Take one Australian lass, transplant her to England, add three English lasses, and you have Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. My first exposure to the band was through the Wallander series on PBS. The utterly haunting theme music is the song "Nostalgia" from the band's first album Despite the Snow.
Since learning of Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, I have explored and immersed myself through their entire catalog of music. Their sound and style would be best and loosely described as folk, and there are hints and glimpses of numerous genres including bluegrass, madrigal, etc. Their first three albums are entirely acoustic instrumentation, and Despite the Snow was even recorded in 16th century barn in England!
Dear River is their fourth studio album, and was released in July 2013. With this album, the sounds and atmospheres explored by the band continue to grow, and some electric instrumentation is introduced for the first time. The band ventures into a slightly more modern sound infused with folk, rock and pop influences. The album's thoughtful lyrics follow earthy themes throughout the album, such as a water, land, blood, etc.
The album opens with the title track and a subtle introductory guitar riff with catchy back beats. It is followed by the peppy and string laden "Tuesday," and the slow and retrospective choral "Letters." The toe tapping ballad "The Leaving" leads into the subtle electric guitar of the peppy "Everywhen." The stripped down ballad "Sleeping Horses" introduces the album's folk-rock gem, "The Ghost Narrative." This is followed by country picking sound of "A Spadeful of Ground." The album then treats you to the slow and sweet sounds of "The Cormorant and the Heron" and retrospective "In the Winter I Returned." The album closes with the optimistic folk ballad "The Blackwood."
After being used to the all acoustic instrumentation of the first three albums, I will readily admit that I was initially resistant to the introduction of some minor electric instrumentation upon the first listen. This resistance of mine was utterly foolish and unfounded, as it more than complements the style and atmosphere of the songs, and "The Ghost Narrative" is now among my favorites tracks from the band.
The band also did something very unique with this album, where the listener can get the best of both worlds. They released a "Deluxe Edition" of the album which contains a second CD, called "The Dog House Sessions." It is a version of the entire album recorded on acoustic instruments. Emily is quoted as saying "we wanted to have a record of how the songs sounded in this bare acoustic form, similar to how we recorded Despite The Snow. So earlier this year we went into The Dog House studios near Henley-on-Thames and recorded all eleven songs live in one day."
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This acutely plangent record arrived today. If you care about vinyl sound, then you will love this pressing. Emily's voice is so directly recorded that the room feels filled with its urgency.There's almost no surface noise,just the warm clarity of the instruments surrounding the listener. 'I hope I know...'
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If you watched the Wallander detective series last year starring Kenneth Branagh, you will already have heard this lady sing on the theme tune used in the drama. Here is another set of original songs, sparsely sung in Emily's unique style. Highly recommended.
I love Emily Barker, I had the good fortune of catching her live in Denmark Western Australia and her then current album Almanac is a favourite in this household. There are still some good songs here but they are rather 'blanded out' by the production (thanks for nothing Linn Records!) I read that this album came with a live acoustic version but my vinyl copy didn't have this; a shame.