Irish musician and singer-songwriter Cormac O Caoimh is a skillful wordsmith, guitarist and vocalist from Cork. He writes sublime indie folk/pop songs filled with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics touching on the universal subjects of life, love, hope and loss, and delivers them with subtle hooks, fine instrumentals and pleasing vocals that remind me at times of Paul Simon. His catchy melodies seem to effortlessly draw us in, then stay with us long after the songs end. As Mojo Magazine once so eloquently put it: “each song superglues to the memory“, and indeed they do! His songs have earned him comparisons to such artists as The Go Betweens, Badly Drawn Boy, Elliott Smith, Crowded House, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and Sufjan Stevens.
Cormac has released an impressive amount of music since 2007, including five studio albums, the most recent being the beautiful Swim Crawl Walk Run, released in May 2020. In February 2020, I reviewed “I’m in Need”, the lead single from that album. He followed in June 2022 with his lovely single “There Must Be a Catch”, and since then has dropped five more singles, the latest of which is “My Little Buddha“, a song he says is “about living in the now“. For the song’s recording, Cormac sang lead vocals and played guitars and keyboards, Aoife Regan sang backing vocals, and Cormac’s frequent collaborator, friend and fellow musician Martin Leahy played drums and bass. The track was mixed by Adam Whittaker, and mastered by Hafod Mastering.
It’s a charming song, with beautiful guitar work, accompanied by gentle bass and percussion, with a frosting of twinkly synths adding a lovely magical touch to the proceedings. Cormac’s vocals are comforting and warm as he sings the sweet lyrics expressing his love and assurance to a child, telling them to enjoy their moment, free from fears or worries: “Dance, no words my little Buddha. Dance, no fear, my little Buddha, Dance, no worries no fear here.” Aoife’s delicate backing vocals nicely complement Cormac’s in perfect harmony.
The delightful video for “My Little Buddha” features the same footage of actor Christopher Walken dancing around a deserted hotel lobby that was originally used in Fatboy Slim’s award-winning video for his 2001 song “Weapon of Choice”.
Those who purchase the song on Bandcamp will get an exclusive bonus b-side track “Believe (If You Feel)”, a mellow reimagining of Cormac’s song “If You Feel” from his debut album Start a Spark.
Catch The Sparrow is the music project of Dutch-born and now England-based composer, singer-songwriter and arranger Suze Terwisscha van Scheltinga. I learned about her when her mother reached out to me after reading my review of the song “Mayfly” by British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt, whom Suze has performed with. Her mother alerted me to Catch The Sparrow’s new EP Winter Flowers that was released on December 2nd of last year, which I’m finally getting around to writing about.
According to her bio, as a child Suze loved writing stories and making music, and upon realizing it was possible to combine both passions, she began writing songs. By the time she was 16, she started performing her own original songs while accompanying herself on piano. She studied at the Utrecht Conservatoire, majoring in Jazz & Pop vocals, and during her time there, she started playing with a band as a way to fully explore new sounds and rhythms. After graduating in 2019, she made the bold decision to relocate to the UK, to study Folk and Traditional music at Newcastle University under the guidance of Emily Portman and Imogen Gunner. Influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Lisa Knapp, Joanna Newsom and Fiona Apple, her compositions transcend boundaries of style and genre in a compelling blend of folk, jazz and pop.
She’s already making a name for herself in the British music scene. Under her artistic moniker Catch The Sparrow (which was inspired by a lyric in the Crosby, Stills & Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), she released her debut single “Painting the Roses Red” in December 2020. She followed in February 2021 with the similarly-titled album Painting the Roses Red, a collection of eight beautiful jazz-infused tracks. Shortly after earning her Master’s degree at Newcastle University in 2021, she saw her song ‘Winnowing’ chosen as one of the highly recommended entries of 2021’s Tune Into Nature Music Prize, and in April 2022 she was selected as one of ten emerging female composers to write for Issie Barratt’s jazz ensemble INTERCHANGE.
