A break from the norm in this week's Monday Music Review as we lead with a single review and eschew the normal full album reviews (mainly because we couldn't bear to listen to the albums more than once and we have yet to reach a level of cynicism that makes us write reviews based on solely one listen).
The Eighteenth Day of May - The Highest Tree / Sir Casey Jones (single)
The Eighteenth Day of May (or 'The May' as we're going to use from now on, because EDOM is just a bit too cheesy) are relative newcomers to Londonist Music's pages but have made quite a splash. Not only with us (important industry movers and shakers that we are) but with lesser publications such as The Observer's Oasis Music Monthly magazine and NME. With even Patti Smith making time in the busy Meltdown Festival schedule to explore US-UK Folk Connections, it's appropriate that a band like The May should be in the ascendant.
Their debut single is a double-A-sided affair with The Highest Tree backed by AA side Sir Casey Jones. In reality a lot of supposedly double-A singles don't really justify the epithet (and we can certainly think of some singles which should have been double-B side). Happily, the two tracks on offer here amply justify their existence as A-sides.
The Highest Tree, like all good folk songs, seems to consider hanging, or being hanged, as its subject matter. Of course, it's about more than that: death is about the life before it. Just as painting folk music as a one-dimensional musical style is wrong, so it is with the lyrics to the songs. Musically, you're getting a foot-tapping jangly pop tune which has an undeniably-strong folk influence but with the amplified element which justifies The May's presence in rock and pop venues, rather than folk clubs. Singer and flautist Allison Brice's vocals are a delight, with a delivery that is sunshine and darkness at the same time, and more than a little reminiscent of Kirsty MacColl.
Sir Casey Jones sees guitarist Richard Olson take lead vocals in another song that seems to have a hold on your foot. Altogether lighter in mood, this brings to mind The Kinks at their whimsical best, especially with the harmonies. Insanely enjoyable.
The beauty of bands like The May who follow their own path is that the music they produce does not need to follow a fashion. Through respecting and honouring the musical traditions before them, and at the same time extending the musical line, The May stand apart from the crowd and build themselves an enduring future based on solid foundations of musical knowledge and respect for their heritage. A fantastic single from a fantastic band, we expect The May to go very far.
The Highest Tree / Sir Casey Jones is released today on lovely 7" vinyl by Transistor Records and you can download a snippet of The Highest Tree from The Eighteenth Day of May's website. The band are also playing at The Water Rats on Gray's Inn Road next Monday, 4th July.