AUK’s EP Round Up – April 2024

Helia Tatla - EP cover

So, welcome to our April round-up of the latest EPs to land at AUK Towers, a little later than usual for which many apologies.

First up is ‘The Lost Feral Tapes,’ a 2014 recording by Secret Emchy Society (SES), which kickstarted the career of Cindy Emch with that band. Emch had already worked with a number of bands before this one, but SES has gone from strength to strength with some formidable punk honky-tonk, featuring drinking (lots of it), driving, touring and some hard-hitting LGBQT+ songs. Not for nothing is Emch known as the First Lady of Queer Country. This first EP is much softer and more acoustic and sounds very like a songwriter finding her style and a singer finding her range, which far exceeds what you will hear on this EP (for evidence take a listen to the latest full-length album ‘Gold Country – Country Gold’). ‘Crossroads‘ is about the ending of a relationship, and features acoustic guitar, bass and fiddle. There is a live version at the end which does not have the fiddle. ‘Drivin’ and Thinkin’ ‘adds Emch’s plaintive accordion and highlights separation from a loved one as a touring musician. ‘Stars Fall Shooting’ is another ‘missing you’ song while ‘Whiskey and Burn Barrels’ is a celebration for friends. If you have heard the latest offerings from SES , this EP provides some starting point for where the band is now and an early reference point for Emch’s singing and songwriting.

Clancy Jones was born in Texas (perhaps the voice gives it away!) but he currently resides in Oklahoma where the songs on his new EP ‘Rise with the Sun’ were written during a period from 2019 to 2021 when he was working on a cattle ranch. Jones has been around a while and this is his third EP since 2017: and although this one only has three tracks they are each very appealing. He has a way with a tune, the instrumental backing is very good (there is some excellent electric guitar being played (and the drums and bass aren’t bad either) and the songs themselves reflect Jones’ working life, the stresses of a life on the move  “I know I’m not the first I won’t be the last /To dig my hands in the dirt /Hoping for some overcast/ I’d be lyin’ if I told ya the work was easy”  from ‘I’d be lying’ an uptempo country rocker.  The other two songs are slower and either bluesier (‘No Rain’ ) or folksier (‘Round and Round’), with some very tasty guitar breaks and also contemplating the repetition of working life “ A new day takes shape rise with the sun /Coffee in on the pot and all the pictures hung / They’re raking up the wheat into windrows /Another year down looking out this old window/A round and a round we go”.  When he finds time, a full-length album should be very interesting.

The Ripples, from Mallorca, have been playing local festivals since their relatively recent formation. Their new album ‘Restless’ is a collection of mostly mid-paced country rock songs,  70s-80s style with some 60s rock’n’roll thrown in. This album is a precursor to their appearance in a couple of UK festivals and hits the spot nicely with some good electric guitar breaks and fine harmony singing. The group is very guitar-driven (Nacho Andreu and Juan Andreu on electric, with lead singer Toni Sbert on acoustic) with occasional keyboard flourishes as in ‘Nights that Never Last’, the slowest and sweetest of the tunes on offer.  My guess is that they rock out a bit at their festival appearances (with a decent rhythm section of Berto Meana on bass and Jordi Rullan on drums) which is great for audience involvement, but most people’s preference may be for the more restrained studio production. By their own admission, however, production on this EP lacks finesse which they expect to rectify when their full-length album appears later in the year produced again by Tomi Solbas. With a greater focus on the lyrical content (while acknowledging that the songs are presumably not written in their first language), the band has potential which exposure in festivals in the UK will help to realise.

Play Misty are a folk trio from Bristol formed of Sophie Jones, Ryan McMurtry and I-Sha–Vi. They share songwriting and lead singer duties on their first EP ‘At the Cube‘, and they harmonize very nicely on each other’s songs. The four songs themselves are pretty enough with a slightly old-fashioned folksy feel. The instrumentation comprises mostly acoustic guitars but with some embellishments and mild percussion. The album was recorded live at the Cube Multiplex in Bristol (without an audience) in order to help promote live music venues in Bristol and the local folk scene. ‘It’s Too Late Now ‘is a McMurtry song sung sweetly by Jones, a pretty offering about a bittersweet love.   ‘Like a Cloud‘ is another McMurtry song which he sings, and is followed by ‘All the pain, all the joy‘ written and sung by I-Sha-Vi, a retro folk tune with what sounds like added woodwind, and tackles issues of diversity and fitting in. The final track. written and sung by Jones, is ‘You’ve Been Around ‘which is a little bouncier than the other tracks, with the addition of mandolin and drums and has an appealing tune and nice harmonies.  Interestingly the fuller sound makes what is a rather downbeat song about a relationship with a loner a bit too jaunty. The Youtube acoustic version captures the mood rather better. But it’s an interesting EP and bodes well for the future of the trio.