As she immersed herself in the culture of Northeast England, Catch The Sparrow discovered the charms of Northumbrian small-pipes (bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England that have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 250 years). Inspired by them, along with the traditional folk music she’d studied at Newcastle University, she wrote five songs for Winter Flowers that, in her own words, “reflect the ever present gloom and uncertainty without losing its glimmer of hope.” The EP was produced by David de la Haye, and features contributions of local musicians Ceitidh Mac on cello, Andy May on Northumbrian small-pipes and harmonium, and Mera Royle on harp.
Catch The Sparrow has the voice of an angel, and she layers her enchanting vocals to great effect, especially on the opening track “Farewell/Here’s The Tender Coming“, where she addresses a rather dark subject with beauty and grace. Like several tracks on Winter Flowers, this is actually a combination of two tunes that are are deeply rooted in the Northumbrian folk tradition. She explains: “The first tune ‘Farewell’ was lifted from the The Northumbrian Pipers’ Third Tune Book. The lyrics I wrote for this plaintive little melody, simply described as ‘a slow highland air’, depict the moment of parting and its aftermath. ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ is a traditional Northumbrian song that recalls the practices of the notorious pressgangs that used to frequent the port of Newcastle during the Napoleonic wars.” (Press gangs were groups of soldiers or sailors used by the British Royal Navy as a harsh means of recruiting able bodied men into naval service, often against their will and by violent coercion. The practice of impressment – also known as Shanghai-ing or crimping – was common in all the world’s ports until about 1820, and was widely used, as recruiting sailors voluntarily was difficult due to the poor conditions on board ships, not to mention the dangers of serving in the navy, especially in times of war.)
“Farewell”, a wistful tune featuring layered a capella vocals accompanied by ambient sounds of gently crashing waves, is sung from the perspective of a newly-impressed sailor bidding goodbye to his loved one “Fare thee well, my sweet lassie. Fare thee well, I must depart.” “Here’s The Tender Coming” is sung from the perspective of the woman being left behind, lamenting the taking of her man, and warning other men to hide from the impressors: “See the tender lying, off at Shield’s Bar. With her colours flying, anchor at the bow. They took my bonny laddie, best of all the crew. Hide, canny laddie, hide theeself away. Hide till the frigate makes for Druridge Bay. If they take ye hinny, who’s to win our bread? Me and little Jackie better off be dead.”
The video for the song shows Catch The Sparrow singing the song in St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle, accompanied by Ceitidh MacLeod on cello and Mera Royle on harp. Instead of sounds of crashing waves, we hear Catch the Sparrow playing the gently droning shruti box (an instrument similar to the harmonium that originated in India).
“Game of Chance” is a melancholy but lovely song, with delicate harp, harmonium and shruti box accompanying Catch The Sparrow’s bewitching vocals. She explains her inspiration for writing this song: “While working on this project, I stumbled by chance on Tish Murtha’s photo series Youth Unemployment, in which she portrays Newcastle’s youth during the Thatcher years. I was struck by the desolation and raw beauty of the pictures. The photo of ‘Cuddles playing cards’ became the inspiration for this particular song. The traditional Northumbrian tune ‘Small Coals an’ Little Money’ serves as a base layer for the song.”
Using card game metaphors, the lyrics seem to speak to the contrasting notions of privilege and luck, and dealing with the hands we’re dealt in life: “I have a lump of coal. It’s the only treasure I own. Daddy says I cannot go, but someday I’ll join him below. Down below, down below. Go ask the devil, ‘cause the devil might know. Deal a hand, deal a hand. We all play a game of chance. I have a deck of cards. Queen of flowers, one-eyed jack. Lucky, he who deals the hands. Took the red ace, left the black.“
Halfway into the EP, we’re treated to “Interlude“, a one-minute long tune consisting of Catch The Sparrow’s layered a capella blend of humming and scat vocals, accompanied by jaunty hand claps. This is followed by “Border Spirit/Before the Flood“, another traditional folk couplet. “Border Spirit” is an instrumental-only tune, comprised of Northumbrian small-pipes and what sounds like shruti box and lasting just under two minutes, which then segues into “Before the Flood”, a beautiful piano-driven song highlighted by melancholy Northumbrian small-pipes and Catch The Sparrow’s soothing layered vocals. I’m struck by how much she sounds British or possibly Scottish, rather than Dutch.
