KETE BOWERS – Paper Ships (Current Records)

Paper ShipsI first encountered the now Essex-based Liverpudlian singer-songwriter with the release of his single, ‘Northern Town’ and ‘A Town With No Cheer’, two spare tales of the region’s industrial decline and its effect on those that live there. They both now appear on Paper Ships, his second album (only available in physical form via his website), produced by and featuring Michael Timmins alongside his Cowboy Junkies drummer brother Peter and released on his label after the original funding fell through.

Again, it’s very much rooted in themes of loss, depression and despair on both a community and individual level, Bowers’ deep, dark vocal style and intimate delivery calling to mind Cohen, Van Zandt and Guy Clarke, blostered by instrumentation tnat embraces pump organ, pedal steel, accordion and Dobro

It opens with the first of the single tracks to be followed by the slightly more uptempo, melodically brooding desert Americana textures of ‘There Was A Time’, a reflection on people, places and times that have passed, especially those lost to conflict who “sleep now on foreign shores.” It’s a theme that also informs the slow waltz crawl of ‘Winner’, thoughts from overseas where “Summer here can hit eighty five in the day/And take the strength from the strongest man”, “raking through the past” and reflecting on lost friends, lost youth and a lost relationship while clinging to the hope that “all things will become new again/ And my friend me and you again/ Will paint the whole damn town red/Tear down the walls, have a ball”.

Possessed of a hauntingly melodic organ underpinned chorus, ‘Ghosts’ is another deliberate, slow-paced number that, winters “colder than they used to be”, again treats on loss, both personal and the death of once vibrant high streets as “Only old ghosts walk behind you/On that road”.

Its echoes carry over into the stunningly desolate and despairing ‘Town With No Cheer’, followed in turn by the bluesy fingerpicked ‘A Place By the River’, the lines “The men they don’t cry here god forbid and oh the shame/Soldiers of god show no mercy when they fight and kill and maim”, finding the narrator back in the combat zone, where “each day I watch my friends fall”, “boxed in with no way out” and remembering “a place by the river on the bend where the willow grows” while “gambling on a book that says Jesus saves will bring me safe home to you” even though “God’s left his heaven and nobody can hear me at all”. Given the Timmins link, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say this could easily have found a home on The Trinity Session.

Taken at a mid-tempo jogging strum, ‘A Fine Day To Leave’ is, relatively speaking, a more optimistic number in as much as, the old streets now rubble and where “junk blocks the river where we used to sail/ Our paper ships on summer days”, it’s about having nothing to keep him from bidding it all farewell, his lover hopefully joining him on the search for better times.

The autobiographical ‘Northside’ carriea memories of its cobbled streets and “rows of houses all the same”, of being born in the year Elvis recorded ‘It’s Now Or Never’, of growing up in the shadows of the shipyard, walking with his later grandfather on New Brighton Pier, of young boys gone to war straight from school and of seeing “so many good things disappear.” And yet, again that glimmer of hope finds its way through in an uplifting chorus avowing “There will be better times/A light to guide a star to shine”.

Still, you can’t keep a good depressive down for long, and so the album ends with the Clarke-like ‘You Stole My Joy’, where, while “Grandma’s in the kitchen at the stove/ Singing along to the radio/Singing ‘Any old wind that blows’”, he’s confessing he’s “too bad for my own good”, that “The romance has gone like the great Wild West” and how “Nothing much got built after seventy nine/The whole damn town it took a dive”.

Like Cohen before him, Bowers is magnificent proof that melancholy and torment can produce great music and resonant lyrics, there may be ghosts behind us but Paper Ships encourages us to take their hands and walk with them towards the light.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.ketebowers.bandcamp.com

‘Winner’:

Kete Bowers announces new album

Kete Bowers

It’s rare to find a great talent appearing out of the blue with an exceptional album recorded with stellar musicians but Kete Bowers is such a rarity. His songs you won’t forget. His voice is rich and deep. And deep felt. This is a very special artist whose time has come.

Kete Bowers’ second album, Paper Ships, has been produced by Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies at The Hangar studio in Toronto, Canada. Digital single ‘Winner’ was released on May 24th 2019, with the album due on June 28th.

