EP Reviews

EP Review: Liv Austen – Workin’ Man’s Dream

EP Review: Liv Austen - Workin' Man's Dream Liv Austen is yet another example how powerful a music discovery tool Twitter is these days, as we crossed paths on there last year, and I was immediately drawn to her voice, and piano playing. This debut EP from Liv actually came out late last year, but with Christmas and man flu (what, no sympathy?) I’m only now getting round to giving it the attention it so richly deserves.

The first track, Rain On My Side, opens with some unmistakably country stings, before Liv’s voice joins them. It’s almost instantly that you hear these vocals that have such wonderfully smooth tone and clarity, and wonder why you haven’t heard them before. It’s great to hear a song that extols the virtues of rain and storms, as they are both things I love to sit inside and watch, and listen to. The metaphor of rain washing away the lonely feeling works well too, away from my literal interpretation!

Breathe Out starts a bit rockier, thank to the guitar intro. The song softens with Liv’s vocals, but then builds nicely to the chorus. It’s a song that has Liv assuring us that she’s fine on her own, but she later declares there is nobody out there for her, and the confidence turns to vulnerability. Even when taking it up a gear, Liv’s voice never falters, and retains that creamy resonance throughout.

I’m almost certain that The Guts You Always Had is the song I heard last year, as the tip toeing piano feels very familiar. That’s Liv on Piano in case you were wondering, because as well as a singer and an actress, she’s a pianist too. This is one of the song’s where I visualise (if you’ve read my reviews before you’ll know the visualisation is a big part of music for me) Liv sitting at the piano with a spotlight picking her out on an otherwise dark stage. This is the one, while not taking anything away from the other songs, that takes Liv to the next level, and is a gorgeous song, both in the sound and the lyrics. It tells the tale of her relationship with her sister and the contrasting traits they possess. There are times when the song makes me question whether both sisters are still with us, but it works just as well either way.

The EP ends finishes the title track Working Man’s Dream, which could be just as much at home in a honky tonk bar in the southern states of America as it is in Liv’s hometown of London. It’s an incredibly catchy song talking of the desire to succeed as a singer, which ends with a back to reality slowing of the tempo and stripped down vocal. It’s as if the end of the song is Liv waking up from her own dream. It’s an incredibly radio friendly and upbeat song that would give Liv the opportunity to have a lot fun performing live.

It’s an EP of such high quality that I do think Liv Austen is a name that deserves to be known by a lot more people, and coincidentally she was announced to be performing at Country To Country 2015 on one of the pop up stages just today. You can catch her in the Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday 7th April at 4pm, and based on the evidence of this EP, I urge you to do just that. In just 4 songs, Liv shows incredible versatility in her voice and style and is obviously a very talented singer / songwriter, appealing to both fans of modern and traditional country music.

Get Working Man’s Dream on iTunes and follow Liv on Twitter and Facebook.

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EP Review: The Shires – The Green Note EP

The Shires - The Green Note EP

The Shires – The Green Note EP

The world conspired against me last year, meaning that I missed out on seeing The Shires perform live in September and November. I was however lucky enough to be in attendance at the their showcase with Cassadee Pope back in May, so with the singles I had heard on the radio, I had some idea of what to expect from this EP. It had a few things in its favour already, and those being 1) it was recorded at my favourite venue, The Green Note in London, 2) it is a live recording, rather than a multi track studio recording which I love, and 3) the cover of the EP is a photograph from Flex, who is the most inspiring music photographer I’ve encountered to date.

The EP starts off with Ben on piano, and already I’m taken back to the aforementioned showcase and I can imagine him tickling the ivories as he did so masterfully back then. Crissie’s sweet vocals soon join and I’m reminded of what a beautiful sound these guys make when they perform. I know from personal experience that the acoustics are great in The Green Note and State Lines sounds magnificent. This is a song that likens the personality and traits of the protagonist to areas in America and characteristics of those areas. It’s a very clever song, that builds to some of the most brilliant harmonies in the business today, something The Shires are getting somewhat of a name for.

Nashville Grey Skies is their most famous song to date, and the more stripped down treatment it receives actually suits it really well. It’s the second song in a row that talks of America, well Nashville to be precise, and bringing the feel and scene to the UK. Hey, if anyone is going to do that it’s going to be The Shires, and along with their gigging buddies from last year Ward Thomas, we are well on the way to having that Nashville they talk of.

Black and White takes on a more delicate tempo about Love, and for the first part is almost a capella, if not for Ben’s finger picking on guitar. One of my must haves for music is believability. I’ve been to gigs where the performer is phoning in their performance and it’s not an enjoyable experience for them or for me in the audience. That’s one of Ben and Crissie’s greatest strengths, as every word seems to come directly from the deepest part of their hearts. When that’s a love song like this, it makes all the difference and turns it from a just song into a stunning piece of art that grabs you, holds you and envelops you in it’s glory. I particularly like how the song builds up as the message is emphasised and the song progresses.

