THE SMOKE FAIRIES – Darkness Brings The Wonders Home (Year Seven Records)

Darkness Brings The Wonders HomeThe Smoke Fairies new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, is music that coughs up a bluesy and very British folk rock beauty. You know, the brilliant bottleneck player Mississippi Fred McDowell said, “I do not play no rock ‘n’ roll”, but these women certainly do – with British silky slide guitar to spare.

The first two songs explode with tough guitar lingo. In a way, this never stops being folk music; yet, in another way, it never stops being a lot of other things. Of course, The Fairies have played bluesy rock before with ‘The Three Of Us’ from their Blood Speaks album, but this new record certainly ups the amperage in relation to their last self-titled record which created lovely and dense and (somewhat) languid folk rock.

But, back to those first two songs, ‘On The Wing’ and ‘Elevator’: The former clears the air with a strident bottle-necked pulse, while those twin voices hover like angry spectres. Ahh, ‘Elevator’ plays a four aces riff, worthy of any card-carrying rock band of the 70’s with wah-wah intensity. And there’s a rhythmic piano to boot! It’s a wonderous rock tune.

Well, the rock pulse continues. ‘Disconnect’ has urgent chords, a lead guitar that plays with the angular construction of Chairs Missing period Wire, and vocals that recall an early Kate Bush. ‘Coffee Shop Blues’ is patient rock, with a broad landscape that percolates with the touch of honest truth. Once again, those vocals stretch toward a sublime sunset. This song dances on slow time.

‘Left To Roll’ is that same slow time with an even more glorious melody. I am from America’s frozen Midwest, and this song is a deep pair of warm gloves. It’s just an idea, but that’s the big deal with the Smoke Fairies’ music on this record: The solicitous singing butts against the juxtaposed punchy rock guitar sound. Darkness Brings The Wonder Home, more than any other SF’s album, tugs with bewitching tension.

Just a comment about the lovely unison vocals of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies: Years ago, the band Three Dog Night had a hit single called ‘One Is The Loneliest Number’. And the Greeks “considered the number 1 a unit and not a proper number, which had to express a multiplicity” (Thank you, once again Simon Critchley!). But these voices defy all that negativity about the solitary digit because the two Smoke Fairies become one in a joyous (before the fall) harmony of a Blakean “England’s green and pleasant land”. Yes, indeed, this music never stops being vibrate folk music.

And then the riff stuff returns. ‘Out Of The Woods’ vibrates with stinging chords and a psych feel. ‘Chocolate Rabbit’ grooves with guitar grease. The vocals slide with a spooky incantation. ‘Chew Your Bones’ gets bluesy with a Macbeth hellbroth” harmony. This song taps beauty and evil at the very same time. And ‘Don’t You Want To Spiral Out Of Control?’ flickers with psychedelic stop lights.

And, just another comment: This album picks up the embers of Fairport and Steeleye Span and continues to spark into the Wicker Man bonfire.

The finale song, ‘Super Tremolo’, simply weaves the melodic tapestry of this record to a final stitch. Those twin vocals sing a “green and pleasant” melody that is cast against rock guitar tension. Sure, this record never stops being a lot of other things. But, to once again quote Mississippi Fred McDowell, “My Baby She Gonna Just Jump And Shout”. And that’s what Darkness Brings The Wonders Home does: The Smoke Fairies “just jump and shout” in a way that never stops being a melodic folk record, but indeed, does “play rock ‘n’ roll”.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: https://www.musicglue.com/smokefairies

‘Disconnect’ – official video:

SINGLES BAR 47 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 47We’ll leave Christmas until later if you don’t mind. Belle Of The Ball is the debut solo recording by AINSLEY HAMILL of Fourth Moon and Barluath. She has an amazing cast of supporters including Graham Coe, Lucy, Evan Carson and Toby Shaer but what jumps out at you is that voice. She begins with the traditional ‘Latha Dhomh ‘s Buain a’ Choirce’ – a powerful but still authentic rendering over an insistent beat.. Butter wouldn’t melt.  Then comes the title track. The instruments are mostly traditional and acoustic but Ainsley sings in a dark, smoky, bluesy voice. Where did that come from? ‘Runaways’, a delightfully hedonistic song, is performed in the same style and then it’s back to the traditional ‘Ailein Duinn’ with Ainsley keeping to the lower end of her register.. Finally we have the country-tinged ‘The Green Woods Back Home’, different again and a cracking song to wrap things up with.
www.ainsleyhamill.com

