An album of soulful Americana Love Life is the latest album from US singer-songwriter Tawny Ellis.
With the title reflecting the theme that runs throughout the songs on the album, Ellis says:
“This record took about three years to finish. I can’t tell you why. It’s just the natural progression of it. The songs for the most part are very personal stories or perhaps stories I tell you about what I have observed in relationships. I built these songs mostly with three different people, Gio Loria – my husband, Jesse Seibenberg and Ted Russell-Kamp. I was lucky to have all of their extraordinary talent and input on board.”
Alongside her lush vocals and lyrical storytelling Ellis says she is known as ‘the girl with the weird instruments’ and her steel guitar an omnichord playing can be heard on the album, her talent for the latter developing when she borrowed an instrument that had originally belonged to Brian Eno, at the suggestion of her producer/musician friend Daniel Lanois.
“It’s a wonderful tool for writing and experimenting and I ended upwriting most of the record on it. It’s progressions opened up doorways for me, kind of like a key to the magic.”
Also featuring on the album are Jessie Siebenberg (guitar, steel guitar, drums, piano, keys), Ted Russell-Kamp (guitar, bass), Gio Loria (guitar), Kaitlin Wolfberg (violin, vocals), Scarlet Rivera (violin), Quinn (drums) and Brooke Lizotte (piano).
Released: 24th July 2020 by Music Building Records
John Jenkins is a well-known figure on the Liverpool music scene, once part of cult eighties band ‘The Persuaders’ but in recent years it’s been solo performances as a singer-songwriter or fronting his own band John Jenkins & the James Street Band. Two well-received independently-released albums ‘Window Shopping in Nashville’ and ‘Looking For That American Dream’ are now followed up with this latest release: ‘Growing Old (Songs From My Front Porch)’.
Inspired to write a selection of songs that could be performed solo, Jenkins reveals in the sleeve-notes that the working title for the album was initially ‘Songs for the Open Mic’. Thankfully, someone else suggested the slightly more Nashville, slightly less Norris Green title of ‘Songs From The Front Porch’. I don’t really care whether he’s got a porch or not to be honest – even if it’s only a metaphorical one it suits the feel of the album.
“I really wanted to record a selection of intimate songs that could resonate with the listener,” he says. “Stories of life, family, friends, good times, sad times, loss and happiness..”
All self-composed (bar one co-written with LA-based Kendra Boardman that emerged out of a songwriting retreat) the songs on the album explore those familiar themes of love, ageing, loss and loneliness. Jenkins’ lyrics have a nice turn of phrase to them and he can clearly turn out some really, strong memorable melodies, too.
Highlights include opening track (and the song that gives the album its name) ‘Growing Old’. Its contemplative mood and laid-back Americana feel sets the tone for the rest of the album rather nicely. Other highlights include the melancholic ‘Heartlands’ and the aforementioned co-write ‘This Mountain Between Us’ – performed here as a gorgeous duet with old friend Siobhan Maher-Kennedy taking us into classic country territory.
While the music might have a strong Americana feel to it Jenkins eschews a faux-American delivery and sings resolutely in his own voice. While I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily got the most distinctive of voices there’s a warm, engaging honesty about it that just works so perfectly for material like this.
Since Growing Old popped through my letterbox the other week I’ve been growing more and more fond of it. A fine album.
An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.
Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning in the Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It’s a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary – Celticana as Bregante dubbed it.
The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Fairnie’s gift as a songwriter and easy-going but thought-provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet Bob Shields, make this a standout-out album.
An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed.
Daylight Saving Hours is the second solo album from Thomas Charlie Pederson, lead singer and guitarist with Danish alt-rockers Vinyl Floor. Unlike the guitar-driven indie rock of Vinyl Floor, however, Pederson’s solo offering takes a mellow acoustic minimalistic approach, continuing in the vein of his first solo album Second Hand War released in 2016.
Recorded at the apartment of his brother (and Vinyl Floor’s drummer) Daniel, who also produced and mixed the album, Pederson states, “The project started out as demo recordings but I’ve decided to release these songs because I want to present them as raw as possible and because I want to preserve the feel of how they were written.”
The 14 songs on the album are centred mainly around Pederson’s vocals and either his piano playing or his acoustic guitar. For all it’s stripped back intimacy, however, the album does not lack polish, with Pederson’s brother providing some lovely atmospheric flourishes with additional string and organ arrangements. The result is an instinctively sympathetic backdrop to Pederson’s contemplative lyrics and melancholic delivery.
“Unlike the first album – which was quite introvert and personal – the new album sees me writing mostly about other people with a strong emphasis on the lyrics and melody and a few lyrical wordplays thrown in for good measure,” Pederson adds. “ I write about the commitments of love, illusionists, other worldly interference, melancholia, women in trouble and the different aspects of getting older.
Given my own music tastes I very much empathise with those musicians who enjoy exploring both their rock side and their acoustic side. An album of intimate lyrics and appealing melodies Thomas Charlie Pederson more than proves his worth as a singer-songwriter with Daylight Saving Hours.
Back Up To Zero is the third album from acoustic singer-songwriter duo Adam Amos & Noel Rocks. It comes after quite some gap since the first two though. Adam Amos and Noel Rocks recorded two albums together in the 1980s and toured around the UK and Europe. Their endeavours as a duo came to a premature end, however, when Amos relocated abroad. Two sell-out reunion shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 evidently encouraged them to rekindle their working partnership as a permanent set-up once more and they began working on Back Up To Zero in 2019, on Amos’s return to live in Scotland.
The album comprises eight original songs along with one traditional number and one cover. The duo (Amos guitar/vocals and Rocks guitar/banjo/vocals) say the songs are mainly drawn from their personal observations, with influences from Scotland, Ireland and North America.