Kete is from Liverpool. He’s been called a ‘Liverpudlian Neil Young’ and compared to Guy Clark, John Prine, and Tom Waits…

“I don’t put myself in one particular genre; I write songs that cross many genres – Rock, Folk, Blues and Americana, etc.,” he says.

“I was born in Birkenhead just across the river Mersey from Liverpool. A year or so before I was due to leave school it became clear that there would be few or no jobs or apprenticeships available. Our school careers lessons were about how to fill in a form and sign on the dole.

These were really hard times. Later on, I went to college to study for a couple of years. And then I had a few temporary dead-end jobs, and eventually ended up on a temporary job at Cammell Laird shipyard. Many in my family had worked at Laird’s in the past, but the yard was on its knees and it employed a fraction of the men compared with the old days.

So I left the North West and headed south, ended up in Suffolk, busking the towns on market days. Been married, divorced. Started writing songs in 2009…”

Paper Ships is Kete Bowers’ first album for nine years, since his debut Road from 2010. The new album features members of The Cowboy Junkies, plus Josh Finlayson of The Skydiggers on bass, plus Tom Juhas on guitar. Kete takes up the story:

“I was contacted by a guy from Toronto who wanted to take on an executive producer role, to finance the making of my planned new album. I then decided to contact Mike Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies and check out if he’d be interested in working with me. I sent him the demos for the album and he liked them. There where many reasons for me choosing Mike to produce my album, one being that I connected with his view that when capturing a song, ultimately performance is king. So the studio was booked with Mike, and I geared up for a few weeks in Toronto.

Just three weeks or so from the project starting, the exec producer guy went missing. He didn’t answer emails from either Mike or myself and paid out nothing. It delayed the album recording by a year. I told this story to Gerry Young from Current Records in Canada. He had heard my songs via a link I sent him. He contacted me and after several emails and phone conversations he told me he would see if he could sort out the recording of my album with Mike Timmins as producer, and find the money to make it happen. A week or so later I signed an album deal with his label Current Records.”

Artist’s website: https://ketebowers.bandcamp.com/

‘Winner’:

SINGLES BAR 30 – a round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 30Following on from 2016’s Trick Star, accompanied by Steve Mayone on mandolin and nylon string guitar, pedal steel player Chris Tarrow, Jason Mercer on upright bass and Alex Hargreaves providing fiddle, ANNIE KEATING’s latest is a five-track collection of road songs originated from last year’s European tour. It opens with the title track, ‘Ghost Of The Untraveled Road’, a Dylanish mid-tempo waltzer about listening to a song on an Italian radio station, understanding the sense if not the word, sparking ‘busy bees’ in her a thinking about how things might have turned out differently (“Should I think of you fondly, or not much at all?/Shall I cherish confessions of bury them all?”) had she taken different paths.

Reflectiveness also feeds into the gently jogging country breeze of the fiddle-accompanied ‘Forever Loved’, Hargreaves again adding colour and texture to the wearied ‘Kindness Of Strangers’, essentially a song about how the warmth and hospitality of those you meet along the way can keep you going. There’s more musing introspection about the past on ‘Sting of Hindsight’, another fiddle-led waltzer with pedal steel streaks as she ponders “Maybe I’m built for a life on the road” and concludes that all you can do is “Be here, let go of regret”. It ends all too soon with such regret riding the mournful pedal steel and fiddle tide on “Forget My Name”, the chorus shading the song’s Nanci Griffiths colours with hints of Tom Petty.

There’s a sense that the EP is about refocusing herself and reminding why she’s committed herself to making music and spending on the road, and of the grace notes that balance the times when it all seems like a weight. As such, she’s clearly emerged at the right end of the tunnel and hopefully a new full length will be on the not too distant horizon.
www.anniekeating.com

Through The FayreWe featured THE MEADOWS in these pages back in 2015. They are a young family quartet from Wales who recently sent us their debut EP, Through The Fayre, five songs about or set in fairs, although for some reason they play ‘Carrickfergus’ as an instrumental. Actually, it’s very good with Fantasia Meadows’ piano and Melody Meadows’ flute dominating a delightfully pastoral sound. They open with ‘Brigg Fair’, effectively a vocal solo by Titania Meadows, followed by ‘Scarborough Fair’. ‘She Moved Through The Fayre’ features vocal harmonies by the three sisters over Harvey Meadows’ electric guitar for a very different sound and we hear more of Harvey as he takes the lead vocal on the final ‘Star Of The Country Down’ at a cracking pace.

