Playing By Numbers the new EP from British singer songwriter Ethan Ash is open evidence that the rising popularity and respect the musician has garnered over the past year or so is more than warranted and deserved. It is a friendly aural hug around the shoulders, a perfectly crafted melodic emotive caress to bring another but different new breath and spark to soulful folk pop.
Ash has grown as a song writer and performer since his debut EP of 2010, the Cambridge artist evolving and honing his talent and skills across the months. Since the first release he has supported the likes of Seth Lakeman, Ed Sheeran, Passenger, Rachel Sermanni, and Nick Harper which obviously has brought further inspiration to his creativity as well as enthusiasm towards his music, whilst performances at festivals such as The Secret Garden Party, Cambridge Folk Festival, Guilfest and Bestival have only strengthened the journey to wider recognition and acclaim.
Playing By Numbers consists of six diverse tracks which come from and deal with the heart, each an emotive kiss of relationships. Whether personal or not is a question for the artist at some point but there is a passion behind the songs which suggest a closeness to the experience of someone. The excellent Make You Smile opens up the sunny disposition of the release. It is a warm persuasive sound which wraps itself around the ear, the energy and gait of the track infectious whilst the vocals of Ash sooth and evoke personal memories to join the aural haze. The folk breath is like melodic sunshine and easily captures and inspires the imagination, the song the natural accompaniment to any reflective summer evening.
The following Wouldn’t Get Through is a delicious feisty pop song, which for one who prefers a partial riot to music is an irresistible treat. The song starts with like the first track, a mid-paced stroll through the ear with a slight blues lilt to the guitar. It easily dances with the senses to then swirl them around with the fiery catchy chorus, its heated slight reggae swagger a delicious extra fruity flavour to the overall pop dessert.
From the energetic and boisterous energy Ash shifts the pace of the release into emotive acoustic gentle flight. No Love In That Bed is a sorrowed whisper upon the ear, a shadowed release which engages fully without igniting any personal sparks. It is impossible not to hear and recognise the quality in songwriting and play from Ash and accompanying musicians though, with the subtle and unassuming production from Lorenzo De Feo who also plays on the release, as an important a factor in the step forward Playing By Numbers has taken from the debut EP.
Inside is another acoustic piece similar in presence to the last song yet has a deeper haunting element which makes it resonate much more in the thoughts. A mesmeric shimmer throughout, the song flares into little fires of aural burnt umber, its atmosphere darkened yet still an autumn view for the senses to enjoy fully. The song is wonderful and rivals the first two tracks for best of status.
The dazzling Would You Mind is a song which feels quite familiar throughout but at the same time is still a contagious joy, its rockier stance irresistible alongside the varied vocal presence of Ash. It is another song to leave one wrapped up in stirring energy and intent, and another which grows more compelling the more you entertain its keen touch.
Ending with the soulful I Like, a powerful track which rounds things off convincingly even if again no fires were lit, Playing By Numbers stands as one of the best acoustic folk rock type releases this year and easily on par with the releases from those like the aforementioned Lakeman and the other impressive emerging artist Luke Ritchie. Ethan Ash is a definite name of the future and a more than satisfying ‘secret’ right now.
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