Best albums of 2020

This year will go down in history because of the devastating effects of the Covid-19 crisis on society, but here at Say It With Garage Flowers we’re hoping it will also be remembered for a more positive reason – the sheer amount of great music it produced.

When the global live music scene had to be put on hold due to the virus, artists had to look at other ways to get themselves heard, such as holding online concerts, or streaming performances.

‘This year, Say It With Garage Flowers’s ‘Best Of’ list includes 65 albums, which is the largest amount we’ve featured in an end of the year round-up since we first started publishing more than 10 years ago’

One of the few positive things to emerge from the pandemic was that musicians had more time to concentrate on recording or finishing off albums in their home studios, so it meant that there was a glut of new material out there that we could enjoy while we were in lockdown.

This year, Say It With Garage Flowers’s ‘Best Of’ list includes 65 albums, which is the largest amount we’ve featured in an end of the year round-up since we first started publishing more than 10 years ago. I’ve written in depth about several of the albums, but not all of them (!) and have included a Spotify playlist to go with this year’s selection. Are you ready? Here we go…

Straight Songs of Sorrow by Mark Lanegan was our favourite album of 2020. The twelfth solo record by gravel-voiced grunge survivor Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) was inspired by him writing his autobiography, Sing Backwards and Weep, which also came out this year.

The book, described by the publisher as ‘a brutal, nerve-shredding read, recounting his journey from his troubled youth in eastern Washington, through his drug-stained existence amid the ’90s Seattle rock scene to an unlikely salvation at the dawn of the 21st century’ was brilliant, yet deeply harrowing, and so was the album which accompanied it.

Talking about his autobiography and the album, Lanegan said: “Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis – all I got was a Pandora’s Box full of pain and misery. I went way in and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realised there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from the book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realised that was the gift of the book – these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”

And so he should be. Straight Songs of Sorrow is one of the best –and darkest – records Lanegan’s ever made. It’s a sprawling, 15-track masterpiece that takes in the folk and blues of his early solo recordings, as well as the electronic influences that have dominated his more recent releases. Like the book, the shadow of death hangs over these songs, and there’s plenty of drugs and [self] destruction thrown in for good measure too.

One of the songs is called Ketamine – although, amusingly, Lanegan admits that is actually one of the few narcotics he hasn’t taken… On the seven-minute epic Skeleton Key, over a moody, throbbing electronic bassline and synthesised strings, he sings: “I spent my life trying every way to die – is it my fate to be the last one standing?”

Mark Lanegan

Similarly, on Hanging On (For DRC) – a pretty and delicate acoustic ballad that’s dedicated to his friend Dylan Carlson, from drone doom group Earth, who, like Lanegan, is also a survivor of the Seattle rock and roll scene, he tells us: “By all rights we should be gone, but you and me are still hanging on.”

 ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow is one of the best – and darkest – records Lanegan’s ever made. It’s a sprawling, 15-track masterpiece that takes in the folk and blues of his early solo recordings, as well as the electronic influences that have dominated his more recent releases’

Ballad Of A Dying Rover is very uncomfortable – a suffocating, electro-goth dirge with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones providing some eerie Mellotron. “Death is my due’ – I’m just a sick, sick man… my days are numbered,” laments Lanegan.

With its fingerpicking and mournful strings, Stockholm City Blues is stunning. A haunting ballad about heroin addiction – “I pay for this pain I put into my blood” – it sees him staring out of a hotel window in the rain-soaked Swedish capital city, full of remorse.

His wife, Shelley Brien plays Nancy Sinatra to his Lee Hazlewood on the duet This Game Of Love – it recalls Lanegan’s collaborations with Isobel Campbell, but with an electronic edge – while on At Zero Below, he ropes in The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis to play some sinister country fiddle – backing vocals are courtesy of Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), who was Lanegan’s partner in crime in the Gutter Twins side-project. Thanks to its electronic sounds and skittering beats, Internal Hourglass Discussion brings to mind late-period Radiohead, or Thom Yorke’s solo material – Lanegan’s current favourite instrument to compose on is a miniature computer-synth called an Organelle.

Portishead’s Adrian Utley provides atmospherics on Daylight In The Nocturnal House – adding some echo-laden, twangy and bluesy guitar to a horror-folk ballad, which also features mandolin. Jack Bates, son of Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order), plays bass on Churchbells, Ghosts – a hypnotic, ambient soundtrack for a gruelling life spent on a tour bus.

Thankfully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. On the final song, the hopeful and spiritual-like Eden Lost and Found, with gospel organ, Lanegan says: “Sunrise coming up baby – to burn the dirt right off of me.” After accompanying him on his harrowing and emotionally draining journey, it feels good to finally emerge from the darkness. How about adopting it as an anthem for a post-coronavirus world?

Darkness also features heavily on one of our other favourite albums of this year, Wednesdays by Ryan Adams, who is also no stranger to the art of self-destruction.

A surprise release – it’s currently only available on streaming and download services, but CD and vinyl are due in March 2021 – it was understandably overshadowed by the allegations of emotional and sexual abuse which first emerged against Adams last year, but, ironically, it’s the best record he’s made in 20 years, although many media outlets have chosen to completely ignore it.

Wednesdays was essentially the album I’d been waiting for Adams to make since his 2000 solo debut, Heartbreaker –  a return to his country roots, rather than the disappointing soft rock that’s he churned out over the past few years.

‘The release of Wednesdays by Ryan Adams was understandably overshadowed by the allegations of emotional and sexual abuse which first emerged against him last year, but, ironically, it’s the best record he’s made in 20 years, although many media outlets have chosen to completely ignore it’

A sad, mostly-stripped down record, it opens with the stunning and beautiful I’m Sorry and I Love You, which, with its falsetto vocals, piano and sweet strings sounds like vintage ’70s Neil Young. A classic breakup song, equally, it could also address the recent issues that have blighted Adams’s career and seen many people turn their backs on him tellingly, in the opening lines, he sings: “I remember you before you hated me, before you traded me for someone new.”

There’s some lovely, Nick Drake-style acoustic guitar picking on the gorgeous and folky Who Is Going To Love Me Now, If Not You – once again, that title speaks volumes – and So, Anyways has some haunting, wailing harmonica that recalls Come Pick Me Up from Heartbreaker, my favourite song by Adams.

On the superb and anthemic country rock of Birmingham, which is the album’s most upbeat moment and arguably its best song – there’s some great organ playing by Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers), which gives the song a serious swagger. If you can separate the art from the artist, which I can, Wednesdays is a truly rewarding listen.

And, on a similar note,  the ever-controversial Morrissey released a strong collection of songs in 2020. I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, his thirteenth studio album, included several late career highlights, such as the dramatic and sardonic opener Jim Jim Falls, which starts with an explosive eruption of  ’90s rave-like synths, and has him crooning “If you’re going to kill yourself now, then to save face, get on with it” to someone who is looking to commit suicide by throwing themselves off a waterfall in Australia. Classic Mozzer.

The jangly guitar pop of What Kind of People Live In These Houses? was laugh-out-loud funny  “What kind of people live in these houses?T-shirts or blouses? Torn jeans or proper trousers” – and brought to mind Girlfriend In A Coma-era Smiths, while first single, Bobby Don’t You Think They Know? was a powerful and unusual duet with soul/ disco diva Thelma Houston, and had a crazy, ’60s-style psychedelic organ solo and skronking sax. Stop me, but we hadn’t heard Morrissey like this before…

Say It With Garage Flowers favourites  The Hanging Stars released their third and best album this year, A New Kind of Sky. The London band’s cosmic country songs and shimmering psychedelic sounds owe a large debt to The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bert Jansch and Fred Neil, as well as Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

The bulk of A New Kind Of Sky was recorded live at Echozoo studio in the Sussex seaside town of Eastbourne. The sessions were produced by Dave Lynch and took place shortly after The Hanging Stars had returned from a tour of Germany – Lynch really captured the energy of the band.

The Hanging Stars
The Hanging Stars

Speaking to me earlier this year for an interview with consumer magazine Hi-Fi+, Sam Ferman,bassist with the band, said:  “When we started The Hanging Stars, we had a definite idea of what we wanted our first record to be like – cosmic, psychedelic, spacey country music.

“With our second album, other influences came in and it was a bit of a transitional period, as our original keyboardist and pedal steel player had both left. I love the last record for its variety.”

He added: “The new one could’ve been a completely different album – we talked about what type of band we were and what the core of the record should be. There was the potential for it to be more of an acoustic country rock album. When we did the recording sessions in Echozoo, we’d just come back from a tour of Germany – we were playing the new songs in our set and by the last date of the tour something magical happened, because we were so synced-in with playing with each other. We wanted to capture that energy from the tour, so we recorded most of the songs live at Echozoo in three days, playing as a full band.”

‘The Hanging Stars released their third and best album this year, A New Kind of Sky. The London band’s cosmic country songs and shimmering psychedelic sounds owe a large debt to The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bert Jansch and Fred Neil, as well as Spaghetti Western soundtracks’

As I wrote in  Hi-Fi+, there are several cinematic songs on the album. Three Rolling Hills has Mariachi horns and a Spaghetti Western vibe; the trippy Lonely Rivers has an electric piano-led groove and echoes of Pink Floyd, while the spiritual and hymn-like I Was A Stone opens with a church organ and has a brass arrangement reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral.

