A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 16We’re a bit late with this one but we can’t let the year turn without a mention of ANGE HARDY’s Christmas single. There are two tracks, both original compositions and both sung acapella. ‘The Quantock Carol’ should immediately go into every seasonal repertoire – it’s a plea for peace now and in the future, a simple and beautiful song. ‘Mary’s Robin’ is based on the Gaelic legend about how the robin got its red breast and should be snapped up by unaccompanied groups and community choirs everywhere.

CRAIG FINN has a new album, We All Want the Same Things, out in March preceded by a single ‘Preludes’. Finn grew up in Edina, Minneapolis and describes ‘Preludes’ as “this was what I remember 1994 being like, coming back to the Twin Cities after being away for college.” ‘Preludes’ gives us snapshot of this time in life: “I came back to St Paul’s and things had progressed and got strange”; images of his friends who have moved away to Seattle while he is back in the hometown hitting the bars; of a guy who jumped out at him with a pistol (“I considered my options and decided to do what he said”); and, above all, “I got stuck in a snowbank, I was too drunk to drive to a diner/ Right there was proof of my faith that God watches us”, leading to the refrain which permeates and ends the song “God watches us”. It sounds heavy, but it’s not. The musical feel is reminiscent of the driving energy of the Counting Crows and it’s a fun song capturing that time of life in your early twenties when you return home after time away and re-evaluate your relationship with your home town and family.

Don’t look for JAKE ISLAND on a map – you won’t find it. Jake is a he: a singer/songwriter/ producer from County Meath. He’s rather modest about what he does on his EP Kindest Of Our Days, listing musicians including featured vocalists Rowan and Driver 66. The four songs here are a sort of Irish-Americana with banjo, fiddle, flute and whistles as well as the standard guitar-bass-drums trinity. There’s an odd melancholy about the music. ‘Last Drunk In Town’ and ‘Lose The Love’ should be sung in a late-night bar and ‘Horizon Blues’ is the story of an old musician reminiscing and perhaps thinking about a comeback tour. The title track, which opens the set, is the most upbeat of the collection but even here there is nostalgia in the strictest sense: a pain and regret for what is past. There are four great songs here.

‘Alive’ is a download only single from Scottish band SKIPINNISH. It opens as a gentle piano-based meditation on the blessing of being alive complete with angelic backing vocals, something of a reaction to 2016 you might think. At the minute mark it takes off with drums, fiddle and electric guitar before almost settling into a meditative mood – fooled you, they were just gearing up for a big finish. “You’re alive, you’re alive and the stars are on your side” is a good thought to begin the year with.


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar - PostcardsFRAN WYBURN AND THE INDIGOS are a Yorkshire-based trio whose second EP, Postcards, is out now. Here are five tracks of acoustic folk characterised by complex arrangements with lots of instrumental textures, rich harmonies from Rosie Evans and George Birkett, melodically strong songs and good lyrics. The opener, ‘Blue Sky’ is happily upbeat after a pensive start but the top track is probably ‘Snakes And Ladders’, nicely miserable with a heavenly choir and what? – accordion? harmonium? synthesiser? Not sure. George is a very fine classical style guitarist and it’s his virtuosity that makes the group’s sound – listen to that delicious little break on ‘Spend Our Days’.

Foreign WatersForeign Waters is the first commercial release from EMILY MAE WINTERS whose songs are as much influenced by her love of poetry as of music. The fine opening track, ‘Anchor’ is a step beyond the familiar verse-chorus-bridge format and is an award-winner as is the second song, ‘Miles To Go’, but the title track and ‘Until The Light’ are the ones that really show off Emily’s powerful and flexible voice. The EP was produced by Ben Walker who also plays steel guitar and mandolin, while Emily plays both guitar and piano.