Singles Bar 47THE PEOPLE VERSUS are a five-piece from Oxford who describe themselves as chamber pop but that could be a cover for posh folk-rock. The band spun off from Full Fathom Five and Ground Opening is their debut record – although they do a nice line in T-shirts as well. The EP opens with the double-header of ‘Like I’m Lonely/Driftwood’, built on a very basic drum-beat, possibly a loop, but ‘Driftwood’ gives the drummer more to do. ‘Ground Opening’ is also based on idiosyncratic percussion. Finally we have ‘Sea Monster (Charybdis)’ – you expect a touch of the classics from Oxford. The People don’t tell us much about themselves but we do know that the singer’s name is Alice and that she is blessed with a brilliantly flexible voice.
https://www.thepeopleversusmusic.com/

JAKE AARON certainly isn’t in a festive mood (good on you, Aaron) with ‘Here’s The Thing’. The thing is that he thinks we’re sinking and he could well be right. Jake has a nicely laconic delivery over a ringing acoustic guitar and a nice line in irony as he sings “here’s a song of hope and glory”.
https://jakeaaron.com/

In the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men DUSTY WRIGHT released ‘The Book Of Tears’ in the wake of the epidemic of mass murders in the USA this year. Americana with a soul-tinged chorus, this is a fine song that deserves a wide hearing. “Who has read the book of tears?” That’s just one of the questions he poses.
www.dustywright.com

Northern Irish singer-songwriter AARON SHANLEY released ‘A Decent Apology’ just too late for last month’s post. As a post break-up song it’s one of the best. “I still don’t love you, I’m never going to. But I owe you a decent apology.” An EP is in the works.
http://www.facebook.com/aaronshanley

Grungy as you could wish for, SMOKE FAIRIES release ‘Elevator’ in advance of their new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, to be released early next year. You won’t be surprised to learn that the album and this track were recorded in Seattle.
https://www.musicglue.com/smokefairies

Also grungy are THE ROQUES. Their single, ‘Valdivian’ begins with growling bass under strange drones and doesn’t really fit our remit but it exerts a certain compulsion. They look far too young to be having such dark thoughts.
https://www.facebook.com/theroquesmusic/

VARO are a traditional duo from Dublin who will release their debut album in the new year.  In the meantime they tempt us with their first single, ‘Sovay’ built on fiddle and drones supporting their close harmonies. Actually, Lucie Azconaga is French and Consuelo Nerea Breschi is Italian and their sound is more earthy than ethereal.
https://www.facebook.com/Varo.Dublin/

Christmas is still a way away for SERIOUS CHILD on ‘Brambles’. “Brambles will grow where bad people go to do unspeakable things” is the key phrase for the song is inspired by the work of forensic botanist, Mark Spencer. Can’t you just feel a TV series coming on? Alan Young, to give him his real name, occupies the same sort of musical and lyrical territory as Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Spooky but fascinating.
https://www.facebook.com/SeriousChildMusic/

A final festive flurry of singles heads up with SIOBHAN MILLER and her self-released ‘At This Time Of Year’, a piano ballad bedecked with lush woodwind and strings that offers a simple message about missing those you can’t be with at this time of the year and sending them your best wishes.
https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

The same sentiment can be found on the equally strings enrobed ‘Golden Christmas Time’ (Self-released), from TOBIAH, a song poignantly inspired by thoughts of absent friends and specifically the loss of her husband early into their marriage as she sings “See the dress I’ll wear tonight/Like the one you left for me/Placed beneath the Christmas tree”.
https://www.tobiah.co.uk/

