SINGLES BAR 79 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 79Last year, M G BOULTER released Clifftown, a melancholic concept album about a fictional faded seaside town inspired by his hometown of Southend-on-Sea, Now, accompanied by Helen Bellon on violin, cellist Harriet Bradshaw on cello and John Bramwell on piano, comes a digital EP A Shadow Falls Over New Brighton (Hudson) that continues the narrative. The gently rippling, strings-coloured title track opens proceedings sounding like early Paul Simon but also conjuring thoughts of Reg Meuross as it touches on toxic masculinity and a propensity for violence (“Men alone are such dangerous things…they make enemies out of nothing”).

Boulter’s interest in history is manifested in the fluttering guitar notes of ‘Lady Arabella’, based on the desperate attempt by Lady Arabella Stuart, first cousin to King James I and once considered a successor to Elizabeth, to escape England via Southend in the 17th century after illicitly marrying without the Court’s approval, her husband imprisoned and she placed under house arrest. Caught before her ship could land in France, she was imprisoned in the Tower, where she died in 1615.

Haunted by cello, ‘Middle English’ is another ruminative number, reflecting on loneliness, old age, picking kids up from school, grandparents and the boredom of suburbia, the EP ending with the circling guitar pattern of ‘Now It’s So Quiet’, another meditation on memory and “the smell of forgotten things”.

Based in Chicago, former psychotherapist JOHN McDONOUGH’s We’ll Answer The Call (Self-released) turns an obsession into a five-track concept EP about Joe Rantz, the Washington Husky rowing team, and their epic bid to win gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Sung in deep tones and accompanied by resonant fingerpicked and piano, ‘Shooting Star’ has an almost slow folk shanty feel as, sung in the first person, it details his teenage years, abandoned by his father and new step-mother and his determination so survive and find his destiny, while ‘Love You Just For You’ is an upbeat shuffle love song that has a hook sounding like a folk version of ‘Heaven Is A Place In Earth’. ‘Among The Stars’ is an anthemic pick n strum with organ underlay that puts his faith in a higher power that welcomes him in, while the title track, opening with shimmering fingerpicking and gradually gathering power joins the crew of the Husky Clipper on the water as they “Raise a fist for the hopeless and lost” in defiance of Nazism and Hitler, going on to win gold before ending in his autumn years, with the reflective ‘Point Me East’ (“The days are getting shorter now/I don’t get out as much anymore/The boys are married with families now…Let me look out on the water/That’s where I spent my best days”),  with reunions in May to “remember the glory and the pain/And talk of how we’d do it all again”.  Shining a light on a largely forgotten name, imbued with such influences as Lightfoot and Chapin, it also serves as paean to self-belief and self-determination rise above the odds.

Based in Ontario, THE REDHILL VALLEYS are guitarists Tim Allard and Danielle Beaudin, bassist Chelsea McWilliams and drummer Matt Soliveri, their Travel Well (Disc One) EP a collection of roots rock and country drawing influences from, among others, Neil Young, Chris Stapleton and Tom Petty, the latter notably evident on the title track with Allard on vocals.  McWilliams takes lead on the slow walking beat ballad Anymore, the grungier Finish Line and a smouldering bluesy ‘Desperate Times’ while  Beaudin heads up the contrasting country soul ‘Something About You’  and, a duet between McWilliams and Allard, ‘If I Didn’t Know You’ is Mac-like arena rock power balladry with a hefty guitar solo. Roll on Disc Two.

With Kate Bush sitting at number one in the charts MARTHA TILSTON picked a good time to record ‘Cloudbusting’ for the Lush triple-vinyl set Life’s What You Make It. Martha’s version is rather less dynamic than the original which emphasises the political roots of the song but instead gives it a slightly sinister feel at the beginning before ending in a more celebratory mood. The story behind the song is well worth researching, particularly for Hawkwind fans.

