SINGLES BAR 96 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

THE DEADLY WINTERS began work on Ever Onwards four years ago but all sorts of problems beset them. The title of the EP proved apposite and they pressed on with the project, difficult when trying to keep a six-piece band together. Earlier this year they released ‘The Cuckoo’ which sits in the middle of this set. This is the American take on the song, as recorded by Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson, being the story of a gambler heading for his last deal. It begins with a driving fiddle revealing the band’s dual identities as a folk-rock and an Americana outfit.

The other five songs here are written by lead vocalist Christopher Blair, beginning with ‘I’ll Be Fine’ which blends their styles from both sides of the Atlantic in a rich, driving arrangement. ‘Fox A Hunting’ is rather more British in its style and it’s also an appropriate song for this time of year – you can hear the biting wind in the arrangement. There is deep philosophy and a distinctly Scottish feel to ‘Twenty Years’ – a nice electric guitar break, too – while ‘We Don’t Know’ is an unconventional sort of love song or perhaps a bitter memoir. You decide. Finally, ‘Fully Grown’ brings us back to earth as the singer ups and leaves just to get away from the humdrum world.

Ever Onwards is a really classy piece of work and comes highly recommended.

Singles Bar 96Following on from Angeline Morrison and Reg Meuross, VINCENT GOULD now offers up his own collection of songs about slavery. Titled Abolition Times (Self-released) it comprises five songs based around real (or representative) figures, the title track, an acoustic blues, relating to Tom Peters, a freed slave who arrived in Nova Scotia expecting to find the plot of farmland he’d been promised him in return for fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War. And, when he didn’t, he pressed Annapolis County authorities to provide land grants promised to black war veterans, many of whom were forced to perform roadwork in order to receive food rations (“what does it mean when you’re free, man/And can’t buy a bean/I’m a dreamer without a dream/Got a family that I just can’t feed”). When the governor of Nova Scotia continued to delay the grants, Peters wrote a series of petitions to government officials, seeking a solution to their grievances, eventually travelling to England to advocate for the black community of Nova Scotia, negotiating with the Sierra Leone Company to allow the black immigrants of Nova Scotia to settle in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The two subsequent numbers have more of a rockier feel, ‘Samuel Crowther Adjaye’ even touching on prog psych vibes as it relates the story of how, sold into slavery at 12, he was rescued by the West Africa Squadron, and dedicated his life to both God and anti-slavery becoming, in 1894, the first Black bishop in the Church of England when consecrated bishop of the Niger territory. In bluesier mood, ‘Behind British Lines’ has no specific personage but relates the common story of a pregnant slave woman running through a North American forest, chased by dogs, trying to get to Canada having been told that, if her baby is born on British territory, he will be born a free man.

Returning to more acoustic folk, the early John Martyn flavoured ‘Guilty’ was inspired by a speech to Parliament in 1789 by anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, the lyrics asking “​What do you call it when you can’t defend the weak/What do you call it when you see but you don’t speak?/What kind of people have we become?/What kind of people crack the whip but bite the tongue?” concluding “I have no right to cast a stone, but then again/I have this feeling that silence is consent/My honourable friends/We are all Guilty”.

Finally, acoustic but again with a blues groove to the chiming guitars and percussive beats, ‘Letter From John Clarkson’, framed as a letter from sea home to his fiancée, relates to the Royal Navy officer and abolitionist who, working with Tom Peters, returned some 12000 former slaves from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, and was instrumental in the founding of Freetown as a haven for formerly enslaved African-Americans.

Martinmas celebrates St. Martin of Tours and is also the last of GAVIN MARWICK’s Quarterdays EPs. Here Gavin is joined by PHIL ALEXANDER on accordion and piano, almost imperceptibly at the beginning of the first track, ‘The Lantern Hora’ but positively rocking by the third of the four tunes that make up the set. In fact, it is the piano that also introduces the initially melancholy ‘St. Martin’s Summer’.

St. Martin’s Day is November 11th, purely coincidentally, but it gives Gavin two opportunities. The first comes with the tune, ‘Campion Vaughan’ named for Edwin Campion Vaughan, a Great War officer who became a noted author in peacetime. The second gives us ‘Every Hog’ with Gavin returning to the agricultural themes than run through all four EPs. This time of year is traditionally taken up with filling the barns and storehouses for the winter, including the slaughter of meat animals, especially pigs, of which every part but the squeak can be used.

Between these two comes ‘The Vintners’ as St. Martin was the patron saint of winemakers. Like ‘Every Hog’ it’s an upbeat tunes. Finally ‘Darkness Falls’ is a suitably downbeat set as winter settles in and death may come a-calling. We have enjoyed all four of the Quarterdays EPs and heartily recommend them.

