SINGLES BAR 86 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 86TIMOTHY JOHNSTON is a PhD student with a remarkable group of folk friends including Fay Hield, Patrick Rimes of Calan, Rob Harbron and Shirley Smart who support him here. Green Grow The Rushes is a collection of Anglo-Welsh traditional songs which pushes the definition by starting with ‘Scarborough Fair’ and following that with the title track which combines versions from Sabine Baring-Gould and Lucy Broadwood. It’s an absolute belter which drives along partly by omitting the repeated chorus and partly by the power of Smart’s cello.

Timothy is a classically-trained composer and brings those skills and sensibilities to the music, bringing something new and different to the songs. We properly get to Wales with ‘Y Sguthan (The Wood Pigeon)’ a comic song from the 19th century and the star here is Rimes who introduces the piece with fiddle and his powerful voice. Then Hield chips in with an English version of the song taking alternate verses before everyone else joins in.  The nine-minute ‘John Thomas Rejigged’ is a combination of three Welsh dance tunes and some improvisation which really demonstrates where Tim is coming from and allows the assembled cast to have a blow. Finally ‘Stormalong’ comes from a version collected in Cardiff Bay and presents a melancholy reading of the song.

Green Grow The Rushes is a very different sort of record but more than worthy of your attention.

Recorded as part of  the BBC’s 21st Century Folk project  capturing the essence of life in the North East of England today, MARTYN JOSEPH releases the guitar and piano backed ‘Albert’s Place’ (Pipe), a song which chronicles the work of Andrea Bell, who, with her fellow volunteers, runs The Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen,  serving free food to people in need four nights a week, offering “tea and a cup of love”, a reminder that the measure of a country’s prosperity “is not in the wealth it holds but in the absence of poverty and equal opportunity for all”.

From his new album, This Garden Is Only Temporary, ANDY WHITE releases a single, ‘I Miss You’. The track finds Andy in tight rocking mode on what seems to be a simple love song but then you start to listen to his lyrics: “like a poet on a telephone”; “like Gene Vincent in a field of corn” and you embark on a quest to discover its depths.

Following a 2019 collaborative EP, Birmingham-born singer-songwriters Robert Lane and Emily Ewing join forces again under the name of MIDNIGHT ASHES, the first fruit of which is ‘Life Is For Living’, a moody, blues-flavoured number with walking beat drums with Ewing on lead and Lane harmonising on the chorus with a carpe diem message about not having any regrets when it comes to leaving this mortal coil.

‘Summer Town’ finds THE GLEEMAN trying to rid himself of the January blues now that Christmas is over and the sun seems a long way away. He looks forward to being able to splash around in the sea, get a tan and synthesise some vitamin D and dedicates the song to everyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder. His debut album, Something To Say is due later this year – presumably in the summer.

Texas native JAIMEE HARRIS collaborated with Dirk Powell and Katrine Noel during a Lafayette songwriting workshop on a theme of vices, the result being the fiddle heavy, slow walking ‘The Fair And Dark Haired Lad’ (Thirty Tigers) which, evocative of Gretchen Peters’ excursion into Appalachian gothic territory and taken from her upcoming Boomerang album, unfolds a lyric about addiction and the insidious, seductive nature of alcoholism.

Jangly guitars and a taste of Americana characterise ‘Margaritas On The Lawn’, the new single by BOO SUTCLIFFE. Boo explains that it’s inspired by photo-journalist Robert Capa and quotes him in the song, if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”. If you think about it that could apply to any sphere of artistic endeavour.

Based in New York, the author of two novels and a poetry collection and whose work in frequently featured in a variety of prestigious publications, NATHANIEL BELLOWS also finds time to write and record. His latest output, a collaboration with Shara Nova on soaring backing vocals, is ‘One Small Thing’ (Harmon Blunt Music), a sparsely acoustic indie folk track that, anchored by impressionistic rumbling drums, imagines an finding both an internal and external escape into peace and calm, away from the world’s tensions, challenges and turmoil.

In advance of her debut album, south coast singer/songwriter IZZIE DERRY releases ‘I Don’t Know Why’ a bitter song about a relationship gone bad with doomy acoustic guitar (which is clever), groaning cello and a fragile piano at the end. There is a lot going on here and Izzie was responsible for much of the production. A name to watch.

Released in time for Burns Night, Scottish singer CHRISTINE WEIR delves into Celtic folklore with the stirring strains of ‘The Kelpie’. A dangerous shape-shifting water creature, it can appear on land as a horse, enticing the unwitting traveller to ride on its back, before carrying them to a watery grave. However, those can get hold of a kelpie’s bridle will have command over it. Accompanied by tin whistle, acoustic guitars and bagpipes, she’s brought a metaphysical level to the legend, casting it as battle with our shadow and using the image of riding the Kelpie as a metaphor for self-discovery and triumph over the self’s darker aspects.

Irish singer-songwriter SEBA SAFE (aka Mike D’Alton) gives us a taster for his second EP with ‘Afterlife’. The slightly punning title refers to getting out there again following the end of a relationship and meeting the cause of the breakup. Awkward or what? It’s actually a very catchy song and destined for a lot of playlists.

‘Drugs R 4 Kids’ is the wryly humorous single by ROBIN EATON from his new album, Memories Of A Misspent Youth. You have to decide whether Robin is looking back to the late 70s with regret or nostalgia. Either way, it’s a cracking good song.

JESS KALLEN is a gender-fluid singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles and her new single, ‘The Knife’, is, well, somewhere on the edge. For no real reason (except for hands round their throat and the knife in their back) it has overtones of old American murder ballads but it would seem to have more to do with contemporary neuroses.