Emily Barker isn’t a household name yet in the UK but if you follow the Scandi Noir type TV dramas and especially uncomformist Swedish detective Wallander, or one of the British varieties of that genre, The Shadow Line, which was set on the Isle of Man, you’ll have come across her songs before. The theme music to The Shadow Line was the song ‘Pause’, written by her and performed by Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo while she also wrote the theme (‘Nostalgia’) to the first UK series of Wallander, which has been going for so long now in its Swedish and British incarnations that five actors have played the title role.
[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]
With the multi-instrumental trio The Red Clay Halo she recorded four albums between 2006 and 2013 while releasing a solo album, ‘The Toerag Sessions’, in 2015, and taking part in other projects. She’s noted for the quality of the audio production on her albums and this is no exception; every word is clear.
This is the Australian’s first new album since her 2013’s ‘Dear River’, a more countrified affair and one in which she returns at least partly to the influences of blues and soul that were her motivators in taking up a musical career.
For this new album, ‘Sweet Kind of Blue’, she teamed up with Matt Ross-Sprang, a producer jointly honoured with a Grammy this year and acclaimed Memphis-based musicians Rick Steff, Dave Smith, Dave Cousar and Steve Potts, who have worked with and performed on recording with the likes of John Mayall, Cat Power and Norah Jones. With such a setting, personnel and title the album must unashamedly be an outright Blues fest, right?
Well, as with ‘Dear River’, the answer is yes and no. While that album followed an Americana path throughout there was variety within it and the format is replicated here.
It does kick off with three distinctly bluesy tracks: the title song, ‘Sweet Kind of Blue’ (no “kindas” here, thank you very much, from this lyrical perfectionist); ‘Sister Goodbye’, a song about the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll and blues guitarist Rosetta Tharpe (“the Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll”) and her friend Marie Knight who campaigned to prolong her memory; and ‘Sunrise’, an ode to less than fashionable road trips. The clarity of the lyrics and musical accompaniment are evident from the start while ‘Sister Goodbye’ is slower, a sort of meditation music in which she sounds a lot like Holly Palmer, and ‘Sunrise’ is a jazzier number in which the bass is very prominent as indeed it is on many of the tracks.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/306372163″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Then, from the fourth song in, ‘Number 5 Hurricane’ (a measure of their strength, #5 is the strongest, seen once every 50 years on average) quite a lot of the tracks are quite slow and almost soothing ballads, some verging even on lullabies. ‘Crazy Life’ for example falls into this category, with a lovely string arrangement carrying her through a question that most people must ponder at some time or other – “how did we end up here”? – while ‘Over my Shoulder’ especially, and ‘Under the Honey Moon’, feature imposing string arrangements.
Then there are some surprises, such as ‘If We Forget to Dance’, which is more in the way of a smoochy pop number, enlightened by some nice horn touches, and ‘More!’ – a sort of gospel chorus in which she develops an Elkie Brooks-ish raspy tremolo to her voice.
The qualities common to this album are strong melodies, sophisticated arrangements, comprehensible lyrics, the clarity of production and Emily Barker’s vocals, described not entirely inaccurately in press releases as a “cathedral”.
While Emily Barker may be an Australian-Briton she could easily fool a native of Nashville, Memphis, Branson or Austin into thinking she was one of theirs and that’s no mean achievement.
‘Sweet Kind of Blue’ was released through Everyone Sand/Kartel on 19th May 2017.
She is currently undertaking a tour of the UK, predominately in the south (a few more in the north would be welcome), until September.