SINGLES BAR 72 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 72THE CURSE OF K.K.HAMMOND is London born slide guitarist and self-professed hermit Kristelle Karina who has a thing for resonator guitars and early Delta blues. She has, however, forsaken her reclusive Buckinghamshire life to record a self-titled five track EP, opening with the self-penned ‘The Ballad Of Blue Docherty’, a cautionary loping blues bedtime story about a Bayou boy who, feeling invincible with a lucky charm made from a gator’s arm, got a tad careless and fell prey to a one-armed gator. It’s followed by moody a junkyard clatter arrangement of ‘In The Pines’ and, in similar manner her own six-minute ‘Devil’s Kin Blues’, though I suspect the back in the mix sound might be a production glitch rather than the intentional, the same applying to the closing take on ‘Graveyard Blues’, an original rather than by John Lee Hooker or Roscoe Holcomb. It’s completed with ‘The Ballad of Lampshade Ed’, a gothic tale about a farm boy who, raised by a hellfire preaching mother, tended pigs and read about Old Testament divine retribution, his desire to touch skin resulting in making a lamp and seat out of tanned hide, the suggestion being it possibly wasn’t from an animal. Volume aberrations notwithstanding, it tends to be very much on one level, and a little variation wouldn’t have gone amiss, but if you’re a devotee of those muddy water blues, you’ll want to take a splash.

Just to be clear, AWAKE BY DESIGN are generally regarded as a heavy metal band, albeit one with strong melodic tendencies. However, their EP, Unfaded, is a departure, a semi-acoustic collection of six tracks. The opener, ‘Tomorrow’s End’, is still a powerful song with Adrian Powell’s vocals dominating and they are well up in the mix throughout. ‘Falling On Me’ begins with piano and acoustic guitar but the band can’t quite forget its roots and there is a rather nice guitar solo – not sure if Luke Smith or Toby Stewart are responsible for that.

‘Shadowlight’ is based on the same piano and guitar combination. If this were the 1970s you might be thinking Moody Blues but when the electric guitar solo kicks in they begin to sound more and more like the modern incarnation of Strawbs and ‘The Coming Tide’, featuring Faye Brooks’ lead vocals does little to dispel that illusion. The title track opens with two acoustic guitars – it would be fun to play it blind to a bunch of rootists and ask then to identify the band. The final ‘Wind Of Change’ is possibly the best song in the set from a lyrical perspective. If Awake By Design are looking for a change of direction they have found one and if they are just experimenting with some new ideas they could do worse than continue dabbling in the lab.

AGENT STARLING are Quentin Budworth on hurdy-gurdy and Louise Duffy-Howard on vocals and other instruments, here accompanied by Dexter Duffy-Howard on violin and cello for The Northern Lights Trilogy (DHM, DHM031), a festive EP that features the self-penned, spoken poem title track with its tinkling icicle keyboards (and a snatch of Prokofiev’s ‘Troika’), shimmering melody lines and cascading chorus alongside new arrangements of traditional tunes ‘Stockport Polka’ and ‘The Cordwainer’s Lament’.

Only one letter and a comma short of being a Hollywood Russian collaboration, MICHELL, PFEIFFER & KULESH are, in fact, Odette Michell, Karen Pfeiffer and Daria Kulesh, the first fruits of the new union being  the quite entrancing self-released ‘The Cossack’s Bride’, their twist on Russian murder ballad Stenka Razin (adapted by The Seekers as ‘The Carnival Is Over’) which recounts an episode from the life of the rebel Cossack leader Stepan Razin who, when taunted about ‘going soft’ over a captive Persian princess, throws her overboard into the Volga to show his masculinity. Backed by shruti box drone, the trio’s interpretation which, sung in Russian (Kulesh), English (Michell, Pfeiffer) and German (Pfeiffer), gives the victim a voice in a commentary on lad culture, toxic masculinity and violence against women.

