Although the name Vena Portae is new, it barely took a few bars into the first song to recognise the distinctive vocals of Emily Barker. Not wanting to confine herself to a solitary project, Emily has temporarily put the Red Clay Halo Band on one side for a short period to concentrate on this collaboration described in its press release as an ‘Anglo Swedish alt-folk band’. This self-titled debut album is an explorative effort full of melodious moments, beautifully sung and underpinned by a strong roots sound.
The evocative album cover and recording in a Swedish winter location suggested an element of darkness to reflect the harshness of the environment but this is a far from noir sound as a breezy thread weaves the refined folk sentiments with a concoction of roots infused instruments. The opening lead track and single ‘Summer Kills’ succeeds in endearing your musical senses, sets the tone for a record which demands attention and is a subtle link to the Americana vibes Emily captured so well on her acclaimed DEAR RIVER album.
The soothing brass sound of trumpet adorns the opening track and later competes with a multitude of other instruments ranging from banjo, piano, guitars and traces of blues laced harmonica. This latter sound appears on the slightly upbeat second track ‘Before the Winter Came’ which lightens the mood with some engaging interludes.
At this point it is polite to introduce the architects of the Vena Portae project which include British songwriter-theatre maker Dom Coyote and acclaimed Swedish artist Ruben Engzell. Emily herself now has very strong UK roots since her formative years spent in Australia and is quite content to share the vocals across the album in contrast to her previous solo and band projects. Without doing disservice to the gents, the strength of the album is erected on a pair of contrasting mid record tracks in ‘Transatlantic’ and ‘Flames and Fury’, both graced by Emily’s vocals. The former is a subtle, intrinsic number mixing harmonica and banjo, while the latter has a far more dominant vocal presence almost matching the mood of the title.
The mellow undercurrents on this debut self-titled album stem from the soft male vocals especially on ‘Solitary Wives’ and the duet with Christian Kjellvander on the final track ‘All Will Be Well’. Christian also appears on the nautical folk induced number ‘The Mapless Sea’ while a similar style prevails on the duet ‘Magpie’s Carol’. Of the remaining tracks ‘Foal’ possesses a good beat and an excellent harmony approach to the song, while the banjo gives a roots feel to ‘Stingrays’. ‘Turning Key’ completes this eleven track compilation with more folk sensibilities but always positioning itself on the alt side of the genre.
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