EP Reviews

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

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 on 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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