It's been a few months since I reviewed "Open Your Eyes" by Bethany Dyson in the magazine the follow-up to "Just You & Me" which also features on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume 3') but given the circumstances currently afflicting artists, I was not surprised that she had not released anything since late May: if you recollect from previous reviews, you'll know what a stellar team Bethany works with & it must currently be next to impossible to assemble them in a studio.
However in the best tradition of original artists, she has in fact been working discreetly away at a bit of a career paradigm shift, something which completely caught me wrongfooted & that's what I like.
Bethany has decided on a whole raft of changes, the two most obvious of which are a change of performance name to "Ivy Ash" and a switch of genre to a much more pop orientated style: "channelling my inner Kylie" as she put it to me. (Ivy also cites Lady Gaga & Gwen Stefani as inspirations and the (redacted) title of her planned first release offers a nod to yet another very well known pop purveyor). The new name is highly significant too (while sounding on the surface good & grounded): for the initial element, picture if you will rapid upward growth & for the second, think more of phoenixes & rebirthing.
Much as I look forwards to reviewing her debut single in this new stage of her career, that remains something for 2021 (I honestly can't recommend anyone attempting to promote such an important sea change right now) but I have had the privilege of hearing it & can prewarn you that it will knock those socks off you when you can do so yourselves.
Created with the finesse & careful craft we have come to expect from Bethany (if the musicians are not those who have been playing with her recently, and the sound suggests they are not, then the quality of this aspect is high as ever) this first offering is remarkably confident & sure footed.
Some things remain the same: the warmth & integrity of the vocals (though they are more processed than before & pitched a little higher maybe) and the overall honesty. So what has changed? Well the subject matter is much lighter & light hearted without a doubt & Bethany/Ivy seems able to be enjoying life rather than commenting on the darker aspects of it. There is a definite air of liberation in the air, but if her phoenix burning has ignited a new flame, then I'm not sure there has necessarily been bridge burning as well: I think the new work fits in with her older material: not necessarily as a continuation, but as a complement: another side of a coin dealing with compassion & humanity & offering different narratives on our condition.
These are exciting times for this artist & I look forward to being able to share with you in greater detail in due course & naturally await Ivy's debut release & live performances. Watch this space: particularly https://ivyashmusic.com
Jack Blackman is not only on a rich run of form at the moment (the pandemic seems to be inspiring him to express his feelings through the medium of his artistry), but within his several recent releases he has been demonstrating a more broad set of examples of his influences & interests than perhaps many of us were aware.
Described online as "fast developing into one of the most accomplished and exciting young performers on the roots scene today", I believe that already on the evidence we now have, he has transcended that. While songs such as "Self Isolation Song", "Hard Place to Be", "Empty Beretta" or "Ballad of Clopton House" show the breadth of his writing & performance skills within the general "roots" field, his latest single "Straight Up Genius" kicks right through the barrier which fences genres in & enters territory which owes more to magnificent sixties pop (he cites The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Beach Boys), though of course all those bands to some degree owe their own debts to rootsier music.
Just as exciting is that this song owes its genesis to a cross-media collaboration with the Artful Doodler (and regular readers will know how much I like it when cross fertilisation of artforms takes place). Aided by Adam Barry on Hammond Organ and Wurlitzer, David Vaughan on drums and James Maguire on bass and backing vocals, Jack has created this track for which the Doodler has then crafted an excellent video which you can see at
A cheery, witty & heartwarming song which the keyboard parts really elevate (I'd love now to hear more collaborations between Jack & Adam), despite the pandemic theme, it generally concerns the experiences of those working from home & no longer feeling motivated to rise from their beds at the conventional hour to do so, yet as with all good songs it actually has a wider meaning & I think that it should continue to resonate long after COVID19 as it actually also tells of those creative types we all know, not temperamentally suited to the nine to five routine & convinced that their own genius will inevitably free them from the constraints of straight life.
What I particularly like is how I could have sworn I already knew the song: it settles instantly into the consciousness & memory and its catchiness is such that I'd hope it gets plenty of airings on radio etc.
As with a couple of recent reviews I have written about completely separate releases where different artists have simultaneously decided to write about "heading home", I find instances of apparent synchronicity between different musicians to be fascinating & in this case, I can't help thinking how "Straight Up Genius" is a sort of companion piece to Luke Concannon's recent "Doing Nothing".
At any rate, how good it is to have the weighty issues we are currently facing dealt with such good humour & empathy.
