SINGLES BAR 44 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 44As a taster for his somewhat delayed album, From Coalfield To Battlefield, GARY MILLER releases his DLI EP. The DLI is The Durham Light Infantry and the final track, featuring Ferryhill Town Band, has previously been released as a single. The long opening track, ‘The Final Letter Of Jimmy Durham’, is the story of the first African to join the British army. He became a bandsman and a popular man in the regiment but sadly died of pneumonia in Ireland in 1908. In contrast is ‘Ballad Of Lance-Sergeant William Stones’ who was executed for cowardice in 1916. Like so many others, Stones was posthumously pardoned when it was far too late to make amends.‘Euphonium And Cornet’ is about the bandsmen who, like the Scottish pipers, put themselves in harm’s way to rally their comrades. Gary’s powerful voice and equally powerful songs are complemented by big brass arrangements. We’re looking forward to the album.

Featuring Orkney fiddler Louise Bichan alongside American colleagues guitarist Ethan Hawkins, mandolin player Ethan Setiawan and recent addition Casey Murray on cello and clawhammer banjo, Boston-based CORNER HOUSE release their second EP, Smart Folks, a collection of four originals and two contemporary Irish numbers that ranges cross Irish, Scottish, Appalachian stringband and bluegrass influences. It’s Ireland that provide the opening instrumental ‘Slip Jigs’ (‘Farewell To Whaley Range’ and ‘Soggy’s’) before they follow on with ‘Happy Now, a number about depression and family life penned, as is ‘You’re Great’, as low, minimalist spooked-mandolin ballad which briefly perks up rhythmically midway before a fiddle solo, by Hawkins. Setiawan, contributes the musically shape-shifting instrumental title track before, starting slow and gathering pace, a third instrumental, ‘Through The Snow-Covered Pines’, Murray’s clawhammer evoking the quartet’s Appalachian aspects, brings things to a close. They’re due to return to the UK in 2020 for a Spring tour, I suggest you keep a close eye out.

THE PORTLAND BROTHERS are Steven Adams and Tim Victor and their first EP is the download set First EP. Fortunately, their music is rather more imaginative than their titling. The key to their sound is their tight harmony singing over acoustic guitars sometimes bolstered by organ but the lead track, ‘Shake Off The Dust’, begins with a decidedly country vibe and it’s a while before you realise that they are from neither Oregon nor Maine but actually got together in Cambridge. They aren’t exactly informative on their web page but this is clever songwriting – deceptively simple but also complex and raising questions. Is ‘Invisible Love’ about hiding one’s sexuality or is that reading too much into it? Steve and Tim could really go somewhere.

An echo of Simon Garfunkel comes with the self-released The Kivalina EP from New England/Nashville duo JESSE TERRY & ALEX WONG, the title referring to the Alaskan village where the indigenous population have hunted whales for generations.  However, climate change and thinning ice has made both this, and indeed their very existence difficult with experts predicting Kivalina will be uninhabitable by 2025, making them the first climate change refugees.

As such the six tracks revolve around the villagers’ predicament, extending it to more personal and universal considerations, opening with the shimmering, percussion cascading, gradually swelling ‘Landfall’ and proceeding through the similarly styled ‘Nowhere’, the more musically muscular ‘Dangerous’ and the introspective, softly sung fragility of ‘Thieves’. It ends with the tumbling drums and keening harmonies of the lyrical desperation of ‘Ten More Years’ and, finally, the simple strum of the strings-coloured ‘Fight Or Flight’. A simple but beautifully crafted and performed record that delivers a timely and important narrative.

ERIN RAE adds her contribution to the current spate of covers with the download only Lagniappe Session EP (Aquarium Drunkard), opening up a dreamy 60s psychfolk reading of Gene Clark’s ‘Some Misunderstanding’. Formerly recorded by The Monkees, Carole King’s ‘As You Go Along’ here, Rae on 12-string, more recalls a slow burn Byrds, leading on to a loose late 60s West Coast vibe take of Jonathan Richman’s ‘You Must Ask The Heart’. The final cut is an ambitious interpretation of Scott Walker’s ‘Duchess’, featuring Jerry Bernhardt on fuzz guitars, 12 string acoustic and Casiotone, a fine conclusion to an excellent indulgence.

