For her latest EP, 'Pockets', Iona Lane set a new challenge for herself. Although there have been studio albums, with a band, in the past Iona wanted to get back to the sound most people who know her music will be familiar with; a girl with a guitar playing live with perhaps a friend alongside her. She's fortunate enough to have several friends who are very good musicians, so on this occasion she took fiddle player Abi Plowman into the studio with her and 'Pockets' was live recorded in just one day. This idea of live recording is one that is growing in popularity amongst musicians who want to keep a sense of spontaneity and personal control in their work. Ned Roberts, for example, recorded his album 'Outside My Mind' to tape, to limit the number of retakes available.
As a non-musician I love hearing the stories behind the songs, of where the ideas came from. As Iona says "Every day I talk with people, I hear stories and learn new things - in this way my inspiration, especially for my songwriting, comes more from my daily experiences than it does from my idols.". That gives her a very grounded feel; this is not the music of world changing ideas but rather the thoughts of somebody at a point in her life where things are going to change very rapidly. As we saw in her last EP 'Solace', released earlier this year, change involves the excitement of the new and regret at leaving behind the old. 'Pockets' continues that theme of learning about life and the challenges it will bring. School is now finished and University is not far off; there's a whole new world out there.
Of the six tracks on the EP five are self-written and none have been released before, so this is not just a replay of existing songs but the breaking of new ground and it works very well. The original songs do form a theme of what we do with our lives.
'Weighted Dice' opens the EP and it has a rather melancholy message, that if we don't make choices we will get what we are given and life tends to be played with the dice weighted against us.
"It's all mapped out, there's nothing you can say or do."
That's a situation that so many find themselves in for all sorts of reasons; it may be education, society or aspiration unless they make the conscious choice to change, but that may come at a price.
This counterpoints the title track 'Living Life out of Pockets', which is a declaration of individuality based on an itinerant singer / songwriter who has made the choice and realises there may well be a price to pay. When trying to pick my track of the EP I rate this as first amongst many equals simply because of the quality of the writing, which is of the very highest standard.
"You wonder why you don't fit in a box, Just one genre that this industry possesses,
Well you play guitar, write songs and sing, Don't care about what the institutions think."
Even the song our troubadour listens to in the car on the way home whilst "... rolling down that lonesome road" has been selected with care and is, rather wistfully, Steven Wilson's Regret #9. Perhaps there is a time in everybody's life when the weighted dice offers a security that is attractive in its certainty. As a description of the life of an independent musician, and the sacrifices they have to make for artistic integrity, it's at least as good as Pete Coe's 'Rolling Down The Ryburn' or Blair Dunlop's 'Less The Pawn' and shows an incredible maturity.
Another song that impressed me was 'Carved By Another', this time for the quality of the singing. It's pitched much higher than Iona's normal voice but at no point is a note stretched for or not quite hit. The vocalisations are quite stunning, having a real ethereal feeling, and it's a song that forces you to stop and listen. Although set in a garden this is also a song about planting metaphorical seeds and watching them develop into something new, although the sun won't always shine. Adding to the quality of this piece is the backing which is so simple it becomes almost hypnotic. A beautiful song.
For very different reasons, 'Northern Town' is also a beautiful song. Written in the wake of the Manchester bombings it's a lament for lost lives and lost innocence. It's a fitting tribute to those who suffered and must have been so difficult to write for somebody who bring such joy and pleasure into an increasingly dark and gloomy world. The victims were, after all, her generation and the emotion in her voice is palpable.
Before moving on to the last original song I cannot give enough credit to Abi Plowman for her contribution to this work. Her fiddle playing is smooth and precise, with a beautiful flow to it, and her vocals do exactly what a backing vocal should do; both compliment and add to the lead singer. It's absolutely correct that the EP is described as "Iona Lane with Abi Plowman".
The final original song is, fittingly, 'The Leaving Song' which is about leaving school. Although it happened to me almost forty years ago I can still remember it as a key event in my life, with the realisation that I may never see some people, who had been important to me for years, again whilst others would go on to become lifetime friends. There is a sadness and nostalgia to it but also the acceptance that you have to "Never mind what's gone, keep moving on. Carry on. The time has come to part our ways."
'Pockets' was released on the 1st September and is available as a download from the artist's website and bandcamp but I would recommend getting the physical version. This comes in a handmade and printed cover and each EP is individually numbered. Availability is very limited and it could well become a collector's item. It's certainly an EP to be treasured no matter which format is chosen.
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