SINGLES BAR 48 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 48Yet another British-Asian who’s been drawn to British and American folk style, variously based in Oxford (where he heads a Beatles covers band) and Exeter, the smooth, treble-voiced RIAZ AHMAD makes his debut with the All At Sea EP, self-released towards the end of February but preceded by the lead single ‘Pray To God’, fingerpicked acoustic guitar blending with tabla and sitar in a fusion of his roots on a song about teenage arranged marriage and the hopes and fears of the parents.

Addressing themes of family, migration and love, elsewhere Simon Mayor contributes mandolin on the jazzy rhythmed ‘Blank Canvas’, another song about a woman transitioning to another life and unreadable emotions, the melodic 80s jazz-pop swing. ‘It’s Not A Crime’ features flugelhorn solo leading into the instrumental playout while the dreamy, piano and double bass-accompanied ‘All At Sea’ brings calm and peace, albeit ambiguous as “you leave me no choice and glide away”. Ahmad works as a singing teacher and there’s an assured relaxed confidence in his voice and delivery, while the songs are testament to his abilities as composer and lyricist. His future may well lie more jazz than folk clubs, but, either way, on this evidence it’s a very promising one

Singles Bar 48You thought that Christmas was over – not quite. SKINNER & T’WITCH got The Bells Of Christmas out in time for the festive season but we didn’t get our copy soon enough. The six songs are all by Steve Skinner and blend his familiar humour with serious messages. The opening track, ‘The Drinking Song’, falls into the former category and I doubt that taking his advice, throwing all your bills away and opening another bottle will solve your problems.

‘Silent The Night’ is a vision of the perfect Christmas and the witty ‘I Don’t Want An iPad (I Just Want World Peace)’ looks to hoped-for better times, a theme returned to in ‘Santa, Teach The World To Fly’. ‘The Winter Song’ is another slice of nostalgia and the record ends with ‘The World Carol’ which began life somewhere in the vicinity of Coventry. If you didn’t get a copy of this EP back in December buy one now and save it up for next year. It will still be topical.

Singles Bar 48Hailing from Boston, to where she’s recently returned after a ten-year stint in Toronto, indie-folk singer-songwriter LINDSAY FOOTE self-releases her Rollercoaster EP which, working with multi-instrumentalist producer Joel Schwartz, offers up six numbers reflecting the title’s theme of a life of ups and down. Opening track ‘Don’t Go Changing Without Me’ reveals a soft and tender, whispery yet slightly grained voice and a leaning towards pop inflected folk, drums and electric guitars complementing the plucked mandolin acoustic foundations. Nodding a little to Fleetwood Mac and written some three years ago, ‘New York City’ recalls a decision not to move to the Big Apple with her then boyfriend, the image of distance echoing how she was feeling about the relationship.

The EP title surfaces in the undulating rhythms of ‘Ready’, another song about a relationship going nowhere, though this time she’s the one left behind, while the remaining cuts are made up of chiming guitar and steady drumbeat midtempo ballad ‘That Won’t Do Me Any Good’, the mandolin-intro reflective slow waltz ‘For Real’ and, a personal favourite, the hymnal feel of ‘Resting Place’, its minimal backing putting the focus firmly on Foote’s emotive vocals and Belinda Corpuz’s harmonies.

Singles Bar 48AISHA BADRU is an African-American singer-songwriter who has documented her move from New York to Florida and self-sufficiency in her EP, Trancendence. Aisha has the sort of breathy voice that I don’t usually care for but here it really works because of its intensity. Her acoustic guitar is supported by piano and strings and her writing is superficially simple but incisive.

The opening track, ‘Millennial’, is a countdown to her move and you can sense the eagerness in her words. In ‘Water’ she observes that “we can’t be keepers of anyone’s keep” and looks to a future when everyone can be free. ‘Love Doesn’t Fade’ is on the one hand a personal song and, on the other, a universal one. Aisha has a lot to say and I’d like to see her do well.

Singles Bar 48Alabama cheerleader turned songwriter, with ringing, reverb electric guitars and driving drums dusky-voiced CHARLI ADAMS is on the alt-rock side of the Americana camp for her ‘Good At Being Young’ (Color Study) debut EP, opening with the synth and guitar swirling interplay of the slow march-paced Passenger Seat and closing with the alt-folk strum of the reflective ‘Cloverland Drive, the street on which she’s lived since moving to Nashville when she was 17, the song looking back on an era that embodied the invincibility of youth and the freedom of early adulthood.