I Will Please You is a catchy, glam-rock-tinged sing-along; the stripped-down, acoustic ballad Song For Fred Neil is a paean to the ‘60s and early ‘70s singer-songwriter; Heavy Blue is classic-sounding country rock and first single, (I’ve Seen) The Summer In Her Eyes is pastoral, Byrdsian jangle-pop. The band are currently working on their fourth album – I can’t wait to see which direction it will take them in.

Duo The Lost Doves – North West-based singer-songwriters Ian Bailey and Charlotte Newman – are also no strangers to retro jangle pop. Their debut album,  Set Your Sights Towards The Sun, was in thrall to The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as vintage psychedelic sounds. On the optimistic and anthemic title track, Bailey’s 12-string Rickenbacker rings out like bells (of Rhymney), and it also adds a gorgeous shimmer to the melancholy She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes.

There’s a country tinge to the beautiful, acoustic ballad You Stop Me From Falling,  a Lennon feel to the haunting Sally Weather, a hint of Eastern mysticism on More Than I and some seriously heavy psych on the dark, trippy instrumental, The Clowns Are Coming To Town.

I wanted the album to feel like a record you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s,” Bailey told us, in an exclusive interview. He certainly achieved his goal… Check out his latest release, an EP co-written with former Cosmic Rough Rider, Daniel Wylie, here.

This year was a great one for releases by singer-songwriters. The daddy of them all, Bob Dylan, put out Rough and Rowdy Ways, which was his best album since 1997’s Time Out of Mind. Preceded by the surprise single, Murder Most Foul, a wry, moving and masterful 17-minute epic about the assassination of JFK and its part in political and cultural history, Rough and Rowdy Ways was at times stripped-down and delicate, but also raw and bluesy, however, it was always cryptic and fascinating – an essential listen.

 

On her album of Dylan cover versions, the wonderfully titled Blonde On The Tracks, Australian-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Emma Swift included her take on I Contain Multitudes, from Rough and Rowdy Ways. A reflective and stately ballad, her achingly beautiful voice is accompanied by acoustic guitar and minimal instrumentation.

Blonde On The Tracks is one of the best covers records I’ve ever heard. Swift puts her own [simple] twist on some of her favourite Dylan songs, but, unlike some artists who’ve covered his work, she remains reasonably faithful to the original versions, rather than radically overhaul them.

“Interpreting other people’s emotions is how I learned to sing and I’ve always enjoyed hearing Dylan’s songs from a female perspective,” she says. “You can learn a lot about melody and feeling by the way a singer chooses to interpret someone else’s song. You can learn a lot about words by singing someone else’s. I’m very influenced by singers like Sandy Denny, Joan Baez, Billie Holiday and Sinead O’Connor. There’s an art to interpretation.”

‘Blonde On The Tracks is one of the best covers records I’ve ever heard. Emma Swift puts her own [simple] twist on some of her favourite Dylan songs, but remains reasonably faithful to the original versions, rather than radically overhaul them’

Produced by Patrick Sansone, multi-instrumentalist from Chicago alt-rockers Wilco, Blonde On The Tracks sounds intimate, warm and inviting – Swift’s voice is gorgeous and breathy. The eight-track album opens with Queen Jane Approximately – in a nice touch, Swift gives it a wonderful, Byrds-style makeover, with chiming 12-string guitar.

She slows down One of Must Know (Sooner or Later), turning it into a pleading, haunting, late-night country song, with pedal steel. Simple Twist of Fate gets a similar treatment, but with some understated, twangy guitar licks, as does the 12-minute epic Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

The album features guest appearances from Sansone, singer-songwriter – and Dylanologist – Robyn Hitchcock, who plays guitar, Thayer Serrano (pedal steel) and Steelism’s Jon Estes and Jon Radford on bass and drums, respectively.

Another great covers album from this year was Country Darkness by British husband-and-wife country music duo My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish – and Elvis Costello’s keyboardist and right-hand man Steve Nieve (The Imposters/ The Attractions).

The record, which also featured members of Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley’s band, was a collection of reinterpretations of some of Costello’s country and country-soul songs. For their choice of covers, My Darling Clementine didn’t go down an obvious path. Indoor Fireworks, which they slowed down and turned into a smouldering, piano-led ballad, was arguably the most well-known Costello track on the record – it’s from his 1986 album King of America.

Elsewhere they resurrected some of his more obscure offerings, such as the Paul McCartney co-write That Day Is Done, which had a gospel and New Orleans funeral feel, thanks to the brass arrangement, and the melancholy Heart Shaped Bruise, which was a collaboration between Costello and Emmylou Harris. My Darling Clementine’s version was stripped-down, emotional and dramatic, with Nieve on piano.

Stranger In The House, a song Costello recorded as a duet with country music star George Jones, was reinvented as a rumba, while Different Finger, a tale of infidelity from Costello’s album Trust, was given a Marty Robbins, Tex-Mex treatment, with some great accordion and gorgeous, Spanish-style guitar.

The Crooked Line was the most upbeat track on the record, powered by some groovy organ from Nieve, while penultimate song, the haunting, sombre and atmospheric Too Soon To Know, was the very essence of ‘country darkness’.  Majestic, country-soul closer Powerless – a My Darling Clementine original – was easily up there with the best of Costello.

Speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers about the album, Weston King said: “We had a long list of songs to choose from – some got the chop because we felt they’d been done quite a lot before, or because, lyrically, they didn’t translate so well into being done by a duo. I also didn’t want our record to be totally country – I wanted a country soul vibe.”

My Darling Clementine weren’t the only male/female due to explore country darkness this year. Black Angel Drifter, the seventh album by Spain and London-based ‘urban country’ duo Morton Valence – songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett (ex-member of The Band of Holy Joy and Alabama 3) – and Anne Gilpin, was a dark, disturbing and dissonant collection of ‘gothic country’ songs, inspired by the haunting cowboy psychedelia of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, murder ballads, country, and the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, as well as the strung-out, feedback-laced, narcotic blues of Spiritualized.

The record also included a stunning cover version of Bob Dylan’s dramatic The Man In The Long Black Coat, which was even more sinister than the original.

Telling Say It With Garage Flowers about how and why they tackled the Dylan song, Jessett said: “It’s a work of genius; it’s country gothic heaven and hell, and it kind of set a ridiculously high standard for what we were trying to do on this album. Taking on something of such magnitude is living dangerously, not least as Mark Lanegan does a killer version of it too.

“I guess when you cover a song, you want to leave your own mark on it, and hopefully we at least achieved that – most likely much to the horror of some Dylan purists. Having a male/female vocal takes it somewhere different, plus I spent a long time getting the discordant guitars the way we wanted them to sound.”

From The Man In The Long Black Coat to The Man In Black… Johnny Cash was just one of the characters who found themselves mentioned on Matt Hill’s album, Savage Pilgrims – a collection of story / character songs told by different narrators. It was the first album Hill put out under his own name, rather than the Quiet Loner moniker which his previous four records have been credited to.

Fittingly, it was album that saw him returning to his roots – some of the songs, like the folky Bendigo, which was the tale of a celebrated prizefighter, and the country-blues of Four Corners, were set in Nottinghamshire, which is where he grew up. Hill was born and raised in the mining town of Eastwood – the hometown of DH Lawrence. The novelist and poet actually features in one of the songs on the album, the haunting and moody, Spaghetti Western-flavoured The Exile of DH Lawrence, although it concerns itself with the last few years of the protagonist’s life, spent wandering the deserts of New Mexico, stricken with TB.

The album’s title, Savage Pilgrims, comes from a phrase Lawrence used to describe his time in voluntary exile – he called it his “savage pilgrimage.”

Hill describes the album as “Americana rooted in British history and his own upbringing in a working class culture obsessed with America.” Savage Pilgrims is also a rootsy album musically – it’s influenced by country/Americana, folk, blues, spirituals and gospel.

‘Hill wanted the listener to feel like they were in the room, sat next to the storyteller, with people playing instruments all around them, so the performances were recorded live to analogue tape, using vintage microphones and with minimal overdubs’

It was recorded with producer/collaborator Sam Lench in an attic studio above a 19th century pub in Northern England, where George Orwell used to drink – The King’s Arm, in Salford. Hill and Lench wanted the listener to feel like they were in the room, sat next to the storyteller, with people playing instruments all around them, so the performances were recorded live to analogue tape, using vintage microphones and with minimal overdubs.

This made for a great and interesting sounding record – intimate and immersive, but rhythmic, raw and rough around the edges. Hill’s vocals take centrestage – it’s like he’s singing in your ear  – accompanied by traditional folk or Americana instruments, including acoustic and electric guitars, (James Youngjohns and Lench), double bass, banjo, mandolin and percussion.

Hill resurrected one of his old songs, Get Me Johnny Cash On The Phone, for the album, but with a new title Gary Gilmore’s Last Request. It’s a country song about a convicted murderer on death row getting a phone call from his hero, the Man In Black.

Talking to me for the website Americana UK, Hill said of his latest record: ” I’m really proud of this album and especially of how it sounds. I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. As a solo acoustic singer-songwriter, there is always a dilemma involved when making an album. I didn’t want it to be a full-on production that I could never replicate live. But, equally, a simple solo acoustic record can often sound a little thin, so I tried to go somewhere in the middle.”

