Featuring producer Pete Ord on guitar and bass, Kath Ord and violin and viola, pianist Jen Ord and Archie Moss on melodeon, 2019 Young Folk Awards winner queer folk singer-songwriter and interpreter, MADDIE MORRIS makes her studio recording debut with Upstream (Haystack HAYCD105), opening with ‘Down By The Greenwood Side’, a hypnotic pulsing spin on the infanticide ballad ‘The Cruel Mother’ that encourages an understanding of her actions in the light of unwanted motherhood. A second traditional follows with an unaccompanied Appalachian-influenced reading of ‘Barbara Allen’ learned from Jean Ritchie. The three other numbers are all self-penned, taking inspiration from myths, folklore and the natural world and focused on the women experience gender-based violence or discrimination. The rippling darkly fingerpicked ‘Philomela’ tells the metaphorical story of the Greek goddess who was raped and her tongue is cut out to prevent her speaking of it. Both the six-minute plus ‘The Selkie’s Daughter’, accompanied by just drone, and, the sparse, fingerpicked, mournful violin-coloured ‘The Salmon’, which, opening with spoken sample from the1969 documentary We Who Have Friends, courtesy of director Richard Woolley and the Yorkshire Film Archive about the difficulty of being a homosexual in 60s Leeds despite the tolerance of the environment along with Margaret Thatcher’s declaration about children being taught traditional moral values and not the right to be gay, address issues of queer identity and belonging and, as per the EP title, swimming upstream.
Highly acclaimed Americana sibling close harmony duo THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS dig into one of their inspirations for an EP of Dylan covers, If Not For You: Bob Dylan Songs Vol 1 (Walkie Talkie). The title track kicks things off with an easy rolling drums, pedal steel and piano tinged take in the manner of the Everlys, following on with a slow swaying piano, steel and clopping percussion coloured strum through ‘To Ramona’. The two other choices are less well-known, the slow walking rhythm of the yearningly sun, organ-backed ‘Went To See The Gypsy’ appearing on New Morning, while from Nashville Skyline comes a keyboards-anchored ‘Tell Me That It Isn’t True’ again channelling the Evs. Faithful without being slavish, it’s all rather lovely. Roll on ‘Vol 2’. www.thecactusblossoms.com
ANNIE KEATING is an artist that you really can’t pin down – she’s alt-just about everything. Her latest single, ‘Lovesick Blues’, features grungy guitar, pounding drums, Hammond organ and boogie-woogie piano. It sounds authentically old – it’s not the Hank Williams tune – but it is very modern.
As a prelude to his forthcoming album CHRIS CLEVERLY releases a single, ‘Still Life’. Chris progresses by leaps and bounds with every new record and ‘Still Life’ is cleverly (sorry) arranged to sound simple and rich at the same time. The song is a description of the dystopia to which we are heading – “life imitating art” – as one tree remains in a tank in Times Square. We’re looking forward to the album.
Wolverhampton duo BLUEBYRD, singer-guitarist Chris Rowley and Gareth Pask on keyboards, self-release their third infectious single of the year with ‘Crystals’, a shimmering woodwind-shaded, fingerpicked song, with echoes perhaps of Ralph McTell, about a woman who, “when the world just isn’t right/When we’re too scared to think” finds strength, solace and something to hold on to through her belief in the power of crystals.
Western Gothic is a genre that has finally got a name – heavyweight country with brass – and it’s exemplified by ‘Give Up The Ghost’ the new single by JOSELYN & DON. Originally from Montana, they relocated to Los Angeles to find their fortunes. Without stretching the point, their lyrics share the mythical quality of The Band at their best and the sound is straight off Rock Of Ages.
A BAND NAMED BRIAN is the musical vehicle of Brian Madigan, formerly of the folk-rock band Madigan with Jennifer Crook and Maclaine Colston. His (their?) new single is ‘If You Believe In Magic’, which probably requires an illegal state of mind to fully understand. Actually, the underlying message is that there are better places if you can only find them.
A novelist and artist as well as a singer-songwriter, New York-based NATHANIEL BELLOWS releases ‘Well Water’ (Harmon Blunt Music), a song written in the wake of his father’s death reflecting on what makes us who we are, the track a darkly sung, fingerpicked number accompanied by rumbling distant drums and choral vocals by My Brightest Diamond vocalist Shara Nova, as, somewhat evocative of Cohen, he sings of life as an undertow, that “No one believes it none, not even me/ The sword and the sequins and the teething ring/One day you’ll leave here (leave a light lit low)”.
Rapid finger-picked acoustic guitar introduces the high clear voice of TOMMY ASHBY and his new single, ’A Beautiful Day’, a song about youth and first love shaped by time and memory. It’s one you’d happily have on loop.
‘Just Another Song’ comes from the EP Just Another EP by Florida pop-folk band, THE 502s. It has a light 60s feel full of nostalgia – melting ice creams and The Beach Boys Greatest Hits – in a plea to get together again.
Part of the veteran songwriter-producer’ planned duets album fundraiser for anticancer platforms, the strings-laced ‘Here We Stand’ (self-released) by RALPH McTELL AND CHARLEY FOSKETT celebrates the bonds we share despite the miles that keep us apart, Foskett sounding like a Northern Tom Waits. Other names lined up for the project include Janis Ian, Christine Collister, Liam O’Maonlai and the late Julie Felix
The assassination of King Kenneth II of Scotland isn’t high on history syllabuses but it’s a gory story as told by IONA FYFE on her new digital single, ‘Lady Finella’. Kenneth was nicknamed “The Fratricide”, so he wasn’t a nice bloke and he killed Lady Finella’s son. There are several stories surrounding his death but Iona is definite that Finella committed the act of revenge before meeting her own end. Iona wrote the song and you’d take it as traditional if you didn’t know better. She embellishes the story a bit but wasn’t that always the way with a good ballad?
Backdropped by forlorn Basque-territory Spanish guitar, bells, keyboard waves and rumbling drums, her voice soaring over the melody in both hymnal and operatic (Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers especially) manner, LAURA MULCAHY unfold the story of a doomed love between a Thooleramawn (an Irish term for a dim wit) and a vampire in the utterly beautiful ‘Natural Disaster’ (self-released), a timeless dark fairytale about both the blindness and hope of love. One of the best things you’ll hear all year.
Somers Town, the new single from the forthcoming album by MAN THE LIFEBOATS hits the ground running. Somers Town is an area of Camden which includes the British Library and St. Pancras Old Church but the band make it sound like an episode of S.W.A.T. The Men They Couldn’t Hang at their height meet The Clash – it’s a belter.
A taster for his forthcoming EP, Irish experimental folk singer JOSHUA BURNSIDE releases his first new music of the year with the title track new single ‘Late Afternoon In The Meadow (1887)’ which opens with him describing a man jump from the Clifton Street bridge in Belfast near to Shankhill and falling on to the Westlink “like a sack of spuds”. Etched on fingerpicked guitar with waves of percussion and looped sounds, set to a backdrop of working class Belfast and life without meaning (“my life just something that’s been happening to me”), it proceeds to unfold the reasons (“I owe a lot of money to the wrong people”), the motorway a concrete symbol of the division found in the city.
LINDSAY MUNROE is blessed with a powerful, mature voice which sits well above a rich arrangement on her new single, ‘Wild Me’. It was written in solitude in the Lake District as part of her escape from a difficult period in her life while finding her true self who she describes as stubborn, sensitive, smart and still pretty weird.
There’s a drop dead, catch your breath scene in the fifth episode of Rings Of Power when Megan Richards, who plays Poppy, starts singing ‘This Wandering Day’ as the Harfoot Hobbits trek through the landscape to a new home (“The sun is fast falling beneath trees of stone/The light in the tower no longer my home/Past eyes of pale fire, black sand for my bed/I trade all I’ve known for the unknown ahead”). Written by Bear McReary and featured on the series soundtrack it’s quite simply one of the most beautiful, moving songs of the year with a chorus (“Call to me, call to me lands far away/For I must now wander this wandering day/Away I must wander this wandering day”) that touches the heart and it’s now been covered as a single by EURIELLE AND RYAN LOUDER (Eurielle Records) who, opening with drone, give it a bigger, orchestral sound while the classically trained Yorkshire singer still captures the raw emotion at its heart and its message that “not all who wonder or wander are lost”. A folk classic is born.