By Various Artists
Three artists, five songs, one split EP. What a great way to discover and celebrate some of the best new music coming out of the city at the minute! This is exactly what "Three Peaks EP" delivers - an offering by Steph Stephenson flanked by two songs apiece from The Matt Burnside Band and Martin Plock. Free to stream or costing about the price of a pint to own; the next thing you click on after reading the review should be martinplock.bandcamp.com/releases.
Whatever your preference for folky sounds, you'll find something here. If you want contemplation with a tinge of humoured gloom (gloomour?) then Martin will tickle your taste-buds; if you want softer strains and summery scenes then Matt Burnside & co. will merrily get you there; and if you want smart wit and whimsical wonder then Steph is your girl. I like the lot so I'll give you a quick whizz round the songs and then let you get busy clicking on martinplock.bandcamp.com/releases.
1. "Well, Well" by The Matt Burnside Band has vibrant folk-pop tones and a beautifully simple and innocently melodic chorus that you'll be humming on first play, singing along to on the second and then jigging, singing and clapping to by the third. Tasha McClymont on vocals is in crystal clear form with some lovely, warm backing vocals and join-in claps to replacing the need for percussion beyond good old-fashioned hands. There's an undeniable positive energy to the song which shows of people making the music they love and creating sounds they know will make their audience smile. There should be more of this in the world; people doing stuff they know will make other people smile. In my mind, I can see a crowd watching The Matt Burnside Band now, and everyone is smiling, patting a thigh or nodding in time; some all at the same time!
2. "So Low" by Martin Plock introduces you to his rich baritone and the deep rumble of lamenting balladry to which it's perfectly suited. My upbringing was spent listening to my dad's Johnny Cash collection and progressed to the dark musings of Nick Cave and Tom Waits some twenty-odd years ago now, so this one's right up my street. The muffled optimism of the lyrics is the true strength to "So Low" and the music is kept deliberately simple and breezy, allowing the vocals to find the sweet spot. And find it they do. After several plays I knew every word and this has left me desperate to hear more of Martin's stories, which I'll be doing later this week as I review his 2011 album, "So Far". The sign of a good storyteller; a good lyricist; you hear one song and want to hear more.
3. "Train" by Steph Stephenson sees her on a journey from self-doubt to self-discovery, calling at self-examination. There's a controlled bite to the lyrics and the clever wordplay shifts effortlessly from realism to metaphor. This lyrical dexterity combined with seemingly traditional accompaniment breeds a modern relevance and freshness in the song which is one of its most striking features and the thing I like most about it. As a taster this does the trick perfectly. Until the EP arrived I hadn't heard Steph sing a single note but I'll definitely be listening to more tracks this afternoon. I think it was Matt Bentley that told me she was pretty special and now I've heard the proof for myself, I have to agree with Matt, she's damn fine.
4. "Hometown Scene" by Martin Plock displays some adroitly placed moments of rawness via the electric guitar adding a timely aggression to create a clear landscape of wanting and loneliness. This is the perfect counter to the reassuring and gentle acoustic strumming which underpins this tale of ignored love. "Why is love so unkind?" may sound like a well-trodden path for a Folk/Americana writer to explore but here it is done with authenticity, honesty and humility and not a dash of pretence. I know I've done the right thing in agreeing to review Martin's LP next; this being the second of his songs I know, the guy paints a vivid picture and the colours he uses to do this are both effective and enticing.
5. "Sandcastles" by The Matt Burnside Band and this time Matt takes the lead on vocals but I must confess I don't know who to credit for the finger/mouth "pop!" noises at the end of each chorus. The carefree charm will show itself within a few bars and from there you should be tapping away like the happy little bunny you are. If not then this probably isn't your thing and you've no doubt stopped reading this long ago. So for the sake of those that still are reading and like smiling - this is happy, loved-up, sing-a-long folk-pop that will get your car-load joining-in on your next road-trip to the seaside. A fitting final track to close the EP with, so let's all "make way for the summer sun" and "pass away our days" doing fun stuff, like building sandcastles...
Find out more about everyone involved in this EP, keep an eye out for upcoming live dates and listen to more of their fab music via their websites (below) and in case you missed it earlier by the way, the best way to buy this EP is martinplock.bandcamp.com/releases.