Sounds Like Nashville Showcase Featuring The Shires

Sounds Like Nashville Showcase Featuring The Shires

When the next track started I had an inkling I recognised it, and then when Ben’s vocals kicked in I knew it was a song I had heard before. In fact I even found myself singing along when Crissie joined, but such was their take own take on Place Your Hands that I got completely and utterly lost in the song. It was only after it had finished that I was able to get my thoughts back and have that of course, that was by Reef originally moment. You don’t just listen to The Shires, you experience them.

With the final song I get the impression that this duo from Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have a liking for America, as Same alludes to that big land across the Atlantic. It’s an up tempo song that talks of how things may be different depending on where you are, some things stay the same. It’s a great way to close the EP, and helps to reinforce the impression one gets from just 5 songs, that The Shires are a versatile act with lots to offer and much more to come.

The Green Note EP may only be 5 songs long, but has such depth that it feels like more, and on loop it feels fresh every time. It’s an old cliche, but it really does get better with every listen, and I talk from experience because as I type this I’ve probably listened to it approximately 10 times today. Brave is The Shires’ debut album and it comes out next month. Based on The Green Note EP it’s going to well and truly put them on the map and will be an early contender for album of the year. Today is Thursday, and tomorrow morning tickets go on sale for their first solo headline tour, so be sure to check out their website from 9am tomorrow.

You can order The Green Note EP and pre-order Brave on theshiresmusic.com

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EP Review: Luke & Mel

Luke & Mel EP Luke Thomas I knew from his gig playing guitar with Gary Quinn at Country To Country last year, but Melanie Greggain is someone I didn’t know until her gorgeous voice heralded the start of Don’t Cry (Because It’s Over), the first track from Luke & Mel’s self titled debut EP. This opening track combines the country staple of a past relationship, but with a positive spin of good memories rather than sadness. Mel’s vocals are smooth and delicate, with just the right amount of emotion to keep it upbeat. Luke’s harmonies add a great depth to the chorus, and his guitar playing compliments the vocals perfectly. Written by themselves, this kind of acoustic track will always appeal to me, and is a fitting way to start.

The next three songs are co-written with Matt Greaves and Ann Bailey, who you may recognise from their writing credits on last year’s exceptional From Where We Stand by Ward Thomas. Somethin’ about a Woman has a definite air of Lady Antebellum, back when they were good, and manages to keep the soulful sound of Luke & Mel, but with a contemporary feel. This really is country music 101 about a man cheating on a woman, and is very catchy. While Don’t Cry I imagine being played in a small dimly let room, I see Somethin’ about a Woman being played on a big open air stage.

It’s back to the more ballad driven and acoustic, and for me better, sound for Never Greener. This is a song about reaching a point in a relationship where, in this case, the guy wants something different. It’s always the guy that gets the bad rap in songs, but maybe that’s just reflective of how it actually is in real life – stats anyone? Much like Don’t Cry, this has Mel driven vocals, which I’m beginning to think every song from here on out, by anyone, should have. With Luke’s harmonies and guitars, there are some piano parts which add an extra layer to a contemplative song that will surely resonate with a lot of people.

We finish off with Enjoy the ride which features Luke taking the lead vocal – it’s as if they haven’t just read my request about Mel 😉 If I’m being honest, which I always am, then I do prefer Mel having the lion’s share of the vocals, and I think for my preferences, I’d like to see Luke take some of the twang out of his voice. I still like the song, which with Don’t Cry, bookends this EP with positivity and a reminder to cherish and enjoy every moment.

On its launch Luke & Mel’s debut EP was only pipped to the number 1 spot on the iTunes Country Music chart by Dolly Parton and I can see why it charted so highly. I’ve listened to it 6 times today and am left wanting two things: to see Luke & Mel perform live, and to hear more of their songs. Luke and Mel are a winning combination musically and creatively, and I’m sure this is just the start on the road to success. You can get a physical copy of their EP from their website or you can download it on iTunes.

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EP Review: Jess Roberts – There’s An Old Saying

Jess Roberts - There's An Old Saying

Jess Roberts – There’s An Old Saying

I first became aware of Jess Roberts when I saw a video of her singing a duet with Hannah Jane LewisA Life That’s Good from the Nashville television show. Since then I’ve watched as she’s built up to her EP launch, which was this past Thursday in Manchester. It’s a little too far for me on a week day, but I have been listening to There’s An Old Saying today.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than a good voice, but for a 21 year old’s debut release when Rose Coloured Glasses started playing it threw me a bit. What I heard was a an achingly soulful voice, signing a beautifully penned song that managed to sound new and fresh, but with a strong traditional country influence at the same time. You won’t believe that Jess is from Lancashire. and if the aforementioned Nashville needs another English actor then look no further – she’s your girl.