I feel a little sad now we suddenly find ourselves at the penultimate instalment of The Upsiders' "Reconnect" project: today's new single "Heading Home". I've been following the emotional adventures of Kenny since "Worth A Million" came out back in July & it has been impossible not to become emotionally attached to his journey & rooting for him. It will be a strange moment when the saga concludes.
There is also a strange sense of synchronicity working in the local music scene: to be telling you about a song with this title only a month after writing about Rob Halligan's latest album with such a similar title reminds me of last year when we had a number of artists simultaneously writing about oceans & the sea. It must mean something…
In fact, although both Rob & The Upsiders would have conceived of their songs & titles before COVID19, the concept of journeying & returning home is not unknown in popular music, especially for writers trying to make more profound points, yet they gain extra resonance when the entire global population, artists & audiences alike are being taken on an involuntary journey together.
Kenny's journey was clearly not conceived as a parallel to our current one, yet the idea of exploring emotional highs & lows on a quest for meaningful reconnection to other humans is surely what we are all yearning for at the moment? Paradoxically of course, while the band are trying to warn us about over-reliance on electronic devices for communication & aiming to wean us off them in favour of deeper interactions, it has been electronic media which has been keeping us in touch for many months now. In fact my entire engagement with "Reconnect" has been over the ether (I've not heard any of it live yet) and so has been my sharing of it with you. Ironic eh?
So we find Kenny on the final laps now, "Heading Home". Once again the band have stretched their musical sinews & offered us an eighth successive variation in terms of style with the help of producer Matthew Cotterill. A characteristically perky number (when are they never upbeat at some point in any track?) which in form is somewhere near a Billy Joel style piano led pop ballad, it bounces along with the help of a jaunty bassline (not an instrument which has been as prominent on recent episodes) and drumming and despite the very compelling competition of the previous seven tracks, is probably the most pop orientated of the collection to date & may therefore gain more mainstream airplay: at least I hope it does.
This is not to say that the lyrics are entirely optimistic. As with the songs charting Kenny's lower points, all of which managed to include at least sections of more upbeat music as the band counterpointed moods, again they play with offsetting the tone of the sound with words which still manifest elements of uncertainty, doubt & lack of clarity. It seems that the story has yet more to reveal in its final chapter….
Unsurprisingly, I've not had the chance to review a new Chasing Deer release since their "Bad Decisions" way back in February. Fortunately I can address this deficiency right now as "Scared" comes out on 2nd December (on W5 Records).
The current perennial question for artists must be "how do you record new material" especially if you are a multi member band. In this case, the issue for Chasing Deer is somewhat simplified as the band have experienced some lineup contractions and consists now in the main of keyboard player/vocalist & band founder Rob Hodkinson with the support of Rory Evans on guitar: this presumably aided the creation of "Scared" and indeed I was heartened to hear that they have been playing live on the streets of Britain for 120 consecutive days (if you read to the end of my review of "Bad Decisions", you'll have noticed the gigs they had lined up for a national tour named after that single: it must have been a low blow to have lost all those gigs & of course Chasing Deer have built their very strong identity by their hard work on the live circuit leading to several very prestigious appearances: let's hope they can pick that momentum back up swiftly in the new year). However the good news is that even if you can't catch one of their daily outside performances, Rob has been offering an "On Demand" weekly livestream on a Wednesday evening throughout the emergency on their Facebook page.
The new song (recorded at Tileyard Studios & produced by Paul Whalley) is interesting in that it neatly combines precisely the sort of passionate & emotionally charged approach which the band have always brought to their music with a specific pandemic inspired focus: in fact in hindsight one might almost say that the band's creativity was ideally made for this moment & it not only applies perfectly but also sums up their values concisely in three minutes & fifty seconds. Written by Rob with Nick Bradley, the key lyric is "everybody gets a little bit scared": and compassion & empathy are what they are urging upon us: realise how others are struggling as you may be & reach out to them…..
This is one of the gentlest of their songs, stripped right back to make the message the centre of the song & exposing the emotional heart. Led by Rory's warm acoustic playing, Rob deploys his characteristic powerful vocals, but in a very restrained & frankly vulnerable way, not reaching for some of the levels he deploys on their more dance orientated numbers & this tasteful approach certainly helps enhance the sincerity of what he is trying to say to us.
No Chasing Deer song is ever less than perfectly crafted (and all work really well live: I gather their current informal performances have featured "Scared" & it's going down really nicely), yet even so, I think this one will continue to have a special place in their repertoire once we hopefully have moved on from current circumstances. COVID19 has been appalling on so many levels, yet paradoxically, as with other tragedies throughout history, it is starting to inspire excellent art in response. This is one really strong example.
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