SINGLES BAR 43 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 43Formed in response to an RSC songwriting competition, Coventry-based THE MECHANICALS BAND are fronted by Wes Finch and feature Nizlopi double bassist John Parker, drummer Ban Haines and Jools Street and Katrin Gilbert on violin and viola, respectively. Following on from their Shakespare-themed debut, Exit, Pursued by Bear they broaden their literary horizons with Miscellany #1 (Silvery) which features settings of poems by W. B. Yeats (‘Meditation of the Old Fisherman’), Edna St Vincent Millay (‘Recuerdo’), Ralph Hodgson (the rousingly jaunty ‘Time You Old Gypsy Man’), and Robert Browning (the traditional flavoured spare guitar and strings ‘Along The Road’). Dating back to 1873, it ends with Arthur O’Shaugnessy’s celebration of the world’s creative artists ‘Ode’ (from which the phrase movers and shakers originated) on which, set to a military beat and anthemic melody, they declare “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams”. Seems appropriate.

Lonny ZiblatThe new EP by Argentina-born LONNY ZIBLAT consists of five songs from his new album, Dream Hunting, and, as such, has a description rather than a title on its cover. The songs are all acoustic but that doesn’t mean pared back to nothing. The arrangements are satisfyingly full with Lonny playing all the instruments – the only guest is Magdalena Golebiowska, who sings lead on ‘Days Of Peace’ – and he constructs a particularly nice instrumental break on the opening track, ‘Healing’. ‘A Little Secret’ was written for his late father and ‘Stuck’ is a simple ukulele strum. The only weak point is ‘Phony Baits’ on which he seems to be straining for some notes.

Singles Bar 43A bluegrass family five piece from West Texas, comprising siblings Arlen, Jessica, Jenna and Galen Ivey alongside Jessica’s husband Sammy Carr THE IVEYS self-release Colors Of Honey, which, at six tracks is either an extended EP or mini-album, but whatever tag you give it comprises some fine Americana that variously draws on influences that range from The Beatles to The Lumineers. It’s a generally musically upbeat set, setting the mood from the start with the choppy country pop bounce of ‘You Got Something’ and the pedal steel keening ‘Whatever Comes’ with Arlen and Jessica duetting before slowing things down with the sisters harmonising on piano ballad ‘Running Wild’. The title track’s another hushed offering, cello and acoustic guitar building to a fuller sound midway before ebbing away again at the end. Again backed by piano, ‘King And Marie’ has Arlen on lead recounting the story of their grandparents’ romance, the set closing with the multiple unaccompanied close harmonies of ‘The Dream’ before a final piano outro. The collection’s title nicely sums up their sound, give them a listen, they’ve got something.

Singles Bar 43Choose My Company is the second EP by singer-songwriter BETH MALCOLM. The opening track, ‘People Make Glasgow’, tells you where she lives and I reckon that anyone who knows the city will find it raising a smile. It starts gently with just voice and acoustic guitar but then the line “a bloody freezing basement flat on Kelvingrove Street” grabs your attention. It crosses Sauchiehall Street, if you’re interested, and it’s where she found love so she likes it really. Kelvin Grove turns up again in ‘Ghost Tour’ and the title track is a tale of separation, heartbreak and reunion set across the span of a Glasgow winter. Beth plays keys and is accompanied by guitarist Dorian Cloudsley, and jazz-man by preference but, oddly, I keep hearing hints of old pop lyrics.

Siingles Bar 43For her new EP, Inspired (Folkstock), ZOE WREN has covered six female artists who have influenced and inspired her music over the years. First up, perhaps inevitably, is Joni Mitchell, the choice being a beautifully simple voice and piano reading of ‘Both Sides Now’ that stands as one of the finest cover versions of the song. Though it’s been recorded by any number of folk artists, it’s Pentangle and in particular Jacqui McShee who are celebrated with ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’, steering away from echoing their jazz colours in favour of of melancholic, reflective traditional folk reading that changes the chords, adds pedal effects and even introduces a new lively guitar and percussion instrumental bridge section.

Her third selection comes as something of a surprise since it moves away from the film field to cover ‘Joanne’, a song by Lady Gaga. The original was uptempo with acoustic guitars and percussion, but Wren’s is folksier, slower and accompanied by piano to bring an end of evening melancholia. Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talking ‘Bout A Revolution’ hews closely to the original as does a reverential strummed vocally double-tracked take on Sandy Denny classic ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ though it takes Denny’s 1973 Peel session rather than the Fairport recording as its template. It ends with another non-folk artist, Wren digging out her synth cello to add an extra tone to her magnificent piano-led interpretation of the iconic Kate Bush’s ‘The Man With A Child In His Eyes’.

