FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: PARTY LIKE IT’S 2018
How the years do roll on. I think back to 2018, the first year I properly attempted a ‘Best of…’ Spotify playlist as opposed to a conventional year-end Mixtape. The former suffered from me not knowing quite when to stop adding tracks. The latter offered the built-in discipline of limiting the number of songs you could include to, say, 18, before the disc was full. That meant tough choices but more chance of keeping the listener onboard. I had long since abandoned the medium of cassette tapes, although in recent years they have made a limited if rather quirky comeback.
Anyhow, along with Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s “Asking for a Friend” from its exceptional album, Wapentak, probably my favourite song of 2018 was “Seventeen” by Sarah Beth Tomberlin, taken from her sparkling debut album, At Weddings; itself something of a masterpiece from one then aged just 23. "Seventeen" speaks of the unrealised love that is an all too common experience in formative years. It balances delicacy with depth and insight: “Love is mostly war / And war, what is it for?” It’s a great expression of the feelings of finding your way in the world that we can all relate to from our own youth.
I had the pleasure of seeing Tomberlin live at London’s Lexington last spring and found her songs as stunning and immersive as they are on record. She has returned this month with a five-track EP, Projections, which mirrors the promise of her opening gambit. The Louisville, Kentucky singer-songwriter has now relocated to LA but while her songs reflect a more worldly growth and self-discovery they retain something of the charm of an innocent at large. The intimate moments are still there in spades and they add colour and texture to her songs. The lead track, “Wasted” juggles words as she plays with reflections on secrets and lives.
Photo of Tomberlin live at The Lexington, May 2019 by Kevin England
I first wrote about Kit Bennett aka Miss Kitty in July when I came across her feisty single “Flowers”. Since then the work of the Bristol-based artiste has fully blossomed into her DIY album Kiss & Tell which came out on Monday. Kit began life on, if not quite the ocean wave, then on a 52 ft schooner sailing around the Irish Sea, growing up a self-confessed wild child of nature, enjoying life within a musical and artistic family and leaving school at 15 to start out on the road to a rock n’ roll lifestyle. She found some fame performing throughout the UK and USA with the folk-pop band Wildflowers, on keys and backing vocals. Today she retains the rebellious nature of youth, tempered by these colourful life experiences.
Miss Kitty’s adventurous life has given her a wealth of anecdotes and inspiration for some gutsy songwriting. Her DIY 12-track album took just over a year to complete, and, with the exception of drums captured remotely in Manchester, was recorded at her makeshift home studio aided by producer/engineer/guitarist, James Ashbury. I loved her description of the classic vocal booth made out of mattresses that kept caving in on her every hour or so.
Kiss & Tell is a collection of songs written over the last ten years, resolutely anti-patriarchal and highlighting aspects of love, betrayal and protest. Kit tackles a range of styles taking in rock, country/folk, piano balladry and even the quality end of mainstream pop (“Better Place”) with verve and commitment. The sheer variety makes it difficult to pick out an individual track to exemplify the whole record, so my advice is to listen to it all and buy it. So, I’ll leave you to sing along to one of my favourites, “Butterflies”.
Not that far from Bristol lies The Powdered Earth, the Gloucester-based duo of George Moorey and Shane Young, augmented remotely on its latest song by ex-Fairground Attraction members, bassist Simon Edwards and Roy Dodds on drums. The elegiac "In The Sparks You Dance" is from a collection of over twenty songs penned by the duo over the past 18 months or so. The pair’s songwriting process is not without precedence in these times of isolation or when, say, writing partners are separated by distance; currently in this case England and Switzerland. Moorey described it as him sketching out simple piano parts, recording them in his home studio in the cellar and emailing them to Young who writes accompanying lyrics and melodies.
The beauty of “In The Sparks You Dance” is that it sounds so holistic, far more than you could expect from a product of remote working. You imagine it recorded in a log cabin with all four musicians close up and personal, trying to avoid instruments being warped as a log fire incongruously blazes. There’s an inherent sadness and stark beauty lyrically and melodically which is tempered by a sense of this underlying warm glow. Shane Young describes it as a song about weakness in the face of commitment. There is something in a relationship worth saving, but it comes explosively packaged. Two more releases are planned before the year end while in 2021 the sparks should be truly ignited through a full album plus bonus EPs.
Meanwhile in a land down under Elisa & The Delusionals, the Aussie rock band founded by singer-guitarist Eliza Klatt in 2015 continues to pump out some great tunes. Following the band’s excellent March EP, A State of Living In An Objective Reality – yes, we should really all break out into discussion groups now – it has premiered the nostalgia-driven “Sentimental”. It’s a vibrant indie rock groove, seemingly effortless yet carefully crafted to seem so. Sadly, the virus put paid to 2020 international tour plans but we do hope to welcome the band over to these shores sometime next year.
Finally, in the absence of anything more coherent, we began this piece with a tenuous link to 2018. To conclude, we’ll party like it’s 1995 as today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Different Class by Pulp, at the pinnacle of Britpop. So, let’s revel in the glory of “Common People” and remember the days when you could circumnavigate supermarket aisles without a mask.