Run is available at:
Folk; Country; Alternative
12th September, 2016
IN my upcoming reviews I will...
focus on artists who differ from one another in every way possible. Over my last couple of pieces, I have looked at artists who are just starting out and in the earliest stages. Albert Man was an exception but Drugstore Beetles definitely fall into that category. The young band have released their first album but when it comes to photos, information and detail they are still in the infant stages. This year, I want to expand my blog and concentrate on bigger, more established artists: conducting more interviews and moving into YouTube territory. It is important, before that transition occurs, to look at acts who are just beginning their music life and piecing things together. My next review takes a look at a Sydney-based Rock band that have an edginess and primal urge that I have not heard in a long while. My recent reviews have tended to stick to Folk/Acoustic acts and, whilst good, is starting to become commonplace and a little too soothing and calm. Luckily, Steelheart’s Heidi Karin takes the form and gives it a bit more oomph, passion and energy than I have heard lately. I will investigate her in more detail soon but before I do – after I want to look at Scottish music and considerations of new music in 2017 – it is worth taking a (brief) trip back to Folk and Alternative pastures – before I move onto something vastly different next week. It is a bit earlier in the game to predict the Folk albums that are going to cause ripples this year but I am anxious to see what comes through in the coming weeks/months. As I have said in multiple pieces; Laura Marling’s hotly-anticipated Semper Femina is right at the top of my list. There is no other album I am looking forward to as much as her forthcoming L.P.
If lead single, Soothing, is anything to go by, it will be another stunning and peerless album that will surely be on the list of 2017’s best albums. That album brings me to the point of how varied and mainstream/accessible Folk/Alternative blends can be. I alluded to this when reviewing Sharon Lazibyrd’s What Time Is Later? very recently. This will be the last time I’ll bring it up for a bit – as I am going on a sojourn into rockier waters – and is worth repeating. If one looks at more ‘traditional’, softer Folk sound albums like Roseanna Ball’s Time (Haven Records) and you find the arrangements are simple, effective whilst the songs blend passion with catchiness. I guess, when we think of Folk as a basis, it will be quite rooted and uninspiring. Other successes (from 2015) like Sara Watkins’ Young in All the Wrong Ways was one of the most beautiful albums of the year and amazed critics upon its release – not just those reserved to Folk music. Other artists – those who bring Americana into the mix – such as Amanda Shires and Drive-By Truckers have created stunning work lately: heartbreak, politics and plenty of dare go into their work. It was Itasca’s Open to Chance (the first studio album) that found Kayla Cohen works alongside a band. The L.A.-based musician evokes sights of Laurel Canyon and that refined, dignified music is waltz-like and pure. It is no wonder the album resonated and picked up a raft of plaudits from critics. Take a look at other 2016 work and you see more ‘mainstream’ albums - that I have mentioned before - like Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker; Angel Olsen’s My Woman and Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. There are blends of Folk, Alternative and Pop in there so you cannot label ‘Folk’ as uninteresting or uninspiring.
I mention this genre because Steelheart has that basis. Heidi Karin has been performing for a while and is a multi-talented proposition: a former D.J. (who used to perform in Belgium) and a professionally-trained actor. All of these skills and experiences go into her evocative and enticing music. Before I raise new points of enquiry, I shall provide a brief introduction to Steelheart:
“I am a self taught guitarist and have been writing since the age of 10. I was given my first guitar at the age of 23. Writing music is a hobby for me and it is only now that I am beginning to share my original material. I write, film, produce, edit all my own musical and visual material and its purely for the love of music and my passion to share it with you”.
I mention this will be, for now, one of my last reviews of newer, unsigned artists because I am changing my blog and looking to concentrate on larger acts and bigger projects in 2017 – with a view to getting my work into the hands of some of the country’s biggest online music sites. Whilst there can be drawbacks to assessing lesser-known musicians – fewer photos for the review and fears about their longevity – I have been confident, with those acts I have reviewed, they will go onto to success, however long it lasts. Music itself is capricious and unsteady so you can never say how well any musician will ever do. That might sound gloomy and depressing but the point is: it is fulfilling encouraging those acts just starting out and testing the water. That will be missed but ‘duty’ call and I know the likes of Steelheart will go onto big things soon enough. The reason I wanted to look at her music – I shall come to look at Scottish music soon – is because she is one of the most humble and grateful artists you’ll find.