The final track is the third couplet on the EP, featuring the title song “Winter Flowers“, a delicate piano ballad extolling the resilience of flowers able to survive the harsh conditions of winter: “See these flowers grow undeterred by the frost and snow. Hardy little souls, the cold does not faze. Beautiful and bright how they bask in the bleak winter’s light, unafraid of life’s changes.” The second part of the track is “Liberty For The Sailors“, a traditional song celebrating the return of the sailors. Catch The Sparrow’s lilting a capella vocals are accompanied by crashing waves, bringing this charming little EP full circle.
Ivor Game is a British singer-songwriter from Middlesex who’s been making music for most of his life. He began playing guitar and singing at the age of ten, and in his teens, played with a number of bands. When he entered his 20s, he began performing as a solo artist in small clubs and venues around London, and later toured throughout the UK and Ireland, parts of Europe and all the way to America, where he performed in Los Angeles and Nashville.
His music is a pleasing, laid back style of indie pop with strong folk undercurrents and intelligent, straightforward lyrics touching on life, love and relationships. His songs are also quite economical, both instrumentally and length-wise. Generally, the only sounds we hear are his acoustic guitar and gentle, understated vocals, though some tracks may also feature subtle piano, strings and/or percussion. Most of Ivor’s songs are under three minutes in length, with a fair number clocking in at under two minutes, but whatever their length, each song sounds complete and as long or short as it needs to be to get his message across. As the old adage goes, sometimes less is more.
Beginning with his debut album Hit the Big Time in 1996, the prolific musician has released a total of 12 albums at the rate of one every two years, his most recent work being Be Good to Yourself in 2018, as well as numerous singles along the way. Several of his songs have garnered airplay on radio stations across the UK and around the world. A highlight for Ivor was having his song “Highbury” played at half time during the Arsenal vs. Tottenham North London Derby at The Emirates Stadium on November 18, 2017.
One could spend many hours listening to Ivor’s extensive discography. I’ve listened to quite a bit of it to prepare for this article, and there are so many wonderful songs to choose from. But I’ve selected a few I especially like that I feel give a good representation of his sound. One of his most recent singles, from May 2020, is “I’m Not Sure”, a poignant folk song about not yet having come to terms with a restless romantic partner you fear may leave you for good: “It’s easy to hang on to the past, and try to make the whole thing last. But things are always moving on. One day I might wake up with you really gone. I’m remembering the time that you walked out my door. But you’re still in my sights, how long for I’m not sure.”
The song received airplay on Readifolk, Deal Radio, Hayes FM and Marlow FM in England, Acoustic Routes in Wales and the RTE in Ireland, as well as in Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand and New York, USA.
“It Ain’t You and Me” is a track that originally appeared on his 2010 album Then. The song was recently played on Tom Robinson’s show on BBC6 Music, and the response was so positive that Robinson asked Ivor if the song could be made more easily accessible for people to listen to or download. Accordingly, Ivor made it available as a stand alone track on both Bandcamp and YouTube.
A particularly lovely song is his 2017 single “Water and Wine”, which is both longer (3.47 minutes) and features ethereal keyboard synths and gentle percussive textures, creating an enchanting backdrop for his soothing vocals.
His most recent single, released in May, is “You Lovely You”, a comforting song about those special friendships in our lives that endure despite distances apart or the passage of time: “I only see you once in a blue moon. But it feels like yesterday that I was here with you. Oh, oh, oh, you lovely you. We seem to pick up where we left off. But we’ll always be the ones that time forgot. Everyone gets old, but we do not.” The song has a breezy, vintage feel like it could have been written in the 1920s.
While I’m a huge fan of alternative rock, dream pop, R&B and dance music, it’s also nice to indulge in a little easy-listening folk pop once in a while to relax and gather my thoughts. Ivor Games’ soothing tunes fit the bill nicely, and I hope my readers will enjoy them as much as I do.
Jake LeMond is an earnest, hard-working and talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in Detroit, Michigan. With his skillful songwriting and impressive guitar work, combined with his professionalism, kind and generous personality and good looks, the gentle-voiced fellow has been making a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene, both as a solo artist and as guitarist for pop-rock bands Michigander (with whom he recently performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and Hickey Eyes, as well as a frequent collaborator with a host of other acts.
