KEVIN ROBERTSON – Album Review: “Magic Spells Abound”

Kevin Robertson is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Aberdeen, Scotland who makes a very agreeable style of jangle pop. His music is strongly influenced by a range of influences, including 60’s pop, classic and psychedelic rock, 80’s jangle music and 90’s Brit pop. He’s been actively recording and releasing music both as a solo artist and as a member of Aberdonian (I love that word) jangle pop five-piece The Vapour Trails since 2019.

In a short period of time, Kevin has released a sizable amount of music under his own name, beginning in 2021 with his debut album Sundown’s End, followed by Teaspoon of Time in 2022, as well as a number of singles, demos and session recordings. On March 31st, he dropped his latest album Magic Spells Abound, an aptly-titled collection of nine exquisite songs. Recorded by Kevin with the help of musical friends who have appeared on his releases over the years, the album was produced by Nick Bertling, and released by the Subjangle label in conjunction with Futureman Records.

Listening to Magic Spells Abound calls to mind the music of so many great acts of the 60s, 70s and 80s, yet Kevin’s beautifully-crafted songs are thoroughly original. The album opens with “As the Crow Flies“, a charming and hopeful song that immediately makes me think of the beautiful melodies and harmonies of the Traveling Wilburys. In fact, Kevin’s pleasing vocals even remind me of the late George Harrison on this track as he sings “Don’t be afraid of the sunshine. Don’t cause alarm. Don’t be afraid of this darkness. It means you no harm.” So, too, with the mysterious and lovely “Candlestick Morning“, where his vocals and intricate guitar work seemingly pay homage to Harrison, at least to my ears.

On “Make Believe” and “Autumn Brings“, with their captivating melodies and infectious, foot-stomping grooves, both his stunning jangly guitars and vocals seem to channel the Byrds. Kevin’s skill for writing beguiling melodies is beautifully showcased on the winsome “The Crest of a Dream“, highlighted by an enchanting hook and some fine harmonica work. And on the breezy, uptempo “Cloak and Dagger“, Kevin and company nicely capture the glorious harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash.

One of my favorite tracks is “Wander On“, with it’s catchy toe-tapping beat, colorful array of jangly and fuzzy psychedelic guitars, and buoyant Beatles-like harmonies. The lovely, folk-tinged “Sunset” is yet another terrific song, with it’s bewitching twangy guitars and sublime harmonies. And on the final track “Equilibrium Blues“, Kevin blends pleasing folk rock with spacey psychedelia to create a fascinating and compelling song that’s part Crosby, Stills & Nash and part Electric Light Orchestra. The lyrics seem to speak of evil forces at work to create uncertainty and chaos around us: “They’re coming from the gutter, to destroy your equilibrium./ There’s not enough love in the sky to bring such a tear to one’s eye.”

I like everything about this album – the masterful arrangements, gorgeous guitar work and myriad instrumental touches – but it’s the marvelous harmonies throughout that really make Magic Spells Abound such a great record for me. Kevin is a very talented singer-songwriter and musician, and has much to be proud of with his latest work.

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THOMAS CHARLIE PEDERSEN – Album Review: “Employees Must Wash Hands”

Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark is Thomas Charlie Pedersen, a thoughtful and earnest singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who calls his pleasing style of music “chamber folk”. It’s a fitting description, as his sound is characterized by intricate melodies, understated yet lush arrangements, beautiful instrumentation and comforting vocals.

Thomas has been making music for nearly 20 years (he must have started out when he was 13, as he still looks quite young!), both as a solo artist and as part of alt-rock band Vinyl Floor, which he formed in 2004 along with his brother Daniel and a third member who recently departed. Vinyl Floor has released five albums since 2009, whereas Thomas has released three under his own name, beginning with his debut album Second Hand War in 2016, followed four years later by Daylight Saving Hours. Now he returns with Employees Must Wash Hands, a lovely work featuring 15 tracks. The album is being released by Vinyl Floor’s own label Karmanian Records.