UnpluggedTHE GRAVITY DRIVE are a married couple, Elijah and Ava Wolf, from the south-west. While working on their second album, they also chose to record a back-to-basics EP, Unplugged, to showcase acoustic versions of four songs. They begin with ‘No One’s Gonna Tell You’ – a fairly basic guitar strum with minimal but perfectly judged decoration and their two voices alternating and harmonising some clever lyrics. Potential for a real ear-worm here. There is also some nice amplified acoustic lead on ‘Candle In The Dark’ and more clever lyrics (“only love can be your candle in the dark”) over a rolling country melody. ‘What Is Love’ has a very Dylanish guitar – if Elijah had gone into ‘All Along The Watchtower’ I wouldn’t have been surprised – until Ava takes over with a 1930’s feel about her share of the vocals. Finally, ‘Breakheart Hill’ has the feeling of traditional Americana – in a full arrangement it would cry out for pedal steel or mouth harp.
http://www.thegravitydrive.com/

Kete BowersLiverpool singer-songwriter KETE BOWERS has a new two self-released track single well worth seeking out. ‘Northern Town’ is a confessionally sung, spare, moody five minute strum about drinking to numb heartache, which only takes you deeper into depression, the lyrics extending to parallel this with a sketch of a town that’s sunk into the same state with “Boards on the windows and nailed shut doors/Broken benches where men sat and talked/No dreams to dream here anymore.” The same idea extends to ‘A Town With No Cheer’, which, evocative of Springsteen’s bare-bone acoustic work, spins a haunting image of broken hopes and dreams (“the ghost of banjo Harry picking out some lonesome tune/When we were young we’d shoot for the moon/Now nothing here is sacred and there’s little or no regard”) in a former ship-building town brought to its knees and the emotional numbness that has swallowed up both it and those that live there, stripped of faith and drowning in drink and despair.

The Wind Blows ByAmerican singer/songwriter JOEY COSTELLO releases what would seem to be his debut EP, The Wind Blows By, although he has a fair number of singles to his name. What is immediately apparent is the sincerity of his approach to his music but it isn’t matched by the production. There is an unacceptable amount of guitar squeal, particularly on the lead track and a shrillness that leads to reaching for the volume control. His vocal style has been likened to those of Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne so if you like them you’ll probably like Joey too. There are some decent songs here but too much getting in the way of them.
https://joeycostello.com/

Black FeathersCurrently working on their new album, BLACK FEATHERS offer a taster of things to come with ‘The Ghosts Have Eaten Well’ (own label) Sian Bradley and Ray Hughes duetting on a catchy acoustic uptempo rootsy Americana number, the evocative title a metaphor for the dangers of being consumed a constant reflection on regret and guilt that cannot be changed but which prevent you from moving on.
https://theblackfeathers.com/

Last SwallowVeteran singer-songwriter, guitarist and sound engineer ROSS PALMER has a new four-track EP, Last Swallow. The lead track is a wistful, acoustic reflection on lost love but ‘Make It Last’ picks up the pace a bit with a bigger arrangement including electric guitar and drums. There’s no indication as to who is playing what but Ross is probably doing most of it although Melanie Crew is prime suspect for the female voice. Ross doesn’t really do rock’n’roll so ‘Separated By Water’ and ‘Ghosts & Echoes’ are very much in the same style. An album is expected later this year.
https://www.rosspalmermusic.co.uk/

HengistburyUK country duo HENGISTBURY have released their debut single, ‘What Folks Don’t Know’ available as a download with a limited number of CDs. There’s sprightly banjo under Jessie Mary’s vocals while the ‘B-side’, ‘My Body Ain’t A Temple’ boasts a bigger arrangement with piano. It’s all very nice but quoting “shining like a National guitar” is a bit naughty.
https://www.facebook.com/hengistburymusic/