Taking a somewhat different tack, strumming an acoustic guitar, one of Nashville’s few Asian country artists, GABE LEE offers up ‘Christmas Day’ (Self-released), described as a “sad and sarcastic” juxtaposition of the Hallmark seasonal schmaltz with the cold, harsh nature of winter in a song about a man on the run, hiding from the law as he sings “It’s been a long, long lonely winter / It’s been a cold, hard-livin’ couple years / And it kills me to say they’re gonna lock me away / And it don’t look like I’ll be home by Christmas day”.
https://www.facebook.com/gabeleetn/

Taking an equally less cheery approach, alt-folk trio THICKETS offer the slow waltzing, icy auto harp tinkling ‘A Winter’s Warning’ (Self-released), a song that began life as an attempt a carol and ended up a murder ballad with Rebecca Lavery offering the ethereal vocal and Emma Hamilton providing the wintery harmonies.
http://www.thickets.co.uk/

Keeping it downcast, from Sweden comes SOFIA TALVIK riding on the ominous rhythms of ‘Christmas Train’ (Makaki Music), a free download from her Bandcamp site that, in keeping with her previous holiday releases, harks to the darker side with a modern take on the legend of Krampus, Santa’s evil counterpart, who most decidedly is not bringing joy and presents, here embodied in a train rolling down the track to steal dreams and lives.
https://sofiatalvik.com/

Also from Sweden is BUFORD POPE telling is ‘What Christmas Ain’t’ (Unchained), a bluesy alt-country strum in which he recounts a kid preparing for Christmas with his sister and parents and then turning to a theme about those left homeless on the streets in the holiday season.
http://bufordpope.com/

A social conscience is also at the heart of the acoustic chime of ‘Stars’ (Fretsore), a reflective new single by Scotland’s JACK HENDERSON which, opening borrowing from The Tempest’s line about we are such stuff that dreams are made on, responds to the divisiveness in today’s world with a song that, contemplating the origins of life, talks of how, in matters of substance, we are essentially the same. And that, as he puts it, there is “a real sense in which our personal stories have contributed to our collective human story”. Which, I guess, is really what Christmas is about.
http://jackhenderson.co.uk/

What Christmas is about is at the heart of ‘Heart Of Mine’ by LADY NADE. The song is for her grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. You have to imagine what this time of year can be like for sufferers – routine is destroyed, strangers are all around and there is noise and bustle everywhere. Lady Nade simply says, “I won’t let you down”.
www.ladynade.co.uk

‘It’s Not That Cold Anymore’ also contemplates the problem of loneliness at a time when we’re supposed to be happy. YVONNE McDONNELL’s single is a lavishly arranged ode to nostalgia and lost loves. Add it to your Christmas mix-tape.
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/yvonne-mcdonnell

SINGLES BAR 45- A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 45SARAH YEO is British but she is more deeply steeped in the sounds of America than some Americans. Safe is a five track EP of original songs featuring Sarah Jory on pedal steel and Dobro with drums by Matt Butlin.

The opener, ‘I’m On My Way’, was actually written in San Diego and tells of a yearning for the big country. Next up is ‘War Of Worlds’ is described as the story of a falling out with someone close but if you want to take it as a metaphor for Brexit I certainly won’t stop you. Sarah isn’t taking sides but pleading for a cease-fire. If you’re familiar with the stage of a relationship when you’re not sure if it’s actually over or not then the title track will resonate with you.

‘Roadie 2019’ finds the singer looking for a roadie to help her with a gig in a “nice little bar in a Somerset town” but the story develops into a potential romance as Sarah observes that the hills begin to look more like California. Finally, ‘Lines’ tells of an enduring love although Sarah would seem to be singing from a viewpoint somewhere in the future. Safe is a lovely mix of themes.
www.sarahyeomusic.co.uk