Thomas actually recorded two albums in 2021, this solo record as well as Funhouse Mirror with Vinyl Floor, which was released in September 2022. He explains how Employees Must Wash Hands came to be: “The Covid lockdown situation was a highly creative period for my brother Daniel & I. Alongside the Vinyl Floor tracks, I found I had written 15 more songs but I didn’t exactly know what to do with them. Daniel and I had been working on and off on band demos for quite some time, and when I suddenly was isolating at home I found myself writing even more stuff on my acoustic guitar & piano. I lived with these songs alone for a while, and late at night I could work on the lyrics for hours on end. At one point, our studio time with the band in Sweden got postponed – leaving us with 5 months of practically nothing to do but wait.

To keep ourselves on our toes, we decided to record almost the entire ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ album and we wrapped up the additional recordings once we got back from band sessions in Sweden. What you have here is the other side of the ‘Funhouse Mirror’ sessions – a quieter and somewhat more introverted and reflective album, but also showcasing a more arranged and ‘band-like’ feel than my previous solo efforts. Some of these songs deal with man’s relationship with God and God ́s relationship with man. Who has abandoned who? And is there any faith or spirituality left? They also deal with isolation, self doubt, and all the other stuff on my mind during the strange time that was Covid lockdown.”

The album, whose title is a cheeky nod to that strange pandemic time, serves up 36 minutes of introspective indie folk-pop goodness. Most of its 15 tracks are less than three minutes long, making for a quick and very enjoyable listen. Thomas’s brother Daniel had a major hand in the album, helping out with everything from arranging the songs to recording, producing & mixing them. He also sang backing vocals and played instruments on most tracks.

It opens with “Yesterdays And Silly Ways“, a pleasant track with a buoyant melody but somewhat darker lyrics about hiding behind an upbeat façade that hides less happy truths: “You tried your best, it was not your fault. Don´t try to delay me, your concrete walls proceed to retain a lonesome feeling. Yesterdays and silly ways.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Oh Whatever” seems to be spoken from God’s perspective to people and their tendency to fall prey to greed and ignorance: “Oh, my children, the sky is painted blue, but all you do is lying and denying every clue. Oh, my lost children, where money and mistrust is king. It´s sad to be the relayer, since I brought you everything.”

On the melodic “Slow Passage” Thomas sings of finding a bit of rejuvenation for his soul: “I might opt for a peaceful retreat or a lone walk in the woods, ‘cause a break from the wilderness will surely do me good“, with a catchy toe-tapping beat and some great guitar noodling.

One of my favorite tracks is “Rains On Saturn“, a beautiful piano-driven song that seems to speak of people who search for something better, while not appreciating what they already have: “You may prevail in your zeal for new horizons, but the sky you had was clear and when it rained, it rained diamonds. Drought for forty days, for golden times you yearn, just like when it rains on Saturn.” I really like the song’s lovely piano melody, accompanied early on by subtle sounds of rockets shooting through the heavens, then later by stirring strings. Thomas’s pleasing vocals are backed by his and Daniel’s enchanting harmonies.

Coarse Rasp of Yours” is a wonderful folk-pop song of remembrance and affection, with poetic lyrics containing the album title: “Employees must wash hands. It’s weird to feel oppressed by reality. A few emotional feeds, painted infinity. There are only a few things left which I truly still adore, a real blonde and that coarse rasp of yore.”

Several tracks have a strong classical sensibility: “Mass in D Minor” is a somber dirge-like song about being stuck in a state of depression and ennui: “I’ve become a regiment of drugs, booze and cigarettes. My smile’s just a cry in disguise. Life is just a sentiment, a motion of silhouettes. The sun is now a cloud in my eyes.” “Fiddler & the Travesty” is a hauntingly beautiful song with melancholy piano and hopeful strings, and Thomas and Daniel’s lovely harmonies as they lament “Fiddler and the travesty, can’t escape his destiny. Singing his heart out to no one. He must not sing forever.” And as it’s title suggests, “Organ Prayer (in E Flat)” is a church-like hymn with great lyrics calling out sanctimonious posers and phonies: “I´ve had enough of your dense accolades. Choose side or fall flat with the crowd. A prayer must lose some effect when it comes off too proud. Tell your lame friends to go screw themselves.”

One of the sweetest tracks is the poignant “You Can’t Have it Both Ways” a Beatles-esque song with lovely strummed acoustic guitar and a wonderful organ riff, accompanied by the guys’ sublime harmonies. “Sooner Than You Think” has more of a rock feel, with a driving beat and grungy guitars. The lyrics speak of trying to regain trust in a troubled relationship: “Recycled trust, we should aim for something new, but you long for the past and, honestly, I do too. I will gaze at your beauty without a nod or a blink.We may face the truth sooner than you think.”

