SINGLES BAR 58 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 58UK duo FERRIS & SYLVESTER are Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester and I Should Be On A Train (LAB Records) is their new lockdown recorded EP, the title track a wistfully sung, fingerpicked but gradually building in power country blues about a woman planning her escape, but not having the courage to leave the one she loves. It’s accompanied by the 60s baroque folk-rock flavoured ‘Knock You Down’ about standing up to the system, ‘Everyone Is Home’ a lazily dappled, hand percussion flavoured number about being alone at home during lockdown and waiting to meet up again, while, featuring some psychedelic guitar work from Sylvester who also provides the spoken interjections, ‘Good Man’ has a pulsing tribal surge to its tumbling rhythms. All solid stuff, but a word of advice to anyone covering ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ in the manner of Joe Cocker. Don’t.

Singles Bar 58State I’m In is the new EP that BRYONY WILLIAMS has been trailing for a while now. Inevitably, it’s a very personal set of songs – more alt-rock than alt-folk perhaps but that seems to suit most people’s mood these days. The first two tracks, ‘Knockin’’ and ‘Cherry Red’ are built on strong rhythms with drums and guitar but ‘I Can Be’ takes things down just a bit and is arguably the best track here. Unexpectedly, ‘Dive’ is piano-based with ambient sounds (synths or strings) taking the instrumental break. Finally ‘I Wonder’ slips into acoustic guitar vein, initially at least, but with an insistent rhythm underpinning it. Don’t judge the record by its slightly bizarre cover.

Singles Bar 58The opening song of reassurance and constancy title track to Weathervane (Bohemian Jukebox) somewhat evocative of early Radiohead, BEN CALVERT releases wholly one-man EP recorded in Stafford between March and August The tumbling folk pop- with whistling – ‘Bottle Of Wine ‘sings of fickle hearts, the cello-accompanied ‘The Traction Of The Days’ muses on the passing of time, ‘The Minus Touch’ is a strummed wry Bowie-like number about dating apps disasters and, followed by, ‘Fountain House’, a brief Oriental flavoured instrumental tribute to his favourite Chinese restaurant, it ends with the life-affirming piano and organ accompanied ‘Put Yourself Back Strong Where You Belong’, which he openly admits has more than a hint of Blur’s ‘Tender’ about it.

Singles Bar 58OCTOBER DRIFT follow their debut album Forever Whatever with the appropriately titled EP, Naked. The opening title track begins with acoustic guitar and – what is that in the background?  It is an arresting song and lead vocalist Kiran Roy has such a distinctive and compelling voice. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is very clever. It isn’t the Neil Young song but references it – “Cinnamon Girl plays on repeat every time I try to sleep” and drenches it in strings  ‘Still’ and ‘Like The Snow We Fall’ are built around the same structure and there seems to be something special going on here.

Inside & Terrified is a new EP by San Francisco-based singer-songwriter BOB HILLMAN who has been around for a while. His laid-back, sometimes smoky, voice is perfectly suited to the opener, ‘I Often Dream Of Candlelight (Maria)’, but ‘This Is Wild Land’ is the song that really nails what he’s about to our ears. It’s lyrically complex and pointed but without hectoring or accusation.

‘Now, I’m In Favor Of A Wall’ contrasts Trump’s much vilified border wall with the need for protection in a time of pandemic. Once again, the song is lyrically thought-provoking. ‘In Terms Of Lunar Cycles (It’s A Lonely Phase)’ is a bit of a puzzle but one glance at the cover tells you what the title track is all about.

Bill wrote and recorded Inside & Terrified on a shoestring budget during lockdown with a producer and musicians who were also in isolation and did a damn fine job of it. Highly recommended.

KERRI WATT releases an EP of country-rock entitled Chapter One. The opening track, ‘Jessie’, has been around a while (as has Jessie by the sound of her story) and it rocks in the classic manner ‘Let’s Stay Home Tonight’ is a cover of needtobreathe – a slinky seductive song suggesting “goings-on” and Kerri rocks it up again with the final ‘Can’t Catch Me’.

Singles Bar 58Multi-instrumentalist duo FAELAND, Rebecca Nelson and Jacob Morrison, trail their new album, When I Close My Eyes, due in January, with gently melodic digital single ‘End Of The Day’, their first release in two years, a number featured in 23 Days, a grey-pound British film about an autumn years romance initiated by walking dogs. Reflecting the film, the song is a celebration of the seemingly mundane moments of life and love and comes in two versions, one with a gorgeous strings coda and a shorter no strings mix.

