SINGLES BAR 98 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 98We first encountered CERYS HAFANA back in 2022 when her second album, Edyf, appeared and then when she released ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ as a single. That track was recorded during lockdown for the podcast, Old Tunes Fresh Takes and it reappears now as part of The Bitter EP, five tracks recorded for the same purpose.

Cerys is a composer and triple harp player but that description barely does her justice. While she sings these songs fairly straight the same cannot be said for her arrangements. Cerys says that she was limited by circumstances to the instruments and sounds she could use but you wouldn’t know it. The addition of guitar, piano, cello and lots of percussion and even a sample of the Leeds Town Hall organ among other instruments provides more than enough interest. A glance at the track list might suggest that Cerys’ taste may not be exactly mainstream either.

The opener, ‘The Bitter Withy’, has a suitably quasi-religious, almost pagan, feeling as befits the subject, the story of a misbehaving Jesus being chastised by his mother. ‘Child Owlet’ is a particularly unpleasant tale of double-dealing and a very bloody execution. ‘Lyke Wake Dirge’ needs no introduction and then comes ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ – ghosts and spirits abound. You might think ‘Willy O’Winsbury’ would be harmless enough but Cerys mixes it with an old Welsh ballad, Caru Merch Fonheddig, by mediaeval bard Dafydd ap Gwilym. Translations are few and far between but it seems to share some elements of the main story. The Bitter EP may be a bit off the wall but we can recommend it.

Singles Bar 98“Immersive” is probably the best word to describe Made Of Sin, the debut EP by Irish singer/songwriter MEGAN NIC RUAIRÍ, if by immersive you mean “drowning”. The record pours over you like a tsunami – put it on, close your eyes and you’ll be lost. The six tracks run to a total of twenty-five minutes and are big with piano and orchestral arrangements.

The lyrics are actually the lesser half of the songs, telling the story of a relationship in brief glimpses. The exception is Megan’s cover of The Waterboys’ hit ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ and if you know that song you’ll understand the narrative – a tale of mutual misunderstanding, perhaps. In the single, ‘Twenty Two’, she sings “between my blue/Your green/We’re land and sea/ No in between”, an echo of “I saw the crescent/You saw the whole of the moon”.

You might think that Megan’s vocals are rather too far down in the mix but this isn’t a conventional singer/songwriter record, it’s more a melding of voice and instruments into a unified work.

Written in collaboration with Chelsea Ewing, BUDDY MONDLOCK digitally releases ‘Girlstown’, a powerful simply strummed indictment of America’s criminal justice system and how it deals with young offenders, a recent documentary revealing how children as young as 7 have been sent to jail. The song draws on Ewing’s own experiences when, just turned 13 and with no priors, she was arrested (“You have the right to remain silent/No one could blame you if you did/Every word will be held against you/Even though you’re just a mixed up kid/And every word you don’t say/Will be held against you too”), stripped naked, sprayed down and subjected to a cavity search. The only girl in her unit or pod at the Randall County detention centre (“Not quite who you thought you were/But now that’s how you’re seen”) before being sent to a placement  called Girlstown until she graduated high school, the experience impacting on her  physical, mental and emotional development (“Would you love me if you knew me/I guess we’ll never know/‘Cause if you start to get too close/I’ll have to let you go”) until finally “here I am at thirty seven/Looking in the mirror/Trying to blink these tears away/So I can see myself clear/Those scars around my ankles/From the shackles barely show/I’m thinking if I can own it/I can finally let it go”.)

ANDY SMYTHE’s new single, ‘Out Of My Mind’ was released on 26th January and is off his forthcoming album – Poetry In Exile which has a release date of March 1st 2024.

‘Out Of My Mind’ is a bouncy, catchy number with full band sound and brass plus a cracking video to go with it too!  The “song is about the search for a soul partner in the London metropolis”.  The brass solo arrangement is fabulous.  A great track to tease us for the new album.

‘Out of My Mind’ can be heard on Spotify from the 26th January or purchased the track through Andy’s website, plus you find out where the band are playing live.

Featuring The Westerlies, The Knights  and the San Francisco Girls Chorus., ‘All My Friends’ (Yep Roc) is the title track and first single from the forthcoming AOIFE O’DONOVAN album, one inspired by the passage of the 19th amendment and the evolving landscape of women’s rights in America over the past century. Opening unaccompanied as her vocals are joined by the choir and ending with a muted   coda of brass, woodwinds and strings, tinged with Celtic colours the slow-paced number memorializes the Tennessee summer of 1920, when voices for and against suffragism battled  over the final state signatory needed to ratify the amendment and, as such, is about camaraderie, companionship and people united in common struggle against oppression, the musical atmosphere conjuring the women marching in Tennessee as the dawn lifted over the fields.

BEN REEL released his single, ‘Inshallah Shalom’, a couple of weeks ago. The title combines Arabic and Hebrew words and roughly translates as ‘God Willing, Peace’, a heartfelt sentiment. Musically, it’s very dense with pounding percussion and instrumentation which sounds as though it comes from the region but probably isn’t – the wah-wah guitar is a dead give-away. ‘Inshallah Shalom’ is available to download free for review and radio from Ben’s website.

A taster for their next album, BLUEBYRD pay tribute  to their roots with the walking rhythm strumalong and harmonica self-released ‘Black Country Towns’  (“Like Black Country towns/That born and raised you/And where you lay down/You knew where you come from/And where you belonged”) which also gives a nod to the heritage of the area (“A plaque in a burger bar/Lest we forget”) and the sense of it and local identity being lost to progress (“They’ve buried our heroes/Under cable tv/Hidden our stories/So we can’t see/Where we come from/Where we’re going to” and how “in the big picture/You mean nothing at all”.

With his debut album on the horizon, PETE LAMBERT releases a single ‘Long Shadow’ which features Joshua Burnell on Hammond organ and piano. The song is about the heartache of separation and Pete describes the concept as “a bit self-indulgent” but, like all stories drawn from life, it has a universal appeal. We’ve all been there.

Having released three collaborations with The Ciderhouse Rebellion, Medievalist and poet JESSIE SUMMERHAYES now joins forces with violinist father Adam from THE HAAR for, recorded in  one take,  the near ten-minute, improvised five-part  ‘My Sweet Wild Rose’ (Self-released), a funerary poem, written as a spontaneous response   to encounters with wild roses on a hot summer’s day as images of roses, riverbanks, and hawthorns entwine with that of the death of a girl from tuberculosis (“Her mother most likely found her, when in  evening she didn’t come home – her little body abandoned on the bank – all alone”). Summerhayes’ spoken words alternating with and complemented by Molly Donnery’s vocals on the verses, both singing on the refrain, and the band’s atmospheric instrumentation of violin, accordion and bodhran, the result is an ethereal, intoxicating, mystical experience that feels almost like a musical evocation of John William Waterhouse’s ‘The Lady Of Shallot’ or Millais’ ‘Ophelia’.

‘The Black Keys’ is the first single taken from Altarwise, the debut album by TWIN HEADED WOLF. It’s a magnificently moody piece with supernatural overtones (and an appropriately spooky video) and percussion based on big toms or perhaps tympani. Add to that strange backing vocals, snippets of orchestral instruments and field recordings, or perhaps a raid on the sound-effects library and you have a quite remarkable record.

Featuring Leftover Salmon banjo player Andy Thorn and vocalist Lindsay Lou, DRUNKEN HEARTS follow up their recent ‘Reckless Ways Of Living’ album with an uptempo bluegrassy self-released take on Pearl Jam’s steady strummed 1993 hit ‘Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town’; I’d venture  Eddie Vedder would approve.

‘Dance We Do’ is the first single from I Thought It Would Be Easier, the forthcoming album by New York singer/songwriter ANNIE DRESSNER. It’s a nicely complex track with chugging guitar driving the song along as Annie contemplates the direction that a relationship may take…or not.

IAN GEORGE is a new name to some of us. His new single, ‘Gone’, is a cracking number decorated with some rather unusual and very tasty guitar playing. Ian comes from Minnesota, was a grass-roots activist and once ran a cannabis farm – he sounds like our sort of chap. The song is best summed up in the line, “it’s good to know what you’ve got before it’s gone” and is a taster for his upcoming second album.

Nick Stevens, Brooklyn based, masquerades as THE EIGHTY SIX SEAS for professional purposes. His single ‘Ghost In The Cityscape’ heralds his new album, Scenes From An Art Heist, and is the thoughts of a man just out prison about the woman he’s lost. It’s delightfully constructed and easy to listen to while still being thought-provoking.

MICHAEL LANE’s new single, ‘Blind’, is a song of despair about the state of the world – grey, dull and monotonous. It’s set against a jolly shuffle beat which seems rather incongruous at first so perhaps despair isn’t quite the right word and an alternative message is hinted at in the bridge as he sings that “beauty lies in the unseen”. There is something of the young Paul Simon in Michael’s voice which makes us want to hear more.

On new single ‘Let Your Love Run Cold’ (self-released) Shropshire-based JESSIE REID delves into the breakdown of an intimate relationship, confused by the false hope of reconciliation but striving to emerge stronger on the other side, the gossamer, mistily atmospheric arrangement and her nigh ghostly vocals  reflecting the song’s introspective nature and emotions.

Country harmonies from Alberta with THE GODDAMSELS and their new single ‘Better Than’ bring this post to a cheerful end. It’s been around for a few weeks but it seems like a perfect way to sign off. Your mind may be on the next damn deal but it’s not here yet and where you are is better than that.