Face to Face
Face to Face (original E.P. version) is available at:
2nd October, 2015
Folk; Alternative; Soul-Pop
The E.P. Live at Hunter Club Bar & Venue is available from Friday 2nd October at:
Face to Face– 9.1
Long Drive Home– 9.0
Chasing Your Love– 9.1
Don’t Regret Me– 9.1
Boy Like Me- 9.0
Face to Face; Chasing Your Love; Don’t Regret Me
Face to Face
E.P. ‘Live At The Hunter Club’ released 2nd October 2015.
Recorded in front of a live audience at Hunter Club in August 2015.
Ethan Ash – Vocals and guitar
All songs written by Ethan Ash except ‘Don’t Regret Me’ which was co-written with Amy Wadge.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Steve Long, Hunter Club Recording Studio.
IT has been hard maintaining a satisfying balance…
when you mix work with passion. Returning to the world of work, it has been good having something to keep me focused- or at least get me a bit of money. Before this, I spent a lot of time reviewing and writing: that has been reduced and leveled-out somewhat. It has been a bit disheartening (reviewing acts) at the moment: a lot of bands and acts have not been sharing the reviews; some only to Twitter (and not Facebook) – meaning few people see it; it seems like a waste of time. I appreciate musicians are busy, yet it takes a few seconds to share a review; you need not even write accompanying comments- it baffles me musicians fail to uphold their end of the deal. Were the review to come from a ‘reputable’ or mainstream source; I am sure they would not ignore it- perhaps it is just me having a moan. My point is, I love discovering new music: being alerted to great acts and artists; if others do not get to know about it- and my effusive words are seen by a small number of faces- then it seems like an unwise marketing strategy. When it comes to today’s artist- hoping that there is some love-spreading after the review- he deserves some wider acclaim. Before I go into more depth- and bucking a trend for me- let’s hear more about Ethan Ash:
“Singer songwriter Ethan Ash is regarded as an exceptional guitarist, on acoustic or electric guitar, a fine vocalist and terrific live performer. His soul-infused folk pop style, strong song writing, increasing reputation on the live circuit and many festival appearances have seen his stature as an artist grow, evidenced by an ever-increasing fan base, and international and UK national radio play, including CBC Canada and Radio1, and several television appearances.
Born in the north east of England Ethan has spent the large part of his life living in Cambridge. He began studying music and playing guitar at age six years and has been passionate about music ever since. He played his first solo gig age 12 and went on to perform solo and front a teenage band which played all over the UK but after studying music at university he decided to pursue a solo career.
One of Ethan’s songs was chosen to feature as an iTunes Single of the Week.
Solo gigs and festivals played include…
Bestival, Cambridge Folk Festival, Camp Bestival, Wilderness, Latitude, main stage at The Secret Garden Party, Y Not Festival, MK International Festival, Cambridge Corn Exchange, and several O2 Academies and Music Week, ASCAP and IMC showcases in London. Headline shows include The Stables (Milton Keynes), The Glee Club (Birmingham), The High Barn (Essex), CB2 (Cambridge)
Ethan supported Ed Sheeran on one of his sell-out UK tours. Other artists he has supported include Passenger, Seth Lakeman, Nick Harper, Foy Vance, John Bramwell (I Am Kloot), Jamie Woon, Amy Wadge, and he was guest artist on Janet Devlins’s O2 Academy tour.
Ethan co-writes with other artists/songwriters including award winning songwriter, and Ed Sheeran co-writer, Amy Wadge. His new E.P., Face To Face’, was released on 16th March 2015. Tracks mixed by Grammy award winner Simon Goggerly (U2, Paloma Faith, Gwen Stefani) and mastered by award winning engineer Mandy Parnell (Bjork, Faithless, Franz Ferdinand)”
It is not often I get to investigate a solo act- especially the guys. When it comes to the sole acts; the lone artists that go out into the world- the most impressive and impassioned are the girls. I am not sure what it is- and it’s not reverse-sexism- I just find them more impressive. If anything, my impressions of the solo scene are enforced by the mainstream acts: the artists in the public fore; those we are all familiar with. My featured act has supported Ed Sheeran- to be fair, an artist I do not like at all- yet that is just my point: I assume every male singer will sound like him; it will all be that same sound. What I find; when digging through new music’s best, is something quite different: there is a great deal of range and surprise; some terrific artists out there- you just need to dig quite deep. I still think the girls have the edge in all departments: when it comes to their diversity and mobility; the effect they have- they are taking the honours. I am not sure what is behind this trend; whether the girls are more ambitious or wide-ranging- there seems to be an imbalance on the scene. For that reason, it is always great hearing a tremendous male artist: someone who has that flair and voice; an exceptional songwriter and example- there are not too many out there at the moment. Ash is one of music’s most impressive songwriters and talents: having garnered critical praise and support; he is still ‘under the radar’- deserving of more respect and acclaim. The solo sector is quite a mixed thing: the quality does seem to be unpredictable; there are too many stale and uninspired artists- which put off a lot of listeners. Too many solo acts (particularly the guys) are just acoustic guitar and no talent; a rather insipid and aimless musician. Ash certainly breaks away from this fate: having played from a young age- picking up the guitar as a child- he has played in bands; released a number of E.P.s- supported some terrific musicians. His latest E.P.- a live outing recorded at a Bury St Edmunds- shows what natural performer he is: in his element and completely at ease; the crowd are sucked into his magical world- the simplicity and effectiveness of his music; the beauty of his words. I am glad I have been introduced to Ethan Ash- by his management company and representative- but feel like Christopher Columbus: discovering something (America) after countless others have before him. Before I get down to reviewing Ash (and his new E.P.) I am reminded of the northern towns; the live E.P. realm. Ash hails from Newcastle: a location that has produced some terrific musicians; some of the music world’s most enduring acts. The likes of Prefab Sprout, Brian Johnson (AC/DC’s lead) and Sting hail from Newcastle- as do The Lighthouse Family; that is a different story! Having reviewed a lot of northern acts- mainly from Yorkshire and Manchester- it is great to be back in Newcastle- the band Kobadelta may have been my last Newcastle review (apologies if I have reviewed any others in-between). I am not sure whether geography and location has an effect on music- and defines just what it will sound like- but there is something in it: London music tends to be more harried and busy (reflecting the pace of the city perhaps); Manchester and Liverpool reflect their rich musical heritage (and often nod to classic home acts) – Newcastle combine the two facets. Borrowing that northern magic- and the spirits of legendary bands past- there is a sense of urgency and pace; often balanced with something more romantic and nuanced. Ash is an artist that has grown up on some wonderful sounds; married them to modern and chart-friendly vibes- topped-off with his unique blend and artistry. His songwriting ability is second-to-none; the way he crafts images and words- more adept and skilled than the majority of his peers. It seems only right that his latest E.P. was a live recording: he sounds natural in that element; great to hear the crowd experience the songs direct- the combination is beautiful. You do not hear many artists (newer ones anyway) produce live recordings: not sure why; perhaps there is too much focus on original material. Some of my favouite musical moments have been live recordings- from Jeff Buckley’s transcendent Live at Sin-e to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York– you can learn so much; experience an artist in a new light. In those two cases, there was fresh revelation and insight. Buckley was at the start of his career- recorded before he was signed; went on to record Grace– and shows how gorgeous his music could be. Armed with an electric guitar and microphone, he seduced and entranced the New York coffee house- a tantilising glimpse into what was to come. By contrast, Nirvana produced something similarly beautiful- although this album was recorded at the end of their careers; shortly before Cobain’s death. That album stripped Nirvana right down; gave the back catalogue an intimacy and new perspective. Ethan Ash sort of fits in the middle- when it comes to his progress and stage of music- and gives his songs a warmth and delicacy; a real charm and sense of emotion- naked and pure; powerful and primal.
It is hard to compare Ash with many other artists: he has such a unique and characterful voice; one enforced by his own passion and identity- he does not simply replicate others; hangs onto shadows and contemporaries. Having toured with peers like Ed Sheeran, he retains some of that modern Folk-cum-Pop sound: he can sound contemporary and classic; loose and relaxed- engaging and urgent. Whilst I am not a fan of Sheeran- and find his music lacking in that original bite and sense of diversity- he does have a loveable and winnable personality- that sense of optimism and smile comes out in his music. Ash has purposely ensured his voice and music is his own: not beholden to anyone; a young man with a clear idea of who he wants to be. For that reason, the songs really separate themselves (from the mainstream predictability); that passion and talent radiates through- compelling fans and listeners. If you want a good assessment of Ash; how he has progressed and whether he has developed a lot- it is worth looking back; checking his older sounds out- and how his new material stacks up.
If one goes back to Playing by Numbers (the E.P. released in 2012) there is a gradual build- before a vocal explosion. Our hero looks at his love and sweetheart on I Like: how she whispers and seduces; the way she moves and tantilises. Ash ensures his words and sentiments are not clichéd and over-sued: the way he projects his thoughts and desires sets him aside from the crowd. Boasting a quasi-orchestral sweep; a real sense of drama- it is a passionate and gripping number. Wouldn’t Get Through is more sprite and nibble: the vocal springs and jumps- sounding a bit like a Soul legend, strangely. Letting his lush and smooth side come through, there is directionless and loss (in the words); that need to find his girl- find something that will complete him. The song looks at wanting to get words off his chest: saying words that mean more in the flesh; wouldn’t mean much on paper. An addictive and catchy numbers, it shows the range and breadth of Ash’s songwriting ability and vocal prowess. No Love in That Bed demonstrates how soft and seducing his voice is: tender and finger-picked, the song looks at the proclivities and cheapness of modern-day love- as the heroine picks up cheap dates and thrills. Trying to find completeness and fulfillment; the song takes us inside the mind of a sordid day- as it descends into a seedy night.
Haven’t Got There was released a couple of years back. The song sees the young talent traverse more into Blues and Soul. The song has that distinct and strong vocal performance- sounding more confident and assured here. Like a young Jeff Buckley, the song shows Ash in rich form: he lets his voice kick and campaign; promoted by a springing and sensuous guitar sound- when combined it creates something quite scintillating. With some soothing and rich female backing vocals, it is one of the singer’s most powerful numbers. Since the earlier work- and the 2012/2013 period- Ash has grown as a songwriter and performer. In the sapling years, his voice and songs has Ed Sheeran tones- perhaps clinging too closely to that sound. Perhaps lacking that killer blow and completeness; the songs has their charms and power- yet seem to hold Ash back a little. Demonstrating himself as a terrific songwriter and guitarist, the work shone and radiated- whilst not completely overwhelming and distinguishing. The best modern songwriters betray a debt to nobody; they do not remind you of anyone else- which is what Ash developed into. Over the last couple of years, he has brought in new styles and genres- more Blues, Soul and Pop elements- to make his music more full, spectral and stunning- showcasing his full range and ability. Not relying on the acoustic-guitar-and-love-song model- that has been tried, tested and flogged to death- he has blossomed into a more mature and intelligent writer. His music contains the cores and hallmarks- love’s separation and personal doubts; personal strength and longing- but does so with a sense of individuality and personality. Increasing his proficiency and wonder by the release; Ash gets stronger and more assured- it is a very promising song for the future. His current work- live album that has developed from his Face to Face E.P. and earlier work – sees the young man at his peak: coming across as more confident and timeless; Ash is now a definitive and essential solo artist- someone every listener should fall for.
Face to Face is my favourite song of Ethan Ash: the title track from his latest E.P. I was keen to see how it translated into the live arena; what Ash would do differently- and whether it would be a faithful rendition. The track boasts a most sumptuous and delicate introduction: Ash’s guitar playing is romantic and gorgeous; flowing and seducing- a most beautiful and calming beginning. Reminding me of Nick Drake- and the magic he could weave with his guitar- for the new listener, you are not sure what to expect. After the trickling waterfall; the dancing and twinkling strings- our hero comes to the microphone. Ash keeps his voice impassioned and soulful- never getting out the traps with too much energy and emotion- letting his words do their work. Early thoughts look at romance and longing; that need to be with (his) sweetheart- and find satisfaction. Our man has been waiting to- with his girl one presumes- “talk to you”; let his words come out- get something important off his chest. Without revealing too much insight and secrecy, the initial thoughts are quite compelling and simple- letting the listener imagine and conspire (as to what is unfolded). It seems there has been some dislocation and upheaval; maybe an argument has ended- and the two lovers are split and balkanised. Our hero does not want things to end; he is determined to keep the flame alive- broker reconciliation and get things back on track. In this live setting- compared to the E.P. version- Ash’s voice sounds even more wounded and desperate: that desire and tremulous need echoes strongly. The “little situation”- what has happened between the two lovers- is underplayed to some extent- maybe the hero is shirking his share of the blame; maybe things have gotten out of hand. When love songs are written- that look at similar themes and storylines- the author never takes much of the blame- it always seems to be the fault of the other party. To an extent, Ash is owning-up and taking his lumps; he just wants things to return to normal- that ache and honesty in the vocal is hard to ignore. On that front, the vocal never deviates from that determined and soothing soulfulness- eliciting so much raw passion and pride with every note. I have mentioned Jeff Buckley’s ‘Sin-e performances: the way he bends notes and keeps the audience enthralled; making sure his voice cuts right through the air- you can hear this happening here. Ash has clearly studied Buckley- whether consciously or not- and translates some of his early-‘90s majesty and accomplishment- showing himself to be a stunning and soul-seeking voice of this generation. It would be easy to walk away; cut the ties would be the simplest things: his girl seems to want a way back in- they need to be face to face. That stridulating and crooning guitar creates atmosphere and force; summoning up plenty of possibility. The hero asks questions of his girl: would she ignore his calls? Would she just pass him by? What would see do were they to meet again? There is that anxiety and fear; the uncertainty for the future- they need to fight to make things right. Perhaps they are in two different camps; their minds in different places- it is hard to ignore all they have shared and been through; they should not let that die. Repeating the song’s central mantra- how it is easy just to “walk away”- Ash tried to keep his emotions in-check; there is that possibility he might crack- and let the force of his confessions come wailing out. By keeping everything tight and focused; not letting his heart overtake his mind- it means the song always has that intrigue and mystery; the sense of what-if and suspense. As it progresses to its final beat, you wonder what will become of the duo: will they ever rekindle their passion and deep love? By the final moments, that voice is at its more alert and determined: getting that message across, it weaves and entices- sending a clear message across the land (hoping it hits its target). Question marks are hanging and unanswered; you speculate as to the next steps- things may be beyond repair. As Ash ends the track, the crowd loves his performance; they are scintillated by the performance- our hero turns the track inside out; gives it new life and meaning here. It would be easy to say that Face to Face– and the rest of the E.P. – performed live is just a means of getting money and new fans. Some artists release live albums; few really put much effort into them- they seem like a stop-gap and afterthought. Ash ensures the songs are reworked yet kept consistent and recongnisable- exciting existing fans and bringing in new ones. With the crowd sitting back in reverend mode- and not making a sound or motion- it allows the track to really show its heart and soul. One of the U.K.’s most promising up-and-coming singers, Ash proves why he is such a popular artist- and is deserving of a lot more acclaim and attention.
As a new Ethan Ash convert, I am coming in with fresh eyes- assessing an E.P. that nods to his past and present; is a perfect introduction for new fans. The current market is obsessed with disposability and turnaround; the instancy of music- wanting artists to produce music constantly; not leave gaps between recordings. There is a fixation with short-attention span: few reviewers and critics (listeners for that matter) have that much patience. Ash is an artist that is in no hurry: his music is pulling a huge amount of fans in; striking them hard- his reputation is growing by the release. Still somewhat under-appreciated- not quite at that mainstream level yet- it is surely only a matter of time. Live at Hunter Club Bar & Venue shows just what the young artist can come up with: confident and memorable; emotive and passionate- the sound of a musician in his element. Coming back to my original points- before I give a ‘mini-review’ of the E.P. – Ash is an act that burns and smokes (has to throw some dodgy wordplay in there!). The north is showcasing some of music’s most exceptional artists: compares with the south, there is a lot more range and innovation; a great spectrum of genres and possibilities- although London maybe has the edge in terms of quality. It is great to compartmentalise the U.K.: see what each region comes up with; how the music differs- the northern climbs are really fascinating. Whereas Manchester and Liverpool is more band-heavy- compared with solo/duo music- Newcastle seems to be unveiling more solo gems- there are some great bands; they are overshadowed by the solo artists. Ash has come a long way; crafted some spectacular E.P.s- growing with each new record; on a very promising trajectory. A great deal of modern solo artists are slacking and falling: the mainstream scene is showing occasional promise; new music is throwing a lot more promise up- artists not conforming with market expectations; free to write and project from a more relaxed heart. Ash has been noted because of his terrific lyrics: ideals that are personal and honest; they also speak to the wider audience. A lot of newer artists cannot pen consistent lyrics: keep their formidable force and retain a sense of adventure, ambition and integrity. From release to release, Ash produces deep and reflective lyrics; songs we can all relate to- music that is nuanced and highly charged. That voice stands right in the middle: the stunning tones beautifully blend into the mix; the result is an exceptional and potent thing. I hope he comes down to London; takes his music to the capital- there will be a lot of ears waiting for him. With the music scene growing and flourishing (in London) there is that desire for a brave and assured artist- someone who can command a crowd; really get the punters in. Ash already has a reputation and fan-base; there are many more unaware of his music- let’s hope that changes soon. On that note, it would be good to see an album emerge: Ash has the ammunition and quality; he could stretch his music over ten or eleven tracks- really put his stamp out there. Following his E.P.s and singles; it seems like an album would be the next step- something that could cement him as one of the U.K.’s best.
Across the E.P., the beauty and power does not relinquish its grasp. When his E.P. Face to Face came out (back in the spring) it was met with fond applause and impassioned support- fans and new listeners paid tribute to its solidity and consistency; the depth of emotion and wonderful songwriting. Live at Hunter Club’ sees that E.P. out in the open (with Long Drive Home and Don’t Regret Me in there): performing to an intimate crowd and letting the music do its work. Long Drive Home sounds sparse and intimate: right in the midst of the song, it sees the singer let his voice shine- looking at his love and his accompanied heart. When driving and making that trek home, he is never alone- you can sense that insistency and devotion in his delivery. Switching between wordless highs and soulful swathes, the energy and pace never drops- giving the song a sense of importance and urgency. The guitar-playing abilities are right up front: adding so much momentum, mood and movement; the performance is stunning throughout. Throughout the song, Ash never lets his voice slip or loosen: he sounds completely natural and at ease here; lost in the music, that warmth and purity comes out. Reminding me of my favourite live album- Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-e– it is that mixture of familiarity and intimacy. When Buckley recorded that live album- collected moments from several gigs at the New York coffee house- it predated his Grace work. The songs on ‘Sin-e were being honed and experimented-with; tested and tried- not quite at their peak and final stage. That is what made the record so wonderful: there was a sense of playfulness and improvisation; just going with the flow- what Ash displays here. Being a new and fresh E.P., the songs are being changed and mutated; little details and nuances come to the plate- hearing them in a live setting gives the songs a natural backing; a raw and romantic vibe.
Chasing Your Love proves all these points: one of Ash’s most impassioned tracks is given an airing before a devoted crowd. Looking at chasing the heart (of his intended girl) there is history and a back story- when they used to play and chase one another. Showcasing some youthfulness and child-like naivety, you can picture the young Ash and his girl- that innocence and sense of what-if. Now there is that urge and need to obtain love and satisfaction- regressing to childhood days; wanting his girl to be his. One of the E.P.’s shortest and most concise numbers, the guitar flecks are fast and spirited- reflecting the song’s endless sense of liveliness and the upbeat. Not simply succumbing to the tendancy of his peers- letting himself wallow in his thought; present a by-the-numbers slush-ballad- the song has its head up high- a real determination to get what it wants. Ash’s voice is enflamed and enriched; completely engaged in the moment- a stunning live performance here. Being an assured and established star- with plenty more fans and lands to conquer- you might expect strings and supporting musicians to come into things; give the songs too much emotion and music- drown the lyrics in orchestral movements and needless over-production. In this live setting, you get bare bones and a real atmosphere: Ash strips the song to its core; lets its meanings and feelings come off the page- get right into the minds of the listeners.
