUS CHILD on ‘Brambles’. “Brambles will grow where bad people go to do unspeakable things” is the key phrase for the song is inspired by the work of forensic botanist, Mark Spencer. Can’t you just feel a TV series coming on? Alan Young, to give him his real name, occupies the same sort of musical and lyrical territory as Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Spooky but fascinating.
https://www.facebook.com/SeriousChildMusic/

A final festive flurry of singles heads up with SIOBHAN MILLER and her self-released ‘At This Time Of Year’, a piano ballad bedecked with lush woodwind and strings that offers a simple message about missing those you can’t be with at this time of the year and sending them your best wishes.
https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

The same sentiment can be found on the equally strings enrobed ‘Golden Christmas Time’ (Self-released), from TOBIAH, a song poignantly inspired by thoughts of absent friends and specifically the loss of her husband early into their marriage as she sings “See the dress I’ll wear tonight/Like the one you left for me/Placed beneath the Christmas tree”.
https://www.tobiah.co.uk/

Taking a somewhat different tack, strumming an acoustic guitar, one of Nashville’s few Asian country artists, GABE LEE offers up ‘Christmas Day’ (Self-released), described as a “sad and sarcastic” juxtaposition of the Hallmark seasonal schmaltz with the cold, harsh nature of winter in a song about a man on the run, hiding from the law as he sings “It’s been a long, long lonely winter / It’s been a cold, hard-livin’ couple years / And it kills me to say they’re gonna lock me away / And it don’t look like I’ll be home by Christmas day”.
https://www.facebook.com/gabeleetn/

Taking an equally less cheery approach, alt-folk trio THICKETS offer the slow waltzing, icy auto harp tinkling ‘A Winter’s Warning’ (Self-released), a song that began life as an attempt a carol and ended up a murder ballad with Rebecca Lavery offering the ethereal vocal and Emma Hamilton providing the wintery harmonies.
http://www.thickets.co.uk/

Keeping it downcast, from Sweden comes SOFIA TALVIK riding on the ominous rhythms of ‘Christmas Train’ (Makaki Music), a free download from her Bandcamp site that, in keeping with her previous holiday releases, harks to the darker side with a modern take on the legend of Krampus, Santa’s evil counterpart, who most decidedly is not bringing joy and presents, here embodied in a train rolling down the track to steal dreams and lives.
https://sofiatalvik.com/

Also from Sweden is BUFORD POPE telling is ‘What Christmas Ain’t’ (Unchained), a bluesy alt-country strum in which he recounts a kid preparing for Christmas with his sister and parents and then turning to a theme about those left homeless on the streets in the holiday season.
http://bufordpope.com/

A social conscience is also at the heart of the acoustic chime of ‘Stars’ (Fretsore), a reflective new single by Scotland’s JACK HENDERSON which, opening borrowing from The Tempest’s line about we are such stuff that dreams are made on, responds to the divisiveness in today’s world with a song that, contemplating the origins of life, talks of how, in matters of substance, we are essentially the same. And that, as he puts it, there is “a real sense in which our personal stories have contributed to our collective human story”. Which, I guess, is really what Christmas is about.
http://jackhenderson.co.uk/

What Christmas is about is at the heart of ‘Heart Of Mine’ by LADY NADE. The song is for her grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. You have to imagine what this time of year can be like for sufferers – routine is destroyed, strangers are all around and there is noise and bustle everywhere. Lady Nade simply says, “I won’t let you down”.
www.ladynade.co.uk

‘It’s Not That Cold Anymore’ also contemplates the problem of loneliness at a time when we’re supposed to be happy. YVONNE McDONNELL’s single is a lavishly arranged ode to nostalgia and lost loves. Add it to your Christmas mix-tape.
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/yvonne-mcdonnell

JAKE AARON – Fag Ash And Beer (own label)

Fag Ash And BeerYou should never judge a book by its cover, we’re told, and the same is true of album covers.  I took this album for review with a slight sense of trepidation.  As a title Fag Ash And Beer, along with a cover photo of Jake playing a guitar in his kitchen, fag in mouth, had me thinking I’d be listening to the sort of person you see in the corner of a pub playing well known standards.  Fortunately it turned out I was wrong.  Fag Ash And Beer is a well crafted set of eleven self-penned songs performed by Jake and a good backing band.

Opening the album ‘Elvis Has Left The Building’ is an instrumental introducing the band which builds from a bluesy guitar intro into a Hammond led piece of prog rock from Steve Lodder.  This is followed by the title track, a love song of sorts but with any sense of romance stripped away.  There’s neither wine nor roses whilst a cemetery with a broken tombstone becomes the trysting ground.

