Songs Of The Week 2021: Take 2

Neil Morton


Perennial Bloom (Back To You): Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real

Hope of brighter days, post-pandemic, is becoming a popular songwriting theme. The buoyant Perennial Bloom (Back To You) by country rockers Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real is our Song Of The Week at ‘Summer seed become my perennial bloom/ Summer’s healing coming soon,’ he sings.

The single will appear on the band’s eighth studio album A Few Stars Apart, due out next month. The 11 songs reveal ‘what it means to come home again, to be still and to find community – and yourself’. Produced by Dave Cobb, it was recorded live at the RCA Studios in Nashville where father Willie played his A-game. Lukas’s pleasing, plaintive tenor spans the generations.

The 32-year-old Nelson (middle name Autry) was fortunate to ride out the beginning of the pandemic with his family near Austin – his band, who regularly back Neil Young, have bases in Texas and Hawaii, where Lukas was raised. It was the longest period he had stayed in the same place. ‘I’m from what one might say is the ultimate road family – I’ve been on the road my entire life. I can’t remember the last time we had that much time together as a family.

‘We had a lot of really important bonding that happened during that time. And I have to say, as terrible as the pandemic has been in so many ways, for my inner peace, I was able to take a lot of good from this time. I was able to pause and reflect.’

Perennial Bloom emphasises the need for human connection after a year of dislocation for many. ‘I finally decided not to run from who I am and who I am destined to be. First and foremost, that’s a songwriter. That’s what this record means to me. There’s a story being told through the whole record. A story about connection and coming home.

Someone beside me actually smiled

Without a mask

I guess there’s no use pretending

Like we’re high-born

Someone inside the action

Pulled me away from the blast

Assuring me my heart would not be torn

The singer-guitarist, who earned a Grammy and a Bafta for his work on the soundtrack for A Star Is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, was asked about his family’s response to hearing the new songs. ‘My mom said something interesting: You found your voice. I thought that was cool.’ The sound of an artist at ease with his destiny. ‘I do feel an orchestration in my life that I find humbling and beautiful.’

World That Cannot Touch: Ian Tasker

Forgive the self-indulgence, the chumocracy, the sense of sleaze even. Ian Tasker, my musician friend and fellow blogger at, encouraged me to write some lyrics with a view to a possible songwriting collaboration. I am happy to say that my first contribution features on Ian’s developing album on Bandcamp. You guessed correctly, it is our Song Of The Week.

I am delighted with Ian’s interpretation of the emotions in a song written in lockdown about the lockdown, World That Cannot Touch, his finely sung melody and distinctive guitar playing. All vocals and guitar parts are Ian’s work with Logic Pro providing the percussion. It was good to get a few words in! This could be the start of something most enjoyable.

While the lyric is mainly melancholic, dealing with the pain and wrong turns of the pandemic, the conclusion is optimistic, and Ian’s sensitive treatment of the chorus is especially pleasing...

Love at a distance, how cruel the glass

Longing for laughter, for this fear to pass

We’ll open the door, welcome every face

And embrace, embrace, embrace

Memories have never meant so much

Leaning on the past like a crutch

Touching moments

In a world that cannot touch

A world that cannot touch

To quote me on Bandcamp: ‘The idea for the song came from a phone call we received around Christmas from old friends in Liverpool. We hadn't spoken for some years but they preferred a conversation to merely exchanging cards. It stirred memories of happier times instead of the dark ones we’ve all been experiencing. Vocal distancing, you might call it.

‘The lyric has its sombre side, understandably. There’s anger at the missteps by our leaders and the human cost which will surely lead to a reckoning. But the song ends in hope – that the world can safely touch again. I’m thrilled at how Ian has captured the sentiments musically.’

As well as the accompanying video Ian compiled, please check out the other tracks he has uploaded, reworkings of songs he wrote with drummer Peter Montieth in the 1970s with The Boiler Brothers (based in Leeds) and Legal Tender in Marlow. The dreamy Driver, Hey Wot Ya Doin’, AwayDay, The Night Watchman (conceived in a flat above a fish and chip shop and never performed before) and the excellent Dangerous Eyes (with added horns and keyboards) are well worth a listen.

The Oxford-born, London-raised guitarist, who now lives in Somerset, says the lockdown finally gave him the time to do something he had been meaning to try since 1980: record those decades-old compositions ‘forgotten about until discovered going mouldy in an old Waitrose bag in the loft’.

There’s a parallel here: I was a member of folk-blues trios Breakdown and About Time in the 70s and early 80s. Ian and I didn’t know each other then but have been friends now for over 35 years while sports desk colleagues at various national newspapers. We loved our football, cricket and tennis but music was always the main talking point. What took us so long to write together? I hope you agree it was worth the wait.

Long Lost: Lord Huron

Sometimes a song ambushes you and ties you to the listening post. The cinematic Long Lost by Los Angeles-based indie rock band Lord Huron is our Song Of The Week at A strumming hint of Spanish Harlem, a tambourine, brooding strings, then it’s The Big O meets The Big Valley.