Don’t Regret Me slows things down- and gives a faithful comparison it’s the original recording- letting the crowd catch their breath. Ash allows his soulful and stunning tones to come out: mixing elements of Stevie Wonder, Jeff Buckley and the current best; showing just what a range and emotional palette he possesses. The track almost steals top honours- in terms of the standout of the E.P.- because of the range of emotions and themes throughout the track. The guitar composition is simply a supportive aid: it gives the song its drive and movement; the real stars are the lyrics and the vocals. Our man will write down a list- and “give it to you”- stating and declaring his love. Asking the girl not to regret him- perhaps he has been remiss giving praise and affection- there is that need for safety and love. Not wanting things to fade and dissipate; the song shows what an aching and tender heart he has- and what a sensational voice is at play. That Stevie Wonder-esque Soul sound spills out- his high notes are crystal-like and heartbreaking- and does not sound forced or disingenuous. You implore and support Ash; get caught in his plight and fight- hope he wins her heart. Providing a nice sonic and emotional balance- between the high-rolling and feet-moving pace of earlier numbers- you get a window into his mind and soul. Whereas other tracks have looked at love and break-up; pure affection and child innocence- here there is some honesty and mindfulness; taking his share of the blame. Ash is in confessional mode; he is laying his thoughts on the line- a real fear and anxiety comes out. Not just another love-them-and-leave-them guy, things are different here- bravery and real need for things to be better; regret of what has come before.
Boy Like Me is a perfect closer: one of the best acoustic performances I have heard for a while. The guitar is the perfect backing and support aid: adding so many words and emotions, it perfectly aids the hero. The words he has been saying; the words that come off his tongue- they are getting him into trouble. Urging his girl to stay with him; he needs that particular girl- no other woman would stay with him. The second part of his honesty fable, Ash is open and completely bare here: he knows his limitations and faults; he is desperate for his love to stay with him. Letting his guitar twirl and conspire, you get lost in the drama of the song: all the images that are whipped-up; the pure force of that voice- all the possibilities and avenues. Keeping things simple and traditional- Ash keeps his songwriting fairly straightforward and uncluttered- here is a man that specialisies in to-the-core song-craft- not overcrowding songs and straying off course; keeping his mind and attention to the task at hand. Boy Like Me– and the E.P. as a whole- has quite a modern vibe; it could easily sit alongside the current scene’s finest- but offers that little bit more.
In a music world where solo acts- those that pick up an acoustic guitar at least- tend to lack individuality and unique direction; you get the same voice/lyrics/sound coming out the same way. At some points I cannot tell artists apart: the vocal and tones are identical; their themes and stories samey and predictable; their compositions too simplistic and boring. Ash has developed and grown as an artist- since his early days he has developed his personality and sound- and has really come into his own. One of music’s weaknesses is the male singer-songwriter genre: few modern acts really take the breath away; make you want to stick with them. Throughout the live E.P. you get a sense of what Ash is all about: he is a very distinguished and special singer; someone with a lot of heart and intelligence. If you are a fan of his work, you will find much to love: he has not changed things drastically; increased the consistency and quality- improved his game and shaved away some rough edges. It is that serene and pure soulfulness that shines brightest: when he is at his most ardent and impassioned, his voice flies and entrances- beating any other singer that comes within its path. Imbued with so much entice and spectral haunt, you cannot deny its wonder. The balance of love emotions and lyrics works well: there are not too many clichés or recycled ideas; the lyrics showcase a maturity and innovation- something lacking among his male peers. Overall, Live at Hunter Club’ is an E.P. is one you need to get hold of. You imagine you are sat in the crowd; you are alongside those who witnessed it in the flesh- the production allows you a front row seat to see the show. What you get is an artist that is completely confident and determined to succeed; win the minds and hearts of his followers- show just what a unique and brilliant talent he is. One of the best live releases I have heard for a while, it is has urged me to follow Ash; dive into his back catalogue- see just what he is capable of. With regards his future, he will be in need beyond the U.K.: he could well translate to U.S. crowds; find success across Europe and Australia- he is a singer that has a big future. What 2016 has in store is anyone’s guess- although Ash can be guaranteed of success and new interest- and I would not be surprised to see festivals, radio stations and nations line up- all eager to see the young man show what he’s made of. With so many modern singer-songwriters showing little heart, courage and fascination; make sure you check out Ethan Ash…
ONE of this country’s most promising musicians.
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