ETHAN HANNA – Welcome To The Batlands (Tin Man Heart)

Welcome To The BatlandsEthan Hanna is from Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He’s been around for while, paying his dues as a soloist and in bands, but Welcome To The Batlands is his debut solo album. ‘Perfect’, the first single lifted from it and the second track here, is a gem of a song – superficially simple in structure but telling a story with real depth; a story that you’re allowed to piece together  for yourself.

The opening track, ‘Bikes & Cars’ begins with the sound of traffic and takes us back to Ethan’s family – his father used to race motorbikes – and he tells us “I’ve got my father’s music and my mother’s heart” while indulging in so much self-mockery. The first line, “I’ve been singing out of the corner of my mouth for a while now”, is a real zinger. The fact that he cites Darkness At The Edge Of Town as his favourite album tells you some more about where he’s coming from.

Ethan doesn’t sound the way he looks. His voice sounds as though it has been marinated in cigarettes and bad whiskey for a couple of decades although you’d guess from his photograph that he’s around thirty. He carries a Telecaster which he sometimes riffs on but more often plays sparingly, filling in a few notes between vocals. That’s very much the way the album is constructed with just two supporting musicians: Michael Mormecha who plays drums, piano and guitar and joins Sonja Sleator on backing vocals.

Other top tracks include ‘Dream Last Night’ and we are led to presume that it begins at a funeral and feels embedded in the Troubles. ‘Fire’ is a love song with a twist; he’s from the wrong side of the tracks as far as her parents are concerned and you can guess that things won’t turn out too well. I like the sense of confusion that surrounds ‘Shadow City’ and the desperate melancholy of ‘Passenger Seat’ but however you look at it, Welcome To The Batlands is a superb debut album. Even towards the end, ‘Now You’re In New York’ throws up a new surprise. Spend some time with Ethan Hanna’s record and you’ll love it.

Dai Jeffries

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Ethan Hanna announces debut album

Ethan Hannah

Welcome To The Batlands, the debut album from Northern Irish artist Ethan Hanna, will be released on Tin Man Heart records from 5 October 2018.

The album has been several years in the making as Hanna honed his craft performing across Northern Ireland and comes after the successful release of debut single ‘Perfect’ in July 2018 which achieved radio airplay on three continents.

Welcome To The Batlands is the first instalment of Hanna’s ambitious Batlands Project, which will feature visuals, artwork, written pieces and music.

Recorded at Millbank Studios in Hanna’s hometown of Lisburn, Welcome To The Batlands fuses traditional Americana with evocative imagery and storytelling. Hanna tackles love, loss, relationships and politics across Welcome To The Batlands’ twelve tracks, using his unique voice to weld the themes together.

Welcome To The Batlands will be released alongside a short tour of Ireland alongside Northern Irish artist Sonja Sleator, and marked with a launch party on 6 October in Belfast. Tickets for the album launch party are available from

Ethan Hanna doesn’t have a website but he’s going to need one soon.

‘Perfect’ – the first single from Welcome To The Batlands:

SINGLES BAR 32 A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 32Named for the Virginia city, but based in Nashville, ROANOKE are a rising Folk Americana five-piece led by guitarist Joey Beesley and Taylor Dupuis, alongside fellow band members Zach Nowak on mandolin, acoustic guitarist John Fiorentino and drummer Kyle Breese. Following on from their self-titled 2016 debut, the songs written in a remote Michigan cabin, Where I Roam is a self-released five-track EP that augments the band’s instrumentation with pedal steel, violin, lap steel, bass and keyboards, opening with the Fleetwood Mac-like Tennessee Stone, Dupois playing Nicks to Beesley’s Buckingham. Dupois again on lead, ‘Don’t Let Me Leave The Road’ is more of a keening country persuasion while Beesley steps upfront for slow waltzer ‘Ghost Of Love’.

Their pop sensibilities can be heard to good effect on the harmonies sung violin-emboldened wistful ballad ‘Silent Films’, the collection closing on another ballad note, Breese’s harmonica providing backdrop flourishes as Beesley and Dupois, at her best Southern country soulfulness, trade verses on the organ-backed weary of the road ‘I’m Coming Home’, their harmonies showcased in the build up to the climax. A few UK dates would help spread the word.

My Home In ArgyllYou won’t be surprised to learn that ELIS MACFADYEN comes from Argyll even though he’s now a well-known figure around Inverness. My Home In Argyll is his debut EP on which he’s accompanied by multi-instrumentalist producer Marc Clement and, on the title track, by Michael J MacMillan. These four songs are all Macfadyen originals, frequently employing a country style that so often suits Scottish songwriters. In fact, ‘The Girl From The Rodeo’ was written for a local country band.

‘Too Young To Settle Down’ is a clever tale of misadventure over the rhythm of a train rattling across the country and initially you think you understand why the young man is in such a hurry only to realize that the situation is quite the reverse. Finally, ‘She Smiled For Me’ abandons the country style for that of a big pop ballad, perhaps a little overdone but it shows off Elis’ musical ambitions.

The Road BookBorn and bred in the south of Belgium (in an area called Gaume to be precise) NICO G now lives near Stirling, Scotland, where he continues to make music. He is an instrumentalist; a guitar player and a very good one at that. His most recent offering of songs is in the form of a five track EP, titled The Road Book. The format is simple, one man and his guitar – and it works wonderfully.

