BLACK * SCARR
|EMMA's POEMS||SOUND CLOUD|
Quintessential British Country-Folk For and About Grown Ups.
Q. What do you get when you cross an Essex Folk Singer with a big
North Easterner bloke who loves Americana music?
Released March 1st 2019
Having released the second album with band project The Persecuted just a couple of months ago, East End-based singer-songwriter Johnny Black makes a swift return with Deluded, the fourth album alongside partner and fellow songsmith Emma Scarr. This time round, it’s Scarr taking the vocal spotlight on the majority of the tracks, kicking off with the harmonica-introed, pedal steel accompanied ‘Going Home’, a slow sway lament about a woman feeling a fish out of water after moving to the country and looking to return to the city.
As with all the material, it’s rooted in a mix of Americana and folk while ‘New Year’s Lament’, another dissatisfaction-themed number, is amore uptempo as, driven by scurrying percussion, mandolin and fiddle, with Darren Bundell on dobro, she sings about losing her job and her man, getting stick about her unruly kids, and the call to pack up and roam. Loping country waltzer ‘My Therapist Said’ is Black’s first lead, a tongue in cheek song about having to take responsibility for your life rather than blaming it on everyone else, but then it’s back to Scarr for ‘Dirty Coins’, a mandolin-led mid-tempo tale of two polar opposite sisters, a free spirit and one anchored to domesticity, each envious of the other, built around a melody and harmonica break with definite Dylan echoes.
‘Night Tube Home’ is one of Black’s playful but well-observed numbers, a skiffle-like account of the folk you meet travelling home on the tube, while striking an equally playful note, ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ is a mandolin and fiddle coloured socio-political list structured commentary with a catchy chorus line. Black also takes lead on ‘Carry Me Home’, a Slim Chance-like folk stomper about a woman’s journey home from shopping via a succession of bars and drinks with friends that has a more sobering point that may appear from its jauntiness. He also closes up the album in the London-Irish folksiness of ‘King of Rock n Roll’, a song about making a musical mark complete with a too rye oo rye ay refrain.
There’s only one duet this time round, ‘St, George’s Day’, a rather lovely and uplifting song about two ordinary, well-used, life-battered people meeting and fall in love, the remaining numbers all spotlighting Scarr. An alcohol companion piece to ‘Carry Me Home’ perhaps, ‘Another Beer ‘is a jogalong tale of a woman taking refuge from her insecurities and domestic drudgery in a glass or two with a fiddle line that vaguely echoes James’ ‘Sit Down’ chorus while, heading into honky tonk country ‘Can Of Worms’ is a cautionary tale of where boredom with your life can lead as it recounts an ill-advised adulterous affair and its consequences.
The remaining number, the harmonica and mandolin-accompanied ‘Mrs Average’, is another fine and poignant female perspective domestic drama about insecurity and unfulfilled promise, again mentioning booze and pills as a crutch as she sings how, faced with savage reality, “it’s time to let go of your dreams” and “embrace being normal my dear.”
The pair have built a solid reputation in and around their stomping ground, it would be nice to think that this album might finally provide a platform to allow them to travel a little further afield.
It’s Folk Music Jim; But Not As You Know It! Urban Folkicana?
One of our ‘finds’ this year was London band The Persecuted and for
once I’ve actually kept up an occasional correspondence with Johnny
Black from said Beat Combo. As many musicians out there will appreciate
Johnny has to keep a lot of plates spinning to make a living from his
chosen profession; one of which is this duo with singer-songwriter Emma
(I remember Jason Ringenberg once cutting short an interview for that very reason!).
BLACK*SCARR - BETTER WITH AGE
Comprising Nuneaton-raised Geordie Johnny Black and Leytonstone's fiddle-playing Emma Scarr, the duo (augmented here by Henry Senior Jnr on pedal steel, Jerry Fellman on bass and Steve Bottcher's electric guitar) have established a solid name for themselves around East London, but they really deserve to be known on a far wider basis.
Both duetting and taking turns in the vocal spotlight, this is their third self-released album in under four years and again serve to reinforce comparisons to the pairing of MacGowan and MacColl filtered through Celtic shanty and honky tonk sensibilities. Continuing the theme of their last album, Middle Aged Love, it's stuffed with co-written songs about putting on the years and all that comes with it, the lyrics both playful and well observed.
Scarr kicks things off with the 'Prescription Junkie', an update of the Stones' 'Mother's Little Helper' before Black picks up the reins for the affection portrait of the jaunty 'My Dysfunctional Family', a musical equivalent to the Royle Family ("I know we're not perfect, but we're so full of love"). Alcohol and being attracted to unreliable men loom large, the former embodied in Scarr's banjo backed, fiddle-accompanied 'Falling Off The Wagon', where she sings about planning a night in and kicking sobriety into touch, and a sort of sequel, 'The Hangover' where he admonishes her for stewing in bed and she says that's where she's staying.
Sporting pub singalong Irish folk influences with its banjo and a leg-slapping percussion, the sprightly 'The Ballad of Eddie McLean' details falling for and being dumped by a self-serving, skirt-chasing wannabe Canning Town rock star ("though he done me wrong, at least I'm in his song"), a theme revisited on the shanty cabaret 'Wrong Kind of Men' and in the problems of the abandoned and divorced single mother in the pedal steel and harmonica coloured lament 'I've Got The Weight Of The World On My Shoulders'.
On the other hand, both sides of being commitment-phobic get paraded on the frisky old school country duet 'The Wedding Song', a playful account of neither party getting to the church on time.
