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Songs Of The Week 2024: Take 3

Neil Morton


When Our Friends Come Over: Donovan Woods (featuring Madi Diaz)

When two of your favourite songwriters combine to create a new song, the outcome can be magical. Donovan Woods’ gorgeous duet with Madi Diaz, When Our Friends Come Over, is our Song Of The Week at Welcome to intimacy.

The love song appears on Canadian Woods’ seventh studio album, Things Were Never Good If They Aren’t Good Now. We hear of a couple recharging their affection for one another as they view themselves through other people’s eyes.

Their hushed tones and conversational style dovetail beautifully, especially on the single’s alluring chorus...

It’s not the candlelight, it’s not the wine

That reminds me why I’m yours, and what keeps you mine

It’s nice to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes sometimes

You put your hand in my hand ’cause we sit closer

When our friends come ovеr

When our friends come ovеr

The Sarnia, Ontario-born Woods is a big Diaz fan. ‘Madi and I wrote this in Nashville the first time we met. I love the ache in her writing. I had this idea about a song that celebrates how nice it is when you and your romantic partner have friends over. Their presence seems to renew something in your coupledom. You see yourself through their eyes, and you appreciate each other more. I don’t think there are enough songs about friendship. Friendship is so much more important than romance throughout your life.’

He was particularly complimentary about her recent album Weird Faith. ‘I think she is getting to another plateau in her writing, and she is just the best thing going right now. I love how Madi extends notes a millisecond longer than I think she’s going to.’ There’s an ache in her singing too.

Woods describes Things Were Never Good If They Aren’t Good Now as ‘a funeral to the life I was living’. In perhaps his most honest and self-reflective collection of songs, Woods takes a long look inside himself and isn’t necessarily thrilled with what he sees. Across the album’s 11 sparse, personal songs, this forensic chronicler of the human condition explores the ups and downs he has experienced since his breakthrough 2020 album Without People. He reflects on the intricacies of friendships and relationships, studying the little moments in life, and despite being a self-anointed pessimist even taking joy in them.

There are so many outstanding tracks: Rosemary tells of the emotional fall-out from an argument (‘Darling, are we OK yet, I’m always in the way of what you’re wanting’), Living Well, Don’t Talk To Her At Night and I’m Just Trying To Get Home, featuring William Prince. The deeply poignant Back For The Funeral, co-written with Lori McKenna and Matt Nathanson, follows a group of friends who return to their hometown after a friend dies from an overdose and muses on how the eclipsing of one life leads to a fresh start for others, ending with the crushing line: ‘How fucked up is that, that somebody’s gotta die for us to call each other back?’

The title of the latest album, co-produced by James Bunton, came from the positive affirmations Donovan was encouraged to repeat during therapy sessions. He told Line Of Best Fit: ‘All the therapy that I went through is trying to undo the years of the projection that I gave everyone in my life of how I was and who I was and my values; my actual self was much different than that. All the therapy that I’ve done is in service of realigning those two people, of being honest about my faults to people and being unabashedly myself and owning the things that I need and the things that are my weaknesses.’

As he reveals in the earlier album single 116 West Main, Durham, NC, he is trying to forgive himself more. ‘I'm probably a pessimist but a lot of my therapy is about not being a pessimist. I think a lot of what I’m trying to achieve is not being pessimistic and being hopeful that good things can happen or that like, even the bad things happen slow, and that there will still be time for nice things. I don’t really think of myself as an optimist. I feel much more in touch with myself and much less ashamed of myself all the time, the way I was before.’

He told Americana UK from his Toronto home that he would not label his music country; Paul Simon was his holy grail as a songwriter. ‘I do confessional songs with plain language.’ And he loves to collaborate with other artists. ‘I’ve always done that. It just gets you vibrating. You seem to be able to get to a place of clarity that you are not able to alone because you are sort of responsible for getting the other person to understand your point of view, the person you are writing with. So, you can’t hide it behind obtuse language or intense metaphor, you can’t hide and you have to admit what you want to say to the other person that’s in the room writing a song with you.’