Matt Hill

He added: “My role was to rehearse like mad and to turn up knowing those songs inside out. The rest was down to Sam’s production skills. We both really enjoyed the process too, so hopefully that comes over. The most important part was in capturing the core live performance of me singing and playing exactly as you would see at a gig. Once we had those performances, we built everything else around it. The King’s Arms was a great place to record, with atmosphere and history, so that really helped make it feel special as we were making it.”

A band I discovered in 2020 via a connection between one of its members –  bassist Scott Carey – and Hill was UK Americana act West On Colfax, from Preston, Lancashire.

Their debut single, Choke Hold, was influenced by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco and Son Volt. Say It With Garage Flowers described it as: “Two and a half minutes of life-affirming guitar pop that sounds like a long-lost Creation Records release from the early ’90s. They may hail from Lancashire, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that West on Colfax grew up on a Glaswegian council estate, reared on a diet of Irn-Bru and Byrds records.”

The band’s album, Barfly Flew By, was one of my favourite records of 2020. From the ’70s Rolling Stones country feel of The Line, with its bluesy guitar licks and warm Hammond organ, to the late-night barroom romance of Cowgirl of the County (“She was the cowgirl of the county – she leant into me gently. We chose the songs on the jukebox – I don’t think I’ve been as happy”), the twangy Tinsel Heart, the rough and ready, battered and beaten-up road trip of Tyre Marks (“The tyre marks you left across my heart are all that’s now left…”) and the world-weary, yet, ultimately, optimistic, electric piano-led ballad, Light Again, which closes the album, it was clear West on Colfax wear their classic country, rock ‘n’ roll and Americana influences on the sleeves of their well-worn plaid shirts. These were songs that were best listened to while staring at the bottom of your glass, but they also had a reassuring warmth to them. The band describe their music as, ‘tales of love, life and hard-lived lives but with hope.’

Jake Winstrom

 

Classic rock ‘n’ roll influences were also all over Circles – the second album by New York-based singer-songwriter Jake Winstrom. This time around, the former frontman of  Tennessee band Tenderhooks cranked up the guitars and also embraced his love of power-pop and country rock.

Speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers, he said: “I think my first solo record [Scared Away The Song] suffered a bit from the inclusion of maybe one too many “serious songwriter” type songs, without enough fun, uptempo, jangly rock ‘n’roll to serve as a counterbalance, so I wanted to make sure there was room for that on this record.”

He certainly achieved his goal –  the brilliant What’s The Over/Under? was an infectious power-pop song with jangly, 12-string Rickenbacker guitars and punchy, soulful horns, while on the chugging glam-rock-country-boogie of Come To Texas She Said, which was inspired by a long-distance infatuation that derailed before it could become something more, reedy-voiced Winstrom did his best Marc Bolan impression.

‘Classic rock ‘n’ roll influences were also all over Circles – the second album by New York-based singer-songwriter Jake Winstrom. This time around, the former frontman of Tennessee band Tenderhooks cranked up the guitars and also embraced his love of power-pop and country rock’

Circles was full of highly melodic, guitar-heavy tunes with a retro feel – Winstrom cites ’70s Neil Young and Crazy Horse as a major influence, which is obvious if you listen to the Zuma-style guitar solo on My Hiding Place, a song about addiction, and the brooding, epic album closer, Kilimanjaro.

Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen are also artists that Winstrom admires – his song Washed My Face In A Truck Stop Mirror, a raucous blast of rock ‘n’ roll, had echoes of both of them – while Think Too Hard was reminiscent of The Beatles, circa Revolver, as well as Detroit power-pop songwriter – and Say It With Garage Flowers favourite – Nick Piunti.

Funnily enough, Piunti also released a great album in 2020, which a title that was very apt for these days of global lockdown – it was called Downtime.

Talking to Say It With Garage Flowers about the name of the record, he said: “It’s a bit too timely. My daughter, Megan, actually came up with it after listening to the album. In the song Never Belonged To Me there’s a lyric that says: “Don’t know what to do with the downtime.”

“The word ‘time’ also shows up in a few of the other songs,” said Piunti, whose latest record – his sixth – was the first with his new band, The Complicated Men.

The album had all the usual Piunti hallmarks – raw vocals, infectious melodies, crunching guitar riffs and sweet, ’60s-style harmonies – but, this time around, the sound was fleshed out with Hammond organ.

First single, All This Time, was anthemic and urgent indie rock ‘n’ roll, the opening track, Upper Hand, chugging and New Wavey, and Going Nowhere had some breezy ‘doo-doo-doo’ backing vocals and a killer, fuzzed-up, melodic guitar solo. There were also some quieter and more reflective moments – the ballads All Over Again and Good Intentions.

English singer-songwriter and pianist, John Howard released his seventeenth album in 2020. To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection was a set of wistful, reflective and pastoral, piano-led ballads, chamber pop and folk songs, with sparse percussion and layered, atmospheric arrangements and harmonies. Howard sang lead and backing vocals and played all the instruments.

To The Left of The Moon’s Reflection was written and recorded in his home studio –  he lives in a 100-year old cottage in the Murcia region of southern Spain –  during the winter of 2019 and spring 2020. Talking to me about the album, Howard said: “It does have a pastoral theme, definitely. My surroundings and the simple, rural way of life here are certainly reflected in a lot of the songs. My city days are over.”

He added: “It became very clear early on that there was a wistfulness about the new songs – a reflective quality – so that drove the arrangements.”

Jerry Leger – picture by Laura Proctor

When the coronavirus pandemic forced Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger to cancel his European and UK spring tour, he turned a negative situation into a positive one by hastily putting together a brand new, digital-only album called Songs From The Apartment.

Available to buy from Bandcamp, it was made up of ‘lost’ songs from 2013- 2018 that he’d demoed and quickly forgotten about.

It was a brilliant collection of intimate Americana and Dylanesque folk-blues tracks.

The loose, raw and lo-fi recordings really hung together well as an album, and, if anything, it demonstrated that Leger’s discarded songs were better than many artists’ officially released ones.

Telling Say It With Garage Flowers about putting the tracks for Songs From The Apartment together, Leger said: “They were recorded in my apartment on just a little recorder with an internal microphone. Very rough. They were all songs that were demoed and either not chosen to go into the studio with, or tried in the studio but left off the albums.

“Basically before making an album I probably would have 30 or so songs and we’d pick 15-18 to go into the studio with and then 10 or 12 would make the cut. Some really great ones are never returned to after the initial demo and that’s because they may not fit the feel I’m going for at the time, or it’s a similar idea or sound to a different song that I prefer. For example we recorded Tomorrow In My Mind and Ticket Bought for Time Out For Tomorrow [2019 album] and I felt they both had a similar feel, so I decided on the former.”

Leger is looking to put out a limited edition vinyl version of Songs From The Apartment in 2021. He is also a fan of an artist who appears on my ‘Best of 2020’ list –  legendary Southern soul singer, songwriter, musician and record producer, Dan Penn, who I was lucky enough to interview for Hi-Fi+magazine this year.

In the ‘60s, Penn, who is 78, co-wrote massive soul hits including The Dark End of the Street, Do Right Woman, I’m Your Puppet, Cry Like A Baby and It Tears Me Up. His songs have been sung by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Janis Joplin, Solomon Burke, Elton John, James Carr, Bobby Womack and Diana Ross.

This year saw him releasing his new album, Living On Mercy, which was a collection of songs written with collaborators including his long-term musical partner, Spooner Oldham, as well as fellow songwriting masters Wayne Carson (Always On My Mind), Gary Nicholson, Carson Whitsett, Will McFarlane, Bucky Lindsey, Buzz Cason and the Cate Brothers.

For the most part, Living On Mercy had a reassuring, warm, slick and smooth country soul sound, like the gorgeous, Hammond organ-led title track, which was about the intoxicating effects of falling in love, the tight and funky groove of Soul Connection, and the sad Blue Motel, which, rather neatly, namechecked one of Penn’s most famous songs, The Dark End of the Street, in the lyric.

Elsewhere on the record, Edge Of Love was a heavy, bluesy rocker with horn blasts, and One Of These Days, the final song, was a moving, reflective gospel ballad about changing your ways before it’s too late and you’ve gone to the great songwriting gig in the sky.

Living On Mercy was Penn’s first studio album in nearly 30 years – his last one, Do Right Man, was released in 1994. When I asked him about the warm sound of the record, he told me: “I tried my best do to that and it’s what makes it different I guess, because there ain’t a lot of warmth out there these days.”

‘Living On Mercy had a reassuring, warm, slick and smooth country soul sound, like the gorgeous, Hammond organ-led title track, which was about the intoxicating effects of falling in love, the tight and funky groove of Soul Connection, and the sad Blue Motel, which, rather neatly, namechecked one of Penn’s most famous songs, The Dark End of the Street’

He added: “I cut the first bunch of six songs in Creative Workshop, Nashville – it’s my friend Buzz Cason’s studio. I liked what we got – I had a fantastic band. I tried to get things back together in Nashville a month or so later, but it didn’t work out, so I finally figured it out in Sheffield, Alabama and we cut seven songs there. It was a fun record to make – everybody was loose. The album was a little troublesome to mix, but they all are.”

Soulful, warm sounds were also the order of the day on Humanism, the third record in a trilogy by Monks Road Social, a collaborative project overseen by Dr. Robert of The Blow Monkeys.