I have reviewed plenty of acts – naming no names: had a lot to drink since then – who have either asked for reviews or not, but once I have written it, failed to share or acknowledge it sufficiently. It happens from time to time but always dents my confidence. Musicians who think they can succeed without recognising reviewers willing to expend proper energy on their work are going to struggle and suffer. I do not expect them to name their first born after me but a perfunctory, generic ‘thanks’ wouldn’t go amiss. With Steelheart, you get that warmth and appreciation without having to ask. She is what I like to call a ‘proper’ musician: starting from the bottom with that raw talent and determination; determined to find success and spread her music. With the help of Catherine Campbell – erstwhile promoter and super-P.R. machine – Steelheart has great backing and is already getting her voice and music heard up in Scotland. I am not exaggerating, but you look at any ‘Ones to Watch 2017’ lists or any music website and how many new Scottish acts will be included on that list? I am not suggesting there is xenophobia as Wales and Northern Ireland miss out when we see Britain’s hotly-tipped acts. There is such an unblinkered focus on England, and the larger cities, countries like Scotland get overlooked. Sure, the local press does their bit but the bigger boys seem reluctant to cast their eyes beyond Manchester (if heading north). To be fair, Steelheart is located in Angus which is a coastal resort in the former royal burgh in Angus. It is quite remote so you would not expect the like of NME and Mojo to be sniffing around for new music. As I proved with my last reviews, acts from Exeter among them, there is a rich history of music in the area and it is foolhardy to assume no major act will emanate from there.
Steelheart is settled in an area which provides beauty and inspiration with some local opportunities for promotion. I have reviewed upcoming Scottish acts like Universal Thee and Echo Arcadia and, between the Edinburgh bands; you get a glimpse into Scottish music and what it is about. The country has produced acts like Primal Scream, Biffy Clyro and Orange Juice; Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Annie Lennox. Whilst the country might be more synonymous with its bands: there are lots of great solo artists emerging that deserve more focus. New acts like Holy Esque (Post-Punk noise with plenty of stunning tunes) and Kloe (mentioned alongside Charlie XCX and in that same vein) have plenty of potential and are being mentioned in fond tones. It is hard to see how to promote Scottish music more effectively because there is that general belief – when you look at the national music press – the country barely exists. It is a topic for another time but musicians like Steelheart show that Scotland has a beating heart and one that pumps blood of all different colours. Scotland is a diverse and inspiring nation for music so we should all be more vigilant and attentive. I know Heidi Karin is writing and recording – more songs down the line – but Run is a gorgeous song that announces her presence whilst giving us a glimpse into what’s approaching. I have mentioned the genre of Folk but, to be fair, Steelheart’s music blends other genres (Country and Alternative in there) – it is both accessible but rare. You have familiar sounds and strands but that voice is unlike any other; the lyrics belong to her and one gets the impression of a singular musician that does not want to follow anyone else. I will keep my eyes on the music produced and see just how far she can go.
Steelheart has performed for a number of years now and Run, in fact, was recorded back in 2013. The song clearly holds a lot of weight and appeal because a lot of artists would not be so fond of a song nearly four years after its creation. It shows the strength of the song and just how much music means to Heidi Karin. She has performed (as Steelheart) and, if one looks at her YouTube channel (see link at bottom), a recording of Autumn Leaves. That song always gets me thinking of Eva Cassidy and her peerless reading. I have not mentioned Cassidy before but she is someone I think of when hearing Steelheart. The sadly separated American’s stunning, bird-like voice was capable of stopping people dead and making grown men cry. It was able to transform into a raw and bellowing Blues cry and create huge passion and power. Few singers have that range and ability but one hears, not just because of the Autumn Leaves comparison, Steelheart has that same talent. She shows power and force in Run but plenty of intimacy and emotion. Despite this being her first real song – and her first steps into music – I would like to see her voice exploited more and that Cassidy-esque potential uncovered. Run is a great starting point and a song that, one hopes, will be getting a mastered, studio treatment very soon. As it is, it is a great recording and shows purity and little effect – just a musician and the song. I know Steelheart is not just here for a single song and has sights set on new material and a full release. Whether this year finds her record an E.P. or another single I am not sure but there is that determination and ambition in camp. Following some airplay and promotion across Scottish radio; the word is getting out there and that is all very positive. Let us hope this continues strong throughout the year as Steelheart deserves as much appreciation as possible.
