Released to commemorate the 100th anniversary on the end of WWI, ‘Letters From Walter’ is a poignantly movie number from Cambridge folk crew RED VELVET released on Clunk and Rattle in aid of the Riders Branch, Royal British Legion. Written and sung by Les Ray, who plays guitar and banjo, and featuring harmonica by George Harper, it’s based on letters sent home by his grandfather, Private Walter Mabbutt, to his younger sister Edie in Titchmarsh, who, shortly after being despatched to France after training at Felixstowe, died in combat in Picardy, aged 19, just a few weeks before the end of the war. The song also included a spoken passage by Deirdre Muphy who reads from a letter, dated 24th November 1918, sent to Walter’s parent by Lance Corporal W. L Mandeville offering his condolences at Walter’s death, and describing some of the circumstances surrounding it.
With war on our minds, punk-folk rockers SKINNY LISTER release ’38 Minutes’ in advance of a new album next year. The song was prompted by a ballistic missile alert in Hawaii earlier this year and is typically high energy as it portrays the sense of impending doom felt by the island’s population. “This is not a drill.”
Here’s a Christmas song with a difference. ‘Xmas Back Home (War Has Begun), in part inspired by John Lennon’s similarly titled song, is the recording debut by MUDDIBROOKE, a mysterious being whose true identity is a secret. It is the story of a young female soldier away from her children but who wants them to have the best Christmas possible in spite of her absence and serves to remind us that it’s not just men who are on the front line. Proceeds from downloads will go to The Royal British Legion.
MARINA FLORANCE offers up another self-released EP commissioned by the Warm & Toasty Club, a Colchester-based intergenerational community organisation working in music, arts and social history. Named for the latest project, Colchester Memory Afternoons features three numbers co-written with Jules Fox Allen drawn from the stories and reminscences of some of the town’s senior residents, opening with the gently jogging, ‘Photograph Album’ (part Emmylou, part Don Williams) featuring harmonica, cajon, melodeon and violin with Fox Allen on backing vocals. Perfectly living up to its title, ‘Warm & Toasty’ is a folksier and more specific English nostalgia track closing with spoken samples from residents at Enoch House retirement home with the third number being the violin and trombone-coloured slow waltzer ‘Take Me Back In Time’. A lovely musical comfort blanket all round.
Notes To Self is the new EP by MARIA KELLY. It opens with the delicate and fragile ‘Prelude’ which builds up until the repeated last line is lost in the mix, justifying her alt-folk tag. The other tracks are ‘June’, ‘July’ and ‘August’, the first two having already been released as singles. They tend to follow the same template as ‘Prelude’ – a simple acoustic opening building up with sound effects and more instrumentation until the production threatens to overwhelm the song. Maria’s voice is mixed too low or is perhaps not big enough to stand up to this treatment all the time.
JONAS AND JANE are a Surrey-based Americana duo, he on guitar and banjo and the pair sharing vocals. Sedona Rain is their third self-released EP, a five track set that highlights both their harmonies and bluegrass inclinations, although the opening ‘Hold Me’, with Jonas on lead, is a spare and harmonica haunted rootsy ballad. He’s also to the fore on the banjo speckled and equally moody ‘Jumping Ship’, while the three other numbers see them sharing the vocal spotlight. ‘Too Little Time’ is an equally world-wearily paced but more Appalachian flavoured number, while pedal steel bolsters the aching title track. The pace eases up a notch for the remaining track, fingerpicked and dobro styled break-up number ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ being cast in the type of bittersweet break-up song that recalls such classic pairings as Gram and Emmylou, The Civil Wars and Welch and Rawlings
Named for the Highland settlement, BIRICHEN is a new project by Catriona Sutherland, a regular performer in the Highlands, mostly with the 10-piece Dancing With Sharks. Working with fiddler Iain-Gordon Macfarlane and Robert McDonald on dobro slide, Hush (Birnam) is the debut EP, a five-track collection that opens with the latter’s ‘Holding On To Each Moment’, the sound of birds and running water backdropping a fingerpicked and fiddle accompanied number about appreciating the time and the things we have.
While steeped in folk, she also brings Americana influences to the table with two covers, first up bring the Welch and Rawlings number Scarlet Town, here given a stark British traditional folk setting with the fiddle serving as a drone-like backing. The other harks back to the music of her raising with a terrific unadorned version of Guy Clark’s ‘L.A.Freeway’ where her pure Scottish tones take on a touch of earthier dirt track roughness .
‘Gonnae Get Good’ is a slightly jazz and blues shaded self-penned number that pulls together a spectrum of influences, the final track being another cover, Jim McLean’s ‘Smile In Your Sleep, sometimes known as ‘Hush, Hush, Time To Be Sleeping’, hence the EP title. Chiming with her own family history and the history of the area, it’s Scottish lullaby set to the tune of the Gaelic air ‘The Mist Covered Mountains’ which charts the eviction and emigration of the crofters during the Highland Clearances, her given a nakedly sung reading that gradually gathers in suitably moody instrumentation and features evocative sampled distressed voices and rain and storm effects. This is, apparently, her first commercial release. Hopefully, there’ll be many more to follow.
An acclaimed bluegrass musician and one half of 10-String Symphony, RACHEL BAIMAN gets into the (American) holiday spirit with Thanksgiving (Free Dirt), a four track EP of introspective songs centred around themes of indigenous rights, home and homelessness, and love in hard times. Opening number ‘Tent City’, a lively bluegrass number with echoes of ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and featuring, among others, Tristan Scroggins and Molly Tuttle, was inspired by a Nashville homeless community and is sung from the perspective of a man fallen into homelessness and addiction, making him a person rather than a statistic.
Taking the tempo down, the title track emerged from a writing residency and concerns indigenous rights and relationships as embodied in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the song fuelled by “the irony of Thanksgiving being celebrated right as people were being arrested and sprayed with water guns for protecting their right to clean water.”
Again joined by Tuttle with whom she worked up the number during their UK tour, ‘Madison Tennessee’ is a cover of the John Hartford love letter to his home town (to where she herself has recently moved), the EP ending with ‘Times Like These’, a pedal-steel lined and fiddle slow waltz testament to what gets us through the bad, co-written with Thom Shuyler and duetted in harmony with Josh Oliver.
‘I Think I Saw You On The Street’ is the first single from a new EP by MARBL, an Israeli duo possibly based in Germany – the information available is a bit vague in places. It’s a reflective song inspired by a chance encounter with an ex and the thoughts that it provokes – a scenario that everyone can relate to.
BEANS ON TOAST (aka Jay McAllister) brilliantly tackles the shock of the new with ‘Alexa’ – “Alexa, have you considered your military capabilities?” – the second single from his forthcoming album, A Bird In The Hand. It’s a punkish sort of song with words tumbling over one another as Jay races to beat the three minute mark. It’s all true – we may be suspicious of Amazon but it’s just too damn convenient.
Following last year’s debut album, Alight & Adrift, Suffolk-born, York-based mandolinist singer-songwriter TILLY MOSES returns with a new single ‘Cradled And Cared For’ (GingerDog Records), a lovely softly sung fiddle-hued number, about how friendship and a warm kitchen can give you the strength to get through hard times and fight to improve the world.
‘Haunted Man’ is the debut digital single from THE KILPECKS, a band formed in the Welsh Marches by members of Lonesome Stampede. It’s big and funky with a knockout bass line and a powerful lead vocalist and although it was released for Halloween it has a link to #MeToo. It would be nice to think that an album might be in the wind.
Scottish outfit ATTIC LIGHTS have a new album, Love In The Time of Shark Attacks, set for release next year, trailing it with the jangly folk-pop ‘Never By Myself’ (Elefant), a number written on a bus by singer Colin McCardle after somehow being left behind by the band following a show in Inverness. It’s paired with a sparkling cover of ‘Bright Eyes’ given a Teenage Fanclub treatment.
‘Bless The Ground You Grow On’ is the first single from ODETTE MICHELL’s forthcoming debut album. It was produced by Stu Hanna and has the pastoral autumnal feel of Robin Williamson’s ‘October Song’. It’s coupled with ‘The Eastern Seas’, a song about Irish emigration built on shruti drone and acoustic guitar with violin and bouzouki. Odette has a strong voice and songwriting talent that we should be hearing a lot more of in the future.