Recorded in Spain last summer, the album was a colourful collection of jazzy, folky and soulful songs, featuring an impressive list of guests, including Matt Deighton (Mother Earth), Mick Talbot (The Style Council), Sulene Fleming (Brand New Heavies) and actor Peter Capaldi.  Humanism was the perfect record to listen to transport your mind somewhere else during these anxiety-ridden days of lockdown.

Fleming  belts out the frenetic, jazz-funk of Said Too Much and duets with Dr. Robert on the smooth, orchestral soul of Step By Step, while Capaldi sings and plays guitar on the anthemic Britrock of first single, If I Could Pray, which he also wrote.

Keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council and Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis, also made the trip to Spain. Deighton sang on the warm, folky and pastoral ballad Apricot Glow and shared vocals with Dr. Robert on the gorgeous, acoustic, string-laden Egyptian Magic – both tracks feature Talbot on organ. Deighton’s daughter, Romy, lent her vocals to two songs – Stolen Road and Running Blind.

Also on the album were drummer Crispin Taylor and bassist Ernie McKone – both of whom played with acid-jazzers Galliano; percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk; flautist and saxophonist Jacko Peake (Push) and Neil Jones of Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation.

The Spanish sunshine worked its magic, as there was a distinctly Flamenco feel to some of the songs on the record. In an interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, Dr Robert said of the album: “It was recorded over about 10 days in the summer last year – August, to be precise. It was very hot – the wind blew in from Africa.

‘Recorded in Spain last summer,Humanism by Monks Road Social was a colourful collection of jazzy, folky and soulful songs -the perfect record to listen to transport your mind somewhere else during these anxiety-ridden days of lockdown’

“My friend, the producer Youth, has a studio out here, so we did it there. I produced the record, but with so many friends involved it’s never stressful – people like Crispin Taylor and Mick Talbot don’t really need producing. We communicate with a look these days.”

Dr.Robert

On the sound of the album, he said: “The fact that it was super-hot and we were here in Granada obviously flowed into the music. Plus we had a few local musicians involved: David Heredia, the amazing gypsy Flamenco guitar player, and Juan Carlos Camacho on trumpet. Also Ibrahim Diakité from Mali played the kamalengoni. Some of the best stuff was after the session, when we were just jamming. It was an unbelievable vibe.”

For more soulful sounds, try It’s Only Us, the latest album by San Francisco-based psychedelic-soul band Monophonics. Heavily influenced by Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye, it’s a sociopolitical record that tackles subjects including violence and gun crime and mental health issues, as well as good, old fashioned affairs of the heart.

Recorded on eight-track reel-to-reel tape in the group’s Transistor Sound Studio in Marin County, it’s lush and sweet, but also dark, cinematic and edgy. First single Chances is funky, up-tempo Northern Soul, Last One Standing is an epic floor-filler in the vein of Mayfield’s Move On Up, while tracks like Suffocating and Run For Your Life were inspired by the band’s love of ‘60s psych-rock.

 

I interviewed lead singer Kelly Finnigan, who co-wrote, produced, recorded and mixed the album, for Hi-Fi+ magazine. He told me:  “We like our sound to be warm, raw, gritty and fat, but inviting. It was a very organic and spontaneous process. We definitely had a vision from the start, but we still like to let things happen naturally and go with the flow of where the music and mood takes us.

‘It’s Only Us, the latest album by San Francisco-based psychedelic-soul band Monophonics, was heavily influenced by Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye. It’s a sociopolitical record that tackles subjects including violence and gun crime and mental health issues, as well as good, old fashioned affairs of the heart’

“We had ideas about what we wanted, but we are never married to things so much that it clouds our vision and causes us to be compulsive about what the end result is. It was influenced by love, loss, violence, heartbreak, the power struggle of our industry, personal relationships and the overall trip of life as a human living in the current world.

Picture of Monophonics in the studio by Emily Sevin

“Musically it’s influenced by great artists from the past like Curtis Mayfield, Rotary Connection, Brothers of Soul, Isaac Hayes, Vanilla Fudge, Pink Floyd, The Zombies and current artists like Michael Kiwanuka, Kevin Parker and Richard Swift. Our taste in music is very eclectic and we like all types of styles and genres. A lot of the band are into classic soul, but we all love psychedelic music, whether it’s The Beatles, David Axelrod, Norman Whitfield, Charles Stepney or Tame Impala.”

Classic retro influences are also integral to the sound of The Explorers Club, who released two albums this year – a self-titled album and To Sing And Be Born Again, a 10-track collection of covers of songs from 1965-68 that were originally performed by artists including The Zombies, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Herb Alpert, Frankie Valli and The Lovin’ Spoonful.

During the first Covid-19 lockdown, one of the albums that kept me sane was The Explorers Club.  Paying homage to the lush orchestrations of Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach, as well as the ‘60s sunshine pop of The Beach Boys – circa Pet Sounds – The Turtles and The Association, it was an ambitious collection of songs, with gorgeous, aching melodies and wonderful, rich arrangements for strings, horns and vocals.

The bouncy, harmony-drenched first single Ruby could be the sister of Elenore by The Turtles, Mystery, Don’t Cry and Look To The Horizon are perfect pocket symphonies, Dawn has a bossa nova feel, the guitar-led Say You Will is infectious, driving beat-pop, and Somewhere Else – the heaviest moment on the album – is far out and groovy, Byrds-like psychedelia. It’s hard to believe these songs haven’t been around for years – they sound like long-lost classics.

‘During the first Covid-19 lockdown, one of the albums that kept me sane was The Explorers Club.  Paying homage to the lush orchestrations of Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach, as well as the ‘60s sunshine pop of The Beach Boys, The Turtles and The Association, it was an ambitious collection of songs, with gorgeous, aching melodies and wonderful, rich arrangements for strings, horns and vocals’

In these dark times we’re living in, the record is a perfect summer soundtrack that will take you away to a different place – specifically the West Coast of America, in the mid to late ‘60s.

Jason Brewer – The Explorers Club. Picture by Susan Lloyd.

Speaking to me for Hi-Fi+ magazine, Jason Brewer, the mastermind behind The Explorers Club, who founded the US band in his native Charleston, South Carolina, before relocating to Nashville, said: “I have this vision of creating classic sounds that send people on a musical vacation. I’m inspired by classic records made by The Wrecking Crew [famous, LA-based, ‘60s and ‘70s session musicians], as well as vintage movies with dreamy scores and soundtracks. I’m always aiming to take the listener away from modern constraints to a place where the melody and sound just take over.”

My favourite song on The Explorers Club is the last track, Look To The Horizon, which seems like a fitting way to finish an article that’s published at the end of the year. Here’s hoping that we can look forward to yet another year of great music in 2021 and, more importantly, an end to these worrying times we’ve been living through during the past 12 months.

In the meantime, here’s my list of the Best Albums of 2020  – I didn’t include stopgap live albums, like Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer and Vinny Peculiar’s Loot, although I enjoyed those records – and a Spotify playlist to accompany it. Please note, not all the albums I’ve chosen are currently available to stream.

See you on the other side.

Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2020

  1. Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow
  2. Ryan Adams – Wednesdays
  3. The Hanging StarsA New Kind of Sky 
  4. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
  5. Emma Swift Blonde On The Tracks
  6. Neil Young – Homegrown 
  7. Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
  8. My Darling Clementine with Steve Nieve – Country Darkness
  9. Matt HillSavage Pilgrims 
  10. Monophonics – It’s Only Us
  11. Doves – The Universal Want
  12. The Explorers Club – The Explorers Club
  13. Morrissey – I Am Not A Dog On A Chain 
  14. Joe Pernice – Richard 
  15. Jake WinstromCircles 
  16. Morton ValenceBlack Angel Drifter 
  17. Mark Lanegan – Dark Mark Does Christmas
  18. Rose City Band – Summerlong 
  19. Jerry LegerSongs From The Apartment 
  20. The Lost Doves – Set Your Sights Towards The Sun
  21. Futurebirds – Teamwork 
  22. Paul Weller – On Sunset
  23. Humanist – Humanist 
  24. West On ColfaxBar Fly Flew By
  25. Reno Bo – You Can See It All From Here
  26. Arborist – A Northern View
  27. Ben Watt – Storm Damage 
  28. Monks Road Social – Humanism
  29. The No Ones – The Great Lost No Ones Album
  30. Sunset Canyoneers – Sunset Canyoneers
  31. The Jayhawks – XOXO
  32. Jeff Tweedy – Love Is King
  33. Ryan Martin – Wandercease
  34. Eyelids – The Accidental Falls
  35. Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men – Downtime
  36. The Pretenders – Hate For Sale
  37. Isobel Campbell – There Is No Other
  38. Lawrence County – The Frailty of Humans
  39. Ren Harvieu – Revel In The Drama
  40. Dan Penn – Living On Mercy
  41. My Glass World – A Handbook of Roses
  42. The Flaming Lips – American Head
  43. Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You
  44. Elvis Costello – Hey Clockface
  45. Little Barrie & Malcolm Catto – Quatermass 7
  46. Calexico – Seasonal Shift
  47. Kelly Finnigan – A Joyful Sound
  48. John HowardTo The Left of The Moon’s Reflection
  49. Andy Bell – The View from Halfway Down
  50. Malojian – Humm
  51. Dropkick – The Scenic Route
  52. Jonathan Hultén – Chants From Another Place
  53. Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline
  54. Mike Gale – Sunshine For The Mountain God
  55. Torn SailLeisure & Technology 
  56. Mike Gale – The Star Spread Indefinite
  57. The Explorers Club – To Sing And Be Born Again
  58. The Mariners – The Tides of Time
  59. Sarah VistaSongs of the Silver Screen
  60. Pete Greenwood & The Dark Stars – Radio Slow
  61. Richard Davies & The Dissidents – Human Traffic
  62. Luca NieriAlways You
  63. The Sunchymes – The Sands of Time
  64. The Glorias – The Moral High Ground
  65. Groovy Uncle & Miss Modus – The Man Who Calls The Shots 

 

 

‘We’re too country for the indie scene and too indie for country – we’re ‘urban country’’

 

As 2020 draws to a close, here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we’re compiling our best albums of the year list. One of the late contenders is Black Angel Drifter, by Spain and London-based ‘urban country’ duo Morton Valence, who are songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett (ex-member of The Band of Holy Joy and Alabama 3) – and Anne Gilpin.

