FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: A CORNISH TALE OR TWO
The daughter of a Sudanese astrophysicist and a Scottish diplomat, Eliza Shaddad, has a cosmopolitan background having honed her language skills across no less than seven different countries. She studied Jazz at London’s Guildhall before self-producing her first EP in 2012 and went on to add a further two EPs and an album. Now the record collection is set to grow with a new album, The Woman You Want, recorded at home in Cornwall with her producer husband B J Jackson, and due out on 16 July. The long player has been previewed via a series of singles including this one, the bright, forward looking “Heaven”, each accompanied by a charming video.
Photo of Eliza Shaddad by Flore Diamant
“Heaven” sees her juggle the fluidity of a Laura Marling with the strident positivity of a Sheryl Crow. There is something of both artistes in the song’s style and construction but Eliza Shaddad rises above any lazy comparisons by instilling her song with warmth and a passion which grows ever stronger as it progresses, underwritten by her characterful vocal. The guitar-rooted instrumentation is rich and fulsome while lyrically the mantra is defiantly optimistic: “I want you to keep holding on”. The album is equally absorbing, opening with the brief, gentle strains of “The Man I Admire”; a song which skilfully uses a dream scenario to juxtapose a desire for protection with the need for self-reliance. All in all, this is a self-improvement album of the noblest kind.
Two close friends from Oxford/London with a mutual love of psychedelic guitar pop and orchestral instrumentation, Joe Doris and James Bowden trade as Palace Cats. The duo chose the name to reflect the ‘languid vibe of the music and it looked good written down!’ Like many of their contemporaries, the pair has chosen the route of releasing a steady stream of singles to showcase its particular brand of psych-pop balladry. The latest one comes with the seemingly throwaway title of “Chuck Me In The River” but let’s not put a dampener on that.
The song was written and recorded over the course of a single day. Its abstract lyrics mirror the relaxed mood set by the duo’s 80’s sweetened synth, keys and guitar interplay. There’s a touch of Oasis about the odd chord change and vocal intonation but an overriding lightness to proceedings. Whether the protagonist really seeks a watery grave or death by treacle is open to question but I rather think the imagery is there for self-interpretation. So, let’s not break into discussion groups quite yet but rather enjoy the gentle route that Palace Cats tread.
Anyone that knows me knows I love a musical maverick. One such individual who just might be en route to genius is Leeds-based one-man band Mike Carroll, aka Greengates Water Solutions. Now there’s a title that immediately begs the question why the band name? Eliciting a coherent response from the man himself is tricky but it may involve a supermarket, people and being poor. Or not. I rather think that he just loved the absurdity of the name and that people might search for it on Checkatrade. Nevertheless, he will provide a soundtrack to a plumbing disaster but is absolutely unqualified to fix it. He did build his own studio breeze block by breeze block though.
GWS recently released an excellent album entitled 4415, his clock-in number when he worked for Sainsbury's at, yes, Greengates in Bradford. You’ll find it on Spotify and Bandcamp. The song that particularly caught my ear was “Tibs”, written for his girlfriend Emma. If the opening lines have you reaching for your online writing assistant, Grammarly, don’t panic. He is quoting ‘her barely tangible texts’ though the sentiments behind the song are wholly affectionate. From its Imogen Heap-inspired grand opening cut short by a crashing guitar chord to its slacker meanderings, unexpected breakdowns and euphoric cries of ‘Thanks, babe’, “Tibs” is an absolute ride.
While the first three acts featured this week are new to this column, I have no hesitation in reintroducing you to the delights of singer-songwriter, Emma Denney, known simply as Denney and never to be confused with the Leeds DJ with the same name and about 100 more tunes on SoundCloud. I first wrote about Denney a year ago when she released her eloquent tale of a friend’s break up, “That’s a Start” and have covered each of her subsequent singles. Every song is blessed with an outstanding melody and hallmarked by her highly individual vocal inflections and little die-away notes; her latest release “Chemicals” maintains the extremely high bar she has set herself.
“Chemicals” is all about the writer’s 'internal wiring' being awry and references a time in her past when she sensed a flaw in how she dealt with relationships ‘just because of the way you are.’ It is often hard to revisit parts of your life that were not working. The debate about whether a sad song requires a downbeat treatment is an enduring one but Denney affirms here that a gentler, lighter arrangement can underline the way you make the best of things when they really aren’t that good. I especially love the music box and mechanical sound effects while the song has a really strong chorus and lovely layered vocals.
Photo of Sarah McQuaid by Mawgan Lewis
Now we head back to Cornwall to feature an artiste I have been meaning to write about for some time. Madrid-born to a Spanish father and an American mother, raised in Chicago and now living in England, Sarah McQuaid adds further symmetry to today’s issue, remembering the international background and current residence of our opening act, Eliza Shaddad. While her debut solo album, When Two Lovers Meet, dates back to 1997 she re-released it a decade later and launched her solo career proper. Four further albums followed up to 2018 over which time she carved an enviable critical and fan-supported niche in folk and roots music. After Covid cut short her spring 2020 tour, McQuaid turned to her home village of St Buryan and its fine medieval church for inspiration.
The project became the St Buryan Sessions, a full-length concert filmed live without an audience in the acoustically blessed church building. With a single and video of the series shared each month since January, the venture will culminate in a full album, with accompanying film, due for release in October. Each song is something of a pearl but my favourite so far is probably “Charlie’s Gone Home”, one of the first she wrote and recorded on that 1997 debut. There’s a tiny hint of country legend Glen Campbell in the song’s phrasing and homespun sentiments. It has a really emotive aura around it and a timelessness that is associated with the very best songwriting, while McQuaid’s inspiring vocal embraces a troubadour skill for storytelling; classic and compelling.
TRUST THE DOC: THE HEINZ ISSUE
I never cease to be amazed by the coverage given to largely independent music of all hues by the redoubtable Neil March aka Trust the Doc. Among his diverse weaponry (thank you Michael Palin), Neil publishes a monthly blog which is always an entertaining and informed read with music links aplenty and much that ends in ewes: news, views, reviews and overviews! You’ll find the latest edition (#57 no less) HERE. Don’t miss it.
You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month. It features all the songs from that month’s Fifty3 Fridays. The June Playlist is shorter than usual as there were only two Fifty3 Fridays in June as we dusted off two classic albums instead over the remaining two weeks. Mind you the last four tracks of the 16 – taken from those milestone albums – run to 48 minutes! The Playlist is now live.