Mandolin, Violin And Saw is one of the best titles we’ve come across all year. It belongs to an EP by DAVID SQUIRE AND THE LONG LAST LOOKS and being recorded in Tennessee it’s pure(ish) country – David says the song is inspired by his maternal grandfather. To confuse things, David is actually from Bristol and despite many years living in the USA he doesn’t really have the accent – whether by chance or design is impossible to say. He is back in England now but his lyrics betray his love of all things American – ‘Savannah Days And Nights’ being a perfect example. As well as mandolin and violin there are guitar, piano, organ and drums but the band’s sound is light and gently rolling and the songwriting is excellent.

A UK Americana four-piece comprising siblings Callum on vocals and rhythm guitar, drummer Theo and lead guitarist Jack Lury with Peter Dixon on brass, THE BLUE HIGHWAYS make the running with their self-titled, self-released debut EP. An energetic four-track collection it kicks off with the Southside Johnny saloon soul swagger of ‘He Worked’, a horns-embellished song about an old man reflecting on his life now he’s retired and to the future of his kids, continuing in a similar but Stonesy blues style with piano-accompanied lying-themed ‘Blood Off Your Hands’. Co-penned with David Burn from Orphan Colours, ‘Matter Of Love’ is an upbeat swaggering Southern country pop track about not having the courage to end a relationship and they end with the reined in reflective acoustic balladry chug of ‘Have You Seen My Baby’, coloured by Henry Senior on mournful pedal steel. It doesn’t push the envelope, but it handles the staple ingredients in solid style

After a run of singles, SJ DENNEY releases a six-track EP, Forgotten Friends. The most recent of the singles is ‘A Fond Farewell’, the final track in the set while ‘Here I Am’ opens it..’(Feels Like I’m) Hearing Things’ is something of a departure in musical style, spikier than his usual material and a powerful song and the drive carries over into ‘All The Signs Were There’, the predecessor to ‘A Fond Farewell’. SJ is big on brass solos in his arrangements which give him a distinctive sound and the pounding drums on ‘The Good Times’ are equally powerful.

BANDITS ON THE RUN are a NYC-based trio consisting guitarist Adrian Enscoe, cellist Sydney Shepherd and Regina Strayhorn on percussion and xylophone, all three handling the vocals. Bandits Live At The Power Station (The MTA) is the latest EP, a four track collection of three originals and one cover kicking off a splash of Hispanic musical colours on ‘Potted Plant’ before the intertwined harmonies of the folksier, blues shaded ‘Sweet Thing’. The swayalong feckless lover-themed ‘Cowboy On The Run’ takes you to the New Mexico desert, complete with cod coyote howl, closing up with their inspired, sultgrily-sung, cello-led lurching take on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’. It certainly makes you want to check out their studio recordings too.

Folking award winner REG MEUROSS releases a new solo album, Raw, very soon but before that we have a single, ‘We Looked Away’, which has to be one of his best ever songs. There’s a delightful hint of Dylan in the melody that serves to root the track in the protest movement of the 60s and if ‘We Looked Away’ doesn’t make you question yourself and everything that is going on in the world you have no soul.

JOSHUA RADIN serves up a taster for his forthcoming new, eighth, album with ‘Here, Right Now’ (Netwerk Music Group), a fingerpicked acoustic-based, whisperingly sung number about embracing the moment that, featuring Maria Taylor, on harmonies, calls to mind early Simon & Garfunkel.

‘Mud’ is the new single from Londoner YVONNE McDONNELL. It has a beautiful, ethereal sound and according to her PR it’s an important song. Sadly, the production and stylised vocals are such that it’s impossible to make out a single word of the lyric.

Video Wall

It’s too hot for thinking and writing so we’ll take the opportunity to post some of the many videos we’ve received recently: the first of our Video Wall series.

First, here’s Kat Healey with ‘Hearts Entwined’ from her EP, Wolf.

Next we have Billy Bragg and Joe Henry with their version of Jean Ritchie’s great song ‘The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore’.

Have we shown you this one? It’s worth seeing again: the title track from Yvonne McDonnell’s EP, Endless Soul.

Finally, here’s Annie Keating with ‘Lucky’ from a One On One live session in New York.

