One of my album delights this year has been the The Wayfarer Triptych from Worthing-based prog acoustic duo Across The Sea. That is not just because I had the pleasure of working on PR for Hannah Katy Lewis and Pete Ferguson who make up Across The Sea but because it really is a genuinely stunning album.
Their nine-track, three-part concept album narrates the story of a girl who discovers a beguiling triptych painting and embarks on a fantastical journey in search of hope, purpose, and a forgotten truth. It’s an ambitious concept by any standards but even more so when you consider that the entire album is built around the extraordinary vocals of classically-trained Hannah Katy Lewis and the equally extraordinary acoustic guitar-playing of Pete Ferguson. Between them they conjure up the sort of magic that other prog outfits with banks of keyboards and a studio full of multi-instrumentalists would be hard-placed to emulate. The sound is deep and lush and all-encompassing with as many twists and turns as the story-telling in the lyrics.
This stunning album with breath-taking vocals, astonishing guitar work and beautiful atmospherics will have great appeal to anyone with an interest in the folk/acoustic and prog worlds. My tip: turn it up loud, forget everything and totally immerse yourself in the magic and intensity that is Across The Sea.
Highfield Suite is the debut album from Glasgow singer-songwriter Michael McGovern. At 25 he’s been writing songs since he was a teenager, Highfield Suite being the culmination of his work to date. He says the songs on the album very much reflect this period of his life, focusing on themes such as friendship, love, regret and reconciling with one’s own mistakes. Citing the likes of Leonard Cohen, to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Springsteen and Fleet Foxes as key inspirations McGovern traverses that folky, acoustic, Americana-flavoured vibe with confidence and there’s a real maturity to his song-writing, too.
McGovern had begun building a name for himself on the festival circuit but, like many musicians, once the pandemic struck and brought an end to life performances his focus turned to writing and recording. Taking the self-isolation route to its creative limits, McGovern ended up recording much of the album alone in a small wooden cabin in Galway, Ireland with a single microphone.
If that suggests a stark, minimalist feel to the album, then it’s a wrong impression. Dublin-based producer, Bill Shanley, worked alongside McGovern to flesh out the album and a range of additional musicians and backing vocalists were brought in on various tracks to add extra depth and texture. McGovern himself plays guitar, bass, piano and keyboards on the album with co-producer, Shanley, providing additional guitars, bass and vocals alongside assorted guests, including some wonderfully evocative pedal steel guitar from Connor Smith.
The result is a beautifully timeless album with heartfelt lyrics, lush gospel-tinged harmony vocals complementing McGovern’s own emotive voice and some gorgeous guitar. An impressive debut.
Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around of thoughtful, witty song-writing.
Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as the band approach their 30th anniversary.
Founder members Bruce Roper (vocals, guitar) and Sue Demel (vocals, guitar, djembe, dulcimer) along with long-time member Deborah Lader (vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin) who joined the trio in 1998, replacing original member Nancy Walker, are joined by a range of musical guests and spoken word collaborators for this special release. Guests include Marc Kelly Smith, Karen Savoca, Anne Harris and Pete Heitzman helping bring colourful texture to Sons of The Never Wrong’s trademark blend of folk, jazz, pop and rock influences.
Opening track, the gorgeous gospel-tinged, soul-flavoured ‘Muddy, Muddy River’ with guest, Bob Long, on organ and piano is clearly destined to be a centre-piece of future live performances and is a modern-day classic in the making – absolutely gorgeous.
Elsewhere on the album, the melancholic, ecologically-themed piano and vocals number ‘Shorebird’ is another stand-out track, along with the Indie-ish anthem ‘Om Not This Time’. Tracks like ‘Everyone’s In The House’, meanwhile, take us into more classic folk singer-songwriter territory, evoking the genre’s golden age.
Beautifully presented with hand-painted cover art from Lader, Undertaker’s Songbook is a fine album to mark the trio’s thirtieth anniversary.
Matt Steady is a singer-songwriter from Leicester. His music is most closely identified with blues and folk but he pulls in a wide range of influences. Even within the confines of those two genres, however, he traverses a refreshingly broad spectrum: on the blues front going from the blistering electric variety to the mournful acoustic type and on the folk side there’s everything from contemporary singer-songwriter to Celtic soundscapes to traditional balladry. Classically-trained, Matt Steady is a highly talented and naturally expressive player, whether that’s guitar or violin, and he’s an evocative lyricist, too.
Steady has a brand new album out New Buryin’ Ground on 27th April. Prior to that though, he released a compilation album featuring highlights from his previous six albums which he launched with a very generous and fairly unique offer. If you fancy the album, you can order it online and he’ll send out the CD to you direct to your door absolutely free of charge.