And the fag ash and beer wasn’t a sacrament

But it was pretty damn close.

This pattern of instrumental pieces is repeated through the album, with the last three tracks being all instrumental, an idea that grew from the original concept.  Initially Jake was recording acoustic material, which he was pretty happy with, but to reach the sound of ‘Give Me Your Horse’, the single from the album, “...I asked the players if they’d come in again to record a couple of live tracks and colour in some of the acoustic takes”.

It works well, giving a bigger sound than he would have had originally whilst retaining the acoustic sound and nu-folk feel, along with Jake’s singing style which is reminiscent of Mark Knopfler.

The instrumental pieces are on the album on merit, varying in style and tempo and showing Jake’s skill as a guitarist.  As a whole Fag Ash And Beer works well as a début album showcase for a writer and performer of high standard.  Checking out the social media there aren’t any live shows listed, either as a individual of for the band, which is a shame.  For now we’ll have to content ourselves with a recording that is available from the website as a CD or limited edition vinyl, or can be downloaded through Amazon and other streaming platforms.

Tony Birch

Artist’s website: https://www.jakeaaron.com/

‘Elvis Has Left The Building’:

SINGLES BAR 28 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 28Leviathan! by BLACKBEARD’S TEA PARTY is an energetic and accomplished recording by these York-based folk-rockers that did strike some nostalgic (power) chords, with electric guitar, bass and two drummers driving the folkier fiddle and melodeon. There are versions of two traditional songs – ‘The Bonny Ship The Diamond’ and ‘The Weary Whaling Grounds’ – that you may remember from Bert Lloyd’s similarly entitled whaling song collection from 1967, but the tone here is very different. Also featured are two home-brewed instrumentals – ‘DFLN’ and ‘The Lost Triangle/The Lone Pancake’, both highly reminiscent of 60s-70s folk rock – and the very effective song ‘Leviathan’, based on the story of albino sperm whale Mocha Dick that partly inspired Moby Dick. Not for purists, but well worth a listen.
www.blackbeardsteaparty.com

Brother WindGNOSS, once a duo, is now a four-piece hailing from Glasgow’s fertile hotbed of fine musicians, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Their four-track EP, Brother Wind, provides a pleasingly versatile balance of two songs and two tunes. The title track hits with an immediate Disney-soundtrack catchiness before opening up its folky heart with some terrific harmonies. From the snaking groove of ‘The Closet Bodhrán’ to the vigorous reels of ‘Moul Head’ via the sensitive rendering of ‘My Ship’, it’s very easy to understand why this band is being so hotly tipped as one to watch.
www.gnossmusic.com

Amy GoddardA self-released EP of songs connected to mining, at the heart of Welsh singer-songwriter AMY GODDARD’s Green Is The Colour lies her six-minute Remembering Aberfan, a charity single released in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster when a slag heap in the Merythr valley slid killing 116 children and 28 adults in the nearby school and neighbouring buildings. A stark, acoustic number with a mournful backing choir, it’s a haunting listen.

However, the tracks that surround it are no less strong. Initially sung unaccompanied, the title track was inspired by the arsenic mines of Devon and Cornwall, the biggest of which was owned by the family of William Morris, its poisonous green pigment used in his iconic wallpapers. There’s a brace of well-known covers, the first being ‘North Country Blues’, an early Dylan number about the closure of the iron ore mines and the effect on the mining community, a history repeated in Wales in the 1980s, the other a chiming acoustic guitar waltz through Merle Travis’ ‘Dark As A Dungeon’.

The perils of working underground inform the sprightly self-penned folksy strum ‘Underground Road’ which, featuring Hannah Fisher on fiddle, charts the life of a mining community. Sharing a poisoning theme with the opening number, sung with just hand percussion accompaniment, the final track has Goddard has duetting with Andy Adams on ‘Blue Murder’, an Alistair Hulett song about asbestos mining.
http://www.amygoddardmusic.co.uk/

Al ShieldsNow backed with The Delahayes, Edinburgh-based troubadour, AL SHIELDS returns with a new collection of freshly squeezed Americana, in the form of the Fire On Holy Ground EP, due for release on Shields’ own label, Al Shields Music (ASM004), on April 30th.

