FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: THE ROADS WE TRAVEL
It has always struck me that songwriting is much like a journey. There’s a linear progression running through a song through which the story unfolds but often unexpected diversions along the route of travel. You may get there in the end but perhaps not precisely as the crow might have flown. Not that such birds necessarily fly in straight lines, I’m told. There’s just not usually that much in their way; well, apart from wind turbines, drones, cables, towers maybe.
A songwriter who has been on a journey that few of us might have survived with such a heart-warming spirit intact is Felix Bechtolsheimer, aka Curse Of Lono, who all in the space of one truly annus horribilis lost his father, his uncle and a former partner; the last named remotely to a drugs overdose. In such dark times he found himself exorcising many ghosts through songwriting; though twenty years clean, past drug addiction clearly weighed heavily on his thoughts and memories of drugs, death, danger and depression now course through Curse Of Lono’s newly released third album, People In Cars.
I had the great pleasure of listening to the new album and then hearing the songs live in the last week when Curse of Lono played a stripped back set alongside the gifted Joe Harvey-Whyte on pedal steel and lead guitar at Banquet Records, Kingston, and then as a full band at London’s Electrowertz. Both gigs were really special. As a duo, Felix’s words took on great intimacy while his sidekick Joe Harvey-Whyte on pedal steel and lead guitar added some restrained but highly empathetic guitar wizardry. Then let loose on a London stage along with bassist Tom Sansbury, drummer Chris Jones and backing singer Bo Lucas, the pair gave rein to full-blown arrangements of Felix’s impressive songs.
“Let Your Love Rain Down on Me” is the song that opens People In Cars. It echoes the journeys Felix made twenty years ago when he spent a year in Florida with his alcoholic uncle, getting clean; taking road trips across the state to drive away the pain. Felix’s voice caresses in a semi-loud whisper throughout the song with a tinge of hope emerging in the titular choruses from the mist of memories. It sets a marker for an album that unfolds into broad cinematic sweep yet somehow remaining in the confines of intimacy.
I can give you but a snapshot of Curse of Lono in this word count restricted world of Fifty3 Fridays but “Ursula Andress” with its relaxed handclap rhythm and louche vocal shows there is more than one side to any coin. Written for Felix’s son, the song conjures the carefree youth that Felix says bypassed him, sipping margaritas in the back seat of a convertible full of party girls cruising Sunset. The album is dusted with songs that provide some lighter relief amid the emotive issues tackled and the musical car seat come dance routine video is perfectly apt.
While Curse Of Lono is now becoming more of a solo project for Felix Bechtolsheimer, there is no acrimony, no ‘musical differences’ between him and his former bandmates who were forced to retreat into day jobs to survive the pandemic; indeed ex-CoL bass player, Charis Anderson joined in on backing vocalist for the final encore at Electrowerkz. You sense that he still thrives with musicians around him – those on the album and those touring with him currently. While the album is a personal statement that he needed to make, these songs will endure and even mature under the lights of a live stage performance.
Photos of Curse of Lono live at Electrowertz by Ruth Geraghty
Photo of Florie Namir by Ariella Bersan
It is just a month or so since Florie Namir delighted us with an introductory track, “Piece Of My Soul”, from her now fully released EP, I Wanna Be in Love with You. The Tel Aviv-born singer-songwriter and pianist offers a refreshingly different musical melange of American jazz vocal stylings with classic pop music influences. Now based in London, after a decade spent in Boston, MA, her songs are anchored in real-life events via people she has met and situations encountered. Her individual and quickly captivating view of life is seen through the lens of a long-term expat. Her musical life – from fronting a rock-soul band in Israel to singing and writing for an Eastern-European folk band in Boston and even opera singing – has led to a blossoming talent.
It wasn’t until Florie was asked to play a few of her original songs at a gig that these escaped her bottom drawer and now see the light of day in her five-track EP. The opener, “Far, Far Away” was written while she was studying for her PhD, finding the completion of the last part of the degree hard to focus on. So, the song is in a sense an outlet for her frustration at having to complete her studies before embracing a career in music fully, yet is balanced by hopeful expectation: “Tomorrow I’m starting the rest of my life.” Beautifully arranged with a suite of instruments complementing Florie’s unique jazz-pop vocal stylings and blessed with a great tune, it’s a delightful insight into her world. You can hear and buy the full EP on Bandcamp now. Go, do it!
This week’s Fifty3 Fridays has an umbrella solo flavour to it so we conclude with four wholly different examples of the singer-songwriter art. First up is Neev, a Glasgow native now based in London who performs solo. Her songs clearly draw some inspiration from the rhythms of Scots folk music but there is also a jazz influence in there too; something Neev shares in common with her fellow Scot, Rachel Sermanni and with Laura Marling. “Darling, Home” is from Neev’s Currants EP which you can find on Bandcamp. It is a simply beautiful exploration of the notions of home and the tricks time plays with memories, wonderfully drawn, embellished yet spacious and emotively sung – I especially like Neev’s command of the lower register yet seamless ability to soar a wee bit higher. Lovely.
London based French-Korean singer-songwriter Séline Delcourt released her debut single, “Morning Sun” at the start of the year and seeks to create music that is soulful, cinematic and poetic. She seems to have ticked all those boxes with her latest release, “Another Lie”, which delves into feelings of loss and the stages of grief. The nature of her loss is hinted at rather than made explicit and there seems to be a resolution to it that points to an unconditional kind of love. Séline’s vocal delivery is big and bold, rising to crescendos and falling back to intimacy. The music video, shot in an old abandoned London hotel, provides a suitably atmospheric backcloth.
On a completely different tack, I think the next song could be the catchiest I’ve heard this year since Maisie Peters’ “Psycho”. Maybe Ed Sheeran should take note. London newcomer, originally from the West Country, Ronniee started singing and writing aged 15 and taking inspiration from fellow empowering female artistes, came up to the Big Smoke just five years later. “FAYE” – short for Fake And You Exit - is Ronniee’s debut single with an EP planned for next year. According to the singer, “If an eye roll was a song it’s most definitely ‘Faye’!” and the song is a wry, keenly observed ode to all the ‘Fayes’ out there. Channelling her best Villanelle from bedroom to suburban street and corner shop, Ronniee bristles with sass in the video to “FAYE” and I’m pretty sure her future will be as bright as that dress.
Finally, up to Leeds and indie folk-rocker Liam Sullivan who we last met up with in March via his single, the aptly titled “Be Kind”. Liam has returned with a new song, “Rodion's Poem”, which on first hearing came across to me as a potential Christmas song. It may be the wintery feel he has built around it but the song is actually based around Dostoyevsky’s classic novel, Crime and Punishment. The lyrics are Liam’s personal take on Rodion Raskolnikov’s life, reflecting the love that is bestowed on the character despite his wayward actions. Its melancholic feel and gentle melody make for a perfect seasonal closer.
You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month! It features all the songs in order from the previous month’s Fifty3 Fridays, assuming they are listed on Spotify.
November’s Playlist includes 24 songs. A bit like your supermarket deliveries – not that we have them – there are a couple of substitutes for things that aren’t currently on Spotify. The splendid “Running Man” by Berry Brown & Balloon Twister is there in lieu of “Bear Can Dance”. The Actions’ moving song “Displaced” is represented by the title track from the duo’s fine last album, ”Flourish” while Tony Moore’s “Awake” won’t be out till next year but his excellent recent single “Never Gonna Say Goodbye” is of course included.
Hope you enjoy the playlist and will share it!