SINGLES BAR 54 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 54Fronted by singer Deidre Murphy and acoustic guitarist Les Ray, Cambridge folk-rock quintet RED VELVET return with the If Hawks Were Doves EP, a self-released companion project to last year’s Darkness & The Angels, here exploring the positive and negative forces, internal and external, that affect our life, but taking a more positive perspective. Musing on how much better the world would be with more of the latter, the title track has a ragtime piano arrangement, while, again built around piano, ‘Sad Songs & Wine’ is about withdrawing from the darkness of the world as “the songs let me forget, and the wine dulls the regret”. The melodically moodier march beat Imposter addresses overcoming imposter syndrome and even features a ‘rap’ from Les and Deirdre while, written by Mike Udin and arranged for banjo and piano, the sprightly’ Getting Too Serious’ is about escaping the city pressures with a trip to the coast (social distancing observed, naturally).

‘I Still Believe In Love’ is a chunkier number about getting over a broken heart, the EP ending with the gently fingerpicked knowingly ironically titled ‘The Last Thing We Need Is Another Love Song’ that features not one but two Knopfler-styled solos from Gene Thunderbolt.

Singles Bar 54The Great Granddaughter Of The Great White Dap should have been a concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bristol’s famous Village Thing label – but we all know what happened to concerts. Instead it’s a six-track EP of original tracks by now veteran artists most of whom went on to be world famous in our corner of the universe.

It begins with Wizz Jones and ‘When I Leave Berlin’ accompanied by Lazy Farmer, a band which included Jake Walton and two banjo players. It’s a super song and rocks along like a good ‘un. Next is the label’s producer Ian A Anderson with ‘Time Is Ripe’, the song that gave Ian’s album A Vulture Is Not A Bird You Can Trust its title. At number three and arguably the star of the show is Derroll Adams, that deep brown voice wrapping itself around ‘Deep Ellum Blues’. Wizz Jones adds his guitar – that’s the sort of label it was.

Steve Tilston and Dave Evans are up next with ‘What Would You Be?’ followed by Al Jones who was well-thought of by everyone but not very productive. ‘Tell The Captain’ comes from his second album Jonesville, made after Anderson had coaxed him out of retirement. Finally is the earliest and rarest track: ‘Flowers’ from the only album recorded by The Sun Also Rises. A gem from the distant past.

Singles Bar 54Recorded in a log cabin in Sweden, former Oysterband multi-instrumentalist RAY COOPER delves into the primal past with new download EP The Beast, the Roy Harperish part-spoken, moody simple strummed guitar and  cello title track a  downbeat déjà vu perspective on modern times as he welcomes us to the return to the Middle Ages, “Back to a world of pirates, religious wars, beheadings and slaves”,  observing that “the past should stay where it was”. One for nurses and featuring cello solo, the bluesily fingerpicked ‘Eyes of Mercy’ (Harper with added McTell) is sung from the perspective of a patient in hospital who cannot speak but sees the nurses come and go, while  ‘The Burning Pile’ is an instrumental (inspired by the Swedish witch trials in Mora, in 1669) which starts out with just mandolin before percussion and then more instruments (including Finnish harp) join the cinematic conflagration.

Singles Bar 54A Canadian-Australian 17-year-old, SCARLETT GRAHAM releases her Fremantle EP (Wolfe Island Records), five tracks of gentle fingerpicked or strummed songs about different perspectives on home, opening with the title track’s pulsing rhythm and strings wash, a nod to her mother’s background. Sonically, things don’t really move beyond such leafy acoustics and slightly blues-folk vocal inflections, but, as she proceeds through the five minute ‘Simone’, the double-tracked vocals of ‘Marron’ with its tinkling keys, ‘Hand Me Down’ and the hand percussion closer ‘Souvenir’, the dreaminess gathers you up.

The sort of folk singer to whom conservative local BBC stations would bar the door, Birmingham’s JOHN NAPIER has Give Us Some Money (Self-released), a four-track EP that, as he puts it, takes aim “at the rife yet rarely acknowledged Thatcherism that permeates the music industry at every level”. That is the pay to play venues, label exploitation and those here’s free drink and be grateful sort who reckon they’re doing musicians a favour by booking them. He takes a traditional folksy approach with sway and singalong shantyish melodies, such as the title track, the call for unionisation ‘Solidarity Forever’ set to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body’ as he sings “there are those who build careers on the music we provide, pitching artists against artists to prop up their enterprise”, and, again adapting an American Civil War tune, ‘We’d Rather Play Outside’ “than be robbed of dignity by those who don’t respect our art”. The final track is a wry ‘live’ rework of ‘Wild Rover’, the lyrics rewritten about having to compromise and play to the folk club crowds who only want to hear the staple fare, giving a new meaning to that well-known no nay never chorus.

Emblazoned with the Black Lives Matter logo comes ‘Suzie, Suzie, Suzie’, a three track single – and his first ever – by MARK T. Mark plays all the instruments and recorded the disc at his home studio. The lead track is built on a blues pattern, is very catchy and, unusually, it admits to featuring cowbell. The second track is Bob Dylan’s ‘George Jackson’ (lest we forget) and, perversely Mark dispenses with Dylan’s bluesy delivery, instead featuring bouzouki as the principal accompaniment. Finally we are back with the Resophonic guitar for ‘Rootdog Blues’ featuring Fran Wood on lead vocals  Rootdogs were Mark’s band in the 90s and we might suppose the song was written for them. With Fran’s powerful voice it sounds very authentic.

Completing their climate change-themed Hourglass TrilogyMERRY HELL balance the styles and sounds with, first up, the rousingly anthemic ‘Sister Atlas’, written by Virginia Kettle as a tribute to both Greta Thumberg (on the cover of Running Out Of Time magazine”) and all young people who have poured their strength and commitment into  calling for a halt to the current climate destruction  as they sing the rallying refrain “big world, young shoulders”.  Written by Bob Kettle, the third, ‘Emergency Lullaby (Wasting Time)’, from whence comes both the title of the trilogy and that of the upcoming album, strikes a different musical note being uncharacteristically based around a slow swaying piano melody, the parenthesis  pretty much summing up its lyrical thrust.

HARP & A MONKEY mark the partial reopening of our ‘houses of heritage’, with a taster from new project celebrating the value of our public museums, galleries and archives. Set to a tinkling musical box melody, commissioned via the Arts Council and The Library Presents to write a song inspired by The Wisbech and Fenland Museum, one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the UK, ‘The Ballad of Wisbech Museum’. Taking  an old Victorian Broadsheet called ‘The Electors Of Cambridge’, itself a reworking of an earlier  ballad called ‘Fly Not Yet’, employing both lyrics and spoken word it speaks of  local, national and international treasures embracing art, religion, literature, science and culture “the likes of which you’ve never seen from places which you’ve never been”.

Lockdown has spurred KRIS DREVER into a new creative phase. ‘More Than You Know’ is his second single in as many months; a powerfully arranged song with a message about believing in yourself. It is figured as advice to someone leaving home for the first time and probably for ever. It may be that Kris is talking to his younger self as he leaves Orkney and carries a positive message for anyone making that step.

David and Ben O’Leary are Northampton-based father-son country-folk duo DON’T DRINK THE WATER, their debut single ‘Sally’s Got A Secret’ (Fretsore Records), a taster for their upcoming EP, a tale of a faded singer reduced to playing the cheap nostalgia circuit, Americana and Celtic roots coming together in wistful, harmonica flavoured melody.

KINGS OF THE QUARTER MILE are a Worcestershire-based blues infused Americana outfit featuring former Cohen Brothers rhythm section Brian Richards and Dave Smaylen, with vocalist Steve Counsell and Pete Juzl on guitar. Again a prelude to a full EP, ‘The Lie’ nods firmly to Dire Straits via Tom Petty with its pedal steel streaked theme of broken American dreams.

Based in Hull and featuring the gravelly vocals of Will Bladen, CROOKED WEATHER release download single ‘Pay My Dues’, a two-minute summer bounce reflection on the generally financially unviable life of an independent musician in the name of responding to the creative spark, all carried along with some oompah brass

Hailing from Oxford MY CROOKED TEETH  are fronted by Jack Olchawaski, their ‘Something Decent’ (MATO)  single a lap steel coloured call to action and self-belief with a tumbling Americana feel that should find favour with Wilco fans.

Another Oxford outfit, bedd are a vehicle for singer-songwriter Jamie Hyatt, their self-released celebration of the everyday, ‘You Have Nice Things’, slow and moody with multi-part harmonies, synths and reverb that gradually swell  into Mercury Rev territory.