Kelly Oliver, Music Reviews

Kelly Oliver – Far From Home EP

In Kelly Oliver the British folk music scene is witnessing the emergence of a bright new star. What a coup it is for the new independent label Folkstock Records to have her debut EP as its first release. In turn the Folkstock label, known predominantly for its support of emerging singer-songwriters, is the perfect home for Kelly in the early stages of what Far From Home indicates will be a long and sparkling career.

Kelly’s mature voice belies her young age. The natural melancholy in it is well suited to the title track, a song about a seemingly doomed love affair but which leaves the door slightly ajar for fans of a happy ending. “He was always far from home, but he knew he’d always come home”. Her singing bears favourable comparison with Joan Baez, rising to land on higher notes with ease and unerring accuracy. When she holds long notes the effect is as fresh and vibrant as a warm summer breeze.

Far From Home leads into Keilan Are You Coming, an upbeat track dipping a toe into folk-rock territory. The subject of the song is a boy in a shanty town. The singer of the tale is invited into the boy’s mother’s threadbare home to eat. What happened before and what happen after are left to the listener’s imagination. This is artistry at it’s best – like a good play or film it makes you think. That’s often everything an artist hopes to achieve. Mission accomplished.

The EP’s closing track, Brazil Song, has much in common with Keilan Are You Coming in that it’s likely a postcard from time spent travelling. This one (well timed in World Cup year) records the writer’s experience of the first and developing worlds meeting and the contrast is startling: “You know great, I’ll show you small. You know wealth, I’ll show you poor.”

Grandpa Was A Stoker sounds like in time it will come to be seen as the EP’s highlight. It does one of the things that folk songs that stand the test of time often do – it tells a story that can be passed on to future generations – a story that might be lost forever were it not recorded in this way. As such it can be a valuable source of material for social historians. This song vividly describes the travails of a ship’s stoker who endures back breaking, mind bending toil to provide for his loved ones, and so as the ship can sail. It showcases Kelly’s guitar playing, harmonica and vocal skills. Her voice is softly and enigmatically accented into a smooth blend that sounds neither entirely British, Irish or American – more all three at once – like Judy Collins for instance. As she sings she picks out a counter melody on the guitar which adds an extra layer of depth to an otherwise stripped back sound. The song progresses into a Donovan’s Catch The Wind style strummed rhythm and takes in some tidy harmonica too. All the elements are tied together and balanced beautifully by the other youthful individual involved in this recording, producer-engineer Lauren Deakin Davies (also of the folk-pop group Delora).

Folk music needs artists like Kelly Oliver. She’s one of a new breed of young singer-songwriters who take their influences from the folk greats of old, like Bob Dylan and Luke Kelly. Most importantly, she’s injecting new material into a genre which, perhaps more than any other, needs constant renewal and development to survive.

I fully expect Kelly to be receiving nominations and picking up gongs for Best Newcomer, if not Best Vocalist and Best Song/EP outright, when the awards season returns at the end of the year.

Far From Home is available to hear and buy now:
It will also be released on iTunes and Amazon on 14th February 2014.

Trestle Theatre
Music Reviews, St AlbanDs

St AlbanDs vol.1: Nick & The Sun Machine, Chameleon Boy, The Tuesday Club

The town of St Albans is the hub of a growing live music community in Hertfordshire. In September the county hosted the Folkstock Acoustic Festival which brought 77 folk/roots/acoustic acts from the local area and as far afield as Orkney and Copenhagen to four stages in Aldenham Country Park. Back in St Albans Denise Parsons of Trestle Arts Base runs the volunteer led Live Music Project at The Trestle Theatre, bringing live original music into the area all year round. Each week three local acts perform in the theatre, giving them a high quality venue in which to showcase their music and local people pleasant surroundings in which to enjoy it. Denise sent me some music by three bands who have played at The Live Music Project.
The first act I listened to is Nick And The Sun Machine. This band is the sound of a free spirit in touch with its surroundings and with itself. From the opening lines of White Chalk, “High above the slopes we did climb, Drinking up the patchwork skyline”, Nick Stephenson’s strong voice remains at glorious full capacity throughout. There’s something of the rugged wanderer who will not be tamed about it. The words “I’ve got no mind to be tied down or be defined” in Baby A imply this may indeed be the case. Not a word is wasted, each one sung with gusto and with diction such that there’s no wondering what the lyrics are. At times the band – guitar and drums in particular, play with a freneticism that fills their recordings with vitality. Moments of abandon when the guitar gets its delay on and drumstick smashes ride cymbal see the band wigging out to arena sized proportions which match Nick’s stadium sized lungs. They squeeze all there is to squeeze out of each second of sound, pumping the tracks full of an effervescence which fizzes out joyously from their folk-pop sound and lust for life lyrics. Nick And The Sun Machine are notably inventive with their backing vocals and should they continue to develop this it could be quite a hallmark of their sound, much in the way it was for Queen. They have it in them to do this in a way that’s beyond the capabilities of many’s a group. Nick And The Sun Machine’s 4 song EP “Wide, Lying Smiles” can be sampled on soundcloud. It’s a taster of what’s to come on their imminent album.
Next up are Chameleon Boy, a four-piece who scale down to an acoustic duo as the occasion requires. Of the songs available
to hear on Soundcloud via their website I feel the standout track is Never Too Late. It’s a melancholic
take on the idea that you don’t realise what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. This full band recording encompasses the whole scope of their sound, from the pared down, sparse guitar introduction to the middle section where the drums go big and the guitar lets loose. Chameleon Boy’s sound is pleasing to my ear as I loved Don Henley’s Boys of Summer way back when and the tasty rimshot and hi-hat combo from early on in Never Too Late puts me in mind of that song. The sparkly steel string acoustic guitar layers also hark back to the sound of the 80s pop charts, crystal clear and bright as in Spandau Ballet’s Through The Barricades. Chameleon Boy’s sound is mainstream radio friendly. Top down on the convertible, AOR FM rock – a fine thing in my opinion.
Download and hear tracks from Chameleon Boy’s debut ep!downloads-page/c9wt
The Tuesday Club are a modern new wave/punk band. Because of this I was expecting to listen to one or two of their songs and then get bored, much as you can do with any number of punk throwbacks any night of the week at The Hope & Anchor of London legend. But no, The Tuesday Club are an exciting, intelligent, humorous and inventive group. Sonically they resemble Blur when Graham Coxon was allowed to do what he wanted and the potentially harsh sound common to this genre is softened by the male/female vocals. Top drawer vocals they are too. Listening on Soundcloud to the handy “short but nifty snippet sized bundle” that takes you through excerpts of their debut album is a joy. There’s a wealth of varied sounds, moods, textures and tempos on offer. Nods to Jilted John and Gary Numan are nestled in among welcome updates on the bass, drums and guitar template. You get lovely bleepy synthesizer, you get rock n’ roll piano and you get humour that’s genuinely funny as well as the essential raw punky guitar stylings which, a la Green Day, are a façade for some quite touching lyrics. This is an album I’m looking forward to getting (on CD, though the white vinyl is tempting). I hear they’re brilliant live as well, so whenever they’re next in London I’m there with bells on.
Get See You Next Tuesday on CD or LP here: