SINGLES BAR 63 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 63Like so many others, DARIA KULESH has been hit hard financially by lockdown: she has responded positively, though, with the release of her Emergency Covers EP, a collection of songs by other songwriters. While it’s always a joy to hear Daria’s own compositions, her many admirers will know how convincingly she can make another writer’s work into something uniquely her own, here with the able support of Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan.

The tracks comprise Loreena McKennitt’s ‘The Mummers Dance’ (a much more mystical affair than I remember from the mummers’ plays of my folkie youth, and benefiting greatly from this barebones arrangement); Nick Drake’s irresistible ‘Northern Sky’; Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ (proving that there’s life in the old warhorse yet) and ‘Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz’; ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’ (better known in English as ‘Autumn Leaves’ with Johnny Mercer’s lyrics instead of Jacques Prévert’s), restored to an interpretation closer to chanson than to jazz; plus her previously unrecorded version of Eric Bogle’s ‘No Man’s Land’, proving that it is possible to compete with June Tabor and perhaps come out a little way ahead. Classic, classy Daria performances.

The final entry in the trilogy, THE MAGPIE ARC release EP 3 (Collective/Perspective), again a mixture of covers and original material. It’s bookended by first, an upbeat Americana-dusted take on Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Loretta’ with Adam Holmes on lead and, to close, Martin Simpson upfront and a steady drum rhythm with a passionate reading of Si Kahn’s protest classic ‘What You Do With What You Got’.

Sandwiched between you get the steady walking beat folk pop ‘It’s Too Hard’, a co-write and duet by Nancy Kerr and Tom A. Wright while ‘Greenswell’ is all Kerr’s own work, a slow waltzing pastoral folk number of traditional hue with sumptuous arrangement and Simpson providing resonant guitar.

JACK LAW, singer/songwriter from Glasgow and of the band Electric Twilight, in company with bandmate DUNCAN SLOAN has just released a new EP, Shock Of The Blue. The first song, ‘Down From The Hill’ is a slow, gorgeous song, layered with plangent guitars and a mysterious lyric. The second track, ‘Lonesome Avenue’, is built on piano and if you want to know what it’s about, well, Jack references ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. It’s lyrically clever, rolling along in a gentle groove and if you have tears to shed you can at least shed them with some good music in the background.

‘Love Lies, Bleeding’ continues the melancholy with a country-blues feel and another clever lyric. The comma may generate debate amongst the punctuation pedants but we’re staying well out of it because we like Shock Of The Blue a lot.

ELLIE GOWERS comes from Warwickshire, three of the songs on her new Parting Breath EP (Fancourt) being recorded, however, in Stroud with the ubiquitous Lukas Drinkwater on bass who features alongside Alex Garden on strings, Seth Bye on accordion and her mother Rosie Gowers on piano.

Resonating with the Covid climate, the dreamy piano accompanied title track is a homage to Robert Burns’ ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as she sings about being with friends and family whereas, having seen the impact of HS2 on the local countryside, opening track The Sky Is On Fire with its strings and fluttering fingerpicked notes bristles with a call to work together as a society to ensure the world is a better place for generations to come.

A lighter note is sounded with ‘Eva’, an airily fingerpicked and strings brushed evocation of her feeling of freedom and independence when, sung from a mother’s perspective, she left to home as a teenager to study in Bristol. Which is where, Joe Dean and Rob King on guitar, Conor Ross Harrington on drums and Joe Johnson on bass, she recorded the   confrontational, bluesy smoulder final track, ‘Against The Tide’ which with the throbbing ebb and flow of double bass addresses the struggle to escape societal conventions and conditioning and make sense of the world.

SHEBEAT (aka Jodie Schofield) released a new digital single last month. ‘So Into You’ is a lyrically simple love song but a really big record awash (quite literally) with field recordings of ocean waves and a sumptuous arrangement with just enough ethereal echo applied to Jodie’s voice.

Originally a poem published in 1915 by Angus poet, Violet Jacob and set to a melody by folk singer Jim Reid, ‘The Wild Geese’ (Bandcamp) is now the new single from IONA FYFE.  Featuring Charlie Stewart on double bass, guitarist Jack McRobbie and fiddle player Graham Rorie with Fyne behind the piano for the first time since her 2016 debut EP, it’s sung in Angus Scots, one of Scotland’s three national (but not legally recognised) languages, adding further to its haunting quality.

