Northampton’s Amaroun could 2016’s dark horse for album of the year…



What is Alt-Folk? Loosely its folk music that has catchy pop melodies, advanced technically playing and lyrics that run the gambit between social commentary and pathos laden stories. Sometimes other elements from indie/rock are brought in, drum machines, loop/FX pedals and any instrument that complements either the song, or its lyrics. Generally it’s played by young musicians who are mixing their broad influences together.



Amaroun exemplifies the latest batch of UK Alt-Folk musicians. Hailing from Northampton, once a hot bed for folk and the dancing men, her vocals and playing are classic folk, ethereal voice with dextrous guitar work, but her music has more in common with acts like Portishead and Tunng. Programmed beats and loops add texture and help give the song a different context then if it was just voice and guitar.



Bedbugs is Amaroun’s debut single, released March 14th on YOY Records. In the pipeline there will be a series of animated videos that will tell the story of her debut album in a visual and abstract fashion. To celebrate this release Amaroun will be performing at Rye Lane in London on March 18th.



Bedbugs is Amaroun’s debut single, released March 14th on YOY Records










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Lost Christmas gem from folk’s golden girl



Back in the day Melanie Safka was a pretty big deal. She played Woodstock, and during her set the audience lit candles, which she wrote about in the monster of a song Lay Down (Candles in the Rain). She released ten flawless album from 1968 – 1972 and then started her own label. If you are in to your folk music from the 1960’s and 1970’s Melanie is a name you have to check out. What does she have to do with Christmas, I can hear you saying. Well on her debut album Born to Be she recorded and released a song called Merry Christmas.



While you won’t find this song on most Christmas compilation albums, but it is a song that deserves to be revisited again and again. On one hand Merry Christmas isn’t anything that ground breaking, Melanie basically just wishes everyone a merry Christmas and mentions things that she likes about it, but on the other hand, this is forward thinking. At one point Melanie wishes it could be Christmas every day, a full five years before Slade released their ode to the holidays. While Slade’s take on the saying is a pretty accurate description of what Christmas actually feels like, with a bombastic riff behind it, Melanie’s is more poignant, wishing it could be Christmas every day as it means people will be a bit nicer to each other and thus spreading peace and love all over the world.









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Irish folk duo Saint Sister show off not only their haunting vocals on new song



Saint Sister are made up of Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre. Formed in Ireland in 2014 after being frustrated at the limitations of being solo artists, the two team up and created music that stems from the Celtic folk tradition, exquisite harmonies and electric harp, combined with modern glitchy electronica. This fusing of the old and new is exemplified on new track Castles.



The backbone of the song is a story about a normal family and their trials, tribulations, loves and losses. Nothing new here, folk is full of such songs, what sets Castles apart is, through deft composition and production, everything is slowly built up, until the end when everything is played at once, harp intermixes with rhythmic drumming, synth loops, delicate piano all help add to the emotion of Doherty and MacIntyre’s vocals.



Sounding somewhere between Sinead O’Connor and Joan Baez being produced by Digitonal, Doherty and MacIntyre fuse the traditions of great storytelling, exquisitely breath taking vocal clarity and contemporary production to make something that perfect to have on in the background, but when you sit down to listen to it, you find more than you bargained for. Castles, along with recent songs Madrid and Blood Moon make up the Mardid EP, which is released 13th November on Trout Records.









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Folktronica trio push the boat out on second EP this year



Folktronica used to be a dirty word. Purists didn’t like the idea of mixing folk with electronica, but since when were electronica or folk ever pure genres? London trio Wovoka Gentle, consisting of two sisters and a friend, don’t seem to care about mixing genres and ideas as their second self-titled EP merges folk, dream-pop, post-rock, electronica and straight up pop with wild abandon.



Likeness starts the proceedings with ethereal synths, angelic harps and jaunty guitars. Sounding like Tunng, but at double speed, Likeness twists and skews for eight minutes until it segues into Peace is its Own Reward. Following on from the opener, but where Likeness had a ‘simple’ composition, here, they layer vocals on top of each other, to the point of making them indecipherable, like a Dada Poem. There are elements of prog rock here too, especially in the final third.



