Stylusboy announces his second handmade album

Stylusboy
Photograph by Redwood Photography

Stylusboy, Coventry singer-songwriter Steve Jones, creates indie folk music steeped in warm-hearted melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Influenced by cult contemporary songwriters like Damien Rice and Elliot Smith as well as classic performers such as Nick Drake and Neil Young. Stylusboy’s songs have been described as ‘absolutely brilliant’ by BBC Radio 2’s Justine Greene.

On 27th September 2019 Stylusboy’s second album Routes is released through his own label, Tortoise Recordings, on handmade CD and on all major digital platforms through AWAL Distribution. The self produced album is a collection of songs inspired by love, loss, family and pressing on through the difficult times. The musical talents of double bass genius John Parker (Nizlopi, Ben Walker, Will Pound), sort after drummer Tim Bowes (The Destroyers), critically acclaimed singer songwriter Wes Finch on electric guitar and blues starlet Holly Hewitt on harmonies create a warm musical backdrop to Steve’s songwriting. Long time friend and renowned songwriter Jess Morgan has co-written one of the ten songs on Routes.

Since the release of his critically acclaimed debut album Hospitality For Hope in 2015, Stylusboy has continued to drive his songwriting and creativity with the release of several EPs as well as a live album recorded in a manor house deep in the Derbyshire countryside. Steve’s fine art background inspires the fact that all of his releases have unique handmade sleeves lovingly made by Steve himself, all part of the Stylusboy ‘handmade indie folk’ style.

Stylusboy’s sound of ‘arresting melodies and poignant lyrics’ (Right Chord Music) has received praise and accolades from the likes of Acoustic Magazine, R2 Magazine, For Folks Sake, God is in the TV as well as BBC Introducing, 6Music, Xfm and Amazing Radio. Champion of independent music, Tom Robinson from BBC 6 Music, has described Stylusboy as:

“A leading light among today’s new generation of DIY digital troubadours”

Whilst cult website God is in the TV said:

“A sound that continues to explore and advance the relationship between more traditional folk and popular music.”

Performing all over the UK including sell out shows at Green Note in London and Warwick Arts Centre in his home city of Coventry, Stylusboy is an enchanting live performer. He has supported the likes of John Smith, Newton Faulkner, Danny and the Champions of the World, Grant-Lee Philipps, Megson and Lucy Ward. As befitting a modern day troubadour he’s performed one-to-one shows for Emily Barker’s Folk in a Box and BBC Coventry and Warwickshire’s All the Wrong Music in all the Right Places as well as pioneering online gigs (well before Facebook live was a thing) to audiences all around the world and has played numerous house gigs. Stylusboy has shared his intimate folk music at festivals such as the BBC Introducing Stage at Wychwood Festival, Warwick Folk Festival, Mosley Folk Festival and Greenbelt Festival. The lead track from his second release Whole Picture EP became a number 1 in Indonesia with the EP later becoming ‘EP Of The Year’ on music blog This Is A Popscene. Earlier in 2019 Steve was commissioned by Coventry City of Culture 2021 to create a piece of work by one of the Universal Human Rights.

Routes is released on 27th September 2019 through Stylusboy’s own label Tortoise Recordings and via AWAL digital distribution.

Artist’s website: https://stylusboy.co.uk

A live oldie – ‘Out Upon The Ocean’:

EMILY MAE WINTERS – High Romance (own label EMW 03)

High RomanceWith her second album, High Romance, Emily Mae Winters has taken a big step towards the mainstream. Both ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Gin Tingles & Whiskey Shivers’ would make hit singles even in these strange days. Her backing band makes a big sound which is remarkable given that there are only three of them. Ben Walker clearly enjoys playing electric guitar, there’s John Parker on double-bass and producer Matt Ingram on drums, percussion and piano.

