SINGLES BAR 67 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 67DYLAN LeBLANC was brought up, in part, in Muscle Shoals which is a hell of a place to start your musical education. He has released four solo albums over the last decade or so and now he’s returned with an EP of covers, Pastimes – six classic songs from the past.

He opens with ‘Play With Fire’, a cautionary tale from Messrs. Jagger and Richards. Dylan has added echo to his voice and a big arrangement in a reversal of the original version in which Jagger’s voice rides high over a spare backing. Despite it being a very English song, LeBlanc hasn’t been tempted to Americanise it. Next up, ‘Expecting To Fly’ is a perfect take on the late 60s California sound but even richer than Neil Young’s original. Next is J.J. Cale’s ‘Sensitive Kind’, a gentle string-drenched country shuffle.

Ever since Dean Martin recorded ‘Gentle On My Mind’ it’s been something of a guilty pleasure. It’s actually a rather fine bitter-sweet song and Dylan gives it a gentle nudge with percussion well up front of an up-tempo setting – he may just have redeemed it. It was inevitable that he should cover a song by his near namesake and ‘Blind Willie McTell’ is the one. Piano is the star here but there isn’t much you can do with such a distinctive song so LeBlanc doesn’t try to mess it about and acquits himself well. Finally comes ‘Going To California’, said to be Led Zeppelin’s tribute to Joni Mitchell from their fourth album, and a lovely version to round out a super set.

Hailing from the small town of Birr in Co. Offaly, and now based in Glasgow, CIARÁN COONEY explores traditional Irish folk on his self-released debut EP, Red, on which he’s accompanied on Red by Ali Levack on whistle, Benedict Morris on strings, Anthony Davis on piano and bass and Ryan Cavanaugh on 5-string banjo.  It kicks off with ‘The Mickey Dam’, a sprightly song about Irish immigrant labour to Scotland, the subject of the tale (“a terror to all fightin’ men”) taking no nonsense from then gang boss. More familiar will be ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, another immigrant’s story, here accompanied by fiddle with Cooney recalling the likes of Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly, and, driven by bodhran and fiddle, a sprightly reading of ‘Tipping It Up To Nancy’. On a more sentimental note, and a moodier drum anchored treatment, voice echoing, ‘Ireland’s Green Shore’ reflects on a homeland from which the singer is parted, the song probably best known via Tim O’Brien, the final number being the lively instrumental ‘The First Fall of Winter – The Kirky Dancer’.  The music reflects Cooney’s background in Irish music and dance heritage shows (he spent two years playing the Irish pub at Disney World in Florida) rather than blazing a path of reinterpretation, but it makes for a decent craic.

An English teacher by day, folk and blues fingerpicking, falsetto singer-songwriter NICK MARCH  makes his debut with Swing Your Partner  (Self-released), a 4-track EP  of which three numbers are his settings of songs collected by Alan Lomax opening with the mournful ‘Dig A Hole (Little Lulie)’, which is, in fact, an earlier variation of ‘Darlin’ Corey’ with different lyrics to the verses but, save for the name the same chorus, while, on livelier musical note with its circling guitar pattern, ‘Eliza Jane’ is  a variation on ‘Lil’ Liza Jane’,  again retaining the refrain. The third traditional, ‘Old Hannah, You Go Down’ is taken from the Lead Belly and Lightning Hopkins canon, Hannah being the name given to the sun by convicts on Texas prison farms, the worksong talking of the harrowing conditions they endured.  The fourth of the tracks is March’s own ‘The Kingfisher’, a circling fingerpicked folk blues with flowing guitar lines that showcases his fret dexterity and Nick Drake influences.

ROSS KING has released his new four-track EP, Gentle Home. It was recorded, presumably in isolation, in the old fashioned way on an 8-track machine but has done a lot with the basic elements. The opening cut, ‘Shape Of Our Love’, has echo on his voice, a little reverb on his guitar and some fascinating overdubs – he doesn’t say what he plays in addition to acoustic guitar – which is the pattern for the whole set. The second track, ‘Kodachrome’, isn’t a cover of the Paul Simon song (how soon we forget) which would actually have been a nice change of pace. ‘April Song’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’ don’t stray from the path much and, good as Ross’ playing is (and it is good) it’s too easy to just drift away while Gentle Home is playing.

Departing from his interpretations of traditional songs, JON WILKS joins forces with the ubiquitous Lukas Drinkwater for the digital download self-penned ‘Greek Street’, an acoustic, slide-guitar streaked, seven-minute  affectionate reminiscence of his younger days as a 19-year-old wandering the Soho folk scene and a brief liaison  with a “maiden with glitter in her hair” who “teetered on her platform heels” and  “took her name from winter”, paired here with the jazzy Jansch-influenced instrumental ‘Scatterbrain’ with Drinkwater’s double bass.

It’s always good to greet a new musician on these pages so please welcome HEATHER FERRIER who is making her solo debut with ‘Circles’. Heather’s instrument is the accordion to which she adds electronica for suitably swirling effects. The tune itself manages to never quite resolve until the very end.

LONG FOR THE COAST are Devon duo Jamie and Sophie Gould, trailing their upcoming Revolution Starts At Home album with ‘Hold On, Brother’, a song of encouragement in hard times, written for a friend who’d had a particularly bad year, arranged for piano, cello, guitar and a handclap rhythm as their twin voices soar.

‘Black Dress’, the new single by MARY ECKERT, tells of a shopping expedition in Leeds as she struggles to justify to herself buying a dress she really likes. It grooves along rather nicely over Latinesque rhythms and brass and is the sort of composition that only a real songwriter can put together.

The final pre-album release from the St Buryan Sessions, Cornwall’s SARAH McQUAID wrote the bluesy and  atmospheric  ‘The Sun Goes On Rising’ (Shovel And A Spade) over ten  years ago with Gerry O’Beirne, the song featuring on her The Plum Tree And The Rose album, but  she’s resurrected it  for the current situation, the line “Things will get better / If only I can hold that wolf at bay”, shining a ray of hope in the current gloom.

RODNEY CROWELL releases his new album, Triage, this month and from it comes a second single, ‘Transient Global Amnesia Blues’, based on something that actually happened to him – the sort of event that pulls you up short. He drawls the words in a Dylanesque style which is appropriate as he namechecks both Bob and Jesus in the same verse. It’s a deeply moving song.

Irish folkies LAURA QUIRKE AND JOSHUA BURNSIDE team up to duet on ‘Taking The Wheel’, a song written by Quirke, one half of Lemoncello, a brooding, sparsely accompanied, slow lope that paints a portrait of two people in a car in the rain, the lyrics referencing the hum of the engine, the giving of directions, the music on the radio to sketch tension between them, as she, in the passenger seat, “Ponders the thought of taking the wheel”.

ANTOINE & OWENA indulge in a little bucolic nostalgia while enjoying ‘Our Beautiful Days’. Fiddle, guitar and voices blend naturally as they sing about kissing in the park and Peregrines flying from the cathedral spires. A lovely song about spring merging into summer.

Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmour, aka THE FLATLANDERS, have a new album, Treasure Of Love, out now and the second single taken from it is a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me’. It’s an eminently jammable song and the band gives it a solid electric country treatment with some really tasty lead guitar. Absolutely splendid.