Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo - Dear River - Maverick

The material on this album is particularly strong overall and the album should move Emily and her band's entire career up a few more notches.

This latest album by Emily and her acoustic band-mates took me by complete surprise. In fact I'm so bowled over, I've not yet planted my feet back on the ground as I sit here writing this review. Bloody amazing! is my first utterance. The opening title song is a countrified tune about finding fresh pastures, with her agile voice sounding richer and more alluring than ever. Listening to Tuesday, there just seems to be more intensity and emotion in her vocals and the arrangement built around strident fiddle and acoustic guitars is quite electrifying. In contrast Emily sings like a wistful angel on Lettes, her warm honeyed tones dripping with tender resignation before the rich harmonies of Anna, Gill and JO come in and give the song dramatic tension. Every When is a more uplifting country-pop tune with a serious message and a great percussive rhythmic track that Emily rides convincingly. She retreats into her patented haunting style with the delicate Sleeping Horses, a dreamy celebration of love's power to keep you safe.

I can well see Ghost Narrative not only making the Radio 2 playlists, but with much deserved exposure making inroads into the singles charts. With tight, vocal harmonies and an up-tempo beat, persistent electric lead guitar and harmonica Emily assesses the damage sustained and the prospects of recovery from a broken love affair. A Spadeful of Ground has the vibe of traditional folk ballad, but is another well-written original with insightful lyrics and a mesmerising arrangement. There's a theme of longing, travel and home that runs through the whole collection. Emily's vocal style, grounded and mature, offers wisps of Alison Krauss and Lucinda Williams, and her extremely able band fills out and graces a sound rooted firmly in her songcraft. She is a masterful lyricist, fully adept at using techniques and tools to create vivid imagery, crafty euphemisms and clever metaphors. The production by Calum Malcolm is by turns lush and spare showcasing strong and deliberate vocals, crisp guitars and fiddle, and arrangements without disrupting the smooth track-to-track flow. A classic album.

14 June 2013