The first track, ‘Come Live In My Heart & Pay No Rent’, is slightly odd, being based on an old Irish poem by Samuel Lover and I couldn’t help feeling that it misplaced in the running order and that ‘Would The World Stop Turning?’, a slow rootsy song about searching for a life never known, would make a better opener. All the other songs are written by Winters and several could be trimmed back to be closer to her earlier folk style. But clearly that isn’t Emily Mae’s intention.

‘This Land’, for example, is about the plight of the outsider; whether refugee, immigrant or runaway isn’t clear, but it’s a powerful statement about fighting to belong. ‘How Do You Fix A Broken Sun?’ is a clever song on the subject of climate change while ‘Take Me In’, although slightly opaque, returns to the theme of the outcast. I particularly like ‘Flaming Rose’, about an office worker living out her dreams of stardom alone in the nights and ‘Across The Wire’ is about separation and the power of the internet to keep people together, at least I think it is.

High Romance is essentially a pop/rock album with touches of country, soul and blues and not at all what I was expecting. Emily Mae’s voice is spectacularly good and her band is excellent but a lot of it doesn’t move me and my attempted interpretations of her writing are speculative at best. Emily Mae Winters is moving on towards a big future but I’m not entirely sure that I’m going to follow her.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.emilymaewinters.com

‘Come Live In My Heart & Pay No Rent’ – official video:

BURNING SALT – Automatic Lullaby (Own Label)

Automatic LullabyBurning Salt’s EP Dirt, inspired by the women and workers of Holloway prison and released in September 2018, was a stunningly intense and original aural and lyrical experience that earned the band a nomination for the Folking 2019 Awards in the ‘Rising Star’ category, but also gave them a lot to live up to when it came to releasing Automatic Lullaby, their debut full-length album. Fortunately, while the album is less conceptually cohesive, it has no less impact, giving us a more personal glimpse into Hannah Hull’s haunting songwriting.  It has all the (sometimes painful) honesty that I’ve come to expect from her work, with her distinctive vocals and acoustic guitar framed by the very capable and sympathetic musicianship of electric guitarist Bobby Williams (who also played piano and keyboards and produced the album) and double bassist John Parker.

Burning Salt are augmented on this recording by Daisy Palmer’s percussion on several tracks, Oli Arlotto’s baritone saxophone on ‘Superstitious Woman’, and Rupert Gillett’s cello on ‘Hold Me Down’.

Nevertheless, here’s the full track list.

  1. On the title track ‘Automatic Lullaby’ Hannah adopts an appropriately mechanistic vocal delivery in sharp contrast to the instrumental playout, in which mellifluous country-ish guitar is undercut by subdued discordance.
  2. ‘By These Words’ is a little more conventional, with a haunting tune carrying a harsh lyric.
  3. The melodic structure of ‘Hold Me Down’ for some reason reminds me of the sort of music I was apt to listen to in the early 70s, though the arrangement is economical where the 70s tended to be overblown. Still, I could almost hear Jim Morrison singing something like this. Actually, I’d probably buy this as a single if I didn’t already have it: it was still going through my head an hour after I first heard it.
  4. ‘Plateau’ starts from a slow-paced vocal that stretches the conventions of the love song well beyond the Top 40 – “I need you / I need you / I need you / but only if you behave” – and builds climactically.
  5. ‘Residue’ is a perfect exercise in saying exactly what you need to say, and no more.
  6. ‘Superstitious Woman’ has something of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe: I’m not sure about the freeform baritone sax solo, but even that has a certain OTT charm. And it’s rather a good song, its commercial potential presumably behind its release as a single.
  7. ‘Burn’ seems to me like rather a good rock track. Future single material, maybe?
  8. Thematically, ‘Lovers On A Ledge’ resembles ‘Residue’, and again needs only about a minute to make its point with precision, though its arrangement is quite different and rather daring.
  9. ‘King’ has a chillingly submissive timbre to the lyric, framed as a minor-key ballad.
  10. ‘Honey’ has been around for some time on the Burning Salt website as a video, and has also been released as a double A with ‘Superstitious Woman’. While at first blush it sounds almost like a 50s pop ballad, it has a sting in the tale, so to speak. “Keep your hands to yourself / I don’t need that kind of love…
  11. ‘Old Bones’ is an oblique lyric tied to another tune that lingers in the memory. Very effective.
  12. ‘You Missed Me’ is the shortest track on the album, with the main vocal line carried only by backing vocals.
  13. The uncomfortable lyric of ‘Take Me Home’ is carried by a simple chord sequence and some adventurous sound effects. An entirely suitable ending to an album that probably isn’t going on to the shelf labelled Easy Listening. In fact, after a few listens, I couldn’t think of a better choice for a final track.