WolfKAT HEALY is a singer-songwriter from Edinburgh who really should be much better known notwithstanding her victory at this year’s CalMac Music Awards. Her latest EP, Wolf, comes out of the death of her father and it’s stripped down and raw, built on cello, harmonium and piano. There’s a perfect moment at the end of ‘Beautiful Peace’ with just her voice and a few notes at the top end of the keyboard as the song fades away. Kat has a gift for melody which isn’t always found in outpourings of deeply-felt emotion and that is reflected in the choice of the traditional ‘Highland Lullaby’ as the final track.

YCHWYL‘You Can’t Help Who You Love’ is the first single from Cactacus, the fourth album by RUTH THEODORE. Ruth is an artist who does things her way; originally a violinist she taught herself guitar while busking and still uses odd tunings. Her music is characterised by rich instrumentation spanning the rock band and the orchestra. This song is built on a chunky rhythm with lots of voices on the choruses and a lyric that tumbles over itself in its explanation of the vagaries of love. This bodes well for the album.

Candi's DogWe’re a little late with this one but CANDI’S DOG are always on the road; ‘I Couldn’t Ask For More’ is their current single and they’ll certainly sell it to you if you ask nicely. Candi’s Dog are an acoustic trio from Newcastle-upon-Tyne with a solid basis of fretless bass and drums and featuring guitar, banjo, melodica and kazoo if ‘Crossing The Line’ is any guide. Their songs are up-tempo and upbeat even when the lyrics concentrate on the heartbreak of lost love.

Not Her OwnNot Her Own is the new EP from YVONNE MCDONNELL. It leads with ‘I’m Not This Layer Of Skin’, a protest about the objectification of women delivered without a trace of anger. It’s a statement of principle as is ‘My Own Advice’. The title track turns Yvonne’s attention outwards to a woman who is finally able to break out from the restraints of society. ‘Not Her Own’ refers to the choices she’s heretofore been forced to make and the theme is again internalised in ‘The Savages’. Maria Kroon features on violin alongside Yvonne and there is cello and possibly synthesiser adding more textures.


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar - SMall Town TalkMA POLAINE’S GREAT DECLINE play a timeless kind of Americana and it’s only the fact that the lead track here is called ‘Japanese Knotweed’ might give you the suspicion that they are British. Following their debut album, Got Me Out Of Hell, Small Town Talk is the third EP from Beth Packer and Clinton Hough assisted by Chris Clavo on double bass and co-produced by Ben Walker.  Beth’s voice can be powerful, almost strident, or fragile and bitter-sweet – ‘Been Loved Too Much’ has the feeling of a pre-war German nightclub while ‘Harvey’ has the pumped accordion feel of Tom Waits with Beth’s harmonica and Clinton’s slide guitar on top.

Keep The Light InTHE BLACKHEART ORCHESTRA are Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington. They have recorded three albums and I despair at the parochial nature of the music scene – myself included – which means that I haven’t heard of them till now. That’s partly because they have just changed their name, but still. ‘Keep The Light In’ is their new genre-defying single; contemporary songwriting mixes electronic beats with omnichord, vintage synths and brass while Richard’s background vocal line “five, six, seven, twelve” sounds just a bit creepy.

Amen 1‘Sometimes You Have To Go Far’ is the first single from Amen 1, the first part of MIKKO JOENSUU’s trilogy of albums. It was recorded in the wilds of Finland and has a suitably epic grandeur – over seven minutes long, driven by huge piano chords and what sounds like a whole orchestra. The philosophical lyrics, “Sometimes you have to go far to feel you’re at home”, are perhaps a bit prog-rock but the song has to be heard in context.

Elinor EvansELINOR EVANS was born in Aberdeen, raised in Aberystwyth and is Celtic through and through, dipping into Breton and Manx music on her EP of solo clarsach pieces, Reflections.  The set opens with the single bell-like notes of Scott Skinner’s ‘Cradle Song’, a very un-traditional interpretation. Then the bass notes appear and finally the tune develops conventionally. ‘Drummond Castle/Crossing The Minch’ is a sparkling set of marches and she returns to tenderness on ‘Tree Of Strings’. There is a long set of Breton, Welsh and Manx tunes, ‘The Lorient Set’, to finish with.


