Following closely on the version by Larkin Poe comes another cover of ‘Nights In White Satin’, this from RED SKY JULY, the trio comprising Ally McErlaine, Shelly Poole and Haley Glennie-Smith. Closer to the original, it’s part of their acoustic covers EP, Favourite Things (Shadowbirds), a warm-up for next year’s album, that also encompasses a lovely tinkling keys seasonal contribution with ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ that conjures snowflakes and log fires. It ends with a light touch take on Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’, sandwiching in-between two likely lesser-known numbers, a fine interpretation of The National’s ‘I Should Live in Salt’ and, for the obscurantists, a fingerpicked close harmony ‘Joe By The Book’ by Buck Meek.
Three years on since their last release, Northern folk rock outfit HADRIAN’S UNION return with founder members Stew Simpson and Robin Jowett now joined by Mat Mellor on lead guitar, drummer Saul Rose and bassist Greg Jenkinson for their Bandcamp download self released Permission EP. The lively, melodeon-led opening track ‘Please Dance’ has a touch of Men Without Hats to it, proceeding through the moodier drone of the drugs and homelessness-themed ‘Oh Louise’, the reggae infused ‘Poacher (Princess Royal)’ that speaks to Internet scams, the delicate piano and guitar cabaret-style carousel waltzing spurned love ‘Less Of You’ and finally the urgent strummed turn your life around call to ‘Be In The Now’
Home This Year is destined to be an unfulfilled wish in 2020 but when FRANKIE DAVIES released her Christmas EP a few days ago it was still a possibility. The title track is about the joys of a family Christmas as Frankie anticipates the festive season. ‘All I Need For Christmas’ apparently contradicts this as there is only one guy she wants (although she’ll miss her family) but nobody looks for consistency these days. ‘Forgive Me’ seems to have anticipated the reality – “The way things are going it’s not looking good” sums it up well but ‘Something About Christmas’ and ‘This Is The Year’ are back in optimistic mood. The songs are comfortably homespun but, although Frankie is generally listed as a country artist, they have none of the corn that you might expect from a genre artist at this time of year.
THE MAGPIE ARC follow up EP1 with, well, EP2 (Collective/Perspective), a four track assemblage that kicks off with Nancy Kerr’s Celtic-hued march beat ‘Darling Charms’ channelling Richard Thompson, Kerr also contributing the Pentanglish 60s psych-folk flavours of Cinnabar. Martin Simpson performs his self-penned, fiddle-caressed regret-stained ‘I Should Have Walked’ and the set’s completed with Roll Your Stone Away’, a lively rock shaded number by Adam Holmes and Tom A. Wright that again conjures Thompson thoughts.
For those who favour seasonal evergreens, produced by Boo Hewerdine and accompanying herself on piano, ELAINE LENNON takes on three with her Home For Christmas EP (Elaine Lennon Music), offering warm and elegant readings of ‘The Christmas Song’, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and, on electric piano, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’.
Despite the jokey cover ‘No Borders’, the new digital single by SEAN TAYLOR, is a serious work and the perfect meditation for Christmas. It is about and for refugees and those supporting multi-culturalism but also for creatives everywhere. Sean talks the verses over piano and what sounds like an orchestra (but is actually guitar, bass and lap steel) and breathily sings the chorus.
Irish outfit THE HAAR see out the year with a six-minute rendition of the Scottish traditional, ‘The Parting Glass’ (self-released), Molly Donnery on vocals with muted bodhran from Cormac Byrne and Adam Summerhayes’s mournful fiddle giving it the feel of a slow lament.
‘Anam Cara’ is Gaelic for “soul friend” and also the title of the new single by DEBORAH ROSE, set for release on the mid-winter solstice. The track was recorded by and features Boo Hewerdine and Chris Pepper and that is always a mark of quality. The “B-side” is the contrasting ‘The Rings Of Saturn’ – an up-tempo number in which Deborah expresses her trust in her lover.
