Tag Archives: country

Ward Thomas : Invitation, LP released October 2020

The fourth album from alt-country duo Ward Thomas sees them infusing their sound with contemporary pop to great effect. Opener ‘Sweet Time’ is as uplifting a track as you could hear; especially with the accompanying video of the sisters and friends cycling on a summer day and when they are singing ‘……sipping on champagne stars and slowing down the speed of light…’ all is indeed well with the world.

‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ and ‘Open Your Mind’ keep the pace up but the waltzing ‘Someday’ stops the show. It is a torch song fully using the gorgeous harmonies that roll up to a summit before fading away then reaching the big string-backed chorus ‘….don’t say you love me yet…darling I’m still too scared…’. Gorgeous.

‘Meant To Be Me’ and ‘Hold Space’ are reflections of aspects of current chart pop with acapella interlude ‘Dear Me’ showcasing the voices again. ‘Wait Up’ recalls aspects of their earlier albums sound while full-on Bond theme ‘My Favourite Poison’ is a sweeping strings soundscape.

The last two tracks are quiet and thoughtful with the sisters delicate and gentle harmonies in the forefront of the mainly acoustic backings.

There is more – three bonus cover versions, starting with ‘Halfway’, a rousing duet with James Blunt and a song reminiscent of Ward Thomas crowd pleasers at their live shows. ‘Human’ with Jack Savoretti is a countrified live rendition of The Killers’ song with an angelic vocal arrangement and the finale of Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’ is as good as a cover of a classic song should be.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.co.uk/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2020/06/21/ward-thomas-the-space-between-ep-released-june-2020/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

Invitation
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Ward Thomas : The Space Between, EP released June 2020

A new EP from UK country-pop duo Ward Thomas, collecting together some recently pre-released songs and a new gem…

1. Hold Space. As reviewed on this site previously ‘… a well balanced union of a melody that holds the song without over-elaborate instrumentation and of course features the sisters’ sparkling harmonies. A straightforward lyric makes the point very effectively as it describes how to be there for someone who may be struggling emotionally…’

2. Someone to Someone. In many ways this is a low key and mellow EP, with an emphasis on acoustic instruments and the controlled expressive power of the vocals to deliver the thoughtful musings. Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas are joined on this track by acclaimed singer/songwriter Dan Owen, trading lines and sharing harmonies before building up to the big chorus.

3. Landslide. I have heard many live covers of ‘Dreams’ in recent years but in my opinion this is a superior song from Fleetwood Mac’s 70s heyday. This jewel is a stunning version; vulnerable and melancholic with harmonies that pull every essence of emotion from the lyric and leave the listener overwhelmed. Gorgeous.

4. Painted Legacy. After being turned inside out by the poignant mood of the previous track, this is another subtly restrained but very moving piece. The words express both a specific and generalised meditation on losing a loved one and how their whole life can have so much impact.
It is a lovely gentle melody interweaving with choice lyrical phrases ‘….brings alive my memories of how you spun pure gold out of the dust… I can’t bear to see you go somewhere far where I can’t follow….’. Concise and unhurried this fine song brings the brilliant EP to an end.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.danowenmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

 

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Molly-Anne : California Calling, EP released April 2020

An EP that collects together earlier solo work by Gloucestershire based singer and songwriter Molly-Anne, predating her new band Molly & The Moon. Fusing elements of folk, country and storytelling, these well-crafted songs are uplifted even further by Molly’s top-quality vocals.

1. A San Francisco Story. Starting with just percussive guitar chords and the pure voice this opening track is described by Molly as a live favourite that tells its own story ‘….it was a quarter to eight down by the Golden Gate….I lost my heart in San Francisco…we didn’t care and we wore flowers in our hair…’ The amalgam of real or imagined imagery works a treat and the band rise to the occasion as they gradually join in.

2. Horizon.
A wistful recollection of a past relationship, the narrator looking at the horizon and still hoping in the anthemic chorus ‘…come and find me where the ocean meets the sky…’

3. California Calling. The biggest chorus on the EP is bookended by gorgeous folk stylings in the vocals of the delicate verses. A guitar solo and organ fills out the sound before the celebratory full harmonies at the end.

4. Bristol Boy. Contemplation of a summer romance inspires vivid memories ‘…we’re running over Clifton Common searching for the sun…’, with a hint of melancholy as ‘…times like those keep me reminiscing…’. The song rushes along with urgency, as unfortunately the time passes all too quickly.

5. The Lakes. Alternating between the reverie of the verses and the majestic chorus this is another thoughtful anthem with luminous lyrical reflections ‘….and now the winter’s here and you keep the frost at my door….’. The final minute and a half of instrumental and vocal build-up is a brilliant finale to the EP.

https://www.mollyandthemoon.co.uk/

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Molly & The Moon : Cold Is The Night, single released February 2020

First recorded as a solo acoustic ballad in 2019 by folk country singer and composer Molly-Anne this stunning new version has reimagined and expanded the original and now stands as the first release from the new band Molly & The Moon.