A round-up of recent  EPs and singles

Strawberry MoonRESIDENT ALIEN is an apt name for Russian-born songwriter/musician Daniel Herzog. Now based in London, Daniel released his first album in 2010 and now he is partnered by Chris Pepper and supported by Stephen Picard who co-wrote the final track, ‘Circle Without End’, on which he plays acoustic guitar and which features a really nice electric solo. The title track of his EP Strawberry Moon is a little radio-friendly but ‘Child Of The City is the star turn here.

RealityNineteen-year-old FINLAY LESLIE releases her debut single, ‘Reality’ next week. Originally from Dover, Finlay is a member of the YouTube generation which is where her break came. She plays acoustic guitar and the backing is built up on a foundation of piano and bass which never threaten to overwhelm the song. There seems to be great deal of youthful angst in ‘Reality’ but it has to be said that Finlay’s diction is not her greatest asset and too much of the lyric is lost.

Tide & TimeKITTY MACFARLANE has some impressive friends including Sam Kelly who produced her debut EP, Tide & Time, Jamie Francis, Lukas Drinkwater and Ciaran Algar – that’s a pretty good band. Kitty is from Somerset and has an affinity with the sea. ‘Wrecking Days’ is a story of beachcombing and the title track was inspired by Normandy oyster fishermen while ‘Lamb’, based on a poem by William Blake, evokes a stretch of the Somerset coast. ‘Bus Song’ brings us inland and anyone who has lived out in the country will identify with it. Finally, Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ uses the sea as a metaphor for lost love. Kitty has a strong voice and way with a lyric that makes her a name to watch.

Ha Ha Haf‘Ha Ha Haf’ is the debut release from Welsh band OMALOMA – George Amor, Daf Owain, Gruff ab Arwel and Llyr Pari. It’s a happy, poppy, almost psychedelic song for summer big on keyboards with a clever instrumental break that comes in at about the ninety second mark.

Julie FelixHers may be a name from the past but JULIE FELIX has her finger on the pulse of the contemporary folk scene. Her first single (download only) for Foskett’s Folk Factory is a gorgeous cover of Peter Knight’s song, ‘From A Lullaby Kiss’. Peter plays violin on the track and Julie’s voice is immediately recognisable although like Joan Baez and Maddy Prior she has a lower register now with the power that goes with that richness of tone. Although Julie has never stopped working her profile has been far too low recently. Let us hope that this release does something to address that.


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Latest WaxingHis first new material since 2012 album Seven Songs, HENRY SPARKS releases the aptly titled Latest Waxing, an EP of five acoustic tracks sung in his distinctive swallowed vocals style. Incorporating lines from Blake’s poem, the tumbling ‘While We Were Building Jerusalem’, accompanied by Catriona Bryce on cello, sings of striving for a better life while, enveloped by fiddles, ‘If She Falls’ is a hymnal-sounding song of love and devotion. Again accompanied by cello, ‘So Like A Child’ is a slow waltzer lament for things lost, giving way to the unrequited love themes of ‘The Cowboy Song’ which, despite the title and featuring Alan Cook on pedal steel, sound quintessentially English in a Lilac Time sort of way. Accompanied by just sparse acoustic guitar, the last number is the moody, dark and leafy folk of ‘Migrant’, a timely musing on the hopes and fears of refugee in transit. He waxes eloquently.

Of Maids And MarinersThe idea of singing Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ a capella, slowed down with handclaps and percussion is just so far out but that is what SAID THE MAIDEN have done on their debut EP, Of Maids And Mariners. It is just such a great idea and it works. The lead track is an up-tempo version of ‘The Soldier And The Maid’ showing off Hannah Elizabeth’s fiddle playing and after ‘Jolene’ comes the Davenports’ ‘Spring Tide Rising’ featuring Kathy Pilkinton’s whistle and Jess Distill’s shruti. The first two tracks were produced by Stu Hanna and the latter two were recorded live. Said The Maiden will be huge before too long.