I like how Thomas builds his songs around a particular instrument. Case in point is the lovely piano melody of “Tremble and Reel“, with what sounds like a recorder adding some nice touches, or “Beach in Vietnam“, a sweet 47-second-long love song consisting of a simple but impactful piano riff, accompanied by his heartfelt vocal. Strummed guitars form the basis of the beguiling love song “Night of Stars“, and the uplifting folk song “Worry Beads“, both of which also feature the guys’ delightful harmonies.

The album closes on a beautiful note with the stirring piano instrumental “Stagnant Pools of Sorrow“. The combination of gorgeous piano and orchestral strings gives the track a classical feel as well. It’s a fine finish to a truly wonderful collection of carefully-crafted songs. So just sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and let them wash over you.

Here’s the album on YouTube:

And on Spotify:

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Artist Spotlight – Chris Mardula

I seem to be in a pattern of writing about British artists lately (this is my seventh in a row!), but truth be told, they reach out to me about their music far more often than artists from any other countries, including the U.S. Today, I’m shining a spotlight on Chris Mardula, a singer-songwriter from Durham County in Northeast England. His music style is strongly informed with elements of folk, indie rock and blues.

A seasoned musician, he’s played in several bands over the years, but often felt frustrated by uneven levels of commitment by other members. He told me that with everyone having other responsibilities, it was often difficult getting everyone on the same page. Sick and tired of having to rely on other people, he eventually decided to move forward on his own as a solo artist. “I’ve had all of these songs just sitting there doing nothing for years. I thought to myself, it’s time I do something with them and get them out there to be heard. If there’s only me, there’s no excuses. So I built myself a little studio in the house and got busy making a few demos and writing some new tracks.

Last November, Chris began releasing songs at the rate of one per month, starting with a lovely demo titled “Don’t let me down“. Consisting of just his strummed acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals, the song is a poignant folk ballad about a fragile relationship. He assures his partner that he’ll be there for her, imploring her to not let him down: “Please stop complaining over things that I do. If you’re not so happy, you know what to do. Said I’d be there, I guess I always will. Just don’t let me down, C’mon now, don’t let me down. Cause this time is gonna be the last.” Listening to his pleasing vocals, I could easily be convinced that Chris was from Nashville or Austin instead of Northeast England.

He followed in December with his first official single “Take It Or Leave It“, which is my favorite song he’s released thus far. Written several years ago, Chris says the song is about living in a small town, making the most of it and finding your way forward while getting through the drag of everyday life, and how things usually turn out alright in the end. For this song, he layers beautiful programmed strings and vibrant percussion over strummed guitar notes, creating a stirring cinematic backdrop for his warm vocals as he fervently sings “Taking chances on the outside. I’m on the outside looking in. See my friends and see their faces. And all the places that we’ve been. So take it or leave it. Seen it all before. Take it or leave it. Cause you know you wanted more.”

In January, he dropped “Fade Away“, a beautiful rock song with a more powerful feel than his previous two. Chris’s guitar work is quite impressive as he unleashes an onslaught of scorching riffs over a background of strummed guitars, sweeping strings and riotous percussion. The lyrics seem to speak to the enduring pain over the death of a friend or loved one that refuses to fade away. “Days since he left me, was the day that he died. Still I can’t forget you, still here in my mind. Why can’t it all just fade away?” The song’s compelling video features footage shot by Chris, Craig Addison and Ella Brown.

February saw the release of “Catch a Fire“, an impactful rock song about not continuing to waste our precious time, and to keep pushing forward through the obstacles and pain life throws our way, in order to achieve our dreams and become a better person. The song has a bit of a Southern rock vibe, thanks to Chris’s splendid mix of bluesy and twangy guitars.

His most recent release “Calm In The Storm” is a terrific bluesy instrumental, where his skills on the guitar, piano and drums are allowed to really shine.

While it could be argued that the music world has more than enough ‘guys with guitars’ to go around, I think the quality of his songs places Chris near the top of a crowded field. Based on the five tracks he’s released so far, I’d say that he’s a pretty talented songwriter, musician and vocalist with a promising future. I also like that each of those five songs sounds completely different, a testament to his ability to reach across genres. He’s now putting the finishing touches on his debut album Monumental Horizons, which he plans on releasing later this year.

