SINGLES BAR 61 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 61LUKE JACKSON issues a seven-track digital EP, Of The Time, this month. The opening track, ‘I Am Not OK With This’, looks our present situation squarely in the face and, over a sweet and gentle acoustic arrangement, points several fingers at several targets. The rockier ‘Keep It Down’ turns its attention to the purveyors of fake news and scare stories while the lovely ‘Tiny Windows’ is rather more philosophical, looking forward to better times. Luke is supported by his regular trio: Elliott Norris and Andy Sharps with Lizzie White on backing vocals and it’s on this track that you first become really aware of them.

‘Milk And Honey’ is an odd song about an encounter with a down-on-his-luck gambler who got beaten up in a bar fight. There is no indication as to whether this is a true story but the gambler’s acceptance of his situation suggests that the tale is allegorical. ‘Retrain’ is another poke at the government’s suggestion that musicians should retrain to do “useful” jobs. ‘Nothing But Time’ reflects on a major problem with lockdown: when you’ve done everything that you can what do you do with the rest of your time? The trio really rocks this one. The final song, ‘Blinding’, is a cry of despair with Luke at his lowest. Maybe this shouldn’t be the last track but you can re-sequence the set if you wish and every song is a perfect representation of a mood or a moment.

During lockdown IAN M BAILEY has formed a songwriting collaboration with Daniel Wylie of Cosmic Rough Riders, the first fruits of which are the Shots Of Sun EP (Greentree Productions: GTPCDO02), four tracks steeped in 60s folk-rock and West Coast close harmony vibes. ‘Take It Or Leave It’ comes with jangling 12 string Rickenbacker and brass to conjure early REM while, slowing things down ‘What’s Happening Now’ emulates the three part harmonies of CSN on a song about finding solace in troubled times. The 12 string’s back for the jangly cascades of ‘Slow Down River’ drawing on the likes of Teenage Fanclub and The Jayhawks for its vision of hope, winding up on a similar note with ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ which could easily have come from the debut America album.

ROBBY ROTHSCHILD is probably best known as half of the duo Round Mountain but now he releases his eponymous solo debut EP. Robby is from Santa Fe and his record seems to embody the emptiness of the desert country with just enough echo to widen the sound. Never mind that Santa Fe is next door to a huge forest, you can see the buzzards circling. In fact titles like ‘Open Wide’ and ‘Encircled’ contribute to that impression – you only have to look at that cover. The album is actually about loss and the best track is ‘Save Me A Place’, a gorgeously pared-back song accompanied on a solo acoustic guitar. ‘Question Mark’ is similarly spare – is that actually a guitar? – and a similar instrumental sound introduces the closing ‘Bead Of Glass’. It’s probably the classical guitar of Ottmar Liebert but it makes for a fascinating record.

The daughter of a Mennonite pastor, SADIE GUSTAFSON-ZOOK is a Boston-based coloratura soprano singer-songwriter and the self-released Vol. 1 is the first half of what will become the Alec Spiegelman-produced Sin of Certainty, her first album since coming out as a lesbian. Featuring internationally acclaimed harpist Mairi Chaimbuel, it features five tracks, opening with the airy shimmers of ‘Lean In More’, her first ‘gay’ song, and including the soft sweetness of ‘Two’, about dating someone with shifting personalities, the minor key ‘Everyone’ about feeling judged, and the piano-accompanied ‘Alewife’ (a station in Cambridge, Mass) which draws on the daily bustle on Boston’s public transport. The stand-out though, is the sprightly fingerpicked folksy ‘Birdsong’, which, with its scatting passage, details how hearing the sound of birds triggers traumatic memories of being sexually harassed by wolf-whistling workers when she was younger, encompassing the feelings women experience all too often.

Perhaps is the new six-track EP by BARRY ALLEN who is supported by Mike Cliffe on multi-tracked keyboards. Barry is a fairly unconventional songwriter and the opening track ‘No Time To Dance’, about the loneliness of separation, is short enough to make you wonder if there should be more. There is a change of pace with ‘The Life Of Jesus’ and, while the subject may provoke cynicism in some, it seems straightforward and genuine while the title track simply muses on what makes us happy.

Now we get to the heart of the matter. ‘Beautiful Thing’ tells of the struggles of a man coming out and, following naturally, ‘We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Not Going Away’ defiantly tells of the struggle for gay liberation. Finally, ‘Stay’, released as a single last year, is about trying to be happy in trying circumstances.

Nominated for best UK Artist and UK Album of the Year in the UK Americana Awards, ROBERT VINCENT releases Volume II of the digital three-part From Home series (Thirty Tigers) featuring new stripped back versions of songs from his three albums as well as choice covers that inspired him. Opening with ‘I Was Hurt Today (But I’m Alright Now)’, this also includes the fiddle-featuring ‘If You Were You’ and ‘In This Town’ all originally from In This Town You’re Owned, topped off with a fine acoustic strum through Pink Floyd’s ‘Pigs On The Wing’.

