A new release from the small but fine label Blue House Music: The single “Down by the river” is a perfect teaser for the keenly awaited debut album by one of the most promising folk duos in the UK: It’s an up tempo, country like tune that has a lovely toe tapping rhythm. As juxtaposition there are the gloomy lyrics about loss and desperation. Ray Hughes’ and Sian Chandler’s vocals match perfectly as on their debut EP “Strangers we meet”. Goosebumps guaranteed. The arrangement is wonderful. There is a beautiful a capella bit in between a well-rounded instrumentation of double bass (John Parker), mandolin (Russell Smith) and violin (Anna Jenkins). This song puts you into the right mood to listen on…can’t wait for the album release…
Their third EP within just over year shows the incredible creativity of this fantastic Welsh/ American duo, Lewis & Leigh. It is really hard to say anything sensible about this EP as it is so good that I am a bit overwhelmed by my own enthusiasm. So let’s try to reason: The first song, “Country Comfort” is a quiet song with just a guitar and a piano. This lovely opener shows what those two can do with not much else than they use when they play live. It is full of appreciation for the nice and simple things of country life and reminds us of the hidden treasures in our lives.
The second song is an up-beat, full band plus brass song that underlines the topic of this EP, hidden truths. This song is like an exclamation to stop lying to yourself and instead to follow your heart. It starts all quiet, just with Alva’s sweet vocals, is then followed by Al’s smooth voice and then leads into the chorus that is first sung unisono – a great means to increase tension and variety. These two songs alone are so good and so different that they would have made a fantastic single by themselves. It wouldn’t be Lewis & Leigh however, if there wasn’t more to come: For me completely surprising, a proper upbeat country song follows, with a strong bass line, powerful drums and more brass!
This song is an absolute cracker…without closer attention it comes along as a cheerful country song with some romance in it but in fact it is nothing like that: The story telling in it is so touching and engaging and delivered in a sensationally adequate way: First it’s just him, Al, singing about how he had been delivered on a hospital door as a baby boy, then Alva tells the story from the young mum’s perspective that was too young and not allowed to raise her child herself. So they take turns in telling the story from each their perspectives. Later in life he goes searching for her and finds her. Their first conversation on her doorstep is then sung… you might have guessed it… together. Noone with a heart can not be in tears by now, can they? The thing is, there is no sentimentality about it at all. Remember, the whole sad story is delivered as a cheerful country song, with all the dynamics of youth and love of life in it, only interrupted by Alva’s solos. Some hidden truths are revealed in this story, for sure.
The final song is a smooth Sunday morning toetapper but of course plays with some hidden truths in it too: It is about a long forgotten romantic scene in a long term relationship that both partners wish would come back – it could be read as a reminder of the pleasures of a young and fresh love all the same. Needless to say: I can’t wait for a full length album.
After three EPs and one album Sea & Air have now released their second and really impressive album “Evropi”. There is no category of music that could define their music, a good thing by itself I believe. On this album we have rich, ornamental, hymnical and also fine and quiet sounds, experimental and oriental sounds as well as electric effects and good, plain songwriting. Me personally, I would prefer the whole album in an acoustic version without any effects and I am convinced it would work just as well. This is because the musical ideas and lyrical variety of this mixed German songwriting duo are plentiful and widely varied – almost unlimited it seems. No surprise they already have a big following in Germany and have now even entered the German album charts. It’s an inventive album and it’s a great album.
Daniel Benjamin and Eleni Zafiriadou (Greece) present themselves as being eccentric and grounded at the same time. This very contrast is also represented in their music: There are good and plain melodies with rather simple lyrical lines like in “Peace begins at home”, “We understand you” and “You are” – sung with absolutely wonderfully harmonizing vocals. At the same time there are songs with almost wild elements, cries and screams like in “Flowers from the Distance” and “Pain is just a Cloud”. “Should I care” offers all the ingredients of a proper and really lovely popsong with a deeper meaning beneath and the title song “Lady Evropi” sums up the whole album with all its qualities: Touching, very touching melodic parts, engaging songwriting, rich and rhythmical instrumentation and surprising vocal/ electric effects.
Oh Sister (Sarah Berresford) offers one of those rare female voices that have an addictive note it. Once you have heard it you just want more of it. Yet there’s only one EP out yet to be relished: her 4 track debut EP “Watch the Water”. It consists of 4 cracking songs, arranged in a wonderful atmospheric and not solely acoustic way. The songs themselves are rich and beautiful in themselves though and display beautiful melodies. They are powerful melodies performed in a minimalized way that make them appear fragile. That’s what might be responsible for the magic of Sarah Berresford’s music: That great contrast between fragility and power.