The record –  their seventh – which came out in November, is a dark, disturbing and dissonant collection of songs, inspired by the haunting cowboy psychedelia of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, murder ballads, country, and the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, as well as the strung-out, feedback-laced, narcotic blues of Spiritualized.

It also includes a stunning cover version of Bob Dylan’s dramatic The Man In The Long Black Coat, which is even more sinister than the original. In an exclusive interview, we spoke to Jessett about the band’s ‘gothic country’ sound, being outsiders and receiving death threats.

“I like writing stories, and I like songs with characters and narratives, but I’ve never murdered anyone and I’ve never been much of a junkie,” he tells us…

Q&A

How did Morton Valence come together?

Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett: Blimey, how long have you got? OK, so Anne was a dancer in a quite well known contemporary dance company, where I was employed as a musician, after just having done a short stint playing with Alabama 3. We toured around all these small-town theatres, and up until this point I’d always thought that dancers were clean living – I was wrong. We developed this nightly ritual of boozy sing-alongs after the shows – Anne was clearly equally in her element singing as she was dancing.

We were both fans of what most people perceived as Okie country singers, like Iris Dement or George Jones, which was quite unusual at the time. Singing harmonies together seemed effortless. Our party piece was Iris Dement’s Our Town, and well, it kind of developed from there.

I think our first proper gig was at Come Down and Meet the Folks – [in London]. We collaborated with a guy called Chuck E Peru and before we knew it we’d morphed into a band. We played some interesting shows back then, touring in Germany with the late St. Thomas (Thomas Hansen), who had an influence on us. He was clearly a troubled soul, but there was honesty and beauty in his music that seemed unconcerned with reality, and he clearly wasn’t playing the game, like most people do when they start in the music biz.

Jeffery Lewis was another great songwriter we played with early on. Anyway, here we are seven albums later, with absolutely no plans for retirement, and hopefully album number eight coming in 2021.

You live in Spain and Anne is based in London. How does the band work? Does it make things difficult? 

RJ: I moved to Madrid in 2018, after just having recorded our previous album Bob and Veronica’s Great Escape. I did so for a variety of reasons that I don’t have time to go into here.

I’m now lucky enough to live in the beautiful province of Granada. I think the last thing we did in the UK was to play some shows with The Long Ryders, back in 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago. As for the practicalities of Anne and me living in different countries, it just gives us a good excuse to travel, and actually, when we get together, it’s always really productive, as there’s a finite amount of time to get things done, which kind of focuses the mind.

How has Covid affected you as a band? Did it thwart any plans you had? How’s 2020 been for you?

RJ: The two adjectives I’d use to describe 2020 would be ‘productive’ and ‘boring’. I think boredom is a great creative motivator and gets a bad rap. So, the great vacuum that is 2020 gave us time to write a new album and make a film, so creatively, 2020’s been good.

Tell us about the film…

RJ: We describe it as an autobiographical, DIY ‘punkumentary’. It started about 10 years ago on a tour of Germany, when these two American filmmakers, both called Mike, tagged along with us with the idea of making a live performance DVD – remember them?

The tour was pretty chaotic, as they usually are, and when the Mikes got the footage back to America, they dismissed it as being unusable, due to the low-quality production values of the film stock. Eventually, we inherited the footage, and yes, it was most certainly rough and ready, but, rather than making us wince, it had the opposite effect. Paradoxically, its graininess, gritty sound and anachronistic video format seemed to essentially capture a spirit of rock ‘n’ roll that we like, so we patchworked a narrative around the footage, archives from our own film experiments and moments from some of our favourite B movies.

Even though Anne and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing, out of the chaos, somehow, we were finally looking at a cohesive piece of work that we called This Is A Film About A Band – literally no other name seemed to suffice. We didn’t want to make another rockumentary of talking heads and tour bus anecdotes and the like – in fact there’s virtually no dialogue at all, but instead it’s captioned, a bit like Top of the Pops 2.

Even though I would describe the film’s protagonist as the music, it does tell our story, and probably the story of lots of bands. Our original idea was to just stick it up on YouTube or Vimeo for our fans, but on the advice of a friend who works in the movie biz, we entered it into a few film festivals where it started to gather a bit of momentum.

We had it premiered at the Doc’N Roll film festival, which is probably the most prestigious film festival of its type in the UK, and we’ve been awarded other laurels. The feedback we’ve had has been incredible, and we’re really looking forward to seeing it on the big screen in 2021.

Let’s talk about your latest album, your seventh, Black Angel Drifter. It was actually recorded in 2016. Why has it been reissued this year and can you tell us about the vinyl version, which is due out soon?

RJ: For years we were uncompromisingly independent, and we actually passed on quite a few recording and management deals, which I guess was kind of stupid when I look back on it – this is all documented in our film by the way.

We’d had some bad experiences, but hey, who hasn’t in the music biz, right? We sincerely believed we could circumvent the middleman, which we did to a point with our own label Bastard Recordings, but there’s only so far you can go with that, and you end up spending more time looking at Excel spreadsheets than you do creating music.

‘For years we were uncompromisingly independent, and we actually passed on quite a few recording and management deals, which I guess was kind of stupid when I look back on it’

Finally, a label called Cow Pie, run by BJ Cole, Hank Wangford and Patrick Hart, came to our rescue. They completely get us – we’re not an easy fit that’s for sure. We’re kind of too country for the indie scene and too indie for country – we call it ‘urban country’, mainly because we want to have an answer when people ask ‘what kind of music do you make?’

Cow Pie are clearly kindred spirits when it comes to some of our slightly more leftfield ideas – they even put out a track of ours that’s half an hour of crickets chirping, although there is a hidden song in the middle of that one. But of course, their main thing is vinyl, which we’re dead excited about.

The new record originally started life as something by your experimental side-project. How did it end up being a Morton Valence album?

RJ: Back in 2016, we had two bands going in parallel – I guess we’re sadomasochistic… Black Angel Drifter was the name of our other band. We played one gig and recorded an album. Our plan was to make something that not only sounded auto-destructive, but actually was auto-destructive, hence the sole gig.

Songwriting-wise it’s probably the most collaborative effort we’ve put out – we’re really proud of the songs and feel they deserve more of an airing, hence the fact that we’ve taken off the mask and re-released them as Morton Valence. In 2016, Morton Valence were working on a multilingual covers album called Europa, which was a visceral response to Brexit. OK, retrospectively it was very naive – we were trying to avoid being overtly political and simply add something positive to what was an extremely toxic narrative. But we ended up getting trolled with the most sickening death threats – and worse – imaginable, which is what partly prompted me to leave the UK.

So, with everything that was going on in 2016, Black Angel Drifter was put on a hiatus. Fast forward four years, and everything that seemed so terrible in 2016 has been completely eclipsed by 2020, so it just seemed like a perfect time to resurrect Black Angel Drifter.

‘If you were to ask me what the greatest song ever written was, I would reply without any hesitation, Some Velvet Morning’

Let’s talk about the sound of the record. What were you aiming for and what were the sessions like? You produced it yourselves, didn’t you?

RJ: Much like our film, we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing, which maybe adds to its idiosyncratic nature. All our other albums have been with a producer of some description.

We recorded it partly down at [pedal steel guitarist] Alan Cook’s garage, my flat in south London and Bark Studio [in Walthamstow, London]. Our sole technical remit to ourselves was ‘does it sound shit? Or do we like it?’ If it was the latter, we just went with it. But if we were aiming for a specific feel, it would definitely be gothic country, whether or not we hit the target, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Can we talk about a few of the songs? The opening track, Skylines Change/ Genders Blur, has a dark, menacing, twangy Morricone/Spaghetti Western-meets-country feel, but also reminds me of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, as well as The Jesus & Mary Chain…

RJ: It’s actually an old song that was co-written with Johny Brown of The Band of Holy Joy – a fantastic band that I was lucky enough to play with back in the day. Apart from me shamelessly lifting from Morricone, it definitely owes more than a passing debt of gratitude to Nancy and Lee.

‘If we were aiming for a specific feel, it would definitely be gothic country’

If you were to ask me what the greatest song ever written was, I would reply without any hesitation, Some Velvet Morning, so yes, you’re absolutely spot on about that. It being the opening gambit on the album, we wanted to go straight for the jugular – do something that would either make the listener baulk and go immediately for the eject button, or have the opposite effect. The logic being, if you live through this, you’ll make the whole album.

