SINGLES BAR 52 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 52Fiddle player RACHEL BAIMAN returns in company with Vermont singer-songwriter MIKE WHEELER, put together while he was renting a room from them near their Nashville home, for a three-track digital EP, The “Countin On You” Sessions, indeed he actually played his waltzing self-penned opening duet title track as the first dance at her wedding. Baiman on banjo, with Shelby Means on upright bass, the jaunty ‘Turn It Off’, a song they wrote together one afternoon, explores the different ways of hiding away from feeling overwhelmed by the world’s problems, the third song, again featuring Means, is Baiman’s ‘Until You Came Along’, an old school country strum about someone who’s “just an old cowboy” who finds his world turned upside down with an unexpected turn of events in his sexuality as she sings “I always thought that I’d find me a wife / A woman to hold / … / But now he’s staying, not a woman at all / strong as an ox and handsome and tall” . Hopefully the pair will hang out together for a bit longer sometime in the future.

Singles Bar 52DANA IMMANUEL & THE STOLEN BAND combine banjo-fuelled Americana with rock sensibilities on their EP, Mama’s Codeine. The other members of the all-female band are guitarist Feadora Morris; Polish-born violinist Basia Bartz; double-bassist Karen Grymm Regester and Hjordis Moon Badford. Their backstories include poker journalism, go-go dancing and jamming with Nina Simone.

Most of the material is written by Dana opening with the title track followed by ‘Turn Up The Lights’ and ‘WD40 & Duct Tape’; the latter presumably inspired by the social media meme – you know how it goes. Dana turns the imagery into a soulful blues. The traditional ‘Shady Grove’, the only non-original song, is taken at a breakneck pace. The Stolen Band’s sound is wild with Morris’ splendidly dirty guitar and Bartz’ eastern European fiddle style dominating alongside Immanuel’s banjo. It all comes together in the short final track, ‘Codeine Reprise’, which verges on total insanity. They must be a real blast live.

Singles Bar 52Sharing their name with a Colorado restaurant and music venue, BUFFALO ROSE are a Pittsburgh folk and bluegrass sextet featuring Bryce Rabideau on mandolin, guitarist Shane McLaughlin, dobro player Malcolm Inglis and upright bass by Jason Rafalak with vocals shared between McLaughlin, Lucy Clabby and, largely taking lead, Rosanna Spindler. As it says on the sleeve, their self-released Borrowed And Blue EP was recorded live around one microphone and features a mix of originals and covers, the latter bookending proceedings with a midtempo mandolin, bass and hollow percussion arrangement of Madonna’s ‘Borderline’ that hints as much to jazz as it does folk influences and, in similar colours with added gospel, the closing medley of an urgent scampering through White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ fused with Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, sung respectively by Clabber and Spindler and solo showcasing both Clabby and Rabideau. In-between, ‘Rocketship’ conjures early Carole King opening with just slap bass and Spindler before the chorus fleshes out and the vocals soulfully soar, also drawing on soul influences ‘Momma Have Mercy’ is a mandolin-flecked strum with Dobro tears, while, sung by McLaughlin, The Journey borrows its opening riffs from the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” that begins as an urgent bluegrass rambler before briefly slowing right down midway and all three voices take spotlight turns on the six and a half- minute break-up ballad ‘Cigarettes And Whiskey’, which comes with clear echoes of Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’.

Singles Bar 52It seems that PAUL SIMMONDS had a dream – more like a nightmare, actually – and wrote down as much as he could remember the following day. That dream became the title track of I’ve Got A Fever, a new EP recorded with NAOMI BEDFORD. The song blends the style of 60s protest folk with a rockabilly rhythm and more images packed into its verses that you’ve heard since Bob Dylan in his heyday.

The mention of the weatherman at the beginning of ‘High Winds, Clouded Hills’ has to be a reference to that same period, this time with nice country-ish guitars and somewhat reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘High Water’. Where does ‘Opposite Day’ come from? It’s a bluesy set of observations on modern life with killer lines like “does a patriot start where a traitor ends?” It’s a knockout song. Finally we have an explicit pop at the Donald with ‘The Wind Brings The Rain’ returning to the meteorological motif that seems to underlie the songs. It’s to be hoped that Naomi and Paul carry on in this vein for the rest of 2020. I’ve Got A Fever is available as a download here.

Singles Bar 52Recorded in lockdown, JOSHUA BURNSIDE has put together Far O’er The Sounding Main, a Bandcamp downloadable EP of traditional numbers, most of which he encountered at Belfast’s Sailortown Folk Club. Originating in Connemara, initially sung unaccompanied before his banjo and Zara Fleming’s cello join in, ‘Lambs On The Green Hill’ is a familiar tale of  a man lamenting that his love loves another. There can be few unfamiliar with ‘Eileen Aroon’, here taken at funereal pace with banjo and violin drone bearers, followed by banjo briefly picking out the self-penned slip jig ‘Kitty May’. A much covered emigration ballad, ‘Come My Little Son (England’s Motorway)’, Burnside’s take is slower and more world-weary than is the norm. Apparently it’s a club favourite as sung by Gary Graham and Gerard McHugh, and they lend their voices to the final track, another evergreen, ‘The Bonny Bunch of Roses’. Raid that Guinness stash and have your own lugubrious social isolation craic.

Singles Bar 52Kurt Wood does his bit for lockdown as BUG BEAR with a six-track digital EP, Dockroyd Nights. He’s a songwriter with a very individual style which, if you try to explain it, doesn’t seem to make sense. Take the opening track, ‘Workhorse And Hatchet’, about a young man leaving his girlfriend to do National Service. There are just three near-rhymes in the song but Kurt’s tune fits the words perfectly and it’s married to a big arrangement with a wild fiddle coda. Absolutely perfect. ‘Bundles Of Worry’ uses the same technique with a few lines holding internal near-rhymes and again, it works. The mood changes with acoustic guitar and violin for ‘Milestones’, a song about the restlessness of youth There’s some nice slide on ‘Gullible You’ and then comes the surprising title track, an acoustic guitar solo piece. Finally, ‘Belly Up’ is a more conventional big arrangement and suitably gloomy for these times.

Singles Bar 52Guitar and fiddle and joined by Richard Allen on upright bass, Anglo-American Birmingham duo A DIFFERENT THREAD, Robert Jackson and Alicia Best, visit the traditional songbook for their self-released Some Distant Shore EP, a mix of 70s folk, piedmont blues, and Americana. Opening in jaunty strummed manner with the Irish traditional ‘Red Is The Rose’ (set to the tune of ‘Loch Lomond’), it proceeds through a duet on murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’ (sailor kills pregnant lover and gets ripped to shreds by her ghost), the tempo gathering pace midway, followed by another with Best singing lead on ‘Cruel Mother’ and ending harmonising on the slow waltztime Appalachian ballad ‘The Blackest Crow’ aka ‘My Dearest Dear’. The remaining choice isn’t traditional but is a classic, an unaccompanied Ozarks-coloured duet version of Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin’s 1959 country ballad, ‘Long Black Veil’, as immortalised by Johnny Cash. Great stuff.

Singles Bar 52Possessed of an attractive, soft-toned warble and strummed or fingerpicked guitar, Suffolk singer-songwriter SARAH STOCK proves a name to look out for with her debut with ‘Home’, a five-track EP with all bar one self-penned, the latter being a compelling unaccompanied native accented rendition of ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’. Inspired by the Amazon fires, ‘Lungs’ offers a clever skew on an environmental theme and the pollution and human destruction of nature, ‘Lady of the Hill’, which draws on her observations in Bolivia, tells of a woman forced to resort to being a prostitute by night to make a living for herself and child, while the melodically dappled ‘Thinking Of Home’ is a traditional minstrel-like number about regret and loss while, at near seven minutes ‘No Fixed Address’ is a world-wearily fingerpicked straightforward first person lament about homelessness, to which end 50% of the EP’s proceeds will be donated to Crisis Homelessness Emergency Fund.

