It’s six years since the release of her debut album, but Ciara Sidine hasn’t wasted that time; on the evidence of her second album “Unbroken Line”, she’s been constructing a fine bunch of songs that tackle contemporary issues with a deftness and delicacy of touch that evokes some of the great popular songwriters of our time. She’s not just an average singer, she has a fabulous voice that will melt the hardest of hearts, going all the way from delicate (almost fragile) to the bluesy raunch and double entendre of “Lemme Drive Your Train”.

The opener, “Finest Flower”, sets the tone for the album with its haunting combination of melancholy pedal steel and upright creating the setting for a song tackling the iniquities of the Magdalene Laundries. It also shows Ciara’s willingness to experiment, using some grungy ambient sounds in the leadup to the guitar solo. Definitely no one-trick ponies here. The songs are strong and varied, the arrangements work perfectly for the subject matter, but the real clincher is Ciara’s voice. Her range is impressive and she makes the most of it. The laconic shuffle of “2 Hard 2 Get 2 Heaven” features the husky lower end, while the fatalistic acoustic piece “Woman of Constant Sorrow” features a high, keening vocal before building up to a menacing slide solo.

The band moves effortlessly between styles from the slow jazzy country feel of “Watching the Dark” to the gospel rockabilly of “Wooden Bridge”, hinting at the vocal stylings of Patsy Cline and Imelda May respectively. “Let the Rain Fall” references the Stax sound, particularly the clipped Steve Cropper guitar sounds and “Take Me with You”, featuring some particularly lovely harmonies, could have found a home on any of the first four Jackson Browne albums.

There are plenty of things to admire about this album; the songs, the settings, the individual playing and of course the superb vocals. The subtlety and gentleness of the stylings allows Ciara to push home some uncomfortable messages without introducing any harsh corners and in that respect, it’s a very nuanced and sophisticated piece of work.

“Unbroken Line” is released on Friday October 6th.

ael-scrollerJust over a year after the release of her eponymous third album, Anna Laube has become Anna Elizabeth Laube and released her fourth album, “Tree”. She’s moved on from the playful experimentation of the previous album and produced a little classic of restrained melancholy where her pure, fluty vocals are set against sparse arrangements creating a lo-fi intimacy that perfectly matches the mood of the songs. With “Tree”, Anna has restricted her palette to sepia tones rather than the vibrant Technicolour of “Anna Laube”, although even the pared-down arrangements allow for some experimentation within the album’s sombre overall mood, which is enhanced with lashings of reverb on vocals and instruments.

The album opens with a Dylan cover, “Wallflower”, a melancholy old-country waltz telling the story of two lonely people in a crowded room, complete with some lovely fiddle fills. And that’s not the last of the songs in three-four time; the imploring “I Miss You So Much” with its wailing harmonica, the love ballad “Longshoreman” and “Lose, Lose, Lose”, the story of recovery from alcoholism, ruined by the reappearance of an old flame (at Christmas of all times). If you spliced together Patsy Cline and Rickie Lee Jones, it would sound like this.

XO” is a gentle finger-picked acoustic version of the Beyonce song, helped along by a trumpet accompaniment, not the usual strident brass, but a muted version with a Mexican tinge. And finally, two absolutely beautiful songs. The title song is the story of a tree and the way it, and other trees, intertwines with our lives. The gentle acoustic arrangement and lovely multi-tracked harmonies are a contrast to the over-driven, but quiet and tasteful guitar solo; all of the parts fit together perfectly. “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” expands from concern about drought to become a secular Lord’s Prayer with piano backing. It’s a deeply moving piece that is so catchy you’ll be singing along on the first listen.

“Tree” is a flawless album that works with limited soundscapes to create a mood that’s mainly melancholy with a few lighter touches for contrast. It’s a very beautiful piece of work.

“Tree” is released on Aah…Pockets! Records (Aah …Pockets!4) on Friday October 21st.

Be Many GoneThis made-in-Nashville, contemporary country album is full of sweet surprises, the sometimes quirky arrangements, the lyrics, the instruments…  It has different moods and tempos and Eileen Rose makes you want to listen to her latest offering, she speaks clearly to her audience, one to one.  She’s no newcomer either; a few albums in and plenty of touring and festivals to support them, this is an accomplished and confident sounding album.

She started writing at 14, trying to emulate her idol, Kate Bush, but was listening to an eclectic diet of music from Bowie to Linda Rondstadt.  Eileen Rose has both American and Irish heritage and her first gigs were around Boston when she was playing mainly folk music.  Since then she has also lived in urban Essex and gigged in London for a stint, when she also released two CDs for Rough Trade.  She has toured the UK and US with such reputable company as Ryan Adams and Beth Orton, before expanding her growing fan base to Europe.  There are many hints on this album, that there is more to her than country as the Jive-paced, “Just Ain’t So” prove and the sultry “She’s Yours”, with fiddle and brushed drums, a well placed accordion also lends a European touch to some tracks.

Be Many Gone” opens with a bouncy “Queen of the Fake Smile”, complete with lively fiddle.  The mood then shifts to a slower pace including the bittersweet, “She’s Yours” and stand-out “Prove Me Wrong”.  “Each Passing Hour” features Frank Black as a duet, which doesn’t work so well for me but sonically it rolls nicely with castanets and Mexican sounding trumpet.  Eileen Rose plays guitar and taught herself piano, but she also picks up other instruments (including bongos) and is just setting up her own label Holy Wreckords with her collaborator and producer, mixer and engineer of “Be Many Gone”, Rich Gilbert, so it appears that Eileen Rose is experiencing a period of enormous creative growth.

This is an emotionally wrought set of songs where she wears her heart visibly, but in no way is it depressing; Eileen Rose clearly also has a sense of humour, “I can be a good friend, I can be a joker, but you can choke me up now baby with a single glance”  (“Comfort Me”).  Not that she comes from the old Patsy Cline school of victim lyricism, she clearly empowers herself and shares this, while retaining a capacity for vulnerability and intimacy.  Vocally Eileen Rose has a country voice pitched somewhere between Kirsty MacColl and Lucinda Williams, while she doesn’t stretch her voice much on this album, the comfort in her voice contrasts nicely with the sometimes uncomfortable lyrics.  If you like country music with European and folky twists, this is definitely an album to check out.  Eileen Rose is currently considering playing dates in the UK and if past accolades are anything to go by, it will be a hot ticket!

“Be Many Gone” is out now on Holy Wreckords HWER12714.

Klare rated this album at 3.5 stars, but we can only rate in full stars, so this is 4 stars because I think it’s a great album as well (Ed.)