Here are his songs on Spotify:

Connect with Chris: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find his music on SpotifyApple MusicAmazon MusicSoundcloudYouTube

TIM EVELEIGH – Album Review: “A Record”

Describing himself as “a middle-aged, middle-class singer-songwriter from South London“, Tim Eveleigh seems to be a humble man right from the get-go. After listening to his charming debut album, simply titled A Record, I am certain of it. Not only that, he’s a Renaissance man of sorts, with many talents and interests ranging from music and stand-up comedy to computer programming/IT development, music and events promotion, economics and politics. He’s also a staunch advocate for racial justice and equality.

Tim’s been involved with music since his childhood, and in a wonderful  interview with the webzine Croydonist, he discussed how he began studying piano at a young age, eventually working his way up to violin and then viola in secondary school, where he also played in the orchestra. He began writing songs when he was 10, and ended up playing in two bands, which he cheekily remarked “rather worryingly, evidence of this still exists“. By his early 30s he’d written what he described as a solid collection of songs, but “after playing these for a few years I scrapped them all and started again, and I’ve written enough songs to record a couple of albums.”

From what I can tell, he’s released music rather sporadically over the past 15 years, beginning with a three-track EP this is all i have in December 2007. Nearly 13 years passed before he put out another release, a three-track EP In Kilnsea in June 2020, and last month, he returned with his debut album A Record, which dropped March 15th. The album features nine tracks, eight written by Tim and one, “White Lines”, written by British singer-songwriter and musician Ben Cosh. For the album’s recording, Tim played guitars, keyboards & percussion and sang lead vocals, Maria Levesley sang backing vocals, and Joe Jones played bass. Additionally, several other musicians contributed their talents on selected tracks, including Pete Long on saxophone, Pete Cooper on flugelhorn and trumpet, Andy Thornton on guitar, bells and bass, Chris Kimber on tubular bells, and Cara Thornton on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Overture“, a lovely, almost gospel-like song with a bit of a Celtic folk vibe. The inspiring lyrics “tell the world you’re alright, tell the world you sleep tight, and nothing can wake you up” set an overall tone of love and optimism for A Record. And though most of its tracks touch on aspects of love, relationships and emotional well-being, the lone – and glaring – exception is “Drones“. Though the song sounds pleasing from a musical standpoint, highlighted by Pete Cooper’s appropriately droning flugelhorn, the lyrics are searing and bitter, calling out our leaders who lead us into endless wars while insulating themselves from the resulting horrors: “You send our sons and our daughters to war. You send our sons into battle and our daughters into hell. You send our sons and our daughters to war and now you want us to do it all again. Have you learned no lessons from the deaths of the millions. Now you want us to do it all again. I see your sons and your daughters are alive. You make these big decisions, then let others do the killing. I see your sons and your daughters are alive.”

Tim has a pleasing and warm singing voice that’s similar to another British artist I’ve written about, The Blue Flame (aka Richard Stone), as well as Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys in spots. On the beautiful and jazzy “Manifesto“, he sings of the games we play and things we say in order to keep our romantic relationships alive, referring to them as ‘propaganda’: “Propaganda: keeping us together. Propaganda: the lies that we tell each other. Propaganda: tell me what i need to hear. Propaganda: we are all actors. And I will love you till the end of time, and I will take you everywhere you want to go, and I will hold your hand while you sleep. I will be here until you go.” With Joe’s terrific little bassline, Tim and Andy’s wonderful guitars, Tim’s lovely keyboards, and Maria’s enchanting backing harmonies, this is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

On “Headrest“, strummed acoustic guitars and cheerful rhythms create a lighthearted backdrop for the rather bittersweet lyrics about a relationship that may have reached its end: “I don’t have the skills that I need to recover your faith and trust, but this is the best I can do with the lessons I’ve learned in life. I understand we’re in a tricky situation. A song and a smile are not the solution. If your ears are burning this might be the reason. Just this once we tried love, we tried grace, we had hope, we had faith, I found work, we had sex, I’m not sure there’s anything left.”