Singles Bar 43JON WILKS has been mentioned in these pages before in the context of his album, Midlife. Now he follows that up with an EP, The Trial Of Bill Burn Under Martin’s Act. The title track comes from an old broadside which satirised The Cruel Treatment Of Cattle Act 1822 – “a man can’t chastise his own ass” is an unsubtle double entendre. The second track, ‘Holly Ho’, sounds old and mentions chainmakers but was collected as recently as 1958 from a pub where the regulars apparently added new verses every week. Jon recruited Nick Hart and Mikey Kenney to play on this one.

The third track, ‘Who Hung The Monkey?’ comes from Hartlepool and is based on the famous story of the monkey who was washed up on shore and hanged as a French spy although the song would appear to be music-hall piece. Finally we have a gentle, weary reading of ‘Leave Her, Johnny’. Jon is an accomplished finger-picker but doesn’t show off and allows the songs to tell their own stories which is how things should be.

Singles Bar 43A painter, poet, songwriter and storyteller, Lancashire’s TORIA WOOFF releases Badlands (Sloe Flower Records), her second EP of “gothic literature and pained Americana telling tales of love and malevolence”. Comprising four tracks, she describes them in terms of synaesthesia, sounds evoking colours which, in turn, represent feelings. Hence the EP being described as ‘browner and orange’ with ‘oaky guitar tones’. In more prosaic terms, that translates to an autumnal 70s folk rock feel of open skies and falling leaves, etched with acoustic guitar and strings on the likes of  the gradually gathering ‘Cases’, the echoingly sung, widescreen ‘Collision Course’ with its Spanish guitar and rocky canyons ambience or the rhythmically curling, martial beat ‘Smoke’. Clocking at just over five minutes, accompanied by cello, ‘For Liam (Souhja)’ is the longest track and also the one most redolent of dreamy Americana shades, the ‘smoky topaz’ of the press release. She can sing a rainbow.

Siingles Bar 43In Arden is an EP of four instrumental pieces by STEVE GARRETT AND PETER LOWIT WITH JAMES EDGE. Guitarist Garrett wrote all the music, Lowit plays double-bass and Edge arranged and directed the string quartet on the title track. If you’re wondering about the title, you’re right, it does refer to Tamworth-in-Arden, family home of Nick Drake. Garrett has been honoured to play at the annual Nick Drake Gathering there and this tune reflects Danny Thompson’s bass playing, Robert Kirby’s arrangements and, of course, Nick’s guitar playing. ‘You Called Me’ is a pure jazz tune which gives Lowit the opportunity to stretch out a bit and ‘Mr CC’ is essentially a renaissance jig with a jazz flourish in the middle. Finally, ‘Braw Day’ is a pastoral piece to send you drifting away.

TraitorsAvailable from Bandcamp and featuring Cathryn Craig on backing vocals, Brian Willoughby on lead guitar and e-bow and Mark Jolley providing bass and violin, MARINA FLORANCE is in protest mode for ‘Traitors’, a number co-penned with author Richard Pierce Saunderson, a song he describes as about the personal cost of the political situation in the UK with the media-fuelled xenophobia and discrimination against legal immigrants and their descendants as the song asks “Is this still our haven, a place for those in need or are we a country broken, driven by hate and greed?”.

If I tell you that brother and sister duo GALLILEO’S FAN are Fi and Martin Vass you might begin to speculate and, of course, you’d be right. Their single, ‘I Won’t Be Found’, is the title track of their new album on which brother Mike appears along such luminaries as Louis Abbott, whose distinctive drumming underpins this track, Graeme Smillie and Euan Burton.  Their sound is indie but capable of great delicacy.

Singles Bar 43SJ DENNEY releases the third single in his current bi-monthly series. ‘A Fond Farewell’ is an up-tempo song of hope for the future: “every day we’ve got to chase the demons all away”. The arrangement is big and punchy with nice piano and brass and solid drumming. Are you working up to an album SJ?

Jm ChorleyJIM CHORLEY has been around for a while but his new single, ‘There’s Nothing Like Your Love’, ups the production values and features a host of guest musicians. This is an old-fashioned love song and although there is some fine playing in evidence the arrangement goes a bit over the top at times but it’s the style he seems to favour.

The Slow KnifeManchester singer-songwriter LIAM FROST is set to release his first album for ten years in September. ‘The Slow Knife’ is the second single to be taken from The Latchkey Kid – a song about growing apart within a relationship. Liam is still young but pessimistic and although it’s a fine song it may mean more in the album context.