Jake’s music is a pleasing style of indie folk, with heartfelt lyrics brought to life primarily with his nimble guitar work and sweet vocals. He released his excellent debut single “5 Months (Up in Smoke)” in January 2017, and in the years since he’s dropped several more outstanding singles. His latest is “Miles“, a stunning love song released on July 28th, and for which he today premiered a wonderful accompanying video. About “Miles”, Jake explains “I wrote this song in about an hour the day after I got back from a month long tour, and it’s about being far away from someone you really care about.”
The song is gorgeous, with lush layers of strummed acoustic guitars, backed by gentle synths and punctuated by heavier guitar notes perfectly paired with bursts of percussion that provide drama as the track unfolds. The arrangement and recording production by Ben Fisher are flawless, as are the mixing by Jake Rye and mastering by The Foxboro. Jake’s soothing vocals are beautiful too, turning more impassioned as he longingly croons “I’m miles, and miles, and miles away from you.”
The delightful video shows Jake searching for something through a vintage collectibles shop, then he suddenly spots a child’s rocking horse. After a bit of back and forth with the guy working in the shop (also played by Jake), he leaves and is shown doing a number of unpleasant odd jobs to earn the money to buy the horse. He returns to the shop, buys the horse and places it in the back of his old white pickup. The video ends with him riding the horse, as if he’s on his way to see his loved one.
One of my absolute favorite indie artists is The Frontier, the music project and brainchild of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jake Mimikos. Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jake is a talented, gracious and funny guy who I’ve grown quite fond of, both as an artist and a human. Since 2015, he’s released a substantial amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. As with many bands, the members and lineup of The Frontier have varied over the years, but for the time being, the act is now mostly a solo project.
Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always pleasing and flawlessly crafted. I’ve featured him several times on this blog, most recently this past June when I reviewed his wonderful single “It’s You”. I love it so much, it spent five months on my Weekly Top 30, and turned out to be my most-streamed song of the year on Spotify. (You can read that and previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Now he’s back with a beautiful new single “Sleep“, and I already love it too! The track was recorded and produced by Austin Bello for Fearless Records.
Jake is an excellent guitarist, and here his layered strummed and chiming guitars are so stunning, they take my breath away. He’s also gotten quite adept at programming synths and keyboards to create lush, sparkling soundscapes, as well as layering his lovely, heartfelt vocals into a rich tapestry of harmonies. He plaintively sings of the pain and unease he feels over not knowing where he stands with another, and yearning for a little sleep to momentarily forget his troubles: “I lay awake, but I’m dreaming / I just can’t get my mind off of you / All of these stories keep repeating / I don’t know which voice to listen to / I’ve never been one to get what I want / I’m always trying too hard / It’s something that I’ve been working on / It’s always so close yet so far / But for now, til the answers are found / Got to quiet the sun to sleep.“
“Sleep” is a gorgeous and deeply stirring track that’s sure to be another hit.
Michael Lane is a German-American indie-folk singer-songwriter and producer based in Germany, near the city of Nuremburg. He was born in Germany to a German mother and an American GI father, but spent much of his childhood and teenage years living in America, before moving back to Germany as an adult, where he now lives with his wife and son. Michael himself served in the U.S. military, and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. A talented and prolific songwriter, Mike writes thoughtful lyrics inspired by his own life experiences, sets them to sublime melodies, and delivers them with fine guitar work and pleasing vocals.
Beginning with the release in 2014 of his debut album Sweet Notes, Michael has made a name for himself in Germany and beyond, even having his single “Liberty” chosen as the official song of the 2015/2016 Four Hills Tournament, Europe’s biggest international ski jump event. He followed up over the next five years with three more albums, his most recent being the outstanding Traveling Son, released in October 2019. He now returns with a lovely and moving new single “Coming Home“, released via Greywood Records on September 11th. Inspired in part by the COVID-19 quarantine that confined many of us to our homes for several months, Michael thought about how being at home has different meanings for each of us, in both positive and negative ways. And as different as people are, so are the emotions at the thought of coming home just as unique.
“Coming Home” is a message of hope and assurance that, in times of crisis, people will return to the important things in life. Michael explains: “The song ‘Coming Home’ isn’t just about coming home, but more about the feeling you get or have when you’re at a place that you would consider your home. Growing up I moved around a lot, and never really had a steady place that I could call home until I started my own family, and now I do have my own place to call home. It really is a sanctuary for my soul, where I can relax and enjoy the finer things in life.”