A new self-released album due next year, ZOË WREN offers an early taster with ‘The Deep’, a spooked watery fingerpicked, piano trilled and hushedly sung number she describes as apocalyptic cinematic folk (“There’s a chill in the evening/There’s a whisper in the air/That the gates below are opening/And it’s us that built them there”) that seeks to channel the surrounding darkness into something haunting and atmospheric. “The devil’s outside/And there’s nowhere to hide”, she sings, not with horns and a pitchfork but, in “a well pressed shirt/And his shoes of shining leather” in the guise of all those who “press our faces in the dirt”.

TWELFTH DAY’s new digital single, ‘Reset Button’, offers a new take on a relationship that just isn’t working – most of the action taking place in the singer’s imagination. The song is built on Esther Swift’s harp with Catriona Price’s violin taking the instrumental break. It’s clever and rather charming.

A new folk rock outfit from Glasgow, STARSKY & THE FOX make their debut with ‘Celtic Heart’ (My Hart Canyon Music), a rousing Runrig-like anthemic celebration of the Scottish Highlands that also features on the soundtrack to Netflix’s Scottish-set festive film A Castle For Christmas.

Christmas comes early on November 24 for fans of Swedish songstress, SOFIA TALVIK, in the shape of a free Irish-flavoured Christmas single download titled ‘A Memory Of Snow’, a semi-autobiographical recollection of lost love and a snow covered 1998 Copenhagen sung in both English and Swedish, with Talvik on banjo, guitar and bass and backed by Tom Marsh from Those Goddamn Hippies on keys and Rachel Van Plating on violin.

‘Colin’s Set’, comprising three tunes written by Holly Brandon, is the new single from THE MAGPIES released as a taster for their upcoming second album. It starts with a rather mournful tone but that doesn’t last long as though the trio were sweeping away the detritus of the last two years and settling in for some fun. They will be touring next year, too.

Comprising brothers Ian and Adam Pendlungton alongside best friend Stephen Quinn, HIGHBEAMS are a close harmony folk rock trio from Atlanta, joined now by Jennifer Barger for new self-released single ‘Campfires’ with its clattering drums, acoustic guitar cascaded and tumbling melody on a reminder that love isn’t always easy and that campfires don’t last long.

‘Derrière Chez Nous’ is the new single by Bristol based singer, JULIE ABBÉ. The song is based on a sparkly continental-sounding acoustic guitar underpinned by cello which would be delightful as an instrumental – in fact it is a popular bourée in France. The song is traditional and sung in Julie’s native French after she put in much research compiling this version. It’s basically a love song which translates as “behind our home”.

Frontman with The Blue Highways, CALLUM LURY steps out with a solo project under his own name, the latest offering of which is the self-released ‘Rosie’, its fast run piano notes, throaty vocals and the song’s melodic structure and lyrics unavoidably conjuring Springsteen. That’s no bad thing and the song and his delivery are strong enough to stand on their own two feet.

‘Open Road’ is the new single by MICHAEL LANE. It’s a road song with a pop rather than country feel and Michael’s gentle vocals complement the style. The lyrics tip their hat to a couple of older songs by James Taylor and John Denver but it is rather nice.

And, as the festive season draws closer, so too do the associated musical baubles, another coming from Dublin singer-songwriter EOIN GLACKIN with his re-released, self-penned ‘Any Old Christmas Will Do’, an Irish sprinkled, Pogues-tinted mid-tempo pub swayalong love song that captures the feeling of getting to share it together after the past lockdown.

‘John Mahoney’ is the second single to be drawn from Wave Machine, the forthcoming debut album by KELLY BAYFIELD. The story centres on a man who, like his father before him, was called up to fight in a world war. The narrative spans three generations as history repeats itself and is a tribute to Kelly’s grandfather. It’s a song that says a lot.

One fourth of The Trishas and one third of Birds Of A Feather, KELLY MICKWEE teams up for a collaboration with Dan Dyer for her self-releasedDon’t Miss You At Austin’, a lighthearted, part honky-tonk sway chorus, part lazing New Orleans horns-warmed soft shuffle verses, number about inevitable change with a melody line reminiscent of Jesse Colter’s ‘I’m Not Lisa’.

Finally, a jolly seasonal single, ‘My Gingerbread Man’ by THE TWANGTOWN PARAMOURS aka MaryBeth Zamer and Mike T. Lewis, with a nice brass-driven swing and lots of jokes. The video is well worth a look, too.