Eye On YouA nice chunky guitar introduces ‘Eye On You’, the first single by Australian singer/songwriter FENN WILSON to be taken from his debut full-length album Ghost Heroin.  His slightly husky voice complements the bluesy, vaguely country feel of the song although the backing vocals at the end are rather distracting.

STEVE GARRETT – Discover And Endure (Alt Mor Records ALT-MOR2)

Diiscover And EndureSteve Garrett’s Discover And Endure consists of solo electric guitar pieces, “inspired by stories and experience of landscape, exploration and human endurance.” On this CD his Gibson ES-335 is sparingly augmented with some minimal but effective looping/drone and percussive effects by way of an Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedal, and a sub-octave pedal (an EH Octave Multiplexer perhaps?). While you may associate solo electric guitar with jazz – and Steve is clearly at home in that genre – some of the source material here is actually quite folky, and there’s also an ambitious take on a musical gem by Gustav Holst.

Here’s the track listing:

  1. ‘Discover And Endure’ was composed by Steve Garrett, taking its inspiration from the RRS Discovery expedition to the Antarctic between 1901 and 1904. Conceptually, it could be described as the centrepiece of the CD, in that the team at RRS Discovery have played a large part in the project and the forthcoming launch event. Indeed, the accompanying booklet includes a number of photographs of Steve’s own Antarctic landscape watercolours. Though it’s not the longest track on the CD, it packs a wide range of dynamic and musical variation into its four minutes and 43 seconds.
  2. ‘Summer River’ is another Steve Garrett composition, representing sunlight shimmering on water. It features melodic lead voicings over an arpeggiated loop, and certainly offers a relaxed ambience to match the experience it represents.
  3. ‘Lament For The Children’ takes as its starting point a heartfelt 17th century tune by Padruig Mor MacCrimmon “from the piobaireachd tradition … Dedicated to those who have endured the loss of a child.” (MacCrimmon himself lost seven of his eight sons within the space of a year.) While Steve sets parts of the tune against a drone, much of this rendition is chordal, giving it a very different feel to the same tune played on the pipes, as do the very clean tone of the guitar and the freer (presumably improvised) mid-section. What matters, though, is that it somehow maintains both the beauty of the melody and its intrinsic melancholy.
  4. ‘Midwinter Gathering’ is another of Steve Garrett’s compositions. Percussion effects recalling a rather muffled bodhrán (though actually meant to represent “the chaotic footfall of ceilidh dancers” are set against a sprightly reel in the first section, followed by ‘A folk-rock jam section‘. Almost a sub-polar, instrumental counterpart to Bill Caddick’s ‘Winter Fair’. I particularly like this one.
  5. ‘Egdon Heath’ adapts Holst’s underrated composition, originally dedicated to Thomas Hardy. (Egdon Heath is the fictitious area of Wessex which is the setting for The Return Of The Native and features in a number of Hardy’s other stories.) While the intrinsic nature of the instrument is inevitably unable to match the range of instrumental colour and dynamics we hear in an orchestral rendition, this adaptation does capture much of the atmosphere of the piece, and the restrained use of a drone effect adds a richness that would be hard to achieve in a purely acoustic transcription.
  6. ‘Lassie Lie Near Me’ (Roud B44150) is a folk song well-known in association with a lyric collected and adapted by Robert Burns, and a melody sometimes attributed to Thomas Blacklock. This version is faster and freer than I’ve heard in most vocal versions, but it makes an attractive solo piece.
  7. ‘Clifftop Storm’ is another piece by Steve, which he describes as “Variations on a theme by Dave Grohl over a desert drumbeat.” I can’t comment on its resemblance to anything by Foo Fighters, but it seemed eerily appropriate on my iPod when caught in a rainstorm while hillwalking in Cornwall. The section with single string work over a drone is jazzier, and contrasts with the more chordal sections that precede and follow it.
  8. The CD finishes with Steve’s ‘Black Sail Hut’, inspired by a stay at the very remote hostel at the head of the Ennerdale valley, in the Lake District. It’s a gentle, jazz-accented piece that reminded me a little of John Martyn’s ‘Small Hours’, in atmosphere if not in melodic content. Lovely.

While some of Steve Garrett’s admirers have emphasised the serenity and tranquillity of his performances, don’t mistake this for ambient music of the aural wallpaper persuasion. Behind that cool, clear single-string work and those unaggressively jazzy chords, there’s sensitivity as well as technique, and musicality that goes far beyond easy listening. While I can’t altogether like the tone of the percussive effects, the CD as a whole certainly had me reaching for my Les Paul…

Fittingly, the album will be launched on April 5th at 19:30, at RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the ship that carried the Discovery Expedition (a.k.a. British National Antarctic Expedition) and now a visitor attraction at Discovery Quay, in Dundee.

David Harley

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