Yvonne McDonnell blogs about her new video

Yvonne McDonnell 2

I am going completely out of my comfort zone; I am doing a crowdfunder for my next music video. Being an unestablished/ unsigned musician, this is terrifying and I don’t expect to make a penny, so I thought I would write a blog explaining why I am doing this. Hopefully, everyone knowing the context will make this as effective as can be.

We are sisters, mothers, daughters, friends and lovers. There is so much more to us than what we are so wrongly often defined by. We are not just our layer of skin.

The video will challenge the shallow portrayal of women in the media, art and other influential outlets. It will celebrate the mind and substance behind women.

I am a 25 year old woman and the pressure on me and my fellow females to look a certain way is immense. It isn’t just annoying, it is dangerous. People are getting ill because of it. People die because of it.

The pressure is everywhere and I know so many people who have been affected – and those people are not shallow. It’s normal to want to look our best, and natural to want to be attractive (it’s part of how we continue as a species!) but our insecurities are being played on by people who want to make money. It isn’t ok. It’s dangerous and it’s subtle.

The project is so important to me because I have struggled in the past with pressure to be perfect, and I still do. I was completely taken in by the need to look a certain way and for a short while I was ill because of it. This is not uncommon in the slightest, and in an age where we are bombarded with images of perfection, it’s so totally to be expected. It has become normal to compare ourselves to the ‘best’ and most selected parts of people’s lives.

I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed by all of the emotions, being so ‘weak,’ and surrendering to how this pressure made me feel.

Just writing this song helped me face the whole thing head on and I began standing up to the industry. Then, I was performing the song and saw how many people felt the same. I saw how hard the words hit women and how angry they got when they were confronted with the reality of a situation which has become so ingrained in us a society.

The video is for every woman who has ever felt ashamed because they don’t look how the media says is right. There are still, and probably always will be, people who buy into that image as I did in my late teens and early twenties. I am tired of our vulnerabilities being exploited and want to start focusing my own art on what people should really be valued for. Even if one person decides to screw the system and feel better about themselves then I would have succeeded.

I should explain why no men are involved. I believe men experience the same insecurities; the same issues are relevant to them. I also believe the sexualisation of women can have an extremely negative effect on men in many ways.

People often associate feminism with men hating, or blaming. I don’t believe that and certainly don’t want to be associated with that notion. I have the best male figures in my life and think that our issues are just as important as each other’s, but they are different. I can’t speak for issues I haven’t experienced. I am first and foremost an artist and the whole project came from something I wrote. This song has come from the heart; it is completely personal. It would feel insulting and definitely arrogant to assume I can speak for people whose experiences I haven’t shared. They may be the same, similar, but who knows? It’s as simple as that.

I didn’t realise the project would come to this when I wrote the song. Deep down I hoped to take it further, but I wasn’t sure if I had the confidence to do it. I have to thank everyone who has helped me so far and the unbelievable enthusiasm from people taking part.

I’m working with Davide from 316 Queens, the same director from my last video for ‘Endless Soul’ (he is amazing!) and when I pitched the concept to him his first reaction was ‘this is an important message, let’s turn this into a positive project.’ Every reaction since has been similar, especially from the women I have asked to be involved. Their enthusiasm is what has inspired me to taking it further and I will be forever grateful!

The kickstarter is necessary; I am unsigned musician which is the furthest thing from lucrative. The budget has come to £700. Rewards will be listed on the crowdfunding website. Ultimately you will be helping to change the way women see themselves and reassess their value. You’ll be helping to bring attention to an issue that affects millions of women every day. I am hoping to bring positivity out of this project and would be so grateful to anyone who can help me and the team do that.

Artist’s website:

‘I’m Not This Layer Of Skin’:

Yvonne McDonnell – debut single and EP

Yvonne McDonnell

Not Her Own is all about empowerment; about having the ability to positively stand up to life’s daily struggles, delivered through the effervescent beauty of Yvonne’s emotive vocals. Yvonne is not only inspired by musical influences such as Nick Cave and Joanna Newsom, but also by poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allen Poe, helping to inspire her to write the opening tracks ‘I’m Not This Layer Of Skin’ and ‘The Savages’.

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Artist’s website:

‘I’m Not In This Layer Of Skin’: