SINGLES BAR 39 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 39FINDLAY NAPIER & MEGAN HENWOOD don’t seem like an obvious partnership but here they are. They met at a songwriting retreat and Findlay suggested writing a song about maths. Megan, not knowing any better, agreed and so ‘End Of Numbers’ was born to be followed by the other five songs on their debut EP The Story Song Scientists.

The opener is ‘Unnamable Radio’, based on the story of DJ Bob Fass who kept a would-be suicide talking live on air while rescuers rushed to save him. The pair’s songwriting combines Findlay’s somewhat sideways view of life with Megan’s obvious humanity, ‘The Last Straw’ being a perfect example. It’s a song about plastic pollution and manages to incorporate the word “polycarbonate” quite naturally. ‘North Pond Phantom’ is about the Maine hermit Christopher Knight and like a lot of Findlay’s songs it makes perfect sense once you know the story. ‘Wild Wild Country’ is a delightful song more typical of Megan’s style of taking inspiration from her surroundings but the two blend perfectly so there isn’t really a distinction between “his” and “hers”. Findlay and Megan are currently on tour.
http://www.dharmarecords.co.uk/

Arrows StrippedDespite having three albums under her belt, Nashville’s ANGEL SNOW is still a largely unknown quantity in the UK, though many may have become more familiar with her after duetting with Ben Glover on ‘The Wound That Seeks The Arrow’ from his recent award-winning album. Ironically then, released to accompany her ten-date UK tour in March, her new acoustic EP is titled Arrows (Stripped) (Nettwerk), the title track finding her exploring the deeper end of her vocal range on a bittersweet song about two lovers who have to let each other go. Produced by Ben Kramer, it features three further tracks, the fragile, vocally double-tracked, fingerpicked ‘Window Seat’, again tracing a relationship that’s run its course, the fuller arrangement of Maze’, about trying to find your path, with its strummed guitar, piano accompanied and echoey background vocal wash arrangement, and, again featuring piano, the rippling strings adorned ‘Higher Urgency’.
http://angelsnow.net/

Darkness & AngelsRecently expanded from their Les Ray and Deirdre Murphy core to a five-piece and, in the process, a more folk-rock, bluesy sound, Cambridge’s RED VELVET launch the makeover with the self-released Darkness & The Angels EP, the title hinting at the struggles between the forces of negativity and positivity . Sung by Murphy, the anchor track, ‘Ride The Darkness’, with its carnivalesque waltzing melody, spooked piano and sparse guitar and bass backing, stems from 2011 when both she and her brother, Gerard, were diagnosed with cancer, he sadly succumbing in 2013.

It wasn’t the only tragedy to strike, Ray’s mother passing the same year as Deirdre’s brother, the sense of grief, loss and remembrance providing the lyrical bedrock for the fairground carousel-rhythm Self-Storage which, opening with church organ and sung by Les, tells of building up boxes of photos, diaries and other keepsakes that “tell of our loved ones, our lost ones, ourselves”.

Elsewhere, political notes are struck on ‘After The War’, a piano led reflection on post-WWII optimism with the election of Labour and the creation of the NHS, a period clearly held up in contrast to today’s state of the nation. Much musically heavier with its driving rhythm and snarly guitar, ‘The Fourth Freedom’, the title a reference to the EU’s Four Freedoms, is a heads-down grungy riff-driven number concerning the refugee crisis as a family sees the goods they helped manufacture able to move freely while they are denied permission to travel.

By musical contrast, opening and closing unaccompanied, ‘That’ll Never Happen’ is a jaunty, playful pub piano singalong number with Music Hall and Chas n Dave touches that, as the notes say, revisits a book, a play and a film all featuring unlikely events.
www.clunkandrattle.com

Hidden ThingsHANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE release ‘Hidden Things’, the first of a trio of singles in advance of their tour which begins next month. It’s a beautiful song inspired by the landscape of northern Sweden – how landscapes hold memories and stories. Their unplugged sound has been refined by their time spent touring and despite its apparent simplicity there is a complexity that draws the listener in.
https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

Stay AroundA lovely liquid guitar introduces ‘Stay Around’, the second single and title track from JJ CALE’s posthumous album which will be released next month. It takes its time getting to the heart of the song, rolling along lazily until JJ’s gruff voice comes in. It’s a gentle song – “stay around, let’s make love one more time” he sings and then that singing guitar comes back, rather more insistently. Gorgeous.
www.jjcale.com

Lover‘Lover’ is the second single from A Golden State, the new album by LUKE SITAL-SINGH which is released next month. It’s lyrically very clever and would be quite Californian if it wasn’t so overloaded by a big arrangement in the choruses. The verses with electric piano and drums are perfect and the song glides along in its own special groove.
www.lukesitalsingh.com

Oh BoyFronted by Lara Snowden and featuring violinist Kathryn Tremmett, with Paddy Blight and bass and Kev Jackson guitar, Essex’s VELVET & STONE tease their upcoming debut album with the self-released ‘Oh Boy’, drums and hummed vocals intro giving way to a breathy delivery underscored by a driving, urgent folk rock beat, sawing fiddle and nervy riffage that, in places calls to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’.
https://www.velvetstonemusic.com/

This Is EnglandSleeves like this can make people a bit nervous, although we can be comforted by the fact that the “wrong” sort wouldn’t get anywhere near us. ‘This Is England’, the new single by SEAN TAYLOR, has been available to download for a while but with Brexit fast approaching it’s still relevant. The song is, for want of a better term, a rap but a rap that mentions Morris dancing performed by a man who looks white and sounds black.
https://www.seantaylorsongs.com/

The introduction to ‘Holding’, the new single by Irish singer SIVE, played on what we presume to be kalimba certainly grabs the attention but before you think it’s a bit gimmicky in comes her voice which has quite a range. The chorus is brilliant and the track goes for a big finish in a big way.
https://www.facebook.com/sivemusic/

God's Little Joke‘God’s Little Joke’ is the title track from a new EP by MARTIN ANSELL & CHRIS ROWSEL. It was recorded on a mobile phone in Martin’s taxi which makes one wonder why anyone needs a recording studio. The philosophy of life’s problems an the ills of the world being just an example of divine humour is an interesting one – Roy Harper would say that God is dead, of course – and requires further discussion. Good song, though.
https://martinansell.bandcamp.com/

MIKE ROSS sounds as though he comes from the American backwoods but actually he’s British. ‘Young Man’ is a delicious slice of country blues with rumbling bass, acoustic guitar lead, fiddle and harmonica. The single comes from his forthcoming album, The Clovis Limit.
http://www.mikerossmusic.co.uk/

Here I Am‘Here I Am’ is the first genre single from  S J DENNEY, a sad love song built on acoustic guitar and drums and lots of strings with a gorgeous trumpet break. The guitar echoes behind his voice in a way that evokes a dark and desolate landscape – a wonderful mental picture.
sjsongs.co.uk

SINGLES BAR 35 A round-up of recent EPs and singles

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.
www.clunkandrattle.com

Singles Bar 35With 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.
https://skinnylister.com/

Singles Bar 35Here’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.
www.muddibrooke.com

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.
www.marinaflorance.com

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.
www.mariakellymusic.com

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
http://www.jonasandjane.com/

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.
http://birichen.com/

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.
http://www.rachelbaiman.com/

‘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.
www.marblmusic.com

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.
https://beansontoastmusic.com/

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.
www.tillymoses.com

‘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.
https://thekilpecks.bandcamp.com/releases

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.
https://www.facebook.com/atticlightsband/

‘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.
www.odettemichell.com