I have brought in the name of Eva Cassidy but it seems relevant when hearing the opening strings of Run. One hears embers of Cassidy’s Eva by Heart (1997) album. There is that mix of Jazz and Folk strings band you can definitely detect some similarities in there. That is rare in modern music: whether conscious or not; artists are not really paying tribute to that kind of sound. Maybe I am not casting my mind far enough but Eva Cassidy is one of those artists that deserves to be shared; her legacy and work get into the blood of the new generations. The introduction suggests something quite gentle and tender yet the opening lyrics find pieces of broken glass lying “shattered across the floor”. One wonders whether that glass is literal or emotion. It is clear an argument has taken place and has been quite fraught and physical. Maybe there were cruel words exchanges and objects broken. Whatever was broken or left intact has caused quite a stir in Steelheart’s heart. It is a hard and eye-opening rift that has led to this song. I wonder whether the relationship broke up or whether Run looks at a quarrel with a friend. The first few seconds see that voice laid bare and the strings offering supportive arms. You look for answers and interpretations but the starkness and clarity of the lyrics prevent any ambiguity. Our heroine is looking to get away and find some space but wondering why things have worked out the way they have. With drums and bass guitar recorded by Rob Bray; you hear that cracking percussion give the song its physicality and accelerated anxiety. Steelheart ensures the guitar and vocal offer caution and tenderness but there is plenty of pain and regret on show. The instruments blend together wonderfully and are never too much or little: just the right balance for a song that continues to reveal and press.
It seems like (the split) is a “sign of the times” and it is just the way things are going. Maybe there was some naivety in our heroine’s heart but she was maybe too trusting and honest. Love is one of the staples of modern songwriting but I find too many artists write about it with little imagination and real conviction. Every syllable and note come from a woman who has seen and experienced everything; she is laying it all out there and inviting the listener into her world. Layering her vocal – high notes and lush lows – gives the song more weight and gravitas. It gets heavier and more urgent as the heroine asks some searching questions. If she stays, will that love remain or should she just go? It seems like the traditional conundrum for anyone who has just witnessed a painful fall-out. I feel like there is a bit of history between the two, and a few arguments and hard days, and it has reached a plateau now. You feel the heroine cannot go back and must go away and make a clean break. There is a lot of history and backstory so it is not that easy simply walking away and packing things up. I have mentioned images of trains and locomotives and you feel that is the nub of the song: the girl hopping the rails and getting out of town. Run is a song that has an old heart and takes its inspiration from the songbook of traditional Folk and Country. A lot of modern Folk/Alternative songs are layered with instruments and talk about love without much sophistication or intrigue. Things are not as clear-cut as one imagines and there are myriad emotions swirling around the mind (of the heroine).
That pained and expressive vocal shows you just how tough and challenging this situation is. Few songs deal with split and broken hearts with the same degree of emotion as Run. It is a song that is bare-naked and heartfelt. The future is not our, as the song goes, and it seems like there is a sense of unpredictability and uncertainty; that is not something the heroine wants to deal with. Maybe the relationship had its good moments but you feel like it has reached that stage of no return. Packing her things and heading to new lands: that desire to find some space and deal with what is happening. I know many go through the same experiences and handling that is always tough. The percussion and guitars give Run a simultaneous concoction of tough heartbeat and teasing strings. It is a constantly mobile and nimble song; one where there is itinerant desires but plenty of revelation. It seems like the mind has been made up – and departure is imminent – but the heroine is looking for forgiveness. It is never explained what caused the split and how things have worked out the way they have. Maybe there was indiscretion and miscommunication but you feel like things have just run their course. I am not certain whether there is a culpable party – and there has been some cheating and dishonesty – but you imagine there is no accusations and bitterness. Love has simply run dry and the heroine has to get away fast. Questions spiral around the mind of Steelheart and there are words bouncing about her brain. Maybe there is some uncertainty and leaving seems like the only course of action. That confusion and tension comes through in the voice which remains dignified but certainly shows pain and loss.
