Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo - Dear River (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
HAVING self-financed her first three albums, Emily Barker is now releasing her fourth album on one of the world’s leading ‘audiophile’ labels, Linn Records. If it brings her wider success, it will be wholly deserved.
Dear River effortlessly blends classical, rock, country and folk while lyrically exploring the meaning of home and its related tangents of exile, displacement and family.
Barker, who is UK based but hails from Bridgetown, Western Australia, blends her own story into the wider joys and sorrows gleaned from her rigorous research into others’ experiences of travel and emigration.
Hence, opening song and title track Dear River sets things in motion with a story about journey and someone who is inescapably drawn back to the river that marks her home. It has country-rock elements and is rife with lovely vocals and careful instrumental layering. It’s one of many highlights.
Tuesday has a more robust country-rock vibe that’s eventually augmented by some wonderful string and violin arrangements, while – conversely – Letters strips things back to a more folk-acoustic backdrop and a tender, bittersweet set of vocals that reflect the sense of hope and despair that’s derived in its correspondence between lovers separated by war.
Everywhen, meanwhile, is a fired up tale about “empty words” and “confronting our history” that is rich in storytelling, emotion and more fantastic instrumental layering – this time with added accordian and fiddles. Indeed, the lively instrumental section around the three minute mark has a cinematic quality about it that’s inspiring.
Elsewhere, Sleeping Horses again underlines Barker’s ability to beguile with just her soft vocals and is, perhaps, more reflective of her earlier work, Ghost Narrative opens with a blistering harmonica and proceeds to deliver a song rich in Americana values, and A Spadeful of Ground talks of the emotive plight of Aboriginals and includes some lovely ukulele licks (the sweetness of the melody juxtaposing the harshness of the lyrics).
Barker, who enlisted Calum Malcolm (The Blue Nile) to produce the album and its fuller sound, is rightly proud of the result. She describes it as the best recording she and The Red Clay Halo have done to date.
It’s a terrific achievement that engages, satisfies and provokes a great deal of reflection and thought into the bargain.
Download picks: Dear River, Letters, Everywhen, Ghost Narrative, A Spadeful of Ground