Black-Eyed Susan is a moody and sinister murder ballad. What inspired it? It’s a disturbing tale…

RJ: It’s another collaboration – this time with the Scottish poet David Cameron, someone who could not be more opposite than his unfortunate namesake. The plot comes from his novel The Ghost of Alice Fields, and he asked me to adapt his poem into a song. I’d never done anything like that before. I write 99 percent of our lyrics, so I guess technically that makes me a lyricist, but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a poet. A storyteller, maybe?

I think only certain song lyrics can crossover as poetry, which to me is simply defined by whether something reads well without its given musical accompaniment. Anyway, I was really unsure at first, simply because most individuals have a particular timbre of their own.

I intonate words in a particular way that work their way around a melody, usually as I’m strumming a guitar, and it happens very naturally, so to try and shoehorn someone else’s words into that scenario felt a bit weird. But I was flattered to have been asked, so I gave it a go, and I guess my fears were unwarranted, as the resultant song works well in my humble opinion.

As far as its content goes, songs mean different things to different people. I’ve had people come up and say stuff like, ‘I love that song you wrote about such-and-such, we played it last week at me dad’s funeral’ or whatever, and I’m like, wow, I’m honoured. But I had no idea it was about such-and-such, but that’s the beauty of a song.

‘The Man In The Long Black Coat is a work of genius; it’s country gothic heaven and hell’

You’ve covered one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, The Man In The Long Black Coat, and you’ve made it sound even more menacing than the original. Good work!

RJ: As you rightly point out, it’s a work of genius; it’s country gothic heaven and hell, and it kind of set a ridiculously high standard for what we were trying to do on this album. Taking on something of such magnitude is living dangerously, not least as Mark Lanegan does a killer version of it too.

I guess when you cover a song, you want to leave your own mark on it, and hopefully we at least achieved that – most likely much to the horror of some Dylan purists. Having a male/female vocal takes it somewhere different, plus I spent a long time getting the discordant guitars the way we wanted them to sound.

Playing in tune is a doddle, but to get the sound I was after, the guitars needed to be out of tune, but not just any old ‘out of tune’, it was actually something very precise.

I knew how I wanted the note to sound, but finding something that doesn’t actually exist in any tangible way can be problematic. I suppose I was looking for an optimised sort of disharmony that would really suit the song. You might think that sounds pretentious, but when you listen to the song, hopefully you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, we found the note we were looking for in the end, it was perfectly out of tune, and we’re very happy.

On If I Could Start Again, a man recounts his misspent life from a prison cell. It sounds like a classic, strung-out country ballad, but it also reminds me of Spiritualized at times. Where did that song come from? 

RJ: Well, I’ve never murdered anyone, my dad wasn’t a butcher and I’ve never been much of a junkie. But when I look back, of course there are things I’d do differently, as would anyone, right? Of course, to look back in such a way is also an exercise in futility, which is a good place to start writing a song.

‘I’ve never murdered anyone, my dad wasn’t a butcher and I’ve never been much of a junkie’

I like writing stories, and I like songs with characters and narratives, and yes, it’s definitely got a dose of Spiritualized, and maybe a touch of Tom T Hall. I create a character, and see where that character goes. This guy is a nice middle-class kid who gets it all wrong. He could’ve been an IT consultant or an operations research analyst, but he assumes there’s more to life, he’s a romantic, and the rest is self-explanatory. There’s certainly nothing cryptic in this song, and in terms of my life in music, I’ve made every mistake there is, and if I could start again, I really wonder what I’d do, and as for real life, well I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Sister Pain is one of the bluesier songs on the album. Any thoughts on it?

RJ: It’s actually a slowed-down version of Otis Redding’s Hard to Handle, set to a sludgy spiritual blues chant, backed by an imaginary version of The Stooges as the house band, so it’s kind of like a revue show in a song.

The album features Alan Cook on pedal steel. He’s become a regular member of the band, hasn’t he? How did you get together and what’s it like to work with him? I know Alan from his work with Quiet Loner (Matt Hill) and UK country duo My Darling Clementine...

RJ: Alan provides the backbone of our sound, in particular on Black Angel Drifter, where he’s pretty much ubiquitous throughout. His sound was perfectly described in one review as something that ‘fills the void like a guilty conscience’, and without him the atmosphere would change completely. I’m not sure how we met to be honest, through mutual musician friends I suppose, but he’s been with us for quite a few years now, and he’s obviously extremely tolerant to put up with me.

‘Popularity is often synonymous with conformity and mediocrity, and in today’s world it seems to be applauded and rewarded more than ever’

Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?

RJ: Wow, that’s always a tough one. All sorts of people are inspiring to me, but very few of them are musicians or famous people. My sister and her colleagues for starters – she’s a nurse busting a gut at the NHS, which trumps everything in my opinion. And I suppose I’ve always admired people who don’t care about being popular or how others judge them.

Popularity is often synonymous with conformity and mediocrity, and in today’s world it seems to be applauded and rewarded more than ever – a world where you put one foot wrong, you’re an instant pariah. No one gets through life without someone cutting us some slack from time to time, right? Yet we’re so quick to judge and condemn others, and shout about it as loudly as possible, usually on social media.

So, I’m inspired by people who pronounce schedule with a ‘k’ and don’t give a shit, that kind of thing, and far as a main musical influence, that would be my mum for turning me on to The Beatles before I could even walk. Thanks, Mum.

You’re currently planning your eighth album, which is pretty much written and demoed. You plan to record it in London, with pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole producing. What can we expect? Any idea what it will sound like?

RJ: Well nothing’s signed and sealed yet, but the songs are pretty much there, and the provisional plan is to release it on Cow Pie, and yes, we’ve had discussions with BJ. He’s an artist we are huge fans of and who I briefly crossed paths with years ago, when I was knocking around with Alabama 3. But it’s a bit premature to talk about it at this stage to be honest.

Black Angel Drifter is a very produced album, in the sense that a lot of how it sounds was created in the studio. I’m certainly not saying that’s a bad thing, quite the opposite in fact, it’s what The Beatles used to do, but it’s just one way of doing things, and it allows you more space to experiment.

With each album we’ve always tried something different – that’s one bonus of being independent – and with the next one we plan to get the songs as tight as we can first, then go in and record them pretty much live. One of my favourite albums ever is The Trinity Sessions by Cowboy Junkies, which was of course recorded completely live. But it’s early days still, so let’s wait and see.

What are your plans for Christmas? Will it be a dark one, rather than a white one?

RJ: It will be a sunny one actually, because I’ll be in Andalucía.

Finally, what music – new and old have you been enjoying recently?

RJ: My album of 2020 is definitely Distance is the Soul of Beauty by Michael J Sheehy – it really is an astounding piece of poetic beauty. Michael sent me a copy in the post when I was living in Madrid in the summer, and I haven’t stopped listening to it ever since. It’s one of those records where you feel like he’s having a conversation with you personally, rather than playing to an audience, which is a rare talent that very few singers are able to do.

I also love The Delines, and went to see them play just before the lockdown, Willy Vlautin is so talented, it’s ridiculous, and it was good to see Amy Boone in great form after that terrible accident. But my tastes are very catholic, I love the Fat White Family, maybe I’m biased because I’m from Brixton. They remind me a bit of The Country Teasers, who have a film on at Doc’N Roll that I can’t wait to see.

Anne and I have always been fans of John Prine, Tim Hardin and The Carpenters, as well as movie soundtrack composers like Roy Budd or Michel Legrand. These are just the first things that have popped into my head. On another day, it would be a completely different list.

Black Angel Drifter by Morton Valence is currently available to stream and download on digital platforms. A vinyl version will be released by Cow Pie in early 2021.

http://www.mortonvalence.com/

https://cowpietwang.com/

 

‘This project has been such an interesting learning curve for both of us – it’s exciting’

 

Until the End of the World – Meg Olsen and Ian Webber

Nashville-based duo Until the End of the World – husband-and-wife singer-songwriters Ian Webber and Meg Olsen – have a name that’s very apt for these dark times we’re living in, but they actually took their moniker from the 1991 Wim Wenders film of the same name. In fact, their debut single, Just Let Go, which came out this summer, was influenced by Wenders’s road movies, as well as the films of David Lynch.

It’s a gorgeous, stripped-down, six-minute ballad, with Olsen on lead vocals and Webber on guitar and backing vocals, that recalls the fragile, dreamy, country-psych-folk of Mazzy Star.

 

New single, another slow song, the equally lovely Stars Fall Down, has a slight ‘50s feel, thanks to its twangy, late-night guitar sound. “I was imagining Richard Hawley-esque guitar tones and I’ve been inspired by a French band called The Limiñanas – it’s like lo-fi Velvet Underground meets Serge Gainsbourg and I love the vibe,” says Webber.

Adds Olsen: “When I first heard the music for Stars Fall Down, it set an immediate tone and mood for me. I gravitate towards melancholy themes – love gone wrong, etc. The lyrics flowed really easily from that initial mood that was set by Ian’s guitar. I think I wrote the first draft in an hour and we finessed it slightly from there. I was genuinely happy with it, which is rare for me.”

The Until the End of the World project began in April this year, during lockdown, as Olsen explains: “We started very superficially working on ideas together on piano and guitar in our living room, but then Ian started composing things up a storm. He encouraged me to sit down with the piece of music that would become Just Let Go and he just kept it really low-key and simplistic. We liked the end result, so we kept going from there.”