JOSIAH MORTIMER releases his lockdown EP, This Town, at the end of the month. It’s full of praise for the people who are working to keep the country afloat (and he doesn’t mean politicians). The opener, ‘Coming Up For Air’, is all about holding on for better times – which seems to be a popular theme almost a year into the pandemic – using a lighthouse as a metaphor. ‘Forget The Land’ continues with a watery motif. ‘Horizon’ opens with chunky guitar – Josiah plays all the instruments and we’ve already heard banjo and some nice acoustic lead guitar – and is a song that urges us to look forward to better days. Finally, with electric guitar this time, the title track reflects on the beauty of a deserted city.

WATERFAHL bring a Scandinavian twist to four Robert Burns poems on Birks Of Burns. We’re used to stately, respectful interpretations of Burns but Hanne and Finn Fahl are set on doing something different. The songs concentrate on the poet’s descriptions of the Lowland landscape – ‘Sweet Afton’, ‘The Flowery Banks Of Cree’, ‘The Fall Of The Leaf’ and ‘The Parting Kiss’ speak of bucolic scenes but, as is often the case with Burns, more earthly concerns intrude from time to time. Waterfahl wrote all the music but there is always the feeling that Burns’ words are more suited to the rhythms of Scottish tunes.

Written during a residence at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library to explore folk music’s depiction of mental health, herself having been diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder, KATY ROSE BENNETT found a lyric in the archive from 1867 titled ‘Come Home, Father’ telling the story of a young girl’s pleas to her father to come home from the pub as his son grows sicker by the hour. Drawing on being hospitalised in February last year having experienced several episodes of an as then undiagnosed sudden loss of movement and strength in her legs, she wrote ‘Darling, Dear Darling’ (self-released), set over a night on the ward as she wishes she was home with her son, it’s simply strummed and sung in her familiar, intimate, gentle tones, the lyrics (“the lady is  screaming she  shouldn’t be here”) also conjuring resonances of those taken into preventative care on mental health grounds.

In advance of their cracking new album, Settlement, STRAWBS release a single, ‘Judgement Day’. David Cousins clearly isn’t specific about who is being judged – is it himself or humanity in general? – or whence the judgement is coming. It’s a long song with a fairly restrained arrangement and a similarly subdued keyboard break by Dave Bainbridge. Also, it’s an excellent teaser for the album.

Dublin singer-songwriter EOIN GLACKIN offers a second taste of his forthcoming album with the lilting, lightly fingerpicked Americana folk of ‘Eldorado’ (Good Deeds Music), a song about enduring and unbreakable friendship rooted in his own childhood experience.

With Burns Night upon us THE MAGPIE ARC release a single, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. They produce a lush, modern arrangement with the guitars of Martin Simpson and Adam Holmes ringing out over Alex Hunter’s bass and the drums of Tom A Wright. The sound is classic folk-rock and doesn’t it sound wonderful?

Her star ever ascending, Hertfordshire’s LIZZY HARDINGHAM releases what she aptly described as delectably melancholic ‘Orpheus’ (932160 Records DK) on Valentine’s Day, a gently waltzing anti-love anthem that draws on the Greek myth   to ponder the difficulties of letting yourself fall madly in love and giving yourself a little instead.

Despite the enforced disappearance of so many live gigs in the last year, SARAH MCQUAID took a slightly unusual course of action. Rather than risk the uncertainties of live-streaming, she used crowdfunding to finance a properly-produced album and video series that would capture the essence of a live performance even without an audience. ‘The Silence Above Us’ is the first single from The St Buryan Sessions, recorded in her local church. It’s just Sarah’s own perfectly appropriate piano and gorgeous vocal on a melancholic song that certainly fits the mood of the times. We can’t wait to see what comes out of this project next.

Their first new music since 2019’s debut album, joined by Issy Archie  Sylvester , London duo COPPER VIPER return with ‘Opal & The Bear’ (Under The Bower Records), their mandolin, guitar and entrancing harmonies (think a two-piece  Darlingside) brought to bear on, as the drums join in, a  gently jogging number veined with their signature ambiguous lyrics, here talking of “cloak and dagger games”, “blackened hounds” and a “ferry boat”  mingling fear  and longing.

With a new album due soon, DECLAN O’ROURKE releases a new single. ‘The Stars Over Kinvara’ finds Declan looking back to his youth in Galway but also to important events in his life under the night sky.

Acoustic Dublin duo YE VAGABONDS surge into 2021 with a limited 7” vinyl release on River Recordings that brings together two traditional songs, a mid-tempo sway through ‘I’m A Rover’ and ‘The Bothy Lads’ (better known as ‘When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen’).

Also from Ireland, LAURA MULCAHY follows up her ‘Sunken Cemetery 1849’ with another self-released number rooted in historical fact, ‘The Ballad of Lucy Sands’. Set to spare piano notes, harp, strummed guitar and her pure crystal vocals, recount, It’s the title track from an upcoming feature film that recounts how, orphaned in late 1880s Northern Ireland, Lucy and her brother were adopted by an aunt and grandmother in Cumbria and how, in1881, aged 16 she went out with three friends and was never seen again until three months later when her body was found hidden under rocks by a  local road mender. No one was ever convicted of her murder and she’s buried with no headstone and nothing to mark her existence but the court papers.

Composer ROLY WITHEROW releases a single, ‘The Bird And The Frog’ about a frog who seduces a bird and persuades her to live under a log with him. Guess which one is the happier in this parable about modern relationships.