Binary” is a brief but upbeat, guitar-driven song with a bouncy melody and sweet lyrics describing a relationship where both partners have long-settled into a comfortable routine that many of us in long-term relationships can identify with: “Turn the light out it’s on your side. Turn the light out it’s in my eyes. And I’ll let you know if I need you now.” On the poignant ballad “Good“, Tim tenderly sings to a loved one of his love and devotion in spite of the hurt he’s caused, accompanied by melancholy piano keys and strummed guitars.

Another favorite of mine is “Deluge“, with it’s bouncy bass-driven groove, lively strummed acoustic guitars, melodic mellotron, and Tim’s spirited taps on the cajón (a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru). Tim assures his romantic partner of his love and devotion as they face the perils of war and conflict: “I have touched you everywhere. we have spoken in the dark. We have talked about so many things and you, you are perfect as you are The sky’s alight with bombers, and the truth is withheld from us, I don’t know what to believe. The train is at the station, and the soldiers keep us safe from everything that would destroy us.”

The album closes with the tender love song “Touch“, in which Tim serenades his romantic partner of his fervent affection: “The beat of your heart a light in the dark. When I hear you laugh I’m tongue-tied.” Pete Long’s warm saxophone gives the track a nice jazzy touch (no pun intended!). It’s a fine ending for a delightful, well-crafted collection of songs written and sung from the heart.

Connect with Tim:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find his music on BandcampApple Music / SoundcloudYouTube

CORMAC O CAOIMH – Single Review: “My Little Buddha”

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.

Photo by Ivan Begala

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.

To learn more about Cormac, check out his Website
Connect with him on  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

CATCH THE SPARROW – EP Review: “Winter Flowers”

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.

Connect with Catch the Sparrow: FacebookInstagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

DOM THOMAS – Single Review: “Everything I Own”

I recently learned about Welsh singer-songwriter and musician Dom Thomas when he followed me on Instagram. A talented and busy guy, he works as a librarian at Cardiff University, is founder and editor of VAINE Magazine (a Welsh literary and arts magazine for emerging artists and writers), and a poet who’s had one of his works published. He’s been writing and recording songs for his forthcoming EP, and released his wonderful debut single “Everything I Own” on November 11th. I liked it the instant I heard it, so much so that I want to both share it with my readers and give Dom a bit of press.

A deeply personal song, Dom explained in an Instagram post how he came to write “Everything I Own”: “I wrote the song in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I was staying at home with my mum at the time, and I remember having all of my stuff packed up in the middle of the bedroom. And I was there playing this guitar which a friend lent me a few years ago. I remember thinking about how all of my stuff in the world was in that room, and how one of the main things I had (the guitar) wasn’t even mine. I just started thinking about that strange feeling you have sometimes in your 20s when you’re kind of sifting for your purpose in life, and trying to find out who you are. So, this song was the first one I wrote for the EP, and it gave me this idea to write some songs that were really personal.”

For the recording of the track, Dom sang vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars, bass and keyboards, Alec Rees played drums, and Mike Winters played viola. Jordan Roberts and Mark Lowe produced the track, with additional arrangements by Toni Madrid and Jacob Davies, and Eddie Al Shakarchi handled the mixing and mastering. Together, they’ve created a really lovely and melodic song. Dom’s layered guitar work is sublime, nicely accompanied by Alec’s relaxed drumbeats. As the song progresses, the music expands with the addition of Dom’s bold piano keys and Mike’s stirring viola, Dom’s comforting vocals turning more emphatic and emotional as well. Though the song has a rather melancholy undercurrent, Dom’s lighthearted “doo doo doos” in the choruses add glimmers of optimism, giving the song an overall pleasing vibe.

The poignant lyrics speak to feelings of impermanence, sadness, and dreams unfulfilled, whether they be material, artistic or romantic.

Everything I own
Feels like its borrowed
And I can’t give it back
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

Everything I feel
Feels a bit too real
And I can’t turn away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everywhere I go,
it feels like I’m followed
And I can’t get away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And everything I touch,
Feels a bit too much
Like it’s turning to stone
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everything I know
Fills me with sorrow
And I can’t switch it off
My heart my dreams my love and my soul

And everything I do,
Makes me think of you
And I just can’t forget,
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

The endearing video, directed by Daniel Evans and filmed by Alex David, who also did the editing along with Dan Cuddihy, shows scenes of Dom playing his guitar and singing the song while walking through the streets of Cardiff and the surrounding countryside, alternating with scenes of him setting up and performing at a small auditorium.