The Echoes Remain is a very fine compendium of Matt Steady’s work – eleven tracks in all – and something I’m very pleased to now have in my CD collection.
What on earth possessed him to make it completely free of charge, though, I asked him:
MS:“I’m all about the win/win. This compilation album is a win for listeners and a win for me too! Firstly, as an independent artist, the main challenge I have is getting people to listen to my music. Our attention spans on social media are so short that posting up songs, no matter how good they are, is not a strategy that works particularly well. People are unlikely to stop scrolling to listen to a whole song from someone they’ve never heard of for sure! However the people who enjoy my eclectic style of music often still have CDs player, and often love listening to music in their cars or while working. It costs me very little to have CDs made these days, and with the postage paid for I’m not generally out of pocket on them. And actually any shortfall is made up by some generous folks who either leave a tip or buy an extra CD with it. So the win for the listener is obvious – a free CD delivered to their door; a menu of tracks from my other albums to introduce them to my music. And the win for me is that more people are listening to my music, more people are messaging me and having conversations with me, more people are discovering my other albums and enjoying those too. It’s a win/win for everyone!”
“And for those evolved people who don’t have CDs … it’s available as a free download as well. I don’t want to stop anyone from listening from lack of a piece of equipment. And for streamers, this compilation isn’t up on Spotify etc., but all my albums that the tracks come from are, so that’s a way of listening too.”
I also asked Matt to tell us a little more about the new album that’s due to be released next week:
MS: “My new album is called New Buryin’ Ground, and this time rather than releasing it under my own name, it’s being released under the band name “The Grace Machine”. Alongside my vocals and guitar work, I am frankly astounded to have playing with me two very sought-after musicians – Terl Bryant on percussion and Matt Weeks on bass. I’ve been listening to their work since I was a teen (ahem that’s quite a long time ago now), and I’m still in shock that they wanted to form this band! The music itself is rocky gospel blues. Many of the tracks are interpreting old spirituals and slave songs, bringing them up to date for a modern audience. We owe so much of our musical lives and heritage to black music, crafted under such dire circumstances, and this album is a homage to those often unknown musicians. The album is full of joy and angst in equal measure, and I can only hope that we’ve done the songs justice.”
New Buryin’ Ground available from Matt Steady’s website here
Manchester-based duo O’Neill & Jones have just released their second single. ‘Broken Shoes’ released on April 2nd follows debut single ‘No Excuse’ which secured airplay in both the UK and US when it was released back in February. The duo are Mat O’Neill and Sophie Jones.
Relatively new to the singer-songwriter scene they had previously been building up a rapport with audiences as an acoustic covers duo. Their own songs soak up folk, Americana and rock influences with a strong emphasis on sweeping harmonies and strong melodies.
Announcing the release of ‘Broken Shoes’ they say:
“This one is a gently upbeat, folky song about coming to the end of a long journey, The trails we take while we’re able, and the relationships that remain once we settle down. We had such a great time writing and recording her last month and couldn’t be happier to be releasing our second single!”
The years spent performing covers proved to be a useful primer in song arrangement, catchy hooks, they tell us, and not least lessons in how to grab the attention of the listener.
And if you’re impressed with their productions skills in putting together the video for ‘Broken Shoes’ they’ve also given us a sneak glimpse behind the scenes showing us how it all came about.
With an ear for catchy melodies, lovely harmonies and beautifully-crafted lyrics I suspect we’ll be hearing quite a bit more from O’Neill and Jones.
Canterbury-based singer-songwriter Luke Jackson has scooped up numerous awards since first being nominated for the BBC’s Young Folk Awards back in 2013.
As a folk and roots-based artist he’s tapped into a school of song-writing that goes back many generations yet his songs always seem so effortlessly contemporary, topical and relevant.
This latest seven-track EP ‘Of The Time’ is no exception. Written during lockdown these songs take us on a powerful journey, not only of Luke Jackson’s own thoughts at various times over the months between March and November 2020, but feelings that many, many of us will immediately empathise with:
“The man in charge looks troubled on the TV. Doesn’t have a single thing to say” he sings on opening track ‘I Am Not Okay With This’.
The subjects are often bleak but the songs are never bleak, testimony to Jackson’s power as a songwriter and warmth as a performer. And he can be passionate and outspoken and uncompromising but avoids that temptation to get ranty – a trap that some singer-songwriters dealing with contemporary subject matter can sometimes fall into. Again, it’s a mark of his gift as a songwriter and the pure poetry of his lyrics.
The production nicely captures that mood, too.
“The songs lend themselves to a more sparse, acoustic production so the obvious person to do these recordings with was Elliott Norris at his ‘Good Neighbour Records’ studio,” he tells us.
