Following on from 2016’s Trick Star, accompanied by Steve Mayone on mandolin and nylon string guitar, pedal steel player Chris Tarrow, Jason Mercer on upright bass and Alex Hargreaves providing fiddle, ANNIE KEATING’s latest is a five-track collection of road songs originated from last year’s European tour. It opens with the title track, ‘Ghost Of The Untraveled Road’, a Dylanish mid-tempo waltzer about listening to a song on an Italian radio station, understanding the sense if not the word, sparking ‘busy bees’ in her a thinking about how things might have turned out differently (“Should I think of you fondly, or not much at all?/Shall I cherish confessions of bury them all?”) had she taken different paths.
Reflectiveness also feeds into the gently jogging country breeze of the fiddle-accompanied ‘Forever Loved’, Hargreaves again adding colour and texture to the wearied ‘Kindness Of Strangers’, essentially a song about how the warmth and hospitality of those you meet along the way can keep you going. There’s more musing introspection about the past on ‘Sting of Hindsight’, another fiddle-led waltzer with pedal steel streaks as she ponders “Maybe I’m built for a life on the road” and concludes that all you can do is “Be here, let go of regret”. It ends all too soon with such regret riding the mournful pedal steel and fiddle tide on “Forget My Name”, the chorus shading the song’s Nanci Griffiths colours with hints of Tom Petty.
There’s a sense that the EP is about refocusing herself and reminding why she’s committed herself to making music and spending on the road, and of the grace notes that balance the times when it all seems like a weight. As such, she’s clearly emerged at the right end of the tunnel and hopefully a new full length will be on the not too distant horizon.
We featured THE MEADOWS in these pages back in 2015. They are a young family quartet from Wales who recently sent us their debut EP, Through The Fayre, five songs about or set in fairs, although for some reason they play ‘Carrickfergus’ as an instrumental. Actually, it’s very good with Fantasia Meadows’ piano and Melody Meadows’ flute dominating a delightfully pastoral sound. They open with ‘Brigg Fair’, effectively a vocal solo by Titania Meadows, followed by ‘Scarborough Fair’. ‘She Moved Through The Fayre’ features vocal harmonies by the three sisters over Harvey Meadows’ electric guitar for a very different sound and we hear more of Harvey as he takes the lead vocal on the final ‘Star Of The Country Down’ at a cracking pace.
THE GRAVITY DRIVE are a married couple, Elijah and Ava Wolf, from the south-west. While working on their second album, they also chose to record a back-to-basics EP, Unplugged, to showcase acoustic versions of four songs. They begin with ‘No One’s Gonna Tell You’ – a fairly basic guitar strum with minimal but perfectly judged decoration and their two voices alternating and harmonising some clever lyrics. Potential for a real ear-worm here. There is also some nice amplified acoustic lead on ‘Candle In The Dark’ and more clever lyrics (“only love can be your candle in the dark”) over a rolling country melody. ‘What Is Love’ has a very Dylanish guitar – if Elijah had gone into ‘All Along The Watchtower’ I wouldn’t have been surprised – until Ava takes over with a 1930’s feel about her share of the vocals. Finally, ‘Breakheart Hill’ has the feeling of traditional Americana – in a full arrangement it would cry out for pedal steel or mouth harp.
Liverpool singer-songwriter KETE BOWERS has a new two self-released track single well worth seeking out. ‘Northern Town’ is a confessionally sung, spare, moody five minute strum about drinking to numb heartache, which only takes you deeper into depression, the lyrics extending to parallel this with a sketch of a town that’s sunk into the same state with “Boards on the windows and nailed shut doors/Broken benches where men sat and talked/No dreams to dream here anymore.” The same idea extends to ‘A Town With No Cheer’, which, evocative of Springsteen’s bare-bone acoustic work, spins a haunting image of broken hopes and dreams (“the ghost of banjo Harry picking out some lonesome tune/When we were young we’d shoot for the moon/Now nothing here is sacred and there’s little or no regard”) in a former ship-building town brought to its knees and the emotional numbness that has swallowed up both it and those that live there, stripped of faith and drowning in drink and despair.
American singer/songwriter JOEY COSTELLO releases what would seem to be his debut EP, The Wind Blows By, although he has a fair number of singles to his name. What is immediately apparent is the sincerity of his approach to his music but it isn’t matched by the production. There is an unacceptable amount of guitar squeal, particularly on the lead track and a shrillness that leads to reaching for the volume control. His vocal style has been likened to those of Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne so if you like them you’ll probably like Joey too. There are some decent songs here but too much getting in the way of them.
Currently working on their new album, BLACK FEATHERS offer a taster of things to come with ‘The Ghosts Have Eaten Well’ (own label) Sian Bradley and Ray Hughes duetting on a catchy acoustic uptempo rootsy Americana number, the evocative title a metaphor for the dangers of being consumed a constant reflection on regret and guilt that cannot be changed but which prevent you from moving on.
Veteran singer-songwriter, guitarist and sound engineer ROSS PALMER has a new four-track EP, Last Swallow. The lead track is a wistful, acoustic reflection on lost love but ‘Make It Last’ picks up the pace a bit with a bigger arrangement including electric guitar and drums. There’s no indication as to who is playing what but Ross is probably doing most of it although Melanie Crew is prime suspect for the female voice. Ross doesn’t really do rock’n’roll so ‘Separated By Water’ and ‘Ghosts & Echoes’ are very much in the same style. An album is expected later this year.
UK country duo HENGISTBURY have released their debut single, ‘What Folks Don’t Know’ available as a download with a limited number of CDs. There’s sprightly banjo under Jessie Mary’s vocals while the ‘B-side’, ‘My Body Ain’t A Temple’ boasts a bigger arrangement with piano. It’s all very nice but quoting “shining like a National guitar” is a bit naughty.