But if the duet country waltzing 'I Always Knew You'd Leave Me In The End' (a perfect companion piece to the My Darling Clementine albums) offers a pessimistic view of love's inevitable collapse, the closing track, 'I've Never Seen Nothing Like You' balances things out with a swayalong ode to being mutually besotted.
Catchy, chorus friendly, easy on the ear and with lyrics that will strike a chord as well as raise a wry smile, these fairytales of East London are every bit as resonant as the one of New York.
"I listened to my 2 new Black * Scarr CDs in one session. My immediate impression is that the music is remarkably original. It is an amazing mixture of country and British folk music without any attempt to sound American. They have produced authentic English country music in that the voices are clearly real English accents. My impression is that I was listening to someone chatting over a garden fence in England. Black * Scarr brought back images of people in England and situations I had known when I lived there. The lyrics and performances are uncannily real. It is not easy listening at times, but it's the first time I've come across anything in this style. The instrumentation is superb and complements the Englishness of the vocals and lyrics. I hope Black Scarr get the recognition they deserve for producing such remarkable material. I would certainly state that the two CDs are a revelation".
"Songs with humour and a fair helping of Grit thrown in for good measure, I can’t recommend them highly enough!!! / David Chamberlain
Black * Scarr - Are a real treat - Emma laying her life out in her songs and Johnny keeping it real - The nearest thing you can get to "reality folk" that’s routed in human history. I overheard one comment from the audience to the effect that “no-one can say folk music is dead when someone's coming up with writing that's as contemporary and relevant as Emma's lyrics”. Oh, and Johnny does exceedingly good hats. ..... Another great night
Black Scarr is an East London duo, Black is Johnny Black, a Nuneaton-raised Geordie who, was once front man of now cult 80s Midlands pop outfit The Kidda Band and whose CV also includes work as an album sleeves model, newspaper columnist and 90s TV personality. He also has a website featuring his frequently satirical songs about a variety of media celebrities and wannabes.
The other half of the name is Leytonstone’s
Sharing lead vocals and duetting, Middle Aged Love is their second album, their debut, North and South, having been released almost exactly two years ago and sporting vapour trails of The Pogues, Kitty Wells, Hank Williams and Elvis Costello. Musically, not a lot has changed though, as per the title, several songs tend to congregate around a theme of getting on a bit with all the wistful nostalgia that entails.
The lyrics are smart and witty, the catchy chorus title track bemoaning the problems of trying to have a relationship when your ex can’t afford to move out and he’s in therapy, the Levellers-ish folk Come Back 1969 a lament about the aches and pains that come when you’re past your prime, while the steel-keening country waltzing Stranger In the Bathroom will strike a chord with anyone who has a teenage son and The Seduction Song tells of a woman with a drunk for a husband and her accommodation of her gentleman caller.
Although numbers like The Internet Dating Song may be playful, there’s also a wealth of sharply poignant observations on the disappointments of life in the crushing loneliness of The Void, the trials of the everyday housewife in the swayalong Howling At The Moon, the jogging shanty Lester Piggott 10-1 recollections of having an inveterate gambler for a father and the woman finally calling to an end to her crash and burn life on the bluegrass and Celtic folk infuse Knock It On The Head.
There’s also pointed social comment to be found on the jaunty The Streets Are Paved With Gold (a sort of Cockney Woody Guthrie ballad), about how the new Depression has caused a family-fragmenting migration from the desperation and unemployment of the North to look for work in London, and, on a similar jobless theme, the self-explanatory titled Big Man Steps On The Little Man with a fine pedal steel solo courtesy of Henry Senior.
Lyrically, it must be said, it is a relentlessly downbeat affair, culminating in Trust Me To Fall In Love With You about a chalk and cheese, abusive relationship in which the woman, in love with her other half despite herself, chooses to remain rather than endure the pain of being alone. And yet, such is the exuberance of the music and the delivery that it’s impossible not to tap your feet and join in and sing along with the misery. If you ever wished there had been a whole album to go with Fairytale of New York, this is your perfect unhappy ever after.
Review by: Mike Davies FOLK RADIOUK
Love the gritty chemistry of Black*Scarr and their songs about the real world and middle-aged love.
Black Scarr and their killer insights on the human condition and masters of the kitchen sink drama.
London is often seen as not having much, if any country music
scene, so its good news to know there are a couple of great songwriters
in the Capitol producing superb songs on their great album "North &
South" Black * Scarr straddle the line between traditional and modern
country music with superb prominent instrumentation throughout their
work / Allan Watkiss
London is often seen as not having much, if any country music scene, so its good news to know there are a couple of great songwriters in the Capitol producing superb songs on their great album "North & South" Black * Scarr straddle the line between traditional and modern country music with superb prominent instrumentation throughout their work / Allan Watkiss
Black Scarr versifies urban life better than most bands I have ever come across. They sing about the world through the domestic prism. Love, loss, the night, need, city dreams and desires. All expressed through their irony, wit and vocal harmonies. Together Johnny Black and Emma Scarr conjure beauty in its most raw and no bollocks sense. Check them out.
The evening was brilliant and belonged to the talent, skill and entertainment that was provided by the marvellous Black * Scarr. They were truly on fire! Incredible songs performed with enthusiasm and musicianship and they were so entertaining too. It was a night to remember / Helen Chin
Our record of the week comes
from a brand new East London duo, Black/ Scarr, their debut album "North
& South" is destined to become a classic, sounds like a