FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: IS THIS THE REAL LIFE
One of the pleasures of writing this column is that scarcely a week goes by when I am not entranced by an artiste or two entirely new to me. Once more I have the good offices of Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post to thank for highlighting a prodigious young talent, Cathy Jain. She has led a cosmopolitan life to date; born in Salford, brought up in China, then spending a year in Australia before moving back here three years ago. At the age of just 16 the college student has already clocked single no. 3, “Green Screen”, and what a gem it is too. Putting a modern spin on the age-old appearance versus reality theme, she noted: “It is about what it’s like trying to find genuine feelings when we spend so much of our lives in a virtual world. It’s an odd feeling that I’ve felt myself so I developed it and wrote about getting lost in what’s real and what isn’t, and I thought the green screen was a perfect metaphor for this.”
The melodic progressions in “Green Screen” are beautifully realised and topped by Cathy Jain’s honeyed multi-layered vocals. It’s a combination that doesn’t give rise to easy comparisons though there is something in her delivery and in the mood of the song that puts me in mind of Stephanie Dosen; especially thinking back to her Snowbird collaboration with Simon Raymonde, which resulted in the exceptional 2014 album, Moon.
Many of Cathy Jain’s songs take their cue from how young people present themselves to others; how on the one hand they can feel really strong and confident yet at the same time suffer from insecurity and inexperience that can make you feel alone. Her musical partner is the multimedia artiste and producer Heron @ Cracked Analogue who is currently based in Goa and so has worked with Jain remotely through the pandemic. The pair has another song ready to go and a couple more in the pipeline while Jain herself has more than a dozen other songs either recorded acoustically or worked on with producers in far flung places from Canada to Guildford!
Equally dazzling this week came forth Bobby West with the outstanding “All My Years”. He grew up in the suburb of Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, and made his first foray into music when forming the band Broken Men, who had some success touring England and Russia, and later Europe, supporting Echo and The Bunnymen. Hearing the opening verse, I was beguiled into initially thinking this must be a new Richard Hawley song. Certainly, West shares much common ground with the Sheffield son in terms of his immensely rich baritone voice and choice of atmospheric instrumentation as guitars shimmer and piano resonates. As the song develops though West’s voice takes on its own personality and gains such power that you are easily convinced that the man has the blues as he plots a dark-edged tale.
“All My Years” began life when West’s writing partner showed him a rough demo of some Hammond organ chords with a glockenspiel melody on top. “My initial thoughts were that it sounded like a lullaby, and that it would fit with a poem I had recently written for my girlfriend (apologising to her for being a miserable git!)” West explains. “It was one of the earliest ideas we actualised in this project, so it has been central to creating the sound of everything else we’ve done since.” On the strength of this finely crafted song, we look forward to more glimpses of his authentic world.
Out today too is “Fire Away”, the new single from British-Spanish indie pop songstress Nadia Sheikh. She describes it as “my love song to the crowd”, a heartening sentiment in these Covid no-crowd times. She hopes the song will represent “an explosion of joy that makes you want to throw your hands up in the air.” Opening with Coldplay-Snow Patrol hybrid staccato chords, it does indeed come across as a true crowd pleaser to be sung loud and proud, backed by a rock-solid guitar-bass-drums band. The arena-ready rises and falls echo the highs and lows of the artistic life; the on-stage adrenalin rush that calms the fears that come while waiting in the wings.
2020 has been a somewhat elongated rollercoaster for Sheikh. It opened with her and her band playing a string of shows across the UK and Europe before the March lockdown as support for Stereophonics, including those now controversial final two tour dates in Cardiff. She also released her eclectic EP Everybody Hears But No One’s Listening in February. After winning plaudits for her live shows and the EP, it is good to see Nadia Sheikh return with a strong conclusion to a tempestuous year.
There must be something about song intros today as the opening bars of “Consider The Speed”, the title track from Terra Lightfoot’s fourth studio album released last month seemed right out of the school of ZZ Top. This notion was quickly dispelled by a look at the lady in a polka dot dress on a purple bicycle in the accompanying video. Appearances though being reliably deceptive, the Canadian roots-rocker is a mean guitar player in her own right and a lazy comparison with the Texan trio ends with the chin growth on Lightfoot’s bass player’s face.
A trip to Nashville provided the songwriting inspiration for the new album after the burn-out effect of two years of hectic touring. The album was subsequently recorded in Memphis, Tennessee at the famous Royal Studios, along with a seasoned session trio comprising bassist Davy Smith, drummer Steve Potts and veteran keyboard player Lester Snell. No relation to Canadian singer-songwriter legend, Gordon Lightfoot, Terra has stamped her own piece of firma with a winning blend of rock, soul and blues. The title track gives you a small taster but the whole album offers up a much more varied bag of tender soulful ballads and grittier rock n’ blues.
Finally, it’s not that long till Christmas and you could do worse than invest in a physical or digital stocking filler from two acts who appeared in this column not that long ago. London-based singer-songwriter, Laura Fell, has released her highly individual debut album, Safe from Me. Out now on streaming platforms and digitally via Bandcamp, you’ll have to wait till January to get it on vinyl. Matching familiarity with experimentation musically as she lyrically battles internal questioning, the record is intriguing yet ultimately satisfying. In “Cold”, taken from the album, she holds an unnerving mirror to her flaws and asks not to be judged for them.
The much-awaited EP from Tynesider John Edgar aka The Dawdler, Sign of Growth, has also seen the light of day. It’s a compelling work, dealing with often dark, depressive themes yet elevating them with amazing beauty and hope. This is a record to both lose and find yourself in and I highly recommend you take a little time to do both. Here is the gorgeously tender title track inspired by the short film Dear Araucaria, relating the story of The Guardian’s crossword setter John Graham, who told his dedicated yet unknown followers of his impending death in the form of crossword clues; one being ‘sign of growth (6)’.