Like the revered Nick Drake, the musical legacy of John Martyn grows in stature, none more so than the mid-period emotional landscapes of albums ‘One World’ (1977) and the extraordinary ‘Grace And Danger’ (1980). Singer/songwriter/guitarist Katie Spencer has collaborated with two members of Martyn’s band (Alan Thomson and Spencer Cozens) for this trio of tracks.
Lead song ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ builds an atmosphere around the stately descending chord sequence using a waterfall of piano, fretless bass and the warm tones of effects-drenched guitar. Katie’s voice weaves through the ethereal delight and endlessly beguiles the listener.
‘Couldn’t Love You More’ is not just one of the best JM tracks, it is one of the best love songs ever written. The tidal flow of the original’s time signature has been adapted to a gentle waltz in this gorgeous version and Katie has captured the spirit of the lyric which I always thought concealed a yearning and loss beneath the surface sentiments.
The concluding extended jazz-ambience of ‘Small Hours’ takes time to create the mellow platform for the brief but effective vocal. Martyn never achieved the recognition he deserved before his death in 2009, but this empathetic collection helps to keep his music alive.
A re-imagining of the Such Small Hands (singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Melanie Howard) release from September last year, now featuring just voice and guitar. Packaged as a limited CD edition of 150, each in a unique hand-painted sleeve to hold the precious cargo of these ethereal songs.
The original versions had the extra dimensions of changing keyboard and vocal treatments but on this new album the guitar sets a distinctive tone for each track. There are the gently strummed chords for the unhurried opening meditation of ‘Lonely Is The Rain’, followed by the hypnotic triplets throughout ‘Do I Belong Here?’ and the fast walking urgency of the steps in ‘Drifter’.
In all of the tracks it is Melanie’s voice that is the key; listen to the vocal performance on the timeless waltz of ‘O Patient One’, it is like the gentle unwinding of a silk thread. Sometimes extra harmonies augment the raw recording – used to great effect on the counterpoint chorus of ‘Electric Touch’ and the waterfall of music and voices of ‘Why Am I Like This?’.
Title track ‘Carousel’ retains the otherworldly atmosphere of the original in this sparsely layered version while ‘Anhedonia’ is starkly beautiful. Bonus track ‘Ghost’ sinuously brings the gorgeous collection to a graceful end.
This is the debut album from musician/songwriter Knomad Spock, interweaving influences from folk scenes across the world, combining with spoken word poetry, found sounds and a vocal style that complements the genre fluid music of the ten tracks.
To get an idea of the scope of the album listen to opener ‘Papillon’ as you watch the accompanying video of deserted post-industrial London buildings. The song is easy-paced and mellow, the sparse instruments weaving around the main bass note before a new musical section heralds the yearning of repeated lines ‘….if we can make it through the winter….if we can make it through the storm…’. Contrast this minor epic with the pastoral springtime optimism of ‘Gift’. The video is as refreshing as the mandolin that shines through on this timeless and airy folk.
The urgency and abrupt percussion of ‘Egypt’ is countered by the gentle, haunting swing of ‘Spirit Level’ and the longer free-form part whispered meditation of ‘Know’. Just when you think the collection is moving into ambience and dreamier territory the unpredictable ‘Poles’ breaks all the genre rules. The Dylanesque opening falls apart after key lyric ‘…and the oceans laughed when she said I can swallow you whole…and I’m in the middle…’ and turns into a wandering dissonance of orchestral sounds and wayward vocals.
After that shining avant-garde diversion the album plays out with more surprises; first the time bending symphonic fireworks after the fuse-burning introduction of ‘Ballad’ and then the final evocation and reminiscence in the spoken word, piano and natural sounds of ‘Maps’, bringing this creatively rich collection to a close and staying in the listener’s mind for long after.
Olive Beardmore is a multi-talented singer/songwriter from Birmingham, who started releasing music in 2017. Earlier tracks were untreated indiepop gems, especially the collision of words and staccato guitars on ‘Sirens’. There was the wistful six minute balladry of ‘Jumpers For Goalposts’, before the dreamier territory of ‘Fiesta’ in 2020 featuring a video full of disconnection, ambiguous glances and hazy backgrounds. This impressively frames this fine song to great effect, with the restrained verses and big waterfall of guitar that engulfs the choruses.
Now ‘With The Heavens On Your Side (You)’, Oliver has stayed in that partial dream world, this time upping the pace and creating a rich production that shimmers and echoes, giving the track a bright and crisp veneer, including a surprise guitar solo.
The vocal delivery is a winner, blending fully into the spectrum of the other instruments but always leading the track. Resolving into the key lines ‘…because its you and I always knew…’ the chorus sounds genuine and celebratory, a bit reminiscent of some of the popgold moments of early Keane singles.
Continuing the build-up to an EP later this year Graywave, the performing name of Birmingham singer/songwriter Jess Webberley, releases a final preview single. In many ways this is a companion piece that climbs down from the all-out onslaught of ‘Like Heaven’ back in December 2020. On that track multiple layers of sound were wrenched from the decibel dense guitar as the drums languidly punctuated the pace. Jess’s vocal soared through the mix; deliberately not escaping but melding into the whole.
Now new song ‘Before’ addresses the subject of anxiety in the lyric while musically building on a mysterious, echoing guitar line. This blends with a percussive pattern that starts and stops like an expiring heartbeat. The final minute is a rich explosion of sound; perhaps contrarily described as ‘#ambient’ on Soundcloud this track crams volumes of emotion and highly charged dynamics into its short run time.