Contrast will also be found in the arrangements. They work with both acoustic and electric elements – this cross over works beautifully on this EP. And I must admit, I never missed a synthesizer in any music I listened to ever after the 80ies but I do like its sounds on this record. They are used in all of the four songs but let Sarah Berresford’s fine acoustic guitar playing always shine through nicely.
Her vocals seem to be used only to half of the extent that they could be used to – there is so much more that she holds back and only for seconds shines through, like in “Don’t Leave”. It’s probably part of what makes her music exciting. Her vocals sound amazing in high and low pitch and they are distinct, clear and not stereotypically whispering. When combined with some lovely harmonies like in the final track “Hot and Cold” any listening heart is just bound to melt.
I am not very much into comparisons but as I am a great admirer of Tori Amos’ and Nathalie Merchant’s music I would like to mention that Oh Sister’s music does bring both of them to mind and I am very happy to have found a female singer that intrigues me likewise.
Colourshop is an Italian rooted, London based duo of brothers that already released one album and two EPs. Their newest release is a 5 track EP called 3PM. It comes across fresh and easy like a summer breeze. Their music is what I’d call singer songwriter pop of the finest. It’s easy listening, it’s light and bright and has nothing of the funereal atmosphere that sometimes clings to singer songwriter music. At the same time, their lyrics don’t lack depth or aspiration. The little waltz “My World” states “When you look at things from a distance, everything makes more sense I’ve been told by a friend who lives in my head”. This song refers to all the things that we are occupied with to manage our lives and that we shouldn’t rely on our efforts’ results, as everything can change. The only thing that will always stay is what is in our heads: “I will never be without you cause you’re in my soul, you’re my world”. I find this sweet and true and can relate to it very well. Their vocals harmonize extremely well as often the case with siblings. They sound bright and clear and cheerful without a shallow note to it: Perfect for a summer night.
„Sleeping Storm“ by husband and wife duo April Maze from Melbourne is an album of such clarity and transparency that it’s hard to say anything about it that wouldn’t sound obvious. It is their third album. Sivan Agam and Todd Mayhew are vivid story tellers, great vocalists, versatile instrumentalists, lovely composers. Their songs have a certain simplicity in common that does justice to the folk genre. Many of the songs could be sung along with quickly, like e.g. “Fantasy” with its completely reduced accompaniment. I am very fond of their sparse and well-chosen instrumentation. It gives the songs something unpolished and natural, almost rudimentary like traditional folk music spontaneously performed around a fire. The Cello adds an emotional note to many of the songs, like in in “It’s been a long time between beers”. The album offers a great range of songs, quiet ballads like “Homeland” and “Fire” change nicely with toe tappers like “The bishop who ate his boots” or “I’ve seen the rain”. I imagine they must be quite two personalities from what their music tells me and I am very excited to be able to see them play live in the UK soon.
With „Missing Years“ Lewis&Leigh have released their second EP that shows a fantastic progression from their already fabulous debut EP Late Night Drives. They seem to be even more confident with each other than on the predecessor. The songs are even more intriguing, as they discover the dark sides of life in a more daring way. The opener “Devil’s in the detail” lays open a long term relationship’s cold, the next song “Late Show” outlines the needs and fantasies of someone very lonely. Rubble turns out to be a tribute to a mining village in South Wales that is very moving. And again they chose to make their very own version of a song not written by themselves to finish their EP: Their amazing version of “Spies” from Coldplay goes right under your skin.
It is their harmonies that just work so well that every song enfolds in its best possible way. It is amazing how they synchronize their emphasis in their vocals so perfectly like e.g. in Late Show when they exclaim “Why don’t you go on and take me home?” Sound and instrumentation are excellent too: Beautiful electric guitar (Lewis) and subtle piano playing (Leigh) are accompanied by atmospheric brass sounds (in Late Show). There is great variation in their song writing – it’s inventive and diverse and I can’t wait for them to release a full album finally. Both of them are experienced songwriters and both their styles melt together into something extravagant, unique and absolutely wonderful.
Ian Bailey is one of those quiet professionals that are absolutely proficient in what they do but don’t put themselves into the foreground. Working as a producer and label owner he has helped many others to get their music heard but his own music seems to stay behind. I had heard of Ian Bailey long before I got to know his music on this album which is already his fourth release.
He is a wonderful songwriter, an amazing singer and a versatile acoustic guitarist: One of those musicians that make you want to not miss a single note as he cherishes every single one. His album is a very personal one and a very serious one too. Bailey doesn’t just sing sad songs but in fact expresses an actual concern through them. Songs like “Over the Hills and Far Away” and the title song “Empty Fields” express a great longing for peace and quietness. Touching love songs like “Lover’s Moon” or “Too Many Stars” prove Bailey to be a wonderfully emotional singer as well as a sensitive poet.