Reassuringly the track has retained the subtlety and understatement; set to a gentle waltz time it is a simple expression of missing a loved one ‘…I think that I love you too much…you’d break my heart if you never came back…’ resolving into the perfectly balanced three-part harmony chorus, ‘….cold is the night without you here….the pain of my heartache as wild as the sea…I hope the wind blows you back to me….’.
The production and performance is relaxed and mellow – with the rich but delicate lead vocal hinting at the depth of emotion beneath the surface.
This new band line-up features acoustic bass, guitar, banjo and cajón and is featured in an atmospheric video recorded at a 10th Century Saxon Barn in Gloucestershire, an appropriately timeless and classic setting for this gorgeous song.

(Molly & The Moon can be seen at the charity Frameshifter II Festival on 21st March, tickets available here )

https://www.mollyandthemoon.co.uk/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/12/22/molly-anne-autumn-leaves-ep-released-december-2019/

Emily Frith : Open Book, EP released January 2020

1. Better In the introduction the vocal and sparse instrumental backing draws us in, before the band fully kicks off on this strong opener. Alternating between the big chorus and back to the quieter moments this is a well-structured song, with a lyric of overcoming adversity ‘…now you’re standing your ground you can’t be torn down…everything that hurt you made you better….’ finally pivoting around a neat middle-eight with the clear statement of hope ‘….and I know rain comes on the sunny days…but it makes your favourite flowers grow…’.

2. Out This is an EP of variety, drawing on pop, poetry and folk influences and here on this track the simple piano accompaniment is infused with the melancholic optimism of the best country music, as a plaintive verse resolves into the positive longing of the chorus. ‘…if life’s an adventure, I wanna go with you…if you’ve got your worries, I’ve got mine too….as long as we’re together, we’ll figure it out……if life’s an adventure, let’s go, go, go out….’.

3. Giving Up on Love The brooding rock background underlines a lyric of the narrator’s emotional questioning and turmoil. The sharp rhythm of drumbeat and electric guitar of the verse escalates into the full-on chorus ‘…I don’t know if I’m doing wrong, but the guys I like end up in all my songs…’ and ‘…I don’t know if I’m doing right…’ ; the only answer seems to be the title phrase. The middle eight is a bit bleak too ‘…once you’re a cheater you’re always a cheater..’ but despite the downbeat sentiments this is still a powerful and involving song.

4. The Blue Currently my favourite on the EP, this is a rolling up-tempo country gem. Like many of the songs in the genre it is about leaving, travelling and arriving as a metaphor for a relationship. With the spirited vocal and relaxed but pacy backing this track must be a highlight in any live set.

5. Want to Love The other four songs have already been singles but this thoughtful piece is a new addition to Emily’s catalogue. Driven by an impressionistic melody and loose instrumentation featuring acoustic and slide guitar the mood is unhurried and mellow. The sentiments of the lyric are delivered with conviction and heartfelt emotion as this excellent EP fades away into the ether.

https://www.facebook.com/emilyfrithmusic/

Molly-Anne : Autumn Leaves, EP released December 2019

Issued as a very limited edition, this EP showcases the quieter acoustic side of Gloucestershire folk-country composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Molly-Anne.

1. Little Cove Starting with a gently weaving guitar arpeggio the vocal appears as if over a distant horizon. The verse resolves into the evocative ‘….and I’ll be yours under the Cornish sun,’til morning comes…’. This track creates the foundation of the atmosphere for the whole EP – spectral, minimalist, beguiling.

2. Against the Tide With slightly more urgency on this song, the guitar figure personifies the flowing water of the title. ‘….I feel I’m swimming against the tide now….I know this world is turning slow now….fear of growing old…’. It is a gentle musing on choices and passing time (and was inspired by Pink Floyd’s classic ‘Time’). A harmonica appears near the end, the only other instrument to feature on this collection.

3. Cold Is the Night Straight into my pick of the year dozen, this is a gem. An understated ballad, the subtle guitar chords waltz along as the yearning lyrics deliver a feeling beyond the poetry of the words. ‘…those flowers on my windowsill, gold as the sun they remind me of you…and I’ve known heartbreak before…and what I wouldn’t give to see you walk through that door, for me…’. Gorgeous.