It’s a beautiful song, opening with Michael’s gently-strummed guitar and soothing vocals. He gradually layers additional sparkling guitar notes, along with subtle percussion, delicate synths and his own backing vocal harmonies, creating a dreamy soundscape evoking the warmth and comfort of home. He softly croons of his tender feelings for his loved one and their home: “Your smile warms me up like a fire inside / Our home is like a sanctuary for the soul / It will never get old when we’re here in our home.”
The beautiful video shows Michael walking along a path in the countryside at dusk, the fading light of the setting sun softly illuminating his face as he sings the song.
A few weeks ago, I featured Cork, Ireland-based collaborative music project SomeRiseSomeFall when I reviewed their beautiful song “The Rain Came Down on Everything”. After reading that review, fellow Corkonian (I love that word) musician and singer-songwriter Cormac O Caoimh reached out to me about his new single “I’m in Need“, and I’m glad he did because I really like his music! He’s a skillful wordsmith and guitarist, writing sublime indie folk/pop songs overflowing with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics about the universal subjects of life, love, hope and loss, and delivered with subtle hooks, fine instrumentals and his pleasing vocals that sounds a bit like Paul Simon at times. His catchy melodies seem to effortlessly draw us in, then stay with us long after the songs end. I found myself humming “I’m in Need” long after hearing it. As Mojo Magazine so eloquently put it: “each song superglues to the memory“.
Cormac has released a substantial amount of music over the past 15 years or so, including four studio albums, the most recent of which was his marvelous 2017 release Shiny Silvery Things. (I strongly encourage my readers to check out his music, which you can find on most music platforms, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this post.) Now he’s putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming fifth album Swim Crawl Walk Run, due for release on May 15. “I’m in Need” is the album’s lead single, which Cormac released on February 21st. The single and album were produced by his friend and fellow musician Martin Leahy, a talented multi-instrumentalist who’s collaborated with Cormac on previous records, and also played drums, bass, keyboards and more on the new album. The lovely backing vocals on “I’m in Need” and other tracks on the album are by Aoife Regan.
Cormac gave me the opportunity to have an advance listen to Swim Crawl Walk Run, and it’s a stunning work. It’s obvious he poured his heart and soul into it, as he explained in his message to me: “It is the first album I actually enjoyed making. I have been playing live with Martin Leahy for over 8 years but this is my first time making an album with him. It was a joy. I loved the whole process. It was relaxed, exciting, calm, manic. Everything. And the end product is something I could not be prouder of. The songs morphed and moved and grew during the process and the end result is an album I’m not sure I can top. It is full of singles. I want to release them all and I can’t wait for the first one to get out there.”
About the song, Cormac states: “During the writing of ‘I’m in need’ I did have the simplicity and directness of The Beatles ‘Help!’ as an influence. ‘Help me’ as a lyric is so fragile and honest and sad…but the song isn’t. The song is catchy and poppy. It works on two levels. I wanted the same for ‘I’m in need’. I wanted it to have meaning but more so a groove and be catchy. The feeling of the song also evolves. What starts as vulnerable ends up as a celebration of our humanity. We are all in need at times. Our feelings can be shaped by our thoughts. Musically the chorus gets more emphatic and joyful as the song progresses musically demonstrating the power of positivity.”
“I’m in Need” has a mellow and catchy acoustic-guitar driven melody, but a deeper listen also reveals a slight jazzy quality to Cormac’s guitar work that’s quite marvelous. His guitar notes beautifully meld together with the gentle percussion and keyboards, resulting in a harmonious and captivating soundscape. His calm, smooth vocals are exquisite, and like the music, blend in perfect harmony with Aoife Regan’s backing vocals. I like the spacey little sound effects inserted into the middle of the song that perk up our ears. It’s a lovely and wonderful song.
Catch Cormac at one of these upcoming shows, all in Ireland:
Apr 27 – Mick Murphy’s, Ballymore Eustace May 02 – The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton May 15 – Album launch @ The Kino, Cork May 29 – The Dc Music Club, Dublin Jun 12 – The Weir Folk Club, Midleton
Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, with thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice, but his distinctive vocals are warm and comforting. In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.”