Singles Bar 45A Glasgow-based country singer-songwriter, DAVID LATTO reverts to his solo soubriquet after a couple of outings as the David Latto Band for his new EP, Show Me How To Feel, although, featuring five backing musicians, it’s still very much a band work. It opens with the title track, a mid-tempo number written after a period when he felt out of touch with himself and his music, leading into the acoustic strum of ‘Blood & Whisky’, tracing similar idea of rediscovering yourself, here through reconnecting with childhood friends. Another ballad, but with a more leisurely approach, ‘Better Ways’ again draws on that feeling of running to stand still and needing to find a sense of direction and the right path to take. Stripped down to the basics with a minimal pulsing arrangement featuring John Mather on pedal steel, ‘Haunt Me’ was one of the first things he wrote after the band broke up, an impressionist nostalgic remembrance of past relationships recorded in one take while it ends with the walking beat ‘Losing You’, a song about feeling a relationship slipping away and wondering how to hold on to it before, as it builds to a crescendo, realising maybe letting go is the best thing.

Latto confesses that for a long time he felt he’d lost his creative spirit, listening here it’s clear he’s not only found it again, but it’s come with a full recharge.
http://davidlattomusic.com/

Singles Bar 45No Songs comes on newly-fashionable 7” vinyl and consists of six instrumental tracks – ten tunes in all – recorded in 1967 by MARTIN CARTHY AND DAVE SWARBRICK. Martin plays guitar, of course, and Swarb plays fiddle and mandolin and as Martin says “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Some of the tunes, ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ and ‘The Ash Plant’ for example, are familiar pieces from the duo’s later repertoire but many are less well-known. The opener, ‘Gillens’ Apples/Snug In The Blanket’, shows off Swarbrick’s finger-breaking mandolin to great effect while ‘Grey Daylight’ is a fiddle tour de force. The recording is very straightforward, as you would expect from the time – no messing about: they let the music speak for itself. A newly re-discovered gem that Martin is selling at gigs.
www.fledglingrecords.co.uk

Dove TalesBased around Scandinavian Stef Rose and Happy Mondays guitarist Johnny Evans alongside Durutti Column drummer Chris Joyce and bassist Victor Freeman, DOVE TALES are a Manchester-based quartet mixing up 60s folk rock jangle, 70s country-soul and Brit rock, stirred together on the Lamplight Sessions EP (Awal), lead track ‘Come Over Here’ taking care of the latter. Of more interest to Folking ears will be the steady slow walking bass strut of ‘Bully’ with its country coloured chorus and the bluegrassy romp of ‘M6’ while Evans sings lead on the West Coast swayalong ‘You And I’ with its instrumental workout bridge.
https://dovetalesband.com/

My Darling ClementineMY DARLING CLEMENTINE, aka Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, release Country Darkness Vol 1, interpretations of Elvis Costello’s country songs. It’s preceded by a single, ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’, and will be followed in due course by volume 2. ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ isn’t terribly country but the second track, ‘Stranger In The House’, makes up for that. ‘That Day Is Done’, a slow piano-driven number maintains the vibe while heading into blues territory. ‘I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came’ is more mainstream country but supplies a big finish. Supporting the duo is Attraction/Imposter Steve Nieve linking these new versions back to Costello.
https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/

OutsideBorn in Shropshire and based in Glasgow, MOLLY LINEN releases her debut Outside EP, (Lost Map). Lead track ‘When They Didn’t Care’ with its layered guitars nodding to psychedelic folkpop while the sparse fingerpicked, echoey whispered vocals of ‘Waited Long and the slow-paced, doomily pastoral ‘Soft As Love’ throw up Nick Drake and Cat Power shadows, although its ‘Outside’ with its double-tracked vocals, muted drum beat and watery guitars that proves the most effective.
https://www.facebook.com/molly.linen/

Picture‘Picture’ is the taster single for the debut album that is due from ELIZABETH & JAMESON early next year. The album is centred around Whitby and the song was inspired by a visit to the Sutcliffe Gallery. The second track, a live recording of ‘To Mend A Broken Heart’, is the first song that Hannah Elizabeth (of Said The Maiden) and Griff Jameson worked on as a duo. Their simple style – guitar, violin and voices – suits the directness of their songwriting.
www.elizabethandjameson.co.uk