ALI COMERFORD would appear to be a lapsed viola player who returned to her native Kilkenny to take up a new career as a folk singer. ‘He Knows’ is her debut single and bears the evidence of her classical background and, at a guess, she is playing more than just acoustic guitar here. It’s a pretty song about getting rid of some useless man.

‘Charlie’s Gone Home’ is SARAH MCQUAID‘s second single from The St Buryan Sessions, a crowd-funded video series and album that offers her many admirers the nearest thing to a live concert that’s possible right now. This time it’s a guitar-and-vocal version of the first song of her own that she recorded, on the 1997 album When Two Lovers Meet. While it has a bitter-sweet undercurrent, it’s much more upbeat than ‘The Silence Above Us’, with some almost blues-y phrasing. Perhaps writing it was something of a turning point: an early indication that a very classy folksinger was already becoming a major songwriter. The track is due for release on Friday 19th February.

Not content with one single, Sarah has also released ‘The Day Of Wrath, That Day’ also from The St Buryan Sessions. For this track she’s gone back, as with January’s ‘The Silence Above Us’ to her most recent album, 2018’s If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous. It’s a very different track, though: an instrumental played on electric guitar (thank you, Michael Chapman, for encouraging Sarah to explore this path!) I takes its title from the Dies Irae (the medieval text long associated with the Requiem Mass). Because Sarah’s songs and singing are so effective, it’s easy to forget what an outstanding and influential guitarist she is, with a particular expertise in DADGAD tuning. Here she focuses less on fretting technique and more on the dynamic possibilities of electric guitar to generate a deceptively simple, powerful and atmospheric piece, due for release on March 12th 2021.

ISLA RATCLIFF releases her debut single, ‘Cannot Steal The Sound’, to mark the first anniversary of the first lockdown. Isla has one of those powerful voices that you know will make people sit up and take notice sooner or later and she accompanies herself on piano and fiddle. The song is very upbeat and celebrates the release and freedom that music can provide in difficult times.

Hailing from Gloucestershire, Madeleine Harwood is artist MADRAYKIN, her new single ‘Black Cat’ (Haven) is a Boo Hewardine co-write, a  brooding but melodic slice of folk noir  with faint echoes of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ that, as opposed to the usual black dog metaphor, puts a  feline spin on the theme of depression which, she says also signifies “the relationship that a depressive state can have with our mental health – you can both despise it and long for the comfort of its familiarity.” Given an orchestral arrangement by David Kernohan it features Elaine Lennon on backing vocals with Ailie Robertson on harp.

HUMSTRUM are a trio comprising Damian Clarke and Cliff Eastabrook, two old friends formerly of Pressgang, and Marco Neumann from Germany. Between them they play a variety of old instruments, including dulcimer and hurdy-gurdy. They approach their music-making from the story-telling tradition – Cliff’s speciality. ‘Red Haired Mary’ is their first single, a traditional Irish song somewhat updated by Damian’s new tune. It’s a knockout.

‘Arrivals’, from his upcoming album of the same name, is the latest single from DECLAN O’ROURKE. It’s a gorgeous song delving into the history of both Declan’s family and that of the Irish people based on a single moment when someone returns home after a period of absence. In the video Declan plays a grand piano in a railway station and that’s worth seeking out.

In the midst of prevailing doom and gloom, MARINA FLORANCE brings a touch of sunshine with her new self-released download single ‘Will You’ which, featuring Mark Jolley on mandolin, a love song where she asks “will you shuffle up next to me on the shelf where we met like two spare parts others seemed to forget” and “will you sing this song at the top of your voice while sitting in our favourite chip shop of choice”, even sneaking in a plug for her local in Drayton, Deep Blue.

‘Compassionate Combat’ is a new digital single by SUSAN GIBSON – a tribute to nurses and frontline workers who are fighting the virus every day. Susan is from Texas and with all the shit going on here we can sometimes forget that the rest of the world is in this mess, too. The song opens on grand piano but quickly settles into a gentle acoustic guitar strum. “We’re going to ask too much of you” is the take-home message.

YE VAGABONDS released a vinyl single of ‘The Bothy Lads’ and ‘I’m A Rover’ at the end of last month, with the former now available on digital platforms. The boys settle into a gentle traditional Irish groove on both tracks. Nice.