In the more upbeat songs “TV Land”, “The Heart of this Machine” and “Make Room for her Instead” his finger picking skills are displayed brilliantly and add an abundant variety of accompanying styles to the album. However, it is those songs that one wishes to also hear with a larger instrumentation. They are great songs that leave so much space to enfold and develop that one can literally hear brass, strings or keys and backing vocals as well as percussion in the back…
A firework of musical ideas, a musical paradise of inventiveness and diversity in terms of arrangements and instrumentations: This is what I’d call Benjamin Folke Thomas’s second studio album, Rogue State of Mind. I called his song writing ingenious before when reviewing his debut album and again, each and every song is a masterpiece. But the true wonder of his art is more than that. It’s grounded on his devotion to give every song his full attention and invent a completely new idea of how it should sound and what it should express. Usually I quickly find one or two favourites on an album…impossible here. Every song has easily got the quality to be chosen as a single.
What they have in common is their search for meaning in this world. While the fantastic opener Break the Border starts all enthusiastic saying “I wanna do for you what you did for me” the final song Little too Late states “Let me tell you how the heart burns”. In between there is a bit of hope (Pauper to a King) and a lot of disappointment: “This body is a prison, my soul has escaped me…I’m gonna…dismiss all there was in this life so I can enter the next one clean” (Woman I love). Really good things just seem to happen in dreams: “The best thing I ever had was that dream of you that night” (Dream about you Baby) – even though lyrically as well as musically there is quite a bit of irony in this song. Words like these make you doubt their creator really is only in the middle of his twenties. Musically, Eric Clapton comes to mind (especially in the absolutely stunning Pauper to a King), also Bob Dylan, sometimes Bruce Springsteen. Musically as well as lyrically Benjamin Folke Thomas seems a lifetime ahead of himself.
The album is more direct, more honest, less metaphorical and even more passionate than the predecessor, the fabulous “Too close to Here”. It’s less a solo album and more a band album and yes, Benjamin Folke Thomas’ acclaimed band definitely has its share in the extraordinary quality of this album (Johannes Mattsson, bass; Jonas Abrahamsson, drums). Yet it’s first and foremost Henning Sernhede (electric guitar, mandolin, lap steel guitar) who leaves his footprint on this album. A sought-after guitarist in his home country Sweden he adds his special note to almost every song. He adjusts completely to the respective soul of the song and plays his solos either dirty and rough like in Dream about you Baby, playful like in Pauper to a King or emotional like in Little too Late. Benjamin Folke Thomas’ excellent acoustic guitar skills don’t get displayed as much on this album as on the former one but it’s his diverse vocal abilities that enfold. In songs like Bulletproof, Broke down Train and Married he sings with a warm and soft baritone voice and sometimes uses his head voice whereas he sounds wild and powerful in other songs, sometimes angry (like in Futile Blues), sometimes desperate (like in Little too Late) or euphoric (like in Breaking Borders) – always interesting and fascinating.
The sound of this album is excellent. A great variety of additional instruments like organ, piano or saxophone as well as a great choice of backing vocals sung by different singers (i.e. Hanna Sernhede, Linnea Eketrä and Stina Grape) make the album as colourful and entertaining as it is. The richness of sound doesn’t affect its transparency so one can hear every line of every instrument clearly which is good as we are offered many little musical surprises that would get lost otherwise. The album has been recorded in the band’s own studio in Almedal, produced by the Swedish Folk Maffia and mixed and mastered by the band’s own Johannes Mattsson and Henning Sernhede.
“Ionia” by Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys is an amazing piece of music created out of hard work and experience and some young, spontaneous freshness. A song like “Sometimes” (the only track not sung by leadsinger Lindsay) is played with such a laid back attitude and such cool self-confidence as if to make this quite clear: These musicians know they are good and are not too eager to please anyone (they do anyway, of course). Lindsay Rilko (Guitar & Vocals), Joshua Rilko (Mandolin & Vocals), Spencer Cain (Bass), Mark Lavengood (Dobro) play Americana at its best: Traditional and still full of new ideas like in “House Together”, in which we get offered some unexpected funky rhythms. Then again, it’s those engaging melodies as in songs like “River Jordan”, “Here Between”, “Old Song” or “The Fix” that captivate the listener. Lindsay Lou’s diverse vocals with all kinds of shades and plenty of lovely harmonies in the songs make the album really enjoyable. Also, the number of different musical influences of Blues, Bluegrass and Folk make this album as colourful as it is.