Monday, 25 February 2019

GIG REVIEW: Emily Barker - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick. Sunday 24th February 2019

Where do you start with Emily Barker? Back in 2009 at an Electric Dustbowl 2 Americana evening in Leicester is one place on a personal front. From that multiple act event at The Musician and onwards over the subsequent decade, this exiled Aussie has barely drawn breath on the UK music scene and there is no sign of letting up. On the back of Red Clay Halo shows, other full band ones, collaboration with pop-up acts like Vena Portae and Applewood Road, and duos with Lukas Drinkwater, a solo one seen can join the list and a rather splendid one to boot. This was her first visit to Thimblemill Library in the West Midlands, in fact an impromptu show as the team behind these Thimblemill Events responded to a social media call to host a few of what were technically warm up dates.

The warm up is ahead of a brand new Emily Barker album that is starting to take shape in the form of several new songs moving into prototype status. The opportunity to road test five of these proved a valuable exercise, but you know this is not an artist to deal in short measures and those venturing down the library on a Sunday night had the full 80-minute Emily Barker experience.

Before you say, is not Emily releasing an album due out with Marry Waterson at the end of March? The answer is yes, but details on that remained a little sketchy during the evening. The focus was entirely on the solo work and evidence surfacing during the show looked like Emily drifting back into serious ballad mode after her soulful jaunt down Memphis way for the award winning SWEET KIND OF BLUE album.

Switching between acoustic guitar and and keyboards, Emily tended to major on the former including trialling all five new numbers, which at least four were titled with one literally only days old. Opening with one of the newbies ‘Geography’ seemed an apt title in a library setting, a theory compounded later when she introduced ‘Ordinary’ as another song inspired by Aussie author Tim Winter. We later learned that his work was also the inspiration for one of her older songs ‘Disappear’. ‘Dinosaur Bones’ and ‘Leave a Light on by the Side of the Door’ were two other new songs to seep out, with the temporarily named ‘Returning’ acting as the song with the ink still wet. Emily repeatedly stated that these were work-in-progress, but having experienced their burgeoning quality, the finished products will mean the old Emily Barker classics may need to shuffle along to make space.

Of course, not everybody is acquainted with the back catalogue, so a top sell occurred for the SWEET KIND OF BLUE album via a detailed recount of the experience and excellent versions of ‘Sister Goodbye’, ‘Over My Shoulder’ and one of a pair of standout out moments on the night, a version of ‘No. 5 Hurricane’. The other highlight was a divine rendition of ‘In the Winter I Returned’, from my favourite Emily Barker album DEAR RIVER.

Alongside a gorgeous voice, deft playing and an engaging charm in sharing her thoughts with an audience, Emily did indulge in one cover and few complained when she gave a sweetened gloss to Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than the Rest’. Like all of her gigs, you do not need to be a long-term fan to get something out of it, but one certainty is that any room is likely to empty with a raft of new fans.

Opening the show this evening was Birmingham singer-songwriter Michael King, making a rare solo appearance away from his regular music role of fronting the band Boat to Row. He too used the opportunity to share some new tunes, which are likely to appear on the band’s upcoming album once entangled from the funding mess instigated by Pledge’s mismanagement. Michael embraced the opportunity to share a few songs in this format and will benefit from further exposure as he forges ahead with the band’s latest project.

Long term Emily Barker fans know that there is often something new round the corner and this shows no sign of abating. Nights like this demonstrate what a dedicated and fan-focussed artist she is and whether you joined her bandwagon in 2009 or 2019, the treat is all on the listener.

Pictures Courtesy of Wayne Fox Photography