The band-backed electric sound is a slight deviation from Shields previous all-acoustic efforts, but with the same old glimmers and shades of Ryan Adams and co. it is a most enjoyable listen. From the disc’s half-dozen numbers, ‘Counting the Hours’, ‘Kick Your Feet Up’ and ‘The Boys in the Band’ are among the stand outs, but then, there is very little to dislike about this record.
https://www.alshields.com/

Rag’N’Bone (And The Coal Rippers Daughter) is an upcoming EP from singer-songwriter NEIL BROPHY. So far only a single comprising two versions of the title track has been released. The song is set in 19th century London: Rag’N’Bone is obvious and apparently a coal ripper is or was a man who dug out the rock above a coal seam and shored up the walls and roof. Who knew? The story is of a love story set among the squalor – “my dog died, too, and you can have his bones” – as two young people set out for a life among the mudlarks at Blackfriars. The acoustic version features Neil on guitar, harmonica and kick-drum while the radio edit is a full band version with a Levellers feel about it.
www.neilbrophy.co.uk

KIM LOWINGS & THE GREENWOOD have a new single in the form of the five-minute plus ‘New Moon’, a track that doesn’t feature on the recent Wild & Wicked Youth album,. Driven by a persistent repeated drum pattern from Tim Rogers and Dave Sutherland’s throbbing upright bass with a hypnotic circling guitar line by Andrew Lowings and Kim on dulcimer, it’s a nod towards late 60s/early 70s progressive folk rock of outfits like The Trees, Bread Love and Dreams and the pre-epic Renaissance rather than the more traditional inclinations of her other material.
https://www.kimlowings.com/

Jake AaronThat’s a great cover picture. ‘Give Me Your Horse’ is the new single from genre-bending guitarist JAKE AARON. The guitar is somewhat submerged here with Steve Lodder’s Hammond and Steve Waterman’s trumpet taking the lead over the bass and drums of Guy Pratt and Marc Parnell. You’re forever expecting a vocal line to appear but for all that it remains resolutely instrumental.
www.jakeaaron.com

SINGLES BAR

A round-up of EPs and singles that have come our way

SINGLES BAR 30 Oct 2015JAKE AARON is a singer-songwriter from London with a distinctive spiky guitar style and a youthful voice and outlook that seem at odds with the grey in his hair. I’m still puzzling over the first two songs on his eponymous EP. ‘1790’ is clearly very personal and I suspect that only one other person fully understands it. ‘Record Player’ is equally deep – “I’m not a rock, I’m a record player” seems to be the key line. I’m not rigid, I’m open to influence? I don’t know. ‘High Rolling’ is an instrumental, not pretty but hypnotic, and then comes possibly the best song in the set, ‘Dalston Kingsland’. Again, it’s a young man’s song as is the final ‘Constitution Blues’. Jake reminds me of all sorts of people but I can’t think who they are but I do know he is a name to watch.
www.jakeaaron.com

SINGLES BAR 30 Oct 2015Raising The Fires, the debut album from HEG & THE WOLF CHORUS, will be with us next year but here’s our first taste, a single containing two versions of ‘The White Witch’. The “standard” version, if that’s the correct term, begins gently with Heg’s voice and piano before building up with echoey drums and strings to a big finish. The second version, The Jillk Remix starts with strange percussion and electronics with just the bare skeleton of the song remaining and Heg’s voice manipulated to a stutter. If the remix doesn’t appear on the album you’ll wish you’d bought this. Excellent.
www.hegandthewolfchorus.com

SINGLES BAR 30 Oct 2015‘Seed Stitch’ is the single taken from Coracle, the most recent album from EMILY PORTMAN. Like so many of Emily’s it’s wrapped up in myth and memory and metaphor. Ostensibly about knitting it is a song of loss, of breakdown and new beginnings. Initially I thought it was about the loss of virginity and innocence but now I’m not so sure. Paired with it is ‘Nightjar’ another complex song full of imagery which often goes unexplained and one really weird line which will continue to haunt you.
www.emilyportman.co.uk

SINGLES BAR 30 Oct 2015THE DEADLY WINTERS are a five-piece band from Edinburgh who are beginning to make a name for themselves. Table In The Corner is their latest EP; the title track being the story of a piece of pub furniture that no-one ever uses because … well, that’s the story and we’re not privy to the answer to the unspoken question. ‘Liars, Liars, Liars’ is the tale of a man on the run pursued by stories that make him out to be much worse than he is – it’s a very clever song. ‘Sam Did Run’ tells of a war hero pursued by bullets which leads nicely into ‘Gone To Ground’. The band has a sound that is part folk-rock, part Americana and a fine songwriter in Christopher Blair. We should hear more of them.