The UK country music scene is a real mixed bag for me. There are some great artists out there but there are others who either try too hard to sound American and it doesn’t work or try too hard to compare their Britishness to America (see The Shires debut album and ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ – cringe!). One British act kind of cut through that for me and that was Fitzwallace. The band of students from Leeds College of Music had a much more genuine sound to them – it wasn’t that they didn’t do something very country/Americana, they had elements of The Civil Wars to name but one, but they knew what they wanted to do with it. As tends to happen the band left university and suffered fractures, which led to lead singer Joe Martin going his own way. He’s recently spent a lot of time in Nashville – in fact as I write this review he is hitting the stage at The Bluebird Café! He’s arrived on the scene with this, his debut EP ‘Small World’, which has a collection of five songs.
The opening track ‘Silent Vow’ keeps things simple with Joe’s voice blending perfectly with his acoustic guitar. There’s some really top guitar playing throughout with Joe adding a lot of colour and flavour to the song with hammer on’s, pull offs and a great folky rhythm. Joe’s vocals are smooth and ooze the passion that he’s singing about in a song about learning from mistakes and lessons of the past. It’s a strong start to the EP where Joe leaves big production to one side and introduces himself in the rawest way possible.
Next up is ‘Denver’ where we see some more instrumentation seeping in. The wailing and weeping pedal steel supports the lyrical content where Joe sings about not wanting to go back to places full of difficult memories. The song is full of lulls and swells in the music, which fit perfectly with the content.
‘When The Time Is Right’ is a classic country-folk heart-on-your-sleeve type song. Again, the pedal steel supports the ups and downs in Joe’s vocal. Martin sings with all of the pain of Kristofferson mixed with his one of his obvious idols John Paul White. Joe doesn’t hold back on the song and every word is full of meaning and pain.
The penultimate track is ‘Killing Me Slowly’. It’s another song where Joe is pouring his heart out – “I thought that I could handle a girl like you, but I can’t, can’t you see, that you’re killing me slowly”. The song doesn’t have the strongest vocal on the EP in places but continues the same sparse production with the double bass and pedal steel accompanying Joe’s guitar.
The EP is rounded off with ‘Who You Really Are’. This is possibly the most ‘country’ sounding track on the EP and, possibly not by coincidence, my favourite. It showcases the best of Joe’s soft vocal and everything down to the guitar playing is teeming with emotion. It’s a song that just builds and builds with every aspect of it growing stronger and stronger throughout. This is a really strong song and definitely one that I’d like to see as a single.
1. Silent Vow
3. When The Time Is Right
4. Killing Me Slowly
5. Who You Really Are
This is a promising debut EP from Joe Martin. The sparse production means that I found it a much better listen through good quality headphones where the thump of that double bass and nuance of each instrument could really come through. In terms of song writing Joe is clearly a good storyteller and he steers well clear of that cringe worthy and tiring ‘UK Country’ which is either faux-American or ‘let’s compare clichés – cup of tea/moonshine etc etc’. The difficulty that this EP will have is always going to be in finding the right audience as the UK is being treated to a lot of big American country acts heading our way which can take the spotlight off our home-grown acts – even then the same old British names with big money backing get the limelight. Musically there are some really soaring moments mixed with raw heart-wrenching and, with the right nurturing and people behind him, Joe can go places as an artist. I won’t lie – this album edges more to Americana/Folk than Country. If you’re looking for beer drinking and dancing country or even feel good music then you’re not going to find it here but you will find a young artist starting the process of digging deep in his soul.
Who You Really Are
For Fans Of…
The Civil Wars or TV’s ‘Nashville’ in it’s more tender moments.
Six Shooter Rating
8 out of 10