Ed Sheeran already had some album promotion under his belt before his plans took a turn this week, as Tuesday morning saw the release of a “Tiny Desk” video concert, filmed for the NPR franchise, including several songs the “=” album (pronounced “equals”) that/s coming out Friday.
With the popular video series having shifted to remote “desks” during the pandemic instead of having musicians coming in to gather around Bob Boilen’s desk in Washington, D.C., Sheeran made the most of the extra space, bringing a considerable slew of musicians to fill out a library space. His lineup includes a five-piece band, two horn players and a trio of backup singers — playing mostly acoustically, but still a lot more than Boilen could have accommodated.
That not-so-tiny desk in Sheeran’s borrowed house setting does eventually get some use, when an additional musician comes in to use it to set up a pedal steel guitar for some countrified sounds on “Visiting Hours,” a ballad Sheeran describes as being “inspired by losing a friend.” He first played the tune back in March at a memorial for music-industry veteran Michael Gudinski.
That song follows the premiere of a previously unheard number from the forthcoming album, “Overpass Graffiti,” the most rollicking song of the mini-set, despite a breakup theme that includes includes the lines, “The cards were stacked against us, but I will always love you for what it’s worth… Baby, you will never be lost on me.”
The other selections in Sheeran’s set include two more previously issued “=” singles, “Shivers” and the no longer vampiric “Bad Habits,” along with a Foy Vance cover, “Make It Rain.”
Presumably, the big-band appearance was filmed prior to Sheeran being diagnosed with COVID-19, which he publicly announced on Sunday. “Hey guys. Quick note to tell you that I’ve sadly tested positive for Covid, so I’m now self-isolating and following government guidelines,” the singer-songwriter posted on Instagram. “It means that I’m now unable to plough ahead with any in person commitments for now, so I’ll be doing as many of my planned interviews/performances I can from my house. Apologies to anyone I’ve let down. Be safe everyone.”
Sheeran’s statement seemed to hint at a willingness to remotely fulfill his “Saturday Night Live” musical-guest duties scheduled for Nov. 6, although the show has not made allowances for not-in-studio appearances in the past during normal live shows. So far, NBC has not announced whether Sheeran, who is quarantining in Europe, is expected to keep his “SNL” date in some fashion or the slot will be re-booked. HIs COVID news came just a day after “SNL” announced it’d booked him.
On Monday, the pop superstar provided teasers of all 14 songs on the looming album via YouTube Shorts.