The word ‘run’ is repeated and emphasised; it reached wracked and tortured levels and underlines what is happening – the heroine getting out and not looking back. The song’s video shows images of tears and suitcase-packing; some anger and sorrow but there is a resoluteness and need to start afresh. By the final embers, that desire for answers and clarity keep coming back. It seems like things are not simple and that goes for explanations. Given the conflict and strains that have been caused, it is understandable such questions should appear. The heroine is not sure how to deal with things but knows getting out of that bad situation is the first step. Long-term, who knows what will happen and whether things will work out for the better. Getting on a train and going away, you sympathise with Steelheart and follow her plight. Maybe time will cure the wound but you feel it is much more complex and difficult than that. It is an assured and confident song from a young artist that has a lot more life left in her. Run is a track that could get new treatment and be mastered but, as it is, sounds pretty good and professional. It has received airplay and greeted with acclaim so that is all positive. Steelheart has created a song that speaks to everyone but could only come from her heart. Make sure you do not let her music pass you by.
Saltire Radio and Celtic Music Radio – the most Scottish-sounding names you can imagine! – have played Run and ensured it gets an airing. That is impressive, but I feel Steelheart will not rest there. It is marvellous knowing the song has reached Scottish ears but there are plenty of people down here – hence the reason I am getting involved – who would love the song and hanker for more music. In terms of new acts, I always say the same things with regards their music and online portfolio. For starters, if money allows, get some shots done and some photos organised. They do not have to be high-concept but a half-dozen or so that can be used for reviews and features – putting a face to the music. Photos reveal the personality of a musician so (a photoshoot) can be a good way of seeing a different side to an artist and a little bit of who they are. In that same sense, getting your work across Facebook, Twitter and music-sharing platforms is paramount. You would not believe the sheer number of artists who think they can rock-up on Facebook and negate every other platform. Get a biography out and make sure you press for interviews. Having a few interview links, again, provides insight into an artist and means more people will flock and remain. I know Heidi Karin and Catherine Campbell, between them, are ensuring the music is getting out there and that is just the start of thing. England, Wales and Northern Ireland await and, whilst they seem daunting, have plenty of opportunities. I know Run will be getting a spin on Channel Radio (courtesy of Richard Hubbard) but there are a lot of local radio stations that would be interested. It is just a case of hitting them up one-by-one and seeing the love spread. So far, Steelheart is getting Scottish tongues wagging but there is plenty of land out there waiting.
I feel she could find her music appreciated in nations like E.I.R.E.; there is that traditional sound that would find many ears in the country. It is hard to describe but there is a rich Folk/Alternative music scene in E.I.R.E (and Northern Ireland) so worth getting the music to them. 2017 has just started but I am sure Steelheart will be thinking about a number of things. Included will be getting Run to as many people as possible; working towards an E.P./album and finding any gig opportunities that lie ahead. Competition is stiff but there is no reason to suggest Steelheart cannot make big strides this year and reach new audiences. An updated Twitter account is a good start and a way of hitting new people and easily sharing news/music. SoundCloud is a good way to supplement YouTube and ensures, once more, there are plenty of faces and ears waiting. It is essential being as visible as you can and I know Steelheart will ensure that. It is encouraging seeing great support on her side and getting the music out there. Run’s ideas, imagery and sounds take you to Scotland and charming, picturesque steam engines and locomotive motion. There is gentility and calm but plenty of intensity and beauty in the voice. Whether this scenic and soothing songwriting will change and continue is up to Steelheart. I would love to see an E.P. but one that mixes her past and present. As stated, she was a D.J. in a former life and has knowledge of the industry. Maybe a blend (on an E.P.) of Folk and harder-edged songs would not only show broad range but get the music to a range of audiences.
