Although not as directly relevant to the content on this site as the Alternative Melodies strand of A Lonely Ghost Burning, the Beautiful Songwriting compilations are well worth a look as well. They’re worth a look more so if you’re a fan of slow, haunting, mostly-acoustic tracks that rely mainly on a great voice above all else. Normally I’d consider ‘beautiful’ in a compilation title a possible over exaggeration, but it’s wholly fitting in this case, accurately describing the tracks featured across (for the time being) five strong compilations.
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.1 (30/4/2014)
My choice picks from this release would be the brilliant opener courtesy of the talented Isobel Anderson, which I only wish ended on a more positive note. Dwelling hauntingly on missed opportunity, Anderson’s delicately soothing voice paints an enraptured picture of romance rendered in tranquil bliss before turning to bitter disappointment. I was hooked throughout, her voice the first you hear on the compilation and the first you feel compelled to return to afterwards. Also worth a mention are the Gabrielle Aplin-esque vocals of New Born’s Worst Enemy and the more energetic Just To Stay by David Ronnegard which is very, very good. Ronnegard successfully mixes the music of Foy Vance, Ben Howard and David Ford into an enticing folk blend. Elsewhere, Gar Clemens plays a similar sort of song in St. Anthony’s Pawn Shop without the full-band appeal, and this track also plays all the right notes. The gorgeous Long Shadow by Aphir is another highlight, making for a striking and immersive piece of music that drifts delicately from start to finish. Each track on this compilation has heart above all else, and that’s often the only ingredient needed to put together a moving, more stripped back song regardless of how the artist chooses to move a listener. Anything else is just a bonus.
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.2 (6/6/2014)
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.2 dropped a few weeks ago and it features eleven artists that again, I was unfamiliar with but am now better off for knowing. Again, it’s pretty damn good, as I expected it to be, every bit as “beautfiul” as the first entry in the series. It’s very similar to Vol.1, both in content and quality. You Are A Metaphor by The Capsules kicks things off, although ‘kicks things off’ perhaps suggests the track is more dynamic than it actually is. It’s a sweeping slow burner with delicate female vocals over a relaxed, cruising backdrop, happily drifting. My favourite track from this offering was Tally Marks by the simply named Joseph, a group of sisters hailing from Oregon, fitting with A Lonely Ghost Burning’s ability to promote artists the world over. Tally Marks is sublime, a basic enough acoustic track with layered exquisite vocals which really compliment the songs stripped backed nature, crooning yet powerful at times, emotional and well expressed. I’ve a tendency to favour female vocals on acoustic tracks, as is my preference, but the track from Seth Paul Machhi, Bitter Root is great, textured and with depth, again drawing comparisons to David Ford, who always comes to the front of my mind when discussing male singer-songwriters – as is my preference. Arctic Tern‘s The Break & The Fall is one of the rockier numbers in a sense, making use of a full band during an explicit and affecting track, stunning when it drops off to pianos and drums during a haunting final minute. As with the first compilation, the title says it all; these songs are beautifully written, composed and delivered, and although it features a few weaker songs it’s still a solid collection, well worth the wait.
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.3 (18/12/2014)
I’m a week or so late on this one, but Beautiful Songwriting Vol.3 dropped recently and, as I always try, to I wanted to write a little bit about it. As is often the case with ALGB releases I was unfamiliar with almost all of the artists featured (that’s sort of the point), and as is also often the case I found plenty of songs which I enjoyed. I was particularly pleased to see Flower Face open the compilation, having downloaded her debut album Homesick around a month ago. Funeral Kid, which features here, is incredibly sparse, echoing vocals perched delicately atop a plucked acoustic guitar pictured played in a dark room by a solitary sixteen-year-old (yes, sixteen) with a real penchant for creating a mood. It’s very affecting, and Homesick is definitely a release I’d recommend, strikingly somber and sincere, as well as brilliant lyrically. Flower Face is definitely an artist well worth watching, seriously talented at such a young age, and you can pick up her discography as ‘name your price’ downloads here. Elsewhere there are notable selections from Maddy Sleigh, who contributes the heartfelt Lost, and Richard Allen, who delivers some excellent vocals over another acoustic track in You & I. Once again, consider me impressed with the tracks on offer, and the compilation as a whole, which continues to meet the project’s goal of promoting artists who aren’t as well known, but deserve to be. Each of the tracks featured has been self-released by the artists and it’s great to see them getting some support. You can stream and download the compilation below; personally, I think it’s the best in the Beautiful Songwriting series so far.