In-between, things get rockier on the Stevie Nicks-like ‘Bad Caffeine’ (“it hits you that you might have/Needed me/Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya”), another track where synth figures in the mix; the chugging steady beat ‘Backseat, an anthemic ode to the tail-end of adolescence (“I’m young and I’m falling in love/With the night”) ; the pulsing rhythm and synth eddies of the unsettling ‘Black T-Shirt’; and the measured aching moving on balladry of ‘10th Avenue’ (“I can’t stay here but I’ll never love it more”). An impressive debut from a voice I suspect we’ll be hearing much more of.

Singles Bar 48‘Bourbon And The Truth’ is the first of six singles that PETE GARDINER is planning to release during 2020. His lyrics have been widely praised – here he packs more words and ideas into three and a half minutes than should be possible. Originally from Northern Ireland, Pete is now based in and around London, and his brand of Americana should really start a fire.

Singles Bar 48Already well-established, MARINA FLORANCE makes her first appearance in 2020 with the February 29 self-release of ‘Long Way Home’ which, Mark Jolley on mandolin and strings, is a suitably languid number about those times when you want to make the moment last because, as she puts it, “you are coming back to stuff that you don’t really want to do”.

Singles Bar 48A Wiltshire-based exponent of traditional folk and melodeon, JONATHAN STUART has, however, opted for one of his own as his debut single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Sing The Blues’, a warmly sung, gentle don’t break up with folk-shaded ballad accompanied by woodwind and delicate piano notes released for download.

Singles Bar 48THE COO is a duo formed by Matt Arthur and Jara Holdert after a chance encounter in Amsterdam. Their debut single, ‘Low Country Girl’, tells the story of their meeting with harmonies and mandolin over their guitars. Their sound has been likened to that of the late 60s/early 70s canyon but it’s more modern and spiky than that on this evidence.

Singles Bar 48‘Long Way Home’ is the second single taken from Just Words, the seventh solo album by LYNNE HANSON who is also one half of The LYNNeS. Lynne’s voice can be a hard-bitten, whskey-fuelled drawl or take on a smoother reflective tone. As you might expect from a singer of her calibre the arrangement and production are excellent.

Singles Bar 48CARL STREET channels Johnny Cash on his single ‘Bunking The Midnight Train’. There are some nice guitars and while there is nothing terribly new here the song is in the tradition of Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie and is entertaining enough to make us want to hear more.

Singles Bar 48IZZIE DERRY has been our way before and with this song. Her new single, ‘Learn To Grow’, is a remix of a track she released last year. The new mix is pretty meaty and Izzie mixes a country-tinged folk-rock sound with a very distinctive English voice that oozes power. The arrangement is superb and we love those drums.

SINGLES BAR 41 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 41It slipped out late last year with virtually no publicity, so perhaps it’s time to shine a light on Voices Of Equilibrium (Silvertone), a four-track EP of covers from three part harmony Devon trio WILDWOOD KIN, sisters Beth and Emillie Key and cousin Meghann Loney. There’s some surprising choices, though Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ Bout A Revolution’ is the least so since it at least occupies the folk genre field. That said, the arrangement with its glistening keys and subsequent heavy drums immediately rings the changes on the original.

That’s certainly true of their take on ‘The Pretender’, not the Jackson Browne one but the Foo Fighters track, which they’ve slowed down into a moody dank folk affair while still bring urgency, albeit of a different shade to the refrain. Meanwhile, shifting the goalposts once again, ‘Dream On’ was a 2006 electro pop dance floor hit for Christian Falk and Robyn, though, even with its undulating electronic beat, even they might be hard-pressed to recognise this dreamy chamber folk reimagining with its cascading harmonies and twinkling sonic snowflakes.

Stevie Wonder provides the final cut, his boogie funk ‘Higher Ground’ transformed with a single vocal and hummed backing, handclaps and a muted drum thump gospel-like intro before the instrumentation fills out for a fixed and narrow-eyed tribal rhythm groove mid-section with what sounds like distorted scuzzy bass. A superb reminder that if you’re going to do a cover, especially crossing genres, then you need to make it your own. The trio have full possession.

PoetsANNE LEITH & LES OMAN hail from Campbeltown and their EP, Poets, celebrates the work of two local writers, George Campbell Hay and Angus Martin. Anne and Les play guitars, bouzouki and keyboards but don’t overdo the accompaniments – the words are most important here. They stick to Hay’s English poetry but Martin’s ‘The Hird’s Hoose’ is in lowland Scots as far as we can judge. Anyone who thinks that they can write a “traditional” Scottish song (except Archie Fisher, who can do it) should listen to these songs – the opener, ‘The Fisherman Speaks’ is a gem.