The orchestral manoeuvres bring to mind a western movie soundtrack – ‘as though Roy Orbison and Ennio Morricone had got round to collaborating’. The band, led by founder and creative force Ben Schneider, transport you to the last dance at a late 50s nostalgia night. ‘I ain’t lonely, I’m long lost.’

Lord Huron began as a solo project, named after one of the Great Lakes near Schneider’s birthplace in Michigan. His stylish artwork adorns the accompanying video as well as the LP cover. After the astral plane of their last album, 2018’s Vide Noir, we return to the high plains and shadowlands visited on Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails. ‘For a while I was held by the myth of the lost highway…’

Long Lost is the title track of Lord Huron’s fourth album, recorded at their Whispering Pines Studio in LA and due out on May 21. We were served two earlier tasty appetisers, Mine Forever (echoes of Chris Isaak here) and the foot-tapping road song Not Dead Yet. Two of the band’s most popular songs, Ends Of The Earth and The Night We Met, are among several to have been used in American TV series. The singing cowboy on Long Lost surely merits a silver screen engagement.

Leave me where the moonbeams

Carve through the leaves like blades

Lay me in the tall grown grass in a shallow grave

Let it have me

Send me to the mountains

Let me go free forever

I’ll be running through the forest

Dancing in the fields like this forever

Their entertaining online streaming shows, Alive From Whispering Pines, have featured a make-believe character called Tubbs Tarbell who tells the story behind the making of the album. ‘This new stuff sounded eerily familiar, like something from a past life I’d heard before but brand new, all at once,’ he says. ‘Like a note plucked long ago that had moseyed through time to belly up to my bar.’

Schneider is convinced the old studio, long abandoned and in disrepair when they bought it, is haunted, and Tarbell is their friendly ghost. Much of their new material, written before the pandemic struck, has an eerie, otherworldly feel which chimes with the studio’s undiscovered past as well as these dark times. Long Lost will be long remembered, and not just round the prairie campfire.

Bloomsday: Samantha Crain

Our return to the gym felt like an invitation to relative freedom as the lockdown reins were loosened. What first track to play over the headphones to welcome back hope? Our Song Of The Week at is Samantha Crain’s Bloomsday. You can hear the spring in her step.

The native American of Choctaw heritage is rediscovering her home town Shawnee in Oklahoma where she decided to sit out the pandemic – ‘vacationing in my own backyard’, she called it. Bloomsday is the engaging single from her new EP I Guess We Live Here Now, its earworm chorus echoing that old gospel tune This Little Light Of Mine.

Crain, a compelling voice for the less fortunate and marginalised in society, says: ‘The song is an anthem of sorts about the possibility of each new seemingly meandering and unimportant day. Although it feels like most of the time we are being pulled along in life, we have the instrumentality to find within us light and belief.’

Her last album, 2020’s A Small Death, which featured one track, When We Remain, in her ancestral tongue, marked an extraordinary comeback for the indie folk-rock artist who had been bedridden for 18 months after a series of car crashes. She was left with no feeling in her hands and feared she would never hold a guitar again. Open tunings provided a way back, and the audio diaries she kept inform her storytelling from the achingly beautiful Holding To The Edge Of Night to the vibrancy of Bloomsday.

She told American Songwriter: ‘The EP is an expression of myself increasingly at peace with uncertainties and becoming stronger in the agency of my own decisions. And just like finding undiscovered love in my heart for others, and also sort of beginning the lifelong process of balance between ambition and satisfaction.’ Her aim as a songwriter is to be both intimate and cinematic, a difficult combination which she manages to achieve, and to celebrate the culture of indigenous people who she feels have been robbed of their traditions as well as their lands.

Bloomsday, the title borrowed from James Joyce’s Ulysses, opens with jingle-jangle chords and handclaps before the vocals of Crain and Penny Pitchlynn sweep us away with piano ripples and Isaac Stalling’s shimmering electric guitar for company. Crain’s Okie is from Okmulgee rather than Merle Haggard’s Muskogee. The lyric is a joy…

Give me something, Bloomsday’s coming, open up the doors and have a goddamn beer

Ring the baker, the butcher, the charioteer, the palm readers in Salem, the engineer

So are you a socialite, do you buy candles too pricey now to light?

Or are you an Okie from Okmulgee just making do with wax and pride?

And everybody’s wondering where their little light is

That little light is burning big and bright. Crain describes the EP as an epilogue or postscript to A Small Death. To these ears, it sounds more like a positive new chapter.

Avalon: Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi

The remarkable roots musician Rhiannon Giddens and her Italian partner Francesco Turrisi have articulated the emotions of the pandemic so creatively and comfortingly with their new offering, They’re Calling Me Home. Our Song Of The Week at is Avalon.