Helia Tatla (with their self-titled EP) are next up, with their impeccable musicianship driven by New Yorker Geoff Bradford’s guitar and bass lines and the beautiful voice of French chanteuse Leah Attali. Only just touching the bounds of Americana, an almost ever-present sax lends the overall sound a jazzy feel, but ‘Servant’s Heart‘, a reflection on being in service to others, is a more folksy number with an unplaceable but familiar-sounding chorus “I don’t want a love that counts the coins as life goes past/ Learn to have a servant’s heart.”  ‘Third Culture Kids’ addresses the problems facing the children of immigrants and their difficulty assimilating into a new culture. ‘Ocean Blue’ has a very funky feel with the ubiquitous sax and some great organ licks, and killer guitar lines. It deals with the problems of a difficult relationship. ‘Caught Up In’ has a gently soft rock flavour. If a jazzy touch to your Americana is to your liking, you will enjoy this EP and you will in any event appreciate the musicianship and impeccable production of this EP.

Surtsey is the brainchild of one Joe Bassa (singer, songwriter and guitarist). The band hails from St Louis, Missouri and despite being in existence for more than a decade, this is only their fourth release (a short EP in 2010 was followed by 8 years in the wilderness, then a couple of singles before ‘Nothing Doing’, a five-song offering recorded late last year and just released). AND it is very good indeed. The wilderness years must have been used to hone their instrumental capabilities because on top of some fascinating imagery in the lyrics and some tasty tunes, the playing on this album is exemplary – layers and layers of acoustic, electric and slide guitars, pulsating and swirling steel guitar from Zach Naeger, some warm melodic bass from Drew Koeppel and propulsive drums from Aaron Essner. And then there are the harmonies! Beautifully produced, the songs discuss the human condition and the ways we approach life. It kicks off with ‘Stick’ and the interesting imagery starts with the first two lines “Paints & stains on a buffalo nickel /Cash is king & your credit made simple” and continues throughout as the steel soars behind.  ‘Knot to Force’ was the first single and focuses on the pressure we put on our lives ‘if you force the lock you’re gonna break the key /I don’t mind the work, tell my hands “don’t bleed” “. T-shirt’ rocks like an electric bluegrass number until it slows to a lovely verse (‘Avalanche‘)at a slow pace with beautiful weeping steel. ‘Useful’ could be taken from the Midlake back catalogue, fabulous harmonies before the swirling trio of guitars overwhelm towards the end. And closer ‘Barley and Cherries’, a slower more acoustic song that again highlights the collective talents of the group. If they can avoid another long hiatus this is a band that can go places – it is indie folk rock at its finest ‘y’allternative America-kinda’ according to Bassa, who sings with a kind of tortured twang in his voice that appeals very much to this listener.

Last up this month is a treat for fans of genuine guitar heroes. Chris Shiflett won’t need much introduction to fans of The Foo Fighters, where he has been lead guitarist for 25 years.  His long career has involved stints with other bands (punk rock in the early days) and a number of side projects including his own 2023 release ‘Lost at Sea ‘, which was highly acclaimed, and from which four of the six titles on this EP ‘Starry Nights and Campfire Lights’ are taken, and given a different interpretation. He was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2021 as part of the Foo Fighters  The first track is a stirring shuffling country version of Thin Lizzie’s ‘Cowboy Song’, which includes a Brad Paisley-like solo (interesting because Shiflett has been interviewing guitar greats about the art of playing guitar and Paisley is amongst the interviewees).  Hanoi Rocks’ Don’t You Ever Leave Me’ has a slightly retro feel with spoken verses intermittently, until a couple of sharp guitar solos.  ‘Overboard’ (a sweet song about midlife parenting and the distraction from intimacy) and ‘Black Top White Lines ‘ (about a runaway murderess) are live versions of tracks from the afore-mentioned ‘Lost at Sea‘, and, although they are great to hear live, they don’t add much to the album versions.  More interesting are the final two tracks, taken from an acoustic Sirius FM Outlaw Country broadcast.  ‘Damage Control’ is a gentle lilting country-sounding track with a nice acoustic guitar break: and the EP closes with ‘Dead and Gone‘, probably the most Americana track, coming across as a country roots song about the early passing of some of his friends, and although it is a little heavy on the drums, it has a nice solo underpinned with tasty piano in the background. Overall it’s a nice mix of Shiflett’s guitar and songwriting styles.

Once again, apologies for the slight delay – see you again soon, after Graeme Tait’s no doubt excellent take on May’s selection.

About FredArnold 57 Articles
Lifelong fan of predominantly US (and Canadian) country roots music. Previously an avid concert-goer before wives, kids and dogs got in the way- and although I still try to get to several, my preference for small independent venues often means standing, and that ain't too good for my ancient bones!! Still, a healthy and catholic music collection helps ease the pain
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