After two songs over six minutes, Radio Track (Unaired) is more concise and the EP is the better for it. It’s a song that conjures up images of sunsets on river banks, festivals with mates and lazy walks home after large Sunday lunches in pubs, all with a buoyant folky tinge to it. A chugging melodic guitar couples with psychedelic production flourishes, even the laugh in the middle doesn’t detract from its elegance. Light Within is an ambient drone workout. While post-rock/drone guitars flood your ear, whispered vocals lay low in the mix, and give the whole piece the feeling of eavesdropping on something you shouldn’t. You Have Saved Our Lives, We Are Eternally Grateful closes everything with a cacophonous euphoric pop gem. As the song progress the backing music gets more and more intense and intertwining.



What Wovoka Gentle have effectlivley done is create an EP that builds on their original, but also pushes the boundaries of not only what is considered pop/indie/folk, but what they can do composition and production wise. So far they’ve not only got me interested, but slightly obsessed, let’s hope EP III will be even more succinct as these two. Oh I bet the colour is also orange!









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Acoustic troubadour Tom Figgins sets sights on world domination with new single



It seems like every week there is a new singer songwriter being lauded as the next big thing. While the majority of these never live up to the hype as, just like in Highlander, there can only be one, Tom Figgins looks to possess the skills and qualities to make a serious challenge for Mr. Sheeran’s crown.



Firstly his voice has a rootsy grit to it. I’m not saying that he gargles gravey, or anything like that, but there is a quality to his voice that sounds somewhat timeless. Secondly his looks is striking. A long hair and beard combo add to his earthy charm. While his look isn’t as outlandish as members of the Magic Band, it does sent him apart from his clean cut peers, and finally, and possibly the most important, he has the songs. Current single Giants Played in Woods Like These follows the folk tradition of mixing nature with fairy tale creatures, perfected by Pentangle and other classic folkers in the 1960’s and 1970’s.



Again a lost is still to be written about and quite importantly by Figgins’ himself, but so far he is cutting an impressive figure on the periphery of pop thanks to delectable lyrical imagery and a voice that begs to be listened to.









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Nashville trio make London debut with intimate showcase



“Thank you, you’ve been so kind on our debut” diminutive Emily Barker exclaims after their last song, but this is getting ahead of ourselves, let’s track back a bit first. Applewood Road are a country/folk trio from Nashville consisting of Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace. The music they make is honest and has a classic timeless quality to it. When you first hear their music you’re trying to work out if it’s an old Carter Family cover or an original, as it’s that amaranthine.



Their story is as organic as the music they make. In September 2014 Barker and Rubarth were set for a song writing session and went for a coffee before-hand. While chatting they contacted Speace who joined them. The original session never happened, but something else did. They wrote the song Applewood Road that day, and the band was formed. After recording their debut album in Nashville on vintage analogue recording equipment, they signed with London’s finest and analogue magpies, Gearbox Records, who in recent years have released debut albums from Michael Horovitz, Binker & Moses and Kate Tempest.



Ok, let’s jump to the present now. On a wet October evening we find ourselves walking to Tileyard Studios, behind one of London’s busiest transport hubs, because Applewood Road are making their London debut. Not big enough. OK, how about their UK debut? Still not enough, ok I’ll try again. Applewood Road are making their debut appearance outside of Nashville. When we arrive we’re greeted like old friends by Gearbox supremo Darrel Sheinman and Adam Sieff. After a brief catch Applewood Road take up their positions and their set begins.



Opening with the breath-takingly simple lead single, Applewood Road. Within seconds the room is filled with one of the most beautiful and transfixing three part harmonies I’ve ever heard. Time stops, the outside world blurs into insignificance and all everyone in the room is focusing on, and only thinking about are these three girls and their siren-esque vocals. After the song finished there is a brief pause, as everyone picks their jaws off the floor, before a barrage of applause. The girls slightly blush, say thank you, then jump straight into the next number To the Stars. This is another captivating number. Instead of just three part harmonies and an acoustic guitar, their throw a banjo into the mix. The banjo gives the song jaunty bootleggers party feel and if the setting was less formal, people would have been jigging. Old Country Song was up next the lyric “Sounds so sweet until it’s gone, like an old country song, playing on the jukebox” sums it up the song and the band perfectly.





