SINGLES BAR 66 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 66Norfolk singer-songwriter LUCY GRUBB self-releases her third EP, Waste My Time, a four track set of folksy Americana circling around themes of relationships and getting through hard times. The lyrically upbeat shuffling title track kicks it off, written for a friend struggling with a difficult relationship and about how it’s okay not to be on control of everything and learning to live with the cards you’ve been dealt with and knowing that you’re doing your best. A slower, airier number with lightly fingerpicked guitar and banjo, ‘Other Side’ speaks of being separated from those you love and how it’s okay to call whatever the time is even if it’s just to ask how the weather is, while ‘You Don’t Do Anything’ is an upbeat rhythmic shuffle, Richard Ward again on bluegrassy banjo, about feeling you’re being taken for granted, a definite hint of Parton to it. Finally, there’s ‘When It Rains’, a vocally raw ballad with a muted drum beat and keyboards that reinforces the belief that, whatever you’re going through, it’s okay to feel down but that you will come through.

DESERT HOLLOW are a new California-based duo comprising Xander Hitzig and Nicole Olney, here making their debut with Thirsty (Mule Kick), a five-track EP sporting old school American folk and bluegrass influences, notably on the jaunty 5-string banjo bubbling opening title track complete with a penny whistle solo. He takes over lead vocals, she on harmonies, for ‘I Can’t Wait For Summer’ a title that, written while sitting on his parent’s West Virginia porch in the cold of early spring rather speaks for itself.  Olney returns for the slower, moodier ‘Look At Those Birds’, inspired, needless to say, by seeing a flock of birds in the sky flying free.  It’s back to Hitzig and old time bounciness for the fiddle-flourished ‘Take Me Back To Nowhere’, a song that dates from his days with the Brownchicken Browncow Stringband, inspired after living in a van in New Orleans with the five-piece band for two weeks, and featuring both guitar and fiddle solos. Finally, comes Olney’s waltzing Irish-coloured ‘Mary’, apparently a ‘re-write’ of a favourite song by Gregory Alan Isakov. They’ve been likened to Gram and Emmylou, and while I don’t hear that, they’re certainly ones to watch.

Back in 1970, Scottish folkie Shelagh McDonald was being hailed as a rising star, such luminaries as Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Danny Thompson, Keith Tippett, Keith Christmas, the Fotheringay rhythm section and Mighty Baby appearing in her first two albums. Then, during the recording sessions for her third album in 1971, she mysteriously disappeared following a bad LSD trip and didn’t resurface until 2005, Her story now provide the backdrop to ‘Shelagh’s Song’ (Misted Valley Records), a new five-minute single from JOSHUA BURNELL taken from upcoming digital EP Storm Clogs and written after seeing her perform and meeting up after one of her comeback concerts. Designed to echo the style of songs on her Stargazer album about the lives of musicians she knew who had taken off on their own travels, with the lyrics encapsulating her life story, it’s a catchy, uptempo softly sung number evocative of 60s British troubadour folk with Burnell playing guitar keys and drums that ends with cows mooing, a nod to the fact when McDonald picked up a guitar after 30 years she played to a field of cows as a tester audience.

In a similar but Transatlantic vein THE BREATH release a single marking the 50th anniversary of the release of In My Own Time, the second album recorded by Karen Dalton. ‘Something On Your Mind’, written by Dino Valenti, is taken from that album. Karen never sang her own songs so ‘Remembering Mountains’ is a rarity. The words come from a collection of her writing with music by The Breath. Both tracks have that essential late 60s/early 70s jangly acoustic vibe.

Not the Cat Stevens classic but clearly musically and lyrically indebted to it, ‘Peace Train’ is the self-released debut single by 786AM, alias Manchester-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Islam convert Aminah, the song echoing fellow convert Yusuf Islam’s sentiment about how we are all interconnected   and need to stop fighting each other and come together in love.

