Singer/songwriter STEFFAN LEWIS has a new EP, Look For Me In The New Horizon, released this month. The opening track, ‘Nightingale Sing’, characterised by ringing acoustic guitar, conjures up Steffan’s time living in London with his late sister. It’s very much her style we hear, a pretty delicate sound. More typical is ‘Henri The Painter’, a rolling blues stomp inspired by a character from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. The song is driven by Lukas Drinkwater’s Hammond organ, giving it a suitably ageless feel.
There is a fast country feel to ‘Dutchman’s Gold’, a song that could be a pitch for a movie about a miner who perished in search of a fabled gold mine. It’s based on the true story of Jesse Capen who lost his life, not in the old west but a mere fifteen years ago. Finally we have a suitably festive sentiment in ‘You Bring Me Joy’. Steffan is a fine guitarist and may also be playing the instruments that Lukas doesn’t but it’s his guitar skills that raise this EP above the crowd.
Born on Long Island but bred and based in Texas, HELENE CRONIN offers up six original songs, some new, some not so, for Christmas with her self-released Beautiful December, opening with the acoustic strum of ‘I Could Use A Silent Night’, a wish for a respite from the rush and bustle of preparing for Christmas and finding time to focus on the things that really matter, fiddle and angel choir oohs adding to the mood. Written back in 2020 and previously recorded by co-writer Janelle Rogers, ‘One Night On Earth’ is the first of two about the nativity, the other being the EP closer ‘Christmas Boy’, a new simple strummed guitar and piano version of a number from 2014. Even older, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ dates back to the 90s and was the first Christmas songs he ever wrote, a condensed version of the Bible story in just over four minutes. The two other cuts are less directly religious, ‘The Bells Of St Thomas’ a slow swayer inspired by hearing the chimes from St. Thomas Catholic Church near the family’s beach home and bringing memories of those loved and lost, a benediction ringing out for believers and doubters alike. The other is the title song with its chiming piano notes, a softly sung countrified ballad celebration of the month and all it brings, flecked with perhaps hints of Gauthier or Peters.
Shaun Smith and Ross O’Reilly, under the working name of CASH & CARTER, have appeared in these pages before with a number of singles in their distinctive Americana style. In fact, ‘Americana (Letting Her Go)’ formerly a single, is the second track on their debut EP, No Use Praying. It’s a relatively fragile, gentle song about loss and regret bravely situated between the upbeat title track which opens the set and the upbeat ‘All Of The Way’ which is the kick-ass track built on a pounding drum beat.
Cash & Carter have a great deal of experience between them and make what they do sound easy but here they have pushed their own envelope. ‘No Use Praying’ is a tightly controlled rocker and to mention it in the same breath as The Band’s brown album might seem like overkill but it really isn’t. In fourth place comes ‘Ballad Of Tallulah’, a song harking back to some unspecified time in the American south. Finally comes a real surprise in the duo’s cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ proving, perhaps, that nothing is outside their scope or their ambition.
His new eagerly anticipated album due early next year, backed by his rhythm section of drummer Elliott Norris and bassist Sam Mummery, LUKE JACKSON offers up the first taste with ‘The Wire’ (Vacancy), a lurching bluesy number with a pulsing riff and earworm chorus that spits out a scouring picture of a world and society on its knees “caught up in our own greed”. Sounds like there’s an inferno ahead.
From her album, Deathbed Confessions, HANNAH ROSE PLATT lifts ‘Wendigo Rag’ as her latest single. The song is a modern take on the road-trip-gone-wrong-ghost-at the-crossroads genre. It comes with big drums and a knockout animated video. A ghost story for Christmas? Yes, please!
Originally by Keane with a big stadium sound, then covered by Lily Allen with minimal piano for a John Lewis Christmas advert, now, an early taster for next year’s album, BEN CALVERT strips ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ right down to just a finger-picked guitar and vocal, and the result is rather lovely. www.bencalvert.bandcamp.com/album/somewhere-only-we-know
Yes, Christmas is coming and to celebrate historical musicians PEARL IN THE EGG release an instrumental version of ‘Gaudete’ performed on psaltery, harp and bells with the addition of some new original music. It’s delicately pretty and strikes a very different mood from the better known version by you know who.
Never previously released, originally titled ‘Ukraine Song’, written for displaced Ukrainians who have found their homes in our local communities and performed as the UK representative in the finals of Tour Music Fest, a European Music Contest, in the wake of ongoing global conflicts, Yorkshire activist rock trio THE TENMOURS now release it as ‘We Are Listening’, a piano, clarinet and, courtesy Sarah Smout, cello ballad calling for peace and community as Alex Johnston-Seymour soaringly sings of bombs falling in other lands. It fully deserves to become a contemporary seasonal staple.
