Ashton Lane - Winter Star EP
Ashton Lane release their Christmas EP that will nestle quite nicely alongside the quality albums that they seem to be able to release at regular intervals. They have an unerring ear for a good tune and when paired with Esther O'Connor's delightful vocals, the results are more often than not highly entertaining. They seem to have a relatively low profile despite having managed to sell over 20,000 albums - hopefully their 2018 tour will finally see them consolidate and become more of a household name on the UK circuit.
The EP comes in two parts, the first, more modern takes on Christmas life while the second is seemingly more traditional , though all songs display that keen ear for a melody. The title track seems to start in a quite suggestive style with Esther singing that she's "on your doorstep and I ain't caroling!". It's a relationship that for whatever reason has gone wrong and this is an attempt to rekindle it. The chorus is a traditional Ashton Lane one, incredibly infectious and full of hooks while the bridge hits the crux of the matter "is there still a candle burning somewhere in your heart?" We are left pondering as to how things work out, it's as if we have just turned tv channels and caught a few minutes of a drama before changing channels again.
Christmas as well as being a joyful season is also a time when things come to a head and"Frozen" deals with the bleaker side, the characters in the song are by an ATM, broke and with "Love running out". There is a quite sad sounding pedal steel in the background a warning that things are not well..Their look back at the previous 12 months is not good "It's a year I could've done without" and when the chorus ends with the words "Let Christmas be the last Christmas Day we spend this way" it is not immediately apparent if these are words of hope or of a parting of the ways. The second verse continues the dark mood "Right now I can't see how, i'm going to make it through somehow". If there is any lingering doubt it is closed out in the third verse as "I watch you from my window walk away for the last time and I know that it is the end".
The second half of the EP is more traditional sounding, though "Who Comes This Night" is actually a relatively recent song it just sounds like it's been around a long time. In fact the words are by Sally Stevens, with the music by Dave Grusin and it's most popular version is probably on James Taylor's 2005 Christmas album. This version is mainly just on acoustic guitar, with husband Tim making it almost a duet, he's just a little further back in the mix. There is a small amount of percussion and it does a good job evoking that Christmas feeling.
"The Little Road to Bethlehem", is another carol, with the music by Michael Head while the words of are by Margaret Rose. Once again Ashton Lane do a version mainly on acoustic guitar, with Tim on backing vocals, leaving Esther to take the lead. It's a nice joining of an a folky tune to traditional words and works well.