Exeter-based folk artist Sam England’s second EP, Red Skies, showcases a softly wistful approach to themes of love and loss, hope and fear. What immediately strikes on the opening title track is the controlled guitar playing of England, with precise, delicate melodies that set a good pace for the song. Then, England’s vocals enter on top, supported by Christie Gardner of Lilo’s Wall. The combination of voices fits like two puzzle pieces with a wonderful mix of textures. England’s voice is low, soft, almost whispered in timbre while Gardner’s provides the higher register with a strong, pure voice.
The rest of Red Skies EP slows down after the opener. And that pace is slow. This is a pace that fits England’s style and voice very well, and so this isn’t necessarily an indictment. However, he proves on the opening track that he can pull off faster, more busy songs very well and I’d like to see more exploration into that, even if just to shake up the pacing of future releases. England’s guitar work remains the strongest pull of this album for me, with delicate folk melodies underpinning each song. His vocals are distinctive and well-executed – and these two traits will carry him far – but his very soft, wispy delivery often feels like it’s building to something that never materialises. I’ve no doubt he is a very capable singer, but I’d like to have heard more contrast both in the texture and dynamic of his vocals, to make each style of delivery that much more impactful. On occasion it feels like the vocals need a ‘body’, to be more powerful. This is part of the reason why they fit so well with Gardner’s vocals, but sometimes can leave the listener hoping for a bit more.
Red Skies EP fills me with hope. Often with releases from relatively new artists I am left in indifference, but with this I am very eager to see what England will put out next. I feel he has a lot more to give. Having built a solid and distinctive base style, future success will come from experimenting with tempo, vocal delivery and song writing in order to create a contrast that highlights each strength even further and pushes him from a good artist with potential, to a great artist no-questions-asked.