Whether through fortuitousness or precognition it was inevitable that someone would release ‘Fairytale Of New York’ as a single this year and it has fallen to Australian alt-country stars CLINT WILSON AND BILLIE-JO PORTER. There is an unfamiliar lightness in their version without the roughness of Shane’s voice and slide guitars replacing the decoration used by the Pogues. Sadly they censor the “cheap lousy faggot” – not like Aussies to be so mealy-mouthed – we’re all adults here.
Her last single saw her celebrating Ireland and now warbling Tennessee songbird NINA RICCI musically visits the West Country for a rather lovely strummed swayalong festive reading, complete with woodwind and distant tinkling bells, of the Cornish carol ‘The Holly Tree’ (self-released), a variant on ‘The Holly And The Ivy’ also known as the “Sans Day Carol” or “St. Day Carol” in keeping with its origins in the town of St. Day.
THE GLEEMAN, who should be better known than he is, releases ‘I Love Christmastime (War Child Version)’ featuring three children’s choirs including one based in Kyiv and one comprising Ukrainian refugees in England. War Child (https://www.warchild.org.uk/) is a charity working to support children living in war zones and is particularly active in Ukraine at present. The song is packed with our traditional images of Christmas and is definitely warm and fuzzy.
‘Christmas In Atlantis’ is the first ever Christmas single by alt-Americana band THE DELINES. Actually, it’s more an anti-Christmas song – mix in Bob Dylan and Tom Waits with a hint of Shane McGowan’s attitude – examining the sleazy underside of society. The Atlantis in question is a casino, apparently.
THE GUILTY MEN is a new band project featuring Clive Gregson, a self-released debut album planned for next spring but, prior to that, they’re unwrapping a post-pub Christmas Eve taster with ‘December 24th’ which, written by Gregson and bassist Craig Fletcher who shares lead vocals with daughter Poppy, is a dreamy, keyboards led and brass coloured number with added sleigh bells redolent of warm fires, mulled wine and chestnuts roasting and hints of vintage easy listening crooner classics alongside the closing notes of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’.
Scottish singer/songwriter BOB LESLIE releases a festive single, ‘On Christmas Day’, featuring Pauline Vallance on vocals, flute and harp and Annie Neville atop Bob’s acoustic guitar. The arrangement is very smooth as are the sentiments and the overall sound is reminiscent of the late Roger Whittaker.
‘Jesus Is My Vaccine’ comes from the new album, Psych Ward, by STEVE LOGAN. Steve grew up in Socialist south Wales and many of the lyrics of the song are taken from banners he saw on TV at a Trump rally. The song, with a strong rock sound, takes a stand against the attitudes expressed by Trump supporters and without being overtly religious he concludes that had he witnessed what was happening Jesus would indeed have wept.
Her third seasonal single, a co-write with Richard Pierce, MARINA FLORANCE self-releases the digital download ‘Stop For A Moment’, she on banjo and guitar with Mark Jolley on bass, mandolin and strings, a gentle fingerpicked plea for peace in a world “where we accuse and never forgive”, the raising of a “glass to the loves no longer here” and a reminder that “the Christmas of our ages take shape in the gifts we give and the kindness we have”.
In support of Médecins Sans Frontières HATTIE WHITEHEAD has released a lovely version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ arranged for acoustic guitar with support from producer Patrick Wood. With Hattie’s clear voice to the fore it sounds deceptively simple but listen to the intricacies of Wood’s Fender Rhodes underpinning the song and then listen again.
‘Gift’ isn’t actually a Christmas song although the title is appropriate. AERYNN is an American singer/songwriter now living in the UK. The piano driven track is a big, dramatic piece that comes as a taster for her forthcoming album, See In The Dark.
‘Snow’/’Hailstone’ is a seasonal double A-side single from Irish country-folk artist PODGE LANE. ‘Snow’ has a pleasing country swing and exude a much-needed sense of optimism while ‘Hailstone’ feels like a clever metaphor, although it could be just a complaint about the weather. Sadly, it seems that we can’t expect “miles and miles of snow” this year.
Australian folk-rocker SHANNON SMITH previews his New Year resolutions with ‘I’m Gonna Change’ although the song is as much about his problems with understanding women as a sincere desire to reform.
McKOWSKI (Mark McCausland of The Lost Brothers) releases a Christmas mini-album, Winter Guitar Hymnals From The Boneyard from which he has taken two tracks, ‘Laura’s Theme’ and ‘Christmas Medley’, to release as a double A-side single. Mark is a fine finger-style guitar although the first track is rather heavily overlaid with cello. The medley comprises ‘Hark, The Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’.
Finally, we look forward to next year and ‘Langdon’, a new single by JONAH CORREN about the places we knew when we were young and how we relate to them now. The single will be released on January 12th although, in truth, Jonah doesn’t seem old enough to suffer from nostalgia.