Singles Bar 52THE COO are Matt Arthur (London) and Jara Holdert (Amsterdam), their debut mini-album, Amsterdam Moon (Just Listen), being recorded live in an Amsterdam synagogue, the opening track, ‘Low Country Girl’, just his soft voice and her harmonies and mandolin, recounting how they met by chance at an open-mic night. That laid back Laurel Canyon folksy vibe (King and Taylor the touchstones) permeates the five tracks, proceeding through ‘Something Turned’, Holdert singing lead on the slightly jazzy, Beatles-tinged, ‘If Only’ (the first thing they wrote after meeting up again a year later) and crooning the under a moon feel of ‘Baby Won’t You Please’, the pair duel fingerpicking of ‘Rosie’. A little variation might not go amiss when they do the album, but for now this is a very warming introduction.

Singles Bar 52Recorded remotely with Harbottle & Jonas on backing vocals, cellist Bethany Porter, Vince Iddon providing bass and cuatro and Marion Fleetwood on violin and viola, REG MEUROSS makes his contribution to celebrating the NHS and frontline workers with his download single ‘Shine On’, a beacon of hope in troubled times, a reminder that while we may be in isolation we are never alone, that there is a radiance in the world in the hearts and spirits of those dedicating themselves to helping us all make it through. As we sail on dark and turbulent seas, the songs of Reg Meuross remain a lighthouse to guide us home.

Singles Bar 52As BEANS ON TOAST points out the one thing we’re all missing at the moment is ‘Human Contact’. It’s a simple, affecting song of the sort that Jay does just as well as his political material and he even allows himself a touch of self-deprecating humour at the end. Please buy it – you’ll feel better.

Singles Bar 52In response to the increase in mental health issues as a result of Covid-19, NINEBARROW  have remotely teamed up with Hampshire’s Hart Voices and Surrey’s Chantry Singers for a rerecording of ‘The Hour Of The Blackbird’ from their The Waters and the Wild album as a charity single in aid of Mind to mark  Mental Health Awareness Week, the song, now given an uplift as a “choir of voices starts to swell” behind the simple fingerpicked S&G-like arrangement, a celebration of renewal as the robin “greets them with his vernal song”.

Singles Bar 52With fiddle player Neil McCartney and Virginia and Bob Kettle all having written songs about environmental impact and climate concerns for the upcoming new album Emergency Lullabies, MERRY HELL has elected to release three call to action taster digital singles, each three weeks apart and each with accompanying video, as The Hourglass Trilogy. Drawing on his family’s mining background, McCartney’s responsible for the first, the rollicking  and understandably fiddle-driven ‘Leave It In The Ground’ which addresses the legacy of fossil fuel, the corrupting power of oil and a call to use cleaner, safer energy, honouring the debt and sacrifices of the path but seeking a way forward for a sustainable future. It’s to be followed by ‘Sister Atlas’ and, at the end of June, ‘Emergency Lullaby (Wasting Time)’.

Singles Bar 52As a taster for their EP My Wicked Mind (released next month) THE FRISBYS have released a single, ‘I Heard’. They make a solid, almost rockabilly sound with some tasty guitar but the vocals tend to be submerged in the mix with the backing vocals often in the front. They are musically accomplished but this track doesn’t quite hit its mark.

Singles Bar 52Following his recent election-themed single, DANNY SCHMIDT returns with free download, dustily sung strummed swayer ‘2020 Vision’ which talks of the current restrictions where “Our friends are a movie we watch on our phone”, but that, while it has brought an awareness that we are not invincible, it’s also afforded the chance of rebuilding a new culture, because “In the heart of the city, there’s a hole where John Prine still belongs”.

Singles Bar 52Emerging Artist Award winners at this year’s UK Americana Awards, FERRIS & SYLVESTER make their contribution to the lockdown playlist with the soft and soulful Americana blues Everyone Is Home (LAB), vocals, bass and guitar recorded at home with remote additions of drums and strings and the last few lines recorded outside complete with birdsong. There’s a definite touch of George Harrison mingling in there too as, with Archie on harmonies, Issy sings about life in isolation how “everyone is lonely and everyone is brave” , about “learning to be human once again” and declaring “we will meet again” as the arrangement, the guitar especially, swells towards the end before the birds-accompanied acoustic finale.

Singles Bar 52In advance of his new EP, Pacific, ROO PANES releases the lead track, ‘Listen To The One Who Loves You’ as a single. It’s a soft, gentle song loaded with strings and backing vocals. If you’re missing the one you love in this time of crisis, this is for you.