Named for the Virginia city, but based in Nashville, ROANOKE are a rising Folk Americana five-piece led by guitarist Joey Beesley and Taylor Dupuis, alongside fellow band members Zach Nowak on mandolin, acoustic guitarist John Fiorentino and drummer Kyle Breese. Following on from their self-titled 2016 debut, the songs written in a remote Michigan cabin, Where I Roam is a self-released five-track EP that augments the band’s instrumentation with pedal steel, violin, lap steel, bass and keyboards, opening with the Fleetwood Mac-like Tennessee Stone, Dupois playing Nicks to Beesley’s Buckingham. Dupois again on lead, ‘Don’t Let Me Leave The Road’ is more of a keening country persuasion while Beesley steps upfront for slow waltzer ‘Ghost Of Love’.
Their pop sensibilities can be heard to good effect on the harmonies sung violin-emboldened wistful ballad ‘Silent Films’, the collection closing on another ballad note, Breese’s harmonica providing backdrop flourishes as Beesley and Dupois, at her best Southern country soulfulness, trade verses on the organ-backed weary of the road ‘I’m Coming Home’, their harmonies showcased in the build up to the climax. A few UK dates would help spread the word.
You won’t be surprised to learn that ELIS MACFADYEN comes from Argyll even though he’s now a well-known figure around Inverness. My Home In Argyll is his debut EP on which he’s accompanied by multi-instrumentalist producer Marc Clement and, on the title track, by Michael J MacMillan. These four songs are all Macfadyen originals, frequently employing a country style that so often suits Scottish songwriters. In fact, ‘The Girl From The Rodeo’ was written for a local country band.
‘Too Young To Settle Down’ is a clever tale of misadventure over the rhythm of a train rattling across the country and initially you think you understand why the young man is in such a hurry only to realize that the situation is quite the reverse. Finally, ‘She Smiled For Me’ abandons the country style for that of a big pop ballad, perhaps a little overdone but it shows off Elis’ musical ambitions.
Born and bred in the south of Belgium (in an area called Gaume to be precise) NICO G now lives near Stirling, Scotland, where he continues to make music. He is an instrumentalist; a guitar player and a very good one at that. His most recent offering of songs is in the form of a five track EP, titled The Road Book. The format is simple, one man and his guitar – and it works wonderfully.
Four of the five tracks are originals, with the exception of an intriguing arrangement of Rolling Stones’ classic, ‘Paint it Black’ which opens the disc. It’s not overbearing or forced, in fact, it fits the record’s mood perfectly, as similar shades and approaches continue to be found in the folkily fingerpicked ‘From The Beginning’ and its equally folkie companion, ‘No More Questions’. Written in Austria, this is quite possibly the most beautiful track on the disc. It has a wandering, bitter-sweet summer feeling to it, created through its simple melody…that isn’t actually all that simple at all. It has the flowing qualities of classical guitar techniques, as well as those of the folk revivalists. Bowing out on some lovely harmonics, we are gently ushered into the twists and twangles of the penultimate ‘Jour 100’, before Piedmont-esque styled ‘The Wee Blether’ concludes the recording.
It is ironic that a ‘blether’ should end a collection of instrumentals, and indeed a collection of instrumentals might not appeal to everyone, but believe me, this is simply beautiful. Nico’s talent is obvious and this taster of his work only leaves you wanting a little bit more of the uplifting melodies, pitch-perfect harmonics and beautiful guitar playing which make up The Road Book.
THE Nth DEGREE are a trio from Cardiff – Will Christofides, Tim Johnston and Sarah Johnston – making their debut with a four-track download EP, Consilience. It opens with the logic-twisting ‘Things’ which has a simple guitar based arrangement until Tim breaks in on cello with Sarah on whistle. Sarah takes over the lead vocals for ‘Summer Night’ while the two chaps enjoy interplaying guitar parts. ‘Broken Earth’ expands the arrangement a little with Tim’s synthesiser – it’s a song protesting the damage done to the land by industry but the lyrics could be clearer. There’s a real twist at the end with ‘Never Weather Beaten Sail’ by Thomas Campion and Charles Hubert Parry. The Nth Degree perform it like a folk trio tackling a hymn with cello for gravitas and harmony vocals. Good as their original songs are, this could be the track that makes them.
A CHOIR OF GHOSTS is the secret identity of Swedish singer James Auger, whose debut EP, Woods, was released at the end of June. James doesn’t sound very Swedish either stylistically or vocally but the title track was inspired by the sound of tree-felling in the north of the country – timber is a major source of Sweden’s revenue. This isn’t a song of ecological protest however, the sound merely sparked his imagination. ‘Ester’ and ‘Morning Light’ have already been released as singles but it’s worth going for the full set.
‘Perfect’ is the first single from Welcome To The Batlands, the debut album from Belfast singer ETHAN HANNA. It catches you out at first, opening with a thoughtful acoustic guitar before the band crashes in and once you get over that you’re grooving to a gravel-voiced rocker with a song that’s full of compelling images: “did you want to ink your arms to say ‘look at the mistakes I made’”; “Here’s a tape I made/it follows all the mistakes I made” and “I miss you now that we’re twenty-three/I think we might have lost our fight”. The track peters out with a sad acoustic guitar, a few notes that spell desolation. Excellent stuff.
JOSH McGOVERN growls his idiosyncratic way through his new single, ‘Weight’ describing, in a very bleak style, the end of a relationship and the state of his mental health. You might think from that description that it’s going to be hard work but far from it. It opens with a stunning line; “On a cold early morning on the hill all my best man fell” – a battle, real or emotional, with the singer as the loser? You can go where you want with that idea.
Singer-songwriter BILLY LOCKETT has released a double A-side single in advance of his summer/autumn tour. ‘Fading Into Grey’ is a big heartfelt song about a relationship dragging on beyond its use-by date. ‘My Only Soul’ is equally powerful but slightly off-the-wall as the singer wishes that he believed in ghosts so he could see his loved one – his only soul – again.
VELVET & STONE have released a rather lovely single, ‘High Tide’ with all the profits going to Cancer Research. It opens with a gentle but insistent acoustic guitar with a few notes of electric guitar before Lara Snowden’s vocals come in and Kathryn Tremlett’s violin lifts the song to another level before her piano leads it away.