Giddens wrote the song a decade ago but reworked the verses to resonate with these traumatic times. Avalon, which imagines a family reunion beyond the grave, is the mythical island of Arthurian legend, a paradise as solace for the soul. Joy holds hands with melancholy.

She explains: ‘The song represents the two sides of the contemplation of the final transition: the sadness of the ones left behind, and the joy at the idea of being reunited somehow, some day down the road. This contrast of hope and longing fills our every day, and is such a part of us all.’

The track oozes influences from Giddens’ adopted home in Ireland and her birthplace in North Carolina to Africa and the Middle East. Multi-instrumentalist Turrisi’s frame drum and the Irish-based Congolese Niwel Tsumba’s nylon string guitar are joined by Giddens’ viola as her haunting vocal weaves a modern spiritual...

In Avalon, in Avalon

We’ll all be together in Avalon

It was three weeks ago one cold summer day

Mother went on her lonely way

Through the glass, all alone

He followed his lover home

From the couple’s lockdown in Limerick, they explore the concept of home – the belonging, the longing and contemplation of our final resting place – mainly through interpretations of old tunes, from the folk tradition to Italian opera. ‘There are pieces of our birth homes that musically speaking really came out in our comforting ourselves through music,’ Giddens told NPR. ‘There’s the sad part of it, but then there’s this undercurrent of joy that came out in the way it was written and the way we performed it.’

With artists preparing to re-emerge in the limelight, it will be a privilege to see Giddens and Turrisi perform again; likewise the American’s all-female project, Our Native Daughters, who tackled slavery, historic racism and unspeakable abuse on their influential debut album. As Songlines commented, Giddens appears ‘incapable of producing an album that is not simultaneously a fascinating musical education and deeply enjoyable listening experience’.

They’re Calling Me Home is more sparingly produced than 2019’s There Is No Other, a necessity of the pandemic, and no less impressive for its mournful tone and subject matter. We thought we'd heard all we needed to as far as that gospel staple Amazing Grace is concerned, but it is given fresh lustre here. Giddens’ wordless mouthing around the melody speaks eloquently with Turrisi’s drum dexterity and Emer Mayock’s pipes movingly atmospheric. We are even treated to an Italian lullabye, Nenna Nenna, sung by Turrisi as he once did to his baby daughter.

The other standouts are the remodelled Alice Gerrard classic Calling Me Home, that pacifier for homesickness Waterbound and a mesmerising rendition of the hymn-like When I Was In My Prime, recorded by Pentangle in 1970, sung a cappella until Turrisi’s cello banjo and Giddens’ octave viola combine to heighten the solemnity. Fortunately for us, Giddens’ prime has yet to come.

Hurt In Your Heart: Katie Spencer

Katie Spencer’s gorgeous reimagining of John Martyn’s lost-love lament Hurt In Your Heart is our Song Of The Week at, the title track of her new EP and an affecting tribute to her musical guru.

The song first appeared on Martyn’s acclaimed Grace And Danger album in 1980, a moving response to the breakdown of his marriage to fellow songwriter Beverley Kutner. Spencer’s swirling, dream-like arrangement perfectly captures the heartache and sense of loss.

Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, a friend of the couple, delayed release of the record by a year so disturbed was he by its painful emotional intensity. He thought it was just too sad. Martyn later explained: ‘I freaked: Please get it out! I don’t give a damn how sad it makes you feel. It’s what I’m about: direct communication of emotion.’

The gifted East Yorkshire-based singer-guitarist Spencer is joined by two members of Martyn’s band in the 90s, Alan Thomson on fretless bass and pianist and synth exponent Spencer Cozens, who produced Katie’s impressive debut album in 2019, Weather Beaten, showcasing the strength of her own songwriting.

All three Martyn-penned tracks – Couldn’t Love You More and Small Hours from his 1977 One World album complete the EP – were recorded live at Steinway Recording in rural Lincolnshire. According to Spencer, they define her musical upbringing (Martyn’s Solid Air is her favourite album). So many artists down the decades have owed a debt to the jazz-rock-blues innovator.

Spencer sang Hurt In Your Heart at the Celtic Connections commemoration of Glasgow’s adopted son in 2019, which also featured Danny Thompson, Eric Bibb, John Smith, Rory Butler, Eddi Reader and Paul Weller. She will also be playing at a Martyn Gathering in Bedale, North Yorkshire, on 27 June. Interpretation is the key here, rather than imitation.

Katie told me: ‘I think John Martyn had that incredible ability to distil his emotions into their purest form, capturing them within his music in such a haunting and mesmerising way. To me, Hurt In Your Heart is an embodiment of his soulful originality. I also think it is particularly poignant because he continued to perform it right until the end of his life, proving how honest the song remained.’

Spencer’s accomplished finger-style acoustic guitar and her soulful, beguiling voice lovingly honour the memory of Martyn who died in 2009 at the age of 60. Hearing his original of the song makes you admire Spencer’s imaginative rendition even more. Despite the absence of some of the original lyric, you can still hear the hurt.

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