MIKE TURNBULL writes about the places he lives and has lived and the history he enjoys – sometimes simultaneously. With his band THE SAFE KINGS he has recorded a five-track EP, Courageous Tree, that is full of his customary warmth. The title track concerns an ash tree near Coniston Water which has survived a lightning strike and is still standing. It takes a real songwriter to fashion a song from a simple sight like that.
‘Sea Charts & Life Maps’ is a metaphor for navigating life’s vicissitudes and is inspired by growing up near Morecambe Bay. Of course, these days we’re more away of the dangers of those tides which gives the song an extra edge. ‘Ernie’s Liquid Gold’ is a fascinating story. Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition buried a case of whisky in the Antarctic ice. A century later it was discovered and the expert distillers at Mackinley’s recreated the blend. The optimistic nature of the song is enhanced by Mark Browne’s banjo. ‘Summer Standing Still’ is a memory of St Ninian’s Cave and finally Mike returns to history with the anthemic story of the last wolf to be killed in Cumbria – this was in 1390. The story may be fanciful but ‘Every Last Wolf’ is a magnificent song topped off with the sound of Phil Lewis’ trumpet. This is an excellent record – next time another full album, Mike, OK.
MY SISTER, MY BROTHER is a new songwriters trio comprising Sean McConnell, Garrison Starr, and Peter Groenwald, their debut a self-released, self-titled EP that features harmonies to die for. It opens with just McGonnell’s piano accompaniment to his and Starr’s voices on the magnificent ‘Nothing Without You’, a song about a relationship and companionship, yes, but, more than that, a reminder that we are all stronger together.
Continuing the theme, guitars strummingly enter the mix for the soaring balladry of ‘Drive You Home’ then Starr takes the solo spotlight to open the slow march beat, stark percussion and heavy piano notes on ‘Don’t Know How To Love You’ before McGonnel joins on a song about navigating the often troubled waters of a close relationship. The country pop ‘Forever Now’ switches pace for a musically and lyrically upbeat vocally shared reminder that, in another number about commonality, “the sun comes up and the sun goes down” before it returns to a low key harmonised balladry with the keeningly sung slow waltz ‘Honest’, a song about making peace with the things you cannot change and explaining to others that what you see is what you get. Here’s hoping a full album comes together soon.
China Mind is the new EP by HEATHER McCLELLAND of the Sugar Sisters. Heather is of Irish extraction and her unconventional life has seen her both busking and studying music in Brazil. Her voice is surprisingly delicate but she brings imaginative ideas to her songs ‘Can’t Be Enough’, for example, is almost buried in strings but there is an odd, slightly off-kilter, percussion sound even deeper in the mix and is that a harp or a guitar opening ‘Home Again’? It’s hard to tell but all these songs feature strange, almost mystical sounds. Again it’s difficult to decide what is playing the opening notes of ‘Oceans Part’ but then, just when you’re not expecting it, in comes a piano. That might be a set-up for the big finish except that it fades into the background leaving the strings to evoke the sound of gentle waves lapping on a beach. To use a possibly inappropriate expression China Mind punches well above its weight.
CEÒL AN AIRE are a six-piece traditional band from Oban. They feature two pipers so make a mighty sound and cram eleven tunes into the five tracks of Doubles, their second EP. They are not a purely instrumental band, however, and fiddler Clare Jordan also provides vocals on ‘Sail Away’ and the relatively gentle Gaelic song ‘An Eala Bhàn’. The opening track, ‘The Heaval Hike’, stems from a climb by two band members up Barra’s highest in the middle of the night to play a tune at the top. The fact that the band’s publicity photos are taken on the malting floor of a distillery suggests that some fortification was taken before they attempted the feat. Perhaps it’s fortunate that their drummer did not opt to join them. Ceòl An Aire manage to combine power and subtlety and it won’t be long before we hear them south of the border.
SAM REIDER & THE HUMAN HANDS claim that what we have here is a video EP but it isn’t – at least our copy isn’t – but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that a video version is available somewhere out there. Sam is a jazz pianist by training and an explorer of folk music by inclination. The record opens with a piano ‘Prelude’ taking Sam back to his origins and is centred on his new take of a baroque ‘Trio Sonata’. The three parts are a reel, a jig and ‘Breakdown’ but you couldn’t dance to them. The underlying rhythms are there but heavily decorated with seven musicians vying for attention. Alongside the trio are ‘Coyoacan’, written after a visit to Mexico City, and ‘Prairie Serenade’ with piano, fiddle, saxophone and walking bass which starts in the wild west and ends in a city jazz club.
DEATH BY STAMPEDE is Birmingham singer-songwriter Joseph Hicklin and he’s currently putting the finishing touches to his self-released debut album under that guise. A bear of a man with a bear of a voice, a taster comes with ‘Styrofoam’, a steady drum beat, cascading melody (sounding at times like a slowed down take on “I Fought The Law”) and backing vocals underpinning an Americana-laced number about the singer-songwriter alone (with their dog) at home, rather than out gigging “drinking coffee out of styrofoam, making money, paying bills”, writing their songs and trying to fill the day, coming across perhaps as addressing depression and isolation (“my belly’s full, my heart is cold”). Expect the album to blow you away.
It would seem that there is a new album by GALLERY 47 in the offing. ‘I Wish I Was’ is a lovely dreamy track released as a single from East Street. “Did you know that you can search conditions on-line” are the intriguing open words. Initially the track has a languid feel with Jack’s voice subjected to an ethereal echo but gradually it builds without ever going over the top. Nice.
Belly up to the bar to listen to ‘Whiskey And Wine’ the new single by WOOKALILY taken from their album Everything Is Normal Except The Little Things Inside My Head which is scheduled for digital release later this year. It begins with a languid steel guitar over a drone – possibly harmonium – before Lindsay’s vocal slides in. They begin to dispense with the melancholy after about a minute as the song takes on a harder edge but the underlying feeling of regret remains.
PAVEY ARK release the title track of their debut album Close Your Eyes And Think Of Nothing as a single. The alt-folk seven-piece from Hull are lead by songwriter Neil Thomas and manage to sound gentle and solid at one and the same time. The track begins with a sliding bass reminiscent of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ and it sneaks back in now and again. Nice one.
MARY ECKERT is from London but has a decidedly American sound on her download single ‘Ifah’. The song is piano-driven and there is more than a hint of Kate Bush about Mary’s vocal performance. It’s marked ‘parental guidance’ but there’s only a couple of f-words so I wouldn’t worry too much.
We reviewed the album Today’s Another Day by LAURA VICTORIA a while ago and now she has released the title track as a single. The tumbling lyrics of the verses contrast nicely with the slower harmonised choruses and Jo Cooper’s banjo adds extra sprightliness to the track.