Setting out on their Seasons Tour, Exeter duo Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood aka SOUND OF THE SIRENS release the last in their ‘Seasons’ series of EPs with Autumn, a three-tracker that reflects the season of endings and change, opening with the  tumbling drums and keys of the robust, forcefully sung ‘Life Is Enough’ about finding the courage to actually live your life (“Is there so much out there in this life that I could gain?/Never gonna know if I never let go of fear”) rather than how someone else thinks you should (“I’ve been following plans that you made for me for so long/I’ve been worrying that I’ll doubt the fact I’m not wrong/The thought of giving all I am/To someone else’s hands/But the fear of never knowing makes me question who I am”). That’s followed by the more shuffling rhythm and cascading chords of the similarly themed ‘Dangerous’ (“I wake up haunted by dreams that taunt me/They leave me wanting for so much more than this …How can I sit waiting for the season/Sitting on the side line, chewing on a hope/Brewing in a past time”) with its light at the of a broken relationship tunnel (“We get right up, we start again when we have frozen every sense/I know we’ll feel it in the end/When love is lost I know we mend/I’ll hope for better days again/And we can learn to live my friend”). And, backed by sparse electric piano again echoing of the headier sounds of Thea Gilmore, there’s the dark balladry of ‘Dismay’ with its realisation that “We know when we’ve got to let things go/We know when no is really no” and that, while painful, parting is the best for both sides (“I wish you all the peace that you’ll find buried underneath the path that’s right for you/And you’ll get everything you need and then in turn you will receive requited love that’s true/And know your heart will one day see/In this lifetime it wasn’t meant for me”). Make a year of it and collect them all.

We failed to pick up on JASON BAKER’s previous EP but made sure of 10,000 Miles Away. Jason is a singer and songwriter from Vermont who is deeply rooted in the American tradition. His instrument of choice here is the longneck banjo invented by Pete Seeger which he plays in Seeger’s style. Four of the songs in this set are traditional beginning with’10,000 Miles Away’, a song we can all sing along with and that’s very much the style of this record. Next is ‘Old Rosin The Beau’ which always feels like a joke because of the punning title. Intended as a drinking song it is darkly humorous as our hero, a popular chap in his youth, looks forward to his death. The value of the long neck can be heard particularly well on this track as Jason can mine some low notes which sit well with his rich voice.

‘The Leatherwing Bat’ is reputedly a traditional English (or possibly Irish) song about courtship. It’s been recorded by a number of US singers, beginning with Burl Ives but isn’t as well known in Britain as it is across the pond. ‘Deep Elm Blues’ is a cautionary tale set in a notorious area of Dallas with verses that you’ll find in other, similar songs. Jason adds a harmonica break. Finally comes ‘Ally (The Ballad Of Lauri Carlton)’, with Jason’s words set to the tune ‘Red River Valley’. Laura Ann Carleton was a 66 year old shopkeeper in California who was shot dead earlier this year for flying a Pride flag outside her premises. It makes for a stark end to a very enjoyable EP.

SUSY WALL gets into seasonal mood with All Wrapped Up (self-released), a collection of four songs for winter, the slow waltzing title track with its electric piano evoking snowflakes falling and thoughts of home and being reunited after a long absence (“It’s been an age since I’ve seen you/Your photograph sits by my bed/Wondering if you have changed at all/From the image that’s burned in my head”). And snowflakes are at the heart of the gentle, soaring vocal ‘See Through’ (the title referencing them being transparent) and how, like people, “No two are the same”, as they are indeed on the temperate piano tinkling ‘Will It Snow’ and its hope of a white Christmas (especially by teachers looking for a day off). Finally, the crisply pure, piano accompanied ‘There’s A Song In The Air’ combines the first two verses of an American hymn setting of a poem by Josiah Holland written for an 1874 Sunday School Journal, Wall with two of her own in the same vein. Well worth unwrapping.

Scottish singer-songwriter ROSIE H SULLIVAN releases her second EP, In My Nature, this month. In contrast with Rosie’s delicate voice the accompaniments can be big and rich, particularly on the opening track, ‘Wildflowers And Cobblestones’. On this lovely song she reflects on moving from her seaside home to the city where her musical life is. A powerful throbbing bass initially underscores the feminist ‘Only A Woman’ but after the first chorus the songs expands with another full-throated arrangement. Two acoustic guitars lead into ‘Fragments’, previously a single extolling the Scottish Highlands, before the strings join in. The funky ‘Chapters’ is possibly the top track as the accompaniment holds back a little and the song romps along. Finally, ‘Timeless’, with its rich, powerful acoustic guitar is Rosie’s latest single, a love letter to her home town.

A taster for next year’s new album, THE URBAN FOLK QUARTET comprising Galician fiddle player Paloma Trigás, fiddle player/guitarist Joe Broughton, singer/banjo player Dan Walsh and percussionist Tom Chapman, have released a cover of long time set staple Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ (SAE Records), a splendid mountain music take with gentle percussion, strings and clawhammer banjo it’s also graced with a guest bass appearance from Fairport’s Dave Pegg.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without KATE RUSBY. A review of her new festive album, Light Years, will appear here in the fullness of time but in the meantime here is her single, ‘Glorious’. It’s more a winter song as Kate sings of walking on “the cold of this half-frozen ground” on a February evening. The arrangement is as expansive as we’ve come to expect and we know that the album will be a huge hit.

