When the BBC decided to unleash some home grown artists on our transatlantic cousins at the recent Americana Music Festival in Nashville, they made a wise choice in enlisting the delightful talents of Emily Barker. While the term ‘home grown’ may do a little disservice to Emily’s proud Australian roots, she has very much cultivated her career here in the UK over the last decade. The resultant four evolving albums under the guise of Emily and her posse ‘The Red Clay Halo’ has seen her stock rise with increasing critical acclaim and their latest release DEAR RIVER is at the very heart of the extensive UK tour she is currently undertaking.
Right from the outset at this Monday night Midlands gig, Emily hit her stride with an exceptional performance of the title track off the new record which in my opinion is unrivalled amongst, both this release and her entire back catalogue. The subtle vibes from her electric guitar gave the song a live vibrancy and signalled a more Americana feel to the new material in contrast to some of the folk oriented sound that flavoured the two previous releases. The versatility of the constant switches between electric and acoustic exemplified the diversity of Emily’s sound which flowed from the neo classical tones of ‘Nostalgia’, taken to exalted heights as the theme tune to the TV series Wallender, to a rock feel to tracks such as ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Everywhen’.
The vocals of Emily rose to the challenge of matching the majestic tones of the Red Clay Halo in full swing. Whether it’s Gill Sandell on flute, accordion and keyboard, Anna Jenkins on violin or, depending on the mood of the song, Jo Silverston on cello or electric bass, the expert musicianship brought the songs to life, all being kept in time by the band’s latest addition, Nat Butler on percussion. This talented quartet graced the Artrix’s main stage throughout a majority of the seventy-minute set, just briefly moving aside for the spotlight to be firmly fixed on Emily for solo renditions of ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Home’ and ‘Little Deaths’. However one of the evening’s many highlights was when the girls returned to provide tender backing harmony vocals on the evocative ‘Pause’, another of Emily’s crime series soundtracks.
As you would expect from an accomplished singer-songwriter, there were informative snippets of useful information sprinkled throughout the performance and early in the set we learnt that many of the songs from the new record reflected issues and observations from Down Under. ‘Letters’ was based on researching her grandfather’s war time evacuation experience while ‘A Spadeful of Ground’ added to the breadth of material addressing the aboriginal issue. The depth and beauty of the songs are an admirable trait of Emily’s artistry and by the evidence of the post gig merchandise activity, the success of the evening was filtering down to people’s pockets.
For the climax of the evening, Emily returned the invitation for the opening artist Chris TT to join her on stage and fulfil the role of Frank Turner that graced the single version of ‘Fields of June’ nearly half a dozen years ago. Previously Emily had joined Chris for one of his compositions during a forty-minute opening set of often quirky singer-songwriter material which proved a contrast to the mood and tone of the second half. By the time that Emily brought the evening to a soulful close with a much respected version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, the savouring of a very special performer had been bottled and treasured for future posterity.