4. When You Leave Another song that goes straight to the emotional core, a slower meditation on life after loss, also drawing in the passing of the seasons and the slowing down as autumn moves into winter. A beautifully sung free-form melody leads into the haunting chorus ‘… I can’t sleep, the monsters in the night won’t comfort me…’

5. Yellow Sky From the impressionistic title and the moody introduction the fine vocal performance interchanges between light-as-air verses and restrained power in the chorus. Again the autumnal theme of the EP underlies the optimism, with the striking middle eight reflecting the longing at the heart of the song.

https://www.mollyannemusic.co.uk/


Vic Allen : Ghost Town, single released September 2019

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Vic Allen has continued to release top-quality singles since her ‘Between The Lines’ EP in early 2018. The Norwich-based performer blends heartfelt lyrics with a new-country instrumental backing, subtle and always reflective of the sentiment of the song. ‘Talk’ had a longing and urgency in the sung short phrases before the chorus sailed in with its descending backing voices and raised the track to new heights.

‘Enough’ was built around a mid-tone guitar figure which continues effectively through the song as the lyric unwinds ‘… walking home with my headphones on…same old street…same old song…‘. The tale of frustration weaved through with the chasing of dreams resolves into the chorus line ‘…it ain’t enough for me…’. It is an impressive song of questing and questioning with a contemplative and cinematic soundtrack.

Now new single ‘Ghost Town’ is a more soulful ballad, with the vocal performance the key aspect as guitar effects drift in and out below. It is a slow building complex track featuring melancholy thoughts, ‘….I don’t want to fall asleep with this fear in my heart…’ with bleak conclusions ‘…out here it’s just a ghost town…’.
Halfway through the percussion joins to propel the narrator and listener through the emotionally desolate townscape of the title. With a mesmerising voice, a deep bass line and a spectrum of guitars and sonic textures this adds up to a haunting and memorable single.

https://www.vicallenmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/03/05/vic-allen-between-the-lines-ep-released-february-2018/

Vic Allen : Between The Lines, EP released February 2018

Vic Allen is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Norwich, making a name for herself in the flourishing UK new-country/folk scene. This set of four songs is a follow-up to ‘The Missing Piece’ EP from 2016. Opening track ‘Quit’ is a melancholy tale of the end of a relationship, woven through with resignation and reality. The gentler guitar work in the verses steps up into the sweeping but controlled chorus and the video partly filmed on the vast and strangely empty beaches of the Norfolk coast symbolises better times now gone. ‘Bittersweet’ is affecting in its deceptive simplicity, with some subtle vocal harmonies.

The title track is all about escape into the wide open spaces and an unknown future, a preferable alternative to a life trapped ‘Between The Lines’, set to a more conventional US country sound of instrumentation and vocal stylings than the rest of the EP. It is a fine soundtrack to the road-trip video that accompanies the music. ‘Kids’ is Vic’s best vocal performance, full of heartfelt mellow nostalgia for lost time over counterpointing guitar figures and a haunting hookline.

It is an impressive EP, four contrasting tracks that showcase Vic Allen’s expressive voice and songwriting potential.

https://www.vicallenmusic.com/

‘A New Routes Special’, Junction J3, Cambridge, 5 November 2017

It is good to know that a bit of searching finds that the folk and roots scene in Cambridge extends far beyond the annual folk festival and includes events such as this triple showcase hosted in the intimate surroundings of J3, set out cabaret style with candle-lit tables creating a very friendly and supportive ambience.

Having established themselves in other bands, Yve, Clare and Lu are still deciding on a name but in the meantime play guitar and violin and on a night where harmony vocals featured strongly they did justice to some timeless songs, including a subtle version of the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’. Original compositions too are promised in the future.

Trio Luna Falls instantly create a captivating sound; three acoustic guitars and vocals that gel with each other perfectly and reflect many years of sisters singing together. They play tracks from their EP and also cover versions including a spirited rendition of ‘The Irish Rover’. I think their own material is very strong; the haunting waltz ‘Gentle Lies’, the multi-layered tones of ‘Breakthrough’ and of course the impressive, award-winning ‘Falling To Pieces’, a favourite of mine from a recently reviewed compilation.

From acoustic folk the evening then went into pure country rock with SJ Mortimer & The Flying Pigs. SJ has a great voice and her original songs reflect more of the up-side of the genre; travelling on (‘Hit The Road’), celebration of love (‘Heart Beats Faster’) and with ‘American Dream’ the desire to make music in Nashville (where SJ actually recorded her album!). The combination of violin, guitars, banjo and beefed-up cajón with extra bass drum effect gave plenty of depth to the sound with SJ’s voice soaring effortlessly through it all.
There was a cover of the late Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin” and a rowdy ‘Fireball’ which is the title track to her new EP and a good excuse for a drinking game. With guest backing vocalists on the contemplative ‘Smokey Mountains’ we were treated to some emotional six part harmonies. The final encore was the glorious ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, (which always seems to make it sound a fine place to be?!), a fitting conclusion to a really good show.

http://www.sjmortimer.net/
https://lunafalls.wordpress.com/