FINDLAY NAPIER & MEGAN HENWOOD don’t seem like an obvious partnership but here they are. They met at a songwriting retreat and Findlay suggested writing a song about maths. Megan, not knowing any better, agreed and so ‘End Of Numbers’ was born to be followed by the other five songs on their debut EP The Story Song Scientists.
The opener is ‘Unnamable Radio’, based on the story of DJ Bob Fass who kept a would-be suicide talking live on air while rescuers rushed to save him. The pair’s songwriting combines Findlay’s somewhat sideways view of life with Megan’s obvious humanity, ‘The Last Straw’ being a perfect example. It’s a song about plastic pollution and manages to incorporate the word “polycarbonate” quite naturally. ‘North Pond Phantom’ is about the Maine hermit Christopher Knight and like a lot of Findlay’s songs it makes perfect sense once you know the story. ‘Wild Wild Country’ is a delightful song more typical of Megan’s style of taking inspiration from her surroundings but the two blend perfectly so there isn’t really a distinction between “his” and “hers”. Findlay and Megan are currently on tour.
Despite having three albums under her belt, Nashville’s ANGEL SNOW is still a largely unknown quantity in the UK, though many may have become more familiar with her after duetting with Ben Glover on ‘The Wound That Seeks The Arrow’ from his recent award-winning album. Ironically then, released to accompany her ten-date UK tour in March, her new acoustic EP is titled Arrows (Stripped) (Nettwerk), the title track finding her exploring the deeper end of her vocal range on a bittersweet song about two lovers who have to let each other go. Produced by Ben Kramer, it features three further tracks, the fragile, vocally double-tracked, fingerpicked ‘Window Seat’, again tracing a relationship that’s run its course, the fuller arrangement of Maze’, about trying to find your path, with its strummed guitar, piano accompanied and echoey background vocal wash arrangement, and, again featuring piano, the rippling strings adorned ‘Higher Urgency’.
Recently expanded from their Les Ray and Deirdre Murphy core to a five-piece and, in the process, a more folk-rock, bluesy sound, Cambridge’s RED VELVET launch the makeover with the self-released Darkness & The Angels EP, the title hinting at the struggles between the forces of negativity and positivity . Sung by Murphy, the anchor track, ‘Ride The Darkness’, with its carnivalesque waltzing melody, spooked piano and sparse guitar and bass backing, stems from 2011 when both she and her brother, Gerard, were diagnosed with cancer, he sadly succumbing in 2013.
It wasn’t the only tragedy to strike, Ray’s mother passing the same year as Deirdre’s brother, the sense of grief, loss and remembrance providing the lyrical bedrock for the fairground carousel-rhythm Self-Storage which, opening with church organ and sung by Les, tells of building up boxes of photos, diaries and other keepsakes that “tell of our loved ones, our lost ones, ourselves”.
Elsewhere, political notes are struck on ‘After The War’, a piano led reflection on post-WWII optimism with the election of Labour and the creation of the NHS, a period clearly held up in contrast to today’s state of the nation. Much musically heavier with its driving rhythm and snarly guitar, ‘The Fourth Freedom’, the title a reference to the EU’s Four Freedoms, is a heads-down grungy riff-driven number concerning the refugee crisis as a family sees the goods they helped manufacture able to move freely while they are denied permission to travel.
By musical contrast, opening and closing unaccompanied, ‘That’ll Never Happen’ is a jaunty, playful pub piano singalong number with Music Hall and Chas n Dave touches that, as the notes say, revisits a book, a play and a film all featuring unlikely events.
HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE release ‘Hidden Things’, the first of a trio of singles in advance of their tour which begins next month. It’s a beautiful song inspired by the landscape of northern Sweden – how landscapes hold memories and stories. Their unplugged sound has been refined by their time spent touring and despite its apparent simplicity there is a complexity that draws the listener in.
A lovely liquid guitar introduces ‘Stay Around’, the second single and title track from JJ CALE’s posthumous album which will be released next month. It takes its time getting to the heart of the song, rolling along lazily until JJ’s gruff voice comes in. It’s a gentle song – “stay around, let’s make love one more time” he sings and then that singing guitar comes back, rather more insistently. Gorgeous.
‘Lover’ is the second single from A Golden State, the new album by LUKE SITAL-SINGH which is released next month. It’s lyrically very clever and would be quite Californian if it wasn’t so overloaded by a big arrangement in the choruses. The verses with electric piano and drums are perfect and the song glides along in its own special groove.
Fronted by Lara Snowden and featuring violinist Kathryn Tremmett, with Paddy Blight and bass and Kev Jackson guitar, Essex’s VELVET & STONE tease their upcoming debut album with the self-released ‘Oh Boy’, drums and hummed vocals intro giving way to a breathy delivery underscored by a driving, urgent folk rock beat, sawing fiddle and nervy riffage that, in places calls to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’.
Sleeves like this can make people a bit nervous, although we can be comforted by the fact that the “wrong” sort wouldn’t get anywhere near us. ‘This Is England’, the new single by SEAN TAYLOR, has been available to download for a while but with Brexit fast approaching it’s still relevant. The song is, for want of a better term, a rap but a rap that mentions Morris dancing performed by a man who looks white and sounds black.
The introduction to ‘Holding’, the new single by Irish singer SIVE, played on what we presume to be kalimba certainly grabs the attention but before you think it’s a bit gimmicky in comes her voice which has quite a range. The chorus is brilliant and the track goes for a big finish in a big way.
‘God’s Little Joke’ is the title track from a new EP by MARTIN ANSELL & CHRIS ROWSEL. It was recorded on a mobile phone in Martin’s taxi which makes one wonder why anyone needs a recording studio. The philosophy of life’s problems an the ills of the world being just an example of divine humour is an interesting one – Roy Harper would say that God is dead, of course – and requires further discussion. Good song, though.
MIKE ROSS sounds as though he comes from the American backwoods but actually he’s British. ‘Young Man’ is a delicious slice of country blues with rumbling bass, acoustic guitar lead, fiddle and harmonica. The single comes from his forthcoming album, The Clovis Limit.
‘Here I Am’ is the first genre single from S J DENNEY, a sad love song built on acoustic guitar and drums and lots of strings with a gorgeous trumpet break. The guitar echoes behind his voice in a way that evokes a dark and desolate landscape – a wonderful mental picture.