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.4 (09/08/2015)
At the time of writing what is, at present, my latest update of many updates on this post I have a job which starts at 4AM, on the other side of the relatively small city in which I’m studying. It’s a quiet place at its busiest, Chichester, but in the early hours of the morning, before normal people wake up, it’s a ghost town of the most ghostly sort. I rarely see anyone in the twenty-five minutes it takes me to cross town, and I’m more likely to cross paths with a fox than a fellow twilight journeyman. This actually suits me, at least when it comes to posts like this one, because with certain releases a certain environmental ambience adds a lot to what otherwise may be a standard experience. Listening to Machine Head, for example, while walking to work has never really felt right. Maybe it’s because I’m still half asleep, but I tend to opt for something soft and quaint which seems to complement and bring life to the constant stillness around me. Beautiful Songwriting Vol.4 is a compilation ideally suited for the early morning commuter, the late night truck-drivers, who don’t just want a distraction in their music – something to lull but merit staying awake for – but something that adds a spark of magic to mundane proceedings. I liked that I could still hear the sound of my footsteps echoing down the empty streets during Molly Pinto Madigan‘s striking On The Hunt; I liked that the birds where still chirping whilst All The King’s Daughters bewitched their way through One Stitch At A Time, and I liked the compilation as a whole, and will likely revisit it often whilst I walk to work – and maybe when I find myself in a similar state of unavoidable isolation. I’ve done the same with the three releases in this series arc thus far, and Beautiful Songwriting Vol.4 matches them because it doesn’t do a whole lot differently, and nor should it have any reason to.
Things are still singer-songwriter oriented, with mostly female vocals floating over a gentle background, as is the case with Jillian Kay‘s Dead Flowers, which is haunting and compelling in its low-fi, faded approach. It adds to a soothing release befitting its name, and Beautiful Songwriting Vol.4 flows in a way some of the earlier Beautiful Songwriting releases didn’t quite manage. It could be down to the prominence of female vocalists throughout, with the release feeling more streamlined – something which admittedly isn’t necessary of a compilation album. Fans of the likes of Lucy Rose, Jessica Pratt and Laura Marling will find several artists worth exploring further, and even those who prefer something heavier might still find some incentive to take a wander before the sun comes up. Blackbird Peregrine‘s layered Carry The Torch is a highlight for myself, as is Tanner Swift‘s The Wait, which ends the compilation with the only song, aside from Chris Hartt‘s painfully endearing What’s Left To Go, to feature male vocals. The latter employs a back and forth method to express two viewpoints reflecting on a relationship, exploring a narrative which sets it apart, and it’s a strong track as well – as are most, if not all. Be it indoors or outdoors, night or day, Beautiful Songwriting Vol.4 is rewarding on several levels and, like its earlier siblings, I found it to be immensely charming throughout, making it well worth a listen. You can find it below.
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.5 (27/04/2016 or 04/27/2016)
I like the springtime, and I like the springtime in Georgia, here in the deep south of the United States, better than I like the springtime in Lancashire, England. For me, spring has always been that period in-between ‘too hot’ and ‘too cold,’ a transitional position between two somewhat unbearable poles. I like the spring because I can finish an ice cream before it melts, when it’s warm enough to actually enjoy ice cream outdoors. I like the springtime because of Easter eggs and the approaching culmination of the football season. I get sentimental for the springtime because certain songs sound better accompanied by a cool breeze blowing across a green field and over clear waters. I like that I can go out for a bike ride without melting into a sweaty puddle by the sixth mile. I appreciate that I can cycle alongside a river, feel the wind playing with my hair, and listen to some complimentary music while I do so. That’s what I did this weekend, when I grabbed my old and beaten up iPod Classic (remember those?), synced it, and rented out a bike for a few hours during a casual Sunday. I don’t know if you’ve ever cycled beside a river in spring, but I’ve always found it to be one of the best ways to spend an afternoon. The experience is better still with a compilation like Beautiful Songwriting Vol.5 to accompany it; although most things do tend to improve with a soundtrack to join the sensation.
I’ve been living in Columbus, Georgia, for the last five months, and I haven’t gotten out of that city too many times during. By ‘getting out’ I mean escaping to the countryside, leaving the buildings behind, so any opportunity which allows me to escape for a little while is one I tend to cherish. I spent Sunday afternoon escaping, and I escaped with the latest compilation from A Lonely Ghost Burning. I escaped with sweet, sentimental folk songs, touching acoustic numbers and lyrically humbling hymns to solitude. I properly escaped. I left the city behind and let the songs propel me along the river, the melodies humming in my ears while my tires hummed against the concrete. I forgot about everything that lay behind me; the paper I still needed to finish; the laundry I needed to do; the phone bill I had to pay, and about the crack in our kitchen ceiling. I needed to get away for a while, really get away, and music has always been the easiest way for me to do that, but actually getting away helps as well. I hit play on Beautiful Songwriting Vol.5 five minutes into my journey, after I’d covered myself in the necessary amount of sun cream, and found a way to balance my iPod in my shorts in a way which would prevent it falling out while keeping the line on the headphones a reasonable length.
I was immediately greeted by the lush, relaxing tones of Riley Pinkerton‘s In His Image, a song which felt positively Victorian in delivery, but also positively perfect playing out alongside passing trees draped in Spanish moss, bowing to the subtle majesty of the song. Pinkerton kicks off a compilation which glows golden, splendid in the sun, and it’s one of the stronger songs in a fourty-minute string of strong songs.
Elsewhere, and later in my ride, Ira Wolf‘s Alive made me genuinely feel alive, probably my favourite song to feature on an ALGB release since Isobel Anderson’s In My Garden, and I liked it for similar reasons. It just feels very real, very earnest, as do all of the songs here, subtle and simmering. None of the tracks are too loud or too soft (too hot or too cold), settling into a cushioned warmth which works well when paired with that cool breeze – take Halina Heron‘s Guilty or SJ Kurtis‘ Romantic Muse. It’s all very quaint, very nice, and for the most part, I felt like I was playing out the opening credits to an indie film while following the river – I’m reminded of Juno for some reason. A Voice For Vultures‘ Pigs On Parade would accompany the sad moment of realization during a film of that nature, frail and delicate, vulnerable in a way highly reminiscent of Keaton Henson, lonely lyrically and wanting spiritually. It’s a moving track, as is Perlo‘s Pools, which follows while displaying a great male / female duality – one which is very The Civil Wars, but also very good. It continues the folksy trend which the compilation establishes and adheres to throughout. That’s often been the case with the Beautiful Songwriting series in the past and it prevails further here – the songs authentic and rousing, flickering life in three-minute bursts of pained clarity.
I reached the turning point in my journey just as I finished my second playthrough of the compilation. I hit play again and thought about cycling back to Columbus immediately, quickly deciding against it. Instead I settled myself under a tree by the river, and listened to the compilation one more time in its glorious entirety, just to feel it when led there with my eyes closed. That’s how I like to work out if I like a record or not. I watched the boats come along the river and pass me by. I watched the leaves rustling in the tree above me as the light fought to push past them and burn my skin with an affectionate brush of warmth. I smiled at passersby and only carried on smiling when they said something in passing. I couldn’t hear them because of my headphones, but it didn’t matter so much what they were saying, what mattered was the music and the sunlight flitting through the turning wheels of their bikes, spinning shadows outwards. What mattered was the leaf falling south onto my leg, or the persistent blade of grass tickling my arm in the shade as if trying to crawl out from under it. What mattered was being there with some music – that’s when things tend to matter most to me. Beautiful Songwriting Vol.5 is a compilation that makes things matter, and I can praise it for that, as well as for the quality of the songs which make it up. I’m a sentimental soul at heart, and the compilation is a sentimental selection of songs. Together we got on just fine, and we continued to do so during the ride back.
Beautiful Songwriting Vol.6 (15/12/2017) Normally, having to walk to work in the snow would vex me, especially at seven in the morning and with ice on the ground. Normally I cycle, and that never vexes me. Unfortunately, it’s become normal for my bike to be a nuisance, so a couple of days last week I opted to trek to work in the snow instead of cycle. Thankfully, with a compilation like Beautiful Songwriting Vol.6 to accompany such a journey it became normal to enjoy the walk. With leaves frozen to the crisp grounds and snow falling lightly on the fields, it’s blissfully easy to forget about any inconvenience – minor or not. It’s normal for Beautiful Songwriting compilations to have that effect, and it’s an effect heightened late in the year.
These are certain records by certain artists which I only dig out in winter, songs for cold days and long nights. Take Bon Iver, The Written Years, James Blake and Wilco as the beginning of a lengthy list. Their music complements the season beautifully, breathes some life into tired mornings and warms cold bones. Their tone is white, and they work alongside a white backdrop. Beautiful Songwriting Vol.6 works gorgeously well as a winter record also, and it’s release, coinciding with the start of the season, was well-matched. Crisp and clear, the songs here are often dynamically restrained in composition, quiet pieces which are minimal in delivery but large in effect. They hover above the grass, calm enough that cars are just about audible in the distance, the scene in wintry static soundtracked. Mellow strings and subdued percussion permeate the playtime which, this time around, is concise at ten tracks coming in at just under fourty minutes. It takes me an hour and a half to commute; I play it twice.
Opening track Debt of a Lover exudes isolation, solitary guitar strings and Pitou‘s fragile melodies an early haunting, sonically sparse as lush vocals emit a fireside glow. The wind is against the windows but the draft isn’t quite making it inside. As the songs on here steadily reveal themselves they each contribute to a similar sense of melancholy, as the best winter songs often do. There’s little here to pull a listener from the experience, no jarring transitions or sudden switches in tempo. Quiet contemplation is encouraged, and the movement from start to finish is sublime, never a misstep. When the somewhat “fuller” Suburb Home rolls around it brings with it some energy, gorgeously layered and whimsically upbeat. It’s a nod-along indie-soundtrack sort of song, made for snowy woods sparkling in the sunlight flitting between the trees. The Royal Parks take a listener on a journey, as does Maggie Whitlock‘s Miraserria, more of a driving song, playing out beneath streetlights as Whitlock daydreams about warmer climates – “don’t you go back to Spain without me” she laments, “I deserve a better ending surely.” It’s a song full of life, cruising with eyes on the rear view, and there’s plenty of space for a listener despite the intensely personal styling. A folk-woven wanderlust permeates it, the genre more concealed than it is on Frère‘s contribution to the compilation, which follows. Child is nostalgic and bittersweet, taking the stance of adolescence and reflecting on the adult climate, the influence of T.V and the distance found in both moving away from home and moving away from a younger self. It’s a poignant and plaintive track, but there’s a great deal of beauty to it, be it in the vocal licks, or in the Ben Howard-reminiscent instrumentals.
I found myself gravitating increasingly towards the second half of the compilation, and I credit that mainly to Kora Feder‘s Written In Change, which closes Beautiful Songwriting Vol.6. For the winter wanderer, either walking to work, walking elsewhere or walking nowhere with purpose, Feder is running the inn which always has a light on – regardless of weather or season. “Come all you fickled fellows drink your sorrow away tonight” she sings, her voice dancing with all the sincerity and guile of the sober scholar. It’s a beautifully homely song, and a fitting end to a compilation which flickers like candlelight, offering comfort as the nights grow longer and the temperature slowly drops. This year I’m substituting Christmas songs for beautiful songwriting, never having been much of a fan of the former in the first place. I am always a fan of the latter, finding myself a fan moreso with every new release in this particular series. There’s a lot to love this time around, including the songs not mentioned above. As always, I recommend taking a listen yourself – you can do so below.