As the set progressed so did their confidence, which added to the performance. For I’m Not Afraid, which was the first time it had been played live, they moved to a piano. Giving the intimate setting of the venue, and song took on a family gathering vibe, when people used to crowd around the old piano everyone either sung or played ‘their song’. Up until this point all the songs have only featured the girls and predominately guitars, but on Honey Won’t You, Sheinman joined them on a snare drum. Before they launched into it Barker said how during the session Sheinman had joined them on snare, but he had to play with paint brushes, as they didn’t have anything other than standard drum stick. It was one of the stand out songs in the set. Sheinman’s drumming had a hint of Orange Blossom Special to it. After Honey Won’t You, they closed the set with Lovin’ Eyes. Another absorbing exercise in harmony and guitars. After they finished the limited crown erupted in applause and whistles. Applewood Road blushed, again, said thank you and left the performance area.



What made Applewood Road so mesmerising is their simplicity. One acoustic guitar, or banjo and three part harmonies. That’s it. There is nowhere to hide in a dynamic like that. Either you can do it, or you can’t and Applewood Road can! The clarity of their voices is beyond belief. Their songs are starkly honest. Themes of love, rejection and redemption pepper their music, which plays into the original country/folk ethos. This is a small band with a bright future, let’s just hope that they don’t move too far away from their roots on Applewood Road.



Their debut album is released through Gearbox Records in February 2016









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West London’s finest release live album ahead of their debut next year



Live albums are generally flawed. While trying to recreate the live show experience bands come across stagnant, listless and stationary. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, Tom Waits-Nighthawks at the Diner, 65daysofstatic-Escape from New York, Motörhead-No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith and the Jimi Hendrix-Experience Soundtrack all manage to recreate the power and passion of their live sets in the comfort of your home or headphones. Bootleg albums on the other hand, are another matter entirely. Historically bootlegs were illicit recordings made at gigs covertly. Generally the lo-fi recordings contained audio spill from the audience, not just cheering, but snippets of conversation. However these recordings were dynamic, energetic and powerful. They showed people what they were missing out on.



For their first long player West London’s Du Bellows have released an ‘official’ bootleg titled Transient Electric Volume 1. As with all classic bootlegs, Transient Electric Volume 1 contains the passion and intensity of a Du Bellows live show, but with all the audience participation that goes along with it. Following Silurian Woman, Jack and His Queen continues things in fine form. After a deep bassline courtesy of Rich Leeds, TJ Shipton’s guitar does battle with Jade Williams’ vaporous vocals. Both wrap us in comforting blanket as her tale of love penetrates our psyche all the while underpinned by Dave Watkinson’s clean and effortless drumming. Live favourite Spin, with its sinuous guitar and epic chorus showcasing not only the tightness of the rhythm section, but the power and quality of Williams’ vocals, which the audience clearly approves of.



The real stars of the show however are Dry Flowers, Silurian Woman and Luminaire. Dry Flowers follows a classic British folk tradition, musically, but it’s the lyrics that really show that Du Bellows are made of. Dry Flowers is dripping in longing, regret and ultimately redemption, again in a folk timeless tradition. Silurian Woman follows this lyrical theme, but musically it’s more contemporary. The final minute is possibly where we hear Du Bellows at their best. Locked in the groove and firing on all cylinders. Like the “Judas” shout at Bob Dylan’s Manchester Free Trade Hall gig, the cheer of “Alright!” before they launch into the final salvo sums up how we feel. This is the power of a bootleg. If Dry Flowers and Silurian Woman hint at Du Bellows past, then Luminaire shows their future. Heavier and far more rhythmic than anything they’ve committed to tape before, it essentially smoulders with passion and intent. If this is the quality of their new songs, please sir can I have another!



There are downsides to Transient Electric Volume 1 though. Live favourite Isa Du Bellow’s omission from the album is glairing. While we all totally understand that if you play the same song every night it’ll get boring, but not including it on Transient Electric Volume 1, feels like a missed trick. Having said that, if this is the first in a series of bootlegs let’s hope it gets included in a future volume. Having said that Transient Electric Volume 1 is a great snapshot of a band, finding their form and delivering night after night of exquisite life performances, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters!



Transient Electric Volume 1 is available to download from the link below








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