The Connecticut-born, Pennsylvania-raised Diaz, daughter of a Peruvian mother and Danish father and a former student at Berklee College of Music, hugely enjoyed the alliance. Her 2021 album History Of A Feeling widened her appeal. She opened for Harry Styles last year, briefly joining his band, and then toured with her friend Kacey Musgraves earlier this year (they collaborated on Don’t Do Me Good).

No wonder Woods is mad about Madi. The popularity of Without People meant the Canadian didn’t need to find alternative employment. ‘I hope everybody likes the new record to keep me out of a job,’ he says. We are happy to oblige.


Remember Me: The Hanseroth Twins

We cannot wait to hear the golden voice of Brandi Carlile at London’s Drury Lane Theatre on Monday. But there is another reason to be there: to soak up the heavenly harmonies of the Hanseroth Twins. Their single Remember Me is our Song Of The Week at, a teaser for their forthcoming album Vera.

Phil and Tim Hanseroth have been described as Carlile’s secret weapon in her playing and recording career. Hardly secret. Carlile, ever the generous collaborator and champion of under-the-radar talent, has never missed an opportunity to extol the songwriting and musical gifts of the siblings who became a key component in her backing band and a part of her extended family.

The identical twins (Phil’s distinguishing feature is his electric bass; Tim’s an acoustic guitar) will be backing Brandi as usual in Drury Lane but will open the show themselves. The sound of two voices in tandem, more than mildly reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel or The Everly Brothers (two of their favourite covers are Sound Of Silence and Love Hurts), will only be upstaged by the glorious threesome to follow.

Carlile has said she views her band as a triangle with her at the apex but with the twins taking their turn. That turn has truly arrived with this month’s debut album. Many of her most memorable songs have been co-written by the Hanseroths: The Joke, The Story, The Mother, Beginning To Feel The Years, Every Time I Hear That Song, Party Of One, Broken Horses, Right On Time, You And Me On The Rock. All tracks on the last two Carlile studio albums have been credited to the three of them.

Remember Me is a love letter to the twins’ children, an extension of the song they wrote with Carlile on 2021’s In These Silent Says, This Time Tomorrow. The duet is beautifully expressed, particularly in the heartfelt chorus. Channelling their inner Everlys...

Sometimes life will lead you off the road 

It will be hard to know which way to go 

There may be mountains standing in your way 

You’ll have to climb when you rise to meet the day 

It doesn’t matter how far you go 

It’s how you get there, you’ll know when you know 

When you think of love I hope you think of me 

True as the sunrise over the sea  

Remember me gentle 

Remember me strong and free 

And wild as a river running 

Remember me

‘In our band with Brandi, I’ve never really had any desire to do the front person thing,’ Tim Hanseroth told Chris Willman of Variety magazine. ‘We were in a rock band for many years before we met Brandi [their shared Seattle roots date back to 1999]. We only started singing when we were young because the singer of our rock band quit and we had a hard time finding a replacement. With the Brandi Carlile band, I’ve always been really comfortable singing back-up, because I’ve never really fancied myself a lead singer. But it’s a good place to go back into for us.’

He explained the genesis of the Brandi-less enterprise: ‘We started talking about it during the pandemic. Everybody was kind of lost and we were like, well, at least we can still continue to be creative – maybe this would be a great time to make a record.’ Carlile, busy with myriad writing and production projects with other artists, decided she could delay her next record and gave her blessing to the twins’ debut offering.

The title of their self-produced album, recorded in their home studios in Maple Valley, Washington, is the Latin word for ‘true, real, genuine, actual’. The brothers – best buddies and creative soulmates – explore themes of love, loss and what it means to be alive. ‘Vera was the perfect name, because every note of this record is genuine in terms of how it was written and recorded,’ said Phil. ‘There’s no trickery; it’s just the truth.’ Tim added: ‘Phil and I are so close. I can feel what he’s feeling all of the time, and it’s part of the music. With how busy we get, who knows if we will get to make another record like this. Vera is a special moment in time that we’ll never forget.’ 

On the other pre-released single, the poignant Broken Homes, the twins process childhood scars from domestic turbulence and frayed family ties. ‘It’s a personal story about our childhood. We grew up very poor, and our parents divorced when we were young. There wasn’t a lot of harmony after the split, so we just had each other. When you go through adversity, it makes you stronger. We’re standing here tall, because we come from a broken home.’