In advance of his new Oslo-recorded album, The Old Fabled River, a collaboration with five Scandinavian musicians, ALASDAIR ROBERTS og Völvur (The Seeresses) release a taster with ‘The Green Chapel’ (Drag City), a number that, it says here, conceptually touches upon the Gaelic Celtic notion of “the three noble strains” of music: geantraí, goltraí and suantraí – respectively, joy, lamentation and sleep – the triple goddess from which the fabric of a music is woven. Suffice to say, with its gently cascading fiddle-enhanced melody line, it actually sounds less Gaelic or Scandinavian and rather more Welsh, all it needed was a harp.

Scottish trio HAV release a digital single to introduce their new digital album. ‘The Alabama’ features vocals by Iona Fyfe who sings over a languid piano with the band bearing down on the instrumental breaks. It’s a gorgeous ballad steeped in tradition but written by Alex Ross about the wreck of a fishing boat out of Buckie in 1868 and tells the story from the perspective of a woman waiting for her man who will never return.

Originally recorded by The Georgia Satellites, ‘Battleship Chains’ is a rousing slice of air punching alt-country rock with a big crowd friendly chorus, now revived in energetic manner and self-released as a digital download by DIRT REYNOLDS, originally recorded for Democratic For The People, a musical compilation honouring Georgia artists to raise money for Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight Action organisation.

‘Hunter’s Folly’ is the new single by THE LAST INKLINGS. It might have been a standard traditional hunting song…but it isn’t. Written by Leonardo and David, it gives the hares’ point of view on the proceedings and cleverly lifts a line from ‘Hunting The Hare’. The Last Inklings have expanded their musical palette with this release and we’re really looking forward to their debut album.

Somehow TIM GRIMM’s ‘Dreaming Of King Lear’ (Cavalier CR255932) slipped under the radar when released last month, but, taken from upcoming album Gone,  it’s well worth shining the spotlight on now, a simple, wistful acoustic number written in tribute to and memory of Eric Taylor, Michael Smith and David Olney, all of whom passed in recent months, as he sings “Each of you were jesters, but none of you were fools/You could sing the world its beauty by breaking all the rules”.

‘Give Me A Reason’ is the atmospheric new single by County Clare singer SUSAN O’NEILL, who has been a member of numerous Irish bands over the years. It’s built on piano and clashing percussion underpinning Susan’s powerful voice with haunting synth sounds for decoration.

PAUL WALKER & KAREN PFEIFFER, the latter on southern German accented vocals, ask ‘What If My Pockets Were Empty?’ (Crazy Moose), a simple, tumbling fingerpicked melody which, thematically evoking thoughts of ‘Streets Of London’, speaks of the threat of finding yourself a payday away from being destitute and wondering if love can sustain the relationship  as she wonders  “Could I still claim a seat at your table?/Would I still be that glint in your eye?/And what, if the words that define me could no longer be spoken with pride?/What if my pockets were empty?/Would I still have you here by my side”.

‘What Comes Next’ is the new single from Reading duo, TOMORROW BIRD. It’s a strange, mysterious sounding song with echoey percussion but, unfortunately, some of the lyrics at the beginning are lost in Jen Bird’s rather too impassioned delivery.

Canada’s MIKE PLUME cranks up the ringing outlaw country guitar for the steady walking beat ‘Remember To Forget’, lifted from last year’s Lonesome Stretch of Highway, a number about bumping into your ex-wife in the chain store and the memories that come flooding back. Pure country heartache stuff, but none the worse for that.

‘Nothing Could Grow There’ is the excellent new single from IAN ROLAND & THE SUBTOWN SET, a song firmly set in pandemic times and combining all the evils besetting the world at the moment with a plea to step back from the brink. It’s taken from a forthcoming album being recorded as we speak.

Currently part of The Magpies and cellist in demand, Skipton-based SARAH SMOUT keeps her solo career active with self-released new single ‘Atlas’, a rework of a song originally recorded as part of a live EP with Sophie Ramsey in 2018 and now revisited, cello prominent and more orchestral, in collaboration with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for her Wild Music project.

‘Fact Of Life’ is the new single from TWELFTH DAY featuring the fiddle and harp combination of Catriona Price and Esther Swift and lots more on top – a really big sound. The song is about living with the past; our own and other people’s.