Born and raised on the rural West Coast of Scotland, COLIN MANSON makes his debut with the self-released ‘Where We Started’, a dreamy, cello-coloured fingerpicked folky ballad charting his three years sailing the Atlantic and Pacific before returning to his childhood home, the rhythms capturing the ebb and flow of the waves.

With his new album just days away BEANS ON TOAST releases a new single ‘Send Me A Bird’. Jay puts humour and politics to one side as he sings to the people who have been lost for whatever reason. “Send me a message from eternity” he sings to their memories in a fragile, beautiful song. Appropriate thoughts for this time of year.

Championed by Tom Paxton, having been a regular on the Detroit music scene for over a decade MICHELLE HELD makes her recording debut with the digital release of the quaveringly warbling self-penned ‘The World Moves On’, a lovely song about the fragility of life inspired by the unexpected loss of her father when she was a child and reflecting how everything can change in a moment but the world will keep spinning on regardless. Featuring simple acoustic guitar, a string arrangement by Sav Buist and Katie Larson of The Accidentals, and horns from C.J. Camerieri, it opens with a nod to John Prine as well as referencing Cohen and Dylan, who she imagines “laughing at the clowns’ cacophony” after he dies, and encourages that, while “The world moves on while your heart is in a knot”, you should “Hold on to hope, it might be all you’ve got”.

It’s surprising who will turn out a Christmas single these days and the last source I’d expect is ROBB JOHNSON. He does have a sentimental side, of course, so much so that he calls his band THE CHRISTMAS IRREGULARS this time out. ‘The Best Christmas Present Of All’ has a shuffling, jazzy atmosphere and features Fae Simon on lead vocals and Sian Allen on trumpet providing a suitable louche feel to the song. The single is taken from the live show and album, Murder At The Grange, which we’re already looking forward to.

The first taster of an upcoming EP and recently launched at a stupendous sell-out gig, Birmingham’s THE LOST NOTES, now with new bassist Steve Vantsis (whose CV includes Fish and KT Tunstall), self-released the download ‘Don’t Try It On Me’, indicating a new country sound alongside their blues, folk and indeed funk influences, with a dusty, slow bruised heart swayer (“You can play the angel in my bed, try to put the devil in my head”) with Ben on lead and Lucy and Olly on close harmonies that could have been born in Austin and instantly claims a spot as, not just a diamond in their already vast treasure trove, but one of the best things you’ll hear this year.

RAY COOPER will release his new album, possibly called Wind And Steel, next spring and as a taster we have ‘Falling Like Thunder’, a new single. “I was brought up on delusions”, he says by way of explanation and so this is a very political song but not party political. It’s more about how we make resolutions that we don’t keep while forgetting the mess we’re in. Drums are well to the fore during the verses with Ray’s almost rapping vocals giving way to soaring backing vocals on the choruses. There are remixes and a video to choose from. Excellent.

Using Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ and The Wallflowers ‘One Headlight’ as 70s mood setting reference tracks, MY GIRL THE RIVER tackle the dark side of social media and the internet on ‘Information Highway’ (SuperTinyRecords) which, featuring lap steel and a slow but steady walking rhythm that builds to a crescendo, is all about getting lost and wanting to find an exit and escape off road into nature from a route than can often be “a double-sided knife”.

‘The Rose Of Bohermeen’ is a seasonal love song by DAVIE FUREY written with Richard Ball, a sad tale because the girl he first heard singing at midnight mass “joined the choir of angels” when she was just seventeen. It’s not a true story but like all good fiction there is a nugget of truth in it.

Irish folk trio THE HENRY GIRLS  join forces with BBC Folk Singer Of The Year RÍOGHNACH CONNOLLY for the rhythmically pulsing, fiddle skirling, vocally swirling ‘Not Your Fight’ (own label), the first single from next year’s album A Time To Grow, which marks their 20th anniversary, the song an ironically titled message for those who find themselves helplessly witnessing a world riven by conflict and violence and as a reminder of the shared human experience and our capacity for compassion and understanding.

From the north-west, GRACE ELIZABETH HARVEY releases her debut single, ‘Familiar’. It’s a literate song about lost love leaving the singer bereft with Grace’s flexible voice starting the song in a delicate, reflective mood but hitting the high spots when power is needed. Her acoustic guitar and cello take the lead roles with restrained support from drums, piano and bass.

Atmospherically treated instruments introduce ‘Entwined’, the new single by YVONNE LYON. It’s delightful – it could be a love song but when you learn that the proceeds are going to Dnipro Kids, a charity helping Ukrainian children it takes on a different meaning. The B-side (as they used to be called) is the up-tempo ‘We Were Not Made For The Shadows’, a song of defiance in the face of life’s vicissitudes.

With the second single, ‘Battlefield’, from her forthcoming album Australian singer/songwriter HELEN TOWNSEND compares love to war – all is fair in both, after all. It is a song of despair: “Heaven is empty” she sings in the opening lines, but with a mighty, atmospheric arrangement.