Rich on love and money poor

We only took what we needed and left some behind

In those days of wanting more

Is where I learned to be strong and how to stay kind

No wonder they treasure the warmth of the homestead they share with Carlile; Phil is married to Brandi’s younger sister Tiffany and Tim to the sister of Brandi’s wife Catherine Shepherd. The Hanseroths are honest enough to acknowledge who has the superior voice – and it is neither of them. During the writing process they would park a song if they thought their mentor would be the best lead. ‘Sometimes I can just hear her voice singing the words before I can hear my voice sing it,’ said Tim. And who can match that magical vibrato?

‘We’re not out for world domination. We just want to put something beautiful out there that people can really connect with.’

It doesn’t matter who you love 

Or which God you pray to above 

Let the goodness in your heart show the way 

And have mercy as you wander through the days

Remember Me’s universal message really connects with us.


Dance With A Stranger: Lake Street Dive

You may have been celebrating this weekend: England’s rousing victory at the Euros, Lewis Hamilton’s emotional triumph at the British Grand Prix or even the demise of an unpopular government. Enough perhaps to make you accept Lake Street Dive’s invitation to Dance With A Stranger, our Song Of The Week at

The Boston band’s joyful foot-tapper, written by bass player Bridget Kearney and delivered soulfully by the wonderful Rachael Price, is that rare commodity on this blog – a happy track. The Brooklyn-based quintet, who began as a four-piece two decades ago when they were fellow jazz students at the New England Conservatory of Music, are Good Together, as the title of their eighth album suggests.

Dance With A Stranger was ‘inspired by a square dance, where folks from different communities come together and get a chance to move together. It’s always a good antidote for working out the kinks, personally and interpersonally. Get everybody in a room together and let them dance’. Kearney stumbled on the event during a writing retreat. The lyric oozes emphathy, respect for human differences and comfort for those in need…

Look around the room

Find someone’s eyes that are new to you

Might be a child’s or a grandfather’s

Anyone will do

Go say ‘Hello, how do you do?’

Listen to their answer, commiserate

Say ‘I feel that way sometimes too’

And ‘Would you like to dance?’

And if they say No, that’s OK

But if they say Yes, take their hand

Lead them out on the dance floor

Listen to the music play

Open up your whole heart

And dance, dance with a stranger

’Til they’re not a stranger, not a stranger any more

The album, like 2021’s lauded Obviously produced by Mike Elizondo, is an infectious blend of Motown-soaked soul, pop, jazz and funk with a soft spot for powerful ballads such as the piano-led heart-tugger Twenty-Five where Price’s seductive and skilful phrasing never fails to impress. Kearney writes about ‘a love that wasn’t built to last but was magical and meaningful and true, if only for a short time’. The sentiment, she adds, ties into the theme of the album and the question: ‘How can we as a species continue to love one another, in spite of all the challenges we face?’

But all of the joy we had and love we gave away back then

Well, it never went to waste

’Cause I’ll be an old woman with somebody else by my side

But I will always be in love with how you loved me

When we were twenty-five

This is largely life-affirming, feelgood music, the title track lifting our spirits from the off with Price and keyboard player Akie Bermiss playing the part of hopeless romantics as they trade optimistic verses. Michael Calabrese’s drumming and Kearney’s electric bass maintain a pleasing throb. We look forward to seeing a solo set by the Iowa-born Kearney in support of Bonny Light Horseman in London later this year ahead of a Lake Street Dive concert in early 2025. She is such a sharp songwriter deserving of wider attention; check out her solo album Comeback Kid.

The whistle-happy Far Gone is another funky track introduced by new guitarist James Cornelison who replaced Mike ‘McDuck’ Olson after Obviously. ‘There’s a lot to be angry about in the world right now, a lot of pain and rage and divisiveness, but it isn’t sustainable to constantly live in that anger – you need something else to keep you going,’ says Calabrese whose Seats At The Bar celebrates life’s simple pleasures. ‘Joy is a great way to sustain yourself, and we wanted to encourage everyone to stay aware of that. In a way this album is our way of saying: Take your joy very seriously.’

Party On The Roof, a love letter to New York City and its sky-high parties and adorned by the horns of the Huntertones, is as exuberant as the title sounds. Lake Street Dive describe their music as ‘joyful rebellion’, and it is best enjoyed in the flesh. A band to banish the doldrums. Dust off those dancing shoes.


Thank God I Have The Songs: Fritillaries

Attractive name, alluring music. Our Song Of The Week at is Thank God I Have The Songs, title track of the new EP by Fritillaries, the performing alias of Bristol-based alt-folk songwriter Hannah Pawson.

Fritillaries, named after the snake’s head flower rather the butterfly, symbolising rebirth and hope, devotes a trilogy of tracks to her beloved late grandmother, led by the moving Thank God I Have The Songs. The whole project is meant to act as balm for the singer and anyone else coping with loss.

Exmouth-born Pawson explores the theme of grief and the transience of life on the six-song EP, her first music since 2022’s eponymous debut album from which we picked out Unearthing, Together In Flight and Lost My Mind to drool over.

She was then part of a duo with Gabriel Wynne; now she is flying solo with musical help from producer Rowan Elliott, whose use of strings lends subtlety and pathos, and Beth Roberts on double bass. Elliott contributes bass and percussion too.

Pawson’s sensitive songwriting found the perfect collaborator in Elliott: ‘It was very special to begin making the EP with some strands of the songs still fresh and unfinished. I recorded my last album in London on very tight deadlines so it was nice to take a more relaxed approach in the neighbourhood I live in, creating the tracks as they happened and allowing them to be vulnerable. That’s what I needed.’

The eerie quiet of Covid was the backdrop for her debut album. The last days of her grandmother’s life inspired her latest project. Pawson explains on her Bandcamp site that she found herself ‘surrounded by melodies’ that merged with scenes from that time, such as the evocative opening of the title track: ‘I went for a walk at sunset and swallows were dancing across the beach, around my feet, dipping in and out of the water in a way I've never seen before. I filmed a video and took it to nan. I wanted to bring her those moments of poignancy and connection. Still, neither of us had really accepted that she was going to die.’

When sadness comes

Thank God I have the songs

When sadness comes

Thank God I have the songs

The other two tracks in the suite are Hyacinths and For Jan where mundane details offer frequent flashbacks: ‘I’m in reverie, I’m in reverie… how can everything remind me of you?’

‘It’s so important to have expressions of grief that can be beautiful and ordinary, and not just a big scary thing,’ she says. ‘You hold it, and you let the people you love hold it, and just sit in the darkness or the unknown and accept it.’

Harvest Moon begins the homage to her nan who was ‘always cycling, always advocating for the climate and human rights, even at the end of evening when we’re all dropping off to sleep’. Pawson wears nan’s waistcoat in the track’s home-made video while the lady herself features in the EP artwork.

The bluesy As The Rain Falls is an inventive ode to life ‘as wild can be’ and ‘finding the light in the midst of difficult events’. But it’s the tender tracks such as Thank God I Have The Songs and the banjo-led Little Sparrow that make fragility and Fritillaries such fitting companions. Nan would be proud.


Old Dutch: Bonny Light Horseman  

Oh to have been in that pub in County Cork when Bonny Light Horseman recorded half the songs for their new double album, Keep Me On Your Mind/See You There. One of those tracks, Old Dutch, is our Song Of The Week at A shimmering duet by Anaïs Mitchell and Eric D Johnson that swells into a gospel anthem with a little help from can’t-believe-their-luck patrons.

The sound is largely acoustic but the atmosphere in Levis Corner House in Ballydebob is electric as Mitchell, Fruit Bats frontman Johnson and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman gently step into a ballad that takes beauty on a joyful ride. The music enjoys space the hostelry they’re playing in does not have. On all the tracks recorded there you can hear the odd cleared throat, scraped chair, clinked glass or rumbling car outside. But the enchanting, ageless melodies are unimpaired.

After a stark opening of wandering piano and percussive tinkering, Mitchell, who composed the hit Broadway musical Hadestown, sings of chasing a wild heart while pulling the petals off a wild flower: ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Or love me not?’ Johnson takes the mic seamlessly for the second verse and both voices meld marvellously as the song builds to its communal conclusion.