This isn’t an album that makes much in the way of concession to commercial appeal – though there are some surprisingly catchy tunes and lines here – and the mood is generally downbeat, so it’s not going to appeal to everyone. However, if you heard and appreciated Dirt, I don’t think you’ll find this disappointing. If the band is new to you, check out the videos on the Burning Salt website.

Automatic Lullaby will be launched at the Hermon Chapel in Oswestry, Shropshire, on Friday 24th May 2019, the day on which it becomes publicly available on all major streaming platforms (or for download via the band’s own website). Going by the live set I heard the band do last year, the launch will be well worth your time if you’re in that area.

The album tracks ‘Honey’ and ‘Superstitious Woman’ have been released as a double single.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘Superstitious Woman’ – official video:

THE WILLOWS – Through The Wild (Elk Elk014)

Through The WildA sort of folk supergroup that sees singer Jade Rhiannon Ward and multi-instrumentalist husband Cliff joined by Ben Savage on Dobro, percussionist Evan Carson from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and, new to the line-up, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin and double bass player John Parker, this belated follow-up to 2014’s Amidst Fiery Skies finds the Cambridge-based sextet ranging across genres that span English folk, Americana and bluegrass with a sound that, at times conjures an English Clanaad. That is not the case, however, with full-blooded folk rock album opener ‘Coda’, which, like all but one number, is penned by the band. A number that deals with mortality and loss, it’s echoed in the softer, more reflective and melancholic breathily-sung ‘Better Days’ where, mottled by banjo, grief gives way to hope.

The sole non-original comes with an clopping percussion arrangement of the traditional ‘True Lover’s Ferry’, a song of love on London’s waterways learned from the singing of Peter Bellamy. Gilmore and Carson provide the backbone with Ward’s banjo also prominent for ‘Perfect Crime/Ernest Durham’s’, another musically muscular number, which draws on the true story of Percy Cox, a soldier from the Fens in the First World War who, to get a higher age, stole the identity of Ernest Durham, an Australian soldier who lends his name to the second half instrumental.

A song about the healing power of love, the evocative fiddle and banjo coloured ‘Honest Man’ musically heads out to the Appalachians before they turn to Canada for ‘Pearl Hart, Savage taking on electric guitar and Carson laying down the skittering percussive bedrock on a song that recounts the true story of the 19th century Canadian who gave up robbing stagecoaches to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

War rears its head again with ‘Out Of Our Hands’, a rueful acoustic guitar accompanying Ward on a song which, briefly swelling towards the end, was inspired by her reading of A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant’s 1862 book about the battle of Solferino in 1859 between Napoleon’s forces and the Austrian army, the suffering of the soldiers and the lack of aid, and which led to the founding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

The English landscape serves as inspiration for two numbers, the first being ‘False Light’, pizzicato mandolin and fiddle gradually building to a big production number about the lights people imaged they saw over the fenland marshes, luring them to their deaths. It’s followed by ‘Gog Magog’, a jazzy, airy, puttering percussive rhythm number that, inspired by the eponymous chalk hills of Cambridgeshire and the mythical pagan giants (also to be found in the Bible and Cornish legend) who walked them, again treats on loss through conflict.