Connect with Dom on Instagram

Stream “Everything I Own” on SpotifyApple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Mayfly”

Callum Pitt is a thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England. Inspired by the music of such artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. His music is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression and anxiety, and social and political unrest, delivered with his soft, pleasing vocals. In other words, his songs are beautiful.

He began writing and singing songs in this teens, performing in pubs and small venues in and around Newcastle. He released his wonderful debut single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can” in 2017, and in the years since, he’s dropped an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award for songwriters in 2019, and participated in the Fender Player Plus competition in 2022.

Photos by Daniel Stark

I’ve previously reviewed two of Callum’s singles, both in 2020: “Fault Lines” (which spent 10 weeks on my Top 30 chart and ranks at #84 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list), and “Sea of Noise”. Now he’s back with his first new music in two years almost to the day, a lovely, deeply personal single “Mayfly“. The song was written and composed by Callum, who sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards. Additional musicians performing on the track include Luke Elgie on bass, Gavin Christie on drums, John Martindale on percussion, Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals, Alex Saxon, who wrote and played the saxophone line, and James Leonard Hewitson on trumpet. The track was co-produced by Callum and John Martindale, who also engineered and mixed it at Blank Studios. Mastering was done by Robin Schmidt.

The song is essentially about adulthood, and Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I’m 28 now, eventually not feeling like a teenager anymore and probably will have my own children in a few years’ time. ‘Mayfly’ talks about that worry I have that living with anxiety and bouts of depression will mean I will never be able to provide that emotional stability that children will require. It’s quite a hopeful song though, as I still have a few years yet, and mainly talks about the ambition that I’ll be more emotionally stable and at peace as the years go by. I often look at people in their 30s and 40s and think they appear very at peace, but maybe there are always relative struggles and difficult things to overcome, and we always have to cherish the highs and know that the lows are inevitable.”

“Mayfly” has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. One of the many things I like about the song is how each instrument is allowed to shine. With every new listen I hear little instrumental nuances, like the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is the icing on the musical cake. It’s another wonderful song by Callum.

The lovely video, filmed and directed by Sel MacLean, shows Callum singing the song in various indoor and outdoor settings in an around Newcastle.

Those of you in the UK can catch Callum at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, Nov 19 – The Common Room of the Great North, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Saturday, Nov 26 – Songs From Northern Britain @ The Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-tees

Saturday, Dec 10 – Avoid Shit Xmas Parties, The Central, Gateshead

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week: “If I Could Fall Into the Skies” by Marianne Kesler

Marianne Kesler is a Dayton, Ohio-based singer-songwriter with a life-long love for music. A prolific artist, she’s been writing and recording music for over 25 years, and has released five albums and more than 10 singles as a solo artist. She’s also collaborated with numerous other artists, including neo-soul/pop/folk artist Leah Thompson, with whom she co-wrote over 30 songs, as well as her friend Kate Stanton, as part of a duo named Every Lovely Thing, who I featured in an Artist Spotlight nearly four years ago. On top of all that, she’s also written a three-volume trilogy of free verse poetry/prose and photography.

Her pleasing style of folk/pop has earned her comparisons to such artists as Judy Collins, Carole King, Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. In fact, she cheekily describes her sound this way: “Imagine if Joni Mitchell got together with Leonard Cohen for a writing session at the coffeehouse where Neil Young and the Counting Crows were playing, folk artist Jan Krist was singing, Tori & Fiona were pouting, Over The Rhine & Aimee Mann opened, and Santana stopped by to play some smokin’ guitar…Yeah, It sounds something like that!

Today, Marianne has dropped a hauntingly beautiful new single “If I Could Fall Into the Skies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Her first release of 2022, it’s a melodically simple but impactful song, dominated by a somber but lovely piano movement, and accompanied by airy synths that create an enchanting backdrop for her gentle, ethereal vocals. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that I wish Marianne’s vocals were a bit more pronounced, as the bold piano keys sometimes overpower her delicate vocals. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful track.

