FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: RESOLUTIONS, RESOLUTIONS
A new year traditionally brings opportunities to start afresh; to make resolutions but then generally fail to see them through. A straw poll seems to indicate that fewer of us are bothering with this well-intentioned charade this year as lockdown fatigue sinks in. We’ve already given up so much by necessity so why add more to the list, you might ask. However, I have to admit I’m not great on planning… unless it’s on someone else’s behalf. So, when it comes to collating material for this weekly column, this is something I could resolve to improve upon especially as I’ve just realised that, as Friday fell on 1st January, there are actually 53 Fridays in 2021. Scary.
The thing is most weeks I have a bunch of new songs or new-to-me artistes to draw on while at other times I can raid the piggy bank of accumulated press releases for musical inspiration. I also like to keep a degree of spontaneity to my writing and it helps if I don’t go into battle with wall-to-wall notes. So, on the hoof, if not quite making it up as I go along, welcome to the world of less than fully planned Fifty3 Fridays.
I confess to missing the original MySpace. It was a great source of new-to-me music and offered direct interaction with upcoming artistes. These days Twitter fills in some of that as the short form medium is suited to new finds, commendations and quick interchanges. On that note I have music fan and Tweeter, John Bath, to thank for introducing me to the charms of Widnes singer, songwriter and musician Jenny Colquitt, whose EP Dear Daughter came out in November 2020. For an artiste who has only previously put out one other record (The Quiet Kind EP, 2016), she has a hugely impressive store of live stream content on her website and YouTube channel, with much more to come in 2021.
The emotive opening song from Dear Daughter, “Tell Me Where the Light is” celebrates the life of a friend of Jenny’s taken away tragically, describing how the departed pass on something that we take into our everyday life and how they are there for us to lead us to the light when we need them most. It reflects the theme of life’s journey that runs throughout her work and there is a sense of evolution as you plot a course through it. This song is simply realised through piano, strings and the yearning beauty of Jenny Colquitt’s voice. Plug into her live streams to find out what a versatile and accomplished musician she is too.
Continuing the Mersey connection, Sophie Morgan – a near neighbour of Jenny Colquitt’s – has a new video out for her recent single, “Unwinnable War”. The graceful young singer-songwriter, who treated us to Marmalade back in March, is back with a high tea setting and a less than socially-distanced family bitching over the fruit scones and chocolate gateau. Sophie describes “Unwinnable War” as a song about dinner table warfare while the video, filmed at the grand Knowsley Hall reveals “this is what happens in my head when I'm sat at dysfunctional dinner tables.”
Sophie Morgan was one of my three Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2019 choices and continues to develop her craft with care and precision. She has a particularly rare tone, elegant and honeyed but this latest offering adds a further dimension even though the barbed lyric ‘sitting and hissing / spattering, spitting / green skinned serpentine’ could hardly be delivered more soothingly. Words may tumble over her tongue but the bursts of electric guitar are a welcome addition to the more customary stripped back arrangement.
Songwriter, musician and producer Mike Greenway will probably be a new name to many although the man has form and is fast approaching 50 years of a life in music. His career has encompassed playing in signed bands, gaining publishing deals, songwriting and production, community music projects, a degree in music composition and more. Oddly his CV only misses out the time we both played in a local covers band called PlanB (before the Plan B came along though we survived several years after!) He has re-emerged with an album, Back Story, and a band, Strangers of Fiction. The record, impressive musically, meshes musical influences from across the decades with the fresh vibe that comes from assembling a group of talented individuals to add a collective creative spin.
Back Story is the product of reflection over a life in music as Greenway pulls together part-written piano or keyboard-rooted songs over time, including the positive closer, “The Coast is Clear”. This may win the album an award for the longest in gestation as it was written some 40 years ago! It is album that grows on repeat listening, with 10 well-constructed songs thoughtfully arranged and played out expansively. It certainly shares some ground with giants of past decades – Supertramp, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, even a bit of Pink Floyd come to mind. The track I’ve featured above, “Maze”, stood out for me on the very first listen through its bright chord progressions and strong chorus with its clipped lyricism. It was a brave step for the naturally reclusive Greenway to take on the lead vocal. He suspects this might be an acquired taste but good on him for keeping it real.
Further back along a musical career timeline, I first came across the enigmatic Oxford outfit, Balloon Twister Records, in September after hearing its splendid collaboration with young singer-songwriter Berry Brown on a song called “Still”. Berry went on to release a 4-track EP in October enticingly titled Stage Script for the Suburban It Girl. Here is another song from that record, “Running Man”, just because it is so good. Berry now has a day job as a materials engineer but is keeping up her music via some EDM toplining and posting covers on Instagram.
Balloon Twister has now signalled a new affiliation; this time with Field5 aka Cassie Maclaine who the label met through a mutual friend on an Archaeology Forum (erudite stuff, eh). Cassie is an anthropology student in Vancouver and has been collaborating, writing and recording with Balloon Twister online, although, in common with them, she doesn't have much online presence. Unconventionally, she lives on a bus and goes to the library to transfer data files. While there are currently no plans to release “Body Chop”, I expect we will hear more from Field5 unless the library closes. I hope you agree it is a rather engaging song.
The final call this week is back to Twitter contacts. Emily Zuzik is a Los Angeles via Pittsburgh singer-songwriter with a musical career spanning over two decades; a veteran of some 14 individual releases and a clutch of collaborations, from Ted Russell Kamp to Moby. Indeed, the former produced Zuzik’s latest solo album, Torch & Trouble. The songstress blends alt-country, pop, rock and R&B crowned by a strong, versatile vocal. While she operates in a territory that can harbour a formulaic approach to music, there is a classic feel to Emily Zuzik's material to more than compensate.
“Get It Right”, from the latest album may suffer from the odd lyrical platitude as the song’s protagonists declare they are ready to get it on but the redeeming factor is the underlying vulnerability Zuzik brings to her otherwise confident and dusky vocal phrasing. A decent slide guitar solo is thrown in too. Fans, for example, of the quality-end of Sheryl Crow’s catalogue or almost anything by Canada’s Kathleen Edwards might just love this album.