Green OnionsIn celebration of Record Store Day 2016 Topic release a unique double A-side vinyl single. On top is a version of Booker T’s ‘Green Onions’ by MARTIN SIMPSON, ANDY CUTTING and TOM WRIGHT. Cutting takes the lead with Wright drumming and playing guitar lead. There’s a bass in there, too, although there is no indication who might be playing it. Underneath is SIMPSON CUTTING KERR with a specially recorded version of ‘Willie Taylor’ with Simpson on lead vocal and banjo. There is a distinctly transatlantic feel about this variant with a chorus that isn’t heard in English versions. Hedy West claimed it as an Anglo-American ballad but everyone seems to agree with enjoying the fact that the heroine was rewarded rather than punished for her action.

English Songs 2In support of the same event Fledg’ling release the latest of their replica EPs. English Songs Volume 2 features SHIRLEY COLLINS accompanied by Robin Hall. ‘Dance To Your Daddy’ carries none of the baggage that the last fifty-something years have added to it and doesn’t sound anywhere near as naive as you might expect. The version of ‘The Sperm Fishery’ is different from that on False True Lovers – no banjo, which only appears on ‘The Foolish Boy’. That track, together with ‘My Bonny Miner Lad’ seems rather slight by modern standards and the chorus of ‘The Foolish Boy’ is rather silly but all four tracks were recorded with a simple dignity that sometimes seems lost these days. The inner sleeve includes a vintage photograph of Alan Lomax And The Ramblers.


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Grateful‘Grateful’ is the first single from the album …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing from Scottish singer-songwriter BLUE ROSE CODE also known as Ross Wilson. The lead track is a languid jazz-inflected piece and that’s followed by the more up-tempo ‘Midnight’s Mass In Suffolk’s Breast’, a song which immediately puts one in mind of a kinder relative of ‘Fairytale Of New York’. The James Yuill remix of ‘My Heart, The Sun’ is the set’s production number and finally we have ‘In The Morning Parts 1, 2 & 3’ live for BBC Radio Scotland. Ross has been around a while and it’s a great shame that he hasn’t come to our attention before now.

VIP ExtrasFollowing on from his critically-acclaimed album VIP, FINDLAY NAPIER brings us Very Interesting Extras, five new songs three of which are written or co-written by producer Boo Hewerdine. Gustaf Ljunggren adds a huge variety of sounds to the guitars, harmonium and ukulele played by Napier and Hewerdine. Findlay has a similar deadpan delivery to the late Michael Marra, but without the latter’s penchant for delivering comedy in the same vein. Top tracks are ‘After The Last Bell Rings’ and ‘Princess Rosanna Drowned In The Clyde’, a delightfully odd song. Who was Princess Rosanna? Did she even really exist?

Near The Sea‘Near The Sea’ coupled with ‘Alright Again’ is the second single to be taken from Secret Garden, the second album from AMY GODDARD which is due for release in April. It is a beautiful song about finding safety and contentment in a familiar, comforting environment and this theme is echoed in ‘Alright Again’. The two songs are very different in style – the first is full of sweeping strings whilst the second is backed by jangling guitar and hand percussion. On this evidence the album is keenly anticipated.

Desert SongsDesert Songs is a five track EP from songwriters DAWN LANDES AND PIERS FACCINI. The Anglo-American duo first worked together in 2013 but this is their first release as a duo. This is very much a meeting of equals: both have solo careers and the songs are joint efforts both in writing and performance. Piers brought a number of exotic acoustic instruments to the sessions and later Dawn took the tapes home to New York to add the drum parts. All the tracks boast tight harmonies and the lead song, ‘Heaven’s Gate’, is very catchy as is ‘Book Of Dreams’. Their strong melodies are what really sell the record.