They are joined by a number of guest musicians: renowned Korean born Su-a Lee (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr McFall’s Chamber, La Banda Europa) on cello, David Paton (Pilot, Elton John, Albert Hammond) on bass and Kenny Hutchison on accordion and piano, who was also the album’s producer.
Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.
In spite of being something of a regular fixture on the UK folk circuit, over two decades of writing songs ever since his teenage years and a long-term collaboration with violinist Ian Pearson, Irish-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hunt has waited until now before releasing his debut album. Devil’s Daughter comprises ten tracks of self-composed. In addition to Hunt (vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Pearson (violin) it includes an impressive line-up of session musicians: double bassist John Parker (better known as one half of the acoustic duo Nizlopi), Dan Wilde on guitars, piano and organ, Jamie Welsted on drums and singer-songwriter Anna Hester providing backing vocals.
It’s apparent that the years Hunt has spent honing his craft as a songwriter have not been wasted and he delivers an impressive debut here.
“One of the first songs I wrote was about the troubles in Northern Ireland and I discovered I could more effectively express how I felt about complex subjects in song than I could any other way so I guess that’s when song-writing started for me, “ he notes.
”I’ve realised that the meaning of songs is in who hears them and over time those songs change and what the listener takes from them will change too. As long as they are written from a genuine place – good, bad or ugly – then they will carry in some shape or form. What a song might be about is not really up to me to define even if I’ve written it. That’s for someone else to decide for themselves. That’s what makes music pretty special as an art form. Songs are just moments, that’s all. Not definitions or dogmas.”
A gift for lyrical storytelling combines with a warmly satisfying voice and some deft musical interplay between the assembled musicians to make this an album that you get more and more from with each repeated listen. No-one could ever accuse Hunt of rushing himself in bringing his songs to the recording studio but it has certainly been worth the wait. Devil’s Daughter is a very welcome debut. Like many musicians the world over any gigs that Hunt had lined up in support of this album will now be completely up in the air. However, whether you have seen him live previously or just looking for something new as you contemplate what is likely to be many weeks without any gigs to out to this album is well worth seeking out.
A Choir of Ghosts is the alter-ego of Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger and An Ounce of Ghosts is his debut album. Written over a three -year period this highly personal album is influenced by both the thick forests of the Scandinavian landscape and the experiences and feelings he went through over that time.
Right from your first listen of the album a number of things become immediately apparent. First, Auger has a fantastic voice – with that slight Americana vibe that makes for perfect singer-songwriter territory. Secondly, he’s really got a good ear for catchy memorable melodies – even after an initial couple of plays this album feels like it’s been a much-loved part of your collection. And finally, this is a really well-constructed, beautifully-produced debut album – from the epic orchestral soundscapes that dominate tracks like the grandly-titled ‘Sinner In Rapture’ (also released as a single) to the warm, introspective feel of stripped-back acoustic numbers like ‘Driving Home’.
Beautiful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous production An Ounce of Gold is an extremely impressive debut album and one well worth seeking out.
Back in 2017, Kankou Kouyate a singer and songwriter from Mali from a renowned musical family, met Scottish musician Mark Mulholland. A collaboration ensued which led to a batch of original songs fusing both African and western influences. The ten-track album Kuma (meaning “words” in Bambara – Mali’s most common language) is the result of that collaboration. Parisian musician Olaf Hund adds electronic beats and on a couple of tracks Vincent Bucher provides some beautifully evocative harmonica. Combined with the rock, blues and folk influences of Mulholland’s guitar work and Kankou’s enchanting voice they have created something altogether special.
In Mali, Kouyate has worked with musicians such as Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and Cheick Tidiane Seck. She’s collaborated in Africa Express and also contributed to the soundtrack for a 2015 documentary about musicians displaced by Mali’s civil war while internationally she has worked with the likes of Damon Albarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner.
‘What If‘ the new single from folk artist Zoe Wren seeks to raise both money and public awareness on behalf of prison music outreach charity Sing Inside.
“Taking singing workshops into local prisons with charity Sing Inside was one of the most rewarding parts of my life while living in Cambridge,” says Wren. “My song What If was inspired partly by the joy and hope music can bring to people’s lives and partly by the frustrations of working in a prison system lacking focus on rehabilitation. It is more vital now than ever to support this important community work, so all money from this release will go straight to help Sing Inside and the amazing work this charity does.”
“My heart goes out to the family and friends of Jack and Saskia, and to everyone affected by the events at Fishmongers’ Hall on London Bridge. I think we owe it to them to continue to support the cause they so strongly believed in, and focus not on hate but on love, hope and humanity.”
On its website Sing Inside outlines its mission and values as follows:
Sing Inside promotes and supports the use of music and performing arts as a means of community-building for all who work or live within the prison setting.
We aim to provide music-based educational initiatives by conducting choral workshops in UK prisons and holding facilities using volunteers drawn from UK universities and local choirs.
Our workshops train and develop the musicianship and educational leadership skills of volunteers drawn from universities and local communities, who support workshop delivery.
We believe that music can break down common stereotypes and social barriers, and encourage creativity, confidence, and a greater sense of self-worth.
‘What If’ is available via Wren’s Bandcamp page. The track is priced at £2, but she asks that if you are able to donate any more, it will be hugely appreciated.
Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences.
It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.
Not only is Jordan is a talented songwriter with a passionate soulful voice she’s succeeded in assembling a suitably talented line-up of musicians for the album. Jordan’s own guitar and bouzouki playing is complimented by a sensitive yet wondrous accompaniment of mandolin, piano, strings, whistle and percussion that help give these songs such a unique Celtic-inspired flavour.
If Celtic soul is truly a thing then ‘Send My Soul’ is surely a classic of the genre. Jordan has delivered an exquisitely appealing album here.