The bittersweet lyrics speak of wanting to know someone – perhaps a romantic interest, but it could apply to any special friendship – better, but being unable to break through to them:

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Staring at the water it appears as though the world is upside down
Summer skies reflected there are shimmering like clouds upon the ground         
I could jump right now … If I just knew how

Gazing in your eyes I glimpse a depth I’ve never noticed there before
Subtle undertow beneath the surface has me aching to explore           
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Standing on the edge with everything I’ve ever wanted down below
Painfully aware I’ve never told you how I feel or let you know             
But I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Catch a falling star … Landing where you are 

Starlit skies … In your eyes
Upside down … Spun around 
’Til the world seems out of focus as I fall …

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay.

Marianne created a stunning video to accompany the song, about which she has this to say: “This song was inspired by seeing how the sky was reflected through a window onto my glass top desk ~ looking as though I could fall right into it! I tried to shoot video footage that captured this same ‘world upside down’ reflection (mostly on water) to add visuals to these lyrics of longing.”

Connect with Marianne:  FacebookTwitter 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube


I continue to be astounded by all the creativity and talent coming out of the British music scene, and one of my favorites (who I’ve been following for several years) is Granfalloon, the music project of Manchester-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and drum loops, along with unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords, the engaging, curly-haired artist creates his own unique style of music that’s a pleasing hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His songs are enchanting little stories touching on the many idiosyncrasies of everyday life, but with a dollop of quirky surrealism to keep them fun. And his warm, soothing vocals, delivered with a lighthearted cheekiness and charming accent, are so wonderful I would literally enjoy hearing him sing the telephone book. Simply put, his songs make me feel happy.

Since forming Granfalloon in late 2016, Lomax has released a fairly steady stream of singles and albums, beginning with his debut album Down There For Dancing in 2017. He followed two years later with his beautiful second album RGB, then dropped his marvelous third album Positive Songs in August 2021, a collaborative work featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. They invited songwriters to create new music by challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings, rather than negative or depressing songs about feeling isolated and bored during lockdown. The response was overwhelming, resulting in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world. (I reviewed two of the tracks from Positive Songs – “Working On Your Own” and “The Pigeon” – which you can read by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)

Now he’s back with his fourth album Calendar, featuring 12 delightful tracks. I’ll leave it to him to explain his inspiration behind the album’s creation: “The roots of this album can be traced back to 2014, when I was recording a debut album with my previous band. It was the 13th time I had recorded that album. Getting it right was proving difficult… A different approach was needed to keep things fresh. I would write new songs, one every week, without perfectionism weighing down the process. By the end of 2014 I had amassed 52 new songs, each one reflecting the week I’d experienced, all framed as fevered journal entries. After founding Granfalloon in 2016 and releasing two albums, I went into the studio in February of 2020 to begin the task of committing definitive versions of the songs from my ’52 Project’.

Obviously the pandemic put the project on hold and ironically, now everyone had a double album of songs squirrelled away. But I never wrote because I had too much time on my hands. Writing has always been a matter of necessity for me. I returned to the studio again in 2021 with a core band from the Positive Songs Project to whittle down the original 52 to 12 songs. These 12 songs comprise this new album ‘Calendar’.”

In addition to Lomax, who sang lead vocals and played guitars, Wurlizter, Omnichord and melodica, a host of other musicians contributed their talents on some or all of the songs, adding a colorful kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds and textures: Daz Woodcock (bass, vocals, organ, keys), Andy Lyth (drums, percussion, banjo), Cleg (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Garreth Knott (trumpet), Sarah-Jane Pearson (vocals), Caffs Burgis (vocals, synths), Dom Major (guitars), Ellie Boney (cello), George Burrage (violin), Robin Melinda Koob (violin), Molly Becker (violin), Tim Davies (drums), Jack Wakeman (bass), and Jason Alder (contrabass clarinet).

The songs encompass an array of styles, from the exotically folksy “Witch of Woodplumpton” and seductively bluesy “Eulerian Circles“, to the whimsically poppy “Bee on a String” and Americana-tinged “A Year After the Party Died“. But the one thing they all have in common is their outstanding arrangements, instrumentation and production values. The album kicks off with “Archive“, which opens with Jason Alder’s fascinating contrabass clarinet notes, nicely accompanied by twangy guitars, George Burrage’s violin, Ellie Boney’s cello, Tim Davies’ military-style drumbeats. and Sarah-Jane Pearson’s gentle vocals.