Keith JamesThe Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher wrote in 1703 “I knew a very wise man … believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” If that’s so, the world needs powerful songs as much as ever. The KEITH JAMES song ‘I Can See’, for online release on October 15th 2019, was written “in support of and on behalf of organizations and individuals currently campaigning to bring a wider and urgent awareness of global climate change“, and it certainly hits its target. Keith James clearly sees the danger of living in a post-truth, self-serving society, but he sees hope too, and that’s important.
http://www.keith-james.com/

Unwed FathersOriginally released on his 1984 album Aimless Love, JOHN PRINE revisits his classic ‘Unwed Fathers’ (Thirty Tigers) in the company of Margo Price who joins in on the second verse. The song a condemnation of the way unwed mothers are “kept under cover/like some bad dream” while the fathers “run like water through a mountain stream”, he re-recorded it as part of a fundraising effort for the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Alabama’s near-complete ban on abortion, stating “that song has always been about how women are the ones who carry, birth and sometimes are left with taking care of and raising children too. Now they want to take away their right to decide if or when they do that. Women should be the ones to make decisions about what affects their lives in such a big way”.
https://www.johnprine.com/

John MorelandMentioning Prine, JOHN MORELAND supported him on his last UK tour and now releases ‘East October’ as a taster for his upcoming Thirty Tigers album debut, a scuffed drum beat, percussive hiss and piano anchoring an achingly soulful song about trying to make it without a crutch to lean on as he sings “how am I ever gonna get by all by myself?
http://johnmoreland.net/

Alessi's ArkSacred is a lovely soft-rock download-only single by ALESSI’S ARK. Relatively simple keyboards, drums and bass support Alessi Laurent-Marke’s sweet voice with the whole thing topped off with electric guitar and some delicate touches that take time to register.
https://www.facebook.com/Alessisarkmusic/

DisconnectIt’s been four years since the last SMOKE FAIRIES album, but Darkness Brings The Wonders Home is set for release in January, preceded by new single Disconnect’, a welcome reminder of their dark fecund and slightly spooked brand of folk with its jittery, guitar riff mantra and the gathering fuzzed rush as it hits the chorus hook that duly ramps up anticipation.
https://www.musicglue.com/smokefairies

Smoke Fairies announce new album and 2020 tour

Smoke Fairies

Smoke Fairies have announced the release their first album for four years. Darkness Brings The Wonders Home will be released on January 31st coupled with new tour dates for the band. The first single to be taken from the album, Disconnect’, is available now on all online platforms.

Jessica and Katherine travelled to Seattle to record Darkness Brings The Wonders Home with producer Phil Ek (The Black Angels, Fleet Foxes, The Shins) and over the course of a rigorous month-long session in Seattle, adopted a purposely intimate approach to achieving a singular sonic tone.

In the making of Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, Smoke Fairies drew inspiration from mysteries both real and imagined: sea monsters, flocks of crows taking flight in extravagant formation, strange creatures dwelling in the mud near their new South London abode.

“Times of darkness are when people are often the most imaginative,” says Jessica Davies in reflecting on the album’s title. “It helps you to see all the wonders of the world you hadn’t noticed before – the things you’ve been blind to because you’ve been on autopilot for so long.”

To celebrate the album’s release Smoke Fairies have also announced a tour starting in Manchester on February 1st 2020. The band dropped new track “Out Of The Woods” in August and follow it with first single “Disconnect” which is available on streaming and download platforms.

The new album Darkness Brings The Wonders Home is available to pre-order now from the band’s website and tickets for the band’s tour dates are on general now from all usual outlets.

Artists’ website: www.SmokeFairies.com

‘Out Of The Woods’ – official video:

UK Dates:

1st Feb Manchester, Soup Kitchen
2nd Feb Leeds, Oporto
3rd Feb Norwich, Arts Centre
5th Feb Oxford, Bullingdon
6th Feb London, Hoxton Hall
7th Feb Birmingham, Sunflower Lounge
8th Feb Bristol, Rough Trade
9th Feb Portsmouth, Square Tower