SINGLES BAR 69 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 69Making the most of lockdown, PAUL McCLURE recorded the self-released Ardvaark mini-album, playing all the instruments except for on one track.  It opens with the chugging strum of ‘Isolation Blues #1’, which started out questioning whether you’re still a musician if you can’t get out there and play but amusingly transformed into imagining what his wife might wish his skills to be so that he’d be more useful around the home.  Evoking classic 60s troubadour folk, ‘I Tell Myself’ tackles loneliness from the perspective of a touring artist, but finds comfort in being surrounded by family, while, again drawing on enforced sequestration, the mid-tempo strum ‘Find The Time’ is about finding time to do the little, important things that make up the richness of life between trying to do the things you think are important.

A snatch of a family rehearsal is followed by the self-reflection fingerpicked ‘Notes On Apology’ backdropped by a captured domestic backdrop of noises from the garden and the family preparing a meal in the kitchen. He’s then joined by Trevor Deeble on bass and mandolin for ‘Troubadour’s Lament #2 (The Festival Years)’, a Dylanish jangly guitar possibly rose-tinted reminiscence of times spent at festivals with friends and wonders if the memory is better than the reality, the collection ending with the guitar country waltzing rhythms of ‘Lorna’s Song’, on which he provides the music to lyrics by Peter Vuckovic. Well worth exploring because, after all, aardvark never hurt anyone.

IZZIE WALSH is British (and northern) but doesn’t really sound it. Her new EP, Ideals, is released next month, preceded by a new single, ‘Jimmy’. The first track, ‘San Francisco (Or Anywhere)’ is a bouncy up-tempo song that deserves to be a hit but probably won’t be heard by enough people to make that happen.

‘Blue Collar Coastline’, in contrast, is relaxed with a hint of bitterness and lots of strings decorated with oddly muted drums. It’s about the freedom to be and do whatever you want, something we can all get alongside. ‘Elevator Pitch’ presents the real picture – a rolling, bluesy song in which Izzie laments her broken down car and dead end job. ‘Jimmy’ feels like a female riposte to the sort of song blokes sing about women. It’s a complex biography of a neglected kid made good but still hiding his pain. Finally, ‘Haunted’ is another good song but its lyrics are sometimes buried in a big arrangement which is a shame.

Izzie has written and recorded five strong songs with varied arrangements to keep you listening. Let’s hope that the post-lockdown world is kind to her.

Sibling UK Americana trio THE BLUE HIGHWAYS follow up last year’s debut album with a new EP, I Wanna Party (self-released) designed to recapture the feel of their early rocking days. Listening to the title track, it would suggest that Creedence Clearwater Revival loomed large on their list of influence, singer Callum Lury channelling John Fogerty a la ‘Up Around The Bend’. CCR aren’t the only names the EP calls to mind, either. ‘Love Keep Wasting My Time’ and ‘She Moves’ are both firmly Springsteenesque, the latter opening with a fusillade of ‘Mony Mony’ drums and calling to mind the Boss’s goodtime party vibes. It ends withShut Up And Drive’ which, with its swirling keyboards and driving drums again harks to CCR though a Bruce lens with a hint of Bob Seger. Meant to be played loud while whirling exuberantly round the room, it may be derivative but it’s a real blast

FOLKATRON SESSIONS are a multinational eight piece collective dedicated to doing interesting things with traditional music. Home No More is their second EP; five songs from England, Ireland and Estonia.

Sam Lee guests on the opening track, ‘Three Galleys’, not dissimilar to his solo work and that is followed by ‘An Bonnán Buí’, sung by Hannah Jacobs over a complex arrangement. ‘Flower Of Magherally’ was recorded live and is in the same style although perhaps a little more ambient but ‘Juhan’s Night Train’, also live, is full-on electronica and you’ll either love it or hate it. Lauren Spiceley takes lead vocals and plays fiddle on a live recording of ‘My Son John’ with found sound and synths – almost conventional but not quite.

