'Rising Tide' EP by Rebecca MilehamReview
So busy has Rebecca Mileham been with Liam Vincent & the Odd Foxes that her debut solo EP ‘Underground' seems to have been out longer than the facts tell me: it was released in April 2022.
She's back now with her own latest record, the ‘Rising Tide' EP which came out today and comprises the songs "Longest Day", "Know You Less", "A Little Goes A Long Long Way", "Tell Me Again" and "Rising Tide". (There is also a hidden track "No Fury" only accessible on purchase, which you get to hear about as "Hot Music Live" readers, so please keep that to yourselves).
I find it intriguing when a musician is as well known as Rebecca is for virtuosity on a particular instrument: in her case the violin, when they produce music which centres around other elements. What does that say about their breadth of talents, the scope of their artistic vision and their confidence to lay down their signature medium for a while? Well quite a great deal in my opinion.
These songs were composed on the piano & Rebecca plays that on the record as well as singing (in fact apparently she originally was going to omit her playing but was persuaded, thankfully, by her producer to retain it). Odd Fox comrade Liam Stuchbury then offered ideas on how guitar interpretations might work and once approved, added such parts. Subsequently Brendan O'Neill added bass parts, producer Mark Stevens the drum parts and you can hear backing & tracking vocals by Mark, Odd Fox Matt Berry, flugelhorn by Mark, extra vocals by Natalie Yeap (on "A Little Goes a Long Long Way") and additional guitar by PJ Wright ("A Little Goes a Long Long Way" and "Longest Day").
As noted in my review of ‘Underground', although Rebecca played those songs live with the help of friends, on record the performances were entirely her own. This time, the greater sense of collaboration, while retaining a unity of purpose & vision due to the solo composition, offers a complementary dynamic to her earlier release: she's not adhering to a single creative template, so this time we get extra instruments, the input of those players into arrangements and above all the power of people playing off each other, without losing any sense of the authorship or the personal perspectives she has incorporated.
That aspect, which is enabled by taking the sole ownership not possible in an Odd Fox setting also enables her to slip the bonds of audience expectation which inevitably accrete via the popularity of the band and its accepted place in a folk-rock genre context (and I do hope my reviews of their records & live performances persuade you to check them out: they are excellent).
To turn to her own expressions of intent: "I love guitar-based music because I find it expressive of the emotions I have been trying to get into my songs. I guess because of having spent so many years playing classical music, I still associate piano with technique and accuracy, more about keeping things neat and prim than expressing messy feelings. I have been out and played my piano songs on loads of occasions, and people haven't booed me off the stage, but in my mind I could too easily come over as either pretentious or polite." Well no one in their right mind could call her performances within Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes prim, polite or pretentious: they are vibrant, rambunctious, earthy songs, but I can understand how & why in moving to solo work, she might perceive a danger of "tidying up" her sound (and hence her initial hesitation in including the piano), but her own insightful & incisive levels of self-awareness surely precluded this and she clearly evolved strategies to counteract any slight drift in that direction: the collaboration with Liam in arrangements possibly being the central agent of any grounding necessary.
You could certainly view ‘Rising Tide' as part of a wide folk-rock family (it's spacious enough for that). "Know You Less" for example is very much at the rock end of that particular spectrum. Were it not for Rebecca's super calm vocal, it could easily be filed under "new wave". In fact after writing those words, Rebecca confirmed how the song evolved from a Bonnie Raitt type starting point to a song inspired by Blondie and the Undertones.. it's good to have your critique confirmed! Elsewhere "classic rock" touches can be heard… in fact the two tracks which come closest to the folk side ("Longest Day" and the title track) bookend the EP and by so doing possibly serve to anchor it in the sensitivities of her folk audience, though in truth, they are pretty "rock" in their own right. In between it gets wilder with plenty of electric guitar rather than massed acoustic elements. There is even that flugelhorn: an instrument which I honestly think I've never previously cited in a review (I had fun trying to think of any music I possess on which it appears). Even internet searches failed to reveal any usage of it in traditional music (I even found a delightfully severe judgement in one forum that anyone bringing a brass instrument to a "traditional session" would be "frowned upon") so Rebecca and band earn my respect for innovation & open-mindedness in this respect too.
Not that the profundity of lyrics between the two threads of Rebecca's music is particularly different: though both deploy exciting & dance-stimulating tunes, they also tend much towards serious themes. Perhaps one might distinguish them by considering how polemic Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes: they aim to some degree to change viewpoints and thence the world. ‘Rising Tide' complements to some extent by veering more to personal issues.
In her own words "she is inspired to write songs by the countryside (calming) and her own thoughts (not calming)" which account neatly for both the very noticeable tone in which she sings these often emotional fraught lyrics (there are such strong evidential elements for her having reflected deeply before committing herself to the words and then delivering them without anger, which in fact tends to increase their power so deliberate is the overall effect) and for the themes themselves.
Not that the latter are all that simple to deconstruct. Rebecca writes some songs from deeply personal places, others "….have come from fleeting thoughts or realisations" and yet more are written in character, inspired by the approach of Joni Mitchell. So which is which?
Definitely "No Fury" fits into the first category (which in part accounts for its status on the EP). The most obviously intense cut, Rebecca maintains her vocal approach and for much of the song keeps it quite allusive before her patience runs thin enough to launch into a more open assault upon the hypocrisy and judgementalism of organised religion. Strong stuff indeed: "sad angriness" in her own words but "with no judgement on people who have laboured to follow bad leaders".
The other songs keep their secrets more tenaciously. There is a general sense of disquiet about a materialistic & selfish world, (including "..the hostile environment for refugees, politicians who try to isolate Britain, populists who endlessly create division for their own ends..") whoever's voice it may be expressed in. Nevertheless, there may be an arc of development to be discerned through the songs: Rebecca sounds confident about learning & growing stronger from trials ("Longest Day"), gaining empowering insights ("Know You Less") and ultimately finds scope for measures of optimism ("A Little Goes A Long Long Way" and "Tell Me Again": the latter with a "Terminator 2" quote for you to spot).
The concluding, title, track amplifies this as the optimism turns to a powerful defiance of the obstacles to happiness and self-fulfilment. Her delivery itself contributes to this as there is an upwards swinging tone & melody. She sounds the happiest she has on the record (though she has been working steadily towards this point) and while not being in denial about what she finds distasteful, isn't going to let her give in to it. This is "grown-up" music which unashamedly tackles the tribulations of life but mediates it by offering solutions and escape routes. Don't despair, we can get through this together. Apparently the band particularly enjoy playing it live.
In describing ‘Underground', I wrote that I found it "a most compelling debut… between the expected & the surprising. It'll mess with your mind I think, but in a way which will stimulate rather than traumatise it." (a quotation which seems to have pleased Rebecca sufficiently enough to include it on her website) and I think that had I not already used it, I might apply it here (without the "debut" bit obviously). Odd Fox fans will recognise elements but also be taken to new places which are both consistent with what they might have expected yet also act as enrichment and extension experiences.
Again, in her own words, Rebecca says "I read somewhere that we all have ideas all day – but we only notice some of them. I think the songs capture and allow me to reflect on things I've been noticing."
Rebecca has gathered this ensemble together a few times (at Lighthorne Folk Club, Chill on the Hill Festival and in Banbury at the Canal Day & Christmas lights switching on) under the name of the October Band to play these songs and I hope between her many other activities and commitments, we get to hear her do so again.