I wanted to see you

But I couldn’t even look you in the eye

And I got a feeling

That I couldn’t shake if I tried

You know that you move me

You know that you threw a spark

You lit a flame and let a wildfire start

Wild horse on the prairie

Can’t tell if you’re scared or what

Are you running to or are you

Running from my love?

The genesis of the song was a phone voice memo backstage when the trio were performing at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, New York; hence the title. ‘It came together fast with the three of us just finger-painting until there it was. It took a few fits and starts before we realised that it should be a duet and – importantly – a conversation. We recorded it live at Levis and when the whole crowd started singing Yeah, I got a feeling, we all experienced a moment of collective lift-off.

‘Josh looked over at pub owner Joe O’Leary’s partner Caroline behind the bar, eyes wide open, arms outstretched, singing along and deeply feeling it. We’d never had that kind of moment tracking a song for a record before, seeing and feeling the connection, beyond the musicians in the room, in real time as it’s all going to tape.’

Despite the atmospheric noises off, this is not a live album: Bonny Light Horseman worked alone inside the pub for two days before allowing in a select group of regulars toward the end of the third. It was Mitchell’s idea following a conversation with O’Leary. Entering the century-old pub’s aged confines, the trio felt an immediate connection to its sense of community and family.

The album was written over five months last year, the three Americans gathering at Levis alongside long-time collaborators JT Bates (drums), Cameron Ralston (bass) and recording engineer Bella Blasko. The project was completed at their Dreamland Recording Studios in upstate New York. There were additional contributions from Mike Lewis on bass and tenor sax and Annie Nero on upright bass and harmonies.

A painting that hung on a wall of the pub, which kept an eye on proceedings, became the album cover. ‘I was making eye contact with that person for most of the recording,’ Johnson said of the artwork. Curiously, before the band had even planned to record there, the owner’s partner had named the woman in the picture Bonnie. Attention to detail and nuance of sound was such that olive oil was applied to lubricate the pub’s creaking upright piano. The range of Kaufman’s musicianship is remarkable, from guitars and mandolin to piano, Wurlitzer, harmonium and synths, and he even finds room for segments of moody harmonica.

Though the album is just over an hour long – 18 tracks plus two fragments of conversation – the band make the time fly with their mellifluous reflections on longing, ageing and the bucolic life they brought their music to. ‘There was this new level of letting it all hang out,’ Mitchell said of the album’s making. The trio, who have separate solo careers, have been described as a folk supergroup. Such hyperbole is uninvited but they do have a superlative sound, rooted in the tradition albeit with a distinctive indie vibe.

The stunning When I Was Younger, the album’s first single, is notable for an ambitious approach, its majestic intro delivered by Mitchell before she and Johnson trade vocals as only they can; they may share the same register but their harmonies are hypnotic. The song is an old death lament transformed into a modern meditation on motherhood. The electric guitar solo surprises for its crackling intensity and the audience are almost a match for Johnson’s wonderful shrieks. ‘We wanted to write it as a duet, to tell two sides of a story. We recorded it live, so you can hear the whole audience did that wordless wail with us in the middle. It felt like a primal collective shake-off. Next morning we were collecting our things from the pub and owner Joe was out front in flip-flops sweeping up the cigs from the street singing: When I was younger, I used to dress fancy…

On the gloriously sung Singing To The Mandolin (playfully rhymed with kitchen) evocative images are inspired by an old photograph; the moving Don’t Know Why You Move Me is an ode to the magic of enduring love; I Know You Know tells of the highs and lows of a doomed relationship (‘I’m a fool if I love you and a fool if I let you go’); and the Mitchell-led I Wanna Be Where You Are is a classic of domestic yearning (‘I wanna be where you are/ Hear the babies out in the yard/ And the leaves all changing bright/ And you’re holding me tonight’).

We have tickets for their show at London’s Roundhouse in November. If their performance comes close to capturing the craic in that Irish village last year, we are in for a special night. Bonny Light Horseman’s name, melodies and sound are steeped in history. The rest is chemistry.


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