One time frontwoman of The Low Country, Emily Barker’s solo debut, Photos.Fires.Fables, sold like hotcakes at her live shows – becoming one of those albums talked about by more people than had actually heard it.
With a widespread release, the album garnered strong reviews, but less commercial success. Can her sophomore solo effort raise Barker’s profile?
From the outset Barker, and her band of players The Red Clay Halo, work the same ground as on her debut. Nostalgia is a slow burning slice of fireside folk, reminiscent of The Be Good Tanya‘s more solemn moments. Barker’s keening vocals add emotional truth to the lovelorn tale of homesickness.
Barker’s sound recalls a lot of other acts, her fellow Australians The Waifs are an obvious comparison, but perhaps a more relevant name is that of Laura Veirs – with All Love Knows and particularly Disappear sounding a lot like the American’s earlier work.
The fiddle, accordion, and percussion of The Red Clay Halo give the simply strummed frontier-folk a breath of life. The brief jig of If It’s All Night Long could be the soundtrack to a saloon bar brawl straight out of Deadwood. Barker’s dry fluting vocals conjure images of a wagon train and cattle drive sending spirals of dust into the prairie sunset; and one almost expects the deceptively simple picking of Bloated Blistered and Aching Heart to be interrupted by an Indian attack, tomahawks and all, but the sweet love song plods along without mishap.
As the album goes on, the listener might start to hope for something to change the pace. If not a full out Sioux attack, then at least a cougar to spool the horses – each song plods along merrily, with more or less jaunty accompaniment from the Red Clay Halo, one lovelorn number after the next. And the raw charm of her debut album is slightly glossed by, if not heavy handed production, then too much thought in the production.
Barker’s main problem is that while her songs are good, the instrumentation at times excellent and never bad, and her voice well suited to the style and songs, she is just one of many with these qualities. Just two albums into her solo career she is steps behind The Be Good Tanyas – who have perfected the twilight pioneer folk with a diversity that Barker cannot match – and Laura Veirs, whose songwriting has progressed from raw cowgirl tales to some of the finest around.
Despite the Snow is a worthy collection of songwriting – perhaps the perfect soundtrack to a winter’s evening in front of a fire in a log cabin. But the lack of breadth in songwriting and constant pace make for uninspiring comparisons with the truly great exponents of Barker’s metier.