FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: DOING FEWER THINGS BETTER
In relation to their marketing activity, in days past I used to advise clients to do fewer things better. It is though something that I have singularly failed to do myself throughout my life and the death of a family member or close friend is as salutary a reminder as you can get that we have a limited time on this earth and we should not put off what we can do today, as we may never get around to it. Sometimes the most important things get lost in the maze of To Do lists.
Last week I lost my sister to cancer, the extent of which she had kept hidden from her family and friends until it became more apparent physically in its later stages. Ever bright and optimistic, her maxim meanwhile was “I may feel better tomorrow.” Sadly, it was not to be. After a short hiatus I am returning to this weekly column. I have no idea if my sister ever got around to reading it. Mild prompts were never really answered. Whatever, this one is for you, Vera. Rest in peace, love.
Photo of Nadia Sheikh by Javier Nomdedeu @ La Real Fabrica (Alcora)
I turn first to a young lady with the world in front of her and every chance of a making a major breakthrough in 2023. Nadia Sheikh has featured regularly on this site since I first encountered her over two years ago via her anthemic single “Fire Away”. After supporting Stereophonics on tour in the UK and Europe including those now infamous arena shows in Cardiff before everything shut down in March 2020, the British-Spanish artiste successfully navigated the pandemic to return with an exceptional EP, Undefined, in November 2021. Its follow-up is now in the pipeline with the launch of a new six-track EP expected in the autumn.
Nadia has now shared the first single from the highly anticipated EP. Scarcely pausing after a single opening chord, “The Shadows” sees her raking over two counteracting emotions: those of being unable to go on as you are while feeling powerless to put an end to things. Resolution may come with the rhetorical declaration: “But what if I’m just better off alone?” “The Shadows” encapsulates Nadia’s ability to mix raw emotion with a softer lyricism while toughening the edges to the choruses and bridge to create genuine dynamics. The final arpeggios add a note of mystery in keeping with the song’s theme and mood. Vintage le Carré too!
A band that seems to echo Nadia Sheikh’s own musical resilience and belief is Southend-on-Sea’s The Trusted. Like Nadia, the band has had my attention since I first heard its arresting single “Criminals” two years ago. Since then, I have always been pleased to devote column inches here to successive tracks by The Trusted and the four-piece has compiled the bones of what should make a sparkling debut album one day. The Trusted’s latest song builds on its undeniable knack of creating memorable tunes allied to impassioned lyrics.
No blood is spilt in “Terrible Fight” but rather the battle is all in the mind. Lead singer, Tom Cunningham explained that it is a song about being beaten up in a figurative sense. “Part of growing up is realising that ‘life’ is basically an emotional/psychological boxing ring. Whether it is heartbreak, politics or loss, it kind of feels like we are all being hit from all sides” he adds. To counter these heavy punches, our ability to resist and move forward is key. From its clever synth loop opening to the crisp drums, elastic bass and overdriven guitar, “Terrible Fight” shows just how well the band operates as a unit, aided of course by Tom’s strong vocals. Together the boys construct a sound that fully deserves its space in many a festival field this summer.
Now for a band making just its second Fifty3 Fridays appearance. Leeds-based Backspace came to my attention when its punchy single, “Hold”, was chosen for Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post in October. Like The Trusted, Backspace started out as schoolfriends but had to tweak its personnel after drummer Harry Turner left for University and his brother/guitarist Alex took over the stool with Izzy Turner (no relation) joining on rhythm guitar. Lead vocalist Rosie Weston, lead guitarist Harry Adams and bassist Miles Addie complete the line-up.
Hardly paraskevidekatriaphobic, Backspace has released a new single on Friday 13th January entitled “Lottery of Life”. The latest track is immediately innovative as the verses are cleverly set in 9/4 time while the choruses revert to a standard 4/4 beat. The sudden halt three minutes in followed by a spirited instrumental break provides a further unexpected twist. Its theme is unusual too, charting the fallout from gambling addiction and its impact on a relationship. Singer Rosie points out that it isn’t written from any personal experience but rather acts as a metaphor for the random things life throws at you and how people can lose their way; which is one thing that Backspace musically can’t be accused of.
We head across the Atlantic for our final two acts this week. Firstly, to Nashville, Tennessee where Folk-Pop singer-songwriter Alicia Blue relocated from her native Los Angeles to work alongside songwriter and producer Lincoln Parish (ex-Cage The Elephant). The collaboration resulted in an EP, Inner Child Work, which displayed a wider sonic palette than her new location might have inferred. I particularly loved Alicia’s imaginative reworking of “Jane Says”, an iconic song made famous by 80’s LA rockers, Jane’s Addiction, about a drug-addicted woman in an abusive relationship who gave her name to the band, which she released last autumn.
Alicia Blue has a follow-up EP out next Friday Inner Child Work Part 2 from which the song above, “I Want It Faster”, is taken. Co-written with fellow Nashville-based singer-songwriter Lera Lynn, the song rocks a good deal more than her earlier work and the combination of Alicia’s dulcet vocal tone allied to a harder-edged guitar riff is especially effective. Lyrically it pulls no punches as she battles the critical voices in her head juggling the pressure to act now whether it’s the right time or not. It’s all over rather sooner than you might wish but, then again, it’s not long till 20 January when you can get the full ICW Part 2.
Photo of Dust Bowl Faeries by Stephen Spera
Finally, here’s a new name to me and a rather good one at that. Dust Bowl Faeries hail from Hudson Valley, NY and like Spice Girls all have cute stage names, though there the comparison ends! The five-piece comprises Ryder Cooley (Faerie Queen; accordion, singing saw, lead vocals), Jon B. Woodin (Rocket Faerie; guitar, vocals), Rubi LaRue (Feisty Faerie; lapsteel, vocals), Liz LoGiudice (River Faerie; bass, vocals) and Andrew Stein (Time Faerie; percussion). The band’s music is a theatrical, gothic mix of folk, rock, punk, dark cabaret and Vaudeville. You could equally throw in polka and klezmer to that mix too.
"The Changeling" is a great introduction to the music of Dust Bowl Faeries. It’s from the band’s forthcoming 6-track EP Carnival Dust, which comes out on 24 January. “Carnival Dust is a sonic re-creation of an empty cabaret covered in dust, closed and forgotten but still alive in people’s memories” as bandleader Ryder Cooley succinctly yet evocatively puts it. “The Changeling” perfectly conjures up this old-time, quasi mystical realm as it skirts through different moods, as melodic as it is mysterious. The titular fairy character appears sad and misplaced but magically disappears to a happier place by the end of the song. An allegory for our times, perhaps?
DECEMBER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
A regular feature of this site is the monthly Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist. The latest one includes all the songs in order from December’s Fifty3 Fridays with the rider that they are listed on Spotify, of course. The December Playlist opens energetically with “Maniac” by Guildford’s finest, The Lunar Keys and signs off seasonally with a flurry of “Snow” from Kate Walsh. Unfortunately, Valentina Way’s “The Advent Calendar” isn’t on Spotify so I have substituted the version by the splendidly named Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, the project of Norfolk-based artiste Charlie Darling who indeed wrote the song.
MORE SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS
Speaking of Advent Calendars, itself clearly topical as we wrestle with Friday the thirteenth of January, you can still access our full playlist of Advent Calendar songs which I dispensed daily via Twitter in the run up to Christmas. And, indeed, here you'll find all the monthly Fifty3 Friday Playlists on Spotify at TonyHardy53 going back to the days of steam radio. Well, not exactly steam…
[That’s enough playlists – Ed].