I like all the songs of Calendar, but I’ll call out some of the standouts for me, as well as some particularly lovely little moments heard on a few tracks. The aforementioned “Witch of Woodplumpton” is pleasing, but with a mysterious undercurrent, and lyrics that speak to the historic and ongoing oppression of women: “From Mary of Eden to Joan of Arc, we’ve been burning and burying you from the start. You have to dig your way out of your own grave.” Richard’s intricate guitar work is sublime, and I think I also hear Cleg’s sweet mandolin notes. And once again, we’re treated to Sarah-Jane Pearson’s smooth backing vocals, Ellie’s lovely cello, and George’s violin, with added violin by Robin Melinda Koob for good measure.

Paint It By Numbers” is a cheeky number sung from the perspective of a professor who can only express their love through mathematical figures: “Shall I compare thee to the fundamental theorem of algrebaic K-theory? Like Pythagorus said, something’s deeply irrational about the square root of 2 where the 2 are me and U. Let me show you the numbers. Tell you in numbers. Lay down the numbers. Paint it by numbers 4 U.

Far and away the highlight for me on the album is the thoroughly enchanting “Please Write Responsibly“, which tells the story of an innocently-written song that goes rogue: “This yarn had caused more harm than was ever my intention. I’d only scribbled words on paper, I hadn’t wanted this destruction. I mean, whoever got hurt by a story? What song brought a government to its knees? What poem dismantled a tank, or started World War 3? And As I tracked the trail of carnage caused by my fantasy, it leapt right out of my computer screen and began to attack me. My Story tore me limb from limb, all the while screaming with glee: ‘Words are more powerful than you ever could conceive So please write responsibly!’” The beguiling song features the musical handiwork of Richard and Dom Major on guitars, Molly Becker on violin, Daz Woodcock and bass, and Andy Lyth on the sweet banjo. I love this song, which is currently enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Bee on a String“, with its lively guitars and Garreth Knott’s warm trumpet. The lyrics describing a woman who keeps a bee on a string trapped in a tupperware box in her refrigerator are an allegory for keeping her man similarly under her control: “I know you’re fascinated by me but won’t you let me be free? Why won’t you let me bee free? O must you keep me in a deep freeze. It makes me sleep so you keep me, and she keeps bees in a deep freeze...”

O Joyce” tells the story of a Joyce over a 60-plus period of years, beginning with how her mother bought a pet Macaw who she named Bobby Corwen when Joyce was a young child. It’s a cute little ditty, with some nice trumpets by Garreth and guitar, Wurlizter and Omnichord by Richard. I also like how he whispers in a slightly seductive voice, “Joyce, make us a cuppa tea“, after each verse.

All My Old Lovers (live on the same street)” is a rather wistful, introspective song about past loves, loss, and the need to move on and away from judgmental neighbors and gossiping tongues: “All the meetings they’ll have about this and that, make you feel so exposed. In a small town like this all you do is exist. This is no place to heal. It’s time to move on – You can’t live here any more.” The song is lovely, with a bit of a melancholy undercurrent, highlighted by gentle chiming guitar notes, cello and violin. Richard’s smooth vocals convey a slightly sad sense of resignation.

In a similar vein, “The Day the Party Died” speaks to loss and the passage of time, with references to several mythical characters like Ahab, Peter Pan and Cupid to drive home the inevitable changes that happen with time. Not all of these changes are for the better, expressed in the lyrics “They’ve turned the club into a takeaway. They’ve turned the pub into a takeaway. They’ve turned our home into a takeaway.”

But then on the album closer “Rushmore“, Granfalloon admonishes us to look to the future with hope and optimism, and not dwell in the past: “Don’t waste your life on a memory. The wind will change, both kind and strange. It’s never as dark as you think.” The song is another favorite of mine, as I love the dramatic shimmery electric guitars and beautiful soaring vocal harmonies in the chorus. It’s a fine finish to a delightfully charming album. With Calendar, Richard and his fellow musicians have created a lovely and thoughtful work that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen, for which they should be very proud.

Follow Granfalloon:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

His albums are only available as a digital download on Bandcamp and in CD format, though several of his singles are also available for streaming on SpotifyApple Music & Soundcloud.