AUK’s EP Round-Up – June 2024

artwork for Jonah Sissayev EP me, myself, god

OK, hands-up which of you, our esteemed readers, noticed that there was no ‘Monthly EP’ Round-Up’, for May. Well, never fear, for this month we have a bumper edition, with no less than fifteen new releases from across the americana music scene for you to peruse. So, without any further ado let’s get this show on the road.

First up we have Jonah Sissoyev and his EP “me, myself, god”, with a deliberate use of the lowercase in the title, the music encased inside is seen as a portal through which to view someone’s soul. A contemporary of AUK favourite Jeffrey Martin, Sissoyev’s sound inhabits the familiar country/folk singer songwriter format while his lyrical narrative focuses on self-discovery by exiting organised religion. The five tracks on offer here all display an artist with great potential, Sissoyev’s vocals are strong with a great range and warmth, whilst the songs are well crafted, each with thoughtful lyrical narratives, all of which are worthy of highlighting in particular the title track along with ‘Younger Years‘.

Next up we have Gillian Hay from Barrie, Ontario, and what appears to be her debut EP “Magnolia Baby”, which consists of six tracks that inhabit a similar musical landscape to that of The Chicks and early Taylor Swift, with it’s country overtones coated with strong pop sensibilities. The bright arrangement complements themes of flowers, springtime, and a world of new beginnings, but deeper listening reveals a fair share of heartbreak and sadness, particularly on the reflective number ‘Reminders Of You’, while the edgier ‘Apartment’, is another strong track.

Ellorie McKnight is from Whitehorse, Yukon, on the lands of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation with a population of around 28,000, where in the winter receives about 5 hours of low angle sun, while in the summer the sun stays above the horizon for about 21 hours, and it is the challenges of living in this wilderness that has inspired the six songs that make up the EP “Equinox”. McKnight is a bilingual singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose sound draws on old-time folk music with plenty of fiddle and banjo to the fore, this EP being the follow up to her debut release “For The Heart’s Sake”, (2021). The new EP was recorded live in the studio using a full band and has one track ‘Tout Partout’, sung in French that perfectly captures the mystical ambience of the landscape that provides so much inspiration. Elsewhere the opening track ‘Trivial’, sets the tone with its affirmation that small and seemingly insignificant emotions, memories and fears all matter, while closing number ‘Whitepass’, with its reflective narrative is another stand-out track on an excellent release.

The Long Farewells follow up the release of their 2019 album “Only The Stars”, with this new EP “High Water Or Hell”, which contains five self-penned numbers along with a cover of Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’. Since their last release the band has now expanded to a quintet with the greater musical input allowing them to move on from a somewhat folkier environment to explore a wider musical landscape. Vocalist Gabrielle Schafer and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Rester are still firmly at the helm while fiddle is now supplied by Rick Veras, with the opening track ‘Two Crows’, housing a very Southern Gothic vibe, while ‘Shade Of Sad’, draws on classic country. The cover of Williams’ definitive number offers a more sprightly waltz tempo than the original, while ‘Bottle Was The Message’, is undoubtedly the most interesting number with it’s change in pace and Middle Eastern influence during the bridge section, highlighting the dexterity of Veras’ fiddle playing.

Portland-based Rose Gerber follows up last year’s EP release “Memories Someday”, with five new tracks that make up the EP “Untraveled Highway”, which suggest a continued musical progression with a real sense of purpose and direction within these nostalgic songs of escape and compromise that each hold their own identity. From the opening number ‘Captain’, through to the closing title track Gerber’s vocals are both powerful and infectious in equal measure as they drive home the sentiment within the narrative of each song. ‘Last Miles’, displays some wonderful evocative storytelling while the ghost of Grunge King Kurt Cobain is name-checked on ‘Time Away’. An EP and an artist well worth getting to know.

Veterans of the Paisley Underground, Rain Parade have certainly been on a roll of late. What with the release of last year’s brilliant “Last Rays Of A Dying Sun”, followed by this year’s deluxe reissue of their debut album and, as I write, starting a European tour including a handful of dates in the UK. If that wasn’t enough they have released a new EP “Last Stop On The Underground”, that has all their familiar ingredients of chiming guitars, crystalline melodies, and soothing vocals, wrapped up in a new found sagacious poignancy. All four tracks here are classic Rain Parade, in particular the opener ‘Surprise, Surprise’, which dances out of the speakers with all the retro energy of the London Underground scene of the early eighties. After this tour the band intend to head back to San Francisco and into the studio to record their next album. Exciting times indeed.

The Niche Family hail from Glasgow and are a folk harmony troupe made up of brothers Stuart and Andrew Neil along with Lauren Thompson. Their debut EP is made up of four tracks that highlights the band’s close vocal harmonies along with their songwriting that blends a mix of traditional folk, Americana, and country music. The closing number ‘Mercy Me’, which had previously been released as a stand-alone single is a wonderfully atmospheric track that perfectly captures the trio’s vocal strengths, along with some excellent guitar playing. Well worth checking out.

Bristol based contemporary folk project Fritillaries’ new EP “Thank God I Have The Songs”, launches a new era for songwriter Hannah Pawson as she strikes out as a solo artist, having released the eponymous debut album in 2022 as part of a duo. This six-song EP explores themes of chronic illnesses, loss and bereavement and includes a trilogy of songs written following the death of Pawson’s grandmother, and collectively help to create an intimate and confessional mood that permeates throughout. The EP is produced by Rowan Elliott whose subtle use of strings helps to coat the overall sound with an ambience that perfectly captures the reflective lyrical narrative. Closing track ‘Little Sparrow’, a wistful banjo-led postscript that meditates on the temporary nature of everything is an excellent example of Pawson coming to terms with her recent losses.