‘Devil’, the debut single by MUDDIBROOKE begins with heavy breathing and strange noises which seem appropriate. The song is sort of folk-rock in that it sounds like a rock song with a leaning to blues but with occasional passages that sound as though they belong in something much folkier. Is this the beginning of grunge-folk?

Unquivocally the finest thing they have released to date, ‘Half Alive’ finds THE LITTLE UNSAID in a brushed snare, slow march country frame of musical mind, John Elliot singing keening lead with Alison D’Souza complementing on viola for a song about emotional rescue from “dime a dozen mornings”, “not running for my future, I’m just running for my life”.

Leading up to her debut album due next year Magpie POLLY BOLTON releases a new single ‘Antigonish’. It’s an intriguing song built on a strong rhythm and lead banjo with eerie backing vocals based around a town in Nova Scotia famous for a haunting in the 19th century. Its insistent vocals are oddly reminiscent of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ in places and we’re really looking forward to the album.

Inspired by the annual spring flood of Ontario’s Grand River, ALLISON LUPTON AND CRAIG WERTH release digital single ‘When Trouble Comes’, he on lead and she providing harmonies with lonesome harmonica from Mike Stevens and underpinning resonant bass by the London Symphonia’s Joseph Phillips. Opening with distorted notes and driven by an urgent acoustic picked guitar pattern, it uses the description of the looming flood to echo the turbulence of today’s troubled time and how in such times we seek for stars to guide us through.

Lupton and Werth draw comparisons to the uncertainty and trepidation many of us are experiencing during these troubled times. The song features Werth’s rich lead vocals paired with Lupton’s beautiful vocal harmonies, masterfully backed by musicians Joseph Phillips (bass) and (harmonica).

‘Life Lives Inside’ is the first collaboration between FLO PERLIN and Rob Ousley, who works under the name PILGRIMS’ DREAM. The contrast between their voices is quite marked and when Rob comes in it’s quite a surprise when you first hear it. The story is set at sea and is a metaphor for the need for any sort of contact during a period of isolation even with another species.

Featuring the ubiquitous Lukas Drinkwater, the South-East based and powerfully voiced LIZZY HARDINGHAM releases the fingerpicked, shuffle rhythm ‘Blue’, a country-inflected song about regardless having or knowing everything or nothing, still having “the blues in your soul”, her delivery somewhere between early Baez and Melissa Etheridge.

ZOË WREN was once a street performer – weren’t they called buskers? – and saw life at ground level. ‘Welcome Here’ is a single from her forthcoming debut album drawn from that experience; a call for compassion. It has a distinctly folky feel featuring Martin Ash on viola, David Delarre on mandolin and Jonny Wickham’s double bass. You can hear the song in a livestream from Twitch TV on October 23rd.

Acoustic blues fans should make a point of tracking down the ‘leaving this place, don’t know where I’m going’ themed Hard Place To Be, the latest from Alcester’s JACK BLACKMAN, a fine showcase for his bottleneck guitar playing. Bob Harris described him as “exceptional”; you’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

Fronted by Candace Lacina and Mike Little, THE HELLO DARLINS are joined by Joey Landreth on Dobro and Tammy Rogers from The Steel Drivers on mandolin for download single ‘Aberdeen’, a folksy close harmony Americana ballad about a horse that speaks of a lifetime of loyalty and friendship, an enticing trailer for next year’s new album.

STATE OF THE UNION are the Anglo-US combination of Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams who trail a new album with a digital single, ‘Why Does The Nightingale Sing?’. It’s classy and smooth with Brooks sliding some evocative guitar and the combination of their voices in harmony is reminiscent of a song written seventy or eighty years ago.

TIM GRIMM lives up his surname with new self-released download single ‘Gone’, a Townes Van Zandt-flavoured state of the nation comment that reflects on the pandemic and the run-up to the November election as he sings “It used to be four Horsemen, now it’s just a single one/They say in Revelation that doom will finally come/There’s a rider in the White House and Liberty has run/Everywhere you turn these days, there’s another smoking gun” while also referencing the passing of John Prine, the track featuring Prine’s longtime guitarist Jason Wilber.

Poet turned singer-songwriter MICHAEL JONES releases a single ‘Melts Away’ advocating holding something back in a relationship: “the magic in the mystery” – discuss. It’s a laid-back country edged song and is easy to listen to even if you disagree with its central premise.