It ends on a personal note with the spare six-minute traditional flavoured, fiddle-coloured slow waltz ballad ‘Dear Lilly’ being dedicated to Jade’s great aunt, her courtship, marriage, miscarriage and subsequent nursing of her dying husband , going on to live for over a century, a fitting uplifting conclusion to an album that welcomes the band back in magnificent style.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk

‘False Light’ – official video:

Burning Salt’s “love letter” to Holloway Women’s Prison

Burning Salt

Burning Salt – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as inspiration for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt, for release on the 7th September 2018.

Hannah says:

“Many of the stories left me in tears. Not just because of the horror contained within them, but also the strength. I wanted to provide a platform for the stories and themes contained within them to be heard, listened to, connected with. These stories complicate the issue of prisons. They demand empathy, and confuse narratives of punishment.”

“I think this was probably the most surprising theme found within the oral history transcripts: love. Love for the prison, love for the prisoners, love despite the prison environment, love despite the incredible scale of pain and loss suffered by the women who end up in prison.”

As you might tell from the above, the six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics: not just suffering and loss, but the cycle of abuse, suicide and self-harm, cleaning up after dirty protests, and closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’. In combination with Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, this may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major talent.

Dirt will be publicly available on all major streaming platforms, and for digital download via www.burningsalt.com from 7 September 2018.

Burning Salt will perform the songs at a launch event on 7 September 2018 from 8pm to 10.30pm at the New Unity Chapel, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR. The £12 ticket price includes a special edition digital download of the EP and a poetry booklet.

David Harley

Tickets: https://dirtep.eventbrite.co.uk

Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’ – official video:

JACKIE OATES – The Joy Of Living (ECC Records ECC018)

The Joy Of LivingJackie Oates’ new album, her seventh, is an intensely personal one with songs spanning four generations of her family from her grandfather to her daughter Rosie. The latter can be heard on several tracks notably her “theme tune”, ‘Rosy Apple’. The Joy Of Living reflects on new life and death – Jackie’s father died unexpectedly five days after Rosie was born, and I really can’t imagine the tumult of emotions she must have felt.

So a makeshift studio was set up in her kitchen and producer Simon Richmond would travel to hers and they would get as much work done as possible in the time available – hence young Rosie’s contributions to some of the tracks. The album opens with Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’. Jackie’s father fought in the 51st Highland Division, Henderson’s regiment, and she sings the beautiful tune sensitively but without excessive emotion. From there we turn to the new life with ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’, a song that Jackie made up when Rosie was very small and it paves the way for several other children’s songs scattered through the album.

John Lennon’s painful ‘Mother’ comes as something as a shock and I’m still not sure how to interpret it. Is Jackie lifting the lid on something better left concealed? If so she quickly slams it shut again with a reprise of ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’ with its repeated “we’ll be happy very soon”. It’s certainly a stunning performance and one that Jackie is not afraid to tackle on stage. The traditional ‘Virginny’ is a song that Jackie learned from her father and is faithful to his version and now we have encompassed all four generations.

‘The Joy Of Living’ had quite an impact on the young listeners at the launch event but, being an old codger, I can’t help but contrast it with ‘The Manchester Rambler’, written when MacColl was a young man. The love of the mountains is present in two songs written roughly fifty years apart in very different contexts. But I digress. ‘Unicorns’ is another song that Jackie grew up with and I suppose that ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘The Bird’ and ‘Sweet Farewell’ fall into that category. The last two songs return to Jackie’s father. ‘The Last Trip Home’ was one of his favourites and ‘Rolling Home’ is actually a fragment of a recording of him in a session – Jackie picks up the song as the clip fades out.

Musically, there is great variety but nothing is overbearing – how many musicians can you actually record in a kitchen at one time? The piano was already there but John Parker had to bring his double bass, Barney Morse Brown his cello and Matt Allwright his pedal steel. Jack Rutter is Jackie’s regular sidesman now, John Spiers dropped in and Megan Henwood was around a lot to provide the backing vocals. The Joy Of Living was recorded over a long period and not necessarily under ideal circumstances but it comes over as fresh and spontaneous and, indeed, a joy to listen to.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.jackieoates.co.uk

‘Nay Ivy Nay’ – live: