Little Sparta “Lost Boat Party EP” (Grey Gallery Records, 2020)

British alt-folk trio Little Sparta have reunited with Sally Timms, the Chicago-based singer from post-punk outfit The Mekons, for this four-track EP. The first time they collaborated was on the ‘Best Intentions’ single, in 2008, although Susie Honeyman, violinist in Little Sparta, is also a long-serving member of The Mekons. The new record has a troubled background – prior to it being made, Little Sparta’s guitarist and vocalist, Alan Boyd, had been in and out of hospital with a debilitating ear condition and then, to make matters worse, he suffered a heart attack. While he was recovering, he started writing songs, which eventually ended up as the ‘Lost Boat Party’ EP.

Timms popped into Boyd’s London studio during a UK date to lay down her vocals – Honeyman was on tour with The Mekons and Little Sparta drummer, Scott Skinner, was away travelling. Talking about the making of the record, Boyd says: “It was a bit more tricky than our previous recordings, but it was all worth it.”

It certainly was – these stripped-down songs are wonderful. ‘Two Shores’ is an atmospheric, sea shanty-like waltz with gorgeous, haunting vocals from Timms –  “I was lost between two shores, when I saw your hand reaching to me” – and some stunning violin playing from Honeyman, which conjures up images of a boat set adrift on a stormy ocean.

‘Gun’, with the arresting opening line, “And you got yourself a gun – you’ve got nowhere to run,” is a plaintive folk song.  Once again, Honeyman’s violin really lifts the track, giving it an almost eerie quality, which is heightened when Timms sings: “You’re an angel, but with dead eyes.”

‘Dusty Plain’ is a dramatic, moody and mysterious tale, with dark strings, spooky backing vocals and a Southern Gothic feel – à la Nick Cave. Timms is wandering, lost on a dusty plain: “… couldn’t remember who I was, couldn’t remember my name. Then you found meyou said, ‘let’s get you home.’”

Final song, the emotional country and western ballad ‘Forget Me Not’, deals with those age-old themes of loneliness and isolation: “I’m here in this room, thinking of you.” It’s as if the ghost of Hank Williams has come back to write about the effects of lockdown. If you’re lonesome, it’ll make you cry.

Haunting and atmospheric folk with mournful violin and a side helping of country
8/10

Author: Sean Hannam

Freelance journalist, editor and presenter. Digs retro specs,The Smiths,Dylan,Cash,Richard Hawley, Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood, country / Americana and '50s/'60s pop.

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