TU-KAY & RYAN are Northamptonshire alt-folk acoustic duo Ash Tu-kay and Rebecca Ryan, their rather excellent latest self-released single being the traditional sounding fingerpicked swaying ‘Temporal Drifter’ (Tu-Kay Records), its medieval troubadour colours compounded with piano notes and drums pattering in the background as Rebecca sings the verses and Ash harmonises on the chorus.

Spoiler alert! BELLA HARDY has a new album coming very soon. It comprises mostly traditional songs and as a taster she has released ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ as a single. It begins with unexpectedly dynamic guitar from Mike Vass for this is the version that Joseph Taylor sang to Percy Grainger. Forget the long, regretful ballad more usually performed by sweet-voiced young ladies. In just three verses and a chorus Bella gets straight to the booze and sex – to paraphrase – although she does get a bit thoughtful at the end.

An early taster of his forthcoming The Glass Age album, an online collaboration with producer Gustaf Ljunggren and born from the Rising Sun Stream Series he ran from Japan during lockdown, DAN WHITEHOUSE releases ‘Campfire’, a beguiling minimalist folktronica single using a single synthesizer, that likens the glowing sunrises over Tokyo Bay to the campfires burning back in the UK. Speaking of how we are unified by the warmth of the sun and fire and the transformative power of perception, he sings “When you change the way you look at things; Watch the things you look at start to change”.

DEL SCOTT MILLER releases ‘Walk Me Home’, the second of a planned series of singles. It was inspired by the loss of his mother and Del says that it’s a phrase she often used. Del is from Barnsley and he combines down-to-earth northern-ness with lyrical poetry that feels good to listen to.

CHRIS FOX seems to be heading for a broken heart with his new single ‘One More For The Road’ … except that he isn’t. The song strikes you at first to be about solitary drinking as he drowns his sorrows but it’s actually about Chris saying goodbye to an old friend who is moving away. Even so, it may bring a tear to your eye. Chris’ new album, In Plain Sight will appear in September.

The Headlights is the third single taken from COLIN LILLIE’s second EP, The…. It’s a slow-burning slab of country-influenced rock. Despite sounding very American, Colin is a Scot living in the middle of Australia.

JR COOTE blends his songwriting with flamenco style guitar and renaissance lute for a unique sound. His singles, ‘Shores’ is the opening track from his album, Waterways – he is clearly an aquaphile. It’s a nice song but JR’s arrangement really makes it sing.

To help celebrate Woody Guthrie’s birthday – he would have been 110 on July 14thMONICA TAYLOR releases one of his songs, ‘Minor Key’ as a single in advance of her new album, Trains, Rivers, & Trails, and is pure country – in the best sense of the word pure. It’s one of the sets of lyrics discovered after Woody’s death with no melody and was set to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco.

In advance of their debut EP and to mark the summer solstice, PEARL DIVER release a single, ‘Look For The Light’. It’s more soft rock harkening back to the sixties than folk washed as it is by delicate cymbals and a touch of phasing and is possibly best appreciated with a spliff – not that we hold with such things.

Another taster for a debut EP comes from REGRESSIVE LEFT with a single, ‘The Wrong Side Of History’. It’s a long, almost spoken song opening over minimal percussion (perhaps synths) which develops into a full blown dance track. The lyrics are clever and provocative and, although the style doesn’t really fall within our purview, it’s a bloody good song.

BOBBY COOL’s single, ‘Salt Life’, is taken from his forthcoming album, Family Time. It’s the simple story of a fisherman – we’re not told where exactly but it’s certainly not the North Sea – who is happy with his lot and is happy to tell us about it in an up-tempo harmonica-driven slice of good-time Americana.

ALAN FLETCHER, he of Neighbours fame, turned to music almost twenty years ago. The title of his new single, ‘Meet Me On The Steps Of The Bombed Out Church’, is intriguing particularly since it’s a country song recorded in Melbourne while the church in question is in Liverpool. It’s a fine song vaguely reminiscent of Ronnie Lane in it’s down-to-earth style and lyrics.