Emily Barker live at CQAF
I’ve come to in the chilled air of a darkened room on one of Belfast’s sunnier days. It’s not quite a gasping awakening with a needle in the arm; the stuff of Irving Welsh novels. But it’s a wake up nonetheless.
A shot of new music and a needle in the Memphis groove of the upcoming ‘Sweet Kind Of Blue’. To the uninitiated, that’s the new record from UK-based, Australian songwriter Emily Barker.
Like every good rebirth, this begins with death; ‘Little Deaths’ from 2015’s ‘The Toerag Sessions’. The scene is set. The afternoon crowd, absorbed in the moment’ seem keen to find out more. The intrigue of the opening bars of ‘Nostalgia’, known from the Wallander soundtrack, only adds to the inquisitive effect.
Like a great TV detective, Emily Barker rarely works alone. Often backed by The Red Clay Halo, known to duet with Frank Turner, and today ably backed by Lukas Drinkwater. He brings upright bass and backing vocals to the duo, riffing on Ute services and chainsaw sharpening in rural Aussie towns in the intro to ‘Blackbird’.
With the Ute in fine fettle, the journey begins. Barker takes the wheel guiding us through a history of the blues. There are stop-offs in Memphis, learning of Sister Rosetta Tharpe on ‘Sister Goodbye’, and a visit to Springsteen’s New Jersey, although the country-influenced take on ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ owes more to Emmylou Harris’ version than The Boss.
Latest single ‘Over My Shoulder’ is a fine example of the power of two songwriters coming together. Co-written with Boo Hewerdine, it flirts with both country and Memphis soul. We’re expecting to hear much more when ‘Sweet Kind Of Blue’ sees its release on 19th May.
The transglobal journey takes a homeward turn. Home, that is, to Barker’s newly established base in England. While thoughts often wander to Utes and stubby holders, there’s a definite British feel to a lot of the material.
‘Blood Moon’, is one of those more “Brit” feeling tracks with a longing for something else; written in the heat of a sleepless Heathrow hotel room. There is time yet for a rousing ‘Fields Of June’. Drinkwater takes the Frank Turner part and it sounds just as good on the Belfast stage.
I’ve never been ashamed of the music I like. I enjoy Van Morrison’s bluesy romps from the Maritime Hotel era, ‘Dusty in Memphis’ is one of my favourite records of all time and when acts like Danny and the Champions of the World or Nathaniel Rateliff inject a bit of brass and swagger it just does something magical to what was once a regular old acoustic tune.
Emily Barker, even without a band, has that knack. ‘Precious Memories’ is performed acapella to a hushed, revered crowd. With every ounce of feeling and emotion in the vocal, there’s scant need for accompaniment.
Still, Lukas Drinkwater returns to the stage, rejoins Emily Barker and the two bow out with ‘Sweet Kind Of Blue’. That’s the show. That’s the title track of the upcoming album. Friday 19th May is the release date and you’ll want to join us in purchasing that sweet blue vinyl.
Much like the themes running through the live set, we’ve something to look forward to as we fondly look back.