There were some amazing EPs released this year and so it suggested to me that we needed a special Top 5 Section…
- MATTHEW PERRYMAN JONES - COLD ANSWER
Matthew Perryman Jones is that maybe lesser known artist who consistently ends up in my records of the year. His next full length is due next year so check back in December 2016 to see where it lands in my top albums. In the meantime here are seven slices of absolute beauty.
Cold Answer landed the very same day as Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and is almost a perfect companion piece. These are vulnerable weary songs confessing to failure in love and life.
Take Can’t Get It Right written along with Kevin Costner’s daughter Lily who harmonises sumptuously and featured on the TV series Nashville:
I'm counting up the lines on the highway, like I'm counting my regrets
I'm wrestling the angels and the devils in my head
I left you without warning, no note beside the bed
I pray you can forgive me
I hope you can forget
Or the title track:
There's a room in everyone
Where a cold answer can be found
And if a word can knock down a wall
Then this house is just a box on the ground
It is this cold room that Matthew is plundering. As my favourite band Over The Rhine sang once “A beautiful piece of heartache.”
2. CHRISTOPHER WILSON - THE FRAGILE EP
When Chris Wilson first opened his mouth and let his pipes blast into the Fitzroy air my face broke out in the widest of smiles. WOW! I remember thinking, if this guy has the songs and could get into a studio with Stephen McCartney then there could be some serious music cracked. Everything went according to that very fleeting plan in my head and hear is a powerful EP of voice and songwriting depth. McCartney brings his genius and Belfast has an Indianan refugee to be proud of.
3. GARY LIGHTBODY - LIVE IN BANGOR ABBEY, December 2014
In December 14th Gary Lightbody did an acoustic gig in Bangor Abbey. As well as a nice wee fundraiser for charity it gave Lightbody the opportunity to sing a selection of new songs for his father and mother. His dad had not been well and missed the first outing of these five songs, written for a festival in memory of Seamus Heaney called On Home Ground. Lightbody took Heaney’s themes of Ireland, family and nature and used that wordy gift of his to carve some beautiful songs.
One year later and the perhaps now traditional Belfast Christmas acoustic gig came with the EP available to those leaving the gig. What they lack in production these songs more than make it up for in their personal depth.
I Think of Home is perhaps the pick of the wonderful bunch. The loss of his Granny, so special that she her own song The Church as well, resonates with anyone who mourns loved ones:
It’s sure been harder since she left us
And none of us have been the same
But the light she left is endless
And I still see her every day
And his thoughts on the beloved fragmented island:
The punched out teeth of Irish history
Mistakes were made let’s leave it there
There one’s thing we can all agree on
There’s beauty north, south, east and west.
On this fascinating suite of songs Lightbody gets closer to the marrow of love and place than he has ever gotten before and maybe ever will again. A beautiful wee rarity.
4. RHIANNON GIDDENS - FACTORY GIRL
Recorded with T-Bone Burnett in the same sessions as her album Tomorrow Is My Turn featured in my Top 30 Albums of the year, Factory Girl was released for Record Store Day back in November. I actually prefer it to the album. Maybe that is the Irish in me as Mouth Music is pure Diddle-de-dee and Factory Song is a traditional Irish song too. The latter has additional verses in memory of the 1100 killed in Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013. I also love the original Moonshiner’s Daughter and Randy Newman’s Underneath a Harlem Moon might be best of all.
If these song had been on the album it might have been up there in the Top 5 of the year.
5. CIARAN LAVERY & RYAN VAIL - SEA LEGS
Aghagallon’s Ciaran Lavery has been making waves with his Ryan Adams-esque songwriting for some time. This year’s EP with electronic whizz from Derry Ryan Vail creates the most beautifully warm ambience of sound. It loses nothing from Lavery’s songwriting prowess but adds the subtlest of intrigue in Vail’s soundscapes. Then the spoken word poetry takes the whole thing to another art space. All gathered around the theme of the sea. I listen and feel that I am in a boat alone under the stars somewhere between Ballycastle and the Mull of Kintyre on a warm summer night gazing up at the stars and surmising the meaning of it all.
How thrilling that in counties Antrim and Derry we have such musical ability blending their flavours and blurring the musical genres.