I first saw Luke Jackson at Cecil Sharp House five years ago and was hugely impressed. His ‘This Family Tree’ album that I picked up that evening has frequently been on my stereo ever since – but it has been a treat to get fully up to date with Luke Jackson’s more recent output and familiarise myself with his wonderful 2019 album ‘Journals’ as well as this year’s brand new EP. As soon as I heard it I had no hesitation in making him this week’s featured artist.
Hot on the heels of Lancashire-based folk-rockers, Merry Hell, who released their eco-themed Emergency Lullabies album last November comes Temperature’s Rising, another environmentally-conscious album title from another act immersed in the UK folk scene: East Sussex’s Milton Hide.
I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.
While their acoustic-driven melodies are at the heart of Temperature’s Rising there’s plenty more to the album besides. The dozen songs here are all ones that the duo have performed live over the years. However, a cast of guest musicians, their contributions all recorded separately and expertly weaved into the album within the necessary constraints imposed by life in lockdown, add rich texture to the duo’s melodies.
Bruce Knapp from Moltenamba provides some deliciously Americana-flavoured guitar on several tracks, Fred Gregory and Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain come in on mandolin and string bass respectively, while Ian McIlroy from Rough Chowder plays accordion and Simon Yapp from Ian Roland Subtown Set adds some distinctive fiddle-playing. The whole album is produced and engineered by John Fowler of Dandelion Charm who also utilises his multi-instrumental talents on guitars, bass, keyboards and drums while Clare Fowler, the other half of Dandelion Charm, adds some backing vocals.
The title track ‘Temperature’s Rising’ utilises the full band set-up to deliver a rousing modern-day folk-rock anthem. Josie Tipler: “Greta Thunberg was making news and climate activists were very prominent in the media. Also, there was a lot of protesting going on – anger over US elections and Brexit. “
Meanwhile, ‘A Little Piece Of Mind’ sees Jim and Josie in classic acoustic duo mode. With a more than a nod to the melody of Elizabeth Cotton’s evergreen skiffle favourite ‘Freight Train’ the lyrics here similarly utilise train metaphors but the song is actually Josie’s ode to the menopause and mid-life crisis.
The poignant ‘Littlefield’, inspired by Jim spotting a welcoming light in the window of a house that had been empty for many months, channels the spirit some of those classic English folk-inspired singer-songwriters in the vein of Sandy Denny et al and is beautifully sung by Josie.
‘Say It All The Time’ is another highlight. Quite unlike anything else on the album, the song was initially prompted by a bleak mood that came over Jim during a walk on the South Downs one day and the subsequent death of a musician friend who had tragically taken his own life. It was originally released as a charity single back in 2019 to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Remixed for the album the spiky, slightly eighties, slightly goth-sounding keyboards from producer and multi-instrumentalist, John Fowler, really make this track and perfectly capture the mood of the song.
Mention should also be made of the beautiful packaging including fold-out lyric sheet featuring original artwork by Hastings artist Helen Bryant.
Anyone who is already familiar with Milton Hide’s live act will want to buy this album but hopefully ‘Temperature’s Rising’ will also help bring the duo’s unique talents as songwriters, singers and musicians to a much wider audience. A very welcome full-length debut from Milton Hide with some superb musical guests.
Personal, amusing, heart-breaking, making a point, performances from the duo Milton Hide have always been memorable, strong in melody and full of hooks. Storytellers at heart, many of their songs are grounded in traditional English song, whilst others are rooted in other folk traditions, such as Appalachian, Klezmer and popular music. Emerging out of the East Sussex open mic and folk club circuit five years ago, the acoustic duo picked up many plaudits for their debut EP, Little Fish, released in 2018.
Now husband and wife duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, are set to release their first full-length album: Temperature’s Rising. All the songs on the album are self-penned originals that Milton Hide have performed live over the past few years.
Josie Tipler: “The name of the album and title track, Temperature’s Rising, seemed very appropriate when we started to work on the album. Greta Thunberg was making news and climate activists were very prominent in the media. Also, there was a lot of protesting going on – anger over US elections and Brexit. Added to which I was in the midst of menopause and suffering frequent hot flushes. All in all, the temperature was metaphorically and actually rising. Little did we know it was going to be even more appropriate as the global pandemic took hold.”
The line-up of musicians appearing on the album are all people the duo have met through playing live. Being unable to come into the studio because of Covid-19 restrictions, the guest musicians all provided their parts to producer, John Fowler, which he then weaved into the songs utilising his incredible editing skills.
Jim Tipler:“We perform as an acoustic duo but, as with our previous EP release, we made the decision to simply present each song in the way we feel best suits it. For some, this is pretty much as we perform it live, for others, we have given it a full band treatment.”
