Founder member of criminally overlooked cult mid-80s outfit Penelope’s Web with their weaving together of classic English pastoral folk, blues, jazz and progressive folk-rock, these days DOMINIC SILVANI trades under his own name, his speak-sing vocals (a sort of warm, huskier early Al Stewart with a hint of Noel Harrison and a softer Nick Cave) still among the most distinctive I’ve ever heard, He has a new self-released EP, The Impatience Of A Sinner, comprising four tracks, opening with the Eastern European kletzmer-shades of the love in need ‘Roman Road’ with Henni Saarela’s yearning fiddle, Adam Beattie’s upright bass and fingerpicked drone. Introducing John Hess on piano to complement the strings, ‘Secrets’ is woven round a suitably furtive and shadowy melody, a similar mood informing the regret and reflection-stained ‘Always You’ with its circling guitar pattern, double bass and string caresses, Maya McCourt on cello. Maintaining the melancholic ambience, swathed in Barbara Bartz’s fiddle and “situated way past hopeless”, the 90 second end of relationship Focus brings things to a close as he sings “out in the open I still can’t breathe”. Too often the flickering lights of genius are lost in the glare of lesser but brighter burning torches fanned by the oxygen of media exposure and carried aloft on bandwagons. It would be nice to think that somewhere in today’s folk constellations, Silvani would find the place he deserves to shine.
LOUISE DISTRAS has an EP, Street Revolution, in advance of a new album later in the year. Louise doesn’t fit easily into the music business which is no bad thing. Essentially she is an acoustic singer/songwriter/guitarist and if you see her live that’s probably how she’ll be. The third track is Alfred Reed’s ‘Poor Man’ (‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’) folky in a way but Springsteen covered it. Her punk style and politics have endeared her to the metal fraternity – she is supported by Kerrang – and several genres try to claim her.
The title track is a really big song with a full band and brass behind her, a bit of a rabble-rouser, but she tones it down a bit with ‘New World In Our Heart’, celebrating the International Brigades. It begins a capella but doesn’t stay that way for long. Finally we have ‘Solidarity’, trumpet led, pleading for, well, solidarity because we all want the same things and find the same things annoying. Don’t we?
Formerly part of the acclaimed folk-jazz outfit Grand Union, these days SIMON O’GRADY keeps things simpler with open tunings and fingerpicked guitar, four fine examples of which can be found on his self-released debut solo EP, Sleep Tight. Playing guitar and flute and accompanied by Hannah Cope on double bass, Ed Gallagher on dobro, mandolinist Julian Marshall and drummer Gerry Wood (the latter two also former GU alumni) with Ed Hopwood supplying harmonica, it opens with ‘New Year Shoes’, a song about dealing with the loss of a loved one and how the well-meaning consolations of others can more often exacerbate the hurt than help heal.
Continuing the theme of transitions, ‘The Sun Wakes The New Horizon’ is a suitably sleepy-eyed stay with me ‘til dawn love song that invites tranquillity and calm and has, perhaps, just a melodic hint of ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’ squirrelled away in the background. It closes with ‘Your Eyes Turn Up’, a dobro-flecked waltzer about a shared journey that was originally titled ‘Over The River’, an unrecorded Grand Union song, but my personal favourite is ‘The Coming Of The Snow’, a Celtic-shaded number about joining together and raising our voices high to brave the hardships ahead on which, while again it may be my imagination, I get a scent of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ here as well as Dylan’s ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’. Very pleasant dreams, indeed.
THE SATURN CHAPTER are from Yorkshire and call themselves alt-folk but, in truth, very little is known. Their eponymous debut EP was intended to be a side project but has grown rather. It’s a bit strange but if you’re into Tunng or Trembling Bells you’re on the way. The opening track, ‘Butterflies On Fire’ has several kitchen sinks thrown into it but ‘If I Be Your Shadow’ is a lot tighter. The short ‘A Funny Kind Of Rain’ returns to oddness and ‘My New Sundial’ is an eerie, atmospheric piece decorated with birdsong and other field recordings.
Comprising singer Iona Zajaz, Sam Grassie on acoustic guitar and Herbie Loening playing double bass, AVOCET are a folk-blues trio from Glasgow who take their musical cues from the UK psychedelic folk scene of the 60s and 70s. Following their debut mini-album, Borrowed Seed, they return with a two-track single on Mink Records, ‘Cheating Monday’ a smokily sung, jazz-infused languid love song over simple piano notes reverie and ‘Sirens’ a drivingly rhythmic fingerpicked based number that harks to traditional folk and blues influences as well as conjuring echoes of Pentangle.
‘Jane’ is the lead single from a forthcoming EP by DEAN MAYWOOD. Jangly, echoey acoustic guitar makes for a languid start before the song breaks in. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes providing a feeling of wide open spaces and a rather British style of Americana. We’re looking forward to the EP.
From the new album, Carousel, by CARSON McHONE comes a single, ‘Drugs’. Carson says that it isn’t really about drugs but about anything we feel a desperate need for. She’s essentially a country singer but here she breaks the rules performing over drums and a deliciously languid lead guitar.
HATTIE WHITEHEAD leads off her new EP, Old Soul, with a single ‘More Than That’. It’s a deeply emotional song coming from a dark time in Hattie’s life but her voice and an excellent production lift it from a song of regret to one of defiance in the face of whatever the world may throw at her.