Talking about Just Let Go, Webber says: “It was a lot of me figuring out how to record everything myself, without a producer or engineer. When I was recording the basic tracks, I wasn’t sure if I had reached three minutes or not, so I kept going, so that’s why it ended up a six-minute song.”

‘I’ve totally upended my process as a songwriter. It seemed daunting, but it’s been really good for me’

The duo are planning to release an album in the first part of next year – hopefully in the spring. “It’s a little over halfway done and it’s been an interesting and exciting process,” says Olsen. “And it’s something that I’m not sure would have happened without the lockdown.”

She adds: “This project has been such an interesting learning curve for both of us. Ian has had to navigate recording and producing, and I’ve totally upended my process as a songwriter. I normally go into the studio with finished, or almost finished, songs. In this case, I was coming into fully-formed music and having to work out melodies and lyrics from there. It seemed daunting, but it’s been really good for me and for both of us as artists.”

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but they feel fine…

 

For more information, visit: https://untiltheendoftheworld.com/

 

Jangle all the way

 

Picture of The Lost Doves by John Middleham

Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, one of the recent albums that has helped us to stay positive during these tough times – and has been a shining light in the darkness – is the aptly-entitled Set Your Sights Towards The Sun, the debut record by UK duo The Lost Doves, who are North West-based singer-songwriters Ian Bailey and Charlotte Newman. 

It’s a superb collection of songs that’s in thrall to classic ’60s jangly and harmonic guitar pop, like The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as vintage psychedelic sounds. On the optimistic and anthemic title track, Bailey’s 12-string Rickenbacker rings out like bells (of Rhymney), and it also adds a gorgeous shimmer to the melancholy She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes.

There’s a country tinge to the beautiful, acoustic ballad You Stop Me From Falling,  a Lennon feel to the haunting Sally Weather, a hint of Eastern mysticism on More Than I and some seriously heavy psych on the dark, trippy instrumental, The Clowns Are Coming To Town

I wanted the album to feel like a record you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s,” Bailey tells us, in an exclusive interview. He’s certainly achieved his goal…

Q&A

Hi Ian. How’s it going?

Ian Bailey: Well, things could be better gig-wise, as you can imagine, but being able to work and record from home has been a lifeline for me.

I’m based in Leyland, near Preston. Pre-Covid, Preston’s music scene was bustling and bright. The city played host to several fantastic local acts and artists – many of whom I’ve been lifelong friends with – as well as touring bands. All play and perform regularly at great venues, like The Ferret and The Continental.

Have you heard of Preston-based Americana band West on Colfax, who released a great debut album, Barfly Flew By, earlier this year?

IB: Scott [Carey – bass] from West on Colfax was in touch recently, after seeing one of my videos on the Americana UK website. He has invited me to play at their Americana night at The Continental, so I’m looking forward to that once venues can open again.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you, and what are your hopes and fears for the future of live music?

IB: I’ve been a self-employed musician for many years. At the onset of the first lockdown, back in March, I was really worried for the careers of fellow musicians, venues and everyone else working within the arts sector – the sound engineers, stage crew, lighting techs, the list goes on… Sadly, it appears to be an industry that was first to shut and looking like the last to open. Encouraging audiences to be confident to attend gigs again is another story…

‘Nobody should be excluded or made to retrain – that’s just the highest insult you can give any creative person. It’s a tough time, but I believe music, arts and culture builds bridges and has the power to heal’

It’s also concerning to see so many people in the arts slipping through the net and not being eligible for financial support, like the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). I know the Musicians’ Union and other organisations are lobbying for it and I really hope something can be done for everyone in the arts world. Nobody should be excluded or made to retrain – that’s just the highest insult you can give any creative person. It’s a tough time, but I believe music, arts and culture builds bridges and has the power to heal. I truly hope the live scene will return bigger than ever.

Picture of Ian Bailey by John Middleham

Let’s talk about your latest project – The Lost Doves. How did you end up working with Charlotte Newman? You both complement each other well – your voices sound great together…

IB: Thank you. I really enjoy working with Charlotte she’s a real natural talent. We met at a gig on the back of a lorry (laughs) a few years ago, and, a couple of years later, we decided to do something together. We started rehearsing various songs – covers and originals – and subsequently called the rehearsals ‘The Green Tea Sessions’, due to the copious amount we consumed. From thereon, we started recording a few tracks and that’s what spurred us on to create the album together.

You recorded it at your home studio, between late 2019 and pre-lockdown this year. How were the sessions and what’s your set-up like at home?

IB: They were all great sessions – quick and productive. Most of what you hear on the album were first takes. My studio, Small Space Studios, is in fact my daughter Sacha’s old box bedroom – it’s very small. I inherited the valuable space when she moved to Liverpool to start university.

A couple of years ago, I bought a 360 12-string Mapleglo Rickenbacker, which is the guitar you hear on the album. I use a jangle box with the Ricky, which is basically a compression pedal. It gives the guitar sustain and ‘that’ sound, and I just go straight into the desk with it. I bought some half decent mics, an £80 keyboard, an old Boss BR900CD [portable multi-track recorder] complete with flash cards, a drum machine, an old amp and monitors. That’s it really.

You co-produced the record with Charlotte and you both played all the instruments, apart from the drums, which were by ‘local legend’ Little Bobby Rockin’ Box. Tell us about Bobby…

IB:Well, Bobby is the pseudonym for my wonderful old Alesis drum machine that I bid for and won on eBay. We used Bobby’s talents throughout the album, before adding tambourine and shakers to complement his impeccable timing. We thought that by giving him credit and accolade as a local legend he’d be up for doing another album!

‘I wanted the album to feel like a record  you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s’

How did you approach the album? What kind of sound and feel were you going for?

IB: That’s a really good question. When we embarked on the project, I was going to keep everything stripped-back and understated, but it soon became apparent that it would be a big mistake to leave out things like Charlotte’s wonderful lead guitar playing, our built-up harmonies and the way we blended the instruments, so I started to look at the majority of the album being full ‘band’ tracks, but with the occasional stripped-back song in there to give some balance.

With regards to the sound, I wanted the album to feel like an album you’ve had in your collection for years – warm and inviting. I guess I was always trying to create an album that was in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s.

Were all the songs written especially for The Lost Doves project, or did you already have some of them?

IB: Not all the songs were written specifically for the album. You Stop Me From Falling is one I wrote several years ago, but after performing the song in rehearsal acoustically with Charlotte, it felt natural to include it on the album.

See Saw and She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes were originally written for my stripped-back, acoustic album Empty Fields, but I really wanted to give them a bigger sound and production, so it felt right to include them on the album too.

The Lost Doves: Charlotte Newman and Ian Bailey – picture by John Middleham

Where did the name The Lost Doves come from?

IB: I was originally working on a psychedelic ‘60s-style name, you know like Jack & Jill’s Incredible Grooving Satanic Barber Shop Bungee Jumping Santa Machine, but I was having no such luck coming up with something that had any relevance.

So I basically went back to the drawing board and hit upon the idea of two white doves escaping from a magician’s cage and flying for days, possibly weeks, over the sand and sea, to find a new home in the sun, away from the conjuror’s clutches, but, unfortunately, getting lost and losing their bearings somewhere along the way. I liked the way it also worked with The Byrds theme.

On that note, the jangly title track, which is one of my favourite songs on the album, has a definite Byrds feel, with 12-string Rickenbacker, harmonies and a great poppy melody…

IB: It feels very relevant for the hard times we’re living in. It’s a hopeful song about bringing some light into the darkness. It’s one of our favourites too.

What inspired it? Was it written in response to the Covid crisis?

IB: It was written pre-Covid and lockdown – in fact it was the first track we finished for the album. I wanted to write a song that delivered a positive message on life. It’s about helping each other, not looking back, and finding that even the smallest chink of light in the darkest room can bring hope – the bad days will pass. Its sentiment means more now than ever. I like the way the album hangs off the back of it too.

Several of the songs deal with hope and looking towards a better, brighter time. Was that intentional? They feel like they have a common theme…

IB: I guess it wasn’t intentional, but it seemed to flow that way. I’ve found that listening to certain music, using certain instruments and working with certain musicians brings out different sides to my songwriting and it’s confirmed to me that it’s good to be around positive folk.

‘I wanted the guitars to sound like Crosby and McGuinn in the left and right speakers, and the harmonies to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash’

She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes is also very Byrds-like…

IB: Yes indeed, I wanted it to sound like The Byrds had just got back together. Musically I think it has a Chimes of Freedom feel. I like the words – they’re pretty melancholy really. It’s about a couple going their separate ways, but he wants her to stay and pleads with her, but how can he possibly change her mind? Will she believe him that it will all be different, when all she’s felt is loneliness and neglect day-after-day? I wanted the guitars to sound like Crosby and McGuinn in the left and right speakers, and the harmonies to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Why do you like the Rickenbacker sound so much? Are you a Byrds and Beatles fanatic? Who are your main influences?

IB: I’ve loved The Beatles and The Byrds since I was at school. I got my first Rickenbacker 12-string when I was 18, from Hobbs Music in Lancaster, after falling in love with the look and that unmistakable jangly sound. My dad was kind enough to sign the never-never form and I paid him back £10 a week. I still have the guitar to this day. I have a few different guitars, but the Rickenbacker always comes out of the case first.