Singles Bar 41A second taster for the upcoming self-released debut album, singer Lara Snowdon and violinist Kathryn Tremlett joined by Kev Jackson on electric guitar, Josiah Manning on keys and the rhythm section of Paddy Blight and Garry Kroll, VELVET & STONE follow-up ‘Oh Boy’ with, after a simply strummed intro, the equally fulsome sounding folk-rock ‘By The Water’, quite literally a love is blind story about confessing your feelings.

Singles Bar 41Is “Lena Kalinka, have you got space in your heart for a narcissist thinker” any way to begin a song? Absolutely. ‘Lena Kalinka’ is the first track on Poetical Resistance, the new EP by GABRIEL MORENO & THE QUIVERING POETS. Gabriel and the band combine English and Spanish musical strands and the influences of such songwriters as Leonard Cohen. He would be a perfect musical partner for Keith James. ‘Overstay Your Welcome’ is a string-drenched track with a very Cohenish structure overlaid with a Mediterranean gypsy violin and the closing ‘We Are What We Are’ is built on acoustic guitar. The chorus of ‘Silly Old Dreams’ strikes something of a false note but that is the record’s only fault.

Singles Bar 41There are eight of THE JAMESTOWN BROTHERS from Somerset although one or two of them would appear to be Jamestown Sisters and Singing For Our Supper is their debut EP. Their mixture of good-time country, folk and blues is reminiscent of the early days of The Men They Couldn’t Hang with fiddle and brass fleshing out the sound. A song like ‘Take Your Medicine’ over keyboards and horns is harder and almost mainstream while ‘Everybody Take A Drink’ has an Irish flavour. The Jamestown Brothers must be a great festival band.

AtomsBreathily-voiced Guildford-based country pop singer-songwriter EMMA STEVENS self-releases her Atoms EP, featuring two collaborations with Kevin Jeremiah from The Feeling, the jaunty strumalong ‘Because It’s You’ and the uplifting ‘Soldier On’. The title track, presumably written in response to her mother’s passing, is a gentle fingerpicked acoustic celebration of being a part of everything and how death is just another beginning, the remaining cuts being the upbeat romantic euphoria of ‘Bells And Whistles’ and the more staccato rhythms of the self-explanatory feelings of ‘Home’.

True StraysTRUE STRAYS are a blues-rock trio from Bristol although they have lots of friends helping out. Once you get past the silly introduction track, Homeward Bound is pretty good and as you listen you begin to realise that they are rather cleverer than the down-and-dirty image they like to promote. Their sound is built around a big bass played by Joe James and buzz-saw guitar by lead vocalist James Cameron, all laid over solid drums by Matt Cooke. We reckon that they must be great live.

Ghost TrainStourbridge-based acoustic bluesman SUNJAY returns to form after the well-played but soulless Black & Blues and the pointless covers set Sunjay Sings Buddy with ‘Ghost Train’ (self-released), a taster for the upcoming Devil Came Calling. Co-written with producer Eddy Morton, it’s a chugging piano and violin-coloured blues tribute to yesteryear heroes that namechecks a cast list that namechecks, among others, Holly, President Kennedy, Muddy Waters, Judy Garland, Babe Ruth, the Big Bopper Martin Luther King, and Monroe. By contrast, the flip side, ‘Too Close To The Sun’, another driving blues co-penned with Henry Priestman and Les Glover, deals with an increasingly unstable addictive relationship.

Since YesterdayKARINE POLWART releases another single from her forthcoming album, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook. ‘Since Yesterday’ is the 1984 synth-pop Strawberry Switchblade song but it begins with a crackly old recording of her grandfather singing ‘The Rose Of Tralee’. Originally about youthful angst,  Karine’s piano-led reinterpretation of the song gives it to us old-timers. We’re looking forward to the album already.

Blue Hounds‘Blue Hounds’ is the new single from REN. Superficially, it’s a gentle acoustic guitar driven song with some nice single string picking but there’s an underlying message about living in politically difficult times. No need to explain who the blue hounds are but Ren does have red roses growing in his garden.

Pete GardinerPETE GARDINER tackles the world’s problems with his new single, ‘Dangerous People’. Originally from Northern Ireland, he adopts a laconic drawl over acoustic guitar for the verses and allows the song to build up over the choruses. His words are clever, inviting comparisons with Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and his delivery seems instantly familiar without being a copy of anyone. We could use an album like this.

Siren's CallSinger and harpist KRISTIN REBECCA releases a single, ‘Siren’s Call’ which may be from a new album. Despite her being based in Maryland, you might take her for British at first – her voice is strong and clear and although her fellow New Englanders may be able to identify her accent it’s beyond us.