Last October, Peter wrote a fascinating guest article for this blog about his song “91st Street”, which you can read here. Now I’m happy to feature him again for the release of his brilliant and compelling new video for the title track from his album “Something’s Not Right“. The song speaks to the general sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seem to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. His video, produced by Peter and directed by filmmaker Harrison Kraft, brings his powerful lyrics to life with an entertaining, yet at times troubling, narrative. Peter explains his inspiration behind the song, as well as the making of the video.
“Something’s Not Right” was one of my first songs, and ended up being the title of my first album. I wrote it in 2013, and it reflected the sense of unease I was getting from many of the previously-comfortable friends I had made during my years of announcing horse races in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. I’d taken the couple of years beforehand trying to understand the forces underlying the economy, and became convinced that although the economy was officially ‘in recovery,’ things were not improving for average Americans. This was confirmed for me by the universal sense I was receiving from everyone I knew that there was a deep unease and lack of security brewing from a thinning sense of stability and sustainability.
This song was written three years before the election — it’s not a political song. What interested me was that feeling of unease, the sense of something-not-being-right, and how it emanated not just from economic forces but also from the impersonal face of what the nation was presenting its citizens. The song begins by invoking Applebee’s and Lowe’s as the workplaces of the protagonist, and ends with a desperate appeal to Walmart as the only viable destination for the drive he takes (ostensibly to escape the mundanity of his experience) in the middle of the night.
I am very happy and lucky to have connected with Harrison Kraft and his brilliant and young set of filmmakers, who completely got the idea and brought it to life in this music video. They used the conceit of a July 4 celebration — a party that has lost its true feeling of celebration, and even the reason for celebrating — to convey this overall all-consuming sense of disillusion. It was Kraft’s vision to use mannequins to convey characters playing their roles in life but without really ‘being there’. The protagonist’s girlfriend oscillates from real to a simulation and so do many of the background characters. Reality starts to take on a disturbing turn in a number of ways: the hand flipping the burger suddenly turns to plastic, the son’s firecracker goes the opposite way- it’s supposed to be fake, but it becomes a real explosive. These ideas were all in the hands of the video production team; I’d discussed what I thought the central themes of the song were, and then I gave them free rein to take it wherever they wanted to go. They took the ball and ran with it, and I’m thrilled with the result. Sometimes you have to know when to give up control, but you’ve really got to have trust in your team when you’re doing that. I hope you enjoy the result, and be on the lookout for more music videos forthcoming from Harrison Kraft and his team!”
Peter Kleinhans – Something’s Not Right from Harrison Kraft on Vimeo.
Hero Warship is the solo music project of Joey Doyle, who’s also front man for the Irish band Fiction Peaks, a terrific alternative folk-rock group I’ve featured on this blog a number of times in 2016 and 2017. He released two singles “Chrysanthemum” and “Lesser of Evils” in May (2019), and now returns with another wonderful double single “Therewithal” and “Halcyon Then Gone“, which drop today, October 24. The talented Dubliner is a great songwriter and guitarist, with a beautiful singing voice too. (He’s also a pretty good visual artist.)
Doyle takes a stripped down approach on these two songs, using only guitars and piano to create a captivating soundscape for his gentle vocals. The first track “Therewithal” features layers of cheerfully strummed acoustic and rhythm guitars, accompanied by more somber piano keys that give the song a contemplative air. He earnestly sings the poignant lyrics that seem to me to speak of the ephemeral nature of happiness and contentment. “By the way, I think I thought I had a handle on life suspended on a sunbeam infinitely calls, to an individual sense of therewithal.”
“Halcyon Then Gone” is a simple but lovely song with a haunting piano-driven melody providing the only music for Doyle’s heartfelt, falsetto vocals. He told me the song is a kind of tongue and cheek look at making millions by cheating the casino (casino as a metaphor for a kind of consumer driven, shallow life style). but then giving all the money away and doing it all over again: “When I make my millions I’ll call you, to meet me at the end before we start. This time I’m sure, I’m on to my surefire winning streak, loading the dice, cleaning the house out of countless funds, then give it all away again.”
