Hailing from Western Australia, Emily Barker has slowly been making herself known among folk fans in the UK. Supporting Frank Turner regularly since 2008, as well as appearing with him during his Olympic Opening Ceremony performance, Emily Barker is a talent that is highly thought of but is yet to break the mainstream barrier in the UK. Having won awards at the annual Western Australia Music Song writing awards, (Country Song of the Year and Regional Song of the Year), and with comparisons to Laura Marling in recent years, Emily Barker is clearly a gifted songwriter whose American influenced country rock has the ability to turn heads and make people listen.
Dear River is the band’s fourth studio album since their debut almost eight years ago and their first that isn’t financed by Emily’s own record company. Released under Linn Records, Dear River is a very personal album with regards to Emily’s experiences in love and with family and friends. It is an amazing blend of American folk rock and country music combined with Emily’s mesmerising voice that shines through in every song. The title track, Dear River, is a calming opener describing the want of an adventure and getting away from home — something Emily may have encountered herself before discovering that there is no place like home. Tuesday, the second song is where the album begins to come into its own, with the pace of the acoustic guitar combined with the darkness of the cello. American folk and country music are brought together to produce a truly brilliant song about heart-break.
The album then slows down again with the song Letters, a beautiful and melodic love song that really captures the movingly beautiful voice of Emily. The song’s composition compels you to listen to Emily’s story, creating sympathy as well as making one able to relate to the feelings she is experiencing. The Leaving stays with the slow pace from the previous song yet is less haunting than before. Slightly more upbeat than Letters, The Leaving is less commanding than the previous song and acts more as a transition between Letters and the next song Everywhen.
Everywhen is a more uplifting song than the previous ones and can get you to sway to the beat and clap along — perfect for a small venue but would get lost at a major festival. As for the next song Sleeping Horses, this captures Emily’s voice in the same way as Letters. The combination of the slow plucking on an electric guitar with Emily’s dreamy voice promises much yet doesn’t quite reach the pinnacle one may hope for. Although a great song, you feel as though something is missing from it.
Ghost Narrative opens with a harmonica tune that Neil Young would be proud of and is the beginning of what makes this song stand out from the rest. A commanding song with lyrics “We’ll walk this land together tearing our hearts out, we’ll walk this land together ‘til the truths out” accompanied by the first guitar solo of the album make this song the album’s most impressive and bears similarities to Fleetwood Mac only with less of a punch. A Spadeful of Ground follows Ghost Narrative and is a playful song with some beautiful lyrics yet it fails to stand out as one of the best on the album.
Moving towards the end of the album, The Cormorant and the Heron is a song that grabs your attention. Starting off slow with only Emily singing and the familiar plucking of an electric guitar, (as in Sleeping Horses), the song begins to take shape with the addition of drums and strings giving the song an extra dimension to it, almost turning into a slow, sorrowful waltz. . In the Winter I Returned, is perfectly placed on the album as it feels like a goodbye, even with the lyrics, “how many times will I leave and return,” calmly preparing us for the finale of the album. The final song, The Blackwood, could easily have been written by Frank Turner, however, with Emily’s angelic, gentle voice, the song takes a country route as opposed to Frank’s folk route, and does so brilliantly. The song takes us right back to the beginning of the album with the way it was composed, and with the promise of adventure only this instance, the adventures been played out over the album, and it’s time to return home.
For those who have an interest in folk or country music Dear River is a must-listen. Brilliantly written and composed with care, this album is exactly what Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo wanted. They nurtured this album to make it what it is. Will this be the album to push them through into mainstream music? Probably not, but if all you care about is what’s in the charts then this album isn’t for you. Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo have written a truly beautiful album that deserves more recognition than it will receive, but for those who do listen to it, you will not be disappointed, and can catch them on tour in the UK this autumn.
Image courtesy: David Wilson Clarke (www.flickr.com/photos/davidwilsonclarke)