My friends and I formed our first band together while we were at school and eventually turned ourselves into a great mod band, playing the scooter rallies in and around Lancashire. Bands like The Jam, The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks all featured heavily in those days.

As the years went by, I was listening to artists like The Moody Blues, Simon & Garfunkel – in fact most of the stuff from my dad’s record collection. Little Richard, John Denver, Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Bread, Procol Harum, Traffic – those kind of artists. Later I was introduced to the such greats as Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, David Olney, Emmylou Harris….the list goes on.

Your song Sally Weather has a Lennon/ Beatles feel…

IB: It was based on a riff and an idea I’d had for around 20 years. The lyrics are based on a person I knew who had fallen into an abusive relationship. I’m glad to say she is now happy and loving her life again.

I always think it sounds like a cross between Girl and something else I can never quite put my finger on, but I guess something from the Revolver-era. The keyboard solo was inspired by House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals. I like the lines “insanity’s a point of view, so close your eyes you’ll miss the truth.”

You Stop Me From Falling is more stripped-down. It’s a gorgeous acoustic ballad. Where did that song come from?

IB: It was written and dedicated to a dear friend who helped me through some rough times. It was my way of giving them something back.

It’s been through a few different guises, but, primarily, when I was writing it, I had in my head the scene from The Shining, where all the ‘ghosts’ are in the big concert room in their 1920s regalia and the band are playing. It’s slightly odd I know, but you can never tell what will inspire a song sometimes.

The Clowns Are Coming To Town is a heavy, psychedelic instrumental. I really like it, but it feels a bit out of place on the album. Is it your Revolution 9 moment?

IB: I wanted a track that would crash down and create some waves. I love the whole psychedelia scene from the late ‘60s onwards – it had a big effect on me. I remember hearing White Rabbit [by Jefferson Airplane] for the first time and immediately heading into town, straight to Action Records [in Preston] and buying it.

‘I wanted a track that would crash down and create some waves. I love the whole psychedelia scene from the late ‘60s onwards – it had a big effect on me’

Watching the Monterey Pop Festival and seeing Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, and hearing Tomorrow Never Knows, Eight Miles High, Soft Machine, Piper at The Gates of Dawn and Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast all had a big influence on me.

We had a lot of fun recording The Clowns Are Coming To Town – we were bouncing guitars along tables, pinging rulers, reversing organs, radios and guitars, backwards pianos, distorted bass, sending political leaders’ speeches backwards… that sort of thing. It started its days by being loosely based around The Byrds’ Stranger In A Strange Land, but it quickly turned into Revolution 9 part two.

More Than I also has a Beatles feel, as well as some slight Eastern vibes, as does the final track, which is a short, backwards, psychedelic instrumental, entitled Isolation. Is that you embracing your inner George Harrison?

IB: More Than I was written for my daughter while we were on holiday in Cornwall. We had gone down to the beach – the weather was beautiful, the sun was high, the sky was blue and I just had the line “Like a child on the sand who doesn’t feel the land as its fear” running through my head. I love Charlotte’s harmonies on that song.

Musically it’s inspired by Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’, The Beatles’ Across The Universe and George Harrison’s Here Comes The Moon. I use an electric sitar on it, just tickling through in the mix. I’m greatly inspired and influenced by George Harrison’s music and his spiritual values. He was a great man.

There are two cover versions on the album – and they’re both songs I love, the standard, Autumn Leaves, and Scott Walker’s Duchess. Why did you choose them?

IB: When Charlotte and I started rehearsing, we had one of those ‘OK, what songs have you got?’ moments. She played me Autumn Leaves and I was astounded. It was beautiful. I knew then it just had to go on any future album we made. I like to call it the ‘candlelit room with a glass of wine, next to a crackling California fire and looking out onto the setting sun’ moment on the album.

Scott Walker’s Duchess was played to me around 20 years ago after a long studio session. I’d never heard anything quite so enchanting, beautiful and dark. I would play it on repeat for months after and still do. It felt like the perfect choice to honour and celebrate this wonderful song and the great Scott Walker. 

Waves, which is the only song written by Charlotte on the album, has the sound of the sea from Barbados on it. Were you tempted to put any sound effects from Lancashire on the album? What would you have chosen?

IB: Charlotte loves travelling and she has a real sense of wanderlust. While she was away playing the cruise ships around the Caribbean, we stayed in touch and one cold, frosty morning she sent me a video recording of the Barbados sea lapping against the sun-drenched sandy shore. When she returned, we recorded Waves and I secretly added the waves to the final mix. She was delighted. Charlotte plays the beautiful lead guitar throughout that song – it reminds me of Lindsey Buckingham’s playing. What North Western sound effect would I have chosen? Probably the wind and the rain.

Can you tell us about your musical background? You’ve had four solo albums out since the ’90s…

IB: I was born in Blackpool in 1969 and spent my formative years living in various parts of The Fylde before moving to Preston in 1980. I started playing in bands when I was at secondary school, although I had a Bontempi guitar as a five-year-old and dug Blockbuster by The Sweet. When I left school, I got my first job as an apprentice at Fylde Guitars in Kirkham. During that time, I formed a mod band called Class A. It was taken from a Marlboro packet I seem to remember.

We went through various guises, but as the mod flame dimmed to a flicker, we attempted to resurrect ourselves. Sometimes we were psychedelic and sometimes gothic, but never with direction. We stuck together right through the early ‘90s until around ‘96/’97.

During that time, I met and married my soulmate Rachel and we had two wonderful daughters, Jose and Sacha. Rachel and the girls keep me on track through thick and thin. In 1998, I met Gary Hall through a mutual friend, Lee, who I was playing with in our band MellowDrive. We recorded our debut album and everything else after with Gary, in ’98, and he soon became a friend, producer and mentor.

He introduced me to great music I’d never heard before and songwriters whose lyrics cut deep. I recorded four solo albums with Gary and we both produced other artists over a 11-year or so period at his Voodoo Rooms Studio. That was a valuable experience for me and gave me the knowledge and tools to pave the way for me to start recording and producing from my own homegrown studio.

As well as Charlotte, you’re also working with singer-songwriter, Daniel Wylie, the former frontman of Cosmic Rough Riders. You’re releasing an EP of co-written songs, aren’t you? I’ve had a sneak preview of two tracks, Take It Or Leave It, which has a ’60s, jangly pop feel, with keys and brass, and Slow Down River – another summery, Byrdsy song about the sun. What’s the plan for the EP?

IB: I’m loving working with Daniel. We’ve been Facebook friends for several years. His songs, music and stories, and his ability to pull brilliant melodies out of the air are inspiring.

During lockdown, I began recording some new solo songs – Dangerous Clowns and TV Land. My daughter, Sacha, acted as video producer for my lockdown sessions. I sent Daniel the videos and he loved them. We got chatting about music we both enjoyed and I suggested we should do a co-write at some point. He was really into the idea and he sent over four song ideas.

The first track we finished was What’s Happening Now?, followed by Take It Or Leave It, and then Slow Down River. We are both really pleased with how they are all sounding. We plan to do more co-writes after this EP.

I’m producing and performing the songs in my home studio and I’m finding it to be such a great way to work. Daniel and I really are both enjoying the whole process. It’s also bringing out a different side to me as a songwriter and producer, which I’m loving. Daniel has been playing a couple of the tracks to a few record company friends and getting some great feedback. Nothing is finalised yet regarding the release, but we’re excited about it.

As you mentioned, you’ve been putting out some solo songs on YouTube. Any plans for another solo album? If so, when will it come out and what can we expect?

IB: Yes – so far I’ve recorded two tracks which will be on my new solo album. I have a bunch of songs ready to go and record. You can expect more jangle from the Rickenbacker, and a possible duet or two. There’s no release date as yet, but hopefully it will be towards next summer.

What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? What have been your favourite albums of 2020?

IB: That’s a great question. Well, recently I’ve been tuning in to a great American radio station called Radio Free Phoenix, which plays some fantastic music.

On my recent playlists there’s been The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Doors, Townes Van Zandt, The Cure, Ravi Shankar, Buddy Holly, Dylan, Lennon, R.E.M, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Daniel Wylie, Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Syd Barrett, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Janis Joplin, The Mamas and the Papas, Creedence, George Harrison, Steve Hillage, Bob Marley, Little Richard, Mickey Newbury, The Who, Van Morrison, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, The Moody Blues, Vaughan Williams, Tom Baxter, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Crowded House, Miles Davis, Vivaldi, Steve Marriott, Martin Simpson, and, worth mentioning again, The Byrds!

I enjoyed the coverage on the radio for John Lennon’s 80th birthday too and I’ve had Ray LaMontagne’s Monovision on repeat. There’s some real gems on that album. My daughter Sacha introduced me to a band called Flyte – I love the harmonies and they are great musicians. I’ve been enjoying Homegrown by Neil Young. I also listened to the new Paul Weller album [On Sunset] the other evening. I really like the album before it, True Meanings, too.

Finally, what are your plans for Christmas? Will your 12-string Rickenbacker be ringing out?

IB: Well, I would usually be busy gigging in December, but I think this year it will be nights by the fire, finishing songs, spending time with my family and recording the new album. I’m sure the Ricky will be making an appearance. I might even record a jangly Christmas carol for you.

Set Your Sights Towards The Sun by The Lost Doves is out now on Green Tea Productions.

For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/Ianbaileymusicandinfo/