Australian-born folk singer Emily Barker, now a UK-based award-winning singer-songwriter explores some controversial issues on her 6th LP the 10-cut A Dark Murmuration of Words (drops Sept. 4 – Thirty Tigers).
She explores what it means to return “home,” learn to pay attention to things, reassess unspoken prejudices, effect change & allow for healing. Every track retains its own momentum. All performed with sincerity, expertise & never spews venom.
Influenced by such notable artists as Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell & John Lee Hooker – Emily opens with a lilting “Return Me,” anchored by intriguing heavy drumbeats that surround the ethereal performance of the other instruments along with an echo strung banjo. Interesting.
“The Woman Who Planted Trees,” is impressive & Emily’s (vocals/acoustic guitar/banjo/percussion/piano) assertive & crystal-clear vocals standout. It’s all well-defined music played proficiently creating a distinctive atmosphere. At times, mindful of the wonderful voice of the late vocalist/pianist Judee Sill (the classic “Jesus Was a Cross Maker).
Seeking a more modern sound the LP was recorded in Wales by producer Greg Freeman (Peter Gabriel, Amy Winehouse) predominately live, on analog equipment providing a warm, yet captivating mood.
Emily is supported by Rob Pemberton (drums/ synth/programming/percussion/backing vocals), Lukas Drinkwater (electric/synth/double/electric guitar/percussion/backing vocals), Pete Roe (electric & acoustic guitars/keys/piano/percussion/backing vocals), Misha Law (viola), Emily Hall (violin) & Gregg Freeman (programming).
Maybe a coincidence, maybe not but one song touches cleverly on disguising the roots of Emily’s idea of an underlying message. With “Where Have the Sparrows Gone,” it could easily be related to Pete Seeger’s 1955 “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Emily’s attempt is fine – she doesn’t try to emulate the older song as much as continue its message with a modern spin. Isn’t that what folk music’s all about?
“Machine” is even closer to the stylizations of old Pete. On his banjo, he wrote: “This Machine Surrounds Hate And Forces It To Surrender.” Not wholly original since Woody Guthrie before him wrote on his guitar: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” We’ve come full-circle.
Throughout, Emily’s serene voice (“Strange Weather”) skims the rim of past classic voices as silky as Joan Baez’s younger sister the late Mimi Farina, the Seekers Judith Durham & maybe even Maddy Prior. Emily is ideally suited to sing to children.
Commercially, both “Ordinary,” & “Any More Goodbyes,” are closest to being covered by other artists, both possessing absorbing lyrics & vocals by Ms. Barker.
The final cut: a beautiful piano-led song “Sonogram,” the lullaby-like melody sung with an intimately breathy yet powerfully anchored vocal. Once again, mindful of Judee Sill’s style (“The Kiss”). Let’s see if I get this: following the 10th cut “Sonogram,” a bonus 11th track starts with what sounds like the sea, or are we – in the womb?
A handsome 12-page earth-toned stitched lyric insert is included. The 40-minute CD is available at Discogs, Bandcamp + https://www.emilybarker.com/