FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: IT’S JUST NOT CRICKET
OK, you will be pleased to know you have escaped two tedious paragraphs about stumping-gate as the preamble to this week’s music selection. All I learned is that it has nothing to do with stomping gait or a deviation from the normal way of walking related to the posterior column. Mind you Mr Bairstow would not have chosen to walk this way after being cheekily caught out by that dastardly Aussie wicketkeeper. [That’s already one tedious paragraph and a very boring stock shot too – Ed]
OK then, first to the crease today is a name familiar to readers of this column, Frankie Morrow. The name might intimate a solo act but Maria McMillan aka Frankie leads a five-piece band which has charmed us over the past 12 months with a series of reflective, delicately poised songs leading to the release of an EP in October, the vibrantly titled Blue Parrot Backpackers Hostel. The band has just returned from playing three sets to appreciative audiences at its first Glastonbury Festival. I had some great reports from friends who caught them who described a more boisterous live show than the earlier recordings might suggest.
Frankie Morrow has been busy recording a follow-up EP, due for release in September which will see the band lean further in the direction alternative rock and pop. This is signposted by the latest single, “Crave!”, which as a testimony of love is kindled with the fire of desire. The song takes Frankie Morrow into more of an alt-rock space as the frontwoman swops her battered acoustic for a white Stratocaster. She hints that her writing has perhaps subconsciously taken a darker or heavier turn with the stage show in mind. “Crave!” blends a rock steady beat with guitar shards, keyboard flourishes and a soulful, yearning lead vocal topped with spirited harmonies. Roll on September.
Our second act, Guildford’s The Lunar Keys, is also a frequent bedfellow in this column. I first happened upon the four-piece via the 2020 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition when the band was one of my three acts chosen to progress to the longlist. Since then, The Lunar Keys has treated us to a succession of individually strong alt-rock songs, carefully spaced at intervals. Each one has added a dimension to the band’s live offering and it has now built a stirring repertoire that should really grace more and bigger stages than it has hitherto.
The Lunar Keys get some great support from radio in particular and its latest single, “88 Train”, should ease into the footsteps of its predecessors and score plenty of plays to add to the 475,000 views and streams its songs have received to date. It takes you on a trip through, in the band’s words, “the fleeting nature of time, fuelled by a desire for connection and a search for meaning.” Powered by classic Lunar Keys passion and drive with vocalist and bass player JC in fine attacking form aided by some energised harmonies and forceful instrumentation, “88 Train” hits the rails hard yet with space to pause for reflection. Step about for an emotive ride. “88 Train” is out today and you can find it on all the usual platforms including Spotify here.
Photo of Erin K by Edson Smitter
Next, a new name to Fifty3 Fridays though not to the wider music scene as she has been releasing music since 2011. Texas native and London resident Erin Kleh trades as Erin K as a solo artiste and previously worked with Dutch singer-guitarist Tash ter Braak in the acoustic duo Erin K and Tash, known for its sweet-sounding songs frequently with surprisingly acid lyrics. Following solo album releases in 2017 and 2019, Erin K is back with a new long player, Sink to Swim, which blends her signature, playful antifolk style with an exploration of darker themes in songs like “Breathe” and “Keep Her”.
Erin describes a theme running through most of the songs as one which touches on “dreaming or hoping for some place better”, “about making changes and taking risks”. The album’s title track, “Sink to Swim”, is immediately beguiling with its chiming guitar figures which introduce Erin’s softly resonant and conversational vocal. The subtle wordplay in its title puts a neat spin on risk taking and I love the way the song takes you from her childhood to playing on stage, raking over memories with grace and insight. Her soft transatlantic buffed vocal is of the kind that really draws you into her world.
Our next act is something of a reinvention, though complementary than a replacement. I came across Dutch singer-songwriter Maaike Siegerist through the good offices of Tom Robinson’s Fresh on the Net last year and am delighted to remake the acquaintance now via her sister project, Dora Lachaise & Jonni Slater. Using the name Dora Lachaise which honours the surrealist photographer Dora Maar and Paris’ famous necropolis, Père Lachaise, she has partnered with singer, songwriter and musician Jonni Slater, both based in Glasgow. Her moniker captures two traits in her music – musical exploration with a feminist twist and a fascination with the macabre.
The duo has come together to create a 5-track debut EP uniting Jonni’s penchant for film noir and Cold War novels with Dora’s fascination with UFO conspiracy theories and Nick Cave’s ominous murder ballads. Lead single, “Braver Than You”, is the first song that the pair wrote together. The ensuing duet is potentially a love story, though it does not end well. It is played out across a changing landscape; two wandering souls that reach out but ultimately can’t seem to connect. Musically it connects just fine, however. Trading verses, harmonising and coming together sometimes in unison, their voices blend beautifully over finger-picked guitar, pulsing bass and soft drums. An absorbing debut.
The Kut, the aegis of the inventive rock singer-guitarist Princess Maha working with a collective of female musicians is back with a new song, hot for the summer season. Having scored a No 1 in the UK Rock Charts last summer with her second album Grit, The Kut found time to follow up with a World Cup inspired tune, “Fun When You’re Winning” and is now taking inspiration from sun and surf with her new single, “Runaways”, which is another cut from the rich seam found on Grit.
Featuring Maha on guitar, bass and lead vocals, joined by Ali on backing vocals & Diana Bartmann on drums and harmonies, “Runaways” is built on a strong bass line and supported by punchy guitar and energetic drums. Maha’s pop-punk vocal is delivered with customary panache as she gets set to run away for the summer, hitting the road and never looking back. I was delighted to see that “Runaways” made Fresh on the Net’s Fresh Faves this week and reviewer Louise Toal nicely summed up The Kut as “a sure powerhouse and brilliant ambassador for women in music.”
After years of this part of South-west London being something of a live music desert, us Kingston upon Thames residents are fortunate to have Banquet Records on our doorstep offering both a great independent record store along with regular promotion of live gigs at the ageing Pryzm night club and our local church, St John’s among others. Last night we were blessed to have Birdy at St John’s. Something of a prodigy having won music competition Open Mic UK in 2008 when just 12, Birdy has known great success with 4 albums to her credit and a fifth, Portraits, due out in August.
Last night she performed solo with voice and keyboard together with a box of tricks to create some clever semi-operatic self-harmonies. No photos were allowed so the one above is taken from her Twitter. Her nine-song set previewed six songs from the new album together with fan favourites: her breakout song the Bon Iver cover “Skinny Love”, her 2013 hit “Wings” and the Cherry Ghost cover “People Help the People”. Here is the song Birdy opened with – “Raincatchers”. I missed the staccato strings which gives the recorded version a Kate Bush feel, with slight shades of “Cloudbusting” though there is something of the 70s icon in her diction too.
JUNE 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 June’s Fifty3 Fridays assuming they are to be found on Spotify, of course. It was a thinner month as my holiday got in the way but you still get 19 songs. We open with “Pathetic” (it’s not) by rising songstress Francesca Guerra. This is a worthy substitute for the song I actually featured, “Seasons”, which exists as a demo only right now. We reach an uplifting conclusion with “Glory” by Glastonbury success story Gabriels. Follow me on Spotify at TonyHardy53 for over three years’ worth of monthly playlists!