The wonderful BROOKS WILLIAMS reworks one of his old songs, ‘Shaking These Christmas Blues’, with new lyrics appropriate to our times. It’s a slow and suitably melancholic song featuring Aaron Catlow on bluesy fiddle, Phil Richardson on late-night piano and Lukas Drinkwater on double bass. It’s a modern classic and all proceeds will go to MIND.
KATHERINE PRIDDY waltzes into the festive ranks with her self-released gently melancholic ‘Still Winter, Still Waiting’ about being apart at Christmas, her soft voice complemented by sweeping strings from Harry Fausing Smith.
Another song about being on your own comes from POLICE DOG HOGAN who, all proceeds from downloads going to Crisis This Christmas, tinkle the piano and get the chorus choral backing with the break-up swaylong ‘First Christmas Alone’.
CAPTAIN OF THE LOST WAVES tries to inject some Christmas cheer with a new single, ‘Let Me Go Round Again’ which is jolly and quite retro. The Captain is a true British eccentric describing himself as a “story-telling song and dance man” and this track reflects that.
On a decidedly traditional note, taken from his forthcoming album, Up The Cut, JON WILKS offers a download of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, this USP here being that, sung in deep Brummie tones and fingerpicked, it’s a broadside version of the carol with lyrics likely not heard since the early 1800s about throwing down Satan.
Nothing to do with Christmas, written by lead singer Alec Dalglish, SKERRYVORE release the rousing Celtic folk rock anthem ‘You And I’ complete with soaring choir and Scottish skirl, which, in unseasonal mode, recalls a summer romance and serves as a prelude to next year’s new album. And, if that’s all a bit too energetic, they also have an acoustic version.
‘My Ceili Lass’, the new single by NIAMH FINAN, began life as a poem written by her great-grandfather. It’s a song of love and loss – the ceili lass died young – set to a typically Irish lilting tune with just acoustic guitar, fiddle and background vocals. It will bring a tear to your eye.
Not a Christmas song, but with a Christmassy feel, East Sussex husband and wife duo MILTON HIDE offer a taster for their self-released debut album, Temperature’s Rising, with ‘Littlefield’, a song of hope in dark times inspired by seeing lights back on in a long empty house.
There’s a Cossack feel (or possibly Greek or Latin American feel) to ‘Isolation Situation’, the new single by ALEX AND THE WONDERLAND. It’s been out for a little while but it’s suddenly very topical again and all the proceeds will go to Help Musicians.
Birmingham singer-songwriter ROBERT LANE and EMILY EWING are to reissue their upbeat bells ringing ‘Season Bright’ on which the narrator is clearly hoping to a very special bauble to light up his Christmas Day. Or, for the more downbeat side, he has a solo download single too with the double tracked vocals, strummed ‘Christmas 2020 (This Year Is Absurd)’, singing, among other things, about Santa being on furlough, but getting through it all somehow.
Irish singer/songwriter LORRAINE NASH has a new single, ‘Winter Sun’, which is already doing rather well. Lorraine’s powerful voice soars over a piano-led accompaniment with some nice string breaks. It’s a song of disappointment – “you promised me the world but you left it in the cold” is a succinct summary of its theme.
An intriguing collaboration, KATHRYN WILLIAMS joins forces with poet CAROL ANN DUFFY who co-wrote the lyrics to ‘Snow Angel’ (One Little Independent Records) specifically for Williams’s voice, the carousel-feel of the song capturing a child’s Christmas delight.
‘I Wish It Was Summer (At Christmas Time) ‘, the new video by JACK BLACKMAN AND THE BEAUTIFUL WRECK, offers a fine alternative to all the enforced bonhomie we’ve come to expect. It’s a great slab of punk folk that stays just this side of rock’n’roll and the proceeds from downloads will support Musicians Against Homelessness and Crisis. Grab yourself a copy and you’ll be playing it this time next year.
Finally, we get away from Christmas with ‘Sometimes I Care For You’, the new single by CATGOD. Cat’s powerful voice rides on an arrangement built around piano and drums (heavy on the brushes initially) that makes for great late-night listening.