A glance at the cover image may give you a hint about the style of Summer Songs, a four-track EP by country/Americana star KAREN JONAS. The opening track, Don Henley’s ‘The Boys Of Summer’, begins with the lead guitar of Tim Bray which demands that you pay attention. That’s followed by ‘Summer’s Hard For Love’ which starts with a rolling beat that is so languid you can almost feel the heat of a night in the deep south. Karen picks up the pace through the song then slows it down again to slide into ‘Thunder On The Battery’ with Bray’s guitar back again – arguably the best song in the set. Finally, ‘Summer Moon’ opens with birdsong and acoustic guitar and just about manages to keep itself under control.

Based in L.A., ABBY POSNER releases the chug and scuff rhythm ‘Emergency Use Only’, a poppy Americana taster download single complete with cheery oohing back vocals from her forthcoming Kisbee Ring album, a song she describes as “being about communication breakdowns… being aware when someone is projecting their experience or story onto you” and also “about how we move through difficult conversations, and most importantly how we recover”.

Joined by Polly Bolton on mandolin, cellist Rachel Brown and Emily Lawler on fiddle, DAN WEBSTER releases the summery Celtic folk-country ‘She Smiles’ (Paper Plane Records), a chorus friendly number about finding hope in the darkest of times that will surely prompt the titular effect on those who hear it.

MARK T releases a new single, ‘Jasmine Green’, featuring tabla player Iqbal Pathan. This instrumental track features Mark on steel and resonator guitars, bouzouki, piano and tanpura which gives the music a classical Indian drone, fitting well with Iqbal’s tablas. As well as the country style of slide guitar there are elements of Hawaiian music here. Mark has a new album, Blues @ Zero, due next year.

Yorkshire lass BELLA GAFFNEY celebrates her native stomping ground with ‘Black Water’ (Eboracum Records), an appropriately rippling number inspired by the River Wharfe in the Dales, and how, during lockdown it connected her to friends and family miles away. Aside from Gaffney, it also features fellow Yorkshire based musician Emily Lawler on fiddle.

There is a feeling of optimism about ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’, the new single by mandolin and double bass maestros, SIMON MAYOR & HILARY JAMES. The song is a round composed during the 13th century in Reading where Simon and Hilary are based and not only is it a jolly piece it also serves to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the building of Reading Abbey by Henry I. Sadly Henry VIII knocked it down later but we still need something to celebrate.

Serving as an enticing taster to her forthcoming Connectivity album and featuring producer Matt de Burgh Daly on piano, Ben Moss on fiddle, melodeon and vocals alongside Jasmine Kennedy, GRACE PETRIE fires it up for the rousing Celtic strains of ‘Storm To Weather’ (The Robot Needs Home Collective), a shanty-ish handclapping swayalong that looks to brighter days ahead and will go down a storm with Merry Hell fans.

‘Can’t Wait To Wake Up In The Morning’ is a new single by MAX BIANCO AND THE BLUE HEARTS, inspired by his attendance at a BLM rally. Max is from the north-east but his voice is oddly reminiscent of Gilbert O’Sullivan. This is an excellent song, finely crafted and arranged and despite the anger Max feels about what’s going on in the world he’s still optimistic for a better future.

Now joined by singer Kim Carnie and guitarist Aidan Moodie, Scottish trad rock supergroup Mànran trail their new album Ùrar with ‘Crow Flies’ (Mànran Record) which, penned by the new arrivals, is a driving, scampering guitar celebration of close bonds and people coming together, fiddle and military drums joining proceedings as it builds to a finale.

KELLY BAYFIELD releases her debut album in November and precedes it with her first single, ‘Vapour Trails’. The song is led by the electric guitar of co-author David Edward Booth and also features Paul Sartin and Beth Porter. This could be the start of something special.

‘Days Of Hope’, the new single from HEBDEN RED SOX, sounds almost traditional at first – a powerful, moving melody that builds and builds and makes you suppose that this is actually an instrumental but then Trish Clemit and Jessika Martin start to sing – just two verses that make you stop and wonder what you just heard.