I will leave the piece by casting my attention to Steelheart’s future and bringing back my opening themes. I have looked at Folk and how, when blended with other genres, it can be hugely exciting, affecting and inspiring. It is a style of music that has been the recipient of ignorance in the past. There are Folk artists that are very pastoral and riparian: those that fall into that stereotype of the genre. I have mentioned this in previous reviews but we all get that assumption Folk will be the same: gentle finger-picking and songs that all sound alike; images of nature and love. That is the case with a lot of people but Folk changes depending on where you are based. I have mentioned Laura Marling as someone who is very Folk-based but one of the most celebrated and consistent artists ever. Her brand has much more flair and diversity than a lot of her peers – possibly because she is based in London and has taken in strands from L.A. and experiences from the road. Other Folk artists bring Alternative and Pop sounds in to create something fuller and more commercial. I am a big fan of that older Folk sound: the likes of John Martyn and Nick Drake were proponents and creators of a wonderfully emotive and rich variation. It does really depend on your tastes but you cannot talk about Folk in reductive terms. It is a fascinating and nimble genre that is going to play a big part this year.
Scotland is a nation that has, as we see here, a lot of great musicians performing. Maybe the recognition is reserved to local stations/airwaves but that is unfair. I know many smaller English acts struggle for attention but it is unjust those in larger cities get the lion's share of media acclaim. Those that perform across towns and villages should not be overlooked but how does one ensure they get credit? Of course, word-of-mouth is an effective tool but can take a long time to register. We all know about the great artists from Glasgow and Edinburgh but there are so many other areas of the nation that provide wonderful music. Steelheart is based in Montrose and is not alone. There are other musicians around the area that create all kinds of sounds; a detailed and busy music scene in surrounding areas and lots of artists that warrant more time. It is a difficult issue and problem but one that can be unpicked. I know there are so many acts out there – and few stations/websites by comparison – so it might not be that easy to come about a short-term solution. In any case, we should not assume all the greatest British music will arrive from England. As Glasgow’s Chvrches have shown: there is a big demand for the kind of music they are laying down. The Synth.-Pop band’s last album was 2015’s Every Open Eye but one feels they will be back this year. There are other great Scottish acts coming through we should be alert to. White Bær are a wonderful act to keep your eyes on but not the only act who will be making impressions this year. Happy Meals have been slaying it in the live setting and a band you know will be getting under critical radars very soon. White’s high-octane guitar Pop is just what the modern scene needs and they are primed for success this year. Catholic Action and November Lights are two Scottish bands I have been watching for a bit and know they, between them, will do big business and amass a healthy fanbase.
There is the demand for Scottish music and one that extends beyond the band market. I know Steelheart will progress and develop as an artist but already has some advantages. Not just the healthy and determined support behind her but the experience she has already accrued. Her acting training seems to feed directly into the music. There is much more expression, emotion and conviction that goes into the music which means it connects easier and hits harder. Musicians have to have some theatrical talent – recording music videos and essentially creating performances when playing live – but if you already have that training it means you are more likely to stun when playing live and be more willing to film music videos. Steelheart’s Heidi Karin is eye-catching and gorgeous but has that grounded and arms-open personality that brings people in and shows thanks. She is perfect for modern music and someone you are willing to succeed. The attention and exposure she has received so far have been met with warmth and appreciation: you know music means so much and any morsel of acknowledgement will do. You know Steelheart will be making jaws drop in the coming months because of that sensational voice and natural affinity for music. One hears, when listening to Run, the soul of Steelheart and that heartbeat; impassioned words and some of the most vivid and scene-stealing images I have heard in music for a bit. I love artists that take you somewhere and transport your mind to safer, quieter pastures. Run is that rare song that has no limitations and wants to seduce and appeal to everyone. Do not let the Scottish treasure pass you by because she will not be a secret…
FOR too much longer.