Originally from Co’ Armagh but more recently a resident of Belfast, Ciara O’Neill’s new four-track EP “Woman”, is right out of the top drawer. Having previously established herself as one of the finest new singer-songwriters to emerge from across the Irish Sea in many a year with two excellent albums “The Ebony Trail” (2016), and “Arrow” (2018), that both highlighted her heartfelt crafted lyrics and mesmerising vocals, this new EP continues in a similar vein with the focus of each track centred around the theme of being a woman in modern society. The arrangement throughout is percussively vibrant but never intrusive supplying the perfect conduit to O’Neill’s narrative that explores all the beauty and complexities of a woman unwilling to conform to expectations. Every track on this EP is a keeper.

Next we have Kirby Lyle and his new EP release entitled “Down In Nashville – Songs From The Rounds”, which sees Lyle perform six acoustic tracks that displays both his talents on an array of string instruments including guitar, banjo, and ukulele, along with his strong vocal delivery. The songs draw comparison with the sixties folk and country movement, sparse in arrangement allowing the focus to fall squarely on the melody and lyrical narrative of which the track ‘Go Away’, is particularly strong, while the intensity in the storytelling and vocal harmonies makes ‘Go Get Help’, another highlight.

“Wandering The Pine” is the new EP from ellescriv who first came to attention back in 2010 with her debut album “Be The Change”, which was released under the name of Lorissa Scriven. Hailing from British Columbia, ellescriv belongs to the Saulteau Nations and delivers a distinct brand of earthy folk music, rooted in the deep river valleys of her homeland. Citing not only bluegrass legends Gillian Welch and Allison Krauss amongst her influences but also the indie pop of Serena Ryder and Feist, ellescriv’s music inhabits its own musical soundscape which intuitively straddles the genres, while her ethereal lyricism weaves an enchanting narrative within these five songs of love, mystery and wild spaces. The infectious guitar-driven ‘Too Lazy’, stands out, while the atmospheric piano-led “Eye Yi Yi’, is another strong example of an artist with a fresh sound as well as a fresh name.

The Old Beef Stringband are an acoustic old-time music trio who have just released their debut EP “Ride Home”. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the band are made up of Ellen Kearney on vocals, guitar, mandolin, Amy Lounder fiddle, vocals, and Dane George mandolin, banjo, vocals and together deliver a wonderful blend of bluegrass, old-time country blues and Appalachian mountain music. Each of these five tracks are winners from the opening title track, a folk tune with a beautifully poetic narrative that highlights both Kearney’s exquisite vocals and Louder’s fiddle playing, right through to the epic closing number ‘The Love You Give’, a bluegrass song that demonstrates both the quality of musicianship and songwriting. Elsewhere the instrumental ‘Cynthia’, is an infectious listen, while their cover version of Asa Martin’s ‘Hot Sausage Mama’ delivers with lashings of swagger and scintillation mandolin playing. This is indeed music of the highest order.

Next we have Molly Stevens and her new EP “A Drive Out To The Lake”, produced by Mary Bragg (Indigo Girls & Watson Twins) and recorded at the home of Grammy-nominated musician, producer, Jon Estes. The four tracks here open with ‘Bring It To Me’ (ft’ backing vocals from Shelly Fairchild), which has a soulful southern rock groove befitting of someone who grew up in Macon, the base for the legendary Allman Brothers Band, with plenty of slide guitar to emphasis the point. Elsewhere, the remaining three tracks take on a more atmospheric ambience, still with a plethora of acoustic and electric guitars, but with a more reflective narrative and wistful delivery of which ‘Twin Flame’ (ft Johnny Gates), is the most impressive.

East Of Reno is a strange name, though geographically correct, for a band based between Sheffield and Brighton, that have just released their debut eponymous EP, though to be honest with eight tracks, coming in at approximately thirty minutes it could arguably be described a full-blown album. This four piece were formed early this year out of the ashes of numerous other bands and offer a high energetic form of americana music with a strong leaning towards indie rock all delivered with a strong British accent. Opening track ‘Brothers’, is full of redemptive power, guitars and piano all operating in overdrive against a narrative that champions the strength in community. Third track ‘My Dad (Had No Middle Name)’, dares to question a post-Brexit future, while personal favourite ‘Break The Pattern’, slows the pace down with a reflective look at chances missed, complete with an exquisite guitar solo. In truth this EP should have been promoted as an album as its eight tracks accommodate enough musical diversity and depth to warrant a more in-depth review than is available within this Monthly EP Round-Up.

And finally we have some high-octane bluegrass music from The Yonder Mountain String Band and their new five-track EP “I’d Like Off”, that was actually written and recorded over a decade ago, and one of the last studio projects to feature the band’s original line up that included the late Jeff Austin. The songs here offer a unique glimpse into a crucial chapter in the band’s extensive twenty-five year history, and though they have been performed regularly during live shows these studio recordings add a little polish, helping to illuminate these overlooked gems. Each track here captures the expressive energy of this progressive bluegrass outfit full of top-level musicianship, just listen to the playing on ‘What The Night Brings’ and ‘Don’t Lean On Me’, while the lyrical spectrum offers both levity, as on ‘Pockets’, to the more serious topic of mental health as found on the glorious and reflective title track, all delivered with copious amounts of respect and compassion. Following on the heels of their Grammy nominated album “Get Yourself Outside”(2022), “I’d Like Off”, pays homage to the band’s past while still optimistically looking to the future.

 

About Graeme Tait 130 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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