Four of the five tracks are originals, with the exception of an intriguing arrangement of Rolling Stones’ classic, ‘Paint it Black’ which opens the disc. It’s not overbearing or forced, in fact, it fits the record’s mood perfectly, as similar shades and approaches continue to be found in the folkily fingerpicked ‘From The Beginning’ and its equally folkie companion, ‘No More Questions’. Written in Austria, this is quite possibly the most beautiful track on the disc. It has a wandering, bitter-sweet summer feeling to it, created through its simple melody…that isn’t actually all that simple at all. It has the flowing qualities of classical guitar techniques, as well as those of the folk revivalists. Bowing out on some lovely harmonics, we are gently ushered into the twists and twangles of the penultimate ‘Jour 100’, before Piedmont-esque styled ‘The Wee Blether’ concludes the recording.

It is ironic that a ‘blether’ should end a collection of instrumentals, and indeed a collection of instrumentals might not appeal to everyone, but believe me, this is simply beautiful. Nico’s talent is obvious and this taster of his work only leaves you wanting a little bit more of the uplifting melodies, pitch-perfect harmonics and beautiful guitar playing which make up The Road Book.

ConsilienceTHE Nth DEGREE are a trio from Cardiff – Will Christofides, Tim Johnston and Sarah Johnston – making their debut with a four-track download EP, Consilience. It opens with the logic-twisting ‘Things’ which has a simple guitar based arrangement until Tim breaks in on cello with Sarah on whistle. Sarah takes over the lead vocals for ‘Summer Night’ while the two chaps enjoy interplaying guitar parts. ‘Broken Earth’ expands the arrangement a little with Tim’s synthesiser – it’s a song protesting the damage done to the land by industry but the lyrics could be clearer. There’s a real twist at the end with ‘Never Weather Beaten Sail’ by Thomas Campion and Charles Hubert Parry. The Nth Degree perform it like a folk trio tackling a hymn with cello for gravitas and harmony vocals. Good as their original songs are, this could be the track that makes them.

WoodsA CHOIR OF GHOSTS is the secret identity of Swedish singer James Auger, whose debut EP, Woods, was released at the end of June. James doesn’t sound very Swedish either stylistically or vocally but the title track was inspired by the sound of tree-felling in the north of the country – timber is a major source of Sweden’s revenue. This isn’t a song of ecological protest however, the sound merely sparked his imagination. ‘Ester’ and ‘Morning Light’ have already been released as singles but it’s worth going for the full set.

Perfect‘Perfect’ is the first single from Welcome To The Batlands, the debut album from Belfast singer ETHAN HANNA. It catches you out at first, opening with a thoughtful acoustic guitar before the band crashes in and once you get over that you’re grooving to a gravel-voiced rocker with a song that’s full of compelling images: “did you want to ink your arms to say ‘look at the mistakes I made’”; “Here’s a tape I made/it follows all the mistakes I made” and “I miss you now that we’re twenty-three/I think we might have lost our fight”. The track peters out with a sad acoustic guitar, a few notes that spell desolation. Excellent stuff.

WeightJOSH McGOVERN growls his idiosyncratic way through his new single, ‘Weight’ describing, in a very bleak style, the end of a relationship and the state of his mental health. You might think from that description that it’s going to be hard work but far from it. It opens with a stunning line; “On a cold early morning on the hill all my best man fell” – a battle, real or emotional, with the singer as the loser? You can go where you want with that idea.

Billy LockettSinger-songwriter BILLY LOCKETT has released a double A-side single in advance of his summer/autumn tour. ‘Fading Into Grey’ is a big heartfelt song about a relationship dragging on beyond its use-by date. ‘My Only Soul’ is equally powerful but slightly off-the-wall as the singer wishes that he believed in ghosts so he could see his loved one – his only soul – again.

High TideVELVET & STONE have released a rather lovely single, ‘High Tide’ with all the profits going to Cancer Research. It opens with a gentle but insistent acoustic guitar with a few notes of electric guitar before Lara Snowden’s vocals come in and Kathryn Tremlett’s violin lifts the song to another level before her piano leads it away.

BEYOND THE FIELDS – The Falcon Lives (own label BTF 2014)

Beyond The FieldsI like almost everything about the debut album from Beyond The Fields. They are a trans-European Celtic-rock band now based in Switzerland featuring a fairly conventional guitar/bass/drums line up with fiddle and mandolin doing the decorating. All the songs are written by lead singer Andre Bollier except Alastair Hulett’s ‘Blue Murder’.

Instrumentally, the band shows a lot of imagination and quite a lot of that is down to Marcel Bollier’s part in the arrangements. I love the reggae edge on ‘The Artist’s Song’, the gypsy violin on ‘Home’ and the dynamicism of ‘Blue Murder’. The original songs are good but now I must confront the one thing I don’t like: Andre’s voice. It reminds me of someone but I can’t quite place who. It is terribly mannered: a nasal punk snarl with all the gravel that Tom Waits couldn’t use, mangling pronunciation in an effort to sound ‘street’.

When he holds the bad habits in check he does a decent job and I go back to ‘Blue Murder’ again. Perhaps because he’s singing someone else’s words he’s more controlled but he almost manages it on ‘Any Time’, too. Here’s the thing: in 2103 Beyond The Fields posted videos of a live show. The line-up was different but the instrumentation is the same and it sounded, well, better. What happened?

So: I like the songs and I like the playing but Andre’s voice continues to spoil the effect. There is no law that dictates that the songwriter has to sing the songs: I heard a rumour that Robbie Robertson’s mic was turned off when The Band were on stage.

Dai Jeffries

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