Why release two singles on the same day? Well, you could equally ask why not. In a week when Taylor Swift holds the top ten positions in the singles chart with album tracks, it’s obvious that the model of releasing a single to trail an album isn’t relevant now. So if you have two cracking tracks ready to go and you’re not creating physical copies, why not just get them out there online and see what happens. And that’s where we are with ‘My Mystery’ and ‘Only Two Ways’.

The core of Great Willow is Erin Hawkins (vocals, and also cello on ‘Only Two Ways’) and James Combs (songwriter, vocal, guitar and piano) joined by Jimi Hawes (bass) and Ed Barguiarena (drums and production), joined by Abby Posner (mandolin and banjo) and Paul Lacques from I See Hawks in LA adding some very evocative lap steel on ‘Only Two Ways’.

The playing on both songs is laid-back and immaculate, evoking the Laurel Canyon artists of the seventies (you can feel the sunshine, which is more than welcome in a British November). Both songs have a country rock feel, but they have other influences shining through as well. ‘My Mystery’, telling the story of a lover’s sudden desertion has overtones of neckerchief rock, with an intro not a million miles away from Ronnie Lane’s ‘How Come’. Erin Hawkins’ vocal emphasises the vulnerability of the deserted lover, particularly when she drops towards the bottom end of her range, while the vocal harmonies add a touch of sweetness.

‘Only Two Ways’ has a very simple message, encapsulated in the first two lines: “Only two ways to go, And one of those ways is back”. James Combs lead vocal hints at Neil Young, enhancing the melancholy and the production then adds a couple of the saddest instruments from the arranger’s palette, cello and lap steel (the latter evoking bird cries towards the end of the song).

‘My Mystery’ and ‘Only Two Ways’ are perfect examples of the songwriter’s art and the arrangements allow the songs to breathe while using subtle fills from the guest players to enhance the mood.

Both singles are out now.

Here’s a video for ‘Only Two Ways’:

As we approach the end of this year’s meaningful album releases (obviously not including “Greatest Hits” packages and festive cash-ins), it’s not difficult to find a theme that runs through this year’s albums. The pandemic looms large either as subject matter for the songs or as the impetus to explore different ways of working. Either way, the impact’s impossible to ignore. Abby Posner dealt with the planetary and personal upheaval by creating this album almost single-handedly (with guest appearances from singers Mary Scholz and Fred Newhouse and fiddle player M’Gilvry Allen). Everything else is written, played, recorded and produced by Abby Posner.

About the title; I’ve saved people in the UK the hassle of spending 30 seconds on the internet to discover what it means. It’s a life buoy or ring buoy thrown to someone in distress in the water and it pulls together themes that suffuse the album; themes of stormy seas, of drowning, of rescues and emergencies. The eighteen months before the album’s release was a testing period for Abby Posner and its ten songs reflect the questions posed and the answers found during that period. The songs are intensely personal apart from one exception. I’ll come back to that later.

The musical stylings are restrained throughout the album, focusing the attention on Abby’s ethereal, haunting and often multi-layered lead vocal to enhance the lyrical messages. This approach is taken to its logical conclusion on the album’s closing song, “Digging Corners” which is stripped down to vocal and acoustic guitar to emphasise the message of two people opening themselves up to each other; the risk of hurt set against the hope of love. It’s a lovely positive message to close the album.

The title track is set against gently strummed guitar and acoustic piano and is shot through with disaster and recovery metaphors as well as contrasting physical and digital life – there’s no backup for real life, and no rewind. The quality of the songs and arrangements is consistently good across the album, with enough shifts of style and changes of tempo to keep the interest throughout. And there are even a couple of songs in triple time. Which brings us back to that one exception, “Blind Spots” (also in triple time); it’s a political song sitting amid the personal.

The song’s main focus is the murder of George Floyd. The blind spots of the title have a double meaning; the song starts by using blind spots in the driving sense while looking back instead of forwards before shifting the meaning to things that are plain to see, but we wilfully ignore or fail to see because they’re difficult to deal with. Although Trump isn’t mentioned, the bigotry and hate generated by populist campaigning and his Presidency have done lasting damage. It’s a cleverly-worked song with a powerful message that we need to heed. And that’s surely the final pandemic album of 2021.

“Kisbee Ring” is out now.

Here’s the Zoom-style video for “Blind Spots”:

There’s a music business orthodoxy that new singles and albums are released on a Friday. This is increasingly being challenged, mainly by artists outside the mainstream as new releases are popping up at times that work for the song, album or artist rather than the dictates of the music industry. Abby Posner’sDear 2020” is a perfect example. It’s available as a download or stream so there’s no reason why it couldn’t be released at any time. The song’s theme is saying goodbye to 2020 and was released on December 31st, which is entirely appropriate.

The finger-picked guitar intro and Abby’s voice give “Dear 2020” a rural blues feel, while the addition of a second guitar shifts the song to a more contemporary setting, and the upbeat rhythm creates a positivity that fits the overall mood of the song.

The basic message of the song is positive because Abby’s encouraging us to carry hope with us into 2021. There’s an acknowledgement that, for most of us, 2020 was awful but also that most of us have something to take away from the year (new skills, new friends, new audience) and build on into 2021; I’m totally behind that and “Dear 2020” is perfect accompaniment to a positive start to the year.

“Dear 2021” is out now on download and streaming platforms.