Some of the more interesting and provocative songwriting these days is coming from young female artists such as Billie Eilish, Courtney Barnett and Jade Bird, as well as indie artists like Erin Incoherent (who I featured last December) and GG Fearn, a remarkable 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Carmarthen, Wales. With a singular talent and maturity beyond her years, GG (short for Georgia) first started writing songs at the age of nine, and has become quite the wordsmith, penning thoughtful and frank lyrics about life and the darker aspects inherent in many of us. She’s already become a seasoned performer, having played at many different venues, most notably the famous Cavern in Liverpool, and her songs have received airplay on BBC Wales, and other radio stations throughout the UK. She’s just released a terrific four-song EP Black Mirror, which dropped on May 28.
In the creation of her music, GG melds elements of folk, pop, alternative rock, jazz and hip hop into a unique sound stew that could best be described as ‘dark folk-pop.’ She also has a clear and lovely singing voice brimming with character and confidence, while still retaining a touch of vulnerability. When combined with her compelling lyrics, it gives her songs a worldliness and sophistication that’s very relatable.
She gets right down to business on the EP opener “Deal With the Devil“, an upbeat-sounding song that belies its dark theme. The lyrics address the subject’s awareness of her wicked nature, and her feeling perfectly okay about it: “Another day. Chaos parade. Domestic life comes hand in hand with a knife, to use on you, your partner too. I looked in the mirror one night. Suddenly my soul takes flight.I made a deal with the devil. I don’t know why he picked me. I guess that something clicked. But living without your soul, it ain’t so bad. I never really had one anyway.” Musically, the song features crisp, bouncy synths that have an almost industrial feel, punctuated by glittery keys and subtle bass kicks. GG’s layered vocals are backed by a gruff, barely audible male vocal in the chorus, sounding as if the devil himself is singing in unison with her.
The superb title track “Black Mirror” opens with a simple, almost dubstep beat, then settles into a catchy bass-driven tempo that has us bopping our heads and swaying our hips. I love the intricate funky guitars, and GG’s layered vocals are really quite marvelous as she croons about not being happy with the current state of things. The black mirror seems to reflect all the stuff that’s troubling her, and she’s not liking what she sees: “I think I’m going crazy. Vision’s going hazy. I know. I hear the shotgun ring, but you don’t hear a thing. Harm can be a comfort when poison is your king. A necklace made of pearls, and artificial girls. I’m stuck in a black mirror.”
I love all the tracks on the EP, but my favorite is “Teen Queen“, an in-your-face declaration of “Attention: someone new is now in charge!” Or, as fellow blogger Lakisha Skinner so beautifully put it in her wonderful Klef Notesreview, it’s the “I’m the girl who will wear black to the prom and nobody betta say one thing to me about it song!”
Starting off with a magical little xylophone riff, the song quickly bursts open with lush, glittery synths and thunderous percussion, as if symbolizing a fairy princess making her grand entrance. As GG defiantly proclaims, “Now the deed is done, done, done, done…” a strutting dance beat kicks in and I’m hooked! She continues making her newfound dominance clear: “I’ve traveled through hell and all of its towns. God only knows where I’ve been. I’m the only girl that can wear the crown. Yes, I’m your new teen queen. You can call me narcissistic, but please don’t forget sadistic. I, I am your new teen queen. Nothing that they’ve ever seen. Your time on stage is through. Make way for someone new, new, new, new…”
The rather cynical “Famous Last Words” speaks to our impermanence, regardless of how important we think we are while we’re alive: “Legacies they can be cruel whether you wear rags or jewels. I want mine to beat them all, so that when I fall, I want to be remembered. I want to go down in history. I want to be the greatest. I want to be the best.” The cold reality, however, is that most of us will be forgotten: “People won’t remember when you’re dead. All the brilliant things that you have said. You can be known all around, but that don’t mean you’ll keep your crown even if you stitch it to your head./And her famous last words were…(what were they?)” The song has a catchy hip hop/trap beat, with sharp synths and deep bass. It’s a good song, and sounds like one Taylor Swift could have done, only better.
Black Mirror is a great little EP, and GG Fearn is an immensely talented songwriter, composer and vocalist with a lot to say. Hopefully, she’ll continue expressing herself with more wonderful songs very soon!