Songs Of The Week 2021: Take 4

Updated: 4 days ago

Neil Morton


Blame: Gabriels

Gabriels, the Los Angeles-based trio with an angel as mouthpiece, provide our Song Of The Week at with a celestial new single, Blame, the title track of their forthcoming second EP. Mystery and magnificence in 2min 50sec.

Jacob Lusk’s lush vocal manages to embrace soul, gospel, doo-wop, funk, R&B, jazz, Nina Simone-style work song and Broadway musical. He is backed by two multi-instrumentalist producers, fellow Californian Ari Balouzian and Sunderland-born Ryan Hope. The band is named after St Gabriels Avenue where Hope grew up.

After drip-feeding singles to a burgeoning audience hungry for more, Gabriels have sold-out shows at The Social in London this weekend and will support Celeste on her tour next year. There are nods to the greats of most genres by these self-proclaimed perfectionists. The arrangement of Blame, with its cinematic flourishes and dramatic changes (wait for the kettle drum), is stunning.

Lusk, who was raised in an apostolic church and was discouraged from listening to secular music until his father introduced him to jazz, explains the lyric: ‘When examining our life’s problems, we hastily assign blame. Our song seeks to examine the construct of not only fault and shame but take a deep dive into the world of addiction, and indulgence.’

Not a slave if I’m already free

Not a captive if it’s where I want to be

Oo La La La La La

Then the crowd calls

Oo La La La La La

Who’s gonna catch me when I fall down

Battles won and battles lost

I can’t numerate the costs

I’ve lost

Film-maker Hope told NME how the band was formed: ‘Ari and I were scoring a commercial one day when Jacob came in for an audition and blew me away. I heavily stalked him for a bit. It’s a unique thing when you have somebody who can sing like that, a one in a million chance to meet someone who can do it.’ Lusk added: ‘A couple of days later they showed up at my church and set up a remote studio in the choir room and we just clicked. We’re very different but we have these similarities. It’s the biggest blessing in my life.

‘I grew up in a very religious home where I was not allowed to listen to the radio. Nat King Cole I knew of, but I didn’t know Motown. I knew Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston because they did a little gospel, but that was all. So yeah, it was a dream I had, but I threw it away because I didn’t look at it as a possibility. And now, looking back, I know I always wanted to do something like this, but I didn’t know how.’

Lusk, a choir director in Compton and a former American Idol contestant, gripped a Black Lives Matter march with an impromptu version of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, a song his mother made him listen to when he was young. ‘It was Breonna Taylor’s birthday, and they asked me to sing Happy Birthday. I felt like I needed to get up to speak… They handed me the megaphone and I sang the song. I understand that my voice is the sound of my ancestors, of my friends who have passed – they are all in my vocal chords. It’s an unfortunate thing that we’re still experiencing this. No, we’re not being lynched in secret anymore, we’re being lynched in public by police officers.’

Last year’s irresistible single Love And Hate In A Different Time, with its bow to I Heard It Through The Grapevine, set the template for music of subtlety and grandeur. Elton John described it as ‘one of the most seminal records I've heard in years’. Phil Shaw on this website named it his Song Of The Year, calling it ‘an extraordinary song for momentous times’. You wouldn’t blame him if history repeated itself.

Fisherman’s Blues: Dawes

Fisherman’s Blues, a re-release of a cover of the wonderful Waterboys track by Los Angeles band Dawes, is our Song Of The Week at Founder of The Waterboys Mike Scott describes it as gorgeous: ‘Love, love, love this version.’

Written by Edinburgh-born Scott and Irish violinist Steve Wickham, Fisherman’s Blues was the title track of the folk-rock band’s best-selling fourth studio album in 1988. Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes’ lead singer, decided to dig deeper into their back catalogue after belatedly falling in love with The Whole Of The Moon. ‘It was that very special adolescent feeling of coming across something that speaks to you and for you.’

After reading Scott’s autobiography, Goldsmith ended up playing Fisherman’s Blues at a Dawes rehearsal one day in 2015. ‘It’s the only cover we’ve done that felt like it was ours. Covers can sometimes just feel approximations or hat tips. This felt like we created something that belonged to us.’

More than a tip of the hat to the underrated songwriting brilliance of Scott. His unmistakable vocal, attractively razor-edged, cannot be replicated so Dawes give the track an imaginatively fresh feel, more Laurel Canyon than exuberant folk.

As was the case when they first released the single in 2016, all proceeds from the reissue go to Nothing But Nets, a campaign aimed at eradicating malaria throughout the world. ‘We are obviously indebted to The Waterboys’ masterful version,’ says Goldsmith. ‘It felt like we found something that could sit well next to any of our songs on a setlist.’

Taylor’s shimmering guitar and fine vocal, driven by brother Griff’s accomplished drumming, set the mood...

I wish I was a fisherman

Tumblin’ on the seas

Far away from dry land

And its bitter memories

Castin’ out my sweet line

With abandonment and love

No ceiling bearin’ down on me

Save the starry sky above

With light in my head

With you in my arms

I wish I was the brakeman

On a hurtlin’ fevered train

Crashin’ headlong into the heartland

Like a cannon in the rain

With the feelin’ of the sleepers

And the burnin’ of the coal

Countin’ the towns flashin’ by

And a night that’s full of soul

With light in my head

With you in my arms

The quartet – named after the Goldsmith brothers’ grandfather – is completed by Wylie Gelber on bass and Lee Pardini on keyboards. Guitarist Duane Betts, son of Dickey Betts of Allman Brothers fame, was a member of Dawes’ touring line-up in 2015, trading electricity with Goldsmith. The Waterboys are still touring… and still playing their swashbuckling original. Encore, encore.

Gareth Williams on The Whole of the Moon

Dinosaur Bones: Emily Barker

Emily Barker’s A Dark Murmuration Of Words is the album that keeps on giving. Dinosaur Bones was the first track to be laid down but didn’t make the final cut. Spoiled for choice, no doubt. It will surely make the next one and is our Song Of The Week at

It was recorded back in November 2019 at StudiOwz, a converted chapel in Pembrokeshire. Western Australian exile Barker shares the writing credits with Ted Barnes who composed the hypnotic hook in the verses at a songwriting workshop many years ago. Barker, leafing through a batch of old material, unearthed that buried treasure of a melody, fleshed out the riff and crafted a typically poetic lyric.

The song was inspired by her parents’ move from her childhood home, a small farm near the Blackwood river, into a house in town where boxes and old suitcases were kept for her in a wardrobe. One belonged to her grandfather in which she found her first ever journal, a Christmas present from mum and dad when she was eight. She is still writing those journals.

Barker, who moved to England in 2002, says: ‘Sifting through the souvenirs made me think about the footprints we leave behind... how much of ourselves we share through stories passed on to younger generations, and what remains of us after we’re gone. It made me reflect on my grandparents and parents and how much I don’t know – just snippets from stories – memories that fragment the more I try to remember. Isn’t it interesting too, how we add to those fragments over time, how we flesh them out? Like finding dinosaur bones, then draw the muscles, sketch the skin, add the meaning.’

That last sentence references the song in which her vocal is as alluring as the melody:

Turning pages down a street where time is standing still

Searching through old photographs for emptiness to fill

I was thinking of my grandparents and a past I wish I’d known

And how we alter the story, with each telling that gets told

All the ways we print ourselves in sedimentary stone

Draw the muscles, sketch the skin, add the meaning

A refrain that evokes the songwriting process as much as the accumulation of memories. The flickering, lovingly restored video accompanying Dinosaur Bones, directed by film-maker Tori Styles, revisits a double wedding in Rotterdam in 1949 when two sisters married two brothers; one of the couples was her grandparents. Barker has bouts of homesickness, as evidenced by her collaboration with Frank Turner on Bound For Home, so will cherish her gigs in Australia next month.

A Dark Murmuration Of Words, whose The Woman Who Planted Trees is a former Song Of The Week on this website, should have found a home for Dinosaur Bones. Or are we just being greedy? The ubiquitous Lukas Drinkwater, Barker’s husband, contributes double bass and atmospheric electric guitar, the band completed by Pete Roe (keys), Rob Pemberton (drums and synth) and Misha Law and Emily Hall (strings). The song, released as a single, is described by Drinkwater as one of her finest. No bones about it.

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