During a recent visit to Green Note, a wonderful live music venue in the heart of London’s Camden Town, I was incredibly lucky to stumble upon the music of UK duo The Black Feathers. Comprising husband and wife Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler their acoustic set, in such an intimate setting, held the entire room captivated. The performances were powerful and their genuinely funny links in between songs ensured that they made a whole host of new friends that evening. Following the duo’s time on stage I was fortunate to grab a few words with Ray and also to pick up a copy of ‘Strangers We Meet’ their debut EP.
All five of the tracks on the EP were given a live outing at the Green Note and listening to them in their full studio glory has confirmed that I had not simply been swept up in the midst of a superb evening of Country / roots music, The Black Feathers are incredibly good. As Ray himself said to me, their music does not strictly sit within the confines of New Country, leaning more heavily toward folk and roots influences. My response is that if the music is this good it is more than worthy of a place on this site, with the hope that it will be heard by an even wider audience.
Title track ‘Strangers We Meet’ starts proceedings, immediately introducing the quality of the vocal harmonies of this husband and wife team. Singing together and then trading lines, the two voices blend sumptuously atop a gentle waltz-like melody and sparse instrumentation. The lyrics describing memories being ‘washed away in the rain’ are delivered in a fittingly flowing manner on a beautiful opener. ‘10,000 Times’ comes with a bigger sound and a healthy dose of attitude. The almost angry-sounding strumming and powerful vocals ensure that the track really hits home, allowing the duo to show another string to their bow.
Ballad ‘Open Book’ is a far more serene affair which allows Sian the chance to shine, showing an emotion to her vocals which perfectly convey the regret in the lyrics of the song and its repeated ‘you love and learn’ refrain. Despite its fairly downbeat subject matter the track is no less beguiling for it, demanding repeated plays such is the charm of its delivery. During their live set at the Green Note the duo confessed that they do not write many love songs, joking that it was something to do with the ‘marriage thing’. Their attempt at such an ode is ‘You Will Be Mine’, which suggests that perhaps Ray and Sian should try their hand at romantic subject matter a little more often. Again Sian takes centre-stage vocally, but the harmonies from Ray are crucial to the song truly delivering. A gorgeous chorus, underscored wonderfully by tender mandolin playing, marks this track out as one of the very best on the EP.
This debut release closes far too soon with mid-tempo ‘All Came Down’ which introduces a Celtic flavour to the sound of The Black Feathers and with it a slight sense of playfulness. First class violin playing and guitar picking drive the song along to round the EP off in fine style and hint at yet another change of pace this remarkable duo can deliver.
‘Strangers We Meet’ is an outstanding introduction to the musical talents of The Black Feathers, a duo whose talent is only matched by their heart. Extremely accomplished songwriters they have developed a vocal sound which can only become successful with countless hours of practice. Each possessing strong and appealing voices they become even more impressive layered upon each other and in full flow. Their largely acoustic and rootsy sound is a refreshing change of pace from the pop-Country sounds dominating major label output from Nashville, and feels all the more vital for that.
Funding is a work-in-progress for a full album release from Ray and Sian, an endeavour I wish them all the very best with. ‘Strangers We Meet’ has only one flaw, that being that it is far too fleeting a musical journey from The Black Feathers. I await more material from this newly-discovered gem of an act, until then this EP will do just perfectly.
(Originally published 27/07/14)