“We asked John Fowler to record and produce it as we had previously worked well with him on a single, Say It All The Time. We knew John would not be afraid to add instrumentation where required and can also play really well. The advantage of working with other musicians is that they pick up on things in your music that you sometimes don’t notice yourself. We love John’s enthusiasm and amazing attention to detail. It was a great symbiosis and a lot of fun! That said, we had to complete the album, using social distancing – spacing ourselves out in the studio as well as doing some recording ourselves in our home studio.”
Milton Hide are:
Jim Tipler – guitars, vocals and piano
Josie Tipler – vocals, clarinet, cajon and xylophone
The full line-up of album guests is:
John Fowler from Dandelion Charm – engineer/producer and multi-instrumentalist: guitars, bass, keyboards and drums
Clare Fowler from Dandelion Charm – backing vocals
Bruce Knapp from Moltenamba – guitars
Fred Gregory from Hatful of Rain – mandolin
Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain – string bass
Ian McIlroy from Rough Chowder – accordion
Simon Yapp from Ian Roland Subtown Set – Fiddle
Artwork for the album was created by Hastings artist Helen Bryant who uses bright inks and watercolours with pen outlines to produce unique striking imagery.
1. ‘Temperature’s Rising’ – with a full band this is a rock track that was inspired by the first Women’s March after the inauguration of President Trump and the marches against Brexit, with the popular slogan “Bridges, not walls”
2. ‘A Little Piece Of Mind’ – is an ode to menopause and mid-life crisis.
3. ‘Littlefield’ – was the first single released from the album, late 2020. Whilst walking the dog one dreary depressing evening, Jim spotted a light in the window of a house that had been empty for many months. It cheered him up.
4. ‘Riding The Whale’ – describes Jim’s childhood memories of playing games on the beach with his dad
5. ‘Making Progress’ – a bit of a rant about stresses of the modern world – work, capitalism, the media and politics.
6. ‘Buckle Up’ – inspired by the true story of Sergeant Paul Meyer USAF, who ‘borrowed’ a C130 transport aircraft to fly from England back to his newly-wed wife in Virginia. A tale of extreme love and homesickness.
7. ‘Turnaround’ – the band often get lost and we now see this as a metaphor for our life. You can always change the road you’re on if you think you’re getting nowhere.
8. ‘Something You Don’t See Everyday’ – A social comment on the irony of becoming desensitised to daily horrors served up to us by modern media platforms. (contains a swearword – radio edit available)
9. ‘Spacetime’ – Professor Brian Cox explained the theory of spacetime on a documentary that Jim watched late one night. It made perfect sense after a large glass of Irish whiskey. This is Jim’s memory of the explanation.
10. ‘Say It All The Time’ – describes a black mood walk on the South Downs. Previously released as a single and re-mixed and mastered for the album.
11. ‘The Ghosts Of Milton Hide’ – written as a retrospective warning to our own children to avoid the woods after dark.
12. ‘Took To Wing (Nightingale)’ – an original modern fable about a woman seeking refuge from abuse and finding freedom in the forest. A finale to the album.
Milton Hide – what they say:
“…A superior folk-club act with a great deal of potential.” Rock’n’Reel magazine
“…high in melodic quality, perfectly-matched voices and rich with storytelling…” Folk Words
“Lovely stuff”Mike Harding
“This is a surprisingly enchanting EP” Northern Sky Magazine
“This is one of those mini-albums which goes straight onto my playlists in its entirety, with its thought-provoking lyrics and catchy tunes.” Trevor Oxborrow – The Folk Show
From Moseley in Birmingham, The Lost Notes are a five-piece acoustic outfit who fuse folk, jazz and bluegrass influences to create their own unique but accessible sound with their gorgeous three-part harmonies taking centre-stage.
Lowlifes and High Times is the follow-up album to the band’s well-received debut. Comprising eleven tracks plus a couple of bonus reworkings, the songs “celebrate the ups and downs of journeymen, despots, sleazeballs, fools, the planet and the consciously idle,” the band tell us.
The band are: Ben Mills: vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica; Oli Jobes: lead guitar, vocals; Lucy Mills: vocals; Silas Wood: double bass; and Max Tomlinson: drums. The key songwriters are Mills, a jazz fan, and Jobes, a folkie. Those creative differences clearly blend together well. There’s enough jazz on the album to really make it swing and instantly get your foot tapping but enough folk to ensure the songs are based around storytelling and catchy melodies. What it means is that things never get in the slightest bit self-indulgent but they never get worthy and dull either.
Notching up appearances at the likes of Moseley Folk Festival, Bromsgrove Folk Festival and Beardy Folk Festival, I can see exactly whey their irresistible blend of folk, jazz and Americana and those beautiful harmonies would go down a storm at festivals. Definitely ones to watch.
Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.
Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.
On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.
The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.
Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.