CHRIS FOX – From The Shadows (own label)

From The ShadowsChris Fox sent me a link for the lead single from From The Shadows and I thought it was little gem of songwriting. ‘I’m In Love With You’ doesn’t have the typical backstory of an artist with a leaning towards Americana – very few have to start shopping in Morrison’s in order to avoid meeting someone in Tesco. If that story appeals to you then Chris is your man. Principal support comes from multi-instrumentalist producer Dan Wilde with Jamie Welsted on drums, John Parker on double bass and Zoe Wren on backing vocals and it’s all delightfully restrained – mostly.

Chris doesn’t restrict himself to just one style. He describes ‘Little Brown Sparrow’ as a minimal blues in which the bird is a metaphor for the broken and homeless. I’d love to think that it will emerge as a major song of social conscience when From The Shadows hits the streets. In contrast, ‘The Motivator Blues’ is foot-stomping electric rocker with just a hint of T.Rex about the pain of pub gigs – “I don’t need nobody to tell me I’m wrong” he sings. But plenty of people will. There’s a good deal of loneliness and loss in these songs: ‘You Helped Me Through’, ‘Anabelle’ and ‘Castaway’ all have their share of misery.

It’s not all grim. ‘Who Really Loves You’ is about home and family; the people who offer you support when you need it but even that is hedged around with questions and regrets. The album really is full of shadows.

Before all that we have the splendid ‘Tinseltown’, a murder ballad with a Tex-mex shuffle inspired by Brad Pitt (that’s another story) and, indeed, it does have the feeling of being a pitch for a TV series along the lines of The Fugitive. It would need some work, of course, because the man on the run is actually guilty – or would even that run in Trump’s America?

From The Shadows is Chris’ third album and, such is the music business, this is the first I’ve heard of him. I sincerely hope it won’t be the last.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.chrisfoxmusic.org/

‘Bird Of Paradise’ – live:

Burning Salt Live In London

Burning Salt
Photograph by Jean-Francois C. Lemay

Burning Salt have a knack when it comes to finding interesting venues. The last time I saw them was at Shrewsbury Unitarian Church, an impressive venue associated historically with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Darwin. And on 28th September I had the privilege of seeing them at a ‘secret gig’ in the oldest house in Bloomsbury. But the honesty and searing quality of a Burning Salt performance are well in tune with the angst of Britain in 2019.

This time, Hannah Hull and John Parker performed nineteen songs from which the tracks comprising their next album, Close To Home, will be selected, with Hannah’s unmistakeable low-register vocals supported by her own guitar and piano and John’s outstanding double bass work.

Many songwriters hide behind a self-protective veneer of storytelling that might have roots in fact or fiction. Hannah Hull’s writing is more direct, and stunning in its integrity and emotional impact. In her own words: “These are some of my most direct and intimate songs yet, including an early song written when I was just fifteen which I have never shared before. Songwriting has been a survival mechanism for me since I was teenager, and this album contains my private reflections on self-abuse and self-resurrection.

Not an obvious candidate for enormous commercial success, then, but on the evidence of the Bloomsbury performance, musical success is guaranteed. And it does occur to me that one song with light blues overtones called ‘Groundskeeper’ – performed here with Hannah’s vocal accompanied only by John’s bass – might just be surprisingly successful if it were released as a single.

You can find out more about the album from the crowdfunding page here, and you might even feel inspired to contribute (I was!).

David Harley

Artist’s website: https://burningsalt.com/

There are no videos of this material so far. Here’s a good version of ‘Ginnie’ from the Dirt EP [reviewed at https://folking.com/burning-salts-love-letter-to-holloway-womens-prison/].

STYLUSBOY – Routes (Tortoise Recordings)

RoutesAlthough Coventry singer-songwriter Steve Jones released the Out Upon The Ocean EP in May, it’s been six years since his last studio album, Hospitality For Hope, so, again working with Nizlopi’s John Parker on double bass, Routes is a welcome return for his lo-fi folk.

It opens with ‘Embrace The View’, one of two tracks that featured on the EP in live versions, Greg Schofield on keys with Destroyers drummer Tim Bowes holding down the walking beat on a number about being in the moment and embracing life as it comes and looking to the horizon rather than behind. A long-established live favourite, the other is the melancholic five-minute slow waltz ‘For The Souls of My Brothers’, a gospel-tinted song of loss based on his own family history and set to the backdrop of the Coventry Blitz during which his great grandfather worked as a fireman.

The EP’s title track is sandwiched in-between, jauntily tracing a similar thematic path to the first with Wes Finch on electric guitar who also appears on the shuffling drums and choppy rhythmed love song ‘All The Details’, co-writer Jess Morgan on harmonies (elsewhere courtesy of Holly Hewitt). There’s a rockier, bluesy feel to ‘Find Your Gold’ about not spending your life like a covered up portrait that no one sees, but then it’s stripped back down again for the touching acoustic fingerpicked reflective ‘Keep You’ with its theme of memory and constancy. Further fingerpicking can be heard on ‘Open The Door’, an equally uncluttered looking for the sunshine after the rain number that shows the fine harmonies to perfection.

Taking the pace up, Parker’s double bass gets the spotlight on the ‘Ride This Storm’, a number which suggests Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’ meeting The Be Good Tanyas’ ‘Littlest Birds’ before the album dives into melancholy for the metaphorical ‘Shelter The Light’, a memory of childhood and a father and his young son’s journey home after a hard day’s work number that builds to a big instrumental finale.

Routes ends back on a pastoral folksy note with ‘This Is Where I Belong’, a fingerpicked declaration of finding an anchor and a sense of self as he sings “I’ve come home to hold your hand, stand with you, this is where I belong”, an epiphany that perfectly captures the thread and warmth of the journey and the album.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.stylusboy.co.uk

‘Out On The Ocean’ – official video:

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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‘Superstitious Woman’ – official video: