SINGLES BAR 100 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 100From Kent hails singer/songwriter/guitarist/banjo player SAM BROTHERS and his new EP, The Folksinger. The title and the name of the opening song, ‘Seasons’ should flash warning signs but no. The EP title may be a bit cheesy but ‘Seasons’ dispels any doubts. It’s a very clever song about a girl who will show you the seasons – the words might have come from the pen of Leonard Cohen with echoes of ‘Suzanne’. Of course, Sam wasn’t even born when that came out.

He builds his songs on a big, rich guitar sound – he seems to favour Gibsons – finger-picked in an easy style that suits his voice. The second track, ‘I Don’t Believe In You’, is even better with a lonesome harmonica and definite Dylan hints. There’s harmonica again on the single ‘Through The Dark’ and on ‘The Port Of Salvation’, a song steeped in mystery and an insistent guitar beat reinforced with drums.

‘She Moved Through The Fair’ must be a magnet for any young singer. After a slightly florid introduction, Sam sings the first verse in a gentle and straightforward style before cutting loose with more harmonica and hand percussion and if you think you have heard the song too many times already, you may want to think again. Finally ‘Canterbury Street Song’ brings him home and the joke is that the song is actually an instrumental. If Sam Brothers doesn’t become a huge star there is something very wrong with the world.

FINN PAUL has a new two track EP. These used to be called singles when a track didn’t exceed three minutes but Hinterlands weighs in at thirteen, The first track, ‘Thunder’, is in multiple parts beginning with a short acoustic guitar introduction followed by a powerful full band section before the actual song starts. This is a complex work, as much a soundscape as a song with a multitude of instruments and sounds.

The second track, ‘In Dust’, has Finn’s rich voice initially over what sounds like a solo ukulele (but could be anything) building up to another complex composition. Both tracks feature percussion that sounds like bamboo sticks but, to quote Stephen Stills “what it is ain’t exactly clear”. In fact, the whole record is a delightful mystery with bits of Morse code and what seems to be an old speech playing on an equally old radio.

Setting Sun is a six track EP of songs rooted in the tradition from THE PAUL McKENNA BAND. The material is given the traditional McKenna band treatment but with a measure of restraint here and there. The opener, ‘One Last Cold Kiss’, is actually a modern song written by Gail Collins and Felix Pappalardi and given a heavy rock treatment by Mountain but which has also been recorded by both Christy Moore and Luka Bloom. ‘The Lurgy Stream’ is a much recorded traditional Irish song telling of a young man proposing to his sweetheart who actually accepts him. The Lurgy is in County Donegal and probably reads better in Gaelic.

‘I Must Go’ has been adapted by Paul and ‘Solid Ground’ was previously a single. ‘Western Island’ is by Archie Fisher and comes across as a practical response to W.B.Yeats wish-dream of Innisfree. It is one of Fisher’s best songs and the band make it very jolly and uplifting. Finally comes the traditional Irish reel, ‘The Wise Maid’, an initially stately interpretation which opens up into a satisfying three part climax to the set. Setting Sun is a knockout set.

Tying in with his upcoming A Night Of Glass tour, in association with BrumRadio DAN WHITEHOUSE is releasing three live singles, all recorded at Real World Studios. First up (to be followed by ‘Why Don’t We Dance’ and ‘Campfire’), originally released in 2017 as a duet with Jess Morgan on the ‘Introducing’ album,  is Boo Hewerdine co-write ‘Close Up’, the poignant  story of  Hany,  a photographer losing his sight, who has to flee from Syria as a refugee, eventually settling in Canada as Dan sings “tonight we’ll have our first meal, you’ll sit beside me Close Up, Close Up it’s the only way I can see”.

To mark the UN International Day Of Forests ALEXANDER CHAPMAN CAMPBELL and JULIE FOWLIS release a single, ‘Where Now A Dark Wood Stands’, composed by Campbell and sung in Scots Gaelic by Fowlis who also speaks the essential lines in English at the beginning and end of the song. It’s big on piano, Campbell’s chosen instrument, and is intended as a protest about conifer monoculture, particularly in the Scottish Highlands.

Quite separately, OLIVER COX & JULIE FOWLIS release ‘Ceithir Gaothan na h-Alba’ (The Four Winds Of Scotland) taken from Lush’s upcoming Highlands Spa Treatment soundtrack. The words are from a poem by George Campbell Hay and the music is by Cox. Fowlis, of course, sings in Scots Gaelic and, coincidentally, this is a richly textured piano piece – the temptation to describe it as lush was almost overwhelming.

Led by Brian Haitz, who has something of a reputation in Germany as an Irish flute player and guitarist, LUAS (it’s a tram system in Dublin), is a new collective (including Cara’s Uillean piper Simon Pfisterer), based between France and Germany playing feel-good Celtic fusion, rooted in Irish and Scottish traditions but incorporating elements of pop, world, rock, and jazz. They make their debut with his heady folk-jazz arrangement of ‘Ard Tí Cuain’ (self-released), a traditional number learnt from his father and meaning the mountains behind the bay. Featuring picked guitar, rumbling drums and pipes and part sung in Gaelic, it reflects on solitude and yearning for home as an Irish exile looks longingly back from the Scottish coast to their homeland.

DAVID AND CLARE ROZZELL released their debut single, ‘Museum Of The Missing’, last month. David has a deep, resonant voice that suits the slightly creepy lyrics of the song: “There’s something very strange, about memories wiped away, about time that’s gone astray, it’s the horror of the age, a museum for lost souls”. Clare’s double bass adds to the menace.

Based in South-East England, Gary Virtue, Chris Pike, Tim Geer and Craig Wild are THE OLD COUNTRY CROWS, a rather good country bar band who know their way round an effective twang and two-step, as is firmly evidenced in ‘Walls Come Down’ (Creeping Claw Records) taken from their forthcoming album ‘Invisible Highway’ and evocative of Will Birch’s criminally underrated countrified power-pop outfit The Records and, of course, the great Nick Lowe.

We’re slightly ahead of the game with ‘Too Good For This World’, the new single by TRACK DOGS, released early next month. It’s a richly arranged song decorated by Howard Brown’s trumpet blending the musical heritages of two Irishmen, an Englishman and an American … based in Spain. It’s an upbeat, uplifting song befitting its title.

Given the frightening prospect that Trump might actually get re-elected, April 12 sees TIM GRIMM digitally release the highly pertinent, no punches pulled ‘Broken Truth’ (Vault Records), a strummed guitar and piano protest number which opens “Here we go again, thought we’d been down that road/Thought we’d left it all behind us” and, while mentioning no names, it’s fairly clear to whom “the laughing fool… who tears this country apart” and the refrain “He’s got no shame, he’s got no soul” refers. With allusions to the overturning of Roe vs Wade (“One man’s sense of justice ties another woman’s hands”) and the assault on the Capitol (“they stormed the house/All the hate inside his little mouth”), Grimm issues a call to arms in “The Times they are a Changin’, the Honey in the Lion’s head/It’s time we lift the hammer and ring them bells instead/It’s time we stamp these fires out and let the Peace be spread” and “Damn that man who tears this country apart”.

NIGHT FLIGHT, Sam Holmes and Harry Phillips, are two Londoners who play a melodic style of Americana. Their new single, ‘English Noise’ is the title track of a forthcoming EP. Sam, who sings lead, has more than a touch of Neil Young in his voice and the whole thing is smooth and very listenable. We’re looking forward to the EP.

Inspired by – but not related to – watching Daisy Jones And The Six, Reading Americana folk duo TOMORROW BIRD say ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ (self-released), a  tale of leaving home with nothing but a stubborn streak and a pocket full of dreams (“I like to think I’m complicated/But I’m just an old cliché/Hanging on a moment that may never come my way/I’ve got small-town charm and big-time dreams/I’m a dime a dozen here it seems/But I, I’m stubborn, you know”).

Devon singer/songwriter HOLLY EBONY leads an accomplished band of musicians on her new single, ‘Follow Your Feet’ inspired by the Right To Roam movement. The song begins gently as Holly describes the beauties of the open country, “The stars are for everyone” is the initial chorus but as she picks up the speed and builds up the passion it mutates into “we have a right to roam”.

Although it was the title of her recent album, ‘Lawside’ (Last Man Music) didn’t actually appear on it. However, ROSEANNE REID remedies that now with a standalone single, a delicate fingerpicked and strings brushed ode to the place she calls home and the journey to get there.

NIAMH REGAN has an attractively quirky voice which suits her attractively quirky single, ‘Belly’. The song is partly about self-examination and partly about a clearly dysfunctional relationship and you have to listen carefully to pick out the title in the lyric. The track comes as a taster for Niamh’s second album, Come As You Are, which will be released in May.

Self-described as an “overrated upstart with ideas above his station”, banjo-playing  PETE BRILEY is one-third of The Outlaw Orchestra but has recently stepped out solo, his latest single, ‘Highflyer’, taken from his Album #1 debut, a nasally-sung, guitar chiming, chords-ringing and trumpet-flourished (courtesy Nebojsa Pavlo) pondering of how our young, idealistic selves might see us as we are today and whether we’ve ended up where we were meant or wanted to be or are “a million light years away from finding home”. Those in the know will also be aware that Highflyers was also the name of his first proper band when he was 18. The album and single suggest he’s exactly where he should be.

As the anniversary of the massacre came and went, MICHAEL McMILLAN wrote and recorded ‘The Angels Of Dunblane’. Inevitably, the song is sentimental but the repeated question, “do you remember where you were that day?” resonates. It is almost impossible to imagine, at this remove, the feelings of the people of Dunblane but McMillan’s simple song, which sometimes feels a little naïve, puts them in context.

WYCHBURY are a duo of Rhiannon Kenny and Che Bradley from West Yorkshire. Despite their youth they are already veterans of the scene and finally they release their debut single, the traditional ‘Geordie’. They succeed in injecting new life into a perhaps over-familiar song beginning with a field recording of a barking dog and supporting Rhiannon’s sweet vocals over a robust guitar accompaniment from Che, itself over powerful bass notes. The fact that the condemned hero never stole ox nor ass but made off with sixteen royal deer doesn’t seem like much in the way of mitigation.

Finally preparing to release their eagerly anticipated debut album after acclaimed appearances at C2C, Birmingham Americana duo GASOLINE AND MATCHES, Sally Rea Morris and Stephen Marks, self-release ‘Could’ve Been A Love Song’, a co-write with Jenn Bostic which, featuring Sarah Jory on pedal steel, is a country rock power ballad inspired by the 2017 solar eclipse about  feeling distant from someone with whom you were once close (“you’ve made your bed/I slept in it”), the anti-climax of a relationship that could’ve been.

Inspired by such movies as Saltburn, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Heathers, ‘Middle Of Your Mess’ is taken from CHARM OF FINCHES’ forthcoming album Marlinchen In The Snow’. The typically sweet harmonies conceal a wicked streak in the lyrics.

From their latest album, Voyage, THE LONGEST JOHNS release a double A-side single (are they still called that?) leading with ‘John The Red Nose’, a version of ‘The Cutty Wren’. Although shanties are usually fairly raucous affairs this track proves that The Longest Johns can exercise restraint, starting very quietly. Of course, they can’t keep it up for long but just about hold it together before cooling things down for the final verse. The second track, ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’, is everything you would expect from a shanty crew, except for the “up the Reds” interjection which was so popular fifty-odd years ago.