The Australian-born singer-songwriter is joined for her fourth album by The Red Clay Halo, her all-girl band. We’ve no idea if the girl power makes a difference to her sound, but they're obviously a talented bunch, padding out her folk tunes with driving cello and winding strings, double bass, spacious guitar and a patter of percussion.
The band brings with it a range of styles to soup up Barker’s melodies, from the Balkans to Americana. ‘Dear River’ is an interesting collection but, while pretty, these songs sometimes sound a little too slick or obvious.
Saying that, there are some real gems. The beautiful ‘The Cormorant And The Heron’, with its tear-jerking minor melody, is evocative of an early Martha Wainwright song; and ‘Sleeping Horses’ possess a beautiful simplicity, with a guitar and accordion wrapped around Emily’s vocals.
Others, like the melancholic ‘Letters’, are rich in harmonies and build into beguiling atmospheres. But several teeter on the line between affecting fare and commercial fluff. It’s the band and Emily’s sweet voice, soft and fragile on the higher notes, that saves these moments.
She merges genres well throughout, one moment nodding to the likes of Caitlin Rose or a young Dolly Parton. But it’s definitely Barker’s softer side that makes the greatest impact.
Words: Gemma Hampson
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