You can tell from Jess’ songs that she a young lady with an old soul, and her writing is mature beyond her years, which is perfect for her style of singing. Rose Coloured Glasses gives a time scale of 3 years of reflection (no pun intended), but it could quite easily be used in a situation looking back decades. Where You’re Alone covers one of the country classic subjects of loneliness, and about needing someone, anyone for that one night. Before you get visions of a bro-country style hook-up song, Jess sings about wanting someone to talk to. I can see a music video of this song, with Jess singing, and the screen splitting into two to show the guy she’s singing about, blissfully unaware, going about his business at home.

It’s worth noting at this point that the guitar playing from Dan Gordon and Luke Thomas, Martyn Roper on Double Bass and Matthew Cleghorn on mandolin compliments Jess’ singing perfectly, and I love that the EP is recorded in live acoustic style, which is my personal favourite.

Nobody Wanted is a song about wanting to make someone proud, could be a parent, a friend or a potential suitor – that’s up to your own interpretation. There’s a line weeds instead of roses which is one ‘s’ away from being Weed Instead of Roses by Ashley Monroe, and as someone Jess likes, I wonder if it’s a nod to Ashley. While the line is very similar, the context is quite different in the two songs. Jess’ voice is spot on in getting the feeling of pain and despair across, and this might be my favourite track on the EP. This is another song that has me visualising scenes as I listen – that’s what great storytelling songs should do.

The EP ends with What You Never Had, which has a longer intro then the other songs, and with those beautiful guitars that can only be a good thing. It’s a song that talks of lost moments, of her Father I’m guessing, or at least the Father of the person’s perspective from whom she is singing from. It covers some pretty heartbreaking times in her life, but with a very positive and forgiving outlook. The finger picking guitar playing throughout enhances the tone and atmosphere brilliantly, and is just another example of how well put together this EP is.

I have to say, There’s An Old Saying is a tremendous debut EP from Jess Roberts, that has limitless replay value and has me wanting to hear more from her already. With some more exposure I think Jess has every chance of following in the footsteps of Ward Thomas and The Shires, in being the next big success story to come out of the ever impressive UK country music scene. Listening to Jess’ EP I think she’s probably quite brilliant live, so getting to one of her gigs this summer has become somewhat of a priority for me.

In case you wondered, the guy on the front cover of the EP is Jess’ Dad, and the title There’s An Old Saying, it’s the first line from the fourth song on the EP, What you Never Had. You can get physical and digital copies of There’s An Old Saying from Jess’ Bandcamp page here.

You can see more of Jess Roberts here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessrobertsmusic
Twitter: @jessrobmusic
Bandcamp: jessrobertsmusic.bandcamp.com

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EP Review: Hannah Jane Lewis – Hannah Jane Lewis

Twitter can be a wonderful resource and for me, as someone looking for good country music, it’s been invaluable. It was via Twitter that I became aware of Hannah Jane Lewis, a young country singer from right here in the UK, London in fact. I’d heard a few clips of her covers and original songs, but it wasn’t until I saw the music video for her song 17 Again that I really sat up and took notice. That’s right, music video. Not content with just releasing the song on audio, Hannah and her team made a proper music video, which you can watch right now – go on…

It was after watching this video that I went straight to iTunes and bought her self-titled EP: Hannah Jane Lewis, containing 17 Again and 3 more songs for just £2.49 – a veritable bargain.

In true classic country style, the EP starts off with a story of a lost love in Missing Piece. What you can hear straight away is a really well produced record, the kind that you’d expect from a big release by a huge record company. Hannah’s voice is great, and not just for someone at her level, but great as in as good as any singer you’ll hear selling thousands of albums in the charts these days. She has a wonderful tone and it’s a voice that oozes honesty and believability, something that is very important in her chosen genre of music.

17 Again I saw someone on Twitter call their song of the summer, and you’d be hard pushed to disagree, especially with the accompanying video. This has a slightly more pop feel, but is still very much a country song, especially with that voice that could very well have origins in Nashville. Hannah spent 7 years in America working on her music, and I’ll be interviewing her shortly so will find out more about where she was and what she got up to.

My Time brings the tempo down and once again showcases Hannah’s beautiful vocals. There’s an element of Taylor Swift mixed with Kacey Musgraves, and probably a few others too. That’s a combination that anyone who knows me will understand why I like this EP so much. I’d love to hear Hannah play this song acoustically, just her and a guitar.

The EP closes with The Worst way, which displays a youthful energy mixed with a mature outlook on life, one that has obviously experienced a lot in just a short time. As I listen to this track now, as I type, I honestly think it can only be a matter of time before Hannah Jane Lewis becomes a name that a lot more people will know, a whole lot more.

When I bought the Hannah Jane Lewis EP I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, and don’t mean that as an insult Hannah – it’s just that it really is as good as anything I’ve listened to in a while. Great storytelling, fabulous vocals and all put together seamlessly. I will be seeing Hannah at Country 2 Country in 3 weeks time and I’m as excited about that as I am about seeing the likes of Brad Paisley and The Dixie Chicks! I just hope a full album is on the way, I